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.

Weekly Update

This week has been fairly busy and productive for a change, so yay for me! Also I am putting the Games I have been playing section behind a read more jump for this week because it is fairly lengthy but worth a read if you are interested in the original Metal Gear Solid and how games design has changed since it came out.

Project Superman:

Progress on the Superman game is still slow despite taking the approach of just getting stuff up on the various one page posters and worrying about refinement later. I’m currently putting together character boards like the above Lois Lane one which I will then stitch together to form a larger character poster. These mood board should hopefully set the tone for the characters and the game itself. Also even though I have included some images from the various Superman films and TV Shows as a point of reference I’m trying go for a more comic inspired look to the game. This is turning up a few interesting character points. One thing I noticed from spending a couple of hours sifting through various images of Lois Lane is that artists and actresses/directors like to have her chewing on the end of a pen or pencil a lot. It is an interesting little character detail that comes with all sorts of connotation which I have never picked up on during my many years of reading Superman comics!

The aim for the coming week is to finish the main batch of character boards then to start work on the combat boards so I will start getting the major game mechanics laid out. From there I will decide wether or not the project needs to be scaled back any further so that I can hit the deadline. I think as long as I have the characters of both friend and foe variety, major mechanics, the combat, a basic story and metropolis sorted then the rest, if needs be, can be detailed in documentation. 

Time Travel Game:

This design has taken a back seat this week as I have been concentrating on Project Superman. But I have managed to find the time to sketch out some mechanics ideas in my notebook which I will be adding to the Wiki in full detail soon. I’m finding it odd that I am finding this game the easiest to design currently. Ideas are flowing fairly freely and it is starting to come together fairly quickly. The only time consuming aspect is getting all my notes, ideas and research up on the Wiki. You would think that dealing with the complexities of time travel would be a major headache, and to be fair at first they were, but now that I have got the ground work for the set of rules I will be using I am quickly generating ideas and mechanics for the game. Some good game mechanics too I think!

Hunters of the New Dawn:

Apart from working on my IP Statement which is due in on Wednesday, (I still have so much to do for it!) which I will show off once it has been handed in. I have started thinking about how my tabletop prototype of the game will work. Taking the basis of KISS (keep it simple stupid) for the RPG elements I am thinking of the game only having three main stats; Strength, Dexterity and Will/Intelligence/Spirit (whatever you want to call the magic stat). With all the other stats deriding from these three main stats. D&D does this with its modifiers system so I have been looking at that and seeing how it could work with Hunters. 

Each class would naturally concentrate on one of the stats over the others and use its main stat to work out its damage output. Currently this is what I have come up with also bare in mind that I’m still thinking of class names:

Fighter/Warrior:

  • Main Stat: Strength
  • Secondary: Dexterity
  • Weakness: Magic

Thief/Duelist:

  • Main Stat: Dexterity
  • Secondary: Magic
  • Weakness: Strength

Mage/Tech Wizard:

  • Main Stat: Magic
  • Secondary: Strength
  • Weakness: Dexterity

That should give things a fairly even spread in combat when you take into account things like defence and health are derived from the Strength stat. Also making Strength the magic class’s secondary skill will allow for them to take a bit more punishment that they are traditionally allowed in RPGs. 

I have also been thinking of how the combat will work for the prototype. I want it to be fast so the prototype can be run quickly and with as little fuss as possible. I am currently toying with a beat of three system similar to the one used in Phantasy Star Online. So each weapon/ability/spell would have a beat that the player would have to perform in rhythm to pull off successful combos. It also means you can keep combat simple in the final game with a button for each type of attack (Melee, Ranged, Magic) then the complexity comes from keeping up the rhythm and using the different types of attack together. In the end the combat should be a healthy mix of Phantasy Star Online and Fable’s. For the prototype this will be represented by the player rolling three dice in quick succession. 

Go beyond the jump for my thoughts on Metal Gear Solid for the PSone.

Games I have been playing:

After receiving the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection last week I mentioned that I was planning to playthrough them all in order starting with the PSone classic, Metal Gear Solid. While I would prefer the Twin Snakes remake that came out on the Gamecube which brought a host of new and updated features along with re-recorded dialogue and up to date graphics. Sadly that was a joint venture between Silicon Knights, Nintendo and Konami so the chances of it ever being updated and re-released on any console apart from a Nintendo one are super slim. Anyway, I was happy to find I had £15 in my Playstation Network Wallet so I took the plunge and bought the digital version of Metal Gear Solid.

I haven’t played this version of the game since my original copy of it snapped in two inside my PSone, disk one I think it was (it broke from over use and my first PSone having a tendency to break disks towards the end of its life). So it has been an odd experience to go back to it after all this time, probably over ten years! Boy do they not make games like they used to! Which is both a good and a bad thing. So let’s start with the good reasons why they don’t make games like the original MGS then move onto the bad!

