Author Archives: Chris DeLeon

Radical Games: Borrowing Post-Mortem

borrowing_11“Borrowing” is a top-down pixel art game that involves stealing from your neighbor’s house. The more you steal the more you learn about your character, but the more strangeness occurs in both your neighbor’s home and your own. As of now, I have the majority of base art in the game (not including art that would be involved for any currently planned or unplanned events) and movement, collision, and transportation between maps all up and running. Like a lot of my classmates, I was fairly surprised at how easy the sprite art for my game was to make. I purposefully adopted a very simple style – wanting to use as few and as solid colors as possible, while also limiting myself to 16-bit – as a challenge, but it turned out to be a huge advantage. In contrast to many of my classmates who got hung up on perfecting their art, I found that I could pump out a few simple textures very quickly and be very satisfied with the result. Looking ahead, I see only a few modifications I would like to make with the art itself. Being in set in a universe much like our own was very helpful in this regard as well since I had a lot of real life objects to reference and even take colors from directly if I wanted to as shown below. borrowing_9borrowing_8 As I mentioned in my second post, coding has certainly been the hardest part of this project for me. The video tutorials were very helpful in getting my game off the ground very quickly, but it was a bit more difficult for me to find ways of extrapolating from those lessons and doing something new with them. My time also was certainly not managed very well, especially towards the end of the semester, and I would very likely have a solution to my problem (in this case not being able to pick up and put down objects, the main mechanic of the entire game) if I had dedicated more time to sitting down and cranking out some code and/or looking up solutions to what I want to achieve even if it didn’t work. A failure is still a result and a way of pointing out how not to do things in the future, after all. As far as inspirations go, I probably can’t say much that I haven’t already said. Jason Rohrer’s Passage was an incredible piece to refer to when it came to abstraction and mechanic-as-metaphor; Every Day the Same Dream was a great piece of moody monotony; Packing Up the Rest of Your Stuff on the Last Day at Your Old Apartment is a game that I wish I could play over and over again for the first time every time I play, it’s the exact inverse of what I’m going for. borrowing_10 Designing games is entirely new to me but playing them isn’t, so I was surprised on multiple levels on how well I did in some areas, how poorly I did in others, and what I learned through being in this class. My professor seems to think that I’m pretty good at designing a game, but I have a feeling that’s the kind of compliment that she gives to all of her students. I honestly couldn’t tell you what makes my game “work”, but I think there may be something to be said about its simplicity. A majority of my classmates’ games dealt with either more than three maps or had about three very large maps, though there were a few others that had two maps or three maps of about my size, and I want to believe that in all of those cases that being able to design with economy of space in mind, especially when working on a project for only a single semester, is a real advantage. My main (only?) mechanic in “Borrowing” is very simple too: pick this object up here, plop it down there, rinse and repeat until you have nothing else to pick up and plop down. Getting to a place where I’ve done something simple that, in a “final product” state, is hopefully engaging is pretty nice feeling. But that’s just what I feel like I had trouble with: being engaging. My initial test of the game had the player run around to want to do other things, and it’s here that I found how difficult it can be to balance directing a player with information while also keeping them engaged while also not holding their hand. What I found out – something that was repeated to me quite often by my professor – was to give players what they want but not in the way they want it. Let them open that box and let the contents get popped out. Let them interact with those objects as much as they want. But when their back is turned, let them know they’re being watched. Or remind them that they’re not safe. There were a lot of really constructive suggestions in this vein and I was incredibly appreciative to hear what they had to say to get me into that space where I’m now comfortable with not only getting my player engaged but having some fun on my end and screwing around with their head a bit. I honestly wish I could show off what I have in mind with this kind of stuff in class; I think it would have been very fun.

