Ivan Garde’s game design studies online notebook

and also an animator’s portifolio (hopefully)

Game Design Challenge: Creating Fun Communication junho 24, 2009

Filed under: Production — ivangarde @ 12:15 pm
Tags: , , , ,


The theme for this month’s design contest at GameCareerGuide is quite interesting: To create a fun and meaningful communication system in a MMO for friendly characters who can’t understand each other. You can find the whole assignment here.


My firts thoughts were something about a town crier and the inexistence of global chat, to add a layer of delay in the information travel in order to create estrategic opportunities for surprise attacks or a well defined information network. It was bit away from de the theme because people were still talking to each other, just he range of the communication had changed, so I scraped this idea and haven’t took it any further. I had reall forgotten about the contest when all of he sudden, I caught myself thinking how cool would be playing a Zerg in a ficticious World of Starcraft.  But Zergs don’t tak! Zergs don’t shout “LFG!”, so I decided to come up with some communication systemfor them and take part in the contest.


The following text is the original idea, which had around 300 word cut to fit the contest restrictions, so, without further ado, here’s the verbose version of:


The Zerg communication in World of Starcraft
Instinct, pheromones and survival of the fittest



Zergs

Zergs

I know many gamers crave for a World of Starcraft, I for one would like to see it, specially if Blizzard make the zergs a playable race. I believe World of Starcraft (WoS) dispenses further introductions, but for the contextualization I’m thinking in a MMO with three distinct factions with lots of open world PvP. The players gain levels normally but also have a PvP associated level, somewhat like the old honor (or renown, I can’t remember) system that used to exist in WoW.


It would be strange to see all the zerg characters chatting to each other so this would be a great case of study for an alternative yet meaningful communication system, starting with the premise that zergs don’t talk or have any kind of grammar.


This communication system should impact the gameplay by enforcing some specific characteristics of the zerg play style in the original starcraft, which I believe is amassing the largest army as fast as possible and striking with one big swarm. The communication system should enforce the feeling of being part of a hive, of safety in numbers, the feeling of riding a furious cloud of hungry grasshoppers.

The “chatless” communication system I thought about is based on 3 mechanics:


Instinct or The Hive Mind – This mechanic manifests itself as automatic information in the game HUD exclusive to the zerg faction:

  • Swarm Localization: The zerg player is able to see on the minimap, or in the zone map, colored moving stains representing groups of other zergs. The stain size should be relative to the group size. This mark just starts to appear in the map as soon as the group (or swarm, as an alternative for “raid”) reaches a certain number
  • Swarm Adrenaline: The more zergs are present in an area, the more they feel ready to attack, like a battle “frenesi”. So, even if the zergs are not together in groups, they can “feel” they are in a large number in a given area. This should be present in the player HUD as a neurotransmitter level or as a cardiac beats per second, which fluctuate in a certain range, like in figure 1.
  • Together, these two facets of the Instinct mechanic should enforce the play style of zerg characters amassing in large numbers easily.
  • Overlord Message: The player should also receive direct messages, in the form of sound and text, directly from the hive mind. Such messages would deal with global warnings, like “hive is under attack”.



<strong>Fig. 1</strong> - a piece of the Zerg HUD (I'm no interface artist!)

Fig. 1 - a piece of the Zerg HUD (I'm no interface artist!)



Pheromones – While the instinct mechanic deals with information automatically and continuously updated, the pheromones deal with communication activated by the player itself.

  • Swarm call: A player can actively inform the other zergs that he/she is willing to start a group. The zerg character glows in a particular color and  all players in a certain range receive in the neurotransmitter HUD an “interpreted message” in a form of text (again, figure 1 ). For the sake of usability, there could be different types of swarm calls, to differentiate PvP calls to the PvE ones.
  • Marking a prey: This marks an enemy player or monster with a scent only detected by the zergs, so everyone can attack the same target, again enforcing the furious swarm feeling. This facet of pheromones is in place to balance the lack of strategic coordination among the zergs.
  • Predator warning: After receiving damage, the zerg player can emit a warning cloud of pheromones that means “danger!”. Be warned Terrans and Protoss, mess with one zerg and you are messing with an entire hive!
  • Synthetic pheromones: Since WoS is a three faction MMO, alliances between two factions should be integral part of the social play. If players form the other two races intent to communicate with zergs, they should have flasks of synthetic pheromones, and throw then at the swarm, creating particle clouds that could make the zergs retreat or attract them, meaning “truce” or “attack the other race”. So the other would never feel like they are “talking” to zergs, instead they are trying to tame a wild force of nature.
  • It is important to notice that since the text messages received from the pheromones are automatic generated, this system allows people from different languages to communicate, in a zerg way.



