A postmortem on Desiderium

As of 2/22/2020, Desiderium is done! It's time to make the game complete, and release version 1.0! I've been working on Desiderium as a passion project of mine with the help of some friends since 2016. I'm proud of what we made and that we saw the project through to completion, but in retrospect, there were some mistakes I made early on that made development down the line more difficult than it needed to be. There are 2 big lessons I learned while working on this project.

1. Don't rely too heavily on the asset store! I wanted to make an adventure game with some platforming mechanics. At the time, in 2016 I wasn't as experienced in programming and game development in general as I am now. I wasn't sure where to begin with making my own character controller so I went to the Unity asset store and found an out of the box solution. The character controller I found was solid and did exactly what it said it would, but as development went on, I started to realize it might not have been the perfect choice for this game. The asset came with a character model that didn't fit the tone of the game, but I thought I could just change the texture and it'd be fine. While I was able to change the texture, the way the UVs were mapped didn't make it very easy and limited how much I could change it.

Also the controller didn't work very well in tight spaces with environments there were supposed to be kinda true to life. Sometimes if colliders were too close to each other at weird angles, walking across them would cause some unexpected behavior like the character would be launched into the sky.

There were some other nuances to how the character controller worked like how moving at certain angles relative to the camera made the character move more slowly. I got feedback on those things several times, but I could never really act on that feedback because the controller wasn't mine. I had access to the character controller's code, but because I'm not the one who developed it, making code changes to force the character controller to work in a different way wasn't easy. When I tried to do that, there would often be a ripple effect and something else would break. I did make a few changes to the controller's code to get footsteps to work, and to give players the option to press up or A to pull themselves up onto a ledge. But the code base was so big, so it was impossible to make any major change.

2. Have a clear vision of what sort of experience you want to make before you jump into development! For Desiderium, I was inspired by a little known Wii game called Fragile Dreams. What I appreciated most about that game was the atmosphere. It so effectively put me in a certain kind of lonely mood that was also comforting. It's hard to describe. But that game is one of a kind, there's really nothing else out there like it. So I wanted to try making a game that conveys the same emotions. So I put a lot of effort into coming up with lore to explain why the world is the way it is, and why the player is exploring it. But I struggled with figuring out where to go with it, and how to make a story that has meaning beyond conveying a certain emotion to the player. I think conveying an emotion to the player is meaning enough, but that was only meant to be part of what I initially wanted to make. In the planning phase, I thought the rest would come to me naturally. But as I made progress on the levels, I soon realized it wasn't gonna be so easy to just come up with an impactful story and add it to the game.

But what we ended up with is a contemplative experience that hopefully conveys a sense of loneliness but also peace. And if we at least achieved that, I'm happy.

For my next project, Radical Adventure, I outlined the entire campaign from start to finish. The team has a much clearer understanding of what the design pillars are and exactly what kind of experience it is we're trying to make. We're occasionally going back to the plot synopsis and revising it to better fit the design pillars. This time around we're taking planning a lot more seriously. The destination is a lot more clear this time, and I already see how the game is benefiting from that.

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