Friday, 10 February 2017

Technobabylon 2, Part 2: ISOBABYLON

Previously on Technobabylon 2: After getting on the Unity train (choo choo!), and gaining a better understanding of its foibles with the aid of Adventure Creator, it was time to actually think not just about the functional elements of it, but also what I'd want a sequel to Technobabylon to look like.

Designing a game, especially a narrative adventure like this, is dependent upon not just how I want it to look, but additionally what I'm capable of. What I love is storytelling, though I'm a terrible 2D artist, and only an adequate 3D one. On my own, I'd be unlikely to produce anything in the order of Lucasarts in the nineties (or, perhaps, Westwood with Blade Runner), nor something like what Telltale are producing these days. After all, I'm only one person! In order to minimise the amount of outsourcing that'd need doing for art, I started looking into other games with a style that was minimal enough inspired by (definitely not "knock off"), but also had a system that was conducive to telling a story through adventures.


Two examples leapt to mind - Stasis (2015) was an adventure game that made use of an isometric perspective to create an atmospheric story, and Shadowrun Returns (2013), a cyberpunk tactical strategy with the kind of bathed-in-neon urban setting that would make the perfect backdrop for a future Technobabylon game. So, I set about seeing what kind of challenges would be involved in persuading Unity to see things from this perspective. An isometric perspective, that is - ho ho.

Shadowrun Returns


By default, Unity sees things in 3D. In fact, it was only within the last few years that it started to take 2D seriously. Although the cameras all operate in 3D, they can be set to operate orthographically - that is, lines don't disappear off into a point as they would in perspective. That's one step dealt with. This means that we can use 3D models for our characters and parts of our scenery, and externally-sourced 2D art for scenery. I could therefore build the actors myself, relying on the distance between the camera and the people to hide the flaws in my craftwork, and let someone more competent than I deal with the backgrounds - unlike the first game, where Ben Chandler handled all of the backgrounds and characters.

As mentioned last time, using Adventure Creator had done a lot of the work for me when it came to building the adventure side of an adventure game. It comes with concepts like inventory, dialogue and interaction by default, and allows you to choose either a point-and-click or WASD system for movement - and with a bit of tweaking, was persuaded to be able to use both, with the camera following the player character around. With a bit of kicking (and with artistic input from Ben), I managed to get a test scene put together. If you've played Technobabylon, you might recognise it.

With a framework for isometric movement and interaction built, I could then move on to other characters. After all, they're kind of a vital part of adventure games, otherwise the only person the player can talk to is themself, and that's just daft. Anticipating scenes set in public, we needed characters that did more than just stood around to be interacted with, they had to be able to react to the player's presence, and give themselves dynamic walking routes.

By this stage, I had a bit of an idea of the plot I wanted to see in a sequel. As a practice run at both Unity and isometric gameplay, I set about building the first section of the game as laid out in the twisty, winding gibberish I call a plan. The outcome - sort of success.

The backgrounds are placeholdery, all but one of the characters are test-men, and only a couple of the animations have been implemented, but it gave me a good impression of what is required in building a game in Unity - and not just the isometric kinds. On the other hand, it provided a few observations of what such a game can and can't do. While great for strategies (X-Com <3), I haven't quite been sold on what a Technobabylon game would look like done this way. I like detail in scenes, a lot of which is lost from the distance between the camera and the environment. In addition, it required a bit too much "reinventing the wheel" - Unity's Adventure Creator has all the machinery needed to build an adventure game, and creating an isometric game added so much more development work on top of the narrative and art (plus a lot of potential new headaches to run into later).

So, while feasible, I'm not sure the result would have been worth it for what I could have accomplished. Plus, in all this experimenting, I now had a much better grasp of how Unity and Adventure Creator think, and on the side, the plot had been coalescing. Lots more evolution yet to go!

Next episode: NZOKA

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