A bit about caricature

I suppose all games, to a degree, are caricatures of the experiences they’re meant to represent. They’re exaggerated forms of storytelling, where travel time is truncated, entire locations are out of reach to keep the player from wandering too far off the intended route, and dialogue is distilled to just the phrases you need to acknowledge to keep moving forward.

Walking into a large city in an RPG, say one with a giant castle, a handful of shops and inns, and maybe even a casino, you might find no more than 30 people wandering around—and this includes those you’ll meet when you casually walk through every unlocked door and explore every basement without fear of punishment.

Of course there would be no reason to build such a city for only 30 people, so short of some kind of rapture having recently occurred in every city you visit in every game that’s out there, we’re forced to conclude that the cities must be filled with people we’re just not being shown. Realistically, there would be thousands of people in a city, each one with their own things to say, and the vast majority unaware and uninterested in your current quest, no matter how important. On top of that, the costs of realistically populating a city, financially and computationally, would be ridiculous. So we accept that we’re only getting the most important characters in town.

Also this one.

Also this one.

So video games often use caricatures of locations, as well as conversations. How likely is it that you could walk into a guy’s house uninvited to simply be told his name and nothing else? I imagine Link and Error probably had a nice conversation about why they ended up with the names they’re stuck with, as well as a discussion about the merits of knocking. But that would be more writing for the game’s designers, and more reading for its players, to add little more to the game’s overall experience.

Keyhole’s characters are, by design, one-dimensional representations of people at one point in their lives. Actually, I could go a step further: Keyhole’s characters are singular situations given a human appearance and a bit of dialogue to carry the intertwining stories forward.

In Keyhole, the players gets a glimpse of about 20% of the planet, a large continent where all the events in the game takes place. There would be no way, zoomed out far enough to see that much of the globe, to notice something as small as a log cabin or even a small city. So we’re forced to take liberties with geography as well. When I was a kid, I really liked those maps that exaggerated certain landmarks and cities, which I now call caricature maps:

My version of the United States would just be Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, then a bunch of corn fields.

My version of the United States would just be Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, then a bunch of corn fields.

I really like the idea of scaling exaggerations in Keyhole: in the first age, the characters build a series of small huts and little else, while later in the game, large cities, castles, freeways and skyscrapers cover the planet. As the world grows more and more populated, these structures will have to get smaller and smaller to fit everything on the map, and personally, I really like this approach. It’s another way to convey the growth of civilization as you progress through the game.

KeyholeLibrary

At this size, you couldn’t squeeze more than a dozen of these cabins into this area. But later on, there’ll be a giant utopian megacity on this very spot. So things are gonna scale down a bit.

The third caricaturized aspect in Keyhole is time travel. When you hand the first character, the Historian, you’re soon able to give him a pile of scrap wood. On the very next day, he’s built that log cabin with his own hands. No power tools, no mention of superhuman strength, no complaining of sore muscles or splinters the next morning. Dude’s just taken a bunch of wood and whipped up a place to live.

So time, despite being measured in days, is also an abridged representation of itself in the game. Something like in the first part of the bible. This mechanic, along with making navigation much easier on the player, provides another layer of surrealism to Keyhole’s setting.

It all comes down to this thought, which I’m really writing here as a reminder to include in my GDC talk after Keyhole comes out and wins all the awards:

Keyhole’s landscape is a caricature of geography. Its inhabitants are caricatures of fictitious people. And its time-travel mechanic is a caricature of real time.

I suppose it isn’t very different with most other games out there. But it felt good to get it out there.

Help us playtest Keyhole

Closing the list for now. We’ve got a good number of playtesters ready to help out, and I’m getting about a dozen bots signing up with fake addresses every day. If you want to be on the list, you know how to get in touch.

We’re getting back into things after a bit of a turbulent year, mostly surrounding Stugan, GDC, and a long, gruesome battle with unemployment.

