Sunday, December 24, 2006

Xmas Update

OK, so today would normally be the day I update (since it's been a week since the last update) but I'm not going to. Because it's Christmas. So a merry one of thems to the two or three people who read this and I'll come up with something later this week. Probably.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Future of 2D Castlevania

So, during the past few days I've been playing the excellent new DS Castlevania Portrait of Ruin and I'm pretty much done with it at present. However, I recently had a discussion about the future of these 2D incarnations of the Castlevania series on the forum I frequent.

Essentially, every "modern" 2D Castlevania - which is to say the Metroid-esque ones with the explorable dungeons, hidden rooms and new-area-enabling skills and weaponry - have been basically the same since Symphony of the Night. While various new innovations and game-specific idiosyncrasies have been introduced in the half dozen or so 2D games since SotN (an example would be the Soul system from the GBA/DS "Sorrow" series with Soma Cruz) nothing spectacular has been done with the core gameplay. This is no bad thing I'll hurry to point out, since the gameplay is nigh-on perfect and each new game has its own unique characters and take on the universal "defeat Dracula and his minions" storyline, it's just the whole affair can get tiresome without any big leaps made with the material. The 3D games suffer the same problem as well to a lesser extent (though their problems have more to do specifically with the translation to 3D).

Far be it for me to claim to have the solution, since Konami is staffed with creative geniuses far beyond my current ability, I just wanted to share an idea I had for the series for whomever reads this weblog. With this game idea, I wanted to turn the game on its head and use the familiarity of the Castlevania mythos to present an entirely different account of what goes on in Dracula's Castle when there are no heroes currently fighting their way through it. Specifically, I want a game that focuses on the role of Death, Dracula's closest confidante and ally.

The story would follow something like this: Dracula has been defeated and the castle is destroyed and sent back to the underworld in pieces. Death, as an immortal and omnipresent force of nature, survives the destruction as usual and goes about reconstructing the castle and reviving his "master" (the game never really explains if Death is a servant or just a friend of Dracula). To do this, he first employs a denizen of the underworld to find all the creatures and demons that used to live in Dracula's Castle (which I'll just be calling "DC" from now on in this update) and he chooses a tragic fallen soul from his kingdom for this purpose, one who just happens to be a dead Belmont.

Now, this Belmont (I haven't given him a name or era of birth yet) is a Belmont that was never required to fight Dracula in his lifetime but received the martial training just in case like all Belmonts. Somewhat bitter at being raised for a divine purpose he never got the chance to fulfill, he became a mercenary and did a few unsavory things in his career while being employed by various shady characters and eventually died on the job. As such, he descended to the Death-ruled Underworld (or Hell, I suppose) when he died. Death hires him to fulfill his original purpose of defeating DC and in return he can go to the Hero's afterlife that all the other Belmonts (and other game's protagonists) went.

DC, after being destroyed in our world, has sort of integrated parts of itself with the Underworld, which means half the map takes place in various classic DC sections (like the Entrance or the Clock Tower) mingled with the Underworld itself, which vary from hellish lava fields to fetid swamps and all the unpleasant types of places you'd expect the denizens of DC to live between Dracula resurrections. Monsters like Cave Trolls or Mermen don't really belong in a castle basement, but they do belong in the Hell swamps I just mentioned.

Belmont's Role

The purpose of the fallen Belmont is twofold: First, he has to round up all the monsters that escaped the castle back to their Underworld lairs and defeat them. Since defeating them in the Underworld sends their souls directly to the ruler of said Underworld to sort out (that would be Death), Death can then reassign their DC habitats and roles (see Death's Role, below). The second is to procure pieces of DC by severing all the bonds it made to the Underworld when it was destroyed. These will be puzzle-based, and may involve smashing crystals, defeating bosses, pressing switches and what have you. If he successfully "releases" that section of DC it will disappear from Hell and be sent to Death who will then recreate the whole DC with all the parts you send him (again, see Death's Role below).

Other things the Belmont can do is power-up his stats and weaponry (he won't have Vampire Killer down here btw) by finding the souls of various other humans in the Underworld and purifying them somehow. Based on what sin they performed to wind up in Hell, a linked stat increases. I thought it would be neat to categorise them by way of the seven deadly sins, and attach a sin to each statistic: Gluttony would be Health (since food replenishes health), Wrath would be Strength, Sloth would be Magic Resistance (stubbornness), Greed/Avarice would be Luck (Luck increases money and item drops), Pride would be Constitution (being prideful means you're less likely to be hurt, I guess), Lust would be Magic Power/Intelligence and Envy would be.. MP, I guess, because it's a green-colored bar? OK, so it's not a perfect system, but it would still be a pretty cool way of levelling up. Things like ATK and DEF would still be regulated by STR and CON stats, plus whatever equipment the Belmont is wearing.

Talking of which, any equipment you find will also be sent to Death after the Belmont is done with his tasks in the Underworld and will be placed in DC when it reappears in our world. The equipment in the Underworld can be found the same way as any other Castlevania game: either from monsters or found hidden somewhere. There won't be a shop, of course, but fulfilling certain monster totals may convince Death to bequeath you an item (sort of like PoR's Quest system). However, finding a lot of good equipment will benefit the Belmont more than it benefits Death since finding a strong item will mean the currently living Belmont can find it and use it to defeat evil. So even though you may end up providing Death with a lot of defeated monster souls for your valuable piece of equipment, finding that item might be worth having to fight more monsters to the living Belmont.

Death's Role

After the Belmont section of the game is done, you'll have a screen detailing how much of DC has been recovered and how many of the monsters and items have been found. It's then up to Death (i.e. you) to piece together what you have of DC, assign all the monsters to their posts (if the right monsters in the right quantities have been found) and finally scatter all the equipment around. Although Death has to follow the rules of the castle (no putting the biggest and most dangerous monster right at the gate), he can still win if many of the monsters have been found and not enough equipment has been provided. This section is mostly for show, since anything you did to effect the game's outcome was done in the Belmont section. I just thought it was neat to allow the player to be the one who puts DC back together again. The computer will do a simulated runthrough with a computer-controlled protagonist to check the difficulty and if you successfully "killed" the current Belmont during his adventure you get Death's ending, which involves bringing back Dracula and taking over the world. The fallen Belmont still gets sent to Heaven for his work, but he's reviled by all the heroes in there for helping Death and Dracula conquer the living world.

If the fallen Belmont was successful enough in collecting as much equipment in the game as possible while minimizing monster acquisition, your descendant will win instead and you'll get Belmont's ending, which involves the destruction of the castle and all your hard work and the Belmont receives a warm welcome when he arrives in Heaven.

There's also a third ending, for finding all the items (full equipment list) and all the monsters (full bestiary); finding all of just one will only give you one of the two endings above. The third ending I'll leave secret for now, but it may allow the player to play as the living Belmont going through the reconstructed DC, using Vampire Killer if he wishes.

While essentially the same game (wouldn't want to wander too far from the formula), there's plenty in this new version to give the series a little more originality, especially if you're trying to get Death to win. The bits of the map which partly integrate Hell with DC should somewhat resemble Silent Hill's transitions into its "otherworld", as you pass from the ornate fixtures and sometimes warm interiors of DC into the hellish landscapes that comprise Death's kingdom.

So, I dunno, it should be fun to see how the other half operates.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Design Licenses #7: Total Recall

OK, so this idea sort of came from a completely different direction than simply watching the 1990 Paul Verhoeven movie and thinking I could come up with something better than the several negligible license games that came out for it on the consoles of the day (which I guess would be the late NES/early SNES period). Instead, it came about from a discussion I was having about where the next entry in the GTA series (Grand Theft Auto for the uninitiated) should occur.

So as you could probably conclude at this point the game would be GTA with a dystopian vision of Mars as the setting, and would loosely follow the plot of the movie with various missions and requirements needed to be fulfilled before moving onto the next part of the story, usually involving the vehicular or on-foot mayhem that defines Grand Theft Auto.

In a nutshell, the story would start on Earth for a tutorial series of missions, involving Douglas Quaid (the protagonist that Arnie plays) visiting the Recall company for a "vacation" memory implant only to find out his memories are fake and ends up fighting off his work buddies and wife (all of whom are actually agents of the game's evil conglomerate owner Cohaagen sent to monitor Quaid) and escaping to Mars. At which point the game would give you a few hints on where to go next and who to look up and then leave you to it, in classic GTA style. While the game's top priority is to help the mutant Resistance of the movie and escape Cohaagen's henchmen (including his top man Richtor), you could also align yourself with all manner of corrupt organisations, crime families or citizen militias of the oppressed people of Mars for prestige, cash or what have you.

The Mars of the movie is basically a large, mostly underground structure designed explicitly for mining the planet. As such, most "roads" are in fact tunnels from one area to the next, involving corporation structures, living spaces and mining areas. The actual living habitats vary from shanty towns and slums (which is where the mutants live and where most of the action takes place) to the richer built-up areas for important Cohaagen personnel and other wealthy citizens. There exists also a further series of underground caves left behind by an advanced and ancient alien race in which lies the device that will give the planet of Mars an atmosphere which will come into play much further into the game's storyline. Another device (literally, in this case) are the gadgets that Quaid apparently left for himself in a briefcase, should the future Quaid ever figure out that his life on Earth was fabricated. These involve all manner of stealth technologies and weaponry for him to use. More of this futuristic technology becomes available to him as the game progresses.

