The Last Boss –
Concept development document
My project focuses on the “End Boss” common to most Action/Adventure games where, instead of the Hero, the player controls the last boss commonly met In the last room of the game.
One if the first sources of inspiration I researched was the video series by
game designer James Portnow, animator & narrator of the series, Daniel Floyd and artists Alison Theus, Elisa Scaldaferri, Scott DeWitt, and Dan Jones.
These academic talks and theories into the various differing aspects of games and how to get the most artistic value were informative into how to approach the design of the game.
In particular the videos, Bad Writing – Why Most Games Tell Bad Stories, Narrative Mechanics, What Is a Game? – How This Question Limits Our Medium as well as the numerous videos discussing creating a game which are many.
What was learned from this influenced how I began the early stages of work, focusing on developing the mechanics of the game first before fully fleshing out the story seems to be the more important of these lessons as the warning that most games begin with a mechanic, a piece of technology or an art style.
Meaning that the “Writing” of a game is usually constrained by the games system since everything they do must fit within these constraints but when you consider that the “Writing” of a game is usually confined to dialogue and cut scenes a clearer picture emerges.
This can seem like a draw back to the art form of games until you consider that the mechanics of a game can be used to tell the story, Daniel posits that this is should be considered first narrative when planning a game.
This helped me decide to focus first on the mechanics of the game, designing them to build the story and narrative of the games system itself.
Narrative Design by Stephen E Dinehart
After this I decided to look up what this would entail by searching through the various roles games artists fill to make games.
This led me to “What is a narritive Designer?” and its discussion of it’s creation and responsibilities in the industry of the postion of narrative designer, reading on this seemed to be inline with what I wished to accomplish for the first semester.
With a clear guide of what such a projects main role would be I found it easier to approach the project and research the process of designing the game, Dineharts site, NarrativeDesign.org, also contains many articles on the nature of narritve design as well as articles from professionals in the industry about their experainces.
This helped me form a clear idea as to what mindset to take into the project, it was easier with a specific name to look up and find details relating to crafting The Last Boss’s world and with some experience working on story world bible’s crafting the game world seemed more possible than before.
The Art of Game Design: a book of lenses by Jesse Schell
Next I searched through books relating to game design and found The art of game Design layed out it’s case for approaching the process to a games mechanics, story, aesthetics and the technology involved in a manner that was clearer and more concise than others.
Schells insights, descriptions and methods of planning out the rules of game-play offered useful materials to guide the general concept development process which the first semester of my project is geared towards .
While I could have started with a game or art style to work from, researching the practices and philosophies of game design from these separate sources on developing a game helped to plan my approach towards the project, while they didn’t necessarily give me an example of a game or specific gameplay styles to work from they made what was expected from it more tangible.
The approach to take to the art style is one of those things that’s more difficult to talk about, early on it seemed that there were two choices that would be best to study.
Either to use one of the many different forms of pixel art style or a style referred to as “Hand Drawn” which may only be named so because no one has actually named it.
The great thing about sprite art is the depth and complexity of the stylistic choices and crafted through the decades making it one of the most developed forms of depicting art in games.
The use of illusion of relevant throughout the art form using shape and colour to suggest at detail that is not necessarily present.
To quote Blake Reynolds “In Mighty Final Fight Guy’s eye is constructed with illusion in mind. By strategically grouping colours and observing their relationships, more complex shapes and forms were implied. The use of flesh tone under the eyelash and on the iris even implies other colours!”
Sprite art works to use a viewer’s expectations to fill in the blanks in the art to quickly and effectively create depictions of characters and environments.
Using this art form creatively early graphic limitation’s became a source of experimentation to create striking images using minimal colours and space, these techniques became so popular that many of them are still used and preferred over modern techniques inspiring games such as Shovel Knight and Rogue legacy to follow their example.
The limitations of the style instead became meaningful intent directing artists to focus on what is the most important elements to display with the least effort, this can create a more focused artwork to view and the works of Mario Sifuentes, Roger Lancelyn Green and Fool were great examples of this process using practical composition and colour design to imply more detail than was actually present.
A more organic art style it’s heavy on the production time, however it follows from the same school of thought as sprite art in that it uses exaggeration, rather than illusion, to define its characters and worlds substance.