But that’s all in the past, and a playable build with all sorts of characters, storylines and puzzles is on its way. Since you’re already here, you should sign up to help test Keyhole as we release super-secret builds just for early testers. They won’t be pretty, and they’re sure to have all sorts of bugs and things we didn’t plan for, so pull on your edge case pants and help us figure out the good and the bad as we flesh this puppy out.

Enter your name and email address in the sidebar and we’ll let you know when it’s time to join us on this ridiculous journey.

Oh, and happy spring, northern hemisphere! Everyone else, hope you’re cool too.

My post-Stugan post

It’s been a couple months since our summer in the Swedish countryside came to an end and the 23 developers went on to whatever’s next. Ryan and I are back in Oregon, and aside from the next week I would spend in Seattle for PAX Prime, I’ve mostly kept to myself since returning home.

Oskar, Jana & Tommy, who were basically our parents for the summer. Photo: someone at Stugan who wasn't me

Oskar, Jana & Tommy, who were basically our parents for the summer. Photo by someone at Stugan who wasn’t me.

If I haven’t done it enough in person, I want to thank Jana, Tommy and Oskar for all the work they put into the first round of this accelerator. Without them, Keyhole certainly wouldn’t have come close to making as much progress this summer.

StuganCabins

Being surrounded by trees, calm water, enthusiastic game developers and one literal angry bird made it a summer I’ll never forget, but despite the adventures everyone else was having (and due to my distaste for parties, swimming and saunas), I spent as much time as I could working and reworking puzzles, discussing time-travel paradoxes with Ryan, and designing the tools I would use to build puzzles into the game.

DayViz

My stated goal for Stugan was to finish all the puzzles, storylines and dialogue, but I soon shifted to more pressing concerns, like whether or not a hammer should exist in two places on the same day, what should happen if you’re holding an item you took from someone on Day 20, then go back to Day 18 and try to take it from the same person, and what we do with items that can’t be given to the character the player is currently zoomed in on. All super important details that would shape the puzzles in the game, and all long, confusing conversations between Ryan and myself.

Ever think of working on a time travel game? Get used to seeing a lot of this.

Ever think of working on a time travel game? Get used to seeing a lot of this.

But with the help of a lot of sticky notes and what is now my favorite whiteboard on the planet, we think we’ve got those concerns sorted out, and can move on to the game’s actual content. I scrapped a couple early ideas and focused mainly on the first three ages: The Beginning, the Agricultural Age, and the Medieval Age. I’m happiest so far with the latter, but it’s pretty likely that it’s not difficult enough yet. I’ve only tested the first couple ages so far, and I’m excited to get to this one, as soon as we’ve got the mechanics polished up a bit more.

Coming up with a system for showing entries in the history book when the only artwork we had was the outside of a closed book was a bit of a challenge.

Coming up with a system for showing entries in the history book when the only artwork we had was the outside of a closed book was a bit of a challenge.

Since returning home from Sweden, I haven’t done much besides piece together some more puzzles and look for work, although I did make that PAX trip despite having no money on me at all. And the quest to find that perfect artist continues. I’m going to be really, really picky about this, and as my list of potential artists keeps growing, I’m dreading the actual selection process.

In a recent article (in Playboy of all places), Tommy said “Stugan will definitely return next summer,” which is the greatest thing I could hear. I can’t wait to see the teams that apply to next year’s program. The location may not be the same (although I hope it does—that place was perfect), but the heart will still be there: seasoned developers and mentors, helping to make a lucky handful of game-builders’ dreams become a reality. And I hope that lives on for a long, long time.

SwedishSign

I know I’ve neglected this website for a while, but Keyhole’s still alive and well. We didn’t make much progress that shows in the actual product, what with it being an artless team for the time being, but we were able to come up with some pretty important decisions that, looking back, seem fairly obvious. And having been a UX person for as long as I have, I love those moments when you finally reach an obvious, simple conclusion after putting weeks of your life into a complicated one. And now that we’ve got a level editor, I no longer have to ask Ryan to make changes to the game’s content, which in itself was easily worth two months of my summer.

