Sunday, October 30, 2011

And then there were two

So, a bit of an update for the folks following this project.  In a previous post, I mentioned that there were three gameplay elements still to be implemented that were unique to My Little Investigations.  The second of those three has been in progress, but we now see why I wanted to managed expectations: after wrangling both with the logistics and with the core motivation for this gameplay feature, and after having discussed the matter with ZeusAssassin, I've decided that the best course of action is just to can it.  The reason for this is just that it was difficult to see how it could be structured in an organized yet efficient manner, and that I fundamentally felt that it wasn't going to materially improve the gameplay experience for the player.

I'm a bit disappointed, since at its initial inception this feature seemed like an improvement, but the more I implemented it, the more I got the sense for why Ace Attorney never bothered with it.  Don't worry, though - I can assure you that the project definitely is better off and more streamlined without it, and that the remaining element still to be implemented is most certainly rock-solid in my mind and will definitely make the final cut.  So we'll still have both that and the partner system to give this game its own personal flair.

More details after the break for those interested.

If you're curious regarding what this feature was, the idea I had was to implement testimonial evidence in addition to physical evidence.  I had always found it a bit hokey how important testimony always just got added to the physical evidence list in Ace Attorney, and I wanted to improve upon that.  The picture I had in my head was that we could store the full text of testimonies that characters give for future reference, such that each line in each testimony could be used in the same way as physical evidence.  My vision for this was that it could add another layer to puzzles, such that players would have to parse the content of testimony that characters give in order to pick out information that either is pertinent to a piece of evidence or which contradicts another character's statement in an interrogation.

Once I began implementing it, however, the problems with this feature started making themselves evident.  The first was one of organization - the only way I could see to realistically organize things in a fashion that was easily parsed by the player was to sort testimony first by character, then by topic, and then finally present the text of the testimony that could be paged through and presented or combined with other evidence.  This proved to be very cumbersome, considering that it was a three-step process just to get at a single piece of evidence.  Another way to organize it would be just to have all of the testimony in one big list, but this would make finding a given piece of testimony difficult once a sizable number of testimonies have been received.  So, right away, this made the feature problematic from a practical standpoint.

From a conceptual standpoint, however, the feature also had issues.  As I went through some of the testimony in the cases we have thus far that would be used, I realized that the testimony really was not as complicated as I had expected it to be - in both Ace Attorney and in My Little Investigations, whenever a character starts discussing something, there's usually only one thing they're talking about, and there's usually one key piece of information that they discuss, too.  Anything more than that and you start giving away too much information too quickly.  As such, there really turned out not to be as much to parse as I had expected in the testimony, anyway - the key piece of information in each piece was always pretty obvious, making the saving of the entire testimony pretty unnecessary.

Combining these two made me ultimately decide that this feature really did not have the merit that I thought it did at its initial conception.  As such, I've gone ahead and canceled it.  If there's any key piece of testimony that needs to be available for reference, it's an easy task to just add it to the standard evidence list, as was done in Ace Attorney.  I really have become convinced that this is sufficient, and that to do anything else would be to just overcomplicate matters and make things worse for players.

They always say that the best art is when nothing can be removed without hurting the final product, and I definitely think that applies to game design, as well.  C'est la vie.  On to the final gameplay element!  (Are you excited?  I've never been so excited - well, except for that time when I was like gasp, but I mean really, what could top that?)


  1. I think this feature would have made the players really think about the cases and go through all those testimonies to find that one important part. That would have made players feel even more great about themselves IF they managed it. But I also think it would really drive away some players who don't want to go through all testimonies multiple times. Games are supposed to be fun, not feel like chores!
    There are also all those problems you mentioned... All together, good decision. :)

    I have to say, I really like these "looks behind the scenes" and the technical stuff you have told about before. I have no programming experience but I still enjoy them. Helps me appreciate all the work done.

    And removing everything that doesn't help the final product definitely does apply to game design! Simple is beautiful. Now I can't wait for the last gameplay element to be revealed!

    I was so excited when I first found about this game. I've never played the Ace Attorney series, they have been hard to come by here... Instead, I've played Hotel Dusk: Room 215, which is, even though probably a bit different from AA, a great game. And now comes a game like that, with ponies... Can't wait ^^

  2. You've come to the same conclusion as I would have come to, more or less. Besides, sometimes simple is better. Though it IS a difficult balance.