Now there are several considerable-sized problems with this idea, beyond the simple fact that you're combining a movie/book license with the major video game series that is Rockstar's GTA (see an earlier blog entry of mine on how I feel about borrowing an existing game design/idea). The first is GTA's popular radio station line-up, a mainstay of the series since the original GTA 3 and invariably the reason why every new GTA game since has been based in a different decade
(original was based on the cusp of the 21st century, Vice City was the 80s and San Andreas early 90s) is so the player would have a new era's worth of music to listen to. Since the game is based in the nearish future, the only music stations you could have would be the "classic" stations playing several decades-old music.

The second concern would be the popular fan theory of the movie, which is that everything that occurs throughout the entire movie is simply part of Quaid's "Secret Agent on Mars" vacation memory implant which he gets from the Recall company at the start of the movie. Everything weird occurs shortly after this implant is received (or rejected by Quaid's mind because of his secret memory wipe depending on which theory you follow), including the discovery that his entire life on Earth up to that point was an elaborate sham. Though this could be turned around if we set it up so the player can discover enough "evidence" that the whole thing is an implant-induced dreamworld, sort of like a secret ending if a series of hidden requirements are met (like discovering enough weird computer glitches throughout the cityscape and taking photos of them).

Best part is that most of this idea can be salvaged if the Total Recall connection falls through and GTA still decides to go ahead with a "Mars" edition. Likewise if the GTA system becomes unavailable the game can drop all non-plot-related missions and massive areas to explore and simply concentrate on following the story of the movie with a 3rd-person shooter angle. It would still be awesome to have both though. Geht yo ahss to Mahrs, indeed.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Addendum: Hammerspace

OK, since I was a day late this week (swamped with Xmas-related stuff) I'll be doing two updates. Well, one and a half, since this entry will go on further about the Hammerspace idea I wrote about last time.

I was hoping to knock up a few sketches of the in-game interface for this one but I got lazy. As I often do. So instead I'll describe some more of the levels and collection devices/tools and also reaffirm some of the game mechanics.

Extra Game Mechanics:
* First of all, there will be enemies and other dangers around but any damage they do to you will be limited to sheer inconvenience, as opposed to including any kind of health bar or game-over system. For example, they could hammer you into the ground (wasting the few seconds needed to pull yourself out) or flip you halfway across the level or off a tall structure, which means getting all the way over there again. There'll eventually be a way of knocking them out and collecting them along with everything else.
* I'll be bringing back that event-based timeline from an earlier idea I had for creating instances where a really valuable or rare item will only be available for a certain section of the time limit: so, for instance, a cuckoo coming out of a giant cuckoo clock when there's exactly one minute remaining, and popping out 10 more times over the next 20 seconds before going back inside the clock. These kind of bonuses will sometimes have hints (like the fact it's a cuckoo clock and the minute hand is getting closer to the 12). Players can either spend their time waiting for these rarities on a second or third playthrough (if they want to add it to the overall collection) or they can plan their high-score-gathering route to be near them at the right time.


Stages:
* The first stage will be classic Looney Toons, full of all the things you'd expect: giant cartoon mallets, "n Tons" giant weights, anvils, Acme products and so on.
* The second stage will be the anime one, with lots of anime-themed in-jokes depending on what we can get away with copyright-wise. More likely it'll involve non-specific giant robots and highschool girls with all sorts of other Japanese-y goodness.
* Third will be superhero-based, using the same kind of animation style as possibly the Batman or Justice League animated series. Big emphasis on vector-based art, you'll know what I mean if you've ever seen one. I'm hoping to have the entire stage as one big battle between various non-descript superheroes, leaving lots of carnage and equipment around to pick up.
* Fourth will be the Halloween stage, with lots of creepy goings-on. Not going to take any sort of Tim Burton route with this, but closer to those old Halloween specials but with many different areas of Horror being represented (trick or treating, slasher movies, Lovecraft, classic Hammer Horror - which would be very appropriate given the title of the game).
* Fifth would be the claymation stage, if one were possible. Instead of using actual claymation, I'm pretty sure you could make a reasonable facsimilie using cel-shaded graphics or something. I should really read up on 3D graphics.
* Sixth would probably be an Xmas stage, since we already have a Halloween one, so there'll be various Christmas related icons to collect (you could take a Christmas tree with all its decorations down in pieces).
* Seventh would be the space one, which will probably also be the penultimate stage. There'll be a way to become super colossal-sized (maybe by using a "2001"-ish Monolith?) and collect the planets themselves similar to the end of Katamari (since this whole idea is sort of an homage).
* Eighth would be the sort of bonus world that unlocks after getting a certain amount of points/objects overall. It would resemble an art tool program like Photoshop as a sort of weird meta-game reference. As well as collecting all the items inside the image, you'll be able to get out and start collecting things like the shading tool or the paintbrush. Some of which you'll be able to use (like the eyedropper tool to collect the color out of something). You may even be able to collect the cursor darting around the entire level, but you'll need to be fast or figure out where it stops in order to collect it.


Tools:
NB: The tools fall into two categories: Active and Passive. Active tools need to be selected and used by the player character to get any benefit from them, and sit in the hammerspace until needed. Passive ones are always active and tend to involve bonuses to time or carrying capacity.
* Ladder (Active): Having a ladder allows an easy way to get to an area slightly higher up than you are. You'll need a flat vertical service to place the ladder against though. There will be three levels of the Ladder too, with various heights.
* Trampoline (Active): Harder to collect but more useful than the Ladder, since it can be used anywhere.
* Giant Hammer (Active): The first hammer tool. Can be used to stun smaller enemies.
* 100-Ton Hammer (Active): Can be used to smash through obstacles or stun larger enemies (or pass them if they're too big).
* Earthquake Hammer (Active): The strongest hammer, which you'll find on top of a mountain (alluding to Thor's Hammer Mjollnir). Instead of having to hit things with it to stun/smash them, you can hit the ground nearby to knock them out with the vibrations.
* Time-Limit Boosters (Passive): Special clock collectibles will increase the time-limit by 30 seconds. They get progressively harder to find/collect. Since time-based events in the level are based on the remaining time (so something will only happen 30 seconds before the end, say) they won't be affected by boosts to the time limit. In fact, let's say for example one stage has a 5-minute time limit before any boosts are found. There could be an event-based item on that stage that appears six minutes before the end, meaning you'll need to collect at least three time-limit boosters and head straight for where the object appears to get it in time.
* Dark Matter (Passive): Not the astrophysical concept of dark matter per se, but rather the name of a collectible that will increase the size of the objects you can place inside the hammerspace. The hammerspace itself is considered to be infinite, so there's no limit to how many objects of varying size to squeeze in there, however the portal to hammerspace that our hero uses to store things in there is limited (perhaps to objects no bigger than a grapefruit, say). Dark Matters will increase this limit. Dark Matters are perfectly spherical black orbs hidden all over the place. I may decide to give them no physical presence in the world (since they're made out of the same extradimensional material as the hammerspace) so I could hide them inside other objects, so you'd only be able to find one if you collected or moved the object obscuring it first.
* Vacuum Attachment (Passive): Collecting this puts a small vacuum attachment at the mouth of the hammerspace portal and items of a certain size (say 20% of the current portal limit, see Dark Matter above) will be instantly collected from a small distance away.
* Black Hole (Passive): Collecting this monstrosity of space will power up the hammerspace and allow the portal limit to be effectively broken. Since the Black Hole has such colossal pulling power, objects of any size can now be coerced into the hammerspace portal (they'll do that kind of sucking-in thing that Black Holes do in cartoons). It also works as a stronger version of the vacuum attachment, pulling in decent-sized objects without you needing to go pick them up. The Black Hole will be one of the hardest objects to get, since it will suddenly appear at one point in the space stage and you need to find it before it sucks in too many planets and stars, becoming too big for you to collect.
* Eyedropper (Active): Using the eyedropper on an object (any object) will remove all color from it and store the color inside the hammerspace as paint. Though if you collect a desaturated object, it won't necessarily count as a separate entry on the collection screen (because that would mean a second entry for everything). Some colors are rarer than others (like gold or silver) and may only appear on certain stages.
* Tape Recorder (Active): Since the game takes a comic-like approach, they'll do that thing where the onomatopoeia actually appears in word-form (like a spiky balloon that says "BANG!" when a bomb goes off). If you're close enough to this sound effect and use the Tape Recorder, the onomatopoeia balloon will be collected and stored in hammerspace also. A lot of onomatopoeia can be generated by your character doing something (like landing on the ground hard or hitting something with a hammer) but there'll also be a lot that can only be generated by other objects (like a machine humming, or the superheroes in Stage 3 hitting each other with Zokk!s and Newt!s 60s Batman-style).

