Designing for Isometric Games, Part 1

I want to do a few articles on the trials and tribulations of creating 2D Isometric Graphics. So here we go!

When designing levels for an isometric game with a fixed perspective, you come up against a few layout problems. The truth is that, if you lay out the rooms in a ‘conventional’ way, when you remove the Z depth in terms of perspective, it just doesn’t look correct.

Usually, if you are designing a square room, this isn’t a problem-but if you want your room to be circular, or have a central feature, it can become a problem, as your central feature looks like its offset.

The best way around this is to lay out your room directly in your camera, and not use your top plan view. As an architectural illustrator who uses a plan view for most of my work, this can be a little disconcerting!

What I do when I lay out my levels, is create a grid, and then select the areas in my camera view where the main room features will go. This allows you to do your main layout very quickly.

Here we can see the corridors that lead off of the central annex, as well as roughly where my central feature will sit.

From there, I add in the walls, cut them into pieces, and move them around to match the grid I drew previously.

Once the walls are in place, the hard part is done! Now comes the detailing.

The central feature of the scene is an elevator shaft. If we take a look below, you can see how off center the elevator sits in plan, and how it looks in the scene.

Here is the final scene, with all of the lighting and detailing added.

-Chris

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Random Game Ideas

I recently had a discussion about game design on the Quarter To Three forums:
The discussion turned into something quite interesting (although almost reads like I’m talking to myself).
Grifman
When you are finished with this, use the engine to make an isometric RPG
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Me
I’ve been thinking about how to design an RPG, but I think that the mechanics involved are just immense. Good RPGs are SO specialized…there is a reason that even the big AAA companies sometimes mess them up!
Still, it’s something that I have played around with…
What I would imagine the best way to do it, would be to have a hybrid RPG/Adventure Game. So an AG with a linear story (easier to control from a design point of view), but with a mostly freeform element of exploration.
I built a prototype a while ago called 1000 Years Later, which had the basic elements of the exploration and map in place.
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Nightgaunt
The Worlds of Ultima games (Savage Empire and Martian Dreams) are good examples of Adventure Games with RPG trappings. Basically an open overworld map and a smattering of wildlife around with which to have RPG combat.
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Me
Ill do a bit more research on how those games worked. I was thinking something more akin to how the Blade Runner AG worked, with a large persistent world that moves forward with or without the characters action. The difference being that the characters actions (or inactions) change the direction of the game.
An example I was playing with (actually in the 1KL Prototype) was the idea of a serial killer who is moving from town to town. The player is a bounty hunter who tracks him down.
The kills would take place with the killer staying in a town for a certain amount of time, killing, and then moving on. The player would need to work out which town he would hit next, and try to head him off, while also trying to figure out who he was.
I liked the idea of the game ending because the killer gets away because of the players inaction, or the player making one of those ‘is it town A or B?’ choices, and either just missing him, or getting there in the nick of time to stop something going down.
There would of course be other story elements flowing through the game that would influence which town would be next. For instance, a train was built, but a gang robs it, stopping the killer from getting to one of the larger stops. As a result, a murder happens on a small homestead. The player interference would come in you thwarting the robbery attempt by capturing and receiving the bounty on one of the robbers.
A game like that would be incredibly challenging to plan, but immensely fun!
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instant0
That serial killer part kinda reminds me of how Fahrenheit was,. if I remember correctly you played in “real time” and had to reach your objectives within a time period before you missed your window…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fahrenh…005_video_game)
A game where the ‘world’ continued to struggle on without the player, but where the player could affect the future would be a lot of fun. It would require a lot of simulation but I think it would be worth it — at least as a player, but perhaps not monetary in terms of how much effort it would take 😉
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Charlatan
There are plenty of stories where the protagonist goes back in time and tries to change things but fails to change things “enough” – two I’ve read that I can think of offhand are a novel I really love called Replay, a Stephen King’s 11/22/63. Not to mention movies like Groundhog Day and The Butterfly Effect.
I think a game modeled after this idea could be completely awesome. You’d go back (forward) in time and try to change things – but your changes will often have unintended consequences and maybe you’d have to go back and try again. So it’d be like having a bunch of do-overs!
On second thought, yeah, it might not be commercially viable…. but it could definitely be awesome.
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Me
For the serial killer game, I have already mapped out how the game would work on a technical level.
Lets say we have 10 murder scenes. Each scene would be planned and played out as a separate, completely unrelated game event.
The game would then trigger each murder, with the order of the murders happening depending on the players actions.
If ALL of the murders happen, the player looses, as the serial killer escapes to a different place. The less murders that happen, the ‘higher’ the player score.
To have a game like The Butterfly Effect, the easiest way would be to attack it like a very linear Adventure Game. Sort of how Telltale has done its Back To The Future series.
If it was a more ‘freeform’ approach, it could be done by separating each element of the story into completely separate and ‘unrelated’ events. For instance, a NPC would have 3 separate ‘states’.
Nice, Mean, and Hobo. Going back to a ‘starting time’ (say 5 years earlier), your conversation would trigger which ‘state’ the NPC would be in the future.
Each NPC would have these triggers, so in the ‘future’ you could have NPC A be a hobo, and NPC B be nice, and going back and doing ‘something’ around NPC A would change his state to ‘Mean’ and NPC B to ‘Hobo’.
In this way, the future would have an ‘infinite’ amount of states (well, with 2 NPC’s, there would be 9, but with more NPC’s, and more states the amount becomes exponential).
Now the tricky part would be having the different states of some characters influencing states of others. The game would essentially become an experience of balance, to try to get each player to a certain state. But chatting to one person could change the state of another without you knowing (ie-a brother turning ‘mean’ would influence his sister. His sisters state would influence her best friend, who would influence her teacher). So you would have to find the trigger to turn the brother back to ‘nice’ to stop the other trigger of events-but the brother being nice could make the best friend ‘mean’.
The idea is that the rules you would set up would be very simple. 3 states. 3 triggers. Each state triggers a different state in someone elses 3 states. This in turns alters the ‘world’ of the present (the states of the people could not only alter their personality and look, but also what their house looks like, and their surroundings).
Or something like that. 😉
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I really enjoy thinking of small exercises like this. While they probably wont make their way into a coherent game design, just the act of mapping out how things would work is an extremely useful exercise for any game designer.
-Chris

