Thursday, January 24, 2013

Fractured Mirror: Post Two

You know, this was originally what I was supposed to post when I finished walking home sixish hours ago.  And crap there's a ham that needs to be put away before I go to bed.

Anyway, massive spoilers for Mirror's Edge, and first post on this concept is here.

So, as I've said, more beginning, and no reason for there not to be plot in that beginning.  Also some kind of conversation system, so that you can convince people not to do things they do in the standard story (like telling Merc to get out when it's obvious his position is compromised and completely unsafe), and generally interact with people on occasion.

I also think that it would be a good idea to have a way (probably pretty damned hard) to avert Pope's assassination just because that's such a vital part of the plot that seeing how things spin out in different directions without it should be very interesting.

But what I was thinking about on the walk home started with the scene in Mirror's Edge that started with Pope's assassination.

He's dead, you're talking to your sister, I think there should be a way to convince her to run with you because:
1) Why not?
2) It both restricts and expands what you can do.  A two person team would be able to get to places a single person couldn't, so new areas would open up to you, but at the same time Kate isn't a runner so she couldn't be counted on to do all the things that you do which would close off paths that would be open without her.
3) The plot spins off in a different direction and that's a big part of what this game would be about, the player makes a decision and it changes things.

But, carry on with the standard escape except make the enemies more realistic to the plot.  In the game they're all PK, who will tell you, "Halt or we will open fire," but in fact will open fire regardless.  In reality all available units were called in because the assassination of one of the four candidates for Mayor of what seems to be either a semi autonomous city or an outright city state (meaning it's more like the assassination of a presidential candidate) is the biggest crime that's happened in, like, ever.  And sudden valley girl accent aside no matter how PK tried to set things up there's no way there wouldn't be actual police included when all available units were called in.

So there should be CPF there.  In the game there isn't, but there should be.  And when it comes to the CPF, "Halt or we will open fire," should mean, "If you do halt we won't open fire."  Which means being captured, which means being interrogated.

And then there's all sorts of opportunities.  Faith could take the blame for Kate, it's what Kate's boss was willing to pull a gun on Faith to do.  If they arranged a deal, Kate gets the blame taken off in exchange for security lapses that allow Faith to escape then they could:
1) Clear the CPF, which was the entire reason for framing Kate.
2) Make PK look ineffectual since they're presumably the ones holding Kate and Faith.

Which would change the trend in the game of PK taking more and more power from the CPF by using the scandal of Kate being the caught "assassin."

But it could also lead to Faith going to PK early, or Faith going to the Shard early.  The city is wired for surveillance, cameras everywhere, everything tapped into, all non-runner supplied non-face to face communication monitored.  There should be exonerating evidence, and the only way there wouldn't be is if the files were somehow deleted or they were refused to be released, both of which would send Faith to the Shard.

But rewind again.  Say that Faith gets away as she does in the game, but rather than going to Jackknife she tries to break her sister out.  Information later, free Kate now.  Now she's breaking into a holding cell at a jail/police station/PK facility.  Now this is changing things.  New mission, different focus (no way Faith should be taking this head on, should be stealth and sneak) different style, different outcomes, different plot.

Rewind again.  What if Faith is strengthening her association with Celeste, renewing their friendship since she got taken out of commission, telling her stories about how much Kate means to her and how she owes Kate for past mistakes, arguing the point on what constitutes living as opposed to surviving and gradually turning Cel to her side?

With the extended beginning and the interactive rather than prescripted conversations (well interactive prescripted conversations, I'm not advocating an AI conversation partner, just branches) there would be a lot of time to make Cel feel pretty damned attached to Faith and then if you follow the canon plotline to the Mall, maybe seeing a small army trying to kill Faith would flip her.

So much of the game is spent trying to find Pope's killer, what if she then gets Pope's killer on her side?  Coming to her rescue even.

Consider the original Pink Panther movie.  It really wasn't all that good and in truth the only one that mattered was Return of the Pink Panther, but think of the original.  Why wasn't Clouseau in any danger at the end when he was convicted of being the Phantom?  Because the Phantom would strike again.  And when he did it would prove that he couldn't be Clouseau because Clouseau would be in prison or jail at the time.

Knowing how Cel was dressed for the assassination Merc or Faith probably have contacts who could leak to the police that there was someone dressed like that there, even make the argument that that was the suspect who got away.

