Katabasis released on Desura

Katabasis has just been released on Desura!

Pretty late, compared to the release elsewhere, but that’s my fault. Oh well. Now it’ll be much easier to download and play (if you have Desura). For those who don’t know, Desura is a digital distribution platform much like Steam, but dedicated purely for indie games and mods. The profile and everything for the game is the same as what’s on indiedb and moddb, but being on Desura is kind of like a step up from there, so it’s pretty exciting for me. It makes the game easier to access for a wider audience.

Here’s the link: www.desura.com/games/katabasis

and a fancy button Desura Digital Distribution

Posted in Katabasis | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Hands of Creation: Procedural vs Intentional

In games, there are two major modes of world creation. The first is procedual, and while it’s not used all that often, is gaining in popularity. Basically, procedural generation means that the world is created randomly, within parameters set by the creator. Proteus is a good example of this. It’s only partly procedural since all the assets themselves are predetermined and created beforehand, but the shape and terrain of the island and the placement of all those assets–trees, crab-creatures, frogs–are determined anew each time you open the game. This has a very natural appeal. In a sense, it recreates nature: a somewhat simple set of rules giving birth to a complex and unpredictable world that is unique every time. Every time I play Proteus, it’s a unique island that will never exist again once I exit the game. It gives a nice sense of birth, death, and uniqueness in an otherwise immortal and ubiquitous world.

The opposite of this is what I’m calling “intentional creation”. Rather than the world being generated randomly within a set of parameters, the creator must hand-place everything. Although most games have the seeds of procedural generation in various areas (especially when it comes to terrain and flora), intentional generation is much more common. The environments are all predetermined: everything will be exactly the same every time for every player. All the objects in a fully intentionally created game world are put just so directly by a creator. The angle of a tree, the scale of a rock, even if it’s done mindlessly and with absolutely no reason, everything must be done deliberately (although trees and such are usually bit of an exception, most game engines have sort of guided procedurality tools to make the process much faster). If done with thought, intentional creation can be just as compelling as procedural’s natural appeal. To me, it’s more poetic and musical.

For The Theatre, I’m taking a fully intentional approach. I think there’s a beauty in laying the seeds and sitting back and letting the creation take over as procedural generation forces the creator to do, but personally I find intentional creation much more appealing. Perhaps I’m arrogant: I like the control that hand-making every area gives me. And importantly, intentional creation is much more consonant with the concepts. Camillo’s theatre is an extremely deliberate and purposeful creation.

The amount of time this approach takes will force me to keep things simple. I cannot place hundreds of trees with a simple click and drag. I have to go through a more complex sequence of actions for every single tree. Therefore, I will not place a tree unless I need to. I am forced to keep it simple. The environment will be precisely as robust as it needs to be, and no more. That, at least, is the ideal.

Posted in design philosophy, environments, game design, Giulio Camillo | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Theatre Update: Trees and Stuff

I made some trees and rocks and stuff.

Started digging into the audio, too. Each node will have a unique sound: 7 tones by 7 timbres/texture (that’s what I’m thinking now at least). Decided on using tones from Pythagorean tuning, and have been playing around with how to implement them. Having that spectral quality of focusing on shifting textures and harmonics will work much better than using rhythm and melody. The idea is that the player will literally move through tones and harmonics and timbres.

Posted in Giulio Camillo, progress, The Theatre, video games | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

An Introduction to the Three Layers of Game Interaction

As with most things, interaction with games can be distilled into three layers: Physical (pressing buttons, moving mouse or joysticks), Virtual (moving within the game space, in a shooter this would be shooting guns), and Experiential. The third is, of course, the most difficult to put into words. Simply put, it’s that phenomenological sense of being there. This third realm is often ignored, but I think it is the most important. It is where the unique poetic power of the medium resides.

In high school, I had a math teacher who once told my class about learning how to use a computer mouse for the first time. A friend was helping him learn, and had him play solitaire. At first, he focused entirely on using the mouse. Synchronizing your hand movement to the movement of the mouse on the screen, clicking and letting go of the buttons at the correct times: to most of us this is second nature, but for an older person who had never used such a device, it was rather difficult. My teacher kept talking to his friend about using the mouse while learning. Slowly, without thinking about it, he started talking more and more about the game of solitaire he was playing. Eventually that was all he talked about it. At this point, his friend told him: you have learned how to use a mouse.

It’s a simple anecdote, but it perfectly explains the processes one must go through while playing a game, whilst simultaneously explaining the first (physical) layer of interaction. At this first layer, we learn what buttons we need to press and develop the muscle memory of where they are. For someone who has played many First Person Shooters, pressing WASD, spacebar, shift, F, R, E, etc, is second nature. The slight differences in games–maybe ctrl is run instead of shift–will force players to re-learn at the beginning, but they quickly adjust. To someone who has never played an FPS this is difficult, and requires a much longer learning period.

