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 Post subject: Open-ended/non-linear gameplay
PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2007 7:27 am 
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One of the more interesting sections in Adam's recent interview with Rock, Paper, Shotgun (the thread on the interview as a whole is found here) for me was this little tidbit:
Quote:
The next chapter will definitely require new code (I’m already pushing the basic Episode One stuff to its limits), and I’m toying with the idea of making some of it *properly* non-linear. As in, start at A, have a compass pointing to B and have to cross a large segment of city to get there, with no pre-defined route. This requires experimentation - if it doesn’t work, I’ll just seal up some main routes and make the player meander through something more conventional. (Sudden thought - a basic radar system pointing out major Combine patrols? Hmm…)

So, discuss. That having been said, if I was to approach such a task (which would be a terrible idea since I'd have no idea how to do the actual work) I might have the city be separated into numerous different sections by the combine, who can put a section in "lockdown"- force fields activate and checkpoints with those folding barricades seal off the streets. So if you set off an alarm, you're now locked within a more set space until you either find and deactivate the alert or figure out a way to escape- some secret rebel route like a rooftop scaffold or sewer passageway. Such secret passageways could have their own hazards, but it might beat having to tangle with an approaching combine patrol. On the other hand, a player who's familiarized himself with an area might backtrack in order to deliberately set off an alarm and thus divert a patrol's attention while they went on their way.
[edit: tiny typo]

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2007 8:26 am 
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That would be cool, but more than 2 or 3 lock down situations would get really tedious.

The only issue I've had with the open ended elements of Minerva are that messages are sometimes triggered by happening upon a location. And this system works fine except when I missed a few messages in the prison section of Metastasis and saw them on my second run through.

I'd suggest an incentive for exploring the area. Maybe, this is a really bad idea, let the player see a horde of enemies before the enemies see the player. That's an incentive not to go down that particular street, at least until the other places don't look any better.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2007 9:00 am 
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Bill Masen wrote:
That would be cool, but more than 2 or 3 lock down situations would get really tedious.

The only issue I've had with the open ended elements of Minerva are that messages are sometimes triggered by happening upon a location. And this system works fine except when I missed a few messages in the prison section of Metastasis and saw them on my second run through.

I'd suggest an incentive for exploring the area. Maybe, this is a really bad idea, let the player see a horde of enemies before the enemies see the player. That's an incentive not to go down that particular street, at least until the other places don't look any better.
Well, there are several ways to address this...

First, each and every lockdown situation would likely be a different experience/have a different solution; the idea is to provide chances for self-contained linear experiences. Perhaps in one case there's no way to get past a certain forcefield and deactivate the lockdown yourself, but explosives in a nearby building can be detonated to blast a hole in a wall that can be used to escape. In another there's no escape route, but there is some sort of heavy loading equipment or other apparatus that provides a chance to wipe out a large number of combine forces. A third sector is in lockdown when you come across it, and turns out to be filled with headcrabs; you can fight them all, or release the lockdown to unleash them on a passing patrol.

Second, you can try to include clear mechanics to allow the player to take a stealth approach- for example, say that the lockdowns are activated by sentries in watchtowers, and that by being attentive a player may circumvent these watchtowers or just snipe the guard before an alarm can be raised. The leader of a patrol carries the red signal flares and can launch them, which will cause the sector to go into lockdown if any watchtower guards remain to see it. Perhaps the floating monitor droids are also used- they might trigger a more delayed response, or only call patrols, or simply make it very difficult for a player to travel stealthily (as both the droid and the explosion of their destruction are quite noticeable).

If these watchtowers are also the location of the alarm deactivation switches, then you've got a clear vista opportunity- a place to set things up so that the PCs can get a clear view of the surrounding area and any enemy presences.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2007 9:06 am 
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How many ways are there to skin the FPS cat?

Option 1. One path without loops and without backtracking
Go from A to G through B, C, D, E, F while busting kneecaps and taking names.
Example: HL2

Option 2. One path with loops and backtracking
Go from A to G through B, C, B, C, D, F and then back from G to A while busting kneecaps and taking names.
Example: M:M 3

Option 3. Multiple independent, mutually exclusive paths
Go from A to G through B or C or D or E or F while busting kneecaps etc.
Example: ?

