Week Nine – Walkthrough & Reflection

The ninth week of the semester has come and gone, and incidentally phase three of the project has also come to a close. Next up: Phase Four.

After I spent a little time while working on my Creative Writing option module work on Monday, Josh and I then spent Tuesday working heavily on the Mars Base game idea in order to try and get it ready for Friday’s crit. After some discussion, it was decided that once again I would make the code-based prototype while Josh would focus on creating artwork that best represented our vision for the idea. From our ideation last week we knew we wanted the game to be two dimensional and have a top down God-like view, so with that in mind Josh then decided to work on what the Mars base itself might look like. For the prototype, I began work on the simulation side of things. This was in order to give people an idea of what the primary gameplay could look like, as well as giving me an idea of how feasible coding it would be as well as how fun a game based in these mechanics would be to play.

I began with adding some simple AI (once again borrowed from last year’s Star Beasts) and tweaking it to function properly in a two dimensional environment. I then created a placeholder square sprite for Tommy (the character the player must keep alive) and built a small base-like enclosure around him before letting the AI run freely. Next, I began work on one of the game variables the player must control that we came up with last week; Pressure. Adding an “airlock” into the side of the enclosure, I coded in a function that when opened the airlock would cause the pressure to drop and poor old Tommy would be sucked right out into the harsh planetary environment. It made for a rather entertaining mechanic (at the expense of Tommy) and this combined with Tommy pottering around made for a very basic but functional simulation prototype for idea three.

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(The “enclosure” – Tommy is the square in the top right corner. Click the image to play the prototype)

It was then time to add some controllable variables to make the prototype a bit more interactive. I went with Power first (as it is arguably the most important as it essentially controls everything). The game starts at 100% power, which then ticks down as time goes on (about 1.2 percent every second – it probably wouldn’t be as fast in the actual game but for the purposes of the prototype I sped it up). Once the Power runs out, the base loses power and subsequently pressure, so the airlock opens and once again poor Tommy gets sucked outside and dies. To combat this unfortunate event, I then coded in a method of generating power; a Solar Panel. During the day (another mechanic I added – a day/night cycle) the player has the option of enabling the Solar Panel (the giant square at the top of the above screenshot) that then generates power for the base. At night however this option is not available, so the player will have to keep careful watch on their power levels and make sure to charge up during the day.

On Wednesday, I showed the prototype so far to Josh, and while he found it rather entertaining (particularly the repeated unfortunate demise of Tommy) he thought it needed a little bit more in the way of interactivity, and I agreed. Looking through the list of variables we came up with last week, I then chose Oxygen to implement. The game starts with 50 Oxygen, which then steadily increases because of the base’s Oxygenator. There is however a small catch to this. Every ten or so seconds (again, a variable that will likely be longer in the full game) the Oxygenator gets “crudded up” with dirt/generation waste (represented by the small black triangles in the screenshot above) and as it accumulates after a while the Oxygenator quietly stops working. If left unchecked, the base’s oxygen supply will then run out and Tommy (we really are cruel to him) will die of hypoxia.

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Josh and I then met up on Thursday, and I showed him the now rather improved prototype, which he liked considerably more. He then mentioned that Adam had talked to him about idea three the day before, who said that what we were creating in terms of prototypes and ideation was a bit too linear and that we should try and be a little more abstract/innovative. Josh’s suggestion was that perhaps we should make the game real time, the idea being that the game could be on mobile or similar and would run in the background. The player would then have to “check-in” every so often to make sure things were running smoothly, and the game would send notifications to them if something was going badly wrong (like oxygen had run out for example). Josh then mentioned that there is an eight minute delay with receiving messages from Mars (due to the sheer distance) so the game could send notifications eight minutes after they happen, which would be quite a cool mechanic as the player would then have to scramble to keep Tommy alive.

 

These were all pretty cool ideas, but being the day before the crit we unfortunately didn’t have any time to implement them into the prototype, so we decided to let it take a bit of a backseat (i.e. be a demonstration of mechanics rather than an accurate idea of what the game will really be like) while we talked about how the game would really be. Josh and I then spent most of the day working on the presentation for Friday, which can be found here. We did also have a pretty interesting chat with industry guest Adam Lowe (the Creative Director of UNRD – a company that created the innovative idea of telling a story via having a character’s phone messages) who really liked our third idea (though admitted to being biased towards non linear abstract storytelling) and suggested that perhaps we could link it to reality even more by having the game follow real life events on Mars – for example if a large storm occurs on the planet, have the base be affected by it. It was a very cool suggestion (despite the massive coding undertaking it would be) and left Josh and I thinking even more about the innovative potential of the game idea.

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(Josh’s very cool mockup of how notifications could work in the game)

One thing Adam (our tutor) had suggested to include in the presentation was a list of Pros and Cons of realising each game idea as a full game, so after our conversation with Adam Lowe we set about creating just that. Overall we found it a pretty useful task, as we were going to have to decide within the next twenty four hours which idea we wanted to take forward, and coming up with the list enabled us to see exactly what we liked and didn’t like about each idea.

