Monday, March 27, 2017

ISMA 5006 - Imagineering our feature title

Time to begin the exciting process of coming up with our game concept, this is always my most favourite part, where we get to throw down all of our wacky ideas into a cauldron.

Me and Amber usually approach the ideation process by starting with a combined pool of ideas, then going away and building off those in our own time. Then we come back to share them with each other again to compare and contrast our ideas and pick the best ones.

Basic idea generation, recording anything that remotely interests us. Slowly a concept began to form.
As expected, the ideas that emerged were mostly story-based but each of our ideas fit quite well with each other. A base concept set in a seaside town filled with mystery and conspiracy started to take shape. All sorts of concepts were explored, including gameplay focused around getting a pet dog to find clues and retrieve items as well as the idea of getting the main character to shut out outside sensory input and retreat into a bubble.

As more work is put into the core game design over the next few weeks I will begin to post more details of the narrative.


Worldbuilding and narrative design


I have always been fascinated in worlds which feature large amounts of detail, character and depth; that have their own sets of rules that everything abides by to create a truly immersive fictional setting. This is something which I always strive to push in my personal projects as I try to think from the largest themes to the smallest details, making sure everything is completely fleshed out. Even in a world that remains largely un-fantastical world-building can help in grounding a setting as well as giving writers a playground to use and create really interesting stories within, by using an established lore.

For this project as the ideas began to develop a lot of similarities became apparent to a long standing hobby project of mine called 'A World Below'. The seaside town setting combined with a deep and mysterious plot involving occasional moments of fantasy and conspiracy is something which A World Below is centred around, and it seemed to make a lot of sense to set this new game within the same world and possibly even the same seaside town.

However using A World Below presents quite a few challenges from a design perspective. The consideration is that the world would have to be designed more with an overall picture in mind; the top-down approach, this will lead to headaches though as the world would be have to be created with this game in mind along with any games set in the same space.

The other approach is the bottom to top approach in which the plot is created and everything including the world comes from that. This method has its merits too in that the location will reflect the drama of the characters a bit more but this has the possibility of leading to potential plot holes, inconsistencies in the world between parts of the same game or between different games in the same universe. 

Below is a list on how I compare the world-building methods with pros and cons of each method:

Top Down Approach

+Consistent World Design
+Easier to layer up history and background of town
+Characters come naturally from world design with naturally fleshed out backstories
+Massively rewarding when executed correctly
-Can lead to headaches with trying to plan a whole world whilst needing to plan out one game
-Can be very time consuming

Bottom To Top Approach

+Characters and story are fleshed out primarily
+Emphasis on what is actually needed
-World isn't as fleshed out, not as much room for expansion
-Can lead to plot holes and inconsistencies in the world
-Starting completely from bottom to top can miss overall structure of what the game is


I think the best approach is to use something in the middle, between these two methods:

  • Create broad strokes world and story together, keeping in mind areas which might not be immediately accessible. Build up/alter lore to make it fit better with story.
  • Plan out base blockout according to main story beats rather than the other way around, this ensures we aren't creating unnecessary locations and making the world too big
  • Refine gameplay and level gating to story details as they are refined, fleshing out world details.
  • Have game!


Sketchbook ideas and world creation


Below are a load of photos of some of the development sketches over the last couple of weeks and some of the processes we have been through, there is still a lot of work to do with refining the overall concept but here you an start to see the creation and iteration of a town environment and a base narrative structure.

We started with the weird approach of creating a basic world design that we can refine later as the story takes hold, this way we can use the world design to inspire new story elements. The layout sketches started from a satellite image of Aberystwyth which has become a heavy inspiration point for this project. Because these sketches are on tracing paper I can easily overlay designs to iterate; I used this quality to flip the map layout and began sketching on the other side, the flipped layout lending itself better to our design.



I created an iteration of the really small sketch, refining a little bit of the town layout, I then overlaid a grid so then I could create an enlarged version of this for further iteration.


The enlarged version allowed for a better scale representation of the world and an opportunity to select places for landmarks as the story is built.


In my sketchbook, I created a loose sketch of the town with a key to label potential places, a lot of this will probably get discarded in the final story and iteration of the world, but this is just to get down a rough draft of stuff we might want to include. I also created a sketch of a potential network of underground tunnels which will feature as part of the story.


Below are sketches and ideas of gameplay ideas and verbs that the player can perform with the game: these are essentially actions the player can do within the game, access to these are gated through the game and this controls the game's pacing.


Current state of our whiteboard: We had a whiteboard from before with all of our different ideas and we then created this layout from filtering them down and iterating upon our leftover concepts. Here we have put sticky notes under certain headers, some of the ideas cross pollinating. As this becomes more solid we begin to record the key concepts in a high concept document which contains all the gameplay, world and story information as well as any art direction notes.


Next week we should have the high concept nailed down, afterwards work will begin on fleshing out the overall narrative, which will inform the overall level design and mechanics of the game.

-James

Monday, March 13, 2017

ISMA 5006 - Start of a new project

After a long period of creating various prototypes, experimenting with Unreal Engine and working on my design skills the time has finally come to begin work on mine and Amber's new game. 


What that game is yet... we don't know, but we have some ideas floating about. Our time up until May serves as the pre-production period for this game, with production lasting through to September and beyond if the development required it. (Most likely will be longer going by our estimates.)

This new project we hope will be our first feature title that we can release commercially. In order to try and secure this plan we have applied our business to the Deutsche Bank Award for Creative Enterprises in a hope to gain £10000 to buy needed equipment and get marketing materials as well as receiving 12 months worth of business assistance and advice. If we are shortlisted we will have to pitch our project and indie studio business to a large group of people in a bid to win the final award. This will be extremely beneficial to us getting the kickstart we need as an Indie studio.




