The G&P Monthly thread over in the Development board started out as an awesome pair of projects, then one of the people working on one of them disappeared and the other took longer than expected to come to fruition. (-: Long story short, I’ve realigned my VB20 goals to just the audio and music project while the new game project got put to the side.
Well, I want to talk about it. Not to say how awesome it would have been–I still want to make it. But from the context of game design as a topic of study, there’s a lot to talk about.
All I’ve said about the project so far is this:
What I can say for now is that even though the literal gameplay might place you in mountains or forests or cities or whatever, the greater lore of the game universe is actually a highly technical one, inspired by the Virtual Boy itself. There are many abstract concepts from the tech and IT industries being incorporated into the theme and placed in a lush world of critters and scenery, and the way everything meshes together… well, I for one find it fascinating.
It started out as a literal play on the name Virtual Boy, where I noticed the name sounded almost super-hero-esque. What if you played as a character whose name was literally Virtual Boy, and followed his adventures in a VB-themed universe? Well, that was where it started. After many long hours of experimenting with concept, analyzing play mechanics and watching too much YouTube, the project spec evolved into something that still bears some semblance to the original spark of inspiration, but took off in a bit of a different direction.
Initially, I wanted to show off all of the hardware’s capabilities, including the yet-to-be-awesome link cable features. As an action game, it made sense to include a 2P mode, but I’m finding what industry experts have been saying all along: cooperative multiplay is hard to do. An action-adventure game with heavy emphasis on both combat and exploration doesn’t really afford competitive multiplay, and cooperative multiplay would be hamfisted at best unless I have some earth-shattering epiphany. So that’s what sparked the change.
The original concept for a second player was a female character, called the obvious name of Girl in the concept stage. It was that version of the player character that wound up becoming the focus of the project, with Boy being repurposed as a villain instead. I know, I know, “Virtual Girl” is becoming cliche of late, but at least it fits with the lore!
Lore & Narrative
Ah, the lore. While it’s tempting to use a game to tell a narrative, I’ve decided I don’t want to do that. I want the game to feel like a typical mid-90s game where the character romps through seemingly random environments for no apparent reason and defeating all the baddies because it’s a game gosh darn it. Having said that, I do want a deep, complex and overarching story to be present through it all. Just not in the gameplay itself. I haven’t decided exactly how to present the story to the character, but I’m thinking a novel-style writeup would be appropriate that can be unlocked through gameplay and viewed in the menus. But no cutscenes. And no mission briefings. You know… no game things.
Design Pondering #1
I’d like to know what you guys think about narrative in video games, and the goods and bads in regards to delivering it. I’m probably still gonna stick with the “research at the library” method myself, but I still want to know how the rest of you feel about narrative. Extra Credits has discussed the topic too. Might want to hunt down the episode(s) on the subject.
As for spoilers, well… I have to draw the line somewhere. I’d love to tell you all about how the Nintendo Virtual Boy ties into this vibrant world that only has a mild level of gaming-related elements in it… but that’s actually part of the project too. I rarely see it in games: the player enjoys the experience, gets to the end, and is just about to turn it off and stash it in the closet when he finds out a few small details about what he just played that paint the entire experience in a new light. If you’re familiar with Spec Ops: The Line, there’s a lot of symbolism and, by the end of the game, you realize that [spoiler] the player character is not only insane, but is the cause of all the problems during the story events [/spoiler]. That’s a powerful piece of information to be delivered after the fact, don’t you think?
Knowing the story directly affects how you view the game, and that’s a change I want to occur after you finish it. So I apologize that I can’t tell you about the lore until then. )-:
Genre, Theme & Mechanics
Virtual Girl (as a game concept) is light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek, but it’s not outright comical. It follows the activities of the titular character, who is a vigilante of sorts, a big-game hunter and a treasure hunter. She’s no hero by any means, but at the same time, she’s not really a villain either. Depends on what the reward is and who’s guarding it. It just so happens to be that beating up the bad guys feels really good, and they tend to have the most money, so it’s a win-win no matter how you slice it. Virtual Girl is an action game. The hardware only permits it to be side-scrolling.
As for theme, the graphical style will be reminiscent of games of the era, which is good, because they looked the way they did due to hardware capabilities. The audio, on the other hand, is another matter. While the sound effects will be as fancy as the VB can muster, the music has a particular aesthetic in mind: demoscene-style chiptunes. Not just chiptunes, mind you, but the type you’d hear in “demo” programs at computer conventions in the 1980s. Again, that’s a good call due to what the hardware can produce, but I’d still stick with that theme even on modern systems if developing this game for those. Having upbeat, strictly computerized and/or epic chiptunes really sets the mood in a way genuine instruments can’t really muster. Plus, there’s that whole Virtual Boy thing I want to stick with, so it’s a natural fit.
