Week Eleven – Walkthrough & Reflection

We are now at the end of the eleventh week of the semester, and Christmas shall soon be upon us.

This week began much like last week did, with myself and Josh sitting down and continuing to plan out the major mechanics of the game. The big task we had set ourselves at the end of last week was setting about creating a comprehensive “Game Design Document” of sorts, which would see all the major mechanics and assets the game would need collated into one detailed and expansive list. Creating the document would not only allow Adam to see exactly how the game would be created, but it would also give us a clearer idea of how to approach the construction of it as well as giving us a bit of guidance as to what structure presenting and collating the game would take.

I created the Document on Tuesday, using Google Docs (LINK HERE) so that Josh and I could both edit it without needing to send the document to eachother constantly. The first thing we then did was gather together our mechanics and assets notes from last week and condensed them down into several subheadings;

  • Mechanics –
    • The Player
    • Space Travel
    • Realistic Orbit System
    • Fuel System
    • Planetary Travel
  • Environment –
    • The Sun
    • Planets
    • Moons
    • Asteroids

This list represents the major mechanics of the game, as well as the environmental assets Josh and I will have to design. Looking at this on Tuesday, I remember thinking “Oh, this doesn’t look so bad actually. Less work than I thought.” Then of course we started getting into the details of each bullet point as the week went on, and that thought quickly vanished.

While we were working on the document, James then came over and spoke to us, reminding us of the task he had set for last week; drawing out storyboards of the orbital prediction mechanics in order to give him an idea of how it might work in a code based environment. We grabbed them, discussed how our interpretation could work and then got cracking.

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(A storyboard from last week)

James did the majority of the work, but he walked us through it and gave us a pretty good idea of how predicting orbits would work. The prototype we ended up with after about half an hour was basic (not to mention buggy!), but it allowed us to see how the mechanic might actually work in the game:

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In the GIF above, you can see the mechanic in progress. The green circles represent a gravity source or planet, and the small square is the player’s rocket. The trail of small circles coming from it represents the orbital prediction line, pointing to exactly where the player will end up if they continue on their current orbital path/trajectory. Whenever the player gets near one of the planets, the line curves to accomodate for the potential gravitational effects on the player’s speed and/or direction, giving them a bit more of an indication as to how manouevring near a planetary body might affect the rocket.

The prototype kind of worked. James set up the scripts so that they were easily editable and configurable, and then left Josh and I to fiddle with it to get it to work in a way that we wanted. We did so for a good while, and as you can see in the GIF above it sort of works, at least enough to tell us that the mechanic could actually work. It is rather broken however (for example when the player gets too near the planet the line starts to bug out) and after spending a couple hours fiddling with it as well as researching how the mechanic as a whole might work in different coding methods, we didn’t really get anywhere so decided to “park” the prototype for now and instead focus on getting at least the essentials of the Document nailed down.

Having spent a fair amount of the day on mechanics, we decided to try and nail down each of the planets in the game environment (which we then spent the rest of Tuesday and Wednesday doing). We already had a loose idea of what each of the four planets and their moons would look like (primarily from idea generation in Week Six) but the specifics of them had not been decided yet. We began with first bullet-pointing each of the planetary “characteristics” the worlds would have (again drawing from our previous idea generation) and then expanding on them.

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(Some of our planetary ideas from Week Six)

  • Moon-like Planet
    • Close to the Sun – solar storms
    • High temperature Sun facing/low temperature other face
    • Low gravity
    • Tidally locked
    • Giant craters
  • Mars-like Planet
    • Covered in red dust – dust storms
    • Mountains/valleys
    • Snow at each pole
      • Snowstorms
      • Glaciers
    • Ancient ruins?
  • Rogue Planet
    • In complete darkness (torchlight)
    • Weird sounds
    • Gravity might be messed up (upon entering ring system)
    • Dense atmosphere
    • Carbon Monoxide hallucinations?
    • Minimal Fauna (Plants, trees)
    • Moon
      • Hidden amongst the planetary rings
      • Abundant flora but no fauna
      • Fauna Skeletons/footprints
      • Wind in the trees, but no animal noises – creepy
      • Sentient bacteria
  • Orange Gas Giant
    • Refueling
    • Pockets of fuel
    • Pockets of flammable gases
    • Gravity wells
    • Moon
      • Thick clouds
      • Jagged wasteland
      • Freezing Methane lakes
  • Purple Gas Giant (with rings)
    • Superfuel?
    • Pockets of fuel
    • Pockets of flammable gases
    • Gravity wells

We used a combination of our initial idea generation and Josh’s rather detailed space research (as well as our own expansive knowledge on the subject) to come up with the potential hazards of each world, and once we had those we set about making the gameplay itself a little more interesting. For example, we had two gas giants; one with rings and one without. The rings would obviously pose a difficult task to navigate, so why would the player bother to go to that one if they can just refuel from the other gas giant that doesn’t have rings? I then proposed the idea of a superfuel, one that only appears in the Purple Gas Giant. It’s more efficient and burns hotter, allowing for higher speeds. The player’s scanners would perhaps detect it if the player flew past, and would let them know. Fuel and conservation of it is a pretty major mechanic, so a potential superfuel would more than likely encourage the player to explore the giant (and of course, exploration is one of the fundamental aspects of the game!).

