A 3rd person rhythm-based hack-n-slash.
This game was designed to function like a tower defense game, where instead of placing turrets in order to defend a base, the player must move around to intercept the incoming waves of enemies and stop them from reaching and damaging the central core.
The hack-n-slash gameplay was inspired by games like Devil May Cry, where attacks can be stringed together to execute combos. We combined this with the gameplay of rhythm games, where if you executed these attacks to the beat, this would charge up your SYNC meter, as well as make your attacks more powerful.
The charge of your SYNC meter was also tied to the game's adaptive soundtrack - filling up the meter escalated the song by seamlessly shifting to a later, more intense part of the song. SYNC power could then be released, killing all nearby enemies.
PLAYER EXPERIENCE GOALS
The PEG's we strived for during development were:
Of course, many of these goals are overlapping, but it still gave us a good sense of direction about what kind of experience we were trying to create.
The goal that gave us the most grief, however, was our ambition to make this game accessible to a broad audience. Initially we intended for the game not to punish the player when playing off beat, while relying on visual spectacle to incentivize players to play on beat in order to "feel great/like a badass" while playing. But this gave players the impression that it didn't matter if they played on or off beat. After getting that feedback, we decided to lean more heavily into the rhythm-game aspect, by not letting the player do any damage when attacking off-beat.
HUD DESIGN & CLARITY
The HUD went through many iterations throughout the project. There was a lot of information that needed to be conveyed to the player during the core gameplay loop:
This early version of the HUD tried to combine beat visualization (rings), core HP (bottom blue), player HP (top pink), and SYNC power charge (ring outlines).
The HUD we went with in the end included the following information:
In the end, I think we could have simplified the HUD even more. Skipping the points system, at least the visual aspect of it, would have made the HUD more readable. It ended up confusing most players, who thought the numbers where the damage dealt. Having points visible on impact and a score multiplier was part of our "visual spectacle" experience goal, but in this instance, I think it distracted more than it contributed to this.
UX & CUTSCENE DESIGN
I designed the UX flow for both the game's menus as well as for the game as a whole. For menus, we decided to go with radial menus, as this look would underpin the game's theme of a synthetic world, while also helping to establish that theme already from the start.
Starting the game from the main menu, the player is presented with a backstory in the form of an animatic, presenting the world of the game as well as its premise - robots are coming do destroy humanity's last bastion.
I then animated the position of the camera in the intro cinematic, both sweeping across in order to introduce the arena to new players and establish its geography, as well as establishing the core as a character. The core has a voice and speaks to the player throughout the game. I wanted her to come across as "motherly" and as somewhat strange safe point in the cold world of the game. I aimed to convey this by using low angles in the cinematic, in combination with the quite low and eerily calm voice of the core.
I animated the camera in the game over cutscene with the intention of showing the arena that the player has failed to protect, as well as a way of showing off the huge VFX emanating from the core as it dies.
TEACHING HOW TO PLAY
I focused on explaining both the hack-n-slash and the rhythm game mechanics to the player, as well as how the two genres and their mechanics played together. I set out to solve this using several methods.
To make the player experience more dynamic, and to help support our experience goal of maximum output with minimum input, we collectively designed an adaptable camera system.
As a way of fully utilizing the fact that we used a 3rd person perspective, rather that a more basic top-down one, we wanted the camera to play a more active role in the game's presentation.
My role in this was to communicate closely with one of our programmers while developing this system, in order to make sure it met the demands of the designers.
I shared sound design duties with the project manager of this project. We settled on a seed for the sound design - "synthetic" - a starting point that informs all other sounds and sets a theme for how they sound and feel.
This resulted in sounds based on electricity sparks, basic synth sounds, and metal. These where then combined into sound effects, where the player's sounds were intended to be in harmony with the music (key, timbre etc.), while the enemies' sounds where intended to be perceived as dissonant in comparison to the music tracks.
We decided on a female voice of the core, but still in line with the "synthetic" seed of the sound design. The voice was generated using text-to-speech, then duplicated and one voice pitched down one half step. This, together with a chorus effect, produced what I perceived as a motherly voice, representing the brittle safety of the level, that needed to be protected.
In keeping with the game's futuristic neon aesthetic, me and the project manager composed a synthwave-inspired soundtrack. The tracks take inspiration from 80's drums, synths, arpeggios, and electric guitars. The tempo was kept at 120 bpm, in order to sync with the team's system for checking if the player was playing in sync with the track.
Since gameplay involved two separate HP's, we needed some way to represent them. Our first attempts at this involved separating these into one HP bar for the core and one for the player.
Since the player respawns while the core is alive, the most important one of these two HP bars was the core's. The obvious solution was to make the player's HP regenerate and only indicate taking damage by tinting the screen. This freed up a lot of screen real estate for the rest of the HUD.
We decided to start the game with an epilepsy warning, since the game contains a lot of rapidly shifting visuals.
The game is divided into threat levels, which are essentially three levels of increasing difficulty. The player can choose which one to play from in the main menu, or choose to replay the current threat level at game over.