Gameplay dilemmas in First Person Shooters without the shooting

The further into the process of designing the Exploring the CEE (working title) game, an orientation game to our Flexible Learning Solutions team, the more complicated it seems to get.

I’m hamstrung by a few aspects but they mostly all come down to my use of FPS Creator.

I’m something of a newb in my use of FPS Creator, the game creation software that I’m using for this and my knowledge of the underlying scripting that can be used to create interactions between the player and other characters. I know very little about 3D modelling (although my colleague Bec seems to have worked this out thankfully) and while I’ve played my fair share (perhaps more than my fair share) of games, the principles of game design themselves are relatively new to me.

The initial intention of this game was to serve a prototype to get a feel for game design, so I’m regularly having to remind myself that it’s better to do something simple well than to over reach. The game is also intended to act as a promotional tool for our area, a way of showcasing some of our knowledge base, the resources we have available to teachers and the ideas that we can help them with.

In my initial design process, I was heavily focussed on the information landscape that I was building – largely influenced by the very interesting writings of Fabice Florin from the early 1990s. It was all about using metaphors and creating virtual spaces with strong logical connections to the information. Using our building and our office seemed pretty sensible in this regard. I was also quite determined to have a very open and democratic information landscape that allowed the user/player to be as free in the way they accessed the information as possible. (Much in the sandpit genre of games – like the Grand Theft Auto series). The player could theoretically choose only the aspects of the game that interested them specifically by moving to that part of the space. (Of course, even in GTA you have to complete certain missions to move the story along).

The more I work with FPS Creator however, the more I wonder how much I’m going against the nature of the programme – and the genre.

FPS Creator is a very nifty piece of software for what it does – allowing game making novices to build 3D games where they run around in first person perspective, shooting enemies to progress to the end of the game. Taking the shooting out of the game to make Exploring the CEE is slightly subversive as it is, repurposing the whole experience, but I’m just now realising that the First Person Shooter genre is much more geared towards a heavily linear storytelling experience.

Some of the limitations of the FPSC software are that it struggles with large rooms with a lot of entities (furniture, characters, objects like cdroms and folders) as it favours a series of smaller rooms with more twists and turns. Interaction is predominately with weapons and enemies, so conversation and collaboration are low on the list of priorities for most users of the software – however this would be the area of the game that would be the most useful for our particular needs.

We had been thinking about some scoring systems to help measure player progress – rising student grades and student satisfaction levels – however, again, being designed for FPS’, it’s all about diminishing health and ammunition levels.

It allows for players passing over particular parts of the map to trigger audio/video/graphic files and some of the FPSC community (a lively modding scene) have devised basic scripts to enable simple conversations between the player and non-player characters – although these don’t have the depth that we would really want in our game.

Players can also trigger audio/video/graphic files by interacting (passing over/close to) game objects such as folders, cdroms and the like. This appears at the moment to be the extent of which we can work with this game. (I may learn more in time but I have to come back to the do something simple well principle).

After chats with members of our team, where I laid out the driving game elements that I’ve come up with so far (mentioned previously here) , we’ve come up with some possible models for the game play to follow. None seem perfect but offer some options at least.

The background story, of the player being a teacher trying to improve their existing, (boring) course – Theory of Occupational Health and Safety- in pursuit of the coveted Teacher of the Year award. The player is in direct competition with a colleague – the slightly annoying Peta Perfect.

The game map is a representation of the campus here at Southside – the FLS team is located in A block which is connected to the players dept in D block by a large corridor. This corridor takes about 40 seconds to cross at present, which could be seen as dragging somewhat, particularly if the player needs to go back and forth.

1. Sandbox style talker:

Talking forms the only interaction in this game – there is a relatively large collection of NPCs who just have one conversational audio file associated with them, triggered whenever the player stands next to them. Some (but not all) of these NPCs will have helpful information pertaining to the Flexible Learning Solutions team and when they give this information out, the player’s score is increased. One of the player’s main goals here is 100% completion.

The score issue here is a problem as it falls outside the functions of the software – it may be possible to have particular useful objects appear or doors unlock (which the player would need to be made aware of) once the player has spoken to the NPC. What purpose these objects have or where the unlocking doors lead is uncertain.

Pluses: Simple goals and activity 
Minuses: Don’t know how to implement the scoring system for 100% completion. Seems slightly passive.  

2. Two level game:

This option breaks the game into two separate activities – the player firstly has to identify all of their teaching needs that can be supported/enhanced by the FLS team by moving around D block only (A block is locked) and talking to their colleagues. Each colleague – six in total – has information that relates to one aspect of FLS team expertise.
This would require a system for tracking the fact that the learner has interacted with each of the 6 respective colleagues which then enables them to exit via the door to the corridor to A Block. (This would use a “Win Zone” which tells the game that they player has completed the level and moves on to the next one.)

In the second (A Block) level, the player begins at the entrance to A block and finds the FLS office. They would then interact with the FLS team members in a similar way to the first level. Moving up to the characters would trigger a cut-scene animation which would feature a conversation between the player and the FLS team member about the options that FLS has for supporting them with their relevant issue.

It may be that the FLS team member directs the player to access/use an object located in the FLS office. This could include a computer terminal which has a screen-capture video of FLS website, a folder with a text-based list of workshops or how-to guide resources, a cd-rom showcasing previous projects or potentially other objects.

