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'24' style game?

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After watching 4 series worth of '24' over the last couple of months, I got to thinking... how could you make a game in the same sort of style? (For those of you who don't know, each series of 24 takes place in REAL-TIME over one day, with each episode representing an hour. Each day revolves around a government agent countering a different terrorist threat.) I can see several problems with trying to emulate this in a computer game, all mostly relating to the real-time aspect: 1) Attempting to make the game as non-linear as possible. I think that the best way to do this would have a GTA style city where most of the traffic and pedestrians are randomly generated. At a certain predefined time of the day, the terrorists might need to move a critical piece of equipment. So a truck would be spawned at a certain point and would make its way across the city. Now, if the player intercepted the truck, the villains might need to change their plans (try and retrieve the equipment, for example). If the truck got through, the next stage of their existing plan could be executed. A large amount of these branching possibilities would either require a very intelligent AI system to decide what the terrorists' next move would be, or for the designer to take into account every possible combination of events. 2) Handling saving. One of the things that makes 24 great is the feeling of high stakes when the characters are in a race against time. How would you replicate this when the player knows that if they fail to catch a terrorist in time they can just reload and try again? One way to solve this would be to only have the game save when the player quits, and then delete that save file when the player reloads. This would mean that the player couldn't just keep repeating the same segment in the game, they'd have to accept whatever mistakes they'd made and carry on. However, this throws up its own set of problems - every time the player messed up, they'd need a new lead to follow up. After several consecutive failures it would seem a bit too convenient that there was yet another chance to win! 3) Handling death. If, as above, the player could not save and reload, how would an element of danger be introduced? You could have the player end up in hospital for a couple of hours and lose critical time if they got shot - but would this end up being silly that they could not die permanently? Also, what if the player ended up in a position - after over, say, 10 hours of gameplay - where they could not win and would have to start over? This is definitely a game breaking flaw and would need to be solved. 4) Keeping the player interested. If the player had information that a vital suspect would arrive in half an hour, and the game took place in real time, how would the player keep themselves amused? 24 solves this by having advert breaks while the characters are travelling, or changing to another plot line if a character is doing something uninteresting. Or could an 'Elite' style time speed control be included, which might harm the sense that events were occuring in 'real time'? I'd be very interested in anyone's opinions on how these problems could be solved. [Edited by - Zihuatanejo on October 8, 2005 2:30:34 PM]

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Original post by Zihuatanejo
After watching 4 series worth of '24' over the last couple of months, I got to thinking... how could you make a game in the same sort of style?

You do know there is "24: The Game" being released on the PS2 sometime soon, don't you?

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Yes, forgot to mention that in my original post. From what I've seen of it though, it seems to follow a more traditional sort of design - where the day is split up into smaller segments, each being a driving, or shooting, or puzzle game with a time limit. My idea would be a continuous game where the player would have more freedom and not follow a linear narrative.

Should probably note that I'm not planning on making a 24 fan game - rather a game with the same sort of real-time ethos that would hopefully make it more compelling.

Thanks for the response though, I should have mentioned it before.

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Well, one element that makes the series 24 work is the intensity of time constraint along with the fact that there are usually 3 or more things going on at the same time. Some of these elements can easily be conveyed through good cinematography. However, in a game format, it may be a little harder, if not very hard, to maintain the same level of intensity when there is no feel of multiple time critical events going on at the same time. So, technically, giving the player a time constraint is only half the puzzle for a compelling 24-like game. Alot more has to go into the narrative along with tight scripting.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that what makes 24 work as a series is a combination of time constraints and seeing multiple things happen in different locations that are driving towards a larger event that may happen later on. It really is non-linear story telling in a sense, which may pose some difficulty to pull off as a game.

However, this does bring up the possibility of a very interesting multiplayer game experience. Not massively multipler, just multiplayer, like 3 to 5. So, basically you have different scenarios that need to be resolved within a given amount of time, like say find where a serial bomber has planted multiple bombs and they will all go off in an hour real time. So, you and a few friends can choose to play this scenario and everyone will work on the problem at hand from different angles, picking up clues and relaying related information back and forth, until the scenario is closed either in failure or success. If scripted well enough, you might get really nice compact events where a bunch of friends can easily kill a night playing them.

