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!