Sunday, 30 December 2012

The Ending

So here we are as the final deadline for the Masters draws closer I felt I should write up a conclusive post of my developments. 

The main element of my final presentation and hand in will be my working Unity game which I have decided to title Enigmus. During my research into the many elements which hint at the narrative of a game, I realized the title itself can suggest a lot about the narrative of a game, to avoid this I have chosen a purposely cryptic title for my game which prevents a suggestion of narrative. The game itself is the development of the game I designed in the first semester which at the time I titled 'Bloat', though it underwent many name changes. The game seems aesthetically very simplistic, however much like the title I believed the visuals could not be evocative in order for the game to work as I planned. 

The game will presented with a minimal amount of display boards to explain the concept and a blank lined paper book. The intention of this is that visitors who try the game will be able to note down a possible narrative they imagined for the game. This way I can document the varying levels of how players develop an intrinsic narrative when playing a game, without the extrinsic narrative affecting there imagination.

Secondly for my show I will provide the completed Level Design document I have been working on, based around my time at Travellers Tales. I have modelled the levels in Sketch Up for display purposes then used Photoshop for the step-by-step of how the level would progress.

The final aspect of my show will address my work with my Powered by Bandits. Though the work on our first game idea is still very much in the basic phases I will explain within a document how the game and team was put together and how it has developed so far.

Overall the masters has helped me develop my knowledge of game design theory and also my practical skills within a game editor. My studies of game-play and narrative have included looking into aspects of psychology, basic elements of philosophy as well as general narrative theory. The combination of my masters and my work experience at Travellers Tales has also helped me feel as though I am better prepared for industry work, as opposed to how I felt after my BA.

With that I believe (at least for the time) I have covered all the elements currently in flux during the final portion of my masters studies


Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Trilogy Ending - Final Semester

So here we are after a summer filled with dissertation writing and study, as well as a busy schedule QA testing at TT and TT Fusion I am finally here at Semester 3.

My dissertation was submitted in good time and I completed it in enough time to edit it accordingly before the deadline, so hopefully it will effectively reflect the time and effort put into it. It was a surreal experience to write I must admit. Throughout late education when writing formal pieces of work you are essentially told not to include your own input, coming from a perspective outside of the field you must instead write entirely about relevant research. Masters writing however changes that as you must instead initially take existing research and build upon it with your own theories and study.

I digress however the dissertation is over so we are onto the practical for the final semester of my masters experience. During my meeting with Josh and the class we discussed where I can go with my practical work which is both relevant to my dissertation topics but is also within my capabilities for the final degree show. Games which usually involve a focus on intrinsic narrative are after all usually based around complex code, far beyond my current ability and time limitations.

To this end we decided to revisit my first semester game idea, which at the time I tentatively titled 'Bloat' however I intend to change to a more palletable title. This semester I aim to make this game work based around the basic core mechanics which encompass it. The aesthetic will purposely be kept basic to keep extrinsic narrative effectively non-existent leaving the player to create their own story for the game. However as an alternative I will reskin the game in a way which effectively presents some level of narrative. With the two versions I then intend to see which players prefer, possibly cataloguing the narratives the players percieve playing the first game.

On top of this I am furthering my work with my Powered By Bandits design team as we further develop our first small game with the working title 'Mancer'. The game will be a 2D puzzle platformer based around using a set group of elemental abilities to solve puzzles and collect special objects. With my two artist collegues in the Bandits team I will also be  attempting to create a physical trading card game. As a long-time fan of trading card games it will provide an opportunity to work on games design of a different variety and format in an attempt to diversify my skills further.

I have also been corresponding with a man looking to create an indy company in Blackpool who is looking for individuals with games related skills or an enthusiasm for games. Though this is currently very much in the early admin stages and is unlikely to develop at least for the mean time. 

So there we have the current schedule, and of course working QA graveyard shift at TT so all systems go at the moment ,however this is the final hurdle so onwards and upwards.

Peace Out

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Final Stage - Semester 2

So my presentation was today, the conclusion to this semester's worth of work. Not to mention my final hand in of work. My feelings are so so I feel like I've come far in terms of my Unity development. However after my presentation I am starting to wonder whether I should have developed more designs as well as my Unity work.

This is something I think I will have to keep in mind when my third semester rolls around. Regardless of this though I look forward to my proper feedback and seeing what Josh and Steve have to say.

