Another week has ended, and with it the end of the semester grows ever nearer.
The tenth week began as we had planned it at the end of the last; sitting down with Josh on Tuesday morning and attempting to nail down the base mechanics of our game. We both had a lot of different ideas and thoughts as to what should be in the game and how each thing would work, so pulling together and collating every idea and wish we had for the game into a comprehensive list seemed like the best way to go about it.
The result was the above diagram. It’s obviously just a simple bullet point list (as each of these mechanics will be far more complicated than they look in the list) but it gave us an idea of the shape the game might take as well as the potential workload when it came to making it next semester. Each of these ideas came from either research (phase one) or ideation (phases two and three) and seeing them all come together for the first time here gave me quite a lot of hope; all these different ideas work together quite well (or at least in theory they do) and what I see here isn’t just a list of mechanics, but for the first time – a game.
So from this list, we were able to nail down the three base systems the game would need:
- The Realistic Gravity System – including orbital mechanics, planetary movements and most things environment-based.
- The Player – including the Rocket and its movements (in space and in atmosphere) as well as the controllable Human that gets out to explore when the Rocket has landed.
- The Navigation System – including vector prediction for landing and orbits, the map and location hints (for example, the Rocket “twitches” towards nearby gravity sources when in deep space).
These would each be quite complex (coding-wise), but getting them all down on paper was a step in the right direction as it allowed me to see exactly what needed doing, and potentially how difficult the game would be to code.
These are of course all just prelimary game ideas that we quickly put together from previous ideation, so we might (and probably will) change them as time goes on or if we run into particular issues.
The next thing we did was focus on Josh (as he will be the primary asset guy) to see exactly how much he would need to draw/create. Since we had already designed the Solar System itself for the presentation last week, narrowing down exactly what he needed to make was fairly easy.
(what the setting of the game will be like – made by Josh)
The biggest job would be creating the four planets. Now obviously they wouldn’t actually be planet-sized, but they would need to be large enough to land on with enough room for exploration, so it would be no easy task. Each planet (apart from the gas giants as they are just…gas) would need its own environmental designs as well as potential animations, and the same went for the playable entities (the rocket and the player) as well as potential spacial objects (like asteroids for example).
Next we had a bit of fun designing the specifics of gas giants, as we had a basic idea of how planets would have their different environments (like craters, trees etc.) but we hadn’t yet nailed down how gas giants would work, other than that we wanted them to be a source of rocket fuel for the player. We then decided to add a heavy element of risk to them, namely with this idea that there is more available fuel for the player to collect the further they go into the gas giant. However, the danger of running into dangerous gases or being trapped by powerful gravitational forces increases the further in you go, so the player will have to manage risk with reward – something that plays quite nicely into my theme of “pushing through the fear of the unknown” – as nobody knows what’s really down in the depths of a gas giant. These mechanics-based risks all pretty much came directly from Josh’s space research (as they actually do occur in real gas giants) along with this notion that we don’t know what could be down in the depths.
We then began looking into how space transversal might work, basing a lot of the mechanics on realistic space manoeuvrabilility knowledge that was either in Josh’s research or our own heads (as we both are keen space enthusiasts – hence our interest in making this game). The rocket would have powerful thrusters for planetary takeoff as well as finer ones for orbital movement, and momentum and gravity would also play key roles. In terms of navigating this literal solar system, we then decided on vector prediction as a major mechanic. Essentially, when the player is travelling in space, a dotted line will spread out from the nose of the rocket that then points to where the player’s current momentum will eventually take them (i.e. into the atmosphere of a planet, into deep space etc.). This line will then change depending on the movements the player makes. We decided on this largely because of the original NASA Space Game Prototype, as sometimes it was difficult to see what direction you were going in (due to the blackness of space) as well as where you might end up (due to how gravity affects your speed) so having an ever predicting line that tells you where you might end up seemed like a good solution to this potential issue.
This was a mechanic we then discussed with James, who said that it would be very Maths based (which pleased me to no end) but definitely possible. In the ensuing conversation, he asked to see our mechanics as we currently had them, so we sat down with our new mindmaps and went through them with him; showing how we wanted the game to work. While Unity does have a lot of physics built-in, James then said that if we wanted really fine control over the physics we ought to rewrite a lot of it ourselves. It would mean more work (though James hopefully would be able to help) but it would give us a lot of control, and our game needs to be fairly fine tuned in order to work as well as we want it to, so it was definitely something to consider. James then told us to go and storyboard some of the essential mechanics of the game, in order to give both us and him a good idea of how they might work both visually and in practice. It was nearing the end of Tuesday at this point, so we decided to hold off on that for a little while.
Wednesday then rolled around, and honestly I didn’t do too much (being rather tired) other than laying out a basic outline for a “Game Design Document” -style document that would detail all of the mechanics and assets the game would have, as well as how they would all work. It helped to give me a bit of perspective as to how much we would need to do in the remaining semester as well as how much work the full game would need in the next one.
It was then Thursday, which was a rather special day – we were heading out to London to visit the studio of ustwo games as well as going to see the games exhibition in the V&A Museum.
(The V&A Museum)
Our first stop was ustwo, and the visit began with a tour of the studio. Their team consisted of only twenty or so people so it was quite a small studio, but it was very homely and all-in looked like a pretty nice place to work. We all then sat down and had a discussion with a few of the team members, who all went through how they got their jobs there as well as the difficulties and interesting things they went through after they graduated. It helped me get a bit of an idea as to what life will be like after uni, as well as giving me a few tips as to what I should do beforehand (mainly networking – getting to know people etc.). Overall it was a pretty interesting experience, and it definitely made me feel better about full time work after I finish the course.
