Thursday, October 3, 2013

Turncoat Dev Diary: Concept and Mechanics

As I mentioned in my last post, we now have dedicated game artists working on Turncoat, and we've mostly decided on the mechanics and basic structure of our first game. I'm not quite ready to announce the game's name or share much detail about it until we've finalized that decision and taken some administrative steps such as reserving the app and domain names.

For the first game, we've decided not to make it story-driven. This was a tough call, because our eventual goal is to create large, story-heavy cinematic games. However, we also need to run this as a business. Long cutscenes and story-driven plot would greatly increase the budget and timeline of this first game and probably wouldn't greatly increase our sales.

So, what we're doing is a game that's smaller in scope but set in the universe and takes place in and around the main storyline. Developing a more casual game will allow us to build up a library of game assets to eventually be used in the full story-driven game yet still keep a reasonable timeline for shipping something.

In the last post, I showed you the selection of gun silhouettes that Alex came up with:

We decided to start working with the silhouettes J and K (which are similar) for the first gun the player gets to use. I did a write-up of the characteristics of the gun and wrote a little in-universe history for it to help Alex while visualizing it. My thought was that the player would start with a more general purpose gun; something modular that came in several variants. We settled on an assault rifle that came in regular, sniper and tactical variants. After noodling around for a bit, Alex came turned that into these designs:

When he first sent it to me, I really wanted to find something that needed to be improved. I pretty much failed to find fault with the designs, though. They're pretty much exactly what I was hoping for. The only flaw I found was in the variant names. The "X" designation only applies to the sniper variant. The tactical variant is the RAR-14T, and the regular version is the RAR-14.

RAR stands for "Republic Assault Rifle", and it's pronounced "rawr fourteen".  I was originally going to drop the first R, making "Republic" assumed.  "AR-14" or "Republic AR-14" sounded more like a gun to me than "RAR-14". It turns out, there was a reason for that. The original name of the M16 rifle was "AR-15". Even today, the civilian semi-automatic variant of that gun is sold under the trademarked designation AR-15 by Colt. To keep our distance and not sound too derivative, I decided to stick with the original three-letter acronym pronounced like a word.

Patrick, our other game artist, took Alex's designs and started working on the 3D model for the gun. The model's not finished, but it's looking pretty sharp so far:

Meanwhile, needing a break from designing guns, Alex started working on concept art for the game's first level. We decided that the first level would be a shooting range on board a ship. Our earliest idea was to make a small, long, windowless range. In Deep Fleet ships, space is at a premium, so I initially wanted the space to feel cramped to reflect that, almost as if the designers of the ship had to make room for the rifle range as an afterthought. We explored that idea for a while, but after talking through it, we opted to go in a different direction. We decided that the first level the player sees needed to have a little "wow" to it, and a cramped, dingy range squirreled away in the bowels of the ship just wouldn't give us that. It makes sense in-universe, but it doesn't work for the game.

Essentially, we decided to let aesthetics trump in-Universe realities, and went with a range with large (very bullet proof) windows through which stars, the sun, or maybe even Mars or Earth can be seen. Alex isn't done with the concept art for the shooting range yet but he's off to a good start if you ask me.

The range has a large overhead window looking into space that prevents the room from feeling cramped or small. The shooting stalls can slide in for individual practice, or can be slide out for tactical training. The large pyramid above with the catwalks extending off of it is a holographic projector. Although some elements on the range are real physical items, the targets themselves will be projected holograms. We were originally going to go with targets that pop up the way they do on modern tactical training ranges, but then decided we wanted to go a bit more futuristic.

It'll be interesting to see how much of this changes before we ship the first version of the game, but so far I'm incredibly happy with the progress we're making. On the game mechanics side, I've been experimenting with the gryoscope and trying to make a decision about whether it can be used for certain game mechanics. What I've found is that it's quite well suited to certain situations, but not to others. For example, when you use a scope like the one on the rifle above, and zoom in far, the tiniest movements of your hands cause large movements in the scoped view. While this is somewhat realistic for shooting at long range - holding a gun absolutely perfectly still is impossible - it takes scope drift out of our control.

We need to be able to control things like that. How do we make a gun on a bipod more stable than a gun that's just held, otherwise? How do we make a large, heavy gun behave differently than a smaller one? Contrariwise, how do we keep them from stabilizing their device on a table?

No. Scope drift has to be something we have precise control over. It can't be a byproduct of our control mechanism.

Although I really like the feel of the gyroscope for shooting, I'm becoming convinced that it's not the right mechanism for this game. That being said, I think it might be the right way to control the view in at least some situations when you're not using a scope. The gyroscope is far more accurate than the accelerometer, and any control mechanism that requires screen touches would require screen real estate we're going to need for other controls.

We're making progress and I look forward to sharing more designs with you as we go along. Once we have our ducks in a row and have finalized the game's name and basic story, I'll also share that.

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