Since I can't seem to post in the introductions thread, I'll roll it into this - I'm Tim, story-driven illustrator and game designer from the Netherlands, I worked on Fingle and Bounden with Game Oven, and I'm currently working on my own full-length (commercial) game in Unity, called Black Feather Forest.
BFF is a 2D adventure game inspired by true events, Haida mythology and things like True Detective, Fargo, Detective Grimoire, Kentucky Route Zero. It brings together many threads of ideas for games I've had over the years and ties it together with real-world influences.
You play as Sofia, a documentary maker, and together with cameraman Caleb you travel to the fictional town of Augier’s Peak, up in the wilderness of rural Canada, where tree people have gone missing recently. You will have to interview people, investigate locations and unravel secrets that could eventually lead to an explanation for this mystery, and an understanding of the cultural significance these events have on the people in that region.
I've been working on the game for a few months now, and I made a rough demo about a month ago to submit to an event. Currently I'm working on polishing that one up (it was missing some features and art), but even in its current state I'd love to hear your opinion on it.
Specifically the conversations, their GUI and the flow of it all. Most of the GUI is placeholder while I attempt to figure out how it should work, but maybe you guys have some suggestions for features you'd like to see and stuff like that.
Right now the conversations are fairly linear (had to write them all in two days for the demo), but they will be branching eventually, with multiple in- and out points and options that unlock based on you exploring the environment. And you'll be able to ask people about the clues that you've collected aswell, but that hasn't been implemented yet.
Anyway, I'll stop talking now and let you play the demo! You can download it here (Win + Mac). It includes a pdf with more explanation of the game.
The art work is excellent, really stylish. The animations and scene transitions are excellent. I would suggest you rethink how you are doing the story. There is nothing wrong with the story per se but currently you seem to be executing a good idea badly, and all through the narrative. The best writers show and don't tell, currently you are leaning too much to the tell. Players need to find these stories compelling that is best done by turning their expectations upside down, hint at things, slowly reveal the backstory of characters.
Take for example the first scene, it fails to do what you clearly wish it to do. A better way of showing that something is not right would be to take a long shot of the girl on then highway. Have the pickup truck pull up (still in longshot), a short conversation that goes unheard, the girl gets into the truck. The camera looks at the truck as it starts off, 20, 30 seconds later when it is further away, the truck swerves right then left, then stops. It stays there for a short time, then it goes on. So the player knows something unusual as happened, but doesn't know what.
Then look at the detective character with the documentary maker. Why reveal so early? Turn it around, give him another story that Sophie is not aware of. Later on let Sophie and the player find something (say a private eye batch, or a scrapbook with cutouts from newspapers about the disappearances) suddenly the player knows only as much as Sophie and suddenly she realises that the cameraman is not who he claims, could be a father of a missing girl, could be a killer.
When one is writing narrative stories it is best to break the scenes down into story beats, add tension, add a bit of confusion. In point of fact two games can be identical, play exactly the same but one will have a more dynamic narrative full of surprises and the other will be very linear and told dead pan, the first will be well received, the second not, but in essence they are the same game. You most definitely do not need to start over, just rewrite the narrative, change the dynamics of the characters through the narrative. Is the community a bunch of hippies that are welcoming or is it a locked in community that seems to be hiding a secret? Such questions play into how you compose the player and NPC interactions.
The work you've done is excellent but you need to add more mystery and more ambiguity and ply to peoples psychology.
Best of luck with the game.
Really cool, I'm excited to see where this goes.
I really like how you did the first scene - letting the player play as someone who was (maybe?) the killer, getting a glimpse into one of the disappearances. I also like the idea of playing along a pre-determined narrative, but getting to shape the relationships between characters (do the main girl and caleb become romantic or do they stay friends?) which felt like where the game was moving.
My biggest note is that while your art is great, I'm not sure it fits the mood of the game. It feels too light and cartoony for what is a pretty grim story. Maybe that was your intention, to keep things light given the content, but it definitely jumped out at me.
