Archive for the 'Game Development' Category

Companionship in Games

15 April, 2010

I never really thought about it too much before, but there haven’t been too many examples of companionship in the games I have played recently. Certainly there are games that focus on companionship, and the reason I started thinking about this seldom used facet of games is because I watched this review of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. My brother had actually bought Shadow of the Colossus a year ago and presented it to me after trying to describe “there are no enemies, just colossi.” I was amazed by the game. The companionship between the hero and the horse was so subtle I didn’t realize how engaging it was while I was playing. My friend had also rented the game a few months ago, and while I watched him play the bond of the hero, horse, and player started to sink in. My friend was in the middle of a fight, running around off of the horse, trying to find a weak spot to attack the colossus with. In the background the horse was running around trying to avoid the colossus while being close to the hero. My friend then had to climb on the horse while being attacked and flee to a safer area. Without the horse the game would be boring, the player would have no companions to help along the way, no aid when things became difficult. But its not just that, the player feels connected to the horse. They always know it will be there when it is needed, and in areas where the horse can’t reach I actually felt lonely while exploring. I have never played Ico, but I’m sure the bond between the two characters is just as strong (from what I gathered from the video).  I know Zelda does well with the bond of characters too, but I haven’t played many of the recent ones (shame on me).

This is the kind of companionship I am talking about in games. The kind of companionship where each character relies on each other. A companionship where there is a palpable bond between two characters. One where players actually care about the outcome of two characters. I’m not just talking about the story either, because I know most RPGs focus on this side of the story. When things actually happen, like the characters are fighting a boss, you don’t depend on the special connection of certain people, only their powers. Chrono Trigger had an interesting system where the players you had in your team actually affected what spells you could cast. I thought this was a brilliant system that many games overlook. I played Marvel Ultimate Alliance with my cousin and it was similar, but those are the only two games that come to mind. Perhaps what happens is that developers think the story will iron out the characters, and that the player will feel a bond between them when there are cut-scenes or dialog.  This is very misleading. Players tend to bond with characters because they control the characters. When characters bond to each other without any player involvement the player may feel cheated or not immersed.

So what then is companionship between characters? Well, suppose there is an obstacle to overcome, say a stack of boxes. Now the boxes are blocking the path to a cave where a dragon is living. Your task is to kill the dragon. Yet you can’t move the boxes because they are too heavy, and you can’t climb over them because you aren’t tall enough. The dragon has done a pretty bang up job of barricading itself in the cave with a stack of boxes. What if you had a companion though that could lift you on their shoulders so you could climb over the boxes? Suppose you knew the companion couldn’t come with you because of their fear of caves or dragons. Would you still ask for their help to lift you up? Would you leave them behind while you fight the dragon, or would you find some other way for them to help? Do you expect them to ask for something in return for helping you? Would you expect them to be there when you come back? There are so many options that can be explored with interactions between two characters. These interactions are meaningful to the player as long as the decisions are not just a device to add a challenge or to advance the plot. This also bridges over to suspending disbelief in games. When two characters actually care for each other like they would in real life, then that is companionship.

How should developers go about companionship? Well, I know it is difficult to imitate an actual person in a game, which is why AI is so difficult. There are though a limited amount of things that can be done in a certain situation. There can also be emotional ties, where if you treat a character poorly in one situation they will be less inclined to help you later on in the game. Perhaps a continuous flow of emotions, instead of a 5 second memory that often happens in games. Maybe if there is a problem you have encountered before your companion will recall what you did last time. They might talk about what happened last time you tried this task, “Hopefully this wont take twenty minutes like it did before!” or “I remember last time you tried to pull me up you dropped me, I’ll try to find another solution.” It doesn’t have to be too advanced, just a little reminder that they are a person too, and the two (or more) of you are in this together.

Perhaps there are more games that involve this type of gameplay and I just haven’t been exposed to them yet. If you have any suggestions let me know by leaving a comment.

New Game Idea: Snake Tower

23 February, 2010

I know I already promised to be making Symbll, but I must place that project on hiatus. That is right, I put it on the back burner. Reason: I thought up a new idea for a game! Well I’ve thought of several, but this one has the best chance of surviving the rigors of development.

