Week Six – Walkthrough & Reflection

The sixth week of this semester has come and gone, and with it a fair amount of progress has been made in terms of game ideation and research.

The week began as the fifth week had ended; team negotiations. Josh and I had read and liked eachother’s various theme research over the weekend, and so had pretty much decided to team up already. Ella, Bernie and Dean had also done this with their theme of loneliness, so the only two left undecided were George and Richard. The former decided fairly quickly to join the Loneliness team as he found that theme more interesting, and the latter remained firmly in his Transhumanism camp. He also however expressed interest in teaming up with team Space (i.e. me and Josh) but stated that he would only do so if we ended up making a 3D game, as 3D modelling was the primary thing he wanted to focus on for his portfolio. As we had yet to decide that particular aspect of our future game, Richard became a semi-member of the team (helping with idea generation for instance) for much of the week.

With the team mostly established, we then officially began the Create Phase. The task for the next four weeks is to essentially come up with three fairly concrete game ideas to present to our peers, after which we would then select one to take forward as our full game idea. Beginning on Tuesday, the first item on the agenda was to establish exactly how our two themes (space and the curiosity behind the unknown) were going to work together. I looked back into the more space related aspects of my Trepidation Research and posited the “having to push through the fear to satisfy our curiosity and explore the unknowns of the universe” sub theme I had discovered there as something we could take forward as our primary game narrative i.e. that is the feeling we would primarily want to get across to potential players. Josh expressed considerable interest in this, as he had looked into similar aspects of space himself (mysterious elements such as Planet 9 and unexplainable occurrences) and we agreed that my theme combined with his setting could potentially be a hell of a game.

With Richard in tow we then set about establishing exactly what we each wanted to be part of the game and whether or not this would work as part of the overall theme. Another thing Adam had suggested last week was that we should shy away from sci fi as it has been done to death and instead perhaps look into the more realistic side of space, and as that had been a significant aspect of both Josh’s research and my case study this was agreed upon pretty quickly; the game would be grounded (to an extent anyway) in realism.

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This then led to us discussing orbits as a mechanic (as can be seen from our sketchwork above). We talked about how we were going to incorporate exploration (a key aspect of the overall theme) into the game, and this then birthed the first of the three ideas; a realistic rocket-based exploration game. We established fairly quickly that it would be set in a singular Solar System, keeping the game realistic to an extent (as rapid interstellar travel is not possible yet) and also making for a more manageable workload (as creating an entire universe would be just a tad difficult).

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We then set about mindmapping the actual hazards of space (a lot of these had been handily established in Josh’s research) and talking about how many planets or explorable areas we would have. We also set about designing the narrative, as it would be the driving aspect of the game. We knew we wanted it to encourage the player to explore, most importantly pushing them to venture somewhere even if it looked dark and dangerous (curiosity!). With Josh’s research in hand, we decided to set this idea in the far future, and posited that NASA has sent us out to find evidence of alien life, and because space travel is expensive they will only come back to get us if we find it. So basically you have to find extraterrestrial life, or die trying.

This was a solid starting point for the game, as it would really push players into exploring every nook and cranny of the game no matter how dangerous it could be (pushing through the fear – in line with the overall theme!). As the protagonist of the game would be there for a while, this then gave us ideas about how they would survive in a Solar System on their own – for example having to refuel their ship. Josh pointed out that hydrogen could be a source of fuel, and that it is found in very dangerous gas giants which could be a very interesting mechanic. We mindmapped this as well as the potential dangers of terrestrial planets (which you can see above) and so by the end of Wednesday we had a pretty solid first idea.

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In designing the planets, we used a combination of Josh’s rather detailed space research and my Trepidation Research “Case Study” into the more realistic aspects of space (as well as our own knowledge – space is our thing, after all) to come up with loose ideas as to what some of the planets would consist of (for example, a Mars-like dust world and Mercury-like crater world) and the specific hazards that each would likely have. It was at this point that we decided to include a “rogue planet”, which is a world that has a rather odd orbital path in comparison to the rest of the Solar System. A planet that essentially wanders around space and could appear anywhere at anytime fits rather well with my “pushing through the fear of the unknown” theme, and that combined with the fact that it would most likely be in total darkness most of the time (due to its wacky orbit) made it a very interesting addition to the growing list of worlds our game might have.

While we were on the subject of planets in the game, we started to think about the main objective; finding alien life. Now in-keeping with the “fear of the unknown” theme we wanted to keep alien life (if it existed at all of course) largely hidden, but we then thought “what about an organism of some kind?” We posited that it could be perhaps found on the rogue planet, and if the player accidentally engages with it (which they wouldn’t be aware of, as it would be microscopic) they could unknowingly bring it back to their ship, where it could then potentially wreak havoc on the ship’s systems. It was an idea very much in line with the overall theme, as the player wouldn’t know what was going on (as they can’t see the organism) so fear of the unknown would play a pretty major part. It would also confirm alien life without showing it, which in terms of keeping the fear would likely be a good idea. Josh and I both really liked this idea, and so noted it down to perhaps expand on if we ended up going with this game idea later on.

We then looked into various Moons (both real ones and theoretic – again from Josh’s research and our expansive knowledge of space) and added some of the more interesting ones to the list. With the basic structure of the game then written down, we decided to call it a day.

