Friday, February 7, 2014

Our Initial Design Document

We've finally finished putting together our High-Level Design Document! It's pretty snazzy. Check it out after the break.

Lifelike (Working Title)
A Corporate Roguelike
By Lifelike Games (Working Name)

Genre - Turn based strategy RPG
Platforms - PC/Mac


Ready to delve into an unexplored fantasy dungeon filled with goblins, elves, treasure chests, and adventure? Too bad! You have a real job! Don’t you remember? You are employed by the biggest new up-and-coming corporation in America, Ethereal Eclectics! Sure, it’s just a minimum-wage, bottom-feeding mailroom job, but that’s no reason to be slacking off, daydreaming about such silly things.

In Lifelike, you are Escher Dale, a bitter, overqualified graduate working a terrible job for a huge corporation. Out of the blue, Escher receives a hand-signed note from the CEO, asking for a meeting in his office. Confused and anxious, but eager to get a foothold on the corporate ladder, she makes her way to the CEO’s office--on the top floor. And the elevator is broken. And the stairs require going to the other side of each floor to reach the next flight (which seems like it would probably break a lot of fire safety codes... and basic efficiency design fundamentals).

As she progresses through the disturbingly inconsistent floors, things start to get a little strange... I mean, she expected the bureaucrats, the annoying office gossips, the security guards, and the cut-throat corporate backstabbers, but... wait, did that guy have a sword? why are there creeping vines all over the cubicles on this floor? Did that guy have three eyes? On his chest? Well, I suppose diversity in the workplace is a good thing, right? Whatever it takes to get the job...

Wait, didn’t we pretty heavily imply a distinct lack of fantasy elements? No, I don’t think so. If anyone thought that, they just need to work on their reading comprehension. Either way, they’ve probably forgotten about it by this point, anyway.


Lifelike is a turn-based, tile-based, team-based, hyphenated-classifications-based rogue-like RPG in which the player takes control of an intern climbing her way to the top of an increasingly other-worldly office building. Our design focuses on creating a unique, fast-paced combination of the best aspects of tactical RPGs and roguelikes, while also providing a meaningful, unintrusive, and integrated narrative experience.

The player controls his intern in isometric grid-based, turn-based exploration and combat. After using all of their character’s actions, the player’s turn ends and all of the enemies on the floor take their turns.

The central theme of the game is the gradual transformation of a boring, realistic office setting into a surreal urban fantasy setting. The further the player ascends, the creepier and more mystical the world becomes. The transition will be more than a simple change of scenery, however; it will extend to the gameplay systems as well.

For example, early on, when the only adversaries are annoying co-workers, the attack command will be called “Chat”, and it will lower an enemy’s “Morale”. Further along, “Chat” will change to “Attack”, and “morale” will change to “Health”. The gameplay system itself will not change, but the wording will, emphasizing the transition. As fantasy elements creep into the content, so too will fantasy game tropes creep into the the systems. Though changes in naming conventions may seem like it would cause needless confusion, we will employ consistency through placement, color, and font to minimize confusion.

Each floor will be procedurally generated, putting together a mix of pre-designed rooms and random elements. The higher the floor is, the more “corrupted” (creepy, fantasy) elements there will be on the floor.

Aside from enemies, each procedurally generated floor has a chance at having minor events on it as well. Treasure chests, salesmen, blackouts, and even massive hordes of enemies will vastly change the way players approach each level.

As the intern makes their way to the top of the building, they’ll encounter possible allies. Players will randomly meet different characters that will offer to join the intern on their quest, giving the player another character to control. These allies will be vital for taking on the higher, tougher floors and the player will have to utilize them in order to ultimately conquer the office. If any of these allies lose all of their health points, they will be gone for the rest of the play through. If the intern falls in combat, the game is over and the player must start his quest over from the beginning.

Amidst the combat and exploration, we will include a level of narrative depth that is much higher than the norm for game in the roguelike genre. Each character the player encounters has a unique story and personality. In addition, random events and interactive set pieces will provide even more story to the player.

If the player manages to make it to the top floor of the office they’ll have one final confrontation to deal with, the CEO himself...

Key Features

Roguelike Elements
Our game is going to have many traditional “roguelike” or “roguelite” elements. Lifelike features a high amount of procedural map generation. Each playthrough will be different due to the maps being different every time. Lifelike will feature permadeath. Once a character dies, they are gone (for the remainder of the playthrough). Lifelike will have a fairly short play time; as of now the goal is to create a two hour experience. This will mean that failure isn’t that big of a deal. Players will be able to play through the game multiple times without excessive frustration. Lastly we’re trying to make Lifelike fairly difficult. Beating the game will require some serious strategy. We do not expect players to beat the game on their first try, which may increase the total average play time of the game significantly.

Fast-Paced Turn-Based Combat
The actual battlefield takes place on an isometric grid. The player team takes their turn, than all enemies take their turns. Characters can move once per turn and moving does not end the turn. Attacking or using a skill however does end that character’s turn.  Attack animations will be short and sweet. All of these actions happen very quickly, allowing gameplay to be fast and fluid.

Clearing a floor will take around five minutes. Players will quickly progress through the game and feel like they’re getting closer and closer to their goal of the top floor.

Interesting, Integrated Narrative
We have three main goals for our narrative.

The first is to provide a more interesting story and more interesting characters than people have come to expect from the genre. Most roguelikes have minimal or non-existent narratives, and we’d like to try something different. Though our levels are procedurally generated, our characters are not; each character has a meaningful backstory and personality. The world itself is the most important character of all, providing an intriguing and mysterious setting for the player to explore.

