Prototyping

Prototype 2: Dialogue options with characters

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Planning the prototype

This prototype was relatively easy in comparison to my first one. It involved simply making a dialogue tree in Twine to demonstrate how the player would have the choice of several phrases to say to another character. In the full version of the prototype, If the player chose incorrectly, then the conversation would be terminated and until the next time the same character is loaded onto the screen, they are unable to re-try. However, twine has its limitations so the conversations just lead to a deal end.

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Example of an interaction with an NPC

 

Character Design Development

Toy Character Designs

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The characters in Ava’s imaginary world are living forms of her toys. I plan on using popular toys from the 80s as inspiration for all their character designs if my game is chosen to be made (see above for examples). Most of these characters will be playable once the story mode is completed. Here are a couple of the more important toy characters that I have already designed:

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Inspiration for Robo

Robo

Robo is the most important of the toy characters. It greets Ava and shows her around the imaginary world for the first time (it guides you through the tutorial level of the game and explains the mechanics of the world). Because it’s a robot character, I wanted to make its electrical components obvious, so the electric bolt symbol was supposed to communicate this. The pincer-like hands are for cutting down trees for easy navigation in the imaginary world. The expressionless face and angular body was designed to emphasise its robotic nature, although there are also some rounded edges to make it look more child-friendly like a toy. The blue brings to mind masculine toys, and because robots would be more commonly associated with young boys than girls, I added some yellow to neutralise it a bit and also make it look less serious (the blue design looks dead inside).

 

 

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Original Care bear (Mr. Cuddles inspiration)

Mr. Cuddles

Mr. Cuddles is one of the characters that asks for your help, initiating your first mission. Because he has a music box function I added a musical note on his belly. Initially I wondered if this was too similar to real ‘care bears’, so the design may change if people agree with this being a potential issue (for now, I think this design works so I don’t want to change it unless someone thinks that it is an issue). The yellow paws are colour-co-ordinated with the belly with the musical symbol to show they are linked; once the music has sent enemies to sleep, Mr. Cuddles is able to hug them to destroy them. I made this character very round to make him look super-huggable. The pink cheeks and wide smile also make it a really cute character – the kind that a young girl would probably really like as a toy.

Character Design Development

Ava Sprite Development

These are some attempts at converting my concept sketches of Ava into potential pixel assets for my game. Because the narrative is set in the 80s and Ava’s imaginary world is like her own personal game world, I’ve chosen to keep my art style reminiscent of games from the 80s (pixel art). I’ve taken retro games such as The Legend of Zelda (1986), Lode Runner (1983), and Rogue (1980) as my inspiration, (my game mechanics are also influenced by these).

As I’ve mentioned in the 80s fashion blog post, I have chosen Ava’s clothing and colour scheme based on the fashion of the times, but I have also avoided using lots of pinks and purples as they were the most common colours worn by girls her age. The colour schemes I tested also mostly consisted of primary colours – or at the very least, bright colours – which are commonly associated with youth.

It should be noted that Ava (as seen in the cut-scenes) has hair that falls over the opposite side of her face to Ava’s sprite. This is because the sprite is a projection of how she sees herself, which of course is always though a mirror, which always reflects a reversed image.

Prototyping

Prototype 1: Procedurally Generating maps

My game centres around the concept of exploration in the direction of specific goals that are set by NPCs. The main gameplay will consist of traversing through mazes, avoiding monsters along the way, and collecting objects that will aid in your travels. I wanted the mazes to be procedurally generated so that the game would still be playable after the player has finished the story mode. I also figured that if the mazes are made by a young girl’s mind then she probably wouldn’t remember every maze she ever imagined, so it would make sense in regards to the narrative for the mazes to change each time she plays through them.

For my first prototype, I wanted to demonstrate how the mazes would be created, so I began by trying to procedurally generate the tiles of a grid so that some of them would become grass (floor) tiles, others would be green trees (walls), and there would be a single golden tree that the player had to reach in order to proceed. However, this attempt only created pathways that didn’t join together so that most of the grid wasn’t actually used and there wasn’t always a way in which the player could reach the golden tree.

