The Early Feedback #01 – Demented

EarlyFeedbackDemented

Welcome to the first episode of The Early Feedback – a series where I play games in early stage of development giving some feedback and thoughts as a player and a level designer.

Games shown are still in development and many things can and will be changed in a final product. Many assets and mechanics can be placeholders and need polishing. Use pink glasses.

Thanks to VisualTech48 I got Demented Alpha Version 0.4.01 by Intercido. I only know that this game is a Survival Horror.

Added: A week after writing the review I talked with VisualTech48 and I got a newer build 0.4.9 which has a lot of improvements. I decided to play Demented again and compare the 0.4.01 to 0.4.09 – and point out how the project improves.

Here we go:

Story

I woke up in some weird futuristic place, looks more like a laboratory than a hospital. I see blood on bunk next to me. The room is closed. I can see that I have left an artificial arm, this sounds interesting. Am I an experiment or I’m in a future and such prosteses are normal?

I have a robo-hand, will I use it? Why can’t I use it (It looks like a good USP!)?;

The first touch with the game is awakening scene with a small hint on the right giving me a short ‘tutorial’ about the keys – T, E, Q, H, V, P. Health, Sanity, Radiation… There are a lot of things to controll and pay attention to. Also I didn’t get any info about running using Shift nor about crouching using C – pretty obvious for PC players but info is info right?.

Maybe player could get hints one at time? If there is an event for Health there is a hint that the player looses Health where approaching to lethal objects or Sanity if there are scary things going on (I wanted to write “scary shit”, but I won’t).

The doors are closed but I “found” a card lying just like that on the desk. There are nice places to hide objects, like scripted wardrobes to teach player that he needs to look for a loot. I open the door and walk outside. Controlling the character feels a little slow and stiff – probably because of camera shake but at this stage (Alpha) it is fine.

After walking a few steps I see some girl thats run away from me. I apparently know her and her name. She disappears behind the corner. (This is the last place where the player talks, and the first(!)) I found her with her mother (probably?) sitting at the table. I see this looking through the glass in the door, when I open the door they look at me with weird robot eyes. Something happens (they run and push me?) and the place rotates changing it’s gravity point. (This action was awesome, but it was too complicated for a player that has just started a game and too short to feel the awesomeness of it) The screen goes dark and I end up in some room standing with flashlight. The action was very good but – I think – it will feel better if I wake up in the room with  bunk (with the animation) after the ‘nightmare’ scene.

After that part I have exploration when I’m looking and looting to get out from wherever I am.

Level Design

 

I have a problem with the geometry of this place, its lights and design – because I have no idea where am I – a starship, underground, on Mars or maybe on Earth in 2400? There are no windows and corridors are minimalistic with acute angles like in bunkers. Also layout is horisontal, there aren’t any ups and downs. The gravity action from a while ago tells me that I’m on a ship – but I don’t feel it. I looked over some references for starship:

The place design looks futuristic but very unclear. Also the light paths in corridors seem very random and I don’t feel that they are for a reason and could guide the player. Honestly it works the opposite way, I’m lost. I looked over for some references with corridors and lights:

Also there isn’t any information what this place is, and who owns it – like UAC in Doom 3. Screens look like private desktop. This could be used to sell some creepiness and the overall place story.

Environmental storytelling, like destroyed doors and blood on floors could be improved to warn the player and tell the story of events that happened in this place.

The corridors look mostly the same and the player moves along them always in the same way – walking. The level layout and rooms were simmilar. While playing I wanted to learn the story and purpose of this place. I found canteen, toilets, some medical and technical rooms BUT everything was next to each other and it looked similar – the only difference was in assets. I didn’t feel that I was in technical region and went to medical area or living rooms – because there were no clear boundaries between these places.

Here is an example of Alien: Isolation level layout. There are areas that the player can distinguish and become better oriented in space. Such places have unique set of assets, lighting and sound to become landmarks for the player.

AlienIsolation_LevelLayout

Alien: Isolation level layout

Demented_Win 2015-09-18 22-28-09-96The circuit box riddle – I found some broken circuit box – I have no idea what it is and why I need to fix it – just got objectives to get some electronic parts for it (good idea would be to update parts count when I take some) – it feels like: “do what we told you”. The circuit box is in some room that look very random (This problem is associated with landmarks and every room/area looking simmilar). Maybe this broken unit should be next to the door sa that I can see that I need to fix to continue my journey.

Also the riddle is very intense and fetchy – I need 3 Circuits, 4 VRams and 2 E2-Batteries, I have no idea why I need them, I have no idea where I could find these parts… In a maintenance room, a server room, an engine room? The parts are lying all over the level, and I need to find them. To find them I’m “licking” every wall, cupboard and wardrobe to check if there is anything useful for me.
Wouldn’t it be better if I need to find a Security Module Mainboard/ Security Module Chip or something solid like that, the parts are stored in technical rooms near . Looking for one piece doesn’t mean that gameplay and level design should be boring. Rather the opposite – The player will have in mind that he is looking for a specific part with specific objective, e.g. : Find Security Module Chip in maintenance area.

The fLat of a land

Getting back to player movement in the space – he mostly walks (I can run though) in space on one level. Moving from one place to another is… boring. There are a lot of combinations: The player can go up the stairs, down the stairs; Game also supports the player’s crouching – this is an opportunity to create some ventilation shafts, pipes, technical corridors etc that the player can explore. There also can be ladders, elevators…

Added after playing 0.4.9: The level layout improved a lot. I have got now stairs and vent shafts. The corridors have names of the areas so it improves communication with the player.

