It Comes in Waves: Past Expectations to Final Results
This post is part 4 in a series of interviews with the developers of the game “It Comes In Waves” - a research creation game set to release in late spring 2021. The goal of these interviews is to discuss the thought and consideration that went into the game, acting as one method of archiving the process, thoughts, and decisions that go into making social impact games. This post is a collection of thoughts gathered from interviews with the Production and Narrative Team: Courtney Blamey, Lyne Dwyer, and Michael Iantorno.
Previous posts in the series here: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
Like any project, It Comes in Waves has gone through a series of iterations. This post highlights some of the changes in expectations or ideas that occurred throughout the process and some of the moments of learning and growth the team experienced along the way.
At the start of the project the team was throwing out ideas, brainstorming what might fit well and what would match with their objectives. Some of these morphed into the game’s final version. As Courtney Blamey recalls:
CB: “We did initial game pitches of what we might like to do. My initial pitch was this idea that this was a frame where they were playing and you had a list of tasks to get through and it was almost like a quick clicker game in Twine and you had to get as many tasks done in a very short amount of time to be able to proceed to the next stage. So it was trying to show this level of high amounts of labour and low amounts of pay and constantly trying not to miss the mark and be able to advance.”
In the final version:
CB: “That is where these tasks came in and that is how the game is sort of structured. You have so many tasks you have to do in a day and initially it was a thing where you had a tally in the end but now it is roped into the narrative”
Part of this process involved situating their pandemic game among the other types of games that have been made. As Lyne Dywer states:
LD: “We’ve seen other games that try to take on pandemic either as a subject to explore or making it the enemy of the game. That’s a pattern I saw a lot. That sort of traditional video game progression where you level up and get strong and/or a game of avoidance where you are wandering around a space and physically avoiding people. But that is not what we are going for with this text adventure.”
The team wanted to highlight the precarity of frontline workers (discussed in more depth in part 3 of the series) so they had to think through how this could be best represented. Importantly, as the team determined what they wanted to focus on and some of the themes, mechanics or ideas they wanted to place in the game the pandemic itself was still evolving. This meant that:
LD: “We were trying to write about this event, this phenomenon,that is still ongoing and that we are still experiencing the ramifications of. I think it was really important for us to draw from current events but not make it too prescriptive. We are not going to turn this into a hyper specific simulation of pandemic. Instead, each game day feels almost like a series of vignettes that ramp up to that event.”
It would have been impossible to capture the pandemic in its entirety. Not only because everyone experiences it differently, but due to how much information was filling the news cycles all at once. This forced the team to scope down the project to highlight these vignettes, which became further scoped down due to the challenges of a timeline and the project’s software, Twine. As Michael Iantorno discusses:
MI: “Twine is very prone to having these structures that kind of grow and grow and grow (Figure 1). I think initially we underestimated how big an undertaking a Twine game of this type would be - it is quite easy to get caught up in little flourishes here and there and at times they can be quite distracting. So I really had to try and pull things back so that it did not feel “extra” for the players.”
Because of this the team had to alter the scope and adjust their expectations for what it might be. As they were working on it they realized that:
MI: “This game was initially a lot bigger than I thought it would be. We eventually had to scope down the dialogue writing process and simplify the game structures in order to make it feasible and more easily navigable for players. Because when I write I just kinda go, and words pour out of my head at a silly rate. So I had to really pay attention to keep things tamped down: managing workload, managing output, and managing complexity throughout the process.”
Even now when the game is almost ready for release there are things the team wish they could have included. For Michael it was revisiting that previous scope where,
MI: “Given unlimited time and funding we would expand the scope and complexity of the game a little bit more. I wouldn’t mind giving the underlining game systems a little bit more prominence, like the wellbeing of the main character and their relationships with other characters. Because we only made four days, at the moment you only get to talk to certain characters once or twice. There is not a lot of room for sustained relationships with people. You currently have interactions that might go well or poorly but you don’t really see the consequences of those interactions.”
The team also had to consider their own skills in relation to the project they wanted to produce. While each held some expertise, designing the game was a learning process and it was important that they took pride in their accomplishments as they made the game:
LD: “I will say I put a lot of effort into the startup screen (Figure 2) so that is one area where I will be proud of myself. I am not a coder, I did not have a lot of experience with programming, but I was very proud of how that all came together. It’s very strange - I got all excited when I got it to look the way that I wanted it to, to fade in nicely and actually function because I figured out the HTML I wanted to use, but then almost didn’t post anything about it online I am on Twitter with all these amazing queer game designers in Montreal who are making all of these real cool things and here I am like, ‘Hey everyone I made buttons!’ But if I was on the other end of that conversation, of course that is something I would be proud of, there are no small beans here when you are just getting started and learning something new. So, I maintain bragging rights for that one because it was finally hitting the ball with the bat and I felt like I could do this.”
Lyne was not alone in feeling pride for their work. While there were points in development where people might have been less inclined towards the project, everyone was happy with parts of the work they put into the game. Of course, with the release of it coming up, nerves and doubts about reception are starting to arise, but as Lyne discussed it is important they recognize their achievements. Projects change, ideas are kept or discarded, but in the end the final product is something to take pride in. The final version is not what any of them initially imagined the game to be, but they all seem to be happy with it even if the current final rounds of bug testing are feeling a bit tedious some days.