Final Change Log
April 29 Part 2, Final Statements
The idea for this project came from thinking about how empty the original tanks tutorial felt - which didn't seem so much a problem with that game, but rather its role within the shooter genre itself. I found myself asking; who are these tanks? Why are they shooting each other? In what would be a remake of the original prototype I submitted for class, this final version became a corny, cheesy, Western-esque approach to character development that substituted one empty backstory for another. One of the reasons I love Western as influence for this critique is the way that this film genre showed increasing chronological self awareness. Movements like the Revisionist Western exhibited reflection towards earlier, problematic, depictions of good vs. evil / us vs. them dualism in the Western's "golden age."
Ultimately, I hoped here to keep the empty, cold feeling of the original prototype while enhancing its affective appeal.
The idea for this game came from thinking about "tank" as an ethical being both in this game world and in our real world; are tanks doomed to be violent? Could a tank ever make something beautiful? The two player gameplay of the original, which was intended to be competitive through design, is here intended - but ultimately "fails" due to the clumsiness of the dancers - to be something more romantic. In a sort of TANKS! of Theseus, the player is left wondering wherein the violence of a tank lies. Does taking it out of the battlefield make it less battle prone?
In my playtesting with friends and colleagues, this game has by far been everyone's favorite. I'm not sure if it is the music, the humor, or both, but it is mine as well - and I think these two respective design device avenues are ones I would like to pursue further.
The last of my projects but among the first of my inspirations, I created this work while reflecting on violence in media, games, and culture with particular concern for its relationship to children. The cutesy art style of the original game combined with these troubles left me wondering what it would be like to take the original's third person perspective and give its "viewer" an identity. Now, I am asking the player to both embody a child and someone more like a parent as their understanding of war as subtext is challenged.
It was interesting to me that one play tester commented, "look at this first person shooter!". The association between these two genres hadn't for whatever reason clicked to me, but the reflective implication is one that is appealing.
Now with a completed final series of games, I am able to say that I am proud with how Tanks: The Untold Stories has turned out. Along the way I have learned a ridiculous amount about Unity and myself as a designer, which I feel will be invaluable abilities going forward with my thesis work. I have also been able to practice using GitHub as a method of project documentation, and while I feel I can improve in my rigor, it has certainly been a useful exercise in getting my thoughts onto the paper (so to speak!).
April 29 Part 1, Summary of Changes
Rehauled the original game almost completely. Kept the randomizing script to change dialogue, but took Pippin's original suggestion of adding more tank comments and emphasized it by having several comic style "panels" of talking. Now rather than three camera views at any time as in the original there are six frames (all rendered real time). Small sounds also play when something interactable has been clicked.
Experimented (and didn't keep) a small exterior shot of the theatre as an introscreen/tutorial (but this was added into the game trailer). Also experimented with tanks playing their own ballets but due to (poor) project structure I wasn't able to make this happen. Instead, I focused on Pippin's ending suggestion and used the exit door as a final coup-de-grace for the game's cynicism towards the performance. Also included select color, and tweaked floor spotlights to look more natural.
Worked to make the child's arm less robotic through autoplay. Also played with shaders to help make the room look even more uncomfortably clean. Changed the TV display so as to turn on when approached and off when left alone. Fixed lots and lots of bad collision from the first prototype.
Game Menu - added this in! It has an ambient reconstruction of the original game's song; converted first to a nightmare midi file that I cleaned and warped by hand.
Trailer - resused, unused assets I'd made where the "stories" of the tanks are shown in various items that match the levels; a comic for chapter 1, a flyer for chapter 2, and a child's book for chapter 3.
I have made a "to do" list here, which I will reflect in my writing notes as well. The largest thing that I have done this week is to get a front loading screen for the piano tanks; the inspiration had come from those dramatic spongebob stills, strangely enough.
Today I had a full work session on reworking the lights and camera prototype, which I feel was my weakest of the three given how I had only just been starting to learn unity at the time. The inspiration for this new alteration came when watching (binging) the Netflix show iZombie, which has these great comic book intro cards before every episode. Not only are comics an excellent way of storytelling through camera frames, but I felt setting up a small series of vignettes could help to tell some of the story that was missing from the last game. I've got the first two frames set up which tell the obligatory tragic backstory to the final confrontation of our hero; an ending that I haven't completely settled on, but one that I want to be interactive with for sure.
