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Terror Chasm Development Recap 4: Playable Characters-


Of the major elements of this game, nothing has probably been changed quite as radically from our original plans, as the playable characters have. Right now Terror Chasm is currently in the alpha stage of development, and while we have the foundations for most of the systems and features that will be in the final game, there are a few exceptions to this. One of the most notable, is the lack of multiplayer functionality that will be in the release version of the game. Although we only have one character in there right now (Lilly), Terror Chasm is actually designed to be primarily a four player online co-op game, with the secondary option of also being single player (just in case you hate dealing with other people).

But our original concept was actually for the game to be a 4 v 1 asymmetrical multiplayer style of game closer to other online horror games like Dead By Daylight. The first idea we came up with was to have the four human characters going up against the plant monster, which would also be a playable character. This was our working premise for a little while as we were initially doing the design documents. However, when trying to design the system for how a playable plant would operate, even in theory, we realized that there were some major issues with this. For one thing, to get the plants to act the way we envisioned (being able to rip their way out of the walls as they do now in the game), while simultaneously allowing a player to control them properly, we realized that we would need a completely different user interface system for the person controlling the plant than we would have for the rest of the human players. We came up with several ideas including giving the player controlling the plant a top down view of the level and making their role/gameplay method much more akin to a strategy game rather than the action platforming of the other players. This would allow them to plan out how they were going to attack the human characters as those players moved around the level.

Another idea was to just have the vines have a camera attached to them and the player who is controlling the plant would see everything from the vine's perspective as they're moving through the walls to pursue and attack the other players. This would make the plant's gameplay seem more action oriented, as they would be able to actively go after the other characters in real time, and on their level. Of course to do this we would have to create a system for that player to actually be able to see through the walls to track the other players and that can be very messy and complicated for multiple reasons. Basically, the problem we kept running into with all of these approaches for having a playable plant monster, is that we would essentially have to design a totally separate game for the person playing the antagonist, and then jam it together with the other gameplay of the human characters and hope it works well together.

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But the chances of that happening and working out well are pretty slim. We realized that the gameplay style for the person playing the plant would be so radically different from the rest of the game, either no one would want to do it, or it would be so much fun that everyone would want to just be the plant. It would be almost impossible to make it even with the other player's experiences in terms of enjoyment and have it be about as fun to play as the other characters, because the gameplay would be so radically different. In fact we knew there was a good chance it would seem very weird and disorienting to have gameplay that is so utterly asymmetrical as that. With a game like Dead By Daylight it kind of works because the killers operate and run around mostly like the survivors do. But the plant would have to move completely differently, it wouldn't even be vaguely humanoid at all. And even with DBD, one of its most common complaints from its players is lack of balancing between the killers and the survivors. Can you imagine how much worse that might get if the monster had such a completely different gameplay style? As a developer, I don't even like to think about how to try to balance that properly.

In addition to all of this, designing and implementing that kind of gameplay for the plant would essentially double (at least) our development time. And for a small two man studio like ours, that is bad. This is why we decided to scrap the idea of having a playable monster and any type of PvP (player versus player) and just stick with the four human characters as the playable ones, and make the plants completely controlled by A.I. This also eliminates a lot of the balancing issues that you see in many PvP style games. In Terror Chasm, everyone is on the same team and must work together to beat the level. And even if only one player survives and makes it to the end, the entire team gets credit for the win. Cooperation becomes mandatory and essential for victory.

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However, ditching the asymmetrical PvP gameplay wasn't the only major change to the playable characters. Their premise and back story have also gone through several iterations. The first idea that we had was that these characters were going to be explorers, going through the temple as the result of a university funded expedition. But we decided that this was kind of boring. As a company that loves villains, we wanted these characters in this Twisted Jenius game to be darker than that. We wanted them to have some edge to them. So instead we decided that they would be thrill thieves who ended up getting mysteriously teleported to the temple after breaking into the wrong house. This concept was mostly inspired by the real life "Bling Ring" who famously stole from many high-end and celebrity homes. I felt this would open the door for more interesting options with character development and make them more amoral and flawed. But not only did this decision make these characters more "edgy", but it also solved a few other problems as well. For instance, I didn't want them to look like the typical explorer style of action hero like Nathan Drake or Laura Croft. Although the kinds of outfits that those characters wear might be very practical for stumbling around dirty jungles and ancient ruins, they don't look very cool to me. I wanted the characters of Terror Chasm to wear something more interesting, and so by having them somewhat obsessed with living the L.A. lifestyle, and then magically and unexpectedly teleported to the temple, I could more easily get away with having them dressed in something closer to high fashion. This also has the added bonus of explaining how they could even have a chance of navigating these traps and obstacles and surviving this situation in the first place; being experienced burglars who know how to get in and out of awkward places where they're not supposed to be.

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The four characters are named Skeeter, Lilly, Daisy, and Sharky. However this wasn't the original lineup. Back when they were going to be explorers from a university, the character of Daisy wasn't a part of this. Instead, that character was originally going to be an elderly professor who was supervising the archaeological exploration. This is important from a gameplay standpoint because each of the characters has their own unique skills or advantages that they can add to the team. Lilly is the smallest and lightest and she can balance on things better and fit into places that other characters can't. Skeeter is the tallest and can jump the highest. Sharky is the strongest, and heaviest. And Daisy is the fastest and can jump the longest. But Daisy wasn't in the original plan and the professor character had different attributes. Despite being at a physical disadvantage, the professor was going to be able see and interpret puzzle clues and hieroglyphics that the other characters could not. But much like the problems with the playable plant monster, this presented some major challenges such as having to give the player whose playing the professor a different U.I. than all of the other characters. We could also imagine there would be some serious potential problems with this character having to communicate with the other players quickly and accurately in such an intense and fast-moving game. And once again the gameplay for that character would be very different from the other characters which could create issues with how desirable playing that character would be. One of the advantages of having a lot of game design experience, is that you can see these things coming before you even have to begin actual development and so we didn't waste any time even prototyping a system like that and just scraped the professor character in favor of the speedy Daisy instead. Her gameplay is much more similar to the other characters and of course this worked much better once we changed the premise from university archaeologist explorers, to thrill thieves.

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Right now, Lilly is the only character in the game and this version of Terror Chasm that we have is just a single player experience. Part of this is for development purposes (it's easier to set up and test for one player) and the other reason is because we wanted to make sure we had a single player option. But this is designed to be a primarily multiplayer game and that is one of the biggest things that we still have yet to do for development. Most of the other systems of the game are things we've already started, have an established foundation for, and are currently operational to one extent or another. But this one needs the multiplayer system functionality, as well as the actual characters themselves and plenty of testing and balancing to go along with that. Certain aspects of the puzzles and even the level generation will also have to be altered to accommodate multiplayer.

This blog marks the end of the four-part recap series (here's part 1, part 2 and part 3) designed to catch you up on what we've done so far. We've accomplished a lot and we still have some more to go. I hope you'll continue to follow along with us on this dark development journey. Video games take time, but this is happening. Terror chasm is coming...

- False Prophet