Sleuthhounds Production Update – Games Have Rough Drafts Too

March 27, 2015

It’s been three weeks since the first Sleuthhounds tech demo was released. Three weeks and the second tech demo is now underway. As the second demo marches towards its (hopefully) mid spring release, I thought it might be interesting to give a peek behind the curtain and discuss some of the production tasks. As well, it’s a great opportunity to show the evolution of the game from its initial rough, tape, spit, and bailing wire state to a finished production.

The biggest hurdle with the first tech demo was creating the technology that would power it. As a programmer, I thought it would be an interesting challenge to write an adventure game engine from scratch. It took a lot of time and effort to get to the point where any part of the game could be shown and interacted with.

Fast forward to the second demo and all of that basic technology exists. I don’t have to worry about how to display a room or how the main game interface works. I don’t have to worry about how characters walk or talk. That’s all done. As a result, I’ve already been able to string together a series of room sketches to form a semi-playable “rough draft” of the new demo.

[Jane Ampson on a rough draft background.]
Jane Ampson on a rough draft background.

The above screenshot is taken right from the game itself. With pencil and paper I very quickly sketched out this scene depicting a crater in the countryside. It took all of twenty minutes to sketch the room, scan it into the computer, and integrate it into the game. Such is the case for all the other rooms as well.

The above screenshot also shows the second sleuthhound, Jane Ampson, in a far more finished state than the background itself. All of Jane’s standing, walking, and talking animations exist, so she is able to walk through these rough rooms with no difficulty.

On the first demo, I started with the first room, completed it, moved onto the second, completed it, and so on. I purposely avoided making a lot of content early on as I knew that as the game technology evolved the content would likely have to change. Here, in the second demo, I have no worries about creating content for all parts of the game earlier. The technology and tools are known now, so I can really move forward on creating the actual game rather than the tech that drives it.

However, that’s not to say all of the technology has been finalized. The first demo was a good starting point, but it lacked several features that I knew would be needed for the full length game I’m planning to create after the second demo. A good chunk of time these past three weeks has gone into developing that additional technology.

While developing the first demo, I intentionally kept the rooms fairly small and claustrophobic. Besides being appropriate for the story in that game, it also meant I didn’t have to deal with rooms that could scroll. A scrolling room is one where the background image is larger than is displayed on screen. As your character approaches the edge of the screen, the room scrolls to show more of that background. This technique allows for larger areas to be created.

[Jane walking across a scrolling background.]
Jane walking across a scrolling background.

Above is a sequence of screenshots showing a very simple room scrolling as Jane Ampson walks to the left. It also shows a second character, Amelia Deerheart. Not only is Amelia a second character in the room, she’s a second playable character.

For the full length game you’ll have the ability to switch between Pureluck Homes, from the first demo, and Jane Ampson, from the second demo, at will. I wanted to use the second demo as a test bed for the technology powering that, so I intentionally designed in a scenario where you have control of two characters, Jane and Amelia, and have to use them in tandem to progress.

[Jane's story board interface - very rough!]
Jane's storyboard interface – very rough!

The final rough screenshot I have for you highlights the last technical piece I had to develop for the second demo. In the first demo, Pureluck Homes had his “puzzle board” gameplay mechanic. In these sections you would go into a close up of part of the room you were in and had to discover various puzzle pieces to connect to make deductions.

I wanted to give Jane Ampson her own special gameplay mechanic as well. Jane is not a professional detective but rather a writer. As such, it doesn’t make sense for her to make deductions in the same way as Pureluck Homes. However, it does make sense for her to figure out what makes suspects tick by uncovering their stories.

As Jane proceeds on her investigation, she uncovers pieces pertaining to the backstories of each of the suspects. She can then confront a suspect with their story. In these sequences, you take the individual story points that Jane has discovered and drag them into the index card shown in the bottom left of the screenshot. You need to arrange the pieces so that they logically proceed through the events that make up a suspect’s backstory.

As should be quite evident, all of the screenshots contained in this blog post are very rough works in progress. All of these and more will evolve and be refined as I move towards release. Keep your eyes on my blog over the next little while to see that evolution as it occurs.