SSS • Game Design of Shooty Shooty Spyfall

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MMGameDesign

 

Spyfall is a fun game! Whenever we were stuck in the Game Lab for an extended period waiting for rendering, uploading, or downloading, it was a go-to game for me and friends.

Playing it for days and days on end, we grew slightly weary of it and I decided to offer a change in how we could play it. Rather than needing to come to a consensus and voting for the Spy, instead, when any player feels like their deduction is solid, they can take the ‘shot’. This involved ‘finger-gunning’ someone, and shouting BANG loudly. First person to shout BANG and fire takes the shot. And you want to take that shot before anyone else does, BUT not so quickly there’s a high chance of hitting an innocent and giving the game to the Spy.

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Project: Shooty Shooty SpyFall

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SMIntroduction

Shooty Shooty Spyfall was a game that me and friends used to play at University, something I thought up one day, and is a custom take on the fun game Spyfall. It was designed to be a little more competitive since I personally didn’t like the voting system as much.

 

After playing it for some time, during one of the projects, I decided to create it as an app itself. The app was simply designed to help set up the game and give everyone roles, as the game was still played in-person and decided by in-person actions.

 

The game was designed by myself, with all visual and UI also done by me as well, and created to run on Android phones. (which we all had)

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SMDevelopment

Developer: A Panda In Glasses (Solo)

Platform: Windows, Android (Planned) 

Engine: Unity 2D

Available: N/A

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MMGameDesign

 

Shooty Shooty Spyfall was a modified take on the classic Spyfall game that friends and I would play. The difference is fundamentally down to how the game ends and the available actions given to all players, and this goes a long way in changing a lot about how the game is experienced.

It plays out like classic Spyfall except rather than requiring a unanimous vote, any player can “take a shot” at who they think the Spy is, immediately ending the game. This put a lot more pressure and increased the pace of games, changing the feel and enjoyment of it quite a lot more than anticipated.

Click the banner, or the link at the end of this sentance, to read more: Click! 

 

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Project: LENSES

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Introduction

LENSES was a group project I did at University, when we were tasked with creating a fully-fledged Game Demo and pitch it as an Indie studio to a publisher, with the demo being somewhat of a “proof of concept”. I served as the Creative Director and Lead Artist/Level Designer of the Project, writing and designing the game itself (visuals, story, level, and gameplay), including all the promotional and in-game art used, such as UI and on-screen overlays. I also voiced the main character and wrote the Game Design Document (minus the Technical Part) you can see by downloading here: DemoDesignCOMPLETE!

At the start of the project I pushed for us to be more ambitious and not use a tool such as RPG Maker for our game, but use a fully-fledged game engine. Eventually we settled on Unity, and the game creation began.

Post Links

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| Game Synopsis

LENSES is a survival-horror videogame played through the lenses of various security cameras through-out a repurposed World War 2 bunker. It follows ex-Green Beret Sean Kelleher finding out how a security protocol went wrong and caused a chemical catastrophe.

For a graphic breakdown of the game logo and promotional art, which I created, please click here!

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| Screenshots

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Development

| Level Design 

I created the level for LENSES after researching real floor plans for World War 1/2 bunkers. They are very condensed with thick walls and tight spaces, so I prepared to create the map with accuracy in mind. The pen and paper original copy is sadly lost to time, but I mapped out a player route and various gameplay chances and then designed the level around this route. The first design is the beginning of that map.

I then added cameras and the finished blueprint was placed into Maya as a textured 2D plane and the map was created directly from it. After this was done, the cameras were used as references for the adding of them into the game. We all then began to work on cluttering and texturing the map and objects as the camera and lighting was done in Unity. We created the 3D objects in Unity.

When the lighting and cameras were completed, we began to use the objects to clutter.

You can read a more in-depth look into the level design process by clicking right here.

| 3D Objects

Being a demo made for University, we were allowed to use third-party assets. However, we wanted to limit this as much as possible and therefore only used third-party tools for the characters and animations, being a massive under-taking for 3 students. We did however create all the static 3D objects and 2D assets in Maya and Photoshop, with everyone in the group contributing. Above are my models.

| 2D Art

One of the main parts of LENSES was on-screen effects being visible. The overlays for the cameras, as well as the visual effects such as blood and scratches, were created by me using Adobe Photoshop. These were then placed onto each individual camera in Unity. The intention was to create a heightened level of immersion.

Additionally, I created a quick PC system.

One of the main reasons we did this was for the final image shown, which features cameras from inside the game itself. I really wanted this to happen and after some work we figured out how to do picture-in-picture like this and I created the rest of the assets in Photoshop.

Though limited, this was a fully-interactable UI with loading screens made similar to the menu-screen from the game itself, and you could reboot the lighting (thus changing all the lights in the game), as well as open the electronic doors. You would then see an enemy character escape from where they were previously imprisoned, who had full path-finding to come find you.

| Camera Comparisons

This is a quick side-by-side comparison of the cameras in-engine and then the same angles in-game to show the difference the lighting and overlay effects can make to the overall look and immersive feel of the game.

Project: A Panda In Glasses [WIP]

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SMIntroduction

I love games.

 

I love talking about games.

 

I love the colour orange.

 

And A Panda In Glasses is a personal project which brings them all together! APIG is (and will be) a video series created, edited, and presented by myself where I’ll be focusing on games and the teams/design decisions behind them.

 

I enjoy Youtube channels and other kinds of media from a variety of websites, but they seem to mostly focus on the industry. I’d like to instead focus on more behind-the-scenes things and discuss design principles and more, as well as forcing people to look at some very orange videos. We all win.

