Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sheol and the town of Kold

So this is a finished(?) concept of the main character for my game design pitch.
I've named him Sheol:

Sheol (pronounced "Sheh-ole")[1], in Hebrew שאול (Sh'ol),
is the "abode of the dead", the "underworld", or "pit".[2]
Sheol is sometimes compared to Hades, the gloomy, twilight afterlife
of Greek mythology. The word "hades" was in fact substituted for
"sheol" when the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek

I'm hoping the picture and the name convey the kind of 'feeling' I'm going for here. I have revised both the story-line, the setting and the mechanic since my initial proposal. One of the most important areas being the location which is now a fictitious mountain village in Eastern Europe. It's weird out there. And weird works well with this story. (I thought Sheol could pass for a boys name in Latvia =P) I also like the idea of a run-down, archaic community within a modern day setting. A place that's secluded, maybe a little inbred and generally primitive through lack of contact with the outside world. Somewhere between the village in RE4 and the Chernobyl level in CoD4?

I want atmosphere to be a huge part of the game. The beating heart as it were. So creating a mood is essential. As I always do with these kinds of projects, I have found myself latching onto music as a source of inspiration. Try listening to the track "The Ghosts you draw on my back" or "The ballad of the broken birdie records/The ballad of the broken string" by Múm whilst perusing the images (I think they're up on Youtube).

Newayzzz, here's my new overview. I hope it reads more clearly and focused than the last one. I do also have a more solid view of how the mechanics are going to work but I'm still attempting to translate them from my brain into some kind of decipherable description that others may be able to read/view.
Hopefully I'll be there soon! =P

'Again' takes place in a small mountain village deep in Eastern europe called Kold. The player takes control of 'Sheol', a 10 year old boy who wakes up to the realization that he has been trapped in a time loop for the equivalent of thousands of years.

After a cataclysmic disaster in early 2010 which killed everyone in the village, the inhabitants found themselves waking up at the beginning of the day before the accident. The day played itself out exactly as it had done previously, the people were killed and then returned once again to the previous morning. After a long time, something within the minds of the creatures in Kold begin to realize that something was wrong. Nature rejected the recurrence of the same day over and over again and they begin to retain slight fractions of memory from each loop, as if resisting it's sadistic power. Their physical bodies began to show evidence of this repetition; although they never aged, nature adapted to the endless cycle that they endured through their doing the same things every-day. Men who had spent the day doing physical work began to grow massive muscle mass while those who spent it in front of the television grew frail and weak. People who spent the day learning a certain subject became masters of their art while those performing certain skills achieved perfection. They were evolving.

This urged them to the realization that they were not simply waking up as they thought they had been on a normal timeline, but they were trapped in an endless cycle of the very same day.

As people tried to come to terms with this idea, many of them found it impossible to comprehend and having to deal with the concept that they were essentially physically mutated and forever cursed to live in a single day with no growth or change caused many to lose their minds. This divided the people. Some, who refused to believe despite being told day after day by those who had accepted their fate, chose to carry on as they always had done - attempting to ignore their reality in the vain hope that eventually the cycle would stop and they could finally rest in peace. Others changed their ways and stopped repeating the day as they had been doing for so long, As they began to retain more memory, they could predict the future of the day and hoped they would be able to alter it's events and save themselves. Their obstacle became the mystery of the source of what killed them. No-matter what they did, or how they acted, it seemed the events of the world were destined to play out the same way and they knew that every time they were killed, they would re-awake the previous morning. A rare few who simply didn't work it out and were not showed by the others, carried on as if on autopilot. The worst effected were those who couldn't handle the repetition. The mundanity and monotony of their daily lives drove them insane. They became beast-like and roamed wild, evolving predatory features and attacking any who crossed their paths. The sane labelled them 'The Departed'.

