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Guys, you don’t understand, it wasn’t supposed to be that good of a game!

November 19, 2012

So, GDC China just ended.  I had a great time, met some great people, and listened to some fantastic talks.

But that’s enough of that (at least, for now).  Because, you see, the first morning of the conference was the day MochiAds accepted my game Why Am I Dead.  It was also the day I was allowed to put my game on the bigger flash portals.  I just sort of did this without any real expectations for anything, except for maybe a transient increase in ad impressions.  Mentally, I had already finished the game and made it public.  This was just a little footnote.

I was so, so, so stupidly wrong.

With such a promising mechanic, I hope WAID ends up being more of a proof of concept for a bigger project… As a standalone game, Why Am I Dead? has flaws, but it’s still plenty fun enough to justify sinking 30 minutes to an hour into it…

Gamecola.net

Clearly at the moment, the developer has a greater amount of skill at constructing an effective mystery than depicting it in Flash. However, it is an ambitious, atmospheric work reminiscent of Hotel Dusk or Colonel’s Bequest, and it has quite the killer ending. This marks Peltast Games as a designer to watch out for in the future.

JayIsGames.com

It’s certainly not perfect, but Why Am I Dead? is brilliant enough to be worth a few confused hours this late Sunday evening.

Indiegames.com

  • It got the daily first spot on Newgrounds on 11/17/12 with about 9,500 views
  • …and is continuing quite healthily on the “Popular Games” section with, as of now, over a 4 star rating
  • Also got included on FreeIndieGam.es, a web-blog that I am a big fan of

I don’t know how all of the above looks to people who are not me.  After all, a lot of the praise is qualified with good criticism, and there are Daily winners on Newgrounds every, well, every day.  So, perhaps none of this shocks or awes you, the audience.

As for myself, however, well.  I.  It’s just.  Ahem.  Forgive me as I pretend that I’m on Tumblr for a moment.

There’s a lot more to say on the game as a whole and I may write up a post-mortem in the near future.  As for now, there’s still a lot of work to be done on the game regarding bugs and APIs and whatnot and I should be doing all that and not posting on my blog!

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From → Why Am I Dead

13 Comments
  1. Okay, I know this is weird and out of the blue, but does WAID have an easter egg/alternative ending? The whole TED/serial killer storyline thing has me buggy. Did you just throw that in as a red herring/extra fun storyline thing, or is there more to your game than meets the eye?

    • It’s not weird or out of the blue at all! I’ve noticed this reaction from quite a few people after playing the game. I’ve wanted to make a more definitive statement on it, but have held off thus far because, well…I suppose I haven’t been sure how to react! The answer is kind of long and messy, but I feel I owe it to you and anyone who went so far as to check out my blog to be more straight-forward.

      The short answer is, unfortunately, no there isn’t an alternative ending, though I’ve been working on adding a small one since around when I wrote this blog post. It’s probably too-little-too-late, but I feel it’s the least I could do!

      The longer answer is that at first I had several elements to the story that I thought would be nice to just leave up to the player to piece together. After a certain point, the story grew a mind of its own and I felt that at least one alternate ending would be needed to flesh things out at least a bit more. I ended up scrapping this (as well as some parts from the original ending) though, because the limited beta-testing I ran had very few people finish the original ending, much less put together things regarding the serial killer and so on. I basically thought “Who will really want one or get to see it anyway?” and that was that.

      I really, really did not expect people to be interested in a flash game this text-heavy. Of course, I’m very excited that I was wrong about that, but at the same time I now regret cutting some of the things I did.

  2. Ivan permalink

    Good job on the game, I see you’re also an Earthbound fan 🙂 Just played it on NG I thought it was pretty cool and different. Keep it up man.

    • Hey Ivan, thanks for the comment! Glad you enjoyed the game. I’m always pleased when people point out the link to Earthbound.

  3. Nicodamus permalink

    Hi Patrick, I wanted to come here, to your blog, to see if you were talking about your design choices when writing the game. I have also thought about making games even though I have not formally studied game design, and I’m glad that you were able to pull off a game this good being a History Major (you have probably studied a lot to get to this point though).

