Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Seq.Breaker Dev Journal # 9

Earlier today, I sent the track list/descriptions to my composer for this project, C. Filipe Alves. I'm really excited to hear what he has in store for me.

While I still have the player character sprites that were created by "Captain Ricco", I haven't found an artist to tackle the environments, objects, NPCs, and enemies just yet. And there's two reason for this: one, I'm not sure what I want stylistically, being torn between going really colourful and cartoony and going really moody and muted. Two, I'm not sure quite yet at this point in the process exactly how many sprites I'm going to need and what they're going to be of, and I'd rather give a prospective artist a complete list instead of peppering them with updates.

But while I'm making the game, they have to look like something, and so I've quickly whipped up some temporary sprites. They're pretty awful looking, I know, but they work better than coloured blocks and circles at the very least.

Anyway, I thought I'd share some of them.

Here's a health power-up. This doesn't restore health (that's what save points are for!) but rather ups your maximum.

This is a piece of destructible rubble hanging from a ceiling or from another piece of rubble.

Here's a very basic, stationary enemy that spits out projectiles upwards.

This bloke's yellow shell repels your laser-beam weapon, requiring you to fall back on your weaker concussive blaster.

Now for a look at the general idea of the boss of the first level. This first design looked a bit off-- even off-er than my other terrible attempts at artwork--

-- and so I took away the eyestalk and added some more shelled armour around the eyeball.

The boss's eyeball is its initial weakpoint; keeping with the "yellow shell = laser proof" motif, the player needs to use their concussive blasts to damage it. (That said, the laser does come into play during this fight.) Blast it enough, and the eye goes closed, disabling another area of its defense-- you'll have to play the game and see the fight to see what I'm talking about-- for a brief period of time.

But the change was too subtle. Let's look at those two sprites again so you can see what I mean:

And so I added these three red marks to call attention to the boss's stunned state (the boss will also be flashing when stunned/damaged, something that's done with an alpha overlay).

Again, this sprite won't make it into the final game, as it looks god-awful, like all my sprites do. But it does give you the general idea, and having figured out some of the game's potential visual language-- calling greater attention to the stunned state, the use of yellow as a laser-proof colour-- it should help my eventual artist(s) when the game gets to that point.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Seq.Breaker Dev Journal # 8

One of my stated goals in making the game that's now called Seq.Breaker is to provide a stronger narrative context for the gameplay. By this I don't mean that there's going to be some kind of knotty plot to unravel with a bunch of twists and turns and double-crosses, but that I want to use the tools of narrative-- dialogue, characterization, humour, world-building-- to imbue the setting with a greater sense of life and verisimilitude, and to build up one particular narrative thread to help keep the player motivated.

That thread is the question of what happened to the protagonist's husband during her mission to "the colonies"-- a mission that was otherwise such an unqualified success that she's famous in her field, considered to be at the absolute top of her game, even as a gnawing sense of personal failure and loss prevents her from enjoying that success.

I wanted the player character to be famous and successful because I thought that would give the player a subtle sense of empowerment. You're no neophyte getting your hand held through a tutorial, you're a competent professional specializing in creative solutions to dangerous problems. When the help character for the first mission butts in, he's very aware of how unnecessary he really is, and that feeds into his nervous personality-- always apologizing and second-guessing himself, lacking the confidence that, it is implied, the player has in spades.

The problem is there's a degree to which this is amusing and a degree to which it really isn't, a degree to which his constant apologizing grates on the player's nerves and seems to violate the integrity of the fiction: why would a super-star sequence breaker be working with such a nervous, redundant scanner?

Another problem with this set-up is that that narrative thread-- what happened to her husband on the colonies?-- might excite the player's curiosity, but it doesn't give the player a compelling reason to play the game the way it's meant to be played. There's a reason, after all, why the game is called Seq.Breaker. The whole point is to encourage the player to engage in meta-gaming, and if that central mystery of what happened is answered regardless of whether you adhere to the sequence of break it, there's not really any incentive to engage in the kind of thinking that would break the sequence. This is a major problem that needs to be fixed.

And so, I've done a great deal of rethinking about that narrative thread and the player's position in the game's world. The game now begins a year after the colonies mission. Far from being her greatest success, it is now her most daunting failure, both personally and professionally-- the first such failure in what was once a supremely promising career. No matter how she tried, she just could not break the sequence-- and her husband dies as a result. Her colleagues, for the most part, are sympathetic, and in the time since, many scanners and breakers have looked at the colonies mission and found that they, too, were unable to think of a way to break the sequence. Still, she blames herself.

At the game's start, she is embarking on her first mission in a year: she's a bit rusty and unsure of herself. She knows she has the skills and brain-power to do the work and is eager to prove it to herself and others; she's eager to throw herself in her work to distract herself from her loneliness.

So, now, the first mission has two characters with something to prove, two characters who are slightly unsure of themselves. Her scanner is still nervous, still anxious, but now he seems more helpful, seems like he relates to her more. Her journey is his journey.

And when we finally do see the colonies mission, it's been built up as something that's daunting and impossible. There's no way to break this sequence, the player is told, no way to save the life of her husband. Which, in a game that's explicitly about sequence breaking, is an implicit challenge, a dare. Now the player has a reason to think outside the box, a reason to meta-game.

I'm much happier with this new narrative context; it's one that's tied more closely to the game's central gameplay idea.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Seq.Breaker Dev Journal # 7

A few quick updates, because it's been a while:
  • I've started the game over again from scratch. This is something I routinely do when I'm making a game, sometimes three or four times, sometimes as far as 3/4 of the way through the game. I find I'm able to make a more refined and elegant experience if I start over from the top.
  • I've decided to go with a new graphical style, and am currently looking for an artist to execute it. The style I'm looking for is now a bit more cartoony, something akin to what you'd find in the Metal Slug series or Gunstar Heroes.
  • I've decided to make the screen dimensions less extremely wide; it made the game feel slower. Not that the protagonist was moving slowly-- just that the extremely long rooms made it feel like you were lagging.
  • Story-wise, I've decided on a change that I think will provide a very interesting incentive towards the sort of meta-gaming that I want to encourage. More on that later.
  • I've also changed the name of the game from the unwieldy Sequence Breaker to the shorter Seq.Breaker. This will also help the game stand out in google searches (I hope).

More to come in the near future. Stay tuned!