I have a most interesting life: A book that is about to be published, a job with a boss that tries to give me two hours to do work that will take two days, and a magically replenishing To Do List of items that are idiotic, mundane and completely unavoidable (includes: "Was burning smell while driving due to the paper towel the mechanic left in my engine? And what the hell are rocks doing near the altenator? Note to self: Find new mechanic.")
Ever get the bug for putting some feature into your design and have it drive you crazy, to the extent that you're wondering what in the nine hells possessed you to try and add it in the first place? For me, this lovely little design apocalypse has been family. Right now I hate the very concept, and if I didn't already shave my head every day I'd be tearing out my hair.
Here's the basic problem: Straylight has the ambition of making time pass and the world change around you. I wanted to draw in two types of gamers into this world, the more hardcore RPG and strategy gamers and the more casual Sim or builder players. (I'll bet you that was my first mistake.)
If time passes and nothing changes, the illusion of a living, breathing world (often the aspiration of every open-ended game) will vanish. Everyone will seem immortal and everything will seem ageless. This is just the right feel for a medieval game, but is a disaster for a science fiction game.
So for months I've been trying to figure out how to give you two strategic options and make them matter: A player run dynasty, or some sort of faction. A faction, which can be anything from a starship crew to a thieves guild or even some sort of simple in-game business works just fine (on paper anyway). But a family introduces a number of problems, most prominently based around two things: Gameplay, and aesthetics.
Why have a family? At the most mercenary level, I first thought of it as being a kind of continue system. But that doesn't work because in an RPG-like game you invest heavily in a single character and by doing so, become emotionally attached. This makes the events in the game world more visceral and lifelike. So the "aesthetics" of an RPG (heroic involvement in a grand world) clash with the aesthetics of family (personal and often mundane drama on a small scale)
Okay, so what if I could shift the focus from a single character to a bloodline? No, that turns the game more into a management sim. Well, what if the game were more episodic and you played important roles at different times in the family's history? Nah, now we're really getting off track.
So what I've been discovering (the hard way) is that my thinking isn't at all yet clear on major area of the design. I don't yet know if this is a completely dead end that I should abandon and move past. I still have some hope that I can at least create the right feel with the Montage Mode I've talked about before, so it doesn't seem right to just completely dump it yet.
Briefly, I've been thinking of doing this:
-I've had in mind a whole faction system. I could just simply make family no different save for that they're faction members who are more likely than not to be ultraloyal. As a trade off, you wouldn't be able to modify them (cybernetically, genetically) like devoted hirelings, though.
-Anything that's messy and complicated about family (like rebellious children, or sibling rivalry) would either be dumped or put into Montage Mode, meaning you're presented with situations that in turn spawn world settings.
-In Montage Mode, your character's personality traits could trigger family related events. This is similar to Tropico. Not the best solution (as you're not in control), but at least it retains the taste (aesthetics again) of an RPG
What I still don't yet know is how to handle succession at death. The design already calls for your character to die after a certain amount of time (unless you find a fountain of youth or become post-human/AI). That's necessary for suspension of disbelief, I strongly think. And the story says that for some reason you keep being reborn.
But who do you play? One of your offspring? Or someone a generation or more later?
I don't have a real solution to this yet. As usual, more later (hopefully sooner than later this time around, though).