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Original post by Zihuatanejo
However, this throws up its own set of problems - every time the player messed up, they'd need a new lead to follow up. After several consecutive failures it would seem a bit too convenient that there was yet another chance to win!


So don't give it to them if they stuff up too much. The game is probably a bit pointless if it's impossible to lose. Players get annoyed when something they have absolutely no control over makes them lose - I tend to think they won't mind as much if they lose after making a series of mistakes.

Quote:
3) Handling death. If, as above, the player could not save and reload, how would an element of danger be introduced? You could have the player end up in hospital for a couple of hours and lose critical time if they got shot - but would this end up being silly that they could not die permanently?


What's this obsession with not killing the player these days? Kill them if they stuff up too badly. If the player can't die, they probably won't care too much about thier character. Many of the classics killed off players on a regular basic (Commander Keen, SMB, Zelda, et al.), the important thing is to allow players to quickly get back into some gameplay if this occurs. Since you aren't allowing saving, you either need to give them the options to start a new game very quickly, or possibly to do something like taking control of a different character?

Anyways, just a few ideas.

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Original post by WeirdoFu
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I like that, this could provide a very nice cooperative multiplayer experience. You could even allow a small group of players to play on each team (sort of like a more detailed Counterstrike, with more stuff going on).

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I think this would work best as a medium-length game with high replayability and a very big puzzle element. One game to look at might be Bladerunner, though it wasn't very succesful at what it tried to do (IMHO). The building blocks as I see them:

- Environment: Like you said one of the most important elements is a nice environment, for example a big city (but this could also be something like Half-Life's Black Mesa Facility, it doesn't really matter as long as it's an interesting environment that draws the player in);

- Interactivity: What's a big environment in a detective game if you can't interact with it. This is going to be difficult, but this is also what makes it interesting. The only thing that makes GTA's otherwise very dull cities interesting is the interaction with traffic. In your case this would be witnesses, suspects, clues. This will make or break your game;

- Goal: Because of the non-linearity of this game you will have to set the player pretty clear goals or it could get very hard to play. I don't mean telling him who to talk to, where to go, but he does need to know what's happening. For example the terrorists phone in a bombthreat, or ask for money whatever;

- Leads: You don't want to lead the player all the way to the solution so you will have to find a way to provide him with sufficient leads that he is able to find out where to go. It should definitely not be to easy though;

- Failure: Like Kazgoroth said, there's no reason why the player should always be succesful. A type of game which uses this well are Roguelikes, old-school RPGs where it's all about trying to win and hardly ever succeeding. Make the game so that players will want to try over. And I suggest you do indeed disable reloading. In order to pull this off you will probably need to limit your game-length to at most a couple of hours;

- Randomness: For replayability your game will need to involve alot of randomness. Not only locations and people, but possibly goals as well. This too will be a lot of work, but replayability is key;

- Scripting: I'm not entirely sure how to combine this well with randomness, because for realistic feel you will have to script some conversations etc. You might want to look at other games that do this for inspiration;

- Moddability: Because your game revolves around replayability it would be great if players could improve it. At the very least scenarios should be defined in some kind of script file (instead of hard-coded) so that players can easily change or even add scenarios.

[Edit: Did I forget to say "Very good idea for a game!"?]

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Original post by Horizon
- Failure: Like Kazgoroth said, there's no reason why the player should always be succesful. A type of game which uses this well are Roguelikes, old-school RPGs where it's all about trying to win and hardly ever succeeding. Make the game so that players will want to try over. And I suggest you do indeed disable reloading. In order to pull this off you will probably need to limit your game-length to at most a couple of hours;

I wouldnt want to replay a game that made me replay the entire game if I made a bad choise an hour ago. If the review said it made me replay the game if I made a bad choise an hour ago I would think twice (minimum) before even thinking about buying it.

