Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Crazy game idea: Fight Club

Possible mission
Okay, bear with me for a moment. I know that out of the four or so people who are going to read this half of you are exasperatedly sighing at the idea and the other half are at least raising an apprehensive eyebrow. But I was reading the book just the other day and it got me thinking about the prospect of having a videogame based on Fight Club (whether it carried the actual licence or not). The main connection I made was that in Fight Club the members of project mayhem, through their fight club preparations and other various rituals, are taught to live without fear of death or consequence. And anyone who's ever played either Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row should know that this is inherently how you play through a fun sandbox game. So why not incorporate that fearlessness into the narrative and gameplay, rather than just letting it slide like every other game does?

*Please keep in mind that I am assuming whomever is reading this has read or seen Fight Club. If you haven't then some of what I'm talking about might not make much sense, and I'll probably spoil the story for you. So you should probably go do that before reading on*

So now that we've established the idea let's get into the details. So it'll be a sandbox action game (it's not like it was going to be a JRPG) set in a New-York style city (again, not like it was going to be Azeroth). The player character would be the narrator of the story, Tyler Durden's right-hand-man-later-revealed-alter-ego. The first hour or so would probably be a play through of the character's boring, ordinary life (Everyday the Same Dream style) in which the players control would be restricted. When driving only a few roads would be open, only certain places accessible, few dialogue options, basic controls like punching don't work. However before too long (that bit really shouldn't drag out) we are introduced to Tyler Durden, and the fight club begins. The main entertainment value of the fight club sequences would probably just come from the spectacle of skinny businessmen in slacks beating the crap out of each other, but really we could just skip them and move straight to project mayhem (where the real fun is). The point at which project mayhem is established is where the game really starts to open up (symbolizing the player character throwing off the shackles of society, or whatever). Now you can drive along any road at whatever speed you want, say whatever you want and deck whatever random passerby you decide you don't like very much. Now the real fun is starting.

Of course, the make-or-break element of a sandbox game is the missions. If those aren't any fun then the game will ultimately wind up being pretty dry overall (*cough* Mafia 2 *cough*) . But this is where i think the fight club premise will really shine through, as it allows for any number of crazy, havoc-causing missions without even needing an appropriate context. They're creating mayhem for its own sake, there's no explanation required. This is also what will set it apart from the other popular sandbox crime games that I mentioned previously. In those games there are story missions that actually progress the game, and side missions that earn the player some extra pocket money. But in this case the ultimate goal of both the story and the missions is to create mayhem, which means that every mission completed works towards the same goal as the story, giving the player more motivation to complete them. As for the missions themselves pretty much whatever can be imagined up would be fine (a few off the top of my head: Dirty Skywriting, destroying construction sites, encasing luxury cars in hot tar). Maybe we could play as different members of project mayhem for different missions, so we can hear some funny original dialogue between members.  And so the more missions are completed the more messed up the city becomes when we're playing as mr. narrator in the open exploration bits between missions. Maybe when we've done enough missions we unlock special solo missions where we play as Tyler (though we would probably have to make room on the control scheme for a witty one-liner button). And if you've seen the film you know what happens, story progresses until we're sitting on top of a building waiting for the bombs to go off, waiting for society to fall.

So that's my idea. I'm pretty sure this game is never going to get made (unless any of my readers has 10 million dollars and a few programmers lying around), but there's no harm in dreaming. But then, since this is an adaptation we could just assume that it would be a terrible game and move on with our lives.
Until next time

Monday, 16 April 2012

Chilling: My horror game idea

For a few weeks now I've been mulling over an idea for a survival horror game. I've considered making it myself using something like Unity 3D, but that sounds like too much time and effort for me. So I'm posting it here, just in case anyone with a bit more initiative wants to have a crack at it.

So it's a survival horror game with no combat at all, only stealth, similar to Amnesia: the Dark Descent . It could be in either first or third person, that's not important. In Amnesia, however, when a monster appeared you could hide behind a bookshelf for as long as you liked. I wanted to change that. What if you could only stay still for a certain amount of time? This would increase tension by removing the comforting knowledge that the player is safe when they're in cover. The time limit would probably be made fairly lax. Not so much that the player can disregard it altogether, but enough that it was a guarantee that the player wouldn't find themselves in cover with no opportunity to leave safely before the time ran out (and they presumably died). Now that we've established this mechanic, we must find a way to put it into appropriate context.

So, what if the character suddenly found themselves in a situation where they might freeze to death. Say they're driving through a forest, late at night in the middle of winter, and their car crashes (that's the first scenario that comes to mind). They're very tired, it's snowing heavily (horror bonus points, reduced visibility)and they're not wearing thick clothing. They know that if they rest for a second and fall asleep they will not wake up. As such they must keep moving, to keep their mind alert and their core temperature up. And that's it in a nutshell, forcing the player to break cover in order to survive, putting themselves in harms way. As for the enemy/monster in question, that's not entirely important at this concept stage. When I was considering making the game itself I imagined a lumbering beast shrouded in a black mist. Partly because it creates confusion about what the creature actually is (the less the player knows, the better), mostly because this would give me an excuse to cover it in particle effects to hide the lazy design (I'm not a graphic artist to any degree). Minimalist design in horror is important, it keeps the tone serious rather than silly and allows an independent designer to work within the limitations of their resources.