On the subject of kick-starts though me and Amber are currently looking into launching a Kickstarter campaign for our new project sometime into production around May-June time, hoping that we can gain the support we need to allow us to work full time as well having the possibility to bring additional talent on board. Currently we are still refining our overall business plans; when the game starts to take shape a bit more we will have a more concrete idea of the direction we will go in in regards to organising the campaign or perhaps taking an alternate route. 

The Game

After gaining a lot more experience with some of the more complicated parts of the engine I now feel like I am ready to continue and can begin applying some of the knowledge I have picked up in the last few months. Animation, AI and game feel are some of the areas I have been looking into and in the last project (The Third Person Shooter) I felt I was able to marry the three of those subjects together. I have been refining the third person character blueprint a little more since, making it potentially usable for this project.

This has lead to a natural progression of ideas somehow, wanting to go back and revisit some of the non-violent confrontation but this time using some mechanics I have developed like aiming and camera switching more effectively and in a different context. An idea that Amber suggested was having the camera aiming and rotating to face interesting things could be interesting, this has also been done in some Zelda games where the player can signal to faraway characters however more work would be done to make it even more interesting. Continuing this concept I have been developing an idea that involves a character piloting a hot air balloon and interacting with various characters and landmarks that the player will come across in the sky, but a lot of work would need to be done to get this feeling right and perfect as a majority of the work would be on making the balloon itself feel as good as possible and feel quite floaty.

The next stage involves exhausting this idea among others in order to come up with a large mind map of potential ideas that me and Amber can cut away at gradually until we have a concept we like, this would allow us to get a stronger game concept on the whole.

Next week I will cover our brainstorming and some of our pre-production process.

-James

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Cable firing 2 - Battery Activation






I continued my development process this week by working on a mechanic where the cables can share power from one object to another, this is done through various switches in the cable actor itself that trigger on when it attaches to an object, transferring states between the connected objects.

Below I have attached screengrabs of some of the blueprint functionality I have been working on:

Cable Blueprint


This is a close up of the functionality that allows the cable to check and update the states of anything it is connected to.


This is part of the blueprint for the battery actor, which enables a state IsPowered? on a cable actor if it overlaps. 



When the cable is powered it then will power any connecting objects, in the screengrab from the Powerable Object BP above the object looks for anything that overlaps that has IsPowered? = True, if so it enables it's powered on state and fires a trigger event which activate any object I like in the scene by binding with an event dispatcher in in the level blueprint.

I made it activate a moving platform that only starts moving when I have powered on the object. This moving platform can be manipulated using construction script so I can define the beginning and end point.





Technical Reflection

This project I feel was incredibly beneficial to my progress by allowing me to experiment with some weird gameplay and have a bit more fun with the creation process. It allowed to me to try some new things in UE4 like physics constraints and I learnt a bit more about the correct way to get different blueprints to interact using interfaces, a subject I am quickly learning.

I am also trying to follow a good project framework and I used this project to get used to separating each part of the functionality into different graphs, functions as well as keeping the blueprint classes organised into their correct uses (For example, putting inputs and HUD controls in the player controller as opposed to the player character.)

Design Reflection and development as a game idea

This concept I believe can evolve in to a much more interesting game idea, with the cables acting as a great catalyst for concepting mechanics. The cables can serve a multitude of purposes, with the powerable objects mechanic allowing for a great deal of flexibility. The battery could power a huge number of different objects.

Concerning the cable actor itself, I feel like more work would have to be done with the cable component itself (the part which attaches the balls which get thrown) as it responds to physics in the scene in very horrible ways. The cable for example doesn't catch permanently on surfaces, bounces too much and the mass of the cable makes it fly around the map uncontrollably. The only way I think this could be fixed is through some really intense C++ coding with the physics engine, an area I'm nowhere near knowledgeable in. So if this prototype was made into a full game more intensive work would have to be done in this area, a programmer might have to be brought on board to assist with the physics work of the cable actor and the cables requirements in different situations.

-James

Game Prototyping 5005 - Third person character work

For this last prototype I wanted to do try something a little more simple which involve less design and more focus on diving deeper technically into the engine to and achieving something more polished. For this prototype I wanted to focus on creating a third person controller that feels very nice to play as, allowing me to experiment with animation, camera work and weapons/damage systems. This idea came from the fact that it seemed a majority of mine and Amber's game ideas revolve around the idea of creating a third person game, so making the actual movement and game feel of walking and looking around in third person seemed like a logical step in order to make our final game really interesting. This was also partially driven by the fact that I wish to create an RPG system at some point in the future so creating a flexible character system seemed like a good way to develop a base for it, by implementing a damage system and also by beginning to understand more complicated areas like Animation blueprints.

To keep the process as a simple as possible I followed a tutorial series on creating a third person shooter, which I then customised with my own alterations. Focusing on a more simple design allowed me to refine the game feel, which is incredibly important for making a game feel engaging.

I am going to cover the entirety of my process on this project in this post, summarising each of the things I have worked on. Below though is list of the key parts though in regard to creating a proper third person character controller.

  • Work on developing a switching camera that zooms in to player shoulder when pressing the Aim button, with smoothly transitioning FOV and Post Process.
  • A Player controller that record information on camera direction as well as including a system for switching the states of the player HUD.
  • A shooting mechanic that uses the camera forward vector to get the hit point, a new aim direction is calculated from the Muzzle point on the players weapon.
  • A weapon base class that spawns onto the player at the start of the game based on a array of default weapons, this can be later expanded on with an inventory system.
  • Used default particles, sounds, camera shake and basic UI overlays to add to the 'Game Feel' to make it feel a lot more fun to shoot the gun and blast enemies. Without this the game prototype would feel a little stale.
  • Used physical animation for the first time, which allows actual interaction of skeletal meshes with the environment
  • Added basic enemies with set health, AI following and death states when enough health is lost.
  • Created an actor spawner with a forcefield effect on the blueprint, this is set to spawn enemies every so often unless a limit is reached on the amount of enemies in the scene.
  • Added variable walk speeds to the AI monsters, with a 5% chance of the spawner creating an extremely fast enemy that will sprint at you and make you jump!
  • Added player health and a HP bar in the bottom corner, that reacts to hits.
  • Created a post process 'player getting hit' effect which flashes a red vignette when the player is taking repeated damage.
  • Added a player score card that increases by one every time the player wipes out an enemy. 
  • Added in '+1' UI elements that display over the top of the enemies when they are killed, which include a subtle fading animation.












