In the previous article, I left you saying that we developed the first episode of “A Matter of Caos” in three weeks, and published it on Kongregate. We didn’t expected anything from this game: we just wanted to have some early feedback, to see if we were in the right direction. In this article I’ll talk about the development of our first published game!

Mr. Gilbert’s birth

1. The first version of “A Matter of Caos: Episode 1” released on Kongregate on Febrary 7th, 2015.

The first thing we needed to do was to choose a game genre: we wanted to develop a small game, with simple and easy to develop mechanics, without the necessity of a lot of graphics (at that time we haven’t a professional 2D artist, and Eli wasn’t skilled enough to make a good and rich graphic).

We ended up to choose the graphic adventure genre (more adventure than graphic, to be honest): the basic mechanics of this genre are simple enough to be developed in few weeks from scratch, and are story focused (a perfect feature to make the most of Eli’s talents).

2. Mr. Gilbert

We started from an old character, created by Eli some years earlier, and inspired by the personation of Philip Marlowe (the main character of the noir detective stories written by Raymond Chandler) by Humphrey Bogart, and Cthulhu. We decided to give him a strong personality: he’s the monster more human than humans; cynical, because in its existence he saw (and made) a lot of terrifyng things, but with a good and compassionate nature. He wants to help the human (and humanoid) beings to improve themselves, even if they’re living in a dark and corrupted world, where the crime rules and the fear is the law. To pay homage to the guru of the point and click genres, we called him Mr. Gilbert (Eli will tell you more about it here): we still didn’t know that he would have become the best and more charismatic of our characters.

So, Mr. Gilbert was born and Eli in a few days was able to prepare the main script of the first episode, with all the game mechanics and interactions. In about ten days he also had written all the game texts: an excellent noir story had come to life, including 13 game areas ad 13 brand new characters. We had our first game almost ready!

The story

Eli is a great fan of the Raymond Chandler’s noir story, and he wanted to pay homage to him with a great fanta-noir story. Our private detective is Mr. Gilbert, our city Mavropolis (inspired by the late thirties Los Angeles) and our case is finding a missing girl. Very soon everything will turn out to be more complicated than it seems: we’ll find ourselves involved in an intricated story, full of mobsters, crime and strange secrets. If you want to know more about it I invite you to try the game!

Anyway, we immediatly wanted to insert the game setting in our wider concept of Caos (people that are following us from the beginning, already know that “Caos” it’s not “chaos”, a following article will explain better also this concept). Mr. Gilbert is aware of the existence of the Caos, and something about that is explained during the four episodes of the game.

The gameplay

3. The mouse pointer

Obviously, we were (and are) big fans of the old style LucasArts point and click adventure games, so we decided to use the basic mechanics of the point and click genre: a lot of dialogues (more than a typical adventure game: we needed to overcome the lack of a professional 2D artists with texts), a lot of items interactions and a lot of puzzles to solve with a little bit of intelligence (at this stage we didn’t inserted any minigame). There is only one action available clicking an interactive button: Mr. Gilbert will immediatly interact with the element in the best way he can. There is always the possibility to use inventory objects on the interactive buttons and on other items.

On the other side we wanted to absolutely avoid the pixel hunting (we really hate it), so we decided that the interactive object should have been immediatly recognizable. As you can see in the Figure 1, the first version of the interface was REALLY explicit (we modified this later, using big square buttons with icons, positioned on the background).

The graphic

4. Daphne

As I already said, we had a major problem when we started developing games: we didn’t have a professional 2D artist! For this reason we decided to start with a really simple graphic and interface: just the game area backgrounds, the characters portraits, and the items icons. With this choices the first version of the game had a total of 55 graphic assets (interface and mouse icons included, 37 more icons were added when we updated the game interface), plus a few others for the main menu. All the game graphics was used with a pixelated effects: at this time it was just a trick to hide the imperfection of the Eli’s graphics.

Before the release of the game, we produced also a very ugly game logo and thumbnail: this was our first very BIG MISTAKE.

