E-Line Media's upcoming title, The Endless Mission, can leave a lot of people scratching their heads at first glance. It is a game about making games that includes games within itself while also being a strong single-player experience that prepares players to make games. Make sense? It was a lot for me to digest from just a press release, so I took some time to sit down with Brenden Sewell, the creative director of The Endless Mission, to talk about his conceptually dense project.
The Endless Mission's prioritizes giving players the power to create games of their own. It eases players into the process with a story and mechanics that gradually teach players how to use its tools. It begins with a handful of game modes that players can play on their own or mix together to create different game types to play. The game creation process evolves over time as players discover their own unique combinations of settings and find a need for greater complexity. Not only that, but players can then share their creations with other players, leading to what will hopefully be an ever expanding pool of stories and mechanics from which other players can draw inspiration for their own games.
The Endless Mission grew out of a desire to connect young people with an accessible, fun game that could double as a tool set serving as a bridge between the introductory world of coding and full-blown game development. Sewell says that he and his team were inspired by seeing kids engaging with Minecraft in ways that became more and more elaborate over time. First, they would figure out how to start up a server, going through painstaking tutorials and executing commands. Some would start crafting mods for the game, again working through ridiculous amounts of tutorials, essentially teaching themselves how to code. However, after that, many never seemed to make the leap to game development, despite having good ideas, because the leap itself seemed so daunting. Once Minecraft was taken out of the picture all of that technical knowledge faded into the background. So, The Endless Mission aimed to give players the means, tools, and drive to help them cross over into game development and fill the perceived voids separating playing, modding, and developing.
To help players cross the divide, The Endless Mission goes through an evolution that follows the player's increasing skill level. Players begin the game with access to a handful of pre-made games; initially a kart racer, an RTS, and a platformer, along with whatever games other players have shared online. That might not sound like much, but when you jump into one of those games, The Endless Mission gives players the ability to peek behind the curtain. You can bring up a menu to alter the fundamental rules of the game. Of course, this immediately leads to ridiculousness, like your avatar jumping for colossal heights or dashing impossible distances while 100x its normal size, but that's all part of the learning process. Emergent game design, discovering ideas for games you hadn't even considered before, is part of the fun!
However, the game doesn't sit on its laurels and call it a day after giving the player access to the behind-the-scenes sliders. You see, once players have mastered the menus and feel the need for even more refinement, they can access a visual programming language built to represent C#. This allows players to make changes to the game in real-time. While the visual language possesses much more power and versatility than the basic menus, it might be found lacking for players who really want to get into the nitty gritty details, which is why the game allows players to open it up and directly program in C# to create the game in their head.
Players will be moved through this journey by the single-player aspect. To call The Endless Mission a set of tools for making a game on your own would be an understatement. Though it certainly gives players the capacity to craft entire games, it's as much a rumination on the act of creation itself, with a script penned by Christian Cantamessa, the lead writer of Red Dead Redemption, and Richard Elliott, known for his work on the animated series Fangbone!. The premise revolves around the modern tension of shaping our environment with technology while in turn finding ourselves shaped by that technology.
Though not necessarily the main goal of The Endless Mission, E-Line Media wants to enable players to make a full, functional game in Unity that can stand on its with the tools provided. If you're not a fan of the assets used in The Endless Mission, Sewell says you can import your own. Games can be shared online within the game, though it's not exactly clear how curation will work. Eventually, if someone puts in enough time and effort, their Endless Mission creation could even be exported as an independent game.
The Endless Mission undoubtedly takes a big risk. However, the potential ability to inspire and enable a generation of young gamers to make their own art and tell their own stories could be more than worth the difficulty. The project won't be getting a full release for a while yet, but players can get in on the Early Access version for PC on August 31.
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