The Good:

  • I decided to go through the optional briefing before starting the game so altogether along with the opening movie when you load up the game and the opening cutscene itself it took me well over 45mins to actually gain control of Snake. I think there is a sweet spot for how long you can make a player wait until you let them do something. Usually 10mins max. MGS breaks this rule completely even without me doing the optional stuff beforehand! Breaking up the opening a bit would have worked better. Intercut the SDV with the full briefing while letting the player control it, avoiding all the underwater mines and laser beams. Then have a big exposition dump if needs be once Snake gets to the opening warehouse. Still it was a different time and all that.
  • There is a lot of waffle…..A LOT OF WAFFLE. MGS as a series is known for this (as I went into detail on last week) but there is so much unnecessary dialogue and exposition in MGS 1 it is crazy! So many needless lines, re-treading of story points and information it is can get annoying. Say what you will about the more recent MGS games but they don’t have you experience the same conversation told in different ways five times in a row.
  • Controls have come a long way. The controls in MGS are fiddly at best and frustrating at worst. I have been spoilt with modern control schemes and pressure sensitive buttons. The number of times I have accidentally grabbed a guard and flung him over my shoulder instead of choking him is beyond count. (You have to get in exactly the right position to do it.) Also I keep finding my thumb naturally moving to the left thumbstick for movement control, usually in times of panic during combat or when an alert goes off, and being very confused when Snake just stands there being shot at. Finally don’t get me started on the aiming and shooting which is a minefield of twitching and pure luck at times!

The Bad:

  • There is a huge amount of extra material on the “disks” for Metal Gear Solid. You have the optional briefing that gives the game more context and background. Summaries of the previous 2D Metal Gear games and when you reload your save file you get a nice little summary of what has happened and where you need to go next. You also get the VR Training Mode which if released today would come under DLC that would be released in packs over several months. Ten missions for a fiver and all that. None of this stuff is mandatory it is just there as added extras. They add an extra level of depth to the game. The VR Training is there to show what they are on about in the main game when they talk about how the soldiers are trained and conditioned. The briefing gives you a better idea of the kind of man Snake is and who his support team are. The summaries of the previous games fill in the backstory if you want to read them, giving the finer points of the story more impact. It is something a lot of games could benefit from.
  • You are encouraged to take your time. MGS 4 is a fairly comprehensive game and the stealth elements are more advanced in what is on offer over the original. But you are constantly moving forward. Always heading into new areas. The enemies are constantly getting harder and bigger. In the first game the enemies remain near enough constant throughout the whole experience and their patrol routes are long and slow (like real patrol routes!). You also have to go back on yourself quite a few times either intentionally or to head into previously locked optional rooms and areas. You are rewarded for going back to earlier points in the game to see what else you can uncover and do. Which is something rarely done in modern games. The last one I can think of that did it well was Shadow Complex for Xbox Live Arcade. 
  • Story constantly happens. Even when you are exploring optional areas you know you will find something helpful for the immediate or long term problems you are facing. Even though there is no strict deadline, only the time limit imposed by the story that only counts down at specific plot points. Everything is pretty much happening for a reason. Plot points are dangled in front of you then pulled away for exploitation later in the game. Your original mission gets expanded as you hit each objective. It is one long mission rather than several smaller ones. You can take the time to get to know your support team via the Codec conversations. Learn their backstories and motives. If you have no idea what I’m talking about look at it this way, the story is broken up into these three categories:
  1. The immediate: What Snake needs to do in the here and now, sneak past a guard, have a shoot out, use an item, etc. This is a very basic form of emergent gameplay that is used in almost all game, as it is your successes and failures that define the “story” of what is happening.
  2. The room: Each area is divided up into rooms of the Shadow Moses complex. Each has it’s own look and feel, a set number of guards and items to find and come back to get later. You have the immediate short term goals of “beating” the room then the longer term ones of how it is used in the story and if you need to come back to it at any point.
  3. The long term: the over-arching story for the game, broken up into distinct acts. The immediate and the rooms add to this to give it more depth. At it’s core you move the story along rather than the story happening around you which is a popular approach taken by modern games (mainly of the FPS and action variety). Finding a specific weapon or item allows you to advance the plot or finishing a certain area will give you the next major bit of story.

I still have to finish the game but these are a few things that have stood out during the time I have currently spent playing through it. So while it is a bit clunky, crummy looking by today’s standards (like most PSone era games) and archaic in it’s sensibilities it is still a damn fine game worth picking up again or trying out if you have never played it before.

Videos

I’m going to be throwing up a string of videos, links and quotes to various things relating to time travel. As a starting point for my research into time travel theory.

Let the head scratching begin!