Refining Geographically

February 2, 2018

The next Sleuthhounds game is of sufficient size that it’s tricky even just figuring out where to begin in breaking it down into reasonably sized chunks. The result is that I’m approaching the game design from multiple different angles. One such angle is the geography of the game environment.

Being set on a cruise liner, the benefit with this game is that I can do research on real cruise liners to get a sense of the types of areas they contain. Obviously a cruise ship is going to contain cabins for its passengers but beyond that are all the amenities that such a ship offers for dining and entertainment. In tackling the game design from this angle I started by compiling a list of locations – a dining room, a theatre, a casino, various shops, a swimming pool, and so on – that might have possibilities for interesting gameplay. The list I came up with is only a first draft list. It’s entirely possible that as the game design continues to evolve some locations I chose will fall away and/or other locations will be brought in.

While choosing locations for the initial list, several of them immediately suggested ideas for other parts of the game design. Some of these ideas were for puzzles, some for story or character developments, and some just for fun little animated sequences that could be incorporated. When developing a creative project with the nature of a game it’s useful to generate as many ideas as possible early on. You can never have too many ideas, and even if you did that’s still a better state than having too few.

[A rough sketch of one of the decks of the cruise ship.]
A rough sketch of one of the decks of the cruise ship.

After compiling the initial list of locations I turned to pencil and paper to start sketching out floor plans for the various decks of the ship. I wanted to get a sense of how all the locations were connected spatially. In the list I had prepared I had neglected to include anything for connecting hallways. Of course, once I started sketching the rooms on a floor plan the hallways, which will be locations in their own right in the game, immediately became apparent.

Here again more ideas for puzzles and story developments and the like emerged. Seeing, for example, where passengers’ cabins were in relation to one another inspired ideas for several encounters that could happen between those characters if they bumped into each other on their ways to or from their cabins. Or take the cases of the dining room and the theatre, which I decided would be big enough spaces as to span two decks of the ship. Having these rooms as alternative ways to move up and down suggested sequences where the player might have to avoid being seen by one of the suspects or possibly having to go an alternate route to head off a fleeing suspect.

[A couple of rough room designs.]

[A couple of rough room designs.]
A couple of rough room designs.
Click to view larger.

The previous games in the Sleuthhounds series have not had a lot of locations in them. This is significant as it means that I didn’t have to deal with the issue of accessibility in those games. With significantly more locations in this game the issue arises of how accessible one room is from another. Put another way, how far does a player have to travel to get from the two farthest rooms apart?

This is a difficult question to answer when you just have floor plans sketched out. Various factors like the size of rooms and the different access points between floors come into play. To start analyzing the accessibility of the different rooms I’ve quickly drawn up thumbnail sketches for all the rooms and have implemented them into a skeletal version of the game. And by skeletal I mean skeletal as right now that’s all you can do in the game: walk from one room to another.

It’s still a little difficult to gauge the accessibility. Without actual gameplay implemented I don’t yet know what obstacles, other than geographic ones, might lay in the player’s path. However, at this point most of the ship seems reasonable to get around. There are a couple specific locations that have particular layout requirements that need addressing in terms of accessibility. For example, the cruise ship has a central stairwell that goes vertically through four decks. As it currently stands, I have that as a single vertical location, which gives it a nice sense of scale; however, it does require a lot of walking to go from the top to the bottom. I’m toying with the idea of having an elevator there as well and possibly that can solve the issue of how long it takes to move from the top to the bottom.

Reaching the point of having these thumbnail sketched versions of rooms already in the game has been a good exercise to go through. It’s suggested a bunch of ideas for other parts of the design, highlighted a few movement issues that will be better dealt with earlier than later, and, best of all, it gives me something playable that I can use as a starting point for implementing other parts of the game. On the topic of other parts of the game, come back next week when I go into another method I’m using to help design the game.