Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Homework 11: Story and Indirect Control

These are the answers to some questions about our game's story and indirect control.

Chapter 15

1. A goal with no obstacles is not worth pursuing, therefore our game has various types of obstacles which requires mental and physical skills to overcome.
2. The main character's goal is to find out what happened to all of the people in her city. She cares because she knew a lot of people who disappeared and wants to know if she will ever see them again. Also, she cares because she is the only person on the scene to solve the mystery.
3. Traps that can hurt or possibly kill her and puzzles that must be solved. Also, she can't achieve her goal until she finds all of the story-filled notebook pages.
4. Yes, the puzzles will be more complex in the second level and maybe the traps will take more health.
5. The protagonist transforms from being scred and doubting herself to developing inner strength and confidence. She becomes more self-reliant.
6. The game world is simpler mainly because there are no people inhabiting it besides the main characters. Also, the spaces of the game are simple and limited.
7. I don't think the player really has any transcendent powers; they have the powers of their own mind. I guess one type of transcendent power would be shooting a gun.
8. The weirdest element is definitely the antagonist's time/dimension experiment gone wrong. We haven't come up with details yet.
9. The weirdest thing will be introduced in the beginning of the game and will be explained adequately but some details will purposefully be left to the imagination. We're not planning on getting very deep into the science.
10. I hope that players will be interested in this story because it is an interesting scenario to imagine yourself coming home to find your entire home city abandoned. I hope the mystery of how and why it happened drives players to keep playing in search of answers.

Chapter 16

1. The player has freedom to explore, but there definitely are limits. Still, they can explore and interact with objects at their own pace. They should feel decently free, but they'll know they're not really free because the game will be simple.
2. There will be boundaries to constrain the player such as locked doors and limited actions. The game must also follow a linear progression. The game is meant to follow a linear "string of pearls" path, so hopefully the constraints won't bother the player too much.
3. Ideally, I would like the players to search for the notebook pages and the gun pieces and assemble a complete gun as quickly as they can. If they wanted to take their time, that's fine as long as they don't get bored and stop playing.
4. We have talked about the possibility of implementing a time-based score. Another method of guidance could be visual cues or audio hunts when they're near important items.
5. Our interface will be minimal, but we will probably have an objective displayed for the player to see what their next goal is.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Weekly Task 1

For this week's task, I will be writing the first third of the in-game notebook pages that reveal the game's plot to the player. This is a significant task because we haven't come up with specifics for the story yet.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Homework 9: Balance

