As Level/Quest Designer I always was creating content with greater emphasis on gameplay than story .
We all know that Gameplay is the King BUT where is the Queen?
It’s better and more interesting for the player to have a story combined with mechanics, world, characters and quests. Not just ‘don’t ask – just play‘ but create purpose of existence of things in the game and clear meaning of goals that a player get during the game.
So I became more interested in Writing – this means creating stories, interesting plots, and formulating thoughts in pleasant language for the reader. Here a list I have created after visiting websites and getting information in-life.
Here is TOP 5 books about Writing:
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
On Writing by Stephen King
On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser
The 21st Century Screenplay: A Comprehensive Guide to Writing Tomorrow’s Films by Linda Aronson
The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle by Steven Pressfield
If you seek for more knowledge here are more materials about Writing:
Creating Short Fiction: The Classic Guide to Writing Short Fiction by Damon Knight
Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets A Novelist Can Learn From Actors by Brandilyn Collins
How to Write Best Selling Fiction by Dean R. Koontz
Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell
Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose by Constance Hale
Story Structure: The Key to Successful Fiction by William Bernhardt
Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain
Thanks, But This Isn’t for Us: A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing is Being Rejected by Jessica Page Morrell
The Forest for the Trees (Revised and Updated): An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
The Writing Life: Writers On How They Think And Work by Marie Arana
Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life by Natalie Goldberg
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron
Writing the Breakout Novel: Insider Advice for Taking Your Fiction to the Next Level by Donald Maass and Anne Perry
Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury
Nearly year ago I made Dying Light community map – The Tunnel. The map was well received by the workshop community becoming one of most popular maps. I have added some tweaks and now… the maps is part of the DLC: Community Map 4-Pack 🙂
The Tunnel is a single player survival horror story with multiple choices that player can make.
Here are some gameplay videos from YouTube for the older version of the map
Dying Light don’t have dialogs that support making decisions so I have created a ‘system’ that gives player power to control quest system paths.
Basically every event in The Tunnel is a small quest that is hidden and it starts triggered with other event.
This is the base concept of alternative paths. Not all events start from taking the objects so I crated option that starts when player is in location using SensorGoto. And here comes the tricky part!
Using flag m_QEnableSate that can disable or enable object I can control when to enable SensorGoTo. So even if player were in sensor area few times the action wont trigger until i will enable it. This can be used as a boolean variable. For example, player didn’t help Dawud so I enable SensorGoTo TheTunnel_Dawud_Fail (which is size as a playable area) that triggers actions for infected Dawud:
quest TheTUnnel_Dawud_Zombie -parent=TheTunnel_Dawud
,goto _ SensorGoTo TheTunnel_Dawud_Fail -show=false -- player failed to help dawud
,goto _ HumanAI Dawud -distance=-20 -show=false -- player enters the sewers
,set _ DoorDI Doors_003 -state=closed -- closing doors
,enable _ AISpawnBoxNumber TheTunnel_Dawud_spanwer_01 -- spawn infected viral
,use _ DoorDI Doors_003 -state=opened -show=false -- wait untill player opens the door
,kill _ AISpawnBoxNumber TheTunnel_Dawud_spanwer_01 -show=false -- be sure that player kills dawud (this will disable spawner and he won't respawn)
Using this ‘trick’ i set objectives for the player and control all events in the quest. Here is main part of quest system that control objectives:
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:
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.
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.
Alien: Isolation level layout
The 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”.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Every one wishes to make a game. The task looks simple – just create a game! But wait…
As Alchemist you don’t want to make just a mixture without a name, you want to make The Mixture, a Potion! A Health Potion, A Mana Potion, Stamina Potion.
To make The Mixture you need to know what effects will it have – same with the game. Define what it will be about, from the basics, keep it simple. To create a game you need to have The Recipe – a Game Design Document.
These are questions about your game to see clearer what you want to make
1. What your game will be about? About what you want to make game?
I want to make a game about being a tree.
It may sound stupid. It does… a little… my friends smiled and laughed about the idea. But the sense is there. They don’t see it, we need a big picture. There is a game about controlling slimes, sounds weird but what about game World of Goo? Now it starts to sound like an Idea. Maybe a game about “Super fast hedgehog”.
Of course you can make a less abstract. Maybe a “Game about being Futuristic cop that is an android and fights crime” or “Treasure hunter on its mysterious journey”. Oh what? They made games and movies about it already?
The idea can also have some information about game SETTING – in short worlds in what fantasy your game will be set.
2. What’s characters/games story?
First question is: “Do my game really needs a story?”.
If you make some big game, game with character that player is controlling, game story based, a virtual novel, a horror game… A good story will help you make game more interesting, and players will forgive not having super realistic graphics, mind blowing sounds etc.
If you are making a puzzle game, an arcade game etc. Maybe you don’t need it or you can have only an introduction. Every one knows Angry Birds game series. The game has simple story – there are birds and pigs who want to steal eggs from the birds. Every new episode shows part of story and also a new game mechanic. This is perfect for such small game. Player sees whole game idea in 10 seconds, sees mechanic that will be used in current episode. The animations are simple but entertaining enough, they are funny and ideal for a break from tapping. The answer for my project is:
Player is a seed that has fallen on the ground, carried by wind far far away from it’s Mother Tree. The seed germinates, and player needs to help it grow first leafs, roots , transform from a plant to tree and fight with nature and insects living on same field.
