One of my many minor goals for Fireball (our first 'verb game'; an abstract and original budget market PS2 puzzle/platform game) is to avoid using a separate front end and associated loading times and instead have the entire game constructed using only the game engine. This probably won't happen for a number of reasons up to and including possible future interference from Sony, but for the time being it remains on the roadmap of the game. Pictured here, for instance, is a placeholder title screen for the game. Just behind the word in English are the kanji for the game's Japanese title (Hidama).
We are currently receiving our offers for the game from the various budget market publishers, and deciding which way to go - although one publisher is a firm favourite. The actual development of the game is on hold while we discover the scale of the budget, since we can't know how much we can get away with until we know what sort of advance we can get for it. However, level design is very much an ongoing process.
As regular readers will know, we have invited all and sundry to get involved as an External Level Designer, earning a game credit and a potential share of royalties. Everything you need to know about this can be found in an earlier post (follow this link!) except the minimum spec for the tools which is:
- CPU: P4 2.8GHz
- GPU: nVidia FX5200 with 64Mb RAM or comparable card
- SYSTEM RAM: 256 Mb
- OS: Windows 2000/XP
I'm delighted to report that we have had our first two levels from the external pool.
Mousetrap is a classic fuse race, in which the player must negotiate a rat's maze of burning green 'Leaf' blocks before a stone cage traps the exit. It's one of those levels which looks hard, but turns out to have several solutions which make it very easy, which is exactly the kind of puzzle I'm happy to see in this game. It was the first level submitted by anyone in the external pool.
High Altar is a more cerebral puzzle, based in part around the long floaty jumps that your fireball can take in the game. It has a much more exploratory feel than the levels I have been building, as you must experiment with jumping from a number of different places in order to crack the mystery of the level. It requires some lateral thinking, but the player in principle has as much time as they need to work out the solution.
As delighted as I am by both of these levels, it's clear that we could use some more level designers. In particular, I could use some people working on levels that are simply fun things to set fire too and contain no significant degree of challenge. If you are interested in getting involved and meet the minimum spec above, follow this link and check the section at the bottom of the post for more information.
The original structure we had planned for the game was to have a Spine consisting of about 60 levels which anybody could complete, but which have to be completed in sequence, and also have a Collection of levels which would unlock automatically as the player hits certain 'Ash' totals (number of blocks burned) - so that new levels will be unlocked over time, as well as through success in the Spine.
Recently, I've been thinking this isn't a very sensible structure - making the Spine easy and hiding harder levels in the Collection is all well and good, but it makes more sense to make the Spine harder and the Collection easier. After all, some players will be fiero seekers (thriving on challenge) - they will not (in principle) want to advance without winning, so the Spine structure (linear sequence; beat to advance) makes more sense for fiero-seekers (Type 1 Conqueror by DGD1). Conversely, experience-seekers (Type 3 Wanderer by DGD1) should be able to get to new levels without having to struggle - so it makes more sense to have the easy levels in the Collection, which any player can unlock by playing the levels available over and over again to score more Ash.
This has lead me to a new idea for the game's structure, as shown in this illustration. The player selects the level they are going to play on a field with a black hexagon drawn on the ground. The player starts inside the hexagon and sees three 'paths' stretching away from them consisting of linear sequence of objects which can be burned. Setting fire to an object on one of the paths is how the player begins playing a set of levels.
When the player goes outside the hexagon, they will necessarily be in one of three different sections, according to which 'path' is closer. At the top of the screen will be displayed the name of the path they are about to choose from: Challenge, Puzzle or Fun.
The levels in the Challenge section will be constructed with a bias towards fiero (i.e. more challenging, more tightly balanced towards challenge) - and the player must beat each set of levels to advance to the next one on this path. This would be like the old Spine structure.
The levels in the Fun section would be much less difficult, and focus primarily on just giving the player fun things to burn. There may be some puzzles, but they'll be very simple. As a guideline, your grandma should be able to beat all the levels in this section, in the best case. These would use the progression rule from the old Collection structure - that is, new levels are unlocked as the player acquires Ash, which they can get from playing any level (and, incidentally, they get more Ash for doing particular well in levels, so the player can work on earning medals in levels they've already unlocked to earn Ash).
The levels in the Puzzle section will be focused more around problem solving (Type 2 Manager style puzzles) - perhaps even the objects that are burned to access these levels can be 'micro-puzzles'. I don't yet know if this should have a Spine type structure (beat previous levels to advance) a Collection-type structure (you will eventually advance if you keep playing) or a hybrid structure that can advance either way. I'm swaying towards the latter.
In this way, we can provide about 60 different levels in three different 'game modes', all selected from this single area which in itself is a game level. I expect there will be some reuse of levels - so that each of the three paths consists of at least 60% original material, and 40% levels which recur in one or other of the other paths. (Minimum number of levels required would therefore be 36x3 = 108).
The idea, of course, is that we are then providing separate game paths for three different types of players; three of the four DGD1 archetypes. The fourth archetype, Type 4 Participant, should be catered for by a pad-passing Versus mode, accessed from a special object inside the hexagon. And of course, players are free to go on and try other modes after they've completed their own, if they like. Indeed, the Fun path will be unlocking whichever path the player is actually following.
I welcome people's input on this idea, and would like to know whether people think the Puzzle path should be Spine-like, Collection-like or governed by some other kind of progression mechanic.
Incidentally, if any game journalists would like to cover the game in any fashion, please get in touch with me by email.
I'll be posting more about Fireball as the project progresses.