Month: March 2015

Dyadic – Triadic Inspirations

As of today, production has officially begun on my latest project ‘Dyadic‘. Dyadic is 2D co-op puzzle platformer, which is a bit of a mouthful. So, for those unfamiliar with the jargon, let’s just say it’s a game about two people working together to jump around some ruins, solving puzzles and generally being bros. In 2D. For this project I have the pleasure of working with my largest team yet, consisting of the brilliant programmers Corey Underdown, Callan Syratt, and Jared Ford, the wonderful artist Angelica Zurawski, and the ever skilled musician Sam McLean.

Anyway, as you might have guess from the title ‘Triadic Inspirations’ I’m going to take a moment to talk about the things that inspired this particular concept. All three of them. See, we were given three groups of things, painting, songs, and words. From these groups, we had to pick an item from each and draw on those for our design. Now, the overarching theme of the game was to be ‘Trust’, that much was predefined. So each of these inspirations had some rather interesting effects.

First and foremost of my inspirations was the word. Of those presented to us, I chose ‘Sharing’ and based the core of my game around this idea. So, the player has something that they need to give away, but also get back, and potentially give away again, in order to succeed. If they keep it the whole time, they’ll fail. Now, this object is important, whichever character they’re giving it to they have to trust enough to look after it, and to give it back. This was an interesting foundation, but it needed expanding.

The second most significant inspiration came from the list of music, or more specifically, Lux Aeterna. This song gave me the impression of a large, open, desolate space. Something cold, dark, and seemingly endless. A place where you are the only sign of life and everything else is perfectly still. Like a great cave, or perhaps the empty ruins of some long forgotten civilisation. And it is from this that I derived my setting, ancient ruins. And what is the player trying to do in these ruins? Escape no doubt. But where there are ruins, there are traps and devices. Hidden mechanisms behind every wall. What if to escape, the player had to use these mechanisms, like a puzzle? And so, it was decided, the game would be a puzzle game. But 3D puzzles are harder, so let’s make the game 2D.

The final inspiration was Leonora Carrington, and Remedios Varo’s Still Life RevivingWith this painting, I did not draw from what things were in the image, but rather the state they were in. Seemingly rotating around the central point. All together, in unison, in harmony. And it is from this that I drew the idea of co-op. Two players, working together in sync, to achieve a harmonious result. I will admit, this is the most abstract of my inspirations, but a critical one nonetheless.

So, you put all of this together, and the game you end up with is Dyadic –  game about two people working together to jump around some ruins, solving puzzles and generally being bros. In 2D. It’s going to be freaking awesome.

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Potentially Prosperous, But Confusing As Hell

Over the past three week, I have been putting all of my time and energy into the development of the game Prosperity. This resource management game had players collecting various resources in order to construct a grand tower unlike any other, in the name of God. For the most part, the game was very well received. People seemed to enjoy the resource management side of things, and found getting to that next tower level a satisfying accomplishment. And let’s not forget the wonderful music produced by Sam Mclean, which got nothing but praise. However, there was one major issue with the game, that made a lot of people struggle early on – they had no idea what they were doing.

This issue was primarily due to the user interface. I was already aware that it was ugly (I made the panels in about two minutes in Photoshop, and am certainly no artist) but I did not realise that the way it was constructed and present would have such an impact on the way people played. So, I’m going to take a moment to look at a few different aspects of the interface, and how they could have been done better.

This is what it looked like.

This is what the players were first presented with. An empty landscape and a bunch of letters and numbers. Now, we can’t assume that the player has read the instructions (as few did). So, what can they get from this. Wood, Stone, Iron, and Gold are things in the game, and they can Hire Workers and Expand the Tower. As for all the letters, numbers, and arithmetic symbols, there’s not real indication as to what they’re for.

One simple mistake here is that whilst all the letters (which represent the various resources) are color coded to match the workers, the resources at the top of the screen aren’t. Whilst this would not have made it entirely clear what those numbers and buttons were for, it at least would have reinforced the link between each of the respective resources.

But, the big problem with the interface (or at least one of them anyway) was that there was no clear explanation as to what the plus and minus buttons do, even if you do understand that the letters mean resources. What the buttons do is assign workers to collect each resource. What the buttons convey, is essentially nothing. Presumably, the plus button will add something to something else, and the minus will subtract that thing. Beyond that, there’s nothing.

Though how to clear up this confusion? Obviously, we need to make it much more clear what the button actually do. One way to do this, would be to clarify the information around the buttons. For example, if that entire panel had the heading ‘Worker Assignment’ and each resource was followed by a ‘0 Workers’ rather than just ‘0’ it would make more sense that pressing plus would assign a worker to that resource.

Another issue is that the panels used for both information and buttons are the same. Given that all of the resource information at the top and sides of the screen are on the dark blue background, one could assume that everything on that background is just information and not interactive. However, this is not the case with Prosperity. A simple solution is to give all the buttons a different look from the rest of the interface. Perhaps a different color, or a different border, or a different panel style.

It was also mentioned that the difference between the buttons’ active and inactive states (when you can and can’t press them, depending on your resources) was not clear enough. Whilst the became darker and grayed out, it was not entirely clear why. In part, this can of course be fixed by making the contrast between the two more substantial. Though furthermore, it could be improved by also changing the appearance of the tool-tip that appears when you hover over the button. Changes could include things like highlighting costs red if you have insufficient funds, or the tool-tip itself could change color/style to reflect the current state.

Now, I could continue to go on and on about all the things wrong with this design but I simply haven’t the time. So I’ll likely make another post about interfaces in general a little later on, no doubt from the perspective of everyone’s favorite office sim – Casual Office Extreme. So until next time, dear reader…

You can play Prosperity here.

The Sound of Prosperity

With another game in the works, named Prosperity, a whole new series of challenges and design decisions have arisen. For this particular game, our task is to create something that has players start in one emotional state and transition to another. Prosperity will have players transitioning from pride to regret as they try to build a grand tower in the name of god, by any means necessary. Given that the game is still in its early stages, the main emotional focus is pride, which is being constructed in several ways.

One of the more prominent ways is through the games music. Currently, I have the great privilege of working with the ever so skilled Sam McLean. Sam has already produced the first track in game, set to play as the player begins. This particular track has been composed in four different layers, which I have set to fade in on command. By having the layers fade in one by one it allows the sound to grow in conjunction with the tower, which serves to emphasise the player’s progress through the game. This emphasis in turn serves to increase the sensation of accomplishment in the player, and by extension, their feeling of pride.

You can listen to the first track here.

Other methods of inducing a sense of pride in the player have been included in the game’s design decisions. For example, one feature that is included is the “BASK” button. Pressing this has the game’s camera gracefully ascend to the top of the tower as a short, beautiful harmony plays, allowing the player to truly soak in the scope of what they have created. This, as before, increases the player’s sense of accomplishment, and by extension, their feeling of pride.

One other method of create the sensation of pride is praise. People are more likely to take pride in something if they are praised for it by others. As such, throughout the game, the player will receive the adulation of both their workers and of God himself. The workers will praise the player for bringing them such prosperity, and for achieving something none of them thought possible. Meanwhile, God will commend the player on how impressed his is by their work, how it is truly worthy of a god, and how the player is without doubt one of his greatest creations. With such praise, the player is likely to feel as if they’ve accomplished more, and as such, they will feel greater pride in their accomplishments.

As you can likely see, a fair amount of these methods are still in development and have not yet been fully implemented in the game, so whether or not they are as effective as I believe is yet to be seen. However, with some hard work and attention to detail, their effects should definitely be felt.