BAROVIET – Approach to Design and Production

We are two weeks into major production for Baroviet, and at this stage we working steadily towards an Alpha build. We are in communication with our sound designer to make sure these goals align as well.

Currently, the designer (myself) has completed grey boxes for six levels. The remaining levels will be more difficult levels and are currently on the back burner. They have yet to be designed.

The artists have almost completed all character animations and are working on the terrain building/environmental assets for each level.

The programmer is working on the character controller and updating all scripts from the prototype so they are at a higher level of polish.

As a team we have decided it would be valuable to write blog posts outlining our approach to each of our disciplines. I’ll be covering my approach to Baroviet’s design, and also will go over our approach to production.

Baroviet has greatly evolved from its initial roots. We initially had a much more complex vision for the game involving isometric perspectives and four lenses. It was wildly over scoped, but I believe these early iterations really helped us nail the vision for the game we have today. We went through approximately four or five versions of what the game would be before we settled. I wrote up several small pitches, with gameplay concept sketches, to pitch to the team. We got consistent feedback from Jennifer Scheurle on these pitches and all were ultimately rejected.

As it stands now, we define Baroviet as a 3D minimalist puzzle sidescroller built for the PC where a lost girl harnesses the powers of a spirit to visually and physically change the world around her, all in her attempt to escape her fate at the hands of her hunters. 

In terms of design, the most significant factors for this game are in the design of the lenses and puzzles. Obviously, everything ranging from movement, to camera, and feedback are all important. However, these two seem to be the ones that evolve the most.

The first and most important step was, of course, defining the parameters for each of the lenses. What they could and could not do was essential as the base mechanic for the game. The entire gameplay revolves around the ability to toggle these lenses, and thus it was important to define these. Once I knew what they were and how they would be used (i.e. spirit would be used to find platforms across gorges, shadow might kill a spike plant in your way etc.) I set about sketching out levels.

Below is an example of these sketches:

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These sketches were essential and often went through several iterations. I have a book full of them already.

There’s nothing too pretty about puzzle design. It involves a lot of iteration and thinking about how a player will approach a puzzle. These sketches are only the base line, too. There’s no surefire way of knowing how players will react or play these levels without conducting play sessions. These puzzles will go through a lot more iterations once we get play testers and feedback.

Moreover, another useful design method was creating a skill chain. A skill chain outlines player progression in skill, and how they will learn each new mechanic and method in the game.

The skill chain outlines what is assumed knowledge from the player, what will be learnt, and how the player can apply this new knowledge in game. An example of part of the skill chain for Baroviet is below.

 

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Now, I will detail our current approach to production so far.

development_progression.pngThe production method the team is following involves translating designer sketches to finished levels.

For example, the following was a level design sketch made by the designer outlining the progression of the player through a level. It outlines what each element is and how the player would interact with it based on the mechanics set.

This was then translated into a greybox by the designer. This involves using all currently implemented mechanics, such as spirit platforms and shadow death, to make a playable greybox level. This also outlines how far the player can jump and plots out the placement for all platforms.

This was then taken and a paintover was conducted. The paintover was both an artistic vision of what it would look like and also an important reference for how terrain would be modelled. The artist would use the paintover as a reference and modelled the terrain in Maya over the greybox. This meant that the jump heights and distance for each object was already set, allowing the artists to model directly over the greybox knowing that the player could make each jump.

After that, the terrain could be exported into engine. The environment assets were separate and could be altered. However, the terrain was a set piece. It can be modified in Maya if necessary.

Ultimately, Baroviet’s design is one that will consistently evolve as development continues. Once all mechanics are implemented, play testing will be a significant component to improving the design and polishing the game.

Keep an eye out for more updates!

 

 

BAROVIET -Beginning Major Production

BAROVIET is the title for the major project that will mark the end of my time as a game design student. (Officially – I expect to be a student of game design for a very long time.)

Whilst we have officially kicked off major production, I feel I should do a run down of the project and what I hope to achieve with it. I intend to do a post outlining our approach to production after this as well.

To begin, BAROVIET is a 3D puzzle sidescroller where a lost girl harnesses the powers of a spirit to visually and physically change the world around her, all in her attempt to escape her fate at the hands of her hunters.

