Week Twelve – Walkthrough & Reflection

It’s the first week of the Christmas holidays, and the twelfth week of the semester. Things have been a tad slower this week (no surprises there really) but some solid progress has been made to the game.

Josh and I began the week by having a series of discussions into what exactly needed doing in terms of the game proposal document. We already had a number of subheadings written down from last week (Environment, Mechanics etc.) but after the one-to-one with Adam we had a fair few more ideas as to what should go into the document. With this in mind, we spent a few hours further discussing and finished up with a few more subheadings for things the document would need to explore:

  • Narrative
  • Visual Style
  • Sound Design
  • Goals
  • Audience
  • Potential Issues

Several of these were rather large undertakings, so we decided to split them between us somewhat and do different things. These subheadings only really consist of writing up mechanics that we have or will discuss together, so no major decisions were going to be made without the other team member being involved to a fair degree. I like to think that I am at least semi-skilled in creative writing, so I decided to take on the Narrative side of things, along with Goals (as the major goal of the game is to get across my theme, so it only makes sense I write it) and Sound Design (as I’m something of a “musical enthusiast”, semi-expert level film score knowledge and all). Josh decided to take on Visual Style (as he is by far the better artist of the two of us) and since it’s rather a large topic he decided to focus on that for the time being.

On Tuesday, I began writing out the Narrative subtopic. Josh and I had already planned out a number of the story-based “events” that would happen throughout the game (such as the sentient bacteria one that I talked about in last week’s Walkthrough) as well as having a good idea of the structure it would take; the events being a series of “teases” that would slowly increase the levels of tension and mystery as the player continues to explore the planets and moons in the System. I gathered all of these previous ideas together, and then had a few discussions with Josh in regard to filling in some of the narrative “gaps”. With all these ideas then together, I collated a list:

  • Odd signals originating from beyond the Sun
  • Ruin-like structures on the Mars-like planet
  • Rogue planet appearing in the sky/near miss
  • A sentient bacteria on the rogue planet’s moon
  • Containment Patrols
  • The Next Event

Having come up with the ruin-like structures and rogue planet related events previously (see Week’s Six and Eleven) Josh and I decided we wanted to have one additional event prior to them, in order to begin the tension/mystery build up that would slowly introduce my overall “pushing through the fear of the unknown” theme. This then led us to the “Odd Signals” event idea; when the player first begins the game, they are dropped into the System right on the edge near the Gas Giants. After a few minutes they are then greeted by a mysterious “garbled” radio signal, that at the time could be anything ranging from static interference given off by the planetary bodies to a full blown alien signal. The ship tracks a possible origin point just beyond the System’s Sun, which right off the bat begins the mysterious and intriguing elements we want the game to have while at the same time giving the player a good reason to explore deeper into the System. These signals will happen at various random intervals throughout the game, and will hopefully encourage the player’s curiosity to see what is creating them and so explore closer to the Sun.

In Week Ten, while creating a quick prototype to see how the orbiting elements of the  System as a whole would work in the game, I accidentally created a rather curious orbiting phenomenon that then gave Josh and I an idea for a narrative element.

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As you can see from the prototype GIF above, due to the wacky orbital path it has the orgue planet has a very near close call with another nearby planet. At the time this then got Josh and I thinking; how cool would it be to be on the surface of the planet and then see this phenomenon right up close? It would be a fantastic way to introduce one of the biggest narrative events in the game (as the rogue planet’s moon holds the sentient bacteria) and would be a pretty spectacular (not to mention terrifying!) sight to see another planet orbit incredibly close to the one the player is on.

Two weeks later, Josh and I still very much liked this narrative element so we decided to include it as part of the game’s overall story structure. As an event, it would occur when the player visited a particular world in the System. Entering the atmosphere of the world would then trigger the Rogue Planet’s wacky orbital pathway, causing it to rapidly appear in the sky of the world the player is on a few minutes after they touch down. Afer this occurs, the player then has the choice of chasing after the rogue planet and attempting to land on it, or continuing to explore elsewhere and waiting for it to orbit back round again. Landing on the Rogue Planet’s moon would then trigger the next event in the game (the sentient bacteria).

While writing up the Rogue Planet’s events, I was also looking into how some of the Sound Design might work in the game – mainly tinkering about with musical elements from a few movies that share a similar tone. My initial thoughts about Sound Design were essentially looking into this idea of some simplistic, mood-based background music that would just emphasize the overall theme and mysterious nature of the game as well as the wondrous/curiosity based elements of space as a whole. I had this kind of mood-based score playing in the background while I was writing up the events, which in turn then gave me a bit of an idea:

 

This is basically what we want the “Rogue Planet appearing in the sky” event to be like in the full game.

The video was just a bit of fun, really. It took a couple of hours to make the prototype, and then editing that in with the music and fiddling about with the speeds took a bit longer, but it was worth the effort just to see how amazing this kind of event would look in our game. The music in the background is track “The Landing” from new movie First Man, a biopic about Neil Armstrong and his journey to becoming the first man (see where they got that title from?) on the moon, and as a piece of music it is pretty appropriate for our game – both in terms of musical style and when you consider the movie it’s made for (i.e. a film about space, as well as one of humanity’s greatest achievements – something I researched pretty extensively for my Trepidation research). The video does a pretty good job of showcasing the tone and style we want the game and its events to have, a notion that Josh agreed with extensively when I first showed him it. He then shared it on his Twitter account, and as a result we got a fair amount of positive reception from our fellow Games students, which was pretty great.

