It’s been good over two weeks since I’ve finished creating 400 Years. The development process started around the beginning of January and lasted for 3 weeks (with this one additional week for small fixes etc.)
400 Years was created as January game for One Game A Month challenge, but more like “by the way” than just “I need a game for January”. The game started with an idea of an immortal (or very-very-long-lived) being giving something to a primitive civilization and then waiting patiently to see what happens. And by “waiting patiently” I mean waiting for ages. This Monkeys-Meet-The-Monolith based concept evolved into a simple puzzle platforming game. One of those where puzzle are there only to complete the story, not the other – usual – way around.
So there we have it – a stone idol, based on Easter Island’s famous Moai figures((This is not a coincidence. I had the following elements: sea shore as a starting point, a village of primitive people, a grassy lands and a hero that needs to be made of stone so he could peacefully stand still for ages, even underwater. Moai was the obvious choice. Even more obvious since most of the Easter Island statues are made of compressed volcanic ashes. Yeah. Does it add anything to the story depth for you?)), abandons its guarding post by the sea shore and travels into the land, driven by the need of helping those tiny mortal humans. An idea like this is difficult to execute without thinking, even remotely, of Black and White series, where you play as a god and interact with villagers… Black and White however represents completely different kind of interaction – it grants divine powers allowing you to throw people around. In 400 Years you don’t have this, as you are not a god or even god’s avatar. Almost everything you can do is limited to: walking and waiting. And yes, it’s difficult to deny it, 400 Years lacks a bit when it comes to player’s freedom of choice. You only have one path to follow, you have to help humans and see their little village grow and thrive. But this was not always the case.
The idea at first was to let players decide if they want to help human settlement, ignore it completely, or – on the contrary – raze it to the ground. Buildings were supposed to allow an interaction – this interaction being “Press E to attack“. Damaged buildings would repair over time, but with enough damage, people would just die-off, leaving nothing but ruins as the proof they ever existed.
After the game was featured on Newgrounds and Kongregate many people started asking for a sequel or a longer version. And – while I’m very surprised to have this amount of positive feedback – I think I understand what would people like to see in a longer version of 400 Years – and why.
So, the friendly and good giant statue could have been a cold-blooded murderer. He could also have been ignorant, not caring for humans at all. As I see it now, this would have changed the meaning of the game completely. For better or worse – it’s up to you to decide – but I felt really torn apart when I realized there is no way I can implement all those features into one month project. Because of the full time job, because I had to draw every graphic element by myself, because the game code was already getting a bit sloppy. I had no choice but to cut those features out, together with multiple endings (help everyone, save the world but kill humans, help humans but let the world destroy, etc… YES all those were actually planned!).
But I feel like there is also a good side of this. By limiting and making the idea simpler, the finished game turned out to be more solid, condensed experience – up to the point I felt it was actually a good thing I cut the other endings. This time I felt “the less is the more” if one can say that. Sometimes it’s better not to expand the story too much because it could lose its meaning on the way. Some say it’s way to short – not that it’s not interactive enough but just too short in general. More places to explore, more puzzles to solve – I get it. But considering the slow pace of the whole experience (including our protagonist’s speed) I believe the amount of gameplay present in the game is just enough for our hasty, fast society to digest. That being said, I’m currently not planning to expand the game in any way – at least not now. I have to focus on future projects, the ideas won’t turn into games themselves.
Maybe I will return to this idea in the future. Time will tell.