What Is The Core of Our Game?
It became apparent to our group that our design was missing something significant - something central. Through hearing development stories of other student groups, and after receiving feedback from classmates, we decided to address the concern of not having a core mechanic and not having done proper paper-prototyping. We were putting a lot of design thought into how puzzles would work with a player and their companion, but we didn't have a foundation or central concept to ground those things and tie it all together.
We took more than a day, slaved over the concern, and came up with a solution that has not only put our worries to rest, but has also inadvertently solved other miscellaneous problems we were having. The solution was a trust-based relationship system between the player and their companion.
The young mute Cairenn and her blind companion bear Killian can accomplish amazing tasks together, but the trust they establish will make or break that success. Without sight, Killian depends heavily on Cairenn to guide him considerately; if she doesn't, it will damage their bond and influence their progress, abilities, and the world around them. While embarking on a journey together, the quest between them will decide everything.
Killian will have a trust meter with three states: bad, good, and great. The most common gameplay aims to be the "good" state; this is also the state with the largest meter range. In this state Killian partially trusts Cairenn which makes for moderate obedience of commands. If Cairenn tells him to stay, he may wander off. Killian's wander can lead him to follow the smell of food, uncover narrative elements, or get caught in harmful traps. If Cairenn doesn't help him avoid those traps, he will lose some trust in her and the trust meter will go down a bit. If enough misguidance causes the meter to dip into the "bad" state, Killian will lose his temper and roar. Cairenn will have to stay out of his designated roar radius to allow him to cool down on his own. Once he stops roaring, she can pet him to bring the meter back into the bottom of the "good" state. The more positive guidance Cairenn gives Killian (e.g. leading him to food and avoiding traps), the more likely the meter will move into the "great" state. In this state, Cairenn has earned Killian's trust so much that he won't wander and get into trouble if she tells him to stay. They can also complete tasks more efficiently in this state. There are other details we plan to implement for this system but that is the general idea.
This has provided a number of solutions for us:
- We have a core mechanic that is appealing, meaningful, and easily explained ("trust")
- We have a system that level and puzzle design can be more easily developed to
- We have increased replay value without needing to multiply companions and workload
- Killian is now a meaningful personality with consequences and not just a tool
- We have reduced the amount of required and/or expected one-off assets and designs
- We have more defined boundaries now that designs can spring from the trust system
- Our whole team feels more confident and excited about our game
- Our whole team feels better about our scope
We're finding that questions are easier to address now and this has turned a lot of redoing into a lot of refining.
I have also spent some time composing some music concepts. I have 8 different compositions so far. Most of my references are Celtic, but I also wanted to embed some futurism because of the narrative's hidden portrayal of an advanced civilization and future time period. I researched some ancient Celtic instruments like the bone flute, carnyx, and crotals. I have some musical references I've found to be somewhat fitting for our game's look and feel. I've also noted keywords and phrases that depict the theme of our game and the personalities of our characters. I also use our artists' concepts for visual inspiration and guidance. It's a huge aid for me to see our characters and the environments they might inhabit as I conceive the soundtrack to their lives and ultimately, their world.
I'm taking all these things into consideration as I carefully select and customize instruments to establish potential audio palettes for the game's music. After several attempts, there are elements that seem to work well, and others not so well. I take the parts that work well and see if they can become something more in a second attempt if I strip away the parts that don't work. Eventually it seemed like the music wasn't representing enough of the narrative and characters - something was missing. I did some more research and came across African choirs. They seemed to represent the details I was missing.
This is the current breakdown of styles I'm trying to combine:
50% Celtic (for mythical, festive, merry, bright, hills and valleys)
30% African (for earthy, tribal, village, bare hands, community, plains, jungle, huts)
20% Mechanical Futurism (for sophisticated tech, propulsion, turbines)
I'm going to keep composing and refining my approach until it all fits in a representative and impacting way.