In all actuality, pre-production started a while back, but I've been so hard at work that I hadn't gotten around to posting the announcement for it! My goal for this phase is to make a working prototype that I'll be able to showcase and receive feedback on. I still have plenty to do before I have a presentable prototype of the flow, but a lot has been achieved already.
One of the first things I did when I started this project is that I researched existing games similar to the one I am trying to create. With help from others I've compiled this list:
- Charnel Houses of Europe: The Shoah
- Prisoner of War
- Sonderkommando Revolt
- Imagination is the only escape
I'll be analysing each of these games (where possible) to see what I can learn from them. I've already got notes on a few of them, but I feel the best way to present my research would be to give each it's own little post.
However, I can't quite stop myself from talking a little bit about Zone 22 in advance. Personally, I don't think it's a very good game, not in the least because of some very strange design decisions. No, the reason Zone 22 interests me in particular is two-fold:
- It's recent.
- There are a lot of comments on it.
That last bit in particular is extremely helpful to me. The general tone of the comments does seem to be positive in the sense that people are interested in a game that has a setting akin to the one in Zone 22. That, I think is encouraging. While not decisive by any means, it does tell me that there is an audience for games like Zone 22.
Aside from that first bit of research I've also watched a handful of documentaries on WW2 and in particular on Auschwitz. When I first conceived this game I thought large parts of it would be set in an concentration camp.
But that's changing...
The simplest reason is that I've grown increasingly capable of understanding the true horror of what occured. It's very easy to think that the stories of people like Kitty Hart Moxon aren't really real. Not because I don't believe her, but because it is hard to imagine it having been real. Yet, that capacity has grown and it has brought about some changes in my thinking.
Making a game that is centered around being locked up in a Nazi concetration camp is no longer the goal. I no longer think it would or could work. In fact, it wouldn't do history any justice. At the very least it would take a level of craftmanship far beyond my capacity. Both from a gameplay and a historical perspective, it would do injustice to the subject matter.
Zone 22 is actually a good example of this. The setting is one of utter dread and misery, yet the player (Jim Sterling in the video) can't help but feel bored and even as a viewer, it's easy to get bored. Out of all the feelings a game designer would want to evoke, boredom is (should be!) at the very bottom of the list. Especially in a setting that should have the player feeling fearful, desperate, lonely, hopeless...
Instead, of trying to turn this project into a "better" Zone 22, I've concluded a wholly different approach is required. I'm now opting to paint a much broader picture by having the game be about survival throughout the war (1940-1945). The player starts a day before the war breaks lose. There's some time to get to know various characters and establish relationships before all hell breaks lose. While this would increase scope, it also solves a lot of problems. One of these problems is drama.
I've known this from writing for a long time now, but you can't make a character go through bad (dramatic) experiences without context. A painting can only show depth if there's both light and dark present. The hues may be dark, the saturaiton may be low, but there has to be contrast or else all depth is lost. This is why Zone 22 has no weight or impact. It's just empty, meaningless melodrama; it's boring.
With this new angle on things however, there's a lot more room for depth. It should also help avoid knee-jerk reactions once I bring this project more out into the open.
Pre-production is underway! It feels good to be going, but I need to be wary of what I am doing. I'm catching myself doing concept art or composing tunes. It's not neccesary. The focus should be on research, running surveys and testing (paper) prototypes. The endgoal for this month is to have:
- A GDD Draft.
- One or more working (paper) prototypes.
- Conducted a survey to help identify the target audience.