As I’ve worked on Sunshine, I have regularly felt like the game just doesn’t add up yet. As though the individual pieces make sense but they don’t yet come together into a cohesive whole. For awhile I thought this was just because I hadn’t implemented enough of the gameplay. But now that I’m further along in development, I think the problem runs deeper.
With a theme-focused game like this, it is important that the visuals, world design, and gameplay align. The visuals aren’t just about slick presentation; they are a glossary of symbols that reinforce the theme. The world design gives context, forming sentences out of those symbols. The gameplay pushes the player from sentence to sentence. (This is where the analogy kind of falls apart, because in a game the player reads sentences in semi-random order and the designer prays it results in something meaningful.)
My original concept set the game in a technologically-advanced far future where things feel strange and alien. It starts off uncomfortable and then gets even more and more distressing as you approach the end. I’m running into two problems with this setup. For one, I’m terrible at doing “pure” cyberpunk. I love the genre but it does not come naturally to me. I like stories that connect back to the real world. Even if the arc of the story is epic, its foundation needs to rest on simple day-to-day life. When I step outside of that my writing becomes increasingly amateurish. The second problem is that the game needs contrast to show the emotional impact of the surveillance state. If you look at historic examples of totalitarian regimes, they are surprisingly boring on the surface. The horror in such a place comes from what hides behind the scenes, not what’s in your face.
With this in mind, I’m going to alter the presentation and mood, and see if that gets the project to make more sense. I should have addressed this a lot sooner, but working alone meant the game was too deep in my head. After letting people try the game out at Stugan, I’m seeing things more clearly.