Iron Hearts Design Document

This design document is a companion to the Iron Hearts script. If you haven't read the script, do so -- the critical qualities of the game are found in the script itself.

Iron Hearts is an episodic sci-fi space opera in the tradition of Star Wars, Firefly/Serenity and Final Fantasy. The video game market is quickly becoming saturated with military/alien/zombie shooters. Iron Hearts, with its mixture of compassionate characters and interesting relationships, offers a fresh perspective on what can be done with the FPS/TPS genre.

This design document isn't a strict recipe book -- after all, games, more so even than movies, are a collaborative effort. Rather, this design document expands on the theory, characters and world environment of Iron Hearts. Additionally, the VG Story Design method explains the philosophy behind the Iron Hearts story/game relationship.

Points Regarding Script

Why Use the Screenplay Format?

The best games use the screenplay (or stage play) format to develop their stories. After all, professional voice actors are familiar with the screenplay format and appreciate all it offers (readability, white space, etc.). If you're unfamiliar with screenplays, the most important feature the format provides, other than clarity or cleanliness, is the one-to-one page/minute ratio. So if a script is 120 pages, the final film will run roughly two hours. In film and TV, this ratio is amazingly accurate, which is why it's been the standard for so long.

Screenplay Timing Vs. Gameplay Timing

When reading the Iron Hearts script (or any game script, for that matter), it's important to realize that the player-controlled sections do not follow the one-to-one page/minute ratio. In fact, the ratio is much closer to one-to-ten, where one page of script equals roughly ten minutes of gameplay. Additionally, Iron Hearts' design is flexible to allow expansion of player-controlled areas if deemed necessary during development.


Iron Hearts Overview


Iron Hearts is designed to be the most story-driven shooter ever. Presented in an episodic format, Iron Hearts uses multiple playable characters with a large cast of NPCs to create a story on the scale of the best epic films and novels of the sci-fi and fantasy genres.

While the gameplay is fast and furious, the entire goal of Iron Hearts is pure story immersion. With no extra-level cut scenes or pace-killing journal entries, Iron Hearts relies entirely on action-specific dialogue and character interaction to drive the story forward. In fact, by having character conflict drive every single scene and level, the action becomes far more intense for the player.

The status quo of video games is ever-changing and Iron Hearts strives to shake up the beliefs on what constitutes story in games. Should story simply justify the gameplay? Or is gameplay a method of advancing the story? Iron Hearts hopes to shift the paradigm of what is possible in single-player narrative gaming.


Iron Hearts aims for a solid "teen" rating by combining heroic combat with minimal blood splatters and severed limbs. Iron Hearts aims to appeal to the widest group of story-loving gamers possible, attracting both the sci-fi buffs and the casual crowd looking for interesting stories. Additionally, Iron Hearts, with its large cast of compassionate, genuine (aka silicone free) female characters appeals to the new generation of gamer girls and adult gamers who aren't attracted to the typical soldier/zombie/alien genres.


While discussing marketing in a design document may seem premature, one of the greatest issues for any new game is managing the hype machine. More now than ever, a game must create compelling trailers with a genuine story to capture the audience's attention. While great developers are continually putting out excellent material, single-player shooters are becoming increasingly generic, conforming to the mold of soldiers and aliens with only slightly different combat mechanics.

Iron Hearts, from the endearing personalities to colorful locations, is a world apart from nearly every shooter available. Iron Hearts aims to stand apart from the current crowd of shooters by offering an entirely new experience.

Additionally, Iron Hearts strives to be as inviting as possible -- easy to play and easy to enjoy. While sandbox games are hugely popular, concise linear stories like Gears of War and Halo offer simple worlds that, from the audience's perspective, aren't frustrating to play or difficult to learn. Their overwhelming success is clear proof the accessibility-first model works.

Iron Hearts is uniquely suited for trailers and story-centric marketing. With a half dozen playable characters and an epic cast of NPCs, Iron Hearts can excite the audience in ways only previously possible in film and TV. Additionally, Iron Hearts' episodic nature, with its deep backstories and galactic conflicts, allows for a huge amount of pre-release content (story snippets, character bios, web comics, etc.) without diluting or damaging the main game story.

Key Design Features

Third Person Shooter

Because character is everything in story, it's important to see the characters as much as possible. The third person shooter with an over-the-shoulder camera, as opposed to the first person shooter, is proving to be the most dramatic interface for story. Gears of War's excellent camera mechanics should be the model for Iron Hearts.

Game Engine Importance

Iron Hearts can be developed on any modern FPS/TPS game engine. The focus, however, should not be placed on pure graphic prowess, but on the ease of cut-scene and character creation. Character movement and facial expression are the most critical elements. The game engine that best handles facial fidelity and ease of acting takes priority over an engine with raw graphic power.