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MORECOMINGSOON

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Dawn of War III Modding Diary – PART 3

This is Part 3 of my modding diary in Dawn of War 3. For Part 1 click here, and for Part 2 click here!

I enjoy learning by doing. And so this is the third part of my Dawn of War 3 modding diary where I’m learning the tools to design and create maps by simply jumping in and seeing what buttons do what! And chronicling the progress as I go.

It’s something I’ve been enjoying thoroughly, almost as much as playing the game, and I think progress is certainly being made.

For this map, as always, I had a scenario in mind.

Crashpoint

In this map, the scenario is a large Titan-class Imperium ship being shot down by Eldar weapons and crashing down into a swampy area, killing almost the entirety of those inside bar a few. The crash is near to an Eldar relic that is currently being excavated, and the surviving Imperium are slaughtered by angered Eldar.

The map begins with a Space Marine detachment landing in the wreckage to search for survivors, and to investigate the xenos threat. The Eldar, on the other hand, pull additional forces through the webway to ensure their relic remains un-sullied by human hands.

| Map Design

To start with, I created the basic outline of the map’s elevation.

Part1

Instead of increasing the height of the map, which caused problems due to the fixed camera in the game, I began by lowering the height, smoothing the edges, and then raising what needed to be raised. Which will hopefully create a better map.

I then proceeded to pick a base material for the map, which is a dead grass texture, and painted the entire map it to begin with. To create a solid base and get rid of anything un-textured.

Part5

The next step was to create additional lowered areas of the map which would serve as further reservoirs for water.

Part6

And this is it with the water added in, which takes only a few tweaks to the settings and a right click. The water tool in the map editor really is very simple and can quickly make a map look even better. I then just smoothed out some of the edges and continued.

After that I simply added some darker materials underneath the water and at the edges of the water to make it look wet. The texture used is a dark, muddy one.

Part9

And then for an extra boost, I added some plantation to the edges of the water. Just some grass which would give the map a little bit more of a 3D look.

Part10

Adding this grass to the elevated areas and the fields of the unplayable area did add a lot to making the map seem more than just a small playground to play a game in, and actually a cross-section of a planet.

And then it was time to continue to the meat and potatoes of the map.

Part11

These two objects are ruined sides of a large Imperium ship which would be the one that had been shot down by the Eldar. I positioned them slightly apart to make a choke point into what would be the Space Marine’s base, and then simply cluttered it with additional debris and objects.

With that done, I then started to look at making small little stories here and there.

Part15

This small section of destroyed objects was meant to show an initial failed rescue attempt by a drop-pod. There is a ruined Dreadnought beside it, and a crashed troop transport ship on the other side. This was intended to signify potential escapees from when the ship was first shot down, but didn’t last for long as Eldar forces cut them down.

Part16

Finally I added some non-destroyed transport ships and tanks in order to push the scenario of this being a Space Marine battalion arriving at the scene to investigate, landing and then moving out.

Part17

This was the initial plan for how the Eldar base would look; a large platform which would house the weapon in question which shot down the imperial fleet. However, I disliked how barren the map was and so moved things around a little.

Part18

I decided the defences would be on the high-ground, but the actual relic would be in the center of the lake, slightly submerged but still visible. I added a holo-field around the sight and a few other Eldar relics to make it look increasingly important and something the Eldar would die defending.

Part19

This was one such relic I then placed at the center. This was a powerful Soul Stone and a large energy crystal that the Eldar were looking to extract and keep out of Imperial hands.

And after this was done, I simply added the necessary objects to make the map playable, added control points with their resources (control points in the centre of the map featured Elite add-ons and are therefore much more coveted), and then calculated the territories.

Now it was time to test it!

Loaded in, the map was bright and looked good. The submerged wreckage, even with my graphic settings turned down, seemed to look quite good. However, there was still a few problems.

I now see that in my last map, it wasn’t my modded camera tool which was the problem with the grass loading in as, with that tool disabled, the grass continues not to load in. I’ll likely need to look into fog or render settings in order to resolve that.

Additionally, some of the deeper areas of water were impassable despite me not having selected as such. So I will need to be more mindful of deep water in the future, but in this map it didn’t stop it being too much fun.


And that’s my third diary finished! I think the maps are starting to get more detailed and more advanced, and with a clear plan for my fourth Diary I believe that will be the first truly great map with no problems. So stay tuned!

Dawn of War III Modding Diary – Part 2

For Part 1, please click here!

I’ve enjoyed creating maps for Dawn of War 3; not only to play them, but the actual design and process to get them from just an idea to finally playable is a great experience.

And each one is a learning experience. So for each map I’ve been creating, the intention is to keep learning the editor by doing and try out new features for each one. So for this map I had a few initial goals in mind to learn.

Grass/Water

With my last map I had figured out tile painting and textures, but hadn’t looked into a little more advanced forms of features such as both grass and water features I knew the tool had. Therefore the utilization of both of them was intended.

Objects

Previously I had only used necessary game objects; base, generator, turret, etc. And so for this map I wanted to expand the usage of objects somewhat and see what exactly the tool had to offer.

Impassable Terrain

I think deciding where units can go, and where can’t they go, is great when it comes to creating a fun, interesting map. So I wanted to get used to how impassable terrain worked to create more interesting maps.

And with that said and done, here’s the Diary!


 

When first starting the map, I decided to go again with a Desert theme. Deserts are relatively flat with little needed scenery, which I thought would be best. The general theme going into it was a central oasis of water, the only one for miles, which was highly sought after by the different armies.

