This is my design sketch that goes with me wherever I go, and has all the details needed for me to explain the game concept to someone to get quick feedback if I ever want to. I generally pull it out when I meet up with friends at game conferences, other times it's when I'm bored and forgot to bring a book to the waiting room of whatever appointment or something I find myself in and want to conceptualize and visualize the game.
What is the game? Drop Zone (a working title too common to probably be the final) is one of those ideas that's been bouncing around inside my head for several years now. I first drew this design sketch back in 2011 while at my cousin's in California the weekend before the Game Developers Conference, when my creative game dev juices are all fired up temporarily without the distractions of normal life back home. The original idea dates back to around 2005 and was a very complex draft idea. Later in 2007 I went back and did a lot of simplifying to make it easier to maybe one day whip up a prototype version. The 2011 sketch on the notepad paper above is the most basic version yet to test the overall concept of the game.
Do you know about the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment? The Night Stalkers are a group of bad-ass chopper pilots for the Army that handle the transportation of special forces for insertion, extraction and support operations. If you want to go deep into enemy territory and stand a good chance of making it back out, these are the guys who will do it - willingly and with much desire. I've always loved the concept of hot insertion/extractions to an LZ and wondered how I could capture this in a video game. Drop Zone's "one-liner" therefore is essentially you being a bad-ass drop ship commander tasked with moving troops around a map to engage the enemy and gain superiority. Initially (2005), I envisioned this as an MMO (of course) or at least a fully 3D Action/RPG where you piloted the drop ship that carried other players as troops. These are the two treatments I came up with, for a single and multiplayer version of the game:
Thankfully in 2007 I came to my damn senses about both MMOs and my own capabilities and entirely reworked the game concept into something I felt was more feasible for me to accomplish on my own. I decided to focus more on the player flying the drop ship and less about dealing with anything else in the game. The troops became autonomous, and the top-down perspective added some additional challenge to flying while still enabling the use of simple physics and graphics. I had a lot of great ideas like the concept of Morale and the effects of troops on drop ships and the idea that there were two games happening at once, only one of which you had full control over. I really liked how the top-down perspective made you need to really get the feel for a map to know how to use it properly - imagine if you wanted to make a quick drop to a zone over some mountains but forgot to check your load and now can't fly high enough to clear them? How high are those mountains anyways? You'd have to fly over them on a recon to check and then make note of the altitude. The more refined and down-to-Earth design document can be read here:
Since then all I've had is the piece of paper at the top of this post, and it depicts a few changes. First is the map itself. I chucked the idea of Battle Zones and instead went with a straight-up Tower Defense model. At least, I think it could be called Tower Defense - I'll admit I've never really played a Tower Defense game. But the map shows trails (dotted lines) along the ground, and along these trails units patrol, either by land or sea. The small circles are build pad areas (diagrammed to the left of the reverse side) and the small squares are auxiliary bases you can control (diagrammed in the lower-right of the reverse side). You no longer "secure" Drop Zones, the DZs are just areas where troops will automatically offload. If a circle is off a dotted line any troops landed there will simply secure that site. The more build pads and auxiliary bases you make use of, the higher your army's Morale. You get a bigger boost for wresting control of a build pad - essentially your Morale bonus plus the Morale you took from the other player. The new overall concept is to just dump troops off at Drop Zones along roads/waterways so they patrol to the enemy base and attack it. Sure, you could start dropping troops at the DZ closest to the enemy but if you factor in ferry time and the slow initial pace of troop training at the start of the game, this cheesy tactic will fail as the other player secures build pads and speeds up his army production to send waves of troops to your door before you can knock his down. He can even drop them on the map partway to your base to reduce ferry time as they will patrol unhindered since you will be dropping all your troops closer to his base and not be setting up any defensive build pads.
I've also changed the controls concept from keyboard-based to controller-based. I'd like to do everything with a gamepad and so troops became even more autonomous. They still radio to you what they are doing, but no longer ask for your input. All units facing defeat will retreat to the nearest Drop Zone and call in for a pickup. If you don't get them they will hold the Drop Zone until they all die. All units wounded after an attack will rest and recuperate for a time at the next build pad along their path to the enemy base and await pickup for treatment back at your base. If you don't get there in time they will patrol onwards to the next DZ, possibly encountering an enemy patrol and not surviving the ensuing battle. All units still in good health after a battle will continue their patrol to the enemy base. So while you have no direct control over your troops once they are on the ground, you can keep track of what they are doing. I like to imagine the radio chatter will add a lot to the overall tension of the game in progress.
Landing at a DZ, whether at a build pad site, an auxiliary base or the main base will also switch controls over from flight to ground mode so you can use the joysticks and buttons to do things like assign engineers to build things or make adjustments to your building settings at the main base. A single button will snap you back into flight mode so you can make a hasty departure if needed. I like the idea of being restricted to a gamepad for control, I feel it helps me streamline the game having a limited amount of options for what the player can do at a given moment. It also had an affect on the gameplay itself, forcing me to re-think the behavior of ground units into what I feel is a more separated experience that focuses the game even more on flying the drop ship and being that bad-ass commander getting your troops in and out of the fire.
I've been playing a lot of Monaco lately, and it's really gotten me inspired to take another look at my Drop Zone concept. I feel it's got a chance to capture the same type of fun co-op play that Monaco has, for a different audience of gamers. I got to catch up with Andy for a little bit at GDC this year but never got a chance to run the full game idea by him for some feedback. Even after all these years, I'm still not sure when this will go from concept to prototype, and with what (probably Unity) but in the meantime I figure that before I get started I might as well continue to see what other people think of the idea. I invite you to leave thoughts in the comments.