Week Thirty Two – Walkthrough & Reflection

Week Thirty Two has come and gone, and while it hasn’t been the best week that we’ve ever had, the game is still coming along nicely…more or less.

Monday kick-started the week, and Josh and I spent most of it fixing various small issues and bugs with the previous week’s game build; Fortitude 1.2. Something that our tutor Adam had suggested on the previous Friday was that the game’s controls guide in the Pause Menu was a tad confusing, and perhaps since we were now using a controller as the game’s primary control system, we should try editing the GUI to make it a bit more user friendly and easier to understand. Josh took it upon himself to make the basic designs, and I then layered the game’s now standard font and UI colours on top, and the result was this:

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Overall, I feel that this new design is a marked improvement over the original. It’s a far more coherent layout than the previous one (just a list of basic controls) being much more dynamic as it points to specific visual control layouts rather than just listing them.The remainder of the day was then spent ironing out various bugs with the previous week’s build, as adding new content always creates a bunch of issues with the old stuff.

One bugfixing session was a couple hours of fixing up significant issues with the Gas Giants, as the new camera system from Fortitude 1.1 and the lighting changes from Fortitude 1.2 had really broken how orbital transitions into their atmospheres worked. While I was at it, I also added a few lights to each of the worlds, brightening up the general location and at the same time making it a bit more visually interesting. As a final touch I then added the previously implemented “camera shaking” mechanic into Gas Giants, which I felt added significantly to the tension of the overall refueling experience.

Tuesday then rolled around, and much of it was spent creating various sound effects for Fortitude. Last week we had specified sound design as an issue with Adam (as most of the sound effects in the game are placeholder copyrighted sounds) and to rectify the situation we had booked the university’s film studio and reserved a microphone from the media store in order to try and record as many sound effects as possible for the game.

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The Film Studio, apologies for the image’s absurd size – gotta love WordPress

With the borrowed microphone in hand, we set about coming up with various methods of recording the game’s required sound effects. The basic list of ones we needed was as follows:

  • Ship –
    • Ambient Engine Noise
    • Rocket Burn
    • Bump (Into Things)
    • Rocket Explosion (Upon Death)
  • Astronaut –
    • Muffled Breathing
    • Thruster Pack
  • Environment –
    • Wind

These sounds are the absolute least that we need in order to successful get sound design functional with Fortitude, so during our film studio recording session they were our highest priority. To start with we focused on the ship, and I suggested that we could fill a box up with random bits and then drop it while recording, and with a couple edits in Audacity that could then be our Rocket Explosion. This actually worked pretty well, although dropping the box made one hell of a racket. The “Bump” then followed a similar design pattern, where Josh found an echoey pipe in the film studio and tapped it a few times while recording. For the astronaut, Josh then suggested that we make breathing noises but then muffle them slightly in Audacity, which might then create a spacesuit-style breathing apparatus noise that would work quite well with the game’s aesthetic. For the “Thruster Pack”, we attempted a similar thing by augmenting breathing noises as Josh placed his hand between his mouth and the microphone, resulting in a muffled/distorted noise that we reckoned (after a few Audacity edits) would work great as a thruster sound effect.

We attempted to create a rocket sound effect during our session, but found all our attempts to be fairly dull sounding or not at all akin to what we were after. Both the ambient and thruster rocket sound effects are going to be played a great deal throughout the game (as players will obviously be using the ship a lot) so we needed to get them exactly right. Josh then suggested that we browse some royalty free sites in order to find our rocket noises, and they would probably have something better than what our limited resources could create in the studio. One issue that also plagued us was that there was an air conditioning unit in the film studio that couldn’t be turned off, resulting in a low droning noise being in much of our recordings, making a lot of them fairly useless. Luckily, with creating the “Wind” sound there was a large fan already there, and that combined with ruffling of the microphone successfully created the wind-whipping-past sound that we were after (as it plays during landing) while at the same time obscuring the annoying air conditioning noise.

