Core Design Philosophy
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Emotionally driven gameplay, emphasizing cinematic immersion through player involvement, continuity, and nonlinear storytelling -- this is what VHEL is all about philosophy wise. Inspired by titles such as Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Mass Effect, the Metal Gear Solid series, Team Fortress 2, the Half-Life series, Super Metroid, Persona 3 and 4, Left 4 Dead, and others, VHEL offers a unique approach to the real-time tactics sub-genre, while also providing a compelling storyline that‘s contextual to the player‘s own actions, rather dubious, vain, or virtuous. Using intuitive yet complex cause and effect gameplay systems, the player is able to approach VHEL and play it in any fashion he or she wants, with no “Game Over” sequences to be seen, other then a continuation of the story taking into the account of the player‘s own failures. The player’s main objective throughout 80% of the gameplay experience concerns traveling from point A to point B in an ever evolving environment, avoiding enemy confrontations as much as possible, all within a set time limit. VHEL’s core gameplay revolves around “evasion”; the act of deceiving the enemy through the use of clever ploys, heavily dependent on skill, knowledge, and adaptability.
Everything from performing very simple actions such as striking enemies, to very visceral actions such as maneuvering past multiple objects in a seamless manner, or having very deep and informative conversations with others, is fully realized. The controls (mostly contextual to the mouse) have been designed to be very dynamic and flexible, so whatever the player thinks he or she can do gameplay wise, they more than likely can do without the need of any type of menu displays or external gameplay mechanics that break the immediate game space. To make all this a possible, VHEL is established on several "focus words". These keep design elements, along with the core gameplay, in line. First, I’ll begin by speaking about the first focus element -- visceral actions.
Every cause has an effect. Every action comes with a repercussion. Whatever seems physically possible, is possible. Whatever seems logically possible, is possible.
In most games, the player is given the option to play the way they want to within the context of the game; a genre’s complexity prevailing and dictating all. Video games normally strap the player down to a predetermined method of play that focuses on looking at meters, barometers, and numerical figures. This normally creates situations where the player has to continually alter their logical and emotional perspectives about the game they’re playing to complete -- for example -- a puzzle, or a very meticulous boss encounter.
In VHEL, the hindrance of predetermined “designer logic”, in a heavier sense, has been lowered enough to stop the game from telling the player how to have fun. VHEL is completely about giving the player challenges and testing his or her own fortitude. Skill is the driving force behind VHEL’s playability -- not luck, predictable events, or progressive stat development. Immersion can only work when the player is involved in every action directly. If the player doesn’t have a sense of their own God given skill within the game itself, then player skill, as a factor, becomes irrelevant. Such is the case with some RPG’s when playability becomes nothing more than a redundant, step-by-step chore. Again, VHEL is about making the actions of the player impressionistic, dynamic, and adaptable to all things within the game.
- Simple fun
- Dynamic difficulty curve dictated by the player’s choice of play; keeping a consistent pace, flow, and enemy level, with the player
- Approachable yet in-depth gameplay mechanics -- easy to pick up, hard to master
- Consistent game rules without an abstract UI
Every aspect regarding the world is accessible. Information about certain aspects about the world is accessible at all times, so are the environments, as well.
The biggest goal in VHEL’s development is to achieve a true sense of space. Space -- not referring to “emptiness” -- is basically the constant sense of being in a three-dimensional environment; being embodied in a fully realized, yet artificial, atmosphere. Most video games resort to menu displays and other conventional staples of gaming to get across general information. Analytically speaking, however, these “staples of gaming” are literally destroying the priority of immersion -- eliminating both the sensation of being within a certain type of space and also augmenting the player’s senses in tangent.
VHEL’s prime focus in terms of exploration is to achieve absolution. VHEL gives the player what he or she needs to interact with the world completely, then allows the player to do as they please in any fashion they would like. The complexity of the game comes from allowing the player to interact with every seemingly interesting object within the game.