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(Josh’s Solar System design)

With the loose environments for each of the planets down, it was then time to finally answer the BIG question:

Is there actually going to be advanced alien life in the game?

As we had established narrative-wise in previous weeks, the player’s primary task in the game is to find evidence of advanced extraterrestrial life. From a pretty early point in idea generation, Josh and I had both agreed that they should probably be able to find it (after all, it’s not going to be a very fun game if you can’t actually find what you’re looking for) but in terms of what form it would take, we had pretty much no idea.

Now, if my Trepidation research had indicated anything, it was that we needed to be very careful with how we handled potential advanced aliens. With the whole “pushing through the fear of the unknown” theme, half the point of it is that you are exploring despite the fact that you don’t know what’s out there. The mystery and intrigue in the game would stem pretty much directly from the question of whether there is in fact aliens in the System or not. The environmental design and what hazards/planetary features the player can discover would play a large part, but the fear of the unknown would largely be because of not knowing what is out there. If we showed advanced alien life and didn’t do it well, it would shatter that fundamental aspect of the game. We would need to tread carefully.

Looking back through my Trepidation research, I proposed that we do a series of “teases” throughout the game. We already knew from Week Six that the dark “rogue planet” would likely be a major source of “fear of the unknown” elements (it is pitch black on the surface, after all) so we came up with the idea that the atmosphere could be carbon monoxide; when the player breathes it in, it causes hallucinations (as it does in real life) and we could do a great deal with that (weird sounds, odd shadows etc.). We also decided to include ancient ruin-like structures on the Mars-like world, that would be just structured enough to look possibly unnatural but old enough that they could be just very odd rock formations. We also knew from previous idea generation that we wanted to include fauna in the game, and so decided to pinch an idea or two from the Europa game idea we had a few weeks ago – namely the spooky underwater monster. All these things would suggest but not show alien life, and would slowly build up tension without needing an overall narrative. These were all (as you might have guessed) majorly inspired by my Trepidation research; this idea of essentially suggesting the existence of this alien life rather than fundamentally proving it exists.

This all changes however when the player reaches the rogue planet’s moon (this is another idea that we had come up with in Week Six). When they land, they will be greeted with massive forests as far as the eye can see, but no animals. They find evidence of them (skeletons etc.) but no live ones (this would also be a great opportunity to use sounds to induce the overall theme, as having just wind but no animal noises/birdsong is surprisingly creepy). With nothing else to find on the world, they would leave in the rocket, but the onboard systems slowly start going haywire (an odd thruster fire here, oxygen/fuel dropping there) as they have unknowingly picked up an alien bacteria that has begun messing with the ship’s systems.

This was an idea we had been throwing around for a while, having brief discussions here and there but never really massively expanding on the basic idea from Week Six, mainly because there was no specific place in the game for it yet. Now however, it was perfect. An essentially sentient bacteria would pretty much solve the problem. As we had posited in Week Six, this bacteria would be proof of advanced alien life but the player would not know it. They would unwittingly pick up this organism and take it with them (as it’s microscopic – they can’t see it) and it would then mess up the ship’s systems, which would massively induce the whole “fear of the unknown” theme as the player wouldn’t have a clue what’s going on. The idea worked well, as it would be a loose continuation of the slow build-up we would introduce with the ruins-but-not-ruins and hallucinatory experiences (not to mention scary fauna on other worlds) and due to its semi-invisibility the bacteria would constantly keep the player guessing, merely suggesting the presence of something alien rather than showing it in full.

Josh and I both really liked this bacteria idea (as well as the whole tension build-up elements that come before) as it played really well with the constantly-on-edge-fear-of-the-unknown tone and style that we had envisioned right from the beginning. So with these loose but really interesting ideas then noted in the Document, we then decided to call it a day.

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(One of my horrendous photos of London)

Thursday then rolled around, and once again we were heading off to London to visit studios. Our first stop was Somerset House, a low-rent studio where artists could come and work on their various projects. The idea behind the location is that it is a cheap place for artists to rent spaces in and then work out of, and it is also ideally located in the centre of London (where all the magic happens). We were given a tour, and talked to various people including one of the members of Werkflow, who gave us a very interesting talk about some of their work as well as how they first began working in the creative industries.

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(A few of the studios within Somerset House)

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(One of my better photos – just outside the studio)

After spending a few hours there, we then began making our way to the next stop of the day; Sennep Games – the developers of newly released game Alphaputt. Navigating to the area was somewhat tricky (gotta love the London Underground) but we made it.

