We’re one of the finalists for the freeplay event!
The Lever The lever had multiple functions. It moved doors, turned on and off water streams, and sometimes effected multiple objects at the same time. It had two states – left or right – and was activated with the down …View full post
Wrap Indicator The wrap indicator was used for communicating the location that the player will wrap to when going off-screen. When not near the edge of the screen, the wrap indicators don’t show up. As the player gets close to …View full post
Welcome! I’d like to go over the development of The Fourth Wall, mostly delving into cut content, clarifying why it was cut. I aim for this to be enjoyable for the reader, and hope that I may be able to …View full post
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The lever had multiple functions. It moved doors, turned on and off water streams, and sometimes effected multiple objects at the same time. It had two states – left or right – and was activated with the down key. It was used in the game for quite a while, but it was cut for two reasons. First, it’s function as a door opener was unnecessary, since a locked door and key served that purpose better. It’s other function was useful, but the puzzles involving the lever turned out to be unsatisfactory for one reason or another, so they were cut, causing the lever to be cut.
The Lever Door
As mentioned above, the lever sometimes controlled doors. The door shown above isn’t the same type of door as the locked doors in the game. These doors would move up or down until it hit a surface, based on the lever position. Functionally, this type of door wasn’t much different than a locked door – the only difference being the fact that, when the door moves, the player can wrap it to a new location. This didn’t work too well, though, since the context was that it is a door – it doesn’t make sense to the player for the door to move off of it’s “track”. This was why it was cut.
The “laser” catcher is pretty self explanatory. It was activated by the red acid stream (or “laser”), usually opening a door. Upon implementation, I thought that it would be useful for some interesting puzzles. Unfortunately, it is a restrictive object. Since the catcher usually requires the player to wrap a laser into it (and kept wrapped into it), it means that the result of the activation needs to be on-screen. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it usually resulted in cramped puzzles that devolved into “find the spot to stand and turn on screen wrap.”
The screen stretcher turned out to be a lot less useful than I thought it would be. The stretcher is a static object that stays somewhere in a level, and if an edge of the screen bumps up against it, the screen would stretch to allow for both the stretcher and the player to be visible. If the player got closer to the stretcher, it would shrink back down.
I didn’t ever get around to playtesting it due to technical challenges, but I imagine that players would be easily confused by it, without that much benefit. I thought that it would be useful for puzzles that required different screen sizes, but it turns out that making the screen larger reduces the amount of interaction with screen wrap. It also creates strange structures for levels, since it is required that the stretcher is visible in a level at all times.
Stay tuned for the next feature, where we look into the art assets of the game!
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The wrap indicator was used for communicating the location that the player will wrap to when going off-screen. When not near the edge of the screen, the wrap indicators don’t show up. As the player gets close to the edge of the screen, the respective indicators become larger. For example, as the player gets close to the right side of the screen, the indicators appear on the right and left sides of the screen, and track the player’s Y location.
Cutting the wrap indicator was a difficult choice. Players sometimes had trouble telling where they would wrap to, especially when wrapping from bottom to top. The wrap indicator was my solution to this, but ultimately I felt that it cluttered the screen and felt too convoluted.
Eventually I tried to focus on the specific problem – wrapping from bottom to top. I replaced the wrap indicator with a sparkle effect that fell from the wizard’s feet. The sparkles would wrap when appropriate, but players never noticed it, so it didn’t help. I felt that cutting any indication of wrapping was the best way to go.
The no-wrap modifier was an effect that could be attributed to any object in the game, including the player. The modifier was a green sparkle on the object, indicating that the object was not effected by the screen wrap ability. This was a large part of the game at one point, including a large section dedicated to teaching the mechanic.
The no-wrap modifier served several functions. First, it had potential for puzzles to be more interesting and complex. Tagging specific objects as “no-wrap” allowed for puzzles that required different ways of thinking (I especially had a fondness for the ability to throw keys out the other side of the screen by keeping the key normal and putting the modifier on the player). Second, it made it easier to control puzzles. Since the player can turn on the wrap ability at any time, players can break puzzles fairly quickly. With this modifier, I could keep objects contained to where they were supposed to be. Lastly, it allowed for the ability for the player to not wrap, causing him to go off-screen. This was quite difficult for players to grasp, but I felt that it was worth exploring.
