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Autonomous: Voting Discussion Thread
Posted: 16 November 2012 05:39 PM
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Project Lead: Lee Petty

Autonomous is a first person sandbox construction game set in an 80’s inspired futuristic junkyard world. You must use found objects to construct automatons, which have a mind of their own that you cannot directly control. You must use these automatons to survive the hazardous world around you. Autonomous will be a stylish science fiction game about player experimentation and the sometimes disastrous, but always fun, scenarios that result.

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Posted: 19 November 2012 11:06 AM
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Hello everyone!

My name is Lee Petty and I am the project lead for Autonomous, should it get enough votes to be prototyped!

I’ve been at Double Fine for about 5 years now. I’ve worked on a variety of things, but most of my time has been spent on being the Art Director for Brütal Legend and the Project Lead for Stacking. I am currently working on Double Fine Adventure! (thanks again, backers!).

I’m very excited to be given the opportunity to work on Autonomous. Lately, I’ve been interested in experiences that are more free-form and open, allowing the player to explore and experiment, with only just enough structure to help give the game meaning and provide fertile ground for the player to construct their own stories. I think Autonomous, with its focus on construction and self-directed entities in an evocative junkyard world, can be that game.

I spent most of my school years in the ‘80’s, so its with a sense of nostalgia that I’d really like to create a game that is thematically similar art, movies, and music created during that era. In no particular order, here are some things that have been inspiring me:

Devo
Terminator
The Lawnmower Man
80’s “Virtual Reality”. Not just the hardware (glove and headset), but also the surreal, early rendering technology worlds, often filled with chrome balls and checkerboard floors.
Music & movies of John Carpenter
Audio cassettes, old video game cartridges, videotape packaging.
Daleks plus that Captain Pike chair thingy with the yes/no indicators
Micronauts
Patrick Nagel
George Orwell

If you have any questions, please ask and I’ll do my best to answer! Thanks for reading!

Lee

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Posted: 19 November 2012 11:12 AM
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AutonomousLogoSmall.jpg width=800

Gameplay Summary

You explore a new-wave inspired, futuristic “junkyard world” in a first-person perspective to collect primitives and energy in order to construct, and give life to, automatons. Once activated, automatons have a “mind” of their own that you cannot directly control. Automaton behavior is derived both from the type of primitives that they are built from as well as an array of dials and sliders that you set during their construction. But assembling automatons isn’t just a creative exercise—it’s also a matter of survival. The environment is a hazardous one, and you must find ways to harness the self-directed automatons to explore, survive and ultimately shape the world around you.

Construction.jpg width=800 border=2

Key Design Elements

Creative Construction. Automatons are modular entities, built from found primitives, which the player must scavenge from the environment. This allows the player to express their creativity in making automatons, as the choices the player makes during their construction will lead to different visual and behavioral combinations.

Fun Chaos. Once activated, automatons are self-directed, following their internal programming—which makes their behavior a little unpredictable. Automatons, and much of the world, are also physics based objects and when the two collide chaos is often the result. Since automaton parts are never destroyed, these hectic scenarios aren’t about failure, but instead are designed to encourage player experimentation and enjoyment of the emergent, and sometimes disastrous, results.

Hazardous. Although players are able to direct the pace of the experience, the world is not entirely safe. The futuristic world is filled with environmental threats, obstacles to overcome, and other, pre-existing automatons that are simultaneously a threat and a rich source of primitives.

World_Vista.jpg width=800 border=2

Art Style

The game’s look will be based on a distyopian future world, as it might’ve been imagined in the ‘80’s during the era off New Wave Synth Pop, Patrick Nagel, and early Virtual Reality. It is a physical environment, a place of abandoned futuristic things with mysterious purposes; a world of permanent night where chrome structures crackle with blue electricity and angular silhouettes are highlighted with teal, pink and yellow energy glows.

The game will be rendered with atmospheric lighting and ambient occlusion to create a rich, colorful environment that invites exploration. Most of the surfaces will be rendered as “faceted polygons” instead of the usual smooth, illusory surface. These hard lines speak to the strong geometric influences of 80’s retro futurism era and allow the player to create automatons with distinct, interesting silhouettes.