Monday, February 13, 2017

Game Prototyping 5005 - Prototype 1 - Dancy Monster Things With Big Heads

After last week I have had a fair few issues trying to finish the puzzle like I wanted. My puzzle idea was to use the monster NPCs as platforms for the player to jump upon and cross gaps. In combination with the summoning mechanic, the player would be able to move the monsters to the location they want in order to cross over to new areas.


Core Mechanics

Below I have listed all the main mechanics with a little GIF of each to demonstrate how they work.

Input - Movement
Basic Third Person Character Movement with running, jumping and sprinting.



Input - Dance Interaction
Three of the gamepad face buttons (Left, Top, Right) mapped to different dance commands, represented in prototype using scaling and colour change.



Input - Call Monsters
Left Shoulder button will call any befriended monsters that have been selected in Sweep Mode



AI - Point to Point path following
NPCs are linked to a set of target points, which they move between. When one point is reached they move to the next one referenced in the overlapping target point, if linked correctly the NPC can walk following a circuit of target points that loop.



AI - Monster Spot
If an NPC spots another NPC they will walk towards each other and demonstrate the dance routine needed to befriend them in order to give a hint to the player. After they have performed the routine to each other they will return to their path.

(No GIF for this as I couldn't get it working again.)

AI - Player Spot
If the player is spotted then the monster will stop in it's tracks and become responsive to dance moves, once performed correctly the Monster will become 'Befriended' allowing them be selected in using sweep mode and them to be called.



Input - Sweep Mode
I managed to get a sweeping mechanic working that allows the player to highlight NPCs and select them for movement if they have been befriended using a dance. While in Sweep Mode (triggered by holding down up on the D-Pad) the player's camera freezes and the player can control a selection sphere that will select NPCs while the left shoulder button is held down.


Concepting some puzzles

Before I move on Mike suggested that I go through and detail some basic puzzles or at least some ways this concept could expand if it was a full game. This intention behind this is to see if the mechanic has creative possibilities beyond just a basic prototype. So below I have listed some random ideas of the potential ways the gameplay in this prototype can expand.

  • More specific abilities for the NPCs - some function as platforms, some can be lethal. Gameplay could be expanded where you have to deal with certain NPCs at certain times and get them into certain locations where they could then be usable as a way for the player to get over an environmental obstacle.
  • Zone separation, NPCs tied to certain areas that can only walk within those bounds, allows for complex puzzles that involve lining up NPCs within each different area correctly in order to gain access to a new area. Two stage puzzles could involve different NPCs separated by a fence, the player can get them to activate switches on each side, which then moves the fence, allowing both the NPCs to trigger a weight switch on one side.
  • More varied interactions, more naturalistic AI that react differently to each other. Giving the player more hints on how to interact with them properly.

Next week I will be starting a new prototype, focusing on creating a fun 'toy' to play about with, with less emphasis on creating a mechanic with a puzzle already in mind. This was advice gained from Mike, who also pointed out that this should help with being able to create a more interesting concept. Hopefully it should be fun!

-James

Monday, February 6, 2017

Mike Pickton Meeting 7 - Making things more interesting

This week I shown Mike Pickton what I have been doing in the last week. I have been trying to create a simple game mechanic using AI inside of Unreal Engine 4.

The idea is to create a system where the player can approach roaming NPCs and interact with them using a dance mechanic where the player has to input the correct dance moves that the NPC responds to. The player can identify which commands to use by observing the NPCs walking around in the environment and respond accordingly.

I had some issues trying to work out the AI system inside UE4. I used a system called a Behaviour Tree, in which I could tie together a load of different tasks I have created in different orders, allowing me to customise behaviour.

Behaviour tree with my custom tasks which can be reusable for future projects.
After showing the demo to Mike he mentioned that the mechanic works well but I needed to actually implement it into a puzzle involving the NPC 'Monsters' Whether that involves them having some sort of special ability in order to solve a puzzle or perhaps something else.

Task for next week

For next week I should have implemented the mechanic into a workable puzzle that I can then playthrough, hopefully fixing the problem which I have had before where the NPCs don't react to each other, demonstrating the commands the player has to use. A puzzle is needed to actually show the idea as a potential game, and see if the mechanic can be interesting in context.

-James

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Mike Pickton 6 - Game Design-y things

This week me and Mike discussed my ideation process for focusing my game projects. So far I have spent my time researching, gathering reference material and recording any thought processes into a brainstorming flowchart.

My flowchart created for ideation purposes.

After talking with Mike he suggested some ideas and areas I could look into as an extension of what I already had. I had potential story themes, settings and mechanics under a different branch each but after feedback Mike encouraged me to crossover the branches and just separate them by related ideas, as opposed to sectioning off areas like mechanics in order to allow ideas to cross pollinate and create connections.

Another idea is to subcategorize mechanics into different areas if needed, and think about them in different terms as opposed to general 'gameplay' Most of the ideas I am exploring is within the area of a third person rpg-style game so that is something to work within, using that I can separate the different parts of that into subcategories:

  • hazards
  • environment/exploration
  • adversarial? - Any mechanics that involve the player confronting an enemy, doesn't have to involve violence.
  • progression - this could include a levelling system, upgrades like weapons or more general ideas of game progression that can lend themselves to story problems

The main point though that came up while talking was that I would need to document my process a lot more when it comes to actually planning out the game concepts, how they are made and any thoughts that go into the design process. This should include any key decision making; like for example whether I start developing a game from a mechanic or if I start developing from a narrative standpoint. I should be comparing the methods and explain my reasoning behind my creative decisions.

