Monday, November 23, 2009

Catch up time!

Okay so I’ve not posted on here in a week and a bit and its been bugging me somewhat. I’ve been working on a literature and contextual review to support the recent research I have been doing into game writing and narrative in video games which has taken a decent amount of time away from my drawing as well as my posts on here. So as a bid to catch up with posts and design work for my GDD which I am currently undertaking as a brief I am going to try and get posts up at least 3 times a week with drawing illustrations and ideas.

So lets start with a brief catch up on what I have been up to over the last week or so. I have been working on a proposed GDD for a game named “Zombie Wrath” (I know its not a particularly imaginative name but I can confirm it is a working title) which I have done a game proposal document for as well as a level design with game mechanic storyboards to accompany it. Now at this point I will just stress that this is a slimmed down GDD so to speak and I will be focusing on more complex level design as well as character design and narrative design. The premise of the game is a 2.5D shooter that will try and introduce a more atmospheric and puzzle based game to the downloadable services of xbox live and PSN. At this moment in time all I really have to do for this brief is to complete a second level design and the animation sets for my characters which hopefully will not be too much bother, and if time permits to build a small example level showing scenery as well as mood and character.

On top of this as I have mentioned that I am currently researching into game narrative and how designers can use it too their advantage. This has proven to be the most interesting aspect of my work at the moment and could be something that I will continue to focus on throughout my MA. I also have just got a free igda account online in a bid to try and integrate myself solidly into the games design community and get some of my ideas in design and writing out there. My last post concentrated on game narrative through environment rather than a sole character and talked about a realistic mortality element in computer games that I believe has directly influenced my interest into game narrative and the design that follows it.

My next post will be a full update on my GDD with plenty of illustrations to show the direction that I am heading with it as well as some of the basic game mechanics that would be included in the game. This should be followed by another more comprehensive update on my game narrative ideas and the research I am undertaking. Lots and lots of work to do then! Yay!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mortality in games

I came up with an idea the other day with the help of a friend when playing the Left 4 Dead 2 demo which has sparked an interesting thought process in my head. As I'm sure most of you know in Left 4 Dead you start each campaign with choosing a character out of four to play as and the idea is to get to the end of the campaign without dying. This is where in terms of realism it gets tricky, as if you DO die you are not really dead and your team mates can actively re-rescue you from an impossible to escape cupboard the same character that had just died. This is a disruption of reality in most worlds, when you are dead you are dead forever, not for five minutes until you magically spring back into existence in a constantly safe space. Now what if we take the idea of the same character re-spawning away?

For example lets say we have a disaster at the beginning of our game like a plane crash. If instead of choosing a character when you start, the game randomly generates a character for you instead. So if four people are playing at the start of the game four randomly generated characters will survive the crash, if only one person is playing only one character survives. This helps with other aspects of a drop in drop out co-operative system. Say you are playing through the game solo and one of your friends wants to join they can drop in to the game as a "new" survivor which if on the same console would be close to you for screen space sake and online could be anywhere in the same check point area. This system would add more realism to the world that you are playing through as each character is technically a living character within the world, and as I said earlier in the blog when living things die they permanently are dead, this brings me to my next idea. With the random character generator if your character dies he is dead, no respawn for him and no extra lives. Instead you will re-spawn within the nearest check point area (a select area defined through various check points) as a new survivor. I initially thought this would result in a lack of connection with the characters yet with your survivor being fragile with a definitive end if you do like the person created you will want to hold onto them. This could be especially engaging in co-operative mode as real stories through various survivors could take place. For example your best friends character "Jim" went back to heal "Dave" after he got knocked down by a horde of zombies yet couldn't get there in time and watched him be devoured. "Jim" is dead for ever and if the idea is pushed could even come back as a zombie to be later re-discovered as you are trapsing through areas. The only issue with this is that the story through out the campaign could not possibly be character based therefore the story portrayed through the world would have to be cleverly engaging and interesting to keep the players hooked. As I said in a previous post this could be achieved through audio from televisions or radios or out of reach converstaions or writings on the walls. You could even have events happening in the background that are key things to the overall story of this world giving your characters reason to survive.

A tough design route possibly yet ultimately engaging and different. If handled carefully and designed well the inclusion of mortality in games could invigorate the story rather than detract away from them.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Expressing story and atmosphere in 2D (part one)

2D is an interesting style of gaming, it is almost like when 3D became feasible on home consoles that the entire idea of a two-dimensional game was old fashioned and not as cool anymore, like a child discarding and decent old toy for a new one. Although some games have played around with the idea of intertwining two-dimensional game mechanics with three-dimensional visuals it wasn't until recently with the readily accessible online download services such as Xbox-live, Wiiware and Playstation Network as well as successful console based games such as Little Big Planet, that this genre is being explored again.

