Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

23 October, 2016

The Humanity Hypothesis, my new game project
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 10:01 AM

So, what has kept me so busy that I’ve been slow to post? Let me present my brand-new game project called The Humanity Hypothesis.

We’re on Steam Greenlight, so the most important thing is to go vote for it!

Okay, I’ll share a bit more information about it, if you really want.

What is The Humanity Hypothesis?

The most important thing to know is that the game is heavily narrative driven. As such, giving away too much will take away from the experience. Even though I don’t really mind spoilers, I know some people find them to harm their experience. So, I’m going to be judicious about what I reveal for now.

The game is set in the near future. You wake up in a laboratory, and a robotic voice asks you questions. You suspect that these aren’t just idle questions, but something more meaningful. The voice is learning, evaluating, judging…. The fate of humanity may rely on your answers. There’s a mystery here, but it’s not the typical whodunit. Pay attention, evaluate the clues, and perhaps you will understand what is going on before it is too late.

The hypothesis as stated by the voice: Humanity will not survive without intervention. The game deals with themes of violence, war, and how it affects humanity. The voice will ask about the nature of the individual, the role of society, and will pass judgement based on the answers.

The game has a first-person presentation, but it’s more about exploring a space than running through a level to reach a goal. We’ve been influenced by some of the fascinating games called “walking simulators” in recent years. Deep games like Gone Home and particularly the gorgeous Firewatch have inspired us. The strong story and character interactions of Firewatch are particularly relevant. Another related game is The Talos Principle, although our game focuses a lot less on puzzles and traditional “found logs” type of narrative and more on direct interaction. One person on Google+ mentioned that some of the teaser trailer sounded like conversations with the Library Assistant in that game.

But, this isn’t just a clone meant to cash in on popular contemporary game types. We’re trying some unique things with the game as well

One thing I’m working on is playing a role without the game being an “RPG”. You won’t find any swords +1 or healing potions, although the goal is to get players to play a role they define near the beginning of the game. The character could be an unrepentant murderer, a soldier in a war, a refugee displaced by violence, or even just a cypher who has no particular background. Currently there are nine roles in total, which influences the questions and the voice’s reaction to answers given.

The other thing I’m trying to do is intentional design. Dave and I have been putting a lot of individual elements into the game that tie to a central focus. Everything we’ve released so far, even including the design of the logo, gives hints about the nature of the game. We’ve also put some important clues in the trailer we did:

Here’s an easy clue: Notice the words on the screen right before the end? They can be hard to read because of the anti-aliasing, unfortunately, but the phrasing is important to understanding the game. I’m eagerly looking forward to people explaining their theories about the story and what’s really going on.

The process of making a game

My co-conspirator on this game is the astounding Dave Toulouse. Dave wrote about the development of the game over on his own blog. Go read that to get a bit more context, then come back here for my perspective.

We started talking about games we wanted to make after I did the writing and narrative design for the DLC for Dave’s game March of the Living. He was impressed with my ability to tell a compelling story in a game, and so we talked about different types of games we could do. Sadly, time is limited so some cool ideas like “Sim City in a Necropolis” or Dave’s idea “Real cowboys spit before shooting” were put by the wayside. (Although we do have a document full of these ideas, so maybe they’ll see the light of day sometime in the future!) As Dave wrote in his post, we thought about pitching a small publisher with our idea, but eventually we decided to shoulder the risk ourselves and try to develop the game independent of outside investment.

The Humanity Hypothesis started as an idea for an updated version of the classic Dreamcast game Seaman. The idea was to take a nascent AI instead of a creature to ease development; we felt it would be easier to make a believable robot than creature. Well, given that I did some work about believable AI in the recent past, we started exploring that in more depth.

But, a fully interactive bot seemed like a tall order for just two developers with a limited schedule and budget. We eventually decided that dialog trees would be a bit better to present the story we wanted to tell through the game. Of course, while dialogue trees are easier to develop, they have their own challenges to make them feel natural and to present a story that people don’t want to just skip through. We looked at visual novels and how they use choices and interface to tell an interesting story.

