Role Creative Director, Lead Designer, Animator, Developer
Studio Open Form Games
Contributors Stuart Templeton, Thomas Hurtt
Platforms Wii U, Xbox One, Windows, macOS, Linux
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Vegas Prime Retrograde is a story-driven adventure game set in the fictional metropolis Vegas Prime. Play as COMs Operative Clara as you hack your way through the futuristic streets of Vegas Prime.

This alpha contains the first level of play, the Stasis Bay.

Technologies and Challenges

Vegas Prime Retrograde was built primarily with C# in Unity3D. We employed a variety of tools for 2d and 3d art assets, including Blender, Sketchup and Photoshop. Our story-driven component was built to take Twine’s Harlowe scripts to create dialog. Audio creation was done in a combination of FLStudio and Reaper. The core challenges were related to scope and limited resources: The size of the environment, the quantity of dialog, the number of content contributors, and the limited budget.

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The Unique Look and Feel of Vegas Prime Retrograde

I was tasked with creating a unique visual language for Vegas Prime Retrograde that conveyed a utopian world through a dystopian lens. The look and feel needed to break the mold of what is expected of sci-fi indie games while still being a hat/tip to its predecessors.

I decided to explore an abstraction of the protagonist’s personality and design, presented as a visual aberration. I used Clara’s PTSD condition (called Brain Burn in the game) as an opportunity to dramatically reduce graphical memory overhead while simultaneously establishing the character and reinforcing the narrative.

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Building the Vegas Prime Platform Array

I was tasked with creating a large environment for Vegas Prime Retrograde that would offer a sense of exploration for the player while serving as canvas for storytelling. Vegas Prime, by all accounts is itself a character in the game.

I went through multiple large scale prototypes before deciding on a layout that worked for the game. Sketchup provides a simple, intuitive and, above all fast work flow. It was perfect for this task. I then went in with our in-house 3d asset library for Vegas Prime Retrograde to populate the pieces that make a city feel natural: traffic signs, benches, power lines, etc…

I added vegetation, cars, and NPCs built with Mazlow to give the city depth and a sense of liveliness. The result is a bustling 4km2 storytelling canvas that offers the player a sense of exploration in a sprawling neo-cyberpunk metropolis.

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Branching Dialog to Propel Exploration

I re-imagined our linear “mission system” as a non-linear “story teller” with pages, chapters, short stories, and bookmarks, built using a modified Twine system using Twine’s Harlowe output wrapped in a C# abstraction layer. The StoryTeller allowed us to take the creative output from Twine and plug it into Vegas Prime Retrograde, taking advantage of all of the systems we’ve already engineered. It made it easy to get creative content from our writing community while also driving the gameplay away from a linear experience.

The stories in Vegas Prime Retrograde are rich and deep experiences that allow the protagonist to make decisions and take actions. Her actions impact the story, the story impacts the characters, and the characters build and develop into a rich cast. We use visual novel mechanisms to give the player branching dialog trees that help them decide who Clara really is and what kind of relationships she has with the characters around her.

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Character Design and Development

I was tasked with designing and bringing to life a rich protagonist, antagonist, and supporting cast for the central story line of Vegas Prime Retrograde.

I created two characters: Clara and NO CARRIER. These characters, despite being on different sides of the story, share a duality in their troubled relationship with the world around them. I use this to create a space of character exploration for the player. Examining each character within the story allows for reflection on the other.

With this small team of strong creative talent, I was able to design and realize a strong protagonist and antagonist capable of leading a rich cast of side-characters and ultimately feeding a meaningful, character-driven narrative.

Clara, the Protagonist

The bulk of Clara’s personality is derived from the player’s decisions during the game, so she needed to be open enough to hold the player’s vision of who Clara is. I gave her mild, yet endearing personality traits, like compassion and optimism, while avoiding polarizing traits that might impact decision trees without the player’s permission.

I provided the character sketch and concept art and worked directly with illustrator Fabian Cobos to create the final artwork.

Though Clara does not visually appear in dialog, it is still important for her to appear. I used the game settings screen for this. Viewing game settings is looking inward to the game, and when the player looks inward, I want them to see Clara.

NO CARRIER, the Antagonist

I modeled some of NO CARRIER’s outward personality on classic anime villains, an hommage to Ranma 1/2. The villains in Ranma were often simply misunderstood or otherwise regular people clouded by a sense of self preservation or entitlement.

I wanted NO CARRIER’s personality to fit into the ludonarrative in a natural way. To do this, I took inspiration from the villainous dog in Duck Hunt. NO CARRIER will hack into your COMM and taunt you while she delivers hints and backstory.

At several points, it becomes unclear as to if NO CARRIER is the villain, or if she has been malaligned. This allows the player to further explore the protgaonist Clara’s relationship to the story and the world at large.

I provided the character sketch and concept art and worked directly with illustrator Fabian Cobos to create the final artwork.