Honours Project Master Post

This is the Master Post for my Honours Project – DD3992 – For the Game Design Enterprise Course at the University of Central Lancashire

Production

Related Blog Posts: (Oldest to Newest)

Documentation

Time Travel Game:

Superman: Man of Steel:

Visual Design Document and Game Wiki Comparison 

Game Design Wiki and Visual Game Design Comparison

While the two design methods used in my honours project are vastly different and have their own major selling points and downsides. The conclusion I have come to is that both are good for the game designs being presented.

The Visual Document suits the Superman: Man of Steel idea perfectly and allowed me to showcase the design in a larger than life and colourful way. It allowed by its very nature the inclusion of all the image files used in the document that add to the overall look and feel for the game design. The document itself flows from one section to the other and presents things to the point and with the minimum of complication.

The Game Design Wiki suited the Time Travel game perfectly because it allowed me to take the time to explain the more complex ideas and concepts behind the game design. The document itself is presented in a way to easily explore and navigate.

The things is I can not actually come to a conclusion as to which method is better. I think in future, now that I have perfected the Visual Design method I will be able to generate contented for such documents at a much faster rate. As for the Game Design Wiki I am comfortable with editing and organising them now and the merits of presenting the design in an ordered maner make it stand out.

I think in future I would try to use an amalgam of both methods to present a perfect game design document. With the visual aspect covering the spine of the documentation and delivering the key information and the wiki giving you the finer details of the game design.

Visual Game Design Process

You can view the Superman: Man of Steel Visual Document by heading, HERE.

The process for creating the Visual Document for Superman: Man of Steel was a long and fraught process of trying and failing with multiple variations on the idea before coming to the final method used. But while difficult to pin down what was needed the process of creating the document has a few good points and of course some bad points too:

The Good:

  • The way everything is presented in the final document shows how strong visual presentation of a game design can be.
  • Everything featured in the document is presented in a very direct and easy to understand way
  • The format of the document also makes it fairly easy to navigate
  • I am personally very pleased with the finished results of the document

The Bad:

  • The learning curve and iteration process for the Visual Document was steep. Lots of testing was required before I was happy with the style and format I eventually went for. I had to go back to the drawing board a number of times too before coming up with the more long form but simpler presentation method used.
  • The time it takes to produce the document is lengthly to put it lightly. In the end I had to cut around a third of the planned content from the final document due to time constraints. Each page of the document has to be laid out and planned down to the smallest details while still making sure that it is factual, to the point and presenting the game design ideas.
  • To sum up the learning curve and time it took to generate the content for the document has somewhat outweighed the merits of the method

One major think that I have taken away from the project though is that is have improved my overall document formatting and presentation skills exponentially.

Looking into the theory behind the present information via presentation then adapting aspects of it to suit my final document has given me a much greater understanding of how documents should be laid out and presented.

In the end I am happy with the finished result despite the need to cut a lot of the planned content for it. The document speaks for itself and shows the game design in big, bold and bright way which is more than fitting for the subject matter for the game.

Uni Projects Update!

I haven’t done one of these for a couple of days because of my birthday and a major business module deadline that involved putting together a business plan and presentation with the other guys in my year. Anyway on with the updates!

Time Travel Game

Not the major progress I was hoping for but I am still on track. I managed to get a few more sections put together and ticked off the list today: Camera Systems, Animation Sets and Sound Design in a rough form. I’m trying to get through all the “smaller” sections of the Wiki first so that the if the worst should happen and I don’t get the major sections finished in time there should be enough content on the Wiki to show how it works. 

Basically tomorrow afternoon/evening and Friday are all about getting the Time Travel Game Wiki finished and ready to submit (now that it is working like it should be!). So that I have time over the weekend to make the prototype for Hunters of the New Dawn and finish up work on the UDK prototype for the Time Travel Game itself. I can get it done because the Wiki is very much on the tipping point. A few more sections and the rest will basically write themselves.

