© mairispaceship. All rights reserved.
When your grandmother falls ill, you return to Hazelwood and unwittingly take over as the new Post Master at the small, dusty post office on the town square. The only problem, Hazelwood has no addresses...This cozy puzzle game is set in a beautiful hand drawn world, with a humorous heart-warming narrative. Welcome to Hazelwood.
What are we working on?
NOVEMBER 2023 | Short month, but a long update
A very visual month! From graphic design, to the UI, to a new logo. There's some exciting new animations, and a Christmas treat. Here's everything that happened in November.
SEPTEMBER 2023 | Dear Friend...
Brand new beginnings, the Astra Fellowship, to creating the very first prototype of what would later become Hazelwood Post. Here's everything that happened in September.
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DECEMBER 2023Tiktok-Sounding Voice
...and with that, the 2023 season comes to an end...As I write this, I'm in that confused period between Christmas and New Years. I am sleepy, full of cheese, and haven't touched my laptop in about a week. So much for "I'm going to get so much work on Hazelwood Post done this month!"...But hey, if you can't take a little break for the end of the year, when can you? This year was low key exhausting as a Game Designer, as you can see from my personal end of year round-up.But without further ado, here's everything we got up to in December:Publishing a Steam PagePerhaps most excitingly, the Steam page for Tales from Hazelwood Post went live this month! It's a little bare bones so far, but I'm hoping to work on a trailer soon.
With a Steam page to run, comes new challenges though. I did a lot of research on marketing, and whilst I haven't quite cracked the algorithm yet, I have been experimenting a lot with tags, search terms, and capsule images.I'm a spreadsheet kinda gal, so even though it's early days I'm trying to track everything I possibly can and see if anything sticks.
...That also means changing out the capsules regularly. I currently have 5 variations I'm cycling through, but in the New Year I'll spend some serious time on them.
Character ArtAnother fun thing I spent some time focusing on this month is character art! I'd love to introduce you to Emmeline, the main character's grandma. She's the old Postmaster and her health is failing, but despite that she's stubborn, strong, and incredibly caring.
The MapI also decided to finally tackle something in the game that was really, really bugging me: The map.So, as a Game Designer I've been using Google Sheets to design and plan the residents of the map. Totally valid, and totally useful. But every time I opened up the game and saw the spreadsheet just sitting in there as game art, I was like "ugh".Also, the rigidity of the grid system was beginning to get, well... Too rigid.
Functional, but an eyesore.So I started illustrating my own map to get a feel for the environment, the placement of the houses, and what style I wanted to go for. Then I stumbled across Watabou's free map generators, and immediately fell in love with them. That village generator is chef's kiss.So, after playing around with it for what felt like a whole day, I came up with this.
Of course it wasn't perfect - and needed a bunch of details, so I went into Clip Studio and started tweaking it and editing to make it the perfect Hazelwood. Little things like changing the positioning of houses and adding bridges and a railway. For the time being, I've settled on this:
It's important for me to mention here that this is not the final map. I still very much intend on re-illustrating it either myself, or by hiring a professional illustrator. I believe very strongly in making a game created thoughtfully, with purpose and 100% by human hands. That means no AI, and nothing 'automatically generated'. But, as a Game Designer, this tool really helped me critically analyse examine exactly what I need the map to be and do. So for the time being, this is the base layout from which I'm iterating and designing puzzles upon.
Gameplay UpdatesIn terms of the Gameplay, this month had a few different focuses. This was the first month I brought a professional Godot developer onto the team, the lovely Taylor Anderson. They spent the month improving the base coding and adding a few important features which were outstanding on the to-do pile. Some of these features include:• Adding a more robust dialogue system. More specifically, we're using Dialogic.
• Adding a practical 'hover' functionality to the magnifying glass.What's that about the magnifying glass? Well...
