Why "Tea For God"?


I've been playing around with a concept of impossible spaces since 1998. I was trying to create a rendering system based on scan lines. Mostly to solve the issue of sorting surfaces to display (software z-buffers were a bad idea, I was aware of BSP but without Internet access, I had not too many sources to read about it). The idea was simple, for each horizontal line you were gathering surfaces to display, intersected them and you knew which surface to display and when. I figured out that you can do holes in walls this way. And to avoid having thin walls, I thought that you could place a very short corridor where the hole was. This lead to having longer corridors that were sticking out of the walls. Overlapping spaces. I had no idea what could be done with it. It was just a gimmick that was fun to imagine and see.

In 2005 I had an idea to use portals to create a space that would allow going beyond the normal 3D world. I remember one discussion I had about this idea. I was told that there were some researches done that agreed that people get lost in spaces that do not resemble a normal world. That they feel discomfort etc. I didn't pursue the idea much and focus on creating a procedural animation system. The simplest thing to do was a spider. After I had a spider walking on a flat surface, I added hills. After that, I thought that it could be fun to see how it moved through a world that years later started to be called "non-euclidean". I created a few hand-crafted rooms joined together. The proof of concept was called Vertigo.

Then I thought that with such use of portals I could just create rooms randomly and created a system to create an endless world composed of just rooms and twisted corridors. I remember that I could not settle on a story much but some other things were well defined. You were a spider-like being that could gather DNA from killed enemies to modify itself. Every time you were killed you got a few possible eggs that you could hatch. You were then a small spider that was mean to grow (you also were supposed to grow weapons). There was no such thing as "game over". You could just continue exploring the world. There was meant to be no written word, just icons. I wanted to have something similar to Captain Blood's talk system. Trading. Some procedural missions.

I dropped the idea because everyone I spoke to, was saying that it was too weird. I started to do different stuff. After a few prototypes, I came up with an idea for a game called Solveation. Today, it could be described as Antichamber meets Mirror's Edge. Again with procedural levels (although with a selection every week for weekly challenges). I had a pretty clear vision of art direction, the lore, sort of story. And again it was too weird to people. And when I got into gamedev, I stopped working on my games.

After a few years, in 2013 I wanted to get back to creating my stuff. I thought about doing something smaller, a remake of one of my favourite games. Dragontorc. I was experimenting with procedural generation. For starters, I had a hand-crafted world layout but the rooms themselves were procedurally generated.

And once again I dropped it. There seemed to be no market for such a game and I haven't even thought about licensing.

And then came VR. I went back to 3D and impossible spaces (still didn't know the name, although it was started to being used in 2012 as far as I remember). I wanted to create a simple story-driven walking simulator. Seating experience. It was a mix of zen philosophy and Inception. Koan was the name. After a short while, I realised that although I like the idea, the lack of gameplay makes it too unattractive to me. And to make it really good, I'd had to invest a lot into proper assets etc. Again I dropped it.

One thing to mention here is that from each project I was taking lots of experience and actual code (even if at some point I switched from C++ to vala and then back). My engine is in a straight line from this project. But the bits come from both Vertigo and Dragontorc. There is a huge procedural generation system I call "piece combiner" that was just taken from Dragontorc. Then it was used only for room generation. Rooms were created with 2D graphics to look a little bit 3D. Although I generate rooms differently now, the same system is used for world/level generation, how rooms connect etc.

Koan was not much fun. Each scene would require lots of work and would be short. And after seeing it once, you would not have reasons to get back to it. I started to think about something fast-paced gameplay based. And didn't want to have any violence. The initial idea was to have a bunch of kids that break into a facility that disassemblies used worlds and they steal whatever they can to sell it later and stay alive. I used to watch some bad tv back then. And the game idea soon got mixed with Storage Wars and the result was Subspace Scavengers.

