No Quarter/There Shall Be LancingPosted: May 15, 2013
So here’s a kind of overview of my No Quarter game “There Shall Be Lancing”, how it happened and the other games I scrapped on the way 🙂
No Quarter is an event organised by the NYU Game Center, each year they commission some developers to make games for the space, invite people along and frivolity is had. Charles Pratt got in touch with me last year asking if I’d be interested, and my answer was hell yes. I had free reign to make whatever game I wanted to, so I mostly just went with whatever was interesting to me at the time, I only actually started work on There Shall Be Lancing about a month and a half before the event.
The fist thing I worked on was a split-screen knife fighting game. inspired by the cover (and music) of Alexisonfire, I already had a prototype knife-fighting system where the left stick moved the left hand, the right stick the right, and triggers were used to thrust hands forward and back.
The main idea behind it besides the hand-control was that something that seems cool and exciting becomes very real with no way back out once you start. The game would be presented as a fighting game with some pumping rock music, character select where you pick a school and get a randomly generated schoolgirl or schoolboy (different characters every time, since nobody gets to survive to take part in a second knife fight). then once the first cut is made, players will start to bleed, more cuts will cause yet more bleeding (how much bleeding depends on where you are cut and how deep). eventually one player either bleeds to death or is outright killed (a knife deep through the eye or chest), and the “YOU WIN!” screen for the other player shows the winner bleeding to death in an ambulance. on the off-chance a player would win without being cut, she would be seen crying over the corpse of her ‘enemy’. The main problem with this game though (I felt) was that the controls weren’t right for the setting; the prototype I made used pretty much every button on the gamepad (face buttons to change knife grip and also crouch/duck, sticks+triggers for hand control, bumpers for thrusts, d-pad for movement) and it was too much to explain to somebody just picking up the controller for the first time and be able to play the game. I tried to think of ways to make the controls simpler but there was no way to do it without compromising how I wanted the game to feel. Basically I realised I wanted the game to feel complicated, daunting and unwieldly and that wasn’t a good fit for an event where everyone was new to the game and might only play it once. The idea was scrapped.
The next game I had a go at was “ballroom”, kind of like hockey except with giant swords instead of sticks. players could knock a ball towards opponents’ goals to score, or knock spiked balls into opponents to hurt them, or just cut opponents in two.
Like the knife fighting game, this too was built around the analogue stick controls, but this time it used *only* the analogue sticks. Left stick to move, and right stick to manipulate the sword. the controls worked and the game was simple enough to pick up, but I wasn’t exactly in love with it once I had an early prototype, and when I showed it to people the response was generally “there’s already a bunch of No Quarter games like this” so I found something else to work on.
At about this time, I was knee-deep working on Leaper, so I had gyroscope game ideas on the mind and had recently discovered that multiplayer-networked games made in unity (like my game splat death salad) connected fine cross-platform. So I started thinking about games people could connect to with devices they bring to the event, and visions of 32 people in a room spinning around with gyroscope were all I had for a few months.
For the first month playing with this idea it was mostly just a “spinning race” game, people would download the app to their device, join the game and have races to see who could spin in a circle X amount of times the fastest. Eventually I started to think of mixing it up with different tasks, so the game would shout “stay within the circle” and you would have to use the gyroscope to move your avatar within a moving circle, and other such games. but eventually I moved from that to something much more themed which I call “Find Of The Representatives” it was on this that I spent the majority of the No Quarter lead-up time working on.
The idea here was sort of like a multiplayer Leaper, where players control robot ‘representatives’ which have been sent into some deep underground ruins and must solve puzzles and overcome obstacles together.
The way this would all be presented to players is a screen that is *just* a news channel, interviews with scientists discussing the newly discovered chasm in south america, and the remote control robots being sent in to explore it (as it’s too dangerous for humans). The news would show interviews with the scientist who made the robots explaining how to control them, though it’s pretty apparent, and sometimes the news would show a live stream of the expert representative pilots operating the robots remotely (a webcam view of the room where the players are). When players make new discoveries in the underground tombs/temple these would be analysed by top researchers on the news feed, they would see ancient texts carved into the walls and discover that whoever built the place believed there was a dark god of some kind trapped in the ruins.
As players travelled further into the temple, the dark god would interfere with the news stream as well as the control screens (ipad/iphones/androids etc) the players were using to control the representatives. and eventually the dark god would straight up summon a meteor to crash into the world. the representatives must then find some way to use the ruins to seal away the dark god they had awakened or the meteor would crash into the world and the players would lose.
Games would probably last around 10-20 minutes, and players could dip in and out as they wanted. Since representatives could be dropped into the first room as they join or destroyed as they leave. Play would center around carrying items and torches for other players, holding doors open, standing on pressure plates and all the kinds of things you’d expect remote-control robots to be doing deep underground.
