Appeeling Personality Postmortem

    Appeeling Personality was made in 3 days for the Toronto Game Jam, or TOJam, if your one of the hip kids, and since then it's gotten far more attention than any of us working on it probably ever expected it to. We had a few let's plays at first and some coverage from local people who were at the event, but then, to everyone's surprise, we got an article on Kotaku. From there, things kept going, the let's plays were coming more frequently and at one point we were something like the 4th or 5th most popular game on itch.io. We even got covered by a big youtuber, jacksepticeye, which was cool.

Each banana has a... unique personality.

    If you haven't played the game: Appeeling Personality is a banana-eating contest/dating sim. If you don't continue to eat bananas, you'll eventually begin to hallucinate from hunger, and the bananas will start talking to you. Each banana has a different personality, and after they've made their case for why you should give them a chance, you can choose to either eat them or marry them. 

    So let's look at the whole affair, how Appeeling Personality came to be, what went right, what went wrong, and everything in between.

    To be completely straight, Appeeling Personality was a joke. It all happened when we were signing up for TOJam and as a part of the registration process we had to give them a preliminary game idea. So we were throwing ideas back and forth but we couldn't decide on anything, and out of desperation I asked everyone for the stupidest idea they could come up with.

    Now, ever since Hatoful Boyfriend came out and let you date pigeons, I feel like there has been a steady uptick of these sort of silly dating sims, from Jurassic Heart where you date dinosaurs to the officially licensed Namco High where you can date characters from Pac-Man to Galaga. So when someone suggested a banana-dating sim called Appeeling Personality we all laughed and decided to use it to sign up with. We figured that they wouldn't hold us to it anyway and that we could always come up with something else later. 

    So we get to the day before the jam and we still haven't come up with another idea. Panicking as I furiously messaged my group with no response, I quickly made a mock up of the banana game and told them that if we don't come up with something else, this is what we're making. 

The original MSPaint doodle that would become Appeeling Personality.

    We decided to go with one of our other ideas from before the banana dating sim, a racing game where your goal is to be in last place but you have to speed up to avoid falling over and being disqualified. The theme of the jam was "Winning is for losers" so it fit well enough.

    The day of the jam arrives and as most of the team had to come in from out of town I was on my own for the first little while. I got straight to prototyping our idea and it ended up looking like this:

Our first concept. It didn't get further than this.

    It's not that it was a bad idea, but we weren't in love with it at this point and it certainly wasn't fun. When the rest of the team arrived, I showed them how things were and we went to talk about it over dinner.

    I feel being able to talk in person over dinner with each other like this greatly helped us to come up with ideas. Up until this point we had been communicating online using messenger and we only had a few ideas here and there, none of which everyone was particularly excited about. However over dinner we spat out dozens of ideas, going into detail about the ones we liked. Of course the banana game came up again, but this time we had options. One of the ideas that I really liked was a 2 player insect boxing game where after each round you won you would lose a limb.

    The problem with a lot of these ideas however was their scope. We had all done game jams before, so we had an idea of what we could do in a short time and the last thing anyone wanted was to start working on a game we wouldn't be able to finish. This is probably one of the biggest reasons that we ended up on going with the banana game. There wasn't actually a lot to it mechanically. The bananas would talk to you and you would either eat them or date them. The whole thing could be boiled down to a couple of buttons. It was also easily scalable. We had planned to have a couple of bananas in the game but if we we're running short on time we could easily cut down the total number of bananas. On the other end of the spectrum, if we had extra time we could always add more potential banana dates.

    It wasn't just the fact that the game had a small scope though. As we were sitting around the table coming up with ideas, whenever there was a lull in the conversation or we ended up at an idea that wouldn't work for one reason or another, someone would bring up the banana game. While it was a joke at first, the more we talked about it, the more people got on board.

    So we went with the banana game.

    Like I mentioned earlier, the game itself was actually fairly simple. We used Fungus, a unity plugin for visual novels, to make our lives easier. Fungus is great in that it handles the textbox, text display, etc, but it's also a pain to work with, because as far as I know, there isn't really any easy way to actually put text into it.

This is what Fungus looks like. Ta-da!

    With Fungus, dialogue and other things are handled through a list of events that it goes through in order. This means that each line of dialogue has its own "Say" command, which makes using Fungus somewhat tedious. While you can work directly in Unity using Fungus's UI, it doesn't have any of the handy tools for writing that word does, like spelling and grammar checking. So first we wrote all of our text in word then transferred it over one line at a time into Fungus.

    On top of this, Fungus also struggles with text overflow, which means if a line of dialogue is longer than your text box can fit, it'll be cut off. Thankfully we found this out fairly early and were able to write dialogue with that in mind, but there were still a few instances of text spilling over that we had to go back and clean up. Other issues involve having to go through the text and add Fungus syntax to any words that had text effects such as bold or italics, as that didn't transfer over when copying and pasting lines of dialogue.

