GAME CONCEPT

Bonnie & Clyde if they were vampires in a 2-player co-op third person action-adventure game where they use their licks to interact with elements between them.

 

Excluded from demons and enemies of the humanity, they dropped out the society to defend their love and live as they want.

PROJECT BREAKDOWN

  • 2 complete weeks (40 hours/week)
  • Unreal Engine 4
  • Focus on creating innovative co-op gameplay and an experience shaping the gameplay
  • Scripting of enemies and events
  • Marketplace assets/plugins used:
    • FX Variety Pack
    • Unreal’s Third Person Template
    • Supergrid
    • Blocking Starter Pack

“Vampires co-op” is a game concept I had in mind for a while so I wanted to prototype it.
I especially love co-op games and I think there’s still a lot to explore upon this genre.

 

My objective was to make a prototype that
proofs the fun of the concept through 2 phases :

1) Gameplay: 3Cs, core features and co-operation

2) Level-Design: few workshops to add tutorial
and some storytelling

Making a level-design can sound a bit surprising considering my game design profile, but
in the case of this exercise I thought it was particularly important to present since
a 2-player co-op game like It Takes Two is focused a lot on its situations variety.

1) Gameplay

Estimated Duration: 40 hours
Time Spent: 39 hours

   Pre-Prod

It had been 3 years I didn’t use UE before this prototype. I gave myself a limit of 40 hours to make sure I focus on the essential and to see wat I could do during a “standard” week in a game company. This doesn’t includes coffee breaks though

 

My inspirations:

  • A Way Out (Camera, Character, staging, storytelling for 2 players)
  • Fable for Two (Co-operative mechanics, Gameplay)
  • Naruto Storm (Easy to play, Action gameplay)


I had a clear vision of the project in mind but I really needed to prototype to see if the gameplay works. I knew both players will send each other’s lick to attack any enemy on their path. The tongue would automatically go from a player to the other one, and if they succeed enough licks within the right timing then they will make a special combo attack.


The use of the camera was still very blurry to me : I wanted a third person-camera like in A Way Out to feel closer to the characters, and at the same time I wanted something that is readable and that works with the lick mechanic.

Core Gameplay

 

The core gameplay main goal is to set up various cooperative loops
which imply cohesion, communication and complementarity
to defeat obstacles and dangers.

 Character/Controller/Camera

I used the Third Person Camera template and tweaked some values. I had in mind a game with a pretty nervous pace and with a design focused on positionning and timing.

  • Character: faster movements, less inertia, removed the Jump mechanic.
  • Camera: I put it a bit further from the Character. I wanted to keep something close to the characters for the storytelling, and also further enough to understand what’s happening around the characters since it’s an action game. Vertical split screen requires space to understand the environment. A Way OutIt Takes Two are great references for that, they’re always readable and pleasant to play.
  • Controller: I kept something very simple. Co-operative games are often more enjoyable when they are easy to play since 2 players can have a totally different player profile.

Overall thanks to the template I didn’t spend lots of time on the 3Cs and it’s the result is okay. They are a bit rough but they fit well with the game’s intentions.

   Licks

This is the core mechanic: characters can quickly lick each other. It goes from a character to the other automatically and it interacts with anything between them. When a player does a lick attack, they have a little moment before the other one can chain a lick behind. Otherwise the tongue comes back to their character. The more they chain theirs licks: the faster they are for destroying enemies or interacting with objects.

This was the trickiest thing to make. I had to find the right way to make it, and find the right signs & feedback to help the players. I first started to work with Splines but I couldn’t have a dynamic tongue easily, so after a few hours without progressing I found the cable component, and it fitted much more to my needs. Through quick iterations I noticed that it would be hard to have what I wanted.

I expected a movement from the left to the right which would take a bit more time to reach the other player, and which would feel more powerful and more like a snake or like Venom’s tongue. Knowing that I couldn’t have this I aimed for a more nervous pace with the tongue showing up directly and I added feedback like the little FX when the characters attack. It could be better but dealing with the time made me try to find creative ways to overcome problems and that was a nice challenge.

   Perfect Combo

After a number of successful chained attacks before their tongue come back to their owners, characters will automatically trigger a combo attack that makes lots of damages to enemies on their way. It pushes players to succeed their combo and coordinate it against the enemies.

The perfect combo is triggered after 8 successful licks chained, but I only realized later that it lacks feedback to know how far is the current combo.

   Dash

Since the challenges are mostly about positionning and timing, a Dash feature became quickly important. It gives players a way to escape quickly from enemies and a way to give more mobility when players want to align in order to attack.

This feature was pretty classic to make. Adding an FX feedback would have been nice though.

Approching player
Takes damages
Charging attack
Destroyed

   AI Design

For the AI I really focused on the most important : a cube which makes a simple dash attack towards a player and a simple distance detection to reach the closest player to the enemy. With this behaviour it was already possible to make several combat arenas.

 

Then I focused on signs & feedback:

  • The enemy becomes black and scales up when they are close to a player character. Once they are fully charged they make a dash attack towards the character.
  • Enemy becomes red when they take damages.

 

Finally, some gamefeel. Bounces, scales, and particle FX: I made something simple as fastest as possible to have a sense of fun when players destroy them.

