Divergence is a 3rd person shooter team project made using Unreal. The game centers around the player's use of time powers to fight giant mechs. I primarily worked on combat design and enemy design.
Academic Team Project
Singleplayer Co-op Combat
Designed core loop centered around player movement and ability usage
Prototyped enemies for testing and iteration
Conceptualized abilities according to different player playstyles and engagement types
Designed enemy attacks and interactions
Iterated on divergence mechanic and its use in combat
A core part of Divergence is the use of the mechanic Divergence. A mechanic where the player rewinds time and spawns a clone that repeats all their rewinded actions. My focus for this mechanic was to allow the player to have two of themselves—essentially creating a co-op experience. I wanted the enemies to push the player to work together with their clones. While not requiring it, the clone is memory intensive for a player. And as such, I wanted to be careful to allow players to have fun even without mastering the mechanic.
Establishing a Goal
The enemies had two essential parts to their design. The way they interact with divergence. And the fact that they are huge. Enemies feeling large and intimidating was a core part of the experience.
Designing For Divergence
When designing for Divergence, I stuck to the idea of a single-player
co-op. I wanted to push players to work with their clones to overcome enemies. So, I began looking at ways that other games have players cooperate to defeat enemies.
A couple of limitations had to be met when looking for ways to encourage cooperation. First, the clone can only do things the player can do and is only functional for a short time. So I couldn't have it use a different weapon than the player. Second, I couldn't have it do any long-term tasks as that would mean the player had to do that same task simultaneously.
Two things worked well. First, the tanks in MMOs. These characters monopolize enemy aggro to support their team. The clone does something similar to allow the player to attack the enemy.
Second, the combination activities found in co-op games work well. It's where the player and their partner must complete an activity simultaneously to finish it.
I first started concepting what aggro control would look like with the clone. Then, once I had a practical idea of what it would look like in combat, I thought about how to reward it.
My first idea was weak points. Generally, weak points in other games are rewards for players taking advantage of the boss's recovery. But through the clone, I can set up a system where players create their opportunities.
This system creates a strategic reward loop where the player is encouraged to strategically create their opportunities and gain rewards when they take advantage of them—pushing and rewarding player creativity.
Once we started testing this system, we saw some problems. The biggest was the lack of evolution because weak points were highly encouraged. As a result, the combat became all about getting around to shoot weak points, which became monotonous. So, we needed a solution.
The solution we settled on was having weak points be temporary—where the player deals enough damage to a weak point. Then, the weak point explodes, dealing a large chunk of the enemy's health.
We also put multiple weak points on the enemy's body. Putting weak points on the enemy's body created an adaptation engagement in combat. Because now, players have to change targets throughout fighting the enemy.
Once we made this change and tested it. We found it created some new problems. The main one was players not understanding the weakpoints. But there was another problem, which was the fact that it was not fulfilling our goal. Players were just using the clone to distract enemies and weren't working with their clone.
We could never fully solve the problem of communicating the weak points to enemies. But we did make some large strides to improve it. The first change was changing them to be significantly more salient.
We also worked with our sound designer, Noah to improve sound feedback. He made a sound that scaled in pitch each time the weakpoint was shot. This helped communicate that something was increasing when they were shot.
In order to fix the issue of clones not feeling like a partner. We added combination weakpoints. The idea of these weakpoints is that they require the player and clone to cooperate. The weakpoints have health recovery. And the player must work with the clone to destroy it.
Unfortunately in testing, it was revealed that combination weakpoints did not work super well. The complexity of setting up the clone was too high for players. And communication of weakpoints was still a massive issue. We were unfortunately not able to fix these issues before submitting the game.
But the combat system worked well in practice. Players showed a lot of excitement when using the clone to distract enemies. So we could have made this combat system shine with more iterations on tutorialization and feedback.