Sheol was one of the last to be 'awoken'. He was only discovered after many cycles since a small portion of the communities initial 'awakening'. Although he had been in the village on that day, he had obviously spent it alone and it was only when others began to dramatically deviate from their set routines that he was found and awoken. As is the same with everyone who has realized that they are in this cycle, Sheol's memories of what he had originally done the first time the day had occurred quickly faded. His thoughts were replaced with the perception of what was going to happen and his freedom to do whatever he wished during this time. Very obviously, whatever Sheol had been doing day after day for so long had led him to attain dramatic physical abilities to the extent of no other in the village. Like many, he had evolved a tail for extra balance and had physical fitness beyond that of an olympic athlete. His hands and feet had become almost claws and his 5 main senses had become finely attuned, matching those of specialized animals in the natural world. For a young boy, he now had the maturity of someone way beyond his years. To the other residents of Kold and unto himself, Sheol is a mystery.

Does this make sense??? I have know one around me to validate my scribblings!

Here's some NPC's too =)

"Why are all our eyes blacked out?"

"After years of witnessing the same faces and places, our eyes grew tired. Nature felt them to have no more purpose and they began to recede back into our heads. Maybe now that we are finally attempting to change things, they will come back out to view the world once more."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Gay Sheep

Well, I haven't mentioned a thing about the group project as of yet. To be completely honest, I wasn't looking forward to it at all at the beginning of the course. That did change however, once I hooked up with the other members of my group and we started bouncing ideas around. I thought I might actually get something worthwhile out of it. That said, I still regarded it as 'number 2' after my main course work so I was admittedly relatively relieved after the dreaded 0% lecture that upset so many people. I totally understand why people were peeved - if I done a significant amount of work, I too would have been slightly ...annoyed. Nevertheless, since our group had already come up with an idea, we decided to pursue it to the stage where we would present a proposal, rather than any physical 'piece'.

Our main idea centred around the Preston Guild:

"Preston Guild is held only once every 20 years and links the city’s heritage and traditions with its ambitions for the future. The guild also recognises Preston’s importance as a place to trade and learn new skills with which to build a successful career.
During guild year, the whole community comes together to celebrate with a series of events and attractions, including traditional church, community and trades processions. There is also a torchlight procession as well as an array of dances, fireworks and sporting events."

We decided to think about how we could contribute and our ideas started to focus on creating some kind of 'float' which could be part of a procession in the next 2012 Guild. As soon as we started looking at visual traits and representations of Preston my ears pricked up. I researched these symbols and found by far the most common and prominent figure of Prestons heritage to be the lamb - illustrative of the Cities lucrative Wool trade. While other members of the group looked at the decoration of the float, traditional Preston dialogue, trade and culture I thought about a mascot or representative of the festival. Originally I sketched out an idea for a "sheep-suit" to be worn, in the same vein as a football mascot on the float. I didn't really like the outcome and so ended up creating a more fantastical picture of the sheep in the image of some 80's he-man-esque super-hero, proudly carrying Preston's flag. My idea was that it could be used as promotional material for both the event itself and perhaps Preston as a city.

In terms of a learning outcome, I did find out a lot of stuff I didn't know about the city. You wouldn't think this is my 5th year here! And it was interesting to meet people from different disciplines and see what inspired them and what things they found interesting and why. Although it has obviously been a flop and as far as I know a lot of the groups aren't planning on showing anything tomorrow, I'm glad I've done something. It's another image in the portfolio I guess! =P

Hmmm, looking back at that picture now's kind of disturbing.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

and Again...

So now I have been tasked with pitching the concept for a full game. When I first went home to think about the idea, I found that I had already done a substantial amount of thinking through my work on the previous project. Whereas the idea had been to design a level using a set of working mechanics, I had perhaps gone a little overboard and come up with a character, theme and back-story for the whole thing. A couple of people remarked on the character design so I figured I'd take it a little further and use him as the foundation for my Game design pitch.
His appearance stemmed from the criteria I had already been given -
  • I wanted a fairly athletic character who could traverse a 'platformy' landscape,
  • he had a 'lasso' in the brief, which was used to pull objects towards him and interact with the scenery so I thought 'why not have it be a part of him?',
  • and he was supposed to have three main weapons, light, medium and heavy. Since there was no ammo mentioned in the brief and due to the fact that I had already decided on a bio-lasso, I decided the weapons could be kind of built-in too.
Taking into account that I had already decided I wanted this guy to be darker than that foxy bloke from my first post, I guess it was inevitable that he turned out looking like something from silent hill/resident evil/prototype. So that's what I chose to go with story wise as well. Once again touching on ideas from my level design, I had been thinking about the idea of having a single level that could be altered and played in different ways multiple times in order to stretch it out into a full game. This obviously led me to think about Majora's Mask.

