Standalone?

For a while now I’ve been contemplating doing a standalone game project. The question is, is Scout’s Journey that project?

There are pros and cons; among the pros are that I feel somewhat restricted by the Quake visuals, the dark brooding atmosphere, and the Quake monster lineup. The cons are that I’d need to invest even more time in this project to create new assets from scratch, and, what’s worse, the levels are showing their age. Something like map02, in its unplanned spontaneous sprawling nature, doesn’t reflect how I would want to make a game level today. There was barely any preproduction, I started some of these levels when I was a bloody newbie. And it shows. To me at least, which is what matters because I have to be happy with them. I probably wouldn’t be comfortable releasing this as a standalone game with my name on it for that reason alone.

It’s a bit of a shame because I think the story is good and actually relevant (I haven’t said much about that because I’ve become more aware about being too open). But I might finish SJ as a Quake mod, technically, meaning you’ve got to have Quake (10 bucks at Steam?) in order to play it. And call it quits at that point.

There is a lot of merit in starting from scratch with a standalone game. Not even for technical reasons, but for creative ones. That’s not to say the more successful elements of SJ couldn’t survive in the next game.

The alternative is to redo the basic layout of eg. map02 from scratch, reusing brushwork and models where appropriate. Funnily enough, I’m already doing that with another map: The level formerly known as e1m6rq, Doors of Delusion, from RMQ SP demo 2 will be broken up and integrated into a new, bigger, better layout for SJ map05.

Why is that?

Because today I think that each level needs a central setpiece that is both awe-inspiring and relevant to the identity, or the backstory of that place. Ideally that central hotspot should stick in the player’s mind to identify the level (“the level with the huge fortress”, “the level with the giant moving statue”, “the level with the gigantic bridges”). And most ideally, the setpiece should also be a central gameplay element.

Map04 has such a setpiece – the huge, looming fortress and the endless bridge over a sad, dying moat over which the player approaches it. At the bottom of the central building, there is also the major gameplay (and story related) mechanism of that map. That’s how it should be.

Even map03 arguably has something like that – the broken bridges over the moat, one of which the player must lower in order to proceed. That area is revisited a couple of times and should be good enough to remember the level by. A central plot device is also in that area together with a central quest and the transition to the relevant level. So, a working hotspot visually and gameplay/story wise.

Map01 has a nice outdoor setpiece, but the real gravitational center of the level is behind that. This isn’t ideal, but there is still a lot of gameplay around the setpiece. So it might even suffice.

For map05, I have a concept for an iconic central area that’s crossed multiple times to press switches on the periphery, with a very unusual boss chamber / boss fight right in the centre of it. That should do very well. Parts of the old e1m6rq will be used around the periphery of the “pit”, at the switches.

Map02 is the problem child. Like all problem children, it is also well loved. It is sprawling, it is imperfect, it has a relatively shitty layout. There is a working gameplay mechanic where you have to collect three cogs to activate a bridge, which gives you the key to the exit, pretty much. That works, but none of that is in the interesting setpiece areas of the map. So there is gameplay, and there is setpieces, and it is messy and much of it was done without a plan. Ideally the bridge would lower to allow access to the central setpiece, I think. So… there would be need for some heavy construction work here, and it could get hairy. Is it worth it?

Unfortunately for me, because I’m lazy like most people, it probably is. Argh. Breaking up another level for the greater good?

I would really like to get rid of the requirement to install Quake to play SJ, though. The flow seems to go in that direction. I would have to slightly adjust the three enemy factions, which I might want to do anyway to better bring out their identity, but the fundamentals wouldn’t change at all. I would have to change the logo, which I’ve actually been wanting to do – there is a central item in the game that should be in the logo.

In related news, as you can probably tell I’m doing the layout first, of course with the core gameplay elements and the story in mind (I have design docs, as I mentioned). I want all levels roughly laid out and connected into a hub before I do the nitty gritty. I don’t want to reveal the central gameplay yet, suffice to say that it’s largely tied to things, “anchor points”, facilities, found in the actual levels. These are of course created while laying out the environment, ie now.

Also, the game might gain a subtitle in the future to make it clearer what its actual setting is. Scout isn’t facing the enemy’s main army, this is not a mass slaughter kind of game. She is behind enemy lines, poking around in everybody’s secrets.

Much different from Quake, actually.

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