     Fairness doesn't apply to our game, at least not the sense of fairness discussed in the chapter. Our game is strictly single player and every player has the same opportunities and resources. The only part of the game that might need to be balanced for fairness is the final battle against an AI boss.
     When it comes to challenge vs. success, I think that our game is well balanced. It is set up so that the majority of players will be able to complete it. For those who are more skilled or who want a greater challenge, they can try to beat the game as quickly as possible or try to defeat the final boss without the gun. I think that "layers of challenge," aka a grading system, could be a very helpful addition to balancing this aspect of our game. After beating the game once, players could replay it and get graded for each level based on how quickly and efficiently they find important items, how long it takes them to solve each puzzle, how much health they lose, etc.
     I really wanted to implement meaningful choices into our game, but I feel very limited by our resources and our knowledge. As a story-based mystery game, meaningful choices would very much add to the experience. However, it quickly gets complicated by the need to write and program alternative branches of story and gameplay. We are planning on implementing one meaningful choice and one somewhat meaningful choice. The first is a triangularity: the player can either speed through the game and beat it more quickly (high risk, high reward), or they can search thoroughly for gun pieces and have a significant advantage in the final encounter (low risk, still high reward, but costs more time). This option won't be explicitly stated until the player finds the first gun piece, which is guaranteed, then they will need to decide whether to go out of their way to search for the others. It is a tough decision, because they won't explicitly know if they will need the gun. The second choice is that the player will have the option to visit either building first and will be able to collect the journal pages out of order. This will create a slightly different experience for each player, although it won't change the outcome of the game's narrative.
     Our game mostly relies on skills: mental skills and some dexterity. There is really nothing in our game at this point that is left up to chance. The placement of hidden items will seem random to the players, but in reality will be carefully determined by us. Again, most of the skills required for our game will be "head" based, such as intuition, problem solving, and filling in the gaps of a mystery story. Some physical skills will be necessary to avoid obstacles by moving or jumping in time and to outplay the boss in the final encounter. Being entirely single-player and only having one subject, our game doesn't include elements of competition or cooperation.
     Our game will be short. It will probably be around 30 minutes to an hour long. The game could probably be completed in about ten minutes if the player knew exactly where to find the essential items and exactly how to solve all of the puzzles. The length of the game will depend on the skill level and pacing of the player.
     The primary reward system of our game will be tied to the story. The player will be rewarded for success by uncovering pieces of the mystery. Punishment is also integrated into the story, but only comes into play after the player finishes the game. Basically, the way the player plays the game and whether they succeed will determine one of two endings for the game, one happy and the other... less happy.
     The game will give players a trivial amount of freedom but it will really be a carefully controlled experience behind the scenes. This is necessary to enforce the narrative structure.
     It will really be a very simple game with simple controls, but some of the puzzles will be complex and the story will be somewhat complex. I would hope for some emergent complexity, but we'll have to see. It is much more difficult to implement without enemies to fight or other dynamic mechanics. I think that our game will be elegant rather than overwrought and confusing; that is the stylistic goal, anyway.
Finally, we plan to give plenty of detail in the visual environments but we are very limited in our aesthetic skills. There will definitely still be a lot left to the imagination, but we will try to find the sweet spot by providing detail the imagination can easily use. We also plan to offer a detailed story but leave a few things purposefully ambiguous so players will use their minds to analyze what really happened.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Homeworks 5 & 7: Blender Game Engine and Animation

This post is a combination of homeworks 5 and 7. It also links to a complete object ready to go into our game which represents the culmination of my work in Blender so far. I have made a 9mm pistol. It is split into components which will be scattered around our game world and which the player must find in order to assemble the completed pistol. If the player is able to assemble the pistol, they will be able to use it to help them defeat the main antagonist at the end of the game.

The video below shows the components which I linked into a single file. It then shows the gun working in the game engine. The [w] and [s] keys aim the gun up and down, respectively. This is the only range of motion needed because the game is two dimensional. Left-clicking of the mouse causes the gun to fire, complete with realistic recoil animations and a bullet which shoots in the direction the gun is pointed. The video then shows the game engine logic for each object. Finally, it shows the dope sheet for the gun and shows me cycling through the frames in slow motion in order to show the animations more clearly.

I will likely add more detailed textures and fine-tune the animations, but other than that, this gun is functional and ready to go. The next step will be figuring out how to place it into the character's hand and making it look realistic.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Homework 8: Mechanics

1. Is the space in your game discrete or continuous?

The space in our game is discrete. There will be three discrete buildings and a discreet outdoor area which will allow travel between the buildings. In addition, each building will have several discrete floors nested within it. The floors will be connected by an elevator or staircase that will serve as a warp point. There will also be discrete rooms the character can enter from the hallways through doors.

2. How many dimensions does your space have?

Our outdoor space will only have 2 dimensions. The buildings will have 3 dimensions, but the player will only experience 2 at a time. In other words, for each floor, there will be a 3D square of hallways, but the camera will be locked into 2 dimensions. When the character rounds a corner, the camera will change to the new side of the hallway. When the character enters a room, it will also be two dimensional.

3. What are the boundaries of your space?

The space is bounded by the movement of the character. The character can only ever move in two dimensions. In the case of the outdoor area, it will have an invisible boundary (wall) on each end. In the case of the buildings, the walls of the hallways and rooms will provide the boundaries.

4. How many verbs do your players (characters) have? What are they?

The player will be able to walk, jump, search, interact (with an object or person), and shoot. So there will be five verbs. "Interact" is a flexible verb with many possibilities for emergent gameplay.

