Saturday, March 27, 2010

2D Digital Art II - Game Design Project: Gameplay

This post is going to further discuss what exactly the player does in the game, but something must be dealt with first. My description of the story and world in the previous post was, upon later inspection, a tad long. Personally, I don't mind the length, but I realize that if this were to be presented, it would be quite a mouthful. As such, I've attempted a summarized version:

***

The year is 2232, and humanity has formed the "Inter-Planetary Union" (usually called "the Union") and begun to colonize other solar systems in the Milky Way. On the edge of humanity's expansion into the stars lies "the Coast", a solar system consisting of one planet and one moon, Tristan (the "Mainland") and Isolde (the "Island"). Between them floats a string of space stations and ships (called the "Jetsam" or the "Flotsam" depending on who you ask) belonging to squatters who can't afford to live on the colonies. The entire region is owned by Oswald "Oz" Samuel Smythe, a planetary real estate mogul who's set up shop here to avoid the law in the Union and the hefty bounty on his head. The settlers all, in one way or another, are under his employ. Not much is known about the Coast to the rest of the Union, but that's about to change. The player is Zephyr "Zeph" Selkis, a reporter and jack of all trades who has come to investigate the Coast for personal and financial reasons. Will she play it safe and stick to odd-jobs, or will she uncover what life is really like on the Coast? Maybe she will even join Oz's ranks? Or, will she risk everything and try to claim Oz's bounty? The choice is the player's to make.

***

Hopefully that was easier to swallow. Now, I shall try to discuss gameplay, which I touched upon briefly last post. I assume this will be somewhat long.

In The Coast, the player controls Zeph. Travelling between the planet, moon, and Jetsam would be done via Zeph's personal ship, Cirrus, in which players would be able to have manual control over or be able to enter a destination and automatically fly there. On foot, however, control would be similar to a 3rd person open world game. Zeph would be able to talk to the Coast's inhabitants and to explore in general. By talking to people, she can learn of the various things going on in the Coast, eventually leading her to quests. Unlike in most open world games, most quests are to be handled as if they are important and not diversions as, since Zeph's main goal is to report on the Coast, there is no set plot path. These quests, then, are to be mainly self-contained, but still interesting, similar in concept to a television show (Cowboy Bebop, once again, being the prime example for the most part).

Reporting quests would be the main way to earn money in the Coast. One quest, for example, may be a somewhat lighthearted affair in which Zeph helps to find a missing child, and this would ultimately result in a report to be sent to Union News (in this case, it would be a human-interest story). Another quest may be to probe into some shady dealings on the Coast and get concrete photographic evidence, and this would result in yet another report (a crime story, for this situation). Each report would get money for Zeph, and the amount would depend on the difficulty of the quest. Some reporting quests, though, could earn Zeph additional money from the Coast's inhabitants directly. To use the child-finding example above, if a reward was also offered by the parents for finding the child, then Zeph would also be able to accept the reward. Essentially, Zeph would be able to report on nearly every quest, and this would be the main source of income for the player. Once most quests are finished, they cannot be redone, but for those that can, they can only be reported on once. Although Union News is starved for information on the Coast, they don't want multiple stories on what it's like to be a courier there, for example; once is enough.

The player can use the money earned in quests to do various things, but some things are "mandatory". Firstly, the player is required to spend money on food for at least one meal a day or else Zeph will not control as well as she should. Players can choose to eat at restaurants and such on the Coast to fulfill the need for food, but for the sake of the player, the game won't directly force her to sit down and eat. For example, if the player chooses to go throughout a day without eating and goes to sleep (another act which is required for optimal control of Zeph), money for food can be deducted, thus making the assumption that Zeph at least ate before bed. Also, money must be spent on the upkeep of Zeph's ship, primarily in the aspect of fuel. These "mandatory" expenses are to ensure that the player goes on quests and that she can't hoard extreme amounts of wealth.

The optional things players can do with money are to buy upgrades for Zeph's reporting equipment (cameras and such), her weapons, and her ship, and to bribe people. An example of an upgrade of Zeph's reporting equipment would be increasing the zoom on her camera. In terms of weapons, although combat is not a primary focus of the game, Zeph can attract unwanted attention at times and be forced into a fight. As such, weapon upgrades can help not only in fighting off attackers, but also in discouraging would-be attackers (some people, for example, will not try to mug the player if she has a gun on her hip). In terms of Zeph's ship, upgrades could be not only for making travel faster/easier, but also for evading/attacking hostile ships if she attracts unwanted attention in space transit. And lastly, in terms of bribing people, sometimes the player will have to "grease some wheels" if she wants to get information about certain things from certain people.

The overall arc of the game, then, would be hunting down quests (aka "possible news stories") until there are no new ones to be found. The player can then choose to leave the Coast and consider her job done. However, as mentioned last post, the player can also ultimately choose to either go after Oz to get the bounty on his head, or to work for him. This can be accomplished by taking certain quest opportunities found while reporting. For some reports, players can choose to become familiar with Oz's men or those who oppose Oz to get information. The bonds created here can lead to meeting people higher in the ranks on either side. The player can report about these people as usual, but she can also use them to try to get access to Oz. To get that access, though, she may have to do additional things for them to prove her loyalties. For example, she can become an "agent" of sorts for Oz's people and relay information about opposing factions. If she does a good job and earns enough trust, Oz can eventually be met in person. If the player comes to like Oz and his work, they can choose to work for him until there are no more quests to be had. Alternatively, if she comes to dislike Oz, she can try to take him into custody and escape the Coast. This final option would be the hardest one to acheive since the Coast is in Oz's control, but once she is out of the system, Union law enforcement would be able to protect her.

I realize that, aside from turning in Oz, there does not seem to be concrete "endings" to the game. This was done deliberately to enforce the idea that the individual quests are important. Rather than feeling like small parts of a grand tale, each quest (for the most part) is to be a story that says something about the lives of the people on the Coast. As such, the number of quests that cannot be repeated is not going to be as big as the number of quests in other open world games, but the idea is to make up for lack of quantity with quality. Some quests will of course have more substance than others, but even those should be at least interesting instead of merely a way to earn money.

So that's basically my ideas for the gameplay so far. Upon reflection, I realize that the PlayStation 3 game Yakuza 3 has been influencing me as well. I only played a demo for it, but its explorable city has been in the back of my mind ever since, and its "random" battles were interesting. Also, I have always admired the Harvest Moon games (mostly from afar, but I have played some), and the whole sleeping and eating thing probably came from there (although it is also present in the PlayStation 2 game Steambot Chronicles, which was mentioned last post).

The next post in this series will contain concept artwork for the game. Until then.

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