StuganPath

So if you’re reading this and you were in any way involved with Stugan, I want you to know how much we all appreciate your hard work. You helped give Keyhole and 14 other dreams a much-needed burst of progress, and we’ll never forget it. And any other developers thinking of pitching their project to Stugan or a similar program, I’d love to hear about what you’ve got. I’m always happy to see what others are working on and give some advice now and then.

Sunset

We had some good times, Sweden. I’ll be back some day.

****

Keyhole was one of 15 games in Stugan’s first program. Read about the rest here.

This summer, a new accelerator program will have its first course in Sweden, far away from civilization. Development teams will have almost two full months to work on their games, nestled in a cluster of cabins near a lake, “hundreds of km from cities,” according to the accelerator’s site.

There it is. Calm, serene, and probably a bit chilly.

There it is. Calm, serene, and probably a bit chilly.

The program, Stugan, is a non-profit effort by veterans from Mojang, Rovio, King, and other companies that will give developers the break from normal life they need to focus on their games and nothing else. Weekly check-ins with mentors will help teams get important feedback as well.

And 2 of the 23 slots have been given to Ryan and me!

This is the best thing that could have happened at this stage in Keyhole’s production. I need to be able to put a lot more work into the game’s story and puzzles, so this will let me set goals for myself that I’ll have no excuse at all to let slide. Two months of programming will help improve the interactions and implement functions we need to add, and get rid of a lot of bugs (and probably make a few) in the process. And the mentorship and advice will be priceless.

It's here…somewhere around here. This is the right country, at least.

It’s here…somewhere around here. This is the right country, at least.

Ryan and I will fly into Stockholm a day or so early, so we’ll have time to see a bit of the city before our two-month stint in the countryside, and we’ll spend another couple days there before we come back home. I’ve never been to Continental Europe, and the higher latitude means it’ll be much cooler, which is my favorite.

We just booked our flights, so the reality of this whole thing is finally starting to set in. I feel like the luckiest person on the planet right now. In exactly one month, we’ll have taken a three-hour bus ride from Stockholm to…wherever this cabin is, and spend most of the summer with the other, equally luckiest people on the planet, along with a lineup of seasoned developers and people who get the business in ways I’ll likely never comprehend.

Look at all those people! So professional / mysterious.

Look at all those people! So professional / mysterious.

I’ve never been more excited for anything in my life. Seriously, I checked. At least twice. To think that Keyhole, once a couple scribbles on a notebook during lunch breaks at a job I couldn’t wait to leave, is going to get the push that it needs to bring it closer to a complete game—and a little recognition and press exposure in the meantime—is the greatest feeling in the world. It’s like the moment I realized I could drink root beer through a licorice straw, but for my career.

Oh, I might as well show this off too. Here’s the video I sent in with my application. It was pretty fun to make.

You should follow @KeyholeGame to keep track of our adventures while we’re there. Also, we’ll be posting to r/Keyhole more often once the program starts. So subscribe to that too.

See you in a month, Stugan!

 

A bit about fetch quests

Keyhole is a game about exploring the timeline of a world inhabited by various people, cities, kingdoms and civilizations, and determining how and when to help the people you meet deal with the situations they face, if at all.

Because the inhabitants of this world aren’t aware of your presence, nobody will ask for anything outright. A chimney sweep who’s down on his luck might need money for a meal, and providing him with a silver coin would help him survive long enough to make it to his next payday, which would eventually lead to him falling in love and raising a family, inventing a new style of electric motor in the process, which you can collect as an item for use somewhere else in the game.

This whole scenario has a pretty arbitrary outcome: give a character an item, wait a bit, then collect a different item in return. But this sequence of events is the very nature of a specific gameplay trope that’s been used for ages in video games: fetch quests. And I’ve got a fairly strong opinion on fetch quests.

Fetch quests are lazy game design

Having grown up with a number of JRPGs, I’m familiar with this style of item trading. Often it’s one character, say a distraught girl longing for her lost father, who also happens to have found a golden orb on the beach last night. And it turns out said orb has the power to lower the drawbridge to the next castle on your journey. But instead of giving up the orb when you ask about it, she says she’d gladly surrender the item if she receives word that her father is alive and well.

