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TIGSource ForumsCommunityDevLogsMIRROR MALL - the Chaos Simulator/Look ‘Em Up for the home computer
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Author Topic: MIRROR MALL - the Chaos Simulator/Look ‘Em Up for the home computer  (Read 3844 times)

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« Reply #20 on: March 23, 2016, 10:13:12 AM »

Entry# 005.2: Hypertext Labyrinth

So hi there, I (Merle) will take over now. I joined Troy after we met a couple of months ago and we have been working on Mirror Mall together ever since. And be warned, more conceptual musing on our current process ahead.

After we spent some time working on the different navigation prototypes we decided to take on our second design challenge: Player interaction with the game world. We wanted to avoid treating spacial navigation and player interaction separate from each other in the design process. I guess our approach is based on the notion that all forms of interaction with the system are part of the overall narrative of the game. Or even better, should become the narrative itself. So for us talking about the way the player should experience interactivity in Mirror Mall became a much broader discussion about the overall design, themes etc of the game. Chaotic, high concept ramble here we go:


In general we could distinguish two major ways of interaction in digital games:

-voluntary: This is the most common form of direct player influence over events in the game. Think shooting,  jumping, choosing a dialogue option.

-involuntary: Something that hasn`t been investigated much in games. Player is influencing events by just witnessing them/being close to a situation.

Discussing how those two forms of interaction would change the entire experience of the game,  it quickly became clear that speaking about interaction wasn’t only a discussion about pure mechanics, it was a discussion about the overall path we what to pursue with our project, especially in terms of narrative design.
We don’t want the player to be traditional active character in the game but more an idea (eg. chaos) so we very much liked the idea of stripping the players’ agency in a way that they hold a much more voyeuristic role in the game. So, what if we made a game in which the player has no influence over the unfolding events what so ever?


I guess the reaction of most people to that kind of statement would be: “ Well…but that is no game”. For 1) Lol, we don’t care and 2) Foregoing traditional ways of interaction in games leaves us with a lot of room to explore other forms of player interactivity. Even in games that feature branching narrative paths of what I like to call the “outer story” or the game story, most of them still feel incredibly linear. Every branching path would ever have x prescripted outcomes, which can be chosen by the player.

The initial idea that Troy had in mind was a much more dynamic game system that would respond in real time to the players choices but we identified a couple of pretty problematic things about that. Firstly, we might run into the problem that the narrative would be pretty much split into a lot of singular player action-game reaction sequences. Setting up a proper system for interaction in which the outcome of an interaction opens up new possibility for changing the events and so forth and so forth would pretty much end up in an impossible amount of work. And since we want to create a broader, overarching narrative in our game, going down that road would probably lead us to a whole new set of problems.

Press that button, rescue the village, jump that platform and change history forever. More often than not games seem to imply an inherent process of the player doing something that is changing the world of the game. The player is giving a certain degree of agency over the unfolding events, directly shaping the course of the game story. Where it was getting interesting for us was the possible subversion of that implicit idea about games.

One could argue that we are trying to make something that resembles our weird, twisted, multidimensional interpretation of a “walking simulator”.

I played a couple of games recently that explore this idea of player story vs. the game story to an even more extreme extent. One of my favorite short form games of the last couple of months, Orchids to Dusk, I think is a good example for that. What I found most interesting about this game was how little it is about changing “visible” events, the “outer story” and how much it became about the player`s “inner story” (their need to surrender or to push on, their will to survive etc). And in a way that “inner story”, the interpretation of events/the player’s perspective could change from playthrough to playthrough whereas the overall “outer story” would basically always stay the same.

The idea about a branching narrative that is based on player choice would be the equivalent of a maze with a lot a binary path choices and multiple/fragmented possible ways to navigate through the space and narrative of the game. Going with the idea of foregoing player influence on the story events would give Mirror Mall more the structure of a labyrinth, forming one coherent, flowing story path with each playthrough, the players slowly uncovering the underlining story through repeated playing and reaching “the core” of it all.


