2 Games a Month — Game Sprint 4

In the 2 Games a Month program, teams of four have two weeks to create a working prototype of a game following a set theme. Every ‘Sprint’ the teams change as well to promote cooperation between all participants.

It has now been three weeks since the last report on the Game Sprints and for good reason! Our participants had a week, dubbed the inspiration week, where they could choose a discipline to deep dive in to broaden their knowledge. In that week they also could put forth their own concepts for the upcoming sprint based on the theme “One awesome game mechanic”. The top four ideas, picked by the mentors, would be turned into prototypes during the fourth Game Sprint. These were the four concepts:

Scribbles of Madness — A 3D isometric platformer where the player must use their weapon, the box cutter, to defeat enemies and travel through the levels.

Circuitry — An applied game that teaches people how to make electric circuits based on a schematic.

Garrett — A 3D puzzle game set in a cube-themed world where you have to rotate the world so Garrett can return home.

Sol Gravitas — A racing game where you can defy the laws of gravity and choose which shortcuts you want to use.

Jeroen Janssens, Thijs Snoeck, Arnaud Sougnez, Christian Fedrau

The flavor of our madness

Scribbles of Madness is a 3D-Isometric(ish)-Combat-Platformer where one of the only platforms is the player character’s box cutter. Use your box cutter both as a weapon and means of travel to traverse the mind of a mad writer. The further you go the more the story unravels, but so does the writer’s sanity. Will you find your way through the twisted scribbles, or will they consume you?

How the madness came about

One of the team members, Thijs, came up with the original concept.

“I started by taking something that people know like a platformer and wanted to give it a big twist to make it new and unique. Eventually, I settled on the idea: what if a platforming game misses the actual platforms? And that is how I started thinking about how the player would get around. I then thought of the idea of a multifunctional weapon that could be used as a means of travel and as an actual weapon. From there I thought about basic controls, what moves the player could do with their weapon (like grappling etc.). Everything else I thought of flowed out of these base ideas.”

When we all got the idea, we began to brainstorm on what theme and story we wanted to explore. Quickly the idea of a depressed author that has to face his inner demons came about. We thought that it could be interesting for him to face his demons inside his own works as if his creation had gone beyond him. The obstacles he would face would be his fears and things he didn’t know or cared about any longer. He would have to face all his regrets in his life. In short, the inner demons that he never took care of. With this, the main plot and concept for the game were created and from there the creativity began to flow freely.

The demons we struggled with and how we defeated them

Of course, we didn’t fight any actual demons. We did have some struggles to get through during development though.

Technical Demons

One of the biggest challenges was creating a smooth movement with the grapple, that while easy to learn, has a high skill ceiling. The solution was to give different options to approach each situation. A player could scale a wall by using only his sword while avoiding enemies. Alternatively, a player could grapple from enemy to enemy to achieve the same goal. Players could also just not use the grapple and combine melee attacks with double jumps to scale large distances.

By giving the player the option to use all of this separately and in combination it creates a high skill ceiling for invested players that want to learn everything while keeping a simple base that casual players can enjoy as well.

Another technical struggle, that came about rather unexpectedly, was the moving platforms. The player had to move along with them of course, but so did the sword if it was thrown into it. And if the player were to stand on a sword connected to the platform, he would also have to move with it. This caused a lot of bugs for a while. Thankfully we eventually managed to conquer this demon.

Design Demons

Designing levels for the game was very hard as well. Since the character has such a free range of movement, making a linear and structured level is almost impossible in the amount of time there was. Because of this, the focus of the level design shifted towards being more open with the player collecting pieces of paper to spawn the portal to the next level. Another thing that was hard to solve was the depth perception of the player. Due to the isometric perspective, it can be hard for the player to gauge where they are at all times. We managed to resolve this by giving the player a shadow beneath them and other minor tricks to help the player locate themselves in space.

Artistic Demons

One of our artists is also not the best at drawing. Because of this, he had to step up his quality and speed. While this was a struggle, it turned out great in the end. While the models were basic it was at times hard to keep the textures in the same style as the rest.

Could the madness continue?

The concept is definitely viable. Considering it’s bringing gameplay reminiscent of games like Hollowknight into the 3rd dimension, a successful future is definitely imaginable. The concept is however not without its flaws. Those would have to be addressed before the game could hit the market.