Option 4. Multiple grouped paths
Go from A to G through B and C or D and E and F while busting kneecaps etc.
Example: The Witcher (you'll see when you play it)

Option 5. Sandbox
Go from A to G through any combination of B, C, D, E and F.
Example: Fallout, GTA

Do you see other options?


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 Post subject: saving all the post-apocalyptic kittens
PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2007 10:55 am 
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Dagda, Bill, the lockdown idea is still very linear. See Option 1 or Option 2 in my post. The fact that you can solve it using different tactics (stealth, releasing headcrabs, blowing up holes in walls) doesn't change the overall nature of the adventure.

For an actual non-linear game, we'd need to abandon any idea of path and predetermined areas to unlock apart from the starting point and the arrival point (which can actually be a condition, such as the number of kills or the destruction of a target. See the way Achievements work in EP2).

To draw heavily on RPGs, Option 5 (sandbox) requires:

1. Fully accessible playing area or rather an area which would be accessible to a non-HEV enhanced NPC with an axe. That means that all normal doors can be broken down, all normal windows can be broken, all fences can be climbed, etc. Access to other areas may require jump-fu, puzzles, etc.

2. Random encounters: depending on the area, health/ammo level of the player, the game generates a set of enemies which spawn at a given distance. The radar function is a superb tool to use with this. See the AvP series. The only benefit is to keep the player alert, eat away his resources and keep him on the move.

3. Non-essential set/scripted encounters: these would be the side quests/treks which would provide the player with data (brilliant idea with the watchtowers), gear and allies (Rebels pinned down at a barricade would be most glad to have the player flank the Combine and then would assign him a couple of squaddies). The player has the option to tackle the encounter or not, but he should always have the possibility to avoid it.

4. Multiple levels of victory: from barely surviving the map (avoiding all enemies, taking the quickest, shortest route) to cleaning the entire area from the Combine and saving all the post-apocalyptic kittens stuck in all the mutated trees, with any number of intermediate levels of success.
Gaining story elements from the non-essential set/scripted encounters would be high in the victory conditions list.

5. Absence of essential encounters or of NPCs who must survive:
This takes the non-linear idea further, to the point of total freedom. Alyx dies, but you can beat the game.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2007 10:59 am 
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Bill Masen wrote:

The only issue I've had with the open ended elements of Minerva are that messages are sometimes triggered by happening upon a location..


Can you explain what you mean by "open ended"? I'm not sure I understand. These were mostly nag messages tied to a location, a bit like Alyx's "Gordon, we really, really need to get going to save the world again."


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2007 7:56 pm 
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Locworks, I think one of us is misunderstanding the other. I'm not talking about a linear string of the lockdown sectors, but rather having an open-ended city that the combine has separated into sectors for the purpose of maintaining control. The player starts in sector A and from there may begin by proceeding to sectors B, C or D in order to eventually reach G. In the process of traveling through one of these sectors he may choose to take on a task such as helping rebels (if they are present here) or clearing out a combine barracks. The "lockdowns" are simply another form of sidequest, one that the player is forced to complete only if they fail to avoid triggering it; and even then they can just find an escape route and theoretically avoid the combine response entirely. The idea is to allow for more scripted sidequests while maintaining the immersive feel. I don't see how the idea excludes any of the five criteria you present.

Also, remember that the strength of the enemy isn't the only way to dynamically challenge the player. Valve uses the more subtle option on occasion: varying the amount or value of a resource based on the player's current state. For example: the lower your health is, the more healing the antlion grub's nuggets provide.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2007 8:06 pm 
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I think one thing I would like to see very much if it does end up free roaming, is multiple objectives that you can take on in any order e.g. go to building A and retrieve info from computer OR take out command centre 1 and troops OR set up escape route from city, and when alla re done, you move on to the next objective(s)

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2007 8:29 pm 
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locworks wrote:

Option 3. Multiple independent, mutually exclusive paths
Go from A to G through B or C or D or E or F while busting kneecaps etc.
Example: ?