In terms of gameplay, the player must toggle between three lenses. Each lens will allow the player to see new things in the world, or interact differently with the world.

Default lens is what the player sees regularly. It involves being able to see physical objects and how the world exists in the present.

Shadow lens allows the players to see hidden secrets in the shadows such as clues. It also allows the player to destroy some marked obstacles.

Spirit lens allows the player to see the world as it once was. It’s particularly useful for reanimating deceased plant/animal life to be used as platforms or bridges. Likewise, Spirit will reanimate any thing that was destroyed in shadow lens.

The puzzles will include an integration of all three elements, forcing the player to have to toggle between all three lenses in order to overcome the obstacles. Default lens will be the most commonly used lens. The other two lenses will obscure the world greatly, meaning it is far more comfortable for the player to be in default until its necessary to use another lens. 

Below is the initial sketch outlining these modes:

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The team is fairly small, consisting of one designer, one programmer and two artists. We are using Trello to track our progress after scoping. We are on track so far, and are good at ‘killing our darlings’. Any dream ideas are going into a separate Trello board so we can stay focused on what needs to be accomplished.

The narrative behind the game follows a young girl who is rescued by a forest spirit from death. Though it may not be explicit, the game opens on a black screen and the sounds of chanting and a scuffle – the girl was being prepared for sacrifice.

Saved by the spirit before the moment of her demise – or supposedly so – her goal is to traverse the forest and make it out by completing puzzles to overcome the forest’s many dangers. Thinking she is being pursued by her attackers, the feeling we wish to create is one of eerie urgency and uncertainty.

The spirit gifts the girl with powers to overcome the puzzles – the ability to see more in the shadows, and the ability to see the world as it once was in the spirit world. The puzzles will range from simple tasks, such as opening locked doorways, though may become more obscure, such as helping other spirits in various ways.

The forest is filled with mementos of other such sacrifices – animal heads on sticks line the forest, and creatures in the distance stare at the girl, watching her. All the while, the spirit remains a guide; the only crutch for the lost child.

However, the spirit’s intentions are never clear. The uncertainty of the spirit’s intentions will be made apparent as it helps you less and less throughout the game.

The majority of this story will be conveyed visually, though the spirit will be used to teach the player the early mechanics. This text will be brief and eerie as we wish to keep the screen as clean as possible and the experience as flowing as possible, all whilst ensuring the player understands how to progress.

Some examples of concept art by Jemima Gulliver and Serena Hack are below:

a few different dress pattern variations for the main character. by JEMIMA

 

The team has a development blog set up on tumblr where all concept art, models and sketches are being placed.

http://teamarmadillo.tumblr.com/

 

The Importance of Promoting Positivity in Games

Admittedly, it’s been a long while since I’ve written anything here. However, the last couple of days have reminded me about social phenomenon and how important good market research is when developing a game.

If Pokemon Go is anything to go by, Niantic’s market research was extremely spot on. They managed to skillfully marry a well known franchise with what I can only say is an expert progression curve that keeps players engaged (and motivated to stay that way). Despite noticeable bugs and errors, as well as easily overwhelmed servers – and despite people’s many grievances with the game – the vast majority of players consistently engage with the app, proving that they are willing to overlook these ‘issues’ because of what Pokemon Go gives them in return.

The social phenomenon that is occurring could only occur with something like Pokemon – something that has had a developed brand for years. It is clear that the majority of players are those who grew up with Pokemon – whether that be the games or the show – and this has kick started engagement from people beyond the source.

Ultimately, Pokemon Go is a vessel that allows me to tackle another topic altogether – the importance of positive rhetoric in games. Why I think this ties to Pokemon Go is not so much about the content within the game, but rather the adverse reaction that is occurring.

Whilst I’ll admit that players need to be responsible and aware of their surroundings (as the app forewarns), but the negativity I’m addressing is this mentality that games are a waste of time and are useless. Although Pokemon Go is not accessible to those with physical disabilities, its undeniable that it has positively affected people with mental disabilities and mental illnesses by encouraging people to get out and, often, to get outside with multiple people. Socialising can be extremely difficult for individuals, and for a huge part of the gaming community this is also the case. Yet what we’re seeing just a few days in to the app’s release is a wide range of personal stories from war veterans suffering from PTSD to depression sufferers – all engaging with the world in a way they haven’t been able to in ages.

