Some good news for HOPE this week, but first I wanted to write about something I read today.
I was reading this piece on Rock Paper Shotgun about Warren Spector and there was some discussion of the "one city block" concept. This concept resonates with my wishes for HOPE and where its heading. The idea is fairly simple, it means that you take a small area like a single city block and you simulate it in as much depth as you can. This "small systemic" design approach is very firmly what I have in mind for HOPE.
What it means in terms of the game experience, is that you should feel the place is more convincing and "alive" because the actual space itself has a certain level of autonomy and authenticity to it. This is important because there's naturally a tension between the "design" of a game and the "autonomy" of it.
Let me explain with one of the examples I'm thinking about for my DABL behavior language.
Think of the example of the "Elizabeth" character from Bioshock Infinite for a moment. There's a video of the beach scene in the game, where Elizabeth is confronted with all sorts of new experiences for the first time. In this scenario there's immediately a tension because they are trying to portray her as autonomous enough to enjoy these new experiences. But what if the player moves on from the beach immediately? In the game Elizabeth follows the player, but ask yourself what would happen in reality? The issue is that there's a tension between the motives of Elizabeth (to explore her surroundings) and the motives of the game designer (to make her a useful buddy).
So what if we took the other route. What if we gave Elizabeth complete autonomy? What if she could continue exploring until she became concerned about her relationship with the player?
I think the "small area deep simulation" aspect offers us some real freedom to explore here. If we tip the balance more towards "system" and less towards "design", so that things that should appear autonomous actually ARE autonomous. Its actually quite a different way to look at game design and is definitely not something happening in the AAA space right now. So my goal is that we get enough autonomy in the various systems (trade, characters, economy etc) that the systemic nature of them is apparent to players. It is a risky way of designing and notoriously hard to balance, so its likely there will be some really horribly broken balance issues to start with. But I'm hoping that this sort of systemic design will ultimately lead to a more interesting world space on a relatively meager production budget.
So anyway, on to the other news. Which this time around is GOOD news too!
If you recall, recently we lost a couple of artists. Specifically one of the guys was working on the environment (rig) artwork. Well luckily I've got an offer of some help from a buddy at work who is an unbelievably good environment artist. We went over some reference images of various inspirations (post apocalyptic places, games, rusty metalwork, anime etc). Tim is really good (he's a tutor at the University where I work, he teaches 3D art) at the technical side of art. He really knows his stuff inside and out, but as importantly has a great eye for lighting and colour. This means that in the next 4-6 weeks we should have some really amazing environment art coming up, specifically in terms of housing blocks and the "shanty town" feel of the rigs accommodation.
I've also been approached by one of Tim's students to do some environment work over the summer, which will be a big help.
On other art aspects, there's been a bit of a hiatus as I'm working on getting up to speed with Unity and its production pipeline. I did manage to spend $600 on various art packs from the Unity asset store, but that's only going to cover a tiny fraction of the art requirements and still requires a fair bit of repainting and texturing to be any use. Some of the assets are also not really ideal for real-time use.
So finally I figure I'd post a shot of a work-in-progress of one of the characters I'm thinking of for the rig's construction workers. Of course there's an issue in that the proportions are too "normal" right now. Luckily tools like Zbrush make it extremely easy to play around with characters, I really just wanted to get a few base meshes together first for character archetypes and to play with their proportions first. Don't worry so much about his face, the head will actually be a separate mesh in the final characters (so facial expressions can be animated and more detail used).
Anyway, good news and it is quite timely as I was having a hard time during the switch to Unity and having to evaluate the pipeline for art.
Til next time!