Eight Millimeters: The Long Overdue Post-Mortem

Originally posted on GameJolt. Contains spoilers.

Well, it sure is weird writing a devlog after keeping silent for 6 months.

8mm has celebrated its half-birthday a few days ago, so I thought I’d come and write about the game and its reception. I’ve been meaning to do a post-mortem for a while; first in the form of a YouTube video, then a blog post, then a devlog, then… nothing at all. And this looks like the perfect opportunity to write such article. So here we go.

When the Adventure Jam was first announced, I knew I wanted to develop a first person shooter. It’s my favorite genre of games to play and develop. The jam’s theme, “adventure”, immediately inspired me to create an epic shooter that would take the player on a grand adventure.
I even got in contact with one of the organizers via Twitter and asked her if I could create such a game, and she answered positively.

Early-mid 2016 was also a period in which I really started digging into anime. As a kid, I didn’t connect nor particularly liked the medium, but diving into the anime world proper was a truly fascinating and fun experience. The absurdity and wackiness of anime action shows like Kill la Kill and Black Lagoon inspired me to create a very stupid, self-aware and ridiculous shooter.

The plan was simple: find a writer, let them create a narrative, and then develop the game. Alas, the writers I got in contact with either didn’t get along with me, didn’t like the ridiculous concept, or didn’t get back to me at all.
So I was back at square one. This was the point that I realized that I would not be able to complete my jam magnum opus; it was too ambitious and required too many resources to work.

It was obvious to me that I needed a more cinematic, scripted, and most importantly: short experience. So I turned to another favorite genre of mine: documentaries. I watched Dear Zachary a few weeks prior, and its personal and highly emotional story seriously resonated with me.
Besides, no one attempted a documentary-style video game before – at least not in the way 8mm presented it – so it looked like the perfect match.

So with the concept firmly in place, I still needed a story. Since 8mm is an FPS, it was clear to me that it should essentially be a war documentary. For inspiration, I rewatched the animated Israeli documentary Waltz With Bashir, which revolves around the experiences of Israeli soldiers during the First Lebanon War.

In hindsight, I feel like Waltz with Bashir had too much of an influence on the story and writing of 8mm: both works feature gritty filmmakers looking to find truth and closure to a war they have been a part of. Both works feature a story about a man running to the beach to escape death. Both works feature broken people who are not proud of what they did. Both works feature violent sequences set to classical music. Both works feature striking lighting and similar shading. In fact the second story, featuring an Israeli soldier, in 8mm is a nod to Waltz with Bashir, both in theme and in character.

For the dialogue system, I did a bit of research regarding visual novels. I also played Danganronpa 1 and Planetarian prior to developing 8mm, which helped build out the structure and feel of the scripted sections.

The major mistake I made with 8mm, and still make today, was the complete lack of script or planning. Sure, you can’t write a whole design document for a game jam game, but a narrative-driven game should at least have a script. The entire game was improvised, with sequences being added or changed to fit what I personally found intriguing. This led to interesting sequences, but it also led to crudely written characters and an abrupt ending.

For instance, the prologue sequence set to Toccata in D was originally a straight shooting sequence, in which the filmmaker and Anna fought together to escape the city. At some scripted point, she gets shot, and the game cuts to the filmmaker digging her grave. To save development time and make for a more engaging storytelling experience, I created the timeskip sequence.

The game was developed in 2 weeks using Unity and models from Kenney’s assets packs and the Unity Asset Store. I was more concerned with the plot and narrative of this project that I did not bother to hire a modeler.
Considering the fact that 8mm was developed for a game jam (i.e. I had a tight deadline), I opted to put an emphasis on lighting, general atheistic and game feel rather than detailed environments and props. In some levels it paid out. On others, less so.

The ending was admittingly rushed and abrupt. The prologue was there from the start, but I just didn’t know how to end the game in a satisfying way.
And then it was memorial day.
Yes, memorial day was not something I made up for the ending. It exists in Israel and it takes place just before independence day.
The time was 12:00 AM. The memorial siren played. After two minutes, it faded out. It was at this point that something clicked in my head, and I thought: “Yes. This is how I’ll wrap up the story.”
Even then, I thought the ending was awkward. It was supposed to be substantially more dramatic, but without a solid script and the deadline creeping ever closer, I couldn’t write a deeper, dramatic story.

8mm didn’t go far in AdvJam, but it did gain a very positive reception on GameJolt and on itch.io, which I am very grateful for.

In the end, I am satisfied with 8mm. It was my first time writing… anything really, let alone a dramatic story.
It was a weird experiment that combined ADV visual novels, first person shooters and cinematic techniques like cutting, and what we ended up with is a weird interactive movie-like game. 8mm is just as long as it needs to be and, hell, if I enjoyed creating it, and you enjoyed playing it, who am I to complain?

It’s rough and unpolished in some areas – the writing, especially – but I still love the “VNFPS” concept, I’ve used and improved it in the next game I developed, ULTRA ADHD.

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