A very local paper has picked out Exit, Pursued By A Bear as one of its three tips on what to watch out for during all the final expositions. Which is nice.
In roughly 36 hours, this will all be over, at least in as far as a graduation requirement is concerned. So here is a conclusion, for now, to the project and its findings (or lack thereof).
I set out to research performative elements in relatively orthodox video game frameworks and, if possible, extrapolate a video game out of all that, and in this I have succeeded. There is a game and sufficient research to support it. The initial question was “How can I induce players to interact dramatically with one another inside a virtual space?” and this appears to have been answered to some degree. There is no absolute guarantee to ‘inducing people to do X’ but the prototype seems to be able to perform it well enough for the most part.
The game, for now, is called Exit, Pursued by a Bear, mostly because a local paper picked up on the working title and is going ahead with publishing it so there seems little point in altering the name for now. Besides, I rather like it.
I feel as though I have finished the game rather too recently to cast any sort of objective aspersions on it, but I suppose I could give it a stab. Firstly, I feel I should utter the baseless but persistent feeling that the prototype does not achieve the totality of what I vaguely wished for, even though the actual boxes are all more or less ticked. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of people who seemed to ‘get’ what I was going for here. Often, it was the Head controls that immediately communicated the objective of the game. This very simple act of digital puppeteering seemed to draw most of the test subjects immediately into the theatrical aspect of the game, and often managed to keep them engrossed for five whole minutes or so.
I have seen some interesting sketches (stopping short of calling them ‘stories’ for now) developing in the game. Most edged towards either ‘mimicking movements to achieve some sort of synchronicity’ while a lot of the other tended towards ‘jump on each others’ heads on push them off things’. The cubes and cylinders added to the empty world seemed to enagge most hesitant players enough to keep them into the game for The Turn.
The Turn is the bit where the entire world fragments and the established relationship is tested. Again, after a lot of animation length wrangling I feel that this development brings just enough diversion to impress upon the players the urgency of the situation but leaves sufficient room for them to express themselves on this subject.
Most interesting, perhaps, is the replayability loop that emerged more or less by accident. I more or less assumed from the outset that for most individuals this would be a game best played once, not in the least because the core environmental effect is ‘on rails’. However, it takes a fair bit to acclimatize to the controls, especially for players new to a controller. What followed was that many players, after having experienced the game the first time, wanted to have another go, now knowing that the world would split and having an inkling of how they wanted to react to that. Basically, they now ‘knew the script’ and went back into the game with an intention to perform. While wholly unexpected, this revelation implies a much larger replay value than originally envisioned. Which possibly shows bad foresight on my part.
In conclusion, this game can be considered a solid first step in a form digital theatre, one which warrants much more research and experimentation, but for the purposes of the research I set out to do, is for now sufficient.
This is the level setup I’m going with, at least for the duration of the exam, which is next Monday. It borrows from/is a natural result of some of my previous concepts, namely the large chasms and the floaty islands, as well as the very first ‘Void’ prototype. The level will open in a similar manner as the first prototype, introducing the characters to one another in a largely featureless void, leaving them with each other to interact without any mechanical distractions. There will be one or two simple objects in this scene, like the fake tree, but even more basic – a cube, or a sphere, or maybe even a cylinder if we’re feeling exotic. This gives them something to engage with after the initial interaction may have ceased, although nothing prevents them from perpetuating the first.
Slowly, however, they will begin to realize that the level is shifting, ever so slightly, and their world is falling apart. Here, their mode of interaction will, presumably, shift from initially interpersonal, through willfully environmental, to forcefully environmental – they are not only engaging with the environment, the environment is engaging with them, forcing them to react in order to survive – a videogame imperative, not a theatrical one. Soon, their living space will probably be too small to share. Now the relationship established in Phase 1 is put to the test, and phase 1 ensures that there is something to test.
Finally, only a tiny sliver of land will remain. If the players reacted well and cooperated, using their respective masses and sizes, they may find themselves on top of this thing. Possibly not. The game ends when they both survive, or when they both die. What does this mean? This is wholly dependent on how the players shaped the content through their performance.
Next step, building the level. And making some sort of decision on the music or lack thereof. Character controllers are finished or have at least reached minimum acceptable status. Quod erat demonstrandum:
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.
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.
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.
As seen above, the animation rigs are as finished as they are going to be so I am progressing towards actual animation.
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.
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.