Overall, the day was quite a success. We managed to successfully record a number of new sound effects for the game, and despite the fact that some of them were ruined by the air conditioning background noise, there were a few we could use, and so after the session (and many an Audacity edit at home) we had the full astronaut sounds (both breathing and thrusters), wind, an explosion and a bumping sound. I then spent a fair amount of the evening browsing royalty free sound sites (main one being Freesound) and after downloading a few and fiddling with them in Audacity, we then had brand new ambient and thruster noises for the ship as well. The remainder of the day was then spent implementing the new sounds straight into the game, and overall I’d say the sound design is far better for it. Certainly exploring on foot is a lot more interesting with the breathing and thruster noises.

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What my Tuesday evening mainly consisted of…

It was then Wednesday. As per discussions, the primary objective from last week had been to implement the Ocean Monster narrative event, but this idea had been quickly scrapped this week as it became apparent that Josh’s designs for the surface of the planetary body on which the event was set needed a lot more time. We were keen to get the visuals for this particular world just right (a big example being the sub-surface ocean visuals), and so decided that the narrative event would need to be pushed to Fortitude 1.4 in order to give Josh the time he needed to finish them up. With this in mind, I decided to instead work on some of the sub-objectives from last week; namely some new tutorials and some kind of targeting system in the game’s map that tells the player where to go next.

I began with said tutorials, and started by thinking about Fortitude’s various game mechanics, deciding on the most complex or difficult to understand ones (information which was gathered from the game’s various playtesting sessions) and then creating a couple of visual tutorials around them. I already had my previously created Refueling Tutorial to go by as a guide, so the aesthetic was ready to go. The two game mechanics I then decided on as needing tutorials were Landing (as landing is an extremely difficult game mechanic, as it should be) and the Solar System itself (as some planets are not landable, and so a guide would be useful to introduce each explorable world). Keen to keep them as visually interesting as I thought the Refueling Tutorial was, I grabbed a few game screenshots and played around with a few of Josh’s designed assets, and a few hours of busywork later, the end result was this:

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The Landing Tutorial

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The System Tutorial

I was rather pleased with both of the tutorial designs, as I felt that they fit the aesthetic of the game really well and are generally just visually pleasing to look at (though this is mostly due to Josh’s fantastic artwork). The Landing Tutorial gives players a detailed but concise guide on how to approach landing but at the same time leaves much of the work up to them, which is very much in-keeping with the whole “fear of the unknown” theme of the game. The System Tutorial then gives a quick overview on each of the explorable planetary bodies in the “Roci System” (the game’s Solar System), teasing certain aspects of each one while still keeping the more interesting parts hidden away (i.e. the narrative elements on each world).

I then spent an hour or so fully implementing the tutorials into the game. As of right now, the Landing Tutorial appears when the player gets within a certain distance of a planetary body for the first time, and the System Tutorial appears as once the player gets a certain distance from their starting point and opens the full game map. Overall, I’d say these guides will hopefully be a useful introduction to certain aspects of the game for players. To wrap things up I then spent the remainder of the day adding a Tutorials section to the game’s Pause Menu, so that the player can access them whenever they wish to if they missed them during gameplay or just needed a refresher.

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The new Tutorials section of the game’s Pause Menu

On Thursday, I decided to tackle the previous week’s idea of having an “objective marker” in the game’s map. In some parts of the narrative, the ship audibly recommends a select few of the System’s planets for exploration, however since the player will not know their names or may miss the AI speaking for whatever reason, I felt that there should also be some kind of visual cue that tells the player where they can head next to further the game’s narrative. It would need to be rather minimal as to not give any story elements away, and I was thinking of just having a simple arrow pointing towards a particular planetary body at certain narrative points (like it pointing at Elcalowda during the Sentient Bacteria event for example, as that’s where the player needs to head after the ship becomes infected).

After a bit of Unity research online, I had a good idea of how to approach this particular game mechanic, and spent a little while coding a rotating arrow into the game’s map. I deliberately then left its target (what it’s pointing towards) blank, so that later on during narrative development I can add the various planetary targets depending on the current game event. Afterwards I rather liked the new marker mechanic, so I decided to then take it one step further by adding a similar marker to the astronaut GameObject (using the same code) that points towards the ship when they get a certain distance away from it. This was a solution to an issue that had plagued the game for a while now (as playtesters were always losing the ship in space) and so I was pretty pleased at having essentially killed two birds with one stone.

