The design process of Story scribe

We in Ticca do game development in our free time after work. Usually we also only do game development a few days a week just to avoid burning ourselves out by over working. This tends to lead to quite a long development cycle and thus we want to really make sure that we are working on something worthwhile and something that we want to work on instead of just going with the first idea or testing out lots of things at once.

So how did we come up with story scribe and how long has it been since we started working on it, you might ask.

The basic idea for story scribe is quite simple. The first player comes up with a beginning for a story, the second draws it and the third continues the story by writing. The game used to be even simpler than that. The idea was originally that the first player comes up with a word, second player draws that and the third player tries to guess the word etc. It's a game we play regularly on our visits to a lakeside cabin for example.

We started to work on a game with that original idea already in late 2018. So we've been at it for quite a while. There are a few reasons for the longer development cycle of Story scribe. The main reason I think is that we started with such a simple idea but eventually decided that it just was not enough. After making the drawing mechanic, turns and saving images etc. working we realised that it still felt a bit empty and too simple and we soon came up with the idea of a theme. We needed a theme for the project that was at the time simply titled "drawgame".

Locking down the theme also didn't turn out to be very easy. We had a lot of back and forth and noodling around with what we wanted to do with the theme. Some we're into the idea of a minimalistic theme that would only affect a color palette and maybe dictate button roundness and style and take inspiration from modern art and focus on details and others wanted to make something bigger and more cohesive that would completely change the look of the game. A spaghetti western theme was also thrown in to the mix and we almost settled on it even coming up with ideas like revolver themed rewards and turn animations. Eventually through a lot of iteration and discussion we managed to settle for the middle aged theme that we were all into. The way the idea of multiple collaborators writing a story played a big part in choosing the middle aged theme. We wanted to play with the idea of multiple scribes working on the same manuscript with hand drawn pictures and try to tie the playing experience to the theme. 

The theme takes form in interesting ways in the current version of the game. For example we wanted to make the colors for drawing look as much like older coloring that was based on natural substances so we try to give it darker and more "earthy look" like in the colors used in books in olden times when synthetic colors we're not available. Similarly we try to evoke somewhat of a feeling of the 2002 internet on our sites to get the aesthetic just right. Copying books by hand and translating them from other (possibly even dead) languages, also famously contributed to a number of mistakes and mistranslations in many books. That is also something that can be experienced through our game as the stories made with it usually tend to go to different directions than intended. All in all the theme of medieval scribes trying to copy books and the mechanics of the game fit very well in our opinion.

At the same time as we started working on the theme we started coming up with name ideas. We went from "drawgame" that admittedly was only a working title to "envisage" (though with the western theme a name of "quickdraw" was suggested) and eventually through that to "Story scribe". We worked with the name envisage for quite a while until we eventually just came to the conclusion that it was a bit too difficult. After many days of throwing around name ideas after that we settled on story scribe and we've all been happy with it.

Iterating on the name is an interestingly time consuming part of the process. At least coming from a programming background before this I had not considered it to take as many iterations as it did and discussing different names and their implications was fun.

Our design process was still not over yet. Even with the theme agreed upon and in place it felt that the whole game missing something. We had a lot of heated debates on what that might be and how to continue and after weeks of noodling around we came up with adding the story twist to the game. This was somewhere around mid 2019 and that's when everything started to fall in place. With the story twist narrating the story and the images in the end turned out to be a lot more fun and the revisiting old stories seemed more interesting to us. Also with how we'd handled development until this point starting to work on giving the game the story twist was rather easy. It mostly required visual changes and guiding through the theming of the game as the basic building blocks, drawing,  writing, turns and the final end screen were the same. We spent a lot of time figuring out how best to bring forward the story idea in the game and we're confident that we've done a good job on that.

So it's been a long process to get everything that we've wanted to do done. And we also did make the decision to work on other stuff in the middle of story scribes development as well. As I alluded to in the beginning we usually want to avoid that as that tends lead to very long dev cycles but we couldn't resist the temptation. That is in my opinion the second big reason to why it has taken quite a while to get this done. Sometimes you just want to do something a bit different.

I'd be interested to know how you guys work and do you tend to have multiple ideas that you're working on at the same time or do you want to focus on one thing at a time.

Until next time.

 - Pullis, programmer at Ticca

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