Marigold Tower is a heavily Co-operative First-Person Shooter with Action and Puzzle elements based in a retro-futuristic style 3D world stuck in the analogue technology era. The game features a Human (Conroy) and a Robot (RM3) – both play and feel differently, and both completely rely on the other to survive, combat enemies, solve puzzles and progress through the game.
For all of my research and inspirations, look at my “GDD” Sketchbook. The main inspirations came from the retro-futuristic style that The Variable Man had, especially with the devices and objects described. The game is designed to feel like a sci-fi film or book from mid 1900s. Other video games that use a retro-futuristic style include Fallout, We Happy Few and Metal Gear. Below is a mood board from my research and inspirations.
The game’s visual style is sci-fi as seen from the perspective of someone from the early 1900s, often known as Retro Futuristic, but heavily focusing on the idea that everything is made with analogue technology – lots of lights, switches, buttons, levers etc.
It’s a game that doesn’t take itself very seriously, so some narrative and gameplay aspects of the game are unrealistic, silly and sometimes humorous. The reason for that is that a lot of sci-fi films from the 1900s tend to be exaggerated and hypothetical, as the makers of them were essentially guessing what the future will be like.
The robot – RM3 – is a big, slow, energy-powered ally of Conroy, who is more mobile, skinny and fast. RM3 is equipped with deadly weapons while Conroy can only hold more tool-like equipment that isn’t very effective in combat. One of Conroy’s tools is one that powers up RM3 to give it a boost in speed and damage. They both have to work together not only in combat, but also in puzzle-solving to progress through the game.
The game is based in a massive tower called the Marigold Tower, in which RM3 was created and “tested”. The artificial intelligence that was programmed into RM3 made his personality almost human-like, which led to a friendship between him and Conroy, who is a worker in one of the labs in the tower. The pair are aiming to ascend the Marigold Tower to get to the very top to reach a teleport they programmed to take them to a safe planet outside the Solar System.
Setting – Mid 21st century as imagined by people in early 1900s. Set in an imaginary massive building called the Marigold Tower that, amongst other things, specialises in producing robots and artificial intelligence research but also includes restaurants, living spaces, sport facilities etc. It’s a huge tower designed to accommodate any regular person and suit their needs without ever leaving the building. Rules are pretty strict as otherwise the whole system of how the tower operates would collapse. It’s supervised by a private guard company hired by Dugan, but managed by Garin, a corrupt and aggressive army general. While the rules are strict, living conditions for regular people are really good so nobody stands up for themselves, and even if they did, they’d be silenced quickly. The majority of regular people living in Marigold Tower were born there and never even took a step outside, some because it was their choice, and some because of test purposes. There are many propaganda posters saying how good Marigold Tower is and how “it’s the only place you need to be in”. The area surrounding the tower is heavily populated, with a variation of buildings (big, small, industrial looking and regular living spaces), and the whole city is surrounded by a tall wall with a few defensive weapons and some watchtowers. There’s a surprising amount of green outside the walls, considering how heavily populated the city is.
- Conroy (Irish name, meaning ‘wise advisor’) – One of the 2 main playable characters. He’s very to himself, and very cautious of people. He likes the idea of being free, both physically and mentally. He believes that everyone is equal and he does everything he can to support that idea. His clothing throughout the game is essentially what he would wear to “work”, but with his lab coat undone and messier hair. While he’s not overly muscly or physically strong, he’s really smart and is very determined to reach his goals. Wears protective gloves that allow him to touch objects that would otherwise give him an electric shock.
- RM3 – One of the 2 main playable characters. Has no gender, it’s somewhat clueless when it comes to new things, but learns quickly and has excellent memory. Multiple big weapons that can be charged by Conroy for extra damage. Very friendly towards Conroy, really determined to get outside. Very blocky look based on how robots were portrayed in mid 1900s, including his weapons. His animations are quite straight forward, inspired by C-3PO from Star Wars but ever so slightly more realistic.
- Avani – Helps Conroy and RM3 in chapter 2 and 3. Female, brunette, hair tied back, retro scientist look with a slight sci-fi twist (fake arm? equipment? damaged eye covered up with a sci-fi eye-patch?). She’s a very strong character, she’s very to the point and always gets what she wants. She’s not afraid of anything, but she also doesn’t go around looking for trouble, she knows better.
