Godzilla: Unleashed Designer Diary #1 - The Story

Pipeworks Software lead designer Simon Strange talks about his plans for this upcoming monster brawler.

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Currently scheduled for release toward the end of this year, Godzilla: Unleashed is a combat-oriented action game in which you'll get to pit monsters like Godzilla, Megalon, Gigan, and Kiryu against each other in large, destructible, urban environments. The game is the third in the series to be developed by Pipeworks Software, but it's the first to appear on the Wii. In the coming weeks, various members of the development team will be offering some commentary on the project, and first up is lead designer Simon Strange.

The Story of Godzilla: Unleashed

By Simon Strange
Lead Designer, Pipeworks Software

Welcome to the first of several columns previewing the upcoming Godzilla: Unleashed game. It's the third of Pipeworks' epic brawlers featuring classic Toho monsters, the first being 2001's Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee, followed in 2004 by Godzilla: Save the Earth. I was the lead gameplay designer on all three games, in collaboration with veteran designer Mark Crowe. Mark cut his teeth working on some classic adventure games, including his own long-running Space Quest series.

Looks like New York is in trouble again.
Looks like New York is in trouble again.

Although this game is the third of its kind from our studio, we decided early on that it would be anything but "more of the same." Since we had so much experience with the basic gameplay formula, we felt that it was time to really stretch our creative muscle and improve upon the game in every way possible. That meant beautiful cities, more engaging military, revamped destruction, highly detailed monsters, and totally new controls for the game. It also meant a real, polished story for the game. That's what I'm going to focus on for this first dev diary: how we went about creating the story.

Fighting games do not need stories. People don't buy the latest iteration of their favorite fighter because they want to see a new story--people buy fighting games for the visceral thrill of virtual combat. If your story is more compelling than your combat, I would call that a problem! So, on the first Godzilla game, we didn't bother to create any sort of fiction to support our combats. "Alien Mind Control!" was plenty, we figured.

But Godzilla is based on a movie franchise, and movies do have stories. So giving players a story to contextualize the game makes some sense. Our next task was to figure out what we wanted the subject of that story to be. The story is not about the monsters.

Godzilla movies are not actually about the monsters--they are about the humans underfoot. In most of Toho's films, the humans scurry about talking about the monsters, reacting to the monsters, and trying to decide exactly what the monsters will do and why. The monsters act; the humans contextualize and interpret those actions. This provided us with a great structure for writing our story. Our human characters will talk about how some monsters are attacking the earth while others are defending it, but we leave it up to the players to decide which role they want to act out in any particular encounter.

We have a significant number of comic-book aficionados here at Pipeworks, myself included. The concept of producing our own story sequences as graphic novels had been floating around a bit, and with the new emphasis on a real story, it was clear to us that the time had come to make them a reality. In Godzilla: Save the Earth, we budgeted for high-quality CGI scenes to be produced externally. We were able to get about three minutes of video from that. The quality was high, but it is simply impossible to tell the story we wanted to tell with just three minutes to work with. By creating 2D art in-house, we were able to stretch to 30 minutes of video, while at the same time giving us the flexibility to adjust the story as needed. We're very happy with that decision, and I think the players will be, too.

The monsters in Unleashed will be divide up into factions.
The monsters in Unleashed will be divide up into factions.

Mark came up with the concept of monster factions back in 2003. His original faction names were Earth Defenders, Alien Invaders, Military Monsters, and Malefic Mutations. We've changed the names a bit for Godzilla: Unleashed (we knew that we'd never get the word "malefic" into a mainstream video game), but the basic categories are still the same. So what is the point of the different factions? Besides being tied to our unlock mechanism, the factions give us an opportunity to tell our story four different ways. For example, an early encounter for faction A might pit two of that faction's monsters against a single monster from faction B. When you play as faction B, you'll face the same encounter, but from the other side.

You'll need to play through several of the factions to get all of the perspectives. The Earth Defenders start their story by breaking out of Monster Island. The Global Defense Force story begins somewhat earlier, when they detect a strange object entering Earth's space. What is that object? Well, maybe the Alien story will make that clear. Each faction has some unique encounters and story elements, but the fundamental elements do not change.

The other great part of giving players four specific groups of monsters is that we can have the various factions ally with one another at different times. It is entirely possible to begin an encounter as a one-on-one battle and have it end up as a two-on-two slugfest, as outlined in the sidebar example encounter between Godzilla, Gigan, and Kiryu. The really exciting thing about the faction alliances is that they are 100 percent determined by the player's actions in-game. Battling Global Defense Force monsters and destroying the cities won't score you any points with the GDF faction, but it might make the Mutants respect you more. Shooting down flying saucers won't earn you any Alien allies, but it might make the Earth Defenders more sympathetic. Since our encounters don't have any specific goals, you're allowed to act as you see fit.

I've talked enough about the reasons behind our story, so now let's get specific and look at how three aspects of the story have actually been integrated. We'll start with how players select encounters, then talk about the structure of days, and end with the impact of monster upgrades.

