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Level editing to solve environmental challenges?

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Imagine that you're building a colony from scratch in a hostile world filled with monsters, bandits, flashfloods and hurricanes... from a personal, RPG-like perspective. Would it be interesting to solve these and other environmental problems with "lego" like building pieces? What I'm specifically thinking about is the ability to "spray" material in order to build structures from a third person perspective. This would aid you in solving environmental challenges, both that you face personally (in terms of navigating a level) and that a community of NPCs might face. Introducing The Construction Cannon The construction cannon would "spray" a level item into existence based on nanites and your library of templates. If you were in a ruined city, for instance, and needed to get across a chasm, you could "spray" a bridge into existence. If you needed to get to an open door high up on a wall, you could spray a ramp to the location. Or, if you were being hounded by enemies, you could spray a wall into existence. You could customize the template to stretch, scale or transform the object through specially articulated points (creating, for instance, and arched bridge to bear more weight, or curved bridge to round corners). The speed at which the item was sprayed in would depend on its complexity, size and the quality of the cannon. Solving Community Problems Your ability to spray objects into existence wouldn't stop with your own personal needs. More expensive construction cannon, mounted onto vehicles, could spray buildings, walls and bridges into existence. If you found a town that was trapped on an island due to a washed out bridge, for instance, you could create one. The bridge could either be an automated toll bridge, or you could give it to the town, thus improving your reputation. Obviously, if this feature existed in game, the game world would have to be providing continuous environmental challenges. But I'm imagining an Earth ravaged by climate instability and rogue nanotech. So you'd have monsoons near England, for example, massive windstorms near Tokyo, or roaming constructs and bandits haunting the outskirts of an armored Los Angeles. Plenty to do, IOW [smile] Thoughts?

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Im working on a game that has little to do with this - it's a 3D RPG that has a level style with fairly basic geometric shapes (I am paying homage to my 2D tiled roots) - part of my inspiration was from the SimCity 3000 Building Architect tool, which features an array of basic geometric shapes that can be used to construct all manner of buildings.

Even if the shape of your models is more detailed than the basic geometric shapes, you can still use the geometric model for the underlying cost relationship. By controlling both cost and material availability you have a pretty decent resource conservation problem.

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I like the idea, but it would be a little bit like the Gravity Gun. Once people figure out how versatile it is, they'll never want to use anything else. They'll be building kennels around their enemies, erecting transmission towers to crash helicopters, and conjuring armies of robots to fight for them.

Obviously, it's a terrific problem-solving dynamic, but it should be carefully restricted to keep it from drawing attention away from the other parts of your game. Half-Life 2 had a lot going for it, but everyone always just talks about the freaking gravity gun (which isn't as cool as the psionic powers in Psi-Ops, which aren't as cool as the psychic powers and superb story of Second Sight).

Make sure it doesn't feel like magic. Require resources to be around. If you want to build a suspension bridge, you'll need tons of steel and concrete. These nanites can't be creating matter out there. In fact, the best situation in which to use the little guys would be for repair. If you want to build some scaffolding, the best place to do it would be where there's already some busted scaffolding. You already know that all the materials are there, and the nanites can just reconfigure them into a functioning piece of hardware.

If you actually want to build a structure from scratch, you'll need to bring the "scratch" with you. You could truck in ingots of platinum and granite and iron and tungsten (possibly harvested by nanites in another area) and turn the cannon on them to reconfigure the matter into something useful, but you won't be building a steel bunker in the middle of the desert. There's no iron there.

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Original post by wildhalcyon
Even if the shape of your models is more detailed than the basic geometric shapes, you can still use the geometric model for the underlying cost relationship. By controlling both cost and material availability you have a pretty decent resource conservation problem.


Actually, on geometry, I wonder how people would take to the idea of very plainly modeled, slightly glowing primitives that stack? Sort of like an origami concept, but with nano objects can stretch.


Definitely needs some careful thought.

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Original post by Iron Chef Carnage
I like the idea, but it would be a little bit like the Gravity Gun.


Argh! I haven't gotten a chance yet to play HL2! But you're right, I've heard again and again about that gun.

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Obviously, it's a terrific problem-solving dynamic, but it should be carefully restricted to keep it from drawing attention away from the other parts of your game.


Alright, I see this as a balance issue between combat & stealth. A construction cannon won't affect social interactions, and can even be limited or outlawed in civilized environments. So what if it becomes the swiss army knife of exploration? You can keep it from unbalancing combat (I think) by making the created structures fragile until completely assembled, which could take hours but be immediately usable. So if you try to wall someone in, they punch or blast through the forming cloud that's forming the wall.

It could become too dominant, but maybe it's a great way to simplify?

