Saturday, 19 October 2013

QTEs, Story and Dialogue Disconnect

Quick time events (QTEs) are sequences in games where the player has to click a button at a specific time to initiate an action. They started surfacing some years ago and there was an outcry against them and developers seemingly stopped using them for a time in PC games.

Then there was a developer which had the good idea to resurrect the point and click adventure genre on the global market, TellTale. They remade Sam and Max, made some (passable) Monkey Island games and a Back to the Future game series but then they made a terrible QTE ridden Jurassic Park game. The later was a huge flop but then they brought us The Walking Dead...

The Walking Dead is a really good story driven game where the player is glued to the screen because it the story is fantastic and you really feel part of it. But! The flip side to that is players the do not like frantic game play are somewhat pushed away because of timers in dialogues and QTEs. There is a part in the second episode that stopped me from playing because of a QTE that I could not complete...

They just brought out a new series called The Wolf Among Us. They used the same engine like in The Walking Dead which so far worked out OK. There is only one episode out by now.

There is a scene in The Wolf Among Us that made me furious and that reminded me of some gripes I had with Mass Effect and that is something I call "Dialogue Disconnect". What I mean by that is a short answer in a dialogue that can be interpreted in different ways and does not match the voice over at all. In Mass Effect there was time to read the short answers, choose one that might be what you want to say and then the voice over says something completely different. In The Wolf Among Us there are longer lines but shorter time to read because of timed dialogues. I had to replay a scene several times because dialogue options have story consequences and if you picked the wrong answer the later game might be changed in a way you not intended.

I understand the move by TellTale to appeal to a broader audience but I really do not like QTEs and I kind of hate the timed dialogues. I really loved the Sam and Max games and liked both the Monkey Island and Back to the Future episodes but I have a problem with the new engine because I am either to slow for it or am not playing with a controller. It is kind of sad that TellTale which I saw as a shining star on the adventure game world. Fortunately there are still developers that make more classic point and click adventure games.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Student Project V: Adventure Toolkit - Sample Game "finished"

The sample game for my adventure toolkit is finished to the point that was set with my tutor. There are two levels and some "loading scenes" around them. It is a classic point and click adventure game with five actions (walk, talk, pick up, use and look at), seven items that can be picked up and three more items that can be gained by combining items. It is called "Dork Tales".

I ended up modeling three different characters, the cat fish mentioned earlier, a frog in a fisherman's coat and hat as well as the main character, a normal human that looks a bit too much like me...

Frog with umbrella (front)
Frog with umbrella (side)
Frog with umbrella (perspective)
Cat Fish with textures (front)
Cat Fish with textures (perspective)
Cat Fish with Textures (side)
Main Char (front)
Main Char (perspective)
Main Char (side)

All models are still somewhat low poly and have simple textures but that is sufficient for the sample game.

Here are some ingame screen shots:

finished level in Editor (without any ui and old shader for the crystals)
That is the latest version (ingame screen shot with ui)

The resolution is 16 to 9 because the camera pans in the first level and in widescreen it was easier to navigate.

The game is not finished at all, it is just the introduction to a bigger game I will try to continue in my free time but inside the scope of the student project it is finished and will be graded as part of the whole project. The play time so far is about five to ten minutes depending on reading speed and puzzle solving skills. The puzzles are quite simple item combinations with some word play involved like binding two ribbons to a bow (tie) and combining that with an arrow sign results in bow and arrow...

I had more word play planned for the game but realized that most of it would involve an extended understanding of the english language which was not present with most of my testers, so I will add more later on and try to integrate other kinds of puzzle elements to balance the word play. The main character is a pen-and-paper role playing gamer but that is something that is not that dominant by now. I will also have to change that because it is his story and apart from a dice bag and some comment on interacting with it and the environment there is no mention of rpg at all, no cliches or no innuendo at all...

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Student Project V: Adventure Toolkit - Progress on Sample Game

As the project processes, I have to work in different disciplines and one of them is 3D modelling in 3D Studio Max. I wanted to use freelancers for these parts but could not find people who had the time to help me out, so I have to do the character models on my own.