   Staging

When both characters finish all the enemies, they can trigger a special cinematic by pressing their trigger button at the same time. I think that split screen cinematics are pretty powerful when it comes to involve 2 characters cooperating, and it was important for me to show that through for the several reasons :

 

  • The actual gameplay lacks simultaneous cooperative actions so it pushes the players to do the traditional “3,2,1…Go!” which brings more communication
  • The reward is pretty juicy and fits well with the action aspect of the game.
  • It also fits with the cinematic and story aspect of the concept

 

I spent around 3 to 4 hours making it. I tried to keep it really short and I made it at the end.

2 Player Co-operation

 

Finally, let’s have a little reminder at the co-op design typology and
let’s see how our mechanics can belong to these categories:

Synchronous
co-op actions

 

Licks position
Synchronized navigation
to have the best line attack over enemies

Ultimate co-op attack
Press the trigger button at the same time

Asynchronous
co-op actions

 

Lick Perfect Combo
Cooperative timing in order to trigger the Perfect Combo: it makes more damages and takes advantage over enemies

Co-operative
Progression

 

Multitasking
To achieve multiple tasks, players have to communicate, separate, gather and be organized in order to solve situations

Puzzle solving
Players think and communicate in order to solve puzzle situations

2) Level-Design

Estimated Duration: 40 hours
Time Spent: 37 hours

Overview

Level Flowchart

1. Waking up
4. Leaving Underground
7. Demon Boss
2. First Sealed Doors
5. Second Sealed Doors
8. Ending reward cinematic
3. First enemies
6. Elevator to the tower roof

The Challenge

The goal was focused on the co-op workshops quality.

I believe the key to a good co-op is to make them communicating,
and for that the workshops have to keep the interest of the players
through symetric and asymetric game situations.

With this in mind, I mostly focused on how both players will use
their mechanics
in a fun and co-operative way.
Overall it may be not a very holistic LD, as I really wanted
to focus on the co-op gameplay which is pretty unique.

Pre-Prod

Graphic references

I started gathering references pretty early in order to have an idea of where I was going. It helped me shaping a consistent experience regarding the level’s pace.

 

Brainstorming

As early as possible I iterated on the workshops and drew the level on paper: it was pretty rough but it gave me a first blockout.

Next part was to work in the engine and progress workshop by workshop.

Game Structure

•-•-•-•-•-•-•

It’s basically an adventure-bossfight structure. At the beginning of the game, it’s said that the two characters betrayed the demon society so they got cursed. They have to beat up 7 specific forbidden demons in order to gain their freedom.

The number of forbidden demons beat is shown on the vampires’ coffins. This prototype starts with the first boss to fight.

Storytelling

a) Waking up

It starts in a subway where the two vampires hide themselves in their own coffins. I wanted the players to feel cramped in this dark and narrowed underground. It’s also a way to start discovering characters’ movements until they join each other at the first sealed doors.

c) Clearing the way

Discovery of the park, pretty ravaged by the fights between humans and demons.

b) Leaving underground

Here the idea is to contrast with the very tight and dark beginning of the level.

It can also be a moment for a dialogue between the characters when they discover the huge tower they have to go to.

I took inspiration from my trip to Washington DC this summer. When I arrived at the train station, I could see the Capitol between trees and I just had to follow this way to it.

d) Boss defeated

Final reward cinematic for the players when they beat the boss on the tower roof. Ideally, just behind there would be a cinematic to show on the coffin that the first boss got defeated.

Workshops

a) Sealed Doors – Inside

When the characters see each other for the first time, they have to break the demonic doors sealed by the demons in order to join each other. That’s where they learn the licks mechanic.

Blue player character breaks blue doors, red player character breaks red doors.

c) Sealed Doors – Outside

This time the sealed doors have numbers: they have to be activated in a specific order (from 1 to 8).

It’s a way to learn how to do a perfect combo (8 quick licks sends).

b) Combat – Inside

After joining each other, they cross a corridor and hear some demons making some noises.

They have to fight the demons in order to open the next sealed door. This fight is meant to be pretty easy in order to experiment with the lick mechanic. The demons are spread around the room, it’s up to the players to circle them and beat them up.

d) Combat – Outside

This fight is more challengeful and asks players to be pretty mobile.
Also, the boss is only beatable with a perfect combo to force players practicing it.

Post-Mortem

What went well 😁

 

  • 3Cs let me think there are nice opportunities with this mechanic that feels very unique with this camera
  • Workshops are fine tutorials to learn licks mechanic
  • I haven’t used UE for 3 years before this prototype and I quickly found my habits again

What went wrong 🤨

 

  • Licks mechanic could have clearer signs & feedback (for example: a sphere going from the sender to the receiver) and also a deeper design (tighter timing mechanic)
  • Outside part of the LD feels a bit rigid and empty: it needs more inspiration from real architecture

What could be better 🛠️

 

  • The LD in the park looks falsely opened and could propose a better workshop using the space of the zone
  • Enemies visuals could have been a bit clearer
  • Vampires are not suppposed to be able to deal with the daylight… haha

3C Rework

 

Through the exercise, I noticed several flaws when I playtested it with another players.
This lead me to think the gameplay differently, here’s my analysis and the solutions.

 Shared-screen camera instead of split-screen

I used 

   Gameplay depth

This is the core mechanic: charact