Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Not Bringing Studio 2 Into This

I spoke with Adam last night. Decided after much deliberation not to bring his Studio 2 into this, convenient a source of helpers though it may be. I think he and his Studio 2 class would be better served by coming up with their own project rather than piggybacking on my thesis. The trouble is that Studio 2 class tends to have a very limited scope--not that the scope of any of the projects I'm proposing is that daunting compared with most things I could think to do, but there's a certain problem in the way this type of game is broken up versus the way another type of game is broken up. To give an example:

StarCaster, a pet project I work on in my spare time, a real-time sci-fi action-adventure that can be described as Metal Gear Solid meets Final Fantasy meets Blade Runner, is a very ambitious project. It requires tons of content, a robust physics engine to drive its spell system, and necessarily Euphoria so that the AI can take advantage of the very heavily physics-based gameplay. It's meant to take around 20 hours to complete. This game would require a team of 100+ people two years to make and very likely would cost upwards of ten to fifteen million dollars to make. My estimate is around twenty million. This is a AAA production that I will probably not get to pitch for about five years yet.

La Tarasca is an adventure game with some action in it--it takes place in the Old West, after all, it'd be a disappointment if the player didn't get to pick up a revolver. Overall most of the interactions are dealing with characters, engaging in dialogue, and gathering clues, which are relatively simple things to implement and don't even necessarily require the full power of the Unreal Engine. It's meant to take a comparatively smaller scope, focused around one location and a fairly small set of characters--namely the residents of the town of La Tarasca. In terms of play time I'd estimate the game to take around four or five hours; scaled back to a student project the full mystery could take one to three. This game could be made on a very small budget of under a million dollars in about six months, making it suitable for independent development.

Now here's the bomb. It would be more reasonable for me to try to get that Studio 2 team to create one playable level of StarCaster than to try and create one level of La Tarasca--the reality of a Studio 2 class being that there's only ten weeks to develop an entire project, that everybody is splitting their attention necessarily between multiple classes, and that technical problems would present huge roadblocks; even if our artists can generate the assets for more than one level, we'd only be able to generate one level of actual interactive content, and maybe the AI for one enemy type.

The mechanics of StarCaster are very focused and relatively straightforward, being a combat-based game and all; the length estimation of the entire game comes mainly from sheer content. We could develop just enough guns to make it clear that there's more than one, have the player earn one spell to give them a taste for the magic system, and develop one level focused on this content. It wouldn't be as slick and polished as God of War III, by any means; Euphoria certainly wouldn't be implemented; but it would be a reasonably good demo with a relatively tight asset list. Probably even this isn't a reasonable expectation, but were this ONE LEVEL worth of content completed within the quarter it would be acceptable as a demo and would give both players and prospective employers alike a representative portion of the game.

The gameplay of La Tarasca is completely dependent on the story, however. If we were to generate comparable content to the single level of StarCaster that I outlined above then it would likely be tighter and more well-polished, but it also wouldn't be complete by any means. The demo would end just as the story is starting to ramp up and the intrigue is starting to set in. For the purposes of my thesis it would be more than acceptable as I intend to be working on it for much longer than just next quarter and it would at least get the groundwork laid, but it would not be representative of the entire product and likely not nearly enough to impress anyone.

In other words, La Tarasca overall is a much more doable project, but a portion of it would not be acceptable; as a story-driven experience, however short, it requires the entire story to be seen through to completion to provide a satisfying experience. This is likely to be the case with any game that I try to develop for this thesis, but its' especially true of La Tarasca, which is the game that we've been leaning towards.

I haven't written this plan off entirely just yet, but I've warned Adam that it's probably best to keep my thesis out of his Studio 2. We'll see if I can't use my television writing knowhow to come up with something more self-contained and episodic, but that's the demand this project would have--it would need to be a pilot, not a full game, and that rather distresses me as a pilot for a TV show doesn't necessarily see its themes through to completion.

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