Monday, August 16, 2010

Game Concepting, pt.1

A friend and I are cobbling together a little Flash game between our other projects. This is a recap of our progress so far.

The central mechanic is a simple racing game. The player drives a motorcycle avatar from point A to point B. The resistance is yet undetermined by it will likely be a combination of a time constraint and difficult terrain.

The avatar is composed of several parts. As the motorcycle travels over the ground contour, the wheels bounce up and down to mimic shock. Using key controls the player can tilt the driver forward and back to maintain balance and prevent crashes. To allow for this visual effect the bike is composed of three parts. The rear wheel is hinged to the chassis while the front wheel operates on a slide track.

Front Wheel

Rear Wheel
The rider is similarly constructed to allow for a humanistic posture and movement. The limbs are each hinged at the appropriate places. The hands are hinged to the handlebars and the feet are hinged to the foot pegs. The graphics are likely to remain in a silhouette style so the lower leg may not be required.
Upper Arm
Lower Arm
Upper Leg
Lower Leg
A sketch was created to demonstrate the leaning and suspension ranges. You can see the subtle changes that occur when the player leans forward or backward. When the bike is airborne the suspension becomes fully extended.

An option was considered that introduced some kind of environmental sub-goals. This is common in this genre of game and they are often presented as abstracts...floating coins are typical. While this conceit will be fully evaluated later, the sketch helps frame the discussion.

Also present in the sketch below is the introduction of a mini-map. This provides information to the player so that they can plan for terrain that is not currently viewable in the playing area.

A shop and upgrade feature was considered. Below is a sketch of what that might look like. Collecting coins in the races would allow the player to buy performance improvements. Again, this is a traditional and common feature of these types of games.

No racing game is complete without a variety of tracks. Below is a sketch of what the track-selection screen might look like. The icons reflect how many uncollected coins are remaining on that track so that players can revisit previous tracks to increase their profits and buy additional performance upgrades. Some coins may not be available until a certain level of performance is achieved. This overlays a constraint that lengthens gameplay.

One interesting aspect of this sketch is the idea that some maps may not be available until an adjacent race was beaten. I like this idea because it affords some choices to the player. Choices are good.

Each race may also provide bonus coins for specific achievements. This provides a risk-benefit decision for the player; do they go for the flip bonus at the risk of crashing? Again, choices are good and create more compelling games.

In the sketch below we see that bonuses are offered for fast finish times, wheelies, flips, air time, and collecting all the coins. The big yellow button launches the race.

The next sketch introduces moveable terrain elements. The little boxes would move and bounce when they collide with the bike and the ground. For people familiar with this genre of game, this doesn't offer anything new.

This next sketch depicts a sandy pit. This would have some kind of physical effect on the bike control...probably slowing it. This concept could be adapted to a water model, slippery surface, and so on.

The sketch below shows how moveable objects might be used to build interesting and challenging terrain. It became clear that some kind of visual code would be needed to indicate which objects would collide with the bike. You can see the Swinging Platform has a beam that swings and moves when the bike contacts it. The Platform's struts, however, are not collideable objects so they are tinted back.

Some objects provide collision but cannot be moved. These are treated by the game engine as simple terrain contours. Collideable objects that move are treated a bit differently.

Also sketched below are some different color palettes to suggest thematic settings. 

At this point we started thinking harder about whether a simple racer was a significant addition to the genre. Although it's very early for thematic discussion, we decided that the story should be more interesting and that a race-for-racing-sake wasn't compelling enough to justify the work.

The sketch below shows a campaign map concept that offers the player a choice of routes to the campaign conclusion. The different routes would certainly be visually different and offer different challenges, but they also might be differentiated by difficulty, game mode, and/or victory condition.

Below shows a sketch with the above concept fleshed out more fully. In this scenario you are trying to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco. You have a choice of routes to take. Each node represents a waypoint; each leg represents a track.

By mousing over a node the player is provided information about that leg. There are lots of design options available in this kind of campaign model; each leg might be differentiated by difficulty, style of terrain, some kind of game mode or level constraint, and so on.

The sketch below also includes two different player avatars. The truck might replace the motorcycle in all or some maps. It would be controlled just as the bike but have different physics properties. The truck has a payload that must be kept in the bed of the truck. (Rough terrain can jostle and bounce the boxes out of the truck.)

The motorcycle avatar has been styled differently. He is now depicted as a cross-country survivalist. The helmet is replaced with a baseball cap and the bike is now laden with gear.
After a few conversations about theme and story, we felt that a survivalist motif was compelling. The environment now would feature a post-apocalyptic style. This allows future art development to take shape and remain on track.

Below is a sketch describing how a sense of motion might be reflected. The background is composed of several layers. Each layer scrolls right-to-left at different speeds relative to the foreground.

The next sketch shows a way that we might introduce certain circus-like obstacles and challenges while not breaking outside of the theme of the game. A teeter-totter, for example, is a traditional trials challenge structure...but featuring a teeter-totter in a post-apocalyptic setting would seem incongruent. So here is a teeter-totter that could fit thematically.

The next sketch shows a feature option that combines a mouse-aiming shooter with a trials racing game. From a feature standpoint it doesn't introduce anything truly unique but it was worth sketching up. This concept is currently eliminated from consideration. In this sketch the player has encountered a couple of wild dogs that must be put down or avoided before he or she can proceed.

This last sketch depicts a programming consideration. The issue here is that some depicted terrain elements do not require collision calculations. Perhaps they are negative space or are too narrow to come into contact with the bike avatar. The red line shows the actual terrain contour; everything else is dressing.

As this project is a labor of love, we are developing it as time permits. I'll post updates as progress is made.

Here are a few links to the games that have served as inspirations to this game:
Physics and control — TeaGames Motocross
Visual style and ambiance — Little Wheel