Borrowing: Consequence vs. Calculation

borrowing_5As of the second State of the Game session, “Borrowing” is behind where I want it to be but still acceptable for what can be done in a single semester. There were no major advances or setbacks, but managing other schoolwork while attempting to figure out C# code has been difficult. My main source of difficulty has been constructing the borrowing system, that is, being able to interact with an object in the blue house, display a dialogue box with text and an option, use the player’s option to either leave alone or remove the object that was interacted with, and then being able to put it back down in a corresponding place in the yellow house after another interaction and small set of dialogue boxes. This should be very simple in principle, but getting my head around Unity terminology though C#, neither of which I’m familiar with, has proven very difficult. There’s a good amount that’s keeping me interested in the project, however. The end is in sight as far as laying down the main mechanic into the game goes, and having that done would be a huge milestone in the overall development of the game. I also found myself reinvigorated by the comments and suggestions made during the second paper game playthrough, but more on that later. Finally, it just so happened that I came across a free indie game called Packing Up the Rest of Your Stuff on the Last Day at Your Old Apartment that really inspired me. It’s a short first-person game where you do as the title says: pack up your things. As you interact with your junk, a sentence or two pops up where you reminisce about the object. There’s a bit of inventory management involved while packing since each object takes up a certain amount of space and not everything in your room can fit in your boxes; you have to decide what to keep and what to junk. It was a nice little bittersweet piece that I enjoyed the atmosphere of – a mix of hopeful nostalgia and melancholy – and that’s something I hope to get across in “Borrowing”, though, of course, in the latter you’re unpacking and there’s (hopefully) a much more foreboding ambiance. I didn’t have any questions going into the second State of the Game; I felt that what I had concerns about (mostly mechanical tidbits that were addressed in my previous post) had been addressed, and I wasn’t too surprised that the players were interested in wanting a bit more detail in the environment, especially the outdoor area, and text boxes because the game as it stood was very straightforward and there was not much room for critique. Changes after the second State of the Game are not incredibly substantial. I’m interested in seeing if I can play around with dialogue text color and perhaps tinting of rooms. borrowing_6borrowing_7 The battle between calculation and choice/conflict is an interesting one when it comes to “Borrowing”. In some sense, the game is entirely about choice (choosing whether or not to steal the objects in the blue house and then choosing whether or not to open the boxes in the yellow house) and one hopefully feels conflicted when being presented with these choices. It’s difficult for me to say where player calculation comes into play unless it’s the calculated decision that the game isn’t worth his or her time anymore. Ideally, all three maps – the yellow house, the blue house, and the street – have either conflict, choice, or both. The player must be both faced with choice and conflict in the blue house (again, the stealing is ideally both a choice the player finds they do not necessarily have to make as well as something of a moral conflict (or maybe they have fun with it and this is something of a critique that can be made, hmm…)); conflict must be faced in the yellow house (the Twilight Zone sense of unease is something that I’m going for in this case; the idea that anything can be in the boxes and anything can happen to the objects that are pulled out of the boxes, ideally to mess with the player and make them nervous to open the next one or wary of what might happen next was something that really struck home during the second paper game session); and conflict is something that I would absolutely like to present in the street (a car that follows you, a single person who walks up and asks what you’re doing, etc. would be a great way of presenting player conflict and heightening the dread or paranoia that comes with the acts you perform).