I present you with the concept of Snake Tower (bullshit name for now…I mean secret covert redundant name *Ahem*). The concept is to mix a little game called Nibbler (Snake for those younger ones) with tower defense. How is this possible? Well think of moving around trying to avoid your “tail” and then deciding on where to strategically place yourself as a tower to blast away enemies. The “tail” will actually be walls which the enemies can not cross unless there is no direct path to the object you are defending (in which case it will only slow them down). The player can choose to turn into a tower at any time, which will automatically shoot enemies, at the cost of being stationary. This will add an element of constantly thinking about your position and force you to think of the best place to set up a tower. The object being defended will be an object, possibly animated, which the player will also have to keep track of at all times. When in tower mode your walls slowly crumble, leaving your defenses depleting while you take on enemies. If this seems like a daunting task, well don’t fret! The enemies will on occasion drop power ups, along with dropping a sum of money. The power ups will be temporary, but the money will last until you spend it on upgrades. Every aspect of the game will be upgradable/degradable. The length of the walls behind you, the amount of time the walls last while in tower mode, the width of the walls, the amount of damage the walls do if enemies cross over, and other things that people associate with wall upgrades. Different types of weapons for your tower? You bet! Enemy difficulty? You can control that too! Speed, hit points, defense, its all there! Different level types abound! Numerous play modes! Story modes, survival modes, hardcore modes, median modes, and multiplayer modes!

Expect it for all ages. Release date: this spring for a demo and summer for release!

Ambitious, bold, exciting, beautiful…

Symbll days 7 & 8

17 December, 2009

Symbll Day 7:

I worked on the map structure of the game, and made a simple mall design. In essence there are three different types of shapes that can be used in creating the layout of the mall: straight, diagonal, and curved. Each of these shapes can be rotated 90 degrees, which will allow for almost unlimited customization of mall layouts. Each shape is set in a square, and each square can be placed on a grid, I’m still working on how big the grid should be, and how big each square of the grid should be as well. I don’t think there will be too many constraints will computing power. I’m thinking of making it just black and white for now, and as minimalistic as possible.

I worked out how the icons will fit into the map as well. Each square of the grid will have the potential of storing a shop. When a square is occupied by a shop an icon displaying the nature of the shop will appear. I’m still wondering how shops will be placed inside the mall though. I want players to be able to select where a shop will be placed, because this is an important aspect of the game. A player will have to arrange stores to play with shoppers psychology, as well as increasing a shop’s interest in staying at the mall. The two options I am considering would be: a shop requests to be placed in the mall, or a player requests a certain type of shop to be placed in a square in the mall. The second option would just have the player decide as soon as the square is built what type of shop will be placed there, such as a retail store or fast food. Shops will then automatically appear. The first option would be focusing on a shop requesting a space in the mall, and the player finding an appropriate spot on a shop by shop basis. I’m not sure on this one because it might be too demanding on the player if 10 store requests appear every minute. I think this will have to be decided once I actually write the game, when I can play a little bit with the timing of events.

I also came up with a monetary system that wouldn’t involve numbers. The system would have five rows with ten columns each. The first row would be coins, the second row dollar bills, the third row dollar signs, the fourth row vaults, and the fifth row banks. A coin would be the basic unit of money, 10 coins equals 1 dollar bill. 10 dollar bills would equal 1 dollar sign, and so on. 1, 10, 100, 1000, 10000 units would be shown, and a player will know exactly how many coins they have. So, if the player has 2 dollar signs, a dollar bill, and 9 coins then the player has 219 coins. The calculation wouldn’t have to be made in numbers though, because profits and losses will be described in these units. A wall could cost a dollar sign, so when a player has a lot of money, a dollar sign will just be taken out of their display.

Symbll Day 8:

I’ve been thinking a lot of how the game will look. I’m thinking minimalistic, but should it be in color? Black and White has always appealed to me, but I can see how players might be turned off by such a simplistic and “emotionless” atmosphere. I’m thinking the walls will be solid, the floors will be empty except for icons. I’ve been looking at mall directories, as many as I could find online. I want the game to look like a mall directory, and I want players to focus more on the game play than what the game looks like. I’m going to constantly work on removing distractions from the game play. Does this remove some of the fun from the game though? Will people want to play for a 3D experience where it feels like they are walking through a mall? Could this possibly be the future of online shopping, where you create an avatar and walk through a virtual mall to shop? I might explore that idea more. Marketing would be a lot more organic. I think for the game I will just keep it top-down, 2d and as minimal as possible. There will be the shoppers of course, which will add chaos to the floors. OOOoooooo. I just thought about describing the details of a store and how many people are currently in the store. If a player hovers over a shop icon with the cursor then information will pop-up, like how much they are paying for rent, how many people are in the shop currently, how many shoppers per day on average, and like/dislike of the mall environment. I’ll have to figure out how to display averages.

