This week was reading week, and I spent the majority of it catching up with my Creative Writing option module so this week’s walkthrough is going to be quite a short one.
Other than creative writing then, I spent a fair amount of time taking some of the scribbles and ideas we had last week and refining them (with Josh’s help) into actual narratives. We sat down in Studio 16 with all our research and ideas and essentially “hammered out” a solid two potential game narratives to go with our overall game ideas. Here is the “pitch” for the first game idea we had (the NASA Solar System Exploration one):
In the far future, humanity has finally developed cheap and functional technology to explore the stars, and it’s a good job too as the population of Earth has grown beyond control.
NASA is now a heavily influential quadrillion dollar industry, and with its new tech it wants nothing more than to finally find out if we are alone in the Universe.
So in it’s infinite wisdom, the company came up with a plan to kill two birds with one stone:
“The first human to discover advanced alien life will win four hundred million U.S. dollars. Interstellar travel methods will be provided.”
Half of humanity leapt at the chance.
Your ship is dropped in a system somewhere in the Milky Way. Your objective; find evidence of advanced alien life. Your ship has basic planetary transversal functionality (probes, landing capabilities etc.) but nothing beyond that. If you don’t want to spend the rest of your life in this system, you’ll give NASA’s fleet a good reason to come back and get you.
Interstellar travel is costly, and with millions of expendable humans out amongst the stars they’re not coming back for you unless you give them what they’re so desperate to find.
Watch your fuel levels, and find evidence of alien life, or die trying.
It draws narrative elements from both our research areas, and most importantly it gives the player a good reason to go off exploring potentially dangerous areas (i.e. pushing through the fear of what could be there and exploring it anyway) as essentially if they don’t then they won’t be rescued by NASA and they’ll eventually die (the actual mechanics of how that would work are yet to be decided, of course).
(What the spaceship could look like – an image from the more realistic side of my Space Exploration research)
What we have here is a pretty interesting narrative premise to start off with, and while we still have the specifics of the narrative for the game idea to come up with this lays the foundations for ideas and mechanics to come.
The Europa game idea was far more narrative focused than the NASA Solar System Exploration one (due to the darker and overall scarier tone it would have) so we spent far more time on nailing down the story for it. Please excuse the rather crude nature of the storytelling as this is more of an idea explosion than a really cohesive story at the moment:
- Player is there as the scout to survey Europa for a possible colony site
- Purpose is to survey areas of the world and report back for analysis
- Player lands and deploys rover
- Sets up the drill to dig down 20km into the ice to see if Europa has oceans
- Drill takes one hour real time, so explore surface in meantime (take samples of rocks, different ice areas, navigate tricky terrain e.g. crevasses).
- When finished, there is a twelve-mile tunnel into the ice – contact with large body of water confirmed
- Send off a message to Earth confirming water – they reply by sending a supply drop which you have to go get across dangerous terrain
- Drop a rope/cage down into twelve-mile tunnel
- Set up mini-base at the bottom, send off first drone + set up light
- Drone explores a bit (remote control via you the Player), near pitch black down there apart from small light on front of drone. Suddenly you hear a large rumble and the screen goes black
- You tether yourself to the Search Light and down you go, homing in on the drone’s signal + activating Sonar
- You find the drone relatively easily, but then you detect a second identical drone signal deeper down. Your temperature monitor then starts beeping as you’re about to enter hypothermia stages.
- You go back up to the mini-base and you can then choose to go back to the surface or back into the water.
- Exploring the surface – glaciers, ice crevasses, supply drops, salvage abandoned rovers from prior explorations (solar panels, electronics, motors), mountains
- Exploring the water – Follow the source of the other signal – you head down 200m (lowest you’ve ever been) and the signal stops. You turn on sonar but find nothing. You start to head up defeated but suddenly the other signal resumes, this time above you. You head upwards and at 50m the signal stops again. Sonar gets a single solitary beep then stops. You head to the surface.
- Report your findings to Earth. You explore until they reply – which is a supply drop with a longer rope and better propulsion underwater – they are keen for you to explore the waters further
- Get supply drop through difficult terrain
- New objective is to go below 500m – diving down to that depth the Other Signal begins again – this time below you. You descend to 700m with the signal not getting any stronger or weaker, suddenly the tension of the rope ceases and the lights on it go out. Do you turn back or press onwards?