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Posted: 19 November 2012 02:58 PM
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Very very cool. Me and my collaborator discussed an almost identical idea once, but we’ve been working on so much cool stuff that we’re unlikely to get around to it soon. I’d love to see DF’s take on it, so I’ll be very sad if this drops below #4!

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Posted: 19 November 2012 05:52 PM
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The creative construction and fun chaos remind of the TV show Junkyard Wars. Each team always seemed to have its own mad scientist who created some crazy beast that you knew was either going to be brilliant or fail miserably. After watching the intro video this is one that stuck with due to the above association. Well done.

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Posted: 19 November 2012 05:54 PM
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Who doesn’t like junk? smile


Smiles

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Posted: 19 November 2012 07:52 PM
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Hey there, Lee! First, I’d just like to say, that I love your work! Stacking and Brutal Legend were both artistically wonderful, and the work on Double Fine Adventure so far is turning up great as well. So, when you Tweeted about your Amnesia Fortnight Project, I was quite optimistic to back your idea; especially considering “Stacking” was a prior Amnesia Fortnight success. However, “Autonomous” sounds a lot like a “Minecraft” clone.

Can you please explain why “Autonomous” is different than “Minecraft” in better detail?

I wish you the best in the coming days with your Project, and thank you for reading! smile

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Posted: 19 November 2012 11:36 PM
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Hey, True Story Guy!

Thanks for the nice comments and also thanks for the question! Let me try and answer, because it is hard to capture the entire important details of a game idea in quick pitch.

First off, Minecraft is a great game, and I’ve spent many hours playing it. But I don’t want to clone it! To me, Minecraft is primarily about sculpting and manipulating a static world. As the player, you dig for materials, craft them into more complex compounds, and build your dream house. Of course there’s much more to it than that, but that’s the primary focus.

Autonomous, on the other hand, focuses on experimenting and interacting with dynamic entities, not the static world. Although the player makes numerous choices during automaton construction that influence their behavior, they are not under player control once activated. They process inputs (such as movement, energy, damage, etc) and react accordingly.

An important point here is that the player cannot program an automaton to treat them differently than the rest of the world. If the player, for example, manages to construct a DEATHBOT 2000 that is programmed to incinerate anything that moves, they better stay out of its way, because they are also a valid target. And even though automatons can be unpredictable, they are vital for the player to be able to make their way through the world because the world itself is filled with hazards—including other existing, not-so-friendly automatons.

A few quick examples of how a player might use automatons to make their way through the environment:

Mapper. The player doesn’t have a god-like view of the world around them, but the player can use automatons to help map it. The player can switch their view to see through the “eyes” of any automaton that they’ve previously activated, giving them a lay of the land. In addition, these same automatons will upload mapping data to the player’s auto-map.
Energy Converter. Energy is found in 3 primary places: other automatons, “panels” that only the player can smash, and in derelict fusion cores that automatons (with the appropriate limbs) can convert into something usable by the player. With the right primitives and programming, the player can set automatons loose on the world that will seek energy and convert it, ready for the player to pick up and use.
Traveler.  If players can approach an automaton from behind, they can “grab on” and use it to travel through the environment. This could allow the player to travel faster than normal, or use automatons that are impervious to a hazard (such as a metal treaded automaton that can cross an acidic floor) to cross it.
Hunter. Sometimes the best way to deal with a big automaton is to send an even bigger one at it. Strapping a helicopter blade to the arm of an automaton and programming it to seek and attack movement will probably work, as long as the automaton can find its way to the target and the player stays out of its way.

Hopefully this gives you a little insight into some of the ways that Autonomous is different from Minecraft. Thanks for reading!

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Posted: 20 November 2012 02:22 AM
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You had me at 80s dystopia. I appreciate the additional details you included here.

What made you choose 1st person over 3rd person? Is the perspective even that important to your core design? I just imagine crawling over junk piles and climbing up high to scope the landscape, but perhaps I’ve played too much Assassin’s Creed.

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Posted: 20 November 2012 06:36 AM
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Sounds great, Lee! This post really goes into better detail on what makes your game different than a lot of other games. Thank you for your fast response.

May I also add that it has potential to be incredibly hilarious—Think “Worms.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worms_(1995_video_game)

Or “Claptrap” from Borderlands! (If you want it to be funny, that is)

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Posted: 20 November 2012 07:53 AM
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Sounds like a cross between Junkyard Wars and Tron. In other words, YES.

