Saturday, January 19, 2013

Fractured Mirror: idea for a hypothetical game based on Mirror's Edge

Ok, so, I've mentioned Mirror's Edge more than a few times on the blog. 

When I wrote what I would do differently it was in trying to keep reasonably close to the game as it exists in spirit at least, and taking into account the limitations of game making.

This is forgetting about real world concerns and budgets and timetables and such.  And also taking into account the desire to have the player's actions affect the story described here.

"Fractured Mirror" is an attempt on my part to give an impression in the multifaceted reflections that appear in a broken mirror, each one showing a slightly different angle on the world.

So, first off, options.  I don't want to force anyone to micromanage things but I think the possibility should exist because maybe someone wants the graphics pushed to their maximum extent but hates bloom with a passion usually reserved only for Nazis and people who kick puppies.  They should be able to say that they want a custom graphics setting and push everything else up to maximum while turning off the bloom.

Same with difficulty settings, in addition to preset levels, things should be able to be customized so that, for example, running is at it's most difficult while combat is at its least, or vice versa.  And how hard running is should be part of the difficulty settings.  (which basically comes down to how long of a distance ahead you can hit [button] and still have it work.  If you can, for example, jump farther, than there's a longer window when it's ok to hit the jump button without resulting in "If I jump now I'll fall short" or "I just ran off the roof, now it's too late to jump."  Jumping, sliding, wall running, and such all could be made longer to have less difficulty and shorter to have more.  Hardest would be you have to hit the button at more or less exactly the right time, easiest would be that there's a fair amount of leeway.)

Saving should be an option.  It should be an option because:
1) You should be able to leave the game at any time without losing your progress.  The real world is real and cannot always be ignored.
2) Sometimes something is just fun or interesting to you and you'd like to come back to it later without having to go through all of the stuff that leads up to it.
3) The checkpoint system does largely work, but sometimes it does so in frustrating ways where making a save even a few seconds after the checkpoint could eliminate a large portion of that frustration.
4) Sometimes in a game you want to do something suicidally silly, but if you can't save it will cost you all your progress.  Thus without saving your fun is decreased.

At the same time, having a no save run should be an option for those who get less enjoyment out of a game with saves but lack the endurance to resist the urge to save.

Other than training, which has good reason to be linear (it's training) I'd try to make everything less linear.  Mirror's Edge as it is doesn't always force you into one path, but it avoids doing so in the same way a freeway does,  Generally speaking it has multiple side by side lanes, sometimes a bottleneck will force all the lanes into one, other times you can go, "Look at all the options," because there are four lanes, but overall it's still linear, you've just got wiggle room to the right and left and maybe the occasional short cut.

Generally speaking things involve getting from point A to point B, so there's a degree of linearity there, but I'd like more than one path to make it there.

I'd also like more free range things.  For example in the game that exists if you opt to stay in the training area, you're not left alone with free run of the training area, but instead go back through the tasks.  I'd change that. I'd make it so that if you opted to stay in the training area you could do whatever the hell you wanted in there, no objectives, no teacher, no in-game cutscenes.

I'd have a sort of home base level, built around Merc's Lair, where you could practice your skills between missions.

And on the subject of missions, I'd have more of them before the plot kicks in.  Right now you get one highly irregular mission.  I'd have you getting a feel for what normal missions are like which would give you a chance to meet clients and other runners (beyond the two you run into in game) so that you could get a sense that:
1) There really is an extensive network of runners.
2) This network matters.
3) People of all sorts (from the good to the not so nice) depend upon it.

Also this time would give you more opportunity to hear about Pope, who will be important, and get a feel for the hope for something better that he gives to people.

Moreover you could be crisscrossing the same area in myriad different ways and in so doing get a sense of how the network is a web, not just a bunch of lines the way it appears in the real game.

This section would be one that you could skip if you wanted to, which would probably involve a conversation system where you can say, "I'm done for the day," and the last mission of the day would be the current prologue.

I'd have there be a reason that the PK people were all shooty, and this is where things would start to change, plotwise, a lot.

The reason would be that the package was something somehow related to the Pope assassination.  It could be anything from a warning to orders that it be carried out, but in the case of the second it would mean that the PK troops were only shooting to make sure Faith never had a chance to open the package before delivering it to Cel, where in the first it would make perfect sense to really be trying to kill the messenger.

And in comes that conversation system I talked about.  If you could tell Cel to just run, it's too dangerous to take it from you so you'll get it the rest of the way yourself, then you could deliver it personally and if it is a warning Pope gets warned which starts to change stuff.