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Make sure it doesn't feel like magic. Require resources to be around. If you want to build a suspension bridge, you'll need tons of steel and concrete. These nanites can't be creating matter out there. In fact, the best situation in which to use the little guys would be for repair. If you want to build some scaffolding, the best place to do it would be where there's already some busted scaffolding. You already know that all the materials are there, and the nanites can just reconfigure them into a functioning piece of hardware.


I assumed that the tanks you hook the nanites to would be chunks of powdered or liquified building material mixed with the nanites. So a small footbridge might take a flamethrower-sized tank, whereas a small vehicle bridge might take a tanker truck?

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but you won't be building a steel bunker in the middle of the desert. There's no iron there.


Generally agreed, but this does depend on the level of tech. If you've got enough energy, you can reorganize molecules. (Course, I'd steadfastly refrain from "enough energy" and tech in all but the cool uber-items).

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Well, you seem to have a good grasp on what this thing will be capable of. I think it's a terrific idea, and I can't wait to see it in action. I had imagined a pocket-sized device that conjures buildings out of nothing. Making it a more industrial process improves it considerably in my eyes. Rock on.

Will these little guys depend on schematics, or will they be objective-driven? I just played "Clonk Planet", which is basically Lemmings on steroids. The build a structure, you choose a template and a location, and the little Clonks run over there, grab some rocks and lay a foundation, and then start dashing to nearby warehouses and natural resource locations to assemble the needed goods. Then they stand there and hammer on it until it's a building. It's more fun that I'd like to admit, especially when they start beating each other up, but there's no real way to "fix" a terrain problem, lik one lousy pixel of dirt that you can't "dig" but will stop your lumberjacks from bringing a tree to the sawmill.

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I agree with Iron Chef in that the construction cannon would cloud other more subtle features of your game, and that players would find more uses for it than you originaly intended it for.

But the thing that worries me the most is that, this basically means that factories are useless, because everything can be assembled on location - so no economy for you. Plus, it would destroy a lot of gameplay that players expect, like time being a valuable resource for construction, and having to make sure all the other resources are available. It would be a much cooler game if you chose some blueprints and a place for the building, but had to wait until your engineers built it - in the meanwhile, the guys transporting concrete from the nearest factory would start being attacked by an opposing faction. Just depending on factories would vary gameplay a lot, since a small village would have to import everything from far away locations, or rely on local resources. Even if you assume all resources are present, construction is not as simple as throwing a big chunk of metal over a terrain, realistically there are tons of issues involved, and that's why engineers are needed, instead of just some people carrying bricks to the right places.

There's also the problem that the presence of such a machine in any community would present: do you think that the big bosses would just let you mess around with their city at will? I mean, who should have the sole power of building everything there is in any community? It's a lot of responsability. What about if there were more people with the same device, and they thought things should be built differently?

It also kinda destroys the immersion. It starts feeling like a magic world instead of a technology-based world. That's the stuff sci-fi fans like about wasteland worlds, making due with what you have, instead of having everything handed to you in a platter and being told it was "constructed by nano".

I think this cannon would present more problems than it solves. In my opinion, it's the sort of black box you should avoid at all costs.

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Original post by Iron Chef Carnage
I had imagined a pocket-sized device that conjures buildings out of nothing.


[grin] Yeah, that would scream IMBALANCE ALERT!

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Making it a more industrial process improves it considerably in my eyes. Rock on.


[cool] If it turns out to be a feasbile idea worth investing the time in, it could improve the survival and community building aspect the game has settled around. (Oh, and the whole reason I suggested it at the lower level was to make it uniform-- I've taken your warnings on hijacks VERY SERIOUSLY!)

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Will these little guys depend on schematics, or will they be objective-driven?


The game world has "fabricators" which are driven by templates that you either win the right to buy (like EV:Nova's licenses) or invent yourself (via skilling up). So I guess I'm saying "both."

Do you think one is more better than another?

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I just played "Clonk Planet", which is basically Lemmings on steroids.


I loved Lemmings. Thanks for the heads up, I'm going to have to check this out!

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Original post by Jotaf
I agree with Iron Chef in that the construction cannon would cloud other more subtle features of your game, and that players would find more uses for it than you originaly intended it for.


You're right, a feature like this would need to be seriously balanced. But I have to wonder: Does it seem so risky because we mainly think of succeeding by fighting, and thus this tool looks like an uber-weapon? (What I mean is that it can only be serioulsy unbalancing if it wildly tips obstacles to the goal of the game out of the way.)

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But the thing that worries me the most is that, this basically means that factories are useless, because everything can be assembled on location - so no economy for you.