This stylisation allows for a more beautiful and colourful world that can use it’s visual to reflect the themes and symbolism of it narrative more so than a realistic art style.
The goal of the style seems best summed up by the team behind Rayman Legends “We want to play inside the concept art.”
When this style is chosen it’s usually because the artistic vision of the game has been readily defined and is actively attempting to mirror drawing & paintings.
No easy task.
Especially as one of the key tasks is to create a detailed environment whilst maintaining an unobtrusive environment for the player to navigate, this can create a conflict between the player’s ability to discern what is and what isn’t part of the interactive environment, careful design and composition are required to combat this issue.
Both of these art styles offer a great deal of sources and inspiration to draw from, while at this stage my work was cursory to make sure I didn’t design the mechanics of the final boss in such a way as to make introducing the art assets a problem I found allot of useful materials relating to future research and experimentation of my art assets and how I would implement them in game.
Conceptual Inspiration and Game analysis
This game created an interesting use of the tropes of the Rogue like genre where after your character dies you restart the game at the beginning but rather than make a new character to get on with you play as the descendant of the previously slain hero.
This creates a sense of a long drawn out conflict and gives each death meaning as each new character can be said to be adventuring through the castle to honour the memory and struggles of their forebears.
It’s this use of mechanics to tell narrative that’s interesting as each new choice, of which you have three, have set Traits and Classes giving a wider set of personalty and distinction to each character even though they are ostensibly the same with only differing stats.
Flaws are built in to such as Colour blindness which plays the game in monochrome, short/long-sightedness which affect the players vision creating blurry images on screen, Gigantism which makes the player huge, slow and very strong with a wide attack area or Dwarfism which shrinks the player down sapping strength but allowing access to areas unreachable to larger characters as well as other traits.
This works to create the mechanics and narrative as having consequences towards how you play the game, each different set of traits and classes requires a different way to play through meaning that the players own actions, how they chose to fight and explore, imbue each successive character with a different style of personality.
This practice of using the mechanics in game and using them to create the narrative would be interesting to imbue in my project and through the first stages character interactions and player choices I would hope to expand on this idea of the way the player acts influencing how the game proceeds.
By presenting my own games player choices during the first stage as the reason the hero arrives in the second stage I would hope to do so, by giving the player the option as to how to advance his characters conquest of the world and nudging them between making either Good, Pragmatic or evil choices.
The hero will turn up but how strong and just that hero is in their quest to destroy the main Villainous player character should be in the hands of the player.
Chrono triggers trial is great example of the connection I wish to make between the first and second stage of my game.
First you simply explore around town and village fair, while at the fair there are a number of ways to interact with the NPC’s but for simplicity you can either be helpful towards the fair goers and they will speak in your defense or you can act like a jerk meaning they will speak against you, this affects the outcome of the trial.
The decisions of the first stage, where the player selects what methods will be used to either expand their control of the surrounding countries or to destabilize threats to the former, should feed into what hero arrives, the more obviously evil the player acts the stronger the hero, the more Machiavellian and subtle the weaker and less justified the hero.
Castlevania: Symphony of the night
Since my game is at heart action/adventure game with a tactical decision making elements I focused my early research on action/adventure games.
Symphony was the first Castlevania game to adopt the “Metroidvania” style of game-play that the 2D castlevania games would later adopt, it retained the classic tropes of the series of progressing through the eponymous castle battling with a series of monster that obstruct the players path.
By taking example from Metriod and adding in a maze like non-linear path through the castle that can be back tracked to rediscover new areas and items it gave more of a sense of freedom and exploration in the game.
However much I would have liked to delve
into that though the main focus of the study into this game was centered on the boss and enemies as this is the main focuses of the second stage of my own game for the project.
Symphony features a wide and expansive selection of monsters, not only original creatures designed for the game itself but also reusing sprites from the previous game, with the same art style, Rando of Blood to bolster its already massive enemies list.
The enemies themselves are well crafted, given eerie and varying identities with distinct personalities demonstrated through expressive animations and attacks giving them a more believable presence in the game. Even the death animations for each creature vary greatly with some spectacular and unique example throughout.
The cannon fodder enemies are massive in numbers and between certain areas “Guardian” or sub bosses protect areas and their entrances with the bosses themselves the most powerful and in many cases enormous not in just strength but in size.