- Teivel – Scientist working in Marigold Tower (Conroy’s supervisor) who figures out Conroy and RM3 are trying to leave, and attempts to stop them. He is the first main bad guy you encounter, and he’s the one sending the guards after you in the first quarter of the game. Skinny, energetic and angry. When in combat he has a wide stance and uses science-oriented things to attack (explosive potions, electricity, science equipment etc.). Frizzy hair, big dark purple gloves, dark lab coat, protective goggles on his head.
- Dugan – dark clothing, long trench coat, spiky hair pushed back, goatee, arrogant and selfish. A darker (both physically and personality-wise) version of the Spy from Team Fortress 2. Also inspired by Anton Ego from Ratatouille but not as cartoon-y. He’s very hesitant to do anything himself, usually tries to get someone to do things for him. His head is always tilted down slightly and always stares right into other people’s eyes.
- Garin – The man in charge of the guards and security systems in the Marigold Tower. He’s known for his aggression and very little patience, typical “manly man” and soldier, fully committed to his tasks. Covered in battle scars, big muscles, clearly a veteran, and wears combat gear all the time (combat pants tucked into big boots and a vest top). Uses a big variety of equipment, from melee weapons to energy grenade launchers and mech suits.
Plot Points – The game’s story mode is split into 4 chapters. The story goes from feeling not-so serious at the beginning where the main characters become closer friends and are playful with each other to somewhat serious later on when they realise how bad the situation is, to give the player a fun experience while also having some sort of a deeper meaning. The not-so serious feeling continues throughout the game with the relationship between the Conroy and RM3 and the things they do and say to each other.
- Chapter 1 – Conroy, a scientist, created a robot (RM3) and perfected its artificial intelligence and made his personality extremely human-like. Conroy and RM3 realise what’s going on in Marigold Tower, and they decide they don’t want to stay there anymore, as they want to live in a less contained place (RM3 was always showing signs of curiosity about what it’s like outside). Their relationship isn’t exactly “close” at this point, but they know they can do a lot more together than separately, so they plan to escape together through a portal on the roof of the tower. However Teivel catches them towards the end of the chapter, which complicates things for them. (Chapter 1 has no combat, and only teaches the players some core puzzle mechanics of the game)
- Chapter 2 – Teivel locks them in a lab, takes away some of their key-cards and leaves to report to Dugan. They find a way out (gameplay – solving a puzzle) but find that guards have been set to patrol the area. (This is where combat basics get introduced) They continue working their way up Marigold Tower by eliminating enemies and solving puzzles, and they meet Avani who gives you a key-card to allow them to get in Teivel’s office. They find documents and research notes about how they’ve been doing tests and experiments on people in secret. Many of the tests and experiments led to people dying, and they’ve been covered up. They know they need to get out of there as soon as possible.
- Chapter 3 – (Chapter 3 is much faster paced and more difficult, as players are expected to be more experienced and more used to working as a team) On the way to the roof, they have to solve a lot of puzzles and eliminate enemies, and eventually they get ambushed by Teivel and a load of guards. They clear out a few waves of guards and just after they kill Teivel, Avani runs in. She convinces them to not run away, that they’re the only ones capable of giving people the freedom they deserve, whether they know it or not. They agree to stay and destroy Dugan’s plans. Avani tells them all they need to do is go to the Marigold Tower’s Communication Centre to release all the data about the plans to the public, not just within the Marigold Tower, but nationwide.
- Chapter 4 – They head to the Communications Centre. On the way there they go through some secret Labs where Teivel did some of his work, which includes trial projects and data that shows how much thought and work went into their plans (some of these projects might include other robot prototypes, food pills that would eventually make people more gullible to propaganda etc.). They also have to go through Teivel’s defence systems. Just before they get to the Communication Centre, Garin attacks them in a mech suit. He’s very confident that their plans will be successful and he tells them it’s not up to them to control what happens in the tower. Eventually (through combat) they immobilize his mech suit and they walk up to him to finish him off, when Dugan comes in and stops them and tries to convince them that their plans are for the good of people. While Conroy and RM3 are distracted, Garin fixes his mech suit and goes to attack them. RM3 and Conroy get separated – RM3 has to distract Garin so he can’t attack Conroy, and Conroy is being chased by Dugan, so he has to quickly solve puzzles etc. to reach the controls to publish the data about the evil plans. The final cutscene shows Conroy celebrating that he made it to the console, and then when he goes to check the main Communication Centre room, he sees RM3 and Garin both crushed by debris. Conroy runs towards RM3 who’s speech and movement is really twitchy and glitchy. The game ends on a cliffhanger about whether RM3 survives or not.
