January 24, 2013

Prometheus,Time Donkey,chronotron

by Niklas Hansson

So our first update here after our greenlight launch is to try to clear up some of the misconceptions that surround Project Temporality(PT) and some games that people find similar to ours. A big part of the problem is the quite simple question:  how do you show core game-play of a puzzler in a trailer ? We opted to make a trailer that showed the spirit of the game instead of showing actual game-play for the most part and this has lead to some confusion.

One question here might be why Braid isn’t it in the subject line, well some people has mentioned Braid when comparing it to PT but I honestly think most people can agree that they are quit dissimilar. The one common part is time manipulation but while Braid uses a lot of different time manipulation modes over it’s different worlds, even the shadow mode works quite differently. Truth be told we hadn’t even played Braid when we conceived this game instead. The main inspiration was Cursor10 which seems to have inspired a lot of other games too.

Instead of trying to make a pure clone (which is legit as Time Donkey and Prometheus(well the first half) has done) we liked the part about cooperating with yourself but found the implementation and design of it quite frustrating. What if you mad a mistake on the 9th character ? Then you just had to restart and do it all over once again due to that small mistake, this happened a lot. Also you had a lot of repetitive action on the late clones where you had to climb up the tower again and again. These things made me never finish a game that I did really liked. I wished that there was a way to just undo my mistakes and to skip the boring sections.

Out of this PT was born. What if we had a puzzle based game where you could spawn a new copy of yourself at any time and any place in the game world to help you cooperate while removing all the tedium of the Fixed position/fixed time spawner’s where you always start at the same position and race vs the clock? (It’s not that I dislike them but I find it slightly inelegant and also it becomes a very different game, with very different puzzles if you have that restriction). During years of development the game grew and was streamlined and at the center was this simple concept: perform an action, rewind, spawn an new clone and the original “You” will keep performing the action. Already from the start we knew we didn’t want these characters to be just a recording of your actions, instead we made them a real living part of the game world. Which will lead to all kinds of neatness in the later puzzles :)

They key for us was always player freedom, we wanted to remove  limitations and give the player more freedom when playing around with time. Sure when we designed the puzzles we had one solution in mind but players sometimes found a different way. Quickly this lead us down the path of efficiency. If there are multiple ways to solve a puzzle shouldn’t we reward the player for finding an excellent way? This gave birth to the concept of Time energy, which is spent to create new clones, or to accelerate your movement. Out of that came the concept of Speedrunning; trying to find the fastest way through the levels by using as little energy as possible. If you solve the puzzle as efficiently as possible you could use as much energy as possible to speed though the rest of the level. This also let us come up with the ideas of puzzles that required a certain efficiency to clear the level. You could solve 1-2 puzzles easily but then when you got to the third, if you had been using a sloppy solution you would be out of energy and had to rewind and try to find out a more efficient way to solve the problem.

We also realized that by giving this freedom we could create much more complex and engaging puzzles than the fixed spawn position/time could, because a part of the puzzle is to figure out where/when and for how long you should record actions making it a very open ended game. Even a simple puzzle often hides a more efficient solution than what the player (or we) first imagined. Having over hundred of players trying out the game has helped us to home in on what makes PT interesting and fun in our puzzles.

So lets now look at those other games and compare them to PT. First out is Prometheus. I do like this game but it suffers from the same frustrating parts that Cursor10 had. It felt like my main objective was to explore the level first to learn where the buttons were or which buttons I had to keep pressed and which ones I only needed to press once(really enervating that one). Once I had mapped the world I could solve the puzzle. So this is an case of the exploration being the game. The other part was that it was all about synchronizing the actions of the different characters, a problem with this is that if you don’t see the other character having them performing perfectly synchronize actions can become a hassle, especially if you had to spend 1 minute to reach that point. In PT we have for most of the time avoided any puzzles that require too much synchronization, as standing and waiting isn’t our idea of fun. And having to remake a recording just to see that you got it 0.5 seconds wrong is frustrating. We do have some places where this is important but to help we use out minimap which shows the position of all timelines and what actions they are performing and anything that happens in the gameworld. Knowing about the game world isn’t the game solving the puzzle is. So how the game core mechanic in Prometheus works is exactly what we have tried to avoid, being based on a single position/length forces it into these puzzles just like the Ratchet and Clank games did. Our game  is about solving the puzzle in your mind and once you know the solution it won’t take time to carry it out, but you will need to try 3-5 times before you figure it all out on most puzzles :). Btw I have to say congratulations to Prometheus on the Epimetheus part where they broke out of the Curser10 mold, that is the best part of the game for me. Still quite different (but very cool).

