Monday, 21 May 2012

Long Absences and Pathfinding - The Mechanic

Been a hell of a long time since I posted here.  A while ago (like, a while ago) I decided I would keep up with this blog.  But apart from some random drawings which I already hate all I have to show are some pictures, 3D models and sprites that I can't show.

But dwelling on that is boring.  This is an art and design blog after all.  So let's art and design.  I've had a few ideas that I want to get down and into the world.  Ideas for action games, platformers, RPGs, FGs, FPS, all the other acronyms you don't know or care about.  But the thing is, I rarely get time to put these ideas on paper (or...computer...) so they float into the ether never to return.  Basically what I'm saying is that I'm going to design some stuff here and now.  Thought process and all.

The first idea I want to explore is a game called "Pathfinder", or "The Path of Least Resistance", or "Name Pending".  The idea came from the thought of always being able to find what you're looking for, or to find a path to your destination/goal.  In terms of a game, this means being able to find your way through levels and enemies quickly.   Since I'm essentially giving players a mechanic that "finds it", no matter what it is I can afford to make the game really hard unless you stay within the "path".  But that doesn't mean that leaving the path is a death sentence (well, it is, at least in game but not for players with player power).  It just means the game gets a lot harder outside of the path and there are less hints, clues and cues to go on.  But outside the path lies greater reward, more experience (if this were the type of game to have it), items, different level routes, bosses and hell, even story segments and endings.

Now, apart from the genre which I haven't decided (early genres included Bullet Hell, RPG, Action and Platformer) the thing that I most want to think about is how I present the "path".  The motifs of the story and setting are simple when you think about paths.  Stuff like destiny and fate pops up and obviously finding someone or something, but I'll go into that later.  But then, coming back around to genre, the presentation of the path could change.  Or it might not, let's find out!

FPS:  The path could easily be related to guns, bullet trajectory, and special objects/powers.  What I imagine with this sort of mechanic is something akin to the Normandy landing in WW2 (that is what I think it is right?  God my history is horrible.  Medal of Honor taught me nothing).  You get off the boat, bullets are flying at you and your men, ships are going down.  You could either be the soldier or the pilot.  Oh, that's interesting, since I love Ace Combat I'm now thinking what if I mixed this mechanic in with that?  You could be a pilot trying to get somewhere along with a mass of enemy planes/fighters on your back constantly trying to take you out, you could make pit stops to hide/recover/fix your plane.  You could stick to the path, allowing your to dodge enemy missiles and gunfire while fighting back, or avoid the path and dodge everything yourself.  Err, anyway, back to the soldier guy, he lands on the beach and he can see the bullets flying at him before they actually do.  The path of the bullets is decided so all he has to do is move out of the way.  Grenades are crashing down on the ground, blowing everything up.  You can't see the grenade, but the pathfinder will always tell you if an area is unsafe and for how long.  Using that you could enter dangerous areas and exit before they become a problem, even luring and delaying your enemies so that these prophecies (oooh, I really don't like that word or direction - DIVERT DIVERT) you could do some interesting thing with the level design.

Third Person Shooter:  See FPS.  I kid, but it is basically the same with more focus on the character and their movements.  It's the same as FPS but it looks cooler, so it's probably better, right?  (Don't hate me Matt).

Bullet Hell (AKA Danmaku AKA Manic Shooters AKA Dodging Rain AKA WTF ARE YOU PLAYING KAILE):  I love bullet hell games.  Ikaruga, Touhou, DoDon Pachi, Radiant Silvergun, Mushihime-sama are among my favourite of the genre.  I love the chaos, the memorization, the fact that even if you're completely comfortable with the level or boss, there's still this tension and adrenaline rush. These games tend to be hard and I mean really hard.  The applications of pathfinder here are obvious to me, find a path through the bullet hell.  It's similar to the FPS concept, except instead of just going outside the path, I would have lanes that change the path.  There's also the possibility of the pathfinder being regulated to just a bomb (as in a mechanic in Bullet Hell games to clear all the bullets off screen while killing enemies or dealing damage) where using it shows you the path to use in emergencies

Randomly:  Path finding could be an activated skill that isn't always on, though that wasn't originally what I had in mind, it does mean you could upgrade and modify path finder to be more complex and interesting.

Platformer:  While this seems obvious (and it is, really) it could also be the best application.  You run through a stage, at first it could be really complex with puzzles that the pathfinder leads you towards.  It would show you the safest, easiest (if perhaps longest) path through a level.  Following it is meant to speed up game play and prevent players from breaking flow and going "huh, what now?" or "that shouldn't be there!"  Prompts for actions are timed based on speed and distance, reactionary commands slow down time and you can see when and where hazards and enemies are.  Perhaps later on you can upgrade the path to find new areas and harder difficulties.  The reason I want there to be a non-path is because I don't want this mechanic to seem like it's just hand-holding (which it essentially is).  There needs to be a real difficulty to this game, something that makes players think twice about leaving the path, an rewarding them if they do.

