Friday, April 27, 2007

Design Genres #15: RPG Hybrids

A slow-burning subgenre that has been picking up speed lately is the RPG Hybrid: A game that generally keeps to the conventions of a specific non-RPG genre and then adds a developmental RPG trait to it. So far, an additional "-RPG" tag has been applied to many separate genres. Here's a few examples:

Scrolling Fighter/Run & Gun - Guardian Heroes
Fighter - Tobol 2, Soul Calibur's "Quest" modes
Puzzle - Puzzle Quest
Space Sim - Sigma Star Saga
Card Games - any CCG game
City/World-Builder Sim - ActRaiser, Dark Cloud
Strategy - FFT, any Nippon Ichi SRPG
Platformers - any modern Castlevania, Metroid (to a degree)

Plus many other modern games that contain RPG elements, most of which only have a small subtle effect on the gameplay.

This week's idea sort of combines the Worms/Scorched Tanks arena of strategic combat, as well as a Lemmings-style "figure out how to get around the obstacles without dying", with an RPG. You control a mage with a range of spells and abilities, and must travel the lands looking for wealth and power (like any good RPG hero would do). These battles take place in Worms-esque 2D landscapes, which are partly pre-generated (the placement of certain traps and treasures, for example) but has a degree of randomly generated topography that you can vary to a lesser/greater extent in the options menu.

You start by selecting a square on an overworld map grid to "explore" - after each of these grid squares have been
"explored", you can travel past them for the unexplored squares beyond. Each square opens up into a 2D arena like the one described above, depending on the square's features (if it was a hill, for example). After defeating the various wandering monsters (if any), you can take advantage of any dungeons you find on that square, exploring it by selecting the newly conquered square grid from the map and then on the preferred dungeon (you could potentially fit more than one dungeon there). You will then need to successfully complete several more 2D arenas (the appearance and structures of which would depend on the type of dungeon you're doing, similar to the geography of the overland map) in order to acquire the spoils within.

Like Worms, you (and your party, since the system could afford for hirelings to help you with bigger dungeons) can move and attack on a turn; after the attack your turn ends and the next enemy or ally in order (based on speed, like SRPGs) would take their turn. Many of your spells work the same way as the weapons in Worms: A fireball, for example, would need to be fired at the right angle and velocity to hit a monster and it'd be up to you to get those figures right. Other spells and attacks work like other weapons in Worms, or in a completely new unique way: Lightning works like Air Strikes (death from above!) and a Mud spell could be fired onto the floor near an enemy's feet, severely limiting movement for a patch around him - or you could just zap him with a Sleep spell, which would have an Area of Effect (AoE) and may knock out other enemies near him. You are also able to walk up to creatures and hit them with your chosen weapon, though this may put you in danger as the majority of enemy creatures attack hand-to-hand and are better than you at it. You can control your hirelings too, who will be a lot more limited in their arsenal, but be careful you don't let them or yourself get hit by friendly fire. The amount of firepower your mage character has is dependent on his/her level, though you can choose to lessen the effects of many of your spells (like the aforementioned fireball spell) in order to conserve mana; if an enemy only has a small bit of health left or just needs a gentle nudge to fall into some convenient lava, it would be a waste to use a full-strength fireball on them anyway.

As well as simply killing everything to get gold, you could sneak past them to where the treasure is hiding (though it can often be buried in the landscape, needing some dirt-moving spells) and escape without messing with the more challenging beasts. You may also need to figure out how to get past certain traps, discovering ways that your spells can help you get over a pit, for example. Killing monsters gives you XP, which will level you up and give you higher level spells to work with (as well as more mana to cast these spells). You can also buy spells from the hub town once you've earned enough cash.

