Reflecting on Gearhead
Wow, it has been an absolute whirlwind for the past 2 months to get episode 4 released. What I put up online August 31st, 2023 was an absolutely broken build, barely functional. Thanks to a ton of friends on discord doing extensive testing and bug reporting I was able to clean up that first release significantly and re-release a couple more times such that now-- finally-- on day 4 of SAGE, I think I have a build that at least approximates what I was hoping to originally release.
Making indie games in your spare time post-COVID is super hard. Even for someone like me, who has more spare time than your average person. This year's release is an example of how tough it is to make a fun, new experience, even if you have built a lot of code, tools, experience, and confidence over several years of doing this kind of thing.
For those who don't know me that well, it's worth saying that, although I like to try and make every aspect of these game episodes good than I can (art, music, story, gameplay, etc)-- I do tend to give outsized focus on "vibes". When I say vibes, I generally mean presentation-- and by presentation I generally mean in-game cinematics-- and by cinematics this tends to refer to how the art, music, and story intertwine and produce an emotional experience.
For the Knothole Snowday section of episode 4, I must have spent hours and hours on these little cinematic scenes; tweaking the music, speeding up or slowing down dialogue, doing special sprites to help capture an emotion more clearly, etc, etc. By the time I got all my cinematics in, I had very little time to think about gameplay. I had been thinking about gameplay on and off for the entire year, but was not totally enamored with any of my ideas. The end result for this episode has been what I consider to be a lackluster effort for Logan and Rotor's special abilities, their combat experience, and how all these things tie together.
What I "did" spend a lot of time on was the "map layering", which you will see in the Northern Mountains segment of the game. I was super excited about the idea of having more visually complex maps where the player could go above and behind things like in Chrono Trigger, and it took a lot of work to get it right (and in some situations I still have issues, e.g. the hopping from higher layers to lower layers), but I think this was a good investment and can be used for cool, more vertical map designs in later episodes, which will probably come into play in episode 7 (vague spoilers).
I want every year's episode to be unique and memorable in some way, which is why I kinda got very loose with the description "Sonic the Hedgehog" RPG this year, haha. For those who know, Sonic is basically a background character in this episode. Barely any screen time. Rotor and Logan (the pig member of the Rebellion with attitude) are the featured characters of this episode and the story and dialogue are pretty much laser focused on their relationship and mini-adventure. I really enjoyed the opportunity to delve into these characters a bit and work through a side quest that Jake originally wrote up three years ago! Of course, as is usually the case, the idea went through many iterations before it hit the screen, and even after it hit the screen, but it was a long time coming for these two to get the spotlight. I recall Jake's favorite character being Logan early on, a character he originally designed, so it's super cool to see her get more story significance.
The other obviously unique part of this episode is snowy Knothole. Something I've been dreaming about since I first saw this Sea3on holiday art and was inspired by the vibes...
You know me-- I love the vibes!! And I just had to get those vibes into an episode somehow. So, contrived Project Firebird plot point it is! It was worth it, and I'm really happy how the music and vibes turned out. Special thanks to Ameixa Roxa who helped do art for Bart, Project Firebird, and the snow day tiles, which are all gorgeous thanks to her hard work. If I could go back and have more time, I wish I had done some winter outfits for the characters, but alas-- Sonic's scarf makes a debut at least, haha.
I also want to call out:
- Jake: Who helped write some gorgeous scenes, as usual
- Bill: Who did an absolutely stunning piece of music for Bart's Lab
- GreenCauldron08: Who came through with an epic reimagining of the flight music from Sonic SatAM season 1 that we ended up using for the Northern Mountains segment. Amazing vibes.
Anyhow, there's still lots more bugs to fix, even with the release of what I consider to be "non-beta". Thanks again to everyone who helped make this episode happen this year. It barely came together this year, but I'm so glad it finally did, even if it is a little less ambitious than previous episodes in terms of gameplay polish.