Friday, December 01, 2006

Game Idea: Hammerspace

So the genesis of this idea was to think of something that had the manic energy and sheer fun value of the highly acclaimed Katamari Damacy, a series I've only had the fortune to play when its second incarnation We Heart Katamari was finally released over here. Thank you once again Europe, for being spectacularly slow on the ball. Literally in this case.

The idea follows a cartoon character drawn in the "classic" sense, styled on someone like Felix the Cat or Bugs Bunny but entirely original otherwise, who discovers one day that the interdimensional pocket that all cartoon "props" derive from (the eponymous Hammerspace) is fresh out of deadly weaponry and random comedy items, and he goes on a quest to refill it before the cartoon world suffers from the lack of attention and funding by the "real world" that would ensue from an insufficient level of graphic cartoon violence in their animated entertainment.

A note on the name: Hammerspace is so named by Japanese animators to describe how cartoon characters can pick up items of varying size seemingly out of midair. The "hammer" that the name refers to is the hammer present in that old standard of Japanese comedy: "lecherous man gets punished by cute girl with a needlessly gigantic hammer", which she pulls out of nowhere to defend her honor with.

The game's main premise (find objects lying around and collect them in the hammerspace) works with either a 2D or 3D environment, ideally suited therefore for any console. The game will be a standard platformer in most respects, with your cartoon hero having various powers and means to move around the stages and collect the objects to place in hammerspace, which you'll have access to being a cartoon character and all. Like Katamari, you can explore the level to your heart's content without worrying too much about health or damage, but instead keeping an ever-vigilant eye on the time-limit. Finding certain "tool" items while you're out collecting will allow you to use those tools to reach more items/locations hidden within the stage: e.g. you could find a pogo-stick, place it in the hammerspace, move to where a platform is too high for you to reach and bounce up there by removing it from the hammerspace and using it. There'll also be some passive tools such as a hoover attachment, which will automatically attach itselft to the hammerspace portal to suck up smaller objects as you pass over them (instead of wasting time collecting them singly). Since the hammerspace inventory is carried along with you after every stage it'll steadily increase its carrying capacity to fit all the new items in as you go through the game. This results in a larger hammerspace with a larger entry portal, allowing you to squeeze larger objects inside. This means you could replay an earlier level with a bigger hammerspace and could now collect more of the larger items in that stage (and net you a better score for that timed runthrough).

Graphically, I was thinking each individual stage could "borrow" an animation style and employ it, allowing for a different-looking bunch of objects per stage. So the first stage could be a classic Looney Tunes style landscape and the next could be a stereotypical Japanese anime stage complete with giant robots, cute schoolgirls and various bizarre background jokes involving cats. There could even be a semi-realistic claymation/stop-motion stage, but I don't know how easy that would be to pull off.

The majority of objects are just lying around waiting to be collected, and it's simply a matter of running over to where they are and picking them up. These are the simple objects (or "Class C objects") and having a collection made entirely of Class C objects for a given stage will net you a fairly crappy score. It would still allow you to effectively "pass" that level and unlock the next, however.

The Class B objects are a little trickier. These objects tend to either be part of a set (and collecting the whole set nets you a bonus), requires some disassembly (e.g. there's a giant sword held in place by various straps nailed to a wall, and if you can remove all the nails and straps you'll get the sword which will be worth a lot of points) or are generally hard to reach (like a group of valuable objects on top of a tall building which you have to climb).

Class A objects are the ones that will require various power-ups to reach or find. They'll be golden-colored and there'll be a set number of them per level. The usable "tool" items also count as Class A, and tend to only be given to you in either a special tutorial or are carefully hidden. They are the only objects you can remove from the hammerspace after putting them in, and you'll only need one of each since you'll be recalling the same tool each time you want to use it.

Finally, Class S objects will be unlocked as you reach the end of the game and the collection tools at your disposal become ever more powerful/abstract. These will include gigantic background items that would never fit in the hammerspace normally to, perhaps, bizarre items like thoughts and speech bubbles. You could even start to saturate the landscapes of some brightly colored stages after finding the appropriate tool, removing all their colors which will appear in the hammerspace inventory as that color's paint. Some stages may have unique colors in them, so you'd have to revisit them to find that particular color (for instance, there may only be one stage that has a purple-colored object). It'd be cool to get even more metaphysical than that, such as sound effects (leaping from a tall building into a pool for a big "splash!" and then collecting the "splash!"), background music (hope you like silence for the rest of the level) or collecting parts of the player's HUD so you can't see what's left of the time limit.
Since it is a cartoon world and all, I'd only be restrained by the technology of whatever console I was working with (or whichever programmers I'd be working with for that matter).

I purposely chose an idea like Katamari that could work in 2D because I'm not entirely convinced Katamari does actually work in 2D. I know there are instances of 2D Katamari games (and so many parody animated .gifs, usually involving Nintendo characters), but really the emphasis is on the katamari itself, a giant sphere that slowly increases in volume and expands outwards. Spheres don't really work in 2D. But even a simple 2D platformer with the scale of Metroid or Mario would still all sorts of different places to hide objects to find and collect, allowing this game idea to work.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Design Licenses #6: Monsters In My Pocket

Monster In My Pocket was a fairly successful toy franchise in the early 90s, focusing on tiny rubber effigies of famous monsters around the world, based on legends, folklore and sometimes religion (which didn't go over too well). Clearly based on the quantity over quality rule, the original series had 49 of these little guys which were available in packets of 1, 2, 6 or 12. They were, in essence, the sort of toys perfectly suited for kids with allowances and varied tastes. If you wanted to save up for a pack of 6, you could, or you could just go with a small packet of 2 that week and spend the rest on comics or candy. Slowly the collection would grow until you'd found at least one of each monster in the series, at which point a new series of neon rubber beasties would arise and the circle began anew. Since there is currently a new, revamped series of M.I.M.P.s in the works, with the classic monsters given a major visual rehauling (they're much truer to the original artist interpretations of the monsters), I figured I'd attempt to get in on the ground floor with a game idea.

Now, the immediate and obvious connection is to Satoshi Tajiri's Pokemon, another media franchise that has depended on its "buckets o' beasts" and children's fascination with monsters (or punnishly-named mutations of regular animals as the case may be) to become a massive cash cow. So today's tie-in idea will not be an RPG in an effort to distance this game idea from that world-renowned series. I'll also avoid the Strategy genre, since that would be a little obvious of me (and would, in fact, be rather close to the actual video game I worked on during my brief stint at Gizmondo Studios Manchester).

Instead, the game idea plans to follow somewhat in the original NES game's footprints. In other words, an action-adventure title. Obviously the collection element would still be there, as this is me we're talking about, but the game will be based much more on how best to fight the various monsters (which range from the mythological to the undead to the colossal) with the weapons and tools at your disposal.

The main character would be something like a modern Van Helsing, by which I mean the monster-hunting character of the Hugh Jackman movie. He'd follow reports on global monster sightings and take out nests or hauntings of various monsters in the M.I.M.P. franchise in an FPS-style setting. Some scenarios will be mostly mindless action, which will parallel the equally mindless beastial monster types like Ogres or Harpies. Other situations may be more cerebral, for instance you may have to trick a supposedly invulnerable enemy into defeating itself; such as luring a Vampire into sunlight or finding a way to ensnare and imprison the invincible Tarrasque. More situations still may need you to take out something gigantic and city-threatening, which may take on a possible "Shadow Of The Colossus"-style route but will more likely involve vehicles or heavy weaponry of some kind. I haven't yet decided if the protagonist belongs to an agency equipped to deal with these things (like the one in Hellboy) or if they are a freelancer who needs to fund missions with the bounties on various monsters' heads. The latter seems less derivative, but money is a feature that doesn't generally go over too well in FPS titles (though Deus Ex was more than OK).

Not every monster will be represented with their own mission. There are almost 50 of these creatures in the series, and more if we count the older generations (which would put us up to around 200). Subsequently, many of the monsters may be hidden or otherwise secondary to the mission's "target monster". An in-game bestiary will inform you of gaps so you can retake missions and hopefully find the missing entries. Of course, these bestiaries will have representations of the monsters killed as they appear in their M.I.M.P. forms. Various monsters in the series are well known for their coyness and unwillingness to encounter humans, so your work should be cut out for you in discovering them. There may even be a photography subquest to take pictures of these less threatening monsters instead of killing them, these photos can then be exchanged for cash for more effective monster-hunting equipment (or alternately just a higher overall score which could unlock all sorts of in-game bonuses). This is a little too close to Beyond Good & Evil's nature photography side-quest though, so that idea may be scrapped in the long run.

I'm hoping the mix of mindless swarm-style violence, problem-solving puzzles and the change of tactics required for some of the bigger targets will make it an interesting - and fairly different - addition to the FPS genre, whose fans are always calling out for something other than the usual generic shooters. I know for a fact that there aren't as many mission-based shooters as there used to be.
You know, the ones that don't follow a continual, linear series of set-pieces through the game without letting you revisit or reattempt your favorite levels. Looking at you, Half-Life.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Design Genres #11: Party Games

The Party Game genre is a little hard to pin down, but it is essentially a multiplayer game you play with a party of people (that is, more than the usual 2 and anything up to the double figures). It also has a second meaning, as a game you'd play at a party or box social or whatever it is kids are doing these days. Presumably instead of getting drunk until they pass out like normal people.

