When people first come into the game design major, they have huge misconceptions as to what the job involves. Usually, they involve some form of “I want to write game stories”, or “I want to tell people what the game should be” and, most dangerously of all, “I just come up with the ideas”. Eventually, people in the major realize that the role of designer is not to come up with concepts, but to make them happen. This disconnect, and the uncomfortable attempt to cross it, caused about half of the game designers in my year to drop, fail, or switch majors. So, being a game designer in my senior year, you’d think I’d have learned this by now, right?
Well, apparently I’m still learning. And that’s why I have to say goodbye to Daisy.
Daisy was a concept for a horror-stealth game, where the player had to use the computer network in a building in order to unlock doors and use other networked devices in order to evade a robot patrolling the building. The robot was also able to sense certain actions the player made on the network, giving it a general clue as to where to find the player.
A visual design document of the networking game play in Daisy
I was really invested in the idea, largely because the idea of being hunted was taken from Alien: Isolation, a game that I really enjoyed. In it, the player needed to avoid a xenomorph that was a constant threat, using a motion detector to keep track of its approximate location, and using crafted devices in order to distract it. What really made it unique, however, was the way the AI was handled: instead of largely scripted seeking behaviors, the alien was dropped in an area, and handled all the pursuing of the player itself, resulting in it taking different actions every time the game was played. I was really impressed by this feat and wanted a game that operated on the same principles, something that took Creative Assembly one hundred people and four years to complete. And how many people were on my team?
A game play trailer for Alien: Isolation
Four. See the problem?
I knew that Daisy was always going to be risky, but I didn’t truly understand the scope of what I wanted until I presented the idea to one of my professors, John Boyd. I met with him to review my documentation for the then four ideas my team had, my team’s programmer and artist also being present. When we got to Daisy, he said he liked the idea, but that it was too out-of-scope.
“The AI is the biggest problem here,” Boyd said. “That alone could take a team of one hundred people three years” (again, not very far off). He had concerns with the art as well, since this was going to be a first-person game. “The animation is going to be huge, as well as getting a bunch of modular assets that need diffuse, normal mapped, and spec mapped as well.” Given the looks I was getting from my teammates, I had a good feeling this idea was already dead.
Over the past few months, I had repeatedly tried to rationalize and mitigate the scope, attempting to justify making it. We could just make everything low-poly the first semester. We could do as much research on goal-oriented AI; Alien: Isolation used that, right? Tyler could just focus on that, and I could implement the mechanics and handle scripting my levels. I’m taking an AI class in the fall; I could totally pitch in with it! But after the talk with Boyd, the real scope of the game was laid out in front of us, and the response from my teammates was clear: we just can’t feasably do this.
So at the next team meeting two days later, I brought it up: let’s just axe Daisy. I didn’t like it, but I knew it was the smart move; again, being a designer isn’t about creating concepts, but making them happen, and my team needed me to be a good designer. It was quickly agreed upon, and we had narrowed our ideas down to three.
Our current ideas are much more in scope right now, and I think we’re going to be deciding on the one that’s the smallest. I’m hanging on to the idea of Daisy, though: maybe it’d make a good portfolio piece? I wouldn’t need to worry about art assets then, and maybe I could scale it down, or just focus on getting the AI working in my programming classes.
Or maybe I’m just rationalizing again. I need to stop doing that.