Art Style – The Greatest Challenge For A Physicist

Keyframe

After a much belated period of non-posting, it’s about time I got the wider world up to speed on Keyframethe new name for Project Duality!!!!!

Let’s get straight onto the biggest challenge I have had to face up to on the course –  fanfare please – developing and solidifying an art style for the game.

Not enough direction

Finding out whether you are a good leader, or not, occurs in the planning as well as the doing. At the very beginning of the project (when we were still conceptualising the game mechanics) I had not decided how I wanted to approach the art design, and most game designers would say that’s the way it should be. Since studying and making at the NFTS I’ve learned that getting a solid game loop up and running it by far the most useful thing a designer can do. This is mainly because the art and story can be drastically changed by the slightest of changes to the way the player interacts with these elements. Truthfully they are all interdependant on each other, however for the designer to take the “game first” route has it’s advantages. To take a topical tangent, the Secret Cinema in London recently embraced the Star Wars canon as it’s fiction world theme – so imagine watching The Empire Strikes Back in a cavernous sci-fi cinema being surrounded by noisy ewoks, bounty hunters and storm troopers, compared to watching it on a smart phone. Like the immersive setting of this year’s Secret Cinema, the supporting structure of games design uplifts, subverts, and entrances. However the relationship between the design and art needs to be complimentary. When suddenly the NFTS tutors were confused and alarmed that no placeholder art work had made it into the game I set about doing something of my own. A quick photoshopping later…

gamescreen

But even with the artwork above suddenly influencing the direction of the style, I’d not researched in depth how I wanted my game to look. It’s not that I didn’t do the research! Quite the opposite, A few key images are usually enough to give to artists who are adapting to a given brief… but I’d ended up with many images without a concrete theme, or tone to really unify them.

Without that tone, the unifying principle of the game (and therefore the style), it made it harder to direct the team as a whole. Really these have already defined (memory, external and internal relationships, emotion) but not explicitly used to direct the art style. As in, there’s been no documentation I can give to artists to say “Here, this is the feeling I’m after.”

 

The problems due to this arise most drastically when showing the game to the public. One of our tutors does a fantastic job of teasing out the issues that the public will jump on first, and going into meetings with him is actually difficult without a clear direction on the art style.

To remedy this I’ve undertaken a mad exploratory rush to understand the great art movements of human history. Impressionism. Expressionism. Constructivism. Cubism. Personally I hate ‘ism’s but hey it’s been a fruitful endeavour.

Capture2

My Pinterest is full of separate boards containing images that I can refer to and say “hey, this art style is a little like that – I want more of it!”. Funnily enough the Cubist and Constructivist art forms draw very close to the way I want the game to look! It was a really fun experience submerging myself in hundreds of images and artists, and ultimately I feel I can be more assertive in my art direction.

anthony_face_1

Still, in hindsight a dedicated art director is something that this project could have truly benefited from due to my lack of experience in visual art. Fortunately the learning experience hasn’t hampered the development of the game too much, however I do think that as a student of a creative school it is expected that you come with a competent knowledge of art and film. I actually came to the school to learn those skills and should have requested help much, much earlier.

What is Project Duality?

Keyframe

 

What is Project Duality?

Project Duality for Android and iOS tablets is a narrative tile puzzle game about Anthony, a father trying to reconnect with his daughter Clio.

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ontab2 copy g

Drag and scale the borders surrounding Anthony’s tile to reveal more of his world, which in turn trigger memory tiles that may help his goal of redemption, or obstruct his journey with demons from the past. As Anthony reveals more memories, you will have to move and change the shape of the tiles to change Anthony’s relationship to his memories.

 

Why This Game?

I’m really interested in the exploration of memory, and how the understanding of our past experiences changes significantly over time. The name “Duality” comes from this idea of dual causality, a reminder that our memories affect our present action, and our present changes our associations with our memories.

 

What’s The Story?

The story of Anthony and Clio seemed like a natural one to tell in the framework of dual causality. On one side is a father who abandoned his family long ago. On the other is a grown woman trying to start her own family in the absence of a father figure. How they both remember each other is lost in fragmented recollections, some pleasant, others awful. A middle-aged Anthony returns to the once quiet haven of Nine Oaks, Surrey to visit Clio after 18 years to find that everything has changed. Few parts of the town are even recognisable. As he roams around Nine Oaks disorientated and guilt ridden, it’s up to the player to change Anthony’s fate through his memories. Anthony’s chance at being back in Clio’s life is determined by your actions.

 

How Do I Play?

Anthony’s story is told through two types of tile that appear on the screen and you can manipulate these tiles to change the story. Think of each chapter in the game as a puzzle that has multiple solutions, and in reaching these solutions you will alter Anthony’s tale.