The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. There is ONE main quest, however you can complete it at your own pace, or not at all. Meanwhile having the option to join several types of "guilds" ranging from a brawling mercenary, to an upstanding respected head of the local magicians, or even a lowly assassin. My point is that you can go from "A-G" while choosing any one, or all paths in between.

All this sector talk made me think of an old console game called "Freedom Fighters" while it wasn't completely free roaming, you could move between various pre defined areas of the city. The point I am getting at is that the game used the sectors on the map to support each other. Example: In order to take sector A with the least amount of effort, you would have to go into sector B and destroy a bridge to slow combine reinforcements into sector A. A specific example from the game is that in one sector of the city the enemy has heavy helicopter support. The helos make taking the territory almost impossible, so to take care of that you had to go back to another sector of the city and destroy thier helipad, thus eliminating any more helos in your sector. Just an idea I wanted to put out there

:WCC:


Last edited by TrenchFeeder on Tue Oct 23, 2007 2:54 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2007 9:07 pm 
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I'd like to make a request that I have no place making: Adam, if/when you you read this, would you be willing to share your thoughts on the matter?

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2007 9:28 am 
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Dagda Mor wrote:
Locworks, I think one of us is misunderstanding the other. [..]
The "lockdowns" are simply another form of sidequest, one that the player is forced to complete only if they fail to avoid triggering it; and even then they can just find an escape route and theoretically avoid the combine response entirely. The idea is to allow for more scripted sidequests while maintaining the immersive feel. I don't see how the idea excludes any of the five criteria you present.


We are in agreement. I must have read your post as suggesting a "beat lockdown A, go to lockdown B", beat lockdown B, go to C" path. Sorry about that. As sidequests, the lockdowns match the non-linear ethos well: they provide a defined advantage if beaten, but are optional.

Dagda Mor wrote:
Also, remember that the strength of the enemy isn't the only way to dynamically challenge the player. Valve uses the more subtle option on occasion: varying the amount or value of a resource based on the player's current state. For example: the lower your health is, the more healing the antlion grub's nuggets provide.


Valve and Adam use this nicely in conjunction with static/scripted encounters. In case of random encounters, would item_dynamic_resupply work as well?


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 Post subject: Non-Linear Map Design
PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2007 11:06 am 
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This concept of having several routes open to the player, each separately leading to the final destination, has one rather serious drawback to my mind.

That is waste. Each player will be able to reach the end by experiencing only part of the game. Now you might say that that rewards replaying and re-exploration but not every potential player will end up doing this and will miss a large part of the experience as a result. I suspect that this is why Valve stick to a linear A-B-C-D-E-F-G design, and don't allow the player to skip key set piece puzzles or battles.

Quote:
The "lockdowns" are simply another form of sidequest, one that the player is forced to complete only if they fail to avoid triggering it; and even then they can just find an escape route and theoretically avoid the combine response entirely.


The lockdown idea is interesting and would require the player to make some real tactical choices, which is hugely desirable, and which is the main benefit from having multiple paths through a map, of course. The problem for me is that there are still quite severe limits on how much terrain, architecture and material that can can be squeezed into a single level in Source, and to have to build several optional, for which read redundant, paths into the map, which the player can simply avoid, would reduce the volume of space the player would have to travel through to reach the conclusion.

If you could build maps of sufficient size to yield several game's worth of playing experience in different paths, that would be wonderful, but given the current limitations in the engine, I would worry that each path would be short and simplified, or strewn with loading screens, in order to make space for the alternative paths. If you take the approach of making each alternate route a map in itself, with a loading event for each, then I would rather be required to play through all of the space that Adam will have spent months crafting, to reach the pay-off, rather than a fraction and having to replay it to see how much I missed before, which as I said, not everyone will do.