Along with the no-wrap modifier, there was a “cleaner” that went along with it. This object would take the modifier off of the object passing through it, returning it back to normal.
A lack of time was the main reason for cutting the no-wrap modifier. I implemented the mechanic a little late into development, so while it did have time to be playtested, it wasn’t playtested enough. Every time I tested the mechanic, players had trouble with it. Rather than keep in something that was just potential, I felt it was best to cut it. If I ever revisit this type of game, I think it would be worth it to explore the no-wrap mechanic some more.
Stay tuned for the next installation of cut mechanics and features!
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Welcome! I’d like to go over the development of The Fourth Wall, mostly delving into cut content, clarifying why it was cut. I aim for this to be enjoyable for the reader, and hope that I may be able to learn something by organizing my thoughts and looking back over development. This will be rolled out in multiple posts, with each post focusing on a certain aspect. If you haven’t played the game, you will want to before reading these, as some of the posts will be going into detail on some of the puzzle solutions.
Throughout development, there were many mechanics and features that got cut from The Fourth Wall. Most of the time, they proved to just be boring, but sometimes they came up too late in development and didn’t have enough time with playtesting.
One mechanic that got cut was the stomp move. This allowed the player to fall faster if they held the down arrow while falling. This allowed for better players to save time while falling through heat from the lava pits. It was mainly introduced, though, to interact with other objects in the world.
The Break Block
The break block, seen above, was a piece that would only break when stomped on, and wouldn’t ever come back. This was a simple and quick decision – there wasn’t much opportunity for this piece to be used in interesting ways in conjunction with the screen wrapping. So it was cut.
The spring obviously allowed for a higher jump, and it allowed for an even higher jump if it was stomped on. This one was a bit harder to cut, since it was fun to use. Ultimately, it was cut, and then came back in some form with the introduction of the pig.
At some point, the idea of momentum was toyed with. The spring was part of this, thinking that the player could gain speed by infinite falling, then landing on a spring, resulting in a higher bounce. I found pretty quickly that having the player fall faster than a certain speed was a pain, since it made the “fall to climb” puzzles pretty much impossible.
The Dissolve Block
The dissolve block is pretty simple. You’ve probably seen it in other platformers – as the player runs across it, it disappears, coming back after a few seconds. At one point, the player could use the stomp ability to break through it instantly. Once again, it wasn’t interesting alone or when combined with the screen wrap, so it was cut. Noticing a trend?
The cloud was pretty similar to the moving platform, though it was shot out of a cannon at a steady rate and disappeared upon contact with any surface. It was kind of neat being able to wrap them around to stop them from being destroyed, but for the most part the moving platform could serve the same purpose. To be honest, it was also taking forever to get their collision to function properly.
The Key Cannon
I wanted to keep the key cannon in for a while, as it solved the dilemma of what happens when a key gets destroyed. In this case, the cannon would spawn a new key whenever one was destroyed. This was also the problem with it, though. It didn’t make much sense (especially to players) that the cannon only shoots out a key when its’ key is destroyed, especially since every other type of cannon had a set fire rate.
At one point, I considered visual checkpoints. My thinking was that, along with a nice sound and animation, the checkpoint could be a small reward for the player after solving a puzzle. Unfortunately, the core mechanic of the game meant that it would be very easy for players to miss or bypass the checkpoints, making them useless.
Stay tuned for part 2, and let me know what else you would like to see in these postmortem articles!
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We have recently updated The Fourth Wall! The new update introduces a vignette effect, to make the game look a bit sharper. To download the update, navigate to the download page and download the current version. Enjoy!
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We’re happy to see that many DigiPen games have been nominated for awards and honorable mentions in the IndiePub Propeller Awards this year! The Fourth Wall is one of the honorable mentions.
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I was on the Bonus Level podcast recently. Neat little podcast, I’m glad I was able to join it for an episode. You can find it here: http://www.bonus-level.com/2012/03/05/bonus-level-radio-118-mad-max-of-canada/
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