I feel I started on the path to designing a video game back when I began taking courses in software engineering. And a contributing factor would be the gaming-related blogs I wrote to post on the website of my writing group. My critiques of what made a good game drew encouragement from fellow members of the group to design one myself. After many years of deliberation, I finally got around to creating my own PC video game in November 2020.
Initially, I didn’t have a story so much as an idea. I wanted to have it so the player could loot random items from treasure chests that would either help or hinder them in battle. This would have included a wide variety of wacky items ranging from food to household items to tools and more. And I wanted to have it so that certain objects would prove especially useful against a particular monster. It didn’t take me long to come up with the title, Secret Weapon, for my game.
I started work on it shortly after I took a leave of absence from my job out of fear of the worsening pandemic. Using a program called RPG Maker MV, I started building some basic maps to use in the game and created some preliminary items to use in battle.
I can’t entirely say what turned me away from my initial concept. Maybe it was the areas that were teeming with treasure chests to loot that felt meaningless. Or maybe I felt that the game would benefit from the inclusion of an actual story. In either case, I started to brainstorm what kind of narrative Secret Weapon could have.
I eventually decided there existed an opportunity to adapt several story ideas I’d had for years that never made it past the planning stages. One was called Whisper of Destiny, a medieval fantasy story that entailed a female college graduate (Sahara Flowers) being whisked from her modern world into this fantasy realm to become one of its champions. The other untitled story revolved around a vampiress named Alicia who declared war against a royal family for unexplained reasons.
I also threw in another character of mine, a shapeshifter named Gisselle, with no relation to either of the above stories. She would be one of two characters who players could choose as their avatar. The other would be Jason, a modern day thirty-something businessman who took the place of Sahara. Building up intros for both Jason and Gisselle helped me flesh out their characters to some degree. Over the course of designing their introductions, I felt that the name Gisselle didn’t fit the character and it got changed to Morrigan.
When it came to Jason, I wanted to create a scenario where he was working late at the office when he’s compelled, via a mysterious disembodied voice, to jump from the roof into a portal that transports him to the medieval realm. For Morrigan, I decided she should be an enslaved arena fighter (rendered incapable of shapeshifting) saved from a fatal match by a magic academy instructor who sees promise in her.
Designing the opening cutscenes for my two playable characters presented more than a few challenges. I ran multiple tests for each to weed out problems. For Jason, I had to tweak his movements quite a bit; if I had him move too far in one direction, he would get stuck against a wall or railing and the scene would fail to progress. Even more challenging was the bit where I had to simulate him falling from the side of a building. I don’t know how to accurately describe what I had to do to get the effect to play out the way I wanted. But it ended up looking really good to me.
I finished up Jason’s cutscene by having him interact a bit with a female character in this medieval world. That’s currently as far as I’ve gotten with him. My focus has since been primarily on building up Morrigan’s story, which will be entirely separate from his.
When it came to designing Morrigan’s intro, I decided I wanted to have a scripted battle in which the player had no control over how the fight went. This presented its own set of challenges. I have it set up so that Morrigan and the orc she’s fighting deal random amounts of damage to each other, but neither was intended to die before the scene played itself out. During a handful of my many playtests, either the orc or Morrigan would get killed unintentionally. I’ve had to tweak the settings to avoid these outcomes, but I’m still not sure I have it entirely accurate.
As I’ve continued to develop Morrigan’s narrative, I’ve deleted some of the prior map layouts I’ve made, particularly the various rooms of the castle and almost all of the first dungeon. I’ve come to realize it may be better to build up the environments as they’re needed for the narrative. I’ve gone from having at least twenty-five rooms for the castle to just six that are necessary for the start of Morrigan’s story.
In addition to the story and world building, I’ve also been designing in-game items to utilize and set up a system where the player can obtain random potions, weapons, or armor from treasure chests or other characters. I can see there’s a lot of work to be done before I have a complete game – map/world building, character creation, monster creation, sound & music design, and item/weapon/armor design. I even aim to create my own artwork, particularly when it comes to designing creatures to combat. But I am hoping to have a demo put together soon from which I can derive helpful feedback from some online acquaintances of mine.
All in all, I am loving all the progress I’ve made so far. And I imagine I’ll continue to take joy in putting together my newest creative endeavor.
This is a great piece of writing Jeanette. It is so interesting!
Good for you, Jeanette. Keep up the good work.