Author Archives: Christopher Haehnel

Conference Project Post-Mortem: IV

IMG_0224 (1) IV is a top down RPG that tries to model the American medical industry within a video game using mythic imagery. Currently I’m at a place in the dev cycle where most every art asset is in the game, however the actual coded mechanics don’t quite work yet. The project had some major surprises, notably the coding and character animation came remarkably quick but the terrain and tile maps came much slowly. This is probably due to me using a different program (photoshop) and technique for these tiles than I did on my last game The Strength Needed. Much of the design choices came from this place of experience/need for growth. I wanted to expand my artistic skill set this semester by making the terrain far prettier than last semester. The main character had much of the same sort of art style I had cultivated before, but used some more complex shading techniques that made them seem more dimensional. I think I surprised myself this time with how quickly the character designs came out. Initially I had many different full walk cycles for multiple different characters that didn’t make it into the final cut of the game, but I still might use these assets and the practice they afforded me in future projects. I discovered a sort of natural ability to design characters this semester which honestly surprised me as I’ve had plenty of doubts throughout the year about my ability to draw/make pixel art. I had a lot of artistic inspiration from the game Hyper Light Drifter and used much of the articles I read interviewing the developer Alex Preston as guides for making this game. In addition, the games Lisa, Undertale, and What Now? as models for some of the things I wanted to do with odd mechanics. I did definitely learn how to do tilesets better this semester, which overall has aided my skill set as an artist quite well. The extra practice on characters also undoubtedly will make future projects that much faster. In addition, I think my skills as a designer definitely saw some improvement. On previous projects I don’t think I would have done much to draft out a main mechanic. Really thinking about the internal logic of the game’s central mechanic became a rather good thought experiment and practice for the future. The whole process of making a mechanic that didn’t play by conventional game standards made me question how to defy typical mechanics even more. However, although I cultivated a better sense of art and design I will mention my coding still feels subpar. While I’m aware much of my strife came from a major setback in the dev cycle when my computer lost all its data and was out of commission for two weeks, the fact remains that coding takes me far more time than any other aspect of the project and I should leave more time for it on my next project. Although I thought I managed my time well, clearly I’ll have to get better at deadlines in the future. IMG_0227   Best, Chris Haehnel (Kit)
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IV: Conflicts V. Calculations

IMG_0223 IMG_0225 Over the past few weeks my game has felt rather laborious. Having had my computer crash and delete the majority of my art assets, set up, and nearly every ounce of data on my computer I honestly felt scared and awful going into game night. However, while my technical problems did impede some progress, I have some major notes that I received during both the state of game and game night. Another major setback came when I attempted to get the primary controller for the altar to work. Still to this moment I have yet to get it to work and little progress has been made. I think this comes from a bit of a misunderstanding of coding and going outside the immediate tech box. On a different note, a major advance in design occurred recently in the overall map design and layout. Most people responded positively to the overall art and feel of the game. Reportedly, the game moved well and had a good pace for the size of the map. Honestly, the game’s intent still keeps the project very alive for me. Being a radical game and having such a remarkably central and brutal mechanic, I just keep wanting to improve and finish said mechanic and really see it work and affect people. In addition, playing some other games with simple mechanics has really informed much of my approach. Recently, I watched a video that critiqued the game Yookulele. In the video, H.bomberguy (the critique) addressed the game’s use of transitions and abstract/impossible space to experiment with game design. It intentionally worked within the limitations of loading small areas of map in order to create a world that felt fast to move between and massive in scope. The video honestly reaffirmed much of my design and made me remember the importance of simplicity in mechanics and how limitation can easily lead to a great game and concept. IMG_0224 My main question going into State of Game was whether or not the art read properly? As the main mechanic had yet to work or be implemented in any tangible way, I felt that using the state of the game as a chance to hear about art and the legibility of each asset and character would prove useful. In addition, I wondered specifically if the altar pop up menu actually read well enough as things to be given up from the surrounding world. I was pleasantly surprised when a few people remarked “Oh, that little symbol is meant to represent the Old Man!” in a mix of horror and surprise. It honestly shocked me a little at first that people would have as expressive a reaction to my game as they did. Throughout State of Game many classmates mentioned that the art seemed troubling in that the main tile didn’t provide many transitions between areas. In order to remedy this a main thing I’ll be adding to my change list is to add other tiles to delineate space a bit better. In addition, the colour palette, while it does keep everything coherent, it causes a major disturbance in that it blurs many of the assets together and obscures things in a bad way. In a future rendering of the art I will adjust the art to stand out a bit more and not blur together as much. IMG_0227 I try to push my player from calculation when they choose an option on the main altar. I wanted to take each and every decision to a logical extreme. For instance losing your legs would result in the player being unable to move at all, effectively creating an end state in which they’d just have to be immobile for the duration of play. This, when reloading the game would make the player think twice about what they chose to give up and how to play the game. This will proceed to offer more choice and conflict in the game. In addition, I aim to add some more conflict and choice into dealings with the Old Man and with the other characters on the island. In order to develop a more full game, I need to apply more choice in the interactions with not only minor characters but also objects. For instance, the well has no real interaction planned for it and I received a note that perhaps the player should be able to choose to go into it. One area that I also felt should never have choice is in the primary outcome of the game. I thought that the game should really only have debilitating outcomes as the game aims to parallel the medical industry which tends to amount to a no win scenario. Best, Christopher Haehnel