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Screenshot of my 1st attempt at a procedurally generated maze.

 

So I went back to the beginning and started researching how to generate dungeon maps. From what I found, I established that I would have to create rooms from tiles, and using them as prefabs, I would have to find a way to generate their positions on the grid at random and link them together by pathways. With the help of our tutor (all hail our lord and saviour), James, I was able to translate this plan into code.

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Screenshot of my 2nd attempt at procedural generation of a maze. I’ve also re-made the tile assets and also managed to lose the golden tree somehow, so that will have to be corrected later.

After working through all of this, my prototype stopped working for reasons unknown and I was getting ready to tear my hair out. Then James found an easier way to create the mazes using a ‘recursive division algorithm’. I had never heard of this before, so with the help of James and the internet, I discovered what it is. This was a very helpful website for explaining it simply. The idea is that a line is used to bisect a tiled area along either the x- or y-axis, leaving one tile along the line untouched (this will later be a passageway). This is then repeated on both sides of the wall divide. This can be continuously repeated until you have a maze (as shown below).

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Screen recording taken from this website: http://weblog.jamisbuck.org/2011/1/12/maze-generation-recursive-division-algorithm

We found some code online that used this algorithm, so I used it to make my final version of my first prototype:

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Character Design Research

80s Fashion

I’ve chosen to set my game’s narrative in the 1980s, so research into the types of clothes that were commonly worn back then was essential to designing my characters. I’ve taken note of some of the more common elements of the styles that have been demonstrated in these photos so that I can apply these elements to the clothing of my characters whilst adapting them to suit the personality of each character.

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-Lots of bright colours – neon and pastel palettes in particular
-Denim – very popular at the time, so much so that it’s not unusual to see people wearing ‘double-denim’ in photos from the 80s
-Baggy clothing – shirts, jackets, jumpers etc. were often oversized

 

bright pinks, purples, blues and white are all commonly seen in the clothing of young girls. Yellow is also worn by some, but pink and denim blue seem to be the most common colours. Because of this I’m thinking that the school girls in my story will mostly be wearing pink and blue denim to show how they follow the crowd. Ava will be the exception to this as she doesn’t choose to follow the other girls, so I was thinking her colour scheme should be more unusual.

Character Design Research

7/8-Year-Old Behaviour

Whilst designing my main character as well as some of the supporting characters of my game, I’ve had to consider how they would act under certain circumstances, and of course, as I’m not a 7-year-old girl, I knew that I would need to do some research to figure out the potential and the limitations of my young characters personalities. This information will also be useful to my narrative as it will help me establish which situations I could potentially place my characters in that would best showcase their personalities.

Comfort and Routines:

At this age, children are becoming better at handling transitions and last-minute changes. Although they won’t have mastered self-control yet, they will be getting better at tolerating unexpected situations and going with the flow. They will start to turn their attentions towards things and people outside their homes and immediate families and interactions at school encourage this. However, they will still rely on the routines and familiarity they get from home. Family time, chores, bedtimes etc. will provide a stable and comfortable environment in which they can feel safe in the knowledge that things will be as they expect.

Confidence and Insecurity:

7-year-olds tend to fluctuate between being confident and doubting themselves. Their Maths and reading skills improve quickly at this age so they will gain confidence and pride in their abilities and are start feeling more ‘grown-up’. Conversely, they often feel insecure about themselves and their failures. They will blame themselves for these failures and they can lose a lot of self-esteem because of this.

To help them with this crisis in confidence, parents and teachers should offer frequent encouragement and teach the child to focus on learning from their experiences rather than thinking about the fact that they got something wrong.

Feelings of insecurity make peer pressure a common issue. 7-year-olds will often go along with what other children do in order to feel like they fit in, even if they strongly disagree with the actions. Emphasising the importance of individuality is vital at this time in a child’s life.