    Consider too that this game is more like Ace Attorney Investigations than the main series. The whole 'refer to testimony' thing really falls flat in the context of a free investigation. In court, there is strict procedures such as the assumption that what a witness is saying is the truth unless proven otherwise, plus the court itself keeps track of what everyone says. If however in the open field Twilight tries to overthrow a witness using someone else's "testimony", it can realistically be disregarded as a bluff, a lie, misinformation, or a variety of other things. It's an extremely flimsy piece of evidence that's little better than just saying 'No me and my friend think you're wrong!' - So I think it's the right decision to exclude it for that reason too.

    I think adding too many mechanics and tools might make it difficult at times for players to figure out how they're supposed to proceed. In logic puzzle games, I tend to find myself laying out the evidence and looking it over if something doesn't immediately come to mind. If you have 3 or 4 different mechanics though, that could triple or quadruple the time it takes to consider which might be the correct way to go. Lots of mechanics and variety is great, but having so many options just for dealing with testimony can be a bit... painful.

    Not that having to think your options through is a bad thing though! I feel a variety of tools can be wasted if the game holds the player's hand too much in terms of which one to use. Apollo Justice was an extremely serious offender here, in my opinion. The perception mechanic was a decent idea in theory because it gave Apollo the opportunity to break witnesses by finding a weak spot in an otherwise perfect testimonies. In practice though, it fell flat because the game outright refused to let you use it most of the time, and told you exactly when you were supposed to use it. What is even the point of it then? There is no puzzle to it what-so-ever, and feels unnecessary and unfulfilling.

    Of course this is just me rambling about stuff as usual. I'm sure you two have it all under control. The partner system seems like a great addition, and I'm sure whatever other mysterious mechanic you have up your sleeve with turn out great too.

    By the way, do you have a rival of Twilight's planned? If that's all hush hush, I understand, I'm just curious if there will be a rival of some sort or not.

  3. @Anonymous

    Yeah, games that feel like chores are definitely no good. Plus, like I said, I found that testimonies weren't really as complex as I had thought they were going to be when I got the idea for this feature, so that kind of made this feature unnecessary, too.

    Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is definitely a most excellent game! It does have some pretty significant differences when compared with Ace Attorney, but it's a reasonable reference point if Ace Attorney isn't available.


    You've actually touched on another logical issue that seemed minor enough not to mention in this post, but which did actually come up in conversation with ZeusAssassin - I pretty much said exactly what you did, which is that it seemed unrealistic for Twilight to be able to refer to the verbatim testimonial transcript when she's just out in the field talking to ponies. (Although, I wasn't thinking about the fact that it wouldn't be logical for it to be effectual, either; that's a great point too.)

    And yes, I definitely agree that it's a pretty darn delicate balance when it comes to difficulty - too easy and you end up railroading the player without making them feel like they're making a meaningful contribution; too hard and you risk having them throw their hands up in the air and just give up. We'll definitely need some rigorous playtesting to make sure that we've got things just right.

    And to your final question - yes, we do have a rival planned. However, it's not yet time to discuss that. ;)

  4. This blog really doesn't get much comments.
    well anyways i didn't expect this but really i don't care all that much about partners they aren't my thing going through all that testimony would be obnoxious too cant wait to see more on this game i can't wait to play it!

  5. Just wanted to throw my two bits in here. I agree with the other posters that you made the right decision here. Parsing out testimony can get complicated and boring. That's why people get paid to do it in real life. I should know, I'm related to one such person.

    I am very interested in this project, even though I've never played (or even heard of) the Ace Attorney series before I joined this fandom (and there are a lot of other things I could say that about...). Keep up the good work!

  6. I've been watching this project since i first read about it on ED, and from everything i've seen, it seems like you have a good head for game design. I trust your decision on this is also a good one.

    Keep up the good work, brony! Can't wait to see the completed game!

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  8. I would have loved to have testimonial evidence in the game.
    Just imagine: any pony could say something different and you'd have to combine the different testimonies, look for variations and combine them with physical evidence, to set of chain reaction of comprehension.
    I've always liked it, when you had uncountable different kinds of evidences, but nothing obviously connects them, thought the key to it is in one small sentence one person once, without even knowing how important it was, mentioned.
    I would immediately play a game that is that complicated and complex as "my little investigations" would be if you'd add the feature of "testimonial evidence" to it, no matter how hard it would be for me.

    But this is me and I've always liked games that were complicated and difficult to solve, not because of keyboard, mouse or joystick abilities but by using your head to work things out.
    Everyone that have posted so far are probably right. It would be too difficult to use for most players (not to mention to program it).