Radical Games: IV

Screenshot (3) This semester I’m setting out to make a game that comments on the medical industry by using mythical allegory to explain some of the horrors that occur. To that end, I plan to construct a fantastical world in which the player must constantly give payment to “insert giant deity name here” in order to keep their Family Member alive. While I have not fully worked out all the kinks in this plot the main mechanic involves repeatedly taking things from either the land or yourself to keep your Family Member alive. The initial game was planned to include the main character venturing far out unto the world, but given the amount of time left in the semester, it is unlikely the whole story will be finished. Instead, I will be working primarily on the first main area The Island, The Siren’s home. The game is radical in that it works to take things away from the player rather than give them things to help them advance. The game gets harder, not because the world becomes less forgiving or more difficult but more so because the world takes so much from you that you may not be able to continue on. It also plays with conventions of myth and works to subvert what most people relate as happier narratives. Also, as a side note, all characters will have gender neutral pronouns. Part of me loved the mysticism and unity it presented in a game like Sword and Sworcery to have the gender of characters be slightly ambiguous. I took a lot of inspiration from the game What Now? and from Lisa. I wanted something dark that didn’t really make the player ever feel like they were winning. Going forward yes, but winning no. This game is meant to encourage a somber reflection, and I think both What Now? and Lisa really capture that. In addition, the art was heavily inspired by Scottish mythology as it has a lot of strange depictions of creatures and realms. Also slightly Lovecraft inspired but not by a huge margin. Development has had a number of hang ups. Particularly in the art department, but the story has also been somewhat troubling to finish and develop. While the main mechanic is okay at this juncture, during the paper game I saw many flaws in its scope and how players would typically use the main mechanic. The primary mechanic used to be “Accept Payment” but now that’s changed, will get into it further down. As I mentioned earlier, I had to spend a good deal of time learning value in order to make both sand and the interior of rooms a bit more shadowy. However, after several separate tile maps, I eventually got something I was proud of, then came the water, which quite honestly I still haven’t gotten to the point in which I’m satisfied. Screenshot (4) State of the Game taught me mostly that the world needs to be inverted. What I mean by this is that many thought the water was stone, like the walls of a cave, and I need the water to be lighter to look a bit more like water. Also, the player character needs to have a white border or something to make them look less flat against the sand background. Have yet to approach that experimentation, but hopefully just a white fill behind the player will suffice. Other than that, I didn’t learn too much from State of the Game. Essentially I heard what I needed to hear and many commented that they thought the protagonist looked quite good as well as the entrance to the Siren’s home that I spent a good deal of time making. IMG_0083 Things got a little dicey during my paper prototype. Essentially none of my main questions were answered and instead I was greeted with a glaring problem: people apparently didn’t care about much of the surrounding world. Mostly due to faulty development on my end, I seemed to leave out some key focalization in the paper prototype and consequently the player played the game somewhat contrary to how I envisioned. This is to be expected and must be remedied. One piece of advice that stood out was that I seemed to have a lot of assets and the world didn’t seem to immediately change in a way that felt impactful enough on the player. IMG_0087   What I came to decide was that the world and scope of the game was too immediately large. Also the wording of the main mechanic needed to be altered so that something might actually effect the player more than just the world. This I’ve decided to illustrate by changing the primary question from “Accept Payment?” to “Give Payment?” altering essentially the entire power structure of the game. The player must always give to receive passage in the game. Whereas the first question put the power of “G-d” into the Player’s hands, this puts the power into the systems hands, the worlds hands. IMG_0089 The game relies on simple story, simple mechanisms, and easily digestible and familiar art to establish a mythic realm of sorrow and burden. The game’s aesthetics work to address the concept of Payment, Guilt, and Debt through abstract symbols, one single line of text, and images. The aesthetic works to emphasize how it must feel to give everything and still have it not be enough and to have to accept that there are some points in which nothing may save or help a loved one.   Cheers, Chris Haehnel      

