Pitching a game is never easy. Games are meant to be played, not watched or read; but we still need a few short sentences that can give a stranger an overall perspective of what we are working on.
If you have been following our progress since the very beginning of the project you might have noticed that we changed our pitch quite a few times, it’s pretty common, just like mechanics or game design, pitches also require iteration.
It’s not that "A Place for the Unwilling" is so revolutionary that it can’t be described with a couple of sentences, but our closest gameplay references ("Pathologic" and "Sunless Sea") aren’t that well-known out there; people can’t take a look at our game and say something like "Yeah, you jump around and reach the goal, Mario-like, I get that". We can’t use fancy words like "point & click adventure" because it isn’t like that (we also believe the fact that it’s hard to describe it’s a good sign).
There are many features that we like about our project, but not all of them are suitable for a pitch, like the fact that strangers appear as shadows and the blurry cloud will only go away once you get to know them. First thing we did was writing a list with the top features we wanted to convey when talking about "A Place for the Unwilling".
- It’s a narrative-heavy game (duh!)
- It’s an open-world game
- It’s all about the city
- Time is always running
- Additional goal: make sure people understand it isn’t a "point and click" game
When we started our Kickstarter campaign we still didn’t have a pitch that we really liked, so we went for the old "X meets Y", which isn’t optimal but it does the job when you’re under pressure. It’s even better when you put two things together that don’t seem to have much in common, Reigns was described many times as "Crusader Kings meets Tinder". We went for "Sunless Sea meets Majora’s Mask"; "Sunless Sea" is very narrative heavy and it’s an open-world game, "Majora’s Mask" on the other hand is "open-world-ish", with a city as the main hub and very focused on time.
And it worked, people digged the pitch quite a lot, but we also saw plenty of angry comments on reddit and press articles criticizing our pitch. So we removed that part, but traffic went down pretty fast, and we changed the whole "Sunless Sea meets Majora’s Mask" and replaced it with "A game inspired by Sunless Sea and Majora’s Mask", which still worked just liked the original but made those angry comments go away.
Once the Kickstarter was over we tried many others. From "combat-less RPG" to "an open-world adventure game set in a city where time is always running". The last one seemed to work fine, at least people felt way less confused about the game and seemed to understand the concept, so we kept that for a while, even when we knew it still wasn’t the "right" one. It explained the concept of the game but it lacked any emotional impact. At the time we couldn’t come up with a better one, so we just focused on other tasks, knowing that we would need to come back to this issue later on.
A few weeks ago we were working on a new internal document which goal was to describe the overall narrative of the game in a short text. Ángel, our lead writer, wrote this paragraph:
And it kinda clicked. Futility and death are very important themes in "A Place for the Unwilling", and they convey some of the feelings we want to express. The fact that something is dying means that time is limited and that you can expect a certain decadence. We tend to be very cautious about the story elements we choose to reveal, so we had some doubts about sharing that the city is going to die at the end of the game. People usually ask us a lot about "why does the game end after X days" and we usually answer that there’s a reason for that, though it’s a secret.
After talking it over we decided it wouldn’t spoil the game at all since, after a few in-game days, it’ll be easy to see that pretty much everything is going down; besides, why the city is dying remains a mystery and, we’ll still have different endings, because even if Pompeii was doomed, each citizen there still experienced a different story.
We need to do some tests and keep iterating, but it’s official, the city is dying, the only question now is, how will you live the last days of its existence?