The Main tile (or Anthony’s tile) contains the present day Nine Oaks. It usually only ever shows a glimpse of the town environment. By dragging the boundaries of the tile you begin to reveal more of the scene bit by bit. Anthony will automatically interact with any important objects or people currently contained within the Main tile, so the larger you make the tile the more options he has. These options lead to a solution to the chapter. As Anthony comes into contact with other people and places these options will also change.

Memory tiles however stop any other tile from expanding past their own boundaries! They are created whenever you expand the Main tile over any phemonena that induce a memory in Anthony’s mind. Some disappear unless you tap them straight after being revealed. These tiles will begin get in your way so in order to reach a solution to each chapter you must rearrange their layout.

Everything in Nine Oaks can potentially create memories.

Memories also represent choice. At key moments in the game Anthony will be challenged to make a difficult decision or overcome a tricky obstacle. He can use his memories like powerups to help him make the right (or wrong) choice! To enable a Memory tile this to do this you need to expand the tile enough to reveal something new about that memory.

To reach the different solutions for each chapter you will have to balance creating powerup Memory tiles with maintaining enough options for Anthony in the Main tile.

 

When Can I Play?

By September I hope to have the first of three Acts ready to show as a demo. The full game will be an hour long experience so expect a good chunk to try out at EGX in Birmingham!

 

Project Duality – A Backstep To The Future

Keyframe, NFTS

“Duality – A single player game in split screen in which you help [protagonist] navigate two worlds – the memories of the past and their consequences in the present – to save a family relationship from irreparable damage.”

 

splitexp

Past Past Kai:   Hey lets make a game about projectors, no wait festivals, aha what about memories and split screen!! Yey!

Past Kai:             ARGH! How low can you go? Well, pretty low when you don’t have know how your main game mechanic is going to work. *weep*

Present Kai:     Okay, better, things are improving, and the team is coming together! The mechanic is almost there, that Easter break really cleared my head! Lots of work to do though…

Future Kai:      This game will never be finished! And the textures look funny! And I’ve run out of money for cereal! And I deleted the Unity project folder waaaaa!

Future Future Kai:      OMG WE DID IT!!!!!!!!!! *champagne awesplosions everywhere*

So the story goes. 😉

After some unexpected changes to the project my grad project has almost built the foundations necessary to proceed beyond the comfort of non-committal fluffy ideas. This process began with my pitch for Duality:

“Duality – A single player game in split screen in which you help [protagonist] navigate two worlds – the memories of the past and their consequences in the present – to save a family relationship from irreparable damage.”

The idea of using more than one screen to explore different worlds came from a number of influences, includingTV series “24”, the flashy cutscenes in anime games, the Nintendo DS consoles and actual multiplayer splitscreen. However, from the beginning of the Duality concept a question of how multiple view (i.e worlds) interact has been lounging its big fat bottom on the road to progress.

split screen

An example of different types of split screen: TV series 24, Mario Kart 64, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for 3DS

 

I got as far as defining two worlds to be represented by panels (divisions of the complete screen, similar to comic strip panels); one of the present and another of the subjective past. I am drawn to how our memories change as time proceeds, so the idea behind the game was to draw attention to the fluidity of memory. These two worlds and how they were shown to be simultaneously active was the first breakthrough in the concepting phase. Dual causality – our memories affecting our present day decisions, and then the procession of actions in the present affecting those memories – is actually the origin of the name of the project. Showing two worlds on the same screen gave me room to air out interesting ideas, and the concept seemed to stick well with tutors and other students.

Then the roadblock. What to do with these screens? From a cinematic perspective it’s certainly interesting to have multiple screens, but an essential part of good games design is the synergy between gameplay, story, and aesthetic. Up until now I don’t think I’ve had a way of describing the functionality of such a supporting game mechanic… but a drumroll please to announce my latest discovery…

Sliding Block Puzzle Mechanics! Tada!

tiles

Wikipedia says: This is a type of ‘tour puzzle’ that challenges a player to slide flat pieces along certain routes (usually on a board) to establish a certain end-configuration. The pieces to be moved may consist of simple shapes, or they may be imprinted with colours, patterns, sections of a larger picture (like a jigsaw puzzle), numbers, or letters. A great example is Rush Hour, a board game that has you moving vehicles stuck in a traffic jam to let one car escape.

Panels of the first prototype

Panels of the first prototype

When looking at my early prototypes of a classic horizontally splitscreen game the first thing I wanted to give the player the ability to do was to actually manipulate the two panels in as many ways as possible (their size, position, and content). I focused my designer’s gaze using the conceptual lenses of dual causality and memory, and thought that the nature of memory could be portrayed as a smörgåsbord of latent images sitting in the mind waiting to be activated.

