I’ve got a new prototype on the site, and I’m quite excited for people to see this abandoned project:
The game is called Smokestack Sheriff, and it’s my reaction to the game Thirty Flights of Loving. Thirty Flights was a revelation to me. The previous game in the series, Gravity Bone, was interesting, but not in the same way. Thirty Flights takes nonlinear storytelling to a whole new level, using film techniques that I’ve never seen before in gameplay sections of a game. It made me stop and think, why haven’t we been doing this? We can say so much more by taking inspiration from other mediums. But instead we choose to only take surface level inspiration from film by creating cutscenes.
Anyways, I was fascinated by this new concept, and so I wanted to delve into it. I wanted to go even crazier with film techniques, so that’s what I set out to do.
Thirty Flights of Loving is a crime caper, so I wanted to do a similar heavily influenced trope. Something I could draw a ton of inspiration from. I decided on the theme of a murder mystery set on a train, drawing inspiration from murder mystery novels of the ’30s and ’40s. The plan wasn’t to put the whole game on a train, but I wanted to have that feel, and some portions would be on the train. Trains are a great setting for stories, and there have been plenty of great murder mysteries on trains in properties that I love (Paper Mario, Adventure Time, etc.)
The core idea that I wanted to explore with the story was connected with the fact that it’s a first person game. In most first person games, it is assumed that the player is taking the role of the character, the main character is an empty vessel, and you never change characters. In others, (such as Call of Duty), the player may switch characters at points, but it is clearly called out for the player as to when they are changing characters.
With this project, I wanted to toy with the idea that the player isn’t sure who they are playing as at any one moment. I’ve never seen a game stay deliberately vague in first person to keep the player guessing. There was going to be a cop character and a criminal character that are established early on, but after that it jumps around in the story. In each scene, the player can try to figure out who they are playing as. The ending would reveal that you were definitely playing as two different characters back and forth, and ideally, this would cause the player to think differently about each scene. The idea being that each scene would cause players to say “Okay, so if I’m the cop here, then this is story, but if I’m the criminal, then this is the story. “
After 7 weeks of work, I decided to quit working on it altogether.
Now, why’d I stop? First, I realized that Brendon Chung, the creator of Thirty Flights of Loving, has a very distinct style. I saw that, instead of improving upon his game, I was heading in the direction of aping it. It had a very similar art style and gameplay to it, and I wasn’t happy with that. I also realized that it would take a lot more than a semester to make a game in this style (and that was our assignment, make a game in a semester). When I make a game, the idea or inspiration usually comes from wanting to fix a flaw with a game or genre that already exists. With this project, I fooled myself into thinking that I was doing that, but I really wasn’t. I was just making more of the same.
Lastly, the most important reason was that I didn’t enjoy working on the game. It involved a ton of set pieces, programming, and art to tell the story that I wanted to tell. The art was super fun to make, but the amount of scripting that I had to do was ridiculous, and ultimately, not fun scripting. I enjoy the intricacies of systems and level design, and while I can respect the type of game that Thirty Flights is, making a game like that isn’t for me.
The upside to creating a game solo is that it’s easier to quit making a project if I’m not feeling it, and start something new. After quitting work on this, I had half a semester to work on something new. And it turned out, well…I’ll leave that for next time.