The important thing here is that the goal is not to focus on pressing buttons and moving the mouse. Learning how to use a mouse is certainly engaging, but the goal is to play a game of solitaire.

The second layer, virtual interaction, is the realm that developers commonly focus almost all of their energies on. Like physical interaction, this is also a learning process. The player must learn how to interact with the virtual world. Rather than focusing on pressing the buttons, the player learns what game elements are most effective where, and how to utilize the game mechanics. In the traditional FPS example, the player focuses on what guns work best on what enemies, and methods of taking enemies down. My current line of thought (which may change) is that this is the realm of both intellectual and emotional content (update: see the comments for more thoughts about this). The player learns his or her place in the game world, which can provoke various mental attitudes.

Virtual interaction is obviously very important, but the problem is that the supposed rules of “good game design” that people are attempting to set in stone revolve entirely around this second layer. “Good games” focus on extending the virtual learning, turning it into an addictive cycle. The player slowly gains new means of interacting with the world, or simply new ways of using the initial interactions.

Learning how to use a computer mouse is engaging, but it is not the goal. The goal is to play a game of solitaire. Similarly, assuming we want to move beyond escapist entertainment, the goal should not be to learn how to interact with a game world. The goal should be to experience.

Experiential interaction goes beyond provoking intellect and emotion. It is memory at the instant before. It is the game reaching out and directly provoking not the mind, but the spirit. This is not at all a new concept. It is a familiar concept in poetry, and this is what Andrei Tarkovsky strove to achieve in his films, and Iancu Dumitrescu in his music. This is by no means unique to games, nor are games superior in any way. The medium simply proffers new and differing means by which to generate, and directly manipulate, phenomenological experience. In a sense, it is a marriage of the physical and virtual layers. Where the physical focuses on the player, and the virtual on the game world, the experiential focuses on the player within the game world. All games tap into this, intentionally or not. This is why games like Ico and Home are so powerful, and why games like, say, Gears of War are so flaccid. Gears of War still provides a phenomenological experience, but it is an empty one.

My point here is not that all games must strive to achieve a meaningful and intentional phenomenology. There is absolutely nothing wrong with focusing on the second layer, with focusing on learning, with focusing on intellect and emotion. A lot of meaningful content can and does reside there. All I want to say for now is that this third layer exists, and that it is critical to any game every step of the way. This is a topic that I definitely plan to think/write much more about.

Posted in design philosophy, game design, video games | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Early Progress: The Theatre

I’ve made a lot of progress on the visual look of The Theatre (which is what I’m calling my new project now), so thought I’d post up some screenshots. I’m still very early on, but I’m really happy with how it looks.

I was messing around with some settings and kind of accidentally come upon this look.

To geta bit technical, it’s pure white fog, with the ambient light set to pure black. Everything has a solid color texture, but without an extra light it all appears black. There’s no shading, the only thing that gives depth is the fog. It’s very simple, and I think it’s very aesthetically pleasing, which is a perfect combination.

Still at “study model” phase, but the architectural stuff is looking really nice. It’ll be interesting to see how it looks with more detailed models.

I’ve been toying around with adding in color. I gave the nodes a separate shader, which makes the color show up regardless of the ambient light, but still with no shading. The play between 2d and 3d with these geometric forms is perfect.

That’s the Theatre proper, as it currently stands. I’m also playing with having light spheres that the player can pick up. With the black ambient light, these lights would reveal the colors of the environment.

Overall, I think simple will be better, but I am planning on having fairly robust environments. Outside the theatre, there’ll be trees, other flora, and stones and such. At this point, I probably need to start focusing on making more assets.

Posted in architecture, environments, Giulio Camillo, progress, The Theatre | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Katabasis Update: version 1.1

First off, I just wanted to note that I released an update to Katabasis which should fix a bug where the end cutscene animation would freeze at the beginning. Crossing my fingers that I really did fix it, it’s hard to say for 100% certain. I also changed the title at the end to some text, quoted from the Vogul myth which the game is based on/about. Not sure if that was a good idea, but I’m just gonna leave it for now.

The download of 1.1 is, of course, avaiable here and on the IndieDB page.

Unfortunately, in keeping up with the Katabasis release I haven’t had much time to put towards the new Camillo project. Haven’t done too much visibly recently, but I made a lot of progress conceptually. Hopefully I’ll have to more to say (and show) about that soon.

