Shields are active. Right now it’s just preventing damage but the plan is that it actually deflects enemy bullets and sends them back at enemies with a damage boost.
We’ll see how it goes.
We also have a pink fleshy background.
That’s cool too.
Infection is in. We have a group of initially infected enemies lined up across the top who start in a dormant state but, when encountered by the player, will jump to activity. I’ve implemented a Finite State Machine to control the enemy cell states, of which there are currently 3 (Dormant, Searching, Chasing). If they lose the player, they will enter a searching state in which they will search out nearby neutral cells to infect.
We’ve additionally managed to get a basic UI design going. The original idea for representing gene values was to give the entire game screen the appearance of looking through a microscope, and use the black areas in the corners to store gene value data. The bars here are simply placeholders. The blue UI elements surrounding the player will represent the health, as soon as it’s implemented.
Our wonderful lead programmer Iain has put in some basic movement and a laser. If you look closely you should also be able to see a placeholder animation I’ve put on the enemy blendshapes.
Not sure if we’ll keep the animation in, as it might detract from the silhouette method of telling enemies apart. Movement feels nice and responsive though.
THE PROJECT LIVES ON. What was once simply another generic zombie game has, over the course of the past week, undergone an almost complete transformation in aesthetic. The criticism received regarding an inability to show the player how viral strains were affecting zombies has resulted in a heavy simplification in both visual and mechanic design for the game. What was previously considered (realistically) to be hideously out of scope – mainly for our humble art team – is now not only within reach, but has gone through a focused design phase in which the team (with our newly obtained designer) has actually managed to iron out some of vaguer mechanics of the game. Allow me to explain.
Strain has gone through a complete aesthetic overhaul. Instead of taking place in a zombie apocalypse, the game now takes place inside the human body. Instead of taking the role of a nameless survivor and fighting off hordes of infected humans, the player controls a nano-machine charged with destroying infected cells and harvesting their nuclei. Instead of a boring old survival game there are now planned out levels and scenarios. And instead of the virus evolving over time… actually it still does that. The core mechanic – that exponential virus spread and evolution – is still there. It’s our hope that, thanks to the new aesthetic and additional gameplay mechanics, this evolution can be more effectively guided by our designer and communicated to the player.
First, we cemented what the genes would be and how they would affect enemies. We’ve decided upon a 4-gene chromosome (for every unit) that essentially determine the following things: speed, health, damage, and range. Now the “range” label is a bit of a misnomer. Range doesn’t really indicate how far the unit can shoot, moreover it will determine if a unit is or isn’t ranged and if it is and, when above a certain value, what its fire rate will be. That’s right. We are planning on having ranged enemies. This change, while it may not seem significant, is profoundly so for a game that previously featured zombies whose only method of attack was by melee. These 4 gene values, beyond simply determining how the enemies will behave, will also use blend shapes to show how much an impact each gene has. The player will be able to see the virus cells get meaner, larger, spikier, sleeker, or start to grow tails as they progress naturally down various evolutionary paths.
Next we came up with ways for the genes to have an impact on the player. When the player destroys infected cells, they drop their nucleus which can then be collected by the player. Collected nuclei charge up the player’s 4 bars (corresponding to each infection gene) each of which has passive effects on the player’s nano-machine. You are given increased health, fire rate, move speed, and damage based off the contained gene values. When a value reaches a specified value the player can activate that gene, allowing temporary use of a special ability. For health, the special ability is a shield that deflects incoming attacks. For range it’s a continuous laser beam. For speed they get a shielded charge that thrusts them forwards while damaging cells in their way. For damage they get a gravity bomb that, after a short charge time, is released and progresses slowly, drawing infected cells in and destroying them in the center. The down side to activating any of these genes is that once you do, you’ve expended that gene and thus lost the passive bonus that it was previously granting.
Alright I think that’s it for now. Iain is giving me dirty looks for spending the morning writing this up instead of programming. Next time I discuss the plan regarding different level archetypes and how choosing them alongside the initial virus strain can impact each level’s difficulty.
To enter upon.
To give impulse.
To plunge into.
To set in motion.
To spend too much time looking at thesaurus.com. Ok so Strain is the game that I’ve had in the back of my mind for at least the past 2 years. Maybe 3. It’s hard to remember when a concept first entered your head. The original idea was a twin stick, top-down shooter featuring zombies. Pretty boring, right?
Wrong. What Strain was to do differently was use the fact that you were fighting zombies specifically in a way that makes the game fun, interesting, compelling, and different every time you play. How does it do this? Well, let me answer that by telling you a bit about myself.
I love me some algorithms. Always have. Back at Monash I got the top mark in my semester when I did Algorithmic Problem Solving. My favorite subjects tended to be where the theoretical collided with the practical. Subjects like Computational Science where we applied the theory to build scientific models. These models fascinated me to no end. I always thought (and still do) that there’s an unending amount of information out there yet to be discovered through the magic of scientific modelling.
Of course it was obvious that any game I come up with would be informed by this outlook. And so we have Strain, the zombie game that attempts to simulate a zombie apocalypse in real-time from the very start of the outbreak. Starting at patient zero, the virus would spread through the population of susceptible humans until the player decides they want to start playing, at which point they can jump into the simulation and start blasting zombies.
In addition to this, each zombie strain of the virus would be unique to the zombie, containing values that affects zombie stats that are passed on through bites, similar to a Genetic Algorithm. I say ‘similar to’ when what I actually mean is ‘identical to’. The idea is that the entire game is one enormous genetic algorithm, where the gameplay element itself is the fitness function. The theory is that statistically and over time better zombies will have a higher likelihood of passing on their strain of the virus, be it through higher running speed, higher viral infectivity, resilience to bullets, etc. than worse zombies. As the simulation continues (both before the player character enters the game and after) the average zombie will get harder and harder, naturally creating a difficulty curve.
Now this is a basic look at Strain as it stands. There are additional mechanics (that I may go into in a future post) that deal with recruiting human NPC’s, or infecting yourself with the zombie virus intentionally to gain the stat benefits of it, but the core idea is the genetic algorithm. Thursday we had our industry pitches (which we apparently just scraped through) and this weekend I had my very first game jam, which has been good at taking my mind off the inevitable meeting with the teachers in which we discuss the direction and scope of the game.
We’ve thrown around the idea of changing the aesthetic to a cellular infection inside the human body where you play as a nanomachine, which is a concept I’m actually quite partial to. I guess Wednesday will likely be the day we hash out the new direction of Strain, and I find out just how far from my original vision it needs to be taken.