With this idea, I wanted to sort of build a dungeon-crawling version of something like Worms with the occasional puzzle-intelligence of something like Lemmings. To be honest, an idea like this would've been more at home around the early 90s when 2D was still being explored to its fullest potential and the two games I've referred to would've been closer to the peaks of their popularity. I still think this would be an awesome game, especially if you could join up with friends (over the internet or in turns around one machine), and the amount of gigantic, beautiful-looking sprite monsters you could fit into such a game with today's technology would be super neato. Why spend five hours on WoW with your fellow nerds and then an hour of online Worms to cool off when you could combine the two?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Design Elements #2: Ninjas

Ninjas! Everyone's familiar with these dark-clothed assassins, and they've appeared in many, many games. Often taking advantage of their sneaky ways and combat prowess, ninjas tend to show up in many action/adventure titles that usually involve stealth in some way. Notable ninja games include, of course, the Ninja Gaiden games, as well as the Shinobi games and the Tenchu series. They've also appeared in RPGs (especially Japanese ones) and the atmosphere of their games run from deadly serious tales of honor to the somewhat lighter "blow up everything" types. So, indeed, how does one come up with anything new for the genre?

My first idea was to create something like Ultimate Spider-Man or GTA, in which you have a large sprawling city landscape to conceal yourself in, and fulfill various missions which come your way. You'd have a focused main objective which will be fulfilled in a series of important "story" missions, involving the recovery of your ninja clan's most prized treasure from the impressively tall skyscraper HQ of an imperialistic Japanese businessman who unjustly took over your temple and all of its possessions. Other missions would include finding money and allies to help pull off the heist, allowing you to make the decision to follow noble goals (like helping someone escape from a corrupt cop) or less noble ones (assassinate a rival mob boss). You'd get about the city with an array of ninja skills and equipment, similar to Spider-Man webslinging his way from one district to another. But then I figured this or something like it would be getting made soon enough, so I moved onto idea #2.

Idea #2 is a game that's a little more multi-player compatible. It is, in a sense, similar to Counter-Strike or Halo or any of those frag-fest multi-player types. The difference being is that every player is a ninja of a specific clan, and these clans are continually at war with each other for wealth, power or simply to acquire each other's secret powers. Every ninja clan has its own mystical scroll which teaches the senior members of that clan a very specific ninja skill. Players have to decide which clan they want to be a part of based on how efficiently they can use that clan's power when fighting rival ninjas. Another factor is how these powers become enhanced as the player grows stronger, though in the sense of fair-play all other ninjas playing become equally adept in their chosen mystical art.

Some of these ninjas will have stealthy powers, befitting the traditional ninja image: These included limited invisibility while moving (akin to the Predator's light-bending cloaking), the ability to hide in shadows limiting their movement but making them almost impossible to see (advanced players can even use one major shadowed area to warp into another one) and the ability to climb walls and ceilings with ninja ropes to conceal themselves in places players won't expect to find them.

Other ninjas will be more martially-inclined, forgoing the stealth for more firepower. One such clan will be able to use spirit blasts: fireballs that increase in power as the player becomes stronger. Another may be able to wield two weapons at once with equal efficiency for double the chance to hit, or could mystically power up their weapon just before striking for extra damage.

The weaponry would be dated to around 19th century but with several ninja-specific enhancements, allowing for mystically sharp blades and shuriken-shooting crossbows. Ninjas can also throw shurikens and kunai (ninja knives) relatively fast. They are also adept at setting traps involving needles and possibly even explosive materials, which would act as a sort of proximity mines for interlopers in your clan's building or can be set up on the fly for someone to trip.