Survival of the Fittest – This mechanic intertwines the communication system with the level progression system, a cornerstone of many MMOs. The higher the level and specially, the PvP level of a character, the more effective his/her pheromones are. A swarm call reaches a larger range as well as the “danger” warning, targets are strongly marked by high level zergs. A subtle reward for attaining new ranks that can also create an “alpha male” behavior among the swarm, like a rudimentary leadership.


This communication system opens other design spaces, for instance, the other factions could have weapons that mess with the zergs instincts or fake “danger” pheromones to create traps. The zergs on the other hand, could have a class with heightened senses, like a tracker, expert in finding the prey.

Anúncios
 

Featured! dezembro 20, 2008

Filed under: Production — ivangarde @ 3:00 pm
Tags: , , , ,


Last month I took part in a game design contest sponsored by the gamecareerguide.com. This kind of contest use to be common in the 3D artistic production area, but for game design I just found that one. The theme was to design a experimental game concept that plays with the notion of time.

Well, I found it very intriguing and wrote two entries for the contest. Submitted both here i this blog:  Dystemporalia and Cut/Insert/A day in the life (link)

The reason I’m touching this subject again is that one of the entries, Cut/Insert/A day in the life was featured as one of the three best!! Yay! You can check the result here. Also, congratulations to other winners!

The ironic part is that the concept I submitted is really something narrative-centred, those that know me in person knows that I’m always running away from defining games as a sort of narrative, like some scholars here in Brazil have been doing.

I still think games are not narratives, but narratives can be used as a game concept, specially if you like to twist tales, but this is a subject for another post.

 

Game Design Challenge: The Time Experiment #2 novembro 25, 2008

Filed under: Production — ivangarde @ 11:28 pm
Tags: , ,

At 11/12 GameCareerGuide launched another of their weekly game design challenges, which, in their words is:

“Design an experimental game concept that plays with the notion of time, and explain why it is worthwhile to conduct this experiment”

I feel it’s a great way to put my skills and studies to test, so I went off and cooked 2 ideas for the challenge which I’ll transcript here, the way I submitted them. Note that I followed their submission form.
Without further ados, here is the second attempt:

Entry #2

1.What is the name of your game, and please describe it (100 words max.)?
Game: Dystemporalia
The experiment is Real Time Strategy game, the twist is that it’s played in three instances for the same battlefield at the same time, each representing a different age of history. Whatever a player does in the prior ages affects the future ones (like erecting/razing buildings). The elements for RTS are present, but split among the ages: gathering in the past, combat in the present and technological advances in the future (affects past ages after discovering time travel). Each age has an independent win condition and the player is only required to meet one of them to win.

2.How is the core gameplay experimental? Give detail on the gameplay experiment you are performing. Why is this experiment important? What does it bring to games that is not already ubiquitous? (300 words max.)

RTS games that plays in more than one layer is not exactly a new thing, the concept of differentiation between ground and air combat is an example of this. Dragonshard already implemented a two layered battlefield, one for the RTS but the other was an action RPG. The proposition for this experiment is to create a new mechanic that will influence the relationships of cause-effect in a RTS. If you want something built in the future age you have to manage the gathering age layer, erect the building (and pre-requisites) at some of the appropriate ages, defend it in the present age to ripe it’s fruits in the future layer. But in my opinion the most important twist in this experiment is that each age/layer has it’s unique victory conditions. With this a player can pursue different strategies that will require different ways of looking at each age. I hope to achieve with this the sense of focusing in a strategy while having to keep an eye for in which age(s) are your opponent investing more playtime. The experiment should throw in more cause-effect relationships not currently found in RTS games, increasing the complexity of the player decision-making process.

I think the game would benefit form features like a “time travel”, a way that units and technology built in the future age can interact with the prior ages, augmenting the loop of cause-effect. I also would like to throw in the design feature that allow short-term advantages for a player at the cost of negative effects in future ages, like industry in the present age that improve the income generation from the resources gathered, but that would cause environmental disaster at the future age (even leading to a automatic losing condition).

