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.

Game Design Wiki Process

You can view the Time Travel Game Wiki by heading, HERE.

The set up and process for using a wiki format in game design is fairly quick and simple. The the wiki method and the process of creating it has its many good points and bad points though:

The Good:

  • There is plenty of free wiki software and portals available such as EditThis.info (which I ended up using for this project) and Wikia among others
  • There is a full automatically generated log of new posts and changes that is updated every time you access the site so you can easily keep track of changes and edits. You can see the edits log for the Time Travel Game Wiki, HERE.
  • The learning curve is not to steep despite some large hurdles
  • Simple structure and emphasis on embedded links and material makes the design documentation easy to navigate and understand
  • Everyone knows how to read and navigate a wiki

The Bad:

  • If you are going for the default online hosting options that many wiki providers offer, you have no control on making it private. For this project it is a sort of bonus because it makes sharing and editing it on the go easy. 
  • In the industry private offline hosting would be the only option to guarantee privacy. While the option I went for, EditThis.info does allow for private wikis it is not a perfect solution because it requires having a tight control over pages created and edited for the wiki. You can set overall privacy controls for the Wiki but each page can be set to private and public as well. So you can see the hypothetical situation of a disgruntled employee flipping the public switch on pages that they are allowed to edit.
  • Not all wiki editors allow for settings to only allow specific users to add and edit the wiki (EditThis.info provides this option hence why it was chosen) most wiki editors and providers require you to make the Wiki you create public and editable by all
  • Learning material on editing certain formats of wiki is out of date. The help documentation for EditThis.info is really out of date, thankfully the help documentation for Wikipedia which uses the same system as EditThis.info is fairly up to date!
  • MAJOR ISSUE! Problems with Wiki host and site speed. Towards the end of the project the Game Design Wiki for the Time Travel Game slowed and filled with page timeout errors. This issue slowed down production to a very slow and painful grind. It meant that every edit/addition needed to be poured over before hitting submit and the average wait time was 3-8mins for pages and the editor to load. Eventually I managed to get in contact with the owner of EditThis.info and resolve the issue but it showed that wiki’s can be very temperamental. If I was to be unable to resolve the issue I would have been stuck in a very dead end.

One interesting aspect of the process behind putting the wiki together was that I found myself relying on a lot of external programs and software to create a lot of the content for the wiki itself.

Apart from the obvious sourcing of the various images in the wiki things like the tables and layouts had to be created outside of the wiki editor and then added in as image files. The problem with this is that the wiki has limited screen space and while you can technically have images of infinite size in the wiki is you pull them from elsewhere rather than uploading them to the wiki itself. The results can be less than appealing because it can break the overall formatting of the wiki. The work around is to have two versions of an image that needs to be seen in detail. A smaller one to call directly into the wiki and not break the formatting and the full size one as an external link. It is not the best solution but it seems it is the only option in this case.

So while it may seem like there are way more bad points to using a Game Design Wiki I feel that the good points more than make up for it. This is because the majority of the bad points are system and technical problems rather than functional problems. At the end of the day the wiki presents the design for the Time Travel game in a clear and consistant manner that is easy to navigate and get your head around. I think in future if using the wiki method again I would look into having my own private, off-line wiki so that it avoids the technical problems I encountered while creating the Time Travel Game Wiki.

Time Travel Game Update

The Game Design Wiki is finally finished! WOO! To check it out head here. There are probably a lot of mistakes and corrections that is still needed to be checked over but I am happy with the overall results.

I did have to cut out a sizeable chunk of the planned content for the wiki due to time constraints but at the end of the day that’s my own fault for not allocating enough time for the wiki earlier on in the project. Still what’s there is good I feel and it serves its purpose of showing how the Game Design Wiki option works.

I’ll be sitting down tomorrow to write up the documentation detailing the Wiki’s creation, good and bad point, etc. But for now I have more work to do!

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.

Time Travel Game Update

Well yesterday was…interesting… I spent most of the day fighting with the Wiki site for the Time Travel Game, in attempts to both add things to it and make it run smoothly. I got to the end of my tether with it and was about to declare the whole thing a giant failure when I came across a Google Group for EditThis.info. There had been no activity on the group for pretty much a year but I had no other option. 

I asked about the issues I was having with the site and my wiki and within two hours it was magically fixed! So I am back in business with the Wiki now and you can head here to check it out.

So due to all this faffing around with it the past couple of days I haven’t added as much as I wanted to the wiki but I managed to get a bit up yesterday.

The wiki is now on version 1.10 as I start adding the content to key sections. The current plan is to sort of do it in the reverse order of what I usually do. I am getting all the other sections finished before tackling the Game Mechanics one. This is because the controls and in particular interface of the game are integral to how players use the majority of the game mechanics. 

So yesterday I managed to get the Story Synopsis section done in a very loose and basic form with the plan to add to it as I go. The overall Game Objective and the Controls page which involved the creation of the following image and table:

Personally I think the Controls section of any form of Game Design Documentation is one of the most important sections. Many student GDDs I’ve read on the internet seemingly overlook it or put it in as an afterthought. While the section is relatively small and basic compared to others it has great importance because it is the tool/s for how your players will be interacting with the game. If you don’t think about it you are doing them a disservice. I always sit there with a controller or mess around with my keyboard and mouse when writing these sections. It is surprising how helpful it can be. You can test out the inputs and ergonomics of the controls you are developing. 

Anyway that’s it for now, hopefully I can get back on track with it now that it is all working as it should be again.

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 

Weekly Update

It has been a busy time on multiple fronts for me so here are the fruits of all my work! I still have a long way to go and very little time so the next two and a bit weeks are going to be rather hectic. You will also see that there is a lack of the regular Games I have been playing section this week because I have little to no time to play games at the moment.

Superman: Man of Steel

This project has received the most attention, particularly in the past week. As I have very much gone back to the drawing board with certain aspects of it. Currently it looks like I am back on track with this design and you can read all the details about the changes (including the new name!) and the re-focusing on the prototype as part of the overall design process to spur me on, here.

Time Travel Game

There have been no further updates to the game’s wiki since the last update because I have been trying my hardest to get the mechanics I want to show off working in UDK. It has been a time consuming one step forwards ten steps back process. Currently it is looking unlikely that I will be able to get it all working in the timeframe I have given for the prototype portion of the project. So it is very likely that I will be reverting to plan B which will be producing a video to show of key mechanics concepts. I’m going to hopefully produce the video through UDK but the past two weeks has worn me down a tad. If for whatever reason producing the video fails I have no idea what I am going to do. Which is a tad worrying.

While a prototype isn’t integral to the design documentation it is always good to have one. So for now I’m just going to put this on the back burner for a couple of days while I hit the other projects hard. Hopefully coming back to it over the weekend will recharge my time travel batteries. This potential downgrading of the Time Travel Game prototype will also hopefully be made up by the physical prototype for the Superman design taking a more central role because both games are part of the same project.

Hunters of the New Dawn

There is nothing new to really report on this project at the moment. It is slowly chugging along as I am refining the rules and gameplay for the prototype. This will be getting a lot more focus in the next week as I kick prototype production into high gear for all three projects!

Honours Project Documentation

The final key aspect of my honours project which the Time Travel Game and Superman: Man of Steel are for is some documentation about the different design processes for the ideas. This is likely going to take the form of three blog posts:

  1. Detailing the Wiki Design Production Method of the Time Travel Game
  2. Detailing the One Page/Visual Design Production Method of the Superman: Man of Steel
  3. Comparing and contrasting the two Design Production Methods with an added master list at the end of the post of relevant posts and links for both games made on this site. 

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!