Superman: Man of Steel

I am glad to say the the prototype for the game is finished and ready to play! WOOOO!!! I’ve been working on it in the evenings for the past couple of days and it has all come together nicely. The plan for tomorrow is to run a few test sessions with some of my fellow students before putting together the final ruleset for the game. All that’s left to do now really is finish off the visual design document for the game. Which is still lagging behind a bit compared to my other projects. I can get it all finished in time though I just might have to have a few late nights which in the grand scheme of things isn’t to bad.

The only major thing that is really behind at the moment is the documentation detailing the two design processes and comparing them. I’m going to be sitting down on Monday and really working on these because if I don’t there is a strong chance that I’ll miss the deadline on them! They shouldn’t take to long to put together and I have been making sure to take screen grabs of the various ways and methods I’ve used to put the two types of design documentation together I have what I am going to write pretty much planned out. It is just sitting down and writing it all out that is the issue.

Hunters of the New Dawn

Hunters of the New Dawn has been on the back burner for a bit while I have been putting the major parts of my Honours Project together. The only thing left to do for this particular project is the prototype which I have pretty much finalised in my head. Like I mentioned earlier part of this coming weekend will be devoted to putting it all together. For what it is, it should hopefully only be a day of solid work to make. The prototype for Hunters has to show players the following key things:

  • Simple and complex combat
  • Player choice
  • Customisation
  • Loot!
  • Fast paced RPG gameplay

I have the first four planned out and the last one should hopefully be shown by the prototype as a whole. As with the Superman prototype I am going for functional first and looks second. And hopefully like the Superman prototype I will at least be able to refine most if not all of it before finally putting it together.

I also asked my tutor today how I was going to submit the physical prototypes for Superman and Hunters. The current plan is a document or video showing how they work. I will most likely go for the video option due to the relative ease and speed I can put demo videos together. Going down the video route will also give me the chance to explain how the gameplay of the prototypes would translate into actual gameplay for the final games but we will wait and see.

Superman: Man of Steel Update

I didn’t get a lot of work done yesterday simply because it was my birthday and I really didn’t want to spend it all working away on my various game designs. So I gave myself a half day of working on the Superman: Man of Steel Prototype. I tried doing some stuff for the Wiki and attempt to optimise it a bit more but it is still throwing hissy fits so I needed a pick me up. (After I have written this I am in solid Time Travel mode for the rest of the day to make up for lost time!)

With the prototype I am nearing the finishing line. After yesterday afternoon I now have two things left to do before printing it all out:

  1. Make the Event Card deck
  2. Make the Map Tiles look better

My plan is to sit down and get them done on Sunday/Monday so once it is all done that is a major part of my Honours Project done and dusted. The rest should start falling into place from then on (hopefully!)

Anyway here’s what I got done yesterday:

Tokens!

The tokens will be used during events as objectives basically. You will have to save/help civilians and children, stop out of control cars, aid the cops in their work and find the hidden 5th Dimension Cubes. Which I have hilariously represented by a sphere! BWHAHAHA!!!!

The idea is that the tokens of people will be the non combat NPCs featured in the final game. There is also a system of gaining bonus XP/Power Points by helping and saving them. It plays on the inherent OSD of many gamers’ need to max out their XP bars and stats while keeping it inline with Superman doing what he does, saving people. All without forcing the player to do so. It is pure incentive. Players will be able to be two types of Superman, one that tries to save everyone or one that only deals with the big problems. With the defence for it being that this is a Superman who is still learning his trade so he cannot save everyone. It also avoids the forcing of saving civilians that has crippled many a previous Superman game in the past (Superman Returns: The Game being a prime example). The idea is that if a player fails at or avoids saving a civilian they will feel a pang of guilt and try better or will be galvanised into action the next time.

The cars and trucks are obviously going to be cars and trucks in the final game and behave as such. Working as enemies, obstacles and weapons. Enemies in the sense that they can kill unsuspecting civilians or the player. Obstacles in the player’s way as they race and leap around Metropolis and weapons with the player being able to use empty or abandoned vehicles as large melee weapons or large throwable objects. If the player wants to grab a vehicle that has occupants there will be an extended animation/lag to allow the people inside to exit the vehicle before Superman can use it. The trick is to do it in a light hearted way. Make it a funny moment for the player rather than a punishment. More, “Excuse me Ma’am I need to borrow you car.” Less, “YOU CANNOT KILL PEOLE YOU ARE SUPERMAN!”

