Nocturne: Prelude

Nocturne will be released as two games.

Nocturne: Prelude

This will be the first chapter of the story and contain about 1-2 hours of gameplay, including the first boss fight. Nocturne: Prelude will be released in 2019 and will be free.

Nocturne

The full version of the game. This will be a paid release. It has no estimated release date or price. It will complete the entire story of Nocturne. More details about the full version will be available after Prelude has been released.

I’m currently preparing to launch the steam store page for Nocturne: Prelude.

Nocturne Demo Beta: 1st Phase Begins Now

The Nocturne demo release is estimated for April 2019. Meanwhile you can participate in the Demo Beta and get access to an unfinished build of the Nocturne demo.

The Nocturne Demo Beta will happen in three phases.

1st Phase - Now
A small number of people will be randomly selected from a survey. Certain requirements must be met to be eligible. The survey begins now. Successful participants will be sent an email on Jan 5th.

2nd Phase - Jan 19th
Everyone who has entered their email into the mailing list on the website will be invited.

3rd Phase - Feb 2019
An open Beta, anyone can join at any time.

Demo Beta - 1st Phase Survey

If you’d like to participate in the 1st Phase, you must complete the survey.

Only a small number of people will be selected. If you successfully gain access to the 1st Phase, then you will be asked to record and privately upload a video of your first gameplay session of Nocturne.

Requirements for 1st Phase participation include the following.

  • Must be able to record the entire gameplay session.

  • Must have a microphone and be able to record live commentary of the gameplay session.

  • Must be able to edit the gameplay and commentary together.

  • Must be able to upload the completed video privately. (eg: unlisted youtube video)

Demo Beta - 2nd Phase Signup

If you’d like to participate in the 2nd Phase of the Demo Beta, then you must join the mailing list. Anyone who has already joined the mailing list is already signed up.

You can find a direct link to signup here.

Everyone who signs up will receive access via email on Jan 19th. You will be allowed to record and stream the game publicly during the 2nd Phase.

Common mistakes in writing stories for games

Quick Intro: I’ve been telling stories my whole career. Both as a filmmaker and a writer. These days I’m working on my largest and most ambitious writing project; the entire story and script for an RPG. As a result I’ve been reflecting on the most common mistakes I see across the games industry regarding storytelling. I’d like to share a few with you today in the hope it’ll be useful to somebody working on their own games.

Your story doesn’t have a controlling idea
There’s a reason for everything that occurs in a story. A reason why characters act a certain way and a reason why events happen the way they do; this is your controlling idea. It’s the lifeblood you draw every action from and is more than just a message or the “moral of the story”. It’s the reason the story exists and motivates every decision both you and your characters make.

DMx001_Friendship_symbol.jpg

Ever been watching Yu-Gi-Oh and wondered why the characters make speeches about friendship almost every episode? That’s because the controlling idea of Yu-Gi-Oh is: Friendship makes you stronger. Since it’s a kids show it can be a little preachy about this, but your controlling idea can be as subtle as you want.

Let’s look at The Lord of The Rings’ controlling idea: Chasing power will corrupt you.

Think about how many decisions characters make in LoTR that follow this idea. Boromir fighting Frodo for the ring. Galadrial moving into isolation to avoid her temptations. Frodo’s relationship with Sam falling apart over the ring’s power. Saurons obsession with finding the ring and why he created it. Smeagol’s entire character is literally just a lust for power. Saruman turning against his people to gain power. Denethor refusing the rightful King’s return so he can retain his own seat. You get the idea.

Once you’ve decided on your controlling idea, write it on a piece of paper and stick it somewhere you see every day. Any major decision you make in the story, ask yourself if it aligns with the controlling idea. Or even better, if you’re stuck on how to progress the story, use the controlling idea as guidance.

Your antagonist’s motivation is not believable.
We’ve all seen the generic supervillain. They’re going to destroy the world because they are evil. Or perhaps there’s some vague backstory about them wanting revenge. The problem is, the player has to believe the motivations of the antagonist, or their entire purpose is lost. Just remember this: The bad guy doesn’t think they’re the bad guy.

“That’s the thing that no one tells you about evil. They make it seem like there are two clearly marked paths with flashing signs pointing out each way: sin, redemption. […] But the truth is, evil comes when the righteous path is so hidden, it just looks like there’s only one way out.”