Partly true, but keep in mind that not all fabricators are created equal and there are, as part of gameplay and story, things that limit what you can build.

You're right, however, that in this scenario much of the modern world's distributed production infrastructure centralizes. But that's a real prediction of the future! As things become more efficient, the futurists (like the guy who advised for Minority Report) say that the cities will pull in and become more compact.

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Plus, it would destroy a lot of gameplay that players expect, like time being a valuable resource for construction, and having to make sure all the other resources are available.


Why? Are you thinking that this INSTANTLY happens? Because that's not it at all. And there's the issue with getting the right nanite-resource construction solution, or the mining material.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding here, but I'd think that we would expect things to be easier in the future.

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It would be a much cooler game if you chose some blueprints and a place for the building, but had to wait until your engineers built it - in the meanwhile, the guys transporting concrete from the nearest factory would start being attacked by an opposing faction.


What if this sort of thing could still happen? Try not to imagine the present just projected into the future. In ths future, the engineers would have solved the problems and paired with the programmers to create the micromachinery that analyzes and creates the foundation. Then other firms would have consolidated the nanite construction infrastructures. It doesn't have to be handwaving magic, as far as story is concerned (but it does need to be easy for gameplay).

Factions could still attack the construction cannon, or resupply tanks, or put a virus in the template, or steal it, etc., etc.


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Even if you assume all resources are present, construction is not as simple as throwing a big chunk of metal over a terrain, realistically there are tons of issues involved, and that's why engineers are needed, instead of just some people carrying bricks to the right places.


If I understand you right, you're saying that it would be more interesting for construction to have strategic dependencies? If so, I'm not against that, but they just need to be simple enough to be modeled and so that the player can understand them.

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There's also the problem that the presence of such a machine in any community would present: do you think that the big bosses would just let you mess around with their city at will? I mean, who should have the sole power of building everything there is in any community? It's a lot of responsability. What about if there were more people with the same device, and they thought things should be built differently?


This is where the community aspect of gameplay could come in handy, with social moods and politics determining how people react to your building. Heck, maybe they could even tear it down!

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It also kinda destroys the immersion. It starts feeling like a magic world instead of a technology-based world. That's the stuff sci-fi fans like about wasteland worlds, making due with what you have, instead of having everything handed to you in a platter and being told it was "constructed by nano".


I do want to respect this. I think that wastelands and colonies should have a lot more of what you're talking about (if I understand it right) in terms of resource dependencies that create strategy with a frontier feel.

The challenge is how to do it while keeping it RPG-like. RTS complexity would be too much.

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This would be a fun tool in an RTS-type game; it wouldn't really be that un-balancing as long as you still need limited resources and energy for it. Total Annihilation's build system worked kinda like this; your fabber-bots could wander around and squirt buildings into existance wherever you wanted, as long as you had the energy and metal to do so.

In an RPG-ish game... hmm. It still depends heavily on resources; you could simply have it so that you don't use it to build a wall around each enemy because that would cost too much. You could simply restrict access to how large and how fast you could make things; sure, your little man-portable hand-fabber can build a building, but do you really want to sit around for a year? Or maybe it can't build a building without some major upgrades or a better model of fabber, or maybe it's on-board memory isn't large enough to hold plans for a building.

Still, if you're looking for some way to make it in the category of "handy tool" instead of "central solution to everything"... Well, the idea of limited resources may still be useful. "Hey, I could use my fabber-gun to build a bridge across this chasm, but it would use 10 units of Fuel Goop and I only have 20 left, and I'm only half way through the dungeon; maybe I should look around for another way." That way you can't simply use it to brute-force your way through every problem, but have to try to apply it where a little bit will go a long way (instead of building a wall around an enemy, have it chase you into a hallway, then skip past and fuse the door shut behind it).

As for how this would affect the overall shape of the world... Well:
1) Either everyone has fabbers and can use them to build more fabbers, or they're heavily restricted by some government/corperation/something else. If you have such a powerful tool, there's going to be people who don't want everyone to have them.
2) Physical resources would cease to be as much of a concern, except for certain rare and important things. You could build a nuclear reactor in your back yard, but you still can't fuel it without uranium.
3) Building things like this would probably take massive amounts of energy, which means massive amounts of infrastructure. Someone has to control that infrastructure. And in the chaotic world you seem to be thinking of, finding enough energy for large fabbers would be hard to do.

"Grey goo" may be another problem in the world: nano-disassemblers, that take everything apart and build more nano-disassemblers. Now, this is either a problem that can be solved trivially by nano-disassembler-disassemblers, or a major scourge that threatens humanity as a whole. It might be interesting to have battles fought with such tools, and to counter them you need to have the correct templates and combinations for your fabber...

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