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GDC Showcase: A Short Hike Postmortem

Postmortem: (noun) an analysis or discussion of an event after it is over. For games, it’s a chance to look back on the development process and release cycle, see what went well and what went poorly, or what could have been done better. Choosing to start a project, commit to an idea, and pursue it over other ideas, they’re all important choices to look back on, and to build on for the future. For Adam Robinson-Yu, and his project A Short Hike, it’s interested to take a step back and see ‘how we got here’ for a silly little game about getting lost on a hike.

Short Hike
All Images Courtesy of GDC Showcase, 2021

For Adam, A Short Hike started as a break; a mini project of a world to could escape to when he was feeling stuck in a rut on his current projects. It’s a small game, which leads to less risk in development, more achievable goals, and a faster release cycle between development and playtesting. Besides, as Adam put it, “Who has time for longer games now-adays?”

With only 4 months to make the entire thing, Adam started small, working within his own limitations and tool sets to make a small game not only feel big, but play well. This led to the “big crunchy pixels” look of the art, and the post-processing effects used to obscure the distances in game, making fog-like, outline driven scenery that gives a better sense of depth than perfect vision. 

Another tricky aspect was the open world nature of the game, and players desires to avoid the beaten path (or the clear place the designers might want you to go.) How the player moved around and explored the island was important, with a surprising number of players swimming off into oblivion at their first opportunity to do so, exploring the boundaries of the world rather than safely staying inside the design. Since this would often lead to players missing key gameplay instructions or useful items, many areas of the game featured tutorial-like areas, or spare items, that would simply be deleted if the player were to find them after hearing the needed tutorial or finding the item elsewhere. Such a simple fix lets players explore as they please without feeling beholden to a single path through the game, while simultaneously rewarding them for this exploration. 

With the overwhelmingly positive buzz that the game received on its original Humble Bundle release, Adam would then go on to provide the extra mile update for the Steam and PC release, bringing back in a lot of the stretch goal features that had been cut in the original 4 month release. With cross promotion across Twitter, the game was a roaring success upon launch, proving to be well worth the diversion from the larger game projects that Adam had been working on, despite having spent way more time on other titles than he did on A Short Hike.

By keeping reasonable expectations and holding himself accountable to personal goals and limitations, Adam Robinson-Yu’s A Short Hike exceeded expectations and caught people’s hearts as a great game to escape the everyday with, by journeying to Hawk Peak and letting the world spread out before you. 

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