Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King (Shattered), a 2.5D action game that has recently smashed its Kickstarter goal, takes players to a dark, foreboding world ruled by the Demiurges. These powerful creatures turned a once-lush land into the desolate world the players will see before them. Turning it back the way it was will mean facing these beings of incredible power.
Fighting something of that scope should stand out within the game. As such, the developers at Redlock Studio decided to make their boss fights into something completely different, switching their sidescrolling 2.5D action game into full 3D when facing the game's powerful demiurges, as well as in other special moments throughout the game.
"The idea is to change the player's perspective, making them know that they're facing a major event of the game." says Antoine Besnard of Redlock Studio. In changing the way the game plays, as well as the player's entire perspective, the developer hopes to drive home how important these narrative beats are by making it impossible for the player to ignore that something significant is happening. In these moments, the entire game changes.
A change of perspective
In the beginning of development, the developer had no plans for the 3D sections. With natural growth in the development team, though, Besnard felt they could take on something a bit more complex.
"Initially, the game was meant to be in full 2D. Easier to make for the small team we had at the time, this would have allowed us to make the most of our concept artists' work. However, the production team happened to grow very fast, and since we were working with a very permissive game engine (Unreal Engine 4), we finally decided to try a 3D scene."
Combing through the dark areas and facing the monsters of Shattered was already shaping up to be a tense experience in 2.5D, but the shift to 3D made some elements really click for the developers. "Everybody frankly loved it: we could feel the greatness of the scenery and foes with much more intensity."
The developer considered doing all of Shattered in 3D, but the full perspective change didn't quite work with what Besnard initially had in mind for the game. "We couldn't do a full 3D game while respecting the graphic quality we wanted for the 2D part, so we agreed on using the 3D only for some key moments (especially during the boss fights)."
Besnard liked what he saw with the 3D, and in only using it for boss sections or special parts of the game, he could enhance the player's focus and sense of gravity within them. As they were completely different from the rest of the game, it was impossible for the player not to grasp that something dramatic was happening.
A whole different game
Fighting a boss in 2.5D would have still been a special experience when compared to facing regular monsters, but the change in perspective made it into something more. That shift made the boss fights stand out even more than they would have otherwise, and the complete shift in combat and play mechanics that came with that new perspective only strengthened how special those moments felt.
"The idea is to change the player's perspective, making them know that they're facing a major event of the game." says Besnard. Many game might focus on a certain vantage point to highlight important objects and places, but in Shattered, the game plays differently in important moments. Everything changes, making it difficult to ignore the importance of a given scene or fight.
Also, in many games, a single gameplay mechanic and perspective is used throughout play. In this way, the player can become familiar with the systems and how to interact with them, and in doing so, can begin to ignore the fact that they are controlling a character within that system. Instead of having to concentrate on how to use the controls to survive, the player can just freely act as that character within the game's world.
Challenging the player with a boss is typically a way of testing the player's knowledge of the systems, but in Shattered, the player must learn an all-new control scheme and perspective just as they are facing a difficult fight. This sudden change can make the player feel weak, disoriented, and confused, which created an additional effect in the player that worked in Besnard's favor. "The simple fact of swapping perspectives leads to the player realizing the protagonist's smallness and fragility."
In the narrative of the game, the player is supposed to feel inferior to these monsters. They're supposed to be tiny and insignificant. With the change of perspective and play style, the play undergoes the same feelings the protagonist is meant to feel in those moments. The player doesn't know what to do or how to fight effectively, just as the hero wouldn't know how to face the powerful demiurges. They share in their confusion and disorientation.
Besnard could use this effect in other areas of the game, letting the shift in play communicate that the area was special. "Even if all the 3D parts are not necessarily boss fights, the angle change of the camera is enough to make the atmosphere more troubling. And of course, we aim to create a challenge in terms of gaming experience for the player."
Each time play would shift, the player would be a little uncomfortable at the change in perspective and control. Not as much as the first perspective shift, but every time, there would be that moment of disorientation as the player adapted to the new view and style again.
This would go away over time, of course, but the new viewpoint would still serve to highlight important narrative beats. As they would happen infrequently, they would always serve to show that something of note was happening. By adding in that 3D perspective in a mainly 2.5D game, Besnard could create this dramatic effect and get the use of the two styles he liked for the game.
The player can be left confused by these changes, as stated previously, but not every player is going to enjoy that change of perspective. Shifting how to play a game during highly-challenging moments is a good way to frustrate the player base, and so Besnard took steps to help the player out during other periods of the game.
The first step involved making other sections of the game into 3D. In using 3D in other areas, especially peaceful ones, players would have a chance to play around with those controls. One of the game's hub areas uses the 3D perspective, letting the player have some freedom in a non-combat area to learn how the controls work. In this way, the player wouldn't be surprised by a whole new control scheme during a dangerous fight.
Another step involved offering hidden clues to how the bosses would function, all of which would be communicated through bits of the game's background story. "During their trip in Hypnos, a curious player will have a lot of opportunities to discover its lore. This will even go so far as changing the way they approach a fight: depending on hints found during their journey, they'll know that one boss fight can end up in many different ways, opening the storyline's multiple possibilities." says Besnard.
By offering clues on how to approach bosses, Besnard softened the jarring impact of fighting against the demiurges while preserving the sensation of a sudden perspective shift. The player still feels the dramatic power of an entire shift in play style and viewpoint - still sees the importance of the current scene based on the complete change - but won't be bogged down by the challenge of sudden gameplay changes.
It still means players will be adapting and disoriented, but this move lessens the potential frustration that could arise from that change.
Different points of view
With a shift from 2.5D to 3D during important narrative and combat moments, the developers at Red Lock Studio hoped to make the player feel how small they are within the game's world. Staring down giants while confused and unsure of how to fight them will make the player feel the hero's weakness along with them, sharing in the emotions of combat.
In letting the player experiment with the controls, however, the developer curbs the chance those elements will irritate the player. The player will have enough of a chance to learn about how to face the bosses through narrative clues, and will have enough know-how with the control scheme that they'll be capable of winning. They'll be unsure due to lack of experience using this viewpoint and play style in serious combat, but still able.
In doing so, Besnard has used two visual styles the team excelled at, and in doing so, created a shift that will help players feel more in tune with the game's emotional impact, as well as ensure that the game's important moments have the impact he desires. "This alternation between 2D and 3D phases gives a depth to the game which, we hope, can seduce the players."