Songbird awakens to find herself in an unfamiliar and eerie world, entirely deprived of her memories. Not long following her awakening she discovers that she is the last person left in this dying world, accompanied only by an ancient spirit who guides her towards her quest. Locked at the end of time, Songbird lives an eternal cycle of rebirth as she repetitiously devotes her lives to preventing the end of this world and time itself. Her adventures forge a philosophical tale about discovering what it means to live in isolation, coming to understand your purpose, and accepting your inevitable fate.

This top-down action-adventure game includes features familiar to others in the genre, such as a focus on dungeons, puzzles, exploration, and boss fights. Song of Time stands out by its inclusion of a massive variety of interconnected game systems, tied together by its spirit capturing and sandbox mechanics. All enemies in Song of Time may be captured to fight alongside Songbird, either summoning them to fight as companions for their unique abilities, or they may be equipped to provide the player with passive buffs. Additionally, Song of Time's world is entirely sandbox, introducing creative approaches to the resource gathering, level exploration, and equipment progression systems traditional to the genre.

Although much has changed in its development since its initial announcement, the game was revealed in a teaser trailer late 2021, and has seen active development ever since.

Design Philosophy

Song of Time's design is guided by three pillars: Innovation, immersion, and interconnection. Every decision made in the design of the game's systems must be cognizant of how they weigh in these pillars, and are tuned towards this philosophy.

As I introduce any new mechanic, I try to become informed on the implementation of similar mechanics in other games. By establishing knowledge and personal experience of how these mechanics shape their game's overall loop, I adapt my design to learn from how these mechanics were implemented in the past. Perhaps the most recognized adventure sandbox game is  Minecraft , with easily comparable systems to Song of Time given they both contain tile-based worlds which the player may manipulate at any time. Additionally,  Minecraft and Song of Time contain many extrensicly motivated components such as dungeons to explore and randomly spawning monsters to combat.   The combination of these two mechanics is a very divisive point of issue in games of the genre, as when done wrong, they directly conflict with one another. In  Minecraft , nothing prevents a player from using its sandbox components to tower over its enemies, leaving their AI helpess to reach the player, or from tearing through the walls of a dungeon to completely skip its various traps and trials. Other games strike a better balance, such as  Terraria including smaller tiles that take longer to place and cut off its quick moving foes, as well as carefully designed equipment progression that makes beating its dungeons required in order to obtain the tools strong enough to modify said dungeon. Valheim is another example that comes to mind, where enemies can attack and eventually destroy your structures, combining the power of its intrinsicly and extrensicly motivated systems simultaneously, guiding the player to engineer elaborate walls and moats that protect their towns.

Pre-production is a step I have taken delicately with the development of this game, making several documents and visual diagrams to instruct my own systems design into interconnected design. "Spirits," Song of Time's enemies, sit at the very center of the gameplay. Every system is designed in mind with how spirits will interact with it, how captured spirit abilities may be involved, and where things may overlap and outshine one another. In order for such a large, and player modifiable, world to function around this core system things must be planned out from the beginning.

On the right is diagram outlining a table for every "biome" in the world of Song of Time. The tables include inspiration art as visual aid, the biomes name, and the monsters that populate it sectionalized by their spawning conditions. Identifying the spread of these spirits across the 60+ biomes was a significant priority in planning out the game's progression. Spirit's may be captured for the player to make use of their abilities, acting as tools for both combat and map exploration. Spirits are carefully placed on the map in correspondence with their planned abilities to smoothly progress this transition, allowing you to discover and recall inaccessible paths before finding the key spirit necessary to access said area, and finding loot useful to that player's point of progression.

Armed with the preparation of their abilities and places in the map, I am able to compose the complete concept and statistics for the spirits. They are loaded with a unique pool of stats that can make each captured spirit an ideal choice for the player, depending on the playstyle they pursue. Though spirits begin with a set of abilities, these may be swapped out later at the cost of resources, allowing the player to customize their party to benefit current circumstances; as to not waste the invested time and effort of leveling these spirit's stats. The spirit's maintain their own identity, however, through a unchangeable passive ability and their behavior in combat and otherwise.

Sandbox Levels

Song of Time is experienced through a series of connected "zones," where the player encounters enemies, gathers resources, and constructs their own shelter. In a completely sandbox world, careful attention to how this world operates beneath the hood is necessary for things to both function and present as expected. The textures of every tile in Song of Time are procedurally rendered in a state depending on their neighbor tiles, allowing each tile to transition naturally and end with smoothed edges. These tiles are organized on three tiers, allowing terrain beneath the grass or snow tiles, and a subtile layer where leaves or gravel may sit atop the grass. This layering allows smoother transitioning to create natural environments, and encourage creativity when the player designs their own base.