Bonus Stage - Super Monday Night Combat

When I began studying narrative and gameplay I considered whether genre affected the importance of narrative, I even asked Ben and Steve their thoughts on this point. However I started thinking multiplayer is another element which greatly affects the narrative within the game. Games with intense and enjoyable multiplayers are often popular regardless of their narrative, which stands as proof that narrative isn’t necessarily vital in video games. 

 One game which I thought effectively exemplified this is Super Monday Night Combat, a first person shooter which is free to play on the PC. Through my genre observation I noted first person shooters as a genre which often does include a tangible narrative, Super Monday Night Combat however doesn’t particularly tell a story. The game takes place in a future where various clones are constantly reborn to take part in a violent game of capture the flag, something which in the games reality is a sport with sponsors, commentators and cheerleaders. This back and forth between the two teams and the victory or defeat in each match is all the narrative which this game uses. To this end even the levels of intrinsic narrative within the game are limited as the player essentially progresses no further then each individual match.

Though it could be said that a similar paradigm exists for sports games such as FIFA or UFC Undisputed, I would question whether it was so simple. Though the multiplayer in those games is very comparable to this, such games also have a single player career mode which is the equivalent to a narrative in such games. The rise (or indeed fall) of an athlete or team through the years/seasons are story which those games weave, the same cannot be said for Super Monday Night Combat where there is no continuation between games. Though perhaps it could be said the narrative element of Super Monday Night Combat is what happens in each individual game; which player succeeded and failed, which players defeated one another. That being said regardless of this narrative theory, Super Monday Night Combat is a game which is both enjoyable and successful based entirely on its gameplay.

Super Monday Night Combat is a great example of what I studied in first semester, whether a game can succeed with little to no narrative and it is also fascinating as it exists within a genre which I considered to be more prone to using narrative.

Bonus Stage - Catherine

Catherine is a game which I think I had to study and discuss if studying narrative and gameplay as it has some very interesting elements of both, and they come together in a very original way. On the surface many people judged Catherine due to its anime style graphics and cutscenes and its racy promotional material as nothing but some lonely man’s fancy game. This I find to be very unfortunate as those who would be so quick to judge are missing out on a narrative experience I have seldom encountered among the myriad of video games I have played.

Narrative is very important within Catherine, however it doesn’t particularly tell a tale which is grandiose or epic like most video games do. Indeed the characters (including the main character) all have their fair share of character flaws and elements which don’t immediately make them likeable. This however is exactly what makes Catherine such an astounding step in the evolution of narrative in gaming. Catherine tells a tale which I think appeals more to the older gaming audience, a story about just a regular guy. Admittedly the story has some supernatural and weird elements to it but generally this is supposed to be a game about the some of the tribulations of adult life. Vincent the main character is a guy with a decent job and a loving girlfriend Katherine , however when she starts talking of marriage and children Vincent grows anxious of the commitment involved in such massive life steps. Next thing we know seemingly accidently Vincent wakes up with another woman (this one called Catherine), and the rest of the narrative is a downward spiral of guilt and deceit. The player chooses through gameplay whether Vincent will try to do right by the loving Katherine, or be seduced by the lust of Catherine or in see-saw both ways and cause them more trouble.

I believe this is what makes Catherine shine so greatly, it has many elements which people can relate to. Many of us myself included have had stirring thoughts of anxiety about commitment and the future, and Catherine almost makes you ponder your feelings on such things. What makes the game even better in this regard is none of characters are perfect, they each have their share of traits which may cause different people to like or dislike them. Vincent is a coward, Katherine is overbearing and Catherine is a salacious woman with trust issues so your feelings on these characters aren’t necessarily as simple as they would be in most games.

Another intriguing thing about Catherine is what could be thought of as a disconnect between the narrative and the gameplay, however it manages to pull it off effectively. The gameplay comprises of equal parts puzzle game to social simulator, which would seem to be a strange combination. However the game addresses this strangeness by fitting the gameplay directly into the narrative. The puzzle elements involve climbing up a tower of shifting blocks with Vincent, while the bottom of the tower crumbles or in some stages a demon (embodiments of Vincent’s anxiety) chases him. Within the context of the story these parts take place in Vincent’s dreams each night and if he dies in the dream we are told he dies in real life. Meanwhile during the days the social simulation element takes over as we play as Vincent as we talk to the customers of his Vincent’s bar. Through these day area it is discovered other men are suffering similar dreams to Vincent and people Vincent will meet during the day will appear in the dream scenes and can even die within the dream. This mutual support between narrative and gameplay I found very interesting as both elements at a glance are so very different from one another, but by addressing one another they strengthen the experience.