If Faith could sneak in and talk to Kate she could have Kate give a description that matched that.

Then all they need to do is leak a little bit about Icarus (Cel's assassin garb is pretty clearly a modified project Icarus suit) to trusted members of the police, that would make them suspect PK (which honestly they probably already do) and then set up a second assassination attempt.  There are, recall, two other challengers for Mayor left alive.

This would be even better if Faith could find an honest news crew to cover it.  Have it work the same way, A CPF Guard seems to be alone with the Mayoral candidate, Cel in full assassin gear knocks the guard out and then is about to shoot the Mayoral candidate with the guard's gun when... well probably the smart thing would be for the gun to be empty, but either way CPF guards jump out, honest news crew, if there is one, is filming it from neighboring building with a telephoto lens.

Cel makes her getaway using a prearranged path she worked out with Faith.

It's proof that the CPF is being framed, Kate goes free, Cel was so covered up she hasn't implicated herself, and if any details of project Icarus were released PK is implicated in the Pope assassination.

When the game ends the corrupt Mayor is still Mayor, but PK is on the way down, legitimate forces of law and order are on the way up, and the corrupt Mayor is probably under investigation for his relationship to PK since there are signs all over the city with his name right next to their logo, not to mention the fact they (apparently) were trying to take out his competitors to secure the election.

Completely different end to the game, very different plot, flows from what's already there.

Or maybe...

Locate key junctures in the plot, see what other directions they could have gone in.  Focus on running.  Faith isn't a fighter.  If she goes to the Shard early maybe she should walk in the front door as if she were taking a tour and then quietly slip into the ventilation system/maintenance corridors on an upper level.

Run and hide should be a primary strategy, with stand and fight being a secondary option used as a last resort, but most of all, make it feel like Faith matters.  Her actions spiral out and change the world.

If she goes to Kate instead of Jackknife that changes things,  If she surrenders instead of runs that changes things.  If she flips Cel just by being a really good friend, that changes things.  If she tells Merc to leave, that changes things.  If she stays with Kate, that changes things.  If she does X instead of Y that changes things.

* * *


  1. Yeah, I think you've pretty much given up any hope of getting cinematics in here - everything gets rendered with the game engine, and it'll be showing semirandom lip movements while the player reads the NPCs' speeches on screen. Some of the audience will be put off by that (in the same way that some people are put off by black-and-white films).

    But I think this is still fairly modular - the game engine and world/physics design can go relatively independently of the plot tree...

  2. The idea with world design would be to get as much as you can in while understanding that the player is only going to see a limited amount of it on any given playthrough.

    For example consider the Shard, last mission of Mirror's Edge.

    There are a lot of reasons to want to get into there. The Mirror's Edge reason is that someone was taken and you want to rescue them. First, there are certain values of "Someone" that this could apply to.

    Kate in the original game, Merc if you went with Kate post sniper mission but left him at his Lair (he could be accused of being the one ordering the assassinations), Cel if you turned her but then she got caught, whatever. (Actually a turned Cel getting caught could be a good thing for the player (plotwise) because she could just tell the truth to the CPF which would implicate both PK and the Mayor.)

    But there's also a question of surveillance, the city is under so much surveillance that surveillance video should be able to, at the very least, prove that there was a third person at the scene, and possibly exonerate Kate outright.

    So we have to assume that that video is being withheld, there are two ways Faith could learn this. One would be if she snuck into wherever Kate was being held to talk to and/or free her. Another would be if it came out during interrogation if Faith surrendered to the CPF and was captured.

    Where is surveillance stuff located? At the Shard.

    Another reason would be if someone told you to strike a blow for freedom by knocking out the surveillance capacity.

    All of these possibilities, (say around about 6) leave you at the same place, the top floors of the Shard, But there's absolutely no reason that you take the same route to get there.

    Things would happen at different times with different degrees of urgency and also potentially in different ways (if you have a second person you can get to places a single person can't. If CPF is in charge of security things are probably different than when PK is.)

    So you have the physics set up, modified for more meaningful difficulty settings and the possibly of being part of a two person team, and in so doing it turns of that building more of one building gives you six different non linear levels at the cost of creating a single level worth of content and just adjusting when certain things are open and making it so that what can be done in one situation (two people) can't be done in another (one runner) and so forth.