A detailed terrain, however, is nothing without props and other environmental objects to breathe life into its landscape. Nearly every object in Song of Time is destructible and collectible, where trees may be gathered and crafted into a set of furniture, fences, doors, chests, and other objects of that tree's respective wood. Foliage is often useful as ingredients in alchemy, berries may be collected to eat, and crops may be planted and cultivated for more complex cooking.

For objects in the game world that fulfill a role with more depth, they are often provided a set of animations indicative of their purpose. Several objects may receive or transfer power, animating when activated, some involve "minigames" of a sort, where attention to their status is required to successfully complete a crafting recipe.

Taking advantage of the sandbox nature of the game's design, Song of Time is equipped with an ingame level editor for the purpose of quickly developing the environments and dungeons the player may explore. The level editor's menu allow its user to quickly change game settings on the fly for greatest convenience during editing, in addition to supporting debugging and testing purposes. The editor's menu comes equipped with the ability to change level settings including zone biome, toggle world conditions such as weather and events, and whether the zone is indoors or outdoors. Block palettes may be saved and loaded, allowing you to prepare up to 7 palettes of blocks and objects to reuse for any given level. Several editor-specific items are included to support mass editing of a selected area of tiles, and completing other operations ordinarily impossible such as raising and lowering terrain, destroying tiles instantly, or placing triggers for cutscenes and transitions to other levels.

Player Animations and UV Maps

Character customization is often a key component in the genre of survival sandbox games, integrating the resource gathering systems to open up choices in aesthetics alongside power progression. Traditionally, character sprites are organized in a single sheet with rows of animations for each animated action the player can take. Guided by Song of Time's design pillars, the importance of immersion brought upon a desire to breathe life into the character at a degree rarely seen in 2D games. Songbird, the protagonist, has a separate animation in response to any action the player can input, in addition to separate animations in response to how the world interacts with her. Time is a key mechanic in Song of Time, tracked by your character slowly growing in age as time progresses. Taking into account the massive amount of player animations, changes in appearance by age, the immense amount of separate armor pieces which may be equipped, and the ability for all these animations to occur in 4 directions... The amount of animations necessary would be simply unrealistic without a bit of creativity.

Inspired by how models are typically textured in 3D games, the base "model" of Songbird is animated by using RBG values as coordinates on a UV texture. In the demonstration below, the first row shows how Songbird is initially animated, taking the coordinates of the desired pixel from the UV map and placing it in its respective location on the animated model. The game engine runs a shader to read each pixel of the animation, then find and draw the desired color on the current UV texture in use. The result can be seen on the second row and below, using a UV texture that can be changed dynamically during runtime to modify the character's appearance without manually creating a separate set of animations.

Through this method, Songbird's hair may change color as she ages to provide direct visual feedback to the player as time progresses. UV maps can be layered on top of the original model, allowing armor pieces to be equipped and even mix and matched, with no effort in their creation beyond creating a new UV texture.

As a result of this method, only up to three animations of each action are required. Support is provided for up to four directions, however, animations towards the west simply play a horizontally flipped version of the east animation.

This freedom is taken advantage of as much as possible, animating Songbird at every opportunity in order to provide as much immersion as possible. Undeniably the inclusion of so many animations, regardless of the time saved via UV mapping, adds a significant chunk to the game's overall scope. This is a sacrifice I see as well worth taking in the name of successfully meeting the design pillars I set out for myself. The direct feedback of a curated animation for every specific action and type of item ultimately breeds an experience worth trying to capture.

On the topic of feedback, such visual responsiveness feeds well into a developed combat system. In addition to the abilities of captured spirits the player may take advantage of, a variety of weapons offer a completely separate series of playstyles to choose from. Song of Time's combat is game of both managing your stamina and health as resources, meanwhile placing well timed attacks, blocks, and dodges. Although enemy attacks are well telegraphed, dodging does not provide any invulnerability frames. A good dodge will reward the player with a quick opportunity to make a counterattack, and a bad dodge may result in the player being hit and potentially made vulnerable. Blocking provides a quicker option to escape an attack, only at a greater cost of stamina and poorer positioning. Each of the 7 weapon types in Song of Time has a separate set of attacks, each with separate animations in all directions. Even in loss, the player may enjoy the reward of a separate animation to view when dying to each damage type.

Combat is not the only system well versed in animation quality, as even optional systems such as fishing are treated with equal respect.