The second is to make the narrative unintrusive. There’s a reason why most roguelikes are light on story, and it’s because traditional narrative devices tend to interrupt gameplay, which is especially frustrating in a game that you’re meant to replay many times. Aside from a potential introduction and ending sequence, none of our storytelling will interrupt the gameplay. Our main tool for accomplishing this will be our unique dialogue system. Conversations between characters will take place entirely through dialogue bubbles appearing over the characters’ heads, and will not pause the gameplay. Additionally, floors will have interactive set pieces that provide longer, written pieces of lore that the player can read at their leisure.

The third goal is to provide a narrative that is firmly integrated with the gameplay. We find that most RPGs consist of a back-and-forth between narrative and gameplay, and we’d like to try to change that. One of the major things we’re doing to achieve this is making gameplay terminology and special abilities relevant to the narrative. For example, statistics will be named after typical office qualities, the combat terminology will start out mundane and become increasing fantasy-oriented as the game progresses, and the special abilities of each character will reflect their personalities. The dialogue bubble system also nicely plays into this goal.

Simple character stats
Characters will have  8 primary stats that affect their ability to combat foes. (Note: the names of these abilities will probably change)

HP - Health Points
Attack - Increases damage from physical attacks
Defense -Reduces damage from enemy physical attacks.
Ambition- Increases damage dealt from user’s magic attacks and decreases damage taken from enemy magic attacks.
Perception - Increases chance to hit the enemy, less likely to be noticed by enemies, and farther vision in black outs.
Fortune - Increases chance to dodge and chance to critically hit the enemy.
Synergy - Gives adjacent alles increased damage & damage reduction (would perhaps be a % rather than a flat number).
Movement Speed - The amount of tiles a character can move.

Character progression
As characters defeat enemies they will gain experience. With enough experience points characters will level up, gaining increased stats. At certain levels characters will also get a promotion. Promotions give a huge surge in stats, and higher bonuses on level ups. Characters will have to go all out to defeat basic enemies at the beginning, but by the end they’ll be dueling with demons and dragons.

Players will have to balance killing enemies and avoiding fights. Healing your characters isn’t an easy task and players will risk losing characters if they try to eliminate every single enemy they find.

Unique and game changing skills
In addition to having the ability to attack, characters will have access to powerful skills. Skills will be on a turn based cooldown system. There will be various skills in this game which will allow players to shift the tide of battle. Skills have levels, starting at one and ending at three. As a skill becomes a higher level, it’s effects become much more powerful. Each character on the player’s team will have one skill tied to their actual character. This skill levels up whenever the player gets promoted. The second skill a character can achieve comes from their equipment. At around midway through a playthrough players will begin discovering equipment that have skills. These skills will give characters more options to deal with their foes. These skill levels have to be upgraded through a forge.

Some example skill effects are things like swapping position with enemies, a linear piercing projectile, and an explosion in an area. Skills will be much more powerful than basic attacks and players will be excited to use them. With that being said, due to the cooldown system players might want to save their skills at some point to deal with some of the more challenging enemies on the map.

Smart and strategic skill use are absolutely integral to beating Lifelike. If players want to take on the later floors they’ll have to master the use of these skills and be able to recognize the best times to use them.

Powerful and rare equipment
Characters will be able to equip one item to help them battle the beings lurking in the office. As the team progresses through the office they’ll discover unidentifiable items. Some of these will be out in the open, dropped by defeated enemies, bought from stores, or even locked away in chests. After the floor is completed the player will be able to identify all of the items discovered on the level. Players can then equip each item to their characters, or sell them as they see fit.

Each piece of equipment will strongly affect a unit’s combat strength. These items have the ability ty strength numerous character stats. Some even have longer attack ranges, allowing allies to hit enemies from afar.

Some pieces of equipment have skills associated with them. A character who equips this item will have access to that skill as long as the item is equipped.  Most of the time these skills are locked, requiring a player to pay at a forge to unlock them for permanent use. Rare equipment will not only have incredibly strong skills, but these skills will come completely unlocked.

Devious and powerful enemies
Enemies will be a near constant threat to the player. They will be assaulting the intern and their team as the player progresses through the game. The beginning enemies will be fairly simple. Many of them will simply chase after player characters and attack them from a close proximity. Later on however enemies will have much more interesting and challenging behaviors. These harder enemies can do things like attack from extremely long ranges, prevent a player character from moving,  and even lower a player’s health value to one

Players will have to adapt their strategy and tactics to match these advanced enemies. Otherwise they will have an extremely difficult time defeating them.

Event System
In addition to floors being procedurally generated, there will also be random events. This events can shift massively in how they affect the floor. Some minor ones like a shop might allow the player to heal their character, while other ones might be an especially strong monster.

These events are a huge part of creating a memorable and unique experience for the player and will be refined to create a great experience.

The Team

Lifelike is being created by a small team of five. This will allow for more agile development and cross-disciplinary collaboration.

Robert Beecher - Producer, Lead Narrative Designer, Lead Writer, Designer, Sound Designer
Paul Murray - Lead Gameplay/Systems/Content Designer, Programmer
Kiril Geshev - Lead Programmer, Designer
Julia Nett - Lead Artist, UI Designer
Evan Raczynski - Lead Composer


Lifelike will be created using Unity by our team of four dedicated members. Lifelike is going to be a completely 2D game using an isometric perspective for the setting and characters.

Games like Fire Emblem, Final Fantasy Tactics, Spelunky, Rogue Legacy, and Dungeons of Dredmor are our inspiration. We’ve studied the design of these games and have realized lot of the core strengths and weaknesses in each of them. A lot of our core design has evolved from playing these games and it’s our goal to create something as entertaining and impressive as these titles. Although we’ll be using these games for inspiration Lifelike will be a memorable and unique experience with no material directly from any of them..

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