- Your oxygen and temperature meters start flashing
- If you try to go back you follow the loose and now dark rope for a short while, ascending to 200m you find the end, visibly gnashed
- If you try to descend you’ll hear a loud roar-like sound
- If you haven’t gone upwards the game will suggest you do, you reach the ice wall but cannot find the hole. You call the probe to home in on your signal, ensue two minute tension build-up (music, sounds, swirly effects because hypoxia, blurry, maybe see a shadow moving) – everything builds to terrifying climax before you turn around and see something rushing towards you which turns out to be the probe (tension release). The probe gives you a rope and guides you back to the surface, lose consciousness.
- Wake up a few days later, report your findings and upload suit camera footage to Earth – also requesting supply drop for leaving the planet. Earth then reply saying there are issues with sending the drop at the moment, they then suggest in the meantime you explore the water further.
- You express your categorical “no I really don’t want to do that” to them, who then lose their nice exterior and say if you don’t find the source of the Other Signal they’re not coming to get you. They then send you a Supply Drop with more rope.
- You detect the signal once more, repair the rope and descend to 1000m, where it slowly gets stronger the further you go.
- Deploy Sonar, with no response. You turn the Sonar off, but then you hear a muffled sonar ping (TERRIFYING).
- Confused, you turn sonar back on. The ping continues but it’s not the Sonar that’s making the noise.
- The “ping” gets faster and faster until it’s literally one noise, then stops suddenly. There’s then a low growl. Proximity alert.
- Spooked, the game prompts you to swim away. You swim fast following the glowing rope and ascend to 700m, while the signal gets stronger and stronger behind you.
- Ascending to 500m, suddenly the Other Signal appears above you as well as below. The rope then stops glowing. You try swimming up but find the end of the rope (again). Your oxygen and temperature meters start beeping rapidly, and your vision starts blurring.
- Just before you’re about to die, you suddenly an incredibly loud roaring. Above you a really bright light appears and gets rapidly larger and brighter until a rope wraps around you and your ship appears. It blasts upwards through the ice and saves you.
- It’s revealed that the ship had fuel after all and had an inbuilt safety protocol where it comes to get you if you’re in considerable distress or close to death.
In terms of narrative structure, we knew we wanted the story to be scary but not horror movie scary, as our overall theme focuses more on pushing through fear rather than the fear itself (although that is a factor). As a result, we use the “creature” in the game as more of a suggestion than an actual threat, as it is never revealed whether there is in fact something down in the oceans of Europa or not. It is heavily hinted, but never fully revealed. This idea draws from the likes of Alien and episodes of Doctor Who as well as general thriller/horror movie narratives – posing the suggestion of something being there rather than actually showing it is far more terrifying (this is basically the fundamental idea behind Fear Of The Unknown).
We then looked into how we might structure the suggestion of this creature into the story, and so thought about narrative structure and the idea of “tension release” (i.e. building up to a climax and then having a major event happen). This tension is built up the most in the ocean elements of the story, and we then have two major tension releases when the Player is about to die/be eaten and they get rescued (though honestly we’re still unsure about the ending – it’s a bit of a cop out but we did write ourselves into a corner somewhat).
The overall “pushing through the fear” theme also features pretty heavily in this narrative, particularly towards the end as it’s revealed that Earth don’t care about you and just want whatever it is that’s down in the oceans, so you have to head down there again otherwise they’ll either leave you to die on Europa or just straight up kill you. It also of course plays a major part throughout the game itself, as you’re encouraged to explore the surface and deeper into the dark oceans when anything could be (and is!) waiting for you.
Loose mechanics have been defined in the story (such as the Sonar, Temperature and Depth Meters) but other than that nothing has been set in stone in regards to perspective or anything, as we’ll dive into this a bit more when we return in Week Eight.
And that’s pretty much it for this week, as I spent the remainder on creative writing and generally chilling out playing games (it is research, after all!).
Reflection On The Week
In terms of game idea progression, this week has been rather useful. We now have two pretty solid game narratives nailed down as well as a few ideas in regard to mechanics and how the games themselves might work. Week Eight will largely be spent coming up with a third idea, and perhaps changing/refining the current ones depending on how we feel about them when we come back. Adam also gave us some useful advice in the one-to-one in regard to abstract games so I feel we ought to think about that too when designing our third idea.
Overall, not the most productive week ever (hence the short post) but we managed to get things done and I definitely feel better after a week’s break anyway.