Latest in Gaming

Image credit:

More unfinished business: Cavanagh's vectorized tongues and the RPG that doesn't exist

Jordan Mallory

This is the second half of a two-part series chronicling the unfinished works of seasoned indie developer Terry Cavanagh. For the first half, click all up on this.

Terry Cavanagh's next confessionary Vine of unfinished projects started with a psychedelic look at his most recently abandoned idea, a first-person exploration game. "The idea was that'd be some way to manipulate your position in the game and access areas that were outside the game world; procedurally generated noise places of some sort," Cavanagh told us.

"I liked the idea of randomly filling a world with information and abilities and letting the player figure it out by just poking around in areas I hadn't specifically designed for them – making a genuine playable minus world. Anyway, I was working on this before GDC, and when I was there I saw another game that was basically doing the same thing but better, so I scrapped my game. It happens, no big deal."

A pair of vectorized shapes appeared next, rotating around each other in a fashion that seemed oddly familiar for reasons we couldn't place. Cavanagh's explanation wasn't quite what we would have guessed: "Yeah, the vectory thing - I was trying to make a realistic 3D kissing game where you play as a tongue. Didn't really work." If you've ever wondered what it looks like when two Vectrex fall in love, well, there you go.

The next few seconds span four projects: A game jam entry about "aliens or something" created with Ed Key, Jonathan Whiting and Bennett Foddy that was abandoned before the time limit, a shooter that revamped mechanics from Cavanagh's bullet hell schmup Self Destruct, a second game jam entry that eventually had its mechanics absorbed into Four Letter Word, and a tower defense game where towers had to be connected to a circuit created by the player.

More unfinished business Cavanagh's vectorized tongues and the RPG that never existed
"Ah, wow, Big Hero," Cavanagh said of the next clip, which showed a pixelated blonde person embroiled in combat with an equally pixelated skeleton. "I actually spent months on this one. Basically it's an RPG where you've got two stats - your arm size, and your leg size. Having bigger arms gives you better strength, bigger legs gives you better magical powers."

"The whole thing though was that as you leveled up," he added, "you got physically bigger and disproportioned, and there was this faction of people with huge legs and tiny arms fighting with people with huge arms and tiny legs. I'm not sure why I didn't finish this one."

Following that was a game Cavanagh had developed using artwork from a London-based art jam for kids. "A friend of mine does a drawing thing with some kids, and he got a bunch of developers together to make games with their artwork. I had a lot of fun arranging the art, but the other stuff in the game wasn't really working," Cavanagh said.

"The idea was something like a dizzyesque platformer where the items you took around the map (and gave away) were metroidvaniaish powerups that restricted the places you could access. It turned out to be a better idea in theory than in practice."

More unfinished business Cavanagh's vectorized tongues and the RPG that never existed
Dating back to Cavanagh's pre-Nexus City days, the second Vine's last entry shows off a dungeon-crawling exploration game build around a complex, materia-inspired RPG system. "I mostly spent my time on this doing menus and stuff, which was pretty boring," Cavanagh said. "It was supposed to be a 48 hour thing, but the amount of work it was taking didn't make sense considering the idea wasn't especially strong."

Conversely, the centerpiece of Cavanagh's last Vine may very well be one of the best ideas for an RPG that we've ever heard. After clips of Cavanagh's game jam entry with Hayden Scott-Baron, a complex space trading sim and "a two player puzzle game that didn't work out at all," sits Sixty Hours In.

"After the tower thing I was working on with Dock [Hayden Scott-Baron] didn't work out, we chatted a bit about collaborating on something else, so we started working on this RPG idea I had," Cavanagh said. "The idea was: You start the game thrown in at the last save point of an epic RPG. There's one, single battle in the game against a super powerful being that you're just barely strong enough to defeat."

"The game was gonna be all about exploring what all your strange abilities are and how exactly they work, and coming up with a strategy to defeat the big bad boss. What I was really into doing, though, was the ending - I wanted to have a kind of comedy thing with a big cast of ridiculous characters resolving hopelessly complex storylines without providing any context whatsoever."

More unfinished business Cavanagh's vectorized tongues and the RPG that never existed
Cavanagh's projects "kinda choose themselves," he told us, and when a project is abandoned it's typically because he's fallen out of love with whatever the game's core concept was, or because a given project may take longer than he expected, and it's tough to keep that momentum going. "When I need to, though," he added, "I'm able to make myself do it. VVVVVV and Super Hexagon are what they are in large part because they were so inspirational to work on that I didn't want to stop, even near the end when it was all polish work."

Just because a project is dead, however, doesn't necessarily mean that it's also been buried. "Sometimes a really strong one just sticks with you, and you make yourself go back to it," he said. "Big Hero, the iso thingy and Four Letter Word are all projects I've started up from cold again and put a couple of extra weeks into. I really think I'll finish them someday, even if I don't know exactly how."

More unfinished business Cavanagh's vectorized tongues and the RPG that never existed
After two more game jam entries – a "blue wall thing" called Myosotis, which later was assimilated into Four Letter Word, and a maze navigation game with a color-swapping mechanic – is the last item in Cavanagh's backlog purge. The most indecipherable clip of the lot, this assortment of grey pixels represents a story-driven "princess simulation thing" based around the idea of trying to keep an affair secret.

"The thing I was really interested in exploring was this alter ego style choice system, where every decision was a decision on two axis - what you actually did, and how you felt about it," Cavanagh said. "The idea being, depending on things that have happened before or your current mental state and what your resulting 'stats' were, you might be unable to hide your 'true' feelings about a certain action and give away some information to the characters in the game by not being able to keep your cool."

"I still think there's something interesting to the idea, but it's not the kind of game I'm very good at making," he added. I gave up on it after struggling with the script for weeks." Cavanagh mentioned during our last installment that, despite his love for story-driven games, "writing is by far the hardest part" of his development process. "In general, though, I usually just work on what I'm feeling most inspired by."

From around the web

ear iconeye icontext filevr