Build Up To Boston: Demo Changes

Hi all!

I hope you had an awesome labor day holiday. I spent my Sunday at the US Open watching some awesome tennis and getting an awesome tan. I now take regular and needless coffee breaks at the office so I can show it off.

This week I’m posting every day, building up to the Boston Festival of Indie Games! Last year the FIG had over 7,000 attendees. It’s a staggering thought that even 1/10th of those people might check out Vidar, and I can’t thank the program coordinators and curators enough for accepting my game into the showcase. So without further ado, today I want to talk about what’s changed since NYC Games Forum?

You might recall that the first time ever someone could play Vidar was at the end of July, at the NYC Games Forum playtest night. We had about 20-25 people play it, and got some awesome feedback. All of it and more has been incorporated in just the 6 weeks since.

New Art

The most immediate change has been all new art. Becca Bair‘s sumptuous tiles and sprites now dominate the game. When it comes to maps, this means that the cave feels more, well, cave-like. Rounded edges instead of square ones, organic walls, and a desaturated tint all help immerse the player even more.

Out with the old, in the with desaturated.

Out with the old, in the with desaturated.

And of course, Becca’s also prepared new sprites. The cast of characters the player can interact with have all been replaced (as has the player sprite itself). These taller sprites have more detail and, as a result, more character. You can get to know them a little better just by looking at ’em.

Vidar is, at its core, about the people. Which means the people better be damn good to look at.

Vidar is, at its core, about the people. Which means the people better be damn good to look at.

New Content

Since I was going to add these new sprites, I wanted to make sure the characters mattered. In the NYC Games Forum Demo, players could talk to Vidar’s citizens but, short of seeing some dialogue, it didn’t change the demo itself. The player was always going to try to rescue Sandor’s son. Now there are two big options – Sandor’s son is still in the game, but there is a chance the player will instead see Room 2 of the Ice Cave. Room 2 is a series of 3 puzzles, and there are a handful of quests that can spawn there. Specifically:

  • If Bernadett is alive, she’ll ask the player to return a ghost’s spirit to its grave
  • If Borbalo is alive and the player has Bernadett’s quest, Borbalo will ask the player to bless the grave with holy water
  • If Dani is alive and Borbalo is dead, Dani will ask the player to find Borbalo’s alcohol
  • If Szabina is alive, she’ll ask the player to find a clue to the Beast’s origins in the cave
  • If Lilja is alive and Szabina is dead, Lilja will ask the player to dig around in the cave for buried treasure
  • If Sandor is alive, he’ll ask the player to go rescue his son

As you can see, some of the quests included are mutually exclusive; this means that the two NPCs chosen to die at the beginning have immediate consequences for the demo.

Most of the quests are handed out at the inn, where Vidar's citizens have congregated for this demo. But the workshop is also open.

Most of the quests are handed out at the inn, where Vidar’s citizens have congregated for this demo. But the workshop is also open.

The game decides where to send the player based on whether they got Sandor and/or Bernadett’s quest. If the player received only one, they’ll go to the map which has that quest. If they got both, it’s randomly chosen. As a result, I’ve rigged the demo’s random deaths a little bit – Sandor and Bernadett can’t both die in any playthrough of the demo.

Sandor’s Son

At NYC Games Forum, I got a lot of feedback about mechanics, balance, and puzzle-solving. So all of the following changes have been made to Erik’s room:

  • Players will only solve either the left side or the right side of the room, as opposed to both from NYC Games Forum. The “left side” involves rotating arrows with the Stranger to guide Erik to the exit. The “right side” involves opening and closing doors with the Stranger to guide Erik to the exit. If the player is sent to this map, which side they do is also chosen at random.
  • Additional options have been added to both sides. What this means is three levels of chance – a player has a chance to go to Erik’s room, a chance to play the left side, and a chance to see any one of 5 puzzle options in the left side.
  • Pressing “A” to switch between Erik and the Stranger is instantaneous, instead of fading the screen out and back in again.
  • When ice breaks around Erik, it no longer pauses the game. Combined with the above, players will (hopefully) no longer be frustrated that time is passing by because of things outside their control.
  • The graphics for the gates in this puzzle are now clearly gates, and not spikes which suggested to players that they should not run into them.
  • The tutorial has a more fulsome explanation of sliding, pressing “A” to switch characters, and using switches.
  • Compass arrows have been added (described below)
  • There is a cutscene if the player fails to save Erik, rather than just simply fading out the demo and concluding.
Gates which are clearly gates!

Gates which are clearly gates!

After playing this new version of the Sandor’s Son quest, I’m in love with all of these changes. And that tells me that NYC Games Forum Playtest Night did its job; I really can’t thank the playtesters enough for their incredibly valuable and candid feedback. It’s already improved the game 10 fold.

Compass Arrows

A few people at NYC Games Forum indicated that they didn’t know what the goal was in any given puzzle. Specifically, where’s the exit? Where am I trying to go? So with this version of the demo, I’ve added compass arrows. These little indicators bounce up and down where you’re supposed to go next in the puzzle, and intelligently do so based on where you’ve been.

Four exits? No longer a problem, just head north towards that arrow.

Four exits? No longer a problem, just head north towards that arrow.

The arrows disappears after you go over it once. Presumably, by then the player will know where the exit is. While compass arrows will be turned on in the demo, they’ll be a quest reward in Vidar. Every possible item which changes your gameplay experience – from sprint shoes to extra time to the clock itself – is a quest reward, and there’s no reason to treat the arrows any differently.

Additional Changes

A few other fun things have been added. The player can interact with certain items in town for flavor text. More branching paths are explained at the end of the demo. The menu has been cleaned up to remove items not available in the demo. More puzzles have been color coded. And of course, dozens of bugs have been cleaned up.

I’ll have 4 laptops running the demo at Boston FIG from 10 am till close. The event is this Saturday, September 13 at MIT. If you’re in the Northeast, it’s not to be missed!

Finally, don’t forget to sign up for email updates about Vidar on the website. If you sign up before Saturday, you’ll be entered to win a Vidar-embroidered beanie!