Hey guys! As promised, this blog post is going to go over the changes we’ve made to the game flow, mission structure, and how the map works. After trying to put together one of our more complex missions, for the purpose of creating a proper demo, we came to the realization that the way we designed the world and missions of Moon Intern made development too slow. We looked at why we designed it that way in the first place and how we could improve on our original ideas without diminishing the spirit of the game. While speeding up the development time is important, we also wanted the changes to improve Moon Intern making it a more enjoyable experience for the player. The whole team is super excited about the changes we’ve made and that’s why we want to share it with you guys.
Since the time of the Kickstarter, Moon Intern’s map was designed to be a collection of interconnecting paths that made up the various districts and zones that comprised the world of Moon Intern. The player would exist in that world and would traverse it as such. Consider the world of Cave Story, for example. From the moment you start that game, you are in that world and the missions and events of the world happen around you. You don’t select a mission, the mission simply happens and you must act accordingly. The reason that this, lets call it a perpetual existence model, doesn’t work quite as well for Moon Intern is two fold. Firstly, Moon Intern’s linear narrative with nonlinear gameplay makes creating a cohesive mission, that takes all of the many little derivatives into account, an overly difficult and complex task. When something becomes too complex to maintain the obvious solution is to break it up into smaller, more manageable, pieces. However, for each break in the mission you must take the player out of the game world, even if just briefly, to bring them into a more abstract version of the game world. Doing this causes the player to no longer be in a perpetual state of existence; they only exist in the context of the specific mission, objective, or task they are doing rather than existing in the context of the game world. So to make more manageable missions, we had to shift the focal point of design from the game world to the missions and objectives. The question of whether or not the player exists in the context of the game world or the context of the mission brings us to the second problem that Moon Intern has with the perpetual existence model. Moon Intern is an episodic game made up of a number of story arcs which we are now calling “Books.” While it is entirely possible to use the perpetual existence model for episodic games we had to ask ourselves if that was what’s best suited for the presentation of Moon Intern. It really came down to the question of whether we wanted the player to exists in context of the entire game world or, more simply, in context of the mission they were currently doing. The answer, when posed with the question directly, may seem obvious but we still needed to consider exactly what changes we could make that would address these issues.
The fact was: we needed to break missions into smaller, more manageable, pieces. Originally, each mission, what we were calling “issues,” would take place in the course of a game day. The player would wake up in their home and the “issue” would begin to take shape around them. At the end of the game day the player would return to their home and that would end the “issue.” To simplify the often overly complex “issues,” we had to break them down to their essential pieces; eg. get these supplies, change that light bulb, defeat those guys. So, we decided to scrap the day based format in favor of an objective based format. You would no longer wake up in your home and start from there; now, the player starts gameplay on the world map and then selects a location. Once you’ve selected the location the player can chose what they want to do in that area. You can select a side quest, the main story, or you can simply select exploration with no particular objective at all. At the end of the objective or when the player leaves the area, the player is brought back to the world map where they can once again select a location and and objective. The “issues,” what we are now calling “stories,” would be made up of a number of these smaller, more succinct, objectives that will be tagged as “main story” missions. This means that we are no longer creating a game world, then trying to force missions into that world; now we’re tailoring the world to the specific things that the player will be doing in those spaces; which is an exciting prospect from a design point of view. These changes have us pretty excited for a lot of reasons but there was a concern that we would be losing something by moving away from the perpetual existence model.
There are a lot of things about Moon Intern that attracted the team and our fans to the game. So when reassessing and redesigning the major aspects of the game we had to consider what aspects of Moon Intern got people so excited about the project. Are the changes we’re making trampling on our fans’ concept of “what is Moon Intern?” That may seem like a loaded question because, frankly, we could probably do an entire series of blog post about “what is Moon Intern.” The real question is: “What is Moon Intern in relation to how the player will interact with the game world?” One of the reasons we initially used the perpetual existence model was that we wanted the player to feel like they were immersed in this exciting, living, breathing, new world on the Moon. These changes, in a literal sense, do indeed make Moon Intern less immersive but an actual feeling of immersion comes from more than simply creating a state of perpetual existence. I great example of this is the Mass Effect series. Mass Effect breaks the perpetual existence model by whisking you away on the Normandy and, despite this, it consistently maintains a fantastic sense of immersion. The key here, is that, you’re not simply bringing up a menu with a list of planets each time you leave a planet, you’re taking off in the Normandy. Likewise, in Moon Intern, the player isn’t just bringing up a menu listing each of the Moon’s various locals; they are trekking across this exciting and sometimes dangerous Moon Colony. The only difference to the old perpetual existence model is that the world that the player is traversing is a more abstract representation of the Moon Colony. In this way, we insure that, despite breaking the game into smaller pieces, we don’t break the immersion that we’ve created. In fact, rather than diminishing Moon Intern in some way, we’re confident that the changes we’ve made will improve the experience.
One of the new features that’s really going to help the player enjoy Moon Intern is that it’s going to be a lot more accessible. We realize that a lot of our fans are our age and don’t always have the time to sit down and play a game for hours like we could in our youth. Moon Intern’s new format allows for players to easily pick the game up for a quick little play session without having to worry about when they’ll be able to reach the next save point. This also makes it possible for players to go back and replay a part of the game they really loved or maybe retry something they would have liked to complete with a different strategy, and in doing so, unlocking different story paths. Another exciting prospect is that, since we no longer have to design the map in a grid of roads and paths, Larry has more artistic freedom to design the look of the Moon Colony. Just from the rough concept he’s put together, the world map already looks a lot more interesting and a good deal more charming. We’re also super excited to be able to release smaller, easier to digest, chunks of the game for our testers. It can be daunting to have to play-test more than a half hour of gameplay and properly record every bug or problem you had. With a more focused play experience, we’ll be able to get more worthwhile test data from our awesome play testers (Warning: pandering).
There’s a lot to be excited about for the future of Moon Intern, especially considering the prospect of these new changes. The accelerated development time, the new design challenges/opportunities, the refocused design of missions/story, and the prospect that we’ll be able to make this already exciting project even more exciting has rejuvenated us. Perhaps the thrill of solving a big problem, a joy that all game designers share, is the key to our new found vigor. Either way, we couldn’t be more excited to implement these new changes. Thank you so much for reading and continuing to visit. Feel free to let us know how you feel about this blog post in the comments. We’re still very dedicated to doing at least one of these per week and we’d love some feedback about what you guys like or don’t like, or if you have any suggestions for blog posts you’d like to see. Thanks again! Love you all!