Not Another Game Idea

Not Another Game Idea

Dumped, like the browser-based kart game, so that I may free up some synapses.

The Idea:

The Unusual Bit:

  • The game can be ended at the end of each level
  • Via branching dialogue
  • With a woman one encounters there
  • Triggering a cutscene showing the future
  • The endings are better the earlier one stops playing
    • Because no one will stop playing
    • There is no woman at the end of the last level

The Story:

  • Rosetti’s poem follows a prince’s voyage to meet his unknown beloved
    • He dallies too much with wrong turns and mystical women
    • When he gets to the castle, the princess has died
  • I wrote (but never finished editing) a response
  • This game is based on my version
    • The prince meets a series of mystical women
    • He could have (should have?) stayed with any one of them
    • He doesn’t
    • He journeys on to meet his perfect beloved
    • He finds the castle at the edge of the world
    • Inside, no one opposes him
    • No one’s ever lived there

The Art:

  • Animated vector graphics
  • Multiple foregrounds and backgrounds
  • Not quite a sidescroller
    • Camera usually stationary
    • Re-centers when the character reaches predetermined spots
    • Foreground and background layers adjust
  • Foregrounds and backgrounds less detailed than midground
  • Expressive style
  • 24 frame per second character animation
  • Realistic motion
  • Zoomed in in-engine cutscene

The Gameplay:

  • A mix of platforming and combat
  • Level passwords
  • No HUD, health bars, or data overlays of any kind
  • Character can’t do anything a reasonably fit person can’t do
    • Can only fall so far
    • No twenty foot vertical jumps
    • No changing direction in midair
    • Must leap, grasp and climb to reach higher ledges
  • “Step based” movement
    • No creeping one pixel at a time ever necessary
    • One walking step the minimum distance a movement can take
    • Running, leaping, climbing, swimming, etc. all in increments

Character Mechanics:

  • No lives or continues
  • Health recharges
    • No “medkits”
    • Short recovery period
  • Character movement indicates health
    • Extremely low health makes character weave back and forth
    • Requires micro-correcting
    • With left and right keys
    • To keep character from falling down

Falling Down:

  • Not “death” as such
  • “If you want to teach players not to do something,
  • Tile the player falls on stretches past edges of screen left and right
    • Player must get up (weaving initially) and walk across flat ground
    • Uninteresting expanse takes time to cross
      • Long enough to dissuade
      • Not long enough to ruin game
    • Poem displayed in BG
    • Expanse ends at portion of the game world just as it was
      • Level resumes without break
  • No real death, lives or continues — just the expanse to pass

Levels:

  • The Ravine
    • Mostly platforming
    • Lush green riverside
    • Moon maiden at end
  • The Desert
    • Black rocks
    • Ground crawling with scorpions
    • Character weakens as level goes on
      • Heavy use of weaving mechanic
    • Alchemist at end
  • The Valley
    • Rivers
    • Final long swim
      • Lose your armor, all but knife and gloves
    • The Ariel Sisters at end
  • The Edge of the World
    • (Movement noticeably sprightlier without gear)
    • Mountain slope
    • Crags
    • Endless field of white flowers
      • Clouds
    • Castle, overgrown by enormous tree
      • Phantoms “attack” inside
      • Vanish before they reach you
    • Empty room at top
      • Plaster tubs, drop cloths, uninstalled windows
      • Overgrown with white flowers from window box
      • No one’s ever lived there

    The Women:

    • The Moon Maiden
      • Milkmaid
      • Starry cloak
      • (Midevil milkmaids rarely got smallpox)
      • (Exposure to milder cowpox virus vaccinated them)
      • (Origin of the “clear/white faced milkmaid” literary meme)
      • Best ending
        • In-engine zoomed in cutscene of player with family
        • Carefree young children
        • Spreading the starry cloak on a hilltop at night
        • Watching the stars wheel overhead together

      The Alchemist

      • Older woman, works a forge, strength and wisdom
      • Second best ending
        • Zooms in for cutscene as a couple
        • Lonely in the desert
        • Always working forge
    • The Ariel Sisters
      • Three nymphlike sisters
      • Rescue you from river in the valley
      • Flighty, impossible to pin down
      • Other two give you more attention the more you focus on one
        • One you focus on colder toward you
        • Always out of reach
      • A lot of trouble for a neutral ending
    • The Princess
      • Doesn’t exist
      • Cutscene shows only the unfinished state of the chamber
      • No ending
      • Level just leaves you to wander until you quit the game

    Why It’s a Bad Idea:

    • Engine would have to be built from scratch
    • Lots of art assets
    • Lots of animation
    • Small potential of SVG drawing speed problems
      • SVG a low priority in modern browsers
    • Animation toolchain would have to be built from scratch
      • No SVG drawing program does animation yet
      • If one adds support, it will likely save as SMIL
        • (Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language)
        • Despite being a standard, no browser supports SMIL
      • Would have to use JavaScript for animation instead
      • Animation would either have to use substitution
        • (One unique SVG image every frame, 24 frames/second)
      • Or morphing
        • (SVG objects changed by JavaScript every frame)
        • Even more complicated to develop toolchain for
        • Morphing better, would allow some smoothing between actions
        • Would allow some physics as well (cloaks, particle, etc.)
    • No clear business plan beyond banner ads on the homepage
      • Banner ads in-game would kill the mood
      • Would also slow down the browser, in the real world
    • Is it possible to sell access to a browser-based game?
    • Game that subverts common mechanics of genre to ask questions
      • Would be compared to Braid
      • Would lose the comparison

Role Playing Games

You arrive in the town. You check into an inn. It’s on a back street. Out of the way. You’re wanted criminals, so best not to draw attention to yourselves.