So to start with, I used the elevation tool to create a small pool and connecting river. I made sure the river would go off out of the playable map area so as to look realistically like a river flowing from a coast.

Step1

After some fiddling with the settings (as the first useage just filled the entire map), I then used the water tool to fill up the area I’d created.

Step2

This worked well. In less than 1 minute the basic premise of the map was already well underway. And now it was just a case of fleshing out the map a bit more to make it appear more substantial.

To start with this, I began painting the edges of the river/oasis with a mud texture.

Step3

This gives the idea of moisture and instantly made it look much more like a river should.

Step4

Next I began to use the grass tool to add some around the edges of the oasis along with the mud. As with the water tool, this was simple to use and was done up and down the river.

Step5

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After the grass was placed, I used a darker muddy texture to paint just underneath the grass which had been placed. To, again, add more boost to the feeling that this was a lone body of moisture in a barren desert.

With the oasis done, I moved onto making the desert feel more believable.

Step7

Deserts aren’t flat and will often have very smooth dunes all over them. So I began creating the idea of dunes. To start with I randomly applied some elevated areas all over the map.

Step8

And then using the smoothing tool in the same tile setting, I gently lowered and smoothed out the dunes to get rid of any ‘sharp’ areas that wouldn’t exist in a desert. This instantly gave the map a much more 3D feeling, rather than an absolutely flat plain.

Step9

I continued this process by then making some additional, larger dunes to begin smoothing.

Step10

Step11

With that done, the map was looking a lot more 3D and interesting.

Next was one of my final main goals of the map, which was impassable terrain.

Step12

The editor features a tool to paint which areas would be passable or not, and by what. So I made sure that the lake itself was impassable, but skimmers were still able to pass over it. Though the settings above don’t show it, I also disabled droppods to avoid a potential bug of drop-podding troops into impassable terrain. As funny as it would be to see a squad of Space Marines stuck in a pool, I decided best to avoid that scenario.

Step14

And with that done, the bulk of the map was done in regards to the actual design and it was time to clutter with a few objects.

The story I had in my head was that this Oasis was once part of an Eldar outpost, and so I used ruined and destroyed Eldar objects in order to populate the area slightly and make it look like that. Though abandoned for a long time, now while in the system the Eldar want it back, the Space Marines want to capture it, and the Orks are just looking for a good fight. As Orks do.

Step15

I decided to use this arena to create the Eldar base, which Player 3 would start in.

Step16

I used the map editor to make it look like it was a much larger structure that had been buried under the sand. Due to how sand moves, it worked well to make it look ‘filled’ with sand, unlike other terrains which would very obviously look like it was clipping through.

Step18

I then added a few more objects around the oasis, continuing the theme of ruined Elder structures, and also painted the tiles underneath a darker colour. Following on from the above, this was to suggest the idea of these objects being slightly buried rather than standing on the surface.

Step19

And the final step in adding a bit extra was this large Eldar forcefield. To make it appear that, though destroyed, the Eldar technology still functions and could have been the reason the Space Marines and Orks picked it up in the first place.

Step20

This was what I decided the Ork base to look like. A giant pile of metal in the desert seems fitting of the race in question. I added huts to make it appear more like a settlement that had grown over time rather than just a hulk of metal randomly there.

Step21

And for the Space Marines I added a few Imperial artifacts, as if to show that the Marines had once tried to capture this area and failed. But in the background I added a variety of ships to suggest that this was yet another assault by a different Space Marine chapter rather than a continued battle.

Step23

And with that the 3 bases were completed, and I added in the necessary gameplay objects in order to make the map playable.

Step24

And after generating the territories, I can see that apart from the Eldar one being a bit smaller, they’re all relatively equal in size. The Eldar terrain being smaller I believe to be counter-balanced by it being closer to the Oasis.

Step25

And this is the terrain after adding in control points. I decided to add in a variety of points around the map, but specifically the 5 points in the centre all feature Elite resource captures. Which makes them very sought after. In such an open map, a 9-point Elite could be devastating.

I saved the map, exported it, and booted up DOW.

Step26

There is the map all available to see in the select tool.

Step27

And here it is in action. I’m using a camera tool to zoom out further and so that is why the game looks a bit white; the fog scales with the camera.

Step28

And this is a picture of me showing the impassable terrain working. No matter how hard the

Another issue with the camera zoom, it seems, is the grass not loading in. As the game was not designed to have an unlocked camera zoom, that is just a by-product of my game and something I’ll look to fix in the future.


But that’s it done!

I believe I learned a few things which I’ll be applying to my next map.

  • Height & Camera
    • The height of the map was left to default or raised, but I believe this was a mistake as the camera felt very zoomed in initially. I think initially lowering the height of the entire map and making the playable area much lower will be able to remedy that situation.
  • Impassable Terrain
    • The impassable terrain worked perfectly! I look forward to using it more.
  • Objects
    • And I believe I figured out the movement and rotation of objects very well. I’d like to be a bit more adventurous in mixing objects with impassable terrain.

For next time, I want to look into the lighting a little more, to make it seem more dynamic (as I saw a few options for it while browsing the tool), and ensure the elevation is correct!

And already I have a great idea for the next one, too.

Level Design – LENSES Demo

I touched upon the Level Design of LENSES on the project page itself, but I thought I would do a longer post explaining thoughts and decisions which went into the finished design.

To see the full Project Page, please click here!

| Background

When beginning the group project we decided to all come up with an idea and then fairly vote on who’s idea we liked the most. After pitching mine, my project idea received the most votes and I was settled as the Creative Director.

There was a variety of reasons why I decided on the setting and time period of the game, which is 1980s Western Slovkia. One of the reasons was the availability of pursuing Historical Accuracy.