- Ozark: Season 2, Episode 7

Once you look at things from this perspective it’ll completely change the way you create your antagonist. The thief is just trying to provide for their family. The hacker is fighting against government censorship. The rebel leader is trying to protect their own people from suffering. The righteous path is hidden from them, so they believe their actions are the only way forward.

The protagonist and antagonist are direct opposites. The conflict between them is caused by their opposing values, but both of those values should be valid and believable motivations for their actions.

Your twist was unpredictable
That’s not a typo: your twist was unpredictable. That’s the fundamental piece of a twist that gets forgotten. Too many writers get wrapped up in trying to create that “Ah ha” moment where the player’s mind is blown because they didn’t figure out a character was a spy all along. The problem is, when your twist is unpredictable it means you never foreshadowed it. You never laid the foundations, so when your player reaches the reveal, their reaction is far more likely to be “Wait what?”.

The true beauty behind a twist is when the player goes back in their mind to previous events and says to themselves, “Oh I get it now. I understand why that character said that thing before. It all makes sense now”.

When you get hit with an unpredictable twist.

When you get hit with an unpredictable twist.

There’s often an obsession with creating twists that break the rules of storytelling. Wanting to do something different or unique for its own sake, rather than following decades of established writing structure. Stories with a premise like: “The protagonist is secretly the antagonist”, "The protagonist dies in the first scene”, or “There is no antagonist” will fall apart in the hands of inexperienced writers. Before you can break the rules of storytelling, you have to understand the rules. Good writing follows a structure for a reason, and you need to deeply understand exactly why these rules exist before you can begin to decide how and when it’s appropriate to break them.

You never raised the stakes
First scene, your villain announces “I’m going to destroy the world because I’m so evil” and thus begins the epic adventure to save humanity. Well, at least it might start off epic but it’s only downhill from here. By starting the story at maximum stakes you’ve got nowhere to go. The intensity of the conflict which drives the story should ramp up over time.

The conflict that resolves the end of the story should be on a scale so much larger, that the incident which started the story seems utterly insignificant in comparison. Final Fantasy IX began with a story about kidnapping a princess, and ended with fighting a creature that literally wants to destroy the origin of life and return all living things to a zero world of perceptual nothingness. Kind of puts things in perspective.

If you found these notes on writing helpful, then you can follow me on Twitter to be notified when I publish new articles, or to learn more about the RPG I’m writing that uses all the techniques I’ve talked about here today.

How Presentation Impacts Game Mechanics

A group of developers have invited you to test their new game prototypes . As the first game begins, you find yourself in a room with a button on the floor and a locked door. You stand on the button and the door opens. You walk through and the game is completed. It may be very short, but it’s a solid prototype to build upon.

You move on to the next developer’s prototype. The game loads, and you’re standing in what appears to be a shed. There’s a worktable in the center, shelves across all the walls stacked with an assortments of tools. In the corner are boxes of gardening supplies. Once again, there is a locked door. You start searching for a button, or a switch, with no success. Perhaps you need a key, that’s hidden inside a box. You try pushing crates, crawling under tables, hitting the door with a hammer; nothing seems to work.

In frustration you ask the developer what to do. They say, “Isn’t it obvious, you have to stand on the plant pot and the door will open.”

Portal (2007) There’s never anything red inside a test chamber that isn’t a button.

Portal (2007)
There’s never anything red inside a test chamber that isn’t a button.

I’m sure we’ve all experienced this situation before. A game mechanic that appears to defy all common sense and logic. Yet in both of the prototype games, you actually experienced the same mechanic.

Standing on objects opens doors.

The reason the second game was a terrible experience was not because of the mechanic itself, but instead due to poor presentation of the mechanic. Specifically the mechanic lacked an intuitive visual design. This distinction is key in understanding how mechanics can be improved.

  • The mechanic is the underlying system of rules that determine the outcome of specific actions.

  • The presentation is the visual and audio output that allows the player to understand what the mechanic does.

Now we’ve established the difference between the mechanic and it’s presentation, I’m going to tell a story about how a small change in the presentation of a mechanic in Nocturne improved the game.

Nocturne (TBA) The old talent menu from an earlier build of the game.

Nocturne (TBA)
The old talent menu from an earlier build of the game.

The mechanic is simple; passive abilities which benefit you in combat. You can see some examples of these abilities in the above image. I decided to present the mechanic as talents, which you can learn by spending energy from leveling up. Each talent had two upgrade paths to improve it.

