Monday, January 29, 2007

Steal This Game Design: Masks

Ok, I know I haven't been keeping up with the weekly schedule I set out with. I only post game ideas I think are worth sharing, and getting such ideas requires real inspiration.

I guess I need a muse. If you think you qualify, post why you think so in the comments.

In the meantime, here's a new idea:


In mythological ancient Greece, become a god!


In the Greece of myths such as Homer's Illyad and Odyssey, you start out as a simple peasant with a destiny. On a routine visit to the Oracle, you are told that you are to become a god, and will someday live in Olympus.

Reeling from this revelation, you find yourself backstage at the Theater, staring into the empty eyeholes of one of the masks the actors use in their performances. The mask has a strange attraction...

You pick it up and put it on. Looking out through the eyeholes, the world seems to shift subtly. It's as if your focus is being pulled to different things, you notice different details from what you usually notice.

Then one of the actors goes by, and acts as if you're part of the show. He pulls you onstage, and you perform as though you're a veteran of the stage who knows the play by heart.

Backstage again, after your performance, you walk past a mirror and you realize that you have become someone else. You hurriedly pull off the mask to find that you're back to being yourself. You put the mask in your pack and walk away before someone notices the theft.

On your way home, you bump into some stranger, who drops what he was carrying in the collision. You help him pick up his things, but suddenly notice another mask on the ground, which presumably belongs to the man. The mask has that same pull that the previous mask did, so you swipe it for yourself while the man isn't looking.

Back home, you try on the new mask, and find that it can also turn you into someone else.

That's when you realize what you must do. You need to find all the masks, however many there are. You somehow know that doing this will lead you to Olympus and godhood.


Masks is played from a 3D third-person perspective which lets the player rotate the camera around the character to fully view the transformations that happen everytime he dons a new mask.

The gameplay is similar to the 3D Zelda games, with a lot of walking around, interacting with people and things, solving many puzzles, along with some fighting. Always with the goal of obtaining a new mask.

Each mask lets the player turn into someone else, be it a slave, a guard, a merchant or even a young woman. While transformed in this way, the player's surroundings change in subtle ways. For example, colors will shift slightly to accentuate certain things over others. A guard will tend to see "trouble" stand out more (troublemakers in crowds will somehow look more colorful than the others around them, for example) while merchants will find that valuables look more attractive (great for distinguishing real valuables from fake ones). A fisherman will see which areas to target when fishing in order to get the biggest load.

Turning into other people will also let the player access areas that would otherwise be out of bounds, for various reasons. Being female can have its advantages, for instance.

A few masks will even let the player turn into an animal or even into a mythical beast, like a minotaur or a griffin. These masks tend to be harder to get, and are often guarded by an animal or creature of the same type the mask provides transformation to.

Eventually, the proper set of masks will open a way into the lower level of Olympus, where the player can then fight and solve puzzles to obtain a god mask and finally take his place in the pantheon of Greek myths.

Note that the player's character has no equipment apart from the masks; each mask provides him with the tools he needs (meaning that a guard mask will provide some armor and a weapon, a fisherman mask will provide a boat and the needed fishing equipment, etc.)

Graphics and Visuals

As realistic as a movie set in this environment would look. This means it should look better than things really looked like at that time, but things are otherwise realistic, with a solid, believable look.

The effect of putting a mask on should seem to initially create ripples in the view, making it look like the world has just shifted a little. Then the colors also change in subtle ways to accentuate the relevant focus for the mask's character.


clem394 said...

I really like this idea for a game. Can you expand on it a bit? Maybe give the main character more of a motive to gather the masks other than potential god-ship. Maybe create a villian or some other obstacle other than just the occasional creature.

I am looking to begin creating video games. I am a programmer studying at ITT Tech. I just seem to lack the imagination to come up with a good idea.

shutz said...

Congratulations! You're the first commenter I've ever had on my blog! You win: nothing! Ok, kidding aside, here's what I can say about the game:

First, if you're studying programming, make sure you learn stuff like OpenGL, DirectX, SDL, that sort of thing. I find that unless your courses are directly geared towards game programming, you won't learn these things in school. So you have to learn them by yourself.

That's the mistake I made: I have a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science, but I don't really know how to even start programming a Windows app. All I've been able to do is some simple programming on the GBA and Nintendo DS (if you want to look into this, just ask, I'll point you in the right direction... it's easier than programming for Windows!)

Another thing you might want to look into is the XNA framework, with which you should quickly be able to program some simple games in C# that can run on Windows, and then be easily ported to XBox 360.

But don't neglect all the theoretical stuff you learn in class: all the more boring assignments and theory (I say boring because they don't seem gaming-related) will likely be of use to you when programming a game, later.

Second, you don't need the kind of imagination that game designers have to program video games. All you need is the kind of imagination that helps in solving complex computational problems. Leave the designing to designers! (Very few good games these days are being created by one person alone.)

About the Masks game: I could easily provide the main character with extra motivation, such as:

- His girlfriend/wife/daughter is sick/dead/missing and he believes he needs the power of a god to save her.
- His village has sent him out to find a cure for a mysterious disease that's stricken half of the village.
- His village banished him after he failed in his "coup" to take control of the whole village, and he's out to prove to them that they should have become his subjects.

Really, that part was irrelevant to what I wanted to show in the blog entry: I wanted to describe the parts of the game which I found to be most original: the Mask mechanics.

If you read through my other designs, you'll notice that sometimes I spend a lot of time on story, and other times, I barely address it. In other cases, I'll spend a lot of time on the graphics and presentation, whereas on other games, I'll write one or two sentences and be done with it.

When I don't have anything original to say on a particular aspect of a game, or when something "standard" will work, I skip mentioning it. Why bother? Anyone who's played games will either fill that part out with their own experiences, or not even notice that it's not missing.

This last is particularly true about sounds and music: most people don't really think much about the sounds in a game, even though sound can make or break a game. Well, if I get any specific ideas about sounds, I'll mention it, otherwise, I tend to just write: "Realistic, with X exaggerated for emphasis" or something similar.

Let me know if you have any more questions, I'll be glad to help.