The most striking and wonderful aspect of Metastasis is its efficient use of space, how the map curls and spirals around itself. Not an ounce of space is wasted and the first two parts are even reused in a way that makes the space seem real as you revisit familiar places that have been altered by our own actions making the player feel a part of the world he is moving through. I fear that this non-linear experiment would lose this key aspect and feel too sparse and empty.

Metastasis also used vertical space to amazing effect, and I would really like to see this again. The idea of watchtowers touches on this, but how about whole high-rise buildings that the player has to puzzle and fight his way to the top of, in order to see a path invisible from the ground, or perhaps zipline down over a barrier that was otherwise blocking progress. The building could be a map in itself, to ensure a complex and detailed environment with many floors. Come to think of it can the "Loading" message be modified to be an electronic door unlocking icon, to make the loading event a part of the narrative rather than an interruption of it?

I'm getting carried away here, so I'll shush. It's obvious I have little idea how much work is involved in building stuff like this isn't it? :roll:

[edit: tiny typos]


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2007 1:19 pm 
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Baffled wrote:
This concept of having several routes open to the player, each separately leading to the final destination, has one rather serious drawback to my mind.

That is waste.


To refer to my classification, this would be Option 3 or 4, not the Sandbox (Option 5). And yes, mutually exclusive paths are a huge waste of resources.

What we may be looking at is a sandbox, with an infinite number of non-exclusive paths, which allow anything from a quasi-speed run to "saving all the kittens."
Instead of unbreakable doors, conveniently collapsed walls and raging fires in elevator shafts to railroad the player, we'd have him in an open area (as per the NPC with an axe concept above) and make him use the following tools to navigate and to get into the locked areas: a radar (already mentioned by Adam), a map (or a series of maps picked up from NPCs or in the Combine outposts, and a PDA (with the uploaded maps, a GPS, quest diary), maybe a slow hack tool and an axe (to "breek down 'em dawrs!") would be the only guides.

Baffled wrote:
The most striking and wonderful aspect of Metastasis is its efficient use of space, how the map curls and spirals around itself. Not an ounce of space is wasted and the first two parts are even reused in a way that makes the space seem real as you revisit familiar places that have been altered by our own actions making the player feel a part of the world he is moving through. I fear that this non-linear experiment would lose this key aspect and feel too sparse and empty.


As much as I agree with your praise of M:M architecture and design, I'd rather have Adam create something which will be stunning, but widely different. Creating tension, horror and a sense of purpose when you are 300 meters below the surface under a burning headcrab facility is easier than doing the same above ground. And I'd venture that his musings (which started the whole thread) are an indication that he is going to apply his talent to a realistic, sensible treatment of urban areas, just like he did when he created the positively gorgeous Combine interiors.

Maybe a brilliant reinterpretation of "Follow Freeman"?

[edit: clarification]


Last edited by locworks on Tue Oct 23, 2007 2:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2007 1:52 pm 
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I would like to see vehicles in MINERVA, especially if it's in the city, as they would make getting about so much easier

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 Post subject: Issues of Scale
PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2007 3:19 pm 
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I'm not sure I'd really like a vehicle in MINERVA, but as Locworks pointed out, I'm a bit too smitten with the claustrophobic confines of Metastasis to be open-minded enough about something completely different. So you never know.

It does sound as if Adam has been thinking of an urbanised and pedestrian ( in a strictly non-vehicular sense only!) version of the last map in Episode Two, with a radar tuned to the Overwatch rather than to stashes. Which could be great!

But those pesky loading issues may interfere with the seamlessness that is an important factor in the immersion and believabilty of most sandbox gaming environments. The map in Ep2 was architecturally quite sparsely furnished, so building a reasonably dense and detailed coastal city will presuambly involve many maps. Or have I got that wrong?

Does anyone have any views on whether the loading events may disrupt the "open" gameplay, or do they not really matter? Afterall, the player may well find himself crossing back and forth between maps as they tread their unique path through the game; whereas in a conventional linear game you rarely have to re-load an area you have already passed through.

I really would like there to be a way to incorporate those necessary pauses into the narrative in some way. Perhaps checkpoints or force-fields or Dagda's locked-down sectors may offer a solution?


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