I got second! Yay! Okay, so rambly post-mortem time.
When I decided to enter the comp, I knew there were a few things I wanted the game to accomplish:
I wanted it to be fun
I wanted the central mechanic to be the magical manipulation of things with spells. It’s been done in games before, and I wanted to take a shot at it too.
I wanted to include a twist, and came up with the idea that all the spells would work backwards from some sort of curse.
I wanted there to be a single room, to manage the scope and really focus on the puzzles. In order to keep the game one-room, I knew the PC would have to be trapped inside for some reason.
I wanted a female cast.
I wanted to use the sunrise theme literally and metaphorically.
I began with my PC. Woman + magic spells = witch, so I went with it. That formula could have been a lot of things, of course, but starting with an existing trope meant there was less worldbuilding to do. People could dive right into using spells to brew a potion with little explanation. Then I came up with her rival trapping her so she could win PotionComp, and I built the puzzles from there. The game was originally set in sunny rural California, with the actual comp occurring in LA, because in my mind LA witches are the worst kind of witches. Opal would have until the sun rose to escape the cabin, as that was when the competition started.
The backstory grew as I was developing the game. I’d been thinking a lot about identity and the various implications of belonging to a group. What do you do when other people who share your identity are nasty or just not what you want to be a part of? Do you try and change their minds? Do you give up your identity and move on? Do you try and redefine the term yourself? Do you grow embittered with the outside world for lumping you all together?
In either of the two “good” endings, I let the player decide whether Opal sheds the term “witch” or attempts to redefine it. Grusilda poopoos you either way, to show there really isn’t a right answer. The story ended up being more of an allegory than a straight tale, and that’s always hit or miss. I would have sold it more if the writing was up to the task. Also, I didn't end up cluing that you can THINK at various points in the game to dwell more on the situation, nor that you could TALK TO RUBY after you befriend her to learn her backstory.
My writing is something I know I need to work on. Practice makes perfect, right? There was a good amount of praise for my comedy, though I went with a contemporary Internet-jargon style which can be gimmicky. I personally find that style hilarious, and it at least fit with Opal’s character. On the other hand, the flashbacks do need some work, which hopefully I can touch up for a post comp release. Does anybody happen to be an editor and, um, want to lend your skills?
Coming up with the puzzles and seeing them come to life was my favorite part of making the game. I built the list of spells first, then thought about what kind of objects they’d be used on. I wanted items to have more than one use (chocolate syrup for the ink and also to turn into oil, the web provides the spider silk as well as catches the pixie, etc). I also wanted the witch spells to serve at least two functions each.
Originally, the setting was in California, and the puzzles looked a lot different. The stuffed puffin used to be a bear skin rug! But I spent New Year’s in Iceland and decided to change my setting mid-January. It let me do a lot more with the puzzles, like freezing the pipes and adding the volcano. That’s also when I had the idea for the second set of spells.
The biggest critique on the puzzles was that the player was given too many spells at once and had to refer back to them a lot. I figured this out during testing, but given the scope of the game there really wasn't a good solution. Maybe I can figure out a split screen as Emily suggested for a post comp release. I'll also be more mindful of pacing in future games.
As previously mentioned, my original idea was to use the theme both literally and metaphorically. For the literal aspect, Opal would have to escape by sunrise in order to participate in the comp. I did away with a time limit for several reasons:
1 – I personally dislike games with time limits. Deadlines give me stress in general and having them in games makes me enjoy them less. I generally avoid time/resource management games if I can.
2 – I wanted the player to play with the mechanic at their leisure. Even if the time limit wasn’t enforced, it would still give a different feeling than what I wanted.
3 – After I changed my setting to Iceland, I realized that sunrise in Ireland is at a different time than sunrise in Iceland!
I could have come up with another reason for the sunrise deadline, but in the end I decided against it. So what could I do? The answer came with the Aurora Borealis, when I read about them after I got back so I could explain what I saw in Iceland, and I noticed the name Aurora was from the Roman Goddess of the Sunrise. Bingo! I felt so clever (though based on feedback, maybe I wasn’t). I named the human friend Aurora to tie it all together (she was originally called Molly, idk why), and added the northern lights puzzle as a way to make it tangible in the game.
Metaphorically, I imagined “sunrise” to mean a new beginning or a realization. I honestly thought more people would be looking at all possible interpretations of the theme, but maybe I was the one stretching it. Anyway, Opal’s journey of identity starts anew with this experience in the cabin. With the player’s help, she chooses to create a new kind of witch or start fresh with a new identity. I personally love stories where an older person forges a new path. As I get older, I like knowing I could still change the direction of my life. Adventures don’t always belong to teens!
This is really a credit to my excellent testers, otherwise I could have submitted a hot mess of a game. Testers feedback is soooo valuable, particularly from transcripts. So a special thank you to all my testers!
I tried hard to account for everything the player wanted to do – though I did win the technical category so I guess it paid off. Leviupup in particular was a beast. If you used the spell on something on top of the table, the table would collapse underneath it! The same goes for the chair and the bed. I think I spent a week just on that. But then I missed other things like Emily pointed out where something frozen dropped into the boiling water wouldn’t affect it.
The worst offending bug was that the golem wouldn’t recognize FETCH (something) to get the book out of the trunk. The player was required to type FETCH by itself. Originally, only FETCH was implemented, but from tester feedback, I added FETCH (something) during the polish period. Except I forgot to attach it to the instead action that solves the trunk puzzle! One more round of testing would have caught that… I’ll be fixing it in the post-comp release.
In making this game, I’ve come to realize that certain kinds of games have higher expectations. I could create a game with a kitchen as a location only because houses have kitchens, and nobody would expect me to code it so the player could fill a pot with water, boil it on the stove, then drop in some ice cubes and watch them melt. But if the game is set IN the kitchen, the expectation is more likely to be there. My next few games might be broader narratives in larger spaces, because in the case of implementation, it’s actually easier.
So that’s it! I had a blast and learned a lot from this experience, which I hope to incorporate into my future games. Thanks so much to everyone who played, voted, reviewed, and gave feedback!