The overall consensus was that idea one (NASA Exploration Game) would be a lot of fun to make (more so than two) but would require a great deal of work, while idea two (Mars Base Game) would be more innovative but also less in line with our two overarching themes (i.e. space and pushing through the fear of the unknown). Each idea had it’s ups and downs, and Josh in particular was a little stuck with which one we should go for. Personally, I preferred idea one – for the simple reason that I enjoyed working on it far more than the second. The idea of creating a Solar System, working on a cool alien-based narrative and most importantly getting across the feeling of pushing through the fear of the unknown through mechanics and story was very appealing, and I enjoyed that concept far more than I did the second idea. Don’t get me wrong, I liked idea two a lot too, but despite it’s innovativeness I just found it a little duller in terms of what we could do with it, and it certainly didn’t excite me as much as idea one.

Friday then arrived, and we presented our ideas to our fellow classmates. Their feedback can be found below:

thingy

In terms of voting for a particular idea, the majority went with the NASA Exploration Game idea. They thought the prototype looked really fun, and agreed that there was a lot we could explore with it. We also had a pretty cool suggestion for idea two, which was implementing multiplayer. Instead of having Tommy be an AI he would be another player, and a team of three or four people would control the base together. This was very interesting as it would negate the need to have an AI (which is a lot of work) and would make the game itself quite a lot more enticing (at least for me).

Adam then gave his feedback on the two ideas. He suggested that there was a bit too much going on in the first one, and that perhaps we should do away with the narrative altogether and instead focus on getting across my theme of pushing past the fear of the unknown through mechanics – having particularly scary or heart-racing space elements or planetary findings that would do the work of the narrative instead. I liked this suggestion as it would make the game simpler and allow us to focus on really nailing the mechanics (which we would have to in order to get the theme across anyway). Adam then showed his enthusiasm for the multiplayer suggestion for idea two as well as his personal opinion that we should do that one as it sounded a bit more innovative (which is true). It was then at this point that we had a rather large decision on our hands, namely – which one do we choose?

Josh and I sat down to discuss it, and I began by putting across my opinion on the subject; I still preferred idea one. I personally found it far more interesting an idea to make (mostly due to my love of all things space) and maintained my position that we would probably have a lot more fun making it than the second idea (I mean, we’d literally be making planets, how much more fun could you get). We then drew up more lists of pros and cons (these ones being mainly technical-based) and found that while NASA would be more work, it would be interesting work (i.e. literally designing planets as well as outer space mechanics) while idea two would probably be less work but a lot duller (as it would be focusing on narrative and designing one particular area). In addition, we pretty much knew the direction the first idea would go in (i.e. a 2D exploration game with additional elements) whereas we had no clue where exactly the second would go (other than “abstract Mars base management”) – we didn’t have any solid ideas as the concept kept changing.

Josh then agreed with my initial argument, saying that he too found the idea of making a Solar System and the mechanics within much more attractive than a manned base. He was also however a little more attached to idea two than I was, stating that it would be a rather interesting game to make but at the same time he wanted to make something he enjoyed doing, and he wasn’t sure idea two was that (which I agreed with) whereas he knew idea one would likely be. A direct quote from Richard earlier that week then came to mind; “if you don’t enjoy making it, it will probably be shit.”

This resonated with me a lot, and after a brief discussion it did with Josh too. It was a very difficult decision as we did like both ideas considerably, and with heavy hearts we then chose the NASA Exploration Game idea to take forward.

 

Reflection On The Week

Week Nine was tough. Josh and I both put in a lot of work with creating prototypes as well as artwork, and by the end we had two pretty good ideas for games. Making that final decision was rather difficult, but I do feel we made the right one in choosing the “NASA Exploration Game” idea. Ultimately we have a clearer idea of where we would head design-wise with this one, as well as being more invested in the mechanics and structural aspects of it as we would likely enjoy making them far more than we would a Martian base. Considering we will be spending four months making the game, I feel it was a good decision to go with the one we found more personally interesting rather than the potentially more innovative idea, as ultimately this has to be something we’ll enjoy doing or as Richard rightly said, it won’t be particularly good. Now that’s not to say we would’ve hated making the second idea, but Josh and I are big fans of outer space and the mechanics and unknowns within, so I think it’s highly likely we will enjoy creating a Solar System and fiddling about with physics in space a little more than making AI and controllable base systems.

I also do think we can do a lot more with idea one, particularly in the way of getting across my theme of “pushing through the fear of the unknown”. This could be really interesting, and I’m quite excited to see what we will do with it. I liked Adam’s suggestion of perhaps doing this through mechanics and setting rather than narrative, so this will also be something I’m going to look into.

Next week, the loose plan is to really nail down the mechanics of our game idea, as well as work out exactly how certain elements of it will work (potential narrative, for example). Should be fun.

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