Mice on Venus is a game about investigating cases with ambiguous morality.
Mankind has left Earth, setting up colonies floating in the upper atmosphere of the planet Venus. The player follows a drifter renting on a remote Outpost. The players job is to solve cases assigned to them by the worlds Citizens and decide for themselves what's right & wrong.
The project began in the summer of 2017. The aim was to create a game that was inspired by the RPGs and Role Playing games of the late 90's, while expanding on their functionality with advancements in technology. The game offers a dynamic narrative focused on allowing the player to figure out cases (missions) without little to no hand-holding from the game.
The projected deadline of the verticle slice is April 2018. However tweaks and alterations are expected to take place after this time.
(Disclaimer - All assets were created exclusively by myself (Callum Hancock) including animations, models, concept, design, texture and mechanics. Audio work by the talented Kevin Doran.
(3-4 minor placeholder texture exist in the current build, which are in the process of being replaced)
Although this list may not be exhaustive, it aims to cover most vital and interesting elements the game boasts.
To facilitate the investigation mechanics the environment had to be populated with believable Citizens that displayed just as complex routines as the Case relevant entities.
Homes and Friends : Each NPC has their own house & friends. If the player was to take the time to follow a single Citizen they would find that they interact with the same NPCs often and return to the same house at roughly the same time each day.
P.O.I System : The NPCs utilize a 'Points of Interest' based pathfinding system. Various locations throughout the map are marked as P.O.I, and the NPC decides at random from a list of their favourites which they wish to visit.
(The functionality allowing NPC to talk to each other has been removed from the current build due to instability, but will be reimplemented ASAP).
At any point the player is able to enter Inspection Mode seamlessly by zooming all of the way up to the Protagonist's shoulder. Doing so will Vignette the viewport and constrain the focal point to whichever area the player is looking at on the map. This mode allows the player to interact further with objects in the scene.
Interact with Items of Interest : While exploring the world the player will be able to pick up and interact with any small object in the environment. While inspecting the player can manipulate the object in the viewport to, allowing it to be seen from any angle.
Constrained Depth of Field : While in Inspection mode (not to be confused with Interacting with Item mode) the Depth of Field's focal point will be constrained to the area that the player aims directly towards. This effect updates dynamically as the players aim shifts. The effect intends convey a sense of 'concentration' to the player.
The Personal. Digital. Assistant - PDA
Mice on Venus requires the player to supply their own critical thinking and investigation skills. Through this the game expects the player to keep their own notes and create their own objectives. The PDA allows this functionality without the need for external note keeping
Note Taking : At any point during play the player is able to drawn their PDA and take notes on the situation. While drawn The mouses is detetches from the camera, while still allowing the player to 'click and drag' to manipulate the viewport. This allows the player to take notes without feeling completely devoid of controls whiele doing so. Onced Opened the player is able to creat e their own Header and Text Body for each note. Each will be added to a central list the player can browse back through at any time.
Storing Items/Clues : The player is allowed to open the PDA while inspecting an item. Doing so will present an additional icon; the inventory button. This allows the player to store an inspected item, doing so will link that item to an entry in the PDA. Opening that entry back up and pressing the inventory button again will bring the stored item back out. This allows the player to reference clues in the text and store clues for visual reference.
Casual mode : Opting for Casual Mode at the beginning of the game automatically populates the players PDA with entries pertaining to each item they find. While this helps players who wish to play casually, it still allows the player to modify these entries and create their own if they so wish.
(due to more crital mechanics requiring attention the current implomentatino of Casual Mode appears to change nothing. However critical changes do take place behind the scene that will be populated at a later date)
Each of the games Cases (Missions) are based around the world constantly progressing throughout play. Key scenarios happen at scripted times throughout each day, requiring the player to properly time-manage each of their cases.
Accelerated Time : By default the game simulates time an an accelerated pace. Roughly 5 minutes in real life is equivalent to an hour ingame. This allows the cases to keep pace, without wasting the players time.
Real Time Simulation : However a secondary option is present allowing the player to run the game at real time. This of course runs the game at the same time and speed as real life. Although the games format does not suit the more 'mobile'nature of a game that requires 24 hour attention, the option was left in as I personal enjoy the concept and feel some players may find in novel.
Accurate Sun simulation : The games time and sun are fundamentally linked. At any given time the sun's transit across the sky is accurately simulated, in accordance with the time. Furthermore the sun also takes into account the Longitudinal positioning of the map on the plant. For instance, if the map was to to be plotted as being within the planets Arctic circle the sun would never fully set below the horizon, as is the case in real life. For the sake of gameplay the time/day and tilted axis mimics that of Earth's, as Venus' has a rotational period slower than that of its year.