5. How many objects can each verb act on? What are these objects?

a) The player will be able to walk everywhere  he/she goes.
b) The player will be able to jump at any time, but will use this ability to get past obstacles such as tripwires and gaps in the floor.
c) The player will probably be able to search piles of papers, desks, and filing cabinets. Some will be useful, others will return nothing of use. Of course, the player will also be searching various rooms: on this larger scale, the same principle applies, but the verb used would really be walking. The searching is not really its own action in this situation but rather something emergent.
d) The player will be able to interact with various types of objects and puzzles. Some examples would be an elevator, a keypad, a door, or an NPC. The amount of different objects will depend on how many puzzles we ultimately implement and how large our spaces ultimately are.
e) The player will only be able to shoot in one situation; shooting at the final boss during a confrontation.

6. How many ways can players achieve their goals?

There is really only one way for the player to achiever his/her goals. That is to search for the clues to the mystery of what happened and track down the final boss. However, the player may be able to collect clues out of order if we have time to implement it. Also, the player can make it to the final encounter either with or without having assembled a gun from pieces they've found. Having the gun will make the final encounter much easier to win.

7. How many subjects do the players control? What are these subjects?

The player will only ever control one subject, the main character, unless you count moving pieces of a puzzles as subjects of a sub-game.

8. How do side effects change constraints?

The only side effects I can think of are taking damage from traps or failing to find the pieces of the gun. These would each increase the intensity of the game and make it more difficult from that point on. Maybe if a puzzle is failed several times in a row, a hint will be provided.

9. What are the operative actions in your game?

The operative actions are exploring, searching, solving puzzles and surviving.
10. What are the resultant actions in your game?

The resultant actions are discovering and synthesizing information, obtaining helpful clues and items, progressing through the levels, and reaching the final encounter/solving the mystery/winning the game. 

11. What actions would you like your players to do that they cannot presently do? (based on your current knowledge of Blender)

I would like the character to be able to punch/kick but I don't know if we'll have time to animate this non-essential component (it would only be used in the final encounter). I would also like the characters to be able to speak but I think voice acting is outside of our game's scope.

12. What is the ultimate goal of your game?

The ultimate goal of the game is to guide the character to solving the mystery and confronting the villain.

13. Are there short and long term goals? What are they?

Short-term goals: searching for the notebook pages, finding the notebook pages, finding gun components, navigating traps, solving puzzles

Long-term goals: assembling the complete notebook to solve the mystery, assembling a complete gun to use against the villain, finding and confronting the villain

14. How do you plan to make the game goals known and understood by the player?

Our goals are somewhat intuitive and the game space isn't that large, but we will provide instructions both explicitly through non-diegetic text prompts and through the character's inner monologue.
 Ex: "Maybe I should search the other buildings and see what I can find."

15. What are the foundational rules of your game?

The foundational rules are as follows: Objects that need to be found are hidden in specific places. There are decoy places to increase the difficulty. Many objects that need to be found are protected by puzzles that must be solved and obstacles that can injure (take health) from the player. There will be vending machines to give the player health. The gun pieces are optional, whereas the journal pages must be found in order to continue. Some areas will not be accessible until the completion of other areas. The game will ultimately reveal the location of the final boss. The boss must be confronted and fought in order to complete the game. The player can win or lose, and the outcome will change the game's narrative ending.

16. How are these rules enforced?

The foundational rules will be enforced by limiting the actions a player can take in a given situation and by halting game an narrative progress until the most immediate logical goal is accomplished.

17. Does your game develop real skills? What are they?

Yes. Our game should develop self-reliance, critical thinking, thoroughness, efficiency, problem solving, and dexterity.

18. Does your game develop virtual skills? What are they?

The character will have virtual skills such as jumping and shooting, but they do not change over the course of the game, so I would say no, the game does not develop virtual skills.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Homework 3: First Objects

Blender 9mm Pistol

UPDATE: I carelessly deleted the file of the original 9mm pistol when I decided to remake it into a better version for the game. This link now points to version 2 of the pistol which includes separate components and animations. Still, it looks almost identical to the original, I simply created it using fewer vertices so that it would be less resource intensive.  It now has a trigger, but still lacks a magazine and a proper barrel. The top of the gun is now separate.

