15
Dec
08

An open letter to EA, Part 2: Please reboot C&C Renegade, and heres how

The goal, to take an existing property and create a well received game, minimising risk while ensuring a profitable outcome.

In part one of this proposal we located Renegade’s target audience and market position. It almost seems counterproductive to discern this information prior to detailing the game; but it’s an important step in making a profitable title, by defining our audience we can determine the goals Renegade must achieve, and understand the qualities it must encompass. 

The goal, to create a popular online console experience enjoyable by traditional multiplayers and first timers alike.

Renegade’s target audience has been determined, and consists of console owners with the ability to purchase and play content online. The audience can be broken further into two groups – multiplayers, and first timers.

When tailoring a game for traditional online participants there is ample direction and a wealth of inspiration, anything from Doom to CoD4 and every title in between can be studied to observe trends and discern the qualities players of these games hold in regard. But for every console sold, potentially, an offline gamer has the ability to enter the realms of online play. To ascertain what qualities a multiplayer virgin looks for in a multiplayer game, we must apply the knowledge we have of the target group; specifically their interactions with games in other genres.

Games that are popular among the casual, offline crowd share the following qualities.

  • Easy learning curve.
  • Segmented gameplay.
  • Low skill requirement.
  • Simple rules and gameplay.

Renegade’s gameplay features and mechanics will not be compromised to suit the casual player, that is not our goal. Our goal is to create mechanics and features from the ground up that lower the requirement for online play, allowing players with less time, skill or motivation to play online.

I’ve briefly outlined some requirements for success, and it’s time to give the game legs and define the gameplay and features that will carry Renegade towards unfathomable popularity. But before we do, there is one matter I would like to discuss.

There is a certain frailty involved when dealing with existing IP, especially when attempting to diverge from the formula; some fans of forerunning titles can be difficult to please. Fortunately, there is an almost universal solution. The most effective strategy for dealing with possible fan backlash, is to ensure the new product is polished; show the fans that the IP means as much to you as it does to them.


Game Abstract

Renegade is a first/third person shooter set in the near future on an alternate timeline. Tiberium, a life form of alien origin has catalysed a war that has changed the world. The alien plant is toxic, but the crystals it excretes are highly valuable. As tiberium fields pop up around the planet, the brotherhood of Nod (NOD) and the Global Defence Initiative (GDI) are locked in a perpetual battle for control of the worlds most valuable resource.

While the GDI are tied down with bureaucracy and international politics, NOD are swift and agile, and are quick to set up self sufficient military bases wherever the valuable crystals can be found

 

Game Features

Renegade will be a multiplayer only title.

Developing a single player campaign is a resource heavy task and by stripping out the campaign these resources can be allocated to ensuring a complete, quality multiplayer experience. Don’t stretch your resources; focus them. Additionally, as Renegade will be a downloadable title, removing the single player campaign – and the associated one off props and content – reduces the download file size significantly.

Renegade will allow split screen play.

Every option, feature and game mode available to a sole player will be available when playing split screen with a friend. Two player split screen is sufficient, and it’s implementation will make intelligent use of the available screen. Both vertical and horizontal division will be supported, specific to the user’s screen aspect ratio. The following images demonstrate Renegade’s splitscreen model.

   

 

 

 

Single player on HD

Single player on HD

   

 

 

 

Vertical split on HD

Vertical split on HD

   

 

 

 

Single player on SD

Single player on SD

   

 

 

 

Horizontal split on SD

Horizontal split on SD

Renegade will include both competitive and cooperative modes.

Competitive play has been the traditional draw for multiplayer titles, but cooperative has emerged as an alternative; one that favours the casual player. Renegade’s cooperative mode will pitch a team of players against AI foe. Teams must work together to push through the enemy and reach their goal. The mechanics of the competitive and cooperative game modes are detailed below.

Renegade will store player profiles, and include a levelling and stat tracking system.

Using the collected stats, Renegade can intelligently matchmake, placing players with others of comparable skill and experience levels.

Although stat tracking is less favoured among casual players and adds a level of competitiveness that drives some hardcore players to cheat, a comprehensive profile system can be used to induce a social network and roleplaying feel.

Renegade will allow video recording and match playback, with youtube support.