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The ouside of the Sennep Games studio – we weren’t allowed to post images of the inside – game secrecy and all, you understand)

We were then greeted by Matt, the Creative Director of Sennep Games. He gave us a pretty insightful look into the development of Alphaputt (from start to finish) as well as how some of their other games came about. It was actually rather interesting seeing how an actual game company develops a game, and getting insight into the nooks and crannies of how elements of development work was very useful (not to mention Sennep Games have a really nice studio, I’d be happy to work there). It was then sadly time to leave, but overall I felt that the day had been very interesting. Seeing the two studios had given me a great deal of insight into how life might be after university, as well as potential job avenues that I could go down.

It was then Friday, and Josh and I continued with filling in various elements of the game Document. This time, we focused on the Moons of the various planets as well as writing descriptions of the major mechanics including the Fuel System and Orbital Prediction (if you want to see these you can via the link HERE).

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(Loose notes on how fuel would work number-wise, as well as a crude drawing of what the rocket might look like)

Like with the planets beforehand, we already had a loose idea of what each of the Moons would be like environmentally, so we simply set about jotting down the various hazards and environmental features of each;

  • Mars-like Planet Moon –
    • Volcanic
    • Spews molten rocks out into space?
    • Jagged/rocky surface
  • Orange Gas Giant Moon #1 –
    • Extreme gravitational forces warps the surface
    • Trees/plants/animals – life
    • Cliffs/crevasses
  • Orange Gas Giant Moon #2 –
    • Ice
    • Deep, dark oceans – possible monster?

The second moon of the Orange Gas Giant was heavily inspired by the setting of the Europa game idea, having both an icy surface and deep, dark subsurface oceans (possibly also including the monster). The other two are based off real life Moons and  inspiration from Josh’s space research, as well as a little bit of creative freedom (mainly the spewing molten rocks into outer space part).

We then got onto the “The Player” section of the Document, and so decided to look into how the player’s rocket might actually look in the game. I had sketched out a very loose design idea for it in the whiteboard image above, one that was mainly inspired by the Saturn V rocket that took Neil Armstrong and crew to the Moon.

rocketlaunch

(Saturn V rocket)

We knew we wanted the design of it to be on the more realistic side of things (in-keeping with our desire to have a semi-realistic game) so the rocket had boosters and a non-symmetral design to give it a kind of “messy” and “function over aesthetic” look. We then began loose iteration based off the Saturn V rocket (and my sketch) in the image below:

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We didn’t really get very far, but after some discussion as well as asking around the studio and getting enthusiasm in response we definitely felt that we wanted to keep the Saturn V inspiration idea, and through a few more iterations we could definitely refine the design into something that worked well for the game. We knew that it needed to look functional, but it also couldn’t be incredibly ugly because it will be the primary object the player is controlling in the game (they would be looking at it all the time), and so it would need to have at least some elegance to it. It would also need to be able to land vertically (as it would need to take off again) so practical reasons also influenced our various sketches.

It was then time for the weekly discussion with Adam, and so we told him what we had been up to that week and showed him the Document so far. He was pleased, and said that we were on the right track and essentially just needed to keep going as we were. We then told him about the vector prediction prototype and how it hadn’t quite gone as well as we’d hoped, to which he responded that we shouldn’t really worry about it. This semester was primarily for game design and getting the ideas nailed down rather than the actual code (as this of course would be covered in semester two) so if we couldn’t get the prototype to work relatively easily then it really wasn’t worth fussing over. He stressed that the Document was the priority, and prototypes (especially ones that would take time to get to work properly) should not be the focus (which was a relief, the prototype was starting to become a bit of a pain). He liked the work we had done on the Document so far, but also suggested that we should add our potential issues/problems with the game to it as well, as the Document should evaluate the project as well as propose it.

 

Reflection On The Week

Week Eleven was an incredibly busy one. We got a major start on the Document and as a result successfully fleshed out a bunch of the game’s mechanics as well as a lot of the environmental aspects that we would need to design. We also tackled to some degree one of the fundamental questions we had about the game for a while, namely whether or not we should actually include advanced alien life in it. We still have a ways to go in answering that one, but we made substantial progress and Josh and I are definitely happier about the state of the game’s design as a result now.

We also got a good look into how the orbital/vector prediction might work, as well as how difficult it would potentially be to code (the answer; very!) which was useful as it gave us a good insight into how much work this game is going to be code-wise. The Document-based mechanics and environment designs also helped with this, as well as giving us a good idea as to how much work the game is going to be overall (the answer; a lot!). There will be a great deal to create in semester two once we actually get going on creating the game, but hopefully it will be worth it in the end.

In creating the Document we have also given ourselves a pretty clear view on exactly what the game will entail. I’m certainly much clearer now on what exactly we’re doing, and looking at each of the various mechanics in detail has allowed us to really see how things will work. The game is really coming together now, and as we work on the Document over the next few weeks by the end we will hopefully have a pretty concise and coherent idea of our vision of the game.

Things are honestly going pretty well (so far, anyway).

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