At this point I was in a bit of a narrative design mood, and since I couldn’t yet tackle the Ocean Monster event (as Josh was still working on the planet designs) I decided to work on another part of the game’s story; the beginning. It wasn’t something that had been considered a great deal (as it’s not a massively important part of the narrative), with our previous discussions around it resulting in this:

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A screenshot from the Narrative section of Fortitude’s Trello board

As we hadn’t really considered it very important, it hadn’t actually been implemented into the game yet, and so I decided to rectify that issue. Along a similar line, something else that we hadn’t yet decided on was the starting point of the game i.e. where the player’s ship is dropped off for exploration right at the start. We knew that we wanted it to be somewhere near Estabahn as the game’s first narrative event is the Ocean Monster located on Estabahn’s moon, but beyond that nothing had really been considered. This then got me thinking; in previous playtests, we had Asteroid Fields that the player could piddle about in, and this incidentally served as a really good guide for them to get to grips with the basic controls of the ship as well as how movement generally worked in the game. With this in mind, I began designing a customised Asteroid Field (based on my Asteroid work from Fortitude 1.1) that the player would initially spawn in, and then created an “obstacle course” of sorts that the player must navigate through in order to reach full space.

The end result was quite an interesting gameplay experience. Due to the close proximity of some of the asteroids, the game forces the player to use a combination of the game’s Finer and Power Thrusters as well as do a series of rotational manouevres, which I feel would really help them get to grips with the basic controls. This gameplay combined with the opening tutorial I feel serves as a pretty good introduction to the game (barring a few fixes and polishes here and there) and I was pretty pleased with it as a result. I then brought my work full circle by implementing the above narrative event into the new environmental design, making it so that upon clearing the Asteroid Field a “Mysterious Signal” is played (courtesy of some editing of our Tuesday sound venture) and the ship attempts to triangulate it while at the same time suggesting that the player head to Estabahn’s moon as an exploration starting point, which will then kick off the Ocean Monster event when it’s implemented.

Friday was then mainly spent wrapping up the various different elements of the week’s game update, as well as ironing out a few bugs and issues that cropped up (as they usually do). We also had a quick chat with Adam, who then played through the brand new opening of the game. He was rather pleased with the new controller controls layout, and particularly praised the new sound design, though he also felt that the astronaut breathing noise needed to be a tad more subtle. He also thought that the ship’s Fuel bar was a tad dark, and suggested that it perhaps needed to be a bit more prominent (which mirrored similar thoughts I had on the subject, so changes likely are needed) He also had difficulty navigating through the spawnpoint Asteroid Field, so perhaps that needs tinkering with as well.

 

Reflection On The Week

Week Thirty Two has been an interesting week. It started off down an unfortunate avenue, as the week’s plan to create the Ocean Monster Event kind of went down the toilet as the planetary designs needed more time (which is absolutely fair honestly, as it’s one planetary surface that we really want to nail) and as a result I was left at a bit of a loss as to what to do. One thing led to another however, and as a result of the hastily-put-together new plan, the game now has several new tutorials along with a new menu to browse them with, a bunch of new sound effects and general sound design, an objective marker in the map and of course the starting narrative event and location.

These are all rather important sub-elements that certainly needed doing, and in hindsight I’m most certainly glad for the time that I’ve had this week in order to fully implement them. It wasn’t the most content-heavy weekly game update, but there was a bunch of quality-of-life and general gameplay improvements that Fortitude absolutely needed, and with the new sounds in particular I feel that we are closer than ever to getting that overall “fear” theme really nailed.

Next week, the plan is to of course get the Ocean Monster narrative event into the game, as well as hopefully the final two planetary surfaces that still need to be implemented (Rika’s and Estabahn’s Moon).

Onwards, I guess.

 

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