Non-Linear Design Post-Mortem: The Strength Needed

The game The Strength Needed was a semester of fun, strife, and some sleepless night but by and large a wonderful experience and vastly informative for the next projects I inevitably wish to pursue next semester. screen-shot-2016-12-10-at-9-29-32-pm The game in its current state is a glorified walking simulator with a few deaths. While this may seem overtly critical as many of my paper prototypes and even the art itself seems promising in a finalized product, by and large it did not quite get to the point I wanted it to get to this semester. It presents several key features like the enemies that can kill you, some moving NPCs and a world with loadable levels, but the objectives, the A story if you will, was never truly finished so what you end up with when you have the art, a few things that kill you, and the ability to load between levels is a glorified walking simulator I suppose. A pretty one, but not near completion. screen-shot-2016-12-10-at-9-25-14-pm The project changed a lot over the course of the year. At one point it was a game about a small demon boy trying to defeat evil spirits while its body slowly degraded but then I decided to stick to the story of a game I previously made as a practice paper prototype that was way more well received then some of the other stuff I made this semester. One key feature that was in the very early paper prototype was the use of text, I cut out all of that. That is gone. I killed it with the power of a ‘delete’ button and sheer force of will. While I enjoyed the text I wanted to experiment with as much visual story telling as I could, even using words as structures and part of the world rather than using them in any narrative dialogue convention. A lot did go right about the project. The art mostly and a lot of the walk cycles and the entire Den of Gas room. That room turned out amazing. It had the most features fully furnished and thought out. The Gas Mask Lady in it moved the way I wanted her to, the gates projected the big ‘NO’ signs with her face on them. It turned out quite well. In fact, I was quite pleased with many of the animations that I did end up finishing, the Gas Mask Lady, Box Dog, the Wise One, The Player, etc. These all tuned out quite nicely. screen-shot-2016-12-10-at-9-24-57-pm As for what went wrong…well the game isn’t done which probably feels worse than anything, time sorta got away from me on this project. Will be good to keep working on it over Winter Break but that doesn’t help the current product. screen-shot-2016-12-10-at-9-25-50-pm   screen-shot-2016-12-10-at-9-30-20-pm screen-shot-2016-12-10-at-9-30-46-pm screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-11-39-35-pm screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-11-40-17-pm  screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-11-42-17-pm Art was shockingly easy for me to handle. I thought that was honestly going to be the most difficult part but I ended up just going for it and creating something I was super proud of. The main movement programming also wasn’t too hard, really my main difficulty came down to the code as I was unfamiliar with how much of coding in Unity worked especially as it related to the animator and talking with the physics engine. That said, my experience with it got progressively better as the game kept getting worked on and now I feel far more comfortable with programming, designing, and Unity itself. screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-11-41-15-pm Not super pleased with my final result because of how unfinished it is but by and large I liked the art and the story. I’m gonna keep working to improve it as well and make it better. The code also could use some work but I’m glad I could get as much working as I did. The Project was nonlinear in its subversion of genre and ability to make the player episodically visit worlds and places. I got a lot of ideas from the Flash Fictions and movies like Toto The Hero. It was so nonsensical and wonderful and captured a certain child like glee that I wanted reflected in my game. My classmates also provided a valuable insight into the game. As they pointed out flaws I missed or hidden symbolisms I didn’t intend, I ran with a lot of what they mentioned to me. In addition, my boy friend helped me play test it quite a bit and he has a keen eye for the wacky and nonlinear and helped shape those aspects of the narrative. Honestly, play testing mostly resulted in changes to code and added a few fun ideas like the gates that blocked people out. Other than that it provided reference for code to fix. The project was adequately coded in the most bare essential type of way. I followed the GamesPlusJames tutorials almost exactly except in reference to super specific things for my game. With the tile maps I primarily aimed to create a 2D top down space with patterned designs rather than photorealistic worlds as I didn’t have the skill for that. The animations I spent the most time on, using long walk cycles, a death animation, and a few other cool tricks. Most of the enemies however used static jump type walk cycles. Collision also was used sparingly, mostly to keep the player in the map or kill them. I didn’t want an interact button really. All in all, a fun project that I aim to keep working on.   Chris Haehnel

