Tuesday, April 23, 2013

New Game Idea: Thought Design Process & Concepts

So I started a new game project; it's in this initial state, one that is quickly approaching the first progress hump.  If I slowdown too much, I'll forget about it and end up restarting it from scratch at some point.  If I go too fast, I'll be too intimated by an oversized, unedited the scope and too discourage to continue.  Anyway, this post is more for me as a place to write down my ideas but also to show some of my thought process and some concepts I've drafted up -- concepts I'll admit I'm a bit hesitant to post.

Super early prototype.  Hit box and some animation working!

The Game

Lately I've been realizing that fighting games have been becoming too sparse for a single-player enthusiast such as myself -- as selfish as that sounds.  I don't utilize online modes; in fact, I have a few online codes for some games and haven't even redeemed them.  I just don't enjoy playing strangers online.  A combination of lag, unfriendly online opponents -- ranging from extremely high skilled to extremely low skill -- have just been making the experience lackluster.  Soul Calibur V was an example of this boring single-player experience.  Story Mode was cheesy and Quick Match became very repetitive.  If I had friends to play with or was more active in my local fighting game community -- which I've been meaning to look into -- I might enjoy them more.
Regardless, I still love the fast-paced style of fighting games, and this is where my next project comes.  I want a game that feels like a fighting game without the fighting game package.  Something like Odin Sphere with a deep story but with deeper mechanics.  This really is a game for me.  Some people say that's bad, some people say that's good, but I don't care.  I'm doing this because I want to.

Felt this way after dowloading Street Fighter X Tekken's added characters

Design Ideas

My original concept was a simple Frankenstein project:  Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 plus Super Mario World!  Two of my favorite games in one!  This soon became nightmarish for a variety of reasons such as the movement variety among the characters -- Chun-Li can triple jump, Super Skrull can teleport to different points of the stage, and about a dozen characters can fly!  Another issue is that even MVC3's simplified move commands are still too complex for a game that will also have platforming, especially if I want it to have more broad appeal.  Thus, I attempted to simplify, but then it seemed too similar to Super Smash Bros. Brawl whose single-player campaign didn't appeal to me, most probably due to the simple fact I dislike SSBB.  I then decided to break the game into two main parts -- fighting and platforming -- detail features for each.

This would be fun, right?!


Fighting Game Features

Character Customization
One-Line:  The player should be able to edit the character visually by equpping different items but also be able to change the moves they can perform.
Risks:  Art & Animation Scope!
Rewards:  Broader appeal, replayability and future DLC possibilities

Multiple Characters
One-Line:  Players can choose form a small cast of main characters
Risks:  Art and animation scope creep
Rewards:  More variety and interesting choices and ways to complete levels.

Simple Attack Input
One-Line:  Even novice players should be able to perform all attacks
Risks:  More skilled players might be turned off and feel its too easy
Rewards:  Broader appeal, simple input system programming work
Possible Alternative:  An item that simplifies attack, but this could be even messier

Attack Evolution
One-Line:  Attacks evolve as the player uses them; for example, level 1 of dragon punch will has more startup frames than level 2 of dragon punch
Risks:  Scope creep depending on how the attacks differentiate
Rewards:  A more measurable sense of progression

Teaching Fighting Game Mechanics and Concepts
One-Line:  The enemies the player encounters should subtly introduce fighting game concepts such as cross-ups, mix-ups, combos, footsies, etc.
Risks:  Could take a long time to get the designs right and puzzle some players
Rewards:  Could become an interesting stepping stone game to get people into fighting games and in my own way, introduce more people to that community.

Large Bosses
One-Line:  Some should be large similar to MVC3's Galactus
Risks:  Art scope
Reward:  Gameplay variety

Platforming Features

Twitch over puzzle
One-Line:  A majority of the platforming elements of the game should be reminiscent of fast, skill-based platforming not slower, exploratory puzzle platforming
Risks:  Integration with the fighting aspects could be difficult and some players might thing they get in the way
Rewards:  Break-up between fights and could introduce fighting game concepts to players with low-risk scenarios

Independent Levels
One-Line:  Levels are seperated through a level selection map and the game is NOT a "Metroidvania" platformer
Risks:  UI work for the level selection
Reward:  Don't have to worry about overly expansive, interconnected world and can focus on small levels

Rail Platformer
One-Line:  Gameplay feels 2D but is on a 3D rail similar to Klonoa
Risks:  ART SCOPE (reoccuring theme?)
Reward:  A nice visual variety
Probably my favorite non-Nintendo platformer and the freaking ending crushed me!