- Nonlinear approach to contract (mission, quest, etc.) resolution
- Integration of an artificial calendar system that dictates day and night cycles, as well as story events, enemy spawns, and setting changes
- Player driven navigation
- Environments with a linear sense of importance, usability, and change
Every living thing has a purpose. Every object that can be approached, is capable of having a relationship with another. There is no exception to this rule.
Having a relationship with someone -- in a general sense -- usually tends to be a two sided road. Both parties must interact with the other to become formally aware of the current circumstances in place. Behavior is often skewed towards formalities during the first encounters. Eventually, these behaviors tend to move more and more into informal mannerisms. Contrary to this is the act of unfamiliarity; a person being rude to another person they don’t even know simply because of transgressive thoughts. Additional factors dabble into personal and group affiliations. This is the ground work for VHEL’s most elaborate design focus -- realistic, social-based relationships. There are several things it will accomplish:
- Autonomous relationships between the player and every character, object, and enemy
- An appreciation for existing world entities even when removed
- An intimate understanding of how the player is changing the world without an abstract UI or barometer
Every event is fueled by a story driven instance. No matter when or where, story is always present and at the forefront of every scenario cohesively.
VHEL breaks ordinary gaming conventions by providing a contextual storyline that works around the player's choice of progression. Thanks to VHEL’s player-triggered AI systems, characters react dynamically to situations, other characters, and other various nuances. As so, the game almost entirely is reliant on real-time information about the world, carried and passed around via characters. New information or player-triggered situations mean new scenarios for characters to look into, however, rather or not certain characters will care or not, dependent on previous relations with the player, can also become a factor. It’s with this unique approach to storytelling that allows VHEL to give each player an entirely different story based experience.
- Non segmental presentation
- Seamless integration of dialogue and story within the gameplay context
- Story < Gameplay; at no time should the story stop the ongoing gameplay experience and remove control from the player inappropriately
- No repetition of storyline moments (no repeating anything, basically) at anytime ala Game Over sequences or the like
The importance to absolute immersion
Intentionally, VHEL was made to be an atmospheric and plot driven game influenced only by the world that its taking place in, meaning that having special abilities, value based systems that overshadow the presentation itself, standoffish music irrelevant to the overall experience, derivative in-game UI, and other common video game staples, had to be dropped in favor for more paradox inclined, immersion based principles that are essential to the believability of the world the player is allowed to play in. Continuity is what drives immersive gameplay experiences, so coming up with a way to present a seamless world that was unique, but still very interesting to the player, was the key. This was all handled ingeniously by designing the game around a linear progressive model while providing player dependent scenarios that hindered on player involvement, choice, and freeform exploration -- heavily inspired by Super Metroid, Persona 3 & 4, and Mass Effect; using player oriented goals and progressive models. In hind sight, the gameplay was made to work seamlessly with all this in mind. Incorporating cooperative based gameplay concepts, while providing precision control to the player, and providing the player a very meaningful way to interact with everything around them, ultimately makes the experience 70% player dependent. The remaining 30% is game driven, but randomized for the sake of player development -- the player proactively improving in the game both internally and externally -- and adaptation.
Above all else, VHEL is meant to deliver an emotionally charged and fulfilling experience. Although it may not pertain the same level of value a game with heavily saturated RPG based systems can provide, stand as a technological benchmark, or even be a milestone in innovation, it stands strong by providing a very rudimentary factor not many games supply -- an emotionally involving, but fun, story, fixated on the player‘s fortitude and ability to think on the fly to otherwise change the outcome of everything. Although this may sound like the dullest thing to have within the confines of a video game in this day and age, memorable moments that push you to the edge and drive out levels of thinking and player involvement that are unique from one event to another, therefore create something you want to be apart of. VHEL isn’t just a game that you play through and forget about once your done, nor is it a story based trilogy with the same repetitive game play mechanics. It’s a cinematic experience that challenges you to think outside the norm. Plain and simple.