While playing I remember that Cafeteria is downstairs and Storage is on the same level as the circuit box room – the sound added in the circuit box room navigates me in the space as well.

Additionaly, as for the vent – the first time after finding it – i was quite surprised that such things are in the game (even if I had expected them to be…). Maybe a good thing would be to introduce the vent shafts to the player in some room at level start – just like that – showing “Hey we have vent shafts so look for them while looking for new spaces”.

Gameplay

Walking through this corridors drains my Insanity points and it gets over to fast. I’m not sure why it does it so fast, I’m on some creepy place but come on. Maybe it should decrease while looking on a blood or walking in darkness for too long (yes my battery drains) or hearing beast sounds. Oh yes there is something with me in this place but we will get back to it later.

There are sometimes doors that are locked but green, sometimes red but possible to open, and dark ones. Player know that doors are level 2 access just standing next to it. At the beginning in the first room keypad is green but doors are shoot. Also red doors ale closed ones, but green door after opening turn up red. Feels pretty complicated.

I looked on some Doom 3 door options:

Demented has gray scale effect and when its on I can’t distinguish closed door between locked ones – because all look the same way – grey. Maybe door monitors should have icons with different shapes on screen.

Player can interact with some objects – opening cupboards, wardrobes, doors, reading notes and taking objects like batteries, sanity pills. The feedback for player what he can use or not could be improved – for example readable notes should look different than ones used for decoration (Notes are white and texts are white). Interactable objects like pills or tablet should have something simmilar – unique color used only for objects that player can interact with (edge, text, icon).

Interactable objects in Alien:Isolation

Added after playing 0.4.09: The interactable code has been updated, and now objects that I can take (not use) have a red outline.

This feels much better! 

The story part mostly ends up exploring the place and reading the notes (to the point where I ended up). There could be more music ambiance to creep-up the atmosphere while looking for parts and sounds of environment (steam in pipes, computers, creaking steal, light bulbs  engines, etc). Mostly it was silence and I felt that event sounds like hitting and beast roars are scripted and even when I hear them I will be fine and nothing will kill me. And I was right. There were blood spots, but I couldn’t find any bodies or meet parts. The enviroment felt static and I felt there is nothing guarding or walking there. Probably because there wasn’t any common parts of the events. There were moving objects – ghost style, desaturation with kids singing, roars of some beast and lights going on and off (all of these actions are great to decrease my insanity points), alarm turning on. And this situation refers to the insanity draining to fast, if I’m not scared as a player so why insanity does down?

This takes us to the challenge in this game – character is in some futuristic place, alone, going insane with something invisible sneaking around him – probably deadly. But player in front of the monitor don’t feel scared, situations don’t challenge him and his fear. Only challenge is to find sanity pills before he dies – literally doing a speed run to find necessary parts. There are few solutions to tweak the atmosphere.

  • Put something/someone deadly guarding the places or items – like in Outlast, Amnesia, Alien:Isolation. Player fears to collect the item, he is challenged to do so If he wants to know rest of the story he needs to do it. Also player can be trapped with the enemy and he needs to find way out of “the maze”.
  • Add certain death if player won’t do something on time. It’s already implemented in Demented as Sanity but player don’t understand how it works. If I as player knew that in bloody dark places I can go insane and die – I will be afraid to go to such places. But I could see that there are necessary items to push my story forward.

Some situations can look like easy things, but we can complicate it during the task to peak the tension. It’s like playing chess with players fear. While playing the tension increases and stake gets higher (from pawns to the queen).

Added after playing 0.4.09: While playing again with new build I was thinking about the tension thing and hurting the player.

What if this broken doors moving up and down could cut player in half, but the object needed to continue the story was behind it?

Demented_Win 2015-09-27 17-18-09-61_blood

A quick visualization how it could work.

Continuing my journey I took a vram card from toilet (yup), lights went off and I got creepy desaturation effect. But after doing it again (after gamer restart) I had no such effect. That probably was a bug, but it showed how important was the desaturation effect. The second time I felt nothing. At first time it was weird and unusual, and I wasn’t sure what I will find. Maybe desaturation should be common for all this events?

Added after playing 0.4.09: I have a huge problem with the flashlight – it drains to fast and the locations are so dark that without it I can barely move. Maybe flashlight should be permanent or instead of batteries (the new one gives me only 50% of power btw. why?) there could be charing stations that player needs to use. It gives opportunity to hold player and scare him a little.

I died few times from insanity, I never lost health or got deadly radiated. Thats where I decided to write up my thoughts.

Demented_Win 2015-09-18 22-33-08-66

 

Added after playing 0.4.09: The overall gameplay improved a lot. I still died from insanity and did a speed run but after all I managed to get further in the game.

Summary

My tips for game improvement:

  • Add more story elements to explain who player is, what he look for and who is girl and woman from the beginning of the game (if they are story important);
  • Add more vertical paths to level design: ramps, stairs, vent-shafts, alternative paths etc;
  • Design more clearer corridors and light guided paths;
  • Create a story of place, and add purpose for areas to create ‘landmarks’ and distinguish places from each other;
  • Improve looting and interactable objects color-code;
  • Add more challenging elements for player – traps, obstacles and enemies actually hurting player;
  • Add more sounds and music to build up the atmosphere;
  • Design objectives and create with them significant goals for player;
  • Opening cupboards is a pain. Especially when light is off;
  • When flashlight batteries are dead, you nearly can’t play – it’s to dark to navigate.
  • What about artificial arm?

Once again thanks to  VisualTech48  for sharing build with me. I’m looking forward to see how this game evolves and play again the beta or final version.

If you like the idea of series, and you have a game that I could play and give my feedback – Just leave me a message.

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