Stitches is a 2D puzzle platformer about a daughter collecting old memories to complete her dying mother’s quilt.
While things are constantly updating and changing, we still keep a record of the Game Design Doc for an overview of the game here.
Evan Lindeman is the game’s writer. You can check out the game’s current script here.
- A/D: move left and right
- Spacebar: Jump
- J: activate buttons
- K: Grapple (not used in level one)
At first this game was planned as a game jam game to be completed in a weekend, but out of want for a more developed story and mechanics, we decided to create a longer scope for the project.
The game at first was to be set as a metroidvania, where players would explore the world to find necessary resources to move to other levels. A lot of inspiration was taken from Hollow Knight, where similar fighting mechanics were thought to be introduced.
To make the game interesting and add variety, I thought it would be interesting to block out the world into multiple squares where players could move around their locations to be able to access different areas. While it was an interesting idea, the implementation of having areas that all work together in different ways could get complicated fairly quickly. Another problem was how much we wanted the player to explore the areas. If the platforms of the edges weren’t shown on the map that the player adjusted, the player would have to keep checking the edges if they wanted to get to a new area, and even then the player might not have the right abilities unlocked yet to get access to the next section of the world.
To streamline the game and to keep to a smaller production timeline, the complication of moving around areas was scrapped (but perhaps I’ll keep the idea in mind for a future game…)
We decided on a more linear world, where the first two locations introduced the mechanics to the player, while the next three locations could be played in any order, challenging the player in the mechanics and stretching their knowledge of what could happen. While I wanted to avoid a more linear game (at least a game that feels linear, Metroidvanias are still technically linear, they just involve backtracking), the branching of location choices I think it was enough to make the world feel bigger and have them feel in control of their options.
Moves and enemies
As a puzzle platformer, a big question is “What moves should the player do?” While there are many moves they do, thee moves also have to make sense within the context of the story. The underlining theme of the game is stitching together the life that the family has forgotten, so sewing, needles, and thread play a large part in the game.
Since the game was first planned to be a Metroidvania, a series of moves was planned out that the player earned after each location. These were a double jump, a swiping needle attack, a needle throw, and a needle tether (like a grapple hook).
These movesets would have worked well in a world that required shifting around, but are they really necessary?
One part of the equation that is being left out are the enemies. If the world is supposed to be realistic, what kind of enemies would actually appear? This wasn’t a major military mission were people were going after the main character, all they were doing was retrieving pieces of cloth. To go along the the theme of the mother’s dementia, I came up with a series of enemies that helped with the metroidvania gate keeping and encouragement of movesets. This series of enemies was dark, knotted holes that appeared in the world. These holes could take the form of walking creatures, floating orbs, and vine connected orbs that link together and hold doors closed. Both enemies and moves need to serve a purpose in the world, and both enhanced the thought of the mother’s dementia getting worse and the daughter fighting it off.
The writer for the game through me for a loop, however: the player was reliving the daughter’s memories, not the mother’s. The world is normal, maybe a little run-down, but not a nightmare world where gravity and creatures don’t make sense. Similar almost to the real-life world of Oxenfree (character and world design similar as well).
Well…ok. How do we rework this?
I was imagining the player was wielding a giant needle to attack, but now the theme and scene don’t really fit this idea. A normal human with a giant needle is too much fantasy, and it looks silly to try to attack holding a tiny needle.
The needle attack is for the enemies, but are the enemies necessary? Can a platformer bring challenges without causing actual death?
Our current decisions
There are now no enemies in the game. Players don’t have to worry about dying. The challenge comes from a series of buttons that the player has to press.
The swiping attack and double jump is removed. Instead of attack, the player presses buttons that open doors and moving platforms. This simplifies our scope and removes the problem of height when trying to playtest. The player only has two kinds of tethering moves: a quick grappling move that transport the player to the nearest surface that they can hang from, and a platform making move that only activates at a needle in the world, so the line is tight enough for the player to walk upon. To emphasize the theme of reliving memories and to avoid the platformer feel too generic, a memory revealing move was added that changes the world’s environment for a little bit. This goes along with the previous thought of moving the world around, except the changes are instantly visible to the player and the player doesn’t have to keep fomenting up the map menu.
It’s interesting to remove tropes that would be commonly found within games. For a platformer, enemies are typically expected, as the player needs obstacles to overcome. Since our game presented no bodily obstacles, or obstacles caused by creatures, we decided to remove them from the game because they didn’t serve a strong purpose.
All obstacles now are mechanical: Moving platforms, lights, doorways, and other inanimate features. The obstacles now fit closely to the environment and can feel like they are part of the world. If enemies were involved, the world would have felt disjointed, as they really were just a feature overlaid on top of the game.
My plan for each location is to progress it like a series of rises and falls, where each rise is a little more challenging than the last. Puzzles that are difficult each have a moment of respite, where a player is merely walking down a hallway, or are performing a simple platforming action.
