Tag Archives: radical design


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

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: Master Cube

d1fd2907396e9a36752890bc8745a4c8 Master Cube is about a young man named Davis. Davis is a store greeter sick of his work and the people in town. He envies the heroes he sees pass through the store, taking what they please for their quest. Davis has very little for him in town, and tries to venture outside but the guards won’t let him, they say it’s too dangerous. He can leave if he can pay off the guards by working tirelessly as a greeter for hours and hours, the thought of which makes Davis want to blow his brains out. A robed figure calls out to Davis and promises to pay the guards for him if he signs his soul to him. He agrees and is told to seek out the great cube center, in the forest. He travels to the center, and is initiated into the Master Cube Society. To do so he completes 3 trials and then is sworn in by the leader. The leader tries to kill him for aligning with the cube better than he did. Upon defeating the leader Davis is summoned to the cube dimension where the master cube will change the universe for him in one way. Davis chooses to make the universe a universe where people will like him, and the cube makes everyone in the universe him.   IMG_20170306_155223 My game is radical because my goal with the game is to make the player feel that joining a cult is their best option.  Most people view cult members as aliens or freaks that must have been insane to give in to a cult’s ideology. I want my game to play with the idea that anyone could be put into a situation where they view joining a cult is smart of them. The life of the character Davis is unfulfilling, and players play games to fulfill needs. Basic needs such as wanting to have fun, or needing a distraction from every day life. This game initially does not offer the player what they want in the world to proceed or explore the world, and the fastest way out is to join the cult. Development is tricky. I’ve never been an artist with visual arts like drawing or painting and so the art design aspect of development has been tough if not overwhelming at times. Getting everything to look and feel right visually can be very frustrating. Luckily I’m used to using programs similar to Unity so that portion of development has been smooth. Unfortunately development rarely gets to building in Unity as the art still needs work! The ability to make pixel art that looks anything like what I want it to be has been the most surprising about my abilities to make the game. From paper game in class I’ve learned that my ideas are clearer than I thought they were visually, but I need to learn to better express my ideas so as not to confuse people as to what’s going on or going to happen. The biggest way my game says a lot with a little is the design of the player character. One look at him and you know he’s miserable and bored with his life and the people around him. I’m also trying to get the player to feel the way the character looks in the rather small space of a simple town store you’d find in most RPGs but rather than being the hero that comes and gets cool gear, you simply greet the heroes as they come in. The player can clearly see that there are others more important than themselves and so hopefully they will want to be more like the heroes and quickly realize how nearly impossible it is to do without some sort of outside help, or rather extreme patience.