When there is a positive occurrence socially, it should be embraced in this manner.

Now, initially, this was not the area I wanted to tackle with this topic. Indeed, what I wanted to address was the consistent presence of negative rhetoric in games where the developers address negative issues but only end up perpetuating negativity in the conversation. This is true of almost every interactive media, however.

One of the most obvious forms of this is where developers introduce diverse characters, only to kill them off shortly after. The death of Lexa from The 100 is one such example. And it’s so easy to fall into this trap where the shock factor is what leaves a lasting impression on your audience as opposed to something happy. Happiness is consistently downgraded as an ending.

Particularly in the form of games, however, is the fact that this form of media is so interactive that individuals gain experiences they could never otherwise have. The introduction of diverse characters, or situations, in a positive light undoubtedly means positive change if only due to the medium of games.

 

Although a positive ending might not ‘shock’ an audience to the point the remember it (whether that be negatively or positively), the inclusion of diversity in a positive light will positively effect the audience by normalizing it. This is an important factor to consider for developers.

Why a Creative Brain is a Frustrating Thing

I plan to be quite honest in this piece. Here is my reasoning for why a creative brain is a terrible thing.

This is not a new phenomenon; certainly not in my life, and certainly not in my partner’s life. We are very creative people. It’s how we met. It’s how we fell in love. We both have a case of creative brain where, honestly, once we want to do something we can’t function on anything else.

The first issue I want to address, though, is being creative in multiple areas. Something I face everyday, outside of college, is what I want to work on. The issue I have is not that I’m unmotivated to work, but rather, I have to spend the night before planning three tasks I’m going to complete the following day. Without some form of structure, I am so overwhelmed by the possibilities that I’m barely productive.

It ranges from game making, to writing, to drawing, to making my costumes, to playing piano, to reading… the list goes on. It may sound a bit stupid, but I am constantly frustrated that I can’t dedicate equal amounts of time to these areas. I’m one of those people that wants to be very good at all the fields I find interest in.

Thus, when the case of creative brain hits, and it’s a craving for something outside of the designated bubble, I am instantly frustrated.

I can see myself in a handful of careers, similar to each other only in that they are embedded in the creative field. They don’t tend to overlap in any other way. Moreover, dedicating an entire day to one of these interests is practically impossible: I feel more unproductive when I haven’t touched another area in days. This consistent desire to be involved in new things is frustrating because it limits my dedication to already open areas. I am struck by existential crises every so often when I can’t reconcile my ten fields of interest with the time I have in one day.

Interestingly, it flows over into relationships, too. When you couple two people with this condition together, trying to focus on all your interests may result in your partner being sidelined.

I recently had this discussion with my current partner. Though it has yet to happen, we are both aware that when we get lost in work, we are so focused on the task at hand we lose contact with the outside world.

I’ll admit I’m better at handling it. I can snap out of these creative zones quicker than my partner can, and stay out of them for longer periods.

Ultimately, life is all about compromise. I have to learn to compromise time between all facets that require attention. That’s what it ultimately comes down to.

RTX and Future Endeavours

RTX was a somewhat humbling experience. As a fervent con-goer, I felt extremely out of place yesterday in amongst an entire sub-culture of the internet I was not a part of. As someone who maybe watched one episode of Red vs Blue, the hype and celebrity status of the Rooster Teeth group made literally no sense to me, but the thousands of screaming, howling fans tells me that for everyone else there, that was not the case.

However, it was really interesting being in something I was not a part of because for something like cosplay or other YouTube stars, I completely understand. The fact that we elevate people to a higher standard based on how they amuse us was a strange look into the human psyche, but greatly appreciated.

Now, the reason I was at RTX at all was because FlatEarth Games were showing off the combat demo for “Objects in Space”, the game I have the pleasure of writing for. I’m glad I was there for that — talking to individuals who are interested in the game and having to briefly summarise the entire plot, mechanics and general gameplay of this two year project proved difficult but necessary. Especially as it is not my game, it was interesting pitching something I’m not intimately involved in beyond the writing.

