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  • Postmortem: Chestnut Grove

    [02.04.21]
    - Philip Drobar
  • Introduction

    I'm Philip, a hobby indie game dev (@PhilipDrobar), and this is my story of how I got started with Unity, created my first game in roughly 6 months, and how the world-wide pandemic influenced me and my design.

    Start of development

    I had many failed starts in Unity and other game dev tools over the years, but I gave it another shot in January 2020. Initially, I didn't plan to make a specific game, but I just wanted to create a first-person controller and a 3D environment to interact with, learning as I went.

    Then COVID-19 happened.

    I happened to return (just in time) from a trip at the end of March and had to self isolate. At the same time, all these notices appeared around my apartment complex, informing residents of what's going on in the close vicinity. Being confined in a very limited area while also getting information from scattered documents gave me a strong Resdient Evil vibe. The idea for Chestnut Grove was born.

    Making a COVID-19 game without making a COVID-19 game

    I knew the experience of the pandemic was different for everyone, depending on your location, surroundings, and life circumstances. From the first concept I knew this game would be personal, but I also wanted it to be relatable. Not asking for pity or exaggerating the "Woah pandemic is bad guys!" messaging.

    After I started to include some of the real notices found close to my home, I soon realized that this was what I wanted the whole game to be: I wanted the game itself to be a document on how this phase of the pandemic felt, in a grounded, more or less realistic way, not overly dramatized, but also not too gamified.

    A note on inclusivity 

    Relatively early in development, I made a decision on how I'd approach Inclusivity within Chestnut Grove. I know it is a small game and when you play it, you probably don't notice it, but if I wouldn't have taken that step, I can promise you: Chestnut Grove would have looked differently.

    While showing a personal experience, I wanted the game to feel as relatable as possible. I'm a cis white male, but I acknowledge that not everyone playing my game might be, so I tried to avoid anything that just assumes these perspectives as much as possible. I'm not sure if I succeeded entirely, but putting in that effort was important to me.

    In all character-based writing, I tried to avoid gendered pronouns or pronouns in general, I used gender-neutral names.

    I added but later removed some character models, as they represented a more masculine or feminine character look and weren't actually important to the core game experience. Chestnut Grove is a very small game, but even in a small game, there were opportunities to make the game feel more inclusive. And to be honest: Designing it that way wasn't that hard, it was mostly a matter of being aware, saying to myself "Hey, maybe the player wouldn't feel like he's playing as a guy. Maybe they wouldn't have a husband or a wife. Maybe they identify themselves differently." This was the simple approach that guided me.

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