I put a lot of thought into what I was going to do following the Amazing Adventures of Captain Farr Novarider and the Wild Horses. Parts of me wanted to try my hand again at writing and illustrating a graphic novel - my previous attempt having fallen flat after I realized it was an overwrought existentialist nightmare that really didn’t seem to say anything other than “choice is tough.” I had considered a couple of other concepts for new audio dramas including a Dr. Who style time traveler series as well as a one shot about the creation and evolution of artificial intelligence into actual intelligence, but neither concept really held my fancy for long enough.
I wanted to do something that would be challenging, interesting for my self (and hopefully others) to experience, as well as something that was important to me. After giving it some thought, I decided to try my hand at developing an indie game. There were several story ideas sitting on my mental shelf that would work perfectly as games, but only some were attainable given my current resources and very limited programming knowledge. I eventually nailed my choices down to three items. And then down to two. And then back up to three. This was not going to be an easy decision.
Of the four total ideas that I was tangling with (one was eliminated early, but in the process of thinking about it, I came up with a new concept I really wanted to work with), there was a common problem. All of them were too far beyond my programming knowledge. All of them except one.
Express Line Number 7 is a point-and-click adventure game, featuring graphic novel-styled cut scenes, multiple solutions to puzzles, and, potentially, multiple endings and paths.
This is a story that’s been sitting in the back of my mind for sometime, and has gone through more than a few changes. Originally, the central character, Ian, was looking for a friend and a way to escape the enigmatic Express Line Number 7. As it went on in years, I found the original idea to be somewhat lacking in a couple of departments. Then main issue being that it was - putting it in the simplest terms - a little bit too emo.
I began to rework the concept, pushing characters in certain directions, adding new characters, taking unnecessary ones out, as well as putting a bit more thought into the setting and overall themes. Overtime, Express Line Number 7 became a very solid concept, and one that I felt was worthy of not only putting to paper, but publishing.
Express Line Number 7 is now the story of Ian, who finds himself aboard Express Line Number 7. He has no memory of boarding the train, is wearing clothes that he’s never owned, and has a ticket that he never purchased. In his pocket is nothing but a broken pocket watch. And he’s not the only one who this has happened to. In order to discover what lead him here, he must face unrest, lies, murder, and a very dangerous intruder.
If The Amazing Adventures of Captain Farr Novarider and the Wild Horses taught me anything, it was that I should sit down and not only hammer out the world that I’m working with - which a lot of the basic work was already done with Express Line Number 7 - but I should also plan out the actual execution of the project. The Amazing Adventures had this problem of me never knowing exactly what was next, especially in the first season. I had some vague idea of what should happen and how to do it, but no definite steps. This resulted in a lot of frustration and unnecessary back tracking on that project.
Early on, I decided that I really wanted to take this project as seriously as possible. I built an Excel spreadsheet that served not only as a design document, but a work flow as well as a financial tracker (with general ledger numbers for expenses and everything). As boring as this sounds, I actually had quite a bit of fun with it. I felt that I should be putting a poorly tied tie on and start adding meaningless letters to the end of my name.
I did not take the time to create a true schedule for myself. Writing the script shouldn’t be done by a certain day, nor should editing, nor should the core programming. Everything is meant to be as open as possible. Not only is this project a challenge for myself, it’s also a bit of an experiment. I wanted to see what it takes to build an indie game. Instead of a schedule, I created an goal outline and priorities. This way, I knew what should be up next, but if I had to double back and re-approach something, I didn’t feel like I had missed some deadline that, honestly, really doesn’t matter at the moment.
Something that they never teach you in writing or art classes is that by the time you are done, you will absolutely loathe your project. This was very true with the Amazing Adventures. Sometimes I get burned out, and this will probably be at minimum a two year project. I’m going to wear thin a lot. This time around, I’m taking steps to mitigate this mental wear-and-tear. Twice a month, I’m going to be working on something else. Be it a Let’s Play or something fun that is not Express Line Number 7, or one of these developer diaries. This will hopefully stave off my inevitable madness.
With future DevDiaries, I’ll be getting into more detail regarding the process of creating Express Line Number 7, from the stand points of programming, design decisions, as well as writing. Through these, you’ll hopefully get a picture of how the project evolves over the coming months. Be it narrative changes, design changes, or other little touches, so that when you see the final project you can see what went into it.
I still don’t know how spoiler-y I’m going to get, but I really like the Double Fine model of pealing back the curtain as much as possible. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments or over twitter at @boundcompass. I’m extremely excited to get into the meat of this project and for it’s eventual release.
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