Idea #5 - Fantasy Mayor

This idea is set in a high fantasy world full of magic, treasure, monsters and heroes, all of the standard fantasy trappings, but the catch is the player doesn’t see much of it! This is a chance to play a part that is present in nearly every RPG and adventure game ever made but usually taken for granted: the town you visit between quests.

This idea owes an obvious debt to the various fantastic simulations produced by Maxis and Bullfrog. In this case, the player begins a very modest accommodation, perhaps a single cottage with a spare room to rent out to passing adventurers. Using the money earned for room and board, the player can expand their offering, eventually building up a majestic city. By adding things like blacksmiths, alchemists, stables and academies, the town expands what is offered to the visiting heroes and will attract more and more business. The player will need to carefully set prices and choose the right goods to manufacture to meet demand. Paying attention to the chatter of the adventurers will tell the player what is going in the world around that town, providing clues about what is in need. The surrounding world would also affect the town and provide the player reasons to offer to quests, just like a proper RPG town should. Maybe your food supply is being menaced by rats, or you’ve attracted the attention of powerful dragon. Have one of the townspeople offer a bounty and maybe a brave warrior will get the job done for you, so long as you are providing quality equipment!

At it’s core, the game is mostly about growing an economy, but I think that having the player’s town existing withing the larger simulation of a fantasy world adds an interesting element to the play. The player can’t go out and participate in all the action, but will hopefully be able to infer patterns and make logical predictions to maximize their utility. Plus, the fantasy setting allows for a lot of fun flavor in how the different elements of the economy are represented. Some possible buildings could include:

  • Blacksmith - Produces, repairs and improves weapons and armor. Increasing the quality of the smith will attract higher level heroes looking for better items. This is also where adventurers can sell raw materials or used equipment, which can then be scrapped, modified or re-sold. Provides an opportunity to offer quests for special components to make high end equipment. Appeals especially to warriors.
  • Tavern - Increase the attraction of the town, especially to bards, rogues and thieves. Provides a place to gather information about the world through eavesdropping on conversations.
  • Alchemist - Maker of the all important potion. Much like the smith, but with subtle differences in the mechanics of production. This might be particularly appealing to wizards.
  • Farms, Mines, etc - Provide the raw materials to manufacture goods. Also provide a great point to be harassed by bandits and monsters, requiring the aid of heroes to rid you of the nuisance.
  • Stables, Aviaries, etc - Provide travel, increasing the variety of adventurers that will visit as well as expanding the player’s range of influence in the world, possibly opening up access to new materials or trade with other villages.
  • Monuments - Pure spectacle, increasing the prestige of your city. Perhaps these could have requirements to earn them, such a hero completing an epic quest using your city as a base.

It would be easy to go on forever with these, especially with such a rich history of games to draw inspiration from.

Finally, the idea of other towns existing in the same world offers the obvious potential for multiplayer, which could add a fun element of competition and/or cooperation. Definitely a feature worth putting on the wish list!

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Idea #4 - Underground RTS

A 2d RTS would be nothing new, even the most recent ones effectively play out in a 2d world, even if they have fancy 3d graphics… but what if it was a side view? Of course shortly after this idea hatched, I remembered that there was already a very cool game that took this approach, but that hardly means there isn’t plenty of room for exploration in the space. In any case, I must give some inspirational credit to Creeper World 2, a fantastic and original game that everyone should play. Don’t hesitate to check out the first one, either.

Anyway, on with the idea: Some sort of cataclysm has made the surface of the Earth uninhabitable, driving the human race underground and leading to fighting over scarce resources. Pretty standard fare, but in this case the scenario should really come through in the game play. Resource management will be a key element of the games strategy. The player will have deep control over the generation, distribution and consumption of power within their base. What system can run at reduced power? Are your power lines vulnerable to attack, or maybe you use a wireless transmission technology, but what are the side effects on the areas it passes through? Can you meet both the sustained power needs, as well as sudden peaks, such as a high powered weapon firing? Maybe you should build a set of large capacitors to allow your defenses to sustain operation under load. The source of power generation would also be rife with side effects to consider. Sure, you can find oil deposits in the rock, but what happens when you burn fossil fuels in a cave? Better make sure your air scrubbers are up to the task. Maybe you can find a nice geothermal vent, or perhaps go nuclear and hope you can keep the reactors operating safely.