    Most of the work was actually working around Fungus. For example, in the game there is a timer that represents your hunger, which we use to trigger visual effects as the game goes on. When you eat a banana, the timer resets. However, there wasn't really any way for us to tie our timer to the length of a banana's dialogue. We didn't want a banana to finish talking before we had triggered all of our effects, and we also didn't want them to keep going after the timer had finished.

    While Fungus has a number of events for a wide array of things, there's nothing that we could use to determine how long it would take to go through any given banana's text. To get around this, we limited the number of lines each banana had so that they were all roughly the same. I think the number was around 28 lines for each banana or something like that. This wasn't perfect as there are still some differences in how long it takes each banana to finish talking due to the length of the lines, and there are still some bananas that finish sooner or later than others, but that's just part of working with third party plugins.

    Other than that, development was pretty smooth, save for a bump at the end where we spent an hour trying to figure out why our effects weren't resetting, only to realize that we were loading the wrong scene. We did miss out on pizza over that though, so that was unfortunate. But the game came out pretty well, and we even got people commenting on how good it looked for a jam game (although that probably had to do with our larger than average team and small scope). We threw it up on itch.io and a while later the let's plays started coming in.

jacksepticeye, a popular youtuber who played Appeeling Personality

    Let's plays are great because their kind of like mini playtests, you get to see what people think of your game and how they play it. This also means that people are going to find problems with your game, and we were certainly no exception.

    The first issue that we saw was that some people didn't understand what the game really was. This has to do with the premise of the game. The idea was that you were at a banana-eating contest. If you didn't eat the banana,s you would start to become delirious from hunger and the bananas would begin talking to you.

    The problem is that there isn't any eating contest. It's only there as a reason for you to be continually eating bananas and so that the game fit into the "Winning is for losers" theme better, the idea being that you don't win the eating contest but instead find true love. It also probably didn't help that we initially pitched the game as a banana-eating contest/dating sim when in reality its just a banana-dating sim. We never thought too much about the eating contest part of the setup and it came back to bite us.

    What would happen is that some players would go in not knowing anything about the game, see all the things saying "eating contest", and simply eat bananas as fast as they could. It's not that we didn't account for this, we kind of expected people to just keep eating bananas at first, so our plan was to make the first bit of your hunger bar drain faster so that if you just eat bananas as fast as possible the text and banana face begin to fade in a bit before you can eat the next one. The idea was that players would start out eating bananas as fast as possible for the eating contest, but eventually they notice the start of the face and textbox fading in and listen to what the banana has to say.

The bananas face and textbox as they begin to fade in. It's not hard to see why some people missed this.

    Some players, however, never notice the face and textbox beginning to fade in and just keep eating bananas. It's a tricky balance to maintain. If the fade in was too fast and obvious players wouldn't get that "Is that a face?!" moment but on the other hand if it's too subtle, players might not even notice it at all, which ruins the game. We should probably have made it more obvious, and looking at it now it wouldn't surprise me if some people couldn't see the first bit of fade at all, due to some sort of vision impairment.

    The other problem that people had was that the text was too fast. This is something that's easily overlooked, of course the people making the game can read the text faster their the ones who wrote it, put it into the game, and read over it several dozen times to make sure everything works. It only makes sense that people who have never seen it before can't read it as fast as the devs.

    I did actually adjust the text speed after the first couple of let's plays complained about it, but it was a bit more of a process than it probably should have been. First off, I didn't adjust the text speed but rather the duration of the pause after the text is finished before it moves on to the next line. The issue with that, however, is that now all the dialogue takes longer to finish, which means we have to adjust the hunger timer or else we'll have dialogue that continues after the timer is finished. While that just involves tweaking a few numbers in some other scripts, the pause after each line of dialogue is handled through Fungus which means that I had to manually adjust the length of each pause after each line of dialogue.

    Even after I adjusted the pause duration, some people still had issue with the text speed, which makes me wish that we could add an option to adjust it. I'm sure preference would vary based on the individual, but I'm not entirely sure that it would be possible to do with Fungus or at least the way we're doing it. Perhaps the moral of the story is that Fungus might end up causing more problems than it's worth?

The current text speed in the game. 

    That's not to say that everything about the game is terrible. While we were unable to cater to some players who struggled with things like the text speed and noticing the textbox fade in, I'd say that more often than not, people had no problem with it. From the let's plays I watched it seemed like 9 times out of 10 people would get that "Is that a face?!" moment that I wanted to get across, and for a game made in 3 days with no QA testing, I'd say that's pretty good. Like I mentioned at the start, the game did far better than anyone ever expected it to, so we must have done something right.

    It's been almost a year since we released Appealing Personality and since then, the let's plays have slowed to a stop. It had a good run: we took it to a couple of events to show it off in the months after it was released and seeing the reactions of people playing it in person definitely make it all worth it. Sometimes I even joke that we're going to make a sequel, "Appeeling Personality 2: Split Personality", but since then, everyone has been busy working on other things. Who knows though, maybe one day we'll come together and make it happen.


Popular posts