Group Tactics

riotshield_progress

I’ve had this sketch of a riot shield-like object for a year or so. Equally long, I wondered whether something like this could have a place in Scout’s Journey or if it was for the dumpster. (version 2 is recent, version 1 is what my sketches looked like not too long ago.)

I’m beginning to think adding mobile cover to an NPC group could make encounters even more interesting. The majority of squad combat in SJ would be indoors, and would play out like the player / Scout attacking a patrol. This kind of scenario is what the entire combat system revolves around – groups roaming around and chance encounters or sneak attacks. Group AI would be programmed to follow a certain protocol at the start of battle, which depends on the factions involved (a Herd squad has different means and approaches compared to an Order or Tribal squad.)

Something like: If squad under attack, if you’re a Herd squad do:

  1. Take cover if possible
  2. If a unit has no cover, decide to hold position or retreat
  3. Throw flashbangs / grenades
  4. If you have a Banshee, deploy ADS Morrigan and try to flank
  5. Deploy tactical shield
  6. Suppression fire on attacker (MPs, laser)
  7. Commando fires his Blitz Cannon
  8. If you have a Preacher, start summoning Orphans
  9. If out of ammo, Troopers rush attacker with blades
  10. If attacker retreats, decide to move up or resume patrol
  11. If attacker disabled, retreat to camp / consider looting
  12. If serious casualties, call reinforcements
  13. If overwhelmed, place mines / tactical retreat

So a fight develops through various stages. Individual units would have sub-protocols (reload, heal, move…). An Order squad would have a different protocol due to having different units and methods. A Tribal squad would have a purely defensive protocol. The factions’ battle protocols would be balanced against each other (emergent gameplay…)

I can see a shield in this context. Especially the Herd protocol is pretty static – they have distance weapons and grenades, why would they try to rush you. I think I like the shield idea.

Several games have ballistic shields / riot shields by now, although from what I see on youtube that’s usually multiplayer, so the shields are typically nerfed by making it easy to shoot out the glass or whatever. This would not be the case in SJ, because my aim is to make the NPC squads tough to beat. A ballistic shield would basically give them indestructible, mobile cover, or another way to see it is they would have a nigh-invincible (passive) shield carrier unit.

Doom 3 had shield troopers in single player. They were tough, but ultimately a pushover with the arsenal you got in that game. A shield in SJ would last throughout a squad encounter and the group would know how to use it. Very different thing.

Swordfighting

Another thing I’m contemplating is how to do swordfighting in SJ. The game does have some melee weapons (no suitable shields though), so they need to do something. It’s not a medieval combat simulator, so there will probably be some kind of compromise. I want to do things like half-swording though, because a lot of NPCs wear plate armour / kevlar armour. Just swinging isn’t going to do much unless you want to massacre a Tribal squad, which would be pretty bad for your reputation.

I’m doing a lot of research on medieval combat, just sword on sword, and it’s an interesting thing to learn about. I’m sure I’ll figure something out.


New uniques

sword_of_the_avatar

I dreamt up some more unique items for SJ. She’s gonna get both the Sword of the Avatar and a matching armour from the enemy god, because (spoiler.) Getting to be the evil one for a while is gonna be a nice change of perspective. The game didn’t have too many uniques, let alone special weapons, so this is nice. There’s a special sci-fi weapon, these avatar things, a carapace armour, and at least one other unique from a quest (also a sword.)

Something about damage types etc;

SJ has four damage types with corresponding resistances. This is how much of the damage is handled and also how armour works. Weapon classes are several, with corresponding slots to equip them. So you can have several weapons equipped at the same time, but inventory space is limited and there is also a pretty low weight limit for what you can carry (Scout isn’t exactly Arnold.)

