Agent 37 – Collateral Damage
A first-person-shooter based in a not too distant neon future with a moral twist to make the players question the reality surrounding them. The environment is set in the back streets of London. You play as the robot E37 and are given the task of eliminating the obsolete robots overpopulating the streets. You are equipped with a pistol capable of shooting two types of bullets, each with their unique function:
- Regular bullets: which is the default type of bullets.
- Explosive bullets: bullets explode on contact creating an explosion
E37 must charge his Battery (Health) and Gun with charging stations placed around the playable area to charge health and ammo back to full.
Unknown to the player, the deranged robots you are assassinating are the undesirable humans your creator wants gone.
Story & Theme
Created by the Malum, Agent 37 is sent upon a series of tests, focusing on the shooting range, reload speeds and accuracy of his robotic powers. Primarily taking place in East London streets, the environment is dark and dingy. The player character at the start is told to eliminate the enemy robots within the area. The first mission is to take out all the enemies before getting summoned back into the base hub. The agent’s creator Malum wants to erase the overpopulation of humans by eliminating those in the surrounding areas. The player is unaware that the enemy robots they encounter are humans under the guise of the robots and the player doesn’t figure this out until much later into the game. The theme of the game is a futuristic built-up version of east London with bright neon Tron styled lights. The Player will ultimately decide to fight against those attacking the humans or to fight alongside them cleansing the world of those that burned it.
The player is compelled to attack all the enemies shown by the narrative, having the red colouring it is set to draw the player to attack. The playable character is equipped with a gun that can shoot the enemies to achieve its goal. The gameplay should feel a bit clunky and overpowered, as to match the style of the character, not too dissimilar to games such as Halo or Doom, as this will allow for a more dynamic approach to the battle zone. The main emotion we will evoke is apathy, which will emphasise and draw the player into the final narrative twist.
My approach to overhauling the level design saw me improving the level from the Alpha build by sticking closer to the principles of Level Design (Kremers, 2010) and Game Feel (Swink, 2010) for the Beta and Master hand in. I knew I wanted to increase the level of immersion given by the environment design for the Beta, so I reworked how I guide the player to the objective. In the Alpha phase of the game, I used lamps, which were ineffective given how much they would blend in with the rest of the environment, so by the Beta I learned how to use the environment to my advantage. I started by thinking about how real cities work and how there’s a lot more advertisement in a city centre than there is in a suburban area. Therefore, the solution to my problem was easy and straightforward: billboards and signs. They serve two purposes, the main one being an easy visual guide to the objective and the second one is to fill the environment and to help navigate the area with more unique landmarks. I bought these assets for a personal project, so licencing wasn’t an issue.
Another source of inspiration for the design and aesthetics of the game is the 1988 cult classic film They Live (Carpenter, 1988), where the protagonist wakes up to the reality of his being through a special pair of glasses, very similar to our game’s initial plot.
Figure 3 They Live (Carpenter, 1988)
To design the new UI for the Beta build, I started analysing the UI of games that inspired and informed the gameplay: Halo (Bungie, 2010) and Doom (id Software , 2016).
In the 2010’s chapter of Bungie’s saga, the developers redesigned the UI to bring Halo to the new decade and introduced new gameplay elements that can take advantage of it. Guns and ammo on the top right, grenades on the top left and abilities and minimap on the bottom left. On the other hand, in 2016’s Doom, id Software goes back to their roots and brings a simple and functional UI. After discussing the two options with the team, Doom’s approach was the one chosen.
Figure 4 Doom (id Software, 2016)
Figure 5 Halo: Reach (Bungie, 2010)
For instance, the UI in the Alpha build cluttered the view and I felt that it did not deliver the information to the player to a high standard.
Figure 6 Alpha UI
Figure 7 Beta Build
In particular, the older UI was difficult to read for players and had lots of bugs that the dedicated people weren’t able to fix. When the deadline was creeping on us and the issue was still there, out of frustration, I made a fix that delivered the narrative in a new and immersive way. The fix consisted of a new prefab that would show in-game the information needed to the player instead of using the UI, and it was inspired by BT’s kiosk that can be found around London. I programmed made a fully working prefab to demonstrate that it did what I said. I was proud of my solution, however, the same people that weren’t able to fix the issue in the first place, felt that this solution was too different and that it wouldn’t be possible to integrate it in the game this late in development, arguing that this “feature”(according to them repacking text is equivalent to adding a new feature) would’ve made their playtests irrelevant. All the playtest concerning the Beta took place after I made the fix, making their argument invalid. Some people aren’t just that flexible. I persevered and at the end, I was able to compromise and make them come to reason. The new prefab draws the attention of the player effectively and is always readable and works without bugs and it doesn’t interfere with the player’s movements.
Figure 10 BT Wi-Fi kiosk
While sound designing I thought of other classic films from the ‘80s and landed on a genre of music called “Synthwave”, which reinforces the retro style and aesthetics of the game and should increase the level of immersion experienced by the player.
