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 

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.


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.

Project Superman And The Gaming Changing Prototype

This was originally meant to be a part of this week’s Weekly Update (which will now be coming to you later than planned!) but it has proven to be worth its own fully fledged post because it is so good. Please take the time to read it and tell me what you think!

The actual design documentation for this is still coming together very slowly which is really annoying because I have found renewed enthusiasm for the game in the past week or so.  So I’m going to tweak my design process for the game a little bit in order to try and speed up the process. This tweaking involves re-focusing how the documentation is done and for what purpose. This is stemming from a 4am half-asleep brainwave that I had on Monday night that actually made me get out of bed and spend half an hour writing out so I wouldn’t loose it when I woke up in the morning. Once I woke up the next day I looked through what I had written and after I managed to decipher the half-asleep scrawl I had a road map for Project Superman to get it to a point I will be happy with submitting in just over a month. It is all to do with the physical prototype for the game.

Physical prototyping had kind of been my thing this year. It stems from it being recommended to me by a few people and mainly because I have been reading the Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games by Tracy Fullerton on and off for the past few months. Which Richard Lemarchand recommended during a panel at Eurogamer back in September. It is well worth checking out not just for the prototyping stuff, it is full of helpful exercises that help breakdown and show your ideas at their most basic level. So from reading the majority of Game Design Workshop and experimenting with and watching a lot of web presentations and recordings about prototyping it is slowly becoming my go to way of showing my ideas. Hunters of the New Dawn will be getting a physical prototype derived from Dungeons and Dragons as part of its submission and I have been wanting to do a smaller one for Project Superman. 

The 4am brainwave changed the small, it will only show combat, prototype into a near enough fully fleshed out tabletop game. It will be a lot of work but it will be worth it because I will be tying in its creation with the rest of the documentation for the game. Assets created for the prototype will be used in the one page designs and presentation for the overall game design. So I am sort of killing three birds with one very large and heavy stone. So what will the physical prototype for Project Superman entail? Well it all starts with a game called Zombies!!!

Zombies!!! is a game I play with my friends when they are all over and we have nothing else to do. Most people would break out the playing cards or Monopoly, I pull out Zombies!!! Before I go any further you can check out and buy Zombies!!! from here

The gameplay for Zombies!!! is very video game like. At the start of each turn you take a tile from the map tiles pile and add them to the growing map on the table. You also have a pool of health and bullets for the game’s simple combat. For the combat you roll a D6 a 4, 5, or 6 results in a hit a 1, 2 or 3 a miss. You can use bullets to add to your roll (e.g. turning a 3 into a 4) or using a piece of health to re-roll. Run out of health and you die and go back to the start, loosing half of your pool of dead zombies in the process. To win the game you either have to kill a pre-determined number of zombies (this can vary depending on how long you want to the game’s length to be) or you find and reach the helipad to be taken to safety. You also have a hand of cards that are used to help you and help/hinder your fellow players. The cards can give you temporary bonuses or special items which can be gain by going into specific buildings on the map tiles. They can also make the zombies more aggressive to certain players or force players to re-roll, miss a turn, etc. etc. It is a very simple but deep game which regular readers of this blog will know is one of my favourite types of game designs! Simple surface with a deep core!

The 4am brainwave for Project Superman resulted in an idea for a game that would play out in a similar way to Zombies!!! but crucially it would pick up on each major aspect of the gameplay for Project Superman. Project Superman will use the map tiles method to generate the play space with the exception being that you lay a new tile once you reach the edge of the on you are currently on. There will also be a separate deck that will be made up of event cards. Every time you lay a map tile you draw a card from the event deck. This is what will be happening on the tile you have just laid. These will vary from hidden items (causing the player to explore the new tile), random combat encounters (thugs, villains, etc.), saving innocents (because this is a Superman game after all) and super villain encounters (more complex combat/boss encounters). For the game’s combat you will just roll a dice (I’ve not decided on the number of sides yet) and success and failure will result in hitting the enemy or missing them. Each enemy will have a different set of hit points, most thugs and basic enemies will have 1 to 2 HP while super villains will have larger pools of 5 to 10. Finally you will be able to use Superman’s superpowers to perform each of these types of tasks. The different powers you use will also use up the game’s main resource, energy.

