Stone Age People
The Game in Brief
Stone Age People began its conception as an idea thrown out when brainstorming as part of a group project to create an Indie Game. For this project I worked as a game and audio designer, while taking on project management responsibilities. We were a seven strong team for this project.
Stone Age People is a game about surviving as many winters as possible. A survival game in the most basic sense, Stone Age People takes you to a mystical land where you as the chieftain must not only survive, but thrive, and by doing so, allow for your people to find a place to call their own.
game trailer and downloadable game file
Below on the left is the promotional gameplay video of Stone Age People. On the right, when you click on the “download the game” image, your download will start automatically. Wait for the zip file to download and unzip the file. Inside the first folder just open the “StoneAgePeople” icon and the game will run!
Sound design, effects and background scores
This was one of the parts of the project I enjoyed quite a bit, creating ambient and background scores, as well as sound effects!
As I knew the project was centered around exploration and set in the stone age, I worked to create ambiences set around forests, mountains, caves and water bodies. The ambiences that were predominant in the game, I then developed further into a set of day and night ambiences. This was to ensure the time of day as it passed in the game wasn’t just visual.
Following the development of the ambiences, I looked into creating background scores with various sounds, such as rattling of seeds, sand, crystal and rock shards and so on, only to find that it increased the noise levels in the game. I decided to put the background score in the backseat at that point. Instead, focused on various sound effects that were needed in the game, starting from the character’s footsteps, the mammoths trumpets, trods and so on.
As development progressed in the game, I focused on each aspect, spending time to create sound effects and cross checking the overall noise levels as well as sound effect levels and adjusting volumes or sound effects.
It was around this point that I started developing sound effects for the buildable objects in the game, such as the campfire, tent and more.
An interesting discovery
As a graduate in animation, I am familiar with the aspect of sound design and ambience with regards to animations. We would always layer various sound effects and backgrounds in time with the animation sequence to create a complete track for the animation.
For games however, I’ve realized that its quite the opposite. You don’t make a complete track for a specific asset. If you have a campfire and you wanted to add a sound effect and ambience for it, it would depend entirely on what is happening in the whole game.
If a separate ambience exists in the background, the only sound the campfire would need is the crackling of fire over time. Thinking logically, this shouldn’t have come as a surprise. However, as this was the first time I designed audio for assets in a game, I was surprised by how the ambiences when layered did not compliment each other, but instead made the overall atmosphere noisy!
Creation of the summer, winter and fighting background scores
I started with a few variations of the scores using inspiration from acapella performances, alongside more traditional music that would be relevant to the stone age. As I tried putting together various sounds I had gathered for the purpose however, I found I wasn’t able to create a satisfactory rhythm or beat. Following this defeat, I went to an instrument I was a little more familiar with – the piano.
A happy accident
One of the luckiest breaks I had over the course of the project was in developing the summer and winter scores. I had developed the scores as variations of each other on the piano, before polishing said scores.
As they were variations, they ended up using the same scale, with slight variations in the notes that were used. Both of the scores were relatively calm and soothing, with the most obvious changes being in the mood and slight change in rhythm pattern.
What we discovered by chance as we played the game once we added the background scores, was that even without programming a transition for the scores, the music blended in on its own!
As development of the game progressed, I constantly looked through the game to think of areas where sound effects or audio clips could be added and when I couldn’t think of any, I would look to my team mates for inspiration. It was a pleasant feeling knowing that we were all on the same page when it came to the sound effects, but it was absolutely fantastic when they suggested areas that I had missed. One prime example I can remember is the suggestion I had received for creating a transition sound effect for the onset of winter!
Adding the sound effect allowed for the onset of winter to be a little more obvious, adding to the visuals, bringing attention to the change in seasons.
Game level design
Our base concept was to create a survival game set in the stone age, where the ‘win factor’ was based on the number of winters you survived. As the weeks progressed on the project, this remained the key element. However some of our mechanics did evolve and change over time. Below is the initial level design for the game –
The initial project proposed having a base camp that would expand in a small piece of land, while the player explored the rest of the map. As development progressed, we found that allocating a specific section of land to building and development alone made the map feel less interactive as there weren’t enough elements to hold the player’s attention.
The only elements the players had at the time were the collection of fruit and wood from trees, as well as fending off and collecting materials from mammoths. Although we initially thought this might be enough, as time passed and we played the initial game builds, we found that this got a little boring as the process was very repetitive, mostly because the map felt unnecessarily large. Not to mention that restricting the area in which the players could build the camp made the game and game play limiting. Nonetheless, we had a few problems to tackle before we addressed this issue.
Above is the concept art for the level design we proceeded with and started testing on.
The first problem we faced was finding a way to provide space on the map for the players to build their camp, since trees couldn’t be uprooted and regrown by the will of the player. There were two reasons for this – the first was that we had developed the game in such a way that we had a build system and resource bar, without the need for an inventory. This meant that players didn’t have a way of putting down seeds in any random place apart from the little mounds we provided once trees were cut down.
