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Game 101: The Golden Twins, an Au-some isometric maze runner

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This is Game 101: between now and May, PCGamesN will be engaging in a kind of vicarious immersion therapy – looking through the eyes of five teams of Staffordshire university students as they make, break, fix and, finally, finish their first game. Or rather, games – five of ‘em, each based on a story from Grimms’ 19th century German fairy tales. In our second preview today, we’re running madcap through a medieval city with 3rd Floor Studio to see their ambitious adaptation of a little-known tale.

A lone boy legs it through the poorest district of a city dense with medieval trappings. He’s made entirely of gold, which is significant: it explains the attendant mob – a band of locals jogging just a few steps behind. He’s also a twin, which explains what he’s running toward: a carriage containing his looky-likey and sibling, already captured by men and women whose greed exceeds their compassion for metal children.

This is student team 3rd Floor Studio’s The Golden Twins – an isometric ‘maze game’ with a “dual motive”. “We’re thinking this will add a bit more tension,” team member James Jeffery tells me. “Catching up with this carriage without being captured yourself”. The player will be tasked with traversing a hostile landscape at breakneck speed – clambering over buildings and under bridges, living dangerously in the space between their pursuers and their target.

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The team want to allow for non-linear routes through the streets, without fooling the player into frustrating dead ends, which James is convinced would say “more about the design of the game that the player’s skill level”.

“You want the player to say, ‘I know why I failed there’, not ‘I was cheated out of that’,” he asserts.

Shortcuts, meanwhile, will present the chance to shave a precious few seconds from the clock, in exchange for some high risk hightailing.

How exactly the carriage chase will play out mechanically-speaking is still up for debate. 3rd Floor are considering two options. In the first, the player will compete against a simple, abstract level timer. In the second, the player will be forced to stay within radius of the carriage as it careers about the city. Like GTA’s chase missions, I suggest. “A bit like that,” laughs a patient James.

“That’s something we’re going to have to experiment with, see what works best, and see what’s fun in playtesting. But [either] mechanic should make the game tense and exciting to play.”

There’s already a surprising and tangible amount of technical work completed. Before Christmas, an early tech demo in UDK – the free version of Unreal Engine 3 the team will use throughout development – demonstrated a working isometric camera, alongside multiple levels of verticality, a weather system and a basic pursuit AI. And unlike Aliens: Colonial Marines, The Golden Twins will feature DirectX 11 integration. Toadlike tessellation and real time reflections reportedly abound.

The isometric camera proved only to need a few lines of code, says James. What might prove more technically challenging is the optimisation of The Golden Twins’ metropolitan sprawl.

“What we’re working on is having one big level, but the districts will be split up with checkpoints, a save system,” explains James. “Based on the timeframe we’ve been given and everyone’s skill level, we think it’s best to have something that doesn’t take too long to complete. Then we can work on polishing it and make sure it’s fun to play.”

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To that end, 3rd Floor Studios are aiming to provide high replayability via a high score system and, development time willing, different modes – a planned survival mode would see district exits closed off, leaving the player scrambling to avoid the pitchforks for as long as possible.

“It’s something that’s very doable, that we know we can do to a high standard,” says James of the team’s concept. “But at the same time it’s expandable.”

3rd Floor’s more ambitious plans include weather that will influence play – lightning strikes which will block off paths, for instance. But already, they’ve succeeded in making something new of something very old.

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