Most other groups in the module created fantasy games set in mythical fantasy worlds. Though I enjoy that type of game, I liked that our project was more unique by being more grounded and real, and when it came to designing the demo I had a lot of History available; before beginning to design the level itself, I researched floor plans of bunkers all over the world to get a rough idea of how I could attain Historical accuracy which would go a long way in making the game demo feel believable and realistic.

And bunkers seemed to share a few small features:

  • Condensed area.
  • Thick walls.
  • Enclosed rooms/corridors.
  • Visible piping/wires.

With this research completed, I began designing the level.

| Level Design

It was planned out on paper before any graphic design was done, but sadly that original copy has been lost. However, this was the very first design that I used, re-creating the original in Adobe Photoshop using line tools.

Design1

Initial Level Design

I had the primary route the player would take all mapped out to begin with, as well as gameplay opportunities and the general flow that the demo would have, and created a floor plan like the ones I had researched. Lots of small rooms and tight spaces, which was perfect for a horror title.

Design2

Added Cameras

The next step was to add cameras, these being necessary for it to function as a game how we wanted it to. The intention was to ensure every possible space of the map where the player character could walk would be covered by the cameras.

To do this, I actually created a little cone by cutting paper out and I would hold it up to the screen to create a small “vision cone” for the cameras. Despite getting told off for using blu-tak to attach these to the computer screens in Pandon Basement at University, I believed this was a very easy way to do it and get feedback from others in my team, as anyone could move a cone.

An additional reason for doing this rather than actually creating cones to move around on Photoshop was my teammates not being very well-versed with Photoshop. This way, everyone could pitch in equally and I believe everyone working together to get the cameras perfect was a great team-building exercise and produced a clear, concise plan for later use when creating this in Unity.

Design3

Labels added for rooms

The next step was labelling the spawn point (which was E, meaning Entrance), and putting some of the room names in. These would be vital when I began to create the camera overlays themselves, as they would feature accurate IDs for where they should go. This massively helped with the organisation in-engine.

Design4

Added verticality

One of the final steps was adding verticality, showing where the stairs would be. Sadly due to problems with the engine, only two of these remained in the title itself, which is the stairway on the far right and we added elevated areas to the far left.

We had issues with the physics engine and character animations, and therefore decided to keep elevated areas to a minimum in order to avoid this problem as much as possible. The stairs in the final level would get edited many times in an attempt to alleviate these problems, and thankfully we were successful in them not showing in the final product.

Design5

Image effects to make it look like a blueprint

And this was the final design, where I added some post-processing to make the blueprint look more interesting when shown to our tutors, as this was required to be in our Design Document. This was done easily by duplicating the line-layers which made up the floor plan and using Photoshop’s fragment effect and lowering the opacity. Small lighting and other effects were added and our tutors commented favourably on this design.

Design6

The map re-created in Maya

This was the big next step. We had used Maya in our 3D Modelling & Animation module, and therefore it seemed appropriate to use it for the level. There were a few attempts to try and create a level but they all produced rather unfavourable results. We couldn’t quite match the level design I had done earlier, and I was resilient to the large amount of changes that were sometimes suggested to make it “easier” to do. This would have resulted in a much more plain and smaller area to explore.

After some thought, I then decided to use my design as an actual floor plan rather than simply as reference to look at. I created a 2D plane in Maya, and then textured it with the blueprint I had created. Textures were then turned on in modelling tools and this gave a perfect reference to then create what you see above, which is a fully 3D version of the original level. After it was completed, the original 2D plane was hidden.

Doing this was a massive success and the base level was completed in a much shorter time than we had initially planned out during the Project Planning phase.

Design7

And imported into Unity

The level was imported into Unity, and myself and my teammates began work in different areas; I started to create all of the 2D assets and write the script, as well as helping with creating static 3D models, as the others created more 3D models and worked on programming the game itself.

When we had created enough 3D models to ensure variety (the time saved on the actual Level Design I wanted spent on creating a wide variety of models, so we spent longer on that than originally planned) and the base game was relatively completed, the lighting and character models being available now, we began mass-importing objects from Maya into Unity and clutter the map.

Here you can see some of the models I created for the map.

When we created the models, we did so by placing them inside the original level design. I wanted this to happen to very easily ensure that scale and size were coherent despite the models being made on different machines and potentially different settings. Doing this allowed us to very efficiently import them into Unity as most did not require any re-sizing.

Design8

Final map

What you see above is the final result after all the modelling, texturing, and lighting was completed. The floor texture was actually created by me in much the same way as the level itself; I created the different textures as a 2D image on Photoshop, all connected, and then we applied it beneath the floor plan to create a seamless full texture of the ground.

And that was the level design completed! For the project we received an 85/100 overall and I believe it was very accomplished for a 3-person student team to create in only 6 months.

For a full look at the project, please click right here to go to the project page.

Dawn of War III Modding Diary – Part 1

I’ve always been a massive fan of the Dawn of War franchise, being a Warhammer 40k tabletop player, and I am very happy with the third installment in the series. And therefore I decided to try my kind at creating maps to play using the World Editor tools available for DOW3.

This is my first attempt at making maps in order to learn the tools; despite it being not fully fledged and still needing additional work, I thought it would be interesting to keep a note of how my progress was going in learning how to create functional and fun maps for the game. This is Part 1 of this progress diary.

| Map #1 – Canyon01

HCanyon01

My first map – Canyon01

Being the very first map I created, I expected much more difficulty in getting this to work but the level editor tools provided by Relic surprised me in how simple and robust they are in creating a playable map, and Canyon01, as you can see from the above screenshot I took, is very much playable.