The one-player version of the game would be somewhat like The Warriors, in that one clan is trying to take over the territories of all the other clans while remaining under the radar to the authorities governing the land. Taking over a clan's territory by eliminating all the ninjas in that area will eventually allow you to take on their base, defeating their leader and recovering their secret power for you to use. At the same time, other clans will be warring against each other using an advanced AI to calculate how well one side is prevailing over the other. If the player keeps his attention focused, he may even be able to discover which clans are currently at war and could take out the weakened clan before their enemy does. Each of these clan battles takes part in an arena based in that region of the country (of Japan, of course, though it may be a fictionalized version), and a player may need to take out opponents in bamboo forests, trap-filled temples or rustic, apparently calm villages full of hiding places. Eventually, you might get one of the Emperor's samurai wandering through the arena, whom are extremely powerful AI opponents and may wipe out any ninjas in the area if they don't skedaddle (creating a sort of time limit). The game may end up with you, as the only remaining ninja clan, taking on the Emperor himself for dominance of the country.

Though such an online system invites campers and the like, it may give players a touch more challenge than usual depending on their opponents. If they wish to just run and gun it and rack up frags like no-one's business, they can do. They can also play to their stealthy strengths and take out the loud obnoxious players as they stumble around without looking around fully. There will be individual servers for both the all-out offensive/martial players and the stealthy players, as well as several servers to accomodate both simultaneously. The inter-clan warfare could end up becoming very interesting considering people make clan-based collectives of non-clan games such as CS anyway, especially if we give players the ability to design their own clan insignia and use it on their ninja uniforms.

Plus, I just think it'd be cool to play as a bunch of ninjas fighting other ninjas. Seems like foolproof awesomeness to me.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Game Idea: Item Quest

Note: Yeah, yeah, sort of need to dust the cobwebs off of this thing. I have both the Design Documents done now (including 80+ Simpson NPCs and their in-game fighters), still need somewhere to upload them. It will be sorted soon, and then I'll finish up some more ideas.

This game idea is a bit meta. The name is sort of a joke on "quest item" (a term used to describe an important game item) and the various "_____ Quest" games that are emerging or have been around for a while, which tend to be a little experimental. Most notable of which would be Progress Quest: an online RPG that is entirely automatic and continues to run without player input, though still employs the usual "fight, collect, return to town to sell stuff, repeat" pattern. Though I should also mention here the wonderful new DS game Puzzle Quest, which is basically Zookeeper with some interesting modifications to the gameplay, including a large range of abilities/spells you can use on the puzzle grid.

The idea of this game is to have a huge installed inventory database numbering in the many thousands, including - but not limited to - sets, collections, figurines, postcards, etc. - the works. A lot of my games tend to have a collection subquest of some kind in them, but the intention here is to blow it up to extreme proportions and have fun with it. The game would have fairly standard dungeon crawling, with all manner of places to visit, and to cope with the scope of the amount of items and places in the world to find said items I was thinking something like a 16-bit SNES-era-esque 2D game with top-notch pixel/sprite graphics, with which to detail all the stuff you can find or fight. I could make it something huge and 3D like Oblivion, but I have a feeling this isn't the kind of experimental meta-game that developers would be willing to throw that kind of money at. Plus, making it a simple 2D program will allow it to be easily played over an internet-ready computer or on an online handheld/virtual arcade type deal, which would mean additional item packages can be continually produced and downloaded by players.

The story would be based on the common "adventurer looking for his fortune" story in a world where possessions = power. As you collect items and sell off spares (since having two of the same kind is generally pointless), you can upgrade your home base to include more buildings/wings/facilities for showing off your spoils to interested parties. As you upgrade and build up your base of operations, certain items will start appearing in the dungeons you're taking out (so without a portrait museum room, for example, you won't find nearly as many portraits). What little treasure you find that you're unable to display will be sent to your vault.

You also have adventurer peers working against you. They are also similarly building up collections, which you can observe if you wish. They may even be willing to swap their duplicates for yours, depending on their disposition towards you. Of course, you'll also have them attempting to thieve (or hiring folk to thieve for them, depending on their wealth and interest in your stuff) which you have to fight off or help the police/guards to arrest. You could even be challenged in direct battle for your possessions. The spoils go to the victor, and you could end up inheriting the collections of adventurer NPCs you fall in battle. If the game ends up being online, these peers could be other players and you can see your friend's collection of stuff. You'd obviously have the option of not accepting challenges or letting them theive off you (like a non-PvP thing). It's sort of like seeing other peoples' Animal Crossing houses or their rare drops in World of Warcraft, taken to the nth degree.

