Pay-off In Puzzles.

Whats the point? When going into a puzzle, that should be the overriding question. WHY is the puzzle there? Is it just to prevent the player from moving forward? Or will the result of the puzzle have an effect on the game world? Personally, I prefer it when it feels like the players actions have consequences BEYOND what just happened.

I break down my puzzles into 4 categories. THE OBSTACLE. THE ACTION. THE RESULT. THE CONSEQUENCE.

THE OBSTACLE.

First you need to define the obstacle. This can be anything, from a vast chasm of empty space, to a locked door. An obstacle doesn’t have to be a physical thing either-it could be a conversation, a riddle…there are many excellent articles on puzzle design which give outlines and ideas on what these could be.

For ease of use, lets use The Locked Door.

THE ACTION.

Ive gone into some depth about how I put my ‘actions’ together here: http://www.stasisgame.com/a-quick-way-to-design-puzzles/

Essentially, THE ACTION is what you need to do to get passed THE OBSTACLE. Its the meat and potatoes of the puzzle – of the game.

You have to set off an explosion to get past a door. The puzzle would involve constructing the device, and setting it off.

THE RESULT.

Ideally, the result should be a reward for doing THE ACTION correctly. You set off the exposion, and blast open the door. The result is that you get access to a new area.

THE CONSEQUENCE.

The consequence is how THE ACTION effects the world BEYOND THE RESULT. An example would be that the explosion weakens the structure of the room above you, or causes an elevator cable to snap, creating another obstacle.

There is a danger in using this system that you can make the player feel hopeless-that everything they do isn’t pushing them forward, but rather hindering them. Every now and then, you should give the player a ‘win’.

Consequences don’t have to be bad, and can sometimes have a positive, unexpected, result on the world. You kill the ogre, and get the chest of gold. But killing the ogre has allowed the town to have open trade with its neighbours, giving you a heros welcome back when you visit the town a few weeks later.

Making your actions have consequences in the game can make the player feel more like a part of the world-make them feel like their actions MEAN something.

————–

And for the people who want eye candy, I give you shit blowing up!


-Chris

Read More

Creating worlds.

I have a theory about why there are so many Star Wars fan fictions and fan films.

Its much easier to write something when you are constrained by a series of rules. I can bet that if I asked, anyone reading this could quickly come up with an outline for a story set in the Star Wars universe. But if I had to ask those same people to come up with an original story, they would find it much more difficult.

If you are trying to come up with a story, the easiest way I have found is to start big, and refine downwards. Lets use an example. (Im just making this example up as I go alone, so you can see how the idea is being refined. This entire process only took about 10 minutes)

Its important to ask questions. Ill usually find that asking a question is a much easier way of coming up with an idea than just trying to ‘be creative’.

THE PLANET.

We will start off with the entire world. Whats a defining characteristic of the planet where our story takes place? Its a gas giant. There is no solid land.

HOW DOES THE PLANET EFFECT THE WAY OF LIFE?

If this were the case, what would the cities be like? Huge floating structures, held up on massive gas vents coming up from the planet core. The would cities constantly drift and move across the surface of the planet.

How are these cities kept afloat?

Huge machines sit at their bases, which harness the winds and gasses of the planet the cities alive. The machines have been operating for millennia-their inner workings slowly but surely decaying.

Are there many small cities, or just a few large ones?

How about sometimes the cities drift into each other. Sometimes larger cities will ‘mine’ smaller ones, to incorporate their resources? Strip them of parts.

LETS GO SMALLER….

From here, lets focus on one of these cities. Lets call it CITY 12. CITY 12 is a small settlement.. almost to small to even be called a city.

Is there something different about CITY 12?

Through the description above of the other cities, the one thing that stands out is how the smaller cities get stripped for parts to keep the larger cities going. CITY 12’s machinery has been replaced over the years by a machine that requires no fuel…a perfect recycling plant which allows the small settlement to stay afloat indefinitely.

