Today I am going to begin in earnest my summer project. I am going to try to work on it a little every day, but focus on it on Saturdays, during which I have the most free time. I’m not really setting a timeline on this game, because I feel like it should take as long as it needs to take. If it lasts past the end of the summer, then so be it, but it might get interrupted by school if it does.
Today, I intend to describe what my summer project is about, how it came about and why I am doing this instead of a number of other projects I already have going.
So the working title of the project is “The Epic of Sadko the Street Performer” although I will probably shorten it to “The Epic of Sadko” much of the time. The simple explanation of the game is that it is a game about a street performer who finds a book and takes it to a library. Overall, it sounds rather dull, I know. This is somewhat on purpose.
This semester, I played and watched 60 games. Most of them had what a lot of people would call “epic” storylines. The story of the game surrounds a hero rushing to save the world or universe from destruction at the evil hand of some adversary. This idea about The Epic of Sadko arose while watching my roommate play Mass Effect 3. In that game, every decision is important and somewhat over the top, as the main character is off to save the universe from some force designed specifically to destroy the universe in some kind of cycle of rebirth. It focused on the ending of the game, trying to reach some significant climax in which the rest of the game did not so much matter. But I’m not here to talk about Mass Effect 3.
My contention was this focus on the epic tale. Characters growing to immense power who must be challenged by greater powers every step of the way. Characters who were heroic or villainous who set out to do great things and affect whole worlds or even more. It can be draining to go around saving everyone in every game you play. It can also get boring.
So I thought, why not make a light-hearted game? Why not make a game with simple characters who do not aim for greatness, but simply want to get by and have fun while they’re doing it? Does every game have to be so grim and dire?
What follows here is a description of the characters in the game. Reading it may ruin parts of the game for you when it’s playable by others, so if you want to skip it, click here.
So I have made my characters be different from the epic games. There are three characters in all, but the main character is obviously Sadko. Sadko is a street performer and the child of some village farmers. The tale for Sadko starts with a book, found along the path back to the village. No one can read the book, but the village elder thinks the book is complete rubbish. Still, the elder wants to see Sadko do something in life, and devises a task to send Sadko to a large library to have the book examined, hoping that Sadko will grow a little along the way.
Sadko is met on the road by two others, Alex and Raisa. Alex is an apprentice librarian at the library that Sadko is traveling to. Alex is also out on a task, because no one wants him at the library. The librarians study a lot of different things, but mainly study the summoning of spirits. Alex befriended spirits that no one wants, the spirit of termites and the spirit of rubbish writing. Working in a library, no one really wants these spirits around, so the librarians constantly send Alex out on impossible tasks, in hopes that he will stay away for quite some time. By complete coincidence, the task that Alex was sent out on before meeting Sadko was to find a book being carried by a street performer and return the book to the library.
The final companion of the game is Raisa, the trader. Raisa is the daughter of the most powerful merchant of the country. Her father is stubborn and proud, and he will not help his daughter by seeding her business. Raisa is a very bad merchant, but her family has pressured her into being one, so she tries in earnest. She sells enough to get by, but often has to travel from town to town because people lose trust in her, suspecting her of underhanded tactics. Having such an important father leads Raisa to be scorned by other traders, and so they only sell her the things that nobody wants. She rarely ever has any goods worth selling. When Raisa meets Sadko, her cart and mule had fallen over a cliff while Raisa was demonstrating one of her goods, and thus was desperate for anything of value to sell. She spies the book Sadko is carrying, and steals it. When Sadko catches up to her, she gives up, realizing that she can’t even open the book, and returns it. She offers her services as a bodyguard, having no wares to sell, but being handy with her sword is still an asset.
These three characters have nothing really going for them. No one really likes them. People wish they would do something more with their lives, but they are content with just getting along in the world. The task is not very exciting, but the game really isn’t about completing the task, but instead the journey.
The reason I am making The Epic of Sadko is because I want to make a game that doesn’t get me bogged down in making a pretty game. Sure, the game could be pretty, but that isn’t the point. I need to finish making a game that has more game elements to it. One that is harder to make than the last few I have. I was inspired by Mike Bithell’s Thomas Was Alone to make a game using minimalist graphics. The tiles will be squares. The people will be circles. By making the graphics simple, this means that I won’t have to worry about all that, and can focus on crafting a real game.
I have tried to make many games in my life, but what always has stopped me was that the games didn’t look right. They weren’t pretty enough for me. And then I would get bogged down in making everything look perfect and pretty, and never get to coding anything worthwhile. Eventually I would abandon the project. I can’t entirely ignore the way that the game looks, but I can trick myself by saying that I’m taking on a minimalist art style. Because I need to finish a challenging game, I need to do this. And I do need to finish a challenging game. It will boost my confidence as a programmer and a designer. This is important to me, because I often feel like I’m not good enough to make it in this career.
I’ll leave you with a mockup of what the tiles will look like. I made the mockup in paint, so bear with me if the tiles look bad. Also: minimalism, so don’t expect them to look fancy!