Another thought, which is more preference than anything, is that you don't need to say it's inspired by true events. As you say, it's only inspired by true events, not based on them, so it seems unnecessary to tell us that. I'd say either make it entirely fictional or based on fact. It will obviously always be inspired by true events, but going fictional allows you more creative freedom to divert from reality when it feels right. Though really this is a minor point.
But yah, nice work!
You should really rethink the core concepts of this game. I come from Northern BC. I live along the Highway of Tears. Every day I still wonder what happened to Ramona Wilson before her body was discovered abandoned near the Smithers airport 20 years ago. I don't know if you've lived in the area or have any real connection to the on going tragedy that is the Highway of Tears. A systematic failure by the RCMP to properly investigate the murders of real people, mostly First Nations, on BC's northern highways. Similar to the systematic failure of the RCMP to investigate the murders of Vancouver prostitutes, until Robert Pickton was arrested and convicted on his farm. This lighthearted attempt at gamifying a depressing ongoing mystery is disrespectful to the families who have lost loved ones, to people who stay awake wishing they could see their children again and feeling utterly helpless that they cannot bring them home safely. If you want to make a crumby Unity powered adventure game mystery, that's one thing, but don't tackle subject matter that communities are still reeling in grief from, or trying to sprinkle mythological elements that you just googled just because. It is incredibly offensive to the families and friends of the Victims still suffering out here, and given this is a white man vaguely touching on a genuine issue Native American communities are dealing with is borderline racist. So please, rethink the narrative of this Game you want to make and plot a new course to something you have a better understanding of.
Although it seems discouraging, I feel like I have to side with the other commenters. I think this issue is too serious for the cartoony style you've presented. And it really is a beautiful style, really evocative of Full Throttle, Sam and Max and other point and click greats.
But the subject matter is just too serious, and too recent. I think you could salvage much of your game if you drop the name Highway of Tears, and perhaps set it somewhere else. Another part of Canada. Alaska. Northern US. Alternatively, start over with a new setting and keep the characters.
Please don't be discouraged by this viewpoint. You clearly have an enormous talent for game making, and I plan on following you to see what you create in future. I rarely take the time to play demos anymore, but the art in your screenshots just charmed me, and brought me back to my adventure gaming days, and I had to play.
That's my two cents. Now some feedback from a purely technical point of view:
- I like the dialog system, but on my screen (1080p but I chose 1280 res) the bottom option was always slightly cut off.
- When the two main characters walk, they float a little too much. Either add some bobbing to simulate walking, or maybe stylise it a little by blurring the background
- the Quit option on the menu didn't work for me, I had to use Alt+f4 to get out of it
I think you should change the setting of this game to somewhere else and also change the title. I feel as though you're tying it too closely when you do that to have a fictional game made about the events and with this sort of art style.
Use these events to inspire your story by all means because everything to do with the Highway of Tears is absolutely chilling but don't tie it that closely.
I also downloaded the demo attracted by the artwort. I think it's really great and personally I don't mind the cartoon style for such a dark plot, actually I think it sort of adds to the creepiness in a way. I was also a litte bothered by the too straighfoward abrupt conversations but I'm aware this is just a rough demo in that aspect.
Regarding the story I have to agree with what has been mentioned already, basing a fictional storyline on such a complicated and recent tragedy makes me a bit uncomfortable and I can understand how locals may be offended by it. Even though you mention that you like to include a real-world connection, I agree with previous commenters that the best would be to keep the basic plot and move it to a completely different fictional setting.
All in all the game looks really interesting so far and I would love to see where it goes. Best of luck!
Thank you very much for your replies, they have really made me think about how to approach this story. I never meant to offend anyone, but I can totally understand from your replies that someone feels that way, and if so, I'm honestly sorry.
