Honours Project Blog 1 - Early Ideas and Prototyping

Blog 1: 05/10/2021

Welcome to my new Blog! This is where I will be posting updates on my final year project at Abertay University.

I do not yet have a definitive plan/research question for my project but I have come up with some early ideas and started scripting some gameplay based on those ideas, which I would like to share here!

I enjoy playing and developing video games of all genres, but one genre that has always particularly fascinated is the RPG genre (Role Playing Games), because of the blend of engaging storytelling and player freedom provided by the genre, resulting in a special type of immersive experience unique to the genre. (At least in my opinion)

After graduating, having the opportunity to work on this genre would be a dream come true, so I have decided to spend this year working on an RPG level.

One issue which I have with many games is the reliance on compasses/mini-maps to guide the player through the level, resulting in a less engaging experience, due to the player directing all their attention towards the map in the corner of the screen, rather than taking in the environment around them. While most modern games provide the option to disable the mini-map, it is often impossible to complete the game without it, due to lack of other methods of guiding the player. That said, I am not against the use of mini-maps, as people play video games for a variety of reasons, for example if someone is only interested in the story, the mini-map helps speed up gameplay significantly, but for the many players who enjoy the exploration aspect of games, an alternative to mini-maps should be available to enable a more immersive experience.

Finding an alternative to mini-maps is easy, this can be done simply by looking to older titles, such as The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (Bethesda Game Studios, 2002), where the player is given detailed directions in their quest journal, highlighting important landmarks to look for.

While this method certainly fixes the problem, it creates another, by requiring the player to constantly open their journal and check their directions. This likely would result in a type of gameplay which only appeals to a specific audience, as most players who play games to relax after a long day at work are unlikely to enjoy constantly reading detailed information which requires their full attention.

Example Quest Directions from Morrowind:

Image Source: https://www.reddit.com/r/Morrowind/comments/4zsmjs/directions_in_this_game/

More subtle techniques, often taken from other areas such as architecture, can be used to guide players, as has been proved in many linear games such as Uncharted and The Last of Us (Naughty Dog, 2007 - 2020), which do not feature any form of mini-map or quest journal, however this is not often the case in larger, more open games, which is why I would like to develop a Open World RPG level which uses these techniques. (On a much smaller scale with limited gameplay and art as I don't have the resources to make a full game).

I have already explored using level design and architecture theory to guide players through non-linear levels/quests in my previous two projects, which were successful in doing so judging by the feedback I received and the results of (limited) playtesting, however these levels were quite short, with maximum durations of 10-15 minutes, and I was unable to do much playtesting due to the pandemic.

My Previous 2 Level Design projects:

The Witcher 2 Level - The Road To Mahakam: https://www.samosborne.eu/witcher-2-redkit-level

RuneQuest Inspired Level - Glorantha: The Erinoru Jungle:


With my new project, I would like to apply similar techniques to a much larger level which I have much more time to develop and playtest. I have also decided to get creative with the project by setting it in my own Science-Fantasy setting, with 2 major inspirations being Morrowind and Star Wars.

The project will take place on a distant planet, which takes inspiration from traditional high-fantasy settings, where magic is used to make up for the primitive technology. In my game, the planet will be invaded by technologically advanced aliens, resulting in a blend of the fantasy and science-fiction genres. These aliens will serve as the main enemy type.

This setting will provide the player with many tools at their disposal, including magic spells, laser guns, and jetpacks. The use of traversal mechanics such as jetpacks will allow me to experiment with high levels of verticality.

Moodboard for the setting of my project:

Image Sources at the end of this post.

Before Starting the project it was important to establish which mechanics I would need to implement, as well as some stretch goals to implement if there is time. I created a diagram organising features by importance, with the green centre being the essential mechanics, the yellow section representing the important ones, with stretch goals represented on the edge of the diagram in red:

My current goal is to get a prototype of the most important mechanics working so I can test them and decide what works and does not work as soon as possible.

Over the last week I have implemented some weapons and spells into Unreal Engine 4, and I am pleased with the results so far:

Tutorials Followed:

RPG tutorial by Devsquad: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgIJqiZQ-2Y&list=PLL0cLF8gjBpqA8DcrhL_O9kD4jsUqhDR6

Third person shooter tutorial by Kyle Dail: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0psqqL68TiY&list=PLkoVGotZWNRQaAmjSvENKuDQKzuj9LG78

I aim to complete the prototype within the next few weeks. Once this is done, I can start planning the level based on metrics established in the prototype (Such as Weapon Range, Jump Height, etc).

Thanks for reading, I look forward to sharing more updates!

Image Sources (Moodboard):

Catanea, E. (2021) A zoologist imagines what alien life might look like. Available at: https://www.salon.com/2021/04/13/a-zoologist-imagines-what-alien-life-might-look-like_partner/

Lupus-deus-est. (2011) Gallifrey from Mount Perdition. Available at: https://www.deviantart.com/lupus-deus-est/art/Gallifrey-from-Mount-Perdition-206096776

Obrigewitch, S. (no date) Mass Effect: Andromeda – Havarl. Available at: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/l86OG

PlayStation (2018) Control Day and Night in Vibrant Side-Scroller Planet Alpha. Available at: https://blog.playstation.com/2018/03/12/control-day-and-night-in-vibrant-side-scroller-planet-alpha/

Pinter, L. (no date) Mushrooms. Available at: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/1nrndK

Spine,T. (no date) Morrowind: Red Mountain. Available at: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/morrowind-red-mountain

Soulight. (2019) Wallpaper HD of The Outer Worlds. Available at: https://wallhere.com/en/wallpaper/1701173

Star Wars (no date) Databank: Raydonia. Available at: https://www.starwars.com/databank/raydonia