Saturday, 27 September 2008

It Begins...

Okay, so this is my Games Design Blog. It will serve as a reflective diary over the course of my three semesters of MA Games Design here at UCLAN. Using a blog rather than a paper diary was a suggestion by my course leader, Jim Thompson (who in further posts will just be called 'Jim' in case you're an outside reader and wonder who I'm talking about).
So, my first little starter project is to consolidate ideas and designs for a game, in order to give the staff a feel for the direction I'd like to go in.

The game idea I had is something that's been washing around in my head for years. Some of the concepts have altered a lot, but the core idea remains. It's an action-adventure-puzzle game about an invincible girl called 'Lena'. Here are the main points of what I have in mind:

-Excitement without violence.
Remember 'Prince of Persia: Sands of Time'? Awesome game, but it would have actually been better without the fighting. The fighting was repetitive and felt like they put it in there because somebody thought a game ought to have fighting. The climbing and puzzle solving was so fun and exhilerating though, that it made you wonder who's idea it was to break up the really fun gameplay elements with fighting. The amount of violence in games is often off-putting to a female gamer, yet there are so few violence-free games that are fast-paced and exciting. Exploring is exciting on its own, you don't nessesarily have to be pounced on by waves of zombies every three metres!

-Believable landscapes and interaction with environments.
I live in the Lake District and I like to rock climb. There is so much in the natural world that's exciting that games designers seem to be missing because they base their environments on things they see in other games, not on experience. In most games, a cliff is a wall, impassable. When a climber sees a cliff, they think 'challenge!' not 'dead end'. I want tree climbing, rock climbing, scree running, scrambling and swimming to play a part.
I'd also like to come up with a gameplay system that leads to smooth, continuous movement rather than stop-start awkward play. Lena would interact with the environment based on the speed at which she approaches it. I'll talk more on this later.

-Depth of characterisation without interrupting gameplay.
Metal Gear had a good idea going with the codec. But it would have been better if it din't stop the whole game. Prince of Persia had characters talking and quipping while running around, but not always the same amount of depth. I'd like the characters to background chatter while the action continued. This way you get a sense of development and friendship and a movie-like comraderie without it stopping play. Some conversations would be context based, others would be of a general nature.
The characters, I'd like to give subtle, believable personalities and have them converse and act in a normal way rather than being just archetypes. I find that often in games there's a distinct lack of characters who are just like ordinary people.

-Natural Puzzles:
I'd like puzzles to be largely logistical, and not obvious as 'puzzles'. Many puzzles would be about working out how to reach a place, then trying to work out how to get your equipment and friends who lack your abilities to that place. 'Primal' tried to do this, but wasn't entirely successful due to slightly awkward gameplay and an overreliance on locked doors (to the point that almost no door in the entire game is unlocked when you first reach it!) The puzzles here would be set in more natural environments than Primal's and many would involve problems that would really come up on an expodition.

Free time gaming:
I want to be able to stop and start playing when I have time. I don't want to be punished or dissuaded from playing just because I don't have an hour free to get from one save point to the next. If I only have fifteen minutes free per day, I want to be able to play for fifteen minutes and then just save and quit. Like a book.

Games I feel are important for reference:

Zelda series:
Pretty much the origin of action-adventure. Balances exploration, puzzles and story. A bit light on dialogue due to mute protagonist, but excellent world-building work and well-thought-out puzzles.

Fantastic concept not so well excecuted. Believable 'normal' protagonist, good inter-character banter and puzzles that are logistical and environment based rather than obvious 'puzzles'. Shame the gameplay drags so much really.

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time Trilogy:
Excellent environment-based puzzles and level design. Uses the idea of making the main gameplay aspect about climbing and getting through landscapes. Smooth transitions between running and climbing.

Legacy of Kain/Soul Reaver series:
Because it's an excellent action-adventure series with great characterisation and plot. Nice use of the main character as narrator while he navigates the landscape.

Metal Gear Solid series:
MGS has great gameplay, and integrates logistical puzzles to do with evading guards and getting through areas. It allows the player a lot of freedom. In fact, it's a shame it's always interrupting the excellent gameplay with half-hour long cutscenes!

Final Fatasy VIII:
Seems like the odd one out here, but FF8 features excellent use of motion capture for natural movement, naturalistic character designs and personalities (all other FFs go for more archetypical characters) and great world design down to the smallest detail.

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