    Well anyways I wanted to provide some constructive criticism, mainly because I see this game as the introduction to a possibly better and “full” game. And also because I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    First of all I’ve seen that a lot of people commenting on the premise. You as the player are the ghost of the murder victim trying to find out what happened. I feel that it is just an excuse for the game mechanics which are awesome by the way. The switching between characters and getting to see the different interactions between them is a super interesting way to tell the whole story. The problem with explaining it as a spiritual possession is that it’s not true in the game. I mean the people you possess never show any signs of being possessed, as in they do not show any signs of being a different person from what they were before the possession. They don’t gain any new knowledge from the ghost or behave differently. And also why wouldn’t the ghost know who killed him but that’s not the point. I believe that you could drop that ghost thing and the game would benefit from it, only because writing it into the story would create more problems than it would solve in my opinion. I guess you could introduce the ghost as a character, maybe as some sort of interface that collects all the new information you are getting from the character conversations. But that wouldn’t explain why there is no noticeable influence on the possessed. Maybe the ghost is like a passenger on the people’s minds and can’t influence them, maybe events are just happening without him doing anything. If you think about it *SPOILER* Cricket and Lucile would be investigating anyways, for different reasons but still. Maybe that’s what you intended the whole way but then I wouldn’t call it a possession. The point is there is a problem there.

    Then there is the ending. It does feel abrupt and it does end on a cliff-hanger. I would definitely expect there to be a continuation. Everyone is saying that they expected Cricket to be involved in the crime and for a good reason. There are only two characters that are suspicious at that point Ted and him. Once Lucille reveals her cover and exposes Cricket it felt that they would need to work together to fulfil their goals. I mean Lucille still needs to catch that Serial Killer and Cricket having learned who killed his shady business partner needs to get rid of Lucille (ending 1) or just make some kind of deal with her (ending 2- from this one you could continue). That would be the starting of the “full” game where you find out about the nature of the illegal activities and the Serial Killer. It doesn’t need to be much longer only that it is a bit odd to end the game before you solve the real mystery. If the game continued you could provide a better twist ending. Everyone saw Cricket being involved, and once it is revealed that he didn’t kill the guy but was the business partner you can satisfy people who were suspicious about him but telling them: not quite. Then when all suspicions are cleared you have a clear board again to let that Killer be anyone.
    Also regarding that last scene why would Lucille tell Cricket everything why wouldn’t she suspect him being the partner?

    Well that’s my thoughts I liked your game a lot and it reminded me of the Chzo mythos games.

    • Nicodamus permalink

      Oh I hadn’t read your latest post. Yeah it makes sense that it would have some plot holes if it was a practice game. Anyways being able to control every character in a game would make a fun one.

      • Hey Nicodamus, thanks for the thorough critique! Lots to think about in there.

        Yeah, the History major can be a bit deceiving; I’ve been programming since high school, and seriously considered a History/CompSci double-major in college. In the end, I settled for a History major with a ton of programming on the side, some in classes and some self-taught.

        Regarding the ghost memory/personality thing: I’ve been a bit caught off guard by how rigid some people have taken how the afterlife ‘should’ play out. When I was coming up with the idea, I took it for granted that in this game, when you died you did not retain your memory, or perhaps even your personality. When you start the game, you and the hotel owner’s specter are on the same exact page; all you know is you’re dead, and you have no particular knowledge as to why, or any attachment to the hotel itself. You may not even feel the need for revenge, necessarily — you are driven mainly by a desire to know why. Regarding things like this, I’m going to stubbornly hold my ground and answer the questions “Why?” that pop up with “Because.” Ghosts are made up things, and in this game that’s how I decided to make them up!

        The act of possession is trickier, and you are correct in the sense that I didn’t really do a good job defining what it is you’re actually doing when you take ‘control’ of a person’s body. I guess I was kind of thinking you aren’t really controlling the person, but observing them…but that still doesn’t sit right, because the player is literally controlling the person, not observing them. So, there is definitely a disconnect between the player’s actions and what the narrative is telling them they’re actually doing.

