With the development team wrestling through the final days of Toki Tori 2 development, here's a blog post about the game's writing. Or really the fact that there's no writing at all!
I shouldn’t be writing this, of course. Instead, I ought to design a puzzle level that forces you to discover for yourself what I want to tell. That would be more appropriate for a puzzle adventure game that has ‘no text’ as one of its design fundamentals.
I’m told that it all started as a clever way to cut the development budget (which is game dev jingo for both time and money). If your game has thousands of words in it, and you want to reach a broad international audience, you have to translate everything into at least a dozen languages. It’s easy to see that you might prefer spending the necessary budget on gameplay polish!
So someone said: what if we just skip the writing? If we don’t have any words, we don’t have to translate them either. Thinking about this idea, the team at Two Tribes got philosophical about text, especially tutorials.
As developers, they’d noticed that a lot of players don’t pay attention to text anyway. The original Toki Tori’s Bubble Barrage level, that introduced the Bubble Suit item, went through many iterations on different platforms. Whatever the developers tried, people still got stuck. In the most recent version, the tutorial states clearly what you had to do. However, Two Tribes still gets messages from frustrated players.
As gamers, the team had no problem ditching the tutorials either. They remembered many games with endless unskippable screens of text, that sometimes spoil the joy of discovering how things work by yourself… Boring!
By this point, a smart development trick had turned into a full-blown design challenge. Could the team create a game that would just speak for itself, by the way the levels were designed? (Jumping forward for a minute, it took a lot of effort to make the game as self-explanatory as necessary, but I think the team nailed it!)
Around this time, I was brought in to create a story without a story. Two Tribes wanted to have a better ‘reason’ behind Toki Tori 2, as well as some exciting (and perhaps quirkily funny) events during the game. But they wanted to convey all of it without dialogs, pop-ups, voice-overs or anything like that.
Writing without words: that was a fun challenge for me, too. We kicked ideas around for a while, and ultimately came up with a couple of interactive cut scenes that explain what’s wrong with the island, and why. Well, not everyone may notice everything. But it’s all there!
The bad news is that we had to make a small compromise on the no-text policy: the Wii U eShop version of the game comes with a Nintendo-imposed e-manual, that was translated into seven languages, plus two local dialects (Brazilian Portuguese and Canadian French). The good news? It’s extremely short!