The interface

11. Mr. Gilbert’s best friend

We built a really simple interface scheme (we improved it in the subsequent versions of the game): we used the basic elements available in the newly released Unity UI tools, just with a few interface icons (open menu, Mr. Gilbert thought, and examine object buttons). We used a dark grey color scheme with basically three main GUI elements: the game scene (with the inventory and all the interactive buttons), the dialogues popup, and the simple text popup. For the main menu and in-game menu, we just used big buttons at the center of the screen (it was our first game, we didn’t really know how this elements are fundamental for the game look and feel: also we didn’t have a UI designer to help us, so we just improvised). Anyway, the interface was simple and clear enough to make the game playable and enjoyable without problems.

12. Mr. Gilbert Office

Development and testing

12. Do you want to ask something to Mr. Gilbert?

I was able to develop all the game straight off in about 2 weeks, without implementing any complicated software architecture: I just wanted to complete the first game as fast as I can.

The result was a working game, but with a messy code and hard coded text strings. It was good to start: we had our first completed and playable game in just two weeks, we were really happy! Anyway, I optimized and engineered the code while implementing the next episodes: that piece of junk code I implemented during those weeks, evolved to become the adventure framework we’re still using today (anyway, I’m already at work on a new bigger, complete and flexible adventure framework for our future “cutting edge” adventure games!).

During the development of the game, I corrected a lot of bugs that Eli inserted in the storyline and game interactions (he’s not the most organized person in this world, but he terribly improved his skills during this years), but this wasn’t enough. We performed two testing phases: the alpha testing phase, in wich some friends come to test the game in studio (a lot of other bugs emerged during this phase and we corrected everything); the beta testing phase, in wich we sent the executables of the game to other friends (some other bugs emerged during this phase, but nothing really serious).

The release and players feedback

13. Every detective needs a magnifying glass!

After correcting all the bugs we found during the testing, we finally decided to release the game on Kongregate: approximately three weeks had passed from the start of the development and we were very eager to get the player’s feedback. As I already said, we didn’t expected very much from this first game, but we were really excited because we were releasing our first game to thousands of players, and we really wanted to have their feedback.

The first day after the release, we were astonished: the game was in the “hot new games” section of Kongregate with a medium vote higher than 3.5. We were first in the weekly contest and in a good position in the monthly contest (we didn’t win any prize with the Episode 1, but now we learned all the reasons, and we won some prizes with the other episodes), and the comment of the players were wonderful: they loved to play the game, and even if the graphics and the realization wasn’t perfect, they were asking for more. All the players were fascinated by Mr. Gilbert, and also the other characters were really appreciated: the players loved the depth of the story and the well characterized setting.

Since then, we had just a few thousands players: we realized later that we had only to blame ourselves because the game thumbnail was very ugly; anyway all the players that played the game, really loved it. We are now absolutely sure that if we had a better thumbnail and better game graphics, with a little more polishing, the game could have been a big hit!

Obviously, we also received some critical and constructive feedback: we found and corrected some other bugs, and we took note of all the improvements we could have added to the Episode 2 (we also implemented them retroactively in the Episode 1). First of all we wanted to solve one major problem: the errors in the game texts. We talked to my cousin (he’s almost a native English speaker) to let him make a revision to the English texts (it was one of the biggest complaints: sorry for that, we’re not native English speakers), and with his helps we made the text a bit better.

Conclusions

14. Bone knife

Well, if you had the patience to read until here, you know that the players reaction to the game was really good, so we were really excited and decided to continue to develop the game, until the end of this first Mr. Gilbert adventure. It took three more episodes and other three months of work to complete it: we learned a lot during the development and improved our framework and our working method. We were also able to earn some money from this games (not really much, but it was a start), but this didn’t helped us to avoid some other mistakes we made after that: I’ll tell you more on this in the next article!



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Luca Porrino

Luca was raised by an engineers tribe, which teach him to function like a clockwork device.
After years of research, he finally developed a mechanical brain, and he’s now part of the Matrix.
Also, he practices medieval swordfighting and doesn’t give up a chance to tell it to everyone he meets.
He’s the functional brain of the Expera Game Studio.

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