Saturday, 1 November 2014

The first Off Grid Sprint Update

We decided that it would be a good idea to start writing more regular updates about what we’ve been up to - and what better time than every time we close a sprint in our development and start a new one?!  So, here’s the first ever public Off Grid sprint update.

More data mechanics!

Our main goal for the last sprint (and one before that) has been on improving the data-related game mechanics we have.  We’ve been busy coming up with new ideas for how data could be used in the game, and designing the underlying systems that would allow us to build a wide variety of interesting interactions around the data that exists in the game world (and that characters create when using their mobile devices, key cards, computers and so on).

Even creepier surveillance system

Our equivalent of the real-world PRISM, the system that tracks all data left behind by the player and all the other characters, needed updating to allow it to also track non-living data sources - phones, key cards, computers and other devices. So, no matter what the source of the data
is, our overarching cyber surveillance system is now capable of following it.  Once players get access to the system, they can also use it to follow any individual data source, such as tracking how a specific key card has been used around the level, or where a certain guard’s mobile phone has been moving.

Updates to the player’s mobile phone

The most important tool a player has available is the mobile phone, and of course new data mechanics and systems mean new features are needed on the phone. We added a file manager to the phone, serving as inventory for all the data a player gathers during gameplay.

We also decided to make the augmented reality view that allows players to visualize the surrounding data, slightly more comfortable to use. So now the cool-down time you need to wait after using the AR/data view actually depends on how long you had it enabled. This allows the player to take quick looks of the surrounding data without always having to wait for the full cool-down period. Of course you still need to be careful about how long you want to keep the AR view enabled, as every time you access it you also leave a trail of data behind, and using it for too long makes it easier to track your movements as well.

Early (data view) access!

As fun it is to sneak around the game, we felt that it would be even more fun if you had access to the AR view and data mechanics as early as possible. And with this in mind, we went through our current prototype level and moved objectives and story snippets around, so that now the player is able to scrape and view data from the mobile network from the very start. This makes it easier to see where the guards are moving and plan your way around the level, while you still need to gain access to the Wi-Fi network and further security levels to see rest of the data around you.

Combining the idea of early access to data view, and new file library features added to the character’s phone, we also decided there’s no reason to steal guards’ keycards any more when you can just read the data from the RFID tag into your phone and use that by swiping it to unlock doors and security gates.

All of this, of course, means we had to redesign some areas of the level, and change the locks and player animations accordingly. Not to mention adding the actual smartphone to the character’s hand when doing all this (something that has been on the to do list for a long time!). Happily, modelling the smartphone must have been the quickest 3D model I’ve ever done, a rectangle with a screen in our low-poly style… : D.

Player-hackable UI

The UI system we are using is based on common web technologies, HTML, CSS and Javascript, and also allows pulling in content from the internet. We decided we want to keep everything on the UI side exposed so that players can modify it as they want, and even create their own web apps that they can add to the character’s mobile phone. This obviously means we’ll need to expose certain information and functionalities from the game side in a way that allows people to make their web apps to interact with the game. For example people should be able to query information from the in-game ‘PRISM’ to get access to all data in the game world, but at the same time the results should still be limited by the access player has gained in the game. And of course the 'PRISM’ and enemies might react to players trying to access information outside of their access level…

We’d also like to use the UI to create some connections between our in-game world and the real world. Our UI system is setup to allow real news and content from the web to be brought into the game (on in-game menu’s and screens, as well as screens and displays on game-world objects and props!), and in the long run these should be interactive within the game. For starters, we tested this out when at a hack day we added a new app that pulls the latest events from Open Rights Group’s public calendar, and displays them on the UI and on the calendar page of the character’s phone (read more about that here).

So plenty of new things in the mix, we hope you are as excited as we are, and that pretty much wraps up the sprint progress for now!

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