To the right we have a cropped section of the encounter flow--it's the possible encounters Alien monsters will participate in on days 6, 7, 8, and 9 of the story. On day 6, there are two possible encounters to play: Poison Alliance or Trouble Brewing. On day 7 and day 9, there are four possible encounters each. The interesting thing to note is that on day 8, the Alien player is forced to play through Invasion!--which is the moment that the Aliens make their presence known to the humans and generally start running amok on the planet. Each faction has a couple of these choke-point encounters.

It's an encounter flow.
It's an encounter flow.

In this example, the player has selected Poison Alliance for their day 6 encounter. On day 7, they have only three remaining choices, and they selected Second Cut. Most encounters are available for several days, but they don't last forever. Poison Alliance, for example, expires on day 7. So if you haven't played it by then, you won't get the chance to do so. It's actually impossible to play every encounter in a single pass through the game.

On any given story day, players might have two, three, or four encounters to select from. This was the sweet spot for us in terms of content and length--it provided enough meaty choices to be satisfying but was short enough to allow people to play through it over and over. Depending on which ending you work toward, I suspect it will take players about three hours to play a story start to finish.

A personal goal of mine when designing the story mode was to allow players to fail. In the previous Godzilla games, getting "knocked out" in story mode would present you with a "Retry? Y/N" screen. If you hit an especially tricky battle, that screen would taunt you over and over. I didn't want that to happen any more. If all the world's monsters are engaged in a mad brawl, it's unreasonable to expect that the monster you are playing as would always win--even Godzilla takes his lumps sometimes. I also didn't want the game to stretch on forever, so I came up with a radical concept--let the player lose and just continue on.

This means that the Alien player need not help the invasion succeed on day 8. The Invasion could fail miserably, and the player would still be progressing through the story. In a very real sense, there is no "success" or "failure" to these encounters. That's part of the reason we named them "encounters" rather than "missions." A mission has an explicit goal, while an encounter is more open-ended.

A key element in designing the encounter flow was this: There is no "best" way to go. Every path has advantages and disadvantages. Upgrading your monster means fewer allies. Getting a different ending might mean missing out on a spicy boss battle. Playing "good" might mean not being able to discover a new hidden monster. Since our encounters are open-ended, we felt it was necessary to push the player along through another metric. That's why our story has a very strict limit to the number of days you can play. After that limit, the story is resolved one way or another.

One of my early goals was to make monsters more powerful as they progressed through the story. This was a concept we toyed with in the previous Godzilla games, and I really wanted to make it stick this time. The appeal of increasing monster power was that it led to more interesting matchups. Fighting games are by necessity balanced for one-on-one fighting, but with upgrades, we could allow players to fight two or even three monsters simultaneously. If other monsters are upgraded, we might need to give the player an ally or two in certain encounters. Varying the number of monsters in a battle instantly transforms the player's expectations--plus, upgrades are just awesome.

Monsters will become more powerful as you progress through the game.
Monsters will become more powerful as you progress through the game.

So that's my attempt to summarize the structure of our story, why we designed it the way we have, and what players should be able to expect from the game. Regardless of whether a player attacks a city, defends a city, engages the military, or anything at all, there are still dozens of monsters running amok and an Alien invasion in progress. So, in one sense, the player cannot "change" the story any more than a particular raindrop can "change" the fact that it's raining. But that doesn't mean that players can't find their own way through those events.

Godzilla might pop into a city and see Gigan attacking. After 90 seconds, Kiryu will arrive and attack Gigan. Here are some possible courses of action Godzilla could take and how they would affect the subsequent encounters: Action: Godzilla attacks Gigan on sight and finishes him before Kiryu arrives. Result: Godzilla loses favor with the Aliens. In the future, Alien monsters will be more likely to attack him on sight. Action: Godzilla attacks Gigan and finishes him with Kiryu's help. Result: Godzilla loses favor with the Aliens and gains favor with the GDF.

Action: Godzilla attacks Gigan but then switches to attack Kiryu once he arrives. Kiryu is then defeated.

Result: Godzilla loses a small amount of favor with the Aliens and gets the GDF really mad. Future military vehicles and monsters will attack him.

Action: Godzilla ignores Gigan and attacks Kiryu once he arrives.

Result: Godzilla gains significant favor with the Aliens.

Action: Godzilla attacks and defeats both Gigan and Kiryu.

Result: Godzilla loses significant favor with both the Aliens and the GDF--but mysteriously, the mutants might like him more…

Action: Godzilla defeats Kiryu with Gigan's help.

Result: Aliens will now be as friendly to Godzilla as they would be to a member of their own faction. Godzilla will not be attacked by Aliens in the future.

Action: Godzilla watches Gigan and Kiryu fight but never engages either.

Result: Godzilla loses some favor with both factions, but they'll tend to ignore him in the future.

You can't be everybody's friend, so you'll be forced to battle monsters for a significant portion of your time. But making and breaking certain alliances throughout the game can make things much easier…or much harder.

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