The player “wins” by completing these 6/12 interactions, which unlocks a door and gives them access to the Teacher of the Year trophy – awarded to them in another cut-scene animation.

Pluses: avoids the A/D block trudge, simplifies the maps, talking to FLS person and interacting with object model is good (could be used in any of these)
Minuses: does it suggest that FLS can’t help teachers find solutions ourselves? can the player interact with the FLS office objects independently? 

3. D block to A block and back again (and again)

This is the initial model I had in mind but the drawback is the time that the player needs to spend between missions traversing the corridor between A and D block.

The player has full access to the entire building and after the initial cut-scene animation that sets up the story, can either explore D block and interact with (get information from) their colleagues (and perhaps students?) OR go directly to A block and explore the FLS office.

They would generally need to activate a mission by speaking to one of their colleagues but it would be nice if they could also do this by speaking directly to the FLS team member. (The gameplay mechanics behind this however make it more complex that I’m currently able to do). There would also be freely accessible FLS resource objects around the FLS office (the cdroms etc mentioned in option 2). There could also be an FLS pamphlet or CD-Rom available in the D block offices of the player in the first place.

Given the limitations of the gameplay options, the player would probably have to trigger the mission by speaking to a colleague and then go to A block to complete it. If they speak to the wrong FLS member, it would be nice if they could say (for example) – sorry, I’m Bec and I support graphic design – you’re looking for Colin. (This is more than I can currently do at the moment though.)

As speaking to colleagues would be optional in this case, it would only be by interacting with the FLS team members that the player would access special items OR unlock doors to give them access to the winner’s trophy.

Pluses: Full sandpit style gameplay
Minuses: Fair bit more complicated to make work, A/D block trudge, door unlocking option – is it contrived?

4. The Linear approach.

The FPS genre is conventionally a very linear one and this would entail redesigning the whole map so that each task would logically (and physically) come after another.

This runs counter to one of the main purposes of the game, which is to provide a relatively realistic orientation to the FLS team and their physical location.

On a practical level, it would work similar to option 3 but mean that particular colleagues wouldn’t be available to trigger the next mission until the preceding one had been completed. Likewise, the appropriate FLS team member wouldn’t be available either. (and I’m not overly sure about how to do any of this just yet). The player would need to be made aware upon completion of a task that they now have access to another colleague and task. This would offer a sense of progress but could make the trudging back and forth between A and D block frustrating or contrived.

One option for the physical space which could work would be a corridor with doors (see through doors?) which unlock on the completion of tasks and allow progress toward an always visible trophy room.

Pluses: More suited to the genre and so presumably to the software
Minuses: Less realistic, much more back and forth activity 

General random thoughts and ideas.

Maybe one of the FLS team members is actually embedded over in D block in the first part of the game.

Can the player “win” the game without having to speak to all of the FLS team – what if they are only interested in two components?

I would like to see intermittent cut-scene animations showing that Peta Perfect is making progress, earning points/objects/unlocking doors and gloating to the player. This would be to spice up the sense of competition.

We could have a guide/mentor character that offers updated information on visits. (there is a script available in the game that allows for up to 3 sets of conversation files to be played – when the player returns to the character. This isn’t context sensitive however. Guide figure may offer advice on gameplay – eg – by touching the folders/cd-roms/etc, you can access information.

The player would have an opportunity for discovery learning in the game space before the opening cutscene animation which sets up the story. They find themselves alone in their office which is shared with three other teachers. They can wander around the office but not leave just yet.

Their colleagues’ desks in the office have some interactable objects on them – folders which can be triggered by moving close to them. When they move close enough to the trophy on Peta Perfect’s desk, they trigger the opening, story-establishing animation clip.

These are the actions that the player can do:

  • walk in any direction
  • stand on or near objects
  • jump
  • crouch
  • open doors
  • trigger audio/video/graphics by standing near/on objects and people.
  • roughly move objects by walking against them.

The player needs to make things happen, not just be caught up in an extended series of movies.

Purpose of an Orientation game – to learn about:

  • Who is in FLS
  • Where FLS is
  • What we do/know
  • What resources we have available (physical resources – toolboxes, handouts, software cds)
  • What workshops we run
  • Accessibility through on-campus presence

There is also an optional level available at the start of the game which offers training in navigating a 3D space in a First Person Perspective game.

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2 Responses to Gameplay dilemmas in First Person Shooters without the shooting

  1. Marg says:

    col,

    i’m thinking about the options around scoring… could we rethink using the ‘health’ in some way? Can you start a player with very little health so they have to build it up? it could be a metaphor for ‘how healthy the player’s knowledge is of flexible learning and FLS?’

    just a thought…

    other thought is that the scoring doesn’t necessarily have the be visible as a percentage, but a grid reference of scores to a percentage figure may work – that is, a player scroes 660 (out of a possible 1000) and thus makes 66%. a grid reference shows them that 55-65% is average and that they have an adequte knowledge of flexible learning and FLS… would something like this work instead? could the grid ref become part of the HUD (or link from it somehow)?

  2. colinsimpson says:

    These are both good options Marg – thanks.

    I’m slowly getting an understanding of the scripting used in the game – though I’m a long way off cutting my own code for it just yet 🙂
    The general consensus of discussions on the forum is that you would need to be able to write data to an .ini file and then reference it from there.

    At this stage (version 1.0), for progress, I’m looking at using the multi-level structure to show physical evidence of progress by having a progress gauge in the players office (next to Peta Perfects) – a simple bar graph on a wall.

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