        There are several ways to resolve that conflict between the game mechanics and narrative, and one of them is as you stated: to remove the ghost narrative altogether. Another is to give the ghost a personality and make them totally possess people in a more literal sense. More likely, though, I’ll try and find a way to have a ghost that retains some of their personality, but that is not able to always fully control people all the time; essentially, to make the struggle between the ghost’s consciousness and the host’s a part of the game mechanics. Well, whichever way it goes, it’s definitely something I’ll be thinking about if I move forward with this game idea.

        Regarding the game’s ending, yes it is rushed! I had planned to explain things out just a little more, but cut out a lot of stuff due to burn-out and a lack of confidence in my game. The ending probably would have remained somewhat cliff-hanger-like in any case, but better-paced. However, to some extent my aim was to make an ending that was a bit unsettling, and not entirely satisfying to the mystery-solver’s sensibilities. I probably overshot that though.

        Two things you brought up regarding the ending’s actual plot, which are of course big SPOILERS to any other readers:

        1) Cricket and Lucille have no reason to team up at the end once both have revealed themselves. Lucille knows way too much and has to be killed off. Likewise, Lucille prioritizes killing the business-partner over the serial killer, so she would want to kill or subdue Cricket as well. Once Cricket discovers that Lucille was the killer, there are very few possible outcomes, and all of them involve one of the two being taken out of the plot.

        2) Lucille’s info-dump on Cricket is indeed partially her carrying the idiot-ball simply to give exposition at the ending. To some extent though, she doesn’t have many options, because if Cricket is indeed a civilian and has learned that Lucille was the murderer, there’s the risk that he will alert everyone else in the hotel, which would include the serial killer and the business-partner, which is a really bad scenario. Lucille thus attempts to avoid this by gaining his trust with the truth, but, admittedly, in a very clumsy fashion that doesn’t entirely fit her character.

        Anyway, thanks for the very thoughtful comment, and I’m glad you enjoyed my game!

  4. Nicodamus permalink

    Thanks for answering this. Your explanations make sense an I can relate to the burn out.
    I like that you can stand with your decision of controlling the ghost, but just “because” is not a good reason. Don’t worry you can find one. Maybe it’s that there is a hidden narrative where you are exposing your personal views on afterlife or on ghosts maybe something related to the intuitive little girl and her relationship with ghost as clichéd that sounds. But in order to do that you would need to aknowledge the ghost character in some sort of way. Again it could be in any way from very the subtle to the very in your face explanaition with text but I’d leave that to you.
    I guess that having been to design school I am not comfortable with doing things for no reason, in my experience design choices are backed with an idea (any idea) so that you can put those ideas together and see if they make sense. Just yesterday I was reading an interview with Edmund Mcmillen and he was doing a postmortem explanaiton on the Binding of Isaac, there he talked about how the gameplay was inspired in Roguelikes and Zelda with replayability in mind but he also wanted to tell about his views on religion. In that case it is easy to see all and I guess that’s why it’s such a good game.

    • You might be blurring together my outlook on the game’s narrative and its relations to the game mechanics/design.

      The premise that a ghost doesn’t retain its memories/personality after death doesn’t need to be defended, in the same sense that the premise that ghosts even exist at all doesn’t need to be defended. When people ask why the ghost doesn’t remember why he is dead, I will tell them “Because [that is the premise]”. In the game Why Am I Dead, you don’t remember why you are dead. There are of course reasons and ideas for why I chose this premise, but they aren’t immediately relevant to the question and should speak for themselves.

      But as you and others have pointed out, a totally mute ghost doesn’t agree with the game mechanic which is that you are actually possessing and moving people around. Doing so, there is some expectation that the ghost actually exerts some influence on people, and it just doesn’t completely agree with the aforementioned narrative premise. This is a game design problem and I certainly don’t mean to hand-wave it with just “because”.

  5. Nicodamus permalink

    Also sorry about the spoilers.

    • No problem. If anyone is reading through the comments this thoroughly perhaps they should expect spoilers to some extent. 😛

  6. Hahha! Dude, quit being modest! Also, when I first saw it, I fell in love as I love the mother series, mystery and flash games! Speaking of which, what do you think of Mother 3?

    • Hey thanks, I’m glad you liked it! Unfortunately, for some reason I still haven’t actually played Mother 3! I really need to get around to that…

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