As part of the official release of Flame In The Abyss, I am posting a six part series of devlogs detailing the process by which this game was created..
Welcome to Chapter 2 of the #SparkInTheDark journal: Research!
As I brought up before in Chapter 1, I had managed to get inspiration to write something about by processing trauma & dealing with grief. But I wasn't sure where to go with the game's design. So, I did what any writer does in this situation: I started reading.
I knew going in I wanted rolls to be minimal & players to have story prompts. Beyond that, I was at a loss. So, I took some time and focused on two games that stood out to me at first: Connie Chang's Halo 'n' Horns and quinn b. rodriguez's "your sister's drown'd, laertes."
I say this without exaggeration: this game would not have happened without the influence of quinn's game. The narrative gut punches and layout they do with their game are exquisite and the twist in narrative development is staggeringly good. I truly believe more people should read that game and the rest of quinn's work and have designated my own as carrying the spirit of their game as a show of my respect for its influence.
In contrast to quinn's game, Connie Chang's game was not the tone I at all wanted to have for my game. Not even close. However, what it did have was narrative and mechanical brilliance mixed quite wonderfully together. In many ways, both quinn and Connie's games overlap in how they play around with who has narrative authority. The intentional ways in which they upend conventional storytelling tropes are nothing short of spectacular and I would love to see more games follow in their footsteps.
As a result of these two games, I came to the conclusion that I wanted the roles I had in mind to be skewed in how they handled narrative authority. Furthermore, I knew I needed to handle player safety delicately, much like how Dragonhearts by AFractalDragon does. In a way, a lot of influence from games like Alex Robert's For The Queen & Caroline Hobbs' Downfall came in at this point. Both encourage collaborative world-building and non-monogamous character agency in ways I absolutely adore. You never quite know who you end up as in either game and a lot of control is out of your hands with how the narrative shifts.
Kind of like how grief affects you in strange, often surprising ways you don't expect.
But I knew I wanted a certain emotional ending for the stories that could be told with my game and I wanted to be intentional about what that ending was. How could the game end without feeling like players had to feel one way or another?
In the end, the answer was easy to find. Moss Bosch's game This Party Sucks has a rather direct way of stating how the course of that game will play out at its end. While their game handles a different scenario for its themes, it outright says the game will end with a certain emotional reprieve for the main characters. No matter the journey, the ending will have a given emotional release to ease the weight of the story players created.
And so, I found my last tool for inspiration. I found the last thing I knew had to be a part of the game from the outset: I wanted the journey for players to be one of reconciliation, of making peace with their loss.
With that last insight, I moved into finally doing the thing all writers (game designer and otherwise) dread doing: actually writing the fucking game.
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