Devlog 1/20/18 – Ouch. Pt 1

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.

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Don’t look too closely. Source

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!

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I’m definitely considering having the bad guy yell “Just see how far you can get with ONE body!” at some point.

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Devlog 1/13/18 – The Problem with Jumping

A big part of the inspiration for The Seeker to have a focus on freedom of movement was Mirror’s Edge. It captured the sense of “actual” first-person in a way I hadn’t seen before and the feeling of leaping over huge gaps, looking down and seeing your body and the distant street level, and having a moment of sheer panic was one of my favorite parts of the game.

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But I found I wanted a little more control over movement in Mirror’s Edge – as strange as that may sound to anyone who’s played it – especially in situations where the player has to navigate several gaps and vertical paths in succession. As much as I wanted to problem-solve my way through these scenarios, my first plan (bashing the jump button and moving toward my destination) usually worked. And this makes sense: save for a few tricky escape-room-style scenarios, Mirror’s Edge is not a puzzle game. I started pondering methods to add to the player’s control of movement to incorporate situations where, for example, they might need a certain “jump strength” to make it over a gap – or be moving at a certain speed while jumping – or a combination of both variables.

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Early attempts involved a bar indicating “jump charge.” Hold the jump button, watch the bar fill, release to jump with that much “charge” added to a base jump strength variable. It doesn’t make much sense for charging a jump to take very long, though, so I found myself just charging the jump for longer than I needed and only jumping with 100% charge. My eyes were also never on the actual bar; they were on wherever I wanted to go, of course! At this point the feature was useless, but I left it that way for quite a while – until a level included a gap that required a certain jump charge, and what was intended to be easy became a point of frustration for me as a player. In this instance, jumping with too much charge would cause me to hit the ceiling and lose forward momentum, and jumping with not enough charge wouldn’t provide enough momentum to clear the gap.

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Even after dividing the jump bar into thirds to help make charge amount more obvious and placing it near the center of the screen, I was still struggling to hit the percentages of jump charge that I wanted. This was around the time I began working on sound design and replacing prototype sounds with ones I liked. Using short ticking sounds that play when a “cell” on the jump bar is filled and rise in pitch with overall jump charge virtually solved the problem. The goal is to train the player to get used to the connection between the blips of sound and jump charge before they need to use less than a fully-charged jump, so when the time comes they (hopefully) know what to do.

Devlog 1/6/18 – The Seeker

With the new year upon me, I realized that my project will hopefully become a product this year. I’ve kept my head down with development for the last year and while I used to post updates on Twitter, those haven’t been on my mind in a while due to moving, getting a new job, and hitting some more involved, time-consuming feature implementations over the last few months.

But now it’s time for some transparency. I’m very very excited about my game and I hope in time you’ll share some of those feelings!

It’s called The Seeker and it follows a man who wakes up in a post-human city, years after his most recent memories. Finding himself in a new bio-mechanical body, he can’t recall who he was before – so he follows instructions from a mysterious voice in a training facility. After gaining some freedom of movement through jumping, climbing, rolling, wall-sliding, wall-jumping and more, he’ll acquire several other abilities as he discovers who he is and the intentions of his faceless guide. The most crucial of these is one never seen before – the ability to switch between bodies as though they were hosts – and it makes up most of the core gameplay in this fast-paced action puzzler.

At this point in development, most of what you’ll see is “final” in terms of the game’s visual style – but of course subject to change. Notably, the characters are using a generic model right now as I seek a character modeler. Some features and mechanics are not yet finalized and will probably change drastically during development.

Without further ado, here’s a taste of the current movement system inĀ The Seeker! Future devlogs will be more in-depth in terms of feature implementation as the game progresses.

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