Rush Hour - But what if each vehicle tile was a memory panel...?

Rush Hour – But what if each vehicle tile was a memory panel…?

Arranging these active memories like ingredients in the right order and in correct quantity sounded not only challenging but also fun! Much like that of a sliding tile puzzle. Then, multiple-splitscreens provided an oblongular context to contain these memories within their own dedicated panels.

metro

Also, while I hate to draw the comparison, the Windows 8 Metro tiles with their atomic representations of information showed me what could be possible with panels on a screen. Another influence, app game Framed, uses a multiple tiles each containing a scene, and also helped affirm the concept of moving tiles in context to create an desired outcome.

But alone moving panels around to make a configuration doesn’t exactly make for an interesting game, beyond the obvious puzzle challenge. The context of that movement needed strengthening. So I looked to another influence…

grow

I’m not sure if anyone reading will have played free flash games like Grow and Windosill, both of which always fascinated me due to their intricate puzzle spaces. Learning what the worlds could and couldn’t do always felt like a process of discovery rather than lining up a load of objectives and clocking the right ones off in a correct order. Getting the sequence wrong in Grow was just as satisfying because the consequences were played out the whole way through, and the mess you made was presented to you as a glorious accomplishment.

I guess that feeling also arises from games that allows for emergent player behaviour – a blog post for another time methinks 😉

What I longed for in changing the dimensions and position of the panels was a way to affect the memories contained within them. I already knew that there would be a relationship between the configuration of these memory panels, and the character contained in the present day panel, but it was another breakthrough to think that changing the panels themselves might change the memories themselves.

cat

Still confused? Check out this link: http://roxik.com/cat/ and try changing the browser window size a couple of times. Imagine the cat having a variable called “fatness” and it changes with your choice of window size. Fatness at 100% is when the window is as small as can be, and at 0% when the browser is full screen.

Now take the case of a series of panels, one of which is at a max size. Shrink it, and the variable “focus” of that memory changes from 0% to 100%. At 100% the displayed image in the panel changes from showing a large room with many people in it to zooming in on a single face. As focus changes, so does the effect of that memory on the present day – in one case the protagonist is thinking about his emotional connection to a particular character, in another he is considering the memory as whole. Tracking shots and zoom shots would help convey this change. A few links follow :

Tracking shot: http://goo.gl/9a01F7

A variety of cool zooming shots from the man himself, Tarantino:  http://goo.gl/yc9YJI

So unlike sliding block puzzles, where the tiles are unchanging, the content of the panels now have significance and have variables such has focus that change depending on the panel configuration.

In summary the main mechanic of Duality shares this idea of a puzzle space. There are actions the player can make to set up a scenario for the main protagonist, and then when played out player is rewarded with the consequences on the life of the character. The actions in Duality currently incorporate actions adapted from actions taken in the sliding block puzzles such as board game Rush Hour[link].

Next post I’ll go more into detail about the panel actions the player can take to help, or hinder, the protagonist.

Phew! Long blog post!

Fast Forward – Feeling Stuck

Keyframe, NFTS

What a week. The beginning saw me returning from my grandparents’ place up in Sunderland a little happier that my Nana has gotten some social stimulus and better nutrition. Throughout the week my project began to develop some semblance of form, but was subsequently hacked down and boiled into its basic constituent forms. From everything I felt like I’d been brought back to nothing.

Capture2
My meeting with Sion and Jon gave me little hope that my projector concept could be worked upon. I was struggling to get a single sentence in that would describe what was in my head, but even given the opportunity I wasn’t sure what to say. I knew I wanted their help in moving forward with the idea. But getting that elevator pitch level of conciseness and complete understanding wasn’t possible. Everything was too nebulous. And their desire for me to work on another project was just too strong.

The Keycutter keeps coming back to me as an interesting mechanic and potentially strong theme with characters and stories and more. But it’s only part of my story…

And now I’m at a bit of a crossroads. In one direction lies a fresh start, a scary gulf that I’m completely baffled as to how to cross. The otherside of that ravine promises success, while over here on the ledge there are only notions of the crossing. A game that helps people? A game that challenges my artistic ability? A game that tells a story? A game that uses complex, intricate and beautiful systems? A game in real world spaces? A game involving festivals?