The first step in creating the map was simply the terrain itself. This map began as being inspired by my favourite map in Dawn of War 1 which featured 4 raised areas for each base and a central point to attack. Though DOW3 does not have a gamemode to facilitate such a map, I decided that making the central point the only resource which can earn you valuable Elite points would be a worthy trade.

I also ensured that the map was reflected equally to make sure fairness was guaranteed for all players.

CStep1

Step One

I began by raising the 4 corners of the map to higher values, and then created mid-way bridging gaps between them in order to make them feel less like a “drop”. The Editor tools have a very easy way to do this; the yellow lines in the above diagram is the terrain that is ready to have its default height-value shifted, and then it can be edited further from there.

After this being completed, I used a geometry tool in order to add a bit more 3D to the desert-like map with dunes and hills, as well as smoothing the heightened terrain already made.

CStep2

Step Two

And then, in the above image, I began painting the map with textures to make it look a lot more dynamic. My goal in this design was a desert area with hidden structures underneath being revealed; many planets in Warhammer 40k have hidden Necron tombs beneath them, and that was the general theme I had for this map.

CStep3

Step Three

And this is an aerial shot of the map having been completed. All of the metallic-areas of the map will house the resource and capture points, with the central area featuring more valuable capture points worth fighting for. The stone areas will house each of the four bases, and in a team game, teams are placed opposite one another.

Overall I was relatively happy with how it looked, and I didn’t wish to add any additional layers which could impact performance on the map. Figuring I had a grip of the texturing tools I decided to advance and learn additional elements of the map creator, which would be the features necessary to actually play; objectives.

CStep4

Step Four

And this is the map after it is populated by all the control points and bases for each of the four teams that are playable. These objects are selected and spawned onto the map, where they can be dragged and moved freely, and then they need assigned to each team member. Team 1 is in the top left corner, Team 2 is in the bottom right, Team 3 in the top right, and Team 4 in the bottom left.

CStep5

Step Five

Finally I added victory conditions for the map, which would be the Power Cores that need destroyed and the shield generators along with them, and then finished off with the “Calculate Voroni” option of the Map Editor, which generates these coloured boxes which are each teams, or resource point’s, territories.

As an example of what they are, the dark purple colour on the left-hand side of the screen is Player 1’s territory. Their spawn points need to be within that colour tile. This limits some of the scenarios that can be done, but I intend to explore further the different ways to spawn enemies.

After that it was a case of saving the map, exporting it, and jumping into Dawn of War 3 to test it out.

CStep55

Canyon! It’s there!

The map I’d just made was readily available for selection when creating a custom offline game. I noticed here that the (2v2) parts of the maps are actually part of their names, and so I will ensure later maps will be called someone akin to “(2v2) Canyon” to ensure consistency.

CStep6

In-game screenshot

As you can see, this is the map working relatively perfectly! I would go on the play most of the game and everything functioned perfectly well.

However, one glaring problem you can see is how everything seems relatively zoomed in. Due to DOW3 limiting how far you can zoom out, this seems to have been an issue with my map having elevated areas be too elevated. For later maps, more slight increases in height levels will serve to provide a substantially better experience.

However, overall, I would consider my very first map to have been a success! And so it was straight onto the second. Look out for Part 2.


Essay: Established Characters and Player Choice

Introduction

Player choice has been an increasing part of video games in recent times; alternate endings on older titles such as Silent Hill 2 were popular at the time with any kind of dialogue options relegated to old Computer RPGS, but now it seems dialogue options and a branching storyline that changes as you play and reacts to your decisions are the new thing which videogames have embraced.

And it seems like a natural progression playing to the strengths of the videogame medium. Immersion and the increased effect on emotions and urgency on the consumer cannot be replicated by purely visual mediums like movies and television. Unlike a movie, in a videogame you do not simply observe things happening but actively do them, and games seem to have moved away from long movie-like dialogue in favour of keeping the player engaged with giving them input not only in the gameplay sections, but in the story too.

Not all games have moved forwards in doing this. Lauded titles such as The Last Of Us had us be a witness to the decisions which Joel made and challenged us with “Do you agree or not?”, rather than offering us a choice. There is a definite place for games which continue this method of narrative design, and player-choice is still mostly seen in RPGs.

In games which feature these branching storylines and a large amount of player choice in what your character both does and says, there seems to be 2 very clear choices to a designer on the type of character that the player will control. These being an established character with their own backstories and personalities already established, and characters who are more of a blank slate which can be moulded to the liking of the player.

As a Game Designer and naturally being very interested in Narrative Design, I’ve often thought about these two types of characters and the ways in which they strengthen the games that they are in and effect how the choices of the story are shown to the player.

To begin with, I will discuss two characters from different videogames to represent both of these options. For the established character I will be discussing Geralt of Rivia from the Witcher franchise, and for the more ‘blank slate’ character I will be discussing Commander Shephard of Mass Effect.

| Established

geralt1

Geralt of Rivia

Geralt of Rivia, before we even touch the first game of the Witcher franchise, is an already established character with pre-existing relationships, a defined personality and appearance, and traits and quirks that are well known and solidified. He’s a good character whom will go out of his way to help those in need, and at the same time is furiously against those he would deem to be evil and can and will end the lives of individuals who appear to be just that. He is judgemental and un-forgiving in this, but among friends he is sarcastic and has an almost young and immature sense of humour.

Being an already established character, this instantly changes the way in which choices are given to the player. Decisions can only feature a limited spectrum of choices realistic to the character; Geralt would never act in certain ways, and so the options which are offered to the player to choose from need to remain within the bounds of his personality and character traits.