Why is this exactly? Do designers feel the idea of playing within two-dimensions hasn't been fully explored? Or that the constraints of a two-dimensional world easier to design for without over stepping the mark? Or is it a nostalgic trip, making games in homage to the ones we gained influence from as we grew up? For most I am guessing it is a bit of all of the above.

As I am playing around with different ideas and themes, I have become exceptionally interested in what a two-dimensional adventure game can achieve. Over the years I have played many games that have been side-scrolling or panel based in 2D, yet not many of them had a truly engaging story as well as a compelling atmosphere for its cause. There are a few games, especially from the 16-bit era. that did and two of those were "Flashback" and "Another World". They both had compelling stories that made you feel an integeral part of a universe outside of the game constraints as well as giving you believable purpose within the story world. Although most of the story telling was done through text both games, especially "Flashback" made use of rota scoped cut-scenes to build a believable picture of the world. Great for a 16-bit computer game! Yet in the modern day of gaming with games like "Shadow Complex" taking up the mantle of 2D/3D adventure games are separate cut scenes completely relevant? Imagine a completely integrated world where the camera can pan in and out showing a gaming view when needed and close-ups of scripted dialogue events seamlessly eradicating the need for cut-scenes. Half-life managed it from a 1st person perspective so how hard could it be from a two-dimensional perspective?

Excluding cutscenes in my opinion would help with the atmosphere of the game as it would continuosly keep you in the world of the game rather than taking you out of it. Other aspects of story telling used in three-dimensional games such as audio clips or written items could be used to expand the world you are in as well, or even use items in the world such as walls for text or televisions for audio to help piece together story in a more immersive manner. These are just mere ideas and examples and I hope to look further into it over the next week or so as I am designing my first level for the game I am currently working on. Next time I will look into some of these story-telling ideas in more depth and how by being innovative within the genre rather than purely inventive you might be able to evolve a genre in a positive way.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Level Design and Game concepts

Continuing projects on the course have seen me attempt to design my first level. A nice simple brief which helped me reflect on my own design processes as well the areas that a need to evolve in in order to adapt to my new subject area. The isometric physical design of the level was quite simple in execution yet applying the game mechanics to the design was essentially a steep learning curve for me. The ideas were always in my head and it does come through in annotation and conceptual drawings yet I couldn't quite grasp using the isometric drawing to illustrate the given game mechanics making them clear whilst presenting it. Failing this I ended up seemingly just telling a story rather than talking about the actual game mechanics needed to complete the level, essentially I needed to show what was required of the player. After thinking about this and understanding the faults in the design I can work towards rectifying this in my next brief which is to write a games proposal. For this I will have to think about game mechanics as well as a story and a theme in order to present and sell the idea.

On top of this project I still am pondering about ideas for my design practice project and what I personally am interested in within the design of games. A few thoughts have been bubblying out of late and are mainly aimed towards how narrative in games can effect game mechanics as well as work with them to integrate story into games more successfully than in the contemporary market. Coming from an animation background I have always enjoyed the artistic design from character to enviromental, but have always been fascinated by how the story and narrative uses these objects. The same goes for game design. The difference being that the story is interacted with in a first hand way. The problem with games at the moment in general (not all) use narrative as an after thought rather than a defining game mechanic, and one could even argue the ones that have involved it as a main game mechanic still haven't tapped into the potential. Well at least thats a starting point I guess, probably should look at articles relating to story telling in games and game mechanics as well as a few examples of bad storytelling and good storytelling within gaming history to give me a wider perspective on the idea. Till next time.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

So here we go...

Hello there. I see you are actually reading my blog so I guess I had better start writing something that is relatively interesting or insightful into the way that I think about my work in games design. After studying at Uclan for three whole years in animation I have decided to branch out my skills and career path into the field of games design. I like to think that I have narrowed down my educational route to a pinnacle this year and that after I complete this MA I will be ready to push for work wherever I damn well can find it and prove my worth out there. Its strange, but after working in animation for three years, although I enjoyed it and learnt an immense amount about design and myself, I never really quite felt 100% at home. After much consideration and understanding of myself I realised my true love and passion belonged with games.

All in all I like to play.

So here we are at the beginning of the year with an awful lot to learn in a very short amount of time, with a current catch up brief of creating an isometrically drawn level to demostrate an understanding of time and spacial awareness. This for me is a good chance to play around with the concept of level design pushing for new ideas and theories. In the way that I work I need a very detailed understanding of the world that I am creating for. To achieve this I first created a character that the player would play as, I then asked myself "What sort of a world would this character live in?". This allowed me to draw up some conceptual designs for scenery which I then developed into a basic level/game idea. From here I can now understand the world that I am creating a level for and how I need to lay it out.

Well this is just a basic introduction to this blog and a quick description of where I am at in life at the moment. Il be recording ideas, images and current briefs in this blog as the year goes on so if you are interested make sure to check up on it.