Josh and I then had a pretty long discussion about how we wanted the game to end. As it currently stood, we had the player getting the sentient bacteria on their ship which in turn wreaked havoc on its systems and caused the ship to become nearly uncontrollable. Josh then had an idea about some “Containment Patrols”, which could be some kind of alien artifact/technology that’s job was to keep the sentient bacteria from leaving the System. This idea would be in-keeping with our previous decision to keep the actual intelligent alien life presence to a minimal (see Week Eleven) so that the “unknown” element of “fear of the unknown” would still be largely intact (as no alien life would be shown, just the technology), and it would also work well with our “abandoned” idea that we had started with the “ruin-like structures” event from earlier in the game.

I then wrote the new event up; it begins shortly after the ship starts going haywire as the player flies around in space. A loud “foghorn” like noise is heard and a proximity alert from the ship sounds. If the player sits still, they will mysteriously be destroyed but if they choose to fly away then they will survive, and then experience a “chase sequence” of sorts as the alien technology attempts to destroy them. The ship would then be “hit” by something and would be sent spinning in an uncontrollable fashion.

We had at this point however, written ourselves into a bit of a corner. This was the culmination and essentially the finale of the game’s narrative, and Josh and I wanted to end it on a satisfying note yet still retaining the thematic elements the narrative had spent the entire game building up. We knew that the game had to end with the player finding evidence of intelligent alien life (as it wouldn’t be particularly fun or exciting if they didn’t) and just finding abandoned technology that chased after them for a while didn’t really feel like a good ending. The game needed one more event.

Capture

This is what we then came up with. Taking inspiration from movies such as Interstellar and Contact as well as our own Trepidation and Space research, this image above showcases how the game will end (just imagine that the player’s ship is in the picture somewhere). This event occurs right after the “Containment Patrols” one, just as the player is sent into an uncontrollable spin by a mysterious alien technology. In the top right hand corner, the stars then begin to distort, and the area begins to shimmer. For a split second, the player then sees what looks like a gigantic hand (or something similar) and the screen then goes black. After a few seconds, they then hear human transmissions as NASA come to pick them up (indicating that they have been rescued) – the screen is still black, and the game then ends.

The idea for this finale began with a pretty detailed discussion between the two of us into alien life just as a concept. We knew we wanted to do something different with our game, and I pointed out that in most games, movies and TV series involving aliens, the creatures themselves usually look or act like us, or at the very least understand/speak our languages. In reality, it is unlikely that an alien species would even be able to communicate with us. They might be so advanced that their technology could be completely incomprehensible, and biologically they could be so different that we might not actually be able to perceive their existence, at least not in a linear three dimensional fashion. Aliens in popular media are always somewhat similar to us or at the very least conforming to something we already know (i.e. looking like or behaving like something we know). What has really never been done is a concept of an alien that doesn’t conform to anything we believe, primarily because as humans we are limited in terms of thinking by our experiences. We can’t imagine something that we haven’t thought of yet.

This notion then led Josh and I to this “hand” idea. What if the intelligent alien life just reached out and helped us right at the last second? What if they literally did just that? As an event it would confirm beyond a doubt that intelligent alien life existed in the game (answering the game’s fundamental narrative question) while at the same time shrouding it in mystery and intrigue. Other than a fleeting glimpse, the player would have no idea what this life is like. Their technology is obviously far superior to our own, and the fact that space itself appears to bend around them shatters our perceptions regarding the physics of well…life. As an implication alone, the last few seconds of the game are tremendous. They answer one question and at the same time ask a million more – which is great because as an ending it successfully keeps up the overall “fear of the unknown” element of the main theme while at the same time giving an answer to the primary goal of the game itself; finding evidence of intelligent extraterrestrial life.

 

Reflection On The Week

This week has been pretty great overall. Josh and I have made substantial progress on the game Document, and in doing so we have answered a fair few fundamental questions that we had about the game. Narrative was my main focus of the week, and we now have a pretty good idea of the structure that will take (in terms of events) as well as the knowledge of how the game will actually end. Josh and I were particularly pleased with this ending, as it wraps up the premise of the game without compromising the secretive/mysterious elements and “pushing through the fear of the unknown” main theme that make our game fundamentally different to every other space game.

For the few remaining weeks until hand-in, my plan is to continue with designing the Narrative (as there are still a few things to do, mainly just wrapping the events up and tidying them all together in the document) as well as looking into the Sound Design and Goals. Josh will likely be continuing with the Visual Style, so hopefully soon we ought to have a pretty comprehensive Game Document. Things are going pretty well so far, so hopefully development of it will go smoothly without running into too many hiccups.

Next week is Christmas, so there most likely won’t be a Weekly Walkthrough as I’ll be doing a combination of visiting relatives and finishing up the creative writing option module (something I’ve been somewhat neglecting recently).

See you in Week Fourteen.

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