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.

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.

Factor 5’s Superman Game

Factor 5’s Blue Steel character models – Via Kotaku

Here’s some interesting character models that have popped up on Kotaku today from Factor 5’s cancelled Superman game. Some interesting ideas and it seems they were trying to go with a familiar and timeless design for the characters derived from the pre-New 52 comics rather than the films. But it does one big thing that makes me mad: It puts Lex Luthor in a suit of armour!

While Lex in his trademark green and purple armour isn’t a new thing, particularly in video games, I have always felt it is a cheap and easy way to put Luthor and Superman on the same playing field combat wise. It is also something I feel flies in the face of what Lex stands for as a character, he is meant to be the best and worst of humanity. The armour at is most basic is Lex Luthor trying to be Superman and working to put himself on the same god-like level. I have always been of the viewpoint that Lex would very much prefer Superman to come to his level and his schemes should reflect this. These schemes typically comes in three forms:

  1. Lex giving Superman a gauntlet of tasks to tire him out to the point where he can be defeated easily. Uniting Superman’s enemies to take him down collectively or the most common type of gauntlet, teaming up with Brainiac in an evil master plan!
  2. Outsmarting Superman by often making Supes his own worst enemy. It also usually plays into the schemes exemplified by point 1. This can also be Lex “beating” Superman by simply sticking to the rules of man. Such as getting out of jail in Superman Returns because Superman didn’t keep his court date to testify against him.
  3. Science! Technically the suit falls under this category but at this point in the franchise’s history it is very, very, very overused. Other science based Luthor schemes involve creating doomsday weapons, robots and genetically engineered monsters.

When approaching the villains and their motives in my Superman game design I am finding very helpful to look at the most basic elements that make them who they are. Luthor thinks what he is doing for the betterment of mankind. Zod wants revenge on the House of El and will do anything to achieve that goal. Parasite is an addict to power, his compulsive need to obtain greater and greater sources of power is the whole driving force behind the character. The list and basic summations goes on and on!

More soon…

Project Superman (NowGamer Thread)

Link: Project Superman (NowGamer Thread)

This is a link to a thread I set up on the NowGamer.com forums regarding my Superman game idea. 

I copied over the initial Project Superman post and ask whoever wanted to reply the following questions:

1) What would you want to see in a Superman game? It doesn’t have to fit into my idea of a younger, less powerful, Superman just tell me what you have always wanted to see!


2) Which villains would you like to see? Lex Luthor has to be in the game so there’s one, but there are loads of others. While I have a greater knowledge of Superman’s eniemies it would be interesting to see what you lot come up with. Also the bad guys don’t have to be Superman ones, think broadly if you wish!


3) Do you have any questions you have about my idea? I haven’t gone into to much detail at this point but the main thread of it is this is effectivley Superman Begins. Any questions and suggestions are very welcome at this point.

The results gave some food for thought and solidified a few ideas for the final project.

More proof that I need to design a good Superman game!

Link: More proof that I need to design a good Superman game!

From NowGamer.com interviewing Rocksteady’s Dax Ginn:

“I think Superman is a very difficult character. He’s an incredible character, but the thing about Batman is that he’s so vulnerable, like physically vulnerable,” Ginn said in an interview. “The fertile territory of games design is being able to provide the player with opportunities for power, but also letting them know that they’ve got something to lose.”

Batman’s abilities are tempered by his own mortality, said the developer. “With Batman, you feel very powerful when you’re surrounded by 25 thugs who’ve just got baseball bats, but give just one of them an assault rifle and it changes the entire dynamic of the fight. But with a character like Superman, that’s not possible. So, I wouldn’t want to throw Batman away because he’s just such a brilliant character to work with, and the psychology of him is just very rich for gameplay.”


Project Superman

When I initially started to think of ideas I could use in my honours project I tried to think of the games I like and the games I would like to see be made. While I came up with several original ideas. There was one thing that I kept coming back to time and time again, Superman. To my knowledge (and many others) there has never been a good Superman game. It is essentially an untapped idea due to its failures in the past. This post details why I am pursuing designing a game based around Superman and gives a few ideas on what I want to do with the franchise.