About making it interesting:
If the character you are playing doesn't do something interesting, allow the player to take control of other characters and have some random function make them do something interesting. Terrorist attack, car breaking down and a psycho comes to help, interesting conversation, small missions like get some data on a a server and sneak by guards.
A thing to look into may be "Dynamic plot generation"(or something like that).

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Nothing personal, but that's typical of the modern gamer, he expects everything on a silver platter and never to be able to lose, however stupid he plays.

The point is that the gameplay should be good enough that replaying a whole hour isn't bad, in fact it's probably THE way to keep the game challenging. Keep in mind that after you restart the first hour will be just as varied as the hours that would follow if you had not failed and due to randomization very different to your first try. The only difference being that you still have a ways to go to achieve your goal.

I already mentioned that a single succesfull game should take at most a couple hours, however with the replayability you may have many many hours of fun in this game and it doesn't really matter whether that's 3 succesfull games or 6 failed and one succesful.

Possibly you could compare it to the challenge presented in games like counterstrike. Even if your team loses the game is still fun. Only this game has one long continuous challenge instead of rounds.

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Horizon, I think you might have been interpreting what he said incorrectly. I think he was saying that he doesn't want to "stuff up", and keep playing for another hour, only to loose the game, based sole on that stuff up.

It would seem rather aggravating to dedicate a number of hours to playing a game, only to discover that an error you made a few hours ago will prevent you from winning. Now I doubt any game would allow this; I think that's the point he's making.

On the other side of the coin though, in reality, this could realistically happen. Some action you did in the past coming back to kick you in the butt. It's a realism vs. playability/satisfaction situation.

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I would think that any game of this type would want to stay away from randomness as much as possible, especially when it comes to events. Random events are always nice on paper, but there's always a limited combination, which after a while, becomes the game's achille's heel. What will make or break any game of this type will be the writing and scripting.

Personally, I'd rather pay a dozen writers some good money to write out two or three dozen possible branches simultaneously and let the game grow that way, instead of trying to figure out which elements need to be thrown into a randomizer and how things should be randomly built for cohesiveness. With the scripting, then you throw in random elements on the micro level, like differences in informants, variations in target location, object placement, etc. So stuff like suspect A will actually have a choice of taking some stolen vehicle to one of a dozen different locations or the bombs can be located in a number of location combinations with varying impacts. The game tree will get huge, but you're guaranteed some interesting stuff. We have to remember, randomness, or random game events in general, were a by product of medium limits to storage along with budget factors. With modern multi-million dollar game productions, I'd say a random event generator is a shortcut rather than a feature.

The great thing about a game of this type is that it can be released in installments. The engine is built and set, you just keep adding to the script periodically. So, let's say the initial game comes with the first 4 - 6 hours of events and then you release one more hour every month. Each hour may branch differently in between, but let's say ends with 6 possible scenarios that lead into the next hour. The design of 6 scenarios going into an hour and 6 coming out means that there's still a chance you might be able to recover from a past mistake. This way, your game, if 24 hours long will be released in a span of about 18 months. Gives the writer ample time to do what they do best.

Sorry this has turned into somewhat of a long post, but personally, I feel this genre of games may actually have a future, if the pioneers pull it off properly. It'll be a definite change of pace from MMORPGs that's flooding the market and creating somewhere between the experience of a massively multiplayer game and single player game and yet being strongly story driven rather than "story-free" multiplayer FPS games.

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Original post by Vampus


You're probably right. In that case, yeah I agree. While I am all in favour of having the player fail, I wouldn't want to see someone wasting time AFTER already failing (possibly without knowing that he failed).

Quote:
WeirdoFu
random elements on the micro level, like differences in informants, variations in target location, object placement, etc. So stuff like suspect A will actually have a choice of taking some stolen vehicle to one of a dozen different locations or the bombs can be located in a number of location combinations with varying impacts. The game tree will get huge, but you're guaranteed some interesting stuff.

Sure, you will have to be careful at what level you implement randomness. You're absolutely right it's generally much better if the greater story arch stays intact. However the more variation, the more replayability, so you will need to find a balance somehow.

