You are marooned on a far off world. A tiny little world no bigger around than your house. Your old ship is broken beside you, and only its AI remains as your sole companion. Just then another tiny world crests the horizon, just within reach of a running leap. Beyond that world is an ancient machine, a puzzle that a planet is built around, one you must solve to catapult yourself through the stars, homeward.
Homeward is a non linear 2D exploration/puzzle game about being lost in a mysterious asteroid belt that is filled with curious creatures and ancient machines with a dark secret. Animals are out of their habitats, and the human population is fleeing something terrible of their own creation. The player must explore, befriend these creatures, mend the wayward machines, and discover a different meaning behind the world with each play through depending on what they value most about their world.
There are three representations of life in Homeward: human, AI, and animals.
Milo: main character, a thin boy with a lot of space and machinery know-how. He's warm-hearted, a friend to animals,and is always accompanied by his spaceship and partner Daisy along with lots of high-tech tools. Above all, Milo is curious, and reckless in his quest to explore, luckily he has
Daisy: Milo’s spaceship, the highly-developed shape changing female AI companion of Milo, it’s always her job to go through the puzzles, and act as a mediator between the humans and their machines. She is frequently picking Milo up and dusting him of when he gets in over his head, but she does not quite understand human interaction leading to some.... quirky behavior.
Refugees: They are displaced people who don’t have a home any more, mostly living on old unused spaceships with self-contained ecosystems. Traveling from planet to planet for resources,they will sometimes destroy planets to sustain themselves. These are the few who were not lucky enough to be a part of the humans attempting to flee the asteroid belt, and are now permanent drifters, hoping that the machine SUN does not claim their ship.
SUN: An ancient machine that humans built long before any record, he is the origin of the asteroid belt and of this disaster. He is an old AI system and is now confused and senile, but still has a full record of the asteroid belt. Somehow he has woken to find all of his children, the asteroids, in disrepair and covered in dirt and life, so he has begun a forgotten protocol to cleanse his system.
Backstory and Implicit Narrative
Milo finds himself in a system of planetoids where humanity is spread out across the stars. Each planet has its unique ecosystem and environment which fascinate Milo. He decided to become a space traveler when he met Daisy when she crashed on his home planet, and they have been best friends since he repaired her and brought her back to life.
The game begins with Milo being awoken by Daisy, her chassis crash landed into a tiny planet and with little memory of anything but their intended destination: home.
As Milo explores the system he has landed in with Daisy, he stumbles across a machine familiar to her. She dives in to reactivate it and rebuild herself, and finds a way to shoot the two across the stars in an Odyssean attempt to reach home, but never quite making it; They always find themselves in a new and foreign system with its own inhabitants and problems.
After the first system, Milo finds a hidden planet that only he can teleport to using an amulet, and every time he befriends an animal throughout his journey, he can send them there for safekeeping and access them at any time.
Through traveling from planets to planets, Milo finds other humans who have been forced out of their homes and live in tents and shanties. They are centered around building a giant ship that will allow them to escape this entire asteroid belt, but why?
As the two go farther and farther into space, they see animals forced out of their habitats and competing with each other in environments unfamiliar to them, scattered among them are empty worlds which are only machine, no life or coating surrounds them at all and they look brand new.
At the end of space is SUN, a giant machine built to maintain and network every other machine. SUN has awoken after countless years to clean and repair the hundreds of now life filled worlds, restoring their functionality and rendering them lifeless.
Variable End States
There are several end states based on what the player has found and what they have chosen to pursue as their goal. The following is a list of the most important end states that we want to include with the game to satisfy a variety of play styles, but each one restarts the player at the beginning of the game, however they are allowed to restart with their collection of animals intact which opens up new paths at the beginning of the game.
Milo finds SUN and manages to deactivate it, stopping the consumption of worlds so that the humans do not have to flee and order can slowly be restored. In doing so, Milo is thrown into space with Daisy in the ensuing explosion, awaking once more on a far off world without his ship.
Milo sees the plight of the humans, and by shutting down all of the machines in the human system, he detonates their planet to fuel their exodus into space. He flies alongside the human arc in Daisy but is separated during launch. He wakes up, crash landed once again.