I started looking for chiptunes on YouTube to get some inspiration about how I want the music to sound. I’ve listened to hundreds of tracks by dozens of artists. I have a whole sub-menu in my Bookmarks just for chiptunes. Even so, the very first tune I found and listened to so perfectly summarizes the mood and aesthetics I envision for the game: it’s called Whatever it means, by artist Jakim. It’s exactly what I think of when I think of Virtual Girl: it’s jazzy, fits a cityscape during a red sunset, and it’s music you can feel good hurting people to. It’s a perfect fit.
A few other tracks in my Chiptunes menu:
* Gote Gar Pa Tivoli by Zalza – A nice mix of swing and computery sounds, with an upbeat feel to it.
* Starlight Sugar Moon by Ko0x – Very characteristic of demoscene, with an epic flare (and title) that brings to mind shenanigans in outer space.
* Cloudberry Fields by Boo and Loonie – A more mellow tune with a nostalgic feel to it, but still high-energy.
Design Pondering #2:
To what extent do you guys feel a cohesive musical theme is important to presentation? Some games have the same mood from start to finish, while other games’ soundtracks were literally made by people not even working together, but submitted their tunes when they were done and they went into the finished product. There are certainly benefits to going either way, but I’m wondering what the general response is to this concept.
So how does one present a side-scrolling bounty/big game/treasure hunter? Why, with combat of course. A little beat-em-up here, a little exploration there. Like River City Ransom meets Metroid, or… well, Kirby and the Amazing Mirror is actually the closest game I’ve found to what I have in mind. Still not exactly that, but it’s a starting point.
Girl is a Nintendo-themed antihero brawler. She wears a visor reminiscent of the Virtual Boy eyepiece with her short hair, has a Power Glove on her right hand and a Zapper holstered to her left hip. She’s not one to show her teeth with a smile, but with a big enough explosion, you might catch a smirk on the side of her mouth. There’s more emphasis on punching than shooting, and I see no reason to keep from going over the top. Enemies shouldn’t have to take more than one hit. Enemies shouldn’t have to be close either. Heck, enemies shouldn’t even have to be in the foreground. They can still get smashed to pieces with a sufficiently-powerful punch or ground-pound.
There will be big beasts to fight. And it will be worth it. There will be organized enemies sent to take you down. And they won’t get very far. There will be troves of booty ripe for the picking. And it will be pickable. The game revolves around Virtual Girl being awesome and how the rest of the int–I mean, uh, the other sundry of the world responds to her.
I’m toying with the concept of consumable upgrades. You find them around the game world, and can equip them for temporary boosts to your body, glove or gun. They each provide some sort of modification to the basic function of each attribute: it might change the type of ammo in the gun, give you increased jumping height, etc., depending on exactly where the upgrade gets slotted. After a few seconds (or perhaps a certain amount of usage), the upgrade is used up and disappears. The upgrades are elemental themed and, if you slot three of them (one in each component), you get a theme bonus and enter a sort of semi-hyper state. Overpowered? Who cares. Remember, it’s supposed to be a game. At some point I want there to be a workstation where you can mix certain upgrades together and make new upgrades that can’t be found laying around in the game world.
Design Pondering #3:
A game that isn’t challenging isn’t necessarily fun, but then again, neither is one that is challenging. Some people like to blow through the game, where some people like that they have to be good at it to clear it. I’d like to accommodate both preferences, but I’m still working on it. In an ideal game, what sort of preferences would you guys have with regards to challenge vs. going berserk and blowing everything up?
Regarding replay value, well, I actually got the idea from F-Zero. Although it’s a big world with branching paths, secret passages and lots of enemies to fight, there are still going to be scripted scenarios where things can play out in specific ways. Once cleared, these scenarios wind up in a sort of “challenges” menu where you can compete against yourself or other players for time, score, or a mixture of both. “I cleared this event in just a few seconds!” “I beat this boss using only this weapon!” You get the idea. I’m still working out the details, but each scenario should rate you based on a number of different things so you can experiment to get the best of each of them.
Man, there’s still so much to talk about even without touching on the lore, but I’ve already spent an hour typing this out and it’s getting late. I’ll leave it here for now. I expect to see some enlightened game design discussion going on by the time I check back tomorrow. (-:
Wow, very cool idea!
I like the sound direction you’re going in, I love the upbeat chiptunes.
Pondering #2: It’s not really a big deal to me whether the sound track fits together or if it sounds like it’s from different composers. I guess more variety with the latter, but really, as long as I’m enjoying the music I’m not going to mind either way you take it.
Pondering #3: I like a challenge but it gets frustrating if it’s near impossible. Ninja Gaiden is a good example, I like the game, but I can’t beat it, and it’s frustrating and can deter me from playing it as much as I’d like. What about pulling a Megaman 2? Giving a normal and hard mode? That way it could cater to everyone.
Pondering #3. Personally I like games that give you “all of the above”. So for example, having optional power-ups right before a difficult section but giving bonus points/incentives to NOT use them. So if it’s too difficult use the power ups but take a hit on your high score or something like that. That way people with real skill at the game can set higher scores by completing it without using the power-ups but people just wanting to complete the game can do it as well by using them. Also it’d be pretty nice to have the game keep track of what you used / didn’t use as part of the scoring so that makes for a good high score contest. Just my two cents.