Friday, February 26, 2010

A play within a play

From an aesthetic viewpoint, building a theatrical set that depicts one fictional world, and placing that set within a theater that depicts a totally different fictional world presents a couple of challenges. Most importantly, each world must maintain its own unique identity without clashing with the other.

As Chad mentioned below, the play itself is set in a world that is somewhat less than cheery despite an impressive technological sheen. Layers of ethically questionable dictates have piled up and walled-in the society they were designed to liberate. Atmosphere: think Maltese Falcon with robots, most of which are little more than a subsidized source of bipedal horsepower. A smaller portion fill in as metallic playthings that for all of their bells and whistles are no less vacant than the stuffed animals and "Inflatable Ingrids" they replaced. But a handful, like Addison, have been bestowed with or otherwise acquired emotional awareness.

Addison's birthplace--Eva's lab--is nestled somewhere in the shadow of a vertical metropolis. My original concept was a single-level set with two exits, plenty of contraptions to keep the player amused, and far too much ambient light. Not very "film noir".


My second concept divided the set into two vertical levels, the second of which is accessed via a hidden stair. More light sources but less light create a more contemplative atmosphere, and multiple micro-environments--a balcony featuring a city vista, vertical windows overlooking a tiny alley garden, and a dedicated workstation area for Eva--help break up the action and create the potential for multiple distinct moods within a single set.

After having the layout approved, I drew a more detailed version to work out architectural motifs and other specifics.

We have since decided to move away from the rather pointy Victorian style and towards something closer resembling the massive, imposing Art Deco look realized in buildings of the 1920s-40s. Combine this with the muted colors, exaggerated fins, and sleek-blockish look of vacuum cleaners and Fords from the 1950s and you have a bizarre aesthetic.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Manifested by the Binary

I have successfully integrated Game Mechanics Kit into Torque3D. While playing around with my success, I realized that in order for players to know what objects are interactive, they must be physically near an object. If the interaction icon appears, then the object is interactive; if not, then it is not. This requirement seems to be unnecessary and cumbersome to the experience. Granted, the stage is a relatively confined play space, so looking at every object may not take a great deal of time. But having the player wander the stage looking at every object would interrupt the flow. To remedy this problem, I further added a Silhouette Shader to denote interactive objects. While a button (currently the right mouse button), all interactive objects are highlighted with a red outline, similar to how VATS worked in Fallout 3.

After integrated Yack Pack, I started implementing the Reputation System. When I completed it, I became acutely aware that my architecture was horrid. There was no sense of loading and saving values. There was no structure for character A to have reputation toward character B without character B having that same reputation toward character A. With all of that said, I rewrote it to resolve these flaws. And it shiny XML no less.

...Now I need to figure out how to lock levels until the previous level has been played.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Believe and Act

Because I have neither time nor talent - nor desire - to create my own game engine, and also knowing that a graphics engine is not equivalent to one, I'm using Torque3D to build Robot. Why Torque? Why not Unity or Unreal? For two very simple reasons: (1) Because I am familiar with Torque and TorqueScript, and (2) because the Torque community has built up an impressive set of middleware, minimizing my need to reinvent the wheel.

Two middleware toolsets that I plan to use are LogicKing's Game Mechanics Kit (GMK) and Filament Games' Yack Pack (YP). Like any middleware, these pieces only offer me a foundation to build from. Neither GMK or YP support the desired Reputation System. But I believe with minor modifications, they can. Besides, if I were just to put a bunch of pre-built pieces...where's the fun in that?

Because YP is an architecture and not a visual tool to build conversations, another tool will need to be used. Thankfully, Chat Mapper (CM) by Urban Brain Studios is just such a tool. A few months ago, I wrote an YP exporter for CM thinking that it would be entertaining to polish my C# skills. Now, to my delight, my previous fun has become productive for my new adventure. Furthermore, Urban Brain has been extremely responsive to user feature requests, such as a wizard for localization and multiple images per actor. Can't beat that kinda tool.

...This post sounds too much like a sales pitch.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

The first project: Robot game.

One of the major problems - Ok, the major problem - I have experienced with game development is the design is huge. The scope is just absurd for the time and personnel. With that in mind, this project aims to keep the scale small in terms of art, narrative, and gameplay.

Robot game is an interactive drama. The art is limited to the theater and stage, including various props. The narrative is limited to 3 characters in 1 scene. The gameplay is limited to the conversations and object interaction. ...That's it. Nothing crazy. I am absolutely certain that somethings will arise from some dark recesses; but with any luck, these somethings won't have teeth.

In order to explain the project, I am going to use the dramatistic pentad. The 5 elements of the pentad are: agent, agency, act, scene, and purpose. These elements can be used to explain any narrative situation, any communicative exchange. For example, Colonel Mustard (agent) killed (act) Professor Plum in the Conservatory (scene) with the candlestick (agency) - because he slept with Miss Scarlet (purpose). ...Yes, that was just a rhetorical analysis of a game of Clue.

