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To Save or NOT to Save is an ethical dilemma game where player decisions create game-world consequences which the avatar is forced to experience. Careful your decisions! They are not free!
This was an experimental game made in a week based on a theme from the board game mechanic of push-your-luck.
I’m not a fan of push-your-luck games (though admittedly there are a few I enjoy). I came up with a few ideas, but they were even duller than the versions of push-your-luck games I didn’t like. None of the ideas excited me or seemed thrilling. As the game was for an assignment, and I could “free pass” once in the class I thought about using that up for this one where I felt so dispassionate about the theme. But I wanted to challenge myself. I thought about an experimental game made by a previous experimenter, Sydney, in which she combined two genres she didn’t like either (idle clicker and match three) which turned out fairly interesting. I thought then, “What would a cross between push-your-luck and a runner look like?”
What I Did: Lucky Running
My first thought was, “What if you were a runner and had to pick up a bunch of somethings as you ran, but as you picked them up they obscured your screen? How about that something was bunnies (because they’re cute!) you need to save, and if you don’t pick them up it kills them?” When I pitched the idea to a friend she said she’d just kill the bunnies. So I thought, “Fine. Kill the bunnies, but blood splatter is going to obscure your screen anyway!”
Either way, you end up with a covered screen the longer you play. The only difference is that the bunnies don’t go away after you’ve picked them up, but the blood splatter does go away slowly over time. If you want your screen to be full of blood you have to keep killing. So evil!
To add depth to the ethical choice presented to players to save or kill the bunnies: I added judgments based on their behavior.
As far as camera and perspective went: I found the 3D avatar in the standard assets of Unity and was a bit enamored by him. I liked moving side to side and even backward with the basic camera I made for him and knew that a basic runner wouldn’t fit this movement. So to give the sense of urgency (which also plays into the narrative of impending danger) that comes with a true runner, I added a timer. If you fall off the edge or when your timer runs out, you get passed judgment. Then the game restarts.
I spent more time on this 7-day game than previous 7-day development games because I stepped out of my comfort zone to try something different and experiment with styles of games I haven’t really made before. I’m happy with the end result, though it’s not my personal favorite of the games I’ve created. But it does get immediate laughs, which at the end of the day was what I was going for, and I enjoyed working on the project.
What I Learned
Something unexpected was just how fun it was to play with an obscured screen that doesn’t clear up but only gets messier the longer you play. I think the
bloodiest juiciest part of the game was the obstruction to the screen.
However, the re-playability increased when I added the judgments based on the player’s behavior. In playtesting: the obstruction of the screen and killing of bunnies got quick laughs, but people kept re-playing to see what judgments befell them based on their choices.
“I love designing games that are ‘Pick up and play!'”
I originally planned on making the game a 1st person game, but after seeing this cool looking dude I was intrigued and made it a 3rd person game. Other playtesters were also intrigued by this character who clearly doesn’t fit in this world. He’s gray and colorless, while the world around him is full of color, including the effects of “his” decisions.
With concern to the perspective, I don’t believe 1st/3rd really made a difference in gameplay, but I do believe the simple camera I made did. Though the camera moved in all directions, unlike a typical 1st/3rd person camera, it didn’t follow the player in the rotation. This added to the obscurity of the world as you couldn’t rotate the camera around to achieve different viewpoints from different angles, but could only move side-to-side to possibly see between the cracks. Moving backward is particularly difficult, and it adds to the fun. Camera controls are also one of, if not the hardest mechanic for new, and even more experienced players, to master even in well-designed games. Thus a natural consequence to the player not being able to control camera angles is that it actually makes the game easier to pick up and play, which is my thing: I love designing games that are “Pick up and play!” But that doesn’t make the game any easier to master, nor does it detract from the experience. In my opinion, simple cameras add to the experience by removing a layer of complexity in controls from the player. It’s why I think side scrollers, 2.5D, and other fixed rotation cameras are so popular: it’s not about the camera! It’s about game experience.
Ideas for further development
“The level I created was very basic and meant to merely communicate a basic idea: obstruction and an ethical choice.”
Game Level Design: Adding Life
Though I think this game works as an endless “runner,” I think it would work best as a procedural level based game. With a few crafted game level pieces (and by a few I mean probably 20), and a creative procedural level creation algorithm, I think interesting levels could be made at every reload thus increasing the re-playability of the game.