Fetch quest example

Sounds simple enough.

So, rather than explaining how important your goal of defeating the alien wizard or whatever is, and that she and her dad likely perish, along with everyone in the universe, if you don’t get that orb, you happily go on a quest to find this girl’s father. When you find him, he hands you a piece of paper addressed to her, and you trek back to her village, through whatever swamp or volcano or magical palace you fought through to reach him, and when you deliver the paper, she’s so excited that she just hands you the orb, allowing you to finally continue on your way.

TV Tropes has a short but good article on fetch quests, and the list of examples containing them is incredibly long.

Now there’s nothing wrong with interrupting a game’s main story with a few tales on the side. A father-daughter story that turns out well in the end warms the heart a bit and adds to the personality of the overall experience. But fetch quests like these seem so forced, so lazily communicated to the player, that it detracts from the majesty of the thing. It’s a little jarring to explore a world of poetic characters and cryptic messages, only to hear “I’ll give you this magic thingie if you bring me my daddy’s paper.” There have to be better ways to do it.

Building a better fetch quest

So Keyhole is full of these scenarios, where giving at item to a character eventually yields a completely different one. But I’m dead set on not designing trite, lazy quests. Here are a couple ways I’m going to do that.

No “This for that” nonsense

While characters will occasionally say things like “I wish I had a new pair of shoes,” they won’t point out what might result if they receive those shoes—at least not in your favor. Giving shoes to a character might let them go to a dance, but the item that results from that situation, maybe a trumpet or something, would never have crossed his mind when he was wishing for the shoes. He just wanted to attend a dance. You may draw the connection between the dance shoes and the trumpet, but not once was it explicitly said that one would lead to the other.

Inhabitants don’t address the player

Because your presence is unknown among the inhabitants of this world, they have no reason to spell out what will happen if they receive what it is they’re looking for. This ties in a lot with the above point, but even if some burdens do fall a little toward the Lazy Fetch Quest side of things (which I’m sure will happen, since item trading is a major component of the game), at least nobody will say to your face, “I’ll give you X if you bring me Y.” If nothing else, that’s a huge relief to me.

It isn’t about how to help—it’s about whether to help or not

I like to tell people that Keyhole is full of one-dimensional characters. They have titles like The Historian, The Jester and The Pilot. They often have one apparent goal in life, as far as you the player are concerned, and will accept a small handful of items that could help them reach their goals. There won’t be much challenge in discovering how to help people; the interesting part will be figuring out when to help, and when not to, as both decisions may have equally important ramifications.

So yes, there will be a good deal of fetching in Keyhole. But I’m trying hard not to frame the player’s tasks in the same tired RPG-style side quests weve all seen so many times. I want the burdens of the characters to feel more realistic, the solutions more obvious, and the results, due to the seemingly chaotic nature of life, in a way more believable.

The Explorer: a fetch quest with a twist

Early in the game, you meet an explorer who wants to build a boat, but has no tools to do so. When she can’t find a way to chop down any trees, she gives up and decides to travel to the mountains instead. As the player, the first time you encounter the explorer, you have no way of helping her, and must continue to the next day without offering anything to her.

The Explorer

The Explorer helps introduce the concept of item-passing along the timeline to the player.

The next time you see her, she’s trapped on a cliffside, clinging on to a rope, without any way to safely descend. Her monologue explains that she’d found a hatchet at a campsite earlier that day, and was heading back to get to work on a boat, when she slipped and fell down the side of the mountain. “If I’d only had this hatchet yesterday,” she says to herself, “I’d be on the ocean right now instead of hanging from this rock.”

That clue becomes the prompt to your first sort of fetch quest in the game. Picking up the hatchet, you rewind time to the first day the explorer was wishing she could build a boat. After giving it to her, you advance to the next day again, this time to find that she’s chopped down a tree and is diligently crafting a boat with her mysteriously found hatchet. Days later, after disembarking for new lands, she returns with a small group of settlers, and they begin building a town.

