Dev Diary: Precipice

For the second project in Studio 2 this trimester our students are making a game inspired by a piece from the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA). Brendan and myself have also decided to make a game as well alongside our students. I chose Red Shift by Shane Cotton.

Red Shift by Shane Cotton

Originally I wasn’t planning to make a game. I had planned to prioritise my other projects instead. However, Red Shift grabbed my attention from across the room. Shane drew inspiration from tribal lore, in this case his own tribal lore and the story of Taiamai:

“The work alludes to the story of Taiamai, a great bird that once arrived in the artist’s region of Northland, bringing so much mana (power) to the people that a rival chief attempted to capture it. The bird escaped by melting into the rock, where its spirit remains.”, Artist’s Statement for Red Shift by Shane Cotton

However, Shane did not intend for Red Shift to be a direct translation of the story into a visual format. Instead, it was trying to capture a sense of tension and being adrift. The overall tone of Red Shift is dark with a dark grey scale terrain on the left hand side. The sharp cliff face on the left hand side is based on photos of the Grand Canyon. It feels dark and threatening but at the same time less threatening than the cloud/fog filled void that comprises the majority of the picture. Both the cliff and the fog serve to accentuate the height of the birds. The birds themselves are very muted colours. They stand out against the background but it feels as if the environment has drained them. For now they’re flying above it, holding on, but what if they stop flying? What happens when they run out of strength? For me this is where the tension in Red Shift truly shines through.

This tension is what I want to capture in ‘Precipice’, my interpretation of Red Shift. I want the player to feel the darkness and tension but how best to approach that? If I simply recreated the artwork and had the birds move that wouldn’t convey the same feeling. The player will be a disconnected observer unable to influence what happens. If they have no agency in the world I think they will struggle to feel that tension. My solution began with this:

Precipice – Environment

For Precipice I’ve chosen to rotate the player’s perspective. Rather than a cliff on the side I wanted the player to be high above a sharp and threatening terrain. From this high viewpoint the player will see the birds slowly circling around above the dark terrain. You can see the result of this in the video below.

Where does the sense of tension come in though? The birds will slowly circle the environment moving up and down. The player will control a single bird at a time. As long as the player holds down a key the bird won’t fall. Every second the player lets go the bird will fall further and further down. After a short time the bird will disappear and the player is control of one of the remaining birds. This continues until there are no birds left at which point the game ends.

The tension here comes from the player knowing they must always hold down a key for the birds to live. The moment they let go the birds move rapidly closer to oblivion. Eventually the player will always need to let go though. As the birds fall they will desaturate as their colour/life is drained out of them.

From an audio standpoint each bird will have a unique song. As long as the bird is alive the song will play. As a bird moves closer to death it’s song will fade. When all the birds are gone there will be silence. All of the songs will rely on standard elements such as strings to convey that feeling of tension.

I’m hoping the audio and the visuals will be sufficient to convey the tension to the player. However, it may not be sufficient. Other possibilities I’m considering are increasing or changing randomly the keys the player must hold to force them to continually act to continually be on alert to avoid the birds dying. Once the remaining elements are in this will be something that I iterate on based on feedback from playtesting.

More news on Precipice will be coming shortly 🙂

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About Iain

Former game developer turned independent. I'm the owner/operator of the mobile app company Injaia.

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