Level Execution: Chasm

Heavy-handed metaphors
Heavy-handed metaphors

The Chasm level discussed earlier has been made and tested, and though the imagery is quite effective, the singular response of either backing away or falling in seems to exercise too much gameplay stress on the participating players, always making them worry more over not dying rather then how they might be expected to act within this context. So something less urgent is required, without wholly sacrificing the urgency.

Level Concept: The Chasm

Level concept.
Level concept.

Based on the earlier ramblings about entropic and finite concepts, here is a coarse concept: An empty level that is literally torn in twain. There is a rather staid camera setup that is based on the characters distance from one another, largely highlighting, at first, the vacuity of the environment and later, based on which sides of the divide the characters find themselves, the distance drawn between the characters and the hopelessness of their situation.

The Prop, which may or may not be a tree, is a rallying point at first, and later something to watch die before them, and pehaps rescue.

The ground will tear along a predefined animation, not dynamically. The whole experience will take about five minutes.

Final Stretch Finagling

Very distinct lack of final panel.
Very distinct lack of final panel.

The game received the go-ahead from all of the examination board some weeks ago. After that, there was some measure of design doldrums. In fact, there still is. Thus far, I maintained some form of Miyamoto-esque approach which consists of tackling most of the technical requirements first, leaving many creative decisions to be extrapolated from a more finalized technical framework, in essence leaving some of the more interesting design decisions last, rather than working to implement concepts beforehand.

This has worked, to some extent – But it leaves me muddling over the actual level content for some time now. For some reason, the theme of entropy keeps recurring, which is something I’d like to avoid, if possible, as this was more or less the theme of Raft – that of living on a disintegrating raft. Nevertheless, it is a powerful dynamic to introduce, the slow decay of a world and the characters relationship with it and to one another. It is, at the very least, a viable possibility.

Also pictured are some disparate ideas that keep cropping up, elevators, masses of tiny people, things like that. Object of the next few days is discovering whether these have any worth. Thing is, the design and object of the game in tandem with the relative simplicity of realising content for it means that I can try a relatively large amount of things with relatively little effort – which is exactly what I will do. Through the multitude an approriate final form, at least for the exam, will hopefully reveal itself.

Weight Loss

What elbows do.
Elbow influence.

The protracted nightmare that is weight painting. Each bone in the character exerts a certain amount of influence on the body surrounding it. Because the computer is too much of an idiot to approximate this in a reasonable manner, these influence/skin weights must be painted in by hand, often per individual vertex.

Body Painting

Regretfully Mental Ray.
Regretfully Mental Ray.

And they are textured. It seems rather pointless right now as they are largely defined by solid blocks of monochrome, but it will make sense once they start getting dirtied up.

Body Building

Positively Vitruvian.
Positively Vitruvian.

Work has started on the genuine article, bona fide player characters. The first hurdle is constructing the actual mesh, based off of earlier 2D designs. As can be seen, these are as good as done, though a few tweaks while likely happen to their proportions. These objects are inert as of now, and will need bones and skinning, after which they can be animated and implemented into the system developed previously.

Next steps:

  • UV Mapping (prepare the characters for texturing)
  • Texturing (Three iterations, see Temporality)
  • Skinning (Create skeleton and confer skin weights)

After which comes the animation.

Some Progress

Alone for now.
Alone for now.

Some marked improvements today, all building towards proper character, finally replacing the phallic stand-ins. A breakdown:

  • Complex, blending animation rig has been prepared
  • Right stick now has a button-press functionality that resets head rotation, eliminating orientation confusion
  • Blending rig now able to smoothly transition between walking and running depending on the intensity of the input
  • Rough designs for animation skeletons made for both characters

On Control Scheme and Range of Movement/Expression

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XBONE.

As we slowly eke our way forward towards the more definite player characters, some thoughts towards input schemes and rage of motion, and ‘expression’. The original prototype was geared towards the Xbox One controller because I had a couple of those lying around and they are good. Now, some months later, I can now say with measured certainty that these controllers will also feature in the final product. I have considered other forms of motion, like the Kinect or the keyboard, both of which present several problems not present in the XBONE: mostly those of personal representation. The Kinect, while wonderful for many wholly theoretical reasons, is ultimately about yourself, the meatspace vessel controlling the machine. The point of Exit Pursued By A Bear has been proven to be puppetry, which requires a certain disconect between puppet and puppeteer for it not be acting, and it requires, above all, precision. The XBONE presents this in spades, and is a good Rosetta stone for standard game interaction which cannot be dispensed with if this game is to achieve any of its design goals.

control scheme
Perfectly legible control scheme.

Which brings us to the question of what the controller is actually to control. I have drawn a rough sketch of what should at the very least be possible. The trick, and problem inherent in the design, is that in wishing for the players to have as much control as possible over what they want to portray, means arming them with as vague a range of movement as possible, rather than a shitload of specific interactions (like MMO’s tend to do in their emote animation range). Plus, they have to be mapped properly and intuitively to the interface. For now, the sketch is as follows:

Left Stick – Spatial translation (walking), possibly upgraded to pressure sensitive running/walking

Right Stick – Head rotation, as already implemented, possibly to be augmented with snapback to avoid confusion

A – Jump (platformer staple, can also denote anger or excitement)

X -‘interact’ (push?) Uncertain about this one, is an openly violent gesture/interaction necessary. It would seem to be a bit too much on the nose of regular gaming, but a certain dramatic element can’t be denied.

– An expression or gesture, not sure what

Y – An expression or gesture, not sure what

LB – Raise left arm (for any number of things, waving, denoting presence, etc)

RB – Raise right arm (for any number of things, waving, denoting presence, etc)

LT – Sit down

RT – Lie down

LT + RT – Dead/asleep

On Temporality

3ActStructureNotesjul2012

If this game is to feature or imply some sort of narrative structure, there has to be a measure of Temporality. Most importantly, there has to be an Ending. An ending retroactively affirms that there has been a middle, and therefore a beginning. If the game does not ‘end’, no part of it can be considered a concerted stab at a story. The three-act structure, while sometimes (unfairly) maligned, has been around for thousands of years for a good reason: It works well. But even if it wouldn’t, it is a structure which audiences have been blasted with for centuries and is practically hardwired into our brains as the quintessential ‘story’, so not employing this structure would be idiotic.

This would confer some structural integrity to the experience, but could conceivably construed as three separate instances or levels. Therefore I surmise it would be best if the three levels (or acts) build off each other in a recognizable way, possibly being three variations of the same level, therefore denoting the passage of time.

Second thoughts about the third.
Second thoughts about the third.

Lastly, this reminds me of the earlier character sketches I did where white dirt or blood kept cropping up on their bodies, because I liked the way it looked. It broke up the monochromous monotony of their schemes. But, if this dirt (or damage or wear) would build up during play, it could also denote passage of time, as well as convince an audience of the fragility and temporality of the characters themselves, in short, sporting a banal sense of growth.

Tenets:

  • The game will feature three levels structured together like a three-act setup: A beginning, a middle and an end.
  • The levels will be strung together thematically and design-wise to present a recognizable whole.
  • The characters will subtly become dirtier throughout the game, denoting mortality and the passage of time.