Tasks like this will be a large part of Keyhole, and this first one will be a little more obvious than later puzzles, in that it practically tells the player how to solve it, to teach how items can be removed from the world and replaced at a different time. Later on, while we’ll be keeping predicaments fairly simple, they won’t always tell the player what items may be used to solve them. Because that’s how things work in the real world: you might know what’s got you down, but there’s usually more than one way around it. And the beautiful thing about being able to change every decision you make is getting to try every possible solution as often as you’d like. That’s one of the most challenging and most rewarding things about working on Keyhole: all the possibilities a player will encounter during the game.

Teaching the player

The mechanics of Keyhole are pretty basic: rotate the planet to go back and forth a day at a time, zoom in on inhabitants to see what they’re thinking, take items from them, or give items to them. Aside from the book, which serves as a shortcut to ages and inhabitants and a log of your quests, that’s really all there is to the game—at least mechanically.

But those mechanics lend themselves to a handful of other details that the player needs to understand to play the game. They’re certainly not so complex that it would take a traditional tutorial (or even worse, a manual) to explain to the player how things work.

Learning from the master

Megaman X is a pretty good teacher.

Mega Man X is a dang good teacher.

There’s a great video in the Egoraptor’s YouTube series, Sequelitis about how Mega Man X teaches the player how to navigate its new world without explicitly spelling it out for them. I really want to be able to ease the player into my game in much the same way, and I’ve got a list of lessons I’d like to be revealed similarly in Keyhole.

Anyway, here’s that Mega Man X video. It’s really good.

Nine lessons Keyhole teaches in the very first age

1. Rotating the planet advances time
You really can’t go anywhere without this first interaction, so the game’s Start button turns out to be the same arrow that rotates the planet forward for the rest of the game.

2. Selecting markers zooms in on inhabitants
After the planet comes to a stop on the first day of the game, a marker appears that prompts the player to select it. This zooms in on the Historian, the first inhabitant, and from here on out, there will be plenty of markers that all work the exact same way.

3. Items can be taken from inhabitants
The next day, a merchant arrives, selling animal traps. A visual indicator lets the player know that the traps can be selected, and selecting them moves them into the player’s inventory.

4. Rotating the planet in the opposite direction reverses time
If the player advances to the next day without doing anything else, the Historian will be found dying from a wolf attack. The game will prevent the player from advancing further, and the only option will be to go back.

5. Items in the player’s possession are unaffected by time
Because the Historian appears on a day prior to the traps being available, the player must travel back a day or two to save him from being attacked. This forces the player to use the item earlier than it was found, chronologically, and realize that time travel has no affect on things in the inventory.

6. Items can be given to inhabitants
At this time, it should be obvious what the player needs to do. After zooming in on the Historian on any day prior to the wolf attack, the animal traps will appear on the screen, and selecting them will make them appear near the Historian.

7. The player’s actions result in alternate realities
After placing the animal traps and advancing to the next day, the Historian is alive and well, and the wolf that would have attacked him is instead snared in the trap. This shows the player that every action creates a new timeline.

8. Not all puzzles can be solved the first time around
The next inhabitant is an explorer who wants to build a boat to cross the ocean. The player doesn’t have the necessary items to help him, so the only option is to go further into the future and let the explorer give up and pursue a different path.

9. The player’s actions can always be undone
The player eventually helps the explorer, but later finds a reason to prevent that from happening. Returning to the day when the tools had been provided to help him build his boat, the player opts not to place the items, reverting to the original timeline.

So those are the main lessons I hope to teach the player without having to actually tell them. We’ll see how it goes. It’ll take plenty of playtesting, but that part’s always fun.

A bit about timelines

Keyhole is a game about time traveling. But more than that, it’s about branching timelines as a result of decisions made by the player. I’ve been describing it as “that blackboard scene in Back to the Future II, times a thousand.”

