Game, Combat & Systems Designer
Project Siren is a Multiplayer FPS game set on a large map where fugitives need to extract from the mpa whilst the Law Enforcement needs to hunt them down and capture/kill them before they escape.
One a player is caught or escapes they then become part of the law enforcement faction fighting to catch the now renegade fugitives.
The game would combine mechanics from Extraction Shooters and Battle Royale as players loot the map or bring item in via loadouts for LE forces or via stash/caches that fugitives can place around the map.
This project was worked on whilst other member of my team were learning UE5 so whilst we did some in engine tests I spent most of it planning mechanics, level design and working on documentation for the rest of the team.
Once we were ready to start actual prototyping I determined that even the prototype was outside scope for the team's current skills, time and output.
Team Side Project
On this page I will discuss the Game Design choices that I made for this project, and the plan for both the prototype build we set out to build and the final intended release version.
Here are the key features of the game design that made it into the Initial Prototype and the subsequent UI/UX design documentation.
Multiplayer using Epic Services
One of the aspects of this project was the fact that of my team I was really the only person with experience in Unreal Engine and with the industry looking likely to move away from Unity/more toward Unreal it was time that we all made the change.
This involved learning all the intricacies of a new engine in a team environment but also using the new tools to see how we could use them. The first of which was that my programmers knew how to make multiplayer work in Unity but could we actually get this to work in Unreal.
At the time Lyra had just came out so for the first part of our pre-prototype we decided the goal was to get a multiplayer version working where we could all log in and play at match using the epic services and the inbuilt matchmaking/networking systems.
This was a combined effort from myself and the 2 programmers to get this to work which involved testing all the settings in engine, in code, the build, in epic's backend and for each player's epic account client before this would work.
Once we had this working successfully we had the entire team that has PC's (so everyone minus the audio guys) to jump on and to play some matches and test out the pre-existing systems or mechanics that we might need. Whilst testing, we were taking notes, running benchmarks and performing other tests to using console commands to see what we could mess with to better understand where we would be starting with using the Epic provided resources.
Some of these in built resources we could use to build on such as team changing, pickups etc that would all be important for our prototype. These would then have been rebuilt from the ground up for a vertical slice.
For Project Siren the game mode is essentially an Infected gamemode as you would seen in games like Call of Duty or the Ewok Hunt Mode in Star Wars Battlefront II (2017) that originated from the schoolyard game of infected tag.
Players either spawn as a fugitive with the goal to survive and escape the state, or they spawn as a Law Enforcement officer and then need to capture the fugitives before they escape for good.
Once a fugitive player is caught or killed they respawn on the law enforcement faction with the idea that as the game goes on there ends up being 99 players chasing down the last fugitive in a intense chase to the border.
The game takes place across an entire state with fugitives spawn toward the middle and having to escape via exiting the border or boarding a means of transport out of the state (like a train, plane or boat).
Police would have the ability to respawn across the map and are given updates via police bulletins when players report a fugitive or a member of the public reports (AI reporting etc).
The world would also be filled with AI civilians who the fugitives could act like after stealing or buying new clothes and finding weapons, medical supplies and cash as loot to aid in their escape.
The movies the Fugitive and US Marshals were heavy inspiration for this concept and how I wanted the experience to feel for players, a mix between those movies extraction shooters and the final few circles of a battle royale.
Spawning & Respawning Mechanics
In Project Siren players would spawn as either Fugitives or Law enforcement from the start with players able to opt into a guaranteed LE start.
Fugitives would spawn at one of multiple fugitive start spawns across the map from prisons and correctional facilities to chain gangs, rolled over corrections buses or handcuffed against the hood of a squad car. In some of these scenarios LE would spawn with limited weapons and many fugitives, like having a pump action shotgun and entire busload of fugitives. you can get a few but the rest will either run or kill you for the early weapon.
Cops would spawn depending on their selection in the deployment screen as they could select one of the multiple agencies or departments across the state including county and metropolitan police forces. They would then spawn in scenarios from getting donuts at the local bakery/donut shop, at a crime scene or a school assembly giving a presentation to school children but they'll get the call and then are given control of the player character to start their pursuit.
The idea was then that is a fugitive died or was captured they would then spawn as a Cop with a percentage chance to spawn at a hospital under AI police guard or if they were in a squad the option to wait for their friends to go to a bail-broker to pay for their release.
The other idea that I had was that as we were using instanced buildings where houses and small business across the map would be chosen at random from an array during the formation of each server to keep things fresh but adding to that we could have each fugitive have a house with a stash of loot they choose themselves but it would spawn at random and the police would have record of where their dwelling is making it a high risk-high reward looting opportunity.
If we were to add future maps players would need to choose a state they live in which their own house would only spawn in that map but they'd have a percentage chance to have a relatives house spawn with a higher loot that again would be known by both the player and LE faction.