Symbll Day 6

15 December, 2009

Today I had a little argument with a friend of mine. It boiled down to a few main points (it was really all over the place, which is how I think and consequently argue).

I told him about Symbll by telling him I was thinking of making a mall simulation game. I found out that describing a game to anyone is a difficult task. A person will judge new ideas based on old ideas. Immediately he thought that creating a mall sim was a horrible idea. He didn’t think anyone would have fun with a mall sim game, and thought that someone had already made a mall sim game (without any examples), so there was no reason to make a new one. I told him my idea about using symbols and icons to explain everything, but that didn’t seem novel to him at all. No matter how much I tried to explain the game to him he would just came back to the conclusion that I shouldn’t make a mall sim game because no one would find it interesting. I was confused because he had such a strong view that no one plays sims, even though I enjoy quite a bit. I was also mad that he was calling all sims the same. I said it was like calling Modern Warfare 2 and Killzone 2 the same thing because they are both first-person shooters. Imminently he said that wasn’t a valid argument because the two games have different game play, and are set in different times. I was baffled, he considers FPS games to be completely different from each other, while all sims are the same, especially if a mall sim was already made. I guess I should have used two World War II first-person shooters to drive the point home. This is why I hate explaining a game that is in development to a person, they will automatically inject their own vision of what a game will look and play like, even before I can explain my vision fully. I wonder how to overcome this bias, since most games already describe themselves in a particular genre, even though aspects of the game are different.

We have been bouncing ideas around about an MMO game for a while, so when I told him that I wanted to create a mall sim he didn’t really understand why. I starting telling him that this would be the first game that I ever made, and I needed to start out “smaller” to gain knowledge of how to code a game, and all the process that went into creating a game. His view was, “we have to create the best game ever made” (which is massive with all of the ideas we have had) and nothing smaller would be acceptable. He suggested I make a game where you defend a caravan, which is something we might implement in the MMO. For some reason he assumed I was shooting too low with a mall sim. He also thought I wasn’t going to try to make it the best mall sim I could. He said, “my philosophy is to be the best at what you do.” Thanks a lot for the vote of confidence. You know, for a second I was toying with the idea of skimping on quality from the beginning. Anyway, I brought up that Leonardo Da Vinci didn’t just paint the Last Supper, he had to practice before he could create such a masterpiece. He thought this was a totally outlandish statement, and remarked about how “he probably didn’t just sit around and draw poop.” I thought that was an outlandish statement. Either way, I think his point was that you should start big, and do it right without any practice. Maybe by refining as you go along, I didn’t really ask.

So the arguments were all over the place, but I think the main lessons I learned were:

  • People like different genres, some are more set in one genre while others float around. Some people will hate a game because of the genre it is placed in, like a sim.
  • Never state your opinion on a game unless you have played it, or have at least let the developer explain their vision fully.
  • Try to be constructive when telling someone about your dislike of a genre. Try to be more constructive than just saying people won’t play it because you don’t have a personal interest in the genre.
  • Understand that people have different tastes than you.
  • In developing a game make sure you consider what other people like and dislike in “similar” games.
  • Even if there is a “similar” game don’t jump to conclusions that the game being developed will have the same “mistakes” as the other game.
  • Most people don’t fully understand the complexity in creating a game, especially from scratch. Its more than just thinking up an idea. Writing the code is often complex in itself, it isn’t as simple as clicking a few buttons and saying its done. Even while using a game engine, you have to appreciate the people who created the engine which makes it slightly easier to write your game. Don’t take game engines for granted, and don’t say it was easy.
  • Arguing about subjective views will get a person nowhere. Each person has their own interests, and simply arguing about them will not change either person’s view.

Sorry about the rant, but there are some things that irk me.

