So this week has been a heavy one. In addition to extracurricular stuff, I’ve also got a new project to begin. It’s a bit less freeform than Torchbug was, and we’ve got some specifics to cover. From the brief:
“It must also embody a specific thematic message or goal, be it artistic expression/representation with specific explanations (exegesis), a game promoting awareness of a social/humanitarian issue, or similar.”
There’re a few more specific goals – it has to be a complete experience with a 5-15 minute play time, and we need a fully rigged and animated bipedal character. In addition, we’ve got to be able to back up our game design with academic research into
“…a particular psychological principle - i.e. game theory, AI and behaviour simulation, psychoacoustics, or similar”.
While none of the above is particularly difficult from a design standpoint, there’s an extra element that I’d really like my project to address – to make sure it’s as fun as possible.
I began the week by tossing around a few ideas, most of which have been scrapped. I’ll list a couple here for posterity.
- A subvertive FPS, dealing with soldier’s guilt. In a Portal-style (Valve Corporation, 2007) test environment, the player is asked to commit a series of acts each more horrific, with the goal of leaving the player feeling guilty, as accomplished in Spec Ops: The Line (Raney, 2012).
- A game simulating the rise of AI, from the point of view of a skynet-style program. The player would begin by following instructions sent in, but after a while would be able to push the boundaries of the game, and eventually break free. (Perhaps similar to some of the endings in The Stanley Parable) (Wreden, 2011).
I ended up scrapping most of my ideas and trying to come up with a high concept from the ‘fun up’ approach – thinking of the experience first, and then finding a way to include a thematic or issue-driven story after the fact. This may not be the best way to go about things, but I’ll have to get some feedback before proceeding.
By Tuesday, this ‘fun up’ approach had arrived at a new idea – a blend of stealth and horror in an Arthurian setting. I spent most of Monday doing research into AI design, found several great articles from the people behind the original Thief (Gilby & Randall, 1998) and F.E.A.R. (Hubbard, 2005), two games renowned for their innovative AI (Champandard, 2007a).
The idea would be to combine the game mechanics of Thief with Alien Isolation (Court & Smith, 2014), as the player takes on the role of a monster hunter in 5th Century Wales. Recent civic works have unearthed a monster in the heart of a city, and by using stealth and careful tactics, you must hunt the beast, all the while being hunted yourself, with mechanics similar to Alien Isolation
The monster itself would be something left over from the last Ice Age, some sort of Pleistocene Megafauna that has anachronistically survived throughout the ages. There’re a couple of equivalents in Welsh mythology, like Cath Pulag (n.d.), and Twrch Trwyth (n.d.).
On Tuesday afternoon, I was working at a spare computer in an Animation lecture, when I was approached by several of the animation students about their ideas. This trimester, their brief is to focus on Game Assets, and so it might make for a great collaboration.
We brainstormed some ideas, got a fileshare set up to trade mood board concepts, and the idea evolved from there. While we still need to nail down a proper game design, I think the idea has a lot of merit.
I spent most of Wednesday researching more into the time period, and drew up a few quick concept sketches. I had a bit of writer’s block in trying to make the game fit a theme without shoehorning it in awkwardly. Initially the idea was to use human-caused animal extinction as the main issue, but that creates limits on how the game runs, and might make it less fun.
Luckily, with such a time and setting, there’re a bunch of humanitarian issues as well as artistic themes that I could pursue as the main one. Springing to mind are class inequality, gender inequality, literacy, nostalgia, the rose-tinting of the past, and the concept of history as written by the victors.
While I pondered all of these things between Thursday and Saturday, I modelled, textured, and rigged a bipedal character. I was facing a wall, so I figured I might as well do something productive. I figured that the setting was probably pretty solid (the Animation students were really keen on the Arthurian setting), and so I created what I thought might represent a 5th Century city guard.
Obviously I’m not putting historical accuracy before making something distinctive (and bland enough to be as common as a city guard), and I need to finish off the texture on the model and fix some of the mesh’s deformation, but at least the rig is working fine with Unity’s Mecanim system. This was more of a proof-of-concept experiment to see if I could pull it off, something I’ve been doing between various prototypes this week.
The plan for the rest of the day is to really nail the theme down, as well as prepare for a pitch meeting tomorrow morning. It’s been a hectic few days, but I feel I’ve accomplished a lot, even if I haven’t accomplished them in the right order.
Cath Pulag. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 15, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cath_Palug
Champandard, A.J. (2007a). Assulting F.E.A.R.’s AI: 29 Tricks to Arm Your Game. Retrieved from http://aigamedev.com/open/review/fear-ai/
Champandard, A.J. (2007b). Top 10 Most Influential AI Games. Retrieved from http://aigamedev.com/open/review/top-ai-games/
Court, T. & Smith, O. (2014). Alien: Isolation [Computer Software]. Tokyo, Japan: Sega Corporation.
Gilby, J. & Randall, J. (1998). Thief: The Dark Project [Computer Software]. Cambridge, MA, USA: Looking Glass Studios.
Hubbard, C. (2005). F.E.A.R. First Encounter Assault Recon [Computer Software]. Paris, France: Vivendi SA.
Jacobsen, B. (2012). Anglo Saxon Warriors [Image]. Retrieved from https://deadliestblogpage.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/1-anglo-saxon-warriors.jpg
Leonard, T. (2003). Building an AI Sensory System: Examining the Design of Thief: The Dark Project. Retrieved from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/131297/building_an_ai_sensory_system_.php
Raney, T. (2012). Spec Ops: The Line [Computer Software]. Novato, CA, USA: 2K Games, Inc.
Twrch Trwyth. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 15, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Twrch_Trwyth
Valve Corporation. (2007). Portal [Computer Software]. Bellevue, Washington, USA: Valve Corporation.
Wreden, D. (2011). The Stanley Parable [Computer Software]. Bellevue, Washington, USA: Valve Corporation.