Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tenebrous - Calling All Gamers!

As you may know, I'm currently working on a game for my dissertation. This post will tell you a bit about the game, what I hope to learn from it, and how you can help!

Game Overview

The game is called Tenebrous, and is a top-down action/horror game in which you must reach a safe haven before running out of magical light. The darkness itself is your enemy - your light drains naturally over time, and is drained much more quickly if you come into contact with monsters or miasma, a purple substance created by said monsters. To aid you in your quest, you have four light-based powers:

  • Sneak - dim your light and move slowly to sneak past monsters (they only target you if they are within your light range). Be cautious - moving more slowly means your light is drained more to get the same distance!
  • Boost - expel some of your light behind you to move forward at a brisk pace.
  • Flare - charge up and then release a brilliant flare, stunning nearby enemies and revealing the surrounding terrain briefly. Uses a large amount of light to activate.
  • Distract - drop a gem filled with your light. Enemies will prioritise this gem and ignore you while it is there. However, it will slowly lose the light that was given to it, eventually disappearing. The good news is, you can pick it back up to regain some of you light if you are quick!
Armed with these abilities, you must navigate a twisting, procedurally generated forest filled with swampy ground that slows you and malevolent miasma which drains your light as you pass through. You will be attacked by three different types of monster: The pulsar, a stationary creature which sends out a pulse and pulls you in towards it, dealing damage to you as you touch it; The bomb, moving slowly towards you and exploding as it gets close; and the hopper, a fast moving creature that must stop to re-orient itself before continuing pursuit.

Research Goal

What is the point of all this? Why is it worthy of a dissertation? The project and research subject was inspired by Left for Dead and Warframe - both games with procedurally generated gameplay experiences, in which enemies are spawned in based on the current intensity of gameplay. This is a very interesting idea because it means that player experiences can be crafted to match the quality of pacing achieved in hand-scripted levels, but in endless, procedural levels. 

Rather than attempting to recreate exactly what Valve and Digital Extremes had already done in Left for Dead and Warframe, I decided to view this concept through the lens of my previous career in engineering. The intensity the player experiences via the game's pacing can be thought of as an output from a controller, and the input is the threats the game creates for the player to interact with. The controller's job is to judge what quantity of threat to provide to achieve a target intensity.

To that end, I have created a PID (proportional integral differential) controller which keeps track of the intensity the player is experiencing (based on their actions, movements, damage taken, enemies targeting them, etc), the target intensity (this would be controlled and tuned by a designer, a very simple model has been chosen for this project), and from these generates a target threat output and spawns enemies to meet that threat output.

TLDR: The project spawns enemies based on the amount of action the player is experiencing, with the goal of making a well-paced game procedurally.

How You Can Help

In order to measure how well this project succeeded, I need people to play the game and send me their logs! There will also be a short survey once you complete the game. The gameplay is not designed for long play - I expect there to be roughly 5 minutes of gameplay followed by 5 minutes of survey. Combined with downloading the game and uploading your log, I expect it should only take around 15 minutes of your time total. I'd really appreciate the help, and when the game is released, you can have your name in the credits!

If you are interested in testing, please send me an email at I'll be contacting everyone on my list on Monday 9th of October with details on how to download the game and how to send me your logs.

Thank you so much for your help!

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