Symbll Day 5

14 December, 2009

Possible core mechanics/what the players will be able to do:

  • A player will drag and “snap-in” walls onto a grid. The walls can be vertical, horizontal, or diagonal. These will make up the structure of the mall
  • The view will be over head, the map can be rotated clock-wise and counter-clockwise. Using the arrow keys or bumping the edge of the map with the mouse will move the map. Both mouse buttons held down will allow for dragging the map. Scrolling the mouse wheel or page up and page down will change between floors.
  • A player will be able to click on shoppers and find out what they are thinking and feeling through bars and faces
  • A player will be able to click on shops and find out how much business they are attracting, along with any information that is needed in aiding them (competition, locational issues).
  • A player will be able to name their mall and will be able to use a user name.
  • A player will be able to play without having to manage each shop within the mall.
  • A player has the option of setting routes for security guards, maintenance workers, or janitors.
  • A player will have the option to select from a set of icons to use in the game, they can import their own.
  • A player will be able to save at any time, and there will be an optional autosave every ten minutes.
  • A player can guide shoppers but can never control them, placing objects will affect the shoppers.
  • A player must keep shoppers coming into the mall to continue playing. If there are no shoppers then the game is over.
  • A player must keep at least one shop inside of the mall, otherwise the game is over.
  • A player must have funds to pay for upkeep of the mall. They will be able to play without funds, but shops will likely leave without proper mall upkeep, and shoppers will soon follow.
  • An upkeep cost will be placed on the mall based on size, amount of shops, amount of shoppers, and misc events, and will need to be paid every month in the game.
  • The player will be given offers and opportunities from each shop, the shops are competing with each other to maximize their profits.

There will be more, and these are kind of broad, but I think its a start. I will have to link all these ideas to icons and symbols. I think the shops might prove to be a little tricky, because I have to show competition, and its not the easiest subject to explain with symbols.

Symbll Day 4

13 December, 2009

I worked on some scenarios today for Symbll. I figured working out some scenarios would help me think of variables that I need to create. I also worked some variables, but I won’t list those, there are quite a few. I’ll stick to the scenarios:

  • Have x amount of people visit your mall after y amount of time
  • Have x% of people purchase items inside the mall in y amount of time
  • Have x amount of stores in the mall after y amount of time
  • Earn x amount of money in y amount of time
  • Spend x amount of money in y amount of time
  • Prevent x amount of security issues within y amount of time
  • Have x% of people with y amount of happiness
  • Have x% of people in the mall with starting cash of more than y amount
  • Have x% of people refer your mall to friends (virtual, not live friends)
  • Have x amount of shops that pay over y amount of money over z amount of time
  • Have x% of shops that are content with how the mall is being managed
  • Prevent x amount of shops from leaving over y amount of time

I’m still working on more, but those should be enough to create a bulk of my variables around. A lot of them have to do with time, happiness of people, happiness of stores, amount of people, and money. I’m going to start working on putting those into spreadsheets so that I can work on them easily and refer to them quickly.

I’m thinking about the amount of uncertainty in the game itself. I want there to be “random events”, but they can’t occur all the time or there won’t be any structure. The cause of events is going to play a big role in this, and there might be event records to keep track of events within the game. I want to give players perfect information of what is going on in their malls (unless there is a difficulty where information is purposely not given accurately). The higher difficulty would probably involve hiring a staff that reports to the player, and learning how different people act in different situations. That might be out of the scope of this game.

Symbll day 3

12 December, 2009

Today I thought about the scope of Symbll. There are three options I am considering. The first option is to keep the game entirely in one location, with only one mall per scenario, where the player has to deal with only the problems of managing the layout inside of one mall. The second option is to expand the game into the entire world, with multiple malls that the player has to keep working with and developing. The third option is to create a hybrid of sorts, where the players create only one mall per scenario, but after they are done with the scenario they will be able to manage all of the malls they have created. In this hybrid model a player would choose whatever scenario appealed to them (out of a map of the world), and then only focus on that scenario’s objectives or goals. Once those goals are met then there would be an option for open play, where players can manage all of their previously created malls from other scenarios. I’m leaning towards the third option. This will allow for players to feel that their work doesn’t just end after the scenario is over. I was thinking about Sim City or Roller Coaster Tycoon where you have your own creation, each build for a different set of purposes, but you can’t interact between them all. There was also Pizza Tycoon from Microprose, where the player could select from a major city on the world map and begin their own pizza chain in that city. After building a pizza chain that was raising decent capital you could expand to other cities. The only downside was that there were no scenarios to challenge the player. Once you had an idea of how to create a decent pizza chain you could just apply it with a few changes in another city. My goal is to make Symbll accessible for people who need the structure of scenarios along with making sure that players feel their efforts actually create something usable after the scenario is over.

