Abaddon is an action RPG which has served as the Captsone for Artcenter's Game Design program. I developed the IP, and personally built the unity prototype with the help of two artists. This prototype was built as a fourteen week proof of concept, presented before a jury of industry professionals, and selected to go on through another year of student development, into the Abaddon Vertical Slice.
3rd Person Action RPG
Development for this prototype was extremely fast paced, building out the design, narrative, level work, systems, and programming work all simultaneously to coalesce into the final product at week fourteen. Though it had its hurdles, the project is by far the most complex project I have produced and has earned high praise from random players and industry professionals alike.
For years I had toyed with the idea of an action RPG that was evocative of the same things I liked in the World of Darkness/Vampire: The Masquerade setting. What's better than modern, edgy, myth? Well. A lot honestly, modern games tend to swing and miss with it -- and my belief is that they fail off of it being too familiar. Which is exactly why I wanted to focus on the 1980s, as it was an extremely influential time, with lots of visual, audio, and thematic motifs to exploit. Essentially, the big sell in my mind was: What it Patrick Bateman, and all is yuppie friend, were actually vampires?
I had the opportunity, over my time at Artcenter, to explore different facets of this idea, and would eventually develop it into a full IP, with detailed lore, timelines, and physics of the setting. But whose going to read through all my stuffy lore documentation? No one. Which is why we had to bring it to life.
Building the initial prototype of the game, I had three particular goals in mind. The first of which, was to create a satisfying gameplay experience, allowing the player to run around, shoot things, whack them with a bat in fun, if not relatively simplistic, combat. Second, I wanted to make sure that the game supported an immersive world, this included creating audio management systems, dialogue systems that weren't just mere text boxes but could impart some level of personality, and sequencing systems that would allow me to make the experience feel more natural. Lastly, I wanted some hook, some stand out feature that could draw people in and distinguish itself from the sea of action RPGs, initially incepted as our class abilities, combat split, and lastly what would become our drug system.
Admittedly, going into the project I was not the best at producing broadly commercial prototypes. I had lingered in the esoteric, trying to push the limits of what a game could do while finding out repeatedly that strange things are not inherently fun. Building the combat for this game was a massive learning experience because of that naivety, before I went in I thought oh! I just need to make a simple system to shoot, a simple system to hit. How wrong I was.
In the above video, you can see the humble beginnings of the player system. I needed to be able to shift the camera between two points, ensure that it had an awareness of its surroundings (as to not clip) and get the baseline of an animation system in. This took a few weeks to set up and get to a good point, and I cascaded through the other features in this time as well: Shooting, and Melee.
Enemies pretty brainless at first, quite literally shambling target dummies that could react to the bullets hitting them, or the bat as it swung through them. They could keep track of their own health, and detract from the player's. They were all in all, functional enemies. But they were far from fun. So? How to build a better zombie?
I was advised to make hits as impactful as possible, and so I started adding as much feedback, while building out a new AI system entirely. Rather than pathing at the player, the enemies would path to a set of slowly rotating positions around the player. There was an inner circle and an outer circle, insuring that enemies would never truly clump up on you. Enemies would default to the inner circle positions, but if all of those were 'taken', they'd move to the outer ring -- incidentally far enough away that their attacks wouldn't trigger. The result was a far more satisfying, and even more threatening enemy -- as they would menacingly encircle the player.
Adding in Drugs
Recreational drug use was at Olympian levels in the 80s, and its no surprise that a lot of modern media likes to lean into that fact. While games like Hotline Miami and Grand Theft Auto have injected a little bit of that flavor into their games, I wanted more than flavor I wanted a central mechanic. Drugs had to become another weapon in the player's arsenal, recontextualizing classic potion buffs into wild, VFX states. The baseline effects of drugs are to play off of the existing mechanics, with abilities like negating shoot time and reload time, or granting the player reduced damage taken and enough of their resource to go buck wild with melee. The second effect is the VFX state, which works by animating curves on a postprocess volume. The drugs function in two states,
I created a solid architecture for this system in unity, allowing me to have fairly tight iteratable controls on the variables I fed it. To balance out the positive effects of the drugs, doing one would give the player a short burst of power, followed by a higher degree of vulnerability of the toxicity state. Each one would have their own post-process curve attached to them, and would general mirror the benefits of the drug... eg. a drug that makes you fast would have a toxic state of making the player slower. You can see some of that in the final build here.
Beyond the Prototype
With the prototype successful, I looked forward to another year of development with a full team at my back. Partnering with the Rochester Institute of Technology, my team and I went on to create a full vertical slice of the game. Development focused on improving the baseline combat of the game, creating original assets for the game, and expanding and refining the original level. With a team of 25+ me, and really only myself to guide them I spent the bulk of my time fulfilling the role of a director and producer. While I managed to overall design of the project, I didn't nearly get the time to delve into the systems designs to an impactful degree.
Working on my own IP was a dream coming true -- and bolstered by the fact that I had an extremely talented artist at my side who believe in me. We were able to produce something special together, and I can look back and say that I am extremely proud of my prototype. It was an inordinate amount of work, and I spent many long nights hitting my head against the table trying to get things to work. In the end though, I think it remains my best work, and my best job at selling an idea.
In fact, one of the biggest problems was that there were too many people wanting to work on my project -- to artists in particular it was a seductive concept. My only regret is that, with the vertical slice, I didn't get to hone in on the game's mechanics and make it truly 'fun' as much as I should have.