It wont take long for even the most beginner players to earn their first war stories; epic tales of how they overcame extreme odds, saved the day with seconds to spare, or even got humorously blasted across the map when their tank exploded. Renegade’s team based, large scale Command and Conquer mode is as exciting a game as any, and capable of creating some very memorable moments. Giving players the ability to record these moments, show them to friends and unleash them on the internet is an awesome feature, but also a great way to spread the word and show people how exciting and fun Renegade is.

Renegade will be more story driven than other online titles.

Command and Conquer has a strong narrative, one which can be leveraged to tie Renegade’s cooperative and competitive game modes together, without placing a plot overhead on players. Without digressing too much, the early Tiberium Universe has the strongest of all C&C storylines (and many other games for that matter)  when concerned with the transition between gameplay and narrative. The many regionalised battles that are waged on a tiberium field to tiberium field basis lend themselves perfectly to RTS, and in fact, multiplayer gaming. By taking this core theme of regionalised conflict, Renegade easily transcends the norm. Each map is more than another killing field, it’s the historic recount on one such battle. Techniques of how the narrative is conveyed to the player are detailed in the aesthetics section below.


Gameplay Mechanics

General

Renegade’s controls will be comparable to those of other console first and third person shooters. Players will be able to pick up the controls   easily and any prior experience with FPS games will translate directly to Renegade, making the player feel instantly comfortable with the game.

Renegade will employ aim adjust to assist the player, and employ a shallow damage model (where there is little deviation in damage dealt between different body parts). These mechanisms reduce the skill required to effectively combat a target. This model accommodates for casual or offline players who don’t possess the skills (or dedication to learn the skills) required to compete in traditional multiplayer games. To complement the reduced importance of fast paced, twitch skill, vehicles and characters available for use in game will have specific and obvious strengths and weaknesses, and will be balanced to create a scissors, paper, rock style of strategy. By homogenising the lethality of individual players, it’s the decisions made prior to combat that are likely to determine the outcome of a skirmish.

Player health will not automatically regenerate. To replenish their health, a player must return to base, interact with a medic or pick up a health pack. This system reduces the possible damage a smart player with a rock unit is capable of inflicting on a team of scissor players; even if the players continue to select units with a disadvantage, eventually the rock player will succumb to the damage received.

Although many vehicles and characters types will exist, they will be broken into classes; if the player understands the strengths and weaknesses of a class, they have an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the individual units within. For example, in the purchase screen the buy officer icon will sit below the buy soldier icon. This informally indicates to the player that an officer primarily plays the same role as a soldier, and the higher cost indicates the officer is a ‘better’ unit (in the same class).

A successful player will make use of a variety of unit and vehicle classes. As the battle or current threats change, a smart player will change accordingly. For this to be possible, players should never feel typecasted into a class. In Renegade, a player’s class (and unit) will dictate the weapon, secondary weapons or items and maximum health that the player spawns with. By keeping core controls, abilities and mechanics as similar as possible, a player should feel able to change their role and class at any time.

The above mechanics translate into an experience that is easy to pickup, has an shallow learning curve and has simple rules, but remains strategically deep.

Cooperative Specific

Before constructing a military base and beginning a fullscale offensive, elite GDI teams must clear a region of NOD defences, patrols and possible reinforcements. It’s not until the immediate NOD threat has been contained that it’s safe for the GDI to assemble a base.

Cooperative will place up to 8 players as members of an elite GDI team, working together to accomplish a specific mission objective. Players will progress by achieving simple, short term objectives (push through the canyon) and upon completing each objective, the next will be introduced (destroy the heavy tanks blocking the canyon exit). These objectives will be presented to the player via audio cue and will remain displayed on each player’s map overlay until accomplished. With the completion of each short term objective players edge closer to the long term, mission objective; each cooperative mission should require 10 to 15 minutes to complete. To keep with the Renegade narrative, cooperative missions serve as precursors to the perpetual competitive Command and Conquer battles. Cooperative mission objectives usually revolve around the preparation of an area for GDI base deployment, but enough variety exists to create missions that are memorable, have an individual feel and are not repetitive. Players will earn experience for all objectives complete, whether the individual was directly involved or not. By awarding experience to all players, a more team friendly environment is created, encouraging players to cooperate rather than compete with each other.

