Week Sixteen – Walkthrough & Reflection

The final week of the semester has now come and gone, but as one door closes another must open; initial design work on the game idea has now wrapped, and full development on DELTA-V can now begin.

This week has primarily been a “finishing touches” week, and nothing massively significant or major has been added or changed in terms of the overall game idea (as it’s pretty much set in stone initial design-wise at this point). Josh and I have spent most of the week entirely focused on finishing up the Design Document, including finishing the last few various write-ups for mechanics and narrative elements as well as generally putting the finishing touches on the document overall.

We began the week by naming the various planets in the game. While we had in previous weeks come up with their various traits and hazards, one thing we had yet to do was actually give each of the worlds a name. Using a combination of our imaginations, online random name generators (for inspiration rather than actual names though) and thesaurus.com (not to mention a fair amount of time too), we then came up with these:

  • Diadem – the Moon-like planet
  • Elcalowda – the Mars-like planet
  • Rika – the first Gas Giant
  • Estabahn – the second Gas Giant (with rings)
  • Karkarus – the “rogue” planet

Overall, Josh and I were rather pleased with the names. They took a good while to come up with, and they aren’t just random words either. Diadem for example loosely means “jewel”, a word that has been used to describe Earth’s Moon in the past; being essentially a shining beacon in the sky. Since Diadem in DELTA-V is a Moon-like planet, Josh and I felt that the name was rather fitting. In terms of the other planetary names, Elcalowda and Rika are subtle-but-not-so-subtle-for-the-keen-eyed references to two well known science fiction television series, Estabahn is inspired by the word “estaban”, meaning “tough guy” in the Urban Dictionary (that’s the politest way of putting it anyway), an apt name for the somewhat tricky to explore secondary Gas Giant in DELTA-V’s Solar System. Finally, we have Karkarus – a name inspired by the name of the Greek mythological location Tartarus, a place worse than Hell (described by GotQuestions as a “horrible pit of torment that is lower than even Hades”). We felt that it was a rather fitting name for one of the most desolate and remote locations in DELTA-V.

Over the next couple of days, Josh and I spent most of the time talking about the game on Discord, and filling in gaps in the Design Document. The game’s UI Design for example was something we had yet to address, so we discussed it for a short while and I then wrote out a short description (which can be viewed via the Design Document link in the menu above). In order to be in-keeping with the game’s overall emphasis on exploration and mystery, we decided to keep the UI as minimal as possible, consisting only of a small Fuel bar oin the top left hand corner as well as velocity monitoring where necessary. The UI will also be toggleable via the key “H” so that the player can experience the game entirely via its visuals if they so choose.

Josh then walked me through his main section of the design document; Visual Style. We had had discussions about it in a general sense already, but Josh had now written it up and explained it so it was much easier to see how our game was going to look. Not being the artist for the game, I’ll do my best to explain our visual style (although it’s probably easier if you just read Josh’s far better Visual Style description in the Design Document – link in the menu above). The game will have a vector-based style, with an emphasis on dark but at the same time striking colours – this idea being majorly inspired by the artistic works of famous Post-Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh. Since the game will be a primarily visual explorative experience, atmosphere is key, and we felt that having darker and more realistic-looking colour schemes fitted well with our “fear of the unknown” elements, but at the same time we want the player to want to see and explore more, so the art style needs to be visually interesting too. The exact and detailed specifics of DELTA-V’s visual style will be worked out as we create the game in semester two, but for now we have a good visual springboard to go from as well as a good idea of what the game is going to look like.

vincent_van_gogh_-_wheatfield_with_crows_-_google_art_project

Wheatfields With Crows – Vincent Van Gogh (1890)

It was at this point in the week where Josh and I then suddenly realised we had (in our rush to get on with other mechanics) completely glossed over the idea of player health in DELTA-V. We had previously discussed what would happen when the player dies – the game begins again, the in-universe explanation being that the player’s character died and a new explorer has come to survey the system. The player can also actually find their old character’s body, and if they do so they can “pick up” the findings of that character (i.e. map discoveries, samples gathered etc.). This decision was made so that death in-game wouldn’t be quite as harsh as permadeath (as being rather realistic it will be a difficult game) but would still be punishing, so the player should try and avoid it at all costs. What we hadn’t discussed however, was the specifics of how the player would die. Obviously, things like radiation pockets, passing asteroids, falling large distances, being eaten by native creatures – these would all cause damage, but how much? In what way? These were the questions suddenly on our minds, and so we had a discussion and then came up with a system.