You’ve been trying to find Tintmere since the airship crash. She should be in this town. But where?

Porcelain and little Night set off with a shopping list. You and Kell head upstairs.

There’s a window. The room overlooks an equally rickety row of buildings. Fourth floor. Lots of crisscrossing clotheslines and rising steam, people milling about below. In the distance over the rooflines: the Lightning Tower. Your ultimate goal.

Concrete pebbles fall discretely into the drowned, weedy flower pot in front of you. You crane, look up.

A bounty hunter tromps silently across the rusty pipes on the roof. The shadows of two more flit between the eaves.

You lean back in, smile, head gesture to Kell. A row of shurikens materialize in his hand, and he melts into the shadows. Hazard another glance out.

There’s a bamboo-like pole caught between your building and the one across the street. One floor down. It looks tenuous. But you have been working on your balance.

The next room? The walls can’t be too thick.

Nah. More fun to hide in the ratan basket.

Moments later, light feet land on the windowsill. Simultaneously, the door flies off its hinges. Two bounty hunters race into the empty room. They look around, walk to the center of the room. Suddenly a basket and a shadow burst to life, and both bounty hunters are flung out the open window with hardly a cry.

The ceiling caves in. It’s time for the big daddy bounty hunter. You exchange blows, and are both parried and thrown back. Not good. He hasn’t even broken a sweat. You grab Kell, flip him up onto the roof and climb out. The wall explodes. You make a grab for a drain pipe, swing out across sickening open space, and — Kell’s throw line jerks the pipe up toward the roof. You land. Smile. And RUN!

Rooftop chase, as the overpowered bounty hunter hurls force blasts after you, shredding the ancient stone. Chickens squawk. Cisterns topple. An adorable little girl tends a lovely three foot square rooftop garden; you scoop her up as you run by, and apologize, as the bounty hunter smashes her four flowers.

You give the girl to Kell, saying you’d like to try something. You insult the giant. A lot. Kell breaks left, sliding down the side of a building. You break right. It worked! He’s following you.

Crap.

Fight! Fighting doesn’t work. Escape! He catches you in midair. The bounty hunter sneers that the fee still gets paid if all your limbs have been pulled off. This is it.

Shwunk! The bounty hunter shakes you, looks around indeterminately. He reaches back. A magic dagger wrapped in lace protrudes from between his shoulder blades. He topples, turning to wood. The wood bleaches, hollows, cracks, shatters — poof! Nothing but dust.

You pick yourself up, squint into the sun. A lace-adorned figure steps toward you through the haze, waving. Tintmere!

—–

Now imagine that the preceeding had been generated: The overall plot. The long separation from a comrade. The clues that led you to her. The streets. The repetition of the larger goal. The foreshadowed tip-off at the flower box. The personally appropriate strategy options. The easy mini-bosses. The unstoppable mega boss. The setback getting onto the roof. The dramatic save. The comic timing. The race. The moral choice. The losing battle. The last minute save, leading into the storyline completing reunion.

As flashy as today’s RPGs are, they’re still not true Role Playing Games. In them, players are rewarded for figuring out how the game engine works and finding ways to best it, not — as the name would suggest — for immersing themselves in the role of the character.

How does a game engine implement literary devices? How do you reinforce the players’ choice to have more fun with the story, rather than the choice to simply learn better chess positions? Printed paper+pencil+friends role playing games have invented some interesting story game concepts, but digital RPGs still rely largely on grinding in the final analysis.

I’m not suggesting that hard work shouldn’t bring character improvement, but I sanction it only because that too is a literary device. It’s not, however, the only literary device. In the early days of computer games, perhaps it was the only trope that could be realistically implemented. Are we at the end of the beginning of computer games yet?

Those looking for something a little more crunchy may enjoy my RPG Stats Comparison Chart.

RPG Stats Comparison

A comparison of the stats used to define a character across eleven popular videogame and pencil-and-paper roleplaying games. (20k PDF)

Not included on the chart are depletable scores. Each game seems to have a concept of Hit Points, a number representing the character’s moment-to-moment health, with the possible exception of outlier EVE Online and it’s complete lack of physical traits. Most games that invoke magic of one sort or another have a rechargeable score representing the total amount of magic which may be invested in an action at any given time. Wealth is typically also a depletable score.

All games surveyed also deal with situational bonuses. These may be weapons and armor, single-use or depletable items, or learned skills. Even games with simple stat structures like Shining Force II create highly varied play structures using such bonuses.

Being essentially combat-based, none of the games surveyed had more than one social stat, and the majority had none. For those that did, it was always “charisma” — an ability to gain tangible favors from others. Combat-free games like Harvest Moon may deal more fully with a character’s social aspects, but as a component of adventure storytelling it appears tellingly neglected.