As a former Assistant Amourer and a firearms nerd, in game gunsmithing options have always frustrated me a little bit and I wanted to see if i could elate that frustration whilst still making the game fun to play and not a firearms disassembly simulator.
The result of this was 2 gunsmithing systems in the same game.
The Plus System as seen in Battlefield 2042 which would allow the player to change magazines, ammo, optics, muzzle devices, unfold folding stocks or add any picatinny rail accessories in game in a matter of seconds.
However larger ticket items like new barrels, stocks, bolts, springs or rechambering to a different calibre would require the player to use a workbench in game (found in workshops, gun shops, police armouries and garages etc) or using the menu loadout system before deploying.
This gave a good balance of switching out weapon attachments during a firefight but not completely changing the gun in fractions of a second. The workbench would take some time leaving you vulnerable with the weapon dissembled and players likely focusing on getting the modifications done so they can be out the door.
Inventory & Console UI
One aspect I wanted to challenge myself in designing this game is that there are a bunch of great shooters on PC that I can't play with my best mates as they only have consoles so I wanted to see if I could make midcore shooters more accessible for console audiences.
One aspect of this was the clunkier UI systems used in games like Escape from Tarkov that have the luxury of mouse control but would simply be a death sentence to controller users.
So I decided that the Comms, actions and inventory UI and systems should be built around wheels or roses. Rose were my preferred choice as it gave us options down the track to select a petal and then have new options appear but i went into depth to figure out what was going to be best for each system.
My conclusions was the we'd end up with a CommoRose, a TactiRose and a hybrid rose wheel for inventory where only certain slots would open new inventory screens (like entering your bag if you have one would open a new wheel but the remainder of the inventory is just slots with petal options for discard, use, equip only.
The goal was to make this friendly without adding extra clicks or actions. I think for the most part I succeeded with the bag feeling like the only extra action compared to other hardcore and midcore shooters but if we played a bag opening animation at the same time it would feel grounded to say it takes longer to open your bag and look through it then grabbing something out of your pockets or off your person.
Below is an example I used in my design wiki.
Cache, Stash & Crafting Systems
Whilst the world was going to have loot spawns that both fugitive and cop could both access I wanted to lean into the idea of the prisonbreak planning and the idea of planning across multiple play sessions.
The first mechanic was that Players would be able to place a few Caches of items across the map that they would need to keep hidden as they would be accessible by anyone but you would be able to hide them in props such as coffee pots, under the mattress, bins etc. The idea being you wanted to put caches in useful spots for you to change your look with new clothes, cash or weapondry. This would be especially fun in squad based gameplay where you don;t want your squadmates to know where your caches are so that if they get busted in the early game they aren't camping your resources.
Stashes would be able to hold more loot but would be in high traffic areas the player isn't able to choose, like a safety deposit box in a bank, a locker in a train station or even at your own house somewhere on the map that the cops have the record of.
This ability to plan for possible scenarios not knowing your initial spawn was also part of the multi-session crafting meta gameplay where you might find a blueprint and can escape with it or stash it to be able to use the blueprint to build. you could then go to a workshop or you own house and use 3D printers to make 3D printed firearms which would be kept on you during fugitive spawns which would help you survive the initial escape scenario but these would take multiple games to build and you would need to take them off the printer and assemble before you can use them in future matches. The idea was it would be this secondary objective a fugitive could do to the benefit of future matches.
Progression was something I felt was important for the Law Enforcement Faction to have the same longevity as the Fugitive Experience. My fear was that players would most likely want to play as the fugitive first and foremost; that they might quit the server if they started as LE or when they were captured/killed.
To alleviate this fear I decided to give players the hope of becoming a fugitive again with the hospital respawn and bail-bonds but most importantly needed to make it feel rewarding to play as the police faction.
When playing as LE the player is able to choose from the various departments across the states and it's many counties, each game these departments would be supplied with a budget which limits the amount of spawns a department/precinct can spawn but they can have funding increased by completing arrests or side objectives.
For each department the player would have their own progression, with players unlocking new weapons, cosmetic and ability as they level up that department. These unlocks can then be used for that department or any other around the state (with some conditions, such as higher cost per spawn etc.)
In the work in progress map below we see the State of Nakota broken up into it's counties with each having a county sheriff and corrections departments, then with municipality police forces for each town or city. The correctional facilities in each county would also act as one of the locations a fugitive can either spawn at or be released on bail.
These forms of county and municipality departments have a few precincts that you can spawn from (with spawns happening in the area local to that precinct) but these are all within a condensed area allowing for players to spawn roughly in the are the want to be tactically or allowing them to reengage an enemy that they just died to.