Basically what this does is it allows for players to drag the magnifying glass across the text and reveal unseen text, or special clue text. This means players are able to skim read letters and straight into the puzzle solving, if they wish to.Last But Not Least... TwineSince Taylor was deep in the coding, I decided to stay out of their way for the most part, and try something a little new. My mentor on the Astra Games Fellowship, the fantastic Scott Anderson suggested I work on some of the gameplay elements in a platform I'm more comfortable with. For me, that was Twine.I took the opportunity to use Twine to create the introduction sequence of Tales from Hazelwood Post. Essentially, a living storyboard. It looks a little something like this:⭐ Player awakes to their alarm clock
⭐ Player switches alarm clock off, opens curtains to reveal they are living in a smoggy city
⭐ Player checks their post and discovers a stack of bills and spam
⭐ Player clicks to discard all the junk mail, and discovers a handwritten letter at the bottom
⭐ The handwritten letter is from the player's parents
⭐ The letter includes a train ticket to Hazelwood
⭐ The player travels to Hazelwood
⭐ Player meets their grandma, who is sick but trying not to show it
⭐ Player is then given the keys to the Post Office
⭐ Player goes to post their own letter, which they write themselves
⭐ Player meets Penny, who is surprised by the lights on and comes to post a letter
⭐ Penny shows the player the basics under the guise of getting her own letter posted
⭐ The player then retires to bed, and the first day beginsIn this way, the player is introduced thematically to the contrast between the 'big city' and 'small town' life, the central importance of letters (especially those handwritten with care), two of the main characters (Emmeline and Penny), and the core central mechanic (delivering letters, writing letters, dialogue).Okay wow, that was a lot of words. Sorry, I got carried away. Let's get back to the good stuff... The visuals!Since Twine was just my little personal experiment, I illustrated everything I needed to as I went along. Here are some of my favourite little backgrounds and images from the Twine storyboard.
The main character's morning alarm clock. I might change this to be 5:59 - 6:00 am, I haven't decided. Perhaps I'll do a poll to figure out what time is suitably "urgh".
The city background. It didn't turn out very 'morning-y', or at least it's so rainy and smoggy the sun is practically blotted out of the sky.
Your train ticket. Inspired by a train ticket I have sitting on my desk in front of me. In this house we stan the UK railway service.
The weather on arrival at Hazelwood. So not technically a new drawing, I went in and tweaked an old one to provide a new background.That's all for nowSo, that's all for now! For a month where I felt like I didn't achieve much, this sure turned out to be a long dev blog post.I normally like to end these with a positive message about how excited I am for the next month, but right now I'm feeling very low energy (I blame all the cheese and festive cheer), so the only thing I feel excited about is closing my laptop and melting back into the sofa. Don't get me wrong, I am excited. Excited for all the exciting things a new year brings. But first, I return to my rest. I'll see you all in January :)
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NOVEMBER 2023And just like that, December is upon us. No but seriously, did anyone else feel like this November was the shortest month ever?But you know what doesn't feel short? This update. It's time to look back on everything we accomplished on Tales from Hazelwood Post this month. And what an exciting one it's been too!Animating The EnvironmentThe very first thing I did at the start of November was learn how to animate in Godot. Why? I had just received the finished illustrations of the environments, and I really wanted to bring them to life.
The animations are fairly subtle, but if you look closely you'll notice the following details:• Dust particles drifting gently around inside the Post Office
• Rain, Wind, Snow, or Leaves gently floating to the ground
And something not quite captured by any of these gifs since they move wayyy too slowly to really notice:• Clouds lazily drifting along in the sky
Small details, but I really think they make the scene even more magical!It's a long way off, but I cannot wait to get sound effects in this game. Imagine the sound of the rain hitting the glass panes, or the distant twittering of birds. Ahh, a girl can dream :)And speaking of animations...The game currently just 'fades to black' every time you open your Post Office in the morning, and close it at the end of each day. It didn't feel right - so I tried my hand at rotoscoping a little sign swinging open and closed!For anyone who doesn't know what rotoscoping is, it's when you record a video then trace over every frame to create an animated version. I covered the process in this Tiktok video, and here's the finished result:
Is it perfect?Gosh no. In fact it looks super janky in the game... But hey, I'm proud of myself that I gave it a go and learned something new along the way. For now... Back to fade to black!UI, Visuals, and Shiny New ButtonsThe other thing I spent a lot of time focusing on this month was a cohesive UI and 'button style' across the game. Using the colour scheme from the door, I came up with a style I can use across all sorts of buttons, windows, pop-ups and the like.
Separate from the buttons and windows... Are the letters themselves. Each letter in the game will have it's own unique style, and I wanted to share some of those below. From left to right - stacked, flat, and open.