It's all mapped out for all to see, but I still arrived at the wrong castle grrrrrrrrr

It’s all mapped out for all to see, but I still arrived at the wrong castle grrrrrrrrr

The crossroads leads elsewhere also. Looking away from the ravine I can still make out the dim form of my projector idea, reduced now to something simpler. The use of found images, photographs, projection and hand drawn animations. Puzzles. Puzzles puzzles puzzles. I’m desperate to explore it further and there are people interested in the aesthetic. I think it answers a lot of my questions in its simplicity yet the connections are currently only in my mind…

NFTS Graduate Year Project – Pitch Perfect

Keyframe

Hey so back again to continue documenting my slow ascension to gamedesignerhood! Last night I was exposed to hilarity that is “Jupiter Ascending” and for the tears of gleeful mirth I could not continue my blogging. Here’s an second endeavour to put away the merry memories (and knowledge that I’m going to go see it AGAIN tomorrow with Francine haha!) and focus on this very important grad project blog ;).

So I left off at the point of great ponderings. A slew of ideas had been sloshing around my noggin for the best part of a month, and with February came not only the penultimate breaths of winter’s winds, but also a dusting of Tony’s reminders about the ideas pitch I would have to present. The pressure to amount some kind of cohesive collection of concepts began to build. As I approached the deadline I began eeking out my ideas to some close friends and family.

If there’s anything I could recommend over anything else with regards to ideas, is that they need to be free! Some might say ideas are cheap, well I say (hoho) that they are cheep and can squark, glide, soar and dive much like a young fiesty seagull! (Jonathan Livingstone would be proud of my reference!) It’s only natural for creative ideas to feel precious and delicate, but their potency and strength can only really be understood under the scrutiny of an outer environment.

As soon as the scrawny blurry-eyed runts were forced out of the safety of the nest they began standing on their own two feet, then ruffling a feather or two in response to some qualitative feedback. Finally the nurtured and tested ideas that had been disguised against broken eggshells took flight, leaving me with a flock I could begin to document.

I Kissed A Gull And i Liked It

Jonathan Livingstone Seagull – one of my favourite stories of all time!

 

Here it gets a little serendipitous… one of the stranger birds to enter on a wing was the Autobiographical Game that kept resurfacing for my attention. Something resonated with me with how courageous one must be to put your own life story in front of others, not matter how fictionalised. Christos (aka @failnaut) encouraged me to explore a moment in my life that I knew had great significance but hadn’t really evaluated…

In brief, when at highschool I found myself hiding from navigating the social world (filled with complex feelings and bullies) by retreating to a learning difficulties class during lunchtimes. It was a place I felt safe, had free computer stations to play at, and much to my delight the kids in there played YuGiOh. The teachers who looked after the class never seemed to question me being there as I had begun helping the other pupils (ranging in social capacity from autism and dyslexia to sporadical violence and frequent distress) through simple conversation, play and shared learning. Teaching some of the kids to play HeroQuest was a defining moment and felt really good! However I began to notice the stigma of my association with these students; it increased the likelihood of getting bullying, it put other students from talking to me. I felt like my friends were a far away thing, despite having grown up with most of them for the last 4 years.

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A Hub World – Why Leave Safety?

During the GameCity workshop with Christos the group suggested I look at how one could recreate that experience by exploring what made that classroom a safe space for me, for the other students, and why in the end I left that safety. We discussed the idea of a hub world that contained a sheltering family of outcasts and how that could representing the classroom. Thus arose the story of a character entering a haven and having to choose whether or not to remain within the safety of its walls.

The path to explore this particular concept led somewhere quite unexpected however. Back in January 2015 I recalled (from around the same period of my past) a phrase my Dad used on one long autumnal evening. He was attempting to describe to me how one might describe life and the future. He fell upon the unusual metaphor of a Slide Projector, the sort one might find these days in a carboot sale or charity shop. It went a little something like this:

You, right now, are a projector. You have the potential to shine almost anything from your lamp onto the unknown whiteness of the future. And you carry around with you all of the slides of the past; each one a memory, or a hurt, or a love that has left its mark. How you organise those slides – which ones you choose to keep, which ones to leave out, the order they play out – can determine the future that you want to see…

slides

Slides From the Past

I remember listening intensely. He continued,

Just make sure to take the things from your past that you can see in a positive light. Otherwise the slides that show pain or loss can muddy that projected image…

I paraphrase. but the echo of this soliloquy remains, to this day, surrounding me with a much resonance. It was a simple reinforcement of the powers of positive thinking, and the dangers of dwelling on the negative. Reminded of this as I searched my past for an autobiographical game, the seagull of inspiration began to rise ever higher into the sky at the thought of working my Dad’s Slide Projector into the weave.

In my next post, I will write more on the influences affecting the evolution of my autobiographical game, as well as look at the other pitch concepts that clawed their way out of my brainthing. Until next time, peace y’all.