A New Game
I’ve been into the making and prototyping of a game from scratch the past bit less than a year. The topic of it was open, and it was up to me to decide what exactly I want to develop.
Before we go into what the game is about, its story, genre and so on, I want to spend a few lines talking about my initial few other ideas. The ones I went through before deciding to go with the one that I am working on right now.
The Rules. So to say.
Why am I making the game? What are the requirements towards it? Well, for one, making games is fun. I am an artist and a designer, so why not apply all of my skills in one place and make a whole game? But there is more than that obviously. I need this game for university. This is one of my graduation projects for BA (Hons) in Games Design at University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK.
As far as rules go at uni, well there is a big and important one. I have to develop everything on my own, from scratch. And that is what dictates the strongest the reasoning to why exactly I chose this idea out of the total three I had initially.
Initial Idea 01
Time Rupture is a game idea I came up with together with my brother, Miroslav Dimitrov, in the distant past year of 2013. The project was created in the span of a single weekend and a bit. 72 hours. For the famous game jam website Ludum Dare. You can see our initial submission over at our blog there.
The idea behind the game was simple; you are a time traveller, who created a time-travel machine. You go on said machine and start to teleport through different time dimensions, going in the past, future and so on. Though the very first teleportation though, something goes wrong. The machine breaks down and pieces of it spill around you. Ten seconds pass and you are suddenly teleported somewhere else. At every teleportation you can go around and collect random bits of metal and machine pieces. Those increase your score. When the ten seconds go through, you must be back on the machine. If you are not at it, it teleport itself without you and you are suddenly stranded. You lose the game.
Screenshot 01 - The player finds themself stranded in 2nd Century. Somewhere in Northern Thrace.
The idea of the game was kind of elegant in its simplicity. And as it is with most nice things, it was born out of prerequisite, not out of pure wit. The condition that birthed it was the rule of the game jam. Its theme which participant were bound to follow.
The theme read: 10 Seconds.
I though it might be cool if I were to recreate the game. 3D low-poly art with some interesting light effects and particles. Assembled in Unreal Engine 4, programmed there with Blueprints. Props modelled in Maya, texturing in Substance Painter and Designer.
And to back up the idea, we really did get quite a good score at the competition back in 2013, proving that there is potential in the concept:
We placed number 69 for the theme. Out of a total of 2213 game entries.
I really though the idea is simple and I would be able to recreate it and even improve onto it for the one year I have at uni to develop everything.
The only thing that sort of stopped me is the fact that I am an artist and designer, but not much of a programmer. I can do simple visual scripting in Blueprints (which came out to not be very simple in the current state of the project, but we shall see that in the next posts), but I can’t really code anything complex in any language. And I wanted to be able to do justice to things like spawning different mechanical parts and elements into the world, using some algorithm a bit more complex and elegant than what I can sadly do on my own.
I talked to my teachers and they said its fine if I have some help from outside. With the programming that is. As long as I keep all of the art and design elements/mechanics completely from me. And so I knew I could bring my brother to the project, and have him program a few algorithms for me. I decided to leave it to that though, and explore more ideas and maybe stumble across something I can execute more independently, just on my own.
Initial Idea 02 - Running Out of Space
Model in Maya that I created as an initial proof of concept.
For this game I didn’t have a working title, but again more of a working theme. Again from Ludum Dare (you can probably already guess I sort of really like that event and game jam website :P). The theme was Running Out of Space. And it sort of aligned with some ideas and notes I had been doing prior to going in the jam. The jam was held during a weekend in August, 2018. We didn’t manage to create anything playable or to submit anything, but it was still a nice exercise of generating ideas.
Initial notes and a quick sketch I did back then.
Initial camera view I tested. The game would be a 2.5 side view, where in 3D space you assign units what to do. You gather and manage resources and space people.
I had some additional ideas that I though would fit perfect into this game concept. But there was one thing - in a staggering opposition with everything I said previously with the Time Rupture game idea. It’s the fact that, if I were to make this game, a sim in genre, where you deploy all kinds of units around the ship, it would require really importantly on one important thing. That thing is artificial intelligence. I would need a good AI. One that would control the units and make them move around the ship. It would let them execute the tasks the player has given them.
Well that was an idea more complex in programming than anything else I had though about. And even though I am keeping it in my records as a project I might go back to on day, it was by no chance appropriate for university.
Initial Idea 03 - Light is Dangerous.
This “Light is Dangerous” later turned into “Chromosphere”.
I sat down to think about a third idea. This time around the main condition: the idea needs to be simple. Execution should be possible just on my own.
I had nothing to get me started and that’s why I took this screenshot you see up there. Its a near final round of voting for a theme. A theme for another Ludum Dare. Not sure which one or the date. But it still listed 16 themes and I though that is enough ideas to get me started.
I took and combined “Shadows” together with “Light is dangerous”. Ye, they both kind of sound like a cliche, but I though it might be fun to explore what I can come up with.
What I came up with was a puzzle game. One where you, the player are not in control of a character. Instead you are in control of the environment in which the protagonist is. The character is stranded on a piece of land. Maybe somewhere in space. Next to them is a giant sun. A star. It emits light so hot, that if the character steps in it for far too long, they starts taking damage and then burn.
Initial sketch and notes of the idea.
Yellow note in pic above reads: “You are a spaceman… who is also a vampire. You are in open space and you’ve lost your helmet. Help the vampire get to the end and retrieve their helmet.
Notes to the side read: “Goal is to retrieve a space suit helmet. - Goofy, easy-going story.” “Harder levels could have multiple units (spacemen), who walk different paths at the same time. Makes it more complex.”
“Trigger pressure plates on the paths that manipulate the environment on the go.”
“Specific part of the path goes to night? Day-night cycle?”
I think in the first page you can read where I took inspiration for the idea: during the summer, just before going back to uni, I build myself a new desktop PC. I needed a powerful GPU (I used an integrated one before that) in order to handle all of the graphic 3D work I was about to start doing in Unreal (for stuff like this project). The video card I got came with a free copy of Destiny 2. I hadn’t played it before that, but given how gorgeous and heavy in graphics it looked, I had to try my new GPU on it. I sunk in quite a few hours playing it and had a blast.
There was one particular level of its missions that stuck with me for a long time.
Concept painting by Dorje Bellbrook.
In that mission you are on a ship just past Mercury, right next to the Sun. At some point you have to get to a specific part that is locked. You are forced to go outside the spaceship and walk on its exterior. That walk stuck with me because it had the mechanic where you had to stay in the shadow bits of the map. It was super simple and wasn’t challenging as a puzzle or anything. The game is a FPS shooter after all. But there was something really beautiful in the giant sun that you could stare right into too.
I though about a few systems that I need to have to get the game working. Then decided they are not too complex for me to execute in just mere Blueprints, no programming language. That is when I got on board with it and started developing the game.
This is one of the first proof of concepts I did quickly in Unreal 4 back then.
A few weeks of developing after that got me to this visual style and a few systems in.
I’ll talk about how I got to this stage and what my blueprints are in the next post.
Hope you find reading this interesting. Keep tuned,