Superman is an oddity of a character because even though he is arguably the most well known superhero in fiction and pop culture he is one of the most underused and under appreciated (apart from Aquaman!). Superman as a film franchise has floundered since Superman II and Superman Returns failed to ignite a passion for the character in the pop culture zeitgeist again. This might be rectified with the new film set for release in 2013 but that remains to be seen. Smallville while a good adaptation of the origins of the character, stretched things to far and re-wrote to much of the character’s history in an attempt to string out more seasons. At the end of the show there was a gaggle of heroes including Supergirl already operating in the public eye which does not really sit well with the character and many fans of the comics. The result is a mess that only really appeals to fans of the show itself rather than the character of Superman. 

The misuse of the franchise is a common element in previous attempts to make a game featuring the Man of Steel. No Superman game has ever been good. It is one of those gaming absolutes like there has not been a good Sonic game in the past ten years. I think the earlier output of Superman games is best explained by James, The Angry Video Game Nerd. While the language it very much NSFW he does help to prove my point. You can see both his videos covering a few of the many Superman games by heading here and here. Superman 64 (which gets almost a whole video to itself) is regarded by many as not just one of the worst superhero games ever made but one of the worst games in existence, sitting proudly alongside ET. While the rest….you get the general idea…they are simply not good. So the idea of designing a good Superman game is part intriguing and part daunting because no one has really got it right in the past. So it is about me as a fan wanting to see a character I love given his due and about challenging myself as a designer to solve a set of problems that has caused many to fail in the past.

Anyway here’s a list of all the major released Superman games that are out there:

Superman (1979, Atari 2600)
Superman: The Game (1985, home computer game)
Superman (1988, NES)
Superman (1988, arcade game)
Superman: The Man of Steel (1989, home computer game)
Superman (1992, Mega Drive/Genesis)
Superman: The Man of Steel (1993, Master System)
The Death and Return of Superman (1994)
Superman (1997, Game Boy)
Superman (1999, N64)
Superman: Shadow of Apokolips (2002)
Superman: The Man of Steel (2002)
Superman: Countdown to Apokolips (2003)
Superman Returns (2006)

Superman in other video games:

Justice League Heroes (2006)
Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (2008)
DC Universe Online (2011)

In my opinion the only games that are any good are the last three. Which are all games that feature the character rather than star and they are also the three most recent games on the list to be released.

Justice League Heroes is an arcade style brawler which sees two players have to work together as various members of the JLA to beat the bad guys and save the day. It is a common style of game for superheroes to be used in. It works and is easy enough for even the youngest of players to get the hang of. Superman takes the heavy lifting duties and flying missions alongside other similarly powered characters like Wonder Woman. In this game Superman is one of a selection of similarly powered heroes and serves a very specific purpose for the levels you can play as him in.

Mortal Kombat Vs DC Universe is a very odd beat’em’up that sees the worlds of MK and DC comics collide with very mixed results. In the game, unsurprisingly, Superman is given the role of powerful but slow combatant. Where his moves while powerful take time to pull off and can easily be interrupted. While being bad for a fighting game, the combat never quite works and bloodiness of the Mortal Kombat franchise does not fit well with the world of DC Comic. It oddly pulls off the world of DC Comics fairly well. There is an attention to detail in regards to the world and its characters in the game’s story. The characters act as they should and the DC set levels and stories make sense.

DC Universe Online doesn’t even have Superman as a playable character in its main mode of play. Being an MMO the focus is on the player’s self created hero and Superman is a mentor figure and generally acts as a quest giver and figure head like the race leaders in World of Warcraft. The game’s Legends PVP mode sees Superman as a playable character but his abilities and moves are limited the controls and the systems of the game. Where Superman shines in this game is when a computer controlled version of the character appears in several missions. It is here you see his power and strength as he shrugs off even the most powerful of attacks and tells you what to do to help him. He acts as both leader and show piece for the missions he features in.