In-Depth Story
One-Line:  Story that is well delivered but not too instrusive with a diverse cast
Risks:  Art scope and though I like writing, whatever I do will never be overly original
Reward:  Creative fulfillment.

Swimming
One-Line:  Players will experience some levels with swimming
Risks:  Swimming can be done really badly
Rewards:  It will make sense with my story, which I will discuss soon.

Story and Concepts

Right now the story and theme is still in very early development.  I'll summarize the theme with one word:  MERFOLK.  I'm leaning towards more of a I've always like the sea and ocean and sealife, so I wanted to do a fantasy-based game with these types of characters.  Though swimming is the first feature I'd cut, it feels like it has to be at least hinted at in someway.  Again, I want it to be a bit deeper than most fighting games, but also less...confusing?  BlazBlue, I'm looking at you!

Best way to explain BlazBlue's story; Bill Murray would make a great Ragna, right?


Environment Ideas

Originally, I was going to split the game into different worlds like, earth, fire, ice, etc., but that's not very original.  The worlds will still be divided, but I really want to try different worlds and different themes I don't see too often.  Art can always be updated and levels should be white-boxed firs, so I'm not concerning myself with theme right now.

CONCEPTS!!!

Anyway, for fun I decided to show off some character concepts I've been working on with some descriptions.  Also, not looking for art critiques; I know the anatomy is off and that I don't draw hands well -- I'm not applying for concept jobs.  These are more for me, but I shouldn't be afraid to share.

Gigi


She is attractive, but she won't jiggle...

Gigi is an old character concept I came up with in like high school.  She's a strong, free-thinking, athletic, fighter, not intimiated by...anything really.  She's angler fish inspired, hence the bulb on her head.  Because of the ability to swap moves in the game, I can't really say which characters she'd play like, but I do want to not just give her female characters' moves.  She might do Karin Kanzuki's Ressen Ha or Ryu's Shoryuken -- obviously, for copyright reasons I wouldn't call them this or animate them like exactly like the game they come from.

Atlas

That's a wetsuit of sorta.  Color would help with that.

Atlas is a newer character, named and inspired by someone from my only NaNoWriMo novel.  He's hammerhead influenced, and in this world, he's the equivalent of a white mage.  He's stern yet loyal.  He's gone on adventures with Gigi since he knows she's powerful despite their ideological disagreements.  He'd probably be projectile heavy but maybe with some strong, chargable attacks.

Prince Rib

I don't think he'll look this young in the end.

Also influenced by a character from my NaNoWriMo novel.  I was thinking of making him a prince of sorts who wants to adventure.  Since he's frog influenced, I thought the whole frog prince could be comically clever, but the more I think about it, the more I hate it.  Gameplay wise, I was thinking of making him do some Bionic-Commando-esque movement with his tongue, but again, could be difficult to do and not look good.

Octonia

What's going on with that arm you ask?  I don't give a crap!  That's what!

A strong woman with octopus inspiration.  I was a little stuck on her hair -- bald, short suction-cup hair, small tentacles?  Was thinking of making her a dignitary of some octopus land but travels to perform the story's task, the smart, older one.  Definitely would have a lot of grappling attacks and long reach.

Mermatthew

That's a coattail, not a skirt or kilt.

A coworker came up with this name awhile ago, and I thought it was hilarious.  I was thinking of making this character the right-hand of the main bad guy who I have an idea for but not drawn out.  He's a reoccurring boss so he'll probably have several forms and attack patterns.  A dream would be to watch famous fighting game players and have him fight with styles similar to theirs but the AI alone would be nightmarish.

Anyway, if you read all this, I'd love to hear some feedback and ideas or suggestions if you have any, but again, this is a game for me, even if that isn't the best decision.  The scope might be too large for me, the gameplay may be too complicated, the story might be completely inane, but if I'm happy with the final outcome, whatever that may be and whenever it may come, that'll be enough.

