E: Space Hell

This competition sounds like a ton of fun theme-wise! There seem to be quite a few other entries about either space, or labyrinths, and I'm afraid mine is no exception. It's also staggeringly overambitious and I have no idea whether it'll even approach being fun, but what could go wrong, right?

In Space Hell (working title), you play as an engineer teleported onto an imploding space ship five minutes before its demise. Your goal is vague - should you try to fix the ship's systems and prevent its destruction, or save what crew you can? There might even be no salvation for the ship in its malfunctioning state, in which case you'll have to save the crew, but before you know that, you'll have to search the ship and find out what's going wrong.

The game will have an FPS view, with a procedurally generated ship layout. There will be a number of different rooms throughout the ship, each with different purposes. For instance, you'll have to find a workshop to grab some tools, or the escape pods if you want to get crew out safely. When the game starts, there are a random set of problems generated, and your first step will be to run around the ship and find them. The idea is very vague at the moment, but one of the core gameplay elements will come down to that simple "tangled string" game, where you have to follow pipes and cables around the ship to find a "source". So for example a leaking gas pipe could be patched (if you have the right tool), or followed back to its source, which could be turned off. Similarly, power cables might need to be cut to stop something overheating, but cut the wrong cable, and you lose power to another source.

As you guys can see, there's a lot here that's up in the air, but I'm hoping to design some kind of simple, and (once learned) logical system like the power rerouting found in Gunpoint. I think if I can get something like that going, players can start each game with an understanding of what to do to find the source of a malfunction. Making mistakes and seeing the effect that comes from them (eg. cutting power to the wrong system which then blows up, requiring you to reroute power from a door, which then seals and cuts off access to two crew members) will hopefully be the fun and emergent part. I really want to see if I can play with that idea of weaving gameplay with narrative, like in Papers, Please.

As I've said, this idea is really overambitious in scope, especially if I intend to get it to how I'm imagining it in my head. The number one thing I'm hoping for - stemming from procedural problem generation, user-chosen goals and some basic AI - is emergent gameplay. I'm hoping if I can design some simple cause-and-effect systems that interact with one another, it will generate some really interesting scenarios. I'll start be experimenting with just a few of the rooms and systems planned, and then if there's some fun there, I'll expand it.

The abandoned build: Windows

WIP Screenshots:


  • Wonder why everyone wants to escape a maze. I find the prospect of labyrinth navigation with an escape in a time limit aspect liable to create dead-man-walking syndrome... Where you know you're not gonna make it, and the game just becomes meh :P

    Anyhoo, looking like a solid start, and hope you work out how to solve your design! :)
  • Thats looking pretty sweet! Whats the 1st screenshot? Is that a tile-based procedurally generated level? What are the arrow things?
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    @Tuism said:
    I find the prospect of labyrinth navigation with an escape in a time limit aspect liable to create dead-man-walking syndrome
    This is an interesting point... With my maze, I'm downplaying the timelimit - you dont know there is a limit apart from their being a vague warning if you dont complete it in time, and when the limit is reached, the monster is given unfair advantage until he kills you...
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    THEN that'd get over the 5 minute limit ;) Unless you trigger the final time limit before 5 min and the monster WILL kill you in the remaining time :P

    Not that any of these restrictions are needed in real game design, It's really a design challenge for our E: Challenge only, and I like the limited space design challenge :)
  • The first screenie is just the start of some tile-based gen, yeah. The arrows are just some debug info, showing parent-child room relationships. There's still a fair amount to do before the basics of the procedural gen are in. Then I've gotta come up with a way to place broken challenges with difficulty ratings.

    @Tuism - I'd agree with you about the "dead man walking" syndrome, but I'm thinking maybe because there is a 5 minute timer, there'll be a shorter amount of time one sits there thinking they're in a stalemate. I'd also like to give the player the impression that they can still win, even at the last moment.

