The Red Market Dev Log #3: Pre-Production Round Two, or, Re-Pre-Production

The Red Market - Title

The prototype of The Red Market has been out for a while now. A decent number of people have played it [citation needed], it got a small dollop of love on Twitter [prove it didn’t], and two highly-regarded industry professionals had very encouraging things to say about it. So what’s next?

Well, I’m about halfway through a month of pre-production on The Red Market. That’s right – I’ve decided to turn the prototype into a full, 10-month project. And I’ve decided on this for two main reasons:

  1. The core of the game has a lot of promise, and could support a full game very well.
  2. It’ll be a good opportunity to practice and improve my skills – both skills I used to get me this far (writing, game design, project management, etc.), and skills that are still very new to me (coding, working in Unity, trying to build up a small but violently loyal base of fans, selling my soul on social media for likes and retweets, etc. etc.).

10 months also seems like a smart amount of time to allocate to this. It’s long enough that I can put a fair bit more meat on the bones, but not so long that it threatens to become the endless dream project that trips up so many first-time creators – i.e. that 3D Photorealistic MMORPG Voxel Space-Sim planned for release on PS4/Xbox One and VR platforms in 2084. I may have strong ideas for over 50 new monsters and countless cool mechanics, but I also want to finish this thing some time in the next decade. My new motto: If at first you don’t succeed, cut the project until you can bloody well ship it.

I’m going to be incredibly strict with myself on time management here, and if it looks like I’m going to run over schedule I’ll just start cutting. This is going to be a 10-month, limited-scope project, and while I’m excited about the creative possibilities, I’m arguably even more focused on building up my production and project management skills.

So, onto the plan for The Red Market in the coming months, and the cool things I’m going to be adding in that time. But first, some notes:

(i) The project is going to be split into fortnightly sprints.

(ii) I’m planning on a very open production. As such, I’ll be posting a fortnightly blog post (generally at the end of each sprint) detailing what I’ve been working on recently, and what’s coming next.

(iii) While everything is of course subject to change, and we can’t ever really know the future, much less what is truly in our hearts, the only thing I anticipate changing significantly is Unity integration. Currently the game runs purely in the narrative scripting language Ink. While I intend to get it running in Unity with a proper save-load system (while still heavily using Ink) during this project, I quite honestly have literally no idea how feasible that’s going to be for me; someone with no Unity experience, and next to no programming experience, who is doing this all part-time. There’s a chance this will stay a web-only Ink-based game from the very start of this project to the very end.

Okay, with that out of the way:

Planned Content:

  • 15 new monsters, and their accompanying storylines. Including: The Tree of Hands, Jenny Hundredweight, The Bishop-fish, and, of course, the elusive Double Lion
  • ~10 breeding matches between these monsters, giving birth to such unwanted things as Shivers-in-Brine, The Rakehell, and The Glabrous Child.
  • ~7 new areas in which to hunt monsters/meet your demise.
  • ~ 5 new NPC monster-purchasers. Find your beasts comfortable new homes at, for example: The Cabinet of Curiosities, Bruisewater Offcuts & Rendering, or an entirely normal circus.
  • ~5 new powerful Relics, as well as extra treasures to find and sell
  • Visions of your own death, and 8 ways to die!
  • A handful of endings that don’t end in your own death.
  • Scars and Boons – semi-permanent preternatural effects that might help or hinder your efforts.
  • New interactions, options, re-balancing and editing of current content. Lots of extra secret, large and small.
  • A radical new mechanic: turning back time. Upon death or game completion, reset back to the beginning with all your secrets, memories, relics, etc. Make different choices, fast-forward through parts of storylines you’ve already played, and devise time-looping strategies to achieve your goals.
  • (if possible) full integration into Unity: in a groundbreaking innovation still new to gaming, The Red Market will be a downloadable file with full save and load features.
  • A better UI, or at least my best attempts at a better UI.
  • Approximately 200% more having-your-cake-and-eating-it. Experience a barely-veiled critique of capitalism and environmental exploitation while having fun engaging in ruthless capitalist exploitation of nature.

 

Content that is definitely not planned:

  • I know this game would work better if it weren’t a purely text-based game. I have an idea of what it would look like as a minimally-graphical experience (think more the Sorcery! series and Cultist Simulator than Monster Hunter: World. But I also know that I’m not going to be able to make something like that by myself in 9 months of production.
  • Similarly, art. I could pay someone to do it for me, but where’s the money going to come from? Are you going to give me that kind of money all of a sudden?