Thinking Mirror Mall more in the form of a labyrinth, where each playthrough would be a distinct player path through the space of the mall lead me to the notion that ultimately our idea of connected, explorable story fragments and the overworld/diorama distinction closely resembles the form of a hypertext (or hypermedia if you want, but I do understand the term text in the broader, more academic way of a “readable” object, may that be an actual written text, a movie or the way a person dresses). The overworld/mall map would be a kind of landing/index page whereas the singular dioramas would represent a sub-page that contains a fragment of the entire narrative that are linked with other fragments/dioramas. Navigating this fragmented “story space” in a set time frame would create a unique story path, uncovering the story bit by bit though chaotic set of smaller scenes. Right now we are thinking of condensing a 24h day in the mall into an hour long playthough, this hour being linked to the system time. All dioramas or sub-sites if you want would be accessible at all times during this playthrough

Speaking of time: What distinguishes our design approach from a typical hypertext fiction is it’s relationship with time. Since we are thinking of making all of the events play out in real time that is bound to the computer system time the player can only experience one “path” through the story at a time like reading a hypertext site and clicking the next link and the next link and the next link until the reader gets lost and returns to the index site.
In a way the labyrinth of Mirror Mall isn’t made of space. It’s made of time.

We made a quick text-based prototype to test the feel of switching back and forth between a couple of events happening in different rooms at the same time, getting an idea of interesting interactions and juxtapositions within the story.

_THEVERDICT aka the shapes of voids to come

In a way the project pretty much did a 180 from the idea of a completely dynamic system to a static, ever repeating universe that is to be explored by the player. We are both pretty excited what we will be able to explore with that concept. Our next steps of development will be to set up a game system for scenes that is bound to the system clock of the computer and to test different ways of switching between spaces while the time is continuously running in the background.
Hopefully we will have more gameplay footage for the next devlog. Thanks for reading this insane ramble!

And yeah, we are will be at A MAZE. / Berlin in late April. If you are there and want to meet me and Troy in our physical forms, come and say hello!



Further reading/inspiration (I’m a sucker for reading lists…)

The excellent Her Story devlog, especially this entry on early FMV games: http://www.herstorygame.com/the-magic-of-fmv-video-games/

Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges (I’m reading this at the moment and it rekindled my obsession with labyrinths and magical realism)


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« Reply #21 on: March 23, 2016, 01:57:37 PM »

I'm so glad to see this again! :D Can't wait to see more on those dioramas, big fan of seeing places with lots of important landmarks or ideas condensed into a tiny, symbolic space...

The idea of a narrative that unfolds the same all the time, but you can only see so much of it in one play through because you can't be in all the places at once sounds neat! and makes the game easily replayable.

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« Reply #22 on: May 20, 2016, 12:47:05 PM »


So we’re starting a new format for the devlog!??! Mirror Mall Diaries will remain for larger/conceptual posts but we wanted to do these more regular devlogs too – reporting on the weeks progress, largely for ourselves so we don’t forget what we’ve done LOL. In these we will write more literally about production and defined goals rather than vaguer/broader things.

SO, what’s been happening? A lot actually, we’ve got some locations blocked out with a consistent time between scenes and navigation– works great on the oculus but there is some weird things happening with non-HMD controls that I will have to solve later.


The way we are doing dialogue in this video is a very hacky and a short term solution (literally activating/deactivating premade gameobjects) Later I will have to create some tool that lets me write and preview animated text in Cinema Director (sequencing asset we are using). However, before that I want to focus on the visuals of these two scenes and really think about the artstyle of this project. Although the second scene is a little better, it’s starting to frustrate me how shitty everything is looking.
Modular environments aren’t working as well as I thought they would, (these scenes are created in a very modular way, nothing larger than 1 cubic metre), but I think I will try more of a mix for the second pass.
Also will add some animation, I have a lot of ideas about how it will work but of course you never know until it’s in the project.

Anyway so going forward it looks like we’re going to make a little vertical slice, makes sense since we’d love to work on this and not starve to death ha.
We’re working on a different form of input/player navigation that I think will be very interesting, however I will wait until we’ve tried a few more things out  before talking about it Wink.

And finally, through some weird set of circumstances we did a tiltbrush performance lololol.


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« Reply #23 on: May 20, 2016, 01:46:58 PM »

looks great! commenting to follow  Waaagh!

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« Reply #24 on: May 20, 2016, 08:42:00 PM »

I really like the direction this is going in! I like the character models a lot, but are the blank faceless gray characters temporary? I kind of like the difference between those and the talking characters.... Maybe there's an art installation in the mall of realistically proportioned marble statue mall goers?

Love the music too! Is that going to be in the final game? It fits so well.

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