Independence:

Children will have a desire to be independent at this age, and they will often want to try to accomplish tasks on their own before asking an adult for help if all else fails. It is important for the child to develop a sense of self and their relations in regards to others. Interests, talents, friends, and relationship with family will all help children to establish a clear self-identity. They will begin to enjoy spending time alone and may begin to think more about the future and their place in the world. They will still want to play with their friends, but they will also be gaining an understanding of the need for relaxing time away from others and they may want to preserve their privacy.

Friends and Play:

Structured play is common for 7-year-olds and rules are important, but this can cause conflict when others break the rules set in place for play. Children will tend to play with a few select friends and/or classmates and their relationships will begin to become more complex. They will be learning how to better empathise with those around them and will take into account the emotions of friends and family members during interactions (they will focus less on themselves). They will also become increasingly able to understand these emotions and may even get into the habit of choosing to hide true thoughts or emotions to spare other people’s feelings. This comes from a great desire to be liked and accepted by friends and can cause similar issues to those mentioned above in regards to peer pressure.

Bad Behaviour:

Boundaries and limitations are being explored at this age and children may experiment with these a lot. Behaviours such as lying, defiance, or talking back may become more common, but rather than punishing children for these behaviours, its better to tell the child what they have done wrong and to explain why it was wrong for them to act in such a way. Explaining how they could have handled a situation better will give the child a better understanding of what is acceptable behaviour.

Obsessions:

Due to their easily-influenced natures, children at this age can often start to develop likings for certain things. They are also discovering themselves and what they as an individual have an interest in, so they can often develop obsessions with certain subjects (e.g. dinosaurs, cars, animals etc.). They can also develop a love for collecting toys or other objects ( e.g. Pokémon cards, Beyblades, coins, stamps etc.) which they’ll enjoy talking about at great length.

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Middle Childhood (6-8 years of age). https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/positiveparenting/middle.html. Updated January 3, 2017.

Child Development Tracker: Your Seven-Year-Old. PBS Parents. http://www.pbs.org/parents/childdevelopmenttracker/seven/index.html.

Sculpture

Sculpture Jam

This week’s sculpture jam was a real wake-up call. James made it apparent that we should all, at this point in time, have an idea of what type of game each one of us wanted to make. He told us that during this jam session we would have to create an artefact that could be found within our game worlds. This terrified me because I was still struggling for inspiration. I had spent the last few weeks focussing so much on the other jam sessions that I’d hardly thought about where my main project was going. So it was time to brainstorm…

I spent a while choosing what I wanted to make seeing as I hadn’t figured out how my game world was going to look, so a lot of my time went into ideation and designing my sculpture. I then sketched out plans of how I would make the sculpture, meaning that by the time I started sculpting, I had very little time to actually make my model. So yeah, time management appears to be an issue for me.

We were shown at the beginning of the jam week how to use the vacuum-former, pillar drill, sanders, and more in the workshop, but in the end I didn’t use any of the machinery. I decided on making a hot air balloon, and because I wanted it to be made with fabric like the real thing, I knew I’d have to find some material and sewing supplies. I started by creating a sort of skeleton using the wire provided to us. Using images and descriptions of traditional 18th century hot air balloons as reference, I chose some red and cream striped fabric to be sewn onto the wire frame. I began drawing out paper pattern pieces, and through trial and error, I tried to determine which pieces would combine to make the most accurate 3D balloon shape.

After Sewing the fabric to the wire frame, I stuffed the balloon with stuffing that I took from a cushion to give the balloon a more rounded shape. I also used string and wire to weave a basket to be attached to the finished balloon.

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Jam, RPG

RPG Jam

This week it was time for some RPG jamming – woooo – which meant that our brief was to create our own table-top role-playing game within teams. With James as our game master (GM) we began by playing 2 RPGs to get a feel for which mechanics and features worked well and made the game more enjoyable. The first was a pirate-themed RPG in which everyone in the class had to draw their own characters, introduce themselves, and then decide whether they wanted to be the ship’s captain, the first mate, the navigator, the treasurer, the medic or just a regular member of the crew (although this proved to make very little difference to the gameplay seeing as it became a bit of a free-for-all once the ship reached land). There was no end goal for this RPG, meaning there wasn’t any pressure to do anything in particular other than explore, which made the game feel more light-hearted and socially focussed than the second RPG.