March 19 Log 2 - Final thoughts
Overall I am happy with the work as a short reflective experiment, and feel it's in line with the general scope of the other projects made so far. There are some definite technical things I'm seeking to polish before the final submission (namely the kind of strange animations and perspectives...), but for more dramatic things I'll be looking to do some playtesting first and see what people think. I'm curious if people feel the discomfort I was aiming for, and if the juxtaposition I was trying to create between the carefree childhood elements and serious/upsetting broadcast violence works.
March 19 Log 1 - What did make it (continued)
In setting up the room's sound design, two memories from my own childhood came to mind. The first was my experience with CRT monitors, and how I'd thought it felt a bit like having a superpower when I could hear it's high pitched noise when the adults in the room couldn't. Now as an adult, I think the tv's whine feels really a bit ominous when approaching the screen in game.
The second memory was from post 9/11, when the US had decided to go to war with Iraq and had begun their bombing. Specifically, I drew inspiration from recalling how I was confused watching a broadcast talking about how a school was being evacuated. At 7 I wasn't really able to comprehend why, asking grossly simple questions like - "why were kids being hurt? Didn't they know who the "bad guys" were? What did they do? (etc.)" I also remember my mother having a bit of a hard time explaining it to me, which for the game got me thinking, what if she hadn't been there to talk about it at all? To this end, I made the broadcast silent, and the sounds of the domestic sphere (comfort) more prominent, but still muffled and out of obvious reach. This muffling is paired with an intentionally pristine and serene room which is rather horrific when compared with what's happening "away," silenced, on screen.
The player in this case now ends up playing both roles; child in the room, and parent watching the play and understanding the greater meta context at work. It's uncomfortable, and I hope, reflective.
March 18 Log 2 - What did make it
When we had our reflect meeting Thursday (March 15th), two of the questions asked were how the project related to the original Tanks!, and how this connection related to reflection. To that, I touched on the camera perspective of the original game, and how I used the “top down” approach of the original Tanks to create my own sort of meta narrative for the question of who is playing. However, the question made me again think on how children’s perspectives in games - narrative and play style - are something we don’t often see in game design. Among the Sleep or Lucius Son of the Devil are some of the other few games I can think of that take place from the POV of a child, but like we see in these examples, they tend to be really one dimensional and trope-y. Part of this, like most questionable writing, probably comes from the fact that the authors aren’t who they are trying to depict; something I think is especially challenging here given the obvious grammatical limitations of a would be child screenplay author. For myself and this game I’ve made, I tried to move away from any extensive narrative spoken by the child and instead rely on environmental and ambient audio based, storytelling.
March 18 - Log 1 - What didn’t make it
One of the big things that I worked on but didn’t end up running with was the idea of using shadows as a kind of ominous/mood setting thing with the child in relation to the 3D models. Like I wrote about in one of my commits, I found it looked kind of cool when the player approached the table and the shadow streaming in from the window made them look like this horrific monster looming over the scene… It gave this kind of limbo vibe. However, I ended up not running with the idea for two reasons, namely technical and aesthetic. On the first point, it looked pretty whacky if the child avatar didn’t have properly animated legs and arms, which was beyond what I wanted to try and tackle here. On the second note, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to villainize the player/child. Though I felt it might prompt reflection, it was a much more one to one meaning than what I (hopefully) have now.
The remains of my playing with this shadow style can still be seen in the game now, with the painting on the wall beside the door where I squished one of the models into the frame. By playing with the physicality of the model, not just the arm, I also was able to rig up the system I have now where the body of the avatar is rather frighteningly warped to be below the table. (My favourite distortion, one where the arm stayed static and the body spun around it like a frantic ballerina, unfortunately didn’t make it.)
Today I spent a considerable amount of hours playing around with maya / sketchup / 3D modelling things in general and quickly learned that that won't be my future career path. It's proving quite difficult to get the two arms independtly controlled by two players, and so for now I'm sticking with the one hand. However, I did find it interesting how quickly, and how delicately, the models break ... what would a morgue for 3D models look like I wonder? ...
Project wise though, I'm thinking of using as many free assets as I can to make the place look alive. Thinking about the more serious part of the play, about kids grappling with "The how and why of war," I'm thinking of maybe trying to have a tv in the room with footage playing - maybe juxtapose the kiddy style with something serious?...
In yesterday’s class I submitted my first two rough prototypes for the 3D objects assignment. The second one is what I’ve decided to run with, where the gameplay is altered to have the tanks being controlled by a child’s arm through their room. I’m excited to start thinking more about how I can use 3D objects for storytelling; what kinds of things are in this room? What does this say about where this child lives? How do they play? I think sounds will also be really helpful in setting the tone of the work, which I want to be fairly lighthearted and humorous. Pippin had the suggestion of a “dinner’s ready!” ending the game; I’d also been thinking about have a “brrrm!” type spoken foley for when the tanks are driving around.