Game Design?

One thing I seem to have missed so far in my learning contract (essentially my self written brief for the year) is including work that I may have to do into the game design aspect of my research. This area will be quite a big part of my work and essentially covers all the ideation process and critical thinking I would have to do in order to create the game prototypes I want to. Mike recommended that after seeing some of my research work into game design that I include it into my learning contract, otherwise my current work can't really be marked.

-James

Monday, January 9, 2017

Mike Pickton Meeting 5

This was quite a small meeting this week being the first one back from christmas where not a lot went on. The only other work I have had to do involved writing an essay for MA purposes, so me and Mike didn't have a lot to talk about this week!

We did cover some things however, the main point being that when it comes to practical work I should be creating videos or GIFs to showcase my progress for those that can't play the game. So that is something I will work on doing from now on, keeping all the clips on my Youtube channel and showing any interesting developments. This might encourage me eventually to be a lot more vocal about my work and processes, maybe adding voice tracks with descriptions at some point if required. (Might be more suitable during the development of our final game where I can create videos in more of a behind the scenes format.)

Creating little progress videos is definitely something I would like to get into the habit of doing, and it makes my work easier to look at and mark so that's an even better reason to do it.

Objectives for next week

Well next week I intend to start getting into creating things, but how I will actually go about the process of that isn't clear to me yet. I do plan to start gathering up resources and begin researching from online and using books to gather some inspiration and hopefully by the next meeting I should be able to discuss with Mike some of my creative thoughts I'm having; including any suggestions he might have for improving my ideation process.

-James

Friday, December 16, 2016

Game Prototype Development Presentation



Here is my presentation I created to show my prototyping work for 5002. Be sure to click the settings and open the speaker notes for my commentary on what is being shown.

-James

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Mike Pickton Meeting 4 - Time Splitting

In this weeks meeting with Mike I showed him my progress with my Game A Week and my learning contract stuff. Not as much this week in terms of a agenda apart from updating Mike with my progress but we did have a conversation about where I'm going, and I seem to be on track.

The main thing which was suggested was that I need a plan more than ever of what I'll be doing at what stage throughout the year, so I have my own deadlines which I would follow to avoid spending too much time on a particular module. I have started adapting a timetable spreadsheet by adding the academic weeks as well as putting all deadline dates in. However I can't add in my own module time-spans until next week when we have a meeting with the course leader to iron out some issues with the structure of the modules, so once that is cleared up then I should be able to plan the rest of the year how I want it.

Until then I have been trying to better define what I would be doing in each project so I can understand things better without looking at the learning contract structure. This overview underneath is what I have at the moment, and then I can adapt this for multiple uses and use this as a point of reference to check everything else against.

How can I create an independent game using experimental gameplay and then use this as a point to start an indie studio?

5002 Negotiated Module – Experimental Prototyping

  • Free flowing practical experimentation with game design, technical processes and ways of improving workflow and output.
  • Will take form in a series of short prototypes and experiments in the format of ‘A Game a Week’ Some including attempts at replicating certain types of gameplay or designs as well as my own planned short game concepts.
  • I will gain a more solid practice in the process of actually creating and releasing games, which is one of the main focuses of this module.
  • All of these prototypes will be accompanied with a detailed post mortem post, containing a breakdown of what I was attempting and any solutions for problems I come across. I will also be linking a download to the experiment so each one can be played/used.

5005 Negotiated Module – Experimental Prototyping II

  • A continuation of the prototyping module, but more developed and with a focus on streamlining certain processes for easier prototyping.
  • Again, a series of short prototypes and experimentations will be developed, but these will make more use of reusable elements and other assets to speed up development. Also these won’t be strictly ‘Game A Week’ like the last project as if a concept shows promise after a week I may continue it for another week to experiment with the design.
  • Most of these will probably follow more of a common theme, in order to explore a certain kind of narrative driven gameplay, diving deeper into game design principles.
  • I will gain a deeper understanding of how to create a structure for a narrative based game.
  • Myself and Amber Jamieson will share the continued direction of our research in order to keep our development in line with what we want to create as a company, this will involve feedback on each other’s progress.

5006 Negotiated Module – Game Concept Development

  • In this module I will adapt a prototype into a workable game concept using everything I have used previously, this will eventually become the basis of the game worked on for the Major Practical Project.
  • Before this point the prototype should have already showed promise, just more tests need to be made to expand the concept further into a full playable game.
  • This will involve deep design work and planning of the game’s structure as well as playtesting to get the feel of the game right.
  • Essentially, the barebones for the final game will be created here, which can be played start to finish.

5008 Major Practical Project – Commercial Game Development

  • In this final project I will be working with Amber Jamieson to create a small narrative-driven game under our Indie Studio ‘I_DO_TRI’
  • For this project I will be responsible for the technical aspects of the project
  • The core of the game structure should already be created, with most of the effort being put into fleshing out the game details, playtesting, refinement and the games look and feel.
  • Marketing will also factor into this project, as we use this game as our first proper commercially released title as I_DO_TRI
  • During this process a development blog will track progress of the game.
  • A game design document will be created and will have contributions from all team members: Detailing the games high level concept and all supplementary materials (For example, Art/Concepts, Screenplay, Sound Concepts, etc.) This is for the purpose of showing the game to potential publishers afterwards and to demonstrate a clear vision of the game.



-James

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Mike Pickton Meeting 3 - Game A Week Progress Update

In the meeting with Mike this week I let Mike know of what I've been up to in regards to my Game A Week work and what I plan on looking into next. So I got him to play through Cloud Bounce Cloud Bounce, which he wasn't very good at.