Talking with Jennifer Scheurle yesterday was also wonderful. Conversations about the future of games, human psychology, and the value of creating a game for you as opposed to one designed solely for others proved to inspire me — I’m very excited for another year with Jenny’s teaching.

Classes start again in a week. I’ll be working on Simplicity with Liam until then and hopefully beyond. We want to have something quite polished for our portfolios, although the thought of commercial release has crossed our minds. We might show up to Beer and Pixels with it at some point, but maybe just putting it out there is our best shot.

Signing off.

Objects In Space: Writing for the New Title from FlatEarth

 

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Early this year, my lecturer and co-founder of FlatEarth games, Leigh Harris, approached me to write for the upcoming game “Objects in Space.”

FlatEarth describes the games as : “A modempunk stealth space-trading game set in Apollo – a huge cluster of star systems dozens of light years away from Earth. You are a lonesome ship’s captain, buying and selling wares to keep your bucket of bolts afloat and stay one step ahead of pirates, organised criminals, corrupt governments and shady laws”.

After a build was made with test stories from seven writers, FlatEarth applied for a grant from Screen Australia and the project was partially funded, kickstarting production in early December.

What I find particularly interesting is FlatEarth’s approach to story. Story and the world they’ve built is integral to the game, imbuing the gameplay with such flavour and depth that the reality of Apollo is tangible.

The writers are also kept out of the loop for major plot points until they are revealed. We write a story per fortnight and then the next set of major plot points are revealed and we must change our own ideas accordingly. What this does is it creates a very organic style of writing because we’re not foreshadowing later events or losing sight of this week’s story. I feel like this was a brilliant move when writing is so important for the feel of the game.

Overall, I’m very pleased I get to be a part of this because there’s so much potential for this type of game. The gameplay is very interactive and subsequently immersive, foregoing all obvious approaches to game design to create a truly unique and organic experience that relies on player skills and intuition.

Post Production Goals: The Future for Simplicity

12186622_899755090112014_7614495216860303889_oIt has been close to a month since official production ended for Simplicity, and the team has been reeling since then. What we ended up achieving, we see now, was very different from what we set out to achieve. As with any production, the end product is never going to be identicial to the initial pitch, however, Liam and I felt as if we entered production without a completely solid idea, which meant that new ideas, suggestions and feedback became something we played into far more strongly than we should have.

Which is why we have opted to continue production to perfect this piece for our portfolio. It is clear that this game is something close to our hearts and we strongly believe in the message we tried to create. So now our job is to sift through what we’ve created and re-emphasise the design intention.

Talking this over with our team members sees David, our artist, interested in continuing. However, Ben, who lacked the strong connection the others had, seems less interested. Personally, I feel like I pressured him into following this route for our game, however, he was extremely kind to work with us for as long as he did. So, currently, we are programmer-less, save for Liam who is learning to code.

Before the school year ended, Alex Carlyle, lead designer on L.A. Noire, had the chance to play Simplicity and really helped Liam and I order our thoughts clearly. Much of his feedback were things we already knew we had to fix, but his suggestions were well received and needed. This helped us get motivated.

Much of the feedback was about our narrative, a sore spot for the team. Our game is so narrative focused but the product we pushed out lacks heavily in this area. Our goals for the future sit heavily on emphasising narrative in a subtle but effective way.

Thus, it is up to Liam and myself to really determine the dangers of each level, working out what makes them so overwhelming for a psychotic mind and emphasising that for the player. David will continue to work on assets, namely the end animation which will enhance narrative dramatically.

For now, we want to work consistently on this over the holidays, but I’m sure we will want to see this to the end if we do not end up finishing it.

Production Teams: Effort and Contribution #2

Liam has contributed widely to the development of Simplicity. I feel like we have been able to balance each other’s ideas and provide counters to them to create a balanced gameplay experience.

Initially, this was evident in our formation of the game’s narrative which we both agreed early on would be extremely important and would guide us in the creation of mechanics. Liam was very invested in makingSimplicity’s narrative not only one that set the game apart but made it a relatable experience to people both with and without mental illness.

