It’s been two weeks since TWoAF came out, and maybe it’s time I finally look back at these two years of development and write some considerations. This is the first time I finish such a long-term project, so this postmortem is going to be mostly a stream of consciousness kind of thing because I wouldn’t know how to structure it.
Looking back at the game, I’m proud of how it is. It could have been better, sure, but given the resources I had (mostly… time!) I think I did a good job.
I’m so glad that the Kickstarter campaign was successful. The voices are great and they really make my writing shine. It’s also been a lovely experience for me. I had already worked with voice actors for No Rest for the Wicked, but this time it was a bigger project, with many people, many different characters. All actors were extremely professional, and I can’t wait to make a new voiced game.
The game was playable to the end in November 2022. It’s been one year of development and one year of polishing. And boy did the game need polishing. I aimed for a very nonlinear game, and there are tens if not hundred of lines that most players won’t be able to hear. It’s a game that rewards those who explore even if they already know the solution.
Oh, the possession mechanism… I’ll have nightmares about this for the rest of my life. I think it made the game a lot more enjoyable, and I regret not using it to its full potential, but it was constantly bringing the game on the verge of breaking irremediably. First problem: NPCs are NPCs for a reason. They serve a purpose, and their purpose is in that room. If you can move them around, you need to make sure they go back to where they belong. Then there was the voicing problem: their sentences must be the same from Artie, since he’s the one expressing the opinions, but which voice am I going to use? I opted for Artie’s voice for two reasons: the first being that some playtesters forgot they weren’t playing as the NPC, but they were still playing as Artie just using a body; the second, it was cheaper – I couldn’t afford recording all possible hotspot descriptions for all NPCs. But this created a problem, since the engine wasn’t meant to be used that way, mixing player character with voices from another one. I had to bend the PowerQuest core to my needs, and the result was that it was impossible for me to update the engine. But I’m happy with how things turned out.
Blackwell. I have the Blackwell series in my Steam library, but I avoided playing it because I knew it had a similar idea behind it, and I didn’t want to be influenced. I played Blackwell Legacy as soon as the game was out, and I can see why people might make a parallel between Joey and Artie, But this was completely unintentional.
The recap system in Act2 is another thing I’m very proud of. Act2 is very broad and people can lose track, but I didn’t want a “todo list”, because it inherently tells the player what’s important and what isn’t. Instead you get sentences like “I sensed some friction between the grocer and the farmer”, which isn’t tied to a goal, but it’s just a reminder of what happened earlier in the game. And it was a chance to insert new jokes. The hardest part was updating the list whenever something happened, because there are about a hundred entries in that list.
Farty Party took me around 5 hours to implement. The biggest challenge was integrating a purely Unity gameplay room within PowerQuest.
I love the cemetery. I love that I managed to make the flowers visible to everyone, and it’s fun that I can check who is bringing flowers to whom from my Steam admin page. It makes me want to integrate these things in my next game too.
I feel like I improved a lot in drawing, during these years. I still need to understand how to make captivating room backgrounds, but my animations are now better and most importantly… portraits. I love drawing them. If I make another Kickstarter campaign, I’ll add them as a reward for sure.
Translating the epitaphs was hard. Translating in general was hard, but I did my best to avoid puns and wordplay because I knew I was going to pay for it… but still some people decided to submit puns or (even worse!) poems as their epitaphs, and I had to make them rhyme in Italian.
My main regret is that the story doesn’t evolve too much. The game shows its jam origins. I want my next game to give a bigger sense of adventure, with a plot that reveals itself throughout the gameplay.
As for the puzzles, I’m very happy with them and I’m happy that people all agree: they’re hard, but fair and rewarding. It was the first time I had to design longer puzzle chains, and maybe some were too long.
I don’t have a favorite puzzle in this game. I still think my best two puzzles are Otto from NR4TW and the cheese from Mutiny on the Clodia.
Voicing the pizza guy was fun. But strangely enough, the accent was hard. I have two kinds of accents when I speak English: my speaking one, which is mostly American sounding (but nowhere near native level!), and my reading one, which I use when I’m speaking Italian and I have to read something in English out loud to some other Italian person… meaning it’s very, VERY thick. It’s probably difficult to understand for non-Italians, so for pizza guy I opted for a mix, something that was more stereotypical Italian than authentic Italian. I recorded the lines about 10 times because I was never satisfied.
I had fun making music too. My favorite tune is the Barbershop. The Cemetery is based on a tune I wrote when I was 15, but I was surprised how good it could integrate with the Flabbington theme (which I randomly wrote for the first trailer back in 2022) and the Lucy Dreaming theme. It was all a coincidence, yet switching between the various crypts feels amazing. And I love the way the same tune changes feeling in the Cemetery Office.
I really need to learn to play the Farty Party theme on the piano. I love writing ragtime but I can’t play it.
Next time I’ll design a game with a better demo in mind. The jam version was fine for Kickstarter, but the final Act1 has better writing, better acting and a better structure. I’ll be releasing Act1 as a new demo soon, but I really needed to have this ready before the game was out, not two weeks after release.
I hate marketing. It’s already enough that I was able to finish a game all by myself in two years working nights and weekends while also taking care of two kids, it’s impossible for me to acquire the skills necessary to make my game known. Maybe next time I’ll look for a publisher. In the end, gamedev is just a hobby for me. I still wish I could make it into my day job. Some people commented that TWoAF is a bit short, and I don’t disagree… but imagine what I could do if I could work on a game full time instead of just a few hours a week.
I think that’s all. If you read up to this point, thanks. Don’t forget to leave a review and tell all your friends about the game.