There wasn't too much of an agenda this week from myself as it was more a test to see if I am on the right track and if there is anything I could be missing from my critical analysis. We agreed that the game a week entries should be an attempt to experiment with different methods of working and as a process to figure out the best way to create the games we want to make, finding out the pros and cons of each different approach.
This can be evaluated through each projects post mortem post where I will write about each project and how each game fits into what I am trying to investigate. Currently for example on Cloud Bounce Cloud Bounce, I have attempted a shorter simpler project as a warm-up into becoming quicker with the prototyping process and as a focus on creating something extremely simple and easy to manage.

Mike suggested though that I add some areas to my conclusion adding more of a sense of progression through the different games:


  • The longevity of the game concept - More how I would scale the concept and how I might go and release each game, this is useful in identifying whether any of these game concepts have the potential to go forward as an idea. If it was to be expanded as a full game, what time would be needed to finish it and would more people be needed? This might not apply to all games as most of these games might not stand on their own, and the same thinking behind them might be applied to the next game.
  • Task breakdowns - For the benefit of seeing how I spend my time during each project and in what software, useful to see if I might have spent too much time doing something like asset creation when I should be prototyping gameplay. Also can be useful later on in evaluating where I should be spending time relative to what type of game I am making and what skills are needed.
  • Reusable components - Finding out where I can reuse stuff can be massive time saver and can be more efficient if I am developing a similar kind of game. Also figuring out where I might need some reusable components for a larger game can help me decide where I should aim a few of my projects to try things out, very important in these early stages. This is even easier in Unity as the engine is built around using scripted components, this is something I will be possibly trying out in next week's project.
Mike also brought up that reusable components should possibly extend to the games frontend, which means the UI, basic interaction and general look of the games could also be made to be reusable through different projects. Having a fixed standard for the frontend that can be iterated on will greatly help how long it takes to get each game ready to release. 


Continuing forward now I will assess how I write about each project and whether everything is relevant. For now though I have just thought up a new idea for this weeks game while writing this post, which I could do feasibly within the next two days, so I'm going to go away and take some notes.

I'm thinking something text-based which could help the writing and narrative component a little bit more. :)

-James



Game A Week Update! - 2# Cloud Bounce Cloud Bounce

Hi there,

I have just added a new Game A Week entry, here is a link just below, where you can download and play the game:

CLOUD BOUNCE CLOUD BOUNCE



I have also done a bit of write up, including suggestions from this week's meeting with Mike Pickton.
Enjoy!

-James

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Started Game A Week!

Okay, I've officially started the Game A Week challenge! As you can see there is a new Game A Week Challenge Page linked at the top, which will list all the games I will have worked on, any time I have added a new game I will add a new page under there as well as a blog update linking it with a link to download and play. :) Out Of The Blue is available for download there as well as a proper analysis, so feel free to check it out. (Note: It's a bit ropey, but that's the point of this challenge.)

I have also linked the original blog post by Rami there and I might go and add the GDC talk by Adriel Wallick and her website as I have used her progress as inspiration, and I thought it would be fair to share the awareness of it in case anybody wants to try out the same idea.

Wish me Luck!

-James

Some little things before I move to practical work

Hi everyone!

This week I plan on moving full time into some practical work, after a bunch of delays involving me trying to go back and reference some of my work. In the later half of last week I started some work in UE4 as me and Amber participated in the De Montfort Gamedev Society's first game jam of the year! Our entry wasn't completed for the deadline on Friday (it was a two day jam) but I have been touching the project a little bit over the weekend just to get it out released to some standard.

Out Of The Blue

The theme for the game-jam was 'Out Of The Blue' so after a little bit of brainstorming we came up with a concept of a gameshow set inside some bleak future, presented in a comical fashion using dialogue and simple interactions with an environment. A kinda Stanley Parable-esque game that drives the player through dialogue. We wanted this to be our first attempt at getting actual dialogue into a game and try and get voice clips to work within a game context.

The game involved 3 small areas; the player will start off inside a cryotube at the start of the game, while the game show host introduces the game. Upon leaving the chamber, the player is in the first room in which the player has to hit the right button (the blue one) but the room has quite a few blue buttons, misleading the player. Eventually the player will find a red button saying blue on it.

The second room requires the player to sort a group of items by picking them up and placing them in a container, based on whether that object belonged to the player's time period. The objects are references to pop culture and news items from this year, with other objects being stuff from history or fictional futures. For example: Tentacle, Raygun, a medieval sword.

The third area is essentially a lift from the second area, taking the player to the 'wheel of freedom' inspired by The Wheel Of Fortune. This is a simple interact with a button, which triggers the wheel to spin and stop, landing on the only option on the wheel that puts the player back into cryosleep.



Reflection

I still think one of the major issues I seem to be having with development is underestimating long things take and as a result the scope of the games I work on, even this game created by two people could be considered quite large as we don't have too much game making experience between us as of right now. The idea was create something a bit experimental and a little outside our comfort zone, so naturally it will take a bit of learning, only after some more experience can this speed up. The area we decided to focus on was getting in dialogue that reacts to the players input and we did that, and as a result I have a handy dialogue system I can iterate on for future projects.

Game A Week

I found a video last night from the GDC vault about the 'Game A Week' challenge in which a harsh time constraint is put onto your work in the hopes of allowing you to be more creative with constraints as well as building up a solid base of experience in the process of making and releasing a game, which is a crucial quality for indie developers. The talk was created by Rami (2014) at Vlambeer but the methodology was taken up by Adriel Wallick who presented the talk, who has currently done around 52 weeks of games, including the GDC presentation itself which was a game.

It seems like a great way to experiment and try new ideas out without getting caught up in the details, and probably how I might break up my work over the next weeks leading up to Christmas. Releasing games and the whole process is something I definitely need to get better at, especially as we aim to create larger projects at some point where more things could go wrong.

The game a week will involve me writing a reflection on what went well and what didn't on each project, allowing me to build from the successes of the previous weeks. Furthermore, I will be trying to keep each project focused to a particular area, in a conscious attempt to limit scope and improve or learn a certain skill every week. So before christmas I should have around 4 games made!