The 5th Dimension Cubes will be one of the game’s collectables, hidden in the nooks and crannies of Metropolis. Why and what is the 5th dimension though? Well it is all to do with my favourite non-Lex Luthor Superman enemy (I use the term loosely!) Mr. Mxyzptlk.

Mr. Mxyzptlk is a being from the 5th Dimension who claims to be Superman’s biggest fan. People from the 5th Dimension can shape reality as they wish and Mr. Mxyzptlk likes to test his favourite hero in a variety of bizarre ways, giving up when Superman either overcomes the challenge or tricks him into saying his own name backwards (which forces him back into the 5th Dimension for seven days). Yes he is a bat shit crazy character but one that sums up the greatness of Superman as an IP. In Superman anything can happen no matter how crazy or stupid. All because of the long history of the character and the inherent fantastical nature of superhero stories. 

In the game Mr. Mxyzptlk plays a pretty important role. Yes I am playing favourites but he is a great character that works so well in the realm of a video game. Seeing as this is very much an origin story game for Superman, Mr. Mxyzptlk’s storyline will be about establishing his relationship and obsession with Superman. Towards the start of the game an event will happen that sees the 5th Dimension seep into ours temporarily. A result of this will be Mr. Mxyzptlk escaping into our dimension along with all these cubes being scattered around the city. Players will be encouraged to find the cubes because after collecting certain amounts of them they will unlock the next part Mr. Mxyzptlk’s story and encounters. The encounters will see Mr. Mxyzptlk testing Superman’s abilities in a variety of comical and bizarre ways. So far so Riddler from Batman: Arkham City you might say, but the character fits that model nicely. Where it gets different from Batman and better is in the game’s New Game Plus mode. 

At the end of the game Mr. Mxyzptlk will be very impressed with Superman and very much his biggest fan. This will give him the brilliant idea of wanting to play a more important role in the origin of our hero. So the last encounter with Mr. Mxyzptlk will end with him having this brilliant idea then disappearing into the time stream to the start of the Man of Steel New Game Plus mode. In New Game Plus the challenge won’t just be greater like it usually is. It will also be slightly different with Mr. Mxyzptlk reshaping it as he wishes. Sort of like the What If? Mode from the PSOne Spider-Man games. It also allows the game and players to experience and play with the crazy gold and silver age stories and ideas. You know things like Ant Head Superman:

Or anything involving Jimmy,

“My life is crazy,”

Olsen!

So the New Game Plus Mode should be a good fun extra experience for the players and keep them playing the game for a long time.

The other piece of prototype goodness I got finished yesterday was the power cards players will be using. For the prototype I am only giving players a limited number of abilities to keep it as complication free as possible. In the final game players will be able to spend the Power Points they get from earning XP upgrading and unlocking new powers via four skill trees. One for each type of power with a further division between two major trees and two minor trees.

Sensory:

Sensory abilities are aids to help the player get through the game. Super Hearing is used to help players find 5th Dimension Cubes by listening for their distinctive sound and alert them to possible dangers or events. X-Ray vision is used to find hidden objects, solve puzzles and help the Metropolis PD and civilians. This is a Minor Power Tree.

Might:

These are Superman’s inherent abilities and are mostly passive skills and buffs that the player can take advantage over. At higher levels they will allow the player to take more damage and recharge their energy at a faster rate. This is the Power Tree for the min/maxers out there it is also a Minor Power Tree.

Movement:

These will be the powers that players use to get around Metropolis. From running at Super Speed to Leaping over tall buildings. The tree will expand into combat varieties or uses of these movement powers. Like running rings around your enemies to confuse them and that kind of stuff. This is a Major Power Tree.