Environmental Timekeeping : Due to the games HUD-less design principal the time is only displayed on the numerous devices throughout the games environment. This was done in an effort to keep the player emmisered in the experience, without having to draw the players attention 'outside' of the game to check the time.
At the start of each Case (Mission) the player will be given a single nebulus objective; Find my wife and report what she's up to, spy on this person, infiltrate this group etc. The player is then give a few initial threads, then it is up to them alone to decide how they see the case to fruition.
Ambiguous Morality : The game's core theme is 'Ambiguous Morality'. Each case tackles issues that do not necessarily have an obvious right or wrong answer. The game makes no effort to state what's a good, bad, right or wrong action to the player. It leaves the participation, and the reflection, up to the player alone. The game aims through this mechanic to encourage the player to think more deeply about their choices, their opinion on the situation and what reprecious that has on the people involved in each case.
Vertical Slice Case : course of the the Vertical Slice level the player is told to investigate a man's wife and report what she's up to. The game initially allows the player to assume the wife should be in the wrong. While over the course of the mission, presenting the player with increasing evidence that muddies the water. Ultimately resulting in no clear right or wrong participant.
Case Write Up: At the conclusion of each Case the player must report back their finding to a Case Giver. During this stage the player is able to 'spin' their evidence however they wish, further allowing them to project their own moral compass.
Casual Mode : At the begging of the game the player will be prompted with a choice; Casual or Hands On mode. Hands on mode plays the game as it was intended. However, Casual mode replaces various points of gameplay such as the player creating their own objectives, pointing out their destinations more obviously etc. I personally feel the alterations made to the core gameplay spooils what I find fun about the game. However it would be foolish to ignore an entire demographic of players who would infact preffer a more hands-off gameplay experience.
dynamic contextually aware Soundtrack
Still in its early stages of development, I'm working with the talented Kevin Doran to create a dynamic contextually aware ambient soundtrack.
Layering on/off tracks : At its core the system utilizes a base soundtrack for each 'zone' of the game, then layers on tracks depending on context and situation.
A dynamic soundtrack for a dynamic experience : We both agree that traditional soundtracks for games are much too rigid and reminiscent of Movie Soundtracks. Rather than copy the simple 'form' of movie soundtracks, I believe that they should be copied in only theory. A games soundtrack should be dynamically 'scored' to each situation persistently, matching the dynamic nature of games.
Foot IKs : The player characters rig utilizes a Foot IK system to position each foot correctly on the surface below. This is done in an effort to avoid potentially emmerision breaking situations where meshes unnaturally phase through actors in the world.
The IK is only simulated while ascending and descending stairs. This is done to conserve performance, as through testing the effect is only apparent during this action.
Hand Placement : To facilitate a more natural transit system through doors, they animate indipednetly of the play, allowingthem to essentially walk past them unobstructed. a special Walkthrough IK setup is ran during this transition, placing the player's hand on the door independently of the leg animation. This creates a look as if the player were simply pushing open the door as they pass through effortlessly.
(Due to the updated mesh and rig of the new character these IK's have yet to be re configured in the newest build).
Auto Translation Text
Facilitating Inspection : The games aesthetic and world call for the multilingual nature of the evnironment. To accommodate this choice in design each foreign piece of script is accompanies with a translation when focused on by the player. The Protagonist is able to read this script, while the player presumably cannot. This method allows all text, enviornmental or otherwise, to be read. This aids the investigatory nature of the game, while effectively communicating information the Protagonist knows directly to the player in an immersive fashion.
Sight head Tracking
While walking throughout the world occasionally the heads of Citizens will turn to look at the player. This was done in an effort to help the believablility of the worlds NPCs, as the games philosphy requires a certain amount of empathy for the Citizens.
Realistic Behaviour : Although currently working with NPC-Player only the mechanic is currently being expanded to include numerous 'Objects of Interest' throughout the environment that can dynamically catch the attention of both the player and NPCs. Allowing the player to look around dynamically just like the NPCs helps to make the player feel somewhat disconntected from the charcter, as if they were looking down on what they're doing rather than simply controlling them.
(Due to the updated mesh and rig of the new characters this functinoality has yet to be re configured in the newest build).
LCD Screen Replication
Each of the ingame displays incorporate a material that allows any image to be split up into it's component RGB channels. This allows the game to emulate the real life method of displaying images on digital displays.
Swappable Pixel Geometry : Due to the setup utilized within the material the Pixel Geometry arrangement can be easily swapped out and modified, even going as far as to allow for Colour calibration of each display. this allows for the single parent material to be utilized on various types of display. For instance the default setup has the Pixels setup in a standary TV_CRT arrangement, however some more 'advanaced' display will be swapped out for 'Diamoand' OLED arrangements.
