In today’s blog post, we talk about our newest outdoor scavenger hunt game, Nazotabi Yokohama: The Magical Journey of the WIzard’s Apprentice. Wataru discusses the process of story development and the exciting innovations that we used for the story of Nazotabi Yokohama.
The games that we’ve done in the past have usually had storylines based on Japanese history or mythology. Being in Japan, that makes sense. However, we wanted to try something a little different this time, something more fantastical and not necessarily based on Japan.
When it comes to actually implementing the story though, there are a lot of moving parts, and a lot of strong opinions.
Usually for our games there is one person who comes up with the “vision” of the project, which affects the design and puzzle process. This person doesn’t have complete control over the project. Rather, they are there to provide a unified image of what the ultimate game will be like for everyone to coalesce around.
For Nazotabi Yokohama, the idea was to create a fantastical village or market town, where the player would go to different areas of town and interact with stallowners and shopkeepers. We also wanted to include more magical elements. I collected some photos so the rest of the team would be able to imagine some of what I was envisioning.
Difficulties and limitations
We then had a large meeting to discuss the concept and hammer out some details. This is when things get a little messy. Our team has a lot of international members, so our meetings are in both Japanese and English. Sometimes this leads to confusion or misunderstanding, especially when the vision is still unclear at the beginning, or when people are trying to add their ideas and criticisms to the mix.
While this makes the process more difficult, it also makes our team a little stronger in the end. And the story is stronger from it too. This time we decided together to make the player an apprentice who is stuck inside all day, which connects to the pandemic situation for many people.
We have to really listen to each other and be careful of how we phrase things. It also means that trust is fundamental, and that at the end of the day we have to remember that we are all trying to do our best together.
We always have to stay conscious of the fact that we are making this together, and so all of our ideas, skills, and styles have to be combined in some way. This involves discussions and many compromises.
Another limitation on us is time and energy. We want to get the best product that we can out to our customers, but we also can’t spend forever on every project. It can be hard to limit yourself when you want to keep tinkering and fiddling forever. But we have to get the product out as soon as we can and meet our deadlines. And so we always have to find the right balance together as a team between quality and quickness.
Puzzles and stories and designs..oh my!
The other major balance is between story, design, and the puzzles. The puzzles are really the basis for everything else, and so they generally get precedence. We are a puzzle company, after all. Still, this time we started with a very detailed story concept that we tried to make more central.
Chloe and Dennis have talked a little about this process in their blog posts on design and puzzle scouting. Once we have the story concept, the puzzle and design teams can begin their work. But the first priority is keywords. Keywords are a little complicated because they involve both story and puzzle design.
While you might find a really good keyword that you want to use to move the story along, sometimes it just won’t fit into the puzzle, due to letter requirements, length, or the complexity of the puzzle itself. On the other hand, you need to find the right keyword for each puzzle that will also make sense to the overall story. A keyword that doesn’t fit will be awkward and make the player’s experience confusing.
A Collaborative Process
What happens next is a back-and-forth process between story, puzzle, and design. The story team proposes keywords that they want, the puzzle team checks to make sure they can work within the puzzle, and then the design team goes about making the puzzle pages.
Meanwhile, the story team is also working on the texts for all the puzzle pages and online story pages.. If a keyword has to be changed for whatever reason, the story team has to go back and find a new keyword. Sometimes this only requires a slight change in the story or text. But if there is a major keyword change, a lot of the text has to be rewritten and sometimes even large parts of the story have to be changed and adapted.
This is all to say that these big projects are collaborative, and need to proceed bit by bit with everyone actively engaged and communicating with each other. This is especially true for the “Finale”. Here, story, puzzle, and design have to really work together and have to be part of every stage of the development process.
Every time we work on a new game, our skills and abilities deepen, and we are able to do cooler stuff. This time the challenge both story-wise and design-wise was to create a fantastical world out of thin air, using only some design work and texts.
We made a huge effort to add extra pages in the book and online to add depth to the story. We also added more “voices” to the characters and gave them separate personalities. While it was a challenge for our design team to come up with ways to make the fantasy world come to life, having that challenge in front of us because of the story built up our skills and made us realize what we are capable of.
So despite all the hardships, our team pulled together to create a really new and unique game, with a story that is different from anything we have done before. We learned a lot, grew a lot, and in the process we became stronger because of it. We’re all excited for the next project. Who knows what kind of exciting story we will come up with next?
Our newest outdoor scavenger hunt, Nazotabi Yokohama: The Magical Journey of the Wizard’s Apprentice will be released on September 15th. You can check out our previous outdoor scavenger hunts here.