An example of this is one moment during the Witcher 3 when investigating a murder in Novigrad. After investigating the body, you discover that an individual looted the corpse before it was handed over to the morticians. When he admits to what he did and apologizes, you are offered two choices. You can angrily tell him to get out of your sight immediately, or you can punch him in the face.

As you can see, there is no “Forgive him” or “Get out of here, scamp!” options as, realistically, Geralt would never forgive such an action. Geralt will condemn such seedy and nasty tactics such as stealing from a body, and the decisions which are offered to the player accommodate this trait.

Witcher 3 was therefore written with a more focused story in mind than others could do, as you do not decide what kind of character Geralt is but mainly steer him to whichever way his moral compass may land in a situation. Will you angrily condemn a bandit for stealing, or will you attack and kill them? Some options will allow Geralt to be apathetic to certain situations but he will continue to not support actions he would deem wrong or evil.

| Un-established

shephard1

Commander Shephard

Commander Shephard, on the other hand, is less of an established character than Geralt is. At the beginning of the first Mass Effect game you can choose your character’s first name, origin, and class. During the story, there is a lot more freedom to shape Shephard to be the kind of character you want. Rather than offering options simply on a spectrum of what a character like Geralt would do, Mass Effect can offer options of a more broad range.

Paragon and Renegade are the two styles of Shephard which you can be. You can be a force for good in the galaxy, going out of your way to save lives and refuse to buckle your morals under pressure; or you can be a blood-thirsty rogue who does whatever needs to be done to see success, no matter who it costs.

Shephard is not a completely blank slate, despite this choice given to the player. No matter which type of Commander you want to be, Shephard is not evil beyond all recognition or wish galactic-scale destruction. Whether good or bad, they do work to save the galaxy from threats such as the Reapers and they are usually pragmatic and stubborn in their resolve to do tasks such as that. But the means as to how that goal is met is up to the player.

Effect on Narrative

Both types of characters have ways in which they strengthen the narrative of the game and the decisions of the player.

| Established

More focused story-telling

The established character is easier to have explore a more focused story as the narrative does not need to be written almost in half to accommodate wildly different choices being made by the player. Going from Point A to B will usually be more consistent and easier to predict, and it’s the journey which is more the experience than the destination.

CD Projekt wrote Witcher 3 very well in that they offered scenarios with a lot of grey area to them and that enabled Geralt and the players themselves to make more broad, wider-impact choices without sacrificing the consistent of the character. This is arguably a lot harder than being able to offer almost any spectrum of choices the writer wishes to.

Easier to write consistently

Due to them often featuring a wide and pre-existing backstory and, as mentioned above, the stories they’ve involved in often being more focused, its usually easier to write the character as being very consistent in their personality and traits. In games like Mass Effect, you are free to flip back and forth between good and bad, but this can often leave your Shephard acting somewhat un-characteristically based on how they usually interact.

An established character won’t usually run into that issue and not only is it easier on the writer and game designers, but this will allow more focus on the quality of the writing itself.

| Blank Slate

Player Freedom

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Due to not being held down by a pre-established backstory and personality, the range of decisions that can be made, and the consequences which happen because of them, can be of a much wider range that from games which have an already created character. Some games such as Fable even go so far as to allow your character to be absolute good or absolute evil, with you deciding which route you wish to go down.

This improves the freedom of the player substantially in them not only playing the game how they want but experiencing and crafting the story how they want too.

Immersive

One aspect of videogames that will always give it an edge in story-telling over any other medium is the immersive way in which you interact with it, rather than simply view the content. And giving the player control of not only the game but of the story itself can potentially enhance the immersion and increase engagement.

All games can be immersive, but the wide range of choices and the absolute freedom to engage with the game as you see fit in every way possible is a significant factor as to why many RPGs feature even blanker characters than a one like Commander Shephard.

Conclusion

Videogames are an exciting and creative medium for telling stories, being able to tell a story in ways that are otherwise impossible and that will always be their greatest strength and the reasoning as to why videogame stories deserve the accolades which they get. Player choice in games, popularized in less core audiences by Telltale’s games like The Walking Dead and other story-telling titles such as Life is Strange, seems here to stay.

Regarding the essay title itself, and as mentioned before, there is room for all types of games. Stifling creative minds or believing any types of games are “wrong” or “won’t work” is counter-productive to maintain such a creative and progressive industry, and player choice is one such way that the industry is progressing in how they tell a story to the player.

And within that medium, there is room for both established characters and blank characters that allow the player to shape them as they wish. Both strengthen the narrative in different ways and as long as the tory is well written with the type of character in mind, there’s no reason to believe it can’t succeed as an entertaining and potentially thought-provoking story.


Essay: The Portrayal of War in Videogames

This was a 2500 word essay I wrote at University. We were tasked with writing an essay on a video game theme, and I decided that looking at how war is portrayed in games could lead to an interesting essay.

The Portrayal of War in Videogames

| Abstract

War is the physical culmination of human conflict, and has been a popular thematic depiction in media for decades. In this report I will be investigating the portrayal of realistic warfare in videogames, a medium which has been growing substantially through the years; I will be doing this by researching and discussing common thematic principles and the reasoning for their inclusion, as well as the different forms which the videogames can take and the reasons and experience-related differences which can occur from them. The players who play them and the effect these games can potentially have of them will also be discussed. Sources and references are taken from a variety of publications and backgrounds to ensure reliable results and discussion points are brought up.

