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


  1. You're a brave man going for a time travel idea for your first pitch/GDD. I love the artwork and the character, very surreal and creepy. It reminds me of The Nightmare before Christmas (without any negative Tim Burton connotations).

    Anyway, you've got a good list of references so far for time traveling mechanics. I'll go down the list and tell you my concerns.

    Story: The first part is fine, the description would certainly make for a good opening, however if you were to pitch this story idea I would certainly condense the boy's notes to himself. Depending on the age/IQ of the boy, the note sounds very uhh, third person-ish (despite the second person view). I would write it more like a note to myself (first person) and perhaps not use such formal language and grammar.

    It does sound like he knows a lot of what's going on so far. It might be interesting for the player to find out about the events written here for themselves rather than tell them everything they know. That way, the board could slowly be filled up with clues to yourself as the game progresses. Show, don't tell as they say. That might be more of a GDD thing though.

    TL;DR make it more personal, less knowledgable and more mysterious. I feel like if I was the player I would be spoiled by knowing all that information and not finding it out for myself.

    Format: 7th generation isn't something you really need to write lol. Just saying it's on the PS3/360 is enough. Hell, just saying next-gen is enough, but I digress. Never mention in your pitch/GDD what games you take reference/influence from. To say your game is like GTA BUT (add aspect here) takes away from your idea; all anyone can see is GTA now. It's always great to have those references, just keep them close to hand. If someone else happens to mention "it's like--" then that's all good. But never ever say it in a pitch. Reference mechanics, not games!

    Another thing you want to be wary of is your time limit. You might have issues in figuring out how long an hour is in game. Is it 1:1? 1:2? 1:3? Depending on how long it is, you might find that having scripted NPC events like sleeping, going out of town etc really limits the amount you can do. Since effectively you'll only have 1 day and 1 night to do stuff, if the NPC you want goes to bed you have to wait until the next cycle to speak to him/her. 18 hours seems pretty tight, but if you can make it work then more power to you. I would personally stretch it out over a day (then things like sunrise have more of an impact). Most of the games you have listed (or at least the most famous) use a few days to do stuff. Anyway, it could be your unique twist to things, so good luck!

    Mechanics: Pretty simple if you break it down like you have. Exploration, combat and story. For your pitch, devote a page or 2 to each one. Explain a little on how you can explore (how you get around, run, jump swim etc). On how you fight (powers/abilities) and how you tell the story (option boxes, minigames). Characters, overview/story/market stuff and perhaps a scenario or level design would help as well.

    That's all I have to say for now. Good luck with the pitch and GDD!

  2. Bloody hell man! Really appreciate the feedback! You've genuinely helped me sort out a clearer and more focused way of putting things together.

    In terms of the story, I totally agree with you. I rushed the note section and reading it back, I thought it sounded muddled. I'm not entirely sure that's how I would want to tell the player the story, but at the time, that's the best I could come up with, haha! Giving it to them in pieces as you suggest would make a lot more sense.

    Cheers for the tips about the pitch as well, I had kind of imagined referencing loads of games would prove I'd done my research but I can see now how it might end up making the whole idea look like a clone of something else. If I don't mention it, and it doesn't occur to the reader, it'll make my idea seem more original.

    The general time cycle mechanic is something I'm struggling with. You say I'm brave for going with the time-travel thing, but I'm beginning to wonder if I'm just stupid! =P I'm going to get as much done as possible by Thurs/Fri n run it by Jim n Josh to see what they think + any extra advice you guys could give would be invaluable!

    Cheers again for the input man!

  3. Heh, Pupil becomes master. Yeah what he said ;-) My only addition is to keep using that loose sketching to storyboard the game mechanics and lead this into game play. This type of sketching will help you firm up your view of the game as you develop it.