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...