Actually, speaking of you definitely giving me money, let’s talk about the possibilities for the future:

The Future:

Ultimately, I want to turn game dev into a career. A part-time one if possible, or even a full-time one if I get phenomenally lucky. No matter how good I try to make The Red Market, that career’s unlikely to happen overnight. If possible, I’d like to slowly grow an audience. If, at the end of this 10-month project there’s any interested, I’ll consider crowdfunding for an expanded The Red Market, or another project.

That might take the form of a Patreon, or a Kickstarter, or people tipping me a dollar on whatever dystopian social media platform comes and ruins our lives next. But for the moment, before all that: if you want to support me you can do the following:

  1. Tell people about The Red Market. Point them to this blog, or my twitter
  2. Follow me on Twitter. Retweet the hilarious jokes I make so I can finally fulfill my dream of having more than 45 followers.
  3. Talk to me on Twitter! Drop by to say something nice, or just to start a conversation.

Anyway, that’s all for today’s post. The next post will come at the end of September, as I’m wrapping up pre-production. It should go into more detail about my schedule for the 9-months of full production, and hopefully also something less boring.

See you next time!

Nick

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The Red Market Dev Log #2: Challeges, Art, and Some General Fixes

stork_medieval_bestiary

Another relatively small update:

  • Introduced ‘Challenges’ into the game. The size and condition of your expedition party, as well as any relevant equipment or relics, will affect the likelihood of success or failure at difficult tasks.
  • Added a little public domain art from medieval bestiares for the Luminant Heron and the Harbinger Beast. I’d love to add more art, but turns out there aren’t any medieval bestiary entries about walking rat golems or fungal monsters.
  • The game now runs in a browser, and should run on mobile.
  • Included debug mode in the general build, so anyone can play around and break the game (note: some ways of breaking the game are more literal than others). Debug mode can be switched on at the main hub, after the tutorial has been completed.
  • Various minor bug fixes, and some editing to improve the flow of text.

The new version can be found here: https://nkeirle.itch.io/the-red-market

I’m currently on holiday so any new updates are probably two or three weeks away.

Cheers!

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The Red Market Dev Log #1: The Barnacle Goose and The Christ-Pelican

This is the first in a series of semi-regular (i.e. semi-fortnightlyish) blog posts chronicling the development of The Red Market. Sometimes these posts will take the form of detailing recent/upcoming patches and new content for the game. At other times I’ll dive into some aspect of the game in greater detail. This week I’ll be talking about the major inspiration behind The Red Market.

A Pelican Feeding her Young

The Pelican in all its glory

What is The Red Market?

The Red Market is a game about scouring the margins of the world – unexplored forests, claustrophobic sewer systems, a deeply unpleasant river – for strange beasts. As such, it’s about the weird and miraculous – beautiful beasts; magical beasts; dangerous beasts.

But it’s also a game about exploitation. The player character isn’t a sightseer or a conservationist – they’re here to capture these monsters (alive, ideally) and make use of them. You can sell them to an extremely questionable zoo, where they’ll be caged and put on display. Or if that seems too inhumane you can sell them to a chef who specialises in rare and endangered species. Wait no. Instead, why not sell them to a wealthy collector of curiosities, a travelling circus, an overly enthusiastic anatomist, a crime boss who’s always looking for new ways to make people disappear, or a dozen other eminent customers?

So, why is the game like this? Why am I like this? Why do I always have to ruin things by making them weird and unsettling? There is (for once) a good reason:

medieval_bestiary_whatever_this_is

Whatever this is

The Reason Everything is Nasty:

One of the main inspirations for The Red Market is medieval bestiaries – those strange books put together in the Middle Ages that sought to chronicle all the weird and wonderful animals across the world. Animals like the lion – that fierce four-legged beast who hunts his prey upon the African savannah. Or the Satyrus – that species of ape that always gives birth to twins and always hates one of them and loves the other and that is definitely real. Or the Pelican – that long-beaked bird that rips its stomach open and feeds its chicks on its own blood in a mimicry of Jesus suffering for humanity’s sins.