Another factor in your collecting is the age-old "good vs evil" aspect in RPGs. Certain.. items (slaves, trophies, stolen goods... demonist/necromancer iconography?) become available only to evil players, and its up to the player to decide how badly he wants a full set of items. This is sort of calling into focus the general misanthropy that people who prefer things over other people feel, though we don't want to concentrate on that too much as those folk will be the game's main market. The game would open up some interesting new avenues for item collections, including some very seedy contacts to buy/sell from.

The actual battle aspect should be relatively simple, but interesting enough to keep people wanting to keep playing and finding new stuff for their collections. Dungeons would be found by scouting areas, and you can even hire scouts to check places for you while you scout elsewhere. After finding a dungeon and doing a preliminary search of the surroundings, you will get a short blurb with details about that dungeon for you to check and decide whether or not to hit it. I'm thinking dungeons could be displayed by:

A) Their type - This may define the treasure/monsters they're likely to have. For instance, a Cave-type may be more likely to have natural treasures like gems and would also generally have more wild animals rather than undead or bandits.
B) Their total total treasure value - This gives you some idea of how worthwhile a place is to hit without giving too much away about what you could find. A high treasure value might just mean a huge pile of less valuable items, or one or two really priceless ones. This value will be more exact, to the closest 10000, 1000 or 100, depending on your scouting skill or the skill of the scout you hired.
C) Their total list of creatures - you would use this to judge your chances of victory. If the enemies sound a bit tough (and they usually have some hint, maybe color-coded like FFXII's wandering monsters) you can mark it and leave it until later. The clarity of this list is again dependent on your scouting skill, like the treasure value. At early levels of scouting you may just get a general monster class ("undead") or even an incomplete list (which may lead to a nasty surprise).

Battles would be automatic, and would determine your success on some variables: the opponents you're facing, your equipment and level and a few additional "decision" modifiers you can toggle on or off. These modifiers include the decision to be sneaky (if you pull it off or are a generally sneaky character class, several unobservant creatures could be taken down without a fight, though really observant creatures could get the jump on you while you're trying to sneak past them) or the decision to pack weapons that have been blessed by the local chapel (the donations to receive them would be costly, but beneficial if you're fighting a lot of undead). These decisions could be either beneficial or disadvantageous, so it will be up to the player to decide on what to use.

After the automatic battle, you will see the results. Generally, if you lose, you will retreat with whatever treasure you managed to find and will need to rest a few weeks to get your strength back to try again. If you win, you claim all the treasure in the cave and may even find a second level to the dungeon, which would be scouted for you instantaneously and ready for your next sortie (after sorting out your spoils, of course).

You will also find a lot of money, as well as duplicate items. As stated, you can sell off these duplicates, either to the local stores or a fellow collector (sometimes in exchange for other treasure, the rarity of which is based on what you're offering). The money can be used for upgrading your base, purchasing new equipment or purchasing new means to carry treasure from sacked dungeons (which range from pack mules a la Dungeon Siege to a device that transports it all back home instanteously).

Though doing away with the actual battling might sound like a duff move, I think it would help in the long run. People get tired of continually whacking monsters, and the strategic element of only taking on what you can manage (and using the modifiers correctly) will give players sufficient challenge to keep them entertained. Having these huge displays should be interesting too, since games with collection subquests (Katamari Damacy, CCG games like Megaman Battle Network, some Zeldas) or a large range of collectibles which you can show off and personalise (Animal Crossing, The Sims) tend to be absurdly popular. Like most of my ideas, I also intend to have lots of humor and in-jokes regarding the items you can find, so it could be good times for all concerned. Maybe.