Month: February 2017

Design experiments

Hey there!

This week I want to write about my early attempts to define a design for the game. You can see what I ended up with here, it is simple, functional and is themed to feel like a book that you are reading. It meets all my design requirements and fits my theme – something that it is really important to define when you want to include lots of different functions. So further below in this post you’ll see how helpful it is, to have a theme for your project.

This week I want to show you some layouts that I tested when I didn’t have a theme. I don’t see these first experiments as a waste of time, since they helped me to build the tone of the story and make the project more understandable for other people at this early stage.

Here is the first try! At this stage, when I didn’t have anything to work with, I collected existing assets and rearrange them… which is exactly what you can see here. None of these elements were created by me, I just mashed up separate graphics. I had thought about what a game might look like, if it had a generic UI, but slightly old-fashioned elements so that it would fit into the story setting.


Weird fishgirl by Desirée Schütze
UI art by Ariel Icandri
Original art of 1st blurred background by Jorge Jacinto, found on Tumblr
Original art of 2nd blurred background by Dora0913, found on Tumblr

To make these screens I worked with existing menu assets that I had grabbed from Pinterest, cut, scaled and tinted, so that they would have more of a parchment look. The amazing character concept art was done by a friend of mine, I just added some backlights to create a particular lighting situation. I picked a background with light and colours that I liked and did nothing more than add a blur filter to it. It didn’t need one, but I wanted to test a rather blurry background. And as you can see, I also tested some first font styles in the text area, which all got discarded in the end.

In the second round of layout development I wondered what shapes I could use that were old-fashioned and fitting for a Lovecraft tale. I liked the thought of using ornate picture frames as a reference, and I tried lots of versions that had krakens in them.


When idea of a big kraken as a top decoration came up, I had in mind that there would be one big eye that would slowly open (in three or four steps) to represent the player character slowly going mad. I still like the idea of representing this visually but am not dwelling on it right now.

Here another simple version…


Before I got to the point of polishing any of these initial designs I  discovered the COYA book-theme and decided to use it rather than my initial approach. I did this for several reasons:

  • It was clear that the text would play the most important part in the game. A book page offers the ideal way to display a full screen of text. When I use background images and characters they are an addition to the the page, but it can do without them.
  • In the above designs a text field is placed on top of the background. Of course, it could stretch up to the top, covering the whole screen, but the background would still be visible, which isn’t ideal. It means that wherever you are in the game, there would always have to be a background image, even if there is no reason to display one and there is no important character confrontation. It wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it would’ve bugged me. It makes the text seem a secondary part of the game, rather than the most important one.
  • The Main Menu and its sub sections would need a separate design that fits on to the ‘normal‘ game.

This led to a texture-heavy style that still felt more generic than what I ended up with, so I’m glad I dropped it…

About bad ideas

Before I start posting about how the actual game has progressed I want to look into the past…

Last year, when I started to consider working on a text-based game, everything started with bad ideas.

After working for roughly one and a half years on a mobile game, I was focused on thinking about the UI above anything else. I put aside my thoughts about which story or setting I might pick and tested every idea on a generic fantasy sample, simply trying to discover which possibilities and narrative threads each concept would offer.

The core layout was already pretty much the same as it is now, featuring either a fullscreen text page or a split between dialogue text and a character portrait. The player interaction, on the other hand, was a bit different. If the player was confronted with special situations or characters, they were supposed to pick an action from the lower part of the screen. A simple UI would offer two options:

1. Attacking, regardless of whether you were standing in front of an angry bear, a merchant or a flock of sheep.

2. Communicating in the form of bargaining with the merchant, trying to calm the bear (or the sheep…)


I never went into detail with this system as it was always more of a Usability-Concept. It would have caused lots of ‘This doesn’t make any sense’ situations, which would be fun but also very difficult to write. It’s one of those ideas that sound fun, but you will never want to go through the pain of actually making it work…

You may be thinking that this idea sounds like a concept for a UI, but less like a real concept for a game? I wouldn’t dare to argue against that, I suppose if you’re a Game Artist who’s working on your own for the first time, you just welcome the opportunity to think about these things!

A bit later there was also a third option: chaos. This was supposed to be a completely irrational action, which would be very likely to cause trouble for the character. For example: flirting at the wrong moment, spontaneously starting to sing, etc… I suppose that many people would want to play the game while only using the chaos-button (it sounds like a lot of madness and fun!), but turning such a concept into a pleasing reality is something else entirely…


I discussed another loose and chaotic idea with friends in a brainstorming session. The concept sounded like fun: In the beginning of the adventure you pick three members for your party, as in common RPGs. Depending on which characters have been selected for the party, the player can use their unique abilities to interact with the world. These characters might be the brave warrior (for open fights), the rogue (theft/poisoning/dirty fights), the bard (um, singing…?), the concubine (seduction), the monk (healing/persuasion) and so on…


It was fun to consider how a more pragmatic group would have dealt with life in a fantasy world compared to a party of tricksters and con men. Even though I liked the idea, however, the sheer number of possibilities it created seemed suffocating.

At the same time as I was exploring these possibilities I played lots of different text adventures on my Android phone and iPad. Slowly I started to see that the simplest option might also be the best one. I thought about what had caused my first fascination with text adventures in games (apart from the not very user-friendly Zork).

I remembered the first one, Fallout. Whenever an important conversation started you saw the other character animated above the text, and below you could choose one of several dialogue options. One of the many reasons I fell in love with the Fallout series as a kid was that you were able to read through all the dialogue options, no matter which one you’d pick (a feature which the developers of Fallout 4 have removed in favor of shorter keywords or fractions of a sentence, too bad…). I don’t think that long sentences will fit into my game’s layout for dialogue choices, but remembering this simple concept was crucial.

To cut a long story short, all the overly complicated stuff was thrown overboard and I started creating a simple, dialogue-based game concept. Choosing the setting was incredibly easy in comparison. I’m not the biggest fan of fantasy and I know that there’s inexhaustible potential for humor in the serious world of H. P. Lovecraft. Residents of a coastal town who slowly evolve into fish-hybrids after having made a deal with a Fish God… how can anyone say no to that?