Game Proposal: The Strength Needed

The game I set out to do this semester was focused primarily on building on a lot of the work I put into the third Paper Prototype I did. This game was meant to focus on the one line that stood out from the short flash fiction, Industry Knowledge: “this will give them the strength they are going to need.” In setting out on this game I decided upon a minimalistic approach to the art, vying for 32×32 as my resolution instead of the smaller 16×16 or the higher 64×64. As for colour palette, I did not have much in mind, but heavy experimentation and contrast in colour is a prominent feature. For gameplay I felt an easy approach with collision and loading new levels as the main source of interaction. The game would be more story driven than anything relying primarily on the characters and locations rather than any real concrete game play. Just your basic run of the mill walk cycles, collision, and nice art. In addition, I intended to use as minimal text as feasibly possible. The game should use primarily images to convey the overall story. Just as Industry Knowledge accomplished a lot with a little, I intend that with this game as well. Another aspect I intended to include was the development of several varied uses of rubber throughout the game. As rubber plays a pivotal role in the story of Industry Knowledge, I wanted that reflected in every win condition of the game. Rubber = Power in the world of The Strength Needed. The PVC pants provide safety, the Rubber Ball provides a weapon, and the Balloon provides an escape. These rubber artifacts act as the game winning devices and provide The Strength Needed to defeat The Beast.   Chris Haehnel

Non-Linear Design: Paper Prototype 3 Post-Mortem

unnamed In my most recent paper prototype, I redid one of the flash fiction pieces I did previously. Here, I took PVC and completely changed the game I once had. Taking what I learned from the first two prototypes I developed a top-down RPG based entirely on the flash fiction, Industry Knowledge, and did my best to make the whole game as absurd as possible. My main goal in this design was to create several memorable characters and make the player feel as though they had real impacts on both the world and the NPCs. I did this through the use of several items that would trigger different environmental and character changes. The game also had a heavy difficulty spike, presenting the player with the end boss in the first screen. The player, upon walking into the boss would immediately die, sending them back to the opening screen. This screen would have two options, ‘Start’ and ‘Cry’, which would serve to remind the player that this game would not be forgiving of their choices. The player had complete autonomy in where they would go and what items they would pick up along the way. The various items in turn would change NPC behaviour towards them. Picking up on a note I received earlier, I wanted to capture the narrator’s aversion to the Gas Mask Lady from the story Industry Knowledge as best I could, so I had that NPC chase the player upon entering the Gas Mask Lady’s zone. The overall aesthetic emphasized minimalism and used only the bear necessities. The backgrounds contributed little but the main details, the character models were extremely vague, and the overall story even did nothing to explain what you were doing. unnamed-1 The McGuffin of this story was really the beast. While in the previous instalment I stressed the importance of the stockings, the thing that made this game ‘work’ was the beast that is always present in the main room. You can fight the beast at anytime but it would beat you unless you completed all the tasks to make the perfect pair of battle stockings. This was mostly due to the last quote of the story that I overlooked the first time through: “this gives them the strength they are going to need.” – Chris Haehnel on The Strength Needed

