TWoaS Dev Diary #1

This is the first entry of my weekly development diary for The Weight of a Soul.

A Dev Diary?

TWoaS has been kicking around on my hard drive for almost 4 years now, and it still isn’t finished (to the chagrin of many of my playtesters, I’m sure). This school year, I vowed to finish it by committing to it as my university final year project. One way or another, it’s going to be done by April 2021.

I’ve kept development diaries for some other projects I’ve worked on in the past, and I’ve found them to be a helpful way to keep myself on task and remind myself what I’m supposed to be doing. That’s why I’ve started this diary to prove to myself, as well as everyone who’s been following the development of TWoaS, that I am actually going to finish the game this time.

Workplan

As part of my school project proposal, I’ve drawn up a work plan for delivering TWoaS as a finished product by the end date. It looks like this:

Throughout
Maintain a weekly Dev Diary for marketing, self-motivation
Conduct playtests
Fix bugs and pain points

August 2020 – December 2020
Finish the remaining 40% of the text adventure
– Design areas and puzzles to match the existing story outline
– Write descriptions, dialogue, and other prose
– Release initial build in online communities for feedback + garnering interest

January 2021
Build a new user interface in Vorple
– Convenient access to help, map, journal, command list
– Support for illustrations and music
– Professional-looking graphic design
– Autocomplete???

February 2021
Design chapter banners (expected 6)
Draw and color character portraits (expected 10)
Draw and color location header illustrations (expected 30)

March 2021
Compose ambient music for different segments of the game (expected 10 tracks)

April 2021
Final bug fixes and prose editing
Create a web page for the game
Release on Steam and itch.io
Marketing push
FYP Exhibition

The Long Stretch

One of the issues I’ve been grappling with is — how much of my time do I have to dedicate to The Weight of a Soul to finish it to a high standard?

The reason I started slowing down updates for TWoaS in the first place was that I started to burn out after pushing myself to write quality prose, all the time, day in, day out. I felt a lot of pressure to live up to the first few chapters I’d already completed. That took a lot of time, and frankly, motivation out of me.

If you look at the GitHub page of TWoaS you’ll see that I’ve started updating again with new content and new editing. (These changes haven’t been reflected in the public published build yet.) I’ve been working at what I would call a comfortable pace, just to get something out and flex the old writing muscles after a long hiatus.

I break down TWoaS writing by scenes — not scenes in the Inform technical sense, but more like scenes as the player experiences them. That means, for example:

  • a single room that the player enters and interacts with, or
  • a single dialogue tree, or
  • a complex, heavily scripted scene, such as the ones where you face off with the assassin.

Each of these takes about the same amount of time for me to write.

In the last week, I managed to finish two scenes, plus a quick editing pass over the entire game, over three days of work. That means I can expect to complete four to five scenes per week if I keep going at this rate. That won’t be enough for me to complete another massive chapter like Day Two by the end of December. It may, however, be enough for me to write another Midnight or two.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to tighten the scope of the second half of the game to focus on a more linear and structured experience. Note that I’m not compromising my original vision for this: it’s still going to fit with the plot outline and make sense for the story. I’m just cutting back on the side stuff, like the bartender dialogues, which were fun to explore but aren’t critical to the main plot.

What’s Left?

I have two more Days left to write for The Weight of a Soul. Day Three was originally conceived as a free exploration day, similar to Days One and Two; however, given the way the plot develops, and the limited amount of time I’ll have to work on it, it’s going to have to be a more linear scenario similar to Midnight. It will be a sort of “dungeon delving” day where you get into the Channelworks and follow a linear path while solving obstacles and uncovering new information. There are roughly 20 more scenes left in Day Three, so I should be able to finish it by mid-October at a comfortable pace.

Day Four is a climactic sequence which will be very similar to Midnight. I haven’t plotted it in depth yet, so I’m not sure exactly what form it will take or how much work it will involve. If all goes well, it should take the same amount of time as Day Three.

There’s one final scene — an Epilogue which wraps up the game based on the choices you make for Marid. I don’t expect this to take very long to write, maybe one week in total, tops.

Looking Forward

This diary entry is getting a little too long so I’ll end it here. From this point on, I basically have to stay disciplined and keep writing scenes. I’m confident that the text adventure can be finished by the end of the year, and the end of its four-year-long development hell is in sight. Stay tuned, people.

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