Nintendo’s latest video game console, the Wii-U, hit shelves all across the world two months ago. The most notable feature of this new console is the GamePad, the system’s controller, which is a hybrid of a tablet and a more traditional game controller. There has been quite a bit of discussion amongst developers as to how to best make use of this controller to enrich ther player’s experience. To that end, I decided to try my hand designing a game for the Wii-U.
The idea for this project stemmed from a discussion with one of my professors, actually. An advanced elective course was going to be offered at my school in the winter called Alternative Controllers. The goal of this course was to try to build prototypes of games using something other than traditional game controllers as part of how the controllers influence the design of the game. Through an unfortunate sequence of events, the class had to be cancelled. However, I was able to secure an independent study for the project, and a bit of brainstorming with the professor overseeing the project led to the idea of trying to design a game for the Wii-U. I’ve got a pretty good guess what anyone who reads this is thinking, so now I’ll answer the question of the day. How on Earth am I going about doing this?
Well, the answer is through the Unity game engine. Licensed Nintendo developers are sent a special version of Unity that builds to the Wii-U, as part of a push for stronger third party support and indie developers bringing their games to the platform. Unfortunately, I am not a licensed Nintendo developer, and I don’t have any expectations for a student license to be released anytime soon. I worked my way around this problem by way of Android and Windows development builds. By writing the prototype as a networked game between a PC and a tablet, I can use the tablet to (mostly) simulate using the GamePad, and the computer as the television screen. Releasing the game publicly could face some challenges, such as how or where I would make it available to download, how the game connects multiple people to a network, and so on. Since the goal of the project was the game prototype, this isn’t really a pressing problem for me. I’ll focus on making it playable, then worry about how others will get to try it and give me feedback.
The actual game I plan to make is a hybrid golf/first person shooter project that my friends and I came up with some time ago. It’s a project I still have interest in, and this seemed like a great chance to build it in terms of challenges presented from game design and actually having the free time. Basically, the idea behind the game is to attempt to blend to very different game genres (in this game, a first person shooter and golfing simulator) to see what kind of game I end up with. The game also seemed like a great candidate for looking into how to go about getting the most out of the technology.
The first major hurdle is the control scheme. Since I wanted the technology to enhance gameplay and not hamper it, I decided against motion controls for the core functionality of FPS Golf. As tempting as the opportunity to use the touch screen and accelerometer was, using technology just for the sake of using it doesn’t always work out too well. “Tap the GamePad screen to fire your gun. Shake the GamePad to reload your gun” would probably be just as bad as it sounds. Currently, I’m leaning towards using the joystick and buttons for primary mechanics, and utilizing the screen for additional mechanics. This should allow me to play with a variety of features that make the touch screen feel like a welcome addition that improves the user experience rather than some poorly crafted gimmick.
Next is the issue of the player’s focus. Unlike the two screens on the Nintendo DS, the GamePad screen and television screen are not directly next to each other, which brings up the issue of the player’s attention being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was originally thinking about moving the UI to the GamePad to allow for a completely open screen, but this would lead to the issue of the player constantly looking away from the game whenever they needed vital information (health, ammo). Instead, I decided to make the GamePad screen into something like a portable terminal that gives the player additional information. In many science fiction literature, television, movies, and even games, soldiers are equipped with mini computers strapped to their arms that provide them with helpful information on the battlefield. The idea is that the GamePad’s touch screen will function as one of these.
The feature I’m currently working on is creating a map of the level that the player can scroll around via the touch screen. On the main screen, the game will have a mini map that focuses only on the player’s immediate vicinity. When they need information about what is going on elsewhere in the level, then can zoom in and out and scroll around the world. This map could be used to look at the progress of mission objectives, the status of allies and enemies around the level, weapon drops around the area, and so on. I was also considering giving it other uses, like communicating with allies or remotely controlling vehicles or weapons.
I currently have basic functionality for the game in place. Players can connect their computers and tablets (or phones technically), then move their character on the computer around via the handheld device. Next, I will begin working on some of the golfing/shooter hybrid gameplay, which I will go a bit more into on my next blog post. Once that is done, I begin working on features that make sure of the touch screen, essentially flip flopping development between the two. I haven’t figured out how I’m going to take screenshots, much less record video to show my work on this. I’m probably just going to have someone take pictures or video tape me showing the features off. My current goal is to have a cool prototype to show off at my school’s booth (Rochester Institute of Technology) at this year’s Game Developer’s Conference for those who would liked to play with this in person. For anyone who may be attending this year, hopefully this student project sounds like something you would be interested in seeing there.
Aaaand that’s about all I’ve got for now. Till next time!