One of the models I work on is an obstacle in the early game which is a mix between a lion fish and a cat with the head more cat like. It lives in an underground pond and threatens to eat everything that comes near.

There is still a lot of work to be done on it, like the unwrap, the texturing and eventually the rigging (which I might skip for a time) but I am happy with it so far...

Have some renders:

As for the rest of the game, the mechanics are all finished if not polished and the first room is nearly complete, there are some environment models missing that a friend is still working on and when I get them, I will post some screen-shots of the level.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Student Project V: Adventure Toolkit - Progress and more

I made some progress with my Adventure Toolkit Unity3D add-on (ATK). The dialogue editor is feature complete and working as intended. I changed the look a bit and tried to integrate it more into Unity, I also changed the drawing code for the connection lines so that it displays the ids of parent and child nodes and omits lines that are going from the output of a node to the input of another node that is located left of the starting node. That change improved the visibility a lot and the added ids make the connections more readable.Another added feature is the comment on every dialogue line that can be used to describe emotions and other nodes needed for voice acting or other important notes for every single line.
more visibility by omitting some connection lines and better information on the links by added parents and child ids
The item editor is the next part of ATK that will be worked on and I intent to finish a first version by the end of the week. The item editor will include adding new items and combining items to other items. Unlike the dialogue lines, every item will be saved as a single file that can be opened in the editor and dragged into the scene for placement. There will be two different kinds of items, one that only exists as part of the UI and another that can be placed as mentioned. The second kind will get a mesh component and additional code for handling the pick-up process. There will be a base class that represents all the data needed for the item including an icon for visualisation. Compound items do not need a scene representation so the first kind will only be the base class.
The ingame UI will include a small inventory grid at the lower right of the screen where about ten items can be shown. If there are more items in the inventory, a scrollbar will be visible to scroll up and down through the whole inventory. On the left part of the lower screen there will be action icons for the available interaction types the game will have. There will be the classics like "walk", "talk", "pick up", "give", "look at / examine" and "use". If I include "push" and "pull" depends on the artists I get for my sample game (animations and characters). I will focus on Unity GUI but maybe add NGUI later on. My intention is that the user can use his own UI solution for conversations, inventory and ingame UI but there will be examples and a manual on how to integrate the parts into the mentioned UI solutions and ideas on integration into others.
On other news, the praxis test is finished and handed in. Since the last three weeks were consumed by it, progress on ATK is a bit slow and I am a bit behind my schedule, so I have to do some additional work on the weekend to make up for the lost time. But now, I have a prototype for a level editor that I can use as a basis for a "shippable" CookieX editor.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Student Project V: Adventure Tool Kit - Introduction, progress and more

It is the fifth semester and my last at the Games Academy and this time around I have not found enough other students to work on my idea (a point & click adventure in Unity) and the other projects were not what I wanted to do in my last semester. Apart from group projects we can also do solo projects in which we have a tutor who will supervise the challenge we set for ourselves.
So I really wanted to develop my own point & click adventure and now I am doing that alone. Unfortunately, without much outside help I am not capable to get my ideas in a game, so I decided to build a tool kit with which I might be able to make my ideas reality later on. The first part of the Adventure Tool Kit (ATK) is a dialogue editor with nodes for every line in the conversation.
My work started about three weeks ago and my first working prototype is ready:
Complex dialogue with multiple "hubs", I used the first dialogue of "Magic of Innocence" as an example node network.
Even though it might look ready yet, there are a lot of kinks I have to iron out before calling it "finished". As you can see in the screen shot complex networks with hubs can get kind of confusing to follow so far. There are some features missing that might be important but for that I have to meet with my tutor and show him the process and get his feedback.
The next part will be an item editor and after that I will implement a control system for mouse and touch interaction. The end goal will be a small game prototype were I used my tool kit for content creation.
If the tool kit works as I want it to I might even considering selling it on the Unity Asset Store. If I will provide it as a whole package or a set of components, is not clear yet.
Some artists I worked with have said that they might provide me with some art assets that I can use for my prototype, so it might not end up as crappy as I thought ;P

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Cookie X - Some Progress and Plans for the Future

I started Cookie X as a side project to learn a bit more programming in C#. Unfortunately there was little time or motivation to do much while I worked on Toy Flyer. Especially in the end phase of that project I was happy to not code on the weekend and so Cookie X sank into some kind of dormant state. 