There are a few general mechanics that apply to the whole game, as well as mechanics that are specific to individual characters.
Basic movement – swift, good at dodging, high jump, able to sneak, squeeze through holes in walls
Attacks – His energy weapon/tool deals low damage, but can stun enemies. Normal attack shoots an energy beam used to either attack or charge RM3, and slowly drains weapon charge (“ammo”). Secondary attack is the stun, which uses 15% of a charge and affects enemies in a small area.
Dart Gun – A tracking-dart gun, which he can use to “tag” enemies for RM3 that gives it aim assistance or the ability to use homing missiles. Enemies can’t feel being tagged, so Conroy can stay hidden doing so.
Boost – Conroy can use his energy weapon/tool to boost RM3’s speed and damage. Uses 25% of a charge and lasts 45 seconds.
Recharge – Conroy can use a generator to recharge his energy weapon/tool. The weapon can hold up to 5 full charges. It takes about 7 seconds to recharge the weapon/tool.
Melee – Hit a nearby enemy with your weapon to knock them to the ground, then hit again to finish them off. Very slow attack.
Climb RM3 – When RM3 crouches, Conroy can jump up on his back to allow him to reach higher ledges.
Med-stations – Conroy can find stations with a spray-like mechanism that’s applied to a wound to heal.
Basic movement – slow, can’t jump, big which means he can’t squeeze into small spaces like Conroy can.
Energy Rifle – a light-machine gun kind of weapon mounted to his arm, medium fire rate, big recoil, deals quite a lot of damage to enemies, but it’s not very accurate when firing more than 5-7 rounds at a time. The weapon takes about a second to charge up before firing (like a chain gun spinning up before firing) Press/hold left click to fire, hold right click to “ready” the weapon to fire (RM3 is unable to move while doing this unless boosted by Conroy). Unlimited ammo, but it overheats quickly unless boosted.
Sound wave shotgun – Short range, can be used to throw enemies off balance or push them off structures. Charge up with left click. Charge up for at least 2 seconds and up to 5 seconds. Unlimited ammo. Only requires 1 second to charge up when boosted by Conroy.
Imploding rockets – shoot rockets that create a vacuum and suck people in. It’s not much of an explosion, most damage is dealt by objects and enemies colliding, so the more gets sucked in the more damage is dealt. Unlimited ammo, but has very low cool down time unless boosted.
Object throw – Can pick up and throw certain heavy objects to hurt enemies/destroy structures. Useful when not boosted as the damage stays the same. Explosives won’t explode unless shot by Conroy’s PU-R6 weapon – this encourages co-operation. Objects can also be picked up and thrown for non-combat purposes, like when solving puzzles etc.
Environmental power-up – Sometimes in the environment you’ll find destructible structures that will release energy that RM3 can use to power himself up without Conroy’s energy weapon/tool. These will be rare and sort of hidden.
Crouch – Can be used to hide behind cover, or to allow Conroy to climb on top of him to reach higher ledges.
Melee – Smash a nearby enemy with his arms to stun them. Deals low damage unless boosted.
Break wooden beams – Used to create new paths etc. while solving puzzles.
Heal/Repair – Whenever RM3 is boosted by Conroy’s energy weapon, 20% of his health is restored immediately followed by minor health regeneration for the remainder of the boost.
- Puzzles. They require both players to work together as each character has different abilities and restrictions. Since their goal is to get to the roof, puzzles consist of trying to figure out how to open doors, elevators etc. through turning on generators, messing with fuse boxes and other electric devices, and finding ways around blocked paths. Puzzle mechanics include:
Objects too heavy for Conroy to pick up or move but light enough for RM3 to pick up.