I started the development process for the Beta right after the Alpha hand in and feedback. I wasn’t able to make any changes to the gameplay after this point, the Q&A and programmer took that for themselves, which I didn’t mind, however, I was disappointed to see how slow and little their involvement became. I then focused my development efforts on environmental design and anything that could visually disrupt immersion. I started by replacing some of the buildings and widening streets that were too narrow before, I have replaced placeholder models with more visually pleasing models, this made me feel good about the game we were making, even with all the shortcomings. I’m confident that at the end of the project this would be remembered by the people that played it as something that stands out for its vision and style, which is where I did most of my work. I am confident that if the team have had better playtests, with focused questions and results shared in time with me to make changes to the level, before the hand in, I would’ve delivered an even better experience.
Gameplay & Systems
Agent 37 – Collateral Damage is a first-person story-based shooter that boasts a vibrant cyberpunk setting. The player takes on the role of the robot E37 tasked with one directive: destroy all the obsolete robots. E37 can move in a 3D environment and is equipped with a gun capable of swapping between two types of bullets: regular and explosive. Regular bullets will inflict damage to the enemy, while the explosive bullets create an explosion with damage on contact. These are used to unlock zones and defeat specific enemies. The gun’s iron sights can be used to aim more accurately. The HUD shows both remaining health and ammo, and when the player takes damage, health is reduced. To recover health and ammo the player must “recharge” through a charging station and if the player is killed, it will respawn from the last checkpoint. The player can upgrade their weapon to add new functions, like the explosive bullets, which will unlock new levels and new areas in the already explored sections allowing for faster backtracking and navigation.
The Agent’s enemies are shown to be obsolete robots that have similar abilities to the player. When they are suspicious they show a question mark on top of their head. Suspicion can be risen by the player by making noise (walking and shooting). Once they are suspicious, they will look for the player and if found, they will attack. They will exchange the question mark for an exclamation point. They can shoot and follow the player and shoot when attacked. When they are hit, they show sparks coming out of their bodies.
Exploration: The player can move and sprint around the playable area to find new zones and defeat enemies. The key to this mechanic is the aesthetics, sound and art direction of the game.
Defeating all enemies: The playable character is equipped with a gun to deal with the enemy encounters. The player can shoot and alert the enemies or attempt to move past them and avoid killing them. Once they are defeated or avoided, a new area will be unlocked. Enemies are challenging if not taken seriously, the only way the player can recuperate health is through charging stations which are scarce.
Unlock abilities: From time to time, the player will unlock new abilities that will enable the robot to access areas previously unreachable such as exploding bullets.
Unlocking new areas: Once the player has cleared a zone, the game will reward the user by allowing the player to unlock a new zone to explore, often from the HUB area.
Main Game Loop
Although the game was born as a narrative-driven game first and a first-person shooter second, we quickly realised that the game couldn’t rely solely on dialogue to deliver a fun experience to the player. We had to further develop the first-person shooter mechanics more to justify the narrative, creating a more cohesive story and gameplay.
The game starts on the dock of the city, the player is instructed to kill all the robots within the area. Once they are defeated, the player unlocks the explosive ammo that can remove boxes and activate shortcuts. The square environment acts as a hub zone for the player to recharge and lay low from enemies once cleared, it has openings on the sides where a new zone/scene will be playable, these are distinguished by bright orange buildings. Additionally, the player can try the maze level or use the elevator platform in the hub. An example is included in the paper concept.
Physics-based gameplay element
These red cubes can only be moved with the explosive ammo. When the player changes ammo type by pressing E, the gun barrel will change colour to reflect the change and match the colour of the cubes. The cubes are used to block inaccessible areas, triggers and puzzles. In the example below, they are used to hide the trigger for the bridge that allows the player to backtrack.
The level’s background is enriched by a blend of original 3D models and a 2D silhouette of a city, which is rendered semitransparent through a shader.
The player is guided by lamp posts which are a way to guide the player through the level.
In addition to lamps and billboards, adverts are used to visually guide the player. They are purposefully eye-catching and popping, so the player would notice them and be drown to their direction. The signs assets are used under license and are made by Synty Studios.
To show how a complete version of this game might be, a variety of levels were developed independently by the members. Each with a unique design, united by the narrative, gameplay and aesthetic.
The game’s art style can be described as low-poly and futuristic with influences from cyberpunk movies such as Blade Runner and Tron. The UI shown to the player represents the advanced technology and AI within the robot protagonist with a constant display of vital stats such as health and ammo. The UI was modelled after popular games such as Halo and Doom, as these are very user friendly whilst still maintaining all the needed information. Choosing a low-poly art style allowed for more time to craft environmental pieces such as buildings, cars and other items you’d find in the streets of an urban environment, rather than spending large amounts time on single items. Saying this, the weapons and arms were given a higher level of details to display its power by showing that it has surpassed all other technological competition, and because the player is seeing these all the time, requiring a decent level of detail to look visually pleasing.