AND SMALLER….

Now how would this information put CITY 12 in danger? A passing trader finds out about the cities unique machinery. From this we can make CITY 12 a small trading post. Perhaps the machinery allows the city to move against the currents, to drive itself.

AND SMALLER….

Word spreads to the other cities, and soon they are all after this small settlement. Cities have been slowly dropping closer to the planet core…just a few meters every year-but enough to start a panic. This ‘CITY 12’ could be the answer to everything.

NOW LETS MAKE IT ABOUT THE PEOPLE….

This is the world. Now if I asked you guys to think of a quick setup for a story set in this world, could you?

Story Idea 1.

My preference is to take the ‘everyman’ point of view. Our characters name is

‘Cornelious Smith’, the owner of a junk trading shop on the outskirts of CITY 12. While opening up his shop, on a normal morning, a vast shadow covers him. Looking up, he sees one of the huge floating cities above him. CITY 12, is about to be mined.

Story Idea 2.

Alternatively, a bounty has been put out on CITY 12. You play as a mechanic, desperately trying to fix the machinery on the base of CITY 76, a citiy made up of mostly engine, with a small population of about 100 people. Times are hard, and the bounty on CITY 12 could feed the entire city for years. While hanging upside down, under the city engines, you notice a small settlement drifting under you…CITY 12 is hiding in your shadow…

Story Idea 3.

Here’s another one, you are a mail man, making your way to the different cities in your trusty airship ‘Old Rusty’. You’ve heard of this mythical ‘CITY 12’, and on a mail run to PENAL COLONY 24, you come across a prisoner, with device…a tracker that can find CITY 12….

…………………………

When creating STASIS, this was very much my way of thinking. I created a world, and the placed characters into that world. Give it a try, and let me know if Im just talking rubbish, or if this is something that you guys could use? Its a system that works for me-I would love to know if it could work for you! And for bonus points, try think of a little setup for CITY 12…THE IMAGINARY GAME.

-Chris

Read More

In game Computers.

When I first played DOOM 3, the thing that really stuck out to me was how each computer you interacted with had a somewhat unique feel to it. Its amazing how that small detail fleshed out the world so much for me. I actually got excited when looking at a new computer system, because it had this sense of ‘reality’ about it.

It was also something that really took me out of FALLOUT 3. I understand WHY they needed a generic interface for the computers in the game, but I cant help but think if they did 5 or 6 different ones, and mixed them up, it would have added another dimension of reality over everything.

When approaching the design of the computer screens, I originally was going to use a modified version of the dialog engine for all of the computer screens. Now while this is perfect for things like reading logs, and very basic systems, it really did come off as a bit generic for the more complex computer systems. I think that when you are doing something quite ‘puzzle specific’, there should be a more custom computer system in place.

This is where the fun part comes in-and its something that can very easily lead into ‘over design’. You see a lot of over design on computer systems in movies. Lots of rotating 3D cubes, and flashing bits. Now on a movie, that is ok, because you, as the viewer, don’t need to understand HOW to use that system, you just have to understand WHAT THE RESULTS ARE. That is why they have big ‘UPLOADING VIRUS’ bars, and large red flashing ‘ERROR’ notices. On STASIS I have gone through great lengths to have the interface be as simple as possible. That is why Ive implemented things like the ‘pie’ cursor (so your options are always visible), and things like context sensitive ‘one click’ interaction. Now to throw that all away in the ‘in game’ computer systems would be very counter productive. BUT I don’t want the computers to appear that they have been designed for use by trained apes. Its a very fine line to tread, but the main thing that ran through my decisions was to keep everything GROUNDED IN REALITY.

When going on a new ‘design venture’, my first stop is always google. I searched for as many interfaces as I could find. Everything from the LCARS systems in Star Trek, so Anakins pod racer in Star Wars. But I found myself constantly drawn to interfaces that are used in reality. Stock exchange computers, Linux command prompts, CAD software. Using those as my inspiration base, I began to draw up the computer systems in the game.