Perhaps the hardest part is having the path without having the actual path.  How would leaving the path affect gameplay?  Maybe it doesn't, in the end the path is the main mechanic, and it is supposed to find what you want to do.  So there should always be a path.  It could be misguided, the original path laid out for you isn't for your own good, or it's your absolute destiny.  And the path you choose could invariably be harder, but it's your choice and this mechanic would support that.  (There's a metaphor for life in there, don't think too much about it).  So once you leave the intended path, perhaps things change.  You find all your powers don't work as well, or are gone completely.  It could be a new path means new abilities.  Also, I wanted paths in a level to overlap at some point, so if you had powers that originally only work in a certain path, when these paths overlap they would combine powers giving you access to new areas.

Racing:  Ugh, just...no.  I love racing games, but I think a pathfinder mechanic to this just cheapens it, or makes it more complex than it needs to be.  Maybe I'll come back to this one, but I don't really want to think about it now.

Action:  Path finding changes a bit here.  While it could still relate to finding your way, solving puzzles and overcoming obstacles, it could also be applied to fighting.  It would show you where weak points on enemies are, what areas are guarded and open, and if an enemy attacks, what areas will be affected and when.  This kind of ties into what I had in mind for the bullet hell genre, and combining them gives me a 3D bullet hell action game.  Heh, right.  Anyway, the battlefield could be chaotic like bullet hell is, and pathfinder would tell you where stuff is happening and when.  You would have to move around while still fighting, and perhaps you can only apply path finding to your enemy, your environment or to yourself one at a time.  Later on you can combine environment with self or enemy, and then eventually you could use them all.  Yeah, I like that idea.  Which means I need to design the different type of paths and how to switch between them.  What first jumps out at me is just being a cycle on trigger buttons, but it depends on how quickly you need to switch between them.

Going back to the racing genre, perhaps I wouldn't have it racing so much against other people as I would have the player racing towards the goal, Sonic style.  Perhaps the platformer could combine these genres and have a mix of speedy path finding and platforming path finding.  The character could start off slow, using the mechanics to carefully climb up stuff (I imagine something like Shadow of the Colossus, except not really living giants, just structures) then as the game progressed he gets faster and more agile, using path finding to quickly scale the same structures with ease.

RPG:  I love RPGs, easily my favourite genre hands-down.  The genre itself is very diluted though, as RPG elements tend to emerge in all genres, so what is a pure RPG?  It's a topic for another day (and an entirely different person).  Like I said I love RPGs, except for the most part, I hate RPG battle systems.  Well, that's not entirely true, I guess more accurately I'm bored of the traditional turn based battles, even active time battles.  I believe for an RPG to be fun it needs to make you think about the fight and react to the fight.  Pacing is hard to get here, but generally the faster it is the better.  Path finding here would be similar to action, since if I made an RPG with this mechanic it would mostly show itself in the battle system.  And since the battle system would be more action than traditional RPG.  In a non-battle situation, path finding just becomes a way to find people you need to talk to, treasure you need to get, avoiding environmental hazards if any and so on.  Adventure games become something similar.

RTS/Puzzle/Sports/Fighting:  These are the genres I don't think path finding will be interesting in without adding elements from the genres I've already explored.  I think path finding in RTS kind of defeats the purpose of strategy, as well as puzzles in general.  You want to solve a puzzle yourself, path finder solves it for you.  It's better in a game where the main challenging isn't from thinking about how you do something, it's actually doing it and dealing with the consequences.  Sports games just aren't interesting at all, especially realistic ones which this wouldn't be at all, and if it's unrealistic it stops being a sports game and starts being something more like action.  And as much as a love fighting games, I don't think the mechanic would be appreciated there at all, at least not without changing a lot about what makes a good fighting game.

Generally, the way I would add path finding into a fighting game makes it more action-oriented, games like Distrega and Psychic Force come to mind, which actually could be a lot of fun, you could have close range path finding (guarding/counters) and long range ones that show you where your enemy is attacking.  I guess success would be determined by throwing out a lot of complex attacks to trap your opponent and then moving through their attacks quickly to get at them and beat them down.  Tempting to mix bullet hell in there...but I think I already did.  Whoops.

Thinking about it, this is a very single-player mechanic for most genres.  Later on down the road I'll think about multiplayer application for all of them, but the only immediate ideas I get are based on the platforming and fighting/action genre.

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