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John Maracheck.

No posts for a month, and then 2 posts in a week? I’m impressed!

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Last year I moved houses, and have been wanting to redo my new office for a while. I decided that I needed some really cool images framed and on the wall…things I could look at and be inspired by! But it had to be related to STASIS. This room is, after all, where STASIS is being born…

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Each image took roughly a day to produce (over nights after work), and feature assets that are built for the game. I think this also gives a good idea about how detailed the assets are! You are also getting your first real look at John Maracheck, and the Plug Suit.

Originally, I was going to have writing on them, but honestly, I think that the images speak for themselves.

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When they are printed, and block mounted, I will take some photos of the office for you guys to see where the magic happens. Until then, I hope that you enjoy these images as much as I enjoyed creating them!

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-Chris

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Abandoned Tram Line

Happy New Year!

I hope that you guys had a fantastic break before the start of 2013.

2012 was a very difficult year for me, with quite a few personal ups and downs. Through it all tho, I had STASIS, and honestly, I think that its the beacon that kept me sane through a lot of it! I have grown so attached to this game, that Im hesitant to think of what my life will be like without it…but then again, there are always sequels… 😉

Cinematics.

I have been doing quite a bit of work on the cinematics that link chapters together. One thing I loved about Starcraft, and pretty much the reason I played Blizzard Games was to watch the cinematic sequences in the campaigns. Now while I don’t think that I can match the brilliance of the Starcraft ones, I will be happy if I can give players that giddy feeling that an animated sequence instills in me!

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The sequences will be short (I am after all just one guy!), but will hopefully provide a nice link between sections of the game. Something that Im also doing with them, is the areas that are shown in the sequences are going to be playable areas in the game-giving the animated parts a cool flourish, in that as a player you know yu will be able to explore those areas. This also ups the amount of detail needed in the levels, but more detail is never bad!

Eye Candy!

Here are 2 shots from a sequence I finished last night, involving an abandoned tram line. The trams ahead of you have all powered down, so you have to get out and walk along the tunnel, towards….well, you’ll just have to wait and see!

And here is the start of the level that this cinematic takes place in. Note, I only started this level last night, so its missing all of its cool stuff (flares, particles, colour correction, etc).

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Hope you guys are going strong, and good luck for 2013!


-Chris

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