Kyle Banks

Siren Song, Devlog #3: But With More Dogs

Written by @kylewbanks on Aug 10, 2020.

Back in May I started a series of posts about a 2.5D platforming game I’ve been, or rather was, working on called Siren Song. This is a game I started back in March and while I’m pretty proud of what it’s become from a personal growth perspective, as it’s the most sophisticated game I’ve ever made, I’m sadly ending it where it is now.

So what happened? A few things, really.

First while the game was progressing well, I wasn’t thrilled with the gameplay itself as the mechanics just weren’t quite turning out to be as enjoyable as I’d imagined. I’d done so many iterations on different mechanics and features that weren’t properly designed from the beginning, and it was becoming clear that not only was the scope growing out of control but also that the features and mechanics weren’t gelling together at all.

Additionally, the game was randomly generated and this generation had become troublesome to manage as each feature I added required extensive modifications to the generation systems to accommodate the new scenarios it wasn’t originally designed to handle. Dozens of rewrites and refactors later and I was left with systems that were just becoming far too brittle to work with.

The final issue I was facing was that on a personal level I’d just learned too much over the course of development. I was spending all my time rewriting systems I had already developed, or wishing I had taken different approaches earlier on in development, and it was making it very difficult to feel proud of the work. Indie game development means you’re handling 1,000 different disciplines yourself, and (hopefully) learning and improving in each as you go. Unfortunately all this growth comes with the side effect that systems you built even a month ago can sometimes feel horribly outdated.

All these rewrites, inability to make mechanics work well together, and lack of fun in the game itself left me with a few options:

  1. Continue on this project as-is for the next year just to finish it
  2. Rebuild from scratch with better planning and scope in mind
  3. Take what I’ve learned and salvage what’s reusable, but put a fresh spin on it

After doing the GMTK Game Jam in July I realized that I was struggling to be creative on this project because I wasn’t happy with the underlying systems. It was no longer enjoyable to work on due to the structural issues, which is pretty devastating so early into a large scale project. Rebuilding the same game was too daunting, and I was still unsure whether it would wind up actually being fun to play.

So, I took a long hard look at the game and decided that the third option was the best bet. There were plenty of systems I’d built that were well designed, isolated into a reusable library structure, and ready to be plugged into a new project. These would save me a ton of time, and given that the idea I had been kicking around as an alternative project was also a 2.5D platformer I was sure I’d be able to get a lot of reuse out of them.

Since then I’ve done a lot of planning, I know exactly the game I want to make, and I’ve put together a prototype that I’m pretty proud of. I’ll be writing a lot about it in the coming weeks and months.

So what’s the new concept?

Well it’s a 2.5D platformer as I said, and it’s about a girl and her skittish dog going for a hike in the Scottish highlands. You play as the dog, who’s troubled with all manner of haunting hallucinations, while the NPC girl acts as your safety net. The core mechanics revolve around color, as the girl has given the dog some tools to bring color and light into the world to help him get over his fears and fight back against the hallucinations.

I’ve been sharing some gifs on twitter @kylewbanks of the shader work I’ve been doing, which will be detailed more in an upcoming post, so follow along there if you want to keep up with that!

The new game doesn’t have a name yet, but I’m going to continue this series of devlogs as it’s essentially a successor to Siren Song, so I’ll just re-title the series going forward. I’ll also be putting together a more rigid schedule, perhaps alternating each week between technical posts and devlogs.

That’s all for this post though. I’m sure if you’re reading this and you’re a game developer then you can relate to the problem of having a few dozen half-baked games that will never see the light of day. It’s a serious problem, and I admit that I struggle with this, but I really believe in this case that I’m changing focus for the right reasons. I don’t look at it as an entirely new project so much as it is a re-branding or pivot… or something of that nature anyways.

Let me know if this post was helpful on Twitter @kylewbanks or down below!