With my GDD now finished, I wanted to take some time to come up with a game idea for my Final Major Project. I know what kind of game I would like to make and what impact I would like it to have, but no real specifics in terms of the characters, story, mechanics and gameplay. To help me come up with some ideas, I decided to do a bunch of brainstorms which focussed solely on my FMP:
After my first round of brainstorming I had managed to come up with the essentials of what my game will be.
SleepClear (working title) will be a 2D side-scrolling adventure game inspired by games like Oxenfree, Kentucky Route Zero and Inside. The game’s story will aim to highlight through metaphor and player experience, some challenges and issues homeless people face. The moment to moment gameplay will involve the player interacting with a companion character who aids them on their journey. This companion has its own separate abilities which the player can call upon; it can lift the player up to allow them to reach higher places, restore the player’s health and shield them from hazards. Essentially, the companion will be a metaphor for the relationship between a person and their home. Companions provide greater mobility, wellbeing and shelter for the characters in this world much like a home does. But it’s not only the player who has a companion to aid them, the game will also feature NPCs throughout the game who have companions of their own. The player can interact with these NPCs through a dialogue system which offers the player a chance to find out more about the world and story.
Throughout the game the player must utilize their companion’s abilities in order to solve environmental puzzles. During the latter stages of the game, the player loses their companion in an accident, this increases the difficulty of the game and makes the player experience much more challenging. This loss of player agency aims to highlight how devastating from an emotional and practical standpoint losing your home can be. To reinforce this feeling of loss, the game will include a section which has the player returning to previous locations and solving the same puzzles. Although this time without the aid of their companion.
To further highlight how devastating this loss can be, NPCs reactions towards the player will change after they have lost their companion. Their indifference towards the player will attempt to convey how isolating being homeless can feel.
Once I had developed the skeleton of my idea, I began to summarizes my thoughts and narrow down my focus:
With my idea developed further, I wanted to explicitly work out the connections my game idea has to my research on homelessness:
- The player and companion relationship is a metaphor for the relationship between a person and their home.
- NPCs attitudes towards the player can change after the companion has been lost, this aims to highlight how other people’s opinions of you can change based on your circumstances. The indifferent responses from NPCs will aim to highlight how homeless people can feel isolated.
- The companion abilities give the player greater opportunities in the game and without these abilities the player is much more vulnerable. This aims to highlight how difficult life can be after losing your home.
With my idea now quite fleshed out, I wanted to work out what kind of design challenges I might encounter during development. I feel like this is good practise because it prepares me for what’s to come. It also helps me to keep my idea realistic, I am, after all, working by myself, so I need to be as practical as possible if I want to create a finished game:
- Using only animations to convey emotions between the player and companion may be difficult.
- How will the companion move in relation to the player?
- How much bigger will the companion be compared to the player?
- Will the player make sounds? Have a voice?
- Will the companion?
- How will their audio design differ?
- How will NPC companions compare to the player companion?
- Will their relationship with their companions be the same as the player’s?
- How will NPCs look compared to the player?
- The player can’t think that they are different to the game’s NPCs so there needs to be a through line and shared anatomy between them. The negative NPC reactions towards the player after they lose their companion must be because of this loss, not because the player looks different from them.
- Creating a valuable interplay between the player’s abilities and the companion’s will be quite difficult.
- How will the companion lift the player?
- Will the player still be able to move when being lifted?
- How responsive and direct should the player’s command of the companion be?
- Will the player’s calls to the companion interrupt the current call?
- How will the companion follow the player?
- What distance to the player will the companion keep?
- How will the wait call work?
- Will the companion wait until told otherwise?
- What happens when the player tells the companion to wait and then leaves the level or moves too far away?
- Player movement needs to feel realistic, their jump height shouldn’t feel like a platformer. How best to achieve this?
- What things can the player inspect?
- What happens when you inspect the same thing twice? Shall I write different flavour text? Or display the exact same message?
- How will the interact/talk mechanic work?
- Should I use a context sensitive button for both actions?
- Ledge grabbing should happen automatically, but how will the player know what ledges can be grabbed?
- Can all ledges be grabbed?
- What incentive will the player have to talk to NPCs?
- Should NPCs give rewards to the player other than furthering the story, or is this enough of an incentive?
- Can the NPC dialogue be skipped?
- What if someone playing doesn’t care about the story?
- Making environmental storytelling worthwhile will be essential, players must want to explore the environment.
