Enemy Mind Scrnshot

The Enemy Mind Story

 insights

It was Jam Week, 2013.

Enemy Mind has always been a game with a story to tell. Enemy Mind is a side-scrolling shooter where, instead of playing as a spaceship, you are a being of pure thought that can take over and control any ship that you encounter. It began life as in 2013 as a Jam Week project. Jam Week is a week-long game jam that our studio runs each year to give folks a chance to work on projects or in roles that they wouldn’t normally get to do.Before the jam started, I had the oppor­tu­nity to tell people about an idea came to me in a dream. I called it Enemy Mind and pitched it as a top-down shooter like Galaga or R-Type, with a twist. You’ve got a weapon that allows you to take over any enemy, reori­ent­ing the board and destroy­ing yourself in the process.” Fellow engineer Mike V, who is a published author outside of Schell Games, saw it an oppor­tu­nity to tell a com­pelling story, and signed up to write one during Jam Week.

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After only one week of devel­op­ment, Enemy Mind already had two parallel stories and a system for showing players different parts of the story at different times based on their actions in the game. We showed the Jam Week game to everyone in the studio and it was generally liked. After that, we worked on a pitch for what the full game could be. The studio got behind it, and we set about making what would become Enemy Mind.

Enemy Mind

A team of about eight devel­op­ers was assembled to take Enemy Mind from jam to game.” The game was broken up into eight levels, each one comprised of approx­i­mately 10 waves of attacking enemy space­craft. We’d planned to have vignettes after each of the eight levels where we would give out pieces of the story as a reward for com­plet­ing the level. We’d have two parallel stories, one that you’d see if you’d spent more time in human space­craft and one that you’d see if you spent more time in the alien craft. This feature would allow you to play multiple times and discover different bits of the story. In total, Mike V wrote sixteen story points for the game.

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Over the course of the game’s devel­op­ment, Mike V and our lead designer Connor continued to get more and more excited about the game’s sto­ry­telling potential. They asked if we could also show story bits between waves as well as levels. Unfor­tu­nately, at this point in the project, our schedule was getting a little tight and the story just wasn’t a big priority for me. I was not willing to take on the additional work.

Luckily Mike V is a skilled engineer as well as writer. He offered to write the story and the necessary code to display it. I agreed. Mike then began writing over 200 story nodes, tagging them with various attrib­utes so that each node could be based on things like which ship you were in or whether you destroyed civilian ships. He then worked with Matt K, another engineer, who coded the system for dis­play­ing the story, complete with text replace­ment and text coloring. Basically, they did a ton of work to get the story into the game and make it look great.

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The story had become a big part of Enemy Mind. Mike V, Connor and Yotam (another designer on the project) were strong advocates for high­light­ing the story as much a possible. They urged us to create a Story Mode,” or at least a way to continue with the story after dying, so that people who were drawn into the story would be able to see the whole thing, even if they didn’t have the skill to play the game through to the end.

I refused to accom­mo­date any of these requests, partially because the project timeline was very tight, but also because I was stub­bornly attached to the idea of making a hard game.” I had such fond memories of dying over and over again in games like Gradius and Contra. I wanted to give that expe­ri­ence to Enemy Mind players, too. The problem, which I didn’t see at the time, was that I wasn’t content to offer it to players; I wanted to force it on them. In one of our dis­cus­sions, I actually said, the story doesn’t matter.” Let that sink in for a minute… I told a person that their con­tri­bu­tion to this game didn’t matter. They’d poured a ton of time and effort into it to make the game better and I said it didn’t matter. That’s not cool. That’s not even slightly okay. I have apol­o­gized more than once and I’m still embar­rassed by it.

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Every so often I’ve gone back to replay Enemy Mind. Playing it with now with fresh eyes and listening to folks that have played it, I have realized that the story is one of the best parts of the game. More than that though, it’s integral to the game. The story and the game mechanics go hand in hand. It’s a really well-written, engaging story. Sadly most of the folks who’ve played Enemy Mind haven’t been able to see very much of it.

Enemy Mind Too

Shortly before Jam Week began this year, we were dis­cussing acces­si­bil­ity in games, specif­i­cally whether or not dif­fi­culty settings should be con­sid­ered an acces­si­bil­ity feature. I mentioned I now believe that it is, and that I make sure to add a No Stress Mode” to the games make outside of Schell Games, most recently R-COIL.

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This con­ver­sa­tion reminded me of my whole regret­table Enemy Mind is a hard game! Story doesn’t matter!” episode. It occurred to me that it wouldn’t be that difficult to take the original story and art assets from Enemy Mind and remix them into a visual novel. My hope is that it would allow more players to see the awesome story, and serve as tangible apology to Mike V, Connor, Yotam.

In Enemy Mind Too, you’ll encounter the same space­crafts you see in Enemy Mind. This time, instead of having to fight for your life, you’ll only have to choose an action and watch it execute. Just as in Enemy Mind, the action you take will influence the bits of story that are revealed to you, so you can explore the different story paths just like you could in the original. The only dif­fer­ence is you can’t lose. Even if you die, you are simply asked if you’d like to continue. You never have to go back, unless you just want to make a different choice.

Also, a nice bonus of not being in a constant battle to stay alive is you can stop and enjoy the beautiful background art.

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If you’d like to try Enemy Mind Too, you can check it out here. It’s a free download or playable right in the browser. The original Enemy Mind is on Steam here. If you play either, I’d love to know what you think. You can find me on Twitter @viTekiM.

I’ve learned a lot in the time since we made Enemy Mind. I’ve learned that there are ways to enjoy games beyond the way I enjoy games and that they’re every bit as valid. I’ve learned that becoming obsessed with a project and working on it for sixteen hours a day can turn you into a monster who just might say something terrible to a friend. I’ve learned that everyone’s con­tri­bu­tion matters. Finally, I’ve learned that the story does matter.