Finding the Game Loop
Hey, everyone! The team over here at Rocket Adrift has been hard at work developing some of the foundational elements of Psychroma over the last couple weeks. One of the elements we wanted to talk about in this post is the game loop.
Part of what helps people understand how a game will play before playing it is coming up with a theory as to what the player will want to do, the process in which those actions are happening, and how to make it repeatable. This is what game devs refer to as a game loop. Once you have a loop, you can start running quick and dirty tests to see if it’s fun, if the pacing is right and also how much work it will be to create one. This is why it’s fundamental to game design.
We’ve begun looking at all the gameplay elements we want in Psychroma and formulating a game loop from them. Here are some of them:
- Clue gathering
- NPC interactions
Once we had a better idea of the narrative beats of the game and the kind of themes we want to explore, we were able to bring those story elements together with these mechanics. The first thing we knew we wanted to solve was achieving that mix of the paranormal with cybernetics through gameplay. So to solve this, we came up with a mechanic idea called the séance. The séance will act as a narrative event as well as a goal that the player wants to work towards each level. We want the séance to contain the traditional elements of the séance as we know it, but with a cyberpunk twist. Mechanically, there will be a puzzle-solving section that requires the player to change elements during the séance that would alter the elements of the fragmented memory, which is directly linked to saving Agatha and solving the mystery of the house.
We needed to find a framework for the puzzle, so we came up with the idea to create an altered version of a tarot deck. Each card would represent an object, or totem that the memory fragments are built around, and during the séance the player would move the totem to different times and locations within the memories in order to change the context of the events in that memory. Eventually the player will have solved the story behind that totem, and will have gained more of an understanding of Agatha’s story and the clues to the next totem will appear in the memory.
Now that we have established a puzzle, a narrative beat and a goal for the player, we needed to think of a way to fill out the rest of the gameplay loop as well as include the other gameplay elements (NPC interaction, clue-gathering, & exploration). One of the easiest ways we could think to incorporate these elements is by tying them directly to the goal of performing the seances.
As mentioned earlier, the séance would need at least one object for the player to start defragmenting the memories with, and there needs to be at least one new object each level. This meant that there would be a direct feedback loop between performing seances, solving a piece of the memory puzzle, and finding a new totem to start the next séance. So between seances, we will build out the exploratory part of the level where the player could discover new information about Agatha and the house through the environment, find the next totem, and interact with the residents of the house. This would all be open and played non-linearly.
The goal of this section is for the players investigations to lead them to the next totem needed for the séance, as well as gain insights into the totem and support through the NPC interactions. The section ends once the totem is found, there is an initial hint for its context within the memories, and the NPC that has been helping you agrees to join the next séance.
Finally, we wanted a section for the tension of the narrative to escalate and for the player to experience the next story beat in a linear way. This section would be fairly short, where puzzle-solving and clue-gathering can take a backseat to player immersion and story-telling. It could also serve as a way to pay off player choices made earlier.
Putting it together
Now that we have a basic loop with all the gameplay elements accounted for, we needed to structure it in a way that would be tight, responsive, and most of all, fun (keep in mind this idea of “fun” is still theoretical until we prototype the loop). In order to get to prototyping, we needed to create a design doc, which is basically an infographic, or some other kind of visual aid that illustrates how the gameplay loop works. Here’s one we created for Psychroma’s loop:
The next step will be prototyping all the gameplay elements of our loop in Arcweave and Gamemaker, then putting all those elements together for a demo.
Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed this week’s devlog.
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