    It's more work than the original game (as I noted, this is the, "If I could make this restriction free" version) but it's also work that pays off more. A branching plot that could result in six different missions that take you to the top floors of the Shard does not mean you have to create six different versions of the top floors of the Shard. You build the level once, and get to use it six times. (But you do have to have different versions of who is there and what doors are locked/open which can be handled with basic flags.)

    So there's more work to do for level building, but it's also the case that the work that is done pays off to a greater degree because everything is going to be crisscrossing the same city, so every part, or almost every part, of the city that you build is going to be used in multiple ways and thus pay off as if you'd built multiple things when you only built one.

    Another place that cries out for expansion is the PK base. There are various reasons you might be going there beyond "I saw a sign with their name on it," and various times to see the sign beyond the one in the game.

    Which means more or different sections might be open to you. And once you've made that base, if worked on right, there's probably no part of it that shouldn't show up in multiple branches, so again you have the work of creating one thing paying off as if it's the work of creating multiple things.

    [Damn you character count limits, now my random thoughts have to go in a different post.]

    1. Also, random thought, two people working together can probably kick down doors that one person can't. I was thinking of two people more being able to climb to places a single person can't, but that also opens up possibilities.


      Another random thought, one of the reasons that game designers do not tend to like branching story designs is because it means that most of their work never gets seen because people play once and done.

      One of the things that gets people to play over and over again is progress meters. Congratulations you won, but you only completed 43%.

      You could have, after the game is over, something that said something like, "You've only seen X% of the locations in the game and heard Y% of the conversations, consider trying different options on your next play-through.

      These numbers would be saved independently of playthroughs so even though it isn't possible to reach 100% of either in one playthrough someone who works at it would be able to reach 100% of both.

    2. I think that re-use of locations is a very important theme here - both as with multiple reasons to go to a particular place, and with player-driven exploration (finding short cuts, etc.) that has a direct payoff in-game (if you can work out quick routes, you can get to places faster and have more time to do the mission things at each place). One could tie it back to characterisation, too - "this city is my home", and by the time you've played the game you've got to know it.

      If you're being economical with in-game resources, the only things players won't be seeing are parts of the dialogue tree - most of the locations are still being shown at some point.

      As for two-player, hmm. A decent physics engine ought to help a lot there (I picture player A lowering and swinging player B on a rope). I'm not a big fan of Portal 2, but the multi-player puzzles there are pretty good.

    3. With two people my primary thought is that there are two places in the actual game where Faith leaves Kate behind, first it's Kate's idea, then it's Faith's. If in the first Faith could convince Kate to come, or in the second case Faith didn't leave her sister on her own you'd have two people.

      Now, on the one hand Kate is a liability, she can probably run as fast over a level surface, but she can't make the long jumps or the long slides or scale certain things in the same way, so you need to find alternate routes that she can make.

      On the other hand Kate is a trained cop. She's probably armed, she's probably a good shot, and she might have access to places that are locked down to Faith, in addition, the two can give each other boosts and reach down to help the other up onto a high place, and the previously mentioned two people trying to kick open a door at the same time provides more force than one.

      In addition, canonically, there are two parts where you're teamed up with another runner. Both end levels, so as soon as you meet up with them fade out. But if I were doing things I'd let there be the option to skip if you really don't give a damn about this stuff, but also the option to complete the mission by making it back to home base, and two runners working together (Faith and Drake in one case, Faith and Cel in the other) can probably do impressive things indeed.

      Ideally every runner, would have a unique style, Faith's would be your own choosing, but how Drake runs would not be how Cel runs would not be how Merc (if some branch called him out of retirement) runs, would not be how currently unnamed and nonexistent runners that we know about only from inference run.

      Some would take easier longer paths, some would take harder but quicker ones, when faced with an obstacle some would prefer up and over, others slide under, others would prefer to stay level and go around.

      That, though, would require a fair degree of complexity in pathing. And a bit in AI since people would do things not in their comfort level when pressed (by, say, gunfire.)

    4. Sounds excellent! I think one would want a map-tagging prequel to the pathing engine - something that would let you say "to get from point A to point B nearby, you can take a route that puts demands X and Y on your skill/preference set". Then you can chain all those demands together to make a route optimisation problem, which has been heavily studied already.