-James

Sources:

1. ISMAIL, R. (2014) Game A Week: Getting Experienced At Failure. [Weblog] Gamasutra. 26th February. Available from: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/RamiIsmail/20140226/211807/Game_A_Week_Getting_Experienced_At_Failure.php Accessed [14/11/16].

2. WALLICK, A. (2014) MsMinotaur - Game A Week [Website] Available from: http://msminotaur.com/?cat=9 Accessed [14/11/16].

3. WALLICK, A (2014) GDC Vault - Game a Week: How to Succeed, Fail and Learn. [Online Film] Available from: http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1020866/Game-a-Week-How-to Accessed [14/11/16].

4. DMUGDS (2016) De Montfort University Game Development Society [Forum] Available from: http://www.gamedevdmu.co.uk/forum/index.php Accessed [14/11/16].

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Project Proposal Presentation

As I didn't do it properly before here is my original project proposal presentation with all the references underneath. 


Sources:

1. THEMEATLY.COM (2014) Meatly Game Dev Comic. [Online Image] Available from: http://themeatly.com/ [Accessed 19/10/16]

2. UE4 ANSWERHUB (2014) Cleaning Up State Machine Spaghetti. [Online Image] Available from: https://answers.unrealengine.com/questions/142592/cleaning-up-state-machine-spaghetti.html [Accessed 19/10/16]

3. KETCHAPP (2016) Ketchapp Tennis [Online] iOS. Ketchapp.

4. UE4 DISCUSSION FORUM (2016) Is Epic doing anything to address UE4's crippling shader problem? [Online Image] Available from: https://forums.unrealengine.com/showthread.php?106655-Is-Epic-doing-anything-to-address-UE4-s-crippling-shader-problem [Accessed 19/10/16]

5. KOTAKU AU (2016) A Closer look at why people are Pirating The Witness. [Online Image] Available from: http://www.kotaku.com.au/2016/02/a-closer-look-at-why-people-are-pirating-the-witness/ [Accessed 19/10/16]

6. GIANTBOMB (2016) Downwell [Online Image]. Available from: http://www.giantbomb.com/downwell/3030-48935/ [Accessed 19/10/16]

7. KETCHAPP (2016) Gravity Switch [Online] iOS. Ketchapp.

8. KETCHAPP (2016) The Pit [Online] iOS. Ketchapp.

9. KETCHAPP (2016) Light On [Online] iOS. Ketchapp.

10. NINTENDO EAD TOKYO (2014) Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker [Wii U Disc] Wii U. Nintendo.

11. GET SET GAME (2015) Mega Blast Images. [Online image] Available from: http://uk.ign.com/images/games/mega-blast-android-20037421/555a60c2005b5ea3137c54e3 [Accessed 07/11/16]
12. GET SET GAMES (2015) Mega Blast. [Online] Android, iOS. Toronto: Get Set Games

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Moving into ideation

Okay so I have played through a lot of games recently. Not just including the ones I have written about extensively here: including all of those played at Gamecity, some gems I have downloaded from Itch.io recently aswell as some of the winning entries in the UE4 Megajam. From this I have got a more solid idea of the kind of ideas and themes I want to pursue and some potential game concepts that I could try that focus on narrative.

This next week is mainly going to be an ideas and inspiration gathering week as I start to read up on some more varied subject matter and begin to play around with some simple gameplay concepts. There will be a lot of brain-farts scribbled out of lines on my lined paper pad and plenty of inspirational images stuck to the wall of my lab space, anything that can get me into that creative zone. This is my favourite part of the whole game dev process so I tend to try and soak up as much as I can while I doodle down ideas. The Lego on my desk will be rearranged again and again constantly this week...



This isn't all staring into the stars though, when I feel I have an interesting enough idea pool to work from I will start to put together very quick and dirty proof-of-concept prototypes to test out possible gameplay ideas. These will act like gamejams almost, focused on creating short, fun games within a short space of time, usually focused around some kind of theme.

I already have some up on my wall of things that could be interesting to make but as a general rule of thumb I never go with my first idea, I prefer to scout around for alternatives and use the first as a point of reference for where I want to go searching next. I usually evaluate what each idea lacks or what works in each and see if there is a different way I could approach it, aswell as writing any passing thoughts down at all no matter how small they might seem.

Me being strange and sticking a load of lined paper to the walls. I find it easier when I can look up and see things straight away and I can make new connections between ideas, and also grouping similar concepts together so I can make something stronger.

Death


Explaining the ominous subtitle, me and Amber came to a realization that a lot of our game ideas and stuff we have made focus around the theme of death and all of it's connotations; our FMP was mainly about a world where you are a girl stuck in limbo, being guiding by two spirits of the dead. After making this realization it seemed like something that we could continue exploration of as a subject matter within our games to come up with some interesting meanings and subtext for our games designs.

Approaching our games with a theme in mind makes the design process a little easier, as I have an area I can look into and build a game around rather than having an open ended concept. For each prototype a smaller aspect of the subject will be explored, keeping each game quite specific and having a certain point. The theme of death will be found in some way across all of the games though, just explored and interpreted in different ways in a video game context.

Other things to explore

There are some other points of inspiration me and Amber latched onto, one in particular was the idea of dialogue options and expanding on the idea of conversation, so there is a potential lead for experimenting with narrative based gameplay. Most other inspiration points revolve around locations or vistas, which I guess is a result of doing an art heavy course for three years. One way to put some depth into those ideas might involve doing some reading into these specific areas and see if there are any unique stories that could be used to ground the ideas; Amber had an idea for a snowy mountaintop setting which could mean that we would have to look into something like 'Mountain Disappearances' as way to flesh it out.

Anyway that's enough for now, next post there should be a little documenting of the kind of things I have been looking at.