In other words, medieval bestiaries are hardcore. They mix real animals with mythological ones, and then make up a bunch of fake stuff for the real ones. They slip in a bunch of explicit Christian allegory about leopards and pelicans. They tell you what parts of the Amphisbaena to cut off and wear to cure your arthritis (its skin). And they feature pictures of elephants drawn by a man who’s only ever heard his mate describe what elephants look like.

medieval_bestiary_arguably_an_elephant

The fearsome elephant in its natural habitat

So I knew I wanted to make a game about exploring a huge, magical world and encountering strange creatures. But then I started thinking – what would it be like if these kinds of things were actually real? How would a modern soceity (or in the case of The Red Market – a mid 1800’s-inspired industrial-revolution-and-steamboats-and-drinking-sherry-in-one’s-parlour society) react to these magnificent creatures?

Well, how do we react to sharks? They’re pretty magnificent. Well, we’re terrified of them, and we hunt them so we can go to the beach without worrying about the statistically insignificant possibility of having them eat us. And some of us catch them, cut their fins off to make soup, and then throw them back into the ocean. How did we react to the bison? How did we react to the whale?

Basically, when we discover a new species we find out if they taste good, then we find out if we can make things out of them, then we find out if they’re fun to hunt, then if all else fails we find out if we can use their testicles to make us strong and good at sex.

300px-Serge_Voronoff

Pioneering gonad enthusiast Serge Voronoff

In a world with genuinely magical creatures – as in the fantasy world I’ve been making up in my head while pretending to listen during meetings for the last few years – this kind of behaviour would just go into overdrive. Imagine if you could wear a crocodile’s skin to cure arthritis and it actually worked because magic. There would be no crocodiles left on the face of the earth.

I knew this would be an interesting premise for a game – a combination of sometimes majestic, sometimes terrifying beasts, and the mundane, grinding gears of a capitalist society that Literally Cannot Stop Growing, and will grind up and commodify anything it possibly can (please don’t leave angry comments telling me that communism would also hunt and sell imaginary animals).

I also knew I wanted to make something that allowed me to explore different ideas. Not just ideas like ‘wouldn’t it be horrid if a bunch of rats joined together into a grotesque parody of human form?’ or ‘aren’t fish weird?’, but ideas about society, and the way we as humans treat the world around us. Ideas that can be distilled into the concept behind a single monster, or spread out like sad marmalade over multiple slices of story. Ideas about overconsumption (did someone say semi-sentient fatbergs?), and the commodification of the trauma of others (get ready for angry ghosts). Ideas about the unhealthy, compulsive drive for novelty and distraction.

And about mundanity.

medieval_bestiary_bad_turtle

Draw it again.

A Mundane Game About Mundane Things:

There’s a great quote that’s always swimming around the internet: ‘If humans could fly we would consider it exercise and never do it.’

Another way of looking at it is: ‘everything can become mundane’. The first time I flew in a plane it was awe-inspiring. Now I have to bring no less than four electronic devices when I fly long-distance or I will actually go mad. The first time someone ever saw an octopus they probably couldn’t stop panicking for days. Now we eat them like it’s nothing. The first time people saw a film of a train coming towards the camera it was revolutionary. Now there’s a man who literally eats metal, and could probably eat an entire train.

Obviously, ‘anything can become mundane’ isn’t great as elevator pitches go, but I think there’s something really valuable there. The intersection between the sublime and the mundane is weirdly fertile ground for storytelling. The incredible magical realist novel One Hundred Years of Solitude is, in part, incredible and hilarious and heartbreaking because of the muted, unsurprising reactions to outrageous things. I want to see if I can capture some of that value, and some of that humour.

In a world where magical beasts are real – and by now long since accepted as ordinary – how would the public react to a towering many-limbed beast on display at the zoological gardens? Awe? Nominal interest? Polite clapping and a stifled yawn?

The End:

So those are the main idea behind The Red Market – an exploration of weird folk stories and medieval Christ allegory pelicans and terrors from the deep. All these clashing with the mundane, grinding gears of a capitalist society that Literally Cannot Stop Growing. Hopefully sometimes it will make you laugh. Hopefully at other times it will make you shiver in utter revulsion (but in a good way). And hopefully at other times it’ll have something to say about the real world, though honestly a lot of time it’s just going to be collections of weird fantasy monsters that I made up because I think they’re cool (because deep down I’m still fourteen years old).

medieval_bestiary_unhappy_bird

Not a happy boy

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