As I wrote above, one of the major changes is letting the player choose a role to play rather than having the role heavily defined by the game. In Firewatch, you’re playing the same guy every time, even though you do get to make a few small choices at the beginning of the game. Our decision means a lot more work for writing, which means you do a lot of work people won’t see in a single play-through. So, we’re looking at ways to encourage replayability. Maybe a single playthrough might only last 2 hours or so, but you’re encouraged to play through multiple times to get the full story. Picking a different character identity and different answers will mean different conversations and different endings. Each playthrough should provide a different perspective, giving more information about the overall story.

Okay, what now?

Here’s the part where you can help. Maybe you’re excited about the game. Or maybe you just want to help a cool guy out. What can you do?

Go to our Steam Greenlight page for The Humanity Hypothesis and vote for the game. Follow the game, favorite the game, post a comment praising the game if you can. This is important to us. Being approved sooner rather than later will help us tremendously.

And spread the word. Go follow us on Twitter @HumanHypothesis and at The Humanity Hypothesis page on Google+. You’ll soon see a bit more than the typical screenshots and empty marketing hype you see on other marketing accounts. Retweet and share what we post. Help us find the people who will love the game, help us get more people excited. Help make this game a success so that Dave and I can make the other games we want to make.

As always, thank you guys so much for your support. Hopefully this new game excites you as much as it excites us. At the very least, I hope you think it’s exciting we’re doing cool new thing.

I have another post in the work where I’ll go into a bit more detail about the game’s development, and were we want to take the game. Keep an eye out for the next post soon! For now, ask whatever questions you want in the comments, and I’ll reply as I can.


  1. Oh wow, this looks really neat! It’s always fascinating to read about the behind-the-scenes development of a game (especially story for me). I’m a very story-oriented gamer, and always enjoy deep “walking simulators” that make me question and think.

    I’ve hopped over and gave you a Greenlight vote, followed on Twitter and retweeted. Let me know if I can help any other way!

    Best of luck with this project! I hope it’s greenlit because I’d love to play it. :)

    Comment by Aywren — 23 October, 2016 @ 10:52 AM

  2. Looking forward to it =) Will go to Steam and do the dance, legitimately excited =)

    Comment by Isey — 24 October, 2016 @ 8:22 AM

  3. Voting done!

    Comment by Ysharros — 24 October, 2016 @ 5:25 PM

  4. Based on what I see here, there is no way I’m going to support this. What it *looks* like from here is a simplified morality play that is going to, yet again, offer ridiculous dichotomies (love vs. destruction? really?). People whose world view this affirms are going to like it,others won’t.

    Comment by John Dougan — 24 October, 2016 @ 9:52 PM

  5. Reading this, I formed a question.

    That question was about replayability.

    You answered it. :)

    So now I don’t have a question, but I do have a comment, which is that I’m extremely happy to read that there’s “intentional design” happening here. The punchiest games I’ve ever played were the ones whose developers made the time to let every aspect of the game inspire every other aspect, all the pieces supporting and resonating with each other, until the whole thing feels like it could never have existed in any other form, and it’s instantly distinguishable from everything else.

    Looking forward to hearing more!

    Comment by Bart Stewart — 25 October, 2016 @ 4:18 PM

  6. I like the concept. It looks very interesting. And really? My answers determine the fate of humanity? That sounds fun! I voted yes, looking forward to buying this game.

    Comment by Elliot — 25 October, 2016 @ 4:58 PM

  7. I posted the next part:

    I would have posted it sooner, but my host blocked my home IP because of “suspicious behavior”! So, I couldn’t access my site.

    John Dougan wrote:
    People whose world view this affirms are going to like it,others won’t.

    Thanks for the feedback. I think you’re making a poor assumption here, but to be fair we haven’t given a lot of detail about the game.

    This isn’t a game with a linear story. This isn’t “guess the right answer to progress the story”, either. The intent of the game is to be a philosophical discussion about violence, war, and culture set in the near future.

    As I said in the post, the goal is to have different roles you can adopt. The voice will have it’s own agenda (which is actually going to be randomized every time you play). Your responses influence the voice, and there are currently 5 different endings you can achieve. This isn’t a morality lecture in barely interactive format. At least, that’s not the intention.

    I suspect this game will actually be a bit of a Rorschach test for players. People will likely see what they want to see in it. Brave souls will explore the options and see a lot of different perspectives.

    But, I appreciate you pointing this out. Gives us an idea of what we need to focus on to give potential players a better idea of what the game is about.

    Comment by Psychochild — 28 October, 2016 @ 2:22 PM

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