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A Mini-Postmortem Roundup


April 29, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 8 of 8
 

What Went Wrong

1. Speed Makes Things Complicated

Dyad is one of the fastest, most complicated games I know; players must track the location and state of their avatar, their immune status/combo status/polarity, and the type/state/location of each enemy. It's almost impossible to process it all without a million tiny elements designed to help you, and if one of these elements isn't perfect the game completely breaks. I'll explain a few of those elements.

Representing depth on a 2D screen is hard, especially when moving quickly. There are two primary elements in the tunnel that make it easier to discern depth: Enemies will leave a faint highlight on the tube, and most enemies also have a trail drawn in front of them.

The player's "space squid" avatar is visually designed to be entirely functional. The bright main color and black/white circle in the center is a purposefully vague representation of its hitbox. Its physical size constantly shrinks and grows. When grazing, the player is about 10 times smaller relative to the enemy in the center of the graze circle than they are relative to normal enemies. When lancing, the player is about 100 times bigger. The player can also be two different sizes depending on polarity.

All of this information is hidden; the player's center is just a vague indicator of position. The trails behind the player exaggerate lateral motion in order to make it easier to see where the player is and where the player is going. Dyad is far too fast for the player to even look at their avatar, so I designed the trails to make it easy to perceive the player's position and motion from peripheral vision only.

The tube design was another important area in maximizing information processing. The tube acts as a reference point for all objects in the game, and needs to feel like a fluid space while looking pretty. Most levels use a grid pattern to make it easy to discern distance and enemy patterns, and to see what players have lined up.

In Dyad, most levels have a double tube to enhance the perception of lateral speed in order to match the hyper-exaggerated depth speed -- if you focus carefully on the player vs. enemy speed, you'll notice the game isn't nearly as fast as it feels. The outer tube is offset such that the inner and outer tubes line up at the bottom where the player is. This increases the visual noise, and draws the eye to the area directly in front of the player. Blending is used to "white out" the area in front of the player to make it easy to see what's going on.

There are many more visual design techniques in play to make information processing as efficient as possible. I didn't expect there to be so many restrictions and would have loved more freedom in the visual design space.

2. Hard-to-Teach Mechanics

It took me a while to realize that Dyad's mechanics are fucking weird. I showed the game for the first time at a Scott Pilgrim launch event expecting everyone to be able to pick up and play it; they couldn't. Then I added a reasonable tutorial, and showed it again at an Ontario College of Art and Design event. Still unplayable. It took over a year of near-constant playtesting before anyone could play it without assistance, and at least another year before it had a reasonable learning curve.

The entire game is a tutorial. I had to split the mechanics up into small pieces and teach them individually. The mechanics are boring in isolation, so I had to come up with a bunch of unique goals and modes to keep the game fresh and interesting, with varying subsets of the mechanics available to the player at any time. In the end, this made the game a million times better than it would have been otherwise, but it was extremely irritating to see people completely unable to grasp what I thought were simple concepts. The inexplicable nature of the game led me to a nervous breakdown in early 2011 before I revamped the entire structure of the game.

3. Communicating What Dyad Is

I really can't describe what Dyad is, which hurt sales more than anything else. I made Dyad to be as "pure" of a game experience as possible, without relying on tropes from other mediums. Communicating the things that Dyad does to your brain while playing is impossible without playing it. I got a lot of inspiration from Vertov's film Man With a Movie Camera, which as a movie meant to do only things that are unique to film. I think I did that with Dyad, which made it hard to talk about (and therefore very uninteresting to most people). I wish I could have come up with a way to talk about the game without compromising its game-ness.


Article Start Previous Page 8 of 8

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