What a game.
And what a concept!
I remember thinking when it first came out 'this is gonna be the next big thing - everyones gonna be doing this time-loop thing from now on!' and then... nobody did?
For anybody reading this who didn't play it, the whole idea worked like so:
The moon is falling and is going to hit the earth in 3 days. Thus you have 3 days to stop it! But as you find out very early on - it's nowhere near enough time to do so. Luckily, being the 'hero of time' you can reset the 3 days, skip between them and slow down the flow of time with your trusty Ocarina.
The mechanic is brilliant because it means the developers could design tonnes of unique time based quests where you may have to be at a certain place at a certain time or trigger things in one time period that will effect another. It added a whole new dynamic to dungeons, putting a strain on the gameplay in general as you rushed to do everything against a pretty strict time limit. Plus all the quests end up overlapping, meaning you have to keep adjusting your position on the games timeline. The environment changes over a period as well - I seem to remember some guys building a house in the main town that gets gradually bigger with each day. It layed the foundation for so many ideas and I'm unaware of any major titles which have done anything similar since. My manager at work put me onto 'Flower, Sun and Rain' a DS port of an old PS2 game which apparently uses a 'groundhog day' style mechanic where you have to try and find a collection of items throughout a reoccurring day and try to prevent an inevitable plane crash. Kaile also told me about 'Ephemeral Fantasia', also on the PS2, which plays out over a 5 day loop, similar to Zelda.

I can't help feeling like there's massive potential for something incredible here that has yet to be fully explored... or perhaps yet to be fully sussed-out?

Anyways, there I was bending my mind over the concept of time travel as a game mechanic when I was browsing over the latest GamesTM magazine and I discovered a 6 page article entitled
"TIME MATTERS - Time travel has been explored in films and literature, but with a few key exceptions, videogames have rarely entered the fourth dimension. GamesTM examines why time manipulation could be a new gameplay frontier and takes a glimpse into the future of temporal-exploration games."
The article reminded me of such other wonders as 'Chrono Trigger' and 'Braid' which are huge personal favorites that I had somehow overlooked. Both successfully implementing their own personal spin on the idea in a unique and interesting fashion. Noteably, an important feature of each of the games mentioned appears to be the story. I guess if you're going to go with such a far out idea, then you better have a pretty sturdy backbone to hold the whole thing up.

Luckily I like writing stories! Wether or not they're any good remains to be seen... haha.
So I'll post my (rather lengthy) pitch and some pics of character designs and such that I have done so far...

Game Design Idea...



A young boy wakes up and looks around. It is 8 am and he is lying on the roadside. The street is on the route that he follows to school every morning and leads into a small but well populated village. It is misty and he can't see anyone else around even though at this time on any other day, the road would be littered with other children on their way to school. He feels a strong sense of familiarity, like he has not only been in this place before, at this time of day, but he's experienced this PARTICULAR day before. As he pulls himself up he realizes that he's not dressed in his school uniform. In fact, he's not dressed at all! And his body has changed. His skin is thick and tight and on his limbs and chest, large muscles are exposed. His spine has elongated into the beginnings of a tail and his feet have mutated into much stronger forms and now bear large talons. Most noticeable of all, his eyes have gone. Where they used to be are now large black holes, yet somehow, he can still see. The boy begins to walk, heading in the same direction he does every day. Before long, he approaches a set of roadworks. What used to be a large rectangular 'Give Way' sign now has tiny scribbling etched deep into the surface. Immediately the boy recognizes the letters as those of his own handwriting. It is a note to himself.

"On this day, Monday, January 4th 2010, you went back to school like any other day. The mornings lessons began as usual but shortly after 11 am, something happened. The world plunged into chaos and began to fall apart. You, like everyone else around you desperately tried to find your loved ones, stay alive and work out what was going on. At 2:23 am on Tuesday, 5th January, you died.