Taking in account these two possible definitions, a good party game is one that has more than two players, either simultaneously or in turns, that is fairly easy to pick up, sort of aimless (so no one player gets attached to a playthrough when everyone else is bored of it) and is a lot of fun to play. Games that present themselves purely as "Party Games" include Nintendo's Warioware and Mario Party games, but there are many other games that fit the mold such as multiplayer "LAN party" FPS games, sports games, games like Mario Kart and Super Monkey Ball and video game conversions of popular board games. In fact, Nintendo's starting to emphasise this kind of fun togetherness experience (as opposed to the more isolated online multiplayer experience) and the Wii especially will probably be taking full advantage of the market of casual gamers with this kind of lifestyle.

Today's ideas will include one board game that is sort of "jazzed up" for its video game conversion, as well as a board game that has yet to appear as a video game.

RPG Monopoly: A lot of the modern TBS (Turn-Based Strategy) games were inspired by epic board games such as Monopoly and Risk, especially when you consider the resource management aspect, so this idea is sort similar in vein to something like Heroes of Might & Magic (or Master of Magic, even) and really a way for those sort of games to pay back their original inspiration by lending it their trademark fantasy element. Players are replaced with wizards, money with mana, street properties are replaced with sites of power and miscellaneous properties such as the utilities (now Sky and Sea), stations (the four elements) and the jail (which I'm thinking could be the magic-zapping ice prison that Merlin found himself in during the Excalibur movie) all have their new equivalents. Buying houses is now buying guardian monsters to defend sites you've enchanted, and anyone passing through them will lose mana (which doubles as a wizard's lifesource) with the magical traps/guardians set up there. A wizard that loses all mana, including that which comes from life-stealing from his various owned sites (mortgages, in other words) is defeated and banished to.. I dunno.. Detroit.

Despite these minor cosmetic changes to the game, there will be a few modifications to the core rules; but not too many, since Monopoly is already as solid a game design as you're likely to find. The Chance and Community Chest cards will be changed slightly to reflect the new game system (no beauty contests for one thing). The Free Parking rule will be optional - in this game, "banker" mana will come from the empty cosmos and return there, though a wizard on the Free Parking (maybe Stonehenge?) spot will be able to channel that lost mana. There may be minor cash prizes along the route too (which appear as magic ores) for any player to find, which shouldn't effect the game too much but still be an interesting bonus. Obviously all game rules that aren't core to the original game will have options to toggle them on/off, so that the option to play Monopoly in the classic sense will be available.

I figure a semi-cliché fantasy setting will make the game far more appealing to players who have long since considered the normal version a boring family experience thing they used to do as kids, despite the fact nothing has really changed with this version. There would also be some room for video game effects and CGI animation as wizards pass through unfriendly enemy territory and fight off the dangers there (which in Monopoly terms would be landing on a property owned by another player). Of course, player interaction would still be limited to rolling the dice and making decisions about buying/selling properties, but it could still look boss to have an animated sequence where a powerful wizard fights off the equivalent of a Hotel (which would be some massive demon thing, based on the magical alignment of the character who summoned it).

My second idea was going to be a simulation of one of those board games that are actually fun, like Fireball Island, Operation or Mouse Trap, which have way too many pieces to give it a meaningful value of longevity for a five year old receiving it at Xmas. In fact, the sheer inconvenience of missing pieces is why simulated board games (and jigsaw puzzles, come to think of it) are becoming more popular than their real-life counterparts. Or at least they should be.

Instead, my second idea comes from an old favorite of mine: Kings & Things. The game is essentially a fantasy war-mongering board game similar to Risk, but with a much more advanced "random" element, especially when it comes to recruiting fantastical creatures for your army. The board itself is also randomly created out of several dozen hex tiles, that are randomly assigned to a hexagon-shaped map in a circular pattern. You can then choose a nationality based on your starting tile (a Jungle hex tile would give you the Zulu-esque tribe to control, whereas the Plains would use a more classic medieval kingdom) and build your armies and power by invading adjacent hex tiles, eventually taking on the combined armies of your human opponents.

Although it sounds fairly complicated - players have a 12-step turn, as they go through what they've earned from their land, recruitment and mobilization stages and so on - the presence of a computer AI will make it a lot easier to get to grips with. What you're left with a fantasy strategy game that's built for multiplayer, has a lot of weird and wonderful creatures to encounter and recruit - including some very bizarre heroes, ranging from multicolored knights to folk legends, the recruitment of which uses a similarly random "coin flip" system - and is different every time you play. The game also has a sense of humor about it, with a detailed history about dwarves getting annoyed every time a new race moves in, a legendary bandit whose legacy and reputation survives and flourishes through his (often female) descendants, and an infamous assassination of an important figurehead by a disgruntled penguin with a crossbow. Many of the recruitable creatures and heroes are similarly bizarre and amusing.

Since armies both randomly recruited per turn and hidden from other players, it's sometimes a matter of simply bluffing your opponent with a high stack of terrible units (like brownies) to take over crucial land without retribution. Adversely, a small force of powerful entities could wipe out a much larger army but remain undetected because of its small size. Instead of regular "true" stategic games, which tend to be grounded in "what can this player with this amount of experience do in this amount of time" sort of rationalizations, the game could go either way for a player at any time, provided the losing player can fool his opponent into thinking his game is less hopeless than it actually is. That way, although it'd be possible to lose one seemingly easy campaign, it would be equally possible to win a campaign that seems impossible. I think these factors would make a video game version of this board game pretty popular indeed with new-comers and veterans of TBS games alike.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Small Update: Randomized DS

Short one today, might do a longer blog sometime later this week though. I am trying to get more than one done a week, but it's pretty difficult coming up with new stuff without retreading the same genres or simply modifying old ideas/games with new settings. Most of the famous designers just specialize in the one genre after all (usually FPS if we're talking about a famous games designer in the western world).

So anyway, I was considering the randomization thing again. Readers of the blog know I tend to go on a bit about the ol' random generators, talking in past blog entries about using barcodes, music CDs and the recent Spam Mail update. I figure there can be a relatively simple one for DS games too: A squiggle. The game can take co-ordinates from a squiggly line someone scribbled using random points along the line (different random points every time I mean, so no-one can figure out a system and cheat) to generate the necessary stats or what have you.

In fact, I just remembered it can do the same thing for recorded sound too. I'm sure those in the music industry and sound technicians specifically know how to generate all sorts of numerical values from a single noise which will go on to be used by the game in the same way as the above scribble method to create stats and things. It would be a pretty cool feature on something like Pokemon, where you would be given a starter Pokemon based on a noise the player records at the start of the game. You could do a bad impression of your favorite real-life animal and the game will probably give you its animal counterpart (so doing a cricket noise will get you Nincada, probably) by comparing the noise you made with all the various electronic growls the game has recorded on the Pokedex.

These sorts of random stat generation tools are sort of trivial for the average player, but it's a little more fun than simply clicking a button that says "randomize". At least this way there's the illusion that they're contributing directly to their characters' development.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Game Idea: Interdimensional Bandits

OK, so I should probably start this Game Idea by citing its influences: Sly Raccoon (PS2 series), Time Bandits (movie), Suikoden, Kingdom Heart's World Map system, Gain Ground (several 8- and 16-bit consoles) and an old D20 game system called "Tales of the Floating Vagabond".

The premise is thus: You control a legendary team of highly effective bandits - taken from various historical eras and fictional worlds - which your father put together after discovering the Nexus. The Nexus is a floating mass of land surrounded by interdimensional portals to practically every other realm of reality that could possibly exist, including eras in the past and worlds which have been imagined; providing them with a basis to exist. Your father has long since retired with his earnings, taking most of his team with him to an unknown "retirement dimension". He has left you his foreboding base of operations (the Skull Citadel) in the Nexus with which to carry on the legacy of his thief gang. He also left a few portal destinations on the Citadel's all-powerful computer system Omega.

So that's the outlandish premise, so how does it play? Well, since I'm sort of skirting around Kingdom Hearts and Sly Raccoon territory, I'll downplay any platformer element to it. It doesn't necessarily require an RPG element either, but I like those so we'll include some. I'm currently thinking of presenting it as an old-school top down isometric-based game, as those were always my favorite when playing a game that required sneaking around. The various angles and vectors used in isometry makes it perfect for judging lines of vision and the effective range of hiding in shadows and the like. It's a math thing, and one that's very important when it comes to the stealthier side of gaming. I tend to find with FPS and Platformer Stealth games that it is much harder to judge those kinds of variables with the POV you're given.

Obviously, if I am to use this sort of graphical system the game will be regressing somewhat to a simpler age, which will make it more ideal for a handheld like the DS or PSP. But as the excellent Contact (DS) has shown, games using this almost obsolete 2D system can still look and play beautifully even compared to more modern fare.