I kinda wanted to paint the sword just as a memory aid. The special ability is insanely powerful, since servants of Naruuk include the entire Order faction and even his personal guard, the Executioners. Why is Scout given the sword? Because the Star-Eater likes his avatars to rule by force and assert their dominance. It probably entertains him. And with the Herd on the rise, his old servants might seem obsolete…

Little does he know.

shield_maidens_sword

Edit: Here’s the quest sword. A remnant of the war between the Star-Eater and the people of the goddess.


Grossed Out

Interesting piece on gamasutra about the effects of making gruesome video games on developers.

I’ve never spent eight months looking at colon pictures, and luckily I never had to research depictions of hanging etc, but I’ve certainly had my share of playing and modding violent video games. I have always been pretty grossed out by those mods and games that make it their point to add even more blood and gore, until you have blood on the walls, blood on the ceiling, blood splattering on the camera like so much strawberry juice while you watch slow-mo killcams and your avatar shouts “Motherfucker!” or gleefully stabs the other guy to death because he’s a Korean, an alien, or just on the other team…

Yeah, I never quite understood the appeal of going ever more over the top. I was grossed out by God of War already, I was taken aback at the slow-mo disembowelment, dismemberment, and decapitations of games like Ryse: Son of Rome, and all the “takedown animations” of Street Fighter that consist of ripping out ribcages or whatever.

But it goes further back; ever since Tomb Raider switched from shooting at wolves and bats to shooting at people, and Quake switched from shooting Lovecraftian horrors or barely-human kludgy cyborgs to shooting disgustingly human-looking things, and since the appearance of games like Call of Duty or Far Cry, and games’ art styles tending ever more towards the gross and the shock value until “realistic dismemberment” became a selling point, and games tried to emulate the grossest scenes of “Saving Private Ryan”, there was an undercurrent of wrongness that never quite went away.

What happens to you when you spend years playing games whose major game mechanic is shooting things, or shooting people, or realistically dismembering other living things, in a claustrophobic environment or on a simulated battlefield is an interesting question. My guess is it eventually desensitizes you. And does spending hundreds of hours in an ever more photorealistic simulated war zone result in the same thing as being in a real one, namely PTSD? Why would it not?  You get drawn pretty deeply into it when you sit in front of your PC or console after dark, possibly under the influence of drugs or stimulants. (Drugs are in no way uncommon in the gaming scene.)

Do we think it desirable, then, to become desensitized? Hopefully not.

Note I’m as much into movies like “Alien” or a good horror story as the next guy. I just don’t habitually watch the more extreme splatter movies and I don’t habitually play the more extreme splatter games. I think if it becomes an everyday thing, it grinds you down. I watched “Dancer in the Dark” once and found it excellent, and the ending is one of the grossest things ever, but it’s not a movie I would want to watch again. Once was enough. I got the message. I can’t remember when I last actually re-watched an “Alien” movie. There is no need, I remember them well. I think everyone who watched them does.

And while I play games like Starcraft, with their abstract eagle-eye perspective on strategy and their comicky characters, I don’t go for the semi-realistic war games. I recently watched a playthrough of the last Battlefield game, just to see where the current bar is for graphics, gameplay and animations, and that was quite enough.

As for development, I never quite grasped why people needed flaming gibs (meat pieces) and more ample amounts of blood, but it was quite a standard thing to do in shooter game mods. And I’m guilty of implementing a backstabbing mechanic in Quake and animating prisoners who had lost their mind crawling around and moaning. Um, yeah. That was then, though. This is now.

Anyway, maybe my being grossed-out at this point is one reason why Scout’s Journey doesn’t have such a thing as stabbing people in the back. I don’t want to program or animate it, and the protagonist will actually refuse to do things like that (she’s quite her own person at this point.) And if you somehow managed to make Scout evil enough to remove her resistance to shooting someone in the back, you’ll still get a “murderer” stamp if you do.

