I recently finished a game, The Legend of Elkanah. It's a simple side project that is supposed to play something like a storybook, based on the Bible story 1 Samuel 1, with a bit of a feminist bent.
I have to say it's not very good, but it's interesting to look at why:
As soon as this game was done, I knew I had created a snore-fest. There are a few reasons that it feels so slow:Subject matter. Let's face it, this isn't a really exciting story-- although I do think it's interesting from a feminist perspective. I don't regret the choice of story. Inactivity Triggers. There are a few key events that only happen after you have done NOTHING for a certain number of seconds (usually 2.) Players can't anticipate this and will want to progress the story forward, to do so they will intuitively try acting. This stymies them, of course.
I don't know yet if this latter is an absolutely terrible device, but to work properly this problem has to be solved. I like it, because it has the effect of the game interrupting YOU. I.e., there is one part where Peninnah says, "Sister," to interrupt whatever you are doing, and I think it's an effective device; or could be if we weren't frustrating the player.
The game could do a better job of bringing you in, as a player. A few things break immersion:Sound. Close to the end I realized this game would be overall fairly bad and as I hadn't invested any time in sound effects, I didn't make much of an effort. However, nighttime sound effects, wind, etc. would add a lot to creating a storybook setting for this type of game. Interactivity. There aren't any objects you can interact with, or places you can go on your own. You are more or less trapped on every screen, and moving left or right is purely cosmetic; it doesn't affect the gameplay whatsoever where you are on the screen. Interactivity, even very simple, can help a player's imagination to enter into the world.
This is the most interesting lesson learned, for me. We have in essence a branching path like this:
There are some major choices, and some minor variations.
The trouble is that you've got to go through that first branch three times, at least, to see all endings. That's really not too fun! Worse, whatever variations you see are fairly random and it's certainly not worth replaying the whole game over again to see them.
A better stream would be something like this:
The blue arrows mean we are given the option, after reaching that ending, of rewinding back to the previous point.
There's a small "common" section at the very start, after which you make a choice. The story follows similar but not identical lines for awhile, then branches further off. If we hit a dead-end in the story we are given the choice to go back.
I think the next side project I work on is going to be for the kids; i.e. just a regular game without much originality. Maybe an exploration-RTS in space or something, there's not many of those in flash and it wouldn't be hard to do...
This is not admitting defeat, just a break! =) I have at least 2 weird art-game projects and 1 plain weird thing sitting in the back of my mind that I will almost definitely make, too.