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!

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