The use of short term objectives helps guide players and makes navigating the distances covered as easy as possible, but as level layouts can become complex, the possibility for players to find themselves split from the group or lost does exists. A menu option to respawn with group will be present – selecting this option will respawn the player with the group. The traditional solution to this type of problem is to drop a grenade at one’s feet; this option is simply a more visible and less messy alternative.

Cooperative play favors casual and inexperienced players. Because players combat AI opponents and have an obvious advantage over them, there is no need to develope the skill level required to compete against an equal competitor.     

Players are free to select a class type when beginning a cooperative mission, and the player’s unit is determined by their experience level with the selected class. Although no individual class is required to succeed, leveraging a team with diverse class types will certainly help the players. Players are free to change their class mid game, although a respawn will be enforced.

Cooperative class interaction, endgame requirements and life/death mechanics are beyond the scope of this document and will not be detailed.

Competitive Specific

Once the GDI base is operational and able to fund itself by harvest the local tiberium resource, a fullscale attack on the enemy base can commence. Until the NOD base is destroyed, the conflict will continue.

As competitive missions take place in areas encompassed by cooperative missions, many map resources can be shared. Players will also develop a connection with the missions and areas stronger than that expected of a traditional multiplayer game.

The core competitive mode (Command and Conquer mode) depicts the regional battle between a GDI and NOD base. Players take the role of members of either side, with the eventual goal of destroying the enemy base. Although base layouts and existing buildings may alter from region to region, the following list depicts the available buildings, and describes their function and the effect their destruction has on the opposing team.

Power Plant

  • Purpose: Supplies power to your base.
  • Destruction Effect: Doubles cost of vehicles, characters and beacons.
  • Destruction Effect: Base defences disabled.

Refinery

  • Purpose: Supplies money to team members for harvesting.
  • Destruction Effect: No additional money from harvesting or silo.

GDI Barracks / Hand of Nod

  • Purpose: Provides ability to purchase advanced character classes.
  • Destruction Effect: Can purchase only basic level character class.

GDI Weapons Factory / NOD Airstrip

  • Purpose: Provides ability to purchase vehicles.
  • Destruction Effect: Vehicles cannot be purchased for the rest of the game.

Helipad

  • Purpose: Provides ability to purchase air vehicles.
  • Destruction Effect: Air vehicles cannot be purchased for the rest of the game.

GDI & NOD Base Defences

  • Purpose: Provide automated base defences.
  • Destruction Effect: Base defences disabled.

The information above is sourced from this page, and as such, these mechanics are identical to those of the original title.

In Command & Conquer mode, players earn a steady stream of income as well as receiving an extra amount when their team’s tiberium harvester returns to the refinery. This currency is used to purchase more advanced characters, or build vehicular units. By using team tactics and selecting classes and vehicles that complement each other, some very imaginative, very effective strategies can be created. To give all players the ability to communicate, a set of predefined voice messages will be available. Using an objective (attack, defend) and target (refinery, airstrip) system, a simple informative message can be communicated with two button presses. To offer more hardcore strategic players a deeper level of communication, a squad system will be available. At any time a player can invite other players to join their squad. Players within a squad will share microphone chat; allowing for deep communication without impairing on other players who wish to play without the possible annoyance of constant noise.

The team score screen will also display a list of buildings for each team, with an indication of their health levels, allowing players to discern the state of the battle at any time.

Players always spawn within their base, allowing quick defensive manoeuvres as well as giving players time to breath and make purchase decisions before entering battle.

Because of Command and Conquer mode’s unique base verse base gameplay, the available roles for players to fit into are quiet varied. A player could go the attack route and attempt to destroy an enemy building; they could achieve this by using vehicles or they could attempt to infiltrate a building on foot and destroy it from the inside. On the other hand a player could spend their time repairing and defending their team’s base, ensuring their offensive teammates retain the advantages that come with certain buildings. Giving players wide choice ensures the game never feels repetitive and that players wont quickly bore with the game’s mechanics, while offering more casual players important roles that do not involve direct player verse player combat.


Aesthetics

Under my definition, aesthetics covers each and every way the game interacts with the player. Everything from game and menu visuals, to the game sounds and music, to the way the story is portrayed, is part of a game’s aesthetics.