Objects light enough for Conroy to nudge, but too heavy to pick up, and light enough for RM3 to pick up.
Objects that everyone can pick up.
Objects that are electrified so only Conroy can pick them up or use them.
Manual crank mechanism – requires either player to keep spinning it in order for it to keep a door open.
Fuse boxes – Conroy has to figure out where to place a fuse to power certain things (eg. depending on where he puts a fuse, a door might open or a platform might start moving).
- Enemies/Defences – These include light guards, heavy guards, guard squad leaders, heavy robots, stationary turrets, auto-turrets and laser mines.
Light guards carry small handguns and melee weapons. They are mobile and hard to aim at, but deal very little damage. They don’t have the ability to use stationary turrets.
Heavy guards use rifles, grenades and can use stationary turrets. They can also take more damage than light guards before dying. They are much slower however, which is their biggest weakness.
Guard Squad Leaders tend to take cover more often than any other guard. They only carry a pistol, but can use stationary turrets. While they’re alive, any guard in the area gets a speed and damage boost, making them more effective in combat.
Heavy Robots are non-human mobile enemies that are extremely good at aiming because of their tracking devices, and most of the time need to be defeated with indirect combat or sneaked past, as they cannot hear anything.
Stationary Turrets are used by heavy guards or squad leaders. They are quite large and have a very fast fire rate, making them very effective in defence. They also have an energy shield protecting the user from the front, which can be destroyed or the player can kill the user from the back.
Auto-Turrets hang from the ceiling and spin 360 degrees to look for threat. Once it detects either player, it makes a beeping sound and after 2 seconds starts shooting. Deals high damage. Can be destroyed by shooting at it or disabling its power with a switch hidden nearby.
Laser Mines are a trap visible only by RM3, so communication is key in avoiding them. They deal really high damage, sometimes able to kill straight away. Can be avoided by crouching under it or finding a different way.
Stylized, cel-shaded, retro-futuristic world. While the public areas are all clean and perfect, it becomes evident that it’s just for show when you go to restricted areas and places ‘normal’ people living in the tower don’t see. 3D models are relatively high poly, but the cel-shaded style makes it look 2D and hand-drawn. It’s less grungy and monochromatic than Borderlands and but not cartoon-y like Pokemon X and Y. Below is an image showing the difference between a regular render and a render with cel-shading.
The environments in Marigold Tower are heavily based and inspired by posters, books and films with a retro-futuristic feel. Following that theme, the game has interesting looking levels that aren’t boring and repetitive. Luckily, it’s a style that includes very odd architecture so it’s easy to be creative with it. The first thing one can notice about this style is that most buildings and interiors in that style are big and open, so that also helps with the freedom of level design.
Main features of level design visually are big, thick structural objects (pillars, walls etc.) with a streamlined look to them, and the sense of big scale. In terms of gameplay, the level design is intuitive and easily navigable, but also requires the players to think logically about where to go, especially when solving puzzles. This is done by using labelled rooms (for example if the players need to get to a certain room, there are signs placed in the world that will lead them to that room) and having characteristic locations that players remember easily.
The use of big windows, doors and big open areas with things like bars, cafes and seating areas in them helps to show the scale and depth of those locations, and help to add character. Below are some examples of simple level layouts.
Renders of the Bar Location show how big, rounded windows and other features like TVs can add character to the scene:
More on level design can be found in the “Major” sub-category in the drop-down menus on the top of the blog.
Winning and Losing Conditions
Winning conditions are relatively simple, you have to progress through the game with both players alive. Complete puzzles and succeed in combat to progress through the level. The game is saved at the end of each level. Each level takes about 20-30 minutes to complete on average, depending on how quickly puzzles get solved.
Losing conditions are either player dying or a puzzle element getting destroyed by it falling off the tower. In the case of losing, the latest save point gets loaded after the players are shown the “level failed” screen.
Players face challenges that include puzzles, some regular combat sequences that can prove difficult as well as a couple of boss fights. Puzzles vary in difficulty, starting with easy ones to teach the players the basics and ending with challenging ones that might take them a little while to figure out. Boss fights happen in Chapters 3 and 4, and they both happen in a big room with a few different ways of defeating the enemy.