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Posted: 20 November 2012 10:32 AM
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VicOfAges - 20 November 2012 02:22 AM

You had me at 80s dystopia. I appreciate the additional details you included here.

What made you choose 1st person over 3rd person? Is the perspective even that important to your core design? I just imagine crawling over junk piles and climbing up high to scope the landscape, but perhaps I’ve played too much Assassin’s Creed.

Hey VicOFAges!

That’s a great question. That’s probably one of the most fundamental decisions to make when creating a 3D game. A lot can change when actually developing the prototype for a game, but here are my initial thoughts on the matter:

- One of the most potentially interesting dynamics of the game is the relationship between the player and the automatons. I’d like for the game systems and structure to heavily encourage the player to work with and through the automatons. Although the player is an active agent in the world, and capable of many things such as melee combat interactions, “using” items, holding onto automatons, scavenging and construction, they need these automatons to be successful. And because of that, I want to de-emphasize the player character on some level. I think a third person view of the player character would naturally lead players to focus on player abilities (like in Assassin’s Creed!) and maybe also put too much emphasis on “character” and less on “immersion”.

- I’m interested in exploring the mystery of this setting and these entities. I’d like the player to question the nature of the world of Autonomous. I don’t want to fill this game with tutorials, exposition and talking AT the player in any way. I want to have some ambiguity, to encourage exploration, learning, experimentation. When I was first thinking of this game, I wrote a little “opening sequence” that helped set a tone along these lines. Here it is (this may or may not make it into the prototype):

———————————————————————
Darkness. A whisper of wind.

You move. The sound of heavy things shifting.

Again, you move. The noise sharpens, but still the blackness remains.

You push. The dark doesn’t give. You hit. A hollow pan ding. You pound. Something falls and a blade of light severs the screen. You shift, strike, struggle. The darkness is smashed away and you stand.

In the light.

A destroyed landscape. Or is it a junkyard. A place of abandoned things.

You approach a nearby shape. Faceted. Slightly rounded. Fiberglass. A dart of teal and pink. Your hands reveal themselves. White gloves?

Suddenly, a glow.

The shape shifts, as if considering. And then it is in your hands. Seemingly alive. Nearby, something shifts in the debris. Another shape. Taller. Glowing now, pulsing. Almost breathing.

You connect the shapes and a licking crack of electricity joins them. But it is still not enough. Something is missing.

And then.

A shape with the closed eyes of slumbering mechanical sentience. You join it to the rest. The thin visor lights. The anxious clicking of something inside. The visor glow focuses on you, considering. You step back. The crunch of rubble.

Suddenly rushing forward, it knocks you to the ground and then stops. Frozen over you for an abstract second. And then movement in the distance. Quickly, it moves away, pursuing. Your creation, no longer in your hands. No longer under your control.

Autonomous.

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Posted: 20 November 2012 01:08 PM
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This is my favorite entry. I’m a real sucker for classic Tron like worlds. (screw Tron: Legacy and Tron: Uprising).

@DF Lee: the music in your pitch, where is it from? is there more?

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Posted: 20 November 2012 04:37 PM
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Hey ELMUERTE!

The music was composed by our very own Camden Stoddard! He was nice enough to give me a little something that had that John Carpenter/Escape From New York feel that I’m totally in love with.

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Posted: 20 November 2012 05:05 PM
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Yeah thanks ELMUERTE! Glad you like it!
Lee was super cool and asked if I could write a little something. He also offered a foot rub and, as all of DF knows, there is no fighting a Lee Petty foot rub.

I put the full track on my soundcloud site if you wish to listen:

http://soundcloud.com/camdensound/autonomous

Thanks again for the support! Let’s make some Automatons!!!

-Camden

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Posted: 20 November 2012 06:21 PM
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Camden, those foot rubs were a secret. Foot rubs have no place in AUTONOMOUS!