Chronotron is also a syncronization based game where you try to perform the actions in sync to make your clones work together from a common start point.The really cool part here is that you need to be able to get back to the start, which causes some interesting things. It is also quite different from the mentality of PT as we have mentioned above.

The problem we are having presenting PT  is that the main part of the game is in the players mind and we can’t show you what happens there, or how the play testers looks when they have a eureka moment. What we can, and will do is to make a extra gameplay movie focusing on how the game plays and try to show the difference between it and those other games more clearly. But in the end you probably need to play it to see what it is all about. However as we are a puzzle based game we have to be very careful with demos and pre-alphas so they don’t spoil the game for you afterwards so we will see what we can do about that in the long run.

We hope this post has helped you to grasp the differences between PT and other games out there a bit more. Else just ask and we will try to explain. And if this sounds interesting to you don’t hesitate to run over to greenlight and upvote us :)

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December 14, 2012

Time in Project Temporality

by Niklas Hansson

So for this week we want to talk to you about the concept of time in Project Temporality and how it all works. But first lets talk about how time is considered to work in the real world. This comes down to the question of what does time really mean ? The core concept of time is entropy, so as time moves forward the amount of energy and therefore matter in the universe will continually decrease. There is no theory or process known to man which can stop or reverse this entropy. The amount of matter in the universe is constantly decreasing since the big bang and in an absolute insane amount of time there will be no more matter left in the universe. This is what we call time, this constant decrease of energy in the universe until it reaches zero.

This is tied into the “Arrow of time” concept which means that time is an arrow that can only go in one direction as straight as a arrow until the end of the universe. This is probably the easiest time concept to understand for the laymen, time keeps going forward no matter what we do and we can’t stop it or change it. Except that in the world of Project Temporality we somehow have managed, or have we ? It can be thought of that going back in time does not reverse the direction of the arrow instead you go back to an earlier position along the arrows path and starts over from that position but the arrow still only goes in one direction. Of course all of this is highly theoretical, like the theory that at every possible moment of choice parallel universes are created for all of our choices and those going back into time to do another choice does not really change the universe you resides in but instead changes which universe you perceives. This creates a branching arrow instead where going forward new universes are spawned constantly like a tree is growing except there needs to be one universe for every choice every single person does.

So how does it work in Temporality ? Well we are definitely subscribing to the arrow of time principle where the whole universe can be seen as a series of actions moving along a single line following the arrow. When we rewind time you move backwards to an earlier point of that arrows path and inserts new actions. Those new actions changes and modifies the actions that existed earlier when time goes forward creating a new future which may be very similar but might also be completely different depending on what you changed. So you can never go back to the future or forward in time because at any given point in time the arrow is at a certain position and you can’t move ahead of it. When you jump backward you are basically reseting the arrow to an earlier position and the world moves on again from that position.

This is shown in the gameplay mechanics of Project Temporality. When you are in our Timeline mode you are observing the timeline by looking at what we world looked like at any point in time. While in this mode you are not changing anything you are only observing time. So when it looks like you are moving forward in time in reality you are only looking at a newer part of the timeline and you can never look beyond the position of the arrow. This means that because time has a start and a direction from that start it is really just another dimension added to the other three, and you can traverse it freely in this mode. From the timeline you have two different actions you can take, you can jump to a point in time or you can spawn a new clone at a point in time (also jumping to that point). If you jump to a point in time that point becomes the current time and all things further along the time line is discarded and is instead simulated again as time moves forward.

