Turning Frankenstein Into a Game
Last semester, I took a Horror Fiction class, in which we had to read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. When finals came around, we had the opportunity to create almost anything we wanted, so long as it pertained to the novel. At first, I had no idea what to do, but when my final for Rapid Game Prototyping was announced, I decided to make a prototype game that followed the novel’s story as close as possible.
Read on to find out exactly how this prototype was developed, and a link to download the executable so you can actually play it!
When a new idea for a game comes to mind, an array of amazing features, gameplay, art styles, etc. forms in a game designers head. Anyone can be an “idea guy,” but to make it as a game designer, you need to be able to turn those ideas into feasible realities. For Frankenstein, I originally wanted to create a unique art style, with all my own sprites; include creepy string-based music; use only quotes from the novel for text; allow the player to play as either Frankenstein or the monster, and have different endings depending on character selection and gameplay; and have a wide range of challenging puzzles. While I could have done all of these things for a full-feature game, I did not have the time or the resources. Besides, the game was only supposed to be a prototype, not a full-feature game, so I quickly realized that while all of these things would be great to include, I just couldn’t realistically do it.
The first thing I did was write up a very short design document, only about one or two pages. I gave a brief description of the game and its gameplay and progression. Story was not a focus of the design document, as it simply followed the novel’s story and I always kept a copy of the book handy when working. While I really wanted to have the option of playing as either Frankenstein or the monster and going through the story through their respective points of view, I knew that would be extremely time consuming, so I decided to narrow it to alternating characters, i.e. every other level or so, the player would switch between playing as Frankenstein or the monster. I included this in the design document, along with specifics on the two playable characters and how their abilities and goals differed. This made the game goal-based, so for each new level, a new goal would appear, and that goal would be specific to the playable character at that time. This needed to represented in the design document, especially since I had yet to decide which specific levels to include, so I made a simple table outlining the name of each level, who the playable character was in it, and what the goal was. Because the novel features numerous locations for potential levels, I went through the book and selected only what I felt were the most important locations. At this point, I had a much more specific outline of the game, specific character abilities and goals, the first few levels outlined, and a general idea for game progression. I did not have a toolset, sprites or any other art assets, sounds, level designs, puzzle designs, or any idea on how to make my different endings.
Finding the Right Toolset
I’ve always been a fan of 8-bit games, and I feel that creating a simple, 2-D prototype is the best way to start off making a game (of course, this depends of the kind of game you are going to be making). I decided to make my Frankenstein game a 2-D prototype, knowing that I did not have near enough time to make my own assets. For me, Game Maker was the perfect fit. The program is mostly 2-D, although you can do some 3-D, has an easy-to-use interface, and is script-based, making it an excellent tool for game designers who don’t know the first thing about programming. I had played around with the program a while before, and I’ve seen some very interesting games come out of it.
If you’d like to learn more about Game Maker, or download it for free, visit the site below:
While there are plenty of other 2-D game engines I could have used, I was already familiar with Game Maker, liked the interface and lack of programming, and knew that it had an extensive community-based resource collection.
By far my favorite feature of Game Maker is its community; not only can you ask for help and advice, but you can also find a great collection of resources perfect for prototyping games. On Game Maker’s site, there is a resource page that includes community-updated sprites, sounds, scripts, features, extensions, and much more. The majority of the sprites and sounds are ripped from other games, so they shouldn’t be used for anything more than prototyping. I happened to find a sprite set from the first two Golden Sun games, which fit my needs almost exactly. This was a great find and made the prototyping process so much easier, although if I were to create this into a full-feature game, I would need to either do my own art, get an artist, or find free-to-use art. There are plenty of other places I could have gone to find good prototyping resources, but these fit my needs rather well, so there was no need. However, there will be an upcoming post that goes into more depth on this subject later.
Now that I had my art assets and an appropriate toolset to use, I jumped into the prototyping process. Since I still wasn’t certain on many aspects of the game, I began with what I call the “Spine.” The Spine is the backbone of the game, and includes all the things the game can’t work without. For most games, the Spine usually features the player character(s) and how they react with the world, how the player controls the character(s), how the game progresses, and of course, the gameplay. All of these things should be already in the design document already, but feel free to experiment with them. My original ideas for the game changed drastically through this process of experimentation with the Spine. The game was originally going to be a sort of puzzle-based platformer, but I soon found that I liked the idea of a collection-based game instead. I implemented a points system along with various collectibles for each of the playable characters, and this actually allowed me to have two separate endings: one dependent on Frankenstein’s score, and the other on the monster’s. Once I got the Spine functioning properly, I set out to create a fully-playable prototype in about a week.
Tying Everything Together
My goal was to create a fully-playable game in a very short period of time, but because it was a prototype, many things had to be cut out. There was no reason to create a whole sound system, so the only sound featured in the game was for the text. While I still wanted to implement puzzles along with the collectibles, I had to focus on creating levels and making the story flow, so puzzles did not get featured. There are several NPCs that the player can talk to, and they are only those important to the story. In order to make the game make sense, I had to cut out a lot of the story and boil it down to only what fit together and was still effective. I was able to use quotes from the novel for the majority of the game, but there were some instances where it didn’t quite work so improvisations were made. In the end, I was able to tie everything together before the deadline, and came out with a fully-playable prototype for a game.
Final Thoughts and Download
While I was rather disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to implement all of the gameplay features I wanted to, I was overall pleased with outcome. This marks the first fully-playable game I’ve ever made, even if it is merely a prototype. The thing about the prototyping process, however, is that it is ongoing; one prototype is certainly not enough before fleshing out a full-feature game. Game designers and developers should be creating as many prototypes as possible before delving into all-out production. I’ve learned a lot from prototyping this game, and I will definitely be posting more on the process and its benefits. I plan on taking Frankenstein further and turning it into a full-featured game with my own art assets later, but for now you can download the executable and play test it. As always, feel free to leave any comments and/or critiques, so long as they are constructive.
NOTE: The following link will allow you to download the executable file for the Frankenstein prototype. Because this is a prototype, it is not my art and there are still several glitches and bugs in the game. After uploading the file, it was found that this version has issues with sticky movement. I have yet to find the reason for this, but if I do, I will re-upload. Remember: constructive comments and criticism only please. Thanks for playing, and enjoy!