With no obvious explanation, you woke up here at 8 am, shortly before the events that would lead to your death. For a moment you could remember what had just occurred, but like a dream, the memories faded and you carried on with your day as you had done 18 hours earlier. The days events played out once again, you and many many more around you were killed again and you returned to this road to replay your day again. Every time this occurred, a sense of dread among the population increased and people began to realize that something was happening to them - that this had already happened to them. Every day they could feel an impending doom but were completely powerless to stop it. Over 'time', people started to lose their minds. The strain of their repeating lives, both mentally and physically caused them to alter in both shape and personality. Many became aggressive, some depressed and lonely, while others like you somehow stayed strong of will and continued to struggle on.

I don't know how long we've have been trapped in this cycle. It must have been the equivalent of hundreds or thousands of years because we have evolved. You can see, you are not physically the creature you once were. And it is only you who has uncovered the truth. I have discovered the endless cycle of birth and death, purgatory, or whatever you want to call it and from this point on, you won't forget. The newfound awareness of your own time and space is a gift and it will give you the ability to alter this cycle and perhaps eventually even bring a stop to it. There are many out there now who have become hostile but there are still a few who have shreds of sanity left. You must use your developed strength to fight and your insight to solve our mystery."

Like a slap to the face, he remembered everything. And he did feel stronger and better equipped to deal with the situation. He had 18 hours and counting...


'Again' is a 7th generation (Xbox 360/PS3) 3rd person action/adventure game with a major focus on puzzles and including RPG elements. Very much in the same vein as the Legend of Zelda series. The entirety of the game takes place in a medium sized sandbox environment, the setting of which is a (fictional) small suburban English village called 'Ceaseston' (Cease - Stop, ton/tun - an enclosure/farmstead). It is made up of streets of houses, a town centre shopping area, police station, hospital, school, various places of industry e.g. factories, offices, docks and a countryside area made up of fields, forests, rivers etc. Ceaseston has a large population to support the story. About 60% of the original inhabitants are now hostile - enemies of the player and occupy the streets and open areas. The other 40% are NPC's that the player may interact with in a manner of ways, the most obvious being the ability to talk with them. They still occupy many of the buildings in the game-world and all have independent situations/stories/dialogue options and often quests to provide for the player. The world has a day/night cycle which takes place over the 18 hour period leading to the inevitable death of the player. There are scripted events for the environment since it is a recurring day e.g. weather/the 'end of the world' event/certain areas being destroyed, blocked off or opened to the player. Also in a similar way to Oblivion/Fallout/Majora's Mask, all of the NPC's will have scripted routines such as traveling from one place to another or sleeping.


The main mechanic of the game revolves around the theme of time. Inspired by 'Majora's Mask' and 'Flower Sun and Rain', the story is based on a groundhog day style event. The player begins at 8 am on Monday and has until shortly after 2 am on Tuesday to explore the environment, interact with various NPC's undertaking quests for them and battle hostile enemies. With every action the player makes, the timeline of the day is altered. When the day comes to it's conclusion. A second day is created as a parallel timeline which the player can select as a second 'level' to play through. Events and location will differ slightly from the players first experience, based on their actions the first time round. The player can use this dynamic to create multiple 'levels' and gain new abilities for the player character by performing certain actions a set amount of times in one level or completing particular quests, thus 'evolving' the next time round. An overall puzzle will bein to develop where the player can learn the outcomes of decisions made in the alternate levels they have created and combine them in order to play the day through in a 'perfect' way, finally completing the game. The main objective of Again is to uncover the cause of the disaster, the time-loop and eventually break it and escape the cycle.

More to come soon!... =D

Thursday, October 8, 2009


First project: Design a character
Second project: Design a level
....I think I know where this is going? =P
Whereas I found the first one quite easy (- it's what I've been doing for years), this level mechanics business is something I have contemplated but never actually had a proper go at. The closest I've ever come has been building multiplayer maps on pre-existing games, but admittedly I always find myself getting frustrated as they are rarely played in the way I had hoped. So this was a challenge, albeit a fun one.

I followed the mechanics given, tweaking them once or twice along the way, but did try to include every one at least once and I tried to do so in a way that seemed rational based on games I have played in the past. I aimed to give the level a smooth difficulty curve, offering simple item based puzzles early on which trained the player up for more difficult ones later on. I threw in various enemies at certain points to increase the tension and mix up the dynamic a little and tried to alter the size and shape of individual rooms in order to keep it interesting.

