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looking for opinions on choosing art design/perspective

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Alex_J godlike master sticky

Hello everybody. I am looking for any opinions - just got one of those decisions to make without any clear answer and some extra opinions may be nice.

I am brainstorming lots of ideas for next game project. I've settled on a survival game set in alaska that is meant to be relaxing, not stressful. Think The Long Dark but realistic - you aren't going to freeze to death in the next five minutes and wolves won't kill you. There is lots of chores to do, but there is always enough time to do them at relaxed pace. Imagine you play the game for pure escapism, and you keep playing it because you are building towards goals in the game slowly (i.e. collecting logs one by one and then stacking one by one to build a cabin over course of a summer). I dunno if there is any other games exactly like this but I imagine the audience could extend even to filthy casuals as far as farmville players.

I am trying to decide between a top down look like this:

or first person, like this:

I've done a bit of experimenting to figure out what the technical and production pro's and con's will be for either style. In general, I think top down is going to make life easier for a solo developer like me. But I don't want to focus on that here. Instead, I want to try and imagine the players experience with either perspective.

Immediately, i see top down as being more unique and eye-catching. Its like looking through a window into a little world - I feel that it really emphasizes the romance, which for an Alaska survival game might be a perfect compliment.

First person is more mainstream friendly, i suppose. More immersive perhaps? The biggest attractor is that we can see the sky. I feel so much character of the game could be in the sky, and its kind of a shame that in top down, you never see it!

With top down we have to have animations for the character. I've always preferred to see my character in games but i honestly can't explain why. Somehow it feels more immersive to me. I suppose in a first person game you might technically be looking through the eyes, but you have no kinesthetic awareness of your body. In third person or top down, you have that kinesthetic sense (i.e. you know what is around/behind you.)

I also feel that for the role playing minded person, it's great to see your character, see their clothing, see how they react to the world, etc.

with top down i can also design it such that you can play with only the mouse. I am big believer that the simpler a game is to control, the better it is. With first person, there is no choice but to use WASD/controller input. That is no problem of course but I feel it might not be as relaxing as click-to-move.

With topdown I think I'd follow Project Zomboid example above and use detailed 2d sprites with a 3d character and 3d terrain. No rotation in camera obviously.

With first person I'd probably do a no-texture, cell shaded style. I try to keep it as detailed looking as possible - shouldnt feel cartoony - but I'd like to keep materials and textures as light and simple as possible - both technical-wise and authoring-wise.

Well, thanks for reading if you did and if you have any thoughts please share. Even if it seems random or pointless it may help a lot - only so many ideas one brain can consider.


  • killnpc
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    killnpc interpolator

    i would err on selecting the game cam that best services the core gameplay experience.

  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J godlike master sticky

    suppose you are interested in survival games, or just nature themed games in general. You might be a harcore enthusiast of the genre, or maybe somebody who doesn't want to play anything that doesnt look friendly and inviting.

    You are flicking through steam, and perhaps you see two games very similar . One looks like the first image above, the other looks like the second.

    Impression I think I get from first would be more inviting, I think. I suppose I associate a lot of baggage as soon as I see first person and especially a gun. But I have played a ton of competitive shooters over the years and when I was gaming a lot I was a "hardcore" gamer. I am definitely not in touch with modern gamers, nor do I relate very well to more casual audience.

    I suppose in a survival game like this, the core gameplay is task management. More concretely, you will be gathering, building, fishing, and hunting. Perhaps for management style games, a top down approach more immediately conveys that?

    I mean I can make it work first person or top down. Either way is viable. Its more about, when you see the marketing material and watch game on youtube, hows it going to make you feel about the game.

  • killnpc
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    killnpc interpolator

    wow, official market research is 'spensive.

    i think a top down camera favors the macro mindset, where it's more about framing scenarios and observing the relationships of objects. while a first person view lends to a micro one, where it's more about passing through a large space and reacting to a stream of encounters.

    marketing wise, i believe what initially grabs the attention of an audience will be artful charisma.

  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J godlike master sticky

    Yeah, lol. I cant afford to do the proper research so I just ask around - probably some people who have at least some better notions than I do.

    What you've described here is exactly what I was looking for. I think what you've said sort of confirms my instincts about it but with better vocabulary. I think for the themes/experience I have in mind, top down might be best fit. I want avoid rabbit hole of chasing realistic simulation and instead focus on framing more of the romantic fantasy.

    Artful charisma - another great way to describe how I should focus on the art. Thanks.

  • poopipe
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    poopipe godlike master sticky

    Depends a lot on the sort of experience you want for the player.

    The core pillars of a survival game are resource management, risk assessment and the absence of a win condition.

    The question you need to ask yourself is whether you want the slow, creeping desperation of something like This war of mine /zomboid or the second by second paranoia you get with something like dayZ or scum?

    To my mind you're not going to get the latter unless it's 1st or close 3rd person - you need a strong sense of presence in order to make the player feel like there's always something creeping up on them.

    The sense of detachment you get from a more distant viewpoint can lend itself to making the player feel less direct control over the situation and thus enhance the feeling of helplessly watching everything go to shit around you.