Like with the previous prototype, I’m thinking that I’d like to use humour as an approach to generating reflection. One game that did this really well was “how do you do it?,” where you play as a young girl trying to recreate/understand the steamy car scene in Titanic with your barbies. In general I think children’s perspectives are something we don’t get enough of in games, and this is definitely something I want to play with here.
Today’s playtesting session was interesting, as we got to also get feedback from the visiting Denmark students. They pointed out a few things that I’d been thinking about in terms of playability, namely having some additional sort of feedback so that the game is confusing but not too confusing. They suggested perhaps relying less on turns and more on measures that line up, or color as a means of wayfinding. They also pointed out some audio balancing issues that I was able to catch before the end of class. My favorite suggestion, one that I would love to add in before our final submission, was to do some kind of playback feature for either the proper version of the song or for the messy one to double in the awkward factor of things.
Overall, the game was a lot more enjoyable for people when I played it with them vs. when they were solo playtesting, and I think if I’d have had split bud earphones it would have been even more fun. As an added bonus, one of them shared a very similar sounding song called “Æblemand Sang “ that is apparently taught to school children in Denmark and is about selling apples… go figure! Even though they didn’t recognize heart and soul, the premise of playing a duet still came across which was pretty neat; it was something that happened with our normal classmates as well.
I’m happy with the reactions that I got from this brief testing (especially the lackluster clapping bit, that worked well), but I do want to try and make at least ½ of the song “playable” in an easy sense before the frustration kicks in. I also want the spacing between notes after the straight line measure to be a bit more clean, to give the semblance of order even if it sounds disordered.
Also, as a final note - I can't believe I haven't mentioned yet that the Big piano scene with the song was an inspiration. Thank you Tom Hanks! Revisiting it, it's cool how even in this part of the fun of the piano is making it sound messy.
February 25 (part 2)
I finished wrapping up the things I needed to do for tomorrow’s class, which was to get the rest of the notes arranged on the screen and to put in some kind of end state for the current build. Given how hard it is to hit the notes outside of a straight line, I tried to embrace the uncomfortableness of it and have the ending sound clip be a kind of awkward clapping. However, besides being silly, I’m hoping that the frustration of the setup will be a kind of reflect-y prompt for people to think about: “It is possible to make these tanks work together?”
It will also be interesting to watch two people try and play the game tomorrow; up until now, it’s really been me who has played it, which makes the coordination of the tanks only my responsibility. I predict it might be a bit of a couch co-op rage thing happening once someone makes the first mistake in the song.
February 25 (part 1)
For this prototype I spent a lot more time sketching than I did the first. I think it is because of the highly space dependent nature of the thing, where I am essentially remaking the game map instead of recycling the old one's model. Since it takes me a while to orient things in Unity as a newbie, it also helps to see if I like something on paper first.
The above image shows the very messy process of figuring out how to map notes to the pitch changing code (it looks worse than it is). The numbers in circles like 1-4, 4-7, indicate what notes will be played per what measure, and the numbers under the note name are what I put in for a given pitch variable. C4 starts at -12, so going up or down the scale adds or subtracts one from this starting point.
Breaking things up in the segmented way that is shown here ultimately made more sense then throwing all of the notes on screen at once, gameplay wise. I've embraced the choas that comes with having tanks play a piano, but I needed to lead the song in somehow to at least set a semblance of order first. Now, the two players can just drive forward to play the first bit of the song, before things start to get out of hand.
February 22 2018
Technically: Yesterday and today I made a lot of progress in the project, and I think have a clear vision of what I want to do in this work. I divided the sections of the song into bars that will be broken up and loaded on completion of the one that came before it; that is, completing the first bit of the song will “unlock” the next. Combined with the top down perspective I’ve got, this sequentially will come together to make a choreographed play. I even added in a loading screen that serves as a closed curtain “warm up,” complete with an orchestral tuning to build some anticipation.
Reflectively: The notes of the song are placed in this kind of black void, and stumbling onto the likely familiar song becomes this awkward exercise when having to do it with a tank. And although it will be possible to play the duet “correctly,” I imagine it’s going to be a lot more funny and clumsy with people trying to navigate the space on their own.
