Incredible proportions. Daunting geometry. Dark, dystopian structures looming on the horizon. It’s a sci-fi game! And normally as a developer I could plaster some images of distant buildings to the edges of the world and get on with building out small-scale level geometry. But in The Seeker the player has superhuman speed and strength; they’re expected to traverse huge distances and gaps, and become more and more agile as the game progresses. A common game design question rears its head: How much freedom can the player be given before it can’t be contained? In other words, what happens if the player finds a way to those cardboard imitations of buildings in the distance – or at least close enough to see that they’re just props? The illusion of immersion can be broken and the whole game can start to feel cardboard-y.
This is why most games have “bars” in them – health, stamina, magic, experience, currency, etc. As backward as it sounds, limitations are core to having fun in games. Compare a self-made millionaire to a lottery winner. Which one would you expect to talk about their money with a greater sense of accomplishment? Plus, the boundaries of a game world – whether physical edges of the map or constraints on the player’s abilities – help to focus the player on the challenges that are intended to be central to gameplay. Ideally, the player should never “win the lottery.”
In The Seeker, swapping control over people’s bodies essentially turns them into resources. While there are no “lives” for the player to spend upon death, there’s a surefire escape from death as long as another robot is in view and close enough to use the switch ability. As such, to make the player use the switch ability and keep them from going through hosts like french fries… people have to die. A lot. It might seem dark, but it affords me plenty of design opportunities for making fast-paced, risk-oriented gameplay. For example: run into a wall doing 60 miles per hour – you’re gonna die. Run out of stamina while stringing wall jumps together and fall 100 feet – dead on impact. Sprint off a building without saving some stamina to roll after falling… not pretty. But it is pretty effective! To succeed, the player must manage health, stamina, energy for switching other abilities, and of course, people’s mortal bodies. And that’s not including running from lethal enemies!
I’m definitely considering having the bad guy yell “Just see how far you can get with ONE body!” at some point.