I knew that I wanted the final choice to be between staying in the unknown or returning home. Then, I had to create a situation in which that decision would feel meaningful and both options would be compelling. I came up with the idea of a cave-in separating someone from their friends, but originally I had him wandering alone. I realized that it would be difficult to keep people invested in staying in the caves without a companion, so I created Stega. The choice was thus between the familiar and the unknown, but also between two relationships. I also tried to give the choice a moral dimension, but I didn’t want to make one decision clearly right. Hence, there is no clear antagonist or conflict, making it challenging to keep the player engaged in the story and the choices.
For the format, I was inspired by Chunsoft’s tradition of sound novels and visual novels, such as Machi and 428: Shibuya Scramble. Two things stood out to me from these genres: the way sound was used to create atmosphere, and the way the text appeared in chunks rather than all at once.
I included sound effects throughout the story, but I ran out of time to actually implement them. If I had more time, I would have added sound effects and ambient noise.
I implemented the “click anywhere to continue” macro to break up the text into more digestible chunks, and add natural pauses to the characters’ speech. I preferred clicking anywhere rather than clicking on specific links to advance to the next page, in order to remove some of the effort required to continue. As I playtested my own game, I tried different ways of breaking up the text, and found that adding pauses at different points helped influence the pacing of each scene.
Another challenge was finding ways to include player choice. My first draft only included decision making before each ending. To add more interactivity, I included some unimportant choices that only changed a few lines of dialogue, but I was worried that players would feel bored or offended by trivial choices.
Other feedback I got during playtesting was that the dialogue was unnatural and that there was not enough environmental storytelling. If I had more time, I would spend more time fleshing out the world and how living underground would affect the characters’ lifestyle, culture, and way of thinking. I would also develop the map more and think about the story in space. I also received feedback that the final endings were abrupt. I wanted to have the story end when the player made the choice to stay or go, leaving what comes next up to imagination. I was still not able to strike a balance between keeping the endings open and keeping them satisfying. If I had stronger writing skills, I would try to implement these comments more effectively.
Some random facts:
- Carpon: from Rhizocarpon, a genus of lichen.
- Talpa: from Talpidae, the mole family.
- Gryllus: from Gryllus, the cricket genus. Gryllotalpidae is the mole cricket family.
- Stega: from Schistostega, the genus of a type of bioluminescent moss.