Shaping Keen: Part 1 – Origins
Although Keen has grown a lot in 16 months, not a single picture of our baby was posted here. Like young, inexperienced parents feeling guilty for not posting their toddler's first steps on YouTube because they were too busy watching BoJack and Seinfeld reruns (not autobiographical, although very likely to be, if I ever have kids), it is imperative to post a nice retrospective of our most ambitious project to date. Keen won't be around for the next one year, at least, but we're inviting you to watch Keen grow with us. From time to time, you'll be able to give it a go, and we'd love it if you could kindly share your thoughts on how it's shaping up.
From quarters on a paper board to an exploration-driven puzzle/adventure: Shaping Keen
Origins (4.5 bya – September 2014)
My friend Olivia was kind enough to play a confusing computer game without a computer.
Once upon a time Keen was nothing. Didn't even have a name. Like every other citizen of the world, I've spent the first half of 2014 playing the hit Italian masterpiece "2048". Not going to digress over the whole Threes/1024/2048 who-came-first debate (or talk about the origins of any non-Keen game under the "origins" section of my Keen-related post, for that matter), as they are all brilliant. The way the same gameplay would become increasingly harder by itself, without any external arbitrariness like timers and whatnot, was pure elegance. But what really got me about "2048" was the simplicity of its controls. So comfy, so accessible, so… portable. I mean, if something can be played on a keyboard and on an iPhone with the same ease, putting those idiotic on-screen virtual pads to rest, that thing must be mercilessly copied instantly. I've been obsessing about decent directional controls on mobile for 5 years, and 2048 solution was probably the best one for turn-based games I've seen. "X-COM" Also made me very keen (nothing to say about pun intentions) to work on a tactics game of any sort, so I quickly started to conceive the core mechanics for a slide-moving, 2-players board game about 3 beans that wanted to shoot down 3 quarters that also wanted to shoot down those 3 beans, on a pen-and-paper grid. I figured that if my fellow tester Olivia (pictured) and I could play such a complex tactics game making all the pesky turn and pathfinding calculations in our heads, and still have a marginally good time, the idea could be promising. Luckily, we had some moderate fun that afternoon, so Cat Nigiri started prototyping proto-Keen in Unity 3D. It was a 3-on-3 tactics game with moving/attacking sub-turns that controlled like a slide puzzler on a 7×13 tiles board.
Gabriel, rubbing a dolphin's jaw on his left cheek
I feel awful about that, but I don't have any screenshots of our first digital draft of Keen, creatively named "tactics." This journey to computerland would not be possible without the help of a guy named Gabriel (pictured), who helped us prototype my crazy beans/quarters idea. Back then, the player had to kill 3 sliding Hyrule Guards utilizing his 3 sliding Links in an arena made of tilesets downloaded from RPG Maker communities (thank you, uncredited artist). The 3 Links would move 5 times, all at the same time, then select their attacks from a collapsing menu, and wait for the three Guards to do the same. Basic gameplay was like this, but trading cheerful kittens for confusing menus and intricate gameplay. "Tactics" was deemed fun enough, so we took it to Europe to show it off to fellow developers in Cologne, Germany.
Cologne sort of liked it, but the prototype faced a fair share of criticism for being too complex, specially for its mobile intentions, so the first thing we did as we got home was rethink the whole gameplay. I went on a simplifying spree. Three Links were two too much; Five moves per turn? What about one! and finally: what if the movement and the attack controls shared the very same sliding mechanic? Come to think of it, sliding Link around was the only undisputed, flawless feature we had in our prototype; why not make the whole game flawless?
Thank you again, anonymous pixel artist
In a matter of a couple days we had a new build of the game. And omg, was that different! Link was slashing fluidly through the enemies, moving freely like a ninja. It felt like every turn was Link's turn. It started to strike us that maybe that was not a turn-based game anymore. It had turns, but it was starting to feel more actiony. This time I'm not only going to show a screenshot of it, I'm also providing a link for you to play the prototype we had 14 months ago.
You cannot slash through enemies like a ninja and NOT be a ninja, so, much to Nando's — Cat Nigiri's co-founder and go-getter — delight, the game went with an oriental setting. To be fair, me and Nando actually thought of a few other excuses for the hero's movement to be like that, but neither "he/she is on roller skates" nor "it's a world made of ice" grew that much on us. Also, nobody thought of making it about
bears destroying art either.
"Tactics" was now called "Keen," and was all about cutting bad guys with sharp blades. The game was far from ready, as we only had an endless puzzle game with placeholder art, but we now had a name, a setting, and a core gameplay to start working with. We just had to figure out how to turn that into a solid video game experience.
Check out Keen's modifications and tell us your impressions! Demo version can be downloaded here.
Keen is on Indiegogo! We need your support. Badly!