Liam’s strong point is in the practical side of the project. He contributes to the writing of the GDD and played a large role in the story development of the project, however,  however, he works best through making and changing levels to get the feel for the game. Thus, although his contribution to the theory is limited, his practical work is of a high standard and his work method allows him to get a feel for the level and see if it fits our design vision.

Liam has had many ideas that have swayed the design vision into something more gripping and playable that the initial concept of a generic isometric puzzle game. He is able to create levels that have a strong cinematic feel to them that still utilise the mechanics well and channel story efficiently.

In focusing on Liam’s contribution, I want to mainly discuss his music. Liam’s talent clearly lies in Sound Design. He is able to communicate emotion very easily through his songs and this because of the level of commitment and passion he has for music and also for this project. And so, Liam is our only sound designer and he has been working hard to create looping music for each level. What this means is there is a base track with multiple looking sequences so that the song will loop threadlessly throughout the duration of the level.

Why Liam’s contribution in music is so important is the fact that we want to avoid the use of text. We are aware that our game is niche and is not exactly explicit in the issue it’s attempting to work with. We rely heavily on the use of visuals and audio to get our message across to the audience. For this, we are framing the game with two narrative focused levels. The first one will be particularly important because it will be the child leaving school – a very realistic depiction of school – and then falling into darkness – a metaphorical representation of a psychotic episode. During this first narrative scene, Liam incorporates realistic noises (such as school bells and chattering), with ambient noises and the child’s voice repeating words over and over. This will show the audience that the reality of the world is being blocked out by the child’s personal reality.

Throughout the game, Liam has tailored the song to each level, increasing the intensity of the music as the level continues and using it to express moments of tension and release which is important in supporting the narrative of the game.

With Liam’s connection to Simplicity and his strong desire to create a liveable experience of psychosis, his work has a certain level of strength to it. We both have a strong connection to this game and desire to see it finish development well polished and meeting our design vision, and Liam’s work is a huge part of this coming to a head.

I’m really glad that I got the chance to work with Liam because our ideas have been moulded from each other and we have worked very well together. Overall, Liam has made a large contribution in level design, interesting mechanic ideas, narrative and a huge contribution to sound design and creating the music for our game.

Production Teams: Team Effort and Contributions

As part of documenting the production process, Liam and myself, the two designers, are dividing up the team to write blog posts regarding the contribution of each member. Liam and I are writing about each other, and then we have elected to write about Ben and David respectively. Thus, I’m writing about David, our artist, in regards to his contribution to the project.

Although we’re quite early in production, we have still managed to create a viable game, and that is through a combined team effort during pre-production. Ben and David set about prototyping during this stage which helped us get to where we are now.

In focusing on David’s contribution, one of the most frequent comments we receive on our work is how beautiful it is. Personally, I think this is largely because of David’s work and the art style we agreed upon.

We are deliberately going for a minimalist style. Initially, because our group did not have an artist, this was a strategic method to enable us to complete the project without lacking in certain areas. However, whilst in early pre-production, the designers discussed the benefits of the minimal design, particularly our ability to reflect the troubled mind of our playable character who has deviated from the normal reality. By having sharp angular and geometric designs, we can sow the intensity and danger present in the child’s mind whilst also maintaining an aesthetically pleasing design all around. When David joined us, we also pitched this idea to him and he seemed very interested in what we were trying to achieve. Although it may appear as if, because of the design, there is less work for David, we are consistently asking him to modify designs or to create very strange and warped representations of everyday objects.

One example of this is in one of the levels, the child has to make it to the bus and get to their seat. Because the everyday is warped to be dangerous in this version of reality, I asked David to create a giant mouth with sharp teeth that, when you went inside the mouth, was actually the inside of a bus. And so David worked from the design and made the bus seats look like teeth. However, the team experienced some issues with Perforce, the version history control program, and the most refined model was lost. However, David was able to overcome this and spent time re-creating the model. He has since added an animation to it so that when the player is near it, the mouth will open up to greet the child.

However, what people have seen so far has been very simplistic. The backgrounds are solid colours with minimalistic blocks and one asset, a tree, to break up the negative space. People still comment about how much they love it and I honestly believe that the art style and what David has done has really helped us stand out so far, even though we’re still working towards making the game fully playable. Something outstanding, personally, is in the character animations he created which really exemplify the child’s feelings.

