I've decided that many of my problems looking for a new project stem from having two objectives for my games. The first is to try to make "indie quality" games: to satisfy my wish to become a game designer, and to have at least a slight chance at being able to make my own games full time. The second involves expanding the scope of games, in particular through tailoring content to player choices leading to the success of my largest project, "Project Ivan", the interactive storytelling project.
Logically, the best way to satisfy the first project would be to pick some simple game concept that has minimal art requirements, so I could do all the programming myself and either do my own art or find a single artist to help me. However, thinking of a great game concept is proving difficult, and there's a big part of me that really wants to get moving on my languishing "Project Ivan", even though due to the immense amount of research required it will take years (or even decades) to properly complete. I guess that's why I don't want to waste any more time starting on it. Thankfully, since the goal of "Project Ivan" is to implement interactive storytelling "as well as is possible" I can work my way up in small steps. Each step might be a little bit too ambitious, but it might be achievable that way.
So I've decided that until I can think of a great small project that really inspires me, I'll start work on a subproject that has the rudimentary start on "Project Ivan". While I do this, I'll also try to brainstorm up some other decent game ideas, write up a small treatment on each, and if they still seem sensible after a fortnight of deliberation then I might go with them.
My first subproject towards "Project Ivan" is a gameplay technology test, which I've decided to codename "Project Jack". It's a simple dungeon hack'n slash game. The gameplay itself I'm leaving undefined until I have a chance to play around with the implementation. At the moment I'm envisaging it to play something like a combination of Gauntlet, Zelda, Secret of Mana and Diablo. Maybe a bit of Prince of Persia and Golden Axe as well [smile]. At the moment I'm planning a game engine with a series of "playground" levels, where I can test out a bunch of gameplay elements to see how well I can implement them. After I do that, I'll take which ones I think work best together and build a game out of them.
The problem with leaving the gameplay so nebulous at this stage, however, is I'm still undecided on how the game should look. I'm fairly sure I should be using a tile-based system, but the viewpoint I choose is important for the type of gameplay I want. Which one I pick will influence how the game plays in a number of ways, and all of them have their strengths and weaknesses.
I'll provide a few of the choices here, with some concept art I've mocked up, to see if I can illustrate my options.
The first option is a Gauntlet-style overhead view. This one is great for having simple tiles, and I can put in some good simple 2D combat and puzzles here. The downside is that it looks pretty simple, and the gameplay is fairly fixed as 2D. It also looks a bit ugly having a totally top-down view, so the characters will have to be skewed a bit, making the view inaccurate.
The second option is to provide a view of one of the walls in a room, while leaving the other three as per the first style. This helps provide a sense of depth, and can make some different height levels possible. I'm not sure whether to mask characters if they get too close to that bottom wall or not. It's also a bit hard to put many features on the three non-viewable walls.
The third option is the "Zelda:Link to the Past" style of providing views of all four walls, giving the game a sort of fish-eye peering-into-a-dungeon look. This provides all four walls to do stuff with, and gives the game a fairly fun cartoonish look. It does use up a lot of screen-space for those extra walls though, and might be a little bit too "Zeldaish", maybe? (I'm not wanting the game to be a carbon copy of that game, although the hero has a definite "Link" feel to him right now [smile])
A fourth option is to go with the standard side view used in most SNES era RPGs (Final Fantasy, Secret of Mana) as well as the side-scrolling beat-em-ups like Double Dragon and Golden Axe. This is great for detailed combat, especially if jumps are to be included. However, the game space is then best represented by large spaces with different types of puzzles, as with this choice large objects (such as the ubiquitous crate pushing puzzles) will obstruct the view of the action. It also makes small rooms, like the one shown in the picture here, rather silly looking.
There's a few other options as well. I could go with a proper isometric view, I guess. Or I could combine two of these views, such as going with an overhead view for moving around a map and "warping" to the side view for battles (a la most RPGs). Given I'm not too decided on the gameplay elements at this stage, it's a bit hard to choose.
While the choice is ultimately up to me, based on what I want the game to become, I'd be happy to read anyone's opinion on the matter. I'm fairly undecided on this right now.