Literally, the game occurs on a stage - it's a performance. The theatre house is a somewhat aged, but not derelict, building that was bright and colorful, almost royal, in its heyday.

The scene, on the other hand, occurs in a cyber-punk noir universe. Pulling from the 1920s and 1950s as inspiration for architecture and character appearance, the world aims to be a little dark and plenty ironic.

Scene 1 occurs in Dr. Eva Gray's laboratory. Part research facility, part studio apartment, Eva spends the greater portion of her waking, sober life in this room.

There are 3 characters. Each character follows a life script to its tragic end.
  • Dr. Eva Gray - the No Mind script
    A brilliant scientist who privately believes she is surrounded by idiots. But publicly has no confidence to defend her logical and pessimistic perspective. Because of this outlook, she seeks the wisdom of her own solitude.

  • Addison - the No Love script
    An androgynous automaton that acts as Eva's lab assistant. Unlike other automatons, an "intervention" on Eva's part caused it to become emotionally aware. However, emotionally aware automatons are prohibited in the society, which directly conflicts with its new curiosity. Once a subject is learned, Addison is extremely threatened by change - so much so that action will follow to maintain the previous order.

  • Jacob Ward - the No Joy script
    A writer who is visibly self-destructive, commonly frequenting soma dens and pursuing emotionally vacant sex. After a night of indulgences, he awoke next to Eva. That morning was the first guiltless morning-after experienced, and since then has become infatuated with her.
For this first scene, the player plays as Eva Gray. And if I am so lucky that people enjoy Scene 1 and I'm able to continue, players eventually play as every character.

...I'll have to figure this one out.

As Eva Gray, the player has 2 basic interactions: with characters and with objects.

The player interacts with characters through conversation. Conversations are not the standard dialog-trees, where the player can exhaust all options. Instead, conversations constantly push forward through the drama. Of course, the player is ocassionally prompted with a dialog options of how to respond to the NPC. But this choice carries with it a reputation value (respect, trust, adoration), which determines future dialog options being either locked or unlocked. For example, if the Eva (player) acts in such a way towards Jacob to cause him to distrust her, then he will not be willing to tell Eva his secrets in future exchanges.

Interacting with objects in the environment effect the PC's reputation toward the NPCs. This system is just being further exploited through the environment, allowing NPCs to be responsive to player actions. It's similar to the "Mental Health" mechanic in Indigo Prophecy.

Before the scene begins, Jacob Ward learned that Addison is emotionally aware. Jacob desperate to again gain the fleeting approval of society aims to expose the emotionally stable Addison. Jacob questions Eva (player). The player must convince Jacob to not pursue his interests. How this persuasion is done - hostility, feminine wiles, denial - depends upon player choice.

The goal is to have Scene 1 completed by September 1. It will be free-to-play.

Monday, February 15, 2010

...begins with a single step

My first post.

Goals/Principles for Groundling Games:
  1. Develop engaging experiences. Arguable, games do not have to be fun. I know. Heresy. Games need to be engaging. Challenge is engaging. Aesthetic and narrative experience is engaging. Immersion is engaging. Engagement is somehow greater than fun. If a game is engaging, players can continue through the most uncomfortable, unpleasurable, un-fun experiences to something else.

  2. Develop provoking experiences. Games like Deus Ex or The Longest Journey asked questions that extended beyond the gameplay experience and into real life. Although these questions were never answered within the game world, they were asked in such a way that players were engaged to answer them.

  3. Develop meaningful experiences. I'll admit it. I've cried playing a game. Sad tears. Not happy tears. The end of chapter 4 in Sanitarium. Was it the melancholy environment? Was it the build the amassing of the family's sadness? Was it my feeling of connection with Max? Regardless of what it was, that experience gifted to me was eloquent and of consequence to me.

  4. Develop new experiences. Enough already!! I don't want to be an axe-welding dwarf or a laser-shooting space pilot. It is as if developers have only read Lord of the Rings and watched Star Wars to the point of recitation. That is not to say that these are poor choices for inspiration, or the games inspired by these sources are inherently bad. I am only saying that there are more opportunities for inspiration. ...Oh yeah, World War II. Can't forget, World War II.

  5. Develop focused experiences. Fullbright's post "Single-A Games" said it quite well. Games that focus on a central mechanic or aesthetic have the potential for "individuality, experimentation, and immediacy."

  6. Develop unconfined experiences. Watching both indie and professional teams develop games, one of the first things I hear is its genre. "It's an action-platformer!" or "It's a first-person shooter!" This definition does help to explain the experience. However, this definition, if held too firm, can act to confine the experience and potentially force the game to becoming something that is not.
These are the driving forces behind the games that I aim to create.