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Venice 1499: Game Design Overview (pg.2)

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Game Play:
During game play the player is presented with a window that provides a first-person point of view on their surroundings (see Fig.1).  The player moves through the buildings and canals of the city with this viewpoint while the days and nights roll by, investigating objects and interacting with the persons they meet.  In the upper left corner of the screen is a devil, in the upper right corner an angel.  These figures represent the player's conscience and may be asked at any time for advice to help the player through game situations.  The angel will generally give good advice that will lead to the most direct or optimal solution at the current point in the game, while the devil will give advice that leads the player on a more indirect path that could possibly be harmful - but it will be a path that is certainly more interesting.

At the bottom of the screen are various indicators about the player's person.  At left is a representation of the player and what they are wearing.  Next to that is a picture of their face, showing the emotions they are effecting in your meetings with other people.  These two indicators allow the player to present themselves in different clothing and with variable mannerisms to other people, so that they can bluff their way past guards by being confident and wearing an officer's uniform, for example.  This "emotional state" will dictate the nature of the responses the player can make to the statements and inquiries of characters they encounter, and the responses they in turn make to the player.  To change these indicators, the player may simply click on the representations to rotate through the responses and clothing selections available to them. 

Figure 1

A double-click will call up a window which displays all the selections available, it is then a simple matter to select one's garments or to select the appropriately dour expression.

The player interacts with their environment by clicking on objects to pick them up, dragging them in and out of the inventory, and double-clicking to examine them.  Venice is not about combat, though the player may find weapons and attempt to use them.  But it should be noted that the player's character has never been trained to fight, so they should beware swinging their sword at a trained member of the Arsenalotti!  Swinging a sword at a merchant, however, may in fact be a very good way of intimidating him into giving the player a bottle of wine at a special discount - though this act would also likely call the player to the attention of authorities they might not care to speak to. 

Examining objects will display a larger picture of that particular object in the main view.  The text of a document will become legible, a picture will be displayed, a piece of jewelry will make itself plain, etc.  In this expanded view, it might be possible to manipulate a particular object in ways that couldn't be noticed before.  In this way, the player could set the hands on a clock, or open a puzzle box.  Objects may be combined with one another by simply dragging one onto another in the main view screen.  The player could drag a key over a lock, and the key would automatically be used on the lock, leaving the player with a key and an open box in your inventory.

The cursor takes the appropriate contextual form to indicate what the player's current options are.  When over the main view area, the cursor takes the form of a hand, an arrow, or an eye, that may change as they move it over different regions on the screen.  When in the form of a hand, this means the cursor is over an object that the player may manipulate or examine.  As an arrow, it indicates the directions the player may move.  Normally, the player can turn in any direction or look up or down, but they may not always be able to move directly forward.  Alternatively, the keyboard (number pad) may be used to independently control the direction of movement relative to one's current facing, while the mouse is used just to change facings. 

When the cursor is an eye, this means the player may examine an object.  Examination could take many forms, depending on the context.  If the player examines a door, the view will zoom in on the door, and they will hear sounds or conversation from behind it as though they were listening at it.  If the player examines the lock on the door, the view will zoom to show them the shape of the keyhole, and if they further examine the keyhole, they will peer through it into the room beyond.  In cases where the context may be confusing (a statuette, for example), the cursor will default to the eye.  If the player wishes to manipulate the object instead of simply examining it, they may right click the mouse, or press a key to switch cursor types. 

The cursor may also take the form of an object that the player is carrying in hand rather than simply in inventory.  The inventory represents those items that are securely hidden or otherwise placed on the player's body.  An object in hand may be used on the environment.  If the player is carrying a sword in hand, their cursor will appear as that sword.  The player may then click this "sword cursor" to use it on people, or on a window to use it as a crowbar, and so on.  A key could be used in this fashion on a locked door.  If the player is carrying an object and desires to switch back to a normal cursor type, they need only right-click or press a key.  This will have the effect of returning the item from their active hand to their inventory.