After a few train station transversals, we then arrived at the V&A. The exhibition itself was pretty fantastic, having a bunch of insight into “behind the scenes” of several AAA games (including The Last Of Us, Bloodborne and No Man’s Sky) which was pretty interesting as well as a number of playable arcade-style indie games that were incredibly fun.
(Notation for the design process of several major mechanics in The Last Of Us)
(Concept artwork for The Last Of Us)
(Concept artwork for No Man’s Sky)
(A video presentation for how great things can be achieved in games – examples were giant and complex structures in Minecraft, e-sports as a concept as well as a very large and expensive space battle in the game Eve Online)
(The arcade-style games room)
Overall, it was a pretty great exhibition that I very much enjoyed. We spent quite a few hours there before it was then time to depart home. All-in the trip made for a very fun and interesting day, and I’m looking forward to the next one in week eleven.
Friday then arrived, and Josh and I’s primary task for the day was drawing out those storyboards that James had suggested we do. Our main focus was the vector prediction mechanic we had come up with, as we wanted to experiment with how it might work visually which then might in turn tell us how it could actually be coded into the game itself.
(The player takes off from a planet, and then uses the vector prediction to get into a stable orbit and then escape the planet’s gravity)
(They then spot a nearby Moon and use the vector prediction and gravity to enter a stable lunar orbit and then land on the surface.)
(Josh designed a more complex way of vector predicting, instead having the game drawing multiple angles as the player manouevres the rocket.)
(Showing how taking off and entering a stable orbit could work.)
(An insight into how asteroid manouevrability and gas giants could be like.)
After this, I then set about designing a very simple prototype that showcased how the orbital mechanics in the Solar System we had designed might work.
It is based heavily on Josh’s visual designs for the Solar System that I posted near the beginning of this post. As you can see from the GIF, each of the planets (large circles) orbit around the Sun in the centre (largest circle). There is a rather crude looking asteroid field surrounding the two innermost planets, as well as several Moons orbiting some of the planets.
One thing I really wanted to try with this prototype was seeing how the rogue planet (an idea we had come up with in Week Six) would actually work in code. Essentially, the rogue planet was a planet with a very wacky orbit (which you can see in Josh’s concept work far above – the grey planet!) that would move in and out of the System as you explored it, which could result in some very interesting (as well as potentially scary) encounters. While coding in the bizarre orbit it has into the prototype, something very cool then happened. As you can see in the GIF above, the wacky orbit makes the rogue planet come very close to another planet, literally skimming its surface. I showed this to Josh, and we had a brief discussion around it. One thing we had yet to tackle in our idea generation was how exactly we were going to get the “pushing through the fear of the unknown” theme across. We had general ideas and loose mechanics in place, but nothing concrete yet.
So, I posited to Josh that this accidental occurrence in the prototype could actually form a part of the game; namely when the player arrives on a particular planet, it could set a series of scripts in motion that cause the rogue planet to orbit very close to the planet the player was on. Not only would it make for a pretty scary encounter but it would also introduce this rogue planet to the player, who would no doubt want to explore it despite how dark and scary it might look. This event would more than likely pique their exploration curiosity, and it would also look really cool. Adam had also suggested last week that we ditch the idea of a narrative completely and instead get the theme across via mechanics, and this this new game “event” idea would allow us to do just that.
We then had our weekly one to one with Adam, in which we showed him our mechanics storyboards, told him about our comprehensive list of mechanics and assets we had come up with earlier in the week and asked what he thought of this new “rogue planet event” idea. Adam liked the storyboards but expressed concern that they might be quite difficult to code. We then mentioned our earlier chat with James and how coding them would be possible, and that he would hopefully be able to help. He was quite pleased with the event idea, and reinforced his position that he thought we shouldn’t bother with narrative too much and instead make the game about the experience rather than the story.
Josh and I then expressed that we wanted the game to have a very loose narrative, beginning with the player’s now very simple task of just “finding alien life” and going from there. We had already come up with a few ideas as to how that life might work in Week Six (such as the sentient bacteria) but instead of having it be really scripted and narrative-heavy this would probably also be an event, in a similar manner to the rogue planet one (i.e. it would happen at a specific point but for no real story reason). The primary focus would be experience through mechanics, but a loose narrative would exist purely to tie up loose ends. Adam agreed with this, and then went on to say that we should begin a “Design Document” of sorts, and start to collate all of our mechanics and asset ideas into one easy to read document that essentially explains what the game is. He suggested that perhaps we should also start looking into music and sound effects, and then bring that into the document too.
Reflection On The Week
Week Ten has been an incredibly busy week, but as a result we finally have a game (of sorts, anyway) coming together. We collated a list of mechanics as well as a list of assets to work with them, and although we still have a long way to go, I think the game is beginning to take shape.
We have our three base systems (namely the Realistic Gravity, Player and Navigation Systems) along with a bunch of mechanics that intertwine with each, and a loose idea of how the theme of “pushing through the fear of the unknown” could work. While Adam has expressed that the theme doesn’t necessarily have to be in the game (we shouldn’t force it, essentially) the spontaneous “game event” idea that came from the Solar System prototype has given us a pretty good direction that we could go with that, and I also think that space as an explorable medium is pretty scary on its own, so in building the environment the theme will more than likely come along naturally anyway. Adding the events like the rogue planet and possible alien life will also help to reinforce it. Now this may or may not actually work when we really make the game, but for now I think it is a good direction to head in (both Josh and I also really like the rogue planet event idea).
Mechanics, assets and a very loose narrative have now been loosely defined, and with that we can now begin filling in some of the major blanks; things like art design, sound effects etc. Over the next few weeks the primary task is going to be making this “Design Document” where we hopefully can refine and collate all of our ideas into a solid, practical layout for our game.
Things are starting to come together.