Now, I'm not saying the game will be strictly stealth. There will need to be a combat option for instances where the player might not want to steal stuff by sneaking around all the time, and the system that makes the most sense is a turn-based system based on Fallout's GURPS or the standard D20 ruleset. Because of the sheer scale of the project (I plan to make the amount of time eras you can visit immense in number, to make up for the shortcomings of the 'classic' graphical style) there will need to be a strong (and therefore existing, to save on way too much testing and tweaking) set of rules governing things like lasers vs longbows. Each stage will have a clearly defined goal (some legendary treasure of that area) with several ways to make intermediate funds in the process, rewarding players who take on extra challenges and explore thoroughly which tends to be something pretty much all my games tend to reward. Sort of a burgeoning eccentricity of mine, really.

Now, onto the actual artistic style of the game. I was somewhat inspired by what Kingdom Hearts 2 did with the Timeless River stage, set in the world of early Walt Disney cartoons complete with black and white 30s renditions of the main characters and scratchy music. It would be awesome to do something like that on a grander scale, allowing each time era or world to have its own artistic style and drop the often alien components of your bandit team in there for their latest caper.

I'll lay out a couple of examples of how a player would find a stage, take it on and how it would play out:

Egyptian Stage: You'd receive word from your supercomputer Omega (which may need a better name) that a gate has been stabilized to Ancient Egypt in the "real world" section of the Nexus. You would assemble your team, perhaps unknowingly leaving behind a computer expert and laser grid disarmer (most of your units will have their own, albeit not unique, specialities) and instead assemble a few warriors to back up the infiltrators, the hero character and perhaps an acrobatic thief chick you picked up sometime in the modern era to avoid the booby traps of the Pyramid you're about to rob.

As soon as you get there, you discover that this era of time had actually been taken over by aliens (sort of a nod to Stargate) and they have all the same laser-grid and computer technologies that you were hoping to avoid dealing with. You can choose to escape to retool or continue with the team you have. Using the isometric view of the nearby desert, you decide to fight your way to the pyramid (since you can't easily hide in open desert) and allow your two thief character inside while the warriors stand guard. Between the two of you manage to find the artefact you're after and regroup with the warriors outside, making a mad dash to the Nexus before the aliens use their full force against you (which would be a UFO with a particularly lethal looking death ray).

Alternately, there would also be a few side-quests available to you based on whether or not you want to spend that extra effort (or are particularly skillful at this point). For this stage, you could find a way to infiltrate the UFO from the Pyramid and take it out, saving the denizens of Ancient Egypt from becoming slaves and perhaps recruiting one of the temple guard NPCs you befriended there to assist you as new muscle.

Film Noir Stage: A hyper-realised version of a Prohibition-Era US, inspired by many film noir movies and books. The artistic style will mean everything except your team will be in greyscale, making them more obvious looking. It may be possible to have greyscale characters from other areas too, or something like a Ninja which would dressed almost entirely in black, either of which would benefit from being in a greyscale world when it comes to interacting with people or blending in.

The target treasure in this case will be in a guarded Mob Boss location, which means a preference for characters with firearm experience and possibly an explosive expert with which to storm the place (you don't need to worry about body count since this is a non-historical area and the mobsters are all violent criminals). Side-Quests could include smuggling alcohol from other dimensions into the Noir universe (which could get you all sorts of interesting goods), robbing rich citizens (which would have an effect on your morality score) or assisting a mobster assassin to take his girlfriend to safety (through the Nexus) so the Mob boss won't be able to use her to blackmail him into killing rival mobsters: thereby acquiring both him and the girl.

As a final design note I'll describe a feature the game will use
that monitors two aspects that define your personal method of completing heists:

1) Morality or "Honor Among Thieves": This will effect character progression and hiring new people with different ethical perspectives (i.e. good guys and bad guys), sort of like the ubiquitous Dark Side/Light Side factor in many RPGs similar to this game.

2) Time Elasticity: This is a little more out-there, and will be hard to implement, but the game would be so much cooler with it. It's basically the idea that if you bend time a little (to steal some insignificant artefact, say) it'll snap back and there won't be any major changes to the future. Change it too much however, and the timeline might be irrepairably changed. This would only effect stages based in the past, but if you were to break the time elasticity by doing too many things out-of-character for that era or killing too many people you would fail the mission by causing a time paradox and destroying the Nexus: It's pretty fragile since it has portals to universes which need to stay constant, and losing the Nexus means pretty much losing your entire base, your crew, your computer and stranding you in whatever time era you're in. Which would be bad.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Design Genres #10: Football/Soccer

The beautiful game is one of the most popular genres of video game in my home continent of Europe, possibly due to the relative ease of play and popularity of the sport itself. I have to admit to a strong disliking to these sorts of games, mostly because I believe they're a design black hole: Nothing new ever seems to be made for the game from a design perspective. There isn't really much to add besides the occasional management option. The only things that do get changed between one year and the next are a slight graphical improvement, a sleeker engine and the names of all the new fixtures.

That said, working on one would probably be easy street and a good second start to my career, so whatever.

I'll go on a bit about the major players in this arena first of all. There is, of course, the ubiquitous FIFA series that has been running strong since the 16-bit era with FIFA '93. It's as generic as they come, but it's weathered itself through three generations of consoles due to its sturdy gameplay. You also have Pro Evo Soccer, which I have been told is very good though I have yet to try it. I did, however, play its predecessor International Superstar Soccer; or more accurately the Deluxe version which I believe was an N64 title.

On the opposite side of the seriousness scale you have niche titles like Nintendo World Cup, Megaman Soccer and the original Sensible Soccer before the recent, critically-panned incarnations. Soccer also permeates itself in many a non-sports game through some kind of penalty kick mini-game, something that has shown up in game genres such as Pinball (the paddles make good goal-scorers), Platformers (various puzzles that involve moving a small object around will invariably have a point where you need to punt it to a target area of some kind) and even games like Pilotwings 64 and Bomberman have included it in the past.

So, my idea then. A bit cheap this one, since not only did I borrow the name from a forum colleague over on NCN (see the side links, but I wouldn't recommend looking anywhere but the VG forum) but it comes from a well-established series for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. I am referring to a modern technology version of Mutant League, in this case Mutant League Soccer.

A small recap for the brief few who are unaware of Mutant League, before I go into the details: Mutant League games resemble the original sport but are far more violent and brutal, often with the deaths of the players being a natural part of the game (and sort of expected). The playing field is often littered with pitfalls, booby traps and landmines to trip up unsuspecting players (as well as blow them to bits). Instead of humans (or just humans I should say) various mutated races also feature, which I'll go onto describing when talking about Mutant League Soccer.

First off, it has to use the Soccer label because Mutant League Football already exists, and is probably the better known of the two Mutant League games to be released. Second, like the original Mutant Leagues it'll run off an existing engine from one of the major competing Soccer game series, so the designers (i.e. me) can concentrate on the destruction side of things without worrying if it'll play as a decent soccer game as well.

All the myriad races of Mutant League return, and they all have their favored positions (though it's more likely teams will be comprised entirely of one race, with the exception of the All-Star teams); The heavy-set Trolls will play Defence and Keeper, the lithe and deadly Aliens will play Midfield and Wingers, the tough and fast Robots will play Defence and Midfield and the quick Skeletons will play Forward and Wingers. Humans, being the all-rounders of the game, can play any position equally well. All the same dangers litter the field, and getting permanent injuries from a sharp "tackle" (which may well include being pushed onto a mine or kicked in the face with the spiked football) are par for the course. There won't be the play-by-play tactics of Mutant League Football, of course, but there'll be general tactic options available at the start and half-time parts of the game, including an aggression rating (if you want your players to be rather unfriendly with the opposite side for the chance of lowering the amount of players they have through injury) and regular formation and offensive/defensive settings.

Best of all, the yellow card in this game will actually fire acid at the offending player, lowering various stats of his for the remainder of the game. The red card simply opens a fissure into Hell beneath the player's feet, sending him off in the most final way possible. So, obviously, trying to kill the opposing side for an easier game has its very literal downside.

The fun part, for us designers anyway, will be all the punnish names for the new teams, based on famous existing International teams. Such as Chestburster United or Slitherpool.

Since I'll be getting Wii Sports with the console hopefully around launch day (only a month or so away now for us Euros, wheeee), I figured I'd preface it with a few sports Design Genres, just to show that something new can be done with them instead of the same old recycled [Sport] [Year] combos.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Thoughts and an apology (plus Microcosm Ideas)

First, the apology: Sorry I haven't updated in a while. The purpose of this blog was to never lose my ability (what ability I have anyway) to come up with interesting ideas for new games and new game features. I therefore intended to post something at least once a week to keep sharp, something I neglected to do last week.

Now, onto the thoughts. 1) While I don't have any new game ideas at the moment I have been considering expanding a few of the older ideas I've liked in the same manner as the Horror Hotel idea. I'm specifically referring to adding drawn sketches/blueprints to previous ideas to better illustrate what I mean to do with them, though I'm not much of a casual artist. I suppose it's something else I should work constantly on improving though.

