Finding the soul of your game

Right now I’m nearing the end of development for Towerfall. What started off as a simple first prototype for my One Week/Game project has sorta become more involved to say the least. And at the end of development there’s still quite a few things to cross off my development checklist.

But as I look back at what I’m working on the thing that strikes me is what facets of the game I’m working on. I’m actually not spending a lot of time tweaking the gameplay or adding extraneous features. Instead I seem to be spending a lot of time on tiny details like adding a little flavor of narrative, a hint of character, some small background details, and additional ambient sounds.

On the surface what I seem to be working on is merely polish. But I don’t think that’s quite right. Polish tends to be technical and dry; it focuses on getting the proper responsive controls and making sure the game has working scoreboards and other technical details. What I’m doing might overlap with polish a little, but I feel like what I’m really doing is trying to define the soul of Towerfall right now.

I hate using a term like soul is such a nebulous way. But it feels quite apt in this scenario. Too many games now are seemingly made without reason or care. I feel that’s a huge disappointment that people can put so much work and effort into a product they ultimately care little about. I want to work on things I personally care about which is one of the reasons I became an indie developer.

But it’s not just enough to care about something I work on. I think its paramount to let players know about the passion that went into making the game. Or rather, the game should exude love and care. And to me, love and care has always been those little details in games that end up adding so much. When a developer goes the extra mile to add in something that was totally unnecessary yet meaningful. Like how the Adventure of Link contains the whole original map from the first Legend of Zelda. Or how Super Metroid has an entire side room so you can save your two alien friends during the final escape sequence. Or basically the entire game of Chrono Trigger.

Those nuances and small touches to me are demonstrative of the passion the developers had for their game. You can tell the developers truly loved making that game. It’s the soul of the game emanating through.

So right now I’m trying to find that soul in Towerfall. And hopefully if (or when) I do and you play the game you can tell the craft and care put into making it. Because otherwise what the hell am I doing making games?