While in the Fortitude (the game’s ship) the player can take a total of four “hits” before being destroyed. There is no healthbar in the game (in-keeping with our realistic theme – there’s no healthbar for real life – plus the less UI the better, keeping it minimal after all) so instead health will be displayed in visual prompts – for example visual damage to the Fortitude (i.e. sparks flying off, damaged components etc.). The Fortitude also however has a self-repair system, with each damage “hit” taking three minutes to repair. If the player for example takes three “hits”, the ship will take nine minutes to repair itself back to the “four hits until death” mark. While on foot however, things become a bit tougher; the player now only has one “hit” before death – in essence, hazards can insta-kill (falling, hostile animals etc.). We felt this decision was tough but fair, as this is the case in reality (if your spacesuit gets damaged or ripped in space, you die!) and also really emphasizes that “pushing through the fear of the unknown” theme – the player must make tough decisions to progress in the game, for example deciding to go to a location even though there could be anything there and they might die, because there’s a chance of discovering advanced alien life.

We then spent the remainder of the week putting the final touches on the document, and at long last it was done. It is a particularly long and rather detailed piece of work, but Josh and I both feel this was necessary. Some (arguably most) design documents are short and concise, but ours is considerably lengthy – for a good reason though, because it needs to be. The document has everything that we need (mechanics, environmental descriptions, visual style, sound design etc.) in order to begin full development for DELTA-V, and is something that we will be continually referring to in semester two as we build our game. This document is as useful to us as it will be for hand-in assessment, as it allows us to see everything that we have designed for our game localised in one place, and it will likely make game development considerably easier as we won’t have to go hunting for various designs or written work. It’s our reference point, and in all honesty we are rather proud of it.

With the last few precious hours of our last week before hand-in rapidly fading away, Josh and I set to work on a brief plan and schedule for semester two (which can be found in its entirety in the Design Document – another use for it!).

Josh (General Artist) –

  • February – Space construction
  • March – Landscape construction
  • April – Animations
  • May – General refinement/changes/aiding with world-building

Fred (General Programmer) –

  • February – Prototypes/mechanics-based experimentation
  • March – Environment building
  • April – Narrative building
  • May – Refinement/bug-fixing

We tried to schedule ourselves as close as possible to eachother’s work – i.e. in March Josh will be working on assets for planetary landscapes at the same time that I will be building the various planetary environments in Unity. The dates for each major landmark in development are of course only estimates – since we have never undertaken development of a game this size before, things may take wildly different amounts of time than what we predict. It’s a decent schedule for now though, and it allows us to see how our game will (hopefully anyway) begin to take shape as the weeks and months progress.

That’s about it, then. Time’s up. It’s Thursday evening as I write this, with hand-in commencing tomorrow morning. The semester’s over, so without further ado I guess I’d better write a lengthy and rather self-critical reflection of this entire project.

 

 

Reflection On The Semester

Right at the beginning of this semester (it seems like such a long time ago now), our tutor Adam sat us all down and went through exactly what the coming weeks would entail. It was a very informative session, but at the end I felt somewhat troubled; the reason for this being essentially the bottom line for the semester –  that by the end of it we needed a strong idea for a game that we would then create in its entirety. Now, Adam had stressed that we needn’t worry about this too much, as good ideas would come to us naturally during the research phase, but I still had my doubts. What if I couldn’t find a good idea? What if I didn’t find an idea I liked? What if my idea isn’t interesting enough? These were just a few of the rather worried questions encircling my head.

As the weeks then began to roll by, things slowly started to fall into place. Early research led me down various paths, including things like looking into dystopian settings as well as the idea of existentialism, and all this then eventually led me to my final research topic; Trepidation (or, the fear of the unknown). I then researched into this area heavily, and the knowledge and understanding of the topic that I then gained coupled with a little guidance from my tutor (who encouraged me to focus more on the unknown and less on the actual fear aspect of it) finally showed me the idea that I had been so worried about never finding; this idea of being afraid of doing something because you do not understand it (the definition of fear of the unknown basically), but pushing through this fear and doing it anyway. Humanity as a whole is no stranger to this concept, with the most famous example being the Apollo 11 manned mission to the Moon. Space is the largest unknown there is, and despite our fear (and the considerable danger it posed) we decided to explore it anyway.