If you select to create a new clone the results are slightly different the arrow is still moved to that point and the worlds starts moving forward again along the direction of the arrow of time. However there will be two copies of you. One is the old you the one that existed before you created the new clone. That copy of you will try to perform exactly the same actions as you did in the future before rewinding time which means that if the world is unchanged it will perform the same actions. But if you change something ,for example moves a platform that the original you was supposed to land on he will now fall to his death and die. The new clone of you is what you are given control of from that point in time and for all practical purposes is you . This means that it isn’t really you who moves forward but a duplicate of you while the old you continues on repeating history.

Understanding time and how we use it is the core of playing Project Temporality, you have to wrap your mind around time as the fourth dimension and start thinking about what you could do if you had duplicated versions of yourself to help yourself. Of course the arrow of time has some limitations if you move forward and spawn a new clone and then move then rewind till before it is spawned and creates a new clone the other clone wont’ be spawned as you are not performing that action anymore. It’s not the clones that manipulate time it is you. Which will create some interesting dilemmas when you need to retrieve an item and can’t just let any clone do it.

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November 28, 2012

Pacing in Action/Puzzle games

by Niklas Hansson

So one very important issue for us in Project Temporality was the pacing, in this kind of games we feel it might completely make or break the game. Playing a game is supposed to be an enjoyable experience. But if you’re brain is working at the max all the time without having some time to relax a lot of people won’t enjoy it, it works well in games like chess but also see how many people plays chess compared to a computer game and still it has the competition factor that really helps it.

But if you struggle all the time it won’t be that fun in the long run, you need time to relax and feel smart, feel that you are improving and learning the game. Basically we want the player to feel that he is outwitting the game and to feel really good about that and also to have some time to relax and build up endurance for the next mind bending puzzle. For this discussion we will use three main examples that handles pacing very differently Portal,Braid and Q.U.B.E. I’m going to assume most people are familiar with portal and braid. Q.U.B.E is a first person action puzzle game to that centers around your ability to modify certain blocks in the wall to manipulate different elements in the game world, and how the game world and puzzles are changes almost completely between every section with the box extraction being it’s common denominator.

Portal first out is an brilliant example in pacing with a well set learning curve that lasts you through most of the game continually adding new things for the player to learn and explore keeping us on our toes while also keeping it all familiar due to it being built on the same game mechanic. What really makes it work for me is the puzzle time to relaxation time ratio. After every minde bending puzzle there is a section where you either explore the world and watch some interesting scenery or an interplay with GLADOS or often booth of these. There is no misstake how almost every map begins and ends with a GLADOS segment. This gives you a good time to relax and let your mind rest. It’s also filled with a ton of moments that forces you to use the portal gun to perform simple tasks which makes you feel smart and let you relax for the bigger puzzles.
Braid on the other side of pacing design. It consists of 6 worlds each introducing a slightly different time mechanic but all are still build around a similar core each world starts with 1-2 maps of really trivial puzzles exploring the mechanic but after that the puzzles get much harder sometimes requiring features of the game that you haven’t been informed of yet. Thankfully due to it’s non linear design you can move to a new map if you get stumped removing some of the pain. Most maps also consist of a couple of puzzles with some being trivial and some harder which allows you to move on and feel you make progress. And later then you learn or realize more about the games mechanic you can go back and pick off those unsolved puzzles one by one. And if you get stuck or bored you can just move to a new world get some easy puzzles out of way at the beginning and in that way your brain can relax for a while. While not as suitable as portal for really long play sessions in it’s own way braid’s pacing works out but it might also put you of from finishing the game.

Booth these games was quite different portal is much more story based and therefore couldn’t use the non linear pacing of Braid and braid having virtually no story (compared to portal) can’t really use interludes to break up pacing. The short texts at the begging and end of a world doesn’t break it up enough for that. But booth works in their own right, personally I feel portals pacing works better both in entertainment but also in puzzle progression but braid also works well.

