Double Action (2k Marin)
- Completion: September 2013
- Span: 1 week
- Project Type: Game Jam Team of 3
- Platforms: GameMaker
- Role: Artist/Designer/Programmer
Like a vision of the future pulled from the 80's, Mega Wonder Mall is a dystopian cesspit full of crime, corporate greed, and over-population. The smooth jazz
and softly lamenting saxophone that clogs the airwaves does nothing but make it even clearer how much of a grime-encrusted hell-hole this place really is. But amongst
the chaos, amidst the filth, four men have a mission: to kill each other.
After just a single meeting, this is the (dramatized) vision that my team settled upon for our game jam project; all that remained was to build it!
Aside from creating the absurd thematic setting described above, during our meeting my team and I also fleshed out the pillars of our design: we wanted to create a sort of "spy vs. spy" scenario where players try to eliminate one another while avoiding being eliminated themselves, all while using a single shared screen. This meant that a key aspect of the gameplay would be providing players with tools for blending in with AI counterparts, like in Assassin's Creed multiplayer or Spy Party, and for forcing other players to risk standing out. Furthermore, we wanted to reward calm, methodical play so that players are encouraged to hunt more with their minds than their reflexes, all while avoiding the creation of any singular, dominant strategy. Thus, we sought to make all the but most basic of behaviors carry an inherent risk that is relative to the potential reward (the gameplay section below will discuss these risks as it describes each feature).
A match of Double Action begins fairly simply: an ant-farm view of Mega Wonder Mall, full of mall guests, is presented to the players (who are presumably huddled around a large screen, ideally on a couch). The only image that seems to even imply a game (as opposed to a screen-saver from the 90's) is the inclusion of four status monitors, each with its own ammo and kill trackers, as well as an EKG to monitor the heart rate of whomever is being "tracked."
After seeing the above image, you might be wondering "How the hell do the players know where they are?" Exactly. A key component of the gameplay is that players should be able to, under normal circumstances, blend into the crowd seemlessly. However, they obviously can't play (well) if they don't know who their character is, so they have two tools at their disposal: firstly, whichever quadrant of their 360 controller that is lit (to indicate which player number they are) also indicates that they have spawned in that same quadrant of the mall. Still, that is a lot of ground to cover, so their second tool is that they can, at any time, hold right-bumper to toggle turning their ammo tracker into a live video feed of their character, so as to observe their surroundings and use that information to discover their own location. While this information is technically visible to all players, because of the intentional burden associated with finding and follwoing one's own character, in practice it is not an issue.
Once a player has found their character... the hunt begins. However, it is now worth mentioning the two means a player has for eliminating his or her targets. For a quieter, less publicly obvious
method, players can simply use their knife to shank a target. Because the player needs to not only be close enough to the target, but also facing the correct direction, shanking a target often
requires a player to know exacty who they're after, especially because it forces them to briefly stop moving. Furthermore, as any two players get close to each other, their controllers will begin
to rumble and their EKG readings will spike, all in relation to how close they are to each other. Thus, a shank attempt often affords only a brief window of surprise, and a strong opportunity for
reprisal... but when performed successfully, allows for a kill to be performed without wasting precious ammo, and without alerting surviving players to one's position.
A player's second means for eliminating targets is to use their double action revolver (the namesake of the game). An extremely loud, violent, indescriminate, and publicly obvious means for execution, clever players use their firearm only sparingly. However, that is not for any lack of effectiveness: with the ability to quickly put 6 lethal rounds down-rage in in under 2 seconds, a full revolver can be used by (less "morally" inclined) players to unload into a crowd in the hopes of hitting a target. For those players of a somewhat higher "moral" inclination (who seek to avoid innocent casualties), they can leverage the psychological impact of drawing a weapon: when a firearm is drawn, all AI characters who can see the weapon will, upon noticing it (usually in under a second, depending on their distance from the wielder), drop to the ground in terror, flee up a nearby elevation tube, or run through a nearby door to escape. By waiting for just a few moments, a discerning player can avoid killing innocent victims by allowing them to clear their line of fire. However, the longer a player remains stationary aiming their weapon, the longer they become an obvious, juicy target for other players, and they may even be affording their own target an opportunity to draw their weapon and return fire, especially if said target is unconcerned with innocent victims. We've found that this inherent moral choice adds significant depth to the gameplay as players develop their own couch-rules regarding innocent victims; as such, we have avoided creating any structured enforcement of rules against killing innocents: we simply make the information available in the kill tracker so that players can do what they wish.
As was noted above, a fully loaded revolver can fire 6 rounds in fairly rapid succession, giving it the potential to easily eliminate several players under the right circumstances. However, once those 6 rounds are spent, a player will naturally need to reload before being able to fire again. However, unlike most games where reloading is a simple action that can be performed while moving and focusing elsewhere, in Double Action reloading is an intentionally complex and attention-demanding process. Upon pressing 'X', a player will draw their weapon (if it is not already drawn) and transition into a reloading stance, keeping them completely immobilized. In doing so, they will empty their revolver of all shells (including unspent ones) and become ready to load new ones, all of which is visualized in their ammo tracker. While in their reloading "stance," players can pull right-trigger to insert a shell into the top chamber of the revolver cylinder, and flick the right-stick to the right to rotate the revolver cylinder clockwise by one chamber (the ratcheted design of the cylinder only allows it to spin in one direction). By repeating this process, players can manually load all six shells, and then press 'X' again to close the weapon and exit the reloading stance (notably, players can also exit "early" by simply pressing 'X' before they have finished loading, allowing them to load anywhere from 0 to 6 shells; many players have chosen to load only a single round out of fear of getting caught while in the vulnerable state of reloading). Given the complexity involved in reloading, players are forced to look away from the main gameplay screen and focus on their ammo tracker, just as a real person would need to focus on manually loading a revolver as well. This significantly balances the weapon towards careful and thoughtful players, a key goal of the design, all while providing an enjoyable deviation from gameplay norms.
With these tools available to eliminate their targets, players still have to actually find said targets. For this, they also have two tools: power switches and fire alarms. Both
of these tools allow the player to manipulate the AI on an entire floor of the mall, much like their ability to influence them via drawing their weapon. When a player activates a power switch, it
will temporarily turn off all the lights on a floor, causing all AIs to halt their motion out of fear of running into something. It is worth noting that the floor does not turn pitch black, and thus
a keen players will use this opportunity to observe anyone who might not have caught on and is still moving... anyone that is a player. Fire alarms, on the other hand, have practically the opposite
effect: all AIs on that floor will begin to run around in a panic admist the pulsing red lights and wailing sirens. Any player that doesn't notice and fails to start running too (by holding 'A' to sprint,
a function that, under other circumstances, would most likely give away their position) will surely be seen. Additionally, a fire alarm can also be used to cover one's escape: it allows the player to
sprint without the risk of standing out, and sends the crowd into such a frenzy that tracking said player is usually quite difficult. Notably, while both power switches and fire alarms have great
potential for detecting players, they also give away the fact that there is a player on the affected floor, creating an inherent risk.
After playtesting with multiple coworkers, and receiving five "#1 choice" votes from the seven game jam judges, we can safely say that the concept and its execution was very well received and creates a very enjoyable play experience with a surprising amount of depth.