I’m thinking that this juxtaposition of tanks/traditionally fine art will be an interesting one. It’s sort of like I’m asking players, to ask the tanks, to re-enact a dramatic scene that neither of them are fully familiar with. I’d written on the 10th about wanting to “shoot something other than bullets…”, and although I moved away from literally shooting, I think the theatre setup conveys the idea of turning the interactive and destructive into something interactive and productive.
February 20 2018
In seeking to combine my sound prototype ideas into something actionable, I’ve settled on the idea of having the tanks playing a duet together. Specifically I’m thinking I'd like them to cover Heart and Soul. While I’d originally considered having three tanks on screen to be working to play a chord (or chords) together, it’s already a fair enough job to get the notes planned out for two. However, thanks to the wonderful internet user quill18creates, I’ve been able to get a functional piano to work in Tanks!(!). Knowing now that I can get the song to work on collision per individual key, I just need to figure out how to best display it on screen. I've got a few fun ideas for that I will be trying to implement tomorrow.
Heart and Soul, besides being a simple song for me to manage, has a lot of cultural weight in of itself. I hope that in choosing to have the tanks play this song together, I can make an interesting counterstatement against how empty the original game felt. However, some of my other testing with tanks and generating music - having them drive over the tiles at random - makes a really interesting kind of cacophony. Maybe I can use this tension between order and disorder...?
February 10 2018
With this prototype's prompt the main idea I've been working on is pitch and how alternating or randomizing the tank's shooting sounds could effect gameplay. The most promising idea right now is for a version of the game where three tanks are on an altered screen that matches a five note staff and the goal is to try and get them in the right position to play a C major chord. (TankC's... terrible pun mostly intended). Small idea, but it's been a bit of a pain trying to get it to work, although I am hoping for Monday to have my technical proof of concept ready.
Thematically I do really like having the tanks "shoot" something other than bullets, and one of my other side tests has been to get them firing out music note particles. That was for a started but not really realized dream of Tanks: The Dating Sim, where one would have to woo their mechanical love prospect by singing the right tunes.
Another another idea was for a tanks "point and click" with a whole lot of tanks on screen, and one would have to listen in order to find the right one out of the crowd.
Lights & Camera
February 5 2018
It was good to hear in today’s feedback session that people resonated with the thematic approach I’d taken to the game. Particularly the simple title on the main floor/screen as a kind of one word logline seemed to interest people (which is great, given what a mess it was to get the shaders to work with that!). Some helpful suggestions were also provided on how I could refine the message when taking the project forward. One useful idea was to expand the narrative of the tanks fighting each other. Does the tone of the onscreen thoughts change as the battle wages on? Do the jump cuts fade as the tanks’ health diminishes, or do they become more clear as their aggression rises?
There was also a noted tension between playability and frustration for the sake of thematic illustration, something that I do want to revisit when we go about polishing our final projects for distribution. I also wish I’d maybe spent a bit more time on the lights element; although I tried to make killing the other player more impactful by also turning off the main lighting source, it was a subtlety that largely got missed in playtesting.
Personally I am happy that I’ve gotten quite a bit more comfortable with navigating the Unity engine, as technical capabilities were (for better or worse) something that admittedly shaped this first round’s design. I’m also glad that in the project I was able to get a singular tonal direction by the end of things... which is that it is bleak. Having recently lost a close family member to what was likely combat related PTSD, the “real” disambiguation of "tanks" was at the forefront of my mind while making this work.
It is a fine line to walk between the absurd (the eyeballs, cough cough) and the humorous. It’s an even trickier line to walk when it comes to making satire, versus dark humor, versus risking being too pretentious. Going forward with sound, I think it’ll be a valuable writing, game design, and story exercise to see how I can look beyond the TANKS! base game and start to mould my own creative direction.
So, definitely doing karaoke tanks...?
January 29 2018
As I've been documenting in the individual pushes, I have been really stuck on bouncing back and forth on how I want to use the split screen and destroying light elements. The two most complete scenes in the working "Permadeath" branch (messy structure - sorry Pippin!) are a) one that has a pair of eyes following the player, and b) one that "jumpcuts" to two half scenes that, when both players are trying to shoot each other, combine into one single message. The eye idea (a) on its own was going to be a bit silly and divergent from the original EYE FOR AN EYE message. The split screen version (b) was too boring.
Today, I am bringing it back and stopping myself from working on two project files(!) anymore with these assertions;
- Switching cameras is how I want to convey power and omniscience, direction vs. directionless. An above view of the tanks makes the conflict feel small and trivial; a cut to something level is grounded.
- Losing the world light comes from killing the other player.
- The promised reward, and difference between the two players, is arbitrary.