There would then be Statewide police forces such as the State Police, Highway Patrol, Littoral/Coast Gaurd, State Defense Forces and State Corrections.
These would have a wider selections of spawn precincts but these would be spread out further within the map. These are more likely to have access to bigger assets like scout planes or helicopters.
Finally there would be federal agencies like the FBI, Military, National Guard, Border Force etc that you could level up across maps but they would have very few or very specific spawn locations per map.
To reduce the content we'd have to make to make this system worth it the plan was to have some of the progression be different chamberings of a weapons platform, which is only slight model changes and then updated weapon handling.
An example of this was the Smith & Wesson M&P Pistol family with the M&P9, M&P45, M&P40, M&P10, M&P357, the TE M&P (Paintball Marker) & M&P57 all options to add to the game.
Rank Progression with Police Force
Each department had it's own Rank System across all of it's precincts that the player would level up to unlock different gear and tactics such as SWAT/RIOT Equipment, new vehicles, Character Skins and new weapons.
Players would level up for captures/kills with non-lethal captures rewarding more XP, assists, setting up AI roadblocks and completing side missions/objectives.
Players out on Bail would have bounties rewarding more XP and cash for the precinct/department. High priority targets such as Most Wanted or Red Notice fugitives would be big prizes with huge XP boosts and cash for the department.
Once a Player has maxed out a department they would then begin to earns service striped for every 5 hours played as that department as a way of showing off their prowess with that department.
Cosmetic rewards may have been added to Service Stripes at a later date.
Most Wanted & Red Notice Systems
For the Fugitives if they successfully escape they send all police/law enforcement players a post card from some far off destination.
Consecutive escapes would add players to the most wanted bounty list in a game, as well as if they get high kill counts or commit enough other crimes in their escape.
They become more valuable to capture or kill as Most Wanted with their bounties shown on the Most Wanted Screen.
A player can earn a Red Notice and become an international fugitive escaping in multiple consecutive escapes or escaping as a Most Wanted Player.
These are bragging rights but also handicaps against high skill players to make the challenge harder as they continue to succeed. Players would more likely be spotted by the general public with tips, and other fugitives could turn on them as a distraction or for the bounty as a way of getting cash.
The idea was that players would hunt these players for the reward and also just in spite of them to make the players who are incredibly good at being a fugitive have another level of challenge without having to separate lobbies based on skill.
CURRENT STATUS & NEXT STEPS
Originally I pitched this game to my dev team when multiple of us had just gotten jobs in game adjacent industries. I was worried that time in another industry might make me less desirable and having had multiple offers with AAA studios that I didn't want to loose my progress as there isn't any save-scumming in the real world.
So I pitched this idea as I thought if we did just a basic prototype that would still include a system, asset or mechanic that everyone could use as a portfolio piece but that they could all come together to form something playable. From there we'd decide if we wanted to keep working on it/seek funding etc.
We made a lot of early progress during the first couple months but eventually it was really myself and one of the weapon artists doing 98% of the work on it.
We had the M&P9 with multiple attachments and textures so we could build out our gunsmith/plus system mechanics, trial a cosmetic system for proof that we could make MTX for monetisation of the game to funding bodies, as well as semi-auto firearms, the blockout of the TASER Shotgun, so that we could test non-lethal ammunition and shotgun pellet spread.
We also recorded a bunch of footstep audio that allowed players to determine what their opponents were walking in/through.
Our PFX artists got a bunch of great water FX done whilst learning UE5. This Included water surface, rain on surfaces and the camera lens.
We got our Multiplayer test done via Lyra and using Epic Multiplayer Services. Which allowed us to get the entire team (or at least those with Windows PC's) to jump on and have a match testing out all the existing elements in Lyra to see if it was worth stealing any of the code to speed up the prototype. Whilst if we did use their existing code/systems it would have been redone for a release build we figure for prototype if their team switching code works why not bastardise it for our own purpose.
We also got some good work on the map design with me needing to go through multiple version to figure out how big a map for this game would need to be to warrant the 40 min play session with vehicles present.
Continue with Current FPS Side Project
I decided after going through to work out how the game would function, how big the map would need to be and what would need to be included in a prototype of core functions of the game over the course of a year I had come to the conclusion that even the prototype for this game was well outside our scope. Especially as for many of the team there had been little to no progress.
I decided that we needed to move over to a project that had small chunks that were achievable that we could use for portfolio pieces or get funding if we wanted to continue. This happened at the end of 2023 as we moved over to Deagles & Dragunovs.
At the same time I decided that I did a bunch of on paper work for this concept but had little to show for it and felt like I was back in the days before AIE where I was waiting on others. So I decided that separately to the group project decided I'd make my own personal project that I could use as more portfolio work. This was First Contact which I started in the last week on 2023.