Hey everyone! I've been working towards an IndieCade submission for Against the Wall, trying to at least get a "starting area" in the game and a few more settlements. I've mentioned this before, but texturing has always been my biggest weakness. Blender is a bit convoluted when baking a bunch of textures into an atlas, but it's a free tool and what I can afford. As such, I've taken a cue from Morrowind and other TES games and am just doing a general cube unwrap and slapping on flat textures (wood, stone, etc.). It fits with the minimalist art aesthetic, and cuts down on production time for assets.
My major challenge right now is level design. It's very difficult to craft vertically-aligned levels that have a good flow to them. I'm thinking that some HL2 or Minecraft-style ladders may be in order. The problem with such ladders is the whole planting your face right up against a texture, and they are not very fun to use... but it may be worth an experiment. Also, I was avoiding including building interiors, but it has become apparent that I cannot just have people crawling around the outside of buildings. Sure, most structures will be locked or in some way obstructed from entry, just part of the scenery, but I do need some contraptions housed in enclosed spaces.
I've spent the last couple of days coding some interactive environmental elements, just creatures and objects that provide additional challenges, or contribute to the sense that this is a living, breathing world.
I've been doing research into recently released exploration games, looking for inspiration. Since the semester ended, I've played Miasmata, Antichamber, and Starseed Pilgrim. Played through most of the Myst series as well. Mostly, I was looking for how each game handles second-to-second action, and how the game world is revealed.
I was toying with the idea of removing quick-saves in favor of checkpoints based around beds and such. However, I realized that this would limit the space that players could explore, if they want to wander deep into the wilderness, for instance. Also, the game is challenging as it is, what with the constant threat of falling and losing progress. Though I would like to avert save scumming, I also don't want it to be unnecessarily brutal.
A few other notes: each rest area/checkpoint should feel like home, a refuge from the perils of climbing the wall. These areas are not quite hideouts, the player has no inventory and there is no bed mechanic, etc. but I do want to make specific areas that the player would feel like living out of. This was one of my favorite things to do in Morrowind and Minecraft, just setting up camp and exploring an area.
What I've Been Playing
I've played through Uru: The Complete Chronicle. As a decade-old game, Uru game has no business being this gorgeous. I was really able to immerse myself in these little worlds for a time. CYAN seems to have a thing against repeating artwork, nearly all models in the game are individually crafted and appear once. Oh, and the sound design is impeccable. Some of the puzzles leave a lot to be desired, especially since many were originally intended for multiple players to solve. Still, I liked the ages in this game, a number of the puzzles were entertaining, and the atmosphere was spot-on.
I finally got around to finishing Antichamber. Now that's an amazingly designed videogame. It left me feeling like a champ, the puzzles were difficult but not so obtuse that I ever needed to consult a FAQ. Like Starseed Pilgrim, half the fun was in exploring the mechanics through experimentation. It never explains anything, outside of fortune cookie-like hints on panels scattered throughout the world. Also, the mechanics do not overstay their welcome, each new mechanic receiving only a handful of puzzles before a new paradigm is introduced. I must confess that I'm a completionist, so I couldn't put the game down until I unlocked all the secrets and filled out the game's map. As a first person puzzle-platformer made by a single guy, I had to check this one out to get a sense of the progression, feel, and story.
Then, there is Miasmata. The game is just pure exploration and filling out a map: a cartography-based game where you play as a plague-ridden man abandoned on a lost island and hunted by a strange hybrid monster. Again, as a completionist who loves games about being isolated and lost, this one got its hooks into me. Very impressed that it was made from the ground up by two people.