Posted in Katabasis, progress | Leave a comment

New Project Underway: In Memory of Giulio Camillo

Fact: it’s impossible for me to come up with game ideas that are simple and easy to explain. Initially, the idea forming the basis of the new game that I’ve started working on (I’m making headway on  prototyping it up) came from my research on Giulio Camillo. A very little known figure, Camillo was actually one of the most famous men in the sixteenth century. His life’s work, which he never completed, was a Theatre which one would explore, and leave with knowledge parellel to those such as Cicero. My research resulted in this essay, which I recently uploaded to my portfolio site.

The idea was a simple combination of recreating the Theatre itself, and an analogy Camillo used to explain his Theatre:

“If we were in a great wood and wished to see the whole of it well, staying in it, we would be unable to satisfy our wish, since we would be able to see only a small part of the view about us, the trees around blocking for us the view of things far off. But, if near to that wood there was an incline, which led around to the top of a high hill, ascending from the wood by the incline, we would begin to see the shape of much of it; then, having risen to the top of the hill, we would he able to recognise the whole.”

I had the idea for a while to possibly recreate the Theatre for a game, but after thinking about it more when posting the essay on my site, I had the idea of embedding the Theatre into the side of a hill in the forest. To get to the top of the hill, you must move through the Theatre.

As you will know if you’ve read the paper, the Theatre essentially consists of a 7×7 grid: the seven Planets along the X, and seven mythological references along the Y (such as The Banquet, The Cavern, Prometheus, etc). Most people, going by his descriptions in L’Idea del Theatro arrange it in the classical Vitruvian format, as in the image above, which I believe was drawn by Frances Yates. At this point it’s still a variable, but I think that’s the basic layout I’ll use. It emphasizes the theatrical aspect, will be interesting to move around in, and naturally has ascension built in. The center of this smaller circle set on the circumference of a large circular hill creates a nice overall spatial relation.

The point is, the 7×7 grid creates 49 nodes. Initially, my idea was that you would simply go up and look at each node. The game would only end if you ascended the hill after looking at each individual node, or alternatively if you ascended without looking at all of them you’d get different endings. The invisibility of that system is nice, but it quickly devolves into a gotta-catch-em all scenario, and more importantly, I would have to make each node compelling enough that players would get something out of simply looking at them. The latter condition does not work for two reasons:
First, I decided early on that I’m going to need to simply present Camillo’s theatre based on my understanding of it, rather than using it as a symbol to express all of the ideas held within. I can’t literally recreate the Theatre in all its glory. I ultimately have very little understanding of all the ideas at play, and I’d have to be Camillo himself to truly convey the interior ideas.
Second, my goal is to keep it visually simple. To make the nodes compelling enough on their own, they’d have to be as richly decorated and word-laden as Viglius describes.
Furthermore, this does almost nothing towards player interaction-exploration within the space. I think this game needs to focus on interacting with and exploring Camillo’s ideas, in a way that only games can, i.e., literally.

The idea I’m currently running with is that each of the seven symbols are physical objects that you can pick up. Each node point is an altar, on which you can place the symbol-object.
Since each symbol aligns with only one row, you can only put the objects in the assigned row. You can put The Sandals of Mercury on any one of the seven planetary altars in it’s row, but you can’t put it on Prometheus’ row.
Where the objects are placed affect various things in the environment. This is where it gets shakey: I’m not sure yet what will be affected. That might be something I’ll have to experiment with as I progress. I think keeping it simple would be best. Maybe just different external areas would open, or simply colors and ambient aspects would change. When you pick up objects, what it is will be displayed on the screen, and when you place it on an altar, that combination will be displayed (i.e., the word “Prometheus” will appear when you pick up the Prometheus object, and if you place it at Mars, “Mars, Prometheus” will appear. Perhaps the words accompanied by ambient changes will be enough. Thus it’s up to the player to contemplate the pairings, rather than me trying to explain something I don’t understand.

Somewhere along the line, a portal at the top of the Theatre will open, allowing you to finally ascend the hill and be “enlightened”. What this enlightenment entails will be, I suspect, the biggest and most difficult question as I make the game. Right now the only idea I have is to rip off the ending of Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain, but I don’t think I’d be happy with that.

So far, prototyping has come along pretty quickly. I’m working on a more robust pick-up mechanic, which is surprisingly far along. Unlike Katabasis, I’m trying to really dig into the mechanics of the experience rather than building a bunch of models and dumping them into Unity. I’m going to force myself to work on different areas fairly often, rather than focusing on single pieces at a time. I’ve only been working on it for one night, but so far it seems to be working.

Posted in architecture, game design, Giulio Camillo | Tagged , , | Leave a comment