I’ve got to mention another game at this point for doing a great job with a complex resource management system: Super Energy Apocalypse

The other half of the game, combat, would really provide for some fun new ways to trash an opponents base. Try digging up underneath an important building, blasting the foundation right out from under it, or unleash an avalanche or flood from above. You’ll need to take advantage of various types of sensors such as sonar, seismographic and EMF fluctuation in order to get early warnings on enemy attacks. Once you engage, the units would engage in the standard firefight, but I can see the element of surprise along with some clever tricks and traps really fueling a fun new experience.

And besides, who doesn’t like games about digging these days? :)

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Idea #3 - Too Many Cooks

This idea started out not as a game, but more of an idea for an experiment about games that I’ve been kicking around for a while. To state it simply, the idea is a game that consists of designing a game. The name derives from the proverb “too many cooks spoil the broth”, which certainly suggests my skepticism at the quality of the end product, though I can certainly imagine the process being quite fun!

The first seeds of this idea were planted long ago and have only continued to grow and flourish as I’ve accumulated experience making games, and especially reading their related forums. The thing is, people often don’t really know what they actually want. The features and changes that players will rally behind, while frequently seeming like a good idea at first glance, would actually not address the underlying problem. This is a place that I think one of the most key skills of a good designer comes into play: sifting through all the noise to find the ultimate root of an issue and address it there. But that is not what this game is about, it is about putting that all aside and seeing what happens. It is about building “The Homer”.

To really fully realize this would require a team of developers ready to implement the design, but it could certainly also be reduced to in scope to operate within a set of restraints, such as the capabilities of a fancy level editor. Technical complexity aside though, it is a rather simple game, consisting of a series of votes starting broadly (e.g. genre, setting, perhaps even platform) and eventually narrowing down to very specific proposals (e.g. reduce the damage of the rocket launcher by 5 points). In this way the game could probably considered a specialization of Nomic, starting out with a more explicit goal and tailoring the rules such that this goal could never be subverted. After the initial few votes establishing the broadest parameters, most of the votes would be driven by player proposals, so the game would need to furnish some sort of discussion forum, as well as a way for the players to try out each iteration.

So, there you have it. What started out as a an idea for an experiment to prove a cynical point becomes a game which, as I’m writing this and thinking about, I actually want to play now.

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Idea #2 - The Heist

If there is one thing I love in games, it’s upgrading. There is something incredibly satisfying about the whole process of gathering the resources and then using them to get new powers. I’ve stuck with some not so great games far longer than I’d care to admit just for the sake of earning those upgrades. So with that in mind, I set out to come up with a game with upgrades!

Now, there are a number of genres out there that, particularly popular in Flash games, that really center on upgrading, but I wanted something a little different. That’s where the heist comes in. Another thing I love is a good (or even not so good sometimes) heist movie. This seems like something that would naturally lend itself to video games, but sadly there have been few examples. Monaco looks incredibly promising, Syndicate was a great game that was in the ballpark, Introversion was working on the very impressive, but currently suspended Subversion… and that is about all I can come up with.

The Heist will take a lot of cues from the tower defense genre, but in this case it is more like playing the aggressor than the defender. You play as the mastermind, assembling your specialized team of demolition experts, stealthy burglars, tech experts, safe crackers and thuggish muscle. Buy better equipment and train of their skills (there’s the upgrades!) to help them evade or subdue guards and security systems. As the mastermind, it’s your job to control how the team deploys and what routes they take and activate special events, think like the mega weapons or “god powers” from the RTS genre.

The game should have pretty constant action, which would lend itself great to playing on a tablet with a touch screen. Even though it is at its core a very traditional TD, Kingdom Rush comes pretty close to matching the general feel I’m aiming for with this idea, in terms of having a steady stream of interaction from the player. It’s also just a pretty great game, definitely worth playing!

Number two comes to a close a bit late, but I’ve got another in my head and ready to go already, so perhaps I’ll be caught up soon! As always, I’d love to hear feedback, so leave a comment or find me on twitter @jasonjmorales

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Idea #1 - The Roguelike Shmup

(I’m not really coming at this project with any sort of rules or structure as to what constitutes these ideas, so this one is coming off as just sort of a rough collection of key elements. Hopefully as the project continues I’ll develop more of a standard process. Feedback is welcome!)

