GDC Playtest Takeaways

Hi, everyone.  J.D. here.

As I promised in my last post, here’s what we learned from Playtest Night at GDC and how we’re going forward with it.  If you didn’t get to check it out at GDC, you can play our demo right in your browser or check out the video below.

We received a lot of positive feedback.  People who got far enough and figured out how things worked really liked our gameplay especially the Push and Pull Gloves.  They also seemed to really enjoy the humor which I thought might fall flat because I wrote some of it fairly quickly and worried it might consist of too many things only I found funny.

For a while, Rose and I have received a lot of feedback about the controls.  I designed them based around how I play so for keyboard, I put movement on the Arrow Keys and items and interaction on Z, X and C.  After all the feedback, I’ve moved movement to WASD for movement and mapping the items to the left and right mouse buttons.  As for interaction, it’s still on the Z key but I intend to move it to the mouse and having our main character Elwynn move closer adventure game style if she’s too far away.

We also received a lot of feedback on our items and level design.  One of the things that seemed most frustrating to our players was trying to move around blocks with the Push and Pull Gloves and ended up moving themselves because they had to use the arrow keys to aim.  This one was easy to fix.  I just froze the player’s movement while they’re using the gloves.  This was actually how it used to be.  I thought it might allow for more complicated tricks and puzzles if the player could move around but if it makes things to frustrating for the average player, I’ll think of other ways to make clever puzzles.

The Reflect Cape and the introductory level where Elwynn receives it also received a lot of feedback.   Most of it dealt with how we teach the players to use the various functions of the cape.  Unlike the Gloves, the Cape has two completely unrelated powers.  It reflects projectiles while the player holds down the item button to which it is assigned and it also gives the player expanded jumps by allowing them to float a short distance.  At some point, my reasoning was something like “It’s reflecting the force of gravity”.  This seemed to confuse a lot of players especially since the flames that they have to put out with the dropping water look like they can be jumped over instead of having to reflect the water into the fire.

Right now, we’re considering two ways to fix this: Separating the two functions Float and Reflect into two separate items like the Cape and a new Shield or reworking the level design to teach the two aspects separately.  At the moment, we start out teaching reflect, then we teach float for a while before immediately expecting the player to know both buttons, switches and higher level reflection at the end of the level.  Given those problems, we’ll probably end up doing the latter in some manner whether or not we separate the functions.

Well, those are our major takeaways from the playtest.  I could probably go on for ages about what we got but I’ve got to get back to work implementing these changes.



Gameplay Video and Demo

Hi, everyone.

Rose and I were out at GDC last week.  I can’t speak for her but I know I had a really good time.  We got to show off our prototype at the Prototype/Playtesting Night and we got a lot of good feedback.  I’ll have more on that in my next post.

For now, I just wanted to let you  all know that we have our first gameplay video to show.   It shows a full run through our prototype as it was at GDC.

If you’d like to play it, a WebGL version if available online here.  I updated that every so often so if it doesn’t look like what you see in the video, it’s probably been updated.

Well, I’ve got to get back to work but as I said, should have something soon about what we got from GDC.

Thanks for reading,


How We Got To PrincessCape

Hi.  I’m JD and I’m the Director and Lead Programmer on PrincessCape.

Rose and I have been working hard on our capstone project since August but it hasn’t always been PrincessCape.  We went through three major revisions before we got to our current game and I thought it would be interesting to talk about what they were and how they lead us to PrincessCape.

The first idea we called Children of Ruin.  It was a 2D Metroidvania platformer in the style of Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin for the DS.  In it players took on the roll of Ephrie (pronounced ‘F-Re’, a young princess and warrior from the kingdom of Ylluvia, and Karoe (pronounced ‘K-Rho’), an apprentice mage as they venture through a castle filled with deadly foes in search of an ancient evil recently unleashed upon the world.  I had originally imagined it as Castlevania meets Lethal Weapon with Ephrie and Karoe not really liking each other at first.  I imagined they were only working together due to a common interest in saving the day but after all the struggles I had envisioned for them, I thought they would become close friends.  I still think it’s a really fun idea but we discarded when we took a good hard look at it and saw that we still didn’t have much new to offer to the genre.