Cinematic Experience

Iron Hearts, as the most story-driven shooter ever, relies heavily on intra-level cut scenes (not pre-rendered cut scenes). The cinematic qualities of these moments should be modeled on film and TV -- from depth of field and creative camera movement to voice acting and soundtrack. That said, the cut scenes aren't visually extravagant and use the in-game engine and follow the characters in real time, thus not requiring separate characters, locations or cinematics.


The graphic style of Iron Hearts would, ideally, allow for the most facial expression possible. Near-photorealism isn't as important as emotional dimensionality. Meaning, if the latest generation of cell-shaded or slightly-exaggerated characters lends to more emotional connection, then that should take priority over texturing and lighting effects.

Key Gameplay Features

Shooter Gameplay

Iron Hearts should feel familiar in the hands of anyone who has played a popular shooter. While each character has different weapons and attributes, Iron Hearts' goal is not to reinvent the gameplay wheel, but stand on the shoulders of Halo, Gears of War and Half-Life 2.

Gameplay Mechanics

Iron Hearts doesn't desire to break new ground in regards to difficulty levels, combat mechanics or camera angles. Rather, the game should be accessible for the most number of players possible. Level difficulty, while standard, should, if possible, offer a "movie" mode for players who simply want to experience the story.

Unbalanced Combat

Iron Hearts, designed as a single-player experience first and foremost, bypasses weapon balancing entirely. In fact, the weapons are designed around levels and characters -- that is to say, the weapons are designed specifically for each individual character's dramatic needs. This unbalanced weaponry not only allows the dramatic flexibility to place in the hands of the character whatever weapon is right for the job (and dramatically interesting in that moment) but also removes difficult weapon balancing required by multi-player-centric shooters.

Fluid Health System

Iron Hearts offers a mixture of the traditional 100% hit point method as well as the popular "wait and recharge" life regeneration. The consideration is, once again, for dramatic purposes and varies from character to character depending on the situation.

Simple Level Construction

Because Iron Hearts is story-centric, level objectives revolve around relationships to other characters. Thus, typical (and more difficult to develop) level designs are not central to Iron Hearts' success. Physics puzzles, extravagant boss battles, backtracking, complex group scenarios, vehicle consideration and more don't appear in Iron Hearts.

However, Iron Hearts does feature heavy scripting of NPCs and non-interactive events. The use of flexible intra-level cut scenes allows for easy triggers and objectives to initiate these scripted events, making overall level development as much a function of the acting as the programming.


Playable Characters


As previously mentioned, the Iron Hearts combat system is inherently (and intentionally) unbalanced, meaning that character to character and weapon to weapon, there is no balancing by design. This allows the players to engage in some of the most intense battles right up front, rather than forcing them to start out with the generic knife/pistol combo.

Additionally, unbalanced characters and weapons allows for a huge variety of combat scenarios. From sneaking missions and hand-to-hand combat to crowd control objectives and heavy, open-area combat, the unbalanced character design and variety of weapons allows for huge flexibility in level building and character conflict.


Beginning life as a lowly TrashBot, Sheldon is thrust into greatness when a personality program awakens his inner lust for life.

Sheldon is, from a health standpoint, the weakest playable character in the game. With shield upgrades at various points, Sheldon will be able to deal with increasingly difficult foes. But Sheldon's main gameplay focus is stealth and close-quarters small-caliber firearm combat.

Sheldon's weapons include a laser pistol and frag grenades as well as a small assault rifle picked off a fallen soldier. Additionally, Sheldon features the ability to carry near-limitless amounts of ammo and grenades through the use of his trash bin as storage.


Marko, with his Ferrari red paint job and massive weapon collection, is a walking war machine. And like most big-muscled robots, Marko is incredibly vain, using his hard-earned bounty money on chrome accessories and performance enhancements.

Marko is the most powerful playable character in the game, allowing players to get their hands dirty early with some of the biggest weapons available. Marko starts off with an automatic shotgun, micro rocket launcher and a heavy rocket launcher. The nature of these weapons allows the player to face huge onslaughts of enemies in the early stages, focusing more on enemy crowd control than sneaking and single-shot kills.

Additionally, Marko also faces light and heavy mechs, both enemies that require heavy firepower to take down. Again, Marko allows the player to engage in an entirely different enemy dynamic early -- and throughout -- the game. Long range combat, open area battles and extended firefights between heavily armored combatants are Marko's cup of tea.


Literally a re-creation of the great genius by the game's resident scientist John, Einstein's sole purpose is to ask hard, logical questions and make his creator smarter (not unlike a walking, mustached version of Brain Age). Born from the same personality program found in Sheldon, Einstein's deep desires have been awakened and he dreams of a life beyond that of a simple intelligence droid.

Einstein, because he's only moderately strong, relies heavily on a custom smart weapon called a "Particle Accelerator." The Particle Accelerator is a "physics weapon" similar to Half Life 2's gravity gun, relying on manipulating the environment than big explosions and volleys of bullets. The Particle Accelerator has multiple modes, from an energy grappling hook to rolling explosive charges. The weapon requires no ammo -- it recharges quickly -- and, depending on mode, depletes at different rates.