Friday, April 5, 2013

GDC 2013 Days Two & Three

Day Two:  Roundtables and Inspiration

Stop drinking tequila, baby!
So after the KixEye party I was feeling a bit hungover.  At this moment I was really questioning the importance of open bars and dancers -- of either gender -- and photo booths at parties, yearning for them to be more professional and chill.  At the same time, I was afraid that I had caught the dreaded "GDC Plague" early in the conference as my throat was aching; later I found out this was probably due to drunkenly screaming over loud music.  Anyway, I was able to get up just in time to catch my first Tuesday talk entitled "10 Questions:  Am I Ready to Go Indie?" given by industry veteran Don Daglow.  The talk was a bit of a lie.  There were more than 10 questions, but the number of questions wasn't important.  Essentially, Don asked various questions relating to subjects that individuals on the verge of going indie need to ask themselves related to relationships, risk, finance, and passion.  It was a very well delivered talk and probably one of my favorite this GDC.  The takeaway I got from it is that I have the passion and drive, but I still have some negativity I need to fight and going full indie is probably too financially risky for me at this time.  I still like my job at Schell Games, and I'm not ready to leave it either, so for now I'll stick to doing my small projects on the side.

Much like this tiny salad, my side projects, are just a small yet nutritional part of my game development career.

After this talk I went to the Game Design Challenge, the FINAL Game Design Challenge.  The panel's full title was "Humanity's Last Game:  The Game Design Challenge Final Championship".  To summarize, the game design challenge involves a unique, sometimes esoteric them, and famous game designs are given a few weeks to make a presentation or pitch of a game that follows said theme.  To be honest, I have had a love-hate relationship with previous game design challenges, but it was still sad that after a decade, this was (allegedly) the final game design challenge.  This final game design challenge was the to be humanity's final game -- either a game that would end it or the last game we would play or something.  There were six presenters this year -- as opposed to the average four.  I'll try and simply summarize the entries as I could probably fill several posts on each one.  Will Wright's involved a game that would somehow capture and allow us to share our memories to future generations or aliens that would come to our planet.  Harvey Smith's was sort of a game describing all of human desires and events -- birth, desire to belong, death -- that was stored in the DNA of creatures that would outlive us.  Steve Meretzky's was a humous -- though some would find it distasteful -- reality TV show about hackers trying to launch nuclear warheads.  Erin Robinson's was an augmented reality game that we would become so obsessed with that eventually we would accidentally destroy ourselves.  This was my personal favorite; it felt the most believable without trying too hard.  Jason Rohrer's involved created an all titanium game, chess-like game that he buried somewhere in Nevada in the hopes no one would find it for 2,000 years.  This was deemed the winner; however, I predict that a group of obsessed fans will find this game in less than a decade similar to how Noby Noby Boy players reached planets way faster than the developers anticipated.  Finally, Richard Lemarchand's game was heavily influenced by a religious group who believes some people are wise, some are selfish, and some are asleep to the wisdom of reality that resulted in a YouTube for good deeds of sorts.  Despite the rather dreary sounding theme, this was my favorite Game Design Challenge and it was sad that this was the last one.  It was never clearly stated why this was the last challenge, but the speaker, Eric Zimmerman, explained that the goal of the Game Design Challenge was to influence and make a change in the games we make in the industry and after a decade of doing these challenges, he believed that this change was occurring and that it was time to end the challenges.  I can't fully agree with this sentiment but I respect it, though I will do a Liz-Lemon-style eye roll if there is a Game Design Challenge hosted by him next year.

This image was used in two of the presentations, and dammit, I'm going to use it in my blog!

This is often my expression every year when I hear the themes of Game Design Challenge or the Global Game Jam, including this year, but at the end I usually leave more inspired...somehow.
After this I went to two IGDA special interest group, or SIG, roundtables.  They weren't as good as the design roundtable I went to the prior day, but they were still interesting to see different perspectives and hear about different issues in the industry.  My only critique of these roundtables is that they both go around and have everyone introduce themselves which eats up a fair amount of time.  I understand the point, but if I were to run one of these roundtables I would prefer people introduce themselves when they talk for the first time but that's it.  Overall, I feel like I "over" roundtabled myself, but I still enjoyed them, but two in a row was probably a bit much as I was so flooded with random conversations I didn't really bring back anything specific or useful to say.

Alright, I'll just admit, by the time we get back to the speaker, I'm going to forget all your names...

After this roundtable, I went to an XNA meetup, meeting some cool developers that I only knew from Twitter or their games from the XBLIG forums.  It was a joy to speak to them; however, like an idiot, I went to the "secret" Black Fedora party.  I waited 90 minutes in a line to pay $11.00 for a Jack and Coke.  I felt bad cause I felt like I dragged some people to this party, but would have had a much better time hanging out with the other XNA developers, which I ended up doing after leaving this party and had a really cool time.  Anyway, Day 2 was pretty good.  It was inspirational, humbling, and informative.