Adding to the depth of the world by creating an environment for bunnies to live and hide in (more on that below) by creating a space for the bunnies to be unaware of the danger that the player is trying to save from, or add to, would immerse the player more in the world.
And of course, adding to the life of the bunnies by making them move, breathe, eat, (poop?), and react to the player based on the player’s decision. Giving them a voice through audio and reaction would make them so much more real and make the decision the player makes have that much more weight. In games like Skyrim — which presents you with ethical decisions — when you see the consequences of your decisions you feel more connected to those things: it becomes an ethical consequence and although in a virtual world, it still shapes the way you feel about the decision and even yourself.
I could add other animals or environmental threats, but I think keeping it simple would play on the thing I want to push on the most better.
Pushing on Obstruction and Ethical Choice
The level I created was very basic and meant to merely communicate a basic idea: obstruction and an ethical choice. I think the combination of choice and obstruction played well together. It would be interesting to push on those ideas combined more.
“To play on ethical decisions in games it’s not enough to merely present the player with a decision. You must also provide a consequence to that decision. Their choice must not be without consequence.”
I think the combination of choice and obstruction played well together. It would be interesting to push on those ideas together more.
To push the on-screen obstruction
I had wanted to make the placement of the obstruction random but ran out of time, but that would be the first thing I’d add. Also, on the technical side, the size of the obstruction would need to be scaled properly with the screen resolution.
An interesting idea that was pitched was actually having the bunnies take up space around the character instead of on the screen. It would still obstruct the player’s view, but I think a more interesting and immersive way.
To add interesting gameplay ethical decisions…
To play on ethical decisions in games it’s not enough to merely present the player with a decision. You must also provide a consequence to that decision. Their choice must not be without consequence.
I could add making it more difficult to pick up bunnies the more bunnies you’ve picked up (even adding the chance of accidentally dropping them and killing them that way), could even make player slower the more bunnies that are collected. But on the flip side I (with the basic game addition of slow-moving pace for the bunnies), to make it easier to save them the bunnies to come to the player. Screen obstruction could increase by making the screen could become lighter and brighter the more bunnies are saved. If you manage to save all the bunnies (Is that a challenge?) it could be a fun bright-out moment! The player could further witness what they’ve saved the bunnies from: or what they’ve left the bunnies they were unable, or unwilling, to save, were left to.
On the reverse, after adding a base slow-moving pace for the bunnies, I could make the bunnies faster and even attempt to avoid the player the more bunnies the player killed, especially when the player is clearly intentionally killing bunnies. As an additional threat, the murdered bunnies could come back to haunt the player. Player’s insanity could increase shown by a blurred screen, tinted red of course. The more insane, the blurrier the screen. If you manage to kill all the bunnies (Is that a challenge?) there could be a red-out moment with the player witnessing what they’ve done.
A lot of the game results are based on the difference of choice: a scale if you will, between these ethical choices. But what if the scale was basically equal? The bunnies become unsure to trust you or hide from you. Maybe some of the bunnies you managed to already save try to get away, maybe some you haven’t come to you. And your insanity is the highest because of the conflict. The screen could glitch with black and white and red. I mean, you got problems, so it could also become increasingly more difficult to control your avatar and his decisions as your insanity takes over!
“I think… the biggest issue with mobile games [is] when the game designer/developer doesn’t design gameplay mechanic input specifically for the device they are targeting.”
I think this would play well on mobile devices, perhaps better than on the PC where players are looking for more immersive, longer gameplay. This game is more about a quick experience which most mobile players look for. But to play well on mobile the controls would need to be modified. I think that’s the biggest issue with mobile games: when the game designer/developer doesn’t design gameplay mechanic input specifically for the device they are targeting. But with a few purposefully designed tweaks to gameplay mechanic input, I think this game would work beautifully on a tablet or phone.
Possible mobile gameplay mechanics
- Maybe a single tap rotates through the speed of the player (stop, walk, run), OR add a single speed uncontrolled by the player in the forward vector (for the direction the avatar is facing)
- Drag to change the direction of avatar movement
- Make the quick time event a quick double-tap (if using a single speed), or a swirl.
- Jump (unnecessary in this very basic, experiment of concept level, but would work well in a platformer with either crafted or procedural levels) could be a quick swipe.