After presenting my theme to the class, I was pleasantly surprised to see a fair amount of enthusiasm for it, in particular from my tutor, who expressed that it was one of the stronger themes in the class. I then began working with Josh (whose theme was Space) as our two research areas went pretty much hand in hand, and after a few weeks of idea generation, we had a couple of good game ideas. The first was an open world space exploration game where the player would essentially be exploring the unknown in search of extraterrestrial life, the second a simulation-based game where the player takes control of an AI in charge of a Martian colony base and the sole human within, and a fear of the unknown-based narrative then evolves as the game goes on. The final idea was a horror-themed game set on the ocean moon of Europa where the player must venture into the dark waters in search of a new place for humanity to call home.

Idea three was ditched pretty quickly as it was a bit dull, and after much deliberation it was decided that we would be taking idea one forward as a game. Josh and I both liked the Mars Simulation Game idea, but found the notion of building an alien Solar System and interpolating my “pushing through the fear of the unknown” theme into that far more intriguing, and with the game idea set – we were off. I had been so worried about finding an idea that I would actually like, and then just like that we had it. Obviously there was a great deal of research and thought conducted between those two points in time, but I found it remarkable nonetheless. The fear of the unknown as a concept has always intrigued me, but I had never even considered the whole “but we push through it anyway – for curiosity’s sake” aspect to it, and discovering that wonderful and captivating idea and then interpreting it as a full game idea, in my mind has been one of my greatest achievements on this course (and I don’t say that lightly). Here I have finally found a concept that really interests me, and now a month or so as a direct result of said theme I’m basically ecstatic about getting starting with the full development of DELTA-V. I can’t wait.

Having said that though, the design development of idea one turned DELTA-V has not been without its problems. The largest of course being scope. Being rather enthusiastic about finally making a game that we could really enjoy, Josh and I went all out with the design work for it. We knew that the “pushing through the fear of the unknown” theme would play centrepiece to the game, and that coupled with the “you must find evidence of advanced extraterrestrial life” objective gave us a pretty interesting springboard for ideas. Exploration plays a key part in DELTA-V, and as a result the game is pretty big (the setting is after all an entire Solar System) as we wanted the player to have as much freedom of choice as possible, as the theme works far better if the player has the choice of where they can go (i.e. they can choose to embrace their curiosity).

Narrative events also occur alongside exploration, encouraging the player to swallow their fear and dive deeper into the alien cosmos, but not so much that the player feels trapped on a linear course (thus taking away the unknown aspect of the theme). The game has to be big for our ideas to fully work, but because of that there could be a whole host of problems during actual development. We are fairly out of our depth here both coding and design-wise, and so although we’ll try our best to realise our vision for the game, due to the large scope of the project – anything could go wrong. There were also some parts of the semester that perhaps didn’t get the attention they deserved (a big example being the vector prediction prototype) primarily due to time constraints and lack of expertise, and these could also come into play as issues during development. Josh and I are cautiously aware of how ambitious this project is, but we will strive to pull it off nonetheless.

Overall though, the first semester of Year 3 has been a rather innovative, insightful and honestly highly enjoyable period for me. The DELTA-V game idea has both Josh and I really excited for semester two, and I honestly cannot wait to get started on it. While I was initially doubtful that I could find an idea I liked, I later found this doubt to be significantly misplaced as the “pushing through the fear of the unknown” theme is one of the most intriguing and personally interesting concepts that I have discovered, and just the idea of seeing that theme realised in DELTA-V next semester makes me really happy. Teamwork I feel overall also worked really well, as Josh and I really clicked both in terms of ideas (his Space and my “Pushing Through The Fear Of The Unknown” themes went together like bread and butter) and in interests, and all-in I think we work really well together.

While I doubt that development will be without its problems, I hope and believe that we’ll be able to push through them and make this game the best it can be. Fear of the unknown is something that surrounds this game idea (both thematically and developmentally) but like those iconic lunar explorers that ventured out in 1969 and touched the stars, we’ll push through that fear and keep exploring anyway.

 

 

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