Wanna change the future? Gotta go back to the past. It sounds simple enough.

For example, early in the game, the player encounters an explorer who would really like to build a boat and set sail across the ocean, but he’s got no tools to do so. Unable to help for now, the player advances to the next day, and the explorer’s disappeared. The next day, he’s back, and it’s revealed that he’d decided to travel across the mountains instead.

On the way up the mountain range, the explorer found an axe, which he could use to chop down some trees to build his boat. But on the trip back down the mountain, he fell and broke his arm. Now he’s got the tool he needs, but lacks the ability to use it. So the player takes the axe, then rewinds time to the first day the explorer appeared, wishing he’d had a boat to cross the ocean.

Giving the axe to this earlier, uninjured explorer creates a new timeline, one where he never traveled to the mountains, but instead headed south and will later bring a group of settlers back with him. Later on, there might be a reason to revisit the timeline in which the explorer never built a boat, so going back and deciding not to give the axe to him might be in order. The option will always be there.

No Game Over

Because time can always be turned back, there is no game over state for the player. Hopefully this will be understood soon in the game, and players will feel comfortable experimenting with various outcomes to each puzzle. What will happen if I don’t help reunite this child and her parents? What if I decide to let the crops die instead of giving the farmer this antidote I found? What the passing asteroid happened to crash straight into the planet and destroy everything I’ve been helping to build?

The game will have to train the player, probably early on, that allowing some puzzles to go unresolved, or even to end tragically, will be necessary to advance. It’ll be tough convincing people used to solving puzzles as soon as they’re introduced that they might want to let one slide now and then, even play the role of the bad guy, just to see what happens. Because you can always undo what’s been done.

A timeline for everything. Seriously, everything.

So here’s the thing: every item in the game, maybe even every character, will have to have its own personal timeline. And that makes things tricky.

Let’s say you pick up a hammer on Day 20. you go back to Day 10 and give it to someone, and that person uses the hammer on Day 15 to build a spice rack. You take the spice rack, so now that it’s in your possession, you can disrupt the hammer’s timeline all you want. But if you go to Day 20 and decide not to pick up the hammer, you’ll disrupt that person’s timeline and he won’t build the spice rack (although you’ll still have it in your inventory), and won’t do anything else he would have done with the hammer.

What’s more, if you get the hammer on Day 20, go back to day 10 and give the guy the hammer, he uses it on Day 15, builds the spice rack, gives it to his mom on Day 22, and she makes a cake on Day 25, and the two have a bonding experience or something, you can grab the cake when it’s finished, but if you take the spice rack at any time between Day 15 and Day 22, the two won’t go through the steps that lead to their bonding experience…

It's enough to do this to ya.

And that’s about how I feel figuring all this stuff out. I just hope all the complications and paradoxes don’t make the game more difficult than it should be. I don’t want players feeling lost because of some path they took or a cue they didn’t see. So I’m keeping all that in mind while I work out these puzzles.

Speaking of puzzles, I’m starting to flesh out the Agricultural Age now. So I’m off!

 

 

The book where Keyhole lives

This is the book I’m using to sketch out the timelines and puzzles in the game. As soon as I got my stickers in the mail, I found the perfect sketchbook at Powell’s (where else?), and and I must say they look pretty good together.

For now, Keyhole lives here. Not a bad place to live, especially compared to, say, apartments in Japan. The book’s probably got a bit more room than some of those.

The game’s also being kept in about a dozen Trello boards, but I really wanted a tangible book with the game’s logo on the cover. Makes the whole thing feel a lot more official.

Since I started talking more openly about my plans for Keyhole, the inevitable question I’ve had to deal with—and one that’s becoming more and more common just inside my own head—is what genre of game it is that I’m making.

It isn’t an easy one to answer. I don’t generally enjoy working on or playing games that fit nicely into any one category. The easiest answer is that it’s a puzzle game, but that genre is so broad that the word doesn’t really say anything about the gameplay, story, look or feel that we can anticipate before playing a game.

