Designing a game for hyperreality
Determining what’s important
I come up with a list of things I think this game needs to do. Keypoints it has to hit. It needs to work as both an enjoyable experience and a demonstration of what makes hyperreality games unique. Only doing one of these will mean it’s a failure. Doing neither will mean it’s a mega failure.
- Simple – Immediacy is key. If it takes more than a minute to explain or understand, that minute could be better spent elsewhere. Like eating cake.
- Comparable – If the fundamental workings can mimic that of something which already exists, that lessens the barrier to entry.
- Physical – Streaming items from the motion capture stage enables us to use physical objects beyond the VR controllers. I expect an entirely digital experience, with no physical component will encounter the same issues as VR. I want completely new issues.
- Controllerless – Interaction with the world needs to be done directly by the player, rather than a controller.
I immediately think of a football-based game, ie: kick an object at a goal. It’s simple, has a real-world counterpart, involves physical movement and the player can use their legs, rather than a controller.
It’s not going to change the world, but as far as my specifications are concerned, it does the job.
Incorporating motion capture
Kicking balls, hitting with sticks
It doesn’t take Tom at all long to get the fundamental Blueprint working in Unreal Engine 4.
We have a button which drops balls from above, a series of targets which reward different point amounts and a scoreboard. We’ve also got a pratt in a motion capture suit.
Kicking the balls works perfectly fine, but it’s incredibly difficult to control their direction or apply any lift.
It doesn’t matter how I approach kicking, nine out of ten times the balls just go in a straight line.
It’s literally the exact opposite of how I kick balls in real life.
I wonder if it’s because I’m unable to actually get under the ball itself. I haven’t checked our collison boxes so it’s completely possible that as far as the game is concerned, I’m always hitting the ball square on.
So maybe the problem is I’m just not getting underneath the ball. I suggest we add a cylinder, onto which the balls can sit when dropped from above. Rather than kick, we’ll try punching the balls directly from underneath.
Minimising needless movement
This works much better. It’s so much easier to get elevation from this sort of position.
I suggest we bring the scoreboard over to sit above the targets themselves. This will keep the player’s attention in a singular direction and reduce the amount of looking around they have to do.
The general experience feels far more streamlined this way. I’m no longer having to look around in several different directions to find the information I need. I hit a button, the ball drops, I take a shot and immediately know my score.
We start thinking of ways to streamline this further. The most clunky aspect at this point, is having to lean over to push the spawn button and then move back into position to hit the ball from.
Tom suggests we incorporate an actual object with which we could hit both the button and the ball with minimal need for moving around.
This would also incorporate the physical aspect we highlighted as being important in the beginning.
A few minutes later, we have a working stick in the game:
It actually takes more tweaking than any other part of the game so far.
Basically, the hit box which controls the spawner button going up and down, goes a bit mental. It responds to the stick entering, exiting and being within its collision space. One moment we have a ton of balls, then none, then just a couple?
It’s not that big a deal though and really doesn’t take Tom long to fix. Since it’s the first thing resembling a ‘bug’ however, I thought it worth mentioning.
Explosive physical interaction
Once that’s fixed, the whole ‘loop’ feels much nicer. Although the interaction needs work, so too does the sense of feedback. Because there isn’t any.
Swinging a physical object has made a big difference, but there’s not enough connection between it and the digital environment. Thus, there’s no real sense that I, the player, has much of a connection to the digital environment. We need to work on that connection.
Sure, we can’t use physical balls, but we can tweak how the digital balls physically respond in their environment.
I ask Tom if we can set the balls to destructible.
We both snigger.
A couple of seconds later, we have balls which explode into fragments when colliding with the targets. Tom also comes and tests swinging the stick himself, to better refine the motion/control in our Blueprints.
I’m surprised by how much of an effect this has on the feel of the game. It just makes the whole interaction far more visceral and you definitely get a stronger sense of having accomplished something when you hit a target.
Back to kicking
Now that I’m a bit more comfortable with movement and we’ve refined the controls slightly, I fancy having a go at taking kicks again.
We tweak the ball size a little more and I consciously make a greater effort to kick from beneath the ball itself.
It’s still ropey, but I eventually get used to the approach and it’s not long until I’m able to consistently get the ball into the air:
I’m exhausted, but the game’s turned out to be more fun than I expected. Sure, you could argue that what we have here is little more than a glorified Kinect game. The physical object makes a difference, but not at a fundamental level and we’ve not yet incorporated Virtual Reality.
But the main goal here was to build a foundation, a framework upon which we can start iterating more features. I’m satisfied this has been achieved.
Rather than rush ahead with another game concept, I plan to get this into a ‘releasable’ state.
We probably won’t release it, because Motion Capture stages aren’t something every PC owner has in their back room. Nevertheless, I’d like to execute the gameplay and aesthetics to a standard generally consistent with that of modern titles.
By modern titles, I obviously don’t mean Anthem, Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Fallout 76, No Man’s Sky, Batman: Arkham Knight or Mass Effect: Andromeda.
Thanks for reading!