As the IGF submission deadline looms, it suddenly occurred to me that I never posted the feedback I received from the jury last year! It is below. I hope it’ll be of some use to those of you who are considering submitting text-heavy, narrative-focused games.
Important note: The 3D version of the game was submitted, hence the complaints about the (admittedly) abysmal controls.
I find your writing to be very compelling — I just wish I didn’t have to click so often to read it! Maybe in the full-screen text scenes, it could just pause briefly at each stopping point? I think it would also be a lot easier to control if players could just click on things instead of steering with arrows.
Ok, so I’m trying to write constructive criticism here, which is super hard and I’m gonna come off as harsh because I’d rather you get my true feelings rather than sugarcoat it. Note that I don’t generally like games like this so my crits are colored by a bias against this type of game.
First off the 3D art and the 2D scenes lack any connection, the presentation of the 2D art as just an overlay is just kind of jarring, it would be nice to see the two work together a little better. That said, the 2D stuff is nice and the monochrome art direction for the 3D is a nice way to get away with what I’m assuming is a non-existent budget for art. There are some seams on the roof scene that make it look unpolished, but overall I don’t have many problems with the stylistic choices.
The text is pretty disconnected though, it would be nice to see a little more work done putting the narration scenes into the world as well. The narrative itself is interesting, I identify somewhat with the protagonist, especially fighting self-hating inner monologue, but I also feel like it’s all kind of been done before even in games and much better as film. Personally I am much more interested in original gameplay than narrative in games, so I’m having trouble getting too excited about what is basically a linear narrative without much plot, but I played the whole game. I suppose it got tiresome after the end of the first work scene, nothing especially new was revealed after that and the games tone kind of kept being dark without any new insights save the identity of the “doctor”.
I’m not trying to tell you how to make games, I’m just saying for me a linear narrative focused game is a challenge to stay interesting throughout the process. The number one problem I did have with the game that I think you should act on is the player controls, Evan is very strange to control and I realize that you wanted the animations to drive the character, but it feels sluggish and unresponsive, which only adds to the frustration for me when I was mostly trying to get the game over with. The actual act of walking around the scenes wasn’t very interesting due to the sparseness of the art, so wasting time walking into desks was annoying. I dunno if you were trying to use Mecanim or something as a way to save time, but the end result is that I would be much happier with direct controls that rotated the character and moved forward or back. I’m sure the flat shaded look contributed to the problem by making it difficult to determine what direction I was facing.
I hope this helps, and I hope someone with more of a taste for this style of game gets on here too! And as a side note, I AM more motivated to work on my game now, so thanks for the tiny note of 4th wall breaking encouragement you did leave in the game!
I like the format of the game. I also enjoy the visual style. It’s clean and consistent. As for the writing, there is generally too much telling and not enough showing. I’ve had a lot of personal experiences with depression and hopelessness, and I was hoping for something more emotional that I could connect to. Instead I feel like the game stays too in its head instead of really showing me how things feel.
A rich narrative. I wonder if this wouldn’t also make an excellent novel?
Best of luck going forward.
I found it compelling but a minor bit of constructive criticism: I didn’t enjoy clicking after every sentence and would find myself clicking a bunch to read a small paragraph; only to click one too many times and close the page. I’d suggest either putting in an alternate method to read text or at least put a few second delay at the end of a page before you can close it so that people will have more trouble accidentally skipping it.
Navigation is challenging and even though this can certainly improve, I’d consider dropping the direct control of the player (maybe this even supports his feelings of powerlessness?) and let people click on the item prompts directly. A larger struggle is that of finding a way to make it feel more like I’m advancing a story or doing more than reading (an acerbic, funny, dark, and very real) story. Maybe it’s a sense of discovery in the narrative itself, or maybe a few frustratingly game-y elements that mirror the indignities and “smallness” of a life? Or perhaps that’s zero concern, and that’s a fair road to take.
Hi there – very much admire what you’re doing with Actual Sunlight (great title by the way). It was actually very fun to realise it was Canadian, too, (or at least set in Canada) with Rogers and Shopper’s Drugmart making their appearances!
Obviously the core of this game is its writing, and it was lovely to finally hit some good writing at this year’s IGF. This is easily the best thing I’ve read this year in the competition, by a fairly long way. Specifically, it’s the *only* thing I’ve read that feels like it has a real, human voice. Obviously that’s not easy to do, and I really applaud it, especially in service of a story like this, which I’m sure wasn’t easy to write. (Disclaimer: I should say that I don’t suffer from depression at all, to the extent that that’s relevant as I’m writing this.)
The visuals didn’t really do it for me. I can believe that the kind of vagueness of the untextured models is a commentary on a kind of inner feeling, but it also comes across as not having made a decision at all in Unity, which is a shame. I think there’s probably some way to indicate more strongly that it’s a real decision you’ve made, and not a lack of ability/time.
The navigation is, I’m afraid, absolutely terrible and needs work (not that it would be hard to fix). It reminds me a little of old games like Resident Evil with its sudden and disorienting camera switches, the rotate-to-move thing doesn’t feel natural in the environment, the rotation is terribly slow, and worst of all the ability to point at something to interact with is really hampered by all this. I spent far too much time fighting the movement controls just to interact with an item. It was really quite infuriating. So, hopefully you’ll fix that!
Finally, I want to say that I’m somewhat conflicted about recommending this for the Narrative jury. As I said, it’s easily the best writing I’ve seen this year, but it’s also in danger of coming across as *just* writing. The world (visually and in audio) is so vague as to feel almost irrelevant, and leaves the player to just move their character and trigger texts. The occasional drawings do, I think, improve things, but there are too few for them to make a big difference. In the end it’s hard to say for sure that this wouldn’t have been better as a short story or a novella, for instance, and I think that’s problematic in the context of a game.
I *have* voted for it in Narrative, because I think this is something the jury should be arguing about, so I guess we’ll see how it goes! Congratulations again on the writing and on tackling an intense topic with a lot of sensitivity, humour, and style.