2) Something I really like to see in video games, and I think I mentioned this in the Chibi Robo review, are instances where the game is centred around a mircocosm. That is, a miniaturised version of the world scaled down with all its own problems and concerns. Several of my ideas in the past have used these, as well as some of my favorite existing games (Pikmin and Chibi Robo, for example).

The following is a list of mini-ideas (so to speak), using various genres, that also capitalize on the concept of the microcosm. I may expand one or more of these into their own article at a later date:

Sim City-eque - It's the future, we've wiped ourselves out and somehow a new race of beings (possibly aliens, though I do use the "aliens" device a lot) has decided to take over Earth. Keeping the relics of the ancient civilisations that used to populate the planet as a mark of respect, they decide to create towns and power centres in the existing structures. They are, of course, tiny compared to us, barely an inch tall, and throughout the game you need to help them create workable settlements out of locations such as an old coffee table or a toy chest.

These locations can be both overgrown with weeds (suggesting it's fairly far into the future and nature has taken over) and have hyper-realised graphics of old recognisable furniture and debris, sort of like Pikmin and their slipping in of various brand names and the like. Instead of being a static 2D grid environment, some of the more vertical locations (like the aforementioned toy chest, which will have several layers of old, rotting toys to build on) will allow you to explore and build upon higher and lower ground. There may even be added dangers such as existing lifeforms on the planet: maybe cockroaches survived the cataclysm and now threaten the tiny protagonists. If we died sufficiently far enough into the future, there may be house-cleaning robots on an endless loop of chores and self-repair that may sometimes swipe away whole settlements if you're not careful.

Scrolling Fighter/GTA Clone - I can sense a reprisal of the scrolling fighter genre (or "Beat-'em-Up"s) if marketed sufficiently well. Scrolling fighters kind of stagnated once it became difficult to animate lots of high definition characters on screen, as well as a growing predilection for 3D environments. Thanks to games such as GTA 3 and other similar Rock Star titles (like the new Bully, which I intend to try out) you can have the same fun, senseless violence by fighting towards to a goal area as well as some other interesting mission directives to follow. This idea basically takes place in the same universe as the previous idea: an ancient version of our current level of civilisation that miniature people try to find a way to live in. In this, you take the role of an explorer and mercenary that has gone ahead to remove any dangers in the area before the settlers arrive. You're also sort of a bounty- and treasure-hunter also, taking on dangerous jobs to line your pockets with opportunities on the side.

You'll have to deal with various other miniature races vieing for control of the planet of the ancient big people and also some not-so-miniature indigneous and ancient lifeforms, such as giant insects and possibly the occasional irradiated pet (which would be a colossal creature to take down). It takes place in a large free-form environment that could well be an entire room or a garden, with lots of obvious and hidden dangers and treasures to be found. You'll have various tools at your disposal, including a very useful light-cycle/speeder thing which will get you from one place to another (since it'd take a while to walk and climb there) and give you enough firepower to take on some of the bigger threats.

There may even be missions where you take out rival settlements of aliens (if the game takes that route) who plan to do something evil with the planet's resources. They may well have gigantic citadels that take up half the room by the time you reach them, giving you lots of blowing up to do. A potential level idea is a futuristic fridge, powered by a nuclear battery so it'll never stop being cold, that has been taken over by hostile ice creatures/aliens. You'll fight through the various levels of decomposing food items to remove the threat and claim the valuable ice deposits within for your own clan. There's several more ideas like that that I've thought up too.

Shooter - This idea sort of approaches what I did for the RTS Design Genres, in that it takes place inside the body. It also follows on from movies such as Innerspace or the Fantastic Voyage (or the amusing Futurama spoof thereof), where your hero is shrunk down in his spaceship and inserted into people to cure them of various ills. You need to fly around various 3D re-enactments of the human body (this is starting to sound pretty gross) and fight off infections with your ship's weaponry within a certain time-limit. Once this time-limit is over you'll regrow and sort of kill your patient messily, so speed is of the essence. You'll also need to find a way out, surgically providing one (at a penalty loss of health to the patient) if a natural one is not available.

Some illnesses may take several trips, in which case the infection recovers slightly in the time it takes you to service the ship and re-shrink it again. If successful, you'll destroy enough the bacteria causing the sickness to allow the white blood cells to take over (white blood cells do not recognise you as friendly however, so be careful not to take too many out if you need to defend yourself). The goal for the stage may either be a percentage of deadly pathogens defeated (a sample level may have a 70% elimination goal, with 10% of the original total recovering if you leave the body and come back) or one particularly bad illness-causing agent like a (surprising well-armed and shielded) malignant tumor; in which case you have a boss on your hands.

This idea is simply another approach to the RTS idea of stocking and controlling "units" of friendly cells and anti-biotics against the pathogen home base. It is like a whole other universe in there, which is sort of unsettling. I'm also aware of a few existing shooters handling this concept (such as Abadox for the NES, though that was a giant alien body), but nothing like it exists in the more recent 3D dogfighting genre that I'm aware of.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Game Idea: Spam Fight Simulator

Today's idea seemed like such an obvious and fun way to combat the omnipresent irritation of spam email that I was surprised that some shareware game developer hasn't come up with it yet. Perhaps they have, though I did do a bit of checking prior to writing this entry (as I do with all my game ideas, before someone suggests otherwise).

The idea is simply thus: An anti-spam program, which you can program to check Outlook or internet e-mail accounts like any other anti-spam tool, configured with three different game modes to defeat the evil spam messages personally. Since spam is often encoded with bizarre information - if you've ever read one, they tend to have very creative means to avoid word-filters and the like, sometimes ending with several lines of bizarre idioms and passages from Great Expectations - they're ripe for being turned into a sufficiently unique set of numbers to use to create simple game environments. What this program will do is intercept the spam mail from your spam folder or what have you (after you check the email in case they're not spam first, of course) and then generate a game environment using passages from the oft text-heavy spams - using bits and pieces from the email text to create parameters and the like - and the player will have the aforementioned three game modes to "fight" the spam head-on, rather than simply (and boringly) delete them. This way, you might actually start to anticipate the next wave of "S0ft C1ali$!" and "want cheap mortgage?!" emails.

Mode 1 is simply the Barcode Battler mode, made up of RPG-ish one-on-one fights. The spam email selected will randomly generate a fighter complete with HP, Speed, Strength and Defence stats and it'll be up to your guy (which you can generate with a different spam e-mail, or simply create your own from scratch) to take it down. You can save your fighter's progress after every battle and the program can even hold onto spam emails which create fighters that are too tough for you to beat for a later rematch.

Mode 2 is a little more complex, and will need a seasoned programmer to properly come up with the right kind of generator model. It'll be an R-Type like stage with the enemy waves generated by the spam email, including the direction they fly in on and the type and difficulty of the enemy fighters. Alternatively, the spam email can be turned into some kind of big gunship boss (sort of like Panzer Dragoon's bosses, or the bosses in most rail shooters) which you take down in parts and the generated stats can be used to create all the gun turrets and weak spots for you to aim at.
Perhaps the gunship can be comprised of several junk emails, and once you've destroyed one "side" of the gunship you can move onto the next.

Mode 3 is a lot like the previous mode, only instead of it being your spaceship versus a bunch of enemy ships it'll be a scrolling beat-em-up like Double Dragon. The actual stages will be pre-created for the program and be randomly selected for use. So you might get a city level, a forest level, a warehouse level and so forth, all of which will be in the program already. The enemies that show up will be generated by the email, perhaps using the generated values to make several "grunts" and one "boss", selected from existing sprites/AI in the program. The order you fight these guys, plus how many you take on in one area before moving onto the next, will also be derived from generated stats from the email.

For the rest of this update, I'll take a control email (taken from my inundated Gmail spam folder) and give examples of how it would translate into the three modes. Of course, this is prior to actually creating some kind of stat generator and the program itself, so I'm just making up stuff for the purposes of this exercise.

The email (I used one of the less pornography-related ones):

"Buy Canad1an m.e.d.l.c.a.t.i.o.n.s. Same High-Quality m e d i c a t l 0 n s as US meds do but lower prices!

Don't go to your local drug store, don't strain yourself with unnecessary prescriptions.

Everything you need at High Quality here: [link deleted]

Instant shipping, secure purchase, friendly support!




--------------
claudia t afghan codify 7 birch
cholesterol dive b chartreuse carey bmw
castor chordata athletic 5 carboxylic clifton chevy"




So, a few things to note before we start:
1) See that bit at the end? About Claudia T Afghan? That's the sort of random variable I was talking about that's added to these spam mails when they're created. Don't ask me what the purpose of it is. Maybe a form of identification or some kind of cryptogram, I have no idea. And don't really care. But they're on a lot of these spam emails and they're perfect for making some semi-unique generated models.
2) Any links or the email sender will be ignored by the program. Simply to be wary of viruses and spyware and the fact that the sender account probably belongs to a real person who's computer has been infected with spyware. Obviously this program will take great measures to delete anything with any malicious viruses attached instead of using them to generate game stuff and allowing it onto the player's PC.