Milo can choose to devote all of his efforts to saving the animals by transporting them to his safe planet. If the player succeeds in collecting at least one of each type of animal, the safe planet becomes a perfect preserved ecosystem, but it cannot support Milo. The only way to make sure that the animals are allowed to stay safe is by destroying the teleporter. In doing so, Milo blacks out in the resulting explosion, and awakes crash landed again.
Considering the scope is pretty big, our priority will be implementing the first ending, then see if we have time or energy or necessity to develop the others. Since the narrative only branches at end stage, adding endings will hopefully not interfere with gameplay system, and just require different ways of measuring the player’s progress.
II. Explanation of Gameplay and Controls
Movement and Design Philosophy
The environment is central to our control scheme, as rather than having a single gravity source correlating to a single planet, the game world is comprised of many planets, each one of them attracting the player to them one at a time(rather than the more realistic physical attraction to every planet based on mass and distance in order to not confuse the player in a more abstract space). Because of this, rather than using the analog stick to move the player left and right, it moves the player clockwise or counterclockwise around the current planet they are attracted to, even when they are not in contact with the planet(see prototype for details). Also, our jumping mechanic, instead of propelling the player to the top of the screen will move them away from their current planet.
To create a sense of freedom and playfulness, the player’s jump is much more powerful than most platformers, and can squat down and launch off of their planet and straight onto another. This also helps drive home the idea of small planets with lighter gravity, but also creates the central challenge. If the player jumps without direction and they leave the attraction radius of the planet they’re on, they will drift off into space resulting in a loss state that will restart the player on their last planet. Using this, we create barriers for the player by having impassable obstacles that are as tall as the given planet’s attractive radius.
Each environment features many planets and therefore gravity sources, but also other objects that add variations on the platforming gameplay. Among these features are gravity cannons that can be used to propel the player swiftly from one part of the level to another, which are typically unlocked after completing the final puzzle of a given asteroid system.
Aside from the planets, the space is sometimes littered with strange ‘cores’ smaller superdense objects that can be found spilling out of some of the machines that act as gravity wells for whatever they are the center of, essentially smaller more powerful planets that the player must use to catapult themselves from orbit to orbit. Throughout the later parts of the game, these cores can constitute the center of a non-circular object, like a geometric construct or even a moving object, but still while creating a circular attractive field. We will leverage this to create more challenging and abstract levels and to add variance to the otherwise all circle-oriented level design necessitated by the planetoids.
The focus of the gameplay, unlike most platformers, is not on refining skill or timing abilities. Rather, platforming is used as a means of exploring a dynamic world filled with unique art, secrets about the back story of the world, trinkets that can be collected on the hub planet, rare animals, or parts for the human's attempt at leaving the system. We want to make a world rich enough that it is worth exploring and use 2d platorming mechancs to accomplish that.
Collection and Interaction with Animals
Throughout the environment, there are collectable animals controlled by simple AI. each one of these permanently adds that animal to Milo’s collection, which is represented by a small planet that the player travels to between levels which acts as a home base and interactive menu to choose which animal to have accompanying the player (there can only be one at a time).
Each animal has a mechanical benefit in the platforming segments. By pressing ‘x,’ the player activates their current companion’s ability which relies on motion controls.
Example#1: Milo can befriend a bird creature that when activated allows the player to ‘flutter jump,’ which is essentially causes the player to fall more slowly by applying small but frequent upward forces on the player.
Example2#: A spider animal can cast a line of silk that draws Milo to wherever it collides with another object.
Milo can find these animals throughout the environment and 'catch' them by chasing them down in a certain way (it differs from animal to animal) and getting near enough to put a technological leash/muzzle/harness on them. Some animals are also first unlocked within cinematic moments or chance encounters. These animals reside on Milo's hub planet, and the more he catches, the more developed the natural life on that planet becomes until the player has caught one of every type of animal, which triggers one of the end states because Milo has created a sustainable ecosystem that will survive the destruction of the planets.
Daisy's Interaction with Machines (Puzzle Gameplay)
In terms of the narrative, the focus is not on either Milo or Daisy, but the development of their relationship and shared development. We want this to be reflected in the gameplay focusing equally on Milo and Daisy's interactions.