Introduction

The setting of War has been a common theme portrayed in media through-out the ages, in books, movies, and television series. In modern times it has been used as a form of propaganda to support wars (Paris, 1987) and are considered a highly influential theme on public opinion of current warfare (Griffin, 2010); it has also been used for educational purposes in documentaries or dramatized fictions of real-life actions performed by soldiers in warfare, as well as purely for entertainment purposes.

Not only has it been common in movies and television, but it has become an increasingly common thematic scenario in video-games (Cowlishaw, 2005). Both war and military have become elements found in a variety of modern games, but the portrayal of the same theme can vary across different products to a high degree.

Thematic Elements

Despite the very different portrayal of War between video-games of different genres and even cultures, with militaristic videogames developed in the now growing Eastern European videogame industry (Crawley, 2014) despite initially worrying conditions (Mezihorak, 2004) having a stark difference in nature to Western counterparts, videogames based around War do tend to share some elements to their narrative and experience.

| Realism

Most videogames based upon war are realistic in their aesthetics and events portrayed, though with exaggerations to what an individual can do and liberties taken in order to ensure a fun experience is not corrupted by an overly-realistic simulation of warfare. Authenticity is an important part of these types of games however, and strides will be taken to ensure the realism of what is depicted heightens such a point. (Constantine, 2004)

Photo-realism is often a graphic level aimed for, a term coined in the 80s and one which describes graphics that strive to look as close to real-life as is possible. Though discussion often happens over the importance of graphics in videogames, with some condemning studios for putting graphics above gameplay (Beaudette, 2014), realistic visual styles are thought to increase immersion and impact of real events. A Market Research Group’s study revealed, of their cross-section, 75% of players said a game’s visuals did impact their potential purchase of it, however. (Usher, 2014)

| Violence

Violence is an unavoidable trait of War, and as such is also a common theme with videogames, with many of the most popular games based upon this theme featuring varying, but always consistent in initial appearance, levels of brutality and violence. An employee at a Digital Marketing Agency discussing Call of Duty’s worldwide success (Skipper, 2016) commented that,

“If you want to create a good narrative, you need to create conflict, and violence is a really easy way to create conflict.”

(Yenigun, 2013)

Arguably one of the most potent instances of human conflict would be War itself, and it is commonly used as an easy way to portray realistic conflict to drive narratives, with videogames often depicting fictional wars either in modern times or another time period and not always using conflicts based upon real-life events. (Archer, 2013)

Violence in videogames has been a hot topic for many years, with the discussion of its influence on those who play them being something a large amount of people have dedicated their time to try and either prove or disprove. Studies into if it can cause them to be more violent have returned inconclusive, with no evidence for or against if this is true. (Makuch, 2014), (Dotinga, 2015)

Andy McNab, a Veteran of the British SAS Special Forces, believes that the violence in videogames inherently teaches children morality, in contrast to what many others sometimes believe.

“The characters in games are now as culturally iconic as the likes of David Beckham. And they’re probably better role models than most in normal life. Because, ultimately, the heroes in these games do the right thing. These games are teaching lessons of morality through a well-known medium — violence.”

(Hargreaves, 2012)

| Death

As with violence, death is an unavoidable part of warfare and as such is also an unavoidable part of videogames depicting War. People around the main playable character will often die, whether you learned of their names or not, and their deaths can come in a variety of ways, and are not solely kept to happening only to other soldiers.

Death, however, is not always just happening around the player. In Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, there is an emotional scene of the main character, Pvt. Jackson, and his team being in the radius of a nuclear warhead being detonated, and the frightening scenes of him crawling through the wreckage and slaughter of his team before finally succumbing to his wounds and you slowly lose control of him (Workman, 2014), (Holleman, 2012). Though death is expected, it is still a powerful and emotional story-telling technique and War videogames arguably utilize it more than any other genre.

Betrayal & Sacrifice

A common element which occurs during videogames based on War is that of sacrifice or betrayal; it is often used as a narrative option to add some form of meaning and reasoning behind a death of a character that is known to the player, unlike the many deaths which are often witnessed. Examples of this are Mordin Solus in the videogame Mass Effect 3, who sacrifices himself to bring about an end to a conflict which has occurred over centuries, and the character Ghost in Modern Warfare 2 who is shot before being able to react to a betrayal as the player character themselves lays there dying.

“No Russian”

An extremely controversial scene in the videogame Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Revoir, 2009) was an optional mission (making it optional being retroactively added in due to the potentially distressing nature of the actions depicted) that had the player control a soldier whom had infiltrated a terrorist organisation amidst a heightening tension and War. This group of enemies you are with enter an airport with firearms drawn and proceed to kill every civilian they see, making their way through the airport leaving none alive.

One of the designers had this to say about what they were attempting to accomplish with the mission No Russian.

“We were trying to do three things; sell why Russia would attack the US, make the player have an emotional connection to the bad guy Makarov, and do that in a memorable and engaging way.”

(Senior, 2012)

Death here was used as a tool to heighten the player’s negative emotions in regards to the main villain of the videogame, Makarov, with the controversy mainly being around the use of innocent civilians as the victims rather than soldiers, with the former not being expected to be killed mercilessly during conflict.

War as a Game

| First Person Shooter

One of the most common types of videogames based on War are first-person shooters and includes franchises such as Call of Duty and Battlefield. They are played through the eyes of a soldier, sometimes switching to different soldiers in differing positions of the war, with a few elements often being shared across iterations of this genre.

