Hi everyone, this is an idea I've been thinking about. I admit that it is only theoretical, I have no capability to make it thus far. I'd be interested to hear what you think of it--would it work? Would you play it? Would it be sustainable? I have three much more specific questions at the bottom, too.
I've tried to keep this post as short as possible, so I've just sketched the outline of how the game would work. If this gets interest I'll post more details later, but in any case they will be of minor importance.
First, an overview:
I'm hoping that this game will basically become three games in one: (1) A permadeath survival MMO for people who want to explore a big world, hunt animals to avoid starvation, and run away from scary monsters to avoid death. (2) A non-standard RTS where players control a tribe of creatures and lead them to prosperity, without any central "base." (3) A cerebral meta-game of creative creature design, hopefully as complicated as the deck-design metagame in Magic: the Gathering.
Now, for the point-by-point details:
1.) Have an extremely large open world; only one shard. This is possible with a lot of money, but I have an idea for how to (maybe) do it without money. Make it 2D if necessary; the graphics don’t have to be good. I’m thinking something like Age of Empires at worst, Skyrim at best.
2.) Have an extremely complicated and diverse creature-creation system, with many different stats and variables. Particularly stats and variables that allow the creatures to feed, grow, reproduce, starve, and die. If ordinary biology isn’t a rich enough substrate to support the desired diversity, no problem—we’ll add a magic system to the mix. This part of the design will take a lot of work to do, but it isn’t difficult; it has probably been done before. It would be fun to do it; I’d love to do it myself.
3.) Have an AI design component as well. Make it detailed and flexible, but have a library of pre-made functions to make it user-friendly for the newbies. The processing power that your creature's AI uses up every second would be one of the stats (Brain size!) of the creature design system, so you would have an incentive to make simple-but-effective AI's, while still having the freedom to make really smart but weak creatures.
4.) So much for the setup. Now to tie it all together: Use the open world to run an ecosystem simulation, with player-designed creatures and plants to fill it. Players would design creatures in the dedicated creature design app, and then “launch” them into the world. They would move around, eat, fight, reproduce etc. completely independent of any player control, according to the AI that their designer gave them.
5.) Already-designed creatures would be patented, but there would be an easy tool to create a spin-off creature that is almost the same. This is how new players would get into the game; it would be too much to ask that they design something from scratch! After a creature goes extinct, the patent expires.
6.) Have a macro that would keep track of overall server stats, like which species are doing well and which have gone extinct, etc. Give players various tools to observe the ecosystem, at the very least through a traditional RTS-style overhead camera.
7.) Give the players the ability to control their own creatures via an RTS-style interface. They can’t leave their creatures unsupervised for long, or their AI’s will take over, but they can micro and macro their tribe of creatures to medium-level success (after which there will be too many to handle, and it is all up to the AI.)
8.) Finally, give the players a way to enter the world themselves, to move around it in the form of a human—a caveman! This would be a permadeath survival game in itself, like Minecraft or Don’t Starve.
9.) The thing to emphasize with the previous two sections that they are not supposed to significantly impact the rest of the game. Players may wander about killing some creatures and leading others to reproductive success, but overall the game is so large, and so dominated by teeming masses of bots, that the overall success of a creature you design depends almost entirely on the way you designed it.
10.) Note on the metagame: The goal is to have a continually evolving metagame, where players notice which creatures are dominating and design new creatures specifically to prey on them, creating an endless cycle of evolution and balancing much like the real world. The danger is that this won’t happen—perhaps there will be too few “good” creature designs, and perhaps it will be too hard to design creatures that can prey on them. If this happens, then the game will stagnate. Most of the preparation that we will do to avoid this will be in step #2 above, but one of the things we can do is implement widely different biomes (terrain) and occasionally have weather events that shuffle everything up for a time. This should at the very least make the “good creatures list” differ from place to place and time to time.
Some specific questions:
A-I'm worried that the hardware requirements would be too massive for this game, even if we make it 2D. The main reason is that the AI's will be fairly advanced for each creature, and there will be around a thousand creatures per player. Is this an insurmountable problem? Any ideas on how to get around it?
B-There is an awkward balance to be maintained, between fast reproduction rates and slow reproduction rates. I want this to be a game where you can create a creature, and then watch over the course of several days as it slowly populates the server (if it is fit!) or slowly dies out (if it is not fit) The easiest way to do this would be to have reproduction, eating, etc. all take a significant amount of time, so that perhaps it would take an hour or so for a creature to reproduce. But if it takes that long to reproduce, then the RTS idea won't work! No one wants to micromanage a tribe of creatures for an hour just to get them to have one round of babies. Any ideas on how to fix this?
C- I detect a potential conflict between the cavemen and the RTS-controlled tribes: With a decent sized tribe, an RTS player could probably surround and overwhelm any caveman or group of cavemen. Is this a problem? Hopefully it would actually be a positive feature of the game--cavemen would have to be extra wary of preying on RTS-controlled tribes, but at the same time said tribes would have to realize that it would cost them a lot of time and effort to hunt down and kill a resourceful caveman.