Now that we've established that core mechanic, we're free to look for ways to expand upon it (or outside of it) to make the game even more frightening. The sanity mechanic has been pretty popular in recent horror games, but I don't feel that it's being implemented as well as it could be. For starters having an actual "sanity meter" doesn't make much sense to me. When you're going insane you don't know it, so the knowledge of precisely how sane you are is comforting. The other thing is that the only consequence of the player going insane is that the screen goes weird and the player might fall over or something. I think it can be taken further than that. Maybe the character starts slowly moving by themselves, or they start making noises that alert the nearby enemy(s). That would force the player to take measures to preserve their sanity, rather than just allowing it to slide like you could in Amnesia. The other way to (possibly) implement this is to mess with the player themselves, rather than the character. You could change the volume slightly, cause slight screen tearing, change camera angles etc. Any of this would have to be implemented very subtly, or it would damage the player's immersion. But then, having never tried this it might damage their immersion anyway. Seems like it would be worth a shot at least.

So that's about it, that's my brilliant idea for a survival horror game. On the slight chance that someone does actually read this, think "wow, that's a great idea and wouldn't at all wind up being a really cheap and gimmicky version of Amnesia" and makes the game, could you link me to it. I don't care how it turns out, there just aren't enough horror games being made these days. Or maybe too many, and we should be keeping each game a special, unique experience. One good one every two years or so might be enough. In which case you should wait another years if you want this one to be good, A Machine for Pigs is coming out later this year (Frictional + TheChineseRoom sounds like a great match to me).

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Review: PixelJunk Eden

Okay, so here's my first review: PixelJunk Eden. Apparently this has been out on the PSN for a while now, so for some of you this will be a bit dated. But I don't own a ps3 and I just recently picked it up on steam and had a play through. So let's take a look at it:

In PixelJunk Eden you play as something called a "grimp" (?) who floats through various forests looking for the elusive "spectra" (??) which are good for... some reason. The grimp also has to contend against the (supposedly) evil "pollen prowlers", which he must attack and burst to get the pollen within to open new paths through the world. The game really doesn't explain any of this to any detail, and I suppose it doesn't really have to once the gameplay picks up speed, but it does leave the player wondering exactly what they're supposed to be doing here. Most of the pollen prowlers aren't even doing anything, they're just floating through the air and explode at the slightest touch. In later levels they develop a few different variations that do appear to be actively trying to hurt you, but they still explode after a few chest-bumps which certainly destroys the notion that they're meant to be formidable in any way.

Anyway, since the game is a platformer gameplay consists of jumping from one thing to another thing, while exploding as many prowlers as possible to grow new paths through the level towards the spectra that you are searching for. There are several spectra in each level, collecting one of which ejects you back to the hub world which connects the levels. Collecting so many spectra opens new levels, and that's about it. After a jump the grimp (still sounds weird) can float through the air to a certain point. This can make it very difficult to judge whether or not you're going to make a jump, and missing a jump means you have to very slowly fall through the air and hope to land on something that's at least slightly closer to where you were than the floor is, and then jump/float your way back up. This really isn't good for the flow of gameplay, and can be especially frustrating when the time limit becomes constricted later on.

As a game going for the "artsy" sector of the indie market the visual design and soundtrack are really quite good. The plants you jump between stand out well against the backdrops and the levels are quite colourful without becoming visually cluttered and confusing. The soundtrack features a mix of mellow-yet-upbeat techno tunes which blend nicely with the visuals and the pace of the game overall. This makes the levels quite fun to explore and does make me want to keep playing just so I can see each one. However, with each spectra you collect in a level your time limit (represented by an "oscillator" bar at the bottom of the screen) depletes faster, forcing you to maintain a quickness of pace. I understand that a game requires some degree of challenge, but when the game so proudly touts its "original techno soundtrack and unique graphic style" then punishing the player for wanting to indulge in the level design and visuals seems like a step in the wrong direction. If they wanted to make the game challenging they could've started with including some enemies a bit more formidable than a china statue balanced on a pool cue in an earthquake.

Ultimately, PixelJunk Eden feels like a game I'd expect to see in the ipad app store, rather than on steam. At the time of writing I haven't played enough to unlock every level, and while I don't see myself hundred-percenting it I do want to continue playing. If you can get absorbed in it then it can be quite entertaining, but it only takes a few frustrating falls to slap the player back to reality. The question of whether or not I would recommend buying it is a bit difficult to answer. If you're a bit of a casual/non-gamer looking for a simple pick-up-and-play game that you can enjoy in 15-20 minute intervals between meetings or whatever than you can certainly do a lot worse for your $10 than PixelJunk Eden.  However, if you're looking for something with a bit more narrative or gameplay substance than this probably isn't for you.

Until next time