Radical Games: Rescue

Rescue in its current form is an attempt to subvert the common RPG adventure trope of a hero rescuing a princess, but has been through numerous iterations and pivots such that numerous aspects of previous versions of the game appear in this most recent version. This history is long, complicated, and largely irrelevant, contributing to arbitrary aspects of the project. As it stands, the game is about a mother attempting to rescue her daughter, failing, and needing to be rescued by the supposedly helpless little girl. Village The inspiration came very soon after finishing LISA: The Painful in early February. My initial need was to create a game about a parent willing to do anything to save their child. This led to the character design of Isha, a middle-aged war veteran who is the mother of a small girl named Gemma. While initial aspects of the game revolved around the conflict between the Verda (Isha’s species of green skinned people) and humanity, I eventually dropped this idea in favor of trying to work off the medium of adventure games like Zelda and Mario, as it lay more within my areas of expertise. Because of this however, aspects of the previous world such as the Verda and Human conflict remain as backdrop and partial catalyst of the game’s events. The way I wanted to challenge the hero rescue damsel in distress narrative was to have the natural hero (Warrior character) be rescued by the small child. Since Isha was the main character of my previous idea, I made her the typical warrior character by virtue of that being what she was before. The idea was that the player would become comfortable playing as Isha and slide into the usual rhythms of an action RPG. However, once the actual quest began, Isha would be captured and the player would begin controlling the imprisoned Gemma. From there, the player would discover that Gemma had reality altering powers, able to tear holes in existence, and would go on to save her mother. Woods  Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 7.51.52 PM This section in particular during the paper test revealed several problems in the design I had laid out. Foremost was that when control of the characters changed from Isha to Gemma, it was not clear that that was simply meant to happen as an established event, not a mechanic that the player was in control of. Because of this, the player believed that the point was to return to a more powerful body, since Gemma seemed helpless and died anytime she came into contact with guards. This revealed both that the player felt mor e kinship to Isha (partially expected given the structure and my intentions) and that the player did not realize Gemma had any powers aside from running. Much of this was a symptom of oversights on my part that did not adequately inform the player of their abilities. What was positively revealed was the idea that the player wanted to chase Gemma, who in the beginning flees from the player, reinforcing the idea of following/rescuing the “princess.” However, I’m not sure that this adequately illustrated the relationship I wanted to express. State of the game was also fairly positive, but again showed mistakes made in character design (misunderstanding the age of Isha) and the pallet of objects blurring together at times. The art otherwise has been part of the easiest of this process for me, which I found exceptionally surprising as I have no real art education. While I’ve drawn for fun before, I’ve always found the details that I mess up too marring for me to really care what I’ve create. The abstraction of pixel art however, has made me feel exceptionally good about the kind of work I can produce. I feel this is well represented in the game. Aesthetically I wanted to go for darker, earthy tones, because the original idea was to try and make the Verda seem folksy, and slightly other, but in a natural way. I also then wanted to draw attention to certain characters by using slight deviations in these colors. One of my original Verda designs thus had bright purple eyes, at odds with the dark green of his skin. I also wanted this earthiness to contrast with the humans, who I planned to put in lots of pristine, white, clothing, evocative of the Roman Republic.   FullSizeRender-1   FullSizeRender Development up until state of the game felt very smooth, exciting, and pointed towards a specific goal. Since then, because of revisions, expansions, and downscaling, I feel that things have slowed somewhat to a near stall as I try and figure out connections between the things I had already decided I wanted in the game, while maintaining the structure I had envisioned. The path forward is a continuing distillation of what I’m trying to express, while retaining the impact fulness I want to create. In terms of art, I have a number of assets and environments left to build, as well as more animations for the characters and the world.
    Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 4.15.34 PM   Nazi Punch:The RPG is a hands on probe into the ethical dilemma of who it is or isn’t okay to use physical violence against.  The goal of the game is to provide the player with a myriad of options as to how to approach “combat” with traditional physical violence being only one of the many choices.  The goal of the game is to be a think piece that makes people probe deeper into their moral stances to find more nuanced understandings of their own self-imposed ethical guidelines.  You play as Jacob Liebowitz, a Jewish twenty-something living in a small New Jersey town.  You go to work, you buy groceries, your days are finite. The routine gets a wrench thrown in the mix when right-wing rhetoric begins to seep into your home town. Alcot_big_NoColl Is it okay to punch Nazis? That question is at the core of this game. The environment and the player character are meant to ground the player in a very real world as an attempt to make the question less hypothetical and more theoretical. Every secondary element serves this backdrop.  The notion of finite days, of limited time is meant to make the player question the weight of their actions in a world that changes on a day-to-day basis.  It’s meant to make you feel as though idly standing by is the losing stance.  Beyond that level of incentivization though, the player is free to choose to spend their days however they please, whether that’s arguing with internet trolls, or it’s saving up enough money to move by working full days. Just like real life, there are no rules of engagement on the social battlefield. The inspiration for this game came from the intense debate online about whether or not punching Richard Spencer was ethically sound as a course of action.  It was a question I myself initially grappled with.  In my own experience with the question, I found myself enriched by a deeper understanding of the ethics of violence then I had previously, and the aim of the game is to bring that to an audience.   Mechanically the game has two major wellsprings of inspiration.  One is the 2d RPG genre, games like Earthbound and Super Mario RPG, or more recently, Undertale.  The main mechanical grounding comes from these roots, and as a player, you function along these lines.  The second source of inspiration was Papers, please and it’s ability to use time and financial resources to put pressure on you as the player.  Grappling with necessity on top of the ethics gives them a grounding layer, they are no longer what if scenarios but instead they are divergent paths: do you prioritize your short-term needs, or the long term health of your cultural homestead? Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 4.16.40 PM Development is going fairly well, and the art resources for the game are coming along.  The main source of frustration on my part is finding a way to create turn-based combat without inserting a clunky UI.  In my prototype I was able to write out samples of what the conversations might sound like, and give the players choice within that. It demonstrated how the combat might work in the theoretical, and people seemed to respond relatively well to it.  As a way of making entire areas playable, I may create a twine file to serve as a stand-in for the combat system, and create a series of locks and keys, with the locks existing in the game proper, and the keys being at the end of the twine combat encounter.  In that way then, the game can respond to those encounters without them ever taking place within the Unity file itself, thus bypassing the UI bottleneck I know find myself at. If you had told me that the art would be the easiest part of the game to develop and enhance, I would’ve balked at you.  I have never been a particularly talented visual artist, but in working on this game I’m finding that my limitations were mostly mechanical: I have tremors that make it very difficult to draw a straight line. In Piskel these problems disappear, and I’m finding my aesthetic sensibilities to be keener than I had realized. IMG_7520 My state of the game went fairly well.  People understood the level layout for the most part, and they grasped what I was going for.  There were no serious elements of confusion where the visuals couldn’t guide people towards an understanding of utility. The paper game more than anything taught me the importance of secondary narrative threads accessible aesthetically within the world.  Every design feature needs not only a general narrative purpose, but a specific one. In building it out to a larger game, I think I’ll have to go slower, more purposefully, about designing future areas, and redesigning the central map. IMG_7526 The central goal of the aesthetic in this game is to present a world that is, visually at least not at risk.  Trees aren’t dying, buildings are holding up.  The threat and the emotional stakes are provided by the conversations, and eventually the appearance of threatening characters.  The world does not visually change to meet their appearance, just like the real world.  The central escape that this game provides is that it lets the player work out the ethical quandaries set forth at the outset in a safe environment where they can really engage with them, rather than letting the fear of real-world physical or verbal violence stand in the way of a greater, more nuanced assessment of bigotry in America. IMG_7523 In that way then I think character design is what is most meant to convey large narrative threads in concise imagistic detail.  The trump supporter and the internet trolls both have clear visual markers as to who they are as people, what they stand for, what they believe.  They don’t need back stories because it’s all explained in their appearance.  As more enemies pop up, I hope to continue that trend.  Every encounter should happen in a way that you as the player understand your circumstances from the outset. By the end of the semester I hope for a strong, playable vertical slice of the game that conveys the larger scope and narrative future that the game has to offer.  The meat of that work will come in the form of writing dialogue and narrative development on an aesthetic level.  The tile sets I have so far are the majority, and only a few small interior spaces are left to be created.  Overall I’m hopeful that by the time the semester comes to a close, the purpose of this game will be realized in its encapsulated form.  

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.