    However, in my opinion you should dismiss the idea of testimonial evidence in the game entirely.
    I believe that advanced and very smart players might prefer this more difficult game play.
    Additionally, players like me, who don't spend that much time actually playing the game, but planning their further actions in it and then test their theories, would also prefer testimonial evidence, as it is often easier to remember conversations and more fun to look for clues in them than checking a list (A good idea would also be to add actually spoken, not only written, dialogs to the game. That would be "so awesome").

    The solution to this might be to add different difficulty levels to the game. In the easy level, it automatically chains testimonial with physical evidence, while in the more difficult one you have to combine them yourself.

    I don't know much about game-programming, but I think I know enough to say, that adding difficulty levels like this might be a whole lot of work. But if you do, I will surely play "my little investigations" in the difficult level.

    Keep it up. I can't wait to play your game.

  9. @Arki

    Thanks for your interest! :)


    Yeah, that was kinda my thinking on it as well - a game should be fun, not rigidly adhering to reality. In real life, criminal investigations are incredibly tedious for most of the time. :P


    Thanks, I appreciate it! :)


    Interesting thoughts!

    Unfortunately, I really don't think a difficulty setting would work for a game like this very well. The evidence that is found in each case is inextricably linked to the actual events of the crime, so changing the evidence that's found would basically require changing the events of the crime, which would then change the way in which it's solved as well, and at that point you're basically making a completely different case.

    I can definitely understand your desire for an increased difficulty level, but I really would like to design this game such that its difficulty level maximizes the enjoyment the average player gets from it, and as such, making things too complicated wouldn't be a prudent design decision. Most people seem to agree that this was a good decision on account of the fact that they didn't want things to get too complicated.

    So unfortunately I'm not really sure what to say other than that I really very much appreciate your thoughts, but that the difficulty level idea is in all likelihood a no-go, and that I hope you can still enjoy the game even so.

  10. @GabuEx

    I completely understand.
    I agree that a too difficult game play wouldn't work that well.
    I only wanted to add my thoughts and opinion, as I'm interested in this game, and hoped to offer another possible way of still adding your idea.
    After all you wouldn't have thought of adding it if it didn't have potential.

    It doesn’t matter thought.

    I'll play "my little investigations" any way.
    So keep it up. Yay!

  11. @Gabu oh you're welcome actually i should be thanking you for making this,I picked up ace attorney many months ago and i just keep going up the ladder chronologically. While i was waiting for Apollo justice copy to pop up in some stores i picked up investigations to kill my time. In the meantime i fell in love with that game.

    Once i heard this was coming out i was really happy however, the only problem i could ever find with investigations is that i found the game really easy I'm just really good at Ace Attorney... but you can't do anything about that.

    anyways thanks for making this as a whole i really will enjoy this game when it comes out!

  12. i may not truly understand what this feature was about. but by the sounds of the people. it seems like a good thing it wasnt put in the game.
    when looking at the locations preview and combining it with appleblooms story for the characters encounter preview. i think i figured out :a little bit: of what happened. and because of this. im even more hyped then before because it feels like im learning something. tho im not truly sure if this did happen. but if your interested id like to say what i think happened. (but not the full crime scene.) keep up the good work :D

  13. @Anonymous 9:07

    Well, looks we are warming up your logical thinking skills, are we? I'd love to hear your version but of course, Gabu and I will not reveal anything about Case 1 until the proper time.

  14. About when will this time be?
    I can't wait to play the game.

    Maybe you could make as a Demo???
    Pretty Please???? 8-)

  15. @Ethribin

    The next demo video is very, very near completion. I would expect it to go up by tomorrow or Sunday (won't be Saturday since I don't want the new episode to steal its thunder :P).

    As far as a demo goes, well, there really is not much to demo at this point. I don't have any continuous, consistent block of gameplay since all of my efforts thus far have been dedicated to implementing the engine. A demo won't be coming until after recruiting people for artistic work on the game.

  16. ...I just realized I kind of overloaded the word "demo" there; the second paragraph is of course talking about a playable demo, not a demo video.

  17. Is there going to be that classic Ace Attorney moment when you catch the real bad guy and cornered plays in this game? more specifically is cornered going to be the well,cornered soundtrack for this game or do you have something else planned?If so witch cornered?(please for the love of god DO NOT say justice for all cornered!).

  18. @Arki

    I hope to recruit talent to create an original soundtrack for this game, so if that goes as planned then it won't be any song from an Ace Attorney game. But yes, of course there will be moments where the player will be about to catch the real villain.

  19. @GabuEx

    okay good a original soundtrack would be awesome!I hope it works out to be as satisfying a cornered if not,I'll be fine listening to cornered as long as it isn't justice for alls cornered.