Designing The LogoDid I save the best part of the update to near-last? YOU BET I DID.Finalising the game's logo is a big deal for me because a lot of folks have been asking for a Steam page so they can wishlist the game. In fact, your support has been overwhelmingly wonderful, so I've been making getting a page live my priority.Buuuutttt.... I can't make a Steam page until I finalise some of those core graphics, such as the 'capsule' image, 'banner' image and so on. Which is where the logo comes in!I've been working with a Ukranian graphic designer called Serhii Hirylovych (who is also the designer for one of my favourite game logos - Station to Station seriously it's soooo pretty). We've been back and forth a couple of weeks going over a few designs.From these options:
Although the 'mail bag' and the one with the little bird perched on top of the S were most popular on Tiktok, I decided on the logo in the lower left, because it felt truest to the environment of the game.The others erred on the side of 'too cozy'. Don't get me wrong, it is a cozy game, I just wanted something that leaned more on the bureaucracy and organisational side of the postal service with a post box, than the 'postal worker on the ground with a bag delivering letters'. If that makes sense. Perhaps yes, perhaps not.But, we moved forward with that design, and the next round of changes was:
Since italic font doesn't show up super well in a Steam capsule, we tried out a few font options, and from this round number 3 was the winner.Last but not least,
Eeek! SO CUTE. Gosh, can I just have all four logos? Haha. So from here, we picked again, the bottom left. Which brings me to the ✨ the finished logo ✨
As I type this, I'm making those graphics for Steam, and after pushing it through Steam's review process I hope to have a page live soon. Hopefully before the next update.
Advent Calendar PuzzlesLast but absolutely not least, I did a marketing thing! That's right, a couple of months ago one of my wonderful friends, Matt Lui, from the escape room world reached out and asked if I'd like to submit a puzzle for his annual puzzle advent calendar hosted on the Perplexing Doodles and Escape Room Memes Facebook page.I decided to use the space to make a puzzle set in, and about Tales from Hazelwood Post. I illustrated it myself, so it's closer in style to the prototype demo than the artwork you see here on this website, but the puzzle is hopefully still fun to play.
At the risk of this update becoming an unwieldy wall of text, I'm going to pause there. Honestly, I'm so excited about Tales from Hazelwood Post I could probably keep talking about it for another 50,000 words, but I'll save it for next month when I have something even more exciting to share.Until then, I hope you have a wonderful December. Oh, and if you have a regular postal worker, and if you feel comfortable, try tell them how much you appreciate them! Gosh only knows how much pressure the holidays put on our postal services ❤️
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OCTOBER 2023Well, the clocks have changed and the nights are suddenly getting colder and colder... What the heck, when did that happen?! Oh well, I suppose this is my perfect excuse to stay in and work on Tales from Hazelwood Post. But it does mean I have Halloween on the mind. Pumpkin, anyone?This month development "really" began in this little post office. Here's everything that has happened:Setting the SceneUI isn't one of my core skills, but I knew the central environment for this game, the post office, needed to be:• A cosy, warm and inviting place
• A low-stress environment, with everything easy to hand
• Contain a lot of information - the map, the address book, the letters
• Reflect the passing of time, both seasonally and dailyI enlisted the help of friend, and fellow Astra Grant recipient Murray Somerwolff for his expertise and a second opinion on how to make this and here's what we came up with 👇
Building HazelwoodThe next thing to do was to put the world's most rudimentary version of this into Godot......Yes, Godot! * gasp *
The choice has been made, and I'm excited by it!To help with the programming, I enlisted my collaborator on the prototype, and younger brother Silas (known as Silabear online). We're both new to Godot, but together the task of "learning absolutely everything" doesn't seem too great.Towards the latter half of October, Silas came up from London to Edinburgh to stay with me and we spent an intense week together coding the game. Featuring chaotic Github commits such as:
Our goal over the week was to get Tales from Hazelwood Post working in it's most basic form, so we could keep iterating on top of it.