- Ignoring NPCs could also be a valid option.
- Should players ever be required to interact with an NPC to progress?
- If players can skip dialogue then what happens to the story if they miss a chance to make a decision which has a lasting impact? Will there be a default path? Will players be prevented from skipping these choices?
- Should I have a predominantly unspoken/unwritten story?
- Perhaps too many NPCs with their own dialogue trees might detract from the player experience.
- How will players know who they can talk to? Can they talk to everyone?
- Should the player know when they are making a vital story decision? Should these decisions even exist?
- How can I tell an emotionally engaging story if players can choose different story options?
- Maybe I should include key story moments which all options lead back to, the loss of the companion for example.
- In what ways will the relationship between the player and companion evolve?
- How will I show this evolution? Their interactions will be unspoken so how will I convey emotions between them?
- The player animations could change entirely after the loss of the companion.
- Conveying emotion through animation alone will be quite tricky.
- Designing an environment which is navigable by both the player and companion will be quite challenging.
- Designing puzzles which require the interplay of the player and companion abilities will be even harder.
- Finding the right puzzle difficulty will require lots of player testing.
- How many puzzles vs. story sequences should there be?
- What impact on the gameplay will losing the companion have?
- How much player agency would be lost?
- What’s the best way to make the player feel loss, but not make them want to stop playing?
- Perhaps all puzzles can be solved by the player alone? Although having the companion makes them a lot easier. This could really make the player feel the loss of the companion and is also a good metaphor for the increased difficulty people face after becoming homeless. Although this means I would need to design every puzzle in the game with two solutions, an easy companion version and a harder player version. Will this be feasible? The companion solution will need to be obvious and the player solution obscure.Having the player go through old puzzle sections alone without their companion would be a great way to explore the theme of loss through player experience. This mustn’t feel like backtracking, so I will need to find the correct balance.
- I want the game world to be made out of found objects, but how can I make this visually appealing? Why would the player want to look at a game made from rubbish?
- How can I prevent the game from just looking like the sum of its parts?
- How can I achieve a beautiful aesthetic from rubbish?
- Should I use photographs and then work digitally?
- I could create real world models of the characters and environments and then photograph those. Although this might be too time consuming.
- How will the characters stand out if everything is made from the same things?
- What’s the best way to visually represent the relationship between the player and companion? I could use a light material for the player and a heavy material for the companion. So the player could be made from paper and the companion could be made from cardboard. I could create a visual hierarchy between NPCs using this dichotomy.
- Players must look more or less the same as the NPCs, but how can I make interesting variations between them?
- What actions will have a sound effect?
- Will the player have a voice?
- How will the player’s audio differ from the companions?
- What sounds will the NPCs make? Will their companion make the same noises as the player’s?
- What kind of music will I have? Shall I make it dynamic and endless, or create individual music tracks.
- Should I have distinct themes for certain sections?
- Will the music be built from looping samples?
- What kind of instrumentation should I use? Haunting solo guitar to emphasise the feeling of isolation?
- Will a stark soundtrack benefit the themes of the game? Or will it just be boring?
- How can I utilize silence? Complete silence after a significant story sequence might allow the player to emotionally engage with what’s happening instead of a swelling musical score telling them what to feel.
Next, I looked at some of the more technical challenges that I might encounter. I wanted to see in what areas my skills needed to be improved and what approaches and tools I should use during development:
- NPC relationships will need to be tracked. Perhaps using global game variables will be necessary.
- Creating character animations might require me to learn a new piece of software.
- I will need to build a simple dialogue system with multiple player responses.
- Visual scripting may help with this system, the PlayMaker Unity plugin might be a good option.
- Syncing animations between the player and companion abilities might prove difficult.
- Creating the companion A.I. will probably be the most difficult aspect of development.
- I will also need to create a system which allows the player to control this A.I.
- Worthwhile and responsive interplay between the player and companion will be essential for gameplay.
- Creating environmental and physics puzzles will be fairly straight forward, but I will need to research how to use all of Unity’s physics components correctly.
- Logic puzzles may require more coding, although this depends on what kind of puzzles I design.
- Creating game environments from real world objects might pose a challenge.
- What would be the best approach? Taking photographs of complete objects or creating a collage out of separate objects?
- Are my photography and digital design skills up to the job?
- I don’t foresee many technical challenges in terms of audio creation, my previous projects have put me in a good position in this regard.
- Ambient soundscapes might pose the biggest challenge.