About the game itself
After a bit of initial digging I had hit upon the connection between this theme and the commonly known Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. For some the disorder is tolerable, being a daily annoyance, but for others it's debilitating, stressful, and sometimes physically damaging (as can be the case for those who obsessively wash their hands until they are raw). While I can't directly understand what it's like, I did a fair amount of research for the time I was allotted and set out to try and connect the player to the powerless, obsessive, and frustrating feeling that I saw as common among those suffering in regard to their "ticks".
On the surface the game itself is a collection of mini-games which aren't too difficult to complete. Games like stacking the boxes, flipping the switches, aligning things in neat rows/columns, touching things, sorting by color, etc. Needless to say these represent "ticks". I did what I could to indicate to the player the task that needed to be performed for each tick with visual cues, but I think more work needs to be done as some are not so obvious. When these ticks are completed the player is rewarded with a big green check mark. The player will often find a "Move On" button in the bottom right, which they'll likely associate as a "Skip" button, though this isn't completely accurate. This button appears after the player has interacted with the tick in some way (either by touching, clicking, switching, whatever is relevant) and clicking it in this fashion throws a large red 'X' in the players face.
While this is happening there is what starts out to be relatively calm music in the background, as the player completes ticks this music fades to silence and then to something more eerie/creepy, building apprehension as the sound of a heart beat starts beating faster and faster. Continuing the game in this way is a trap and will never end, constantly "rewarding" the player in the short term without actually providing any realistic relief, much in the same way a sufferer might experience their ticks. Almost like an addiction, but I'm not sure that that is completely accurate.
Something else that occurs is text begins falling from the sky. Strictly speaking this is meant to represent a stream of consciousness. Slowly at first, but as the player digs deeper and completes more ticks the text falls faster, with higher frequency and density, and also becomes more and more abrasive. This text also serves as a way of giving the player hints and what they must do. For example a stacking puzzle might drop the word "Stack" or "Tower" to give an idea what needs to be done. What occurs as this effect becomes more severe is an idea that the players mind is becoming more muddled with self doubt, stress, and animosity. Fears of failure and lack of control are meant to be displayed here to wear the player down. The text should cascade behind the tick itself as it's something that's at the back of the mind, where the tick at hand should take up the focus.
What the player might notice at this point is that, should they take the path of resistance and not interact with the tick, that the "Move On" button slowly "grows" out of the bottom right corner. When the player clicks on this...nothing happens except that the game progresses to the next tick. No red 'X', no green check mark. Something else they might notice is that the sound eases up. The heart beat effect recedes and the music returns to what it once was and text becomes less abrasive and falls less frequently.
From what I could gather a common therapy for those suffering is abstinence from that small moment of satisfaction gained from giving in to the tick. And so I've done what I can to emulate this. Continuing like this the player can completely reverse the situation they've put themselves and and continuing these "good habits" past that will finally reward them with a game over screen.
Some Interesting Mechanics
A large part of my time went into the individual ticks themselves and getting them to not only work, but also recognize within an acceptable tolerance that the tick was completed. As many are probably aware, dexterity and accuracy with a mouse can be difficult so tasks like stacking boxes in perfect alignment an aligning circles into a grid can be pretty challenging. These systems aren't perfect, but they should at least be tolerable for the time I had to implement them.
Ticks are actually built up in an individualized way. At first all ticks have an equally random chance of being selected to be served up to the player. In actuality when a tick is chosen an extra chance to select it again is added to the "grab bag" of ticks that the player can get. This means that the more a player does a single tick, the more likely it will be given to them again. The system works better than expected as there is almost always a random chance that a new tick could appear and different plays are much more likely to result in a different set of ticks being developed. I've also yet to play through and have only a single tick dominate, it is usually not served up twice in a row.
The heart beat was a last minute effect that I came up with. I wasn't sure that the music alone was enough to express anxiety to the player and I wanted a way to show them immediately that skipping without interaction held a strictly positive effect, rather than rely on them doing the action several times.
The text was also a last minute detail. It was evident through play testing that showing the puzzle and providing red->green color transitions for correct actions was not enough to convey to the player what needed to be done, especially for the alignment and color sorting ticks. The text allowed me to drop hints directly to the player without spoon feeding them what they need to do, at it also gave me an avenue of evoking more emotion from them by mixing insults in with it. This works by pulling from several different word arrays, where the anxiety that the player is feeling is used to pick more or fewer words from the "instructions" and "self-depricative" lists. I don't think I got around to adding in more reassuring words, which might help with communicating the relief the player should feel when taking the appropriate actions.
Get The devil is the detail
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