When I first heard about the Highway of Tears I was as horrified as anyone to learn that so much evil can exist, and that it repeatedly struck in a place already full of tragedy. I've read through the official Board of Inquiry report on the murders, plus a lot of articles about the events, the situation around Vancouver, the psychology of serial killers, and I've watched several documentaries, so I am aware of the poverty, drug addiction, survival sex trade, aboriginal discrimination and downright indifference and failure on the part of the RCMP in taking decisive action, especially in the Pickton case, where so much tragedy could have been avoided if they had taken it seriously.
As I read more and more about it I felt like I had to somehow raise awareness, and tell a story that at least introduces people to these events. As an outsider I concede that I do not have the personal connection to these events that would give me credibility in writing a story like this, but I would never use the outline of these events as a cheap way to create a 'cool mysterious story'. But you raise a valid point that perhaps because of that I had better no try in the first place as it risks offending people or not doing the tragedy justice. And that would be the last thing I want to do.
So in that light, I agree with the suggestions that it is better to distance myself from the real-world connection. The story in my game was already fictional, not referencing any real victims or specific cases, and set in a fictional town, so in effect the story could already stand on its own without the true story angle. I want people to be able to enjoy my game and learn something from it, without feeling personally offended by it because of the weight of a cultural trauma hanging over it.
I was also aware that the Haida people live in a slightly different region, so changing locations should also mitigate that disparity somewhat. There is only one specific fable from their heritage I am referencing, not a sweeping generalization of their culture at large or anything like that, so I have faith I can handle that well.
Do you guys think that would ease your worries, or is there more I should reconsider? Right now the game is still quite malliable, so I am 100% open to suggestions, or if someone wants to be a consultant on the narrative part to make sure I treat a subject like this with the gravitas it deserves, I'd be thankful.
New titles I'm considering: Highway of the Lost, Augier's Peak, The Forsaken. Any other suggestions are welcomed.
I hope this is a good solution, and if anyone want to discuss anything related to this or trade thoughts on the subject, feel free to comment or email me.
Regarding the feedback on game-specific stuff like art and GUI: thanks too for the kind words and the constructive criticism, I will respond more in-depth to those things once the matter of the story and subject has been resolved. I won't move forward with those things too much until I know people are content with the new direction.
I think you've come up with a good solution. You can address the same themes without actually referencing the cases themselves - without hurting people's feelings.
Again I have to stress your artwork is out of this world, and whatever you build is going to be a joy to play. I'd love to help out with anything, although I don't have a lot of free time lately.
Regarding the name, The Forsaken sounds terribly clichéd. I bet there are ten games out there already called that. Augier's Peak is interesting, if a little awkward to spell - where does that come from? I like Highway of the Lost although its a bit like Highway of Tears. Lost Highway would also work and sounds a bit more mysterious. Or, maybe Vanishing Point as it evokes both a long highway disappearing into the distance and a place where people disappear.
I had a longer response written for my earlier reply but I ended up deleting it because I had trouble verbalizing what I wished to say. Now that I've thought about it for a bit I think I understand a little better what made me uncomfortable about the game.
From what I've seen of your demo it seems to be a murder mystery type game with the Raven having some sort of involvement. Now if the mystery is solved in game, and the evil banished or the guy put behind bars, where does that leave real people missing loved ones whom may never be found and who may never know what exactly is going on. Also, two foreigners come into the area and presumably solve the case, and even if solving it is an harrowing ordeal, I feel would be trivializing the people in the area who've searched long and hard, turning over every stone, and have tried desperately to get something done.
Distancing yourself from the tragedy solves both these concerns and you can still bring awareness to it.
I've read your reply and feel you're on the right track but I just thought I'd share my thoughts with you.
With regards to names, make sure you don't pick something common that'll put you on page 5 when you Google it.
Oh man! Vanishing Point would have been so great as a title if there wasn't already a seminal piece of cinema with the same title : )
Augier's Peak is the name of the town the game is set in. I think right now this is the best candidate for the new title, also because if I drop the highway angle entirely it becomes the main stage. (honestly there's no narrative need now to have such a strong focus on the highway instead of just the area and the town)
And thanks for the praise, I appreciate it : ) If there is anything you can think of that you would want to help with, even just being a beta tester occasionally, let me know.