    Market research is a bit of a problem.

    What I have observed is that the games that last the longest and gain the committed fanbases are the ones where players are free to interact with each other and the environment on their own terms.

    In the single player/less interactive space you need a hook -

    in the case of zomboid, the fact it looks shit and is really, really difficult makes it stand out.

    This war of mine had a strong visual style and pushed aggressively against the glorification of violence and war that was prevalent at the time of its release.

    You get the idea.

  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J godlike master sticky

    thanks a lot @poopipe

    for time being i only plan on a single player experience because i am coding it myself and I am a lightly seasoned beginner in that front.

    my initial inspiration was playing zomboid and i kept thinking, "i could make this!" (of course, subtracting the multiplayer, modding support, etc)

    But there was a lot of extraneous simulation in zomboid I felt could be streamlined out to make a game that is easy to jump into, and then once I really got into planning I figured it may be best to cut out zombies entirely and just do a pure wilderness survival game, more like The Long Dark or Green Hell.

    But I have to do something different - and the simplest way I can see for that is to just make the game catered to my own taste. In other words, every time I am playing these games there is always a few things that I don't like and would prefer to change...

    I lived off-grid in alaska for about 5 years and it is true there is plenty of work to do but never once was there a thought that I'm going to die or I don't have enough time. The whole point of the lifestyle is to be stress-free and have more balance.

    Ofcourse a game must be fun so there needs to be something driving the player to keep doing stuff. To me, the biggest hook in survival games is usually wanting to build up more efficient systems for resource collection, build better/safer shelters, general "life improvement" stuff like that.

    So, I was thinking of trying to focus the game around that and not so much on "survival" in the sense that death is around every corner. More like, there is tons of ways you improve your life but it all takes some time and dedication (e.g. to make a log cabin you need to cut down trees and let them season for an entire summer, so it's a two year process), but with some planning ahead pretty much anybody could accomplish their goals.

    It still seems like top-down would be my preferred method but that is mostly because of ease of production (I can use 2d trees rather than 3d).

    Talking about sense of detachment from more distant camera perspective, if we think about that in a more relaxed game experience where the player is mostly just slowly working towards their own little goals (like, I'm going to build a log cabin, or I'm going to cut a trail to the river so I can get fish more easily, or I'm going to collect firewood for next winter), I think in that case the detachment might work to help capture the romance/fantasy more so than first person/third person? It seems like it to me, but I have trouble judging my own artwork.

    Perhaps before I dive into actual production on this, I can make an alternate prototype version with first or third person and see how it feels. But the simplicity of pseudo-2d that i can do with top down is a major draw since it means I can spend way less effort on making art and optimizing.

  • SimonKl
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    SimonKl triangle

    I completely feel the mood you want to create (I think haha). I remember when I was around 15/16 I tried doing survival in the outer Alps in southern Germany and the collective dream of my 3 friends and me at that time was to have a far off cabin in the woods of Canada. I immediately had to think of this again when I saw the first image and read your post. And damn you have been off-grid in Alaska for 5 years?? That sounds awesome in my ears! Truly the tranquility, peace and balance every stressed game developer needs...

    I definitely see top down as the better choice. Besides all the points you already made about it being easier for you on your own while you're still starting out and don't have anyone else on board I also think it is way more moody or atmospheric. Think about the seasons change from the perspective on your first picture. And as you said, seeing a sort of adorable character sneezing when snowflakes fall on his from the cold winter air red nose and seeing the exhaled air flowing like steam into the sky etc. etc.

    In my mind resources like logs outside the hut or certain items you rarely find in Alaskan nature that slowly pile up or are located somewhere around or inside your home being permanently visible (which is best displayed top down) give the home, that slowly evolves as the player continues to play a more, well homey feeling. Same goes for modifications or expansion to the house.

    The biggest attractor is that we can see the sky. I feel so much character of the game could be in the sky, and its kind of a shame that in top down, you never see it!

    I think adding lakes or ice surfaces could turn the reflected starry night sky into something at least as captivating as looking up in first person perspective.

    Btw great idea to create a game that is more chill!

  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J godlike master sticky


    about lakes and ice surfaces reflecting the sky - that's a beautiful idea! especially to show all the hues of pink during winter. That could be really beautiful.

    i am glad you made some mentions about effects we might see on the character as well. something i hadn't thought of a lot, though my preference is always for third person because i love being able to see the character.

    yeah my ideas now are strongly focused on a game that is mostly about a very slow, relaxed, stress-free experience that is about escapism and romanticism, with occasional thrills from hunting, fishing, traveling in unknown territory - but never that ever-present dread you find in so many survival games. Of course there has to be some motivating factors but i think if i stick mostly to realism, then only a real moron is going to manage to freeze or starve to death over the course of a few months, but not in a single night.

    i actually discovered my love for nature in northern italy where some of the people are speaking german (mt sciliar was first mountain i climbed), and that is what led to me moving to alaska later. that part of europe is probably my favorite place in the world (sud-tirol, dolomites, alps).

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