Dealing with Modular Design

Our Demo­li­tion Derby game is mod­u­lar. Each mod­ule is a low poly­gon mesh, and a player assem­bles these mod­ules to cre­ate a wheel-based vehi­cle. These vehi­cles are then used to com­bat other play­ers’ vehi­cles in a sim­u­lated physics envi­ron­ment. Vic­tory is deter­mined by break­ing apart the mod­ules of the opponent’s vehi­cle before they yours.

That’s our game in a nut­shell. It sounds sim­ple enough, but to any­one famil­iar with deter­min­ing appro­pri­ate scope for a game will notice some seri­ous obsta­cles: It’s in 3D, it’s mul­ti­player online — in real­time — and it uses physics. And with all the blocks falling off your car, there are dynamic col­li­sion meshes based on what’s still attached. Did I men­tion that it’s in a browser? Yeah, that’s all in a browser.

Thank­fully, the game­play itself is sim­ple, even if the imple­men­ta­tion is not. Basi­cally, it’ll be you and some friends smash­ing your blocks together, ala kinder­garten, except with a server ref­er­ee­ing who hit whom.

Now, what is it that I do? One of my jobs is to make the game look nice. For a mod­u­lar game such as this, I must pro­vide the play­ers with build­ing blocks. I must also assume that play­ers will use those blocks in every way pos­si­ble. For the sake of sim­plic­ity, the basic unit block is a cube, which has no explicit for­ward direc­tion. The more com­plex mod­ules that do have explicit ori­en­ta­tion will each need spe­cial rules gov­ern­ing their place­ment on a vehi­cle. This is espe­cially true for those that exceed the unit cube size with their mesh or by way of a par­ti­cle emit­ter. With­out the more com­plex pieces, how­ever, vehi­cle sil­hou­ettes would be all right angles, and we want the play­ers to feel like they can be unique if they want to be. It still all comes back to the the cube, as that’s where the aes­thetic of the game is deter­mined. This is what’ll I’ll con­cen­trate on for the rest of this post.

I started with a stan­dard cube: eight ver­tices, six faces.

Build­ing some­thing out of cubes, in the con­text of the over­ar­ch­ing videogame dia­logue, reminds peo­ple of Minecraft. But, noth­ing is truly new under the sun. Our game can be com­pared to Cap­tain For­ever and even Banjo Kazooie 3, but it can also be as eas­ily com­pared to LEGO bricks or even build­ing blocks.

It’s the look and feel of the game that will ulti­mately deter­mine what we’ll be held up against when we’re inevitably com­pared to other games. Hope­fully, we’ll end up with a favor­able com­par­i­son. With­out fur­ther ado, here are two sets of cubes, one with no tex­ture and one with out­lined faces:

I’m of the opin­ion that the out­lines are an improve­ment. It gives me a visual indi­ca­tion of what my oppo­nent is made of, and how much is left. We’re also pulling away from using strictly cubes though the addi­tion of wheels. Envi­ron­ments may also not nec­es­sar­ily be cube-based.


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