So - linking it back to the original split screen prototype idea where pressing space shows a different scene - this is how I try to convey the theme of AN EYE FOR AN EYE MAKES THE WHOLE WORLD BLIND.
- Shooting blocks the other player's identity from view with a promised reward.
- Following orders to kill the other leaves ultimately one alone and in the dark.
January 24 2018
Seeing the other students' work is quite incredible and inspiring. It's good to know that I'm on to something resonant with the splitting camera and vanishing light, but one thing that struck me is that I don't have a gameplay look clearly outlined. I was intentionally experimenting with permadeath, but for next week I'd like to aim to get a play loop, even if it's just as simple as a restart button after killing the other player. Playing more properly with aesthetics (visual and audio) are also on my watch list. In making the prototypes I stripped almost everything out of the game, and now I want to see what I think warrants going back in.
January 19 2018
Yesterday while finding examples for the references pages for the CART course, I found myself really being drawn to a lot of (film) examples that were more interesting for their use of camera as opposed to lighting. When I sat down this morning to try and make a more heavily focused excercise in lighting anyway (Film noir/ "Paths of Tanks"), I didn't really enjoy the (broken) end result. I think maybe I'll hold that idea for later in the course and focus on the split screen version.
...As promised, in the evening I dug back into the "YOU KILLED ME" approach and really started to run with it. In trying to make this a work that is both a lighting/camera excercise and "reflect-y" experiment for my research group work, I've chosen shooting and all the messy implications of that action as my main design focal point. This started in the YOU KILLED ME excercise where I had assigned a simple screen split function to pop up when the player(s) pushed space or enter to shoot, dually obscuring half of the screen that would help with aim and throwing an unpleasant message into their field of view. I've done something similar in this most recent build, and although I'm definitely not set on how it is, I think adjusting overall visual and environmental elements has made some nice dramatic touches to the new AN EYE FOR AN EYE approach.
It came while thinking about something I'd noticed in the previous class, about the tanks hurting themselves when they shoot. In terms of game design it wasn't something I would necessarily have chosen, but on the theme of violence, it was an interesting (poignant) thing to work with.
This theme is something that I definitely want to keep working on conveying... perhaps completely without text...?
January 15 2018
While listening to Pippin’s presentation today I tried to record some of the immediate ideas that came to me:
An ultra gritty war version of tanks, Paths of Tanks. A game where the tanks are UFOS and the ground is the night sky (exercise in lighting) Film Noir tanks murder mystery
- Split screen tanks where one tank rolls up to the point on the other's screen half and shoots for dramatic effect.
- Split screen where one focuses on graveyard, other focuses on tanks like semi-normal gameplay? Camera for some reason strikes me as being more difficult to master effectively, but to perhaps be less fundamentally core to altering gameplay.
- Using the spacebar/shooting to create a jumpcut between current gameplay and a graveyard, two version of mourners for both players
Sticky lights, the light from the bullet stays to where it hits? Tank in an elevator. Inspired by Concorcia's congestion. Maybe somehow use motion and industrialization as a statement about war industry. Tanks in a sandbox, child’s arm reaches in to pick them up?
I’ve been thinking a lot about death and the triviality of such in games recently, particularly when it comes to the subject of “emotional” and “empathy” games. It's interesting how these works are different because they make the player feel things a game normally wouldn’t, even if these feelings are generally a part of offline life. That Dragon Cancer is one (great) example where the whole point is in dealing with a single death, vs. the mindless slaughter of TANKS!
Despite how serious some of these ideas sound, I don’t know how far I want to go with the downer part of this. As has been the case with the Reflective work I’ve been doing with Rilla, sometimes humor can be just as effective in creating moments for reconsideration of a situation. Generally I think the themes that jump out to me from this brainstorming are the notions of children's games, war as meaningless conflict, and war as industry.
January 11 2018
All eight tutorials are now done. Some initial thoughts before sitting down to experiment with the lighting assignment:
- Using the color editing tool on the background elements was the most interesting graphic abilitiy explored so far to me. I particularly think expermienting with "washing out" certain elements of the scenery could be neat. Increpare has done some cool stuff with that aesthetic.
- The tutorial's audio mixing made the engine too quiet imo... let that puppy roar.
- Better ambient audio overall will be a big thing, see Desertwindscape.mp4
- Don't like that the tank hurts itself
- I make too many Git commits
January 10 2018
Uploaded my in-progress tutorial file to GitHub, which is 1/2 done or 1/2 not done depending on your life outlook.
January 08 2018
In the beginning there was GitHub.