The past couple of weeks have seen us enter a new phase with the game. We’re following the sort-of-standard development cycle in that for us “alpha” means “playable, but not yet feature complete”, and that’s where we are now. That’s not to say that the game is entirely fleshed out, because it lacks a tonne of art assets to fill out multiple islands, and it needs lashings more work on fine tuning our combat and stealth systems.
However, we are now able to jump in and play, and that’s an enormously pleasing place to be. In the rest of this post I want to give you an overview of the project, and to talk to you a bit about our plans.
Just so we’re clear, here’s an overview of the game: Sir, You Are Being Hunted is a stealth and survival-focused FPS. It has a British horror/sci-fi theme, and is set on an archipelago of mysterious islands, which are stalked by robotic gentlemen and their mechanical hounds. You must survive and escape from the islands. Doing that will involve piecing together the method for your escape, surviving with what you scavenge, and employing found weapons (including shotguns, axes, bombs and traps) in your battle against the automaton foe.
The islands are procedurally generated. This means every player will get a different map, with a different layout, and it’ll be entirely possible for players to generate their own unique archiplagoes for each playthrough, customising the world settings to create personalised environments. These maps will be savable, allowing you to share particularly lovely ones with other players.
Sir is being developed in Unity, and will be released some time in 2013 on Windows, OSX and Linux. We have no current plans for multiplayer or other formats, but those are due consideration.
Who Is Making Sir, You Are Being Hunted?
James Carey is our lead-designer and fearless motivational speaker. James is obsessed with game systems and simulationist approaches to design, evidenced by his time working at Bohemia (Arma 2) and The Creative Assembly (Viking: Battle For Asgard, Empire Total War). James is responsible for overseeing production of the game, and does a bit of coding and a tonne of design.
Tom Betts is our clever programmer. He’s worked for years in the code-art scene, making mods, installations, music, and a few games, but is now getting fully involved Unity-driven coding. Tom joined us to work Fallen City for Channel 4, but our primary shared interest is generative and procedural approaches to game design. Tom has built our landscape generator, and a lot more besides.
Jim Rossignol – that’s me! – he’s a writer of long repute. You probably know him from publications such as Rock, Paper, Shotgun, PC Gamer, and so on. He’s working as the creative director and hapless spokesperson for the project.
Dan Puzey is our part-time coder. His interests lie in artificial intelligence, and he’s been bringing the hunters to life and making it possible for us to fear our automatic gentlemen!
We’re also being helped out by a handful of freelance artists, including Christophe Canon, who has provided us with sterling texture and modelling work.
What stage is the development of the game at?
Right now we’re piecing together a build of the game that we’re happy to film gameplay footage of. That means having in full functional world generation, as well as working, combative and responsive hunter AI, and at least the first pass of our UI and general world interface. Once that’s in place we’re going to start showing off the game in action, which we can’t wait to do. Most of those systems are up and running, and now it’s s case of ironing out bugs and making them look presentable before we start pouring in my fancy content.
There’s a tonne of work still to be done on things like fleshing out the AI behaviour, and there are numerous other characters we’d like to introduce to the island that we’ve only just begun work on. All that will begin to unfold in the coming weeks. Now that we’ve broken the back of making this a playable game – at least in its early, prototype state – we’re going to keep you updated with what’s happening from week to week.
What happens next?
Well, we’ve self-funded the project this far, and now we’re looking at how to continue. Kickstarter is, of course, central to those considerations. What we’re aiming to do definitely needs that sort of pre-order level support, and going that route might be our best bet to pulling off this minor feat of indie-game development. The next few weeks will decide for certain what we do next. Whatever happens, we’re going to create a fantastic open-world game that stands on its own merits. Frankly, none of us can wait for you guys to be able to play it.
But all in good time.
Okay, so what’s happened recently then?
In brief: open-world stealth and robot cleverness.
Dan and Tom have made huge advances in terms of AI functionality and general player system usefulness. Until the last week or so, our robotic gents had only basic senses, reacting with too-inhuman speed and precision to the sights and sounds of our procedural world. We’ve recently completed another pass on these senses allowing them to be modified by bot-specific variables so that our hunters act with more personality, and behave more interestingly as you sneak and fight.
Crucially, this AI stuff comes along with a new system for concealment whereby a sample of the surrounding foliage modifies the player’s visibility (along with their speed and stance), which we’re hugely pleased with. People have been asking how we will handle stealth in an open landscape with lots of foliage, and the answer is basically that we are calculating the visibility of the player from his surroundings, and where he’s standing. This will be displayed on-screen with a Thief-like visibility meter, to give players a good sense of how visible they are. The system works really well in conjunction with the visual detection ranges of our bots: if you are laying still in long grass they will not see you until they get very close, but you might give yourself away by moving. You will be able to sneak quite effectively, but it will also be a skill that players will master as they play, which I am sure players will begin to perfect when they intuit the amount they are hidden by differing vegetation. This combined system (of foliage-based visibility and varied states of AI alertness) means we’re starting to get some real cat-and-mouse emergent behaviours from our AI.
Bots also now lead targets with varying degrees of accuracy, react with varying degrees of interest to partially-glimpsed movement and generally behave more like thinking machines than predictable automata. It’s all exciting stuff, and we have Dan to thank for putting so much of his free time into it.
This layering on of complexity to our AI will, of course, continue throughout development. We’re now working on a morale system and cover-taking mechanics that should lead to breakable units and even more emergent behaviour. It’s starting to become a very dangerous place to move around in…
Literally as I’ve been writing this, we’ve seen a beautiful little emergent vignette in the latest build. We were watching a hunter patrol, and we were hidden and unobserved. One of the patrolling hunters spooked some ravens who were clustered around the base of a monument. The noise of the ravens taking flight in turn triggered the bots status from Safe to Alert state, which in turn ups the stats that govern how much attention they’re paying to their surroundings. This caused him to spot the player (safely hidden while the bot had been less wary) and the hunt was on! Emergence like that helps us feel that we’re on the right track with the stealth aspect of the game.
Let us know what you think on the forum!