Location 1: Hospital
The only movesets that are offered to the player are the pressing of buttons, left and right movement, and jumping. Tethering and memories aren’t introduced until the second location (The Forest). The limitation of movesets is an attempt to not overwhelm the player with moves, especially moves that aren’t that common in most platforming games. The functions of buttons are slowly introduced to the player. Buttons can complete a variety of tasks, mostly because the moveset of the player is so limited, a world function has to fill in the gaps that the player can’t perform. The functions of the buttons are introduced singularly, or on top of button functions that the player is already aware of.
Much like a regular hospital, the walls and floors are clean, glistening white linoleum. It seems mostly empty, as to give a feeling of emptiness and to remove the sense of comfort the player may feel when surrounded by familiar faces. There are only random hints of the game’s melody that plays through a somber piano, violin, and clarinet lick, disjointed as the daughter thinking of all the problems that she has to deal with. The quietness allows the creaks and groans of medical equipment to come out, adding to the eeriness. As the player continues through the level to find her mother’s room, the hospital gets mustier, dirtier, and grimier as the player travels to the basement and through the air vents. The bright light of the end of the level contrasts to the gloom of the final push to get to the mother’s room.
1(Entrance): The player is expected to assume they don’t know about any of the possible moves they can perform, so while this location isn’t technically challenging, for the player that doesn’t know about any of the platforming capabilities, this can be considered a hurdle to overcome.
2(Hallway): Throughout the level, the player will be challenged with falls into the unknown. Falling down can bring feelings of uneasiness, defeat, and anticipation, similar to the emotions the daughter is battling with as she searches for her mother’s hospital room. This hallway portion slightly complicates the technique needed for platforming, but is considered easier because platforming was already introduced in the beginning.
3(Waiting Room/Elevators): This portion of the level introduces the player to various actions the buttons can do. One button turns on the moving platform so it can go up and down while another button opens the door. The separation of flooring forcing more platforming to be done pushes this area to the medium-hard difficulty. The moving platform to enter the area introduces the idea of moving platforms while causing no harm or obstacle to the player, but since the player cannot see the rest of the level until they drop below it, they must take the risk to move along.
4(Hallway): Understanding the various functionalities of the buttons could cause some frustration for players new to platforming, so a brief walk through the hallway is used to remove the feeling of a difficult puzzle being placed one after another.
5(Kitchen): This is where the early stages of the player’s platforming abilities are brought to the test, as they have to maneuver multiple moving platforms and press multiple buttons. The idea of having to press multiple buttons to open one door is introduced to give the environmental elements more complexity and encourage the player to explore the world more. The player is also forced to stretch their expectations of where a platform might be and trust their jumping capabilities, as one of the buttons needed for the door is placed off to the left, out of the obvious path of the other two buttons.
6(Stairs): A longer cool down from the more difficult puzzle introduced in portion 5, but a more sinister atmosphere appears as the player travels into the basement of the Hospital.
7(Basement): A new kind of button is introduced where it can be pressed multiple times to raise and lower a platform. Since the location underneath the moving platform is darkened out, the player may not understand that they can traverse there and find another button in a small hallway. This button opens a door on the other side that gives the player a spool to allow them to save at any location they want. If the player doesn’t explore, they will soon learn the necessity when they see the door and have no way to open it if they haven’t pressed the button.
8(Basement): The drop-off in the basement signifies another pinch point where the player cannot return from, creating more tension and apprehension as they venture into the most challenging part of the level.
9(Upward Vents): The player’s knowledge of platforming and button pressing are put to the final test, as the player must press every available button to either open doors or move specific platforms. The congested portion at the top deals with the order in which the player must press the buttons, and must decide when and when not to press the buttons. A big problem the player may face in the rapidity of the moving platforms to determine when they have to jump. If the player misses a platform in the middle portion of the vents, they could possibly fall all the way back down to the start of the level. While the path to the final door may look random, there is a determined wat to traverse the area. The door in the center suggests that there are multiple buttons that need to be pressed and signifies what lies behind the door as important for the player.
10(Ceiling Vent to Mother’s Room): The player drops down a seemingly endless hole to find herself in the room with her mother, initiating part of the story that introduces the quilt of memories and transitions onto the next level.
The idea of the puzzle difficulty is to be a steady slope that peaks at the end of the level. If this was true with a straight slope of difficulty the player may not feel accomplished until the very end, and may tire from the constant tension of difficult levels that they repeatedly face. By following the above graph, the game has a more ebb and flow to the game, allowing the player to take a breath and clear their mind of the puzzle they previously overcame.
Notice how location 5 is roughly halfway of the difficulty of location 9, but is higher than the portions that came before it. Some would consider this a “mid-level boss,” that challenges the player of what their current knowledge is. Locations 6-8 then introduce new ideas to the player while location 9 combines all the challenging aspects of the previous locations into a single gauntlet of puzzle-platforming.
There are currently 5 planned levels for the game (including the Hospital), with each level exploring the different aspects of platforming and puzzle design. Levels 2-5 will use memories as a puzzle mechanic in unique ways, ranging from revealing/removing platforms to illuminating whole levels with light. While levels 1-2 are linear, the player can traverse levels 3-5 in any order, as no new player functions are introduced, only different ways the levels react to those functions.