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Pet Game Design Related Thoughts Copied From VPL

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These are three older entries copied (with a bit of editing) from my equivalent of this developer journal over on the Virtual Pet List forum. I'm copying them here because I wanted to follow up with the new one I just wrote, and they probably should have been copied here in the first place because they're about game design. I make no guarantee that they aren't redundant with the multi-part guide that comprised the previous 16(?) entries in this journal. If anyone wants to comment on these, you're welcome to, regardless of the fact that they are kind of old. smile.png

Subgenres Of Pet Game I Like

I have for quite a while wanted to join a pet game project that is getting started as a co-designer. So, I thought I would make describe the different types of pet games I would be interested in creating.

1. Single Player Breeder Tycoon Sims (ranching games)
2. Single Player RPG where the player uses a deck of pet cards or a small army of pet units on a tactical battlefield to fight
3. MMO games where all of the monsters in the game are captureable, and pet breeding is a crafting-like activity which involves playing minigames.

In all of these cases I'm generally interested in a breed-em-all dynamic with fantasy pets (e.g. breed a lion and an eagle to get a griffin). I am imagining a system with somewhere between 200 and 1000 types of pets (eg. pink fox would be one type and purple fox a different type, so it's not as many as it sounds like). I also have a strong preference for humorous, cheerful, cute or beautiful games, and the story optionally could include romance. I'm not really interested in anything where the world is supposed to be dark and bloody and constant fighting.

1. Single Player Breeder Tycoon Sims - Here I am talking about a flash or PC game like Celebrity Pedigree, Fish Tycoon, Plant Tycoon, or a similar game but with combat added. In addition to the CCG (collectible card game) and tactical (army on a chessboard) types of combat mentioned above, one other type of combat that could combine nicely with a breeder tycoon game is tower defense, particularly like that seen in Plants vs. Zombies.

A game of this type would have two main screens: a breeding screen and a combat screen. In the breeding screen the player builds and upgrades nests, hatches eggs, takes care of babies which emote their needs, and unlocks new types of pets for combat use by raising one to adulthood. In the combat screen the player uses the units they have unlocked so far to fight increasingly high level monsters; when killed these monsters drop crafting resources used to build and upgrade nests, consumable items used to raise babies, some sort of currency or resource spent to breed pets and possibly to buy more upgrades and consumables from a shop, and rare eggs or consumable items used to mutate adults. So the player alternates between the two modes until they have unlocked all possible kinds of pets (become the master pet breeder of the world). This achievement should unlock a boss fight, basically the end of the game.

2. Single Player RPG where the player uses a deck of pet cards or a small army of pet units on a tactical battlefield to fight. - Some examples of this type of game include PS1 games like Eternal Eyes or, although not a pet game, Disgaea is a great example of a modern tactical RPG. For a CCG RPG the old Magic the Gathering Game Shandalar for the PC was a great example of an RPG where the player collects cards and builds an increasingly good deck with which to defeat increasingly high level opponents.

In either a tactical or CCG context it again makes a lot of sense to give the player a goal of unlocking all units or collecting all cards. For a typical RPG the player would be given one new unit or card as a reward for completing each sub area (optionally they would have to breed the subtypes from this and their other owned units/cards) and completing this collection would coincide with having explored the whole map and unlocked the final boss battle. The main difference between a single player RPG and a tycoon SIM is that the RPG has a lot more NPCs and story, while the SIM has more sim gameplay such as monitoring the needs of maturing eggs and babies.

3. MMO games where all of the monsters in the game are captureable, and pet breeding is a crafting-like activity which involves playing minigames. - This type of game is impractically large to develop unless someone has a few thousand dollars to invest. But since I play a lot of MMOs I enjoy thinking about how I would design one, including a pet system which is an improvement on those in the MMOs I have played. Personally I'd be more interested in an MMOSIM (like A Tale In The Desert plus combat) than in a standard MMORPG or a forum+minigames arrangement like NeoPets or Gaia Online.

I could see doing either a 2D MMO with anime/cartoon style graphics, or a 3D MMO with fantasy graphics (Perfect World is a fairly nice example). I could see doing either a level-based progression or a level-less game which would be more PvP friendly - if everyone is the same level it's a lot easier to find opponents with whom you are fairly matched. I could see either making the main combat system tactical, like that of Dofus, or making two parallel combat systems - a realtime one for human avatars and a tactical one for pets.

I mention A Tale In The Desert because I would like to have a similar system where players do a lot of gathering and crafting of personal items like custom houses, storage chests, and appliances which are used for further kinds of crafting. I'd be quite interested in including a dating-sim like system where players could court the NPCs, as well as a non-romantic larger-scale version of the same system where players built reputation with various factions to unlock access to special mounts, clothing, etc.

A New Pet Game Type: Time Management Pet Crafting

I don't know if this idea is new in general, or just new to me and someone else already thought of it. But I love time management games (such as Ranch Rush), which are like the non-combat version of a real-time strategy game (such as Warcraft/Starcraft). I also like speedpuzzle minigames ranging from Freaky Factory to Vasebreaker. The two share a structure where each level is a mission with its own goal or multiple goals, and within each mission the player may gather resources, build up infrastructure or defensive structure, and there is either a time limit or other loss condition. The excitement of the game comes from the need to think fast; even grindy resource gathering is more interesting when you have to figure out which resource you need this mission and grab it as quickly and efficiently as possible. This kind of constructive gameplay (as opposed to destructively slaughtering opponents) tends to appeal to the same audience segment who like building up a collection of pets and/or raising an individual pet to have great stats and abilities.

But, what the heck does this speedy gameplay have to do with pet games? Well, In general I think of breeding and raising pets as a crafting activity. Crafting activities are generally about gathering up all the resources to fulfill a recipe, which might require pre-crafting such as growing a tree to get a needed type of fruit from it, or pre-processing such as squishing the fruit into juice, which in turn might require infrastructure build up such as crafting a juicer first, and resource gathering such as gathering water to water the tree, etc. So, for each pet there could be a recipe, and gathering all the materials to fulfill the recipe would be one mission. That would be a basic low-level pet, but higher level pets might require several missions to fulfill sub-recipes.

I think this could be really successful because obtaining each pet is more time consuming yet also more interesting that wading through random combat to find that one pet you want to capture. I can imagine a player spending several hours to get an epic pet and not being bored during the process, provided care was taken to make the goals within each recipe not be too repetitious and the recipes have varied requirements so the player isn't gathering the same resource for every pet.

Pets = Bottomless Pits, Food = Xp
(a new-to-me dynamic encountered in Dragon City FB game)

Recently I played the game Dragon City (on facebook) and one thing I particularly liked about the game is the mechanism for making the pets progress from baby to adult. You feed them to make them grow up, but it's not one of those annoying systems where you have to feed the pet every X amount of time to prevent it from getting sick or dying. Instead you can feed any pet whenever you want, because food functions as the pet's experience points. I think this would be awesomely compatible with a minigame, for example pinball, Tetris, or a solitaire card game. The game could pay out in pet food (plus rare bonus items or small amounts of money). The player can then distribute the food to level up whichever creatures they want to work on that day. This could give players a use for playing the minigame several times a day, without flooding the economy with the game's currency.
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