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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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