Combat:

This will be the tree most players will be interested in. All those meaty combat powers that Superman can use will be unlocked by putting points into this tree. Heat Vision, Freeze Breath, Super Punches and Combos are all here. This is a Major Power Tree.

That’s it for now. Now I’m off to kick my Time Travel Game up the arse!

Board Games Are Better Than Video Games In So Many Ways – By Quintin Smith

Link: Board Games Are Better Than Video Games In So Many Ways – By Quintin Smith

The linked article is an interesting read over on Kotaku. It sums up a lot of the reasons why my choosing to start physical prototyping my game designs is a good idea;

The accessibility isn’t the point. The point is that this is lossless game design. There is no shark pit. When you buy a board game, what you take home and play is the original concept precisely as it was in the designer’s head. That’s the mecca for video games. For board games, it’s the norm.

Creating board/card games help me to try out my design ideas quickly and easily. While they can’t be used to test out all the mechanics of a game they can give you a damn good representation. Case and point being my Superman game. While it cannot give the player the full experience of beating up crooks and leaping over tall buildings it gives you a really good idea of how the average gameplay will flow and how the game systems like the energy and powers work and interact with the player.

I would recommend to anyone to try it out. You will learn more about your game designs in the process and how good they actually are.

If it ends up sucking all I have lost is some paper and printer ink. While ink for printers is extortionately priced the costs of producing a prototype are still relatively low compared to other methods. Also it isn’t hard to get people to test it when I mention to people that I am making a Superman tabletop game nine out of ten of them ask me if they can play it. Board games have an inherent novelty that people love. My mum may not understand how video games work but she can wrap her head around a board or card game easily. It gives me a much wider testing pool to refine the initial idea and design before moving it onto theoretical production.


Time Travel Game and Project Superman Update!

Today has been a day of mixed progress on my various projects. Like I have said in previous posts I have spent the majority of the day focused on work for my business modules. Thankfully I have managed to squeeze some time in for work on both the Time Travel Game and Superman: Man of Steel.

Time Travel Game

I talked to my tutor about the problems I was having with getting the UDK prototype for the game working. After a brief chat I came away from it feeling better. It is not going to be heavily weighted compared to the rest of the project and is their mainly to show I can understand and attempt to turn the theoretical design of the game into some form of reality. Even if it is very rough and hardly working! So I am not as worried about it currently. The plan now is to spend some time over the weekend looking up how to solve the problems I am having with it and to really try and get it in a working state during next week.

On the Wiki side of things I have been having a few problems which are really not welcome at this point in the project. For some reason the Wiki is running incredibly slowly 99% of the time. At first I thought it was optimisation issues but it seems to be a problem across Edit.info wikis. It has slowed production on the Wiki to a crawl today which has been really disappointing. I did manage to eventually get all the pages for the Key Information section finished, edited and presentable though so there’s a good point!

I think from tomorrow onwards rather than writing things up directly onto the Wiki I will the written side of the content on Pages first and then copy it into the Wiki and format it in large chunks. It may even increase my productivity, you never know!

Still it is a tad annoying that this is happening right at the time that it will be seeing an increased amount of traffic as many people head there to mark and read it. I think I am going to have to put a disclaimer on my submission form to say people could be waiting 2-10 minutes for pages to load! The other option is to create a back up of the material featured in the Wiki in a program like Pages or Word. But that kind of defeats the point of having the Wiki in the first place!

Superman: Man of Steel

I have only managed to get a small amount of work done on the game today. While I haven’t had the chance to add anymore to the visual document I did manage to finish of the cards that will make up the player deck.


Along with getting all the character cards for the enemies featured in the prototype ready to be filled in:

I would say I am pretty much 3/4 of the way there with the prototype now which is amazing because I thought it was going to take a lot longer to produce. All I have left to do is the following:

  • Filling out the villain character cards
  • Make the power cards
  • Make the events deck
  • Make the tokens
  • Spruce up the map tiles

If I put my mind to it I am certain I can get all of that done in an afternoon. After that it is just a case of printing it all out and putting it together which shouldn’t take to long especially since I snagged a laminator for cheap at ASDA today. (It was £8!) So my aim is to get it all done and dusted by the end of Monday which will then give me the rest of the time I have left to finish off the Visual Design Document and get the Wiki for the Time Travel Game finished and hopefully running smoothly!

