…or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Buggy Demo.
I was really reluctant to go to GDEX and demo Tinselfly this year.
My swordfighting demo–which I’d been showing basically unaltered for the last couple years–was in significantly worse shape than it was at last year’s GDEX, the last time I’d demoed my game. I’ve been busy rebuilding big pieces of Tinselfly to be more maintainable and efficient, and the demo broke because I completely ditched a couple different third-party tools it was running on… and I never fixed it.
I bailed on MatsuriCon because I had no demo.
I bailed on IngenuityFest because I had no demo.
I seriously considered bailing on GDEX.
See, my demo wasn’t really part of my game proper. It was a standalone thing I threw together for some expo years ago just to show my sword fighting mechanic. And the more I worked on it, the more I wasn’t working on finishing real game levels that would be in my final product. It pained me to miss out on MatsuriCon and Ingenuty, but I just couldn’t justify fixing the demo. I needed to move the project forward.
So about a week before GDEX, I decided I’d just have a gameplay-light demo and show what I’ve got so far with the beginning of my game.
Transportation is a big part of the world and story of Tinselfly. You work in a shipbuilding town. The plot revolves around the decline of the shipbuilding industry due to new transportation technologies. Your character loves spaceships and the idea of space travel.
So the beginning of my game is all about transport: you’re supposed to start playing a game-in-the-game, stop playing and wander your childhood home, take a gondola to a balloon, take the balloon to a floating city, walk through a wormhole to a bazaar on another planet, jump back through the wormhole, board a big spaceship and fly off–with no loading screens, all in the first 10 minutes of play. A veritable whirlwind of transport.
The opening scene as designed would really be the perfect demo for showing off the environments I’ve built for my game — and I was much of the way there. I figured I could get just one more of those transitions working in time for GDEX — and I did, the morning of.
There was very little traditional gameplay. You could wander, you could pick up a few objects and hear your character comment on a few others, but the gameplay was limited to a rather old, rather buggy first pass at rewriting my old sword fighting stuff.
And this was a good thing.
* * *
From a logistics standpoint, things went great this year. This was the first year I brought an external monitor and gamepad, so that visitors wouldn’t see my laptop–it was more inviting than just having a laptop sitting on a table.
This also allowed me, behind my table, to see what the player was seeing, as the external monitor and laptop screen were showing the same thing.
Sadly, my gamepad support was terrible; the game is really designed for keyboard and mouse. But I was able to walk everybody through the most unintuitive bits of my interface.
* * *
I wandered around the expo floor a lot more than I did in expos past. Sure, that meant abandoning my demo for long stretches of time, but I’m really glad I did it. Seeing the creativity of other people’s works, feeling their enthusiasm, learning from them… that’s in many ways more important than showing off my own stuff.
I probably wouldn’t have tried wandering so much at the beginning of the expo if I thought my own demo was any good to begin with.
* * *
Tinselfly was never supposed to be about the unique visual sword fighting mechanic. I only concentrated on it first because, well, it was easy to talk about and demo and point at and say hey! this is what makes my game unique.
But Tinselfly is really about telling a story in a fun, unique way that relies neither on cutscenes nor static environmental details. And my level designs are supposed to be a big part of that. The transitions from location to location are a big part of that. This is what makes me excited about Tinselfly.
So in not having a particularly robust sword fighting demo, I was free to talk to players about what really excited me about the project. And I think my excitement showed. Players at this year’s GDEX seemed a lot more engaged, asked a lot more questions, and stayed longer at my demo than they have in the past.
On Sunday morning a highschooler was trying to tell me he thought my game felt like it could be ‘more’ than other games when it was done: more than the sum of its parts, perhaps.
I think that was the best compliment I’ve ever gotten at a demo.