Quote:
WeirdoFu
installments

That idea is just plain brilliant. While I had considered moddability, I hadn't in any way thought of this. It'd be like those old detective stories that you'd get in installments in a magazine every month (or like a comic). Great idea! Furthermore, installments might be great points to allow the player to save/reload. He will, however, be stuck with the results he got up to that point, unless he replays.

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Original post by Horizon
Quote:
Original post by Vampus
You're probably right.

He was right :)

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While I am all in favour of having the player fail

The player should be faced with challanges (sp) and sometimes fail, othwerwise they should watch a (good) movie :) However, there should be an option (IMHO) entitled baby or newbie where there is absolutely no challanges at all(in short god-mode) so such "players" also could be happy :)

Quote:
WeirdoFu I'd rather pay a dozen writers some good money to write out two or three dozen possible branches simultaneously and let the game grow that way

I had a gameidea some time ago that sounds like this one:
The game is based around chapters and are branched around a choise you make at the end of each chapter.
In the first chapter you are a kid at the school. This is basicly a few tutorial level, learning how to move, use stuff fight, drive a car etc. At the end of this chapter you choose to kick a kid, or stop the kids who are kicking him(kick them). Based on this you either ends up in a gang or in the police accademy. Fail the accademey and become a soldier, "win" the accademy and work at the agency(Fbi/cia), "win 1" the agency and become a counter terrorist agent, "win 2" the agency and work with secret stuff, yada yada yada...
In the grande finale(the end of the game) you fight a friend from school(the tutorial level) that has made the opposite choises you have made, ala Face/off...

Long post, better get back to the 4e4 coding ;)

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Interesting topic, and I'm really really hoping the current '24' game coming out isn't as flat as it's sounding.

For this thread, I think each hour/segment (whatever) should have various goals that need to be accomplished based on the player's current standing in the game as well as what's in the script.

That's a little more manageable (IMHO) than spawning 10 storylines or branches for each decision. Cool? Definitely, but I wouldn't want to be the one developing it. :)

I would maybe have primary and secondary goals for the segment. Therefore if the player fails a primary goal (ie. rescue Jack's family....*again*) then you're allowed/forced to repeat the hour.

While this might sound too limiting and non-linear, you *could* always have your primary/secondary goals change depending upon your character and the goals you've succeeded/failed in the past.

ie. you can play through the game as one of x number of characters...this would allow you to experience some of the "key" moments when the action of different segments/pov's blend together, like a shootout or bomb explosion, etc.

I think there needs to be *some* rigid, scripted moments so that you get the "3-panels-of-action-happening-at-once-while-the-clock-countsdown" effect which we all love in the show.

I'd almost hate to have this one on my plate, not because of the possibilities, but BECAUSE of the possibilities!! *BG*


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Yeah, I agree with the people who've said that they wouldn't want to play for a couple of hours after putting themselves in an impossible situation and not knowing it.

Horizon - I think you're dead-on about making the game along the lines of a Roguelike, where player success really means something - one of my favourite games is to play a Metal Slug with 5 credits to see how far I can get. I must have played the early levels dozens of times but it's still fun.

I really like the episodic and moddable ideas - one compromise on the saving could be that you had a checkpoint every few hours between episodes, where it would be guaranteed that you could safely continue from. This would mean that you could eventually have a game that spanned several hours without a player dying at hour 18 and losing everything.

Adding randomness would be tricky to do, but I think it would be necessary if the player repeated the same few hours several times - otherwise, what's to stop them finding out where a key suspect lives after a few hours, dying, then starting again and raiding their house straight away? So, the main story could remain intact, but terrorist safehouses could be randomly placed throughout the city.

Thanks to everyone who's posted - some great ideas here, exactly what I was looking for...

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Granted, I'm skimming, but this is interesting.

Check out Indigo Prophecy, the game for the PC and Xbox that just came out. A lot of those ideas are implemented in that game, and they work rather well, although the user interface is a little wonky at times. As far as a cinematic game, it's pretty brilliant how multiple events and characters are handled, even though it's difficult to get into the mindset of almost working against yourself at every turn.

Best way to research game design is to play games! :D

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