Whether or not we were each able to perform certain actions was determined by our ability to play jenga – basically, if we were careful enough to not let the jenga tower fall, our actions succeeded, and if the action was deemed to be particularly difficult, we were required to succeed in moving multiple blocks in the tower. This was a fun mechanic to have from my perspective because it allowed most actions to be performed with relative ease. The tension wasn’t lost though, because everyone knew that with a larger group like the one we had, people were constantly pulling blocks out of the tower, so it wasn’t long before it became precariously balanced, potentially jeopardising future actions.

James made the game experience very flexible and adapted easily to even the most unpredictable turn of events (i.e. Fred trying to get bitten by spiders in an attempt to become pirate spiderman). It became evident over the course of the RPG jam that this creativity and adaptability of the GM is a key element of a successful RPG.

This ties in to my next observation that the fewer rules an RPG has, the more fun it is. The fewer rules there are, the more flexible the GM can be with their storytelling.

The second RPG we played was mission-oriented and involved each individual choosing a superpower. Some of us were classified as ‘villains’ and others as ‘heroes’, but no-one knew who else was a hero/villain. The objective was to figure out who the villains were so that we could stop them from setting off some missiles at a military secret base, but the issue with this was that the villains refused to do anything that could potentially reveal themselves to be villainous because they were too worried about getting caught and overpowered by the large number of superheroes. Also, everyone seemed to be more determined to find where the missiles were hidden rather than figuring out who was good or bad.

When anyone wanted to use a power or if there was a conflict that needed to be solved, people had to cut a deck of regular playing cards, and the person with the higher number would win (when using powers, the GM would be the opposition). If someone chose to attack another player, the result of the conflict would be that the person with the lower number would lose one of their two life points. These mechanics meant that the game was mostly luck-based, which became frustrating at times e.g. when someone with a specific power was needed but it couldn’t be used because they drew a low-number card.

After an hour of gameplay, we still had no idea who the villains were and we hadn’t managed to get access to the missiles. James (the GM) had even tried to coax the villains out from hiding by offering extra life points to any villains who revealed themselves, but alas, his efforts were futile and we ended the game feeling as if we’d barely begun.

Now that we had all had a taste of a couple of role-playing games, we could use what we had learnt to design our own RPGs. We split into groups (my group being comprised of: Dean, Fred, Bernie, Richard and I) and started brainstorming ideas. We decided fairly quickly that we would make it a mission-oriented RPG set in a cyberpunk world in which there is one major corporation that has too much power – the players need to take it down. Originally we had two potential goals that players could choose from: heist – players have to find the safe containing vital information that would destroy the company if it were leaked to the public; or assassinate – players have to find the corporation’s boss and kill him.

We decided in the end that assassinating the boss of a company wouldn’t necessarily take down the company itself (bosses can be replaced), so we decided instead to have the heist as the only goal. To fit with the cyberpunk world, we had three classes of character that the players could choose to be:

  1. cyborg
  2. android
  3. human

Each class had different perks and their own set of items they could use. We also gave each player four stats:

  1. Science – used for hacking security systems, using gadgets etc.
  2. Stealth – used for sneaking past people, being quiet etc.
  3. Strength – used for combat, heavy lifting etc.
  4. Dexterity – used for lock picking, shooting guns accurately etc.

Each of these ranged in value from 1 to 4 with each of the stats being given values of 4, 3, 2 or 1 in order from the most effective to the least effective. They were to be chosen by the players alongside the character class before finding out what everyone else had chosen. We thought this could be a good way of stopping people from having perfectly-balanced teams that might find the game too easy.

 

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We had a six-sided die that had to be rolled whenever an action required the use of one of the stats. The higher the numerical value of the stat, the higher the chance that the number on the die would be sufficient for the player to act.

When play-testing the game, we thought the game could be more varied and flexible if the GM made the map of the building as we played. In practice however, this proved to be quite difficult for the GM, so we decided that a basic floor plan should be designed in preparation for when we would have to ask other people to play-test our RPG. Dean agreed to design one that could still be flexible in that it didn’t contain too much detail about what was in each room.