Non-Linear Design: Paper Prototype 2 Post-Mortem

unnamed-2 This past paper prototype was made with the primary intention of mapping my game out in such a way that I envision my final game to be mapped out as well. To that end, it seemed worthwhile to explore a far less text based game that dealt more in visuals. I aimed to improve upon Industry Knowledge which used text as a way to tell story. In the second paper prototype, I focused far more on the use of visual space and backgrounds as well as the permeability of several different sprites. The sprites would change over time which thoroughly helped with players feeling like they had an impact, and the objects in the space were all able to be interacted with. Such objects include: the fridge, clothes, mirror, shoes, gramophone, etc. The gameplay and story revolved primarily around an interactive mechanic and the McGuffin of the story was in many ways the door that could not be opened and the distortion ghost. The door did not work as well as I had planned and perhaps in further drafts of this game that door could be made either less desirable for a player to enter or alternatively I could make the door begin to appear as the ghost slowly disappeared, this would help tell the story a bit better and keep the player feeling as though their actions mattered. I feel as though this game very successfully did a lot with a little. I only used very basic designs for all objects and while the backgrounds were semi complex, they only contained the bear essentials to tell the story. unnamed The main challenge to keep note of is how exactly the player will plan to interact with all the various objects as I had not accounted for the player wanting to try to use the ‘matches’ on the ‘chair’ and several other instances of such foolery. In a later update I may attempt to add more results to the player’s various choices with the given items. – Chris Haehnel on The Stones She Gathered

Non-linear Design: Paper Prototype 1 Post-Mortem

unnamed I set out on the paper prototype for ‘Industry Knowledge’ with the express purpose of creating something a little off beat that captured the same form of absence of explanation that the flash fiction “Industry Knowledge” did. The player would spend time doing several recreational tasks such as ‘go to bed’, ‘try on clothes’, ‘shop for PVC’ and then inevitably go out on the town to see how their choices impacted the overall game. While I must admit that the ‘bed’ and ‘shop’ mechanics worked fairly well, I found that the game not only didn’t capture the ‘measuring’ aspect of the story super well, but also relied a tad bit too heavily on short dialogue mentions and didn’t exactly shock the player too much. The game suffered in many ways from there simply just not being much escalation. While it did succeed in being non-linear and using stockings as what Kurland calls the “McGuffin” — that which holds the story together — the game failed in that it could become fairly monotonous once many of the options became exhausted. unnamed-1   For instance, the above ‘ending’ is the quintessential “good end” of the story, however this ending was drawn first. If I were to edit and retest the game I would likely have the option to buy the PVC that leads to this ending further down the list. This would also aid in adding tension, as the other ‘stores’ would instead feature more calm images than the one where the player can buy the “best stockings”. The abstraction in this prototype is essentially every aspect of the player’s quest and the results. Nothing in the game is explained and all of the game takes place in one room. Upon further revisions, cut scenes should replace the text based outcomes: this would actually limit the abstraction of text but improve on overall quality. The aesthetic of the game is new and engaging as it uses fairly basic art and minimal explanation to force the player into discovering the outcome of some fairly basic options. There are only so many options but these options occur semi-randomly and provide a backbone for engaging non-linear story telling. The game lends itself to more replays for better effect and better understanding of it’s various paths. The player can see everything essential to the game directly on the first screen and is delighted through subtle surprises. The game’s overall aesthetic is one that subverts the player’s usually expectations of reality. – Chris Haehnel, on Industry Knowledge