PuzzleGames

Antichamber, Fez, Portal, Monument Valley, World of Goo, Monkey Island, Limbo, Myst, The Floor is Jelly—these could all be considered puzzle games to some extent, but they’re all very different games. Nevertheless, it seems my generation is just as content with puzzles as my grandparents were, even if they’ve evolved from jigsaw puzzles and crosswords to a more interactive, more abstract kind of puzzle.

Defining what it isn’t

It’s much easier to get a few genres and gameplay mechanics that don’t apply to Keyhole. It’s not a platformer, a hack-and-slash, a shoot-em-up, or a driving game, some of the most popular titles these days. It’s not a third-person game, and you’re not really aware of the role you play in it, at least not for now. It’s not an RPG, not in the conventional sense. And it’s not really a strategy game, although in a way, that’s probably the genre some would say fits it the most.

StrategyGameBut then we’re lumped in with StarCraft and Sim City. Fine titles, sure, but nothing you’d ever associate with Keyhole.

“Looks like a god game to me.”

Sure, yes, but it’s not really. I mean if you were playing a god, you’d have very little god-like control. You’re more of a time-traveler who can pick up some items and place them near people who will discover and use them. If anything, you’re about as influential as a leprechaun.

“It’s a game where you…”

So that’s where I’m stuck for now. And that’s where I’ll likely stay. Keyhole isn’t a game I can stuff into a category. It’s a game I define by explaining what you do in the game, how you manipulate the world, what your goals are, and how you grow with the inhabitants of the world as you find what’s needed to help solve their problems.

So clearly, I haven’t been able to describe Keyhole in a word, a phrase, or even a single sentence. But I’ve found games that are difficult to describe are often the most enjoyable. If someone said “Here’s a game where you burn things” or “In this game you run around as a goat,” both titles would seem fairly simplistic and mundane. Yet Little Inferno and Goat Simulator took something small and made it larger than the description would imply, one with a mysterious setting and creepy unseen characters, the other with enough humor and things to discover that a large online community formed around it.

LittleInfernoGoatSimulatorBut of course Keyhole isn’t much like either of these games. Which is good, because I really don’t want to compete with them. They’ve defined their own corners of the game market quite perfectly, and there’s so much more to explore out there.

What I’ve got so far

So Keyhole is a game where you control the movement of time by manipulating the rotation of a planet, and help civilizations rise as you figure out what it will take to free the couple trapped in the mountains on the horizon. That’s as succinctly as I’m able to put it, but I’m willing to run with it while the game takes form over the next year or two. Or three? God I hope it doesn’t take that long.

But if I keep thinking about it, talking about it, and describing it to others, I’m sure I’ll have a much more concise description someday soon.

 

 

We’re working on our initial tech demo, which will hopefully be ready to play at PAX Prime in September. Here’s a work-in-progress screenshot of the first age, currently called the Early Age, which will help players learn the time-shifting mechanic and how items in the inventory aren’t affected when the date changes.

ScreenshotSaturday2a

The Historians play a central role in the game, emerging at the beginning of each age and adding their account of the previous age to the player’s book. This lets players read into the lives of the inhabitants and provides clues about what’s going on in the world, but reading every detail won’t be necessary to enjoy the game and reach the first ending, which many people will be happy enough with. And that works for me.

I’m happy to be working with Hagen Deloss for the first round of environment artwork to be used in our tech demo. This may very well be the artwork you see when we start submitting Keyhole to showcases later in the year.

Here’s a sample of Hagen’s work from his site:

HagenSample

Can’t wait to see what Hagen comes up with. He’ll start with the Early Age (which I really need to find a better name for), and some of the items you’ll find in the first few puzzles. Then we’ll cram all those images into the Unity build and see how it all fits together.

Everyone who preorders the game through the site will get a digital concept art book, including Hagen’s earliest pieces, regardless of what ends up in the final game. I love seeing concept art from video games, and I’m excited to be working on a game that will be big enough to warrant its own concept art book.