The idea was to have lots of procedurally generated levels with some levels partially hand-crafted and scripted (above is an example, the overall layout is the same but every section looks different every time you play). At a time I was carried too much by stuff that was not fun and now I think that was not needed at all. I wanted to create a whole living world instead of creating a system that would pretend that there is a whole living world. This means - instead of pretending that there are people working, finding subspaces, selling them, buying, scavenging, I was working on a system that had actual people, sleeping, waking up, eating breakfast, going to work, working, doing some after-work stuff and so on. And it took way too much time. The game was not VR only. But in VR you were seating in a cockpit of a crawler. At that time I was thinking about problems with locomotion in VR. And that's when I came up with what you can experience in Tea For God. But I did not pursue it. Someone else did that (expect of researchers that did that much earlier). The year was 2016 and Triangular Pixels created Unseen Diplomacy. Funny thing is that I learned that only because I know Katie Goode. And because she and John did that already, for a few months I thought that it's not worth doing (it was still better then when I was down for days when Spore was announced and I was working on a game about evolution, in the end, Spore was more about creationism than evolution and I moved on to other projects). When I bought Vive I changed my mind. I remember that moment. I unpacked Vive, tried it on and then I went to walk my dogs. During that walk, late at night, I thought that I may change Subspace Scavengers a bit. Instead of sitting in a crawler, you could be walking through subspaces on your own feet.

And then I remembered the most common thing that people were asking about when I showcased Subspace Scavengers "will you be able to shoot?". I thought "oh well, the most obvious gameplay mechanic, shooting, zero-one, either you kill something or not, well... let's do this".

I went through my list of ideas I had (I stopped writing them down as I already have too many and I don't want to get too distracted from Tea For God). One of them was about an emperor who has been imprisoned by his enemies in an impossible space complex. It was later changed to "his own people did that because he kept on singing and could sing well" and back to enemies. The idea was first to get to the centre of the complex and bring the emperor out. And to keep the game more open was changed into "bring something to the emperor" and then bring something else. You were a soldier who loved the emperor and was ready to sacrifice his life to bring something not that very important. For example, tea. Then milk. Cookies. And so on.

At some point, the idea drifted to Shadowfire (and Enigma Force) prequel. In which you break into general Zoff's mind (that is kept in a separate, highly guarded place, but close to the general himself) to investigate something and in the end to learn about his treason (which leads to events in Shadowfire).

Back then I was just working on various systems and generators. After a few days, I had first flying enemies and rooms that were anchored in the play area. After a month I had the elevator bridge prototype. Then came corridors. Then AI (Subspace Scavengers was not meant to have a proper NPCs, just some fake ones) and so on.

I was developing the lore and the story. Well, mostly the lore to know what kind of stuff I want to have, which topics do I want to raise, etc.
Some of the stuff has changed. I am no longer making a game with strict levels, I want it to be more open world. I wanted to have well defined puzzles for each level. I switched to more gameplay mechanics based. And so on.

And... you won't learn why the game is called "Tea For God" although the emperor thing and prison remained. They were modified a bit, but they are still there. And lots of other stuff.

What's important is the fact that I want everything to have its reason. Maybe not everything will be explained directly as not everything has to, but just internally I want everything to make sense. This means that impossible spaces are not just a concept to allow walking endlessly. It is related to the lore and the story. The reason you see robotic hands. Why you will be dying a lot (or not, if you choose different difficulty). And other stuff.

By the way, currently, there are just two play modes. Experience and challenge. In "experience" the game is just walking simulator in which you can shoot. In "challenge" you have bits of gameplay core loop available (reactor!), although they do not make much sense in a greater picture. As there is no greater picture in the game right now.

I want to make it clear: Tea For God is going to have much more gameplay stuff in it. I want it to be a roguelite. Dying a lot, well dying being part of the experience, experimenting with builds, trying stuff, learning, making decisions (I really want to have lots of decisions that affect the current run, so you have to keep thinking and choosing, and some that are more longterm). But at the same time I really want to make it possible to play the game the way you want. You don't want to die? Sure. No reactor. Alright. Infinite ammo. Ok. And so on. You could trim everything to have just a walking simulator. A hallway simulator. Because why not? And at the same time, if you do not feel challenged too much, there will be modifiers that alter the gameplay. I am not talking just about making enemies more numerous or tougher. Some of the modes will be just to challenge a bit more. For example, start with almost no health and no weapon. Or have all energy balls explode after a few seconds. Etc. And I do want to have speed runs. This of course means that there are going to be a certain, let's call them "routes". The seed will be set. It won't be open world. The play area will be strict. All options too. It will be possible to create/choose route and to have also some extra rules (allow going through walls or not, etc).