 

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Initial Research, Uncategorized

James and The Giant Peach

As a starting point for this project we were given a list of books to choose from to use as inspiration. Of the 10 books, I found James and The Giant Peach (written by Roald Dahl in 1961) to be the most interesting to me.

The story is centred around a young boy who has lost his parents (they were eaten by a rhino from a zoo… because rhinos do that apparently) and is now having to live with his two cruel aunts: Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. The aunts beat and neglect him and, in order to deal with this, James dreams of going to America and reaching the Empire State building – a dream that came about when his parents were still alive.

One day everything changes, and James meets a man who gives him magic crocodile tongues that will bring him happiness and adventure if he drinks them with water. However, he manages to drop the tongues onto the ground nearby a barren peach tree, and so the magic starts working on the tree instead. When his aunts come outside into the garden to look for James, a peach starts to grow at an astounding rate on one of the branches. The aunts decide that money can be made from selling tickets to see this gargantuan peach, and when people start to visit the peach, James is kept locked away in his room and only let outside to clear up the litter left behind by the tourists once they’ve all left.

When James is cleaning  up one evening, he notices that he feels strangely drawn to the peach and soon discovers a tunnel to the centre of the peach stone. He crawls through the tunnel only to discover a room full of giant bugs who explain that they are all afraid of James’s aunts just like he is. When they hear the aunts calling for James in the garden, the centipede chews through the peach stem and sets the peach rolling down the hill. The peach crushes the aunts in the process, before rolling off a cliff into the sea.

Once they’ve made their escape from the aunts, the bugs and James begin their adventure across sea and sky, encountering sharks, ‘cloud-men’ and other dangers. They set course for America and land on the empire state building after the silk that is tied to the peach (connecting it to a flock of birds that allowed it to fly) is severed by a passing plane. At first, the New Yorkers are baffled and frightened by the presence of the peach (some even believe James and the bugs are extraterrestrials). However, once James explains their story and they’re brought down to the ground, James and the bugs are all welcomed into the city and end up living there in the peach stone in Central Park.

What struck me most about this story, was the feeling of loneliness that James had to deal with. One of the most upsetting things for James at the start of the story was that he didn’t have any friends:

“Oh, please!” he had begged. “I haven’t met any other children for years and years and there are going to be lots of them down there for me to play with. And perhaps I could help you with the tickets.”                                                                                                                 ― Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach

Loneliness is one of the key themes in the book, and I want to use it as a starting point for my story too. Being alone is something that people can relate to; its a fear for many of us and sometimes we can even discover that although we thought we preferred being alone, having company can make a massive difference to our wellbeing. Humans are social animals, and we want to be accepted by the people around us. I want to remind players that being lonely isn’t a permanent state.

“Well, maybe it started that way. As a dream, but doesn’t everything. Those buildings. These lights. This whole city. Somebody had to dream about it first. And maybe that is what I did. I dreamed about coming here, but then I did it.”
― Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach

Achieving dreams is another theme that’s touched upon. In this case it’s through James’s determination and a little help from some magic (and of course, his magically-enhanced bug friends). The ability of the mind to think of things that haven’t happened – to imagine what could be – is unique to humans. We can lose ourselves in our fantasies, and when placed in situations that we don’t want to be a part of, we can dissociate from reality to deal with the negative feelings associated with our reality. James doesn’t want to live with his aunts and is still suffering from the trauma of his mother and father’s deaths, and to deal with that he remembers back to when he planned to go with them to New York city. This gives James hope for a better future.

Something else I wanted to use as inspiration was the atmosphere in James and the Giant Peach. The book is all about adventure and self-discovery, and I want that to be the case in my game. I want the atmosphere to be fun and light-hearted on the surface, with some darker undertones along the way. I aim to make it a game that is suitable for anyone to play, but with a meaningful story behind it with the potential to teach the player something.

“My dear young fellow,’ the Old-Green-Grasshopper said gently, ‘there are a whole lot of things in this world of ours you haven’t started wondering about yet.”
― Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach