Thursday, June 28, 2007

Game Idea: Deep

Deep is an exploration game based on digging. While digging games exist - and I refer to famous examples such as Mr Driller, Dig-Dug and the various incarnations of Boulder Dash - they mostly rely on action. In these games, you get a cartoonish side-view depiction of the land you're digging and the gameplay tends to focus on frantically clearing dirt to reach diamonds or enemies or just to find the way down as quickly as possible.

Deep is slightly more RPG-based. Your goal is to scan the undeveloped area around your city for interesting signals and then purchase that area so you can dig it up. As you make money from your discoveries, you are able to upgrade your equipment in order to detect new and interesting things which will result in even more cash and you progress through the game in this manner.

Brief background to the game: The year is somewhere in the 8000s AD (though there's no-one alive who can remember the old date system). Humanity has managed to develop itself up to an advanced age where faster than light speed is possible. However, each time this is accomplished, a mysterious disaster resembling an earthquake packed with electromagnetic energy destroys all the technological advancements and drags humanity back into a pre-industrial age. Anyone who survives the earthquake wakes up to find no trace of their achievements and humanity has to rebuild from the ground up. Nobody is actually aware of this, but this event has occurred four times in humanity's past.

It is now a time period analogous to the 1940s (though without the war speeding things along). Humanity has been slowly recovering from the last Event and is only a few decades away from once again approaching the first steps into space exploration. You happen to be a Digger: someone who makes their living by using metal-detection equipment to scour the now-empty lands for materials you can sell to the developing cities. Because of the unique nature of this world, the ground is filled with remnants of several thousand years of technology, now inactive debris. Because these past generations of humanity at the peak of their advancement has all but stripped the natural resources of valuable metals and minerals of the planet, the only way to recover these necessary materials is by digging them up in "wealth zones" (actually the decaying remains of highly advanced cities). You live right on top of one of these.

Your detection equipment is limited to metallic elements close to the surface and so you must dig up the various near-surface scrap materials in order to raise money. You don't need to purchase land for this early segment as it's simply a tutorial about how you detect items and then dig them up. Eventually, you'll come across an actual find (which will be sent back to the nearby city for analysis) which will fund the next part of the game.

With the advanced detection equipment that your friends will research and create for you, you can start finding even bigger pieces of scrap metal to sell to interested parties. You'll start finding intact traces of the old civilisations too, which you can sell as cultural oddities. The game will eventually lead to clearing huge amounts of the Earth to recover entrances to whole buildings which you can then explore in a team and recover anything of use before destroying the entire building with concussion mines and selling the whole thing for valuable scrap. You'll also slowly start solving the mystery of where all this ancient stuff came from and why humanity seems fated to repeat its technological advancement over and over.

Gameplay-wise, the game will be split into three modes, the last of which won't be available until late in the game. The first mode is a digging simulator where you start digging at the most interesting places (you'll be dealing with several hundred feet of square land, so there's plenty to find). Anything dug up will be sent to your associates in the city to analyze for metallic components by your assistant on-site, which basically means anything dug up (including the ground soil) will be automatically be sent away for analysis. You'll start with a simple shovel initially, making progress slow, but you'll be able to upgrade digging equipment (as well as other things) as you progress.

For the second mode of the game you assume the role of your associates in the city, who are part trading company and part scholar research team. They actually receive discoveries from all Diggers in the areas surrounding the city and reward them for their findings, but since you'll soon outshine them (due to fortunate circumstances on your part) the company will end up being yours later in the game. To begin with, all you'll have available is a list of menu options to process the materials from your Digger protagonist. They will also clean up and preserve any intact items you will find. Both the metallic-compound search (in the soil you've dug up) and item clean-up are optional minigames you can play, though both can also be processed automatically without needing your control.

When the game gets to the point where you can start exploring whole subterranean buildings and outposts, you'll be assuming the lead of an exploration team and carefully exploring the dilapidated underground ruins for anything salvageable. There'll be various traps, both intentional (such as still-functioning security equipment) and incidental (such as doors that automatically open and shut at random). This exploration system will work in an FPS mode to properly recreate the feel of exploring the age-old ruin. It may also use a Metroid Prime-esque scanning system so you can continue to use your progressively-updated scanning technology underground. Your team is comprised of the protagonist Digger (who you will assume the first-person POV of) as well as several members of the research team in the city. Like the Digging mode, this mode will become more complex as you continually upgrade your tools using the discoveries you find.

I'm hoping to make this game an engaging mystery story going on as well as a highly playable sci-fi-esque treasure hunt. The storyline I have in mind doesn't simply involve aliens who zap us whenever we get close to reaching our potential: the story goes much deeper than that, with secret revelations and twists aplenty. Which is what one should expect from a game with a name like this.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Design Elements #3: Planet-Eaters

Planet-eating. There are various movie/comic villains that eat planets. Galactus is one. Unicron is another. There's probably two or three of them in Star Trek lore. The Death Star didn't eat planets, it just 'sploded them. And now, I've decided to create a game idea that will allow the average gamer at home to eat planets.

"Why eat planets?", I hear you exclaim.

Because eating planets is cool. Duh.

You'll control one of these nameless/lots of names ancient (like, "from the dawn of time, two minutes after the big bang" ancient) planet-eating things as it goes about its daily grind. Which is to eat planets. The planets you pick are dependant on your tastes: You get more energy from occupied planets but they're slightly more difficult to get close to because of stupid sentient species who like their planet and try to attack you with spaceships. Damn nuisances. So what you do is you eat all the spaceships they send at you. And then eat their planet.

You sort of use an intergalactic radar to identify nearby planets and their relative worth in the field of nutrition: Is it a tasty planet? Teeming with juicy life? Is it one of those volcano planets that might cause a tummy ache? Maybe you shouldn't eat that one. Poison planets will poison you. Acid planets will give you acid reflux. Gas planets are no good for obvious reasons. You travel to planets you like the look of, then eat them. You'll receive an energy burst and maybe a neat little planet recipe card (with fancy French calligraphy) to add to a growing collection of eaten planet cards.

Maybe there'll be cameos. The general universe of planets will be almost entirely generated at random, but there may be one or two special ones that show up. Like a candy planet. Or a cowboy planet. Eat two planets perpetually stuck in Prohibition-era Earth (for some reason) and you could unlock a special gangster fedora for your planet-eating terror to put on. He can wear it at a jaunty angle while he genocides entire sentient species. Maybe impress the lady planet-eaters and have a baby planet-eater (or... moon-eater.. I guess). Maybe you'll eat a planet the Prince of All Cosmos rolled up or one of those ones from Spore populated by creatures with butts for eyes. Depending on which industry figures we can get on board this planet-eating extravaganza.

While the life of a planet-eater is generally all milk and honey (and planets), there'll be a fair share of challenges, even for you. For instance, black holes could unexpectedly eat a planet before you get the chance to. Or the Phoenix Force blips one. Or that Death Star I mentioned. Then there's the spaceships - always, always the spaceships. While you can generally eat everything (with a particular preference for planets), you may want to outsmart these other cosmic-scale troublemakers. Maybe stick a straw into a planet and eat all of its insides first, like Homer did with that wedding cake. Just because you're a creature a bajillion metres long who's very voice can destroy a planet's natural magnetic fields with its sheer sonic power, it doesn't mean you can't be sneaky.

People would want to play this game because there is no game yet, to my knowledge, that'll let you eat entire planets. There are several which lets you blow up planets and more than a few that will let you eat part of a planet. If you want to see more planet-eating games in the future, give me money and I shall spend it on things that I like. And then maybe create a planet-eating game.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Game Idea: Litermancy

Not so much a whole developed game idea than another mechanic or potential RPG character gimmick.

There have been many "make words to score points" games in the past, starting with the boardgame grand-daddies Scrabble and Boggle and moving down to things like Wordtris and Bookworm Adventures. There's also a couple of RPG-ish ones like Dungeon Scroll, a game I'd recommend to anyone wanting to waste a few minutes building their vocabulary.

This idea is a little different from all of those. For one thing, it isn't about building the biggest words possible; you will in fact be limited to three letter words. Your character is learning the forbidden magical art of litermancy (which may be changed to wordamancy depending on which one sounds less dumb after I've slept on it), which relies on combining three runes to create various powerful effects. Of course, knowledge of what, exactly, each combination of the three runes does has been lost for centuries and will need to be rediscovered by your character.

While you planned on learning this idiosyncratic but potentially powerful art in relative safety and secrecy, a call goes out from your native Kingdom for all registered magic users (those able to use magic being rare in the kingdoms of this world) to be drafted into the Guardian Army to protect the state from an imminent invasion of evil-doers. Thrust out into active combat almost right away, you need to figure out your chosen magical art form and get good at it quick before you get killed; either by the enemy for fear of your emerging skills or by your own army for your wildy unpredictable magic.

The story follows a series of set battles, usually against a group of regular opponents or occasionally a single boss creature. You are taken to a screen with a bunch of jumbled up letters and must fill ten slots with ten three-letter words. The words you make become your magic spells for that battle, shuffled and given to you three at a time in a random order throughout the battle. Specific "real" words have unique effects based loosely around the traditional schools of magic: for instance, a RAT or CAT spell will summon the appropriate animals for a duration, doing damage and blocking enemy attacks towards you. GAP might conjure a hole in the ground to swallow up opponents (or give them trendy clothes, who knows?). Things like RAY or POW will cause direct evocation damage.

Those are the easy spells. You can get more abstract with some words which may end up doing more damage than the obvious ones. For example, SOL, which may not be a well-known alias of our sun, will do horrendous damage with a solar beam - perhaps doing more damage than the more-obvious SUN. Using something like GOD or BOX will have all sorts of interesting effects. Many, many words will have completely insane or benign effects that will either not affect the battle itself at all (though may confuse an opponent) or could end up damaging/aiding either or both sides in some way. Part of the fun (that'd be a good word to use in-game) of this game will be discovering what all these different words will do and maybe incorporating the unexpectedly great ones into your next battle, rather than relying on the same ol' bunch of obvious ones over and over.

As well as forming actual words, the game will have a system where each rune (not necessarily every letter, so you could get two of the same letters with different properties) will have an elemental property attached to it. These elemental properties will disappear if you make a "real" word, superseded by that real word's specific effect. But if you make a three letter combination that is either nonsense or a word that doesn't have a unique effect (there are a hell of a lot of three-letter words out there so not all of them can have unique effects), it will rely on its elemental background for its overall effect when cast. So a word with a strong Earth leaning (three green letters in a random configuration), when cast, will perform a random Earth spell such as a damaging earthquake or healing the good guys. Though usually beneficial to you (as opposed to the often random real words), relying on these random elemental words will not get you too far since their effects will generally be minimal.

I was considering adapting this system to allow for combo spells: You could cast what appears to be a nonsense spell (SHA) and then follow it up with another spell (DOW) to complete a whole six-letter word (SHADOW) for an even bigger spell effect, with the downside being that you have to hope that those two piece-words come up in the same turn. Because you can form 10 words (and this number may go up as your character gets more talented) and only have three available per combat round, you could pepper your arsenal with several of these twin-combo words and hope for a chance to use them. If not, they'll just default to their elemental spell effects. This would add a whole new bunch of unique words to the engine though, which will overload the memory along with all those unique three-letter words. Combine it with the possibility for nine-letter words and it's just getting ridiculous.

While this could go for it's own game easily enough, it could also be adapted into one of those ensemble RPGs where every character has a unique talent or skill. It may be a little dull to make all the new words each time in the latter's case, but it should still prove to be an interesting addition. With all the potentially humorous situations your apprentice magic-user could get into to with his "talent", combined with the amount of exploration to be done (into the words themselves), the game should be pretty awesome fun. IMO.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Game Idea: Braintrain

Note: I'm currently working on the Item Quest Design Doc, covering all the aspects of the game save the Master Item List (MIL.. 'cause, like, there's a million of them), which is going to take a long while. I'll be cribbing from all sorts of places to fill that list (and not just from other video games, which I will steal from like the hack I am). I want to also want to bring some attention to Squidi's Three Hundred Mechanics thing he's got going on here:
I'll be posting nitpicks and suggestions in the forum until he gets tired of my backseat-designerisms and kicks me out. The dude's good at coming up with that stuff and, unlike me, he actually includes pictures. Which really do help.

So, this idea then. It's inspired in part by train simulators like Railroad Tycoon and an old PC/Amiga game called Transartica, which was a strategy game set in a post-apocalyptic future where the world is trapped in a nuclear winter in which rival train/delivery companies moved vital supplies over the frozen landscape to remote subterranean settlements. Like Elite, it involved buying goods you can trade off for a higher price at another destination and fighting off the various smugglers and pirates that attack you on your journey.