The party's wristband and proof that I had actually attended!

See the photographer straddling that statue?  Well probably not but yea, he was there...

Day Three:  Intimidating Tech

I felt much better the next morning, having avoided the GDC Plague, which was good cause my first talk was supposed to be very tech heavy.  Entitled, "Implementing a Rewindable Instant Replay System for Temporal Debugging" given by Mark Wesley of 2K Marin.  It was a packed room but it wasn't a talk packed with code.  The goal of the talk was to discuss ideas of how to implement a replay system for fast and easy debugging.  For example, I'm playing my game, I store important information for the last couple of frames and I can rewind, trying to figure out why certain things were working the way they were.  It was informative and gave good strategies and examples on what to do but no details on how to do it.  The issue is that it's probably hard to show example code because replay functionality is probably very client-side specific.  Regardless, I really want to implement something like this in my next game, and if I can do it, it'll definitely make debugging a much smoother process.

If only rewinding your game was as easy and fun as rewinding a VHS tape used to be.

I then went to Jill Murray of Ubisoft's talk entitled "Divserse Game Characters:  Write Them Now!".  I was relieved to learn this talk wasn't going to be an overbearing, commanding rant but was instead a discussion of tips on how to write more diverse game characters and despite Jill's cough it was a well-delivered, informative, and inspiring talk.  Personally, I'm not an Assassin's Creed fan, but the game she wrote for, Assassin's Creed Liberation, did intrigue me as its main character, Aveline, definitely seemed new and interesting.  The biggest takeaways from the talks are that research is very important as well as understanding your world.  This talk inspired me to make characters in my work more diverse, and I'm going to try in my next indie project.  Will I succeed with flying colors?  Probably not, but at least I'll try!

Image of Aveline, the very complex and interesting protagonist of Assassin's Creed:  Libration

My final talk of GDC was probably the most intimidating.  Brian Provinciano, creator of Retro City Rampage, gave a talk entitled "One Man, 17 SKUs:  Shipping on Every Platform at Once."  He went through the trials and tribulations of releasing the previously mentioned game on various platforms such as XBLA, PSN, Wii, and PC.  There were some tech guidelines -- some of which I was familiar with due to my XBLIG experience -- discussed such as keeping text within a certain frame, how you have to localize depending on platform, and cost.  Cost was the intimating part.  He spent over $60,000 on quality assurance, which I understand is important, but that is definitely something I cannot afford right now.  Also, he spent 3 years on his game, 1 of which went to dealing with publishing the game on these different platforms, which felt very unappealing to me.  I understand multi-platform can do a lot for a game but I'd rather focus on a few than shotgun as many as possible.  Also, he made XBLA sound like an awful platform.  Overall, it was a great talk but made me pause a bit and realize I need a bit more time before I can go "full indie."

Games are expensive, even if they don't necessarily look it...

This was my last talk of GDC.  None of the remaining talks appealed to me, I was tired, and the expo hall had closed.  My friend wanted to see a talk, so I gave him my badge so he could see it and went back to my place to sleep.  I went out with some friends later that night and had a swell time, but the next day I felt, for the first time after a GDC, rather sad and despondent.  I wanted another day, another day to learn, another day to network, another day to be inspired, but alas, there were no more days.  Overall, this was a great GDC, probably one of the best, and though I don't know where I'll be next year -- Schell Games, some other company, or full indie -- I hope I can afford and make time for GDC 2014!

So sad, but if you love something sometimes you have to let it go, right, Leo?  RIGHT?!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

GDC 2013 Days Zero & One


I was going to try and write about my GDC experience in one post similar to my PAX one, but there was just way too much to write about so here are the first two days!

Day 0:  Unknown Controversy

Unlike PAX, I arrived in San Francisco around 3 PM and by the time I checked into my hotel at 4, I was already off to a social event held by a company called PlayPhone. From what I could see, their product appeared to be similar to Steam but for mobile devices; at least this is what their ads playing on the large televisions in the location had me believe. Even before the conference's start, I was already networking with some great, talented individuals, something I wish I had been able to do at PAX. Another thing that helped is one of my best friends was there, so it was like an equation for success.
How could a company with such an adorable logo be controversial?