Also don’t think I have forgotten about the prototype for Hunters of the New Dawn! Even though it is now on a rather small scale compared to the Superman: Man of Steel one (my how the table have turned!) I am still working on it in the background with the plan to start actually making and putting it together next Wednesday.

Updated Honours Project Deliverables

Here is what should hopefully be the last version of the deliverables for my Honours Project:

DD3992 – Honours Project Deliverables Form

Name

Callum Langstroth

Key Project Deliverables

  • A Game Design Wiki
  • A Visual Game Design Document
  • A rough prototype built in UDK to try show gameplay ideas to accompany the Game Design Wiki
  • A physical prototype to accompany the Visual Design Document 
  • Documentation detailing the two design processes and their pros and cons
  • Maintaining a game design blog to track the design process as it happens

Further Deliverable Details

Blog:

  • A website that will be used to track the progress of the project
  • To also write about the theory behind each type of game design documentation
  • To give me a space to quickly throw up ideas, notes, research, etc. etc.

21 weeks (constant)

Documentation:

  • To go through and summarise or link to relevant the blog posts
  • To go into more detail on the finer points of the design process for each idea
  • To argue the good and bad points of each design methodology

5 weeks

Visual Game Design Document:

  • Presented in a long format presentation document with the key information presented visually via slides with further details, where necessary given the notes for the slides.
  • Extra material such as larger image files and slides will accompany the main document 

10 weeks

Game Design Wiki:

  • A wiki site covering all the key areas of the game design
  • Organized in an easy to understand way while allowing quick and simple navigation of the site

10 weeks

Prototype Level:

  • A simple test area to test a few of the key concepts, mechanics and gameplay ideas from the Game Design Wiki
  • If due to time constraints or issues with UDK videos will be produced to show what the mechanics should look like

6 – 10 weeks

Physical Prototype:

  • A physical representation of the game mechanics and ideas behind the visual Game Design in the form of a tabletop game
  • The intention of the physical prototype is to show the key gameplay elements and a representative flow of gameplay

6 – 10 Weeks

Note: There is a lot of overlap for each Deliverable, so on a given week I should be working on at least two things in relation to the project. Along with the blog.

End of Project Order:

  • 28th March – 2nd May Time Travel Game Prototype Level
      • If I cannot get it working to a suitable level I will incorporate videos into the prototype level to show intended gameplay
  • 20th April Time Travel Game Wiki completion date
  • 11th April –  24th April Project Superman Physical Prototype to be completed and constructed
  • 27th April – 28th April  Documentation detailing the two design methods and comparing them to be completed
  • 30th April Project Superman design completion date
  • 2nd of May Master blog post to be written that links to all the associated work to do with the honours project
  • 1st May – 3rd May final checking and corrections 

Superman: Man of Steel Update

Here’s another load of new content relating to my Superman Game Design!

After spending the day working on business module work I hunkered down for an afternoon and evening of work on this project as a reward. As I get closer to the deadline my work load is slowly depleting but I really need to get cracking on my other projects tomorrow!

The Prototype

Progress on the prototype goes well and while I still have a fair amount of cards left to design I am over the major hurdle. All the different card types have templates now so I should be able to create the rest of them fairly quickly. The current plan is to have all the various aspects of the prototype designed by the end of Friday. I will then print it all out and build the prototype over the weekend when I get the time (maybe roping in a couple of friends to speed up the process). Then I will have a week of serious testing and tweaking on my hands before I write up the final set of rules.

Visual Documentation

The actual documentation for the game design is something I have sort of avoided over the length of the project. Which is odd because the focus of my honours project is to look at different methods of conveying game design. The documentation has gone through several rounds of testing and scraping before I finally found something that I like. I can put this down to the difficulties I have had getting my head around the principles of the One Page Design method. Now that I have sort of adapted those ideas to my own design process that I have developed over the past three years it is all starting to come together really quickly. I am making the document in Keynote as a presentation with a high resolution to give me a lot of space to work in. The plan is that this will easily convert into a PDF that the reader can use to pan and zoom around the pages of the document. I’m going to be testing this over the next couple of days but for now it seems to be working well.