The third game we have is Q.U.B.E that borrows elements from both of them. First out I have to say I don’t think that it’s a bad game in fact I enjoyed the part of it I played very much but the uneven pacing made me not finish the game in the end. Now as a developer I don’t have that much time playing games and even games I like often has to wait for weeks and months and I hope to get back to Q.U.B.E. The progression of puzzle difficulties is well thought out however it consists of puzzle after puzzle after puzzle with very little breaks the transport areas and small cutscenes simply does not give the mind the relaxation of the areas in portal (this might be partly down to there being no written story) also there are very few easy victories along the way once you get to the more complicated parts. But the deal breaker for me was that after the start of the sections I was often met with an entirely new game play mechanic that felt like it had no connection to the rest of the games except i extruded blocks from the walls to achieve it. I could be doing puzzles by bouncing balls to a laser based puzzle segment where i work with limited rotations to rotate the world. So every time I have worked out well how the game and gameplay worked a rug was dragged from under my feet and let me fall down and have to relearn everything from the start. While braids worlds worked differently they still felt familiar and similar here it feels like i was playing a new game and that was mentally exhausting.

For Temporality we want to be certain we hit the right sweet spot. Where the player gets challenging puzzles but that all feels doable and progresses and giving him nice breaks to rest his mind. Because we are more of a story game than a pure puzzler. We feel that it’s important to verify that the player always feels he are making progress on a puzzle and not just banging his head against the wall. So we have a 5 try rule a player should not need more than 5 tries to solve the puzzle and make headway the entire time. If the average player can’t solve the puzzle by then we are probably doing something wrong that stumps them. And after each puzzle we need a rewards area with perhaps story elements, reading some journals or enjoying some scenery. So that we don’t tire them out or make them feel that they are stumped. We also mix it up with puzzles that while not simple consists of familiar parts for the player that allows the player to solve them easily while feeling good about themselves for finding the way through out trickery.

We want the player to feel good about himself while playing our game. We also want to expand his range of thinking and see the world inside the game differently than how it looks, but not at the expense of stumping him. We want it booth ways and pacing is the tool to fullfill that. It’s gonna be a tough nut to crack but with enough Focus testing things should work out.

For the rest of the projects things are progressing well and we will have more info to share with you very soon.

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November 24, 2012

Weekly Update and puzzle solution

by Niklas Hansson

So it’s that time of the week again, Sadly we are a day late with this update but that happens. For today we are going to talk about what we have done the last week and of course the solution to the puzzle in the last post. It seems people overall wasn’t that interested in that compared to the amount of response we have gotten on other posts so we probably won’t do anything like that unless you tells us you want us to.

At the moment we are working very hard with creating 2 entirely new environments for the game, most of the material you see here is from our demo for this years Dream Build Play ( that sadly contained a weird last minute crash bug after around 10 minutes playtime on a single level due to being compiled with the wrong settings) Since then we have done a lot of work, we have updated our lightning model to use properly cosine weighted blurring for cubemaps (in laymen term this means that the blurriness of the reflection always correctly matches the blurriness of the specular highlight which basically makes it easier to make materials that looks real a basic thing about physically based shading (which incidentally will be a subject for further discussion at a later stage), Made various upgrades to our lightning function and how our material system handles specular and due to this we have had to go through every material in the game and tweak and adjust it. However with the exception for the God Rays Screens all the images we are showing this far is from the Xbox360 version of the Dream build Play demo.

This however is soon about to change this week we are putting the finishing touches on levels built in the new environments and during the next week or the week after that we will finally be able to share them which we are looking forward to because they are shaping out to be absolutely stunning. Besides that we are working in preparation for launching the game on steam green light so we are making sure we will have a ton of new and interesting material to share. Including a bunch of PC only features that will allow us to use the superior strength of the PC graphics card to improve the visual quality on a number of effects. We are also hard at work creating new devilish puzzles for the final stages of the game.