The first complex systems encountered are in the engineering sections of the ship. These systems were designed to look as complex as possible, but still keeping them very basic for the player to use. Now that I have a ‘design template’ for the look and feel of the systems in the game, designing additional screens is quite a fast process. Each screen is completely unique, and I think it really adds to the feel of the game to see screens like this in the game.

There is a very fine line to tread between ‘utilitarian’, and ‘boring’, but I think that I have struck a nice balance on the designs. Now not EVERY computer will have a unique system. I have already set up the systems for creating the basic computer screens, and it would honestly be a staggering amount of time, as well as graphics and memory to do that. That said, I will have as much variation as is possible.

.

Next blog entry, I will go into some detail on my method of writing the story of STASIS, from building the world, to designing the characters.

Have a good week guys!

-Chris

Read More

A quick way to design puzzles.

There are quite a few articles and discussions about puzzle design. When I go to a gamedev, or Adventure Game forum, usually the first thing I search for is Puzzle Design. There are hundreds of different techniques out there to develop effective AG puzzles.

Here is one that I use quite frequently. Many puzzles in STASIS have been written using this technique.

THE HOW?


DESCRIBE THE ENVIRONMENT.

Before I start to think about the puzzles, I like to think about the environment. What sounds are there? Smells? Are there flickering lights? Chains clinking from the ceiling? All of these small details really help in setting the scene.

LIST THE ITEMS.

From the description of the environment, I can generate lists of items that would be found there. Each of these items may have something branching off of them. The lights are flickering, so there is perhaps a light switch? The flickering means there is an electricity problem…was someone trying to fix the problem? Are there exposed wires? What is connecting the chains to the cieling? Why are they there? Chains are usually used to move things…perhaps there is a wince in the room? Is it broken? Is there the smell of mould in the room? What is causing that? Would the air-conditioning system be cleaning out the air? Should the smell be there?

SET UP THE OBSTACLES

From these two things, I go to my design document, and see where this environment sits in the story. Where has the player just come from, and where are they going to? Is the primary goal of this room to get out infromation, or to block the player from moving forwards? If the goal is to hinder the player, what exactly is the problem? WHAT COULD GO WRONG IN THIS ROOM THAT WOULD BE AN OBSTACLE?

Lets assume that its the classic ‘Big Metal Locked Door’.

CHANNEL MY INNER MACGUYVER

If I were faced with a locked door, and had all of these items at my disposal, how would I get out?

Broken Wince.

Chain.

Exposed Wires.

BUILD THE PUZZLE

From the items above, the solution seems clear. Using the exposed wires, I either A) Jumpstart the wince, or B)Use the exposed wires to ‘fix’ whatever the problem is. Tie the chain to the door, and hook it up to the now working wince. Turn it on, and tear off the door from its hinges.

Now each of these steps can have a ‘sub step’ in them. Perhaps you need to climb a ladder to unhook the chain? Use a coin as a screw driver to loosen the side panel of the wince? Taking the wires plunges the room into darkness, so you need another light source?

THE WHY?

Using this as a method ensures that the puzzles stay consistant. That there arent any ‘rubber duck tied to a hosepipe’ solutions. It forces you to think PRACTICALLY about what would actually work.

Now of course, as you move on, the item list can include previous items you have picked up, or items that have multiple uses (eg, a coin/screwdriver/butterknife can be used for the same thing…). In STASIS, one of the earliest items you get is a High Speed Neural Drill. The problem I had with the item is that it literally had WAY to many uses! So I killed it out of your inventory about halfway in the second chapter (in a very cool way), to stop the puzzles from being boring. In making these lists, and seeing the obstacles however, I could see all the uses for all of the items I had-and very quickly picked up on the repetition.

The downside of designing puzzles like this is that the solutions can easily get VERY complex. I generally try to keep as few steps in as possible, in keeping it a practical solution. Its a very fine line to walk!

Read More