The idle animation, which has the child holding their arms close to their body and looking around, scared of the environment before them, is the feeling we are trying to get across to the player. The fact that this child’s reality has been warped by their own mind, the fact that they are not safe in their own head, is terrifying when you consider the fact that even yourself can’t be trusted. And this lack of trust in anything is reflected in the world getting darker and darker as they struggle to get home. Darker and more dangerous  as they try to fight back. And in avoiding horror, we have elected for a bright palette because what we are representing is a child’s world. We are showcasing a metaphorical idea of psychosis when it affects an innocent, and David’s character model and animations have really helped bring this idea to life.

So in balancing what the designers want to achieve, maintaining the artists style we elected for and showcasing skills, David has been extremely successful in balancing this. Onwards, he is looking to make skyboxes, particularly for the later levels. One such skybox has already been completed and is a twisted and intertwining display of city buildings, blocking out the sky behind it. The idea behind this was to have the surrounding environment so warped from the child’s fear that their home remains the only thing that is untouched by the psychosis.

Overall, David has made a huge contribution to the project thus far. He is consistent in his work and is flexible, able to change his designs and work with Liam and myself as we try to turn vague concepts into solidly fleshed out ideas. We are looking forward to seeing how the project turns out aesthetically.

Nihilism in Games

There is something inherently nihilistic about video games. Or, at least, society’s understanding of video games brings with it a level of negation to life’s meaning.

To clarify, I will quickly describe what I mean when I discuss “nihilism”. Soceity’s understanding of the value of video games is about as limited as existential nihilism, which suggests that life is completely devoid of meaning and purpose and, consequently, value. As someone who used to be quite the pessimist, the attraction of such an idea – which may even spread to inform other concepts, such as a lack of free will – lies in the absolution from responsibilities it allows us. If humanity believes their lives and actions to have no purpose and no value, it allows them to be free of their responsibilities. That means no guilt and a veiled perspective of their world in which they play a very restricted role in affecting it.

In my (very professional) opinion, this concept is bullshit.

The power of the individual is in both thought and action; the power of a good idea to inform them and motivate them is uncanny when the individual believes they have the ability to make a difference. This is why there is such a push to self promote, to build an audience that will listen and that will learn, because ideas are powerful when they affect many people all at once. That is how change occurs, but the individual is just as important as the group.

In this sense, nihilism and the concept of nihilism are intrinsically lacking for they avoid the simple fact that ideas and the people leading them can change things.

This is what I believe one of the greatest abilities of video games is. The value of video games goes beyond the simple concept that they are made for fun, and fun alone. The interactive element goes beyond any other art form that has existed. That is not to say that visual art or literature do not include audience involvement – in fact, they rely upon it – however, games are able to do this more effectively, and it is in this sense that their value is greatly underused.

The fact remains that society views games as tools to achieve fun and entertainment. That they avoid the numerous and endless uses of video games – games as art and intimate, unforgettable experiences – is merely an insight into how geared towards nihilism people are. That games can affect individuals on such an intimate level, that they have the ability to question the jarringly structured nature of institutions, and society, and things as personal as the moral code  proves their value.

So, why then is this ability ignored?

Games force audiences to become more than simple voyeurs. Visual art and literature rely heavily on the individual’s gaze, but video games demand so much more. The audience becomes complicit in their voyeurism and engages in an experience that often, if designed and measured correctly, impacts them in some way. But video games have barely scratched the surface. They have the ability to expose ideological fixities in players on context, appealing to a shared characteristic, human empathy, in order to tempt the audience into changing in some way or another.

And perhaps that change is very small and personal to that individual, but by engaging with a game as an experience as opposed to just for entertainment, they have changed.

In all this, I must say that games as entertainment still holds incredible value. However, as film, and literature, and art are all considered entertainment, they are also commended on their ability to alter audience perception and provoke a radical change within individuals and entire communities.

It is my belief that for games to progress and for their true value to be revealed, designers must avoid the nihilistic components of games and strive for a deeper meaning.