It will be simple game, this story is enough. The story question adds few more questions behind: Who is the main character(s)? What are game locations? What enemies or NPC will player meet? … What type of game it will be?
It will be Clicker type game with character skill tree building elements known from RPG games.
Simple enough. I want to give option for player to help getting points by clicking on the plant (or some other place on the screen). Similar to mechanic used in Cookie Clicker. The points can be transformed to some skills and parts of the tree, and ‘upgrades’ which will be the RPG part. Some skills will ‘do the clicking’ for the player.
Unique Selling Points
3. What are my future game USPs?
Hey! But what is USP? Unique Selling Points, USPs (or sometimes called Key Selling Points) are the elements that make your game stand out, what makes it better than and/or different than titles from the competition. Note the “Selling” part. These points are supposed to make the players want to buy the game. Or at the very least, make the publisher want to invest in that project 🙂 source: Technical Game Design.
If you want to make a game just to make a game, you make a mixture. We want The Mixture, define Unique Selling Points for the game. I know you can give away your Potions, but still -people must want to drink them! So your game needs to have something outstanding. Unique Selling Points are mostly presented on game trailers:
First I will start with Dying Light cgi trailer, the game is close for me because I’m one of Level Designers creating it. Who will know game mechanics better than LD? :}
At the beginning we see four people running/jumping on the construction site running towards air drop. We see some zombies. Characters have got custom adapted/crafted weapons as wrench with electric damage. There are some different zombies, very fast ones. Death reaches every one from the team. And at and main character gets hit by some other man, probably bandit.
USP for Dying Light are:
4-player coop with free run and parkour elements.
Enemies are not only zomies but also humans
Of course there are more UPS for DL but these are main to see in this trailer.
I won’t write what we see this time. Just watch and try to ‘find’ USPs by yourself.
Open world action game taking action in a city
Player can use weapons but also can hack
Player is in controll of the town
Assassin’s Creed Unity
Action take in Paris in times of French Revolution
Four player co-op
Player is in controll of the town
Getting back to my game example, USPs will be:
Clicker and strategy game hybrid with tree character skill elements
Player uses photosynthesis skill tree to grow a better plant
4. What are winning and failing conditions?
Reach four top skills in skill tree.
When tree will lose its vitality (represented as points/or color) game ends.
In some games you don’t have wining conditions – as in simulator as Sim City, the game will never end until you fail.
The game could end when player will solve final task, kill last monster or finds the murderer in a crime game.
In some MMO games there arent’t any winning and failing options. Player dies with punishment losing some exp points, gold or sometimes random item. Also players can’t finish game because there isn’t any ending point. This Doesn’t mean that game don’t have sence and a story. Such games has other never ending goals for players.
There are also questions about game design process, a guideline.
5. What are the production assumptions?
Don’t make game full of features. Choose best of them and make them real good.
Keep the solutions simple.
Start with simple single player mode.
6. What are the objectives of the game?
Create full working game from basics.
Prove that I have skills to build a game OR Create a team of people working together and willing to do great games as one team.
Integration with social sites as Facebook and Twitter
Create User-boards which will allow players to make duels via social sites.
7. What are the expectations?
Positive review somewhere, anywhere.
Gain min 2000$ from game sales.
Get 10000 fans on Facebook or Twitter
For what other purpose than myself I need this GDD?
This question I left as last because it means a lot.
Writing a design doc will make you think about your game in more creative way, and also it will make you ask important questions that could never be asked.
If you are one person developing game or a team with 50+ people you will still need a Game Design Doc. As in planning sprints in SCRUM – making game also needs to be planed – you need to think what you are going to do, and how long it will take. How much ‘power’ to you need to finish your game. Maybe you will need some music for it, programmer to write some mechanics.
I think there weren’t many games that were created without Game Design Doc – if yes – Designers had luck or games were poor designed with lots of iterations in production and inaccuracies in game itself. Did Flappy Bird needed a Game Design Doc, probably not but the exception proves the rule.
There are more questions in design doc. We will see the full list where I will present my GDD Recipe.
One-page Game Design Doc
As an Alchemist I don’t give a 19872 pages recipe of my Potion of World Domination to people interested of making a production line with me. It don’t means that I’m stingy. People may not have enough time to read it, and don’t forget the beginning of my recipe. Instead of that I prepared a special mini recipe – having right information about The Potion, presenting effects and basic ingredients.
The Game Design Doc can have a lot of pages, when it has all the information about game, ideas, monsters, NPCs, etc. In big projects such doc can become a Game Design Bible, a huge book with everything about the game. Such book is shared between co-workers to pass information about the game, and learn about the project, but sadly – it has so much information that they can be more confused after reading it than before.
Imagine that you are looking for an investor or someone new comes to your team – you don’t wan’t to talk about whole (I’mean everything) game, possibly forgetting some important parts. Your game idea can be misunderstood then and it will be imagined as a poor project. To keep chaos controlled – create a short one page document, where you will have information about the game, game modes, short story, it’s USP’s, mechanics. And use this doc as a basic, for more advanced users – you will still have the Game Design Doc. There are also schools that use only the One-page Game Design Doc, read this scroll to know more about it.