    Will keep you guys updated.
  • but I'm thinking maybe because there is a 5 minute timer, there'll be a shorter amount of time one sits there thinking they're in a stalemate.
  • Why wouldn't you just build the maze according to the time limit as the player explored? So you'd only actually generate the exit reasonably close to them late in the game...
  • @dislekcia Whoa! That's a pretty cool (and trippy) idea! I like it, but I think it would be better suited to a game where the idea was to feel constantly lost, or hopeless (until the end). Plus, I wasn't planning on having an "escape the map" goal. I also kinda want a finite space, because I want the player to become familiar with their surroundings by the end of the 5 minutes, in most playthroughs. The mazey layout is to provide a fresh challenge (learning your way around) for the first part of the 5 minutes. I'd like to add AI-placed challenges and obstacles, but keep some of the goal stuff random. So you might have a map that starts you right next to the ejection pods, and a few crew members are wandering around, so you naturally toss them in the pods and send them off. You've now spent some of your precious time focusing on crew, leaving you less time to find the problems in the ship. Alternatively, you might start close to the power core, so your play style during that game might change, to be more about following wires, fixing power boxes, etc.

    Forgive my stream-of-consciousness-game-design here people, but typing this stuff out and getting some feedback on it is immensely helpful.
  • Hey guys, I've updated the first post with some more WIP screens. Still no build! My apologies. I've spent a lot of time trying to get the basic gameplay loop going (which is almost there), and getting way too side tracked making pipes and environments :P I'm planning to have a playable build up by the end of the week, or end of the weekend at latest, and hopefully that won't be too late to get some good feedback.
  • @Manikin - super excited to play a build of this. Idea sounds really cool. That red in the distance looks ominous. HUD also looks cool.
    Thanked by 1Manikin
  • Well, like some others, I must unfortunately bail on this one :/
    This really sucks, because I conceived of the idea for the game with really high hopes, but that was kinda the problem.

    I'm updating the first post with a build of the game, as far as I got. Note: It crashes about 1 in 20 times, apologies! You'll have to restart the game if this happens. It doesn't really have a gameplay loop but it might give some of you a vague idea of what I was originally going for.

    I'd actually really like to write a blog post sometime and just have a think about why this one went wrong. I think the crux of it was the fact that I thought of an idea for a game that was based on wanting to create a particular "sensation" or experience for the player, but I never really identified a single viable gameplay mechanic. I wanted to make a game that had you thinking about allegiances, and choices (let the crew die a horrible fiery death, but loot the ship? or save them, but piss off another faction?) but these were the sorts of experiences that I could only find a place for in the meta game, and I still had no concrete ideas for engaging gameplay within each 5 minute session.

    I guess the whole idea of prototyping is to take a pretty specific idea and see if it works. This was a bit easier in the 2 button compo, but even with Silhouette, my initial idea made it very clear *what* needed to be prototyped: as the players get closer to each other, their turns get shorter. I could immediately start to put those mechanics in place and see if they worked. I can think of a ton of other games that could have been spawned from a simple "what if", and this is why prototyping works so well for heavily mechanics-based games. The problem my entry here was that I didn't come in with an idea with mechanics-based gameplay, but rather one that was based on the outcome or narrative outcomes of the gameplay (which never existed), so I think I was probably trying to design the experience backwards.

    My huge dilemma here is that I don't only want to make mechanics-based games - or rather be limited to them - however fun and interesting their mechanics may be. I guess as a small team, or solo, one has to scale down and think more about making a condensed, fun experience rather than some lofty narrative epic.

    Anyway, definitely a lesson learned here. It sucks to not get even close to the originally-imagined idea, but I'm glad this has let me meditate on my game design process a bit.

    As an aside, the theme/constraint is really awesome! After playing some DD and, more recently, Spelunky, I'm developing a new love for the short pick-up-and-play type of game session. I'd love to start fresh and think of a new idea with the 5 -15 minute gameplay session in mind.
  • Here is the build (windows) I promised :D

    I'll update the first post, but also be warned, it crashes, and gets slow!

    Best of luck to the rest of the competition entrants - I can't wait to play everyones' games! :D
  • @Manikin: I think as a small team you can totally make a narrative game - it's just really, really hard to do that in a resource-constrained environment. Basically what mechanics give you is the ability to set up situations so that players discover stories that they want to tell. Spelunky does this beautifully with its purposefully limited, but consistent, verb theme. Sometimes I wonder what a limited verb theme would do to narrative-focused games. Imagine an adventure game where ALL you could do was choose where to stand. How would that play? Would you snub NPCs by just walking away from them? Would you creep people out by standing too close? Would you have to stand in traffic to make a hover-cat swerve into a shop? Would you stand on a piece of paper to stop it blowing away so that someone walking down the street would discover a love letter to them they'd have missed otherwise?
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