Colour Palettes play a big role in this game, as they’re often what sets the mood and makes it look more retro-futuristic. Below is a selection of colour palettes used in different types of areas.
The music in my game is based on the music from mid to late 1900s, as it is best fitting considering the visual style and the way they complement each other. The music in the menus is a lot like music in Fallout 3 and 4 (example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLvsmho1lGA). In public areas like cafes there is music of that style playing through speakers, and in quieter areas there are ambient, atmospheric sounds that create a sense of discomfort.
Assets follow the same theme as the rest of the visuals (colour palettes, shapes etc). Some are assets you can interact with, and some you can’t. The general rule is that assets are meant to look like they belong where they are (for example, it makes sense for a leather couch to be in a waiting room but not in a machinery room). Early design of a generator and a platform:
The scale of assets are believable, and they add depth to the areas by giving the eye something to look at rather than just empty rooms. The assets are placed in key places where they put emphasis on the size of the rooms.
The list of assets in Marigold Tower include:
- Platform (Stationary + Moving up)
- Key-card Security Gate
- TV + Stand
- Lamps (Ceiling, Wall, Desk)
More on level design can be found in the “Minor” sub-category in the drop-down menus on the top of the blog.
Gameplay Experiences and Unique Selling Points:
I want the players to feel like they rely on one another and that they NEED to co-operate, not like it’s just an option.
An intriguing, unique environment style that makes players feel a sense of wonder but also this weird false sense of security.
2 different playable characters that “feel” unique and different to one another. This is not just to make interaction more interesting but also to have better replay value.
Story that is not serious at first but then gets more meaningful.
Players are to feel satisfaction when completing sections of the game by making it challenging but not too difficult so it doesn’t get frustrating.
The UI was made to be as simple as possible, with minimal HUD elements. The UI was designed to be as diegetic (meaning information will be displayed within the world itself) as possible as I didn’t want to clutter the screen with too much data and information. For example, instead of putting the Conroy’s ammo count just simply on the screen, it is represented with little lightbulbs on the actual weapon, and RM3’s weapons have little 7-segment LED displays built into the weapon. Below is a picture of the lightbulbs representing ammo on a weapon.
Health of each player is represented by the way they move, so no UI element is necessary for that. There is no map, except for ones in the game world on walls that players have to find. Menus and buttons are in a similar style to the main poster of the game, and have basic animations. They’re 2D, but with a parallax effect to add depth and style. Below is the main menu design.
Controls of the game are simple, based on regular FPS games like Half-Life:
- PC –
- PS4 –
- Xbox One –
The game is aimed at people aged 15 or above that like co-op, action and puzzle games, however it has a PEGI 12 rating, because while the game has action and “killing” in it, there’s no blood or gore, so it’s suitable for 12 year olds. Some puzzles or action sequences are slightly challenging, but it’s also very satisfying when completed. The colour palettes are not leaning towards any gender (stereotypically), and the dialogue and humour in the game won’t suggest any inequality or discrimination.
The game is primarily built for PC, but then ported to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The reason for that is I believe it’s the most stable way of making games, even though it is more work as there is a large variety of hardware and you need to make sure everything is compatible. I also think performance is much better on PC, and in a game with a lot of action in it, I believe performance is almost a priority.
To create a game with unique co-operative gameplay. The mechanics of the game force the players to work together and punishes them if they don’t.
To implement a unique and creative visual style by using interesting colour palettes and objects/devices that are believable and intriguing to interact with.
To optimise the game so it runs at constant 60fps on consoles and on medium range PCs.
Technical Information and Hardware Limitations
- Latest generation of consoles and PCs are quite capable of handling higher poly 3D models, so it’s not too much of an issue for this project. To keep the game running smoothly, polycount limits are – 20000 for characters, 5000 for weapons and 2000 for most assets, unless more is absolutely necessary.
- For texture files, 1024×1024 resolution is ideal as it contains a good amount detail when close up while being relatively easy to run.
- A.I. – The A.I. is a lot like in F.E.A.R. – simple but smart and effective. The enemies take cover when in danger, strategically position themselves etc.
- Compatible and stable on PC, PS4 and Xbox One with no issues or bugs.
- The game has LAN support so they can play with very little lag on the same network.
- Online play support for people to play with friends anywhere in the world.