Bringing Hazelwood to LifeOnce this was done, I went ahead and commissioned some background art for the game from the fantastic Stevie Choo.At this point, the UI changed a little. I condensed the whole playing area back down into the one screen, and finalised exactly what tools needed to be visible on the screen at any given time. Once Stevie had all the details, now it was time to bring the whole scene to life!Here are some of the stages we went through:
Oh hey! That last image looks a little familiar... Its this page's current background!But how does Tales from Hazelwood Work?I've spent all this time talking about the visual and coding developments we made in October... What of the actual game itself? Well, in October we went through two different iterations of the game, which changed some pretty key details about the game. I categorise them as:Version One A version of the game where you receive letters each day and can choose to deliver them, not deliver them, and get them wrong. The following day you have a chance to try again.Version Two A version of the game where you cannot 'finish' a day until each letter has been delivered correctly, allowing us to finetune exactly what each day looks like and what happens on each day.Both these versions exist in some format in spreadsheets, game design documents, and indeed in the coding. But at some point Version One seemed like it was an unruly beast. Since this puzzle relies on the player having knowledge (and not having knowledge) at different parts in the game, how could I guarantee (for example) the player would know where "Winston Holloway" lives, if I've allowed them to not deliver his letter on days 1 - 4?It was a conundrum only Version Two seemed to solve.So, for now at least, each day in Tales From Hazelwood Post is 'fixed' in time with a specific requirement to complete it. In this way I can control how, and how quickly a narrative unfolds. For this, I'm finding spreadsheets easy to use. See below.
The Clock AppNo, this isn't a cool thing in the game... I'm talking about Tiktok.Last but not least, this month I decided to try out ✨ marketing ✨, and by that I mean posting Tiktoks about the game (and other general puzzle things) daily.The sort of Tiktoks I'll be posting are faster, short-form snippets of pretty much everything I'm typing out here. But if you're a more visual person, you might want to follow and keep up with updates in real time.
@mairispaceship shout out to the real hero of my cozy puzzle game, which is the massive placeholder Google Sheets map ✨️ #gamedev #gamedesigner #cozygames ♬ fish in the pool・花屋敷 - ヘクとパスカル
For now, that's all for October!I'm so excited to see what November brings. But until then, I hope you've had a lovely spooky season !
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SEPTEMBER 2023Woah! First ever dev blog. How exciting! But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. I should first introduce myself.My name is Mairi Spaceship and I'm the Game Designer behind Tales from Hazelwood Post. I'm a solo developer, but I'm also really not because literally none of this * gestures vaguely * would be possible without the help of the folks I'm making it with.First of all, this whole thing is funded by the Astra Fellowship - a grant and mentorship to support "thinky game" developers. In fact, here we all are on the 2023 cohort! 👇
The Fellowship runs from September to August, and for the first month (this one) I took part in a series of game jams to get the creative cogs whirring.If you want to read more about those game jams, I wrote all about the experience here, but the real reason you're here is for this game. Because the truth is, Hazelwood began as one of those game jam games.This early version named Delivered, is available on itch.io. In Delivered, you figure out where everyone lives by reading through their letters. It's an incredibly short game, but it's got all the ingredients of Tales from Hazelwood Post in it.
• A map, around which the gameplay was anchored
• A series of letters to unpack and read, telling the stories of the citizens
• A drag-and-drop mechanic for moving the names onto the mapSince it was just a game jam, I illustrated everything myself - but the coding was done by my brother Silas, who is also the programmer on Tales from Hazelwood Post. I'm sure you'll meet him in the next devlog.
As we head from September into October, I'm deciding between a few big questions on the game:What will the game be called?Believe it or not, this game went through a number of names... Delivered, to Dear Friend..., to Penny Black before I settled on Tales from Hazelwood Post. My absolute favourite name the game really nearly almost had was suggested by Lucas Le Slo - Post Romantic Address Disorder. It still makes me smile daily.So, why Hazelwood Post? I came up with the idea that the central town would be called Hazelwood, to pair nicely with two neighbouring locations - Crow Hollows and Lighthouse Point. This game is all about being in a place both physically and emotionally. Calling it Tales from Hazelwood Post does both those things, it sets up the stories and the sense of place.Or at least, I hope it does 🤷
...And if it doesn't, please don't tell me. I just bought this domain name lol.What game engine will the game be made in?Delivered was built in Unity, but Unity has not been the most popular lately for plenty of reasons, so I'm looking instead to other engines like Godot or Inkle this month.That's all for September! See you in Spooky season 👋
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