But that will come feature after feature. Just remember that the game will be developed for a while and things will be coming in. And if you miss something, tell ma about it. Maybe it is in plans or maybe it was dropped for a reason or maybe I haven't though about that. I already dropped some stuff because it was no fun. Two years ago the game did not have any physical interaction, but it had mini games that were kind of fun when you learned them. It was changed because people didn't find these mini games fun, especially when they were mandatory (now I consider readding them but more as locks that will be on chests/doors containing some goods inside). And they were missing ability to touch things. Picking up robots came naturally. Buttons on them too (because buttons just felt good to be pushed and I wanted to have more of them).

Ok, that's it for now. Thank you all for being here. I get back fixing bugs (to keep them low) and after that I will start to add more features.

Get Tea For God

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I previously asked you how you achieved these portals in your game. Now I see you've been working on non-euclidean games for the past 20 years. Damnit. Crushed my dreams! =) This was a very interesting read!

It's not like that ;) the idea is quite simple and it doesn't require years of experience. It's just that I really liked it and I kept getting to back time after time. And only with VR it started to make more sense. Previously it was that weird thing that was just messing with your head, but with VR the feeling of freedom, ease of movement makes you not think about how twisted the map is.

Fun fact: I used to play Quake and Quake 2 a lot. I had mental maps of many levels and when I opened each map in the map editor, they looked completely different to what I imagined them. In my mind I know what rooms are, what corridors connect them, what is the shortest route but I had no idea how rooms are placed in relation to each other. And sometimes it turned out that they were just wall to wall, but as you couldn't see one room from the other, it really didn't feel so.

Have to ever thought of creating a game with impossible spaces without a procedurally generated environment?  Procedurally generated maps limits you to the roguelike genre only.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good roguelike game, and Tea for God is amazing, in both the colloquial and literal sense of the word.  But I would love to see an adventure game with a predesigned map layout.  Procedural generation is great for replayability, but sort of limits the storytelling and ability to design puzzles.  Those are my two favorite aspects of games, and I’d die to see them paired with the ability to walk without artificial locomotion in VR.

No. It was one of the main ideas behind Tea For God. Adjust to the play space. Without any bits of procedural generation I would either have to create lots of variants or stick to a certain size. But there is one important thing. The way I have created room and region generators it is in general possible to have pieces done in a very traditional way and then just connected to each other with procedural bits. But then, all places that there are in Tea For God, are generated procedurally to use most of the area (ideally, but in fact sometimes it is limited to specific sizes or some other limitations kick in, on purpose).

Procedural generation (of both environment and NPCs) allows me to experiment with fidelity of meshes, making it easier to have meshes with less triangles and details for Quest and more detailed on PC. There is still at least few things that are required to help with performance on Quest and they will be basing on procedural generation (LOD system is not there at all).

Getting back to the linear vs procedural. In case of Tea For God, it heavily depends on procedurally generated levels and replayability as it is a roguelite for reasons I will mention in a minute. But in general, it is possible to have just certain rooms, parts of the level being created by hand and to connect them with procedural bits of level. Also, you can have a linear adventure game that has bits between key scenes generated procedurally. To be honest, I wanted to make a shooter a long time ago in which you have a very linear story, a bunch of scenes/sequences that are done by hand, but between them you have procedurally generated bits. Why? Imagine that you start a game and you tell how long you wish it would take to finish it. You have just 2 hours? Ok. You have 10 hours to spare? Ok. You have more? No problem. You will be experiencing the same story (although for much longer games there should be some additional scenes added) but in case of 2h game it will be densely packed with scenes and action sequences will be extremely short, while 10h version would have much more shooting, tactics, upgrading stuff etc. But the story would be the same.

And now for the reasons Tea For God is a roguelite. I like roguelites. I like both roguelikes and roguelites. They are my favourite kind of games. (and I really like simulators too BTW). Why? Because in most cases I can predict how long it will take to have a single run. It shouldn't be more than 20 minutes or 30 or one hour. And I know that most likely I will die but then again, I will be able to play it again and again. And learn from my failures. That's one reason.

Second is that I do not enjoy stories that much. I even started to "ignore" stories in movies and books. Sometimes the characters are much more interesting. Sometimes it is the world. Generally speaking, I prefer having rich lore to a story. Story may bring questions, give answers (or not). Most I can get from a story is emotions and/or some interesting questions to think about. Which is still enjoyable of course. But a world/lore is something that gets my imagination working. That stays with me for longer. Many times I stop being interested in a story. With movies at least the story moves much quicker than in games. In games most of the times you have bunch of action sequences with bits of story and then cutscenes. Sometimes I am disappointed that the action sequences stop me from getting into the story and they appear as a chore to do, rather than a game to play. Other times I have so much fun doing stuff, that when a cutscene comes, I want to skip it. And world/lore... It sinks slowly into you. You may learn stuff in a game or you can read about it on the Internet. But you don't have to be focused on it. It is just always there.