The problem with these games is that, like I already said, they all feature Superman rather than star Superman. So a general lack of exposure for the character over the past few years means there is a large S shaped gap waiting to be filled in the gaming world. The idea of a new and original Superman game has started to gain a lot of traction recently because of Rocksteady’s recent success with their Batman games. While doing some preliminary research for this project this image popped up in several places:

A fan made image yes, but it is clear that a number of people want a good Superman game and think that a studio such as Rocksteady could give a good interpretation of the character. While not necessarily the best of ideas (just because one company has adapted one franchise well doesn’t mean they can do another in the same way) it shows that there is a wish for Superman to be done and done well. Also related to this is Paul Dini, a long time Batman comics writer and the story writer for both the Rocksteady Batman games has recently said in interviews that he would love to take a stab at Superman;

“[Superman] is pretty much the number one in the DC pantheon, and I think not enough has been done with him to make him a character,” he said. “He’s got amazing powers, he can fly super fast and everything, but also there’s a level to his character that I don’t think has been explored yet in video games to kind of get underneath who he is and into his heart a little bit.” 

The full story can be found, here.

While Dini has some interesting ideas and musing on what he would like to see be done with Superman I don’t think that it would really work in the realm of a game. This is because when it comes down to it Superman, the way the majority of people see him, is just far too powerful to be in a game. You have the disconnect in any game with Superman that he could do this in his sleep. You often get the feeling as the player that you are holding Superman back rather than being Superman. The results are games that often miss the point of the character like Superman 64. Games that focus on one or two of his abilities, such as the earlier games. Or other games that relegate him to a secondary position, like the three recent ones. 

There are two main things I would concentrate on in designing a great Superman game: His power levels and his environment. There are two things I can use to show the general idea I have for how my idea for Superman will work. The first is the new Action Comics. The second the Justice League cartoon:

The new Action Comics which is effectively a comic book reboot for the Superman franchise sees a Superman at the start of his career and back to being the first publicly known superhero the world has seen. The most important thing in this reboot is that he has limited but still great power.

This is a Superman that has been dialled back to only being able to jump over tall buildings in a single bound once again rather than having gravity defying flying abilities. He is also as the old saying goes, more powerful than a locomotive,

But we see that he can hurt when put under great stress by equal or stronger forces. He can shrug of bullets but a tank shell will phase him and he can feel the pain of an electric chair,

He also has yet to earn the trust of the public, the police and the world.

 

He is a bit rough around the edges. He doesn’t always do the right thing. He is very much a character that acts before he thinks. It goes back to the basic idea of the character from the original Action Comics #1. He is a fighter for the people but he is not sure of how to help them. So he is just as likely to fight the mob, corruption and big business as he is invaders from space and the reality warping powers Mr. Mxyzptlk. There is a lot of room to play around with his power levels and what his limitations are.

This version of the character which has been taken down a few pegs fits well with a potential video game idea. He can be powerful but not so powerful that he breaks the “reality” of the game. 

Conversely Superman has never been able to let loose in a game or wider media before. In the comics he has seen and done the craziest things. Fought gods and monsters while planets and buildings crumble around him. The early films were limited by budgets and technology with the fighting in Superman II being the closest many have gotten to seeing his full range. Smallville and the Lois and Clark Adventures were TV shows and the limitations of a TV budget made it impossible to really show the raw power of the character.

Outside of comics the only place that has seen Superman really show his stuff is the animated series and the Justice League cartoon. The last ever episode of Justice League Unlimited showed a brief fight between Superman and the god Darkseid you can go here to see it in all its glory!

While the levels of power on display are over the top. (One punch sends Darkseid through SEVEN buildings!) There is one important thing to take note of; the destruction to the environment. Previous Superman games have had to reign back on the destructive capabilities of Superman’s powers due to limitations of technology and just not really taking it into consideration. As have many other superhero games. The only notable exception being The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (trailer can be seen here!) which relishes in the destructive force of The Hulk. This is kind like what I want to see the Superman of my design doing. Effecting the environment with his abilities, cracking pavements, breaking windows, damaging buildings, etc, etc. I also want to see this Superman use his environment as a weapon beyond just picking up and trowing cars at enemies! Things like using a wrecking ball as a melee weapon!

If the Hulk can do it why not Superman?

The basic idea is to show Superman in a familiar but surprising way and more importantly make a good game that happens to feature the Last Son of Krypton. Over the course of the game he will grow in power and have a greater effect on the world as the knowledge and abilities of the player grow alongside him.

So there you have it! That is the basics of the how’s and why’s of the design and what my intentions are.