What’s more important: the road and the ending, or the details of the road?
Not to bore you with poetry, but bear with me for a moment…
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I like this poem by Robert Frost, although it’s unfortunately often reduced to the last few lines. As I interpret it, The Road Not Taken is a poem not about taking “less traveled roads in life” but rather about making choices. Being unable to make a choice is often the most difficult decision, even—and especially when—two choices look so similar. By the end, the author makes a choice, and notes that he’ll talk about the decision with a sigh in the future. He’ll look back on this time and wonder, what would have happened if he took the other road.
In some ways, I look at this poem as a simple tool to push me towards making a decision. Like flipping a coin and going with it, the hardest part of a choice is making it. Either way, I’ll probably end up in a similar place, with a similar feeling about the choice I made.
The truth is, a lot of our decisions are arbitrary, supported only by the information we find after we’ve made a decision. Take a study that found when people were told they were selected for a certain group (but were in fact randomly assigned), they had a bias towards their group and bias against other groups. It didn’t matter their actual placement: they managed to go with it. In the same vein, it’s not a huge leap to think it’s possible to go with most any decision.
At the end of the day, the only thing to do is choose. Else you won’t move at all.
So I end up making choices daily. What should I work on today? What shouldn’t I work on? What’s important? What’s fun? What’s something I can get done quickly? What do I need to work on now before something else? These are game development questions, and work questions, and studying questions. And the guiding principal of all this is that something is better than nothing. That’s not to say that “more is better,” but that getting something done is infinitely better than getting nothing done.
But I have bad habits. As we all do.
I like sidequests. I like exploration. I like to have little secrets here and there. I like the little things that don’t really matter that add spice to something. So I spend a lot of time in the game building areas and filling them with little bits that could be used for who knows what. I’ll make random little areas that are totally unrelated to the plot. And it’s really fun. And then I’ll look at the end of the day and say, “if someone wants to play this now, can they?” It’s like working on a big film and deciding to film little mini-stories in the middle. Doesn’t contribute to the film. Maybe it can be used someday, but it’s just taking time away from the project now. Arguably, there’s an intangible benefit in there, helping your filmmaking skills and giving your mind a break. Arguably.
Okay, it’s actually a little different. Because the assets I’m making will probably be used. They’re not part of the main story, but they could be used in sidequests, and in helping to give the player control over what they do. It’s like with Japanese, where some of my favorite words are incredibly uncommon. They are helpful somewhere down the road, but they usually don’t help me understand when my principal speaks at a meeting. But yes, even these little bits could be helpful.
In my last game, the whole game was pretty much free-choice. Whatever the player wanted to do at the beginning, they could. The game didn’t demand progress in the story.
In this one, there’s a plot to follow. And if you follow it, you can see more of the world. But if players only followed it, they’d feel like they have no input, especially in a game where the battle system is largely following commands instead of choosing. Reactions, not actions. So the rest of the game needs to be built around the choice that’s missing.
Sidequests are therefore important. They’re showing that this world is bigger than just the story. It’s to encourage exploration and to have players stick around with the English longer. But if there is no story to follow, well, the side content doesn’t matter, does it? Does it?
I finally have a deadline for the game: March.
In March, like last year, the game will be played in class and students will be able to enjoy the game at their own pace. They’ll sit and play, talking with each other about how to advance, freaking out when they find a secret or some area that nobody else stumbled upon. I’ll sit with the teacher in the middle of the room, the computers lining the walls around us, helping out students when they need it. It will be fun, I’m sure of that. It’s also terrifying to look at right now.
What a deadline means is that you have to start choosing wisely. What’s the goal? Is my content long and thin or short and wide? Right now, it’s on the long and thin side, and I’m not exactly happy with that. It’s a little too 中途半端; not quite there in any sense. It leaves the game feeling incomplete, especially as the placeholders for side content are there.
- An NPC who gives a quest you can’t complete.
- A cave that getting to requires an ability not yet in the game.
- An optional area that’s only 1/5th complete.
The problem with things like these is they make the player feel less confident in the game they’re playing. It doesn’t matter if the storyline is good and complete and impressive. When they’re searching for the answer to something only to find it’s not yet implemented, they lose confidence in the game. Like, what can they trust anymore?
The game is divided into 3 parts, and as I’m only half done with part 1 right now, I think my goal needs to be to finish Part 1, first and foremost. I need it done by February.
Wait, that’s too broad.
Right now, I’m working on implementing Chapter 4. It’s almost done. Should be done by Christmas. Will be done by Christmas.
By the end of the month, I want Chapter 5 done. It’s a hard chapter, so I’m going to spend a lot of time with it.
By January 7th (the end of winter vacation), I want Chapter 6 done.
By January 10th (when my friend is coming to visit), I’ll want Chapter 7 done. Chapter 7 is short, so it’s possible.
By January 25th, I’ll want Chapter 8 done.
February 1st, Chapter 9 and February 8th, Chapter 10. Both of these are short, but I don’t have the scripts yet, so…
March 1st, Chapter 11. This is the end of the first part of the story.
As priority, story comes first. Still long and thin, but… That will let me know what I can and can’t implement. For instance, one ability is gained in part 2, and so I should get rid of things that require that ability, lest students become confused. Reimplement them once I get to that stage. That said, I will keep the beginnings of the sidequests, and perhaps implement the endings under the student’s noses (updating the game each morning, before they play).
God though; writing out these deadlines is scary. Because it seems difficult. But it’s a choice. And that means the only thing I can do is go with it. 仕方がない
The real key to getting this done is to show my fellow teachers. Hopefully if I’m confident showing them, I’ll also feel confident making it in front of them. It’s been a huge roadblock until this point. Because right now, most teachers probably assume I’m playing a game, not playtesting it. :p
My biggest fear has come to realization, however. If I give the players Part 1, will they want to come back in a year and play part 2 (and, hopefully, part 3)? Or should I start working on a new game?
I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
P.S. What if we die when we go to sleep? And then we get replaced every day with a new consciousness that has all the memories of our past? Well, if that’s the case, then I want to work every day to make my future selves’ lives easier. And that means doing something every day.
Even if it’s just making one more sidequest.