After a delicious meal at the House of Prime Rib, which I highly recommend if you like salad, oh, and prime rib, we went towards the IGDA-YetiZen party (play ominous music). We arrived at said location, but was told the party was rather lame, so we just bar hopped instead. Little did I know that a controversy was brewing inside. Essentially, the IGDA teamed up with a company called YetiZen to throw a party. Unfortunately, there were what the industry dubs as "booth babes" -- women, usually scantily clad, used to entice and attract people to their products -- and the IGDA is supposed to be an organization fighting for equality in regards to female and LGBT rights so to do something that only highlighted there are still issues. Some big name members resigned, and it was rather controversial. My two cents: at a professional networking event of any industry there shouldn't be dancers of any gender and even loud music and open bars seem questionable though I won't argue against the latter. Anyway, feeling rather good, I went to be in the hopes of starting my first day of GDC.

Day 1:  Flashing Through Panels

Day one started with the Flash Forward in which several speakers give a 45 second speech about their upcoming talk. I like the Flash Forward a lot, way more than any keynote. My only gripes are that I wish they had ALL the speakers and not just a few. It would exponentially extend the length but it would give me such a better idea of what to expect.

I'm interested in doing a KickStarter, but not any time soon.

Anyway, after the Flash Forward, I went to a panel entitled "Kickstarter Lessons for Indie Game Developers". In summary, the panelists -- from companies like Double Fine who had had very successful campaigns earning over 100,000 -- and discussed some of the things they had dealt with: rewards, stretch goals, fans. The biggest takeaways I deduced were to listen and communicated with your backers, shipping costs for physical rewards are expensive, and be careful of overly ambitious stretch goals. The panel wasn't bad, but I would have much preferred one person discuss very specific things than four individuals describing their personal stories very loosely. I know all KickStarter campaigns are probably different, but it might have been more clear.

I'll be honest, developing in a bedroom like this would be sweet.

After this, I went to a talk called "Bedroom Developments: Making Playstation Games in Your Underwear". This talk was sponsored by Sony, so that should have been an indication that this was risky, essentially, I was expecting discussion on how to publish a game on Sony's Mobile suite like the procedures, advantages, etc. Unfortunately, it was another panel from four indie developers, three of which I cannot remember. Brandon Sheffield was the only one I knew because I follow him on Twitter. The panel itself wasn't that bad; I wasn't feeling too hot. Well actually, I was feeling hot, too hot, so that might have been part of the reason I didn't enjoy it that much. It turned into a panel about indie development experiences which I have heard. Also, Playstation Vitas were given away at the end; I did not win one but don't care actually as I don't have plans to develop for that platform -- yet.
At this point, I hadn't been to the expo floor yet, so I spent some time there. I went to the Mixamo booth and got a $50 gift card for animations and other uses. Have I ever mentioned how much I love Mixamo? Well, it's awesome and they are starting a new service called Fuse in which you can quickly make a character from pre-made meshes and it intelligently welds vertices and configures uv coordinates. It's still in closed beta, but this seems like a great service for creating non-player characters quickly for a 3D game.

GAME DESIGN!   YA!!!  Also, yea, it's not all smiles and bright cubes...
They also had GDC Play where people can get booths for games and products for about $3,500 (with hidden fees I'm sure). I'm also making the assumption this is way cheaper than a booth on the main expo floor. If I am correct, this is a cool addition they had last year, and I hope they continue to do it.
After exploring the booths for a bit and with plans to do more in the future, I went to a great round table about game design aptly entitled, "Whose Design Is It Anyway? Game Designers and Development Teams Roundtable." Here, designers, animators, programmers, and producers discussed some of the issues they have as designers and dealing with designers. Some topics discussed were iterating on a design versus noodling with one, what do designers exactly do. Some grievances were discussed, even a few awkward ones, but overall, it was a great panel and I was glad I was able attend.

I'll admit one thing about KixEye:  Their marketing is pretty comedic

This was my last talk of the day so after a rather frustrating Thai dining experience, some coworkers and I went to KixEye's party. It was fun hanging with my coworkers seeing the female and male dancers (progressive, huh?) and the open bars, despite one being tended by a rather irritated man, was not bad, the next day though, my feeling changed a bit.

Overall, after these two days, I was feeling really good about GDC so far.  The panels may not have been perfect, but they were still interesting and demonstrations on the expo floor definitely were exciting.  I'll writing about Days 2 and 3 later in the week, so stay tuned!