Next reason. I am an explorer. I don't enjoy replaying the same levels (although I do enjoy learning tracks for racing games). I know that people love to master levels, but not me. I'd rather explore new stuff. It might be similar, but if it is not the same as it was, it is good enough. I love that feeling of something new, the excitement you get when you don't know what is out there but you can go there and see it. Of course it may happen in a linear game too. But just once. And if I'd enjoy it, I won't get that when replaying. And yes, in roguelites, it will wear off after time, but still it will last for much longer.

Yet, I have things to say, there is a story in Tea For God (not just world/lore, but actual story). But what I would like to do, to have in the game, is an ability, to tell how do you want to play the game. Maybe you just want the story. Told in a most linear manner. It will be possible. You will be taken right from the start to the end. With infinite health and ammo, you will be able to focus solely on the story. Or you could change all options to get a roguelite. Story being slowly developed, getting killed one time after another, trying different builds, different strategies, etc. The story will be the same. But you will get more occasions to learn about the lore.

its crazy seeing as you were one of the first people to make a game with impossible geometry, great job! I also wonder how open world tea for god would work. maybe multiple ends to a level or a level with infinitely splitting pathways that never ends?

Unseen Diplomacy was the first game ;) And they (Triangular Pixels) are working on Unseen Diplomacy 2. Follow them on twitter or join discord.

Tea For God is going to be sort of open world. Sort of because it won't be truly open world. Where you can just wander endlessly. Lots of stuff here is experimental and I don't want to go to crazy with it. This is also a reason why it won't have realistic graphics, everything is procedurally generated, it has to be done quickly, etc.  I decided to not go into texturing, just getting meshes geometry is enough for now. But getting back to open-worldness. There will be a map of the world. I plan to allow choosing where do you want to go next.  But every such trip will start and end at a station where you can buy/sell stuff etc. Lore will explain more about why it looks this way, why there are impossible spaces, etc. Most likely getting back on the same path you will get the same level (repopulated, at least partially). So it won't be just a tree/graph as in other roguelites. And for sure it won't be a linear thing.

My previous comment elaborates on my thoughts, but in my opinion, a certain amount of linearity in a game isn’t always a bad thing.  It can make certain aspects of a game stronger. 

There will be certain things that will be linear. At least some of the bits will be. Te openning, particular scenes. The story itself most likely will be linear. I'll write more on your previous comment.

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Awesome work so far! Keep it up

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Thank you for the interesting insights. Before I discovered Tea For God I had my own thoughts about the possiblity to use non euclidian geometry to enable natural walking in endless virtual worlds on a small playing space. Very glad about your App ... it's an incredibly amazing experience, especially when playing in larger rooms. And I love the C64 retro style GUI. Keep on developing ... it's really great stuff.

The best thing is that the idea itself is quite simple but it actually is just a start. You can do much more with it than just linear corridors. Although I want to keep it not too crazy as some ideas I have might induce motion sickness way too much.

I think that I started with ZX font and made it wider. I will be probably changing it a bit. GUI is now "ok enough". Not great but does what it should. Still how the stuff is arranged there etc is more important.

The main menu is temporary as hell. It's the second version, the first one was much worse ;)

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btw motion sickness. Motion sickness has never been a problem for me, but after playing Tea For God, i feel a little bit muddleheaded, like there is something in my brain slightly puzzled. I think its a similar effect where the movement in vr doesn't fulfill the expectations of my brain about geometry. Tea Of God is really an interesting experience.

There are certain places, where motion sickness may kick in. Elevators, not to mention rotating elevators. I added an option to make them move slower but I also want to include an option to disable rotating elevators at all.

Another issue is that you are still walking in circles and just taking lots of turns may be too much for some people. My wife has this. Although my wife has just some nasty intolerance for VR in general. I am not even mentioning the first Oculus, but she felt not comfortable with Vive with static scenes. Quest is the first time she feels ok in VR. She enjoys Tea For God but after ten minutes she needs to take a break. I don't have yet an idea what can be done with it (talking strictly about the game).