A very good point, I'm glad you've managed to vocalize it. I will take that into consideration when polishing up the ending. I think I've struck a balance between it being the dour realism you expect at the end of a case like this, while also providing some closure for the player, to not make them feel like they walked away empty-handed. That is after all the thrill of a mystery like this, unraveling the clues. It won't be aliens or ghosts in the end that did it, I can assure you that at least.
I'd love to be a beta tester! Sign me up!
Vanishing Point and Lost Highway are both names of movies but I doubt that matters. Grand Theft Auto, Hitman, Prototype, Dark Souls, Blood, Dead Space and Fallout are all the names of unrelated movies which came out (sometimes decades) before the games of the same name. I think a movie only goes for copyright if there's going to be merchandising, or sequels. It's worth looking into before you give up on the name!
Is Augier's Peak a real place-name? If not, I would drop the 'i' for easier spelling and just call it Auger's Peak. It's still memorable and unique (and google-able). If it is a real place-name I think we're back to that issue of connecting it to closely to reality.
Augier's Peak doesn't exist in real life. There is a lake called Lake Augier somewhere vaguely in the same area of Canada, and there is some backstory involving french playwright Emile Augier that figures into the story later, so that's why I came up with that name. Augur could be another spelling possibility, making it a full-on reference to the game Sepulchre, which is set on a train bound for Augur's Peak.
But I brainstormed some more last night and added a few candidates to the list, these focusing more on the central suspect:
- The Stalking Raven
- The Black Feather Disappearances (a black feather is his calling card at the crime scene)
- Black Feather Forest
I like the second one, sounds like something the media would come up with there, but what do you think?
I'm working on an updated demo to be released in the next few weeks, which fixes the issues with text clipping on the GUI and the mouse cursor occassionally disappearing, aswell as adding some animations and editing the narrative to follow the new direction.
Well, if it features Emile Augier then you shouldn't rename it. I like that the town name is a subtle reference to Sepulchre (which I really must play).
Ravens are always creepy, so anything with ravens or feathers is a good idea.
The Black Feather Disappearances is a bit long-winded. Maybe just Black Feathers? It's a bit more minimalist and sums up perfectly the clues left behind.
I'm also interested to play future builds, which I assume you'll keep posting here?
Yep, well, the updated demo for sure. After that I'll have to think of a way to set up a beta-testing system. Best not to do an early-access type thing with a narrative game ; ) If you want to be a part of that or have suggestions on how to do it, just email me and I'll compile a list of testers.
Hey there guys, I rebranded the game and updated the demo. You can try the new version here.
Content-wise not a whole lot has changed, I wanted to add some new scenes but with a deadline today to submit to an event I figured it better to focus on polishing and bug fixes. The GUI has been improved, notably the Dossier is nicer to look at, and the dialogue UI should play nicely on all resolutions now. I also added some idle animations to the characters, edited the dialogue here and there and made some other small improvements.
I guess the biggest change is the fact that I've de-emphasized the Highway 16 connection like we discussed. The story now focuses on the disappearances in the fictional town, which happens to be in Canada. And like I said, the name has changed to Black Feather Forest, derived from the lore connection that becomes evident later in the game.
Now that the demo is 'done' I can gladly start breaking all of the things in the unity project by adding new content etc for the final product : )
If you find anything weird, let me know.
I'm looking forward to trying out this demo. However when I download it in Chrome I get the error "blackfeatherforest_de.....zip is malicious, and Chrome has blocked it."
Do you have any ideas what might be tripping up Chrome with this file?
Yeah weird I've heard that from other people. Seems Google went a bit overboard with blocking exes from downloading, but you can turn that malware prevention off temporarily by clicking on the "hamburger" icon on the Chrome toolbar on the top-right there, then go to "Options." Click the "Under the Hood" tab and deselect the "Enable phishing and malware protection" checkbox under the Privacy section. Now retry the download, should work.