Welcome to the Where Shadows Slumber blog! I know Frank posted something last week, but this is my first post, so I’m going to pretend like I’m important or something. In case I’m not important and you don’t know who I am, I’m Jack – the head designer and lead engineer for Where Shadows Slumber. We’ve decided to do a blog to keep in touch with the people that really matter in the production of our game – the users!
So, since this is the very start of our blog, I figured that a good topic would have something to do with the very start of Where Shadows Slumber – the inception of the idea itself. If you haven’t played yet, you definitely should (and how did you end up here?). If you have, then you probably know that the core mechanic of the game is rather interesting, and isn’t something you see, or think of, every day. So how did I come up with it? I get this question a lot, and I never have a satisfying answer for it.
I’ve always been a gamer, and thus a game designer, even if it’s usually just in the back of my mind. I’m always thinking about what might be a good game design. A kid walking down the street, avoiding cracks in the sidewalk? Maybe that could make a good game. The picture on that billboard? Looks like a cool puzzle to me – can I expand on it? These thoughts are always floating around my head, and, to be honest, 99% of them are completely worthless. Almost everything I think of has an inherent flaw, or has already been done, or just wouldn’t be fun.
However, it’s the other 1% (it’s probably far less, honestly) that matters. I find that these few half-decent ideas often come up when I’m thinking about the design of existing games, since they’re often far more in tune with what users might be looking for. And I think that’s an important point – no one wants to play Generic Shooter 257342, but a lot of people are willing to give a new, quirky platformer a shot.
Enter Monument Valley. Yeah, I said it, and I’m gonna
pander commit a whole paragraph to it. Monument Valley is one of the greatest mobile games I have ever played. Monument Valley took a simple idea and a simple aesthetic, polished them both into a well-oiled game engine, and gave us an incredible experience based around an interesting, understandable mechanic. It wasn’t difficult, but it made you think. I love Monument Valley, and if you haven’t played it, you should go do that. If you have played it, you can probably tell that it was a pretty big inspiration for Where Shadows Slumber, and despite the many reasons for that, there’s one word (which I just learned) that I would use to describe why that is: frisson.
- a sudden strong feeling of excitement or fear; a thrill.“a frisson of excitement”
The way I think of it, frisson is that feeling you get when something really cool happens. When you figure something out, and it makes you realize that the universe fits together in a really awesome way (the math nerds out there know what I’m talking about). In short, it’s the feeling you get when you solve, understand, and appreciate a really cool puzzle. That feeling stood out so drastically when playing Monument Valley that it made me realize – this is why I play puzzle games, and this is the feeling that puzzle games should strive to inspire.
So Monument Valley came out, and I played it, and I loved it. This was right around the time of the lackluster culmination of our previous project, SkyRunner (go check it out!), and it made me want to try to create something just as unique, interesting, and beautiful. So I continued thinking about potential game ideas, but I started aiming for something new, something interesting, something that hadn’t really been done before. I never sat down and tried to think of a great idea, I just tried to let them come to me.
And then (and this is the unsatisfying answer that I have to give everyone), the idea came to me. I don’t remember how or when or where, but it just came to me – gradually. It didn’t start out as shadows – basically, it was the idea that anything that you can’t see might be different from the way you remember. You don’t know – you can’t see it! This eventually developed into the idea of shadows, because we decided on creating a third-person game, and shadows are a good way to show that something ‘can’t be seen’.
Now this idea is by no means new. Erwin Schrödinger stuck a cat in a box with the same general concept. If you look, you can find other instances (in fact, you don’t even have to look – just click here or here.) In fact, I remember watching a proof-of-concept demo for a video game based on this exact idea – anything you couldn’t see could change. So it wasn’t a brand new idea, but it was definitely something novel, something interesting, something that we hadn’t seen in the mobile gaming space, and something we thought we could design a lot of fun puzzles around. After a few conversations with Frank, we decided to put together a small initial demo for the first version of Where Shadows Slumber.
We ended up falling in love with both the concept and the aesthetic we had managed to cultivate. For probably the first time in my life, I can actually say that, 18 months or so after I had the idea, we have managed to create a game that actually looks every bit as good as what had first popped into my head. I’m really proud of the work we’ve done to get here (which you’ll hear about if you’re willing to continue reading my hackneyed posts), and I’m very excited for the upcoming phase of production.
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Thanks for tuning in, I hope you enjoyed reading about the inception of the idea for our game, Where Shadows Slumber. As always, you can find out more about the game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, find us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebook, or Frank’s game development Twitch stream – and feel free to email us directly with any questions or feedback at contact@GameRevenant.com. Next week, Frank will talk about our development process and how we manage our time.
Jack Kelly is the head developer and designer for Where Shadows Slumber.