I worked a bit on collision and simple physics but the result so far is not that great. There is the problem that Cookie either flies or his jump is not even noticeable and some collisions are detected irregularly. So far I have only worked with simple sphere and box collisions but those will not work with the platform graphics that "Revenge of the Cookie" used. Implementing my own physics calculations is harder as initially expected and too much for me at the moment. If I want to finish Cookie X, I would have to use some kind of physics engine to help me out. The first project was started in Unity because of that but some disagreements let us to abandon Unity and switch to Torque2D. In hindsight it might have been better to stick with one engine and finish it there as we encountered the same problems as before.

Using a 3D engine for a 2D game might be a bit overhead but I have worked with Unity on two successful projects by now so I might switch from XNA to Unity. Another bonus in Unity is the integrated editor which frees up my time considerably because I don't have to write my own. In one of my classes at the Games Academy we will work on an editor for 2D games in Unity that will be separated from Unity. When it is finished I will integrate mine with Cookie X and could publish them together.

The progress is not lost because I can port my classes to Unity and continue from there. When finished I could even publish the game but that will only happen if I find enough time to recreate the original game and maybe finish it according to the design documents we made for the student project. When the mechanics are working and the editor is integrated I will give it to a friend who was level and game designer for the first game and he can build some levels. Maybe we will even recruit some 2D artist to create additional graphics for platforms or enemies...

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Student Project IV - Post Mortem

The fourth student project at the Games Academy is at an end.

It was quite a challenging project, unfortunately not because of high technical difficulty but because of endurance and staying focussed. We struggled to find a vision we all could live with and could work on, which resulted in a lot of unnecessary work and motivational problem for most team members. We found our vision about three quarters in the given time and had all to work overtime to finish it. I initially wanted to work on Cookie X on the weekends but there was not time for it and I even had to cancel on parties and seeing friends.

The problem was that a helicopter is not really suitable as a vehicle in a racing game, so the game designer played around with different mechanics until he found the "taxi mode", where the player has to transport items from one place in the room to another. Ideas like a rescue helicopter or a real taxi helicopter were tested but not fun enough for us. We wanted something different. And that we found.

Why not build a city out of building blocks via helicopter. That idea was kind of strange at first but combined with a mechanic to pick up blocks and a kind of 3d blueprint of the building to build, it worked. The player controls the helicopter, flies around the room, can pick up blocks of different shape and size that are distributed all over the room, fly with them to a designated building place and drop the block at the right spot in the blueprint.

To accomplish that we build the mechanics and made play tests but the pick up process and the placing inside the blue print was quite difficult. With a target group of casual mobile gamers in mind, the controls were far too difficult. After a long period of time (one programmer being absent helping his wife with their new born kid), we managed to fix even that and in the end we had a nice little casual on the android platform.

Like I mentioned in the previous post, I worked on the UI, menu and asset integration. Unity has some problems with 3rd party revision tools like SVN, so we had some difficulties there but after some mistakes we managed to overcome that obstacle as well. Another curiosity is that 3d models imported into Unity are scaled down to 0.01 of their original size by default. There is a scale option but while importing a bunch of models it was overlooked, which had unwanted results and I was the only one charged with integrating all assets after that. For a mobile project we needed to limit the draw calls as much as possible but if there are two instances of the same model (which use the same material) inside a scene but they are scaled in Unity they will produce two separate draw calls. So, all models had to be scaled outside of Unity and the material had to be versatile enough to be used on as many models as possible. Unity is able to combine meshes that use the same material and that are switched to static (if it is not moved) reducing the draw calls and thereby boosting the performance on mobile devices.

Due to the short time frame at the end of the project we could not implement all the needed tweaks to make the game work with older or less powerful devices than my tablet but we will do so during the next few weeks.