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Posted: 21 November 2012 02:26 PM
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You can have all my cash monies as long as you listen to this album during the entire process. Non-stop 24/7, even when no one is in the building. Become one with the 80’s dystopia, go now, and create a chrome paradise.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_(Electric_Light_Orchestra_album)


[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxmzTpJYPvk&feature=BFa&list=SPFDB835ABC68AD1DC[/youtube]

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Posted: 21 November 2012 03:30 PM
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Great stuff DFCamdensound. Really looking forward to hear more of this, and of course see it in action with the game.
There are quite some indie games coming lately with awesome music like this. Probably the best example would be Scattle’s music for Hotline Miami.

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Posted: 21 November 2012 04:40 PM
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linksgard2 - 21 November 2012 02:26 PM

You can have all my cash monies as long as you listen to this album during the entire process. Non-stop 24/7, even when no one is in the building. Become one with the 80’s dystopia, go now, and create a chrome paradise.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_(Electric_Light_Orchestra_album)


[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxmzTpJYPvk&feature=BFa&list=SPFDB835ABC68AD1DC[/youtube]

I will! Also look up DROKK and Unit Black Force. Amazing Carpenter inspired stuff.

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Posted: 22 November 2012 01:19 AM
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For some reason i got a image of a Tecno wizard zapping stuff in my mind when i saw the pitch video for this, maybe i have played too much Magicka.

Edit : Got my Vote, disregarding my imagination thats running wild because of the idea in itself.

[ Edited: 22 November 2012 02:46 AM by Lodium ]
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Posted: 22 November 2012 01:29 AM
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I’m reminded of Strange Loop’s Vessel or Tiger Style’s Waking Mars here, as they also focus on making and using the behaviours of automata (to solve environmental puzzles). Any inspiration from that direction?
Anyway, the idea sounds right up my alley as I love interacting with autonomous systems and the added bonus of getting to design and experimenting with them sounds great. I guess I’m not as passionate about the art direction as some of you guys, but I can appreciate the surreality of it.

[ Edited: 22 November 2012 03:01 AM by Magos Mechanicus ]
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Posted: 22 November 2012 04:32 AM
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Hello! I voted for the game! Good luck!

It’s interesting reading your posts about how you envision the use of the automatons. It sort of reminds of me of the way Brutal Legend uses Eddie’s units for teamups. You can let your units run around and do their own thing, but each unit has a special ability you can use if you go buddy up. And Eddie is “weak” in a way that makes these teamups highly advantageous.

But if we take that general principle and remove it from the concept of battles with armies, and have a weak avatar that builds these special units for the purpose of adventure/exploration/navigation/etc rather than mere warfare, that starts to look really interesting. Like Eddie, you build units in order to use them, but unlike with Eddie, they are not necessarily *on your side* when you build them. They are autonomous! This is indeed a cooler idea than the pitch gets across.

Even though it’s not so much an 80s thing, when I try to imagine the world/narrative of the game, my mind keeps going back to the GUNNM manga, in which the whole world is basically one gigantic junkyard that a civilization has been built out of. The main character is a cybernetic girl built out of parts scavenged from junk piles, and throughout the series, she struggles with data/programming still inside her from whatever kind of machine she was in her previous build. So she’s got a real existential crisis and her greatest quest becomes to know herself. James Cameron is apparently adapting it into a movie, though he’s been “working on it” since I was in the womb, or so it feels like.

Your position in the top 4 seems pretty secure at present time! Looking forward to finding out more about your project!

[ Edited: 22 November 2012 04:36 AM by AnAnemoneInAnonymity ]
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Posted: 22 November 2012 10:43 AM
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Magos Mechanicus - 22 November 2012 01:29 AM

I’m reminded of Strange Loop’s Vessel or Tiger Style’s Waking Mars here, as they also focus on making and using the behaviours of automata (to solve environmental puzzles). Any inspiration from that direction?
Anyway, the idea sounds right up my alley as I love interacting with autonomous systems and the added bonus of getting to design and experimenting with them sounds great. I guess I’m not as passionate about the art direction as some of you guys, but I can appreciate the surreality of it.

Hey Magos,

Thanks for the questions. I’ve never played vessel, but do like Waking Mars (and also I still think Spider is the best use of touch controls). In terms of inspiration from other games, my biggest source of inspiration is this little game called ROBUGS, that I played on my Atari ST in the ‘80’s. It wasn’t even a commercial game—it was a little freeware experiment that you had to download from the BBS system.