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(from the game Astroneer – an idea of what the colour palette of the first idea could be like)

Europa was our second idea, which we began on Thursday. It had the same overall theme (as would all our game ideas) but this time was set solely on one planet rather than a solar system. We decided to keep this one closer to home and so selected a setting of Europa (one of Saturn’s moons) because in reality it is one of the most likely planetary candidates in our Solar System to potentially house extraterrestrial life. It is theorised that Europa has vast oceans underneath it’s surface, and where there is water, there can be life.

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This game idea would lean much more towards the Fear of the Unknown than the previous, as a large part of it would be set in a deep, dark ocean. To make things more interesting, we posited two primary sub-settings for the game – the surface and the ocean. The ocean would be near pitch black (as it’s under 20 miles of ice if it exists in reality) and because it would be much more of a “scary” game it would need the “tension/release” formula so it was important to not set it entirely in the water (not to mention it would probably be fairly dull). Like last time with the basic setting established we then began thinking about the narrative, essentially having to give the player a good reason to go down into a dark abyss on their own. We wanted it to be different from the previous “searching for alien life” one, so settled on the protagonist being a scout for Europa potentially being a site for a human colony – surveying the world for potential habitability.

We then started to think about the potential hazards Europa could have (which you can see above) both on the surface and in the dark watery depths. The basic idea that stemmed from that was that the player would use the surface for resource gathering (both natural and supply drops from Earth) and the oceans as the primary exploration zone. There would (fairly obviously) be something down there in the water to stimulate fear, but we were keen to keep the game less jumpscary and much more story-based so decided that whatever it was would serve to keep the player on edge and therefore would be unseen for much of if not all of the game.

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(from the game Subnautica – an idea of what the “pitch black ocean” could look like)

It was then Friday, and we spent much of it refining our two ideas as well as coming up with a loose narrative for a potential third one; being an alien species who discover the remnants of humanity thousands of years after we die out. The human aspect of it would of course be kept from the player until the end of the game (Planet Of The Apes style) as a “shock reveal” kind of thing. Like the first idea this would be set in a Solar System (specifically ours) and the player would have to navigate massive dangers (broken planets, warped gravity etc.) in order to find out the truth about what happened to this “mysterious” civilisation which would then be revealed to be humanity – long dead. The game idea played on the “curiosity” theme again and borrowed ideas from the first game idea, but also took them in a new, interesting and far more dangerous (for the player) direction – as well as having a really cool narrative which we all liked.

At this point in the week we still had Richard with us (as he had yet to decide whether to stick with Transhumanism or work with us) but it was starting to become apparent to myself and Josh that our game would more than likely be two dimensional (which would be an issue for 3D modeller Richard). Having to 3D model an entire Solar System would be a lot of work (not to mention programming) and Josh expressed he might not be able to do certain aspects of it. We also knew that in order for our overall theme to really hit home the game had to look the part, and having only three months to not only build but perfect a 3D Solar System seemed a bit beyond our reach. We wanted the game to be great, and the more we thought about it the more we wanted to do 2D. It would allow greater freedoms in terms of setting size, not to mention art style, mechanics and refinement. I would also be able to help with 2D art whereas I am not versed at all with 3D modelling.

We then had a conversation with Adam about it, and after hearing our various game ideas as well as what we wanted to get across thematically and setting-wise, he agreed that our game would most likely work best as a 2D project. He also told us to be wary of falling into the same tropes as other space related games and encouraged us to do something really different, for example one suggestion was a text-based space adventure game that we could put on an Apple Watch, giving players real time updates and building tension and the overall “curiosity” theme that way. He then showed us the game Lunar Lander, a simple game built in 1979 and encouraged us to look into older games for potential game ideas.

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Lunar Lander (1979)

It was a useful conversation, as it gave myself and Josh a number of new ideas that we wanted to look into further and also reinforced the two dimensional vision we had for our future game. This did unfortunately leave us with a rather sombre task to finish up the week though – telling Richard that unless he wanted to give up 3D modelling we would most likely not need him in our team. The conversation went about as well as expected, and while I most definitely felt bad about essentially kicking Richard off the team (I still do) I can’t help but feel it was for the best, as he has some pretty good game ideas of his own with Transhumanism and I didn’t want to keep him on the team just for the sake of it. It was a rather sad point to end on right before reading week though.

 

Reflection On The Week

I think we’ve had a pretty great week with Week Six (aside from the end of it anyway) as we have come up with a bunch of interesting ideas for potential games as well as established exactly what we as a team want to get out of making it. Unless we find a better thematic avenue to go down (which could happen) the primary loose narrative for each game idea is to get across this feeling of “pushing through the fear of what might be waiting for you and exploring it anyway” to the player, as it was the conclusion my Trepidation Research came to as the best trepidation-related theme and it also works extremely well with Josh’s setting and research of space.

Of the three game ideas we came up with I would say two are fairly solid at the moment (namely the NASA and Europa ones) which marks a pretty great step forward towards presentable ideas that we will need in just over three weeks. Also, the decision to also go more abstract with a 2D rather than 3D game was a good one I feel, as it will allow us greater freedoms in terms of refinement, mechanics and art style and will make for a much more manageable workload should we decide to use our Solar System setting.

With reading week looming, my primarily task is going to be focusing on the Creative Writing option module work we have been set for the semester, as well as perhaps further refining our current game ideas. When we return afterwards it will be research and further ideation time, and with the groundwork that we have laid out this week I feel more than ever that we are heading towards a potentially great game idea.

 

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