This is a model I made of a 9mm pistol. It is modeled after a Taurus 24/7. It lacks a magazine and trigger, which would have to be animated separately. In fact, I regret joining the top section of the gun to the rest of it, since it would need to move in a firing animation. Still, I am proud of this as my first object, and it should be easy enough to create an improved version from scratch, having already done it once. In our game, we plan on having separate gun parts hidden across the game world, so I will probably need to model each component separately, and then make a model of a complete working gun. If the character finds all of the parts, which is optional, she will be able to use the gun in the end boss fight, improving her chances of surviving.

Homework 6: Elements and Theme

  1. For each of the four elements of the Tetrad, explain how it is addressed by your game. If one of the four elements is not used, please state this.
  •           Mechanics: Our mechanics will hopefully enhance the experience of exploration and mystery in our game. These include puzzles, deadly obstacles, a non-linear game structure, and the ability to collect important items which enhance either the plot or increase the player's chance of survival. The player should feel eerily alone but self-reliant.
  •           Aesthetics: We haven't really started building the visual elements of the game yet. I think that we will be limited in the creation of convincing aesthetics because we don't have anyone who specializes in that area. It is probably the most daunting aspect of the game to me, especially since great aesthetics in games have always been very important to me. Ideally, though, the aesthetics of our game would be eery and isolating, also foreboding and ominous.
  •           Story: Our story is a work in progress, but we have a good framework. It is a mystery about a scientist who caused everybody in the city to disappear while experimenting with a new technology or weapon. The player will find herself in the aftermath and be presented with what happened. The interesting story of how and why it happened (the events leading up to the event) will be revealed by journal pages which the character must find in order to progress to a final confrontation with the antagonist.
  •           Technology: We have decided to give our game a 2D sidescrolling camera persepective. While this limits exploration, it is much more feasible for the scale of this project and it makes platforming easier for for the developers and the player. The believability of our world will be directly related to how well we are able to master modeling, animation, and texturing.
2. Do the four (or less) elements work towards a current theme? 

  •           If it was up to me, there would be two main themes for the game: the fear of finding yourself alone, and the experience of solving a mystery. I think the team is on the same page, or at least close to being on the same page. I think that the separate elements of our game will work together well to reinforce these themes, keeping in mind my doubt about the aesthetics. I think, on the mechanics side, that making the game somewhat difficult and unforgiving (but fair) would go a long way.
3.  In your own words,  describe the meaning of a "theme", and how does it differ from an "experience" (see book for examples in Chapters 2 and 5).
  •           I have always been taught as an English student that a theme is the central idea of a narrative. Games are more complicated than narratives, so the definition of theme must be different. I would say that a theme in a game is a central idea created by a combination of all of its elements. FOr example, if I wanted a cybernetic theme, I would have a futuristic story, futuristic aesthetic designs including art direction and score, a technological looking user interface, and high-end graphics. The mechanics could reinforce the theme by creating missions that involve using/fixing/destroying computers/robots/other technology.
4.  What is your game's theme?
  •          I think the simplest expressions of our game's themes are isolation, exploration and self-reliance. They all kind of go together as one supertheme. For a game with similar themes, see The Last of Us  by Naughty Dog.
5. What are the elements in your game that are meant to reinforce this theme?
  •           The lack of ordinary people in the city is a major story/mechanics aspect of this theme. The presence of traps and omnipresent danger could also contribute mechanically. Aesthetically, I think that we should choose a grim-looking color palette, but one that is unique. Perhaps the environments could portray sudden disappearance -- objects left in disorder where people were using them when they disappeared (crashed cars in the street, a vacuum cleaner left in the middle of a hallway, trays of food on the floor, etc. The journal pages and the pieces of a gun hidden throughout the game will contribute to the exploration theme in a mechanical way and will tie into the mystery/discovery aspect of the story. I hope that the character will be able to move freely back and forth between a couple of buildings to create at least some illusion of freedom//agency.
6. What is it about your game that you feel makes it special and powerful?
  •  I believe our game is compelling because it will allow players to experience a sequence of events which is plausible and terrifying, but is unlikely to happen in real life. The game's experience should resonate with several human fears and longings, such as feeling isolation, desiring answers and accountability, building confidence and self-reliance, etc. The gameplay should also be excellent, thrilling, and satisfying.