Radical Games: Borrowing

borrowing_1The elevator pitch for “Borrowing” goes something like: you play as a little yellow man who is moving into a home in the suburbs that’s way too big for just himself. By unpacking, you take part in the yellow man’s kleptomaniac tendencies, uncover his peculiar obsession with particular pieces of popular art, and learn a little about his past. It aims for a balance between dry, sardonic humor and a Twilight Zone-esque sense of unease. Ultimately the game is about plagiarism and was inspired by a moment where I was publicly accused of stealing the plot of a famous film for a short story. In designing a game where you control a man who habitually misconstrues and rationalizes stealing for borrowing, the point isn’t necessarily for the player to feel sympathy for the yellow man so much as believe that stealing is the correct way to progress and therefore be complicit in his actions. In a fully completed version of the game, it’s conceivable that there might be multiple end states: one in which you’ve fully unpacked and furnished the house with things that aren’t yours and get caught; and a second where you’ve fully unpacked without taking anything at all, with the game’s design hopefully leading the player naturally towards the former on a first playthrough. The game has its roots mostly in the mechanic-as-metaphor styled abstraction seen in Jason Rohrer’s Passage, perhaps with a bit of the inquisitive exploration of molleindustria’s Every Day the Same Dream. borrowing_2The original intention for the aesthetic of “Borrowing” was to be reminiscent of old-school Atari games. I wanted to challenge myself by using a very limited amount of colors for each sprite, relying on the shape of each object to convey what it was more than its texture and detail. I feel I’ve accomplished this in some ways – the two houses, for example, are limited to four shades of yellow or blue each and have no heavy detailing – reached mixed results with others – the yellow man himself and the home interiors in particular – and completely abandoned this idea in others, as with the lawns and sidewalk. I still find myself a bit more attracted to the low detail aesthetic and would hope to continue it as more art is made. There may be something to be said about a “blander”, more empty world that uses swaths of color to define itself rather than a richly detailed one. Perhaps the yellow man, dull and unoriginal as he is, sees the world this way and so is shocked (and maybe the player is, too) when he sees the richly furnished insides of the blue house contrasting so starkly with the greater suburbs and his own home, but I feel that’s something of a stretch. State of the Game was based mostly on aesthetic development and focused in on the outdoor environment and the yellow man’s design. While I agree that the more detailed sprites for the exterior were more pleasing than the simpler ones (the solid green lawn sprites in particular hurt my eyes when the character moved), I’m still interested in finding some kind of compromise between the more highly detailed sprites that are used now and the less detailed work that’s found elsewhere in the game. Comments on the yellow man I found particularly helpful and amusing, and it was in his design that I saw the biggest drawback of attempting to adopt an Atari-like style. Though many thoughts tended more or less towards what I had intended for him – an average Joe, busy businessman kind of look – the simplicity of his design and restrictive use of color legitimately can make his hat look like horns and possibly does give him a more shady, sinister look. I was specifically fascinated by the latter, especially knowing what I wanted him to do in the game. He stands as he did during the State of the Game for now, but I’m not opposed to redesigning him in any way. borrowing_4 borrowing_3Going into the paper game, I was interested in seeing how it was possible to encourage the player to steal more than just the initial item required to open the boxes. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that some classmates’ first thoughts were to steal the items in the blue house, though I would hesitate to believe that that inclination was a direct result of the game, its design, or even the player’s/observers’ “gaming instinct” so much as the fact that it was readily observable in the paper models that each piece of furniture existed on its own and was therefore collectible rather than being drawn into the environment and inaccessible. The way I had originally thought to encourage the player to steal furniture from the blue house was for them to finish unpacking a box, then revealing a text prompt from the yellow man to go into the neighbor’s home and steal the corresponding piece of furniture i.e. by unpacking the box with books in it, the yellow man would indicate that he wants a bookshelf. This design does not account for a player who is disinterested in completely unpacking a particular box (the prompt from the yellow man was technically never reached, though I allowed the stealing mechanic to be unlocked and take effect anyway) and could be solved simply by having less objects in them if I wanted to keep this kind of design. The actual contents of the boxes are more or less obscure depending on how much background knowledge the player has about historical examples of actual and alleged plagiarism, and that’s something I’m willing to embrace, though having some kind of flavor note that tells the player that the yellow man is collecting pieces of supposedly plagiarized art would definitely be a plus. I was happy to see that the found flavor notes and plot hook items were capitalized on by the player (albeit at the encouragement of the observers) and the given connections between the notes and theme of the game were apparent. In a case where the player found more of these (again, probably a fault on my part from putting too many objects in each box), I feel that the theme of the game would have soon become apparent. In general, development is coming along quite nicely so far. The initial tilesets for both the interior and exterior areas of the game are entirely completed, and spritework has moved on to boxes, furnishings that can be borrowed, and the items that are unpacked. At a continuous, casual rate, I can see the majority, if not all, of the initial spritework completed sometime between a week and a week and a half. From there work on the code for picking up and placing down movable objects would commence, and I would be content to meet that milestone by the end of the semester.