Shadowdancer Devblog Week 4 – Playable Prototype I.

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Last week we started to work on our playable prototype, that will form a base for our final game. Games are all about what players do, so the most important step is to define the core game activity. This phase requires quick work, we don’t have time to make elaborate code or fine art at this point.

Let’s see what we got done this week.

Level Design

We want to make a level for the first prototype, that represents all the elements we’ll have in our game. We are sure the game involves stealth, platformer elements, and puzzles.

Stealth will be the main activity, but on its own, it will be monotonous and tiring. Remember, the game won’t involve any combat. We need activities to give the player a break.

Later we can combine these activities together, but right now we sliced the level into four different parts, each designed with one activity in mind. After minutes of staring at the white paper on the desk we realized something important:

We don’t know how to design a level for a stealth game!

We put away the damn white paper to find information about stealth level design. We found an article surprisingly quickly.  The Anatomy of a Stealth Encounter is a very detailed post on Gamasutra from Travis Hoffstetter (game designer at EA, previously at Crystal Dynamics, worked on The Rise of the Tomb Raider).

I won’t talk about the different types of encounters and the ways you can encourage players to hide. If you are interested, I really recommend you to read the article. It helped us a lot to design our levels.

After we had a clue about how, we grabbed the white paper once again, and start to draw the level layout. The first half of this level will be stealth-oriented: at the start, we use the Outpost encounter type from the article. The second part should use the Limited approach type.

According to the story, the player character wants to find a hidden temple, where she can break a seal that will end the invasion of the evil army.  In the first part, she will find the gate that leads to the hidden passage. In the next section, she has to steal the key from the captain to use this gate. The third part will be the passage, that is not used for ages. This will be the platformer part. In the last part, she will break the seal by solving a puzzle.

AI - Round 2: Sensors

Last weeks approach to make more clever AI with multiple states of awareness, resulted in an unnoticeable feature. During the gameplay, the behavior of the enemies wasn’t believable. Although my goal is not to make a totally realistic AI, I still want them to look like thinking creatures.

I made another investigation this week. How does the AI work in big games? Thief is one of the most popular stealth game in video game history. Fortunately, Gamasutra is one hell of a place where you can find anything!

Building an AI Sensory System: Examining The Design of Thief: The Dark Project is an article from Tom Leonard (lead programmer of Thief: The Dark Project). I won’t explain the article either, read it! Very exciting!

I said before, currently, we don’t have time to make complex codes. Perhaps I should listen to my own advice and wait for later phases of the development, to jump into this feature. Well, I didn’t. After reading it, and truly understanding it, I started to make my own sensory system. I knew this will consume most of my work hours for this week, and I was totally right.

I’m pretty happy with this system. I set up three sensors: direct vision, peripherical vision, and hearing. I have to tweak the parameters and make the AI able to understand this information better later in the development. Because in the current state, the enemy is too strong. They caught me three times out of five.

Smaller bits

Bushes: Since I used to try to hide in the bushes during my playtest and was disappointed when the enemy saw me there. I made the bush totally cover the character. Enemies can’t detect the player with visual sensors, but they still can hear her.

Dotti made the first version for the enemy. A large male, death-knight with armor:

That’s it for this week, hope you enjoyed this article. Next week we will continue building the level, and at the end of the week, we will have the first playable prototype. 

We’ll see you all next time!

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