So, for Mode 1:
The frequent use of the letter C will make the opponent a prolific fire magic-user (pulling this out of my ass incidentally, the generator'll probably be a lot more complex than simply how many letter Cs are in the email). It'll have high Strength also but low HP, so it shouldn't be too problematic if you hit it hard and fast.

Mode 2: It's a short email, so it won't create a very long stage or particularly complex gunship boss. Perhaps the frequent letter Cs will create some kind of crescent wave weapon the boss would use on you.

Mode 3: The very first letter of the email is a B (as in "Buy Canad1an...") so it'll use stage B, an underground nightclub stage. The Cs in this case could be used to create a bunch of thugs with chain whips? The boss will be a helicopter you have to fight, simply because helicopter bosses are a running joke for me whenever I play a new game and, lo and surprise, one shows up. Even if the stage is underground. Has anyone noticed how tough they tend to be?


In closing, I'm guessing there are various other game modes that could be programmed to accept these generated stats and turn them into some kind of short, fun arcade-like game to play during lunch breaks when you're checking your email (which is where you'll find a new batch of "levels" to play with). I simply picked these three modes because I know Mode 1 already exists for numbers generated off barcodes and I figure Mode 2 and Mode 3 aren't particularly complex genres that require much design work that may easily run off a system based on randomly generated numbers from a spam email (though I may be erroneous in that belief).

If this game is going to be a relatively inexpensive shareware game that won't take up much resources (since you'll want to open it on the PC checking the email and only play it for 15 minutes or so), the stages and graphics will probably be sort of basic. I don't know whether using models and stage backgrounds from existing games (like Streets of Rage stages for Mode 3 or models from Super R-Type for Mode 2) would be the way to go, since there would be problems with copyright. Probably a better idea to just make them from scratch.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Game Idea: Freak Show Simulator

I've been considering more Theme/Sim games recently, since they're a lot of fun to plan out ideas for. An internet pal of mine came up with an idea based around building and maintaining your own cemetary (called SimEtary); keeping mourners happy (well, satisfied with the service at least) and making sure to clear out any infestations of vampires, zombies and highschool goths sneaking in to take pictures of themselves next to the tombstones at midnight.

My idea will be on somewhat equal-footing in terms of macabre humor as it will be a simulation of one of those dodgy "off the road" attractions akin to all the giant balls of twine and flea circuses that pepper the great American highways.

Structurally, the game will play somewhere between the park management of the genre's quintessential Theme Park series and the horrific mutation management of something like Theme Hospital (or even Dungeon Keeper come to think of it). You'll need to "breed" freaks to attact customers to your sleazy corner of the woods while making sure the "attractions" don't give in to their malicious mutated natures and end up rampaging through the park. Your reputation might suffer for one thing.

You'll start off with a small clearing in the woods with a not terribly well maintained path leading from a highway of your choice - the state you choose to set up in may have its own rules and advantages, which usually balance out: for example, a well-travelled state like California may give you lots of people passing through but will also get more press coverage if something goes catastrophically wrong. After setting up the location, you'll build all the necessary parts of your park to begin: a shack for yourself to live in as well as a barn with the patented "Monster Maker" freak-making machine to lure unsuspecting clientele into expanding your menagerie of mutants.

Then all you need to do is build quarters for your "staff" to live in, making special preparations for the slightly less human members of the entourage. Whenever you recieve new guests, you can either charge them for a show (you'll need the money to keep everything running), or knock them unconscious for turning into freaks later. Or both. Eventually, you'll become too conspicuous for all the local federal forces following up all these missing person reports and will need to make a quick getaway from your freak farm, absconding with enough money to start over fresh (and possibly with a bit of extra cash than you started with previously for an improved park).

I'm thinking the actual freak-creation system will either be random (providing lots of different outcomes with minimal effort), use a recipe-type system (allowing players to experiment with different volumes of radioactive waste for different creatures, for instance) or be even more elaborate and user-defined, since sim gamers do tend to like that high-level of interactivity. Players may need to use moderation with their creations however; the less human the freaks get, the harder it will be to control them. Of course, if they can afford enough chains and manacles (or simply don't care if their creations go on killing sprees), they can feel free to make them as twisted as they want.

Followers of obscure MTV cult movies of the early 90s may recognise the general focus of this game having been lifted from the excellent Freaked (or "Hideous Mutant Freakz" as it's sometimes known), which it has been somewhat, but the game will expand far further into that universe, allowing the villain of the picture Elijah C Skuggs to experiment to his heart's content in making the perfect sideshow attraction (as well as the perfect killing machine). If anything else, I intend to make sure the game will share that same chaotic and bizarre pop culture reference humor of the movie.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Super Smash Bros Brawl #3

After preordering the Nintendo Wii last week and listening to the ochestral soundtrack of SSB:M, I was inspired to make another one of these "stages I'd like to see in the new game" entries. This'll probably be the last SSB update before the game actually comes out, so I'll either stop doing them or just concentrate on the crazy, "no chance in hell this'll get made" ones.

#7 - Mario Stage - SMB3

Well, they've covered every other NES Mario game, so I figured they should give the best one its own stage. I have a few ideas for a Super Mario Bros 3 level they can adapt for a SSB stage:

a) World 1: Specifically, the stage with the weird square colored platforms that Mario could sneakily get behind for the first Warp Whistle of the game. Players likewise can do the same trick in this SSB stage if they find they're in trouble, and simply duck behind the level to avoid getting hit by other characters. They'll be forcibly ejected back into the ring if they stay hidden too long (otherwise games would go on forever), and they can get back by leaving the side of the screen (in that small "safety" area where they get the microscopic view before actually going too far and dying) and walking back into the arena. Pros for this stage: Interesting hiding gimmick, very memorable level. Cons: The gimmick could be abused by cowardly players.

b) World 8 (Tank): This rail level was one of the more interesting deviations from the usual Mario stage structure, in that instead of a regular geography-based platforms, Mario was right in the middle of a huge armada of tanks mobilising presumably towards the kingdoms he had just saved. Instead of being able to defeat the tanks, he had to simply get past them by jumping up and under the moving machines while avoiding their fire as they trundled along. Obviously, this stage would be one of those rail stages in SSB:M where players need to be continuously aware of their surroundings, lest they get left behind or trapped and end up losing precious lives. While difficult, I enjoyed the stage challenging players to keep and eye on each other as well as the stage itself, and I especially liked the devious tricks you could play such as stunning or otherwise debilitating someone long enough for the moving stage to finish them off.

This level could also work for any of the rail stages in SMB3, including the Submarine and Airship levels (which were a lot harder because of how easy it was to fall off and die), as well as the individual airship missions of the Koopalings at the end of each world.

c) World 2: I just liked the idea of a stage with that angry sun in it. It could randomly home in on players, perhaps choosing the one with the most health or the one doing the most damage to other players. The quicksand in those worlds could also give the players something to watch out for.


#8 - Roy/Marth Stage - Fire Emblem

These two characters were sort of downplayed in Melee for fears that not too many Western players would be familiar with the Fire Emblem series, Nintendo's (though it's actually made by Intelligent Systems) excellent Strategy RPG that has been running in Japan for a while on various Nitnendo consoles. This can be evidenced by the fact they don't even mention Fire Emblem in their bios/trophy description. They do have their own theme tune in the game, but not their own stage (using instead Hyrule Temple).

Based on the game's generally chaotic warring between two factions of fantasy-esque troops, I figure the level should be a battlefield - such as a field or castle, though somewhere memorable and specific to the newer games would work better - that is constantly being besieged from various units from the games, such as Pegasus Knights, magic archers or the various beastmen units. It would sort of work like the Pokemon stage from the first game, in that the various units/Pokémon would randomly show up and cause damage to anyone in their fixed animation path.

Obviously, the stage would be centred around the new Fire Emblem for GC in order to sell it, and it may even end up using the main character(s) from that instead of Marth or Roy (though those two are better known by fans of the series, and by fans of Super Smash Bros Melee of course). I have yet to play either of the GC games, so I sort of base my knowledge of this stage around the GBA game and a few of the earlier games I've played on emulators.


#9 - Alucard Stage - Symphony of the Night

This stage assumes that Alucard will make it into the game (he's one of the fan favorites, though there will probably be quite a few licensing issues considering Nintendo shares the license with Sony currently). Probably both the best and most disturbing of the recurring Castlevania bosses, Legion is basically a big ball of human corpses covering a malevolent psychic core that fires bolts of energy at you and otherwise attempts to crush you with the quivering mass of bodies that covers it. Legion stages tend to be very large square-ish rooms with platforms on either side to help you jump over Legion while attacking it.

The SSB stage will be the same, with Legion following a set pattern of rolling around the room and shooting energy bolts in random directions. Another one of those "be aware of your surroundings stages". I'm thinking the players could defeat Legion or make it less of a threat by taking apart its "human shield" with concentrated attacks, maybe for it to return several minutes later to avoid the rest of the match taking place in a big empty room. Like the previous stage idea, particularly cruel players may decide to stun players and leave them somewhere where they may accrue hideous damage from Mr Sunshine himself as he rolls over them.