Lower Ranked

One shared element often seen in first-person shooter videogames is playing as a lower ranked soldier, often being a Private or Corporeal rather than anyone of a higher rank. This is usually used as a tool for easier progression in a videogame, where following orders and being moved through a linear and cinematic path being easier on level and game designers than otherwise. (Dyer, 2012)

| Strategy 

Another common videogame format which is utilized for war-based thematic videogames is that of the real-time strategy game, which would include Company of Heroes and Age of Empires, a modern and medieval take on the concept, respectively. Some strategy games are played in real-time and others are turn-based, allowing different sides or teams a dedicated ‘turn’ each to decide what to do. The latter is considered much more approachable, whereas real-time feels more real. (Shafer, 2013)

Higher Ranked

An RTS is the opposite of the FPS, in that you do not play as a single soldier, but instead command what is often an entire army or squadron of soldiers and a variety of other available units, such as vehicles. This is a stark comparison to the common FPS where you are not being told what needs to be done, but instead ordering units to do things at your whim.

FPS VS RTS

| Appeal

The two very different, main forms of War-based videogame product may depict similar events, with Call of Duty 4 and Company of Heroes sharing missions where you control the SAS, a Special Operations division of the British Army, they do so in very differing ways and the appeal of each shifts wildly to suit different players.

Pacing in either types of videogames vary wildly, with the density of narrative content of the FPS, being much faster in nature, being higher than that of a strategy game which tackles larger scale warfare over a longer period of time. (Shafer, 2013) This can appeal to different audiences; not every player likes fast-paced titles, and so may be swayed more towards the tactical mind required in a strategy game rather than the fast reaction times needed in a first-person war shooter.

Player Types

There are a variety of player-types that have been researched and discovered, with Bartle having produced the most unified example of them which is used by many as a basis for discussion even today. (Stewart, 2005). Those who play videogames based on War often fall into either the Killers or Achievers category; the former being relatively self-explanatory, those who decide to kill others and tend to be emotionally detached somewhat, and the latter referring to players who long for a sense of achievement. Something military videogames offer.

As well as Bartle, there is an additional temperament table used to judge players, Kerisey, with most fans of videogames depicting War likely falling into the Artisan category; words associated to players of this category are “realistic, tactical, manipulative, pragmatic, action-focused, sensation-seeking.”

In the article sourced above written by Bart Stewart for Gamasutra, he cross-referenced the two player-type tests above, as well as some additional ones, in order to create a more in-depth and unified table for judging players. This is below,

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Unified Player-Type Table (Stewart, 2005)

The two I listed both fall together; players will favour Power, with solve problems found within videogames by their performance most of all, and their overall goal when playing the videogame title is to ‘Do’ things, rather than Have, Know, or Become something else. I believe this to be an apt description of general players who enjoy titles such as Call of Duty, and the style of player those types of games often cater for.

Empowerment

War-like videogames, with you playing sometimes as the one soldier who accomplishes monumental feats and saves the lives of many others, can be considered very empowering to the player, featuring just enough challenge to not be impossible, but to also have accomplishment upon completion of events. (Avard, 2014). As Alex Avard phrased it,

It’s a form of empowerment that can’t be effectively described by mere words but perhaps instead by an analogy to watching a Michael Bay film; you know that it’s far from the best or most satisfying experience out there, but that child-like nature in all of us can’t help but indulge in the chaos and destruction on display.

(Avard, 2014)

However, not all empowerment can be considered a good thing. Anders Behring Breivik, the perpetrator of the 2011 Norwegian Attacks, commented during his testiomony that he had used the videogame Call of Duty in order to train for the shootings which occurred, which caused the death of 69 people. (Narcisse, 2012). The use of weapons and becoming a soldier can have a powerful effect on people, though Breivik was declared clinically insane prior to explaining this. (BBC, 2011)

Comparison with other Entertainment Mediums

Videogames have joined other entertainment mediums like Television and Movies in the portrayal of warfare, and share a variety of similarities with them.

Historical Accuracy is one element shared between all entertainment mediums, and is the case in videogames as well; the second Call of Duty videogame was “focused more on historical accuracy than its predecessor” (Bacchus, 2011), and features battles in the American and Pacific episodes of World War 2. It features the same campaign as Easy Company took during the European Liberation, featured in the military series Band of Brothers, both featuring Bastogne as a location. Though both were naturally dramatized for playing and viewing entertainment, respectively, they do remain accurate to the events which happened. (Smith, 2001)

Despite violence being shown in all mediums, videogames tend to not show-case the extreme violence that movies have done. Saving Private Ryan is one of the most critically acclaimed movies depicting the D-Day landings at Omaha beach, with a variety of perfect reviews (Ebert, 1998) and praise given to the realistic and brutal depiction of war and even being overwhelming for Veterans (The Times-Union, 1998).

Videogames depicting similar events, however, do not go in so much depth. Reasoning for this is not often explored, but the graphical processing required for it would be large and is likely the main reason limbs remain attached to bodies despite explosions, and similar things, and only blood is seen.

Conclusion

War in videogames has been a growing concept and, though considerably younger as an entertainment media than both movies and television, arguably it seems to have caught them up in regards to the maturity and realism as to what a videogame will portray. Though the actual depiction of war can vary wildly, with videogames as a medium having a more vast array of ways in which they can be produced unlike other entertainment forms, the various games still show war in similar ways; they show-case the realism and violence of it, they don’t shy away from that, and it is often used as a narrative tool in order to install high levels of emotion on the player. The lack of that could be de-sensitized when War is not like that, and the bonds of soldiers are a powerful thing. (Puiu, 2014)

Arguably what can be depicted by videogames in regards to warfare can only improve as technology and hardware does as such; with sales of militaristic videogames continuing to be high, this medium will likely have many more years to grow.


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