The actual mechanic functioned well, but during playtesting a few issues came up as a result of the presentation:

  • The energy system required to learn talents had no context or explanation.

  • Players didn’t realize you could unlearn talents.

  • You couldn’t learn both Upgrade A and Upgrade B but it was unclear why.

  • Players were paralyzed by choice. They had 9 talents and 18 upgrades.

Now there’s many things we can do to resolve some of those presentation issues, but instead I chose to do something more drastic. I took the base mechanic of passive abilities, and I completely changed the presentation.

Nocturne (TBA) New equipment menu from the latest build of the game.

Nocturne (TBA)
New equipment menu from the latest build of the game.

That’s right. Talents got scrapped and equipment took it’s place. Now you might be thinking it’s an entirely different mechanic, but the equipment does exactly the same thing as the talents previously did; they provide passive abilities which benefit you in combat.

The new equipment presentation fixed all the playtester’s issues:

  • There’s no need for an energy system anymore, now the player unlocks new passive abilities through obtaining new equipment.

  • It’s obvious you can unequip items, that needs no explanation.

  • Upgrades are now handled by finding better versions of the item.

  • Choice is easier when you find 1 item at a time and slowly build up a collection.

What’s really great about this presentation change, are the new possibilities it unlocked:

  • Players now have more reason to explore the map to find equipment.

  • Currency now has more purpose by allowing players to also buy equipment with it.

  • More control over player progression as they can no longer just grind levels to unlock all the talents.

While I could have done a few of the above things with the old talent system, none of them would have been as intuitive. I could have created an item which provided additionally energy when used and hidden those around the map, but all I’m doing is adding more features that need a wall of text to explain them. When you pickup a metal helmet, everyone already knows what to do with it.

Final Fantasy X (2001) Can new players look at the presentation and understand how the mechanic works?

Final Fantasy X (2001)
Can new players look at the presentation and understand how the mechanic works?

So next time you go to add more text explanation and visual complexity to the presentation of your mechanics, take a step back and ask yourself if the entire presentation can be simplified with a new design.

I’ll leave you with some key points on creating good presentation:

  • Consistent: If the green button heals you and the red button kills you, don’t have a green button that kills you.

  • Intuitive: You shouldn’t need to read a wall of text to understand the mechanic.

  • Feedback: When the enemy heals, you should both see and hear the mechanic in action.

  • Bullet Points: This might actually be a tip for writing blog posts about game design.

Bugs Caused by Bugs

Nocturne is in alpha. That means it has lots of bugs. Though it also has giant bugs you fight, but those are different kinds of bugs. We call those ones Crawlers.

Recently we had a bug where the combat interface wasn’t unloading if you quit directly to the menu during a battle. This created an interesting effect when you load back into the game.

As the game becomes more mechanically complex, the increase in moving parts create more possible combinations of actions, and more exotic bugs. Luckily this one was easy to fix.

I’ll be sure to share the most interesting ones we find, and hopefully you’ll join us in the Closed Beta later this year to find some of your own. Just sign up to our mailing list and you’ll be the first to hear more.

- Pracy.

Creatures of the Afterlife

The digital afterlife has become corrupt after millennia of isolation. Once a beacon of light for humanity; it's become an incubator for our darkest fears.

What spawns from this darkness are known as Crawlers, twisted creatures that hunt human souls. Nobody yet knows their purpose or motive, but their presence has been growing rapidly.

Nocturne Creatures.png

- Pracy

The Next Chapter

I'm Pracy, and this is the official development blog for Nocturne.

It's been two years since the proof-of-concept prototype was created. I'm now excited to announce the game began full time development in May 2018. Here's what to expect if you decide to follow this blog.

  • Details about the ongoing development of the game.

  • Screenshots and videos as we add new features.

  • Discussions about game design & storytelling.

  • Why I really like lowercase and you should too.

  • Bugs, glitches, crashes. It’s fun when things go wrong.

  • News about beta testing, demos and release dates.

  • Insight into the design process and reasons behind them.

  • Lots of bullet points.

If you'd like to contact me, you'll find an email form on the about page.
Or you can follow development via social media.

Twitterhttps://twitter.com/pracystudios
Reddithttps://www.reddit.com/r/Nocturne/
Discord: http://discord.pracy.ca/

This blog is a continuation from the Robot Hat blog. All information from the Robot Hat blog is now considered outdated and is only linked to maintain a complete archive of Nocturne's development.

Glad to have you here!

 - Pracy