Unlike the Castlevania level however, the stage won't be inside a box since the players would never be able to leave the screen (and therefore be invincible). The sides and ceiling will be left purposely open, perhaps allowing Legion to leave the screen and reappear somewhere else (which would be daunting for players, I think). Also, as an added annoyance, perhaps those flying medusa heads could also show up to immobilize or otherwise aggravate players already trying to dodge the Big Ol' Ball O' Bodies.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Design Licenses #5: Invader Zim

OK, since the previous Game Idea blog entry seemed pretty similar to Invader Zim's premise, I figured I should do a Design Licenses for what I think should be in a Zim game. This entry follows on from last week's, so check that first before reading if you haven't already.

Basically, the game mechanics will be the same as last week's game idea: a sort of free-range sandbox in the form of an Earth city, in which Zim would run around (or use his ship) fulfilling mission objectives either stealthily incognito or by causing lots of incidental mayhem. There will be a few differences based on Zim's universe, which I'll list below:

* First, there'll only be the one city, which is the one depicted in the cartoon that holds all the human characters and Zim's base on Earth. It'll still be pretty big and fully explorable, with many locations from the show (such as the school and places like Bloaty's Pizza Hog and the heavily-guarded shopping mall).
* Second, instead of the mothership being the base of operations and the place where Zim sends and receives objects, it'll instead be his somewhat labyrinthe underground headquarters located under the fake "human habitat" he set up on the planet in the first episode of the show. It will still be expandable and customizable, digging extra room for new areas if needed.
* Third, Zim may end up not being the only controllable character, depending on the missions you'll be undertaking. Both Gir and Dib will have their own missions to fulfill.
* Dib's missions will involve recon of Zim's base and thwarting his plans, allowing the player to impede his own progress in taking over the planet. Some story chapters may follow the player helping Zim set up his latest scheme for dominance and then controlling Dib to stop it.
* Gir's missions will probably end up being completely off the wall and unrelated to either saving the planet or taking it over, considering Gir's charmingly chaotic disposition. Possibly in the same manner of mini-games that GTA has in abundance.
* There may even be mini-games in the form of Gaz's Game-Slave, the handheld console she's always seen playing. Other ideas for mini-games involve: Using Zim's ship to stop some orbital/outer space threat to his operation (usually ending up saving the planet he's supposed to conquer), some kind of collectible quest involving valuable radioactive material scattered around the city (that the locals don't seem to react to, despite it being deadly), Dib filming or photographing various activities of Zim's to send to "Mysteries of Strange Mysteries", a show (his favorite) which documents paranormal activity.

Generally, Zim will be going around raising funds by selling things he finds to his Irken brethren and inventing and purchasing new means to take over the planet, possibly following some research or reconnaisance of some new Earth thing he's discovered. Sometimes the players will have certain missions to follow, either given to Zim by the Tallest (the leaders of his race) or inspired by something he learned about Earth from watching TV. He may even be in direct competition from other Invaders on other worlds - which he can monitor from his base - and being successful at various missions will put his own Invader Rank higher and provide him with better equipment and praise from the Tallest. Short of actually taking over the planet, raising his Invader Rank and pleasing his superiors will be Zim's biggest concerns.

As far as I know, there isn't a Zim game currently out or being made, considering its relatively short lifespan compared to other Nicktoons. This is probably a good thing so far, since Nicktoon licenses tend to become the least inspired games on the market (an observartion which is frequently made by critics and developers alike). The guys and gals behind Zim (including the creator, Jhonen Vasquez) seem like pretty cool people though, so they might have decent ideas of their own for a video game should the opportunity to make one ever arise.

Interestingly, I even found this in an interview Vasquez did with IGN:

"
ZIM could have been a children's' television version of Mork and Mindy, with zany misunderstandings of Earth customs and a moral at the end, but that's not at all what I wanted to make (even though a show like that would have likely been a monstrous hit, spawning hoards of negligible Gameboy games)."

He may have a point with that final bit...

Friday, September 29, 2006

Game Idea: Alien Abduction

OK, today's idea is one that sort of blends elements from GTA and the sort of collect-a-thons I'm always going on about. You play as an alien (which is a pretty popular topic for me, since the concept of aliens is something which is highly variable and has a lot of scope for imagination) who has visited Earth to research the place for an invasion. Sounds pretty Invader Zim so far, so I'll quantify what exactly our alien friend is doing here and how he goes about doing it.

He has various objectives on the planet, which take place on locations all over Earth. His first and foremost is the research itself, which can be done by surreptitiously stealing and "beaming up" various samples of fauna and flora, before moving onto things like Earthling technology and valuable minerals. The alien is also interested in the culture of the planet, though without making it too educational, it plans to take as many examples from one fandom as possible (say the alien is interested in Sci-Fi, so it steals toy robots until it has upgraded the ship to be powerful enough to steal the 60ft long plastic UFO sign from a themed diner). Ideally, it should try to do this under the cover of darkness to avoid arousing suspicion with all these mysterious thefts for as long as possible.

He can choose to be discrete about his extra-terrestrial activities, or go nuts firing on the populance while fulfilling his goals, generally having a harder time of it but will ultimately having more fun. You'll be disguised as a human, though the disguise will be pretty poor to start with, so you'll be hiding in shadows a lot for the first half of the game. It'll be more sophisticated as you upgrade that element of your reconnaissance, allowing you to get into more places by fooling the Earthlings guarding the building. You'll still have a hard time avoiding UFO nuts and the local law enforcement and like GTA, repeated exposure brings up a sort of "sightings" star system which when filled up brings FBI and Black Ops types snooping around following up all these reports of an extra-terrestrial visitor. These stars show up whenever you're spotted doing something odd, such as beaming an item back to your ship while someone's watching or fluffing a conversation with an Earthling (sometimes amusingly) by saying something very wrong.

Again, similar to GTA, the world you'll be visiting will be several cities large with a lot of space between areas. Your "Flight of the Navigator"-like ship can transport you between cities quickly enough (good if you've been spotted one to many times in one area) but you can still explore the planet itself if you tire of the cities full of people. Of course the planet will be down in scale somewhat compared to the cities (the available cities will probably be whatever scale GTA:SA was, around 1:50 I think, with the planet being closer to 1:1000). I plan to make the cities a lot more explorable than most of these types of game allow, by actually letting you enter practically all the buildings and taking whatever's inside (though with stealth if possible).

Gameplay will flow in sorties to the planet, beaming a certain amount of objects per day (in a certain amount of total volume per day, based on your ship's cargo hold) from all over the planet and storing or selling them through your intergalactic contacts through interested parties. You may accept missions where a gourmet restaurant wants so many special food items (such as cows or sodas, or maybe even humans) or a rich citizen wants artifacts a certain color (so you'd be hunting around for purple objects, in a sort of homage to Bart Vs The Space Mutants). Selling goods and acquiring various rare specimens increases your funding and reputation, which go towards ship upgrades and equipment to assist you "on the job". The following list has the sort of upgrades I'm thinking of at the moment:

Disguise: Upgradeable from your original model. Currently, your disguise is only vaguely human and you can be easily spotted by any human as not being "local" if you're too close or in bright light. With upgrades, it'll be easier to convince Earthlings you're one of them and eventually convince them you're someone important enough that they would let into their homes or banks. Eventually, you may even be able to turn yourself invisible and avoid the humans altogether. A side-quest to acquire a better "human suit" may involve abducting a certain amount of test subjects to use for a convincing disguise, making the game slightly macabre as you walk around with pieces of people sewed on you trying to blend in.

Zapper: A weapon that discharges a certain amount of power can have all sorts of uses, ranging from shorting-out security devices to briefly stunning humans. Upgrades would allow you to charge things like generators or battery-operated gizmos with a sharper degree of accuracy (whereas normally you may end up frying electronic equipment with the wrong voltage).

Cargo Hold: A ship upgrade, you can use this to increase the size of the objects you'll be transporting from Earth. You can configure it to expand your capacity for biological specimens also. Initially, you'll only be able to beam certain sized objects a very limited amount of times, so in the early stages you'll want to beam worthwhile stuff only. Keep in mind a unique sample will be worth a lot more than the second and third pieces of that sample, so even the first piece of trash beamed off the planet will be valuable to start with (though you could probably avoid beaming up any more like it).

Transporter Beam: Another ship upgrade, this will be handy for moving huge objects from the planet. To start with you'll have a severe size restriction as to the type of things you can transport, probably limiting you to things smaller than a soccerball. The beam will need to be upgraded in tandem with your cargo hold in order to hold the bigger items.

So instead of a just a regular "aliens take over the planet" game, many variations of which have already been made (from the perspective of the attacking aliens and the defending humans alike), the alien in this case is simply using the planet to get rich and achieve fame and power before taking the planet by force, using what it has learned to take us out. It'd be cool to sort of take on an Invader Zim sense of morbidness and the humor inherent in the major culture clash of a vicious imperial alien race and the otherwise backwoods inferior human race, but the chances are the game will need to veer away from that angle to avoid too many comparisons.