Everything in the game will be derived from the use of energy. Energy is basically my work around for Superman’s abilities. It stems from the idea that is used in many Superman comics and stories that he is powered by the energy from the sun and that his ability to harness this energy improves as he gets older. So it explains how he starts out running really fast and leaping over tall buildings to flying everywhere when he is hanging out with the Justice Lague. Project Superman focuses on the starting point of Superman’s career so players will have a limited pool of energy to draw from. This energy pool will be used for everything and will be constantly emptying and filling up during gameplay. It will be divided into two types yellow and red. Yellow is always used first and will be the game’s equivalent of being at full health and full MP. If you run out of yellow energy however you starting using energy in the red pool. Red energy is Superman’s reserve power. It is a smaller pool and it recharges slower than the yellow energy but the plus point is that each point of red energy is worth two yellow for the use of powers and abilities. If you run out of red energy Superman collapses on the floor and you are taken back to the last checkpoint. Also the more red energy you use the more tired and damaged Superman will look. Energy use will also be effected by the time of day so at night it recharges slower among other things. 

Power usage and energy consumption in the prototype will be shown by having two sets of cards one red, one yellow, spread out over the play mat (the prototype’s equivalent of the game’s HUD). Moving around the map tiles will result in Superman using his Super Speed, one yellow card per square moved (map tiles are 3×3 blocks of squares). Using your different abilities will result in a number of cards being used for example using your Super Strength to lift a large object will use two yellow energy cards while a blast with your heat vision will use three cards, etc. etc. At the start of each turn you will re-gain a set number of cards from the main deck. The main deck will be made up of 80% energy cards and the rest extra event and bonus cards that can be used during the game. Cards used go into a typical trading card game graveyard pile which is reshuffled and put back into use once you have depleted the main deck or due to effect of special event cards. The only exception is the red energy cards which are recharged at a rate of one per turn when they have been used. The game will be about having fun while keeping an eye on your energy levels to bring in a basic element of resource management into the game. There will also be a level of randomness to the game through the use of the map tiles and event cards.

The overall idea is that it should give a snapshot of the overall game experience. To make the prototype I have bought a set of Zombies!!! 6.66: Fill in the ……..!!! which is a blank set of cards and tiles that players of Zombies!!! can use to make their own cards and maps. I will be modifying these to make the cards and tiles for Project Superman I might have to buy another set of zombies 6.66 to make up all the cards I need but we will see. The other thing I am doing is using the Superman set of HeroClix Figures for the player character and the enemies they will encounter. I have bought a starter set, a second hand bundle of figures, a few specific figures I want and a couple of booster packs. Which should be more than enough. Any figures that I still need such as random thugs and bystanders will be tokens that I will be making during the production process for the prototype.

As you can see the prototype has a lot of stuff in it which is why I am tying its production to the final documentation of the game wherever possible to save time, energy and resources. Hopefully it will result in an awesome final product that will show that the Superman IP can work as a video game and that I am a kick arse game designer! 😀

The final thing about Project Superman is that with this prototype I cannot keep calling the game Project Superman because the idea is that the prototype will give you as close of a representation of the final game as possible. So I have finally decided on a name that will reflect the game:

Superman: Man of Steel

It uses a well known title for the character that was actually one of the longer running comics at one point. It reflects the power and nature of the game and character while keeping it grounded. He is a man of steel not a god. Steel can be broken if you push it far enough. Also it kind of riffs of the Batman: Arkham Asylum/City titles with the use of a known comic series or concept form the comics. It also happens to be the title for the latest big budget Hollywood adaptation of the property. So it can either be used to ride on the possible success of the new film or as an argument for, “This is how it should have been done!” in the film is a flop! Obviously because of the new film the title might have to change but I am happy with it for now.

I know it will be hard to believe but 80% of the prototype stuff came from the 4am brainwave. I am really excited for the game now as I have essentially cracked the problems I was having with the game design and what I think are the problems that people have with Superman games. So I am once again very excited about Project Superman, oops! I mean: Superman: Man of Steel!

Oh one last thing!

I will be publishing all the card sets and rules for the physical prototype once I have got my final grade for my degree. So you have that to look forward to!