This game builds on that somewhat. It's the future, where intergalactic travel and terraforming technology exists, but is still in their respective infancy stages. In newly terraformed worlds, settlers are dropped in the just-barely livable conditions and are expected to make the best of it and develop the land. The game is set around one of these worlds, a planet close to Earth but in its initial stages: volcanic and often dangerous. You play a merchant who has travelled to this planet to use your knowledge of trading for the great wealth that is supposed to lie under the planet. As such, you've developed technology that will allow normal trains to run on nothing but steam and the various inexpensive minerals that the planet has in vast quantities. Developing a train route between the various outposts on the planet (which are pre-generated by the computer, as you only control the rail aspect), you slowly build up your rail empire and find new and better ways to develop your trains and railtracks for optimum trading opportunities.

Although you have regressed in technology from the space-age facilities of your home planet (Earth), you still have correspondence with the space-faring trade company your family owns. Occasionally, they'll provide resources and technology for you by delivering them via launched space-containers: This relatively inexpensive mode of travel is basically dropping cargo from nearby deep space, aiming various containers made of a hyper-strong and space-worthy material towards your planet, so that you may find where they crash and use them for your operation. Of course, as this technology is cheap and affordable (since it is just a cannon in space firing things at your planet), there are times when the containers are delivered somewhat off-course from your home base. Part of your journey around the trading routes will invariably involve finding and securing these containers. In return, you're expected to launch containers full of valuable mined material (received in trades from the mining outposts you deal business with) back into space for your relatives to find and sell back to interested parties.

The game works in stages, or, more accurately, eras. The planet only has a few outposts initially so your trading route is basic and newbie-friendly. You're introduced to new technology and challenges to overcome as the game progresses so the difficulty curve will be kind to you as you gradually learn the ropes. Eventually, should you fulfill all the trade requirements and goals in the current incarnation of your merchant empire, you'll skip ahead to the next generation (that is, your original character's children) about 20 years later. This new stage will have expanded your people's established civilisation on this planet, based on your success as the planet's driving merchant force, and will have bigger and more elaborate outposts in higher numbers. You'll be able to see how Earth's occupation of the planet is going over the years as you play. As you and your off-world company grow in wealth (what with all the successful trading), you'll have access to improvements in your train and rail technology.

Eventually, though you'll be dealing in meagre human trainrobbers and bandits in the first few eras, you'll meet a few rival alien merchants who have had the same idea and plan to usurp your valuable operation for the same important minerals to export to their own planet/empire. Some of these alien interlopers will be fairly harmless and fair, acting as rival traders eager for their own piece of the pie and friendly enough for you to trade with, since you're not always going after the same valuable materials (one man's trash is another man's treasure, so to speak). Others will be far more hostile, sweeping the planet for anything valuable and often attacking both trains and outposts alike for their mined treasures. Your trains will be able to upgrade themselves with weapons (like gun turrets and ground-to-air missiles) and even have passenger cars for small security forces with which to combat these hostiles. Also watch out that these same bandits/aliens don't collect the various cargo drops from space that you're relying on; you'll get prior notice of new arrivals but it won't help if the containers land too close to where an enemy encampment is and you're not there in time.

So yeah, this idea borrows from games like Transartica and Elite and the sci-fi epic Dune somewhat, but the core of the game is trade. Upgrading your train to be an unstoppable death engine full of turrets and soldiers is one route to take, but you wouldn't be able to hold much on your train if you did it and you sort of need those traded minerals for your business to stay afloat. Similarly, making your train too big or too weapons-light will make it an easy target for trainrobbers and alien menaces alike. Maintaining your age-old (or at least it will be age-old in the later stages) rail empire against increasing dangers for increasing profit is the goal and it should be pretty enthralling for train sim and strategy game enthusiasts alike.

NB: The name comes from what I'm expecting to be the game's major antagonist in the later stages of the game: A sentient alien train that usurps the same track system to attack your own trains for their trade goods. The engine out in front will just be a giant alien brain and face on wheels. Sort of goofy, I know, but then I was a big fan of Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors as a kid.