There will often be objects which are too large to carry, but these are manipulated in the same way as though they existed in inventory.  For example, at one point in the game the player sneaks into a clock tower, which contains two huge bronze figures that are poised to strike heavy bells to sound the start of the trading day.  The player would like this particular signal to occur an hour before the normal time, so they must figure out how to ring the bells.  They notice an intricate clockwork mechanism that drives these figures and marks the passage of time.  The player could double-click on the clockwork to try to examine the machinery - perhaps they can figure out how to change the time setting if they examined the equipment.  Or, they notice a lever attached to the machinery.  The cursor turns to a hand as they move it over the lever - perhaps by clicking on the lever and dragging it, that is what will start the figures into motion.  But wait!  In their inventory, the player remembers that they have a hammer.  The player clicks on the hammer, which places it in hand, and changes their active cursor to look just like the hammer.  Now, in the main view the player takes this hammer and clicks it on the bell, rewarding them with the ringing summons.  The player switches the cursor back to a normal type, which returns the hammer to their inventory, and then they look about, preparing to hide lest someone come to investigate the unusual ringing.

The player health indicators on the bottom of the screen display the state of their character's current health, hunger, and fatigue.  As these indicators drop lower and lower their color changes to indicate the level of danger.  When full, they are green bars, as their values plummet (indicating that the player is injured, hungry, or tired) they turn yellow, then finally red.  If the player's health indicator ever goes to nothing, they have died.  This indicator will fall as the player is injured, if for example, they are attacked by someone and manage to get away, they might be hurt.  If they run and fall off the top of a three story building to the pavement below, they might be seriously injured.  If they are underwater for too long, they will take damage.  If the player dies, they will be treated to a closing animation displaying what happened during the remainder of the story, and then they will be allowed to restart or reload a saved game.  This indicator will slowly rise every day as the player naturally heals, or they may visit surgeons and take other medications that may help (or harm) their health.

The fatigue indicator slowly drops as time goes by, it drops more rapidly the more the character runs or climbs or swims.  Apart from any external events this indicator will drop from full to nothing in about forty-eight game hours, normal walking around will make it run out after about thirty-six, and so forth.  If the player sleeps, they may restore some of this fatigue, or all of it if they sleep for about eight hours.  If they do not sleep, the player will notice that the controls begin to get sluggish as their fatigue indicator drops into the yellow.  By the time the indicator hits the red, the movement controls will become noticeably less precise.  Should the indicator drop to nothing, the screen will go black as the character collapses into a heap wherever they are.  Depending on circumstance, they might wake normally eight hours later, awake in jail, or not awake at all.

The hunger indicator tells the player when to eat.  It is on a tighter cycle, as it will drop (depending on activity) from full to nothing in about twelve game hours.  Different amounts of food will raise the indicator back to greater values, demonstrating that the player is less hungry than before.  If the player's hunger indicator falls to nothing, there is no immediate detrimental effect, but the fatigue indicator will not rise above the yellow zone, showing the player that they are tired and need to be fed to be well rested.  Every day the player's hunger indicator remains at zero, the fatigue indicator will be reduced to a new low maximum value.  As they game continues, the player could well become to tired to effectively play if they fail to eat!

During the game, the player has an immersive point-of-view display of their surroundings.  They can move around the streets of Venice, into and out of buildings, take gondolas down canals, or swim in the water.  They can run across rooftops and climb walls, though both of these actions could prove hazardous to life and limb.  Play occurs in sections of the city that are fully rendered.  Between these sections stretch numerous canals and streets that the player traverses in a line-rendered environment.  In these zones there is no character interaction, and the player may not enter into buildings or otherwise interact with the environment except to provide direction to their movement.  Making this distinction facilitates two factors: First, the player's efforts are concentrated in several highly detailed sections of the city, providing direction to their inquiries and helping them not to feel completely overwhelmed by having to explore and survive every building they see.  Second, this will allow the concentration of development resources so those sections of Venice which are detailed are robust and rich.  The alternative would require spending the effort on providing a cursory treatment of large portions of the city that are irrelevant to forwarding game play, which would in turn making the game experience less enjoyable.

As the player traverses and speaks with characters time passes, as indicated by the hunger and fatigue indicators.  The player will also notice time passing because the environment will change.  The Sun rises and falls, clouds drift across the sky, the weather changes, fog forms and disappears, twilight falls and lamps are lit, then the moon rises to follow the Sun from one horizon to the other.  Tides in the canals rise and fall, which could well be important as many of the canals in Venice become dry at low tide.  Church bells ring the hours or the primary partitions of the day and night, the markets open and close, and the characters within the game follow their own schedules and hungers.  The player will have to make use of these various environmental circumstances to maneuver through the city, and to accomplish their goals.

