15 October 2009


Games are much like comic books. Heroes, whatever their origin face insurmountable odds. Odds they often overcome. Space marines, computer hackers, scientists, mercenaries, test subjects, ex-cops, convicts, clerks, archeologists, and so on. If the hero isn't already a disgruntled ex-navy seal cook (s)he can still pick up a gun or crowbar and shoot or beat the living heck out of whatever forces oppose him/her. Most of the time that's a pretty sweet deal. Bad guys come in, kidnap your daughter and it turns out that just before you used to do other people's taxes, you were once the best of the best ex-desert storm sniper battalion. Like most accountants.

While there are games that attempt to show varying degrees of ineptitude or slight unskillfulness in a particular aspect of the character's abilities, it still feels like you are controlling a significantly super-powered human. That's not a problem in many cases. It's fun to leap between buildings, diving through windows, guns akimbo. But it feels a little jarring if the person was previously a TV salesman.

Since there are few games that highlight this improbability (Silent Hill 1 had a protagonist that wasn't such a great shot, the Thief games showcase a guy who's good at sneaking but not fighting) however the limitations of the characters are really not all that limiting.

The hero of In the Sideline is older. He's in his late sixties, has a heart condition and needs glasses. He's not really anything close to fit, nor is he particularly strong. I decided to give him some ability with a gun (he hasn't got much of an aim, but he's not useless) as shooting is one of the activities I'd like to use to highlight his weaknesses. He's going to have trouble moving quickly for long periods of time. If he gets a fright it could set off heart palpitations. When he (and he will) gets his glasses smashed or knocked off, his vision will go double, hazy, and weave in and out of focus. I don't require glasses so I'm kinda making up the effects here but I've spoken to a few folks of the glasses-wearing variety and I'm told that's fairly accurate.

I'm developing the game in Flash which is unfortunately quite limited in many ways. This is because my current job is a Flash developer so I'm fairly au faire with it (delusions are useful I'm told) and it's a great tool (when it works) to quickly create/prototype something and this game is being made by one person (it's the same guy who wrote this, I don't have a PR division except in my temporal lobe). So I might have to pull a few punches in simulating the main character's physical abilities. I'm hoping to at least get the atmosphere and feeling of the whole thing up to a worthy level, though.

I'm not averse to fantastical tales of alien invasions, multiple dimensions (besides the 4 we generally muck around in), magic, light speed travel, dragons, and nifty laser swords while looking cool in hoodies. I quite like science ficion and fantasy however this game will be set in as-real-as-I-can-make-it-reality. I think the character concept and gameplay will carry without needing to create a metaverse of alternate worlds. And more to the point, that is the focus of this. I don't want to distract with complex worlds and economic systems.

Games often expect you to follow their story utterly, giving you little choice (or choice that won't really affect much of the game, just the ending). Understandably this makes sense. It's way too time consuming and difficult to tell 270 different stories. Most games have trouble having one worthwhile storyline. I'll try as much as I can to allow for multiple outcomes, not only at the end of the story arc, either. I haven't settled on a premise yet but I have some vague ideas. The protagonist is going to be in a situation that they may want to just escape (exit through the fire escape and leave it to the cops). That's fine. Perhaps it'll actually be beneficial to other people if you don't try to be the hero. It might be interesting if, by attempting to resolve the situation, you make it worse. "Why don't you leave it to the professionals, grandpa?" sort of thing. Of course, I haven't decided any of this yet so I'm open to suggestions from folks.

To show that I'm not faking, I'll be posting up some of the prototypes I made (I've been doing this for the last while). As I go along I'll update things but I can't promise a constant progress as it is only free time I can use to do this and my day job is occasionally very busy.

The game itself will be free and based online. I'll pop it on whatever Flash-game portals seem worthwhile once it's done. I'm making a level editor for it for which I'm writing a (hopefully) easy to use GUI-based programming language. One of my pet peeves is crap UI design, so I'm going to try make the thing as functional and intuitive as possible and, if the game proves to be popular, get some sort of user-level/mod community going. I'm considering open sourcing the game later on, even if I only do a partial open source of it. I'll try keep that in mind and conscientiously comment my code without too many swearwords about some particular Flash player bug or the like.

One of the game mechanics is that the camera will try to show what the protagonist is aware of as much as possible, and also as seen from his perspective (bearing in mind this is side-on and not first person). The viewer's perspective will tilt as you look up and down. Also, the further you look ahead, the less you are aware of what is behind you and so on. I will place the prototype of the camera up later on demo'ing this. It zooms out the further you move the cursor from the character.

Onto some concept art:

This is the protagonist. He's meant to look like he can't see very well without his glasses.

These are some initial visual-effect concepts. These are very rough and were the first thing I made after the character was drawn. The top left panel has no effects placed on it. Top right is what the camera screw would look like and some slight blurring. Because there are guns, I figured there would be a bit of blood occasionally and worked out a rough blood-spatter engine up. Shown in middle left. The last 3 are impressions of how the viewport would be blurred out or partially hidden to only allow the player to focus on what's in front of them. Due to constraints of Flash I will probably not be using any of those (except the bottom right panel - I've started trying to get the double vision thing going in my camera prototype). In a couple of the panels I started mucking around with the contrast and saturation on the main character. I will be sticking with the initial (top left) colour scheme as I don't think the others lend themselves to much realism.

1 comment:

  1. This is gonna be awesome when it hits the shelves!!