I also found a few sources for inspiration on the icons/symbols that will be used in Symbll. I haven’t looked over all of these yet, but they look very promising. It made me realize how much diversity there can be in symbols. I started working on a few icons a few nights ago, but only got 3 or 4 done. I need some more inspiration, and this might help tremendously.

Symbll Day 2

10 December, 2009

I’ve been thinking about how to explain the game to players without the use of text. My conclusion: it is possible, but there will a huge tutorial. Now I know that tutorials are somewhat tedious, and every game has a “tutorial island” which really isn’t necessary in most cases. Symbll’s tutorial will be optional, and split into smaller optional segments(about 10 second sequences that repeat as needed). When a player clicks on the tutorial symbol(blackboard or some learning icon) and a screen will come up listing all of the different subjects covered. Each subject will be represented by the icon that is used in the game. For example, the cash icon will have the sub-tutorials of where money is displayed in the game, how to make money, how money is spent, and all the other subjects about money. I think this will fully explain the game for any one who wanders, “What does that icon mean, and how is it affected?” Maybe I will split the tutorial screen in half, and on one side have an interactive screen of the game, and the other half list all of the subjects. Then a player can just click on the icon from the interactive screen instead of having to search through a list. Hmmmm…..

I worked last night on thinking of objects that need icons. Plants, benches, fountains…do these need to be in the game? I think so.

After some consideration I might also throw in Line of Sight for the shoppers. The way I see it, everyone has a different line of sight, and a major part of malls are to get people to look around. Line of Sight for each shopper could be widened if they like some object (or event), and narrowed if they dislike some object. Players will have to balance out these effects, so if a store is placed next to a bathroom shoppers might not notice the shop(focusing only on reaching the bathroom). Advertisement would also be an issue, stores provide a sign and the player must decide where to place the sign so shoppers can see it and walk to the store before being distracted. I’ll try to make these aspects fun and not some tedious chore.

I’m not sure what to use to create the game. I might just go straight C# or C++. Should I use a search engine? I’ll worry about that latter, after I finish all of the gameplay elements and design all the icons. Don’t want to rush things. In reallity I don’t expect to begin programming for a couple months. I know there are those who say to rush a prototype…I’ll probably just make a paper and pencil game first.

Symbll Day 1

9 December, 2009

I am starting work on a new game called Symbll (its the word “symbol” and “mall” mashed together, and the b will also be an a). If you couldn’t guess from the title the game, it will be a mall management simulation that predominately uses symbols. The idea is to explore how a game can utilize symbols.  I came across this idea when I was reading an article about the “failed interface” of Mass Effect (read the point about “poor choice of icons“). Krystian Majewski brought up the subject of using symbols (or icons) to represent an object. What caught my attention was this line: “[t]he actual camera may look nothing like a consumer camera but the shape of a consumer camera is more familiar and thus easier recognizable.” This sparked my interest in symbols and icons. I wanted to explore how symbols represent an idea so quickly and effectively in a limited amount of space. To do this exploration I have decided to make Symbll. Here are some ideas I will be exploring:

  • How quickly can one recognize a symbol, especially if it is a symbol that is seen everyday?
  • How much alteration can be made to a symbol before the symbol is not recognizable as the idea it is trying to represent?
  • How does a person interact with a symbol, the process of understanding and acting upon what information the symbol portrays?
  • How can a game utilize symbols effectively?
  • Can a game be made entirely out of symbols without explanation, or does there need to be text which explains the meaning of the symbols?
  • Can a game about simulating mall management be fun?
  • What drives a person to construct environments that are interactive, which humans or simulated humans interact?
  • How does structure affect interaction and creativity?

I wanted to start documenting from the very beginning of the project so that I can look back and reflect on how these ideas evolve over time. I also wanted to post this online so that people can share their thoughts.  A major reason too is so people can view the active process that goes into creating a game. I will try my best not to bore you with technical details, and focus mainly on the ideas and theories behind Symbll.