It’s come to the end of the semester. I was going to write up a challenge report for Challenge Three on its own, but it was at a point in the semester where I felt it was better to wait a little longer. A few weeks have passed since the last reflection and a lot has changed in both the game itself and the team. One of the biggest things that really rang through during these two Challenges was the general problems of actually getting a digital build going… without a programmer. However, as was stated in the past reflection, I took up the role of Lead Programmer for this game. While I am a Designer, I do still have a decent knowledge of programming so I felt like I was ready to take on the challenge.
I first want to go over the game process in this reflection, as I haven’t gone into detail on anything Hollow Reef (AKA Bone Golem) in any of these reflections so far. Hollow Reef is pretty much conceptually the same as it was in its previous physical iterations, only it is now digital. In addition to this, the game now runs on many different intertwining systems and timers that all come together to create the game that is Hollow Reef. Most of this architecture was built through the combined efforts of myself and our Artist, Kenneth. While Kenneth handled the base programming architecture, I worked closely on designing and implementing the systems loop of the game. This entails all of the resource managing and gathering, the Player’s movement and interaction systems, as well as most of the worldbuilding and NPC characters in the game as well.
I won’t lie, this was an absolute avalanche of work for one person, and while I definitely think there are areas of the game that could be better optimized and just generally made to function in a more reliable way, I’m really glad I took on the challenge I did. Not only was I able to meet the three goals that I set out for myself, but I was able to touch on areas that I really didn’t think I would. I think one of the coolest things I got out of this experience was the boost to my self-confidence though. I also want to go a bit more in-depth into the three personal goals I had set for myself during this semester and this game in particular. Keeping with the topics mentioned previously, I want to get into my first goal for this semester, which was to generally improve my programming skills. Quite a generic goal, however, I think I have definitely met this goal and beyond.
When I first opted to be the Lead Programmer for Hollow Reef, the team had been under the assumption that the programming needed for the game would be able to be split among most of the members of the team, which was partially true. While the team as a whole had a good pool of programming knowledge, not everyone was prepared, or available to really delve into programming work at all times. Whether it was their lack of experience in the field, or it was them being too busy to be available to take a deep dive into the programming side of the game, many of the tasks ended up falling to me. I saw this as both a great thing and one of the most exhaustive experiences in my career. This was mostly due to the fact that I was also working as a full-time Designer at the time. This meant that it became my job to Design and implement everything present within the main gameplay loop barring Exploration and the main tile objects that the Player would use to build up their town. While this was a great experience for me to learn new things about programming and surely helped me to expand my skill set, it was a large workload for one person.
The second goal I had set for myself was one involving Narrative Design. Unfortunately, unlike the first goal, I wasn’t actually able to dive too deeply into all of the areas of Narrative Design that I would’ve liked to. That isn’t to say that I wasn’t able to explore this area of Design, but I wasn’t able to touch on it as much as I would’ve liked to. I was able to construct the world of Hollow Reef and create some characters and environments as well, but most of it was very surface-level design things. I wanted to be able to delve into character dialogue and progression more during this semester, but unfortunately there were other, more pressing tasks that needed to get done in order to ship a final product at the end of this semester. Regardless, I do still think the experience was a valuable one. I was able to work in a world of my own creation with set bounds and limits and then create interesting characters and environments based on that world. I also learned of things that definitely need some work in terms of narrative, one of the big ones being Dialogue. While I do not write poorly, so to say, there is still something to be desired when reading the dialogue of my characters. Whether this is because I do not do a good enough job of leading Player’s in or I was just not given enough time to truly explore my characters is, unfortunately, a mystery to me for right now. Regardless, I want to keep working at this, because I’ve found a love for this facet of Design and I would really love to continue to pursue it in the future.
The final goal I wish to discuss is a bit different than the previous two, mostly because it actually doesn’t have anything to do with physically building out the game. What I wanted to focus on for my final goal was my presentation etiquette. I’ve always been rough with public speaking scenarios in the past, and game pitches are absolutely no different. However, after the unfortunate presentation that was the Horizons demonstration from Challenge Two, I really wanted to push myself to tackle this challenge head-on. I think I was actually pretty successful at pushing myself forward as well. As the presentations went on, and as I gained a clearer picture of the narrative behind Hollow Reef, I think I became more confident with the way I spoke and the content I put forward as well. It eventually got to a point where I believe that I was able to really sell the world of Hollow Reef to the people listening to the presentations. With this newly gained confidence, I was also able to mitigate a part of my presentation process that would typically haunt me. My own lack of self-confidence would typically have me berating my own work and putting down what I created in an attempt to make some form of a joke out of it, and this was present in the Horizons presentation as well. However, as time passed, and as more presentations came and went, I think I was actually able to work out this bad habit and truly give some solid pitches with clear ideas and concepts in them during the presentations that would come and go.
Of course, I couldn’t have done all of this on my own, my team has been incredibly supportive in helping me to push my own ideas forward and really boosting my confidence in my work. I’ve really grown to trust the members of my team and I think that at this point in the semester we’ve made something really unique together. While I don’t know if we’d go forward or not right now, I am now a much stronger Designer and team member thanks to them. We’ve grown to work much better together since the beginning of the semester and we are now able to really work around each other’s strengths and weaknesses in order to bring out our best as a team.
The other part of this reflection that I want to touch on is the progression of the game itself. While I just spent a good chunk of this reflection talking about my own personal progression, this is meant to refer to the game that I’ve been working on as well as myself. Hollow Reef as a concept has come an incredibly long way. From what was originally a very basic resource gathering tabletop “game” came a much grander, more in-depth experience that keeps it’s core fundamentals intact. The world of the game has expanded not only in narrative but in mechanics as well. The narrative of Hollow Reef now places the Player in control of a Builder, an entity whose job it is to rebuild desecrated purgatory realms. This brings the Player to the Hollow Reef, a world that used to be full of oceanic life that has been turned to nothing but a harsh desert world that drives it’s inhabitants to insanity through the fake stars that line the night sky. The Lost Souls that inhabit these worlds take up shelter on top of the massive Bone Golems. These creatures are a constant source of life energy called Essence that keeps the Lost Souls sane and allows them to keep their sanity intact.
Not only has the game evolved narratively, but in terms of mechanics, the Player now has the option to explore the wasteland outside of the Golem, interact with and learn about NPCs, plant and tend to Flora, and interact with Souls that have gone Feral in order to bring them back to their senses and possibly even join the Player’s town. So, why did we need to evolve the game so much? Well, the simple answer to that is, we could. So we did. The longer answer would show more off the fact that tying all of the narrative implications of these systems together helps to create a more cohesive and interesting world, not only to explore, but it also deepens the Player experience when it feels like they’re truly having an impact on the characters and world around them.