I've added the walkthrough I originally wrote which, although slightly looooong, definately helps makes better sense of the level!

1. The Street. First Challenge: Player must jump to overcome obstacles such as derelict cars/ bins/rubble and pits in the ground.

2. Player must eliminate first enemy. At this point, the player only has the melee attack, however it is made easy as the enemy is originally facing away from the player. The Lasso ability is granted upon completion of this.

3. First puzzle - the player must perform a running jump to bridge the gap ahead but there are inanimate objects blocking his path. The lasso must be used to drag them out of the way. This will get the player familiar with using the lasso.

4. Upon reaching the other side, the player will be confronted with another pit, however this time, the running distance is not sufficient to perform a running jump. The player must use the lasso to pull a large object on the other side towards him creating a bridge.

5. After passing through the first door into a building there are two enemies waiting to ambush the player. As each is behind a wall, the player has the ability to try and attack each of them one at a time. Also, directly in front of the player is an object which he may drag towards him to use as cover. The Light weapon is at the end of this room.

6. There is another inanimate object in the corner of the room which may also be dragged out of place to reveal another small corridor. As an exploration bonus, the first large health pack can be found inside. As it is on a high platform on the other side of a gap, the player must get on a level with it and then use the lasso at long distance to drag it towards him.

7. Another two enemies await the player, this time they are looking directly in the direction of the door the player enters through. Each of them has a piece of cover which again can be dragged away using the lasso.

Additionally, entering the room triggers an enemy 'respawn' point in the form of a ladder at the end of the corridor. In order to stop an infinite number of enemies, the player must use the lasso to pull the ladder down.

This room should be a good place for the player to get to grips with using a ranged weapon.

8. As soon as the player enters the next room an enemy will be waiting to his right. To his left, there are three cubicles. The first is empty, the second contains an enemy and as another exploration bonus, if the player chooses to then open the third there is a small health pack. Another enemy awaits to the right but at this point, the room may look like a dead end. One object may be removed to reveal a locked door. Further exploration will reveal a switch hidden behind another object on the far side of a large pit. The player must lasso the object into the pit and then shoot the switch in order to unlock the door.

9. The corridor leads down some stairs into a large 'warehouse'-like area.

In the middle of the room is a single enemy on patrol, at the far end is another on a high balcony surrounded by a pit. This enemy has a long range weapon and will spot the player upon entering and alert the guard on patrol. The player can quickly use the lasso to pull down a large object eg. a stack of crates to create some cover. He can then jump two levels into the upper right corner of the room where there is another enemy. On the opposite side, the player can drop back into a small gap to find the Medium weapon. In order to get out of the pit, the player must lasso another tall pile of crates and then jump over them.

10. In the upper middle portion of the room is a smaller room with a locked door. The switch for it is located behind the 'sniper' on the balcony. After recieving the medium weapon with its longer range, the player must backtrack to where he eliminated the first enemy on top of the crates and shoot both the sniper and then the switch to unlock the door.

11. Inside the small room is another large health pack. Picking this up will create some kind of alarm, causing another enemy spawn point in the upper left corner of the room. The only way to stop the onslaught is to shoot a weak structural area of the room marked by the pink rectangle. This will cause a beam to break and part of the room to fall in, blocking the door. There are a few inanimate objects dotted about the room to provide the player some extra cover at this point, should he need it. Destroying the beam will also unlock the next door which is located up a small ramp near where the player entered the room and down a long walkway.

12. The next room has a similar dynamic to the first in that there are two enemies, both hidden by short walls. It's cubicle layout should cause the player to become extra cautious. After eliminating the enemies, the player has two choices depending on his desire to explore. The first involves dragging away the two objects at the end of the corridor to reveal two ledges which lead to a door to the next room. The second option is to destroy the explosives using the medium weapon which will blow a small hole in the wall and lead the player on an alternative path to the same room.

13. As a reward for trying something new with the second option, the player will be lead into the room behind two enemies who are guarding the door that the player would have otherwise entered. Directly in front of him will be some kind of switch that the player can shoot to trigger part of the scenery to kill the two enemies eg. the roof will collapse on them.