Distance based LCD : Although the game aim's to emulate some filmic effects, emulating realistic displays results in a real life phenomenon of a 'pattern' present when viewing displays on other displays. to remedy this the Material takes into account how far away the player is from the material. This is used to fade out the effect smoothy as the player moves away from the display. This results in an effect similar to how the player would perceive the effect, loosing any real definition between the lines, resulting in the image blending as it normal would in real life.
Controlled weather : During play occasionally it can begin to rain. Unreal's Particle System is used to generate the effect. The effect is produced relative to the players location, allowing the smallest number of particles to be rendered as possible, increasing the performance.
(as of the current build the rain has been disabled as sometimes the rain would turn on inside of some buildings).
Vertex Painting : Vertex Painting is utilized to draw on the different levels of surfaces allowing the blending of Dry, Damp and puddles. This increased control allows for realistically rendered muddles and 'collection zones' to be baked onto surfaces at considerably higher resoltions. Furthermore aggressive LOD's are used to quickly reduce the geometry of the surface, avoiding any uneccessary performance loss.
HDRI Reflections : to help the performance of the particle effect low resolution HDRi maps are used to reflect the environment inside of the water droplets.
Inline Dialogue Responses
Dialogue Boxes : The game utilizes a traditional method of dialogue delivery in a unique presentation. These dialogue boxes allow dialogue to be easily produces and altered, considering the volume that's needed for the game to be produced convincingly. Furthermore the setup facilitates the core gameplay. Setting up the dialogue within readable boxes allows the representation of 'hearing' words to be conveyed without the need for dialogue, If the player is too far away to read a piece of text, then they would be equally as too far away to have heard it. Furthermore if the player wants to pay attneiton to once conveyseration they may struggle to keep up with others in the area, simimlar to simply hearing. like how paying close attention to conversations works.
Single Script Party Conversation : The dialogue systems setup allows for a single Blueprint/Script to be utilized to store and produce dialogue for both the first and second party seamlessly. This drastically streamlines the dialogue process, Allowing for convenient setup of both parties speaking at the same time.
Subsurface scattering : Due to the volume of leafs in some areas, and how they overlap with one another it was important to allow a certain amount of light to pass through each leaf and onto the next one. Unreal's Sub Surface Lighting tools allows light to be visible through each individual leaf realistically and relatively efficiently.
Wind Simulation : Due to the games location being set exclusively in the clouds the environment is presumably windy. As such believable wind simulation is required. using a combination of panning, noise and Material offset an effective and cheap wind simulation was produced. AS the effect was alligned relative to the world it had the added benifit of having it's 'roll's line up with sepporate actors in closs proximity, increasing the effects effectiveness. The technique had the added bonus of being able to be reused on sevral other loose elements in the envionrment such as Tarp, flags and banners.
Settings : Although not groundbreaking the inclusion of an settings menu is not always a staple of modern Indie titles. The game allows the player to choose their own desired resolution, the quality of the post processing effects, models, textures and more. This allows the maximum number of players to find the game accessible.
(Foundations are in place to allow the player to rebind keys, however work has not begun on this yet)
Pause screen : In line with the games HUD-less design principal the Pause Menu attempt to blend into the world itself. When called, the gameworld’s time dilates, creating a slow-motion effect. This allows the scene to carry on existing, while being reduced to a crawl. Furthermore all of the submenu buttons are present as 3D objects within the scene, along with the logo. This allows for a feeling of never fully being removed from the game even when paused.
Saving : The game allows the player to save their progress and return at a later date. Key moments/decisions in each case aautomatically save. Saving the game documents smaller details such as the cameras distance and exact position at the time of closing. This allows a greater feeling of simply 'carrying on just where you left off' as eveyrthing is exactly as it was.
contextual Interpolation Shifting : The camera is designed in such a way to feel removed from the player. The camera Interpolates to the desired position, creating a feeling of Gesture rather than input when the player moves the camera. Although Cinematic in effect at lower interpolation speeds it can make the camera feel unresponsive when moving rapidely throught e envionrment. As such the Interpolation speed of the camera dynamically shifts depending on Context. If the player is simply standing still it will slow to a cinematic crawl, while if the player is running it snaps quickly almost to the point of feeling like regular camera input.
(Please excuse the choppy performance of the video, it is due to the recording software and is not representative of the actual performance of the game).
Turntable - Buildings
Please note that this is a pre-alpha build of the game only intended as a demonstration of my portfolio and is not meant to be played as a real game yet. Performance and current gameplay does not reflect the final product. Things are broken and you will encounter bugs.
With all that in mind; please enjoy. If you have any thoughts or feelings please get in contact with me. Any feedback is appreciated.