If you look at the image above and feel it seems familiar it’s because this is the room of this weeks puzzle question but seen from the players perspective this time so we promised you a puzzle solution last time so here we go. for ease of reference we readd the image.

You enter this room that is blocked in the middle by a big hole you have a closed door to the right. The middle of the room is cut off with a laser. High on the right side is a key to the exit .A clock is counting down a timer at the top of the screen.

You go and stand on the button that rotates the laser and rotate it until it hits the mirror.It now follows the dotted line. Now you have a path to walk around the hole, except that you are stuck because the reflected laser cuts of your current path so you can’t move past it. You have to rewind time then create a clone that manipulates the laser so that the real you is not trapped by the reflected laser.

After this you need to go forward and rotate the mirror so that it won’t block the path to the exit. If you do it like this and then run for the key, time will run out so you rewind time till the point the laser hits the mirror and starts a new time line that will run for the key while the other time-line rotates the mirror so that you can pass out before the door closes permanently due to failing the time limit.

You could add to this puzzle by making the last room not a key to collect but a button that needs to be pressed then you would need to manage more time lines. But due to time points(the points that allows you to manipulate time) concerns that would have made the level impossible. The puzzles in project Temporality is often full level puzzles where you have to find not only a solution but an efficient solution for every puzzle to have enough time points left to manage through the entire puzzle. Sometimes the obvious solution uses too much time points and an alternative needs to be found.

Working with multiple time lines like this and cooperating with yourself to solve problems are the basis of the game-play in Project Temporality.

We hope to have a lot more to share with you during the coming weeks.

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November 20, 2012

A simple puzzle in ProjectTemporality

by Niklas Hansson

So for this midweek post (not sure if we will be able to keep it up with two posts a week but hey we can try at least) we want to look again more to the game play of Project Temporality in the coming weeks we will talk about some of the core ideas and concepts that formed TP, we will also talk about our design philosophies and what we think will make a game fun, why pacing is so important to a game like PT and what we are doing to making it perfect.

But before all of that we just wanted to try to paint a clearer image in your mind about what PT is all about, it is kind of a hard game to explain in a way that allows people to really grasp it. Unless you actually play some levels it might look a lot simpler than it actually is. A big part of the basic idea of Project Temporality is freedom since you can manipulate time in a very flexible time different people will find different solutions to the problems with different usage of your time points. To make a simple analogy if you played the two portal games in the first portal game almost all walls where portal able surfaces which meant there was a lot of different ways to traverse the maps you had freedom in how you selected to solve the puzzles however in portal 2 the amount of surface you could place a portal on was often very limited which meant a lot of puzzles just involved finding portal-able surfaces first and then you could quickly figure out what to do. For me that felt boxed in I was walking through the steps someone else placed before me instead of finding my own way and my own solutions (btw I do love Portal 2 too of course). Thats the feeling we want to capture with Project Temporality it’s your world and your solutions we just create the puzzles. And during our focus testing it has happened quite a lot of times that testers solved a puzzle in a way we haven’t imagined.

Of course not all puzzles are like that, especially not since we showed you the solution. Which is why that first time experience is such a important part of the game and it is also the reason we don’t want to show of to many puzzles or to much about them here because then you will loose that wonderful step of discovering the world and how to manipulate it by yourself. However we want to show something here.

This is an top down image from the first puzzle involving lasers and mirrors. We have marked the entrance and the exit to the room for you we have also marked a key in the upper right room that needs to be collected and carried to the door by the exit to open it. We have a laser that shoots a beam that you can’t pass through and a mirror that would reflect the laser if hit (like with the doted lines) the two buttons rotate the laser clockwise or the mirror counter clockwise but only while you are standing on them. If the laser hits you it pushes you away and might push you down the hole. If that happens you die.

So what we’ll do is that you post your ideas for how you would solve the puzzle (using what you know about Project Temporalitys Game Play) and then in a day or so we post how we would have done it and how the mechanics to solve it works in PT. Remember that a good puzzle is trivial once you know the solutions so we believe it will be more fun for everyone involved this way,

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