I took care to blur the line between friends and enemies, the Herd soldiers you’ll come up against are people as much as Scout is. The entire faction is designed as such. Maybe some of them are assholes, but they’re still humans. They have wants and needs and you will hear them talk about it. Some of them are your friends. As the game proceeds, you’ll learn about the horrible situation that these people got themselves into. They’re not “evil by default”, quite the contrary – they were soldiers just like Scout before (spoiler) happened. The game even has a mechanic to help injured enemies, and if you do, you’ll get rewarded. Not to mention that attack in SJ is a bit of a last ditch option – if you’ve ever played one of these mods that give enemies the same firepower and accuracy as the player, you’ll know how that changes the game. And in SJ, they come in groups and you’re alone. Some of them are spellcasters or summoners. Better prepare the retreat before you start anything, and better think twice before taking a shot at anything of theirs. You’ll even be able to talk to certain enemy soldiers and trade with them to improve your relation. An enemy Banshee might give you 30 seconds to interact with her before she goes hostile (which her faction duty still demands.) Unless her commander is in sight. If you’re spotted, depending on your relation and coincidence, you might get 10 seconds to make yourself unseen. Or you might be shot at. It depends who you’re dealing with and what your relation is.

Scout is in this role of outcast, of onlooker. They don’t really consider her a threat, unless one of them has a bad day or Scout is getting uppity. Then they will whack her. She’s not the all-powerful superhero of other games.

Basically, the “enemy” in Scout’s Journey is like you, just more desperate.

I find that a lot more interesting to design than some cut-and-dried cannon fodder enemies and slow-mo dismemberment mechanics. And hopefully, the player will be forced to empathize with these people. Empathy is a thing severely lacking in the gaming community and the world.

My game still deals with some dark stuff, but not as a tapestry of sales-oriented edginess, instead as a requirement of catharsis.

I’m kinda glad I don’t have to sit in a studio and animate realistic hangings for months. The upside of being indie, I guess.


Thumbnails

thumb_fortress

I’m practicing this way of doing environment sketches… just values, then sketchy ink, then more values. I don’t like this look a terrible lot, it’s too comicky for my taste, but I haven’t quite found something better than the ink. I’ll have to create my own brushes.

The above thumbnail sketch is of the Fortress level in Scout’s Journey, which originated from Remake Quake (e1m5) but changed a lot since then.

thumb2

I think I did this one in GIMP to check out some different brushes. I’m really preferring GIMP Paint Studio to Mypaint for painting now, because Mypaint can’t use textured brushes and GIMP has selection and masking tools, which do come in handy once in a while. Mypaint has some very cool semi-realistic markers that I’m using a lot, though (Concept Design set.)

thumb1a

This one was done in Mypaint, I’m pretty sure.

I’m reading “How to Draw” by Scott Robertson, which is a pretty crazy book. It teaches you how to construct things in perspective and a number of other things. Specifically I like his way of sketching, so I tried to do somethng similar.

I even cracked open my art box and found some old gouache and acrylic paint tubes, and played around with those and a few other media. It was fun. Paper allows you to work so much more precisely… digital painting always includes some amount of fudgery.

It is true that you can get a lot of good advice from Youtube tutorials, but certain top-level art books can probably teach you more, IMHO. I had mixed feelings about the Scott Robertson book initially from the Amazon reviews, but man, this book is a bringer. Some sentences or examples took me several minutes to understand, but it does all make perfect sense. It’s like geometry class in school, only a lot more weird and your teacher is a monster artist.

Don’t think you can get all knowledge from youtube, books still are the best medium to teach really deep stuff, and sometimes there’s no way around that.


Modelling weapons

shotgun4

Quick service announcement: How to model weapons in Blender.