Game Narrative Analysis - Oxenfree

Oxenfree (2016) is a 2.5d supernatural mystery graphical adventure game by Night School Studio, and here is a trailer:


Oxenfree is a game revolving around dialogue choices and options, however it is different from most as the dialogue continues to flow regardless of the players input, and the game does not stop for you to make a spoken decision. Instead conversation will continue to flow, even if you are performing other actions, making dialogue seem more natural. The player's main methods of interaction are through the dialogue choices or through using a radio tuner to access certain frequencies which can gain access to otherworldly elements, get pieces of information about the setting or to open radio locks. The game also takes place in a 2d map that is navigated along paths by 3d character models, similar in fashion to old point and click games or something like final fantasy vii with it's prerendered backgrounds.



Like Firewatch the relationship between the characters change according to the dialogue choices you have made, affecting how people treat your player character 'Alex'. They don't really affect the overall plot progression too much as it's still a linear game but it has the same techniques of giving options to players to build up investment in the actual characters as opposed to just going through a narrative with no give. The overall focus of Oxenfree is the telling of the story as opposed to focusing on the directions the plot can go.



The characters of the game fall into quite easily definable personalities, but not in a bad way. The characters have clear understandable motives and the reason the narrative works is as a result of the interplay between these characters, which is affected by the player's decision throughout the game. This starts to help more when the game starts to get a bit more weird, having characters and situations beforehand which are easily relatable.

The game gradually ramps up the weird, supernatural elements after the two of the characters enter a cave and use the radio to activate some kind of dimensional portal. After this event the game spreads all the characters around different points on the island, where the player must have to rally everyone up and figure out what is going on.



The game begins to really twist expectations, throwing time loops, ghostly possession and alternate dimensions into the mix. These kinds of concepts begin to have odd effects on the characters, with the time loops and possession combining to show visions of characters dying or to show memories. This is demonstrated when Clarissa jumps out of a window to commit suicide, with her body hitting the floor, when the player reaches the ground the the body is gone, and Clarissa reappears and disappears at several points in the game, essentially as fake visions of the character. The game takes certain horror tropes and turns them around, using it to misdirect the player into guessing about the overall mystery.





Sources:

1. NIGHT SCHOOL STUDIO (2016) Oxenfree [Steam Online] PC. Glendale, CA: Night School Studio
2. RELY ON HORROR Review: Oxenfree (2016) Park screenshot. [Online Image] Available from: http://www.relyonhorror.com/reviews/review-oxenfree/ [Accessed 07/11/16]
3GAME INFORMER Oxenfree (2016) Woods screenshot. [Online Image] Available from: https://www.gameinformer.com/games/oxenfree/b/xboxone/default.aspx [Accessed 07/11/16]
4. POLYGON (2015) First gameplay from Oxenfree, 2015's coolest-looking adventure game. [Online Image] Available from: http://www.polygon.com/2015/5/18/8621337/oxenfree-gameplay-13-minutes-from-new-2015-adventure-game-night-school-studio-telltale [Accessed 07/11/16]
5. ENGADGET (2016) 'Oxenfree' and the sweet spot of supernatural, teenage drama [Online Image] Available from: https://www.engadget.com/2016/01/15/oxenfree-and-the-sweet-spot-of-supernatural-teenage-drama/ [Accessed 07/11/16]
6. NIGHT SCHOOL STUDIO (2016) Oxenfree: Launch Trailer [Online video] Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAhrOoNR4ng&feature=youtu.be [Accessed 07/11/16]

Friday, November 4, 2016

Game Narrative Analysis - INSIDE

Inside (2016) is a puzzle platformer game by Playdead. It shares a lot similarities to Playdead's previous game Limbo, in that it features realistic physics based platforming, an interpretive story and a minimalist art style, but builds on these previous concepts in more depth. Like last time, here is a video trailer of the game:



Immediately with Inside you are drawn into the atmosphere of the game, there is no main menu really. The game start of the game is simple the game's title then when a button is pressed the boy character walks out from the left of the screen behind as the title fades, leading straight into the gameplay. The game includes no tutorials and no holding of the player's hand whatsoever, there is no on screen text or dialogue during the game.



For example is how the game communicates that the people in the background are not good by using subtle means like lighting, sounds and the scared body language of the player character. This is done one way through the player's reaction to being near another human character, if there is some sort of cover the player will crouch automatically, indicating that he really doesn't want to be found. If you are spotted you will be tranquillised by the people, the game is quite punishing when the player makes mistakes but then a lot of satisfaction is gained from figuring out each little movement puzzle as the punishing difficulty makes the player think about the puzzle more.



The game's atmosphere is it's main selling point however. The game carefully builds and releases tension over the course of the story, using the music or lack of music and environmental sounds to push a sense of unease onto the player. Usually after harder puzzles or stealth sections that take up a lot of the players energy, the game will then go into a quieter period. This is shown mostly in the submarine section which slows down the pace of the game dramatically, which opens up the environment a bit more and introduces a new way of interacting with the game. The music in this area becomes a lot more peaceful and the environment becomes a lot less cluttered and full of open space, making this underwater section of the game really standout from the last.



One core game mechanic is the boy using some kind of head device which allows him (and by extension the player) to control the bodies of people who appear to have been experimented on. This is a central mechanic used to complete some of the games puzzles but it also acts as a key part of the narrative, establishing that this mind control factors into the game's plot. Later on in the game this idea is expanded on with the boy able to control people who in turn can control others as part of some sort of 'mind control chain'



About two thirds into the game after a really tense section involving deadly shockwaves, you go down an elevator which is suddenly hit by a shockwave making it crash into the water below. An underwater creature that attempts to drown you earlier in the game fits you with breathing equipment that stops you running out of air underwater and something else that allows you to control people without the use of the head device. This opens up more gameplay potential in the next section of the game but does this through clever advancement of the plot.

After this as you reach the end of the game you end up in some kind of testing facility which the boy navigates, this area twists some of the mechanics you have encountered in the game so far making you think about them differently, as you go deeper into the lab there are people which don't attempt to chase after you like before. A large of group them can be found looking through glass at something offscreen, making the player interested to find out what it is. After a bit of platforming, you arrive inside a vat of water in which a hatch can be opened into this large tank with some kind of weird blob creature in the middle, composed of what appears to be the kind of experimented people from earlier in the game. It is fitted with some of the head devices the boy uses earlier in the game implying the blob is controlling something else. The boy attempts to break it free but is then absorbed into it, giving control of the blob to the player, changing the pace of gameplay again allowing the player to take control of the blob, escape the underwater container and rampage around the facility.



This segment of the game includes an area which foreshadows where you end up right at the end of the game, which appears to be some kind of 'film set'. When you are the blob the focus of the people in the background shift and they start to observe and even help you escape, even to the point of using a puzzle mechanic against you at one point as bait to get you to fall into a hatch in front of a large audience. The game then ends shortly after this after you break out of the facility and tumble down a large hill side into the same scene depicted earlier in the 'film set', the context of this is hard to understand at first but the story is clearly designed to be interpreted in different ways.



This is a big part of Inside's design is the interpretation of details and the occasional vagueness of the story. The motivations behind the characters in the game are never explicitly revealed, only hinted at through gameplay and through subtle cues and it is left up to the player to interpret them as they feel. This works similar to games like Journey or The Witness which use similar techniques to encourage the player to think about the situation which has transpired as opposed to a conventional narrative.



Using this as a game mechanic can be quite hard to pull off as for full immersion it requires clever use of game design, visuals and sound together to create a strong atmosphere that the player can be absorbed in. The whole design of the game is created with a message that the player should figure it all out on their own, from the controls, to the eureka moments in the puzzles and to the overall story of the game.

Sources:

1. PLAYDEAD (2016) INSIDE. [Steam Online] PC. Copenhagen: Playdead ApS.
2. PLAYDEAD (2016) Playdead Official Site. [Webpage] Available from: http://playdead.com/ [Accessed 04/11/16]

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Game Narrative Analysis - Firewatch

As part of my research this week into game design, more specifically that of narrative-focused games, I decided to play through the acclaimed game Firewatch (2016) by Campo Santo.

"Firewatch is a mystery set in the Wyoming wilderness, where your only emotional lifeline is the person on the other end of a handheld radio."

Here is a little video as a little taster:



Firewatch is an interesting game that uses dialogue interaction through a radio to push forward the narrative of the game, this is done through the player calling in significant points of interest on the radio where the player then receives guidance or objectives. There is no up close human interaction in the game, nearly all of the games character interaction happens through the radio with a character called Delilah, your character's boss.

With Firewatch each dialogue option can have a slight effect on the plot, it is largely linear with one ending but the actual plot points and some story details will differ slightly. An example of this is at the start of the game, where the game starts with a prologue explaining the background of the player's character 'Henry' where the player is given options like the breed of dog him and his wife got before and how Henry perceives his own physique, each decision factors into the character of Henry and affects how he talks and how he is spoken to, this is a theme which continues through the game.


The dialogue instead serves to help place the character in the world and help understand their thought processes, as well as helping to shape the character in different ways. Without the choice the game would just be a linear adventure and would be uninteresting, the dialogue choices help to complete the characters and add a contextual motivation for their decisions, even though the plot might not deviate much as a result. This is a different take on narrative games, where the focus is on moulding the personality of a character as opposed to using decisions to create complicated branching narratives, this means the designer still has the control of the overall story beats but the player can interpret each part of the story differently. It presents a new, intriguing idea for how narrative-driven games can work in a linear fashion.

Because the plot is quite linear it also uses a lot of misdirection to keep the player guessing on where the story is going, throwing in other plot points like government conspiracies, missing teens and the disappearance of a previous 'Lookout'. These plot points however don't often bear fruit and are fairly inconsequential when it comes to the end of the game, they don't matter as much as the core relationship between the player, Henry and Delilah. 

Another technique used for advancing the plot involves the jumping of time, which happens at certain points through the middle of the game. This done to establish how long Henry has been in his lookout post while using the contrast to the previous scenes to establish how the character dynamics are changing over time. Quick jump cuts are also in subtly building up tension and an unease over what is going on. 


Other points of interest

Firewatch does encourage a little exploration within it's world. The map essentially works similar to a classic point and click adventure map with linear paths leading around and interlinking with each other into different locations, with some areas blocked off until the player receives certain items like an axe or ropes at certain points of the story. There are also 'Cache Boxes' which contain extra snippets of backstory featuring two other characters called Dave and Ron, these are dotted around the map and sometimes key items for progression can be found in these boxes aswell as extra information that your map can be updated with.

I really enjoyed this game and it has given me great insight onto some narrative techniques I can employ, next I will be covering Inside by Playdead before moving onto Oxenfree which I am playing at the moment. Past that I will do more of a breakdown of certain mechanics I found use looking into within each game I have played.

Firewatch Screenshot


Sources:

1. CAMPO SANTO (2016) Firewatch. [Steam Online] PC. San Francisco: Campo Santo Productions LLC
2. BEAUTIFUL PIXELS Firewatch Review (2016) Prologue Screenshot. [Online Image] Available from: http://beautifulpixels.com/mac/firewatch-review/ [Accessed 02/11/16]
3. CAMPO SANTO (2015) Firewatch Hi-res screenshot: Meadow at sunset. [Online Image] Available from: http://blog.camposanto.com/post/131026941869/here-are-some-new-screenshots-from-firewatch-to# [Accessed 02/11/16]
4. CAMPO SANTO (2016) Campo Santo - Firewatch Game [Online Image] Available from: http://www.firewatchgame.com/ [Accessed 02/11/16]
5. CAMPO SANTO PRODUCTIONS (2014) Firewatch - August 2014 Reveal Trailer [Online Video] Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d02lhvvVSy8&feature=youtu.be [Accessed 02/11/16]