Devlog #1: An Adventure Game?! A Journey Through Hypnospace Outlaw's Prototypes.

While developing Dropsy I often bemoaned the point and click adventure genre for how laborious and not-fun it is to develop. Especially after the thrill of the ~this will be the greatest game in the history of the universe and will also have every feature imaginable~ planning stage tapers off. Most developers dread the point at which a project becomes an enormous checklist of assets to create/implement, but what sets adventure games apart is the fact that an adventure game dev can't really play their own game.  Everything possible is already known, and there are generally very few dynamic systems to experiment with.

Watching other developers at conventions would always reinforce this for me.  How could the folks at my booth stand all the clicking and waiting while far more immediately satisfying experiences were happening on either side of them. Whether through the tactile joy of seeing a virtual being respond to your every nudge, or by the many (often hilarious) degrees of success and failure possible, directly controlling an avatar is simply more enjoyable.  In the case of games like Gang Beasts, it almost looked like the devs were having genuine fun playing their own game. Weird.

In adventure games, you wait for scripted sequences to play out.  All elements of surprise are pre-planned by the developer and hard-coded. The only true surprises an adventure game developer can encounter in their own game are bugs. 

While they're sometimes a drag to develop, the genre has definite advantages for players. The level at which a player is expected ignore the dissonance between gamey mechanics and involved plotlines is greatly reduced. In inventory-heavy adventures perhaps the klepto effect is a bit jarring, but that has to be an easier sell than ragdolling down a mountainside past uncaring villagers, or waking up in a hospital after having been crushed by an army tank.

Since this was (and still pretty much is) my mindset, I had no desire to jump back into developing an adventure title. I started work in the summer of 2015 on a prototype that would eventually become Hypnospace Outlaw.  It was set in the same world as Hypnospace Enforcer, a 2-3 week microgame from the year prior. It was the opposite of Dropsy in all but its garish palette. Its art style was flat and simple and its gameplay was quick and twitchy. It took a total of 15 minutes to beat. It was also set in the same world as its prequel, which I described like so:

It is 2114. People wear electronic headbands while sleeping to access Hypnospace, a persistent online world where your slumber becomes an exciting adventure. Because it is the future, there are all kinds of insane colors and sounds going nuts smacking your senses at all times.
Some citizens of Hypnospace don't play by the rules, it is your job as an Enforcer to bring them to justice. Don your sharpest psychedelic cop uniform and send scumbag outlaws packing in this thrilling arcade microgame.

(Note: Some of the lore shenanigans have changed for Hypnospace Outlaw)

Here's what the first prototype of Hypnospace Outlaw looked like:

The first prototype, about 3-4 weeks in.

The Hypnospace Highway, as in the prequel, was the star of the show. It was one part ~information superhighway~ and one part social network. The initial design treated the operating system as little more than a glorified level select screen to break up the meaty action-y highway bits. The OS would've still featured user profiles that looked like old Geocities pages, and an inbox system to guide players along via messages, but they really only existed to add flavor to the polygonal avatars players would encounter on the Highway. I really wanted Hypnospace to just be a fun goofy twitchy videogame that didn't need to explain itself too much. 

7-7-2016, roughly a year after starting the game. Mike was just brought on to code the Highway sections for the prototype. 

While I would love to one day create a videogamey video game that doesn't need to justify its mechanics, this isn't that game. The prequel, while definitely an attempt at satiating my desire to just make a fun thing, was also about people. From the crushingly lonely steampunk MMO clan leader, to the 30-day-free-trial, adware-riddled old woman who only signed up to attempt to communicate with her estranged son,  each Outlaw had a few layers to remind players that the folks in Hypnospace were real people too. I loved playing with the contrast between the reasonably dry 'laws' that the Hypnospace denizens broke, the very human reasons they broke them, and the cold uncaring response from Hypnospace administration.

August-September 2016. Towards the end of development of the prototype. My Hypnospace Tune Sequencer and Page Builder prototypes were used to make the music and page.

As I began adding silly features to the Operating System chunks of the prototype, (which was immensely fun to create, let me tell ya) and continued to wrestle with plot and lore issues like... 

*inner voice on* ...If Hypnospace has attracted folks of all ages and backgrounds, why does it operate like an endless runner driving game? Old folks wouldn't be into that shenanigans. How do NPCs make profile pages, chat, or do anything without crashing when players can't? Just what the heck are NPCs doing on the highway anyway? They just drive in loops? Why would anyone even do that?!?*inner voice off*

...I couldn't justify the Highway retaining prominence. Folks on Twitter loved the heck out of the operating system stuff while the highway stuff looked like any-other-game.  From that point on, much to my horror, Hypnospace Outlaw slid slowly into adventure game territory. The game is still systems-heavy, and the Highway car stuff does still exist (though it has a different purpose now, which is being kept secret and is hilarious and one of my favorite things), but the emphasis has been placed squarely on the people who inhabit Hypnospace and the peeling back of their many many layers.

Thankfully, the aforementioned adventure game development trudgery hasn't surfaced yet. Setting Hypnospace Outlaw in a fake operating system with a fake internet means that most creative diversions that would usually normally distract me from development can become meaningful content. I'll dive into a few of those diversions in my next post. 

We did just implement sweet-as-heck window and sound themes, which are super easily moddable so folks will be able to add their own.

For context, SquisherZ are a Hypnospace 'Partner Brand' toy company. Think Pokemon + Garbage Pail Kids but squishy.

'Til next time!

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Thanks for sharing this devlog! As a new developer, it's nice to see the process behind exciting games like Hypnospace Outlaw. I'm putting out my first game in a few days, a short interactive fiction called Mage Arcade, and putting together a short devlog as well. Looking forward to seeing more of your work!


This is gonna be so nice I can tell.