I’ve never been a hardcore roguelike player, but I’ve certainly spent a fair amount of time with them and had some fun. What I’ve spent a ton of time on though are a couple of games from other genres that have had the elements of a roguelike bleed into them. Namely Spelunky and The Binding of Isaac. The former is a 2d platformer, the latter a Zelda style dungeon crawl. Both are incredibly fun and highly recommended. (Minecraft is another game I think you could make an argument for being at least roguelikish).

My takeaway from this is that obvious there need to be more experiments in blending this genre!

Since one of the key elements of the roguelike is starting out quite helpless and then collecting cool gear and/or power-ups as you explore, this seemed to naturally lend itself to the “shmup”, particularly those in the Gradius family, an old favorite with a fun system of weapon upgrades.

Naturally the game would give you the choice of several hulls to pick from with different characteristics for like speed, handling, number of weapon mounts, etc. As you progress, you outfit the ship with standard fare of lasers and missiles and stronger thrusters, as well has some (hopefully) surprising and unusual equipment. A key fun factor in this genre is the interactions of of various elements in the game. Especially when something unexpectedly works the way you’d expect it to. What I mean by this is that situation where something surprising happens that makes complete sense within the rules that the game has established, but would never have occurred in a typical game, where the rules are not enforced universally. (Magicka is a fantastic example of game getting great results from a few simple logical rules being enforced without exception)

Another key element is randomness - a roguelike is never the same game twice, primarily due to randomly generated levels. This is a key justification for this design to me; I’ve found that these shooters tend to lose some magic as you play the levels over and over again and you start to learn patterns. I know for some people that is the draw of the genre, but there are plenty of bullet hell games to satisfy that craving. A roguelike is about exploration… but that feels a bit at odds with a genre of games that typically moves the level along automatically from left to right, usually not even giving you control of the speed with which it progresses. Surprisingly we can dig deep into video game history for a starting place:  Defender. In defender, you can change the direction your ship is facing and there is a nice inertia to the movement that could easily make for some fun, tricky maneuvering. Coupling the direction change with some verticality in the level layout and now you’ve got opportunity for exploration.

The last piece of the game that I put a little thought into was the setting. Nothing groundbreaking here, but I came up with a rough outline for four acts that would allow for covering all of the classic environments of the genre:

  • Act I - Alien forces attack your colony, pursue them into space and attack their mothership
  • Act II - The enemy is routed, but they sabotaged your computers. Fight your way into your own base to disable the rogue system.
  • Act III - While the base was out of control, it let loose the controls on some dangerous research, take out the xenomorphs run amok
  • Act IV - Another experiment gone haywire, this time you are sent into a psychedelic rift full of physics-bending mechanics.

Of course with that last act the temptation to give go with a mind bending "The Black Hole" ending would be overwhelming :)

Well, that wraps up number one. I actually had more to say about it than I thought… maybe it went a little too long? Let me know!

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52 Game ideas

A few years ago, Patrick Curry (the blog seems to be unreachable right now unfortunately, but it seems to be well archived in Google’s cache) [Edit: Link removed as the site seems to have been hijacked] did a project where he posted a new game idea every week for a whole year. I thought it sounded like fun and decided to play along, though in my own notebooks rather than posting them online. I only managed thirty or so, but it was a good experience. Now that some time has passed I’ve decided to have another go at it, in a more public setting. Perhaps the extra pressure will keep me on target.

Being the 14th already, that means I owe two. I do have them in the queue, I should have them written up and posted this weekend.

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Long overdue…

Finally starting a blog. Mostly I intend to discuss game design, development and culture, since that is sort of my thing. The title comes from the book “Homo Ludens" and refers to the nature of play taking place in a "sacred" space, separate from reality. It was an interesting read, perhaps I’ll discuss it further in the future.

If you don’t know who I am, my name is Jason Morales and I’m a programmer, currently working for Kixeye and previously at S2 Games. I love pretty much every aspect of games and have a lot to say on the subject, this will finally be my outlet. I’m always happy to answer questions, so to get things rolling feel free to ask away!

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