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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Phantasmaburbia's Spirit Tunnels

I've been putting off making new posts, holding out for news on Pollushot and some other upcoming things, but it's been getting on for a bit long and I'm itching to share some stuff. So here goes.

From day 1, I planned out Phanta specifically to be a game with good replay value. Generally what that translates to is that each time you play the game, things can be played pretty differently. That mentality's spilled over into a lot of the game's aspects, but none so much as the game's dungeons. Let's talk about them a little!


The game's overall structure is fairly unusual. The first half of the game introduces each of the protagonists individually, slowly raveling each of their yarns towards a critical moment which joins all of the characters and sparks the game's second part. From there the game opens up quite suddenly, with a wide berth to explore around freely.

Completion of the game's second half involves beating 4 different dungeons--or as they're called in the game, Spirit Tunnels. However, I'll actually be designing and including 8 dungeons in the game. You're given a lot of freedom with what dungeons you want to challenge and what order you want to do it in; but as some dungeons are completed, others will be closed off to you. What dungeons you do beat affect what powers are available to you in combat, as well as some other gameplay factors.

The dungeons themselves will be very, very reminiscent of those in Zelda. There'll be a healthy balance of combat (and I've made a lot of effort to have a cast of diverse enemies who each present unique gameplay) mixed with puzzles that make use of your ghost powers. I might get into a whole post some other time about the actual specifics of the puzzles and the joy of puzzle design, as it's actually one of my favorite aspects of game design. What's important here is that these are more than just mazes with enemies in them; each dungeon will have a unique set of puzzles based on environmental interaction, and it'll be worth your trouble to actually play through the game more than once to see everything.

One thing I didn't want to do was have multiple endings. I find that when making a selection that affects the story, it's almost always a little forced and the effects of your decision are very obvious before you've even made it. Generally speaking, when presented with branching story paths, players will try to "win" by making the decisions that create the best ending, and it becomes very little about role playing or exploration. Once you've seen the ending where everyone wins, why would you play again? Or for that matter, what if you play through the entire game only to see a bad ending? Even in situations where "there are no good endings" and every conclusion is equally bittersweet, your actual effect on the game is very superficial--all you're basically doing is seeing one cinematic in place of another at the same juncture in the story. Some would argue that's not even part of the game.

I like decisions that have an affect on gameplay, meaning how you play and what mechanics/abilities are available to you. The actual bulk of your time spent with the game involve actually playing in it, so decisions that impact how you're playing the game have a much more substantial impact and are all the more satisfying to make.

I think I've said enough for now. Look forward to some more posts in the coming days/weeks.


Nathan said...

Nice read! Yeah I think multiple endings or sometimes even just dialogue trees can make the game a lot more shallow than deeper. The best example I have is the Dawn of War II retribution campaigns. They boasted about 6 campaigns but then they all are on the same map and the cutscenes have to be all the same so in what's supposed to be climactic events, the characters usually end up saying things like "I DON'T CARE WHO YOU ARE" and every enemy ends up being some sort of "rebel" group so that every faction can fight them without any changes being made. Anyways, I'm glad the replayability is in the actual game instead of just alternate dialogue. :)

Big Bomb said...

Really looking forwards to this game! The game seems fairly linear at the start so the only problem I would see with replayability would be people becoming bored with doing the first half over and over just to see the different dungeons. What might work would be adding a new game + kind of thing slinging you to start at the second half.

Banov said...

I'm definitely considering a new game +, but the benefits would be something to speed up progression rather than skipping sections.

The story sort of lends itself to a second viewing as well, with plenty of early hints and stuff you wouldn't catch your first time through.