Defend the Holy Grail against the undead hordes who seek to destroy it.
Occasion: Game Jam
Project Time: 48 hours
Team: 2 Designers, 2 Artists, 1 Programmer
Contribution: Game Design, Narrative Design,
Since I had next to no programming experience at that time and besides only just started with my game design education I took over the task of narrative design and the overall game rules while the others focussed on either programming or character modeling. The overall concept of the game was to defend a specific object (which later became the Holy Grail) against a constant swarm of enemies (Morgan le Fay’s undead hordes).
The means of defense was initially supposed to be a sword but the combat mechanic was cut due to time constraints (it was only two days after all). Instead, we came up with the idea of Virtue, a glowing sphere that would surround the characters and destroy a foe on touch. This idea was not only time-saving but also fit with the narrative logic of our setting. After all, the enemies were supernatural and the idea of chivalrous virtues plays a huge role in the King Arthur narrative (to be extra sure, I picked Sir Perceval and Sir Galahad, since they were actual Grail Knights in the legends).
Once the core mechanic was established we pondered about potential items and came to the conclusion that an item that restored the health of the Holy Grail would be a good addition. Other pickup items included a speed-boost and something that would increase the range of the attack/ virtue sphere but again, they were cut due to time constraints. Once more inspired by the legend we decided to make Faith the required healing item for the Grail and symbolize it with a cross. After some additional discussion, we wondered if we should add some sort of risk-reward element to the Faith item, especially since the game might lack challenge otherwise due to its nature as a two-player coop. The result of our second brainstorming session was as follows: a player would be able to collect as much as two Faith items to restore 25 HP each - but would not be able to attack an enemy while holding the item (“What reason should we give for the lack of attack?” “Uuuuhm… the knight is PRAYING?! He is so deep in prayer that he doesn’t mind the skeletons!”).
Setting a Time Limit:
A similar logic was applied to the time limit of the game: the two knights had to defend the Grail for a specific amount of time in order to be successful. Why this specific time-limit you might ask? Well, Merlin has to gather his power to prepare a spell of course! Which ended up with me drawing the UI for the Merlin-bar while the others tweaked the enemy’s attack and spawning behavior.
Once I was finished with this task and still had a decent amount of time I asked the rest of my team if the project would have room for cutscenes. Once I got their okay I started to write some dialogue between the characters which would explain the setting but also the basic game objective. Just doing a simple set of instructions would have been possible but in order to increase the player’s immersion, I decided to phrase the words in old-timey lingo. For example those two key elements
defend the Grail until Merlin has prepared his spell (winning condition)
don’t let enemies corrupt the Grail (losing condition)
were phrased as follows:
“I shall prepare a spell to banish these undead fiends back to hell where they belong. But that will take some time. Brave knights, you have to defend the Holy Grail at all costs! Don’t let the evil fiends taint its radiance, or we all shall perish!”
Clothing the game instructions in an archaic style that would fit the medieval setting has been especially fun for me since I was able to make use of my previous study subject. However, looking back I have to admit that the description might have been a bit too wordy at times. Once the instructional part was written I busied myself with drawing some pictures to illustrate the cutscenes. In the end (so basically during the second day) we were even able to add some audio which ended up with me speaking all the roles (even the male characters) because everyone else in the group was still occupied with their art- or programming tasks. The results of my short-lived career as a voice actor ended up being pretty hilarious because there was not enough time to properly tune the male voices.
The end result of our short game project was very simple but functional. Although the main game mechanic was very basic - it consisted of running - the fact that it could be used for different functions (killing enemy, defending Grail, collecting health items for the Grail) made the game far more strategical than previously expected. The addition of a second player enriched the gameplay even more despite the fact that both characters have the same move-set available. They can communicate to divide their tasks, e.g. one is in the outer field, preemptively killing enemies while the other one stays close to the Grail on a more defensive position which once again makes the game more strategic and varied.
Overall I think it has been a very interesting and enriching experience for me, especially since I entered the game jam as a complete novice and did not know what to expect. I think what I enjoyed most was the fact that every member of the team was able to work according to their strengths and everybody brought their unique skills to the table: those who already had done 3D modeling did cool models of the grail knights, the programmers and second-year designers worked together to write the scripts needed for the gameplay and I had the opportunity to contribute with my language and literature background to make the game more coherent and rounded.