Our next idea was called Princess of Thieves.  It started from the idea of adding stealth to the Metroidvania genre and wondering why someone would sneak around a castle for reasons other than theft.  In the game, players played as Princess Ephrie of Ylluvia, no relation to the other one, right after she became the ruler of Ylluvia.  In her father’s possessions, she found a half-finished letter addressed to her that warns her of someone after the secrets that lie in the ‘Heart of the Palace’.  With no idea whom she can trust, she has to try and make the best decisions to keep Ylluvia together while also trying to find out what the Heart of the Castle is and who is trying to take it for themselves.

The gameplay was supposed to be split into two parts: Daytime court sections and nighttime sneaking sections.  The daytime sections would play out like a visual novel.  The specific influence here was Long Live The Queen by Hanako Games.  Ephrie would have to make decisions about how to run Ylluvia and which of the people around her she trusted.

The nighttime sections would have Ephrie sneaking around inside the palace.  I imagined the palace as being so giant the parts seeing regular use were only a fraction of the whole thing leaving lots of places to explore.  The inhabited parts of the castle would be inhabited by people and guards who could spot Ephrie and let others know of her activity.  The outskirts of the inhabited areas would be in slight disrepair and inhabited by things like rats and other small animals that could harm Ephrie slightly.  The depths of the castle would be where the monsters in the castle lived.  They would only need one strike to kill Ephrie so she had to be very careful when sneaking around.

These two parts were to connect and influence each other.  As Ephrie grew closer to different people, they might provide her with different benefits that would change how she explored at night.  For example, befriending the Captain of the Guard would get Ephrie a key that would allow her to access shortcuts between different areas of the castle without having to worry about guards spotting her.  During the night, Ephrie would find Secrets, things like an overheard conversation or a scrap of a letter that would give Ephrie new insight into one of the characters.  During the day, she could use these Secrets to influence people to do things for her or to befriend them by keeping it a secret.  She would also learn spells from either magic statues found in the deeper parts of the castle or from her magical advisor that could be used to help her get through sections of the castle or change how she could react to situations during the day.

I really liked this idea.  I thought there was a cool integration between the two ideas with room for a lot of character development as Ephrie grew from seeing the two halves of her life as in conflict to seeing that they were actually complementary.  However, Rose couldn’t really get behind the visual novel portion so I handed over the reins to Rose and we moved on to our next idea.

We’ll call Rose’s idea Princess of Thieves v2.  It took most of the mechanics of the original idea’s nighttime sections and made them the core of the game.  Now, you .were a thief named Elwynn seeking to score one last big heist in a castle called Mordil to save the orphanage she was raised in.  However, she gets stuck inside when the door behind her closes and now she has to find a way out.  This game focused more on puzzles solving and stealth as Elwynn found new powers at the magic statues, she would use them to explore new areas either by using them for mobility or keeping her out of sight of enemies that could finish her in only a few hits.  This idea was scrapped fairly quickly after a disastrous playtest that showed us that we didn’t really know how to design levels for this mixture of mechanics.

This was just before Thanksgiving Break and by then, I just wanted to find a new idea we could get behind.  During break, I thought about exploration in a castle and how someone who couldn’t really fight would be doing it.  I came up with the idea of a princess kidnapped by a dragon seeing the knight who came to save her burned to death by a dragon and then trying to escape using items looted from their corpses.  I brought the idea up to Rose and our advisors and with the green light from all of them, PrincessCape was born.

At the time, it was still called Princess of Thieves.  I didn’t get the idea for PrincessCape as a name until right before Winter Break when I was trying to brainstorm items and came up with the idea of an invisibility cape that eventually became our reflect cape and the words ‘Princess’ and ‘Escape’ got in my mind and became ‘PrincessCape’.

So, that’s the story of how we got here.  Next time, we’ll discuss more about the present.