Our thesis goal was to experiment on the classic point and click adventure with indirect manipulation of NPCs through thoughts.
In the first iteration of our thought-manipulation mechanic, we went with a more traditional point and click approach, involving a playable character and an inventory. NPCs could have multiple thoughts in their heads at a time. These thoughts appeared one-at-a-time and cycled through. The player would swap entire thoughts with those in the inventory. An NPC needed to have the correct combination of thoughts in order to progress through the puzzle.
Because the player was dealing with full sentences, there was too much text on the screen and too much information for the player to process. In order to lessen the amount of text onscreen, we only displayed an NPC’s thoughts when the playable character was standing nearby—but this turned out to be an unnecessary burden for the player, requiring him to use the arrow keys to walk back and forth in order to see and solve the puzzle. Also, the cycling of thoughts required the player to do a lot of sitting and waiting for the thought they needed to cycle through.
In order to reduce the amount of text the player had to read, we switched from a sentence bank to a word bank. Each NPC only had one thought at a time, and that thought was divided up into pieces that the player could swap out. This led to two problems: first, the player could create nonsense sentences, and two, players often misinterpreted the meaning and effects of the words. Also, we removed the playable character entirely; the player now clicks on an NPC to see their thoughts.
In order to minimize misinterpretation issues, we removed the word bank and replaced it with icons. Through playtesting, we found that this actually made the problem worse.
In the final mechanic iteration, we removed the thought inventory entirely. Each thought has one section that can be swapped out—the player drags objects from the environment into an NPC’s thought to change the mutable thought section. The player still doesn’t know exactly what the result will be, but we leveraged this ambiguity for comedic effect.
We learned quite a bit from this project:
– Iteration is necessary for all aspects of game development.
– Player feedback is invaluable for refinement.
– We each held ourselves accountable for the things we specialize in.
– Teamwork made it all possible.