To an action game this is important as much of the game-play is derived from the battles between the player and the games enemies and by filling the castle with as much enemies to fight through as was possible it created the intense situation that the plot of assaulting an evil stronghold would demand.
Gargantuan monsters such as Granfallon created the idea of these hell like monsters that if not stopped would destroy the world, it was this attention to the design of these monsters that interested me, we never see the end of the world that the player battles to stop but by showing the hordes of monsters waiting to march out onto the world it left no doubt that this is what would happen if the player lost.
It is the boss battles that interested me the most simply for the dramatic way each entrance is given, such as the doppelganger, as a way to indicate the hero’s just cause or lack thereof, the lack of grandeur in the hero will mean he’s there for petty reasons simply a result of ruling a city that inevitably means someone is cross with you while the more justified the hero the more dazzling his entrance and more just his reason.
This could implant the idea of the players own actions consequences in the mind of the player far better than a simple text crawl though this will need to be experimented with to determine the effectiveness of it or whether it slows down the game-play.
Overlords and Lord Vetinari
“Leonard of Quirm: I’m very sorry about this, but his lordship [Vetinari] has explained to me at great length how the needs of society as a whole may have to overrule the rights of a particular individual.” – Terry Pratchett
The evil overlord is a trope common to high fantasy, usually ruling through the sheer scale of their own internal power, no one can control them and they are answerable to no one.
This type of character is usually irredeemably evil and willing to make use of any means to stay in control city/country/world/empire such as resulting to rule through intimidation & terror, the murder of dissidents, mind control, torture and many other nefarious measures, examples such as Sauron from lord of the rings, King Stannis from A song of ice and fire as well as the master from doctor who are good examples of this common trope.
The goal of the player character is to avoid being seen as this, in order to create a coherent idea of whom the character should be playing as I researched Terry Pratchett’s Lord Vetinari specifically in his book Going postal.
This character is presented as just as unpopular as his predecessors however is supported by the ruling class and accepted by the people as he does not actively use the despotic ruling methods common to the evil overlord.
Being seen as sane of mind and using sound judgement has made for a stable rule of the city of ankh morpork with the memory of previous tyrants of the city wreaking havoc few try to depose him for fear of the next guy being worse as Vetinari will act in villainous underhanded and tyrannical ways but at least he waits until he has proof to arrest people, with the exception mimes however who he throws straight into the scorpion pits but this only increased his standing in the city.
Exercising his power in a somewhat reasonably manner towards maintaining order in the city is not his only method of staying in power though, ensuring the cities law enforcement are run by people who generally want to uphold the law means they are opposed to coup simply by dedication to the rule of law, by arranging matters so that if he were removed the events would be far worse than if he was in power and arranging a number of grassroots movements against him only to be kept abreast of their activities and setting each separate group against each other.
To do this he makes use of careful tactical positioning of Ankh Morpork society, Diplomacy, an intricate array of intelligence operatives and wide array of government bureaucrats to inform him of the affairs of the city and controls the outcomes while only leaving rumours as to how he does this creating an aura of fear over his abilities to know what is happening in the city.
This research gave a much needed dimension to the ideal way for the player to achieve his own conquest of the game world, by using underhanded means that destabilise the surrounding regions of his own city he can effectively take over then simply stop screwing over that region to declare he’s solved the problem, or if needed dispatch soldiers to stop the people he very well knows are behind the issues.
The trick will be to present this characters motivation to do so, Taking over simply because the main character knows he can rule better than those already in charge but giving the player other options.
Some which are “Good” that help the region without taking over but cost the player’s ability to rule his own city without furthering the characters goals and an “Evil” choice which might let him take over but at the cost of a stronger hero battle as well as the ideal pragmatic choice.
Importance and trajectory
Over all the release and examples helped flesh out not just what the project would be about but the mindset and practices that should be taken into it, researching games and their design was more of the focus of this semester to clearly establish what you could do and how.
This will lead to useful platform to work from in creating the art assets for semester two, as establishing how the game will play and work and by linking them to schools of though, practical guides to the creation of Mechanics systems and the use of those system to tell a narrative.
While there’s still some work to do on the mechanics it does seem as though having the majority of the details fleshed out, the game-play, the character motivation and genre expectation, has been a worthwhile endevour and I look forward to crafting the proof of concept come next semester.