While the first levels are fun, it is clear that the gameplay would get stale if we would solely add new levels. The game would need more enemies, puzzles, and other challenges to stay fresh for a full 10 to 20-hour experience.

The game is also fairly difficult and would mainly appeal to fans of ‘Dark Souls’ levels of difficulty.

Many people told us that they wanted more levels to play so it’s a great start but we know that it might have a smaller audience because it’s a difficult game in a specific niche.

Jorik Weymans, Simon Buyck, Jens De Wachter, Jérémy Jägers

What is Garrett?

Garrett is a 3-dimensional puzzle game set in a cube-themed world.

After going to the store to get party supplies, Garrett notices the world is completely scrambled. In order to get home, he needs your help. Rotate the world and create a path so Garrett can safely return home!

How was Garrett born?

While coming up with different mechanics that a game could be based around, the idea of manipulating the game world came up. This eventually led to the idea of twisting and turning a 3x3 cube to get your character from the start of the level to the end.

First, we answered some basic questions about the game mechanic, such as being able to walk and manipulate the cube at the same time or being able to rotate parts that the player is on.

Since the base mechanic was decided, we decided it would be best to go a bit more in-depth to make sure everyone was on the same page when it came to the game. Going for a casual, playful feel to the game was at the top of our priorities since that was part of the vision we had created for ourselves.

After settling on the style, we were brainstorming a bit and someone mentioned how it would be funny if the main character would be a goofy looking snail, and after a small realization of how much sense it would make that a snail would be able to stick to the sides of the cube, and keep the movement simple, we decided to go for it.

To sell the non-serious and easy vibe of our game we needed a story that fit, we came up with the story of Garrett (the snail). He wants to throw a party and he just got some party supplies but the world is scrambled up, you have to help him by manipulating the world. On his way home he can collect friends so he does not have to party alone.

What Garrett taught us

Besides the fact that 3-dimensional puzzle design is a pain, making sure the controls were intuitive was a completely different challenge.

The struggles of Garrett: cube side movement and 3D puzzle design

A 3x3 cube can move on 3 Axes (9 sides in total) which is hard to do with a mouse when you only have 2 axis input. Our programmer wanted to have the least input as possible from the player with as much freedom as possible (2 things that are hard to combine). Rotating the sides is achieved by clicking on it and dragging it Horizontal (rotate over y-axis), vertically (rotate over x-axis), or diagonally (rotate over y-axis).

As you can probably tell moving diagonally is hard to detect and sometimes the player rotates around another axis that he intends to. An easy way to fix this was using the faces of the cubicle to determine where you are going to rotate over but this takes away the freedom for the player. Every implementation has some trade-offs and, of course, our implementation can be improved.

Designing a 2D puzzle is already hard enough. Designing a puzzle for a 3x3 cube is even harder. There are 3 ways to do it: You can “flatten” the cube and draw on paper where you can and where you can’t walk. The second one, you can design a level on a real 3x3 cube. In the third and last one, you can design a level in the game itself.

The first 2 options were used by our level designer but especially the first way is hard to wrap your head around.

Even designing the level in the game itself is hard because of the nature of a 3x3 cube. If you have an easy puzzle with a solution of 2 slides, there are still people that mess up the first move and scramble the whole puzzle again. This made people either finding the game way too easy or way too hard.

The fun parts of Garrett

Once the art style was determined, creating models and textures was easy to do, because the art style was unique but not complicated. Programming wise everything besides some cube interactions everything went how it was planned.

The future of Garrett

Since moving a 3x3 cube is simple, you are not supposed to complete the cube, as you do in real life, thus the player only has to learn a few “tricks”. We have some new mechanics in mind to introduce to the player like a pick-up or a hint system and besides that, we just have to design more levels. The game is also casual and because of the casualness of the game, we want to put it on mobile as well where it probably belongs more than on PC.

Robin Decock, Milan Vanalderwerelt, Julien Lommaert, Tinca Antohi

Short Summary

Circuitry is a serious game meant for people who want to learn to make electric circuits remotely. The player must construct an electrical circuit by following the base schematic given by the game.

Ideation process

Julien had the idea to make an applied game that explains how to layout electrical wiring. He kept in mind that everything that you learn inside of the game can also be applied in the real world. This was worked on in the team to explore the idea further.