Game Visuals and Graphics

As a multiplayer only game, Renegade’s shelf life is greater than that of a retail game and it is inevitable that as the game ages, it’s graphical prowess will age with it. Working under this assumption, the focus will be placed on smooth, clean and simple graphics. The original title employs bright and colourful stylisation, and by following this lead and retaining a cartoony look Renegade will have a style of its own that can be achieved without pushing the technology as far graphically as a photorealistic game would. This allows Renegade to run at a smooth framerate and discern itself from the competition (and possible comparison).

ccrenegade_s6

Additionally, utilising this style of visual allows the game to contain little graphical violence, accommodate casual players who don’t particularly want (their children) to be blasting limbs off.

Narrative

Although Renegade contains a stronger narrative than other online multiplayer games, this narrative should be expressed to the player in an unobtrusive way. The player should not be forced to partake in the story if they do not wish, and should not be required to skip through cut scenes or dialogue.

Because Renegade is console only and is available only as a digital download, we have an excellent understanding of what hardware the user will be playing the game on. As such, we have a very accurate knowledge of the length of load time for each cooperative or competitive level. The bulk of Renegade’s story will be expressed during these load times. Either text, audio or brief visuals will be displayed during the load, offering back story about the area and conflict, or offering information about the mission at hand. This information is not critical, and the player will not be penalised for not retaining it. In the player profile menu, a database of information the player has access to will be available. Utilising this low level implementation, narrative can be created capable of tying the game’s modes and maps together, and players who wish, have the ability to revisit or explore parts of the narrative.

Music

In game music will be able to change dynamically, based on what is currently happening in game. By creating a musical experience tailored to the player’s actions, the player feels empowered and receives reinforcement that they are fighting the good fight. Whether the player is manning a tank on the battlefield or repairing a damaged building – it’s important that the player has a positive experience, and music’s ability to influence people is often overlooked. By implementing a system beyond what is required, Renegade can become more memorable to players, adding weight and importance to their actions. Additionally, the contextual music will increase the appeal of the recorded gameplay videos, further defining Renegade’s epicness.

Menus and User Interface

Renegade’s menus and user interfaces should strive to draw players into the game’s narrative by portraying themselves as if they exist within the C&C universe. By following this rule and treating Renegade’s menus as a hub, used by the player to select which conflict they wish to be involved in, Renegade’s narrative is given extra weight and players achieve a feeling of progress and an increased connection to the world, similar to that experienced by WoW players. Care should be taken to ensure the menu’s are intuative and descriptive, and do not confuse users.

 

In order to keep this document at a reasonable length many specifics have been omitted. Units, vehicles and buildings require stat sheets and balancing; the description of game aesthetics is generalised; and the description and implementation of the Command and Conquer game mode makes assumptions based on knowledge the original title. This document should act as a primer for deeper discussion of the topics covered.

[Part three of this proposal will deal holistically with Renegade as a product and game, and discuss marketing and post release support strategies unique to the product outlined here.]

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Playing on Playstation 3

Red Dead Revolver - I paid about $1000 for my launch model PS3, so I guess it's time I get some use out of that emotion chip crammed inside. I remember Red Dead Revolver looking rather good when it was released, and despite the low resolution and odd blurring (that I attribute to playing on a HD set) the game holds up well. It looks good despite these graphical limitations because the art direction is so precise and awesome. And it isn't just the art direction, the music, dialogue and set design (for some reason, set seems a more fitting word than level) all work in tandem to recreate an iconic Wild West atmosphere. Red Dead Revolver doesn’t aim to recreate life in the Wild West, it allows our imagination to take over and populates the locale with legendary men and their legendary stories.

Playing on iPhone

edge - Well I never thought I'd consider playing a game on iPhone as actually gaming, but edge has turned me around. The game is built for the iPhone. Sure, it could be ported, but the elegance of what has been created is astounding, it boggles the mind and makes me wonder what amazing gems we'd receive if current gen consoles weren't clones of eachother.

Playing on PC

Sins of a Solar Empire, Demigod, Generals - Zero Hour - It may be a temporary effect as I slowly reintroduce the PC into my gaming diet, but it seems every title I’m excited to play on the platform is either a strategy game, or a cheap indie game. PC gaming isn’t dead, it’s just restricted to titles that require complex input or a pointing device, and games that couldn't be developed or distributed on other platforms. I guess that’s part of the reason the AppStore is so far a success, there were a lot of indie devs stuck on PC for lack of a better alternative.
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