As I was getting the most recent build of Schism ready to Demo to Brandon last night I was really able to see some of the concepts I have had from the beginning about what I wanted this game to be coming together.
I think one of the major complaints about the video game industry, particularly in AAA game development, is that there are really only a handful of genres and that many games are simply emulating countless other games. And really that is OK, to an extent. I had a great conversation with a game developer / friend, Łukasz Szymański (@Luke_Szymanski) who talked about needing to do something different while at the same maintaining a certain level of familiarity to the player. As with most thing I spoke to Luke about, I couldn’t agree more.
Stephanie has been extremely supportive of this project but the one thing she iterates to me over and over is that I need to do something “different”; Something that people haven’t already seen. This is a challenge of all creative media. It is easy to get locked into the idea that everything has already be done; that there are no “original” ideas to be had, they have all been taken. All of this leads up to the point of this Blog entry: I would like to talk about some of the things that I think will make Schism stand out as “different.”
It’s always a little frightening to reveal your designs before something is fully created. In the beginning I felt like I needed to keep them secret so no one would “steal” them. But one thing I love about the “indie” game developers that really make them different in and of themselves, from the AAA developers is their transparency. We are an open bunch! And no one really reads this blog anyway so what do I have to lose!
I think the first “Stand-out” feature of Schism, and the foundation to which it is built around is the two modes that the gameplay occurs in. This, alone, is not that original, I know. Many games have different modes. JRPGs are famous for dividing their games into “explore” mode and “combat” mode. Typically, you have a party of characters yet, while you are exploring the world, you only control one of the characters, usually from a third-person perspective, and the rest of your party are conspicuously absent. And then you enter into combat and you are taken to a new scene in which the battle takes place. I think this is referred to as an “arena.” What I don’t like about these games is that you are completely taken out of the world during the mode transitions. And the fact that your party is represented by a single character breaks the immersion. So here is how Schism is doing it:
In explore mode, you will see the world from a first-person perspective. However, all of your characters are present in this mode, they are just mostly behind the camera view. BUT, each character is represented, in real-time, in a window on the screen at all times. This is sort of like the typical “character portraits” that so many games have, except instead of being a static picture, ours are real-time representations of the characters that are always there in the scene. So the feeling is, you see the world from the “lead” character while the rest of your party follows behind. In explore mode, each of the characters can interact with the world. To select which character you want to interact with something in the world, you select it’s “portrait”, choose the action you want it to perform, usually, you will also select what you want to interact with in the world, and THAT character will step out from behind the camera and you will SEE him as he performs that interaction. When he is finished, he returns to his place behind the camera. The idea is to keep the “feeling” that everyone is there in the scene with you while providing a sensible way in which to explore and interact with the world around you. Then, when combat is triggered, the camera simply pulls back, time stops, and we are now in a tactical, turn-based mode. And that in itself is a whole other beast. I will save that discussion for a future post. But I am aware of the break in immersion that this mode transition creates. It is a risky design decision, I know, but I’m taking a chance that we can pull it off in such a way that the player forgets to notice, or “feel” (because isn’t feeling what immersion is all about) that we have broken the immersion by stopping time and moving into a turn-based mode. One of the most important parts of the game is to get that transition to “feel right.”
I like to think we are designing Schism with “influence” from other games that we love, while making it something unique and fresh at the same time. One of my favorite games of all time was System Shock 2. I loved the “feel” of it. It was the first game to really make me understand how we could progress this medium beyond the arcade standards. I want our explore mode to emulate some of the System Shock 2 “feel.” Only recently I began playing the old Might & Magic games. I don’t know how I missed playing them back in the day but I did. From those games, and others in that same class such as the Wizardry games, I want to inherit some of the “old-school”, challenging, RPG elements. Some of my favorite gaming memories are of Brandon and I sitting at his Comodore64 all through the night playing the old Bard’s Tale games, anticipating what was around the next corner, how could we get the next great item we needed. Today’s RPGs have strayed from a lot of that “feel.” They would rather be action games. One of my mantra’s right now is, “I’m not making an action game.” Of course there will be action in Schism, but that is not what I want to DEFINE the game. Take movies for instance. There are thousands of action movies. They are defined as such. And there are drama’s, like say, A History of Violence, that has some of the most exciting action in any film. The main difference is, to me, that the action, as exciting as it was in A History of Violence, had MEANING but it did not define the film as an action movie. That is what I want to create in Schism.
So there you go. Just some thoughts this morning on where I want to take Schism. I could go on about this for hours, but there has to be limit; I don’t want to reveal ALL of my secrets. At least not yet…