Basically, you load a reference image into Blender and then you just trace the thing (in orthographic view), either (largely by extruding) with simple planes (faces, quads) or (in case of barrels etc) with something like a 16-sided cylinder.

shotgun3

And the parts that you traced with planes, you simply extrude into a three-dimensional shape so that they get depth. (You can round off the corners afterwards by adding some edge loops (Ctrl-R) and pulling those around in front/top view until it looks right.)

shotgun2

Slightly more difficult parts like this might require some elbow grease. Especially things like the holes. I believe I started with a cylinder for the lower part, then modeled one of the “wings” as just planes and extruded to create thickness. Then I probably mirrored that “wing” and positioned it on the opposite side, and finally connected everything. Luckily weapons don’t often contain terribly difficult shapes. (This part was done differently from the reference image because of possible copyright issues.)

shotgun

The barrel and magazine tubes obviously began life as cylinders and just had some edge loops added and some parts extruded and connected.

Bam, shotgun.

This is high poly (subdivision) modelling, but since the parts were overall relatively simple, only a few control loops had to be added here and there to reign in the subdiv modifier. Once you get how that works, you’re set. The principle is always the same.

After this, either render to sprites or retopo and bake into a low-poly version as a normal map. Blender does support cage baking with Cycles, alternatively one could use something like Xnormal.

I hope this goes to show you that something like this is doable. I had done less than 10 weapon models before I made this. If you have any talent for sculpting or perception of proportions etc, you should be able to get the principle in no time. And then you just practice. Youtube has tons of tutorials for this as well.


Cutting Room Floor

axe_cycles

Chop-chop! With a reasonable development schedule in mind, three readily-designed features have been cut from the game for now (well, one of them was a pipe-dream anyway):

  • Two-player Co-op. The design includes a dedicated (male) sidekick character for Scout, who would be controlled by the second player. This has been cut for the time being because it would require alternate versions of several cinematics, and thus a bunch of extra work. Not to mention networking and/or servers.
  • Team-based (female-friendly, did you know women don’t play online much?) online multiplayer. I have finished designs for several unique game modes, where teams have to accomplish things that are unlike any existing multiplayer games. Uses resources from single player (e.g. characters.) Cut and shelved because of need for dedicated levels and quite a bit of additional gamecode, plus the same reasons as co-op. Design is in the proverbial drawer.
  • Major mid-game choice to be made by the player, and consequently a second path through the late game, a dedicated branch of the skill tree, and completely different winning condition. I have some very cool ideas for this, but this would obviously be so much extra work that it is now classified as a stretch goal at most.

I feel it is more reasonable to focus on the single player campaign, which was always the main goal. However, the other stuff might show up again at a later point and it’s certainly nice to have it in the drawer. It hurts a little to remove the choice from the game, because the idea goes a long way back, but of course no one knows what might happen down the road.

So I now have a more modular design that can potentially be done in several parts.

The single-player campaign is unchanged, except for the removal of the binary choice thing. For now.


Infernal Threesome

faction_symbols

Deep in the bowels of the Scout’s Journey design folder, the NPC factions finally solidified. Some stupid ideas (reggae music, Star Wars battle droids) were cut and a bunch of “special” chars were moved into the Tribal faction, which (I believe I mentioned earlier) got a slight redesign to be, well, more believably tribal and less trashy. Their symbol is a simple stylized rising sun, which represents hope – they were conquered by the Order faction and driven into hiding.

The new Order symbol is inspired by a shepherd’s staff, albeit a more brutal looking version. (No, I don’t hate Christians, I just think that particular symbolism is a very double edged sword.) The Order expect to rule all other races, and they’re modeled on a Spanish Inquisition from the future, so I found this fitting.

The Herd symbol is unchanged from Remake Quake. I might give it a work over to match the more stylized look.

There is a fourth group in the game, but they’re animals more than anything and they don’t care about picking sides. I think three is a good number, and more manageable.

I expect to use these symbols all throughout the game. And yeah, the Star-Eater is more than a little inspired by Quake’s Lovecraftian tendencies. I bet he is Shub-Niggurath’s best buddy! (Perhaps, and this is an ‘insider’, he is even the fabled Wizard…)


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