Dev Log: Initial Outline and Core Gameplay Concepting

Working Title: My Little Linear Story

Pitch:

Traversing a 3 dimensional world in only 1 dimension, you play a character pushing the bounds of what he’s capable of within the limitations of his disability.

Concept:

You control Prorak, a character attempting to go about his mundane everyday life, but who is only capable of moving in two directions along a single axis in a world defined in 2 dimensions and displayed in 3. That is, for mechanical purposes the game world is an mxn grid, but will be depicted in-game along a globe. The core gameplay loop consists of interacting with other characters to further the story, and solve challenges which gate travel.

I intend to use mechanical limitations of the player character’s ability to interact with and traverse the world as an allegory for living with various forms of disabilities. Beyond the scope of this project, it will include a reasonably long story targeting a play time of a several hours to flesh out these themes and the characters involved.

Aesthetically the game will be fairly bright and stylized in a not-quite cartoonish way. It should have a tone of positivity and happiness both so that the player character’s difficulties stand out by contrast, but also to show that in spite of these issues his outlook is ultimately positive. The intent of the game is not to evoke pity for those with disabilities, but to encourage empathy. Ideally players would come away from the complete game (beyond the scope of the project, see below) better appreciating what they have in common with the character than looking at it as a foreign and defining feature of that person.

Project Specifics:

The eventually intended narrative and visual game content will not be a priority for this project. It will instead focus on the technical implementation and game mechanics as these are more pertinent to the aims of an honors project. These include:

– Grid system for tracking levels, but represented in 3D along the surface of a globe with accentuated curvature. It is intended that objects will appear over an exaggerated horizon as the player approaches.

– A special dialogue tree system that overlaps and incorporates environmental distractions into dialogue options.

– Develop a system of puzzles or other challenges for the player to gate progress. This system will include a language of features that is taught to the player, each in isolation, before being used as a guiding cue on how to solve later and more complex problems.

Concepting the core gameplay loop:

This game concept started from 2 points: one of format in how it is presented, and one of narrative theme. This leaves me with what I hope is an appealing concept, but isn’t yet an actual game unless you include the interactive fiction elements described above. So my first priority was to find game mechanics that would fit within this framework to create a potentially interesting design space.

I started by brainstorming all the types of player actions that would be possible within the constraints of movement in 1 dimension. Post-brainstorm thoughts included in braces {}

  • Movement up/down
  • speed of movement
  • use of vehicles or other actors in the world that can move Prorak along X axis {as long as this isn’t overdone to undermine the thematic movement along a line, I like that it enforces that Prorak’s issue is a lack of capability, not that he obeys different laws of physics than everyone else}
  • acceleration/deceleration {seems to action oriented for the calmer pace I intend}
  • facing/orientation
  • point of view or camera control {doesn’t seem to fit with the aesthetic simplicity or intended theme of limitations on perception/cognition}
  • interaction: general use/activate/talk functionality
  • jumping or other temporary or superficial movement vertically {might be doable, but it does undermine the 1D theme and my imagined camera perspective would make any meaningful interaction here awkward}
  • throwing or otherwise using objects with an effect beyond Prorak’s immediate vicinity
  • mechanical or narrative time manipulation (ex: passage of time while sleeping, or literal time travel respectively)
  • cycle through various forms of reality (a la Eversion and similar games)

I like some of these ideas and intend to use them, but none of it stuck out as being worthy of a core game loop. Sure the player could navigate moving obstacle puzzles, but this feels pretty shallow and is a well explored design space. And many of the ideas that start to sound more like Prorak would have game-y abilities or weapons feel out of place with the theme.

I ended up returning to the theme and existing ideas to try and branch out from. The one unique mechanic I had so far is the pop up bubbles that embody Prorak’s distractions and inability to filter his attention. I soon realized these could be expanded to play a broader role to the core gameplay in addition to the dialogue. They could possibly act as physical objects to Prorak and others, blocking obstacles from view thus activity, or as physical bridges to traverse things. The method of manipulation can be controlling Prorak’s facing, and only keeping distractions visible for things in a frontal cone. I really like this idea because it ties in with the unusual dialogue mechanic, hopefully making the game more cohesive. And as a general rule it’s often best to expand on what you have rather than add new elements. I can see a number of ways this would be explored and expanded on in the game with more complex techniques including distractions that can obstruct Prorak from seeing and thus activating other distractions.

This also fits well with the broader themes I eventually intend for the full story. I won’t go into depth here as it’s based on 2 characters I’ve developed separately for roleplaying. But the other main character I intend to introduce, Ahlam (a jaded woman who will end up a friend and in-game companion) values Prorak for how open he is to noticing and appreciating small details in life.

I’ll be experimenting with this idea for the gameplay as this week progresses. Though I’ve already noted a potential danger with using this mechanic. Since this game is intended as a mechanical metaphor for the idea of, though no specific instance of mental disabilities or damage I want to be extremely careful not to frame the player’s capabilities as some kind of special powers resulting from Prorak’s condition. There is a fine line between painting Prorak and his capabilities as a person in a positive light, and painting his condition in a positive light. I feel a lot of media too often strays into promoting the latter especially with its fascination with savants. The focus in this game should still be that Prorak -is- hampered in his ability to interact with the world, but that this does not define him as a person, nor limit his value to others and in general.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s