Initial Doodles

I’ve recruited (OK, more like persuaded) the very talented Damian Buzugbe to work on the game.

Damian is a concept artist who has been in the industry since time began… or at least, longer than I have. Most notably he was the lead character artist on the Fable games. Check out his blog: Here.

So here are some extremely early doodles of our game’s protagonist – an attempt to capture the form of a middle eastern refugee but in a more abstract and more fantastical style.

early concept

Prototype tile system

This is a Unity prototype of a dynamic world that’s the center of a small game I’m currently working on. I’m now porting the project to UE4 which should be pretty fast, but in the meantime I thought I’d share.

This system provides an open world experience while allowing us to tell a very linear story and have it not feel forced. The player can walk in any direction they choose, but once certain conditions are met the next chunk of world that instantiates will contain the characters or setting for the next beat of the story. If you turn and walk the other way you’ll find it appearing in front of you again. The story is, in part, about unavoidable events in a person’s life and I think the gameplay mirrors this nicely. You seem to have choice, but in actual fact what happens to you is already predetermined.

Here a system of slots arranged in a hexagonal grid maintains the pieces that you walk on, and can choose to instantiate a special tile from a queue if the conditions are met.

Ignore my awful designer / programmer art and the hideous Unity default character.

Porting the project to UE4

My god UE4 is fantastic. The level of thought that’s gone into the system is phenomenal.

After having played around with it for a short while and done some prototyping for our current project, I’ve decided to switch my side project over from Unity.

One of the main reasons for this, apart from how easy it is to use, is that we now have an animator on board! Very exciting, and UE4 has far superior animation systems.

I’ll start posting videos of the game very soon – I’ve re-worked the core system to support some pretty cool stuff in our little dynamic, procedural world which I’m looking forward to unveiling!

Playing with curves

Ok so I think this is pretty cool. I also think this is one of THE ways you should create core mechanics.

Simply – I’m creating a jump in a game, but this is so important to get right. A good jump is a little bit of positive feedback every time you hit the button. It can be addictive and genuinely fun. A bad jump makes you feel like you’re fighting against the controls. In fact most people don’t notice when a jump is good or bad, they just like one game and not the other and they don’t know why. This stuff is important.

So this is how I’m doing it –

I’m using this easing function generator to create and tune the appropriate curve and then converting the function into C# and plugging it into my code. This is the initial result using a standard curve, it’s not right yet but it already feels like it’s on the way.

Next I need to gut that site’s (very kindly freely available) code and create a solution that will give me more control over the curve and allow live editing

A Case For Violence

Ok so first I want to start by saying that I am thoroughly bored with violent games. This all came from trying to think about something that could truly replace it. But why is violence so popular in games?

So here’s a couple of theories.

1. Violence is easy to program. It’s far easier to program some bullets and health than it is to program complex interactions. Artificial intelligence too is much simpler when all it has to do is run around and shoot at the player. Kind of a dull point though this one, and there are always ways around technical problems.

2. Violence provides players with something to master. You see my first thought when thinking about replacing violence was something like an adventure game in which you try and find, say, a long lost sibling. You could build an entire game around this and there could be a myriad of challenges along the way involving meeting and talking to new characters mainly – but the mastery would be missing. That one core skill you practice again and again and are ultimately tested on. You could build a game without it, but something would definitely be lost.

So let’s just replace it with something – for the sake of argument let’s change the story. You’re a tennis pro searching the land to become the ultimate player. You travel in search of new challengers. But the problem with this is that it doesn’t provide the bite sized challenges that violent games do – you’d be limited to less, more meaningful encounters because a game of tennis takes a significant amount of time.

Violence is actually very well suited to a medium in which progression is so key. Bite-sized encounters hone your skill ready for the ultimate test at the end. Also from a more abstract design point of view, violence works nicely to clear the path of the blocking challenger once you’ve bested them, allowing you to continue on.

There is a lot that you get for free with a violent game mechanic – it fits games very well. In fact even in the real world you’d be hard pressed to find something that allows small meaningful rounds of challenge better than fighting does. I’ll keep thinking though..

…perhaps a game about a wondering debater in a world full of the opinionated…

Perhaps not…

Ultimately I think the answer is to simply come up with some activity and an excuse for why everyone challenges you at it, like Pokemon. Surely though there must be a more elegant solution…

A good way to die

“Be good at our game or we’ll make it less fun for you” should not be a design mantra. That’s why I dislike the harsh death penalty in the latest Zelda game, A Link Between Worlds, that ultimately sees you having to re-tread vast portions of the game to re-try what it was that beat you in the first place. Ultimately the penalty for death is time – fail and you lose 20 minutes. This is harsh indeed, not to mention tedious. This poses an interesting design question though – how do you create a meaningfully harsh death mechanic that doesn’t take away from player enjoyment? Many indie games have harsher death mechanics, but quick restarts and shallow gameplay mean you are dropped back into the game doing exactly what you were doing before you died. Super Hexagon or Hotline Miami for example. The other archetype is the game that challenges you to get to its end. FTL or Hoplite both do this – death is harsh, you have to restart the game, but games don’t last long, so again, this is not so punishing, in fact it’s a formula that has existed since the advent of the arcade cabinet. As long as the game is consistently fun, then the repetition is not tedious and death is not too punishing. The real trick is implementing a good death mechanic in a longer, story-based game. So here’s a proposal – one possible answer lies in your absence from the world. When you die, the world keeps running rather than resetting and the penalty comes from not being there to help. This would work well if, for example, you have squadmates who die permanently, or in multiplayer – We don’t specifically punish you by docking your score or character progression, or by making you repeat a section, in fact you’re technically getting a second try, but things escalate more while you’re away so it’s a scramble to get back into the action, and if done right this should be fun rather than a chore. The penalty is not what happens to you, but what happens to everything else while you’re gone, and if you design the game right this all just happens naturally and in an emergent way. All you have to do is create systems that fight each other or tick over without you. I recently managed to add this concept to a game relatively late in its development – although it’s not always possible to make changes to the core game later in the process, we compensated by placing elements in the world that the enemy tries to attack. When they’re destroyed they’re gone for good – die and you’re re-spotted away from them leaving them vulnerable until you return. This is an imperfect solution, but it did add a nice meta-game for the more advanced players – can you complete the game with all of these elements in-tact? It had a nice knock-on effect of letting better players choose a more challenging game.

Brothers – Opinion

I played this game a while back but have only recently felt compelled to write this review because of how much people seem to like it, and how much that irritates me. It was described to me as ‘brilliant and brave’ but I found it to be disappointing and quite predictable in its plot and structure. It has the air, not of something beautifully crafted by an old-hand, but of cack-handedness and cliché. It feels like the work of an incompetent storyteller retreating into a new medium, not for the new opportunities it offers, but for the sake of diminished competition. There are some positives – the environments are nice looking and there is very little repetition of game mechanics. There is a tendency among game designers to stick to a rigidly limited amount of gameplay elements for the sake of readability, but in doing so you deprive the player of experimentation – a cornerstone of the medium. Besides, all of the puzzle elements in this game are tied together by a common language – physics. You pull, push lean and swing. None of this has to be taught because we are already familiar with these actions from real life. I very much enjoyed playing a game where each experience is a new one. Unfortunately the rest of the game is a let down. The mechanics never deliver on the promise made by it existing as a game, although in fairness, it does try – the bond between characters is meant to be forged by your actions – puzzles that require both brothers to complete. However you never identify with one character due to the disconnect created by you having to control both, and likewise you never form a bond with either as neither are truly external to you as the player. This leaves the story in an awkward place where it feels separate from the gameplay as it plays out in cutscenes in which you lose control – creating distance. The core mechanic too where you control one boy with each stick never stops being confusing and its only saving grace is that the game is short enough for you to persevere despite it. Also noticeably jarring is the poor execution of the ending – throughout the game you solve challenges as part of a pair – surely the most elegant way of showing loss would be to come across more challenges subsequent to the death of one brother and find yourself unable to complete them, forcing you then to take a longer, harder road. Instead you’re bolstered on by the dead boy’s memory and are able to complete tasks with one that before required two. Rather than emphasising a point, they design a solution to bypass it, a solution to the very punchline that they have built up to until this point. A bizarre choice.

Remember Me

In Remember Me there is a shining gem of a game, worn dull by an outdated world structure, cliched themes and a combat system that just falls short of brilliance. It should though be commended for its portrayal of a well-realised, non sexualised female lead. Let me first say that I enjoyed playing this game more than I have enjoyed any in a long time. For all its flaws I felt its strengths far outweighed its weaknesses. It is one of the most inviting worlds I’ve ever experienced in a game. It’s also worth saying that I’m only ever this critical of things I love, because I want them to be perfect. This annoys my friends as I appear to have more of a problem with the films, games and books we like than the ones we dislike, but it’s only because I’m interested enough to obsess over the details. I’ll try and keep this spoiler free. There are several problems that I have with the narrative, some missed opportunities I think would have been really great, and there are also a wealth of small gripes like poor voice acting, (though the main cast is excellent). It’s not really worth focusing on these as they’re easily ignored, but I do wish they’d made more of certain story themes – Nilin’s amnesia for example would have been a great opportunity for her to be manipulated by people claiming they were old friends. The combat system has some fundamental flaws and later unlocks make it pointless to ever use initial combos, as you get no bonuses for finishing them. The bigger sin though is that although you can continue your combos between enemies, if the one you’re fighting dies you lose the progress. It almost feels like a bug. I also find the inclusion of the mutant ‘Leapers’ disappointing. Must all games include a mutant or zombie of some sort? They come with Gollum-like voices and it all feels a bit silly. My main problem with Remember Me though, is that like a lot of older games it’s a slice of a world I wish I could explore fully. You play in closed off environments, bookended by cutscenes and mission cards. You have access to abilities that are only available to you a few times throughout the game and only at certain points. It feels like a teaser for something much bigger, a vertical slice. You do not feel like a free agent. One such example is your ability to enter someone’s memories and alter them, changing what they do in the real world. However these only happen at set points making you feel a loss of agency. It’s a shame they couldn’t have built a system where you could steal anyone’s memories, gaining you access to a variety of places around the world, some insignificant, some vital to the story. It would not have been able to be as complex as the current implementation, but I would rather have an ability that I could use at any time, anywhere, than one that I wasn’t truly free to use. It’s these things that make it feel outdated. I want to be free to explore the world I’m in, after all, along with interactivity, exploration is one of the fundamental differences that games have from other art-forms. Gameplay too is our way of touching the worlds we play in. If we’re shown that a character has an ability we are not free to use, it only distances that character from us. Nilin is supposed to be a Memory Hunter, someone who operates above neo-paris, a detective who steals peoples memories in order to unlock the city. It’s just a shame that we were simply told that story, rather than living it ourselves.