It was basically a game where you had a little grid where you could drop a few objects like sensors, or guns and then “wire up the logic” using things like OR, AND, XOR gates. Once you did that you had created this little critter and you could drop it into a world filled with food and other critters and play the simulation and see what happens. It was really cool!

When thinking of Autonomous, I remember that experience, but then wanted to make it more direct. I didn’t want the game to be about passively watching “toys” interact with each other. Instead, I wanted to put the player INTO that world (creating new worlds is my favorite aspect of game development!). I think that gives the game a fundamental idea of “SURVIVE” that doesn’t require explanation, narrative set-up. I’m hoping it will make the construction choices and experimentation more powerful, but not so tense and punishing that the player doesn’t explore.

It’s a tricky balance, but I think we’ll get it.

In terms of Art Direction, I try and choose looks and vibes that support what the player is DOING, not just what the player is SEEING. It’s a bit hard to explain at this early stage, but I’m hoping that by the time we finish the prototype, you’ll be sold on the look because of how integral it is to the function of the game.

As a simple example, I want the player to have a lot of freedom in constructing automatons. I don’t want to limit the shapes and worry about the connections between the pieces that make up an automaton too much. I think there is a danger there that if the visuals required “specifically crafted” connections between something like an arm and torso, that would really limit the player creativity, because only certain hand-authored parts would fit properly. Instead, what we’re doing in Autonomous is that all of the parts that make-up an automaton are actually NOT physically connected. Instead, once activated, they are held togetehr by a crackling line of electricity. Not only does this allow more freedom in construction, but it’s going to look cool! And very ‘80’s. And the somewhat “physics” bobbing of the parts also underscores the physics gameplay as well.

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Posted: 22 November 2012 10:45 AM
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AnAnemoneInAnonymity - 22 November 2012 04:32 AM

Hello! I voted for the game! Good luck!

It’s interesting reading your posts about how you envision the use of the automatons. It sort of reminds of me of the way Brutal Legend uses Eddie’s units for teamups. You can let your units run around and do their own thing, but each unit has a special ability you can use if you go buddy up. And Eddie is “weak” in a way that makes these teamups highly advantageous.

But if we take that general principle and remove it from the concept of battles with armies, and have a weak avatar that builds these special units for the purpose of adventure/exploration/navigation/etc rather than mere warfare, that starts to look really interesting. Like Eddie, you build units in order to use them, but unlike with Eddie, they are not necessarily *on your side* when you build them. They are autonomous! This is indeed a cooler idea than the pitch gets across.

Even though it’s not so much an 80s thing, when I try to imagine the world/narrative of the game, my mind keeps going back to the GUNNM manga, in which the whole world is basically one gigantic junkyard that a civilization has been built out of. The main character is a cybernetic girl built out of parts scavenged from junk piles, and throughout the series, she struggles with data/programming still inside her from whatever kind of machine she was in her previous build. So she’s got a real existential crisis and her greatest quest becomes to know herself. James Cameron is apparently adapting it into a movie, though he’s been “working on it” since I was in the womb, or so it feels like.

Your position in the top 4 seems pretty secure at present time! Looking forward to finding out more about your project!

Thanks for the vote!

That’s a really interesting breakdown of the game, and one that I hadn’t thought of. Great insight, thanks!

I’m not familiar with that particular manga, but I’m going to check it out. There’s definitely some similarity.

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Posted: 22 November 2012 03:48 PM
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DF Lee - 19 November 2012 11:06 AM

Devo

SOLD!


On that note: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIfh0XMrg6w

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Posted: 22 November 2012 07:09 PM
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DF Lee - 22 November 2012 10:45 AM

Thanks for the vote!

That’s a really interesting breakdown of the game, and one that I hadn’t thought of. Great insight, thanks!

I’m not familiar with that particular manga, but I’m going to check it out. There’s definitely some similarity.

FYI: The americanized version of that manga is titled “Battle Angel Alita”, if that helps you dig anything up.

There was also an anime version made. Here is a very short (1:30) clip from the very start of the anime. Some cool cyberpunky type stuff going on. Maybe not the exact flavor you’re going for, but perhaps interesting. =]

[ Edited: 22 November 2012 11:59 PM by AnAnemoneInAnonymity ]
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