Pulling on styles from other games to grab attention and set the mood
ARENA 3D is a slow development for me. I was greenlit on Steam back in February this year and have worked on it when the creative feeling feels strongest. Sometimes you can achieve more if you step away from your work and go back to it. Features or ideas which you may have been unsure about before can suddenly seem incredible with a fresh perspective.
So what am I doing if not developing ARENA? Playing other games of course. When I first started to develop ARENA I found myself staying away from playing other games. It was an odd feeling, almost like a sense of failure that a game may have done something already that I want to do, or maybe that it had a feature that was a much improved version of what I had just created. I feared other games.
However over time, I realised that looking at other peoples work can be that little bit of inspiration you need to perfect or improve your idea.
The game mode I am working on at the moment is a little slower paced to the bullet hell of Exosphere which is a fast paced top-down twin stick shooter. I wanted to pursue a stealth idea which I had from early on and let the player think. More importantly I wanted to convey a sense of fear and uncertainty.
Take a look at my gameplay work in progress below...
So far the feedback has been very positive and I've had a hoot watching my girlfriend squeal whenever an enemy jumps out of the darkness. My tough as nails best friend also left the controller wet with his sweaty palms.
Not all the ideas have been my own however. I had a basic idea of what I wanted and drew up a plan over a cup of tea one afternoon at work...
So from this point I had a rough idea of what I wanted and straight away I knew that the key would be to create an immersive, atmospheric and tense experience. The initial gameplay aspects come straight out of Pac Man. Find glowy thing, avoid enemies in a maze.
Pac Man gameplay? Not very original? I looked to the next step which was to create a more demanding environment for the player and build on the foundations. I had originally intended to keep the maze to a single 2D plane. However I remember the work from my first level and how the play can follow the surface of the sphere and fly around endlessly. So the question dawned on me, why not make this maze endless and give the player a sense of being trapped. So I create a cube with all faces part of the maze. And to add dynamics to the layout, I turned to another favourite game of mine N++. Some of the level layouts are great for using the environment to evade enemies.
Next on the todo list, tension and fear. I have found the clever use of shadows and light to convey panic and fear the best. I thought to myself "How would I s*** myself in maze?". The answer, turn out the lights and give me a torch. One game which has always stood out in my mind is Playdead's Limbo, it's clever use of contrast and lighting gives a great eerie feeling and I based my shadow work so that I had the same feeling whilst playing.
For the added jump value when an enemy shrieks into existence in front of you, I was inspired by a single moment from Doom 3. It wasn't a moment that involved monsters, it was actually in the build up intro where everything was still normal. You were prompted to go round a corner, turn your flashlight on and you scare the hell out of a worker going about his business. My enemies are triggered by your light and makes you wary of turning a corner and the possibility of something lurking in the shadows.
On to something a little more cheery now. Having a 6 sided mazed on a cube presented me with a problem, how the hell can the player find the Fragment he has to collect? Another popular and well known indie game that was based around the collection of fragments is FEZ
. A subtle beacon sound plays along with a visual cue, almost like a radar and I found it perfect for me. However play testing will reveal its true worth in time.
The final gameplay element I looked to introduce was enemy AI. It would be too predictable to just spawn the enemy and then chase you indefinitely. I've given them a brain and they'll head towards you and then your last known location once you're out of their line of sight. Coupled with an A* pathfinding system, the enemy has the ability to search it's surrounding area from your last known location and then patrol once they have decided you're not there. The inspiration for all of this? Splinter Cell. This is probably mine and my best friend's favourite game and we've certainly put a lot of hours in and the last known location and hiding elements have come straight from it.
One last addition that really ramps up the immersion is Audio. I over looked this to start with and it wasn't until I played the fellow Unity creation INSIDE, also by Playdead, that I realised just how powerful sound can be in a game to convey all manner of emotions and heighten the atmosphere.
All in all, it has taken input from many different games, 7 in total, to reach the stage I am at with this particular level. Playing other games has certainly worked for me and now I will be making sure that I make it a regular part of my design process. I'm sure many of you have other ways and means for inspiration, but I thought I would share my thoughts and findings.
If you are interested further in ARENA please take a look at the Steam Store page :