Sunday, 16 March 2014

Forward Motion & Idle Game Prototyping

During our last session with Dave for our Design Master class session we were discussing idle games, specially the concept of forward motion. Forward motion in writing terms is this idea of the page turner, that special thing that keeps the reader turning the page, ultimately unable to put the book down. We can look at forward motion and begin to understand methods for holding players attention in a number of different ways.

Looking back through my postmortem of my last Ludum Dare #28 entry entitled Channel, its fundamental flaw lay within that of forward motion - players ultimately losing interest rapidly. This is one thing that idle games do particularly well, as designers we can learn a lot from these games. One way that they achieve this is by lots of change and constant rapid movement, this makes players feel like the game is going somewhere. Progress is usually being made at all times, often, without any player input or even when the game is closed. This ultimately holds players attention, they find it difficult to stop playing or even think about playing. (Cookie Clicker, 2013)

Cookie Clicker - Idle Game

By promising players things that they will want and always delivering on those promises we can hold their attention between the gap of promise and delivery for a long time. It is important that you always keep your promises - "It's wrong to make promises you don't mean to keep." (Chekhov, letter to Aleksandr Semenovich) The gap between promise and delivery creates player suspense to occur. Suspense is when the audience and the characters know the same information, if you make players feel suspense then you can hold their focus for duration, once you release that suspense players will feel a sense of relief. If you "Under promise and over deliver" you can surprise players, making them feel satisfied and accomplished.  The way that we can create promises in our games is by carefully foreshadowing specific components. All the components in your game should have a purpose; everything should happen for a reason with relevance - "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there." (Anton Chekhov).

An early scene within the film The Grand Budapest Hotel features the painting of boy with apple, long before the audience has any knowledge of the role it plays for the rest of the film - the significance of this painting is foreshadowed to us. Foreshadowing results in a sense of inevitability. The audience likes to make connections and figure things out, the audience likes order. Later on in The Grand Budapest Hotel, we discover that the painting actually a McGuffin. The McGuffin is a plot device that can be used to create forward motion, typically a goal or an object that is desired by the protagonist and often has little or no narrative explanations - "What everybody on the screen is looking for, but the audience don't care." (Alfred Hitchcock)

The Grand Budapest Hotel - Foreshadowing, Boy With Apple
The Grand Budapest Hotel - The McGuffin, Boy With Apple

We understand that forward motion can be achieved with lots of fresh ever changing content, doing this just comes down to having lots of assets to an even standard. Something that in a games jam can be very difficult to achieve due to the short time frame - So how can we approach this in a jam? One method that you can potentially utilize to give the illusion of progression in your content is by simply altering your colour palette or adding a colour filter/texture over your assets. This seems fairly obvious and trivial but will enhance the likelihood of impressing the judges in a game jam situation. Below is an example of our game where we change the palette of assets whenever a new fundamental gameplay mechanic is introduced in order to achieve forward motion.

Softlegs - Alternative Colour Palettes

Nearing the end of our session we were tasked to play some idle games for a final class discussion. Picking out any common traits, or fundamental flaws that we felt stood out. To consider the question, how would you improve these types of games? For me, one stand out conclusion that we came to was that most idle games seem to lack focus towards potentially meaningful, insightful or emotionally attaching content - something that players could relate to on a personal level. As young designers we were encouraged to explore this as one of the many areas within games that is yet to be explored. After our discussion, I went home fully inspired and tried exactly that. I spent the next couple of days working on a basic style guide for this little idle game idea I had, and then spent the next week or so prototyping in Flash - presented below as follows.

My Style Guide/Moodboard
It was important for me to mock out a basic style guide as a point of reference. When you work solo on a project, it is less important for you to mock up styleguides and moodboards as their purpose is to enable other members of the team to understand a designers vision with full clarity. However I presented my brief style guide below to simply illustrate my workings out. This helps me and you begin to visualise how selected components may well look in unision with one another.

Logline: Collect millions of beautiful tulip petals with tranquility and harmony in the fields of Holland to achieve an unforgettable purpose.

Environment: Set deep within the vastness of colour that run across the tulip fields of Holland. Players are placed in the fields and take the role of a flower petal picker. From here I can begin considering my composition of the game space, the placing of objects I want to be in relation to one another, the direction of lines to create to create a sense of distance and to lead the eye, as well as framinging and foreground.

Environment - Holland

Colour Palette: I pick out some top down aerial viewpoints of the tulip fields in Holland to begin thinking about colour. I consider the types of colour I want to pick out in order to compliment the mood I want to achieve.

Colour Palette - Tulip Fields

Climax: Unlike most idle games I have played, often they feature no official or worthwile ending, and that was something that I really wanted to do. I want players to feel like all their time spent grinding out through repition the task of clicking thousands upon tousands of flower petals, I want them to feel like it was worth it. The way I intend to do this is by crafting a memorable, beautifully rendered 2D animation of flower pickers releasing an enormous basket full of colourful petals ontop of a high landmark. Taking insipiration from the Sony Bravia - Balls advert, players would simply sit back and watch the many petals they have collected fall and flicker from the sky.


End Game Influence

'Petals' Prototype - WIP
Petals is still very much under construction and has far to go in terms of gameplay due to some technical limitations - I plan to return to and finish this project later in my career once I have myself a programmer on board with the idea. None of what you see below is final art.

Work in Progress
10% Increase in auto-picking per Gatherer

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