14. Here is another large pit. There is only one point where the distance is short enough to cross and it requires the player to do two things. Firstly drag an object out of the way to create the required running distance and secondly, kill the enemy on the opposite platform so he can land safely. Upon landing, the player will find a small cubicle containing some ammo to his right, a barricaded door straight ahead and an open one to his left.

15a. This long corridor is filled with objects and pits + two enemies, making it very perilous. The player must tackle it one step at a time in order to make it to the end, moving objects which are in the way and dodging the holes in the ground. The first enemy might be quite easily pulled into the pit in front of him using the lasso. The second is a lot more challenging.

He is using the heavy weapon from high ground, making it impossible for the player to get on a level with him and kill him by simply climbing the ledges at the end. There are three large objects which may be pulled down in the corridor and upon activating all of them, the platform that the second enemy is standing on will crash down to ground level, allowing the player to shoot him and get the Heavy weapon. A large health pack will be an additional reward for the player who makes it to the end.

15b. Once the player has got the heavy weapon, he must backtrack to the door from which he entered. Before going through, he will pass a barricaded door on his right. The barricade can now be destroyed using the heavy weapon, granting the player access to another room with a single enemy. This is designed simply to show the new abilities of the heavy weapon. The player can then head back and destroy the barricaded double door he passed earlier and head into an elevator which will take him to the top floor.

16a. The elevator will open onto a long corridor with various small puzzles. Firstly the player must jump a small gap. To his left is a cubicle with a single enemy inside. Ahead are a set of double doors behind which is another larger pit. In order to cross it, the player must pull down a large object to bridge the gap. Doing so however will reveal a hidden enemy and trigger a spawn point from another door on the left. To cancel it, the player must pull another large object in front of the door, blocking it off.

16b. The corridor ahead is blocked with rubble and debris. The player must shoot some explosives with the medium weapon to destroy it and open a path. Next the player must climb some more rubble and they will reach the end of the corridor and two doors. The door to the left is guarded by an enemy but killing him and following the corridor behind him will lead the player to sneak up on an enemy in the next room. Alternatively, the player can destroy the barricade on the double doors ahead, granting him access to the same room but the enemy he could have snuck up on will now have the opportunity to sneak up on the player.

17. Either way, entering the room will cause two enemy spawn points on either side which can only be stopped by being shot with the heavy weapon. At this point, the player will be able to see the helicopter, his main objective, across a gap on another roof. In order to get across, the player must pull down another large object to bridge the gap in the middle or perform a running jump either side of it. On the final roof there are four more enemies. The player may choose to eliminate them or simply make a run up the two ledges to the helicopter and the end of the level.

Overall I was happy with the results and genuinely feel like I learned something new. Also it was interesting to see how others, both in my group and the first year had tackled the project differently. Admittedly, once again the most fun I had was in designing the playable character along with weapons and a back story for the level. This time I went for something a little more sinister.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The quick brown fox jumps over the dead dog...

This is my very first blog. As more of a test than anything else, I've decided to post the very first image I scribbled down for the very first piece of work I was set - just to see how it all looks.

A simple character design, I wanted to create something that was bold, aesthetically pleasing and that encompassed my general style of drawing. My work often personifies imagery which while at first glance may look like a pretty children's illustration, actually harbours much more sinister undertones.

I wanted to demonstrate this contrast in this particular character and so after making the decision that he be a 'soldier', I then chose that he should be an animal rather than the typical Gears of War-esque muscle ridden human. As you tend to find that most army-man designs are dull greys and browns, I figured that in order to make my guy look different, he must be a loner - independent of any group or standard uniform. Inspired by the 'wanderer' from the Fallout series, I imagined the fox as an explorer of some war-torn world. Perhaps he has left his home for that very reason - to escape the restraints of an overbearing religion or military organisation. Being a traveller, he now experiences countless other cultures and I wanted this to be reflected in his appearance. His clothes are an amalgamation of multiple outfits representing his worldly wisdom and open-mindedness, while his weapons and armour suggest the hostile enviroment and his strong survival skills.

The image was created entirely using Photoshop CS4 and a Wacom graphics tablet.