Target Audience

The initial game idea was to teach people who have a little bit of elementary knowledge of electric circuits, this quickly changed because the target audience was too small. So we changed our plan and made our game’s target audience people who don’t know anything about electricity but are eager to learn. This made quite a lot of extra challenges because we needed to educate people who have zero knowledge of this subject. So we needed to lay out the level structure as detailed as possible, to avoid any misconceptions.

Art style: keep it simple

In order to not overflow the player with information, we kept the art style to a minimum. Doing this made it so the player can concentrate more on the learning aspect rather than the daunting complexity some of the appliances have.

Recreating electricity logics

Another challenge was recreating the logic of electricity. When a lamp should go on and all the logic behind series and parallel circuits with a combination of Ohm’s law.

As well as the difficulty of working in a sandbox environment.

Each logic can have a different amount of connections which each increases the difficulty in making a successful simulation environment.

What makes the game different from competitors?

We are not the only one in the electric simulation genre. Short Circuit is an electronics lab simulator and electrician simulator that comes up on steam. Where we differ is that:

- the player will learn how it works in real life and apply it in-game.

- most games also don’t have any simulation environment, so there is no knowledge gained by playing the game.

- players will follow an electrical schematic and will learn how to read and follow them.

Future

In the future, we want to make more realistic gameplay by adding dismantling options for the different modules. We also want to have a 3D environment that can be explored and where certain devices need to be fixed by using the knowledge that you have gained in the previous levels.

What have we learned

For an applied game it’s more interesting to have a broad target group like people at home who want to learn a certain subject. This makes having a real situation a good way to learn so these people can apply their learned knowledge in real life. An applied game takes a lot of thought through explanations, definitely if you start from zero knowledge about the subject. It’s important what you show, what’s important, how you show it, and also when and in what order. All so it’s clear for the user what steps he has to take to learn the skill.

Lucas Van Baeveghem, Dylan Millian, Viktor Colpaert, Briek Keters

Original Idea and where it comes from

The initial idea was thought of by one of our team members. The idea was to make a casual racer in the style before the time Newton was born (15th century). The internet is full of jokes about, ‘What if Newton never discovered gravity?’ and this means that we might be able to fly around now. Taking this joke a bit, the designer of this idea thought of a racing game, but the users could manipulate gravity for themselves in order to get to places that aren’t possible normally. Afterward, we started brainstorming.

Brainstorming and first prototype

After one of our team members had explained the original idea, we brainstormed together to think of what we could make with this idea, how we could make this fun and entertaining.

We used the 100 ideas 1-hour brainstorming technique and after a long brainstorm session, we settled on a racer located on a ring planet. The idea was you would race around the rings and had the ability to change the gravity to drive on the roof/ bottom of the 2nd ring. It was a racing game so multiplayer was a must and since nobody can hang out at each other’s place anymore it had to be online. You had to be the first to collect 3 gems located on the different rings all whilst dodging obstacles. We wanted it to be 16th-century style but they didn’t have cars back then, so since a horse would be too much to model and animate we went to the Flintstones car road instead.

We all had fun in this but sadly the other people didn’t see it. We got some feedback as to why the gravity and where the racing part was. They didn’t like the camera and it strafed too far away from the original idea. So after this, we had a choice to make: start over or salvage what we could.

Help! We have to start over, but how?

A big part of making a huge change in direction for any project is the planning and the managing of tasks that go behind such endeavor, from the moment we decided to change the entire concept it was a race against the clock to create a proper roadmap for the game mechanics and the art that was needed for the game. Luckily due to our great teamwork, we managed to pull it off and create the final concept that will be explained below!

Final result

A more enhanced environment-themed in the appropriate setting of the 15th century to follow the original idea, right now there is a more contemporary version of the race track implemented due to the time constraints we faced. We’d also love for the race track to be less flat and add more shortcuts and gravity-defying roads. The controls of the cars would of course be tightened and there would be multiple choices for the cars you can drive as well as customization.

Conclusion

In particular, this week has taught some of the participants, once again, the importance of “killing your darling” when it comes to game design. What might be fun for you and your team might not be the same for everyone else.

When tackling an applied game it’s a good option to go for a broader audience than focus on a very small group. Being thorough with explanation can also not be stressed enough.

That concludes the report for the fourth Game Sprint. We’ll see you again in 2 weeks!