Like the other characters, Einstein is designed to offer a unique type of gameplay. The Particle Accelerator allows the player various physics firefights, like shooting "around" walls, bouncing the beam off walls and turning objects into energized proximity mines. Additionally, the beam can stick to multiple enemies at once, decreasing its damage, but increasing the crowd control abilities. Future upgrades will allow for an expanded feature set including more physics-based mechanics.


Wesley is the late Duke Veregas's personal bodyguard and confidant. Designed by the mysterious genius Ezra, Wesley is one of the only models of his kind in the galaxy. His intelligence is uncanny and, with a long history and wisdom honed through diplomacy, now finds himself the protector and father figure of his murdered master's revenge-minded son Brandon Veregas.

Wesley's main weapon is his forearm-mounted plasma cannon, functioning like an assault rifle. The plasma cannon can also shoot time-delayed plasma grenades as well as a high-powered plasma burst, acting as a shotgun blast. Additionally, a plasma beam is a close combat sword, allowing one-hit-kills in stealth scenarios.

Overall, Wesley is the most balanced playable character in the game and, through a variety of dramatic turns, will allow the player to use his different attributes in interesting story-driven scenarios. Wesley can also hand-hold a variety of weapons dropped by soldiers, which becomes a critical story element in chapter two and beyond.

Future Characters

While chapter one has introduced all the main characters, chapter two and beyond feature additional playable characters. Princess Cara and Constance will become playable once additional personal details and story elements are revealed. They'll both offer unique playable options, with Princess Cara using a creative physics-based combat system and Constance offering the most tactical experience in the game, including invisibility and stealth combat.


Generic Soldier

The generic soldier is the catch-all enemy for almost every scenario. The generic soldier is styled for different situations, from the police force in Picadora to the hardened military soldiers on Loriley. The soldier can also be equipped with numerous different weapons and tailored with varying degrees of firepower, accuracy, health and tactics to best suit the gameplay requirements.

Light Mech

The light mech, like the generic soldier, offers multiple levels of difficultly and gameplay situations with one character model. The light mech can carry a variety of medium and heavy weapons relevant to the different scene and character requirements.

Heavy Mech

The heavy mech is designed as a mini boss. Like the other generic enemies, the heavy mech can be tailored for individual gameplay scenarios.

Future Enemies

Chapter two and beyond feature a variety of unique enemies, including specific characters like Titus and Lord Philip as well as the psy soldiers of Picadora and exotic alien combatants.



Iron Hearts offers a vast array of unique and colorful locations. Many games, while beautifully designed, rarely offer a variety of locations, instead recycling the same levels over and over.

Iron Hearts, as a character-centric game, shifts locations depending on the scene. Each location also mirrors the emotional conflicts dictating the characters. From master-planned totalitarian cities to third-world arenas, each location is a unique experience.


Picadora is a Frank Gehry or Philip Starck dream come true. Swaths of glass and exposed steel make Picadora feel like a city-sized Apple store. That said, the world isn't a generic futurist vision. It's very much an organic city in that shopping areas look like shopping areas and public art and social projects fill the open spaces.

At the same time, Picadora has a distinctly uncomfortable feeling. As the story unfolds, we discover that the world is in the grips of a fascist government. From the first moment that we see the city, propaganda and "wanted" images dominate the public spaces while police and military patrol the streets.

Holding Station

Princess Cara and her friend bot Sally are the unwilling residents of a holding station converted from a European-style manor. While the building has classic arches, crenellation and crown molding, the overall architecture is a reflection of advanced designs.

The atmosphere of the building, however, is far from inviting. The feeling is much like a WW2 Nazi-occupied estate, where soldiers patrol hallways next to family portraits hanging on the walls. Additionally, glaring work lights and robotic sentries destroy any fiction that this is a home.

Princess Cara's room -- in reality, a cell -- is, however, very much like her home, with dolls and decorations and everything a teenage girl would have. We later discover the nature of her imprisonment and that this room, while under constant guard, is her personal sanctuary.

The grounds around the manor are typical -- statues, fountains and sculpted hedges. Beyond the grounds, a wall separates the manor from the outside world, which appears to be purely forest. The true nature of the planet and the manor will be revealed later in the story.

Loriley Market

Brandon and Wesley begin in an exotic interplanetary market featuring droids, alien creatures and all manner of unusual delicacies for sale. Loriley is like a futuristic Akihabara, only more seedy and violent.

Loriley features colors and designs different from any other location. Being commerce-oriented, flashing billboards and provocative advertisements dominate the skyline while the streets are filled with unusual characters from every walk of life.

The Loriley landing station and spacecraft hangar, while better kept than the rest of the city, isn't a typical pristine space dock. Rather, exposed piping and stacks of cargo reveal this to be a station that has grown over time to handle the ever-increasing traffic.

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