Conversations with the characters in the game can occur anywhere that normal play is happening.  This may be in a crowded square, or alone in a study.  The people who throng the city are busy going about their business, but every so often there will be those characters who may speak with the player.  People that the player cannot speak with wear dull garments, and ignore the player's overtures, while those that they can speak with are brightly clothed, as appropriate to their status and intent.  To speak with a game character the player need only move close and then click on them with the examine cursor, alternatively, game characters may hunt the player down and approach them.  If the player doesn't get away in time, the character will begin conversation with the player.

Figure 2

Conversations are presented with the face of the game character that is speaking filling most of the screen (see Fig.2).  This character speak a scripted piece of dialog that the player hears; for example, this could be an exclamation in regard to the player's arrogant stance.  The player is then allowed to respond by choosing one of several multiple choice replies that appear in a text box on the screen.  These replies will be based upon the player's attire, health, and emotional expression, as well as the context in which the player knows the character they are conversing with.  The player may change their emotional expression at any time during the conversation, further bending the direction the exchange progresses in.

The Story (That Which Has Gone Before):
When Flavius Silva, the Roman procurator of Judea crushed the last of the Jewish resistance at Masada in 73 AD, he discovered the scroll of the Sicarii, rumored to have been written in the blood of Christ by Eleazar the Jewish heretic.  Like the treasures of the temple looted by his predecessors from Jerusalem, this relic was sent as booty to Rome, where it was to disappear amidst the civil turmoil that later prevailed when the Visigoths sacked that city some centuries later.  The scroll was never again heard of, and those historical references which mentioned the scroll were soon struck from existence by those leaders of the Church which had lost it.  The very mention of the name of Eleazar the Sicarii became equated with heresy, and over time the scroll of the Sicarii was forgotten, its name heard only in the rambling half-whispers of demented monks.

In 1487, you, the player, were only six years of age when you were "liberated" from a village near Senoa by the Venetian navy.  You caught the eye of a passing officer and were spared, returned to the city to be raised as his slave.  The young officer gave you as a gift to a mentor of his, Tomaso Foscari, a shipwright of merit and high standing, when Foscari's wife and only daughter fell ill and died in the plague that swept the city that year.  Foscari turned his affections towards you, raising you as his own child, though you were still a slave.  Caught in the awkward position of being despised by the other slaves and servants as a foreigner who did not deserve the special favor of their master, while being disregarded by Freemen as beneath consideration, you were often the outsider - but so long as Foscari remained your master, life was bearable, and even enjoyable at times.

It is now the early summer of 1499, a time when the warm winds first turn away the lingering fog and the rich begin their annual plans for vacation retreats to the mainland.  You groggily awake with the dawn to the first of your duties - the preparation of Foscari's toilette.  At his bedroom door you knock quietly but persistently, remembering the previous evening with a faint smile.  Foscari had conversed well into the night with a pale vistor you had never before seen, but who Foscari had embraced with the kisses due a long-lost brother.  As you poured one sweet libation after another into their bottomless glasses, you caught snatches of a conversation that ranged from common topics such as the coming elections to more fanciful speculations about the nature of the peoples of other lands, the teachings of Pliny, of dragons and mermaids, and much later after the wine had sufficiently loosened wits as well as tongues they even spoke of a scroll that could supposedly grant eternal life!  It was amusing to hear two such men of learning speak earnestly on such foolishness, and you were glad when the stranger finally departed so that you might in turn find your way to a few hours of peaceful slumber.

After several minutes of knocking upon his bedroom door, it becomes obvious that Foscari had too much of the Sicilian wine, so you quietly enter to awaken him.  The scene that greets you has no relation to the normal tranquillity of your master's chamber. Crimson lines across your master's sheets draw your eye, trails of blood embracing his body like the tangled strings of a marionette discarded after a poor puppeteer's show.  Your mind catches elusive fragments of chaos - the sparkling glass shards of a shattered goblet, papers scattered across the floor, paintings slashed, down falling from pillows, drawers gaping from cabinets like mute screams, the window panes open and lazily drifting in the alleyway breeze.  This cannot be, this cannot be!  How?  Why?  How is it that you heard nothing?  Who could have.but then the quick fall of footsteps issues from behind you.  You turn to see Alfonso, master of Foscari's servants stopped in the doorway behind you.  His eyes widen, rapidly taking in the scene.  He stutters then gestures at you, face gone wild, and runs down the stairs screaming, "Murder! Murder!"  There is no time to waste.  Soon the Arsenalotti will be at hand to investigate, and what alibi can you give, good stranger in a strange land?

So the game begins.


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