We are in the process of redesigning Daisy's interaction with the world mechanically, but her function will be to communicate with the machines at the center of the planetoids and use them to affect the environment the two are in. In this way Daisy and Milo have to collaborate and through that we can deeply explore their characters in how they interact with each other during these kinds of collaborations.
III. Explanation of Innovation
Innovation in Platform Design
In the process of designing the exploration segments, we started with the idea of moving from planet to planet, to have whole micro environments in a scale small enough to understand immediately, and a sense of freedom and unique scale. Rather than asking ‘What can we do to make a 2D platformer more interesting,’ we questioned ‘What can the 2D platformer formula do to make our game more interesting?’ Primarily a game about reconciling the duality of motion and analog controls mechanically as well as narratively, the core of the game is an idea we thought would translate well as a 2D game, but on our own terms.
The environment that we chose allowed a major shift in the formula of platforming. Typically, the player is restricted by falling. They can fight that by jumping and horizontal movement, but falling downward is the consistent force acting against the player. In Homeward, the player can propel themselves upward much more easily and consistently. The danger instead of falling downward into a less advantageous position is going too far upward. This makes falling towards something the goal, and the player needs to manipulate how they fall rather than trying not to fall.
Because the camera is fixed to a constant ‘upward’ orientation rather than the player’s orientation, the distinction between up and down becomes irrelevant. In order to progress, the player must leverage their attraction to different sources and use different ‘fixed’ objects to push off of to navigate the space. The most unique mechanic to come out of this is what we have started calling ‘gravity catapulting.’
This type of movement already exists in astral bodies, and can be in theory used to propel objects in real life by leveraging a planet’s gravitational pull to build up momentum and then break off from a fixed orbit with great speed. By giving the player a means to propel himself away from his current planet as well as left and right air steering and a constant strong force attracting the player to the center of the planet, they can (and are required to) perform the same maneuver to reach other planets. This kind of gameplay is central to exploring the world, and when combined with the use of the animals to provide different movement types creates a fun and original interaction.
Experimenting with Implicit Branching Narrative
The types of interactions and mechanics were the first things designed, and we want to follow them with a narrative that compares the mechanical dualities with ideological ones. While mechanically reconciling the two poles of modern mainstream interaction, we want the player to experience a world constructed around the duality of the organic and the synthetic, made from combining very formalist geometric elements with naturalistic curves and plant life.
The game world is one that has been thrown out of balance, where the machine threatens to destroy everything organic, and humanity is caught in the way. As the player makes progress through the levels and experiences more interactions that combine motion and analog controls, narratively he is bringing balance between the mechanical and the organic, human and environment, so that he can find his home.
All of these themes we want to explore without any explicit narrative. Any given player takes away from the experience something different, because there is no correct path. Milo finds himself crash landed and has the means to move and learn about his world, but there is no explicit goal aside from the title: to find home. As the player discovers more things about the world, like the humans becoming displaced and trying to flee, the animals out of their habitat, and mysterious dead planets stripped of all life, they can come to their own conclusions about what their purpose is.
While there are end conditions, the player is not directed to pursue any specific one. Choice is central to the idea of an interactive narrative, but in Homeward, the player is not choosing between predefined options, they must decide what their options are, and what their goal will be.
The narrative reveals itself through player’s exploration, and with intelligent sides(human/animal/AI) that players align their sympathy, they will intuitively go through the game focusing on different interactions, thus will cause the narrative to branch. As a result, different players may get totally different recognition of the game world, but all of them will feel nature with what they conclude.
Exploration is typically motivated by mechanical bonuses. Hidden items, coins, and secret content are the most common motivators. In Homeward, the player is motivated to explore because that is their only way of gathering information to inform their purpose. We think that this will create a more natural sense of achievement, and allow for different players with different conceptions about what they should be doing to each find a satisfying result.
IV. Generalized Production Plan
1. early submission
Prototype of first level finished and refined, Milo’s art work and animation done, simple loop of background music and sound effects implemented, controls refined to comfortable player experience.
2. project due
Prototype with 4-5 levels(4-5 planet systems) fully developed, critter animation and sound effect implemented, Daisy’s art design and animation and personality design finished.
Focusing on system design and level design, settle down a complete design document and team goals along time proceeding.
A finished game with most assets and levels and gameplay we want, one proper ending realized.
System Architecture Diagram