3.How will you know whether the experiment is a success? What problems and limitations might arise? What do these limitations mean for future incarnations of this kind of gameplay? (300 words max.)

I fear that a design like this may become too overwhelming for the players, not due the relationship between the elements through the ages, but due the fact of managing 3 different layers at the same time. This game is actually target to be a multiplayer, so both opponents would face the same limitations.I believe that in a commercial implementation a great effort should be put in how to create the interface with the player, specilally the one that help him navigate trough the ages and see what’s happening in each one.

This experiment will be a success if the players do not feel overwhelmed to manage 3 layers of a RTS game simultaneously, and specially if the new relationships between units, buildings, technologies and resources spread among the ages allow for new strategies not currently beign used in the RTS games found in the market.

 

Game Design Challenge: The Time Experiment

Filed under: Production — ivangarde @ 11:24 pm
Tags: , ,

At 11/12 GameCareerGuide launched another of their weekly game design challenges, which, in their words is:

“Design an experimental game concept that plays with the notion of time, and explain why it is worthwhile to conduct this experiment”

I feel it’s a great way to put my skills and studies to test, so I went off and cooked 2 ideas for the challenge which I’ll transcript here, the way I submitted them. Note that I followed their submission form.
Without further ados, here is the first:

Entry #1

1.What is the name of your game, and please describe it (100 words max.)?
Game: Cut/Insert/A day in the life
This game presents a puzzle in the form of a narrative, in every level there’s a small story usually played by more than one character. It often presents an inconclusive or sad ending. For the characters there will be available a time track, in which the player can interact, it will be possible to cut samples of time and insert it elsewhere in the track. The player can also accelerate or slow down parts of the timeline, the number of available actions is limited. The goal is to create a new ending by manipulating (rearranging, accelerating) the characters actions.

2.How is the core gameplay experimental? Give detail on the gameplay experiment you are performing. Why is this experiment important? What does it bring to games that is not already ubiquitous? (300 words max.)

In many games the player is acting through the character, I wanted to create something where the actions are already chosen, a story is already there, but like “having second thoughts” the player can recreate the story not by acting in new ways, but by the”correct usage” of the same actions, like saying something to someone at the right time, not too late. So, the way a player can interact with the game is by manipulating the characters timeline and not controlling them directly, something I believe is not quite ubiquitous.
I believe this kind of interaction can be very interesting for the following reasons

  • It’s a nice way to toy with interactive narrative
  • coupled with a clever level design and the limited number of cut/inserts operations, it can also become a challenging puzzle
  • It can be made in line with Augusto Boal‘s theatrical poetics, the Theater of the Opressed. Boal’s poetics links with videogames have already been the subject of a thesis in Gonzalo Frasca’s Videogames of the Oppressed. I believe this kind of interaction can be a nice way to translate theatrical play into videogame, without becoming just a sand box for character interaction.
  • It can be implemented with intuitive controls to increase accessibility (low number of operations).

I hope to study with this experiment a direct translation of interactive narrative into a puzzle mechanics. the player should feel that each time manipulation for each character is relevant and should be chosen carefully (due to limitation of the operations) but at the same time it should allow the player to toy with the narrative, allowing the emergence of different stories within the interactions in a level.

3.How will you know whether the experiment is a success? What problems and limitations might arise? What do these limitations mean for future incarnations of this kind of gameplay? (300 words max.)

Let me start with the problems that might arise. I believe that the level creation to validate this experiment, and even to expand it into a full game is not trivial, if we want to meet the two premises: the game as a puzzle and the game system for emergent stories. I hope that with this system a player can get to similar (new) endings by messing with the timing of the character’s actions in different ways. The actions that character perform in the story must something novel, in order to help the player feel they’re playing with something new, I mean, avoiding classical “videogame actions” like jumping or hitting something.
The experiment will be a success if:

  • The player feels he can modify the story in many ways by altering the time in which the character’s action occur.
  • He feels it can generate new meanings and feelings for the new story.
  • At same time he knows that arriving at a certain state of the story will take carefully planning when manipulate the time of the actions.
  • The designers are able to create several levels that use this mechanics in a clever way for the puzzles while maintaining the possibility for level to generate different endings. Although I believe that the puzzle side of this equation is more important.

And even a bigger success if this mechanic could be integrated in different game styles, for instance, in a fighting game after the player and an opponent exchange some punches, blocks or combos, the player could pause, go back in time and rearrange the order of movements as a special skill or as a game unique feature.