Overall I enjoy the visual approach to game design documentation that I have developed more than the Wiki method. The Wiki method has some major plus points, don’t get me wrong, but the visual method while more time consuming is a lot more expressive. It can help you convey ideas to a reader quickly and in an easy to understand manner. (More on this in upcoming documentation!)

The plan for tomorrow is to carry on with business work during the day then to really get going with wrapping up the Time Travel Game Wiki. I have pages and pages of notes that only need to be turned into Wiki pages. I also need to have a talk with my tutor about the UDK stuff I have been trying to do for that design, more on this tomorrow!

Superman: Man of Steel Update

As I am nearing the finish line (only two and a bit weeks left until the submission deadlines!) I am focusing on each project in waves of activity lasting a day or so. As a result a lot of stuff is being generated at a fairly rapid pace for a given project when I am working on it.

So instead of the usual Weekly Updates I will be throwing up any and all relevant new stuff in short update posts for each project. It will hopefully give me something to aim for with the plan to have at least one update a day pretty much. Hopefully this will increase as the deadline looms and I go into mega crunch!

So here’s the first major update for Superman: Man of Steel!

The past few days has been all about getting my prototype to a point where I can either print it out and get it presentable in a basic form or if I have the time; spruce it up a bit before getting all the cards printed. As I mentioned in the Project Superman And The Gaming Changing Prototype post the game uses the map tile element from Twilight Creation’s Zombies!!! game for the game world and how the player explores it. So after some messing in Adobe Illustrator I managed to get a grid set up and begin putting the basic versions of each tile together. 

This amazing post by Chad Steingraber for Gamasutra helped immensely in wrapping my head around using Illustrator to generate maps. Seriously check it out. While I adapted it to my own needs of one inch squares the theory behind it all is sound and you can use the technique to get fully detailed maps generated fairly quickly once you have got the individual pieces created.

The other major piece of content created has been the card backs. Not a big deal on the surface but by putting them all together and deciding on their dimensions I have got a much better understanding of how each card will work in the prototype.

I am also currently toying with coming up with two variations on the rules, one for solo play and the other for two players. With the second player taking on the roll of the “computer.” This idea is still in the early stages and will very much be an extra if I find the time in the next two weeks. For now though it will be a strictly single player prototype with me acting as a guide if needs be.

Finally I have started putting together the templates for the various types of cards the game will use. Starting with the Character Cards.

These cards will be used to determine who the player will be fighting/interacting with on a given map tile and they will come in four flavours:

  • Thugs
  • Henchmen
  • Lieutenants
  • Super Villains 

In TCG (trading card game) terms the rarity of encountering each type of enemy is fairly simple:

  • Thugs = Common
  • Henchmen = Uncommon
  • Lieutenants = Rare
  • Super Villains = Super Rare

The Character Cards will come into play via the Event Cards that a drawn alongside map tiles. With each Event Card dictating what is going on, on each tile. (More on this soon!)

Even though I am having to put this prototype together really quickly due to coming up with the concept for it in the 12th hour of the project. What I have gained from doing it is invaluable and will inform the final visual design document that I am putting together to accompany it. I have a firm understanding of how the game will work and progress. Its overall style and tone and much, much more. 

Also it has meant I can buy a load of HeroClix figures to play around with!

YAY!

My plan for the next couple of days is to get all of my business module related assignments done and dusted then to blitz through the rest of the Time Travel Game Wiki before putting together the combat prototype for Hunters of the New Dawn for that project’s deadline on the 2nd May. All this Superman stuff will be bubbling away underneath because it has become my favourite project to work on. So I am turning it into my incentive. If I hit a milestone in one of my other projects I can work on Man of Steel. It seems to be working so far, so hopefully that means I am on track to getting everything finished in time for their various deadlines.