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  • Postmortem: Das Geisterschiff

    [05.21.19]
    - Romanus Surt
  • What started as a crazy idea one would brush off and never dare to try ended up taking 2.5 years to make. Spoiler: many lessons were learned, but we're not disappointed.

    What is Das Geisterschiff?

    Das Geisterschiff is a turn-based dungeon crawler where combat is handled inside the dungeon rather than on a separate screen, an adventure game where you find your way through the dungeon while avoiding or dealing with traps and puzzles, a survival horror where you constantly lose resources and have to learn the rules to survive, all at the same time.

    It started as an idea for a very short adventure game inspired by Carmine (developed by ArrowSoft/MicroCabin in 1986), set in a distant future and taking heavy inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft and Blade Runner. The goal was to create a project small enough to deliver within a reasonable amount of free time, with a (mostly) one-man team, on ~$0 budget and with a good amount of polish.

    It was driven by frustration about the game industry, especially in our country -- a place that used to offer interesting projects, such as Chasm: The Rift, Cossacks, S.T.A.L.K.E.R, Metro and Cryostasis, but now mostly focused on mobile and social gaming with only a few worthy exceptions. Since gamedev-related employment wasn't offering anything of interest, it was decided to start clawing our own way into the industry.

    What Went Right

    1. Sticking to the Vision

    We intentionally avoided following the established conventions just to stay on the safe side. Certain features like full map weren't implemented due to focus on exploration and certain traps that wouldn't work if you could always check if your position or facing direction has changed at any time.

    While we eventually added a tutorial and more details to the game, working with limited information and experimenting to find the best way to get past obstacles has always been an important part of our design, and while it may have narrowed the audience, there are no regrets about it.

    At the same time, a lot of effort went into analyzing and filtering the player feedback to make the game better without compromising our vision or fixing what wasn't broken in the first place.

    2. Unique, Simple and Interconnected Mechanics

    Exploration and interactivity were tightly interconnected with each other from day one. Each weapon, action and interactive object had to have a purpose and as many use cases as possible to keep the simple mechanics interesting enough to carry the whole game, and have enough minor quirks and nuances to them to remain interesting on their own.

    Even combat was always considered as part of interaction rather than a mode separate from other mechanics and as many player tools as possible had to work in combat and outside of it.

    The moment the character managed to evade the enemy's bullet and still get damaged in the back because it hit a landmine behind the them is the moment we realized we have something special in our hands.

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