If you could find a quiet spot to hide and open the bag to see what's inside then you'd have a reason to go warn Pope, or at least go when you hear that your sister is meeting him.

If Pope isn't assassinated then you're off to find out more about Icarus right away, as well as constantly trying to keep him safe, you'd see different parts of the city and have the story go in entirely different directions.

The same is true if there were a way to somehow talk Kate into going with you when you find her at the site after Pope is killed.  If you can tell Merc to leave his lair at any of the times it makes sense to do so, if you can stay with Kate after setting her free.

All of these things send the story in different directions, and if one had world enough and time it would be interesting to see the effect the player's actions could have on the story.

For that matter, when Faith finally is clued into the fact that PK might be worth looking into, it's because she notices a sign for them, she's been seeing signs for them left and right.  I'd like to have something like a "Notice" button where you could push it when you're looking at it and have asking about it be an option in future conversation.  Ask about everything and Merc becomes the, increasingly annoyed by your ignorance and curiosity, font of exposition.  But hit the PK thing early and you could head there early, maybe bypass various other things altogether and get to try to break Kate out of jail before she's shipped off to prison thus cutting the sniper level out completely.

I mentioned elsewhere a feeling of a lack of depth to the relationships and ideas on how that could be remedied.  My big thing is to have the player be able to read things.  At the Merc's lair map I mentioned Faith could have a message center where she has communications between herself and Kate as well as herself and Celeste.

Another simple thing would be for Celeste to be handling Faith's training because, "I wanted to welcome you back myself," or some such.

When she breaks into a place I'd like her to be able to read the files/computers/whatever.  When she's in radio contact with someone who really truly should get out now because his location has been compromised she should be able to tell the person to get out now (she has three shining opportunities  the closest she comes is to make sure he has his gun close at hand in one of them.)

I'd like fewer in game cut-scenes, (let the player play the thing) and maybe fewer not-in-game ones as well.

For that matter, if Faith is running home after loosing the cops/whatever I'd make that playable.  If she's running to the docks, I'd make that playable.  Skip it if you want, but if you're interested in the running aspect of the game, those wouldn't be bad places to play because they're just running.

Finally, shit.  I forgot what finally was.  Oh, it might have been this: the game is about a runner, not a fighter, in making things less linear one goal would be to make running rather than fighting a completely viable option.  That path is filled with enemies you'd need to fight off?  Well take another path instead.


Imagine how different the game might be if Merc had been kidnapped instead of Kate and then you and your armed sister had to break into the Shard to free him.  Kate isn't a runner, so you'd have to take more pedestrian routes, but she is a trained cop and so should be a pretty decent sidekick to have in a firefight.


Things from my previous post about how I'd do things still apply, like making it so that at the beginning, especially after immediately after Pope's murder, you've got CPF making up a pretty big chunk of your opposition but then as time goes on they get replaced by PK so that the gameplay mirrors the plot.


Overall the basic idea would be "for want of a nail" moments.  What if Faith did X instead of Y?  So do everything the same as the original and you get the original game, but change something and you see that change cascade outward into new and different possibilities.  Like the various different reflections shown by a fractured mirror.  They all start at the same place, but minute changes in angle make them show different things.



I've previously written about Mirror's Edge in these posts:

First, the lack of manual saving led me to write:
Quicksave, Cheating, and the Sanctity of Singleplayer

Then posts on the game itself:
Mirror's Edge, and my playing of it - Spoiler free impressions of the game.
Mirror's Edge Spoiler Post 1, the plot - More or less going through the plot point by point.
Mirror's Edge Spoiler Post 2, What I would do differently - What it sounds like.

And, to a lesser extent, this post involves it:
Game stories and a desire to go off the rails

Most recently:
Difficulty settings, Dark Forces, Deus Ex, TNM, and Mirrors Edge

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a game I'd like to play.

    In regard to saving: you could have a score that was decremented each time you saved, or simply a flag that says "this game was saved", so that people could show off their ending screens and say "I did it with no saves".

    As I said before, I like the idea of the game world being modelled as a single huge area (possibly loaded by sections - that's been pretty much cracked these days, so it can happen in the background). The Midnight Club and Midnight Club 2 racing games did this: they had two or three cities modelled (in moderate detail), and each race in a city would use a different part of the map, but if you'd spent some time learning the back roads you could find various short cuts.

    I believe the reasons plot trees are unpopular in games is that they push up the budget - cut scenes have to be recorded in different ways (at the very least with different voice tracks). Mostly these days they seem to have been reduced to a "good ending / evil ending" choice, or something like Mass Effect 3. But using primarily written material rather than spoken could help solve that.