Catherine is a unique experience and I think the way it deals with issues many adults could relate to is a step towards a maturity in video games which I think is somewhere which is essentially untouched in games.  In terms of narrative Catherine does what I think all prominent narratives should do, it makes the audience question parts of themselves and consider deeper issues then ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Whereas the gameplay of Catherine is also a difficult experience which only skilled players can master on any difficulty above easy. Though Catherine is such an impressive experience the combination of unfamiliar narrative (displayed through anime aesthetics) and difficult gameplay inevitably alienates many players, which is an unfortunate fact I must consider when creating games myself.

Bonus Stage - Mass Effect

Due to the importance of narrative continuity in the series I decided analysing the Mass Effect trilogy was more appropriate then a single game. Mass Effect is a sci-fi epic made by Bioware who are known for the freedom of choice which they imbue into the player throughout their games, with Mass Effect being no different. This focus on story has crafted some of the gaming world’s most memorable characters from the Mass Effect series and due to the freedom the player has, how their character (Commander Shephard) interacts with them is upto them.

Though initially sceptical of Mass Effect as a generic sci-fi game as soon as I started the first of the trilogy I realised how wrong I was. Though the gameplay in the first game has its fair share of rough patches, including a particularly outdated looking GUI the story and characters manage to hook the player right from the beginning. Though inevitably the dialogue trees available to the player inevitably revolve around the familiar good, bad and neutral choices the freedom comes from the way the player needn’t pick one route in particular. Though my paragon Shephard was a clean cut hero in the first game, I felt by the second game I had been jaded by the goings on in the games universe and this reflected in my Shephard character. Though remaining good, occasionally I would choose the renegade paths to get the job done or if the character involved legitimately drew rage from me. Therein lies the true beauty of Mass Effect, perhaps more than any other game I felt myself developing different emotions for the characters within the universe. The players Commander Shephard is in the truest sense of the word the player’s avatar within this fantastic world, though nowhere close to true freedom the interactions in Mass Effect do at least emulate a real social interaction for the player.

The finales of the second and third games drew a real emotional bond with me, within each game the players and their allies are faced with threats which can literally cause the death of the allies you’ve interacted with for so long. After 100+ hours of game-play I had built a rapport with these characters and I felt the resolve to perform as well as possible in order to save them. Though the wording of this may sound a tad melodramatic I have several friends who played through the game and found themselves drawn to different characters then me and their experiences changed for it.

Though the engrossing and epic narrative would suggest the gameplay of the game would suffer, in execution Mass Effect is still an enjoyable third person shooter / action RPG. Though many believe with the stripping down of the RPG style micro management in the latter 2 games the game-play suffered, however it has always seemed to me this was more of a method of streamlining the gameplay into a more fluid experience. The popularity of the multiplayer mode added in the third game is a testament to the quality of the gameplay itself.
In conclusion I think Mass Effect is a shining example of how effectively narrative and gameplay can combine to create an exciting and atmospheric experience which is memorable and very enjoyable for the player. 

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Level 6 - All systems are GO

Well the positivity continues in Steve's journey through masters and the narrative / game-play debate. So despite crunch time beginning at TT and my weekends filled up with overtime, I'm just about fitting in what masters work I can but I would say its going okay. 

My plans for my essays didn't quite go to plan, I did finish my design practitioner essay however after I had the great idea to ask my friends Steve Thornton and Ben Hill for their thoughts so I could use them as sources for my personal study. So half way there just need to wait for correspondence and i'm ready to get it all written up.

As for Unity I managed to dabble in the basic of animation so my animal placeholders can now move, as shown here:

(The cube is meant to be representing a bird creature, while the cuboid is a land creature)

So with that sorted for the moment I am now working on the 'capture' mechanic so the animal will disappear when hit by a shot from the player. However for the best results it might be worth looking into alternatives to firing a solid object for this mechanic, as it may operate better with a different method.

I will also be uploading two narrative / game-play analyses for the Mass Effect series and Catherine. These are both games which intrigued me for their relevance to my research and so I have taken notes and will be writing them up in the coming days.

On a side note from my masters I have also been working on concepts for the first game my newly formed group 'Powered by Bandits' will hopefully be creating. Only a few conceptual ideas so far but the original concept and idea is pretty much down. I'm currently working one some level design ideas on my train journeys (among other bits of work) while the other guys work on their respective areas.

Peace Out