Hey there Cadets, the time felt right for another EXOK newsletter :) So grab a warm drink and a purring cat, and dig into this cozy winter update.
Earthblade - we're still workin' on it.
Work continues at a pleasant pace. "Slow and steady" has been our motto. Progress never feels fast enough, but whenever we look back it's undeniable that we're getting a lot done.
This week we've been working on the game's introduction - what happens when the player starts up Earthblade for the first time. It's exciting that we've built up the foundations to the point where this is possible. It's also a daunting task, but it feels like the right time to tackle it. Untangling all the prerequisites for a functional and entertaining intro to this game is forcing us to answer a lot of big questions that have been looming since the project's inception.
And as usual, what we make now won't be the final version that you'll eventually see. It's more of a first draft, to be revisited and touched up later in the process. But it will be infinitely easier to rework and polish this sequence than it will be to create it out of thin air.
One aspect of developing the introduction that I'm really enjoying is the amount of very close collaboration that it has necessitated. Noel, Amora, Pedro, and I are all weighing in and trading work back and forth constantly as we assemble this jigsaw puzzle. There have been periods where one or all of us are off working on different parts of the game separately with less frequent communication - such as when Pedro recently fell down a calligraphy rabbit hole (with great results!) - but this is the opposite, a task that requires all of our attention and problem solving. We often find ourselves all gathered around one team member's desk, discussing the finer points of some piece of the puzzle.
In general, Earthblade feels like an even more collaborative effort than Celeste, to the point where I'm questioning whether a "Director" credit even makes sense this time around. The more we work together, the more this team's structure has tended to flatten. What does being a director mean in this context? The game's core vision is being developed collaboratively, and the director-ish responsibilities that I have just feel like things that would logically fall to any person who was heading up both the design and writing for a game like this.
For example, I'm not approving or rejecting content like a traditional director might. I am looking at everyone's work and giving feedback from my perspective as the person in charge of Earthblade's design, UX, and narrative… but everyone is doing that. Noel and Chevy review our ideas from a tech perspective, Pedro and Amora from art, etc. Basically all of our work is self-directed and we've put a lot of effort into our custom editor tools so that we can implement our own work into the game and test it ourselves. It does often fall to me to push ahead and define where the project goes next, but again that just feels like a reality of being both the writer and the designer of this kind of game.
I enjoy calling myself a director. I'm proud of the title! Maybe it was more true for Celeste and especially TowerFall and maybe it will be true again in the future, but it's beginning to feel like a hollow title for this project.
||We tweeted some pics of us around the office over the last week or so, hanging out and working on Earthblade. I like these photos a lot. Heidy is doing a great job documenting our process and, as has become tradition, eagle-eyed fans were able to glean some tidbits of information from our trusty whiteboard.|
Yes, I suppose this confirms that Earthblade has one big feature that I personally have limited experience working with to this point: it has Numbers. All digital games require some amount of numbers and math by definition, but they don't all have capitol "N" Numbers like these: multipliers, bonuses, stats, effects. Crunchy, juicy Numbers that are surfaced to the player. Historically I've shied away from Numbers and centered my design work around movement, with Celeste being a perfect example. My view has been that the mathematical part of our brains is pretty different from the part that deals with the visceral simplicity of spatial movement. Games like Celeste and TowerFall had no reason to stray into that math-y territory.
On Earthblade I've been interested in searching out a sweetspot where we can simplify and marry both elements in a way that strengthens the design rather than diluting it. Obviously the game can't help but inherit a strong focus on spatial relationships, but it tangles that up in these sweet, sweet Numbers. As you can imagine this changes our approach to basically all aspects of design at a fundamental level. I look forward to diving more into our level design philosophy for this project in the future, but right now that philosophy is still being built up with experimentation, playtesting, and contemplation.
Well it looks like I'm out of time. Thanks for reading and stay safe out there friends!
The team at EXOK would like to add that we stand in solidarity with the employees of Activision-Blizzard who are demanding change from their negligent and abusive bosses. We join the many voices calling on Activision-Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick to resign. We believe that all game workers deserve fair compensation, a safe and supportive workplace, and a strong union to keep their bosses truly accountable to them.