Secondly, and most importantly, assuming the former wasn’t a problem, our programmers had to think about an efficient way in which the map would refresh itself each time a tree was cut down, so that players could clear a space and area within which to place and create their settlement.
As we looked at the level, we reconsidered the placement of areas on the map. By doing away with the separate quadrant for the player camp, and creating suspiciously empty areas for the same, we provided players the space to put down their settlements.
Second level design iteration
Finding fixes for the map
Including the water body as part of the main map instead of having it right at the bottom as initially suggested, allowed for the player to feel as though the map was smaller or more populated than it was before.
Following this change, we also increased the number of trees and asset elements on the main area of the map that the player was meant to run through. By adding more details and also an area of concentration for the mammoths, we created a better area of consideration for creating settlements by default.
Final level design
Addition of ruins and totems
As the map underwent development, we slowly started populating the map with elements of interest. One of these elements were totems that could be activated only once per season with specific boons. These blessings also had a lower cost in comparison to the temple/shrine that constantly gave blessings to players.
The other element of interest were ruins and broken paths that dotted various areas of the map, but were more concentrated near the empty areas we had left for players to safely put down their settlements. This gave the impression that there were people before the current player.
Once the map was shaped and finalized, we focused on beautifying the map since we couldn’t allow for players to reshape the world they saw. This meant the game had to look spectacular enough to hold a player’s attention while being challenging yet calming as the game was meant to be a ‘casual’ survival game. The primary focus was replacing basic assets with finished assets as well as adding smaller elements like grass, flowers, animals and fireflies to give the game an aesthetic and stylized feel.
build system Design
The game’s build system was created so as to allow players the freedom to set their camp down in any area of the map so long as they had space. Admittedly, since the map was designed keeping in mind the fact that there was no inventory system, nor a crafting system, spaces were created in order to allow players to set down their campsites.
It was set as the origin point of any player’s settlement and was the best way to stay warm as night or winter approached.
The cooking spit
This was the place players could use to regain health by sacrificing some amount of meat.
The tanning rack
This item could be used to convert furs into wool coats and then be used by players to stay warm despite the downturn of the weather.
This area was self sufficient amongst the villagers and provided the players with small profits that they could then use for the development of the settlement.
The game’s combat system is simple, with players having to click on a mammoth to allow for the player character (the chieftain) to charge towards said mammoth and waving their spear a few times before magically conquering the beast. Although this system might leave players wanting, this type of combat did serve well enough for a short project.
Prior to this version of combat, the team had designed a system where the player would be more vulnerable towards the front of the mammoth as opposed to the back, with the character being able to rapidly dodge the mammoth to enter its blind spot temporarily and attack it. This meant that the combat would be relatively lengthier and a tad more complicated, but would feel more satisfying when conquering the mammoth, as players would feel the victory was well earned.
We had to scrap this idea of combat however due to shortage of time. Nonetheless, we justified the combat being simplified so as to lower the barrier of entry for people who could play the game off the bat.
In depth expansion of game world and system design had the project been longer
The hide and seek mechanic
This was a fun mechanic to think of, as it came from finding a way to amuse players. The idea behind this mechanic was to develop the world in a way that grass could grow tall in certain areas, especially around lakes by reeds. This tall grass could then be used to hide players from the view of mammoths.
I had initially thought of this mechanic as a way to escape the eye of the mammoths and give players a way to take a short breather and laugh at the AI of the mammoths. The idea was inspired by one of Skyrim’s memes when it comes to sneaking, “Must’ve been the wind”.
Imitating mammoth call mechanic
This mechanic was developed in tandem with the former, and designed keeping in mind that players could imitate a mammoth and therefore draw a mammoth away from the horde. This meant being able to imitate up to 3 different mammoth calls in order to make hunting or taming easier for players.
On the other side however, this also meant that if players weren’t too careful on where and when they performed this action, a herd of mammoths would soon converge on the player!
The team had come up and discussed having this mechanic during the initial concept stage of the game. The reasoning behind the mechanic was to gain a stable source of fur during the winters before the mammoths disappeared/died. During the initial concept stages, we had also discussed having a crafting system, which implied that mammoths would also need to drop other items such as tusks, bones and such, so that players could use them to craft various objects.
Classes and their roles
At the start of the project, we discussed having up to 5 different classes in the game, all of which would be able to interact with each other. These classes would then aid players to complete tasks and thereby, be used as tactics by players.
The game artefact as such is now complete, and it is unlikely to have future updates. Though, given more time, we could certainly have added more animals to engage in combat with, as well as make the combat a little more fluid and interactive. The build system in itself could also be made more intuitive, and have a few more additions perhaps, to allow for taming of animals.
Copyright © Anjali Shibu and contributors 2020. All rights reserved.