Design Blog 02 – Like Alien, but at sea…

Commonly it is assumed that creative pieces come to their originator fully formed, completely unique and ready to be produced. Perhaps for some mystical scholars this is true but it has never been the case for Junkfish – or for myself. We begin with a concept or desire and then, assuming it captures the teams imagination, figure out how to create what we want. We pool our influences from books, songs, film, artwork and personal experiences: borrowing and building upon works which we consider genius. This blog post is about some of those works and how they have (or will) influence our latest title: Project: Maize.

1. Alien (1979)

At its core Maize is a game about being trapped on a ship which contains a deadly monster and finding a way to escape. For anyone who has watched Alien the parallels should be immediately obvious; the crew of the Nostromo unwittingly bring a board a deadly alien and must figure out a way to escape or kill it.

With Maize we want to put the player in the shoes of one character of the film in particular – and perhaps surprisingly it isn’t Ripley.

It’s Dallas. Trapped, alone in the confines of the ship’s ventilation with only the tools he and the crew could piece together from their work equipment. We knew we wanted the player to be able to set up their own environment and choose between items that could aid them in escaping and we feel this scene captures that kind of mentality. Dallas takes the motion sensor, torch and a flame-thrower, he chooses to close the vent shaft behind him, so “nothing” can sneak up on him. He gives himself the best chance. However we also feel this scene and character is the most relevant to the ‘rogue-like’ nature of the game: even if you act the hero you actually aren’t. The hero’s playthrough would never end like this:

 

We intend to make sure that our players definitely can.

Whether this means the play-through can also finish in an intense air-lock exploding holy-s**t-its-followed-you-on-to-the-life-raft moment… only Jonesy knows, and he’s keeping shooshed.

 

2. The Labyrinth

Another large influence on the concept of Maize was the labyrinth myth, in which Theseus defeats the Minotaur. The concept of the labyrinth is simple: it is a place in which King Minos drops his sacrifices that is so complexly built they cannot escape before the beast within consumes them. Our procedurally generated environments are exactly this. However, as with Theseus, we want you to be able to cheat. Theseus takes a ball of string with him and uses this to map his route into and out of the labyrinth; we decided there was no reason our players couldn’t do something similar.

The kind of helpful map to expect in Maize.

The Minotaur has also influenced some of our monster behaviour design, it’s strong and it doesn’t much care for you being here, but we don’t want to give too much away about that at the moment. Its all under Jonsey.

SECRETS

3. Amnesia

Both of the previous entries have a hero that attempts to fight the monster and manage to succeed – although only Theseus actually tanks up and decks it. Amnesia: The Dark Decent persuaded us that this was not what we wanted to do. Amnesia‘s non-combative gameplay forces the player to acknowledge their vulnerability and use other means to overcome challenges. We want this for our game. We also believe that the inclusion of the kind of weaponry present in a lot of supposed ‘survival horror’ games could break the players suspension of disbelief (immersion). We believe maintaining this immersion is integral to the players ability to believe they are in danger, as such weapons would deal a double blow to our intended experience.

We also won’t have eyebrows.

These three influences were integral to solidifying the concepts of Maize within our own minds and in how we shared our idea with the rest of the team. Hopefully they give you a few clues as to the direction we’re heading in with the game. This article doesn’t cover everything we looked at, so expect future design blogs to reveal more influences in the future. Ideas are always evolving.

Until next time,

Simon.