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.