Whilst I really liked this idea (and still do), feature creep, the lack of reliably knowing if a given device would have a good gyroscope, wireless connection issues and a massive depressive dip on tip, I totally stalled for a few weeks. with the No Quarter deadline looming I had to face facts, drop the project and think of a new idea I could realistically finish in the time remaining.
I emailed Charles to apologise but I’d have to change ideas and I’d let him know when I knew what I was making.
Two hours later I sent him this:
The idea for a lancing game came to me remarkably easily. I knew I had to drop all of the iOS/Android touchscreen/gyroscope stuff (which was painful as heck btw, I bought a licence I couldn’t afford just so I could make my No Quarter game run on android devices!) and I knew it had to be easy to pick up so I already had the dual-stick control thinking in mind from earlier. the ‘play on a sphere’ where each player has a ‘home’ point where they attack or react to attacks part of the idea comes from a game idea I’ve had in mind for 13 years; I was a kid thinking I’d make a PS2 game (never happened) and made a bunch of design documents and sketches, including this:
So yeah, a combat system idea I had when I was 13, plus 13 more years of experience designing and making games, plus a steampunk look and you get There Shall Be Lancing.
With a little playtesting I found that with just lancing and blocking alone certain stalemates were possible, so with a suggestion from Terry I added shooting, and then the game was quickly playing in a manner similar to how it plays today.
From that point on, I mostly focused on honing the three ‘options’ (lance, block, shoot), so the game was quick to pick up, simple to understand at various ‘levels’ of play. (so it’s fun to play even if you don’t understand the speed meter, or bullets), but remains balanced at all levels of play. My main goal at this point was to have something that was super fun and presentable, even if not as visually slick as I’d like. I didn’t know how much I’d get done in the time left so I avoided any instances of feature creep (apart from allowing a superficial character selection). If the deadline hit me I’d have a really refined play mechanic and the game wouldn’t crash, it didn’t matter if there were unfinished graphics or whatever.
all that said, development of this game coincided with a massive energy boost. for a few weeks I was nothing but 10000% motivation, and especially unusual I also had the focus to channel all that energy into the project.
it took just under six weeks to make There Shall Be Lancing, and that’s including a weekend I took off to make Dream Fishing. So I managed to get much more done than just the core gameplay, but I think approaching the game in that way gave me a lot of freedom; I wasn’t afraid of the game not being ready. I find that fear *kills* games for me, it bundles up with depression and a bunch of other things and drags a game down as you’re making it. making this game, everything *flew*. So I had more than enough time to polish up the parts of the game; I managed to make a super slick level set in the clouds, a bunch of character portraits and other bits of polish.
Things got a bit overwhelming when I asked on twitter for musicians interested in scoring the game, I got a *flood* of really good people all interested. There are so many musicians out there who want to make music for games but rarely get a chance. Amongst all that though, there was someone who made a sample that was *perfect*. That was Stephen Hart, he put some music over a small gameplay video I had made and hit the tone and style I wanted for the music exactly.
Stephen did a brilliant job for the game, I had to turn down everyone else interested and I’m glad I did for the game’s sake. Stephen made a few tracks and also make the “announcer” voices to declare round starts, winners etc. All of it fit the game beautifully and I’m super grateful to have his talent be a part of the game.
a couple of weeks before the game was due I had reached a point where I would be happy for the game to be shown, but was beginning a depressive dip; so with my recent understanding that I tend to throw out the baby with the bathwater when I hit a low, I emailed a build of the game to Charles, with the instructions that he must ignore me if I ask him not to show the game.
Fortunately my low didn’t last too long, and about a week later I was ready to work on the game more, though not quite at the pace I had been going before. I spent the time polishing what was there and fixing the couple of bugs that had managed to slip through, making the tutorials simpler and making the game easier to ‘read’. (things like jetpack flashing red when you are out of energy, bullet icon pulsing if you try to shoot without any bullets. just stuff so there is feedback for why you can or can’t perform a certain action). I also worked on adding a couple of secret stages, which remain unfinished, but are passable enough. Deciding early on not to sweat it over final graphics helped a lot, even the flying cars in the main stage are very rough compared to the concepts I originally painted for them, but it’s OK since I focused on gameplay and things in the foreground. The low-quality cars in the background are enough to set the scene and that’s OK.
By the time the event rolled around, not only did I have a game that was OK to show; I had a game I was very proud of, and it’s been a long time since I’ve felt that. I couldn’t be at No Quarter myself, but I saw some video and pics and it looks like most people had a good time, and people enjoyed playing my game. So I couldn’t really ask for more than that 🙂
Here is a video about the game and the event that kotaku posted recently, where they spoke to Charles Pratt:
The game hasn’t actually been ‘released’ yet, I’m still deciding what I want to do with it. however if you have a PC or Mac, two xbox gamepads and some friends, email me and I’ll send you the game. 🙂