A sombre walk towards the precipice
My project is a First-Person, experiential game titled ‘Sunrise’, which aims to answer the following research question: “How can I most effectively utilize environmental design in an Openworld setting, to best create a vessel on which various player experiences can be played out in?”
‘Sunrise’ began originally as an exploration of the importance of environment design as a means of conveying story in games (environmental storytelling). Later I switched to exploring the more overarching question above, concerning the general nature of open world game design, as it aligned more closely with my personal interests in gaming. This allowed me to generate a more complete picture of just how much effort and planning is required to produce a fully fleshed out open-world game.
‘Sunrise’ is a First-Person game in the “Walking Sim” genre that uses the assets of its environment to create a contemplative or meditative atmosphere. The player explores the environment to discover its mysterious denizens, and follow the path left by ‘those who came before’ in order to discover the relevance of the island and “what” the island actually represents.
At the beginning of the year, we were shown the power of Unreal Engine 4 (UE4) when used in conjunction with the expansive library of Megascanned assets available for free (through the epic games launcher). This was the reason behind my choice to attempt the creation of my capstone using UE4, despite having no prior experience with the engine. This learning curve as part of the development of ‘Sunrise’ forced a large amount of personal growth in my approach to “how to do things” when it comes to game design. Those research skills are some of the most valuable take-aways from the creation of this project.
The initial plan for Sunrise was, as you might expect, much more ambitious than the final product you can see and play. My initial intention was to have the entirety of the Island as playable space for the player to wander and experience, with variations in the biomes of the temperate vegetation, rock formations, elevations etc. The intention was to create unique feeling spaces to hide collectable items in and around, each with flavour texts left behind (within the game canon) by former wanderers of the island. These flavour texts would explain their thoughts and musings as they themselves explored the island and attempted to figure out its significance, and the significance of the spectral figures that inhabit the island.
About 20% of the island landmass is playable terrain, and there is one major biome. The collectible system was also simplified into a “pick up/ put down” note system that conveyed the original idea of story exposition, but through the fictional writing of just one character. These notes are found scattered along the mountain path that starts at the player spawn, and snakes its way up the entirety of the mountainside, to the monument where the game ends, near the summit.
The design elements were mostly used to create a sombre atmosphere to complement the subject matter of the notes, and the eventual discovery of what the significance of the island actually is.