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Mephs

Explorer/zoologist/conservationalist based gameplay

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Sorry, i'm having a real mental block on thread titles... it's poor I know! I've been thinking more about how to make my idea of a 3d platformer a little different from the normal and came up with an idea for a potentially novel setting, inspired mainly by a nice book I came across whilst on holiday in Cornwall. The book is Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You. I love the art style, and something about the idea of traipsing round as an explorer/zoologist/conservationalist type character in a fantasy environment appeals to me, perhaps it's one of the reasons I always tend to play Ranger characters in RPGs. What challenges could we include in such a game? So far i have the following ideas: - Collect and catalogue smaller species - Protect animals from poachers - Collect larger animals for veterinary care (in keeping with the fantasy setting this could be magical) - Take pets which grant you new abilities - Slash through destructible jungle undergrowth Can you add any challenges, tasks or general objectives to confront the player with to this list, or do you have any criticism of the few ideas I have so far bearing in mind I'd like the gameplay to fit in a 3d platformer style environment. What fun activities could such a setting lead to? What kind of creatures would be interesting in such a setting? Also I've thought about replayability being a factor... if we know how creatures act and where to find them, how could we make such a game so that it has a good replay factor... what factors would you change to possibly present the player with a different challenge each time it is played? As always I'll think further on the idea myself, but look forward to any further input! Cheers, Steve

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I think a Balance Of Nature system would work well, such as creature A feeding/hunting on creature B, so if creature A's population is high, B's population will decrease and creature C will take advantage of that, etc. Things like sickness, over-poaching, natural distasters, seasonal shifts, etc, can throw this balance ouf of whack (which can lead to large numbers of dangerous monsters, lack of food, collapse of system, etc). It could be upto the player to decrease, protect, or take care of specific species to maintain the balance, perhalps for a set amount of time or indefinitly.

Capturing and/or caring for specific creatures could be a challenge in itself, them being incorporial, venomous, averse to sunlight, devious in nature, etc.

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Its certainly a neat idea. Here's a quick question. Say u wanted to tame an animal (for whatever purpose). Most games have nothing more complex than a button/icon u click and perhaps a skill attribute that modifies its chance of success. Though I always thought It'd be neat to require some sort of in-game technique to tame a beast, maybe a mini-game of sorts. Though I don't have any good ideas on how it would work. Any ideas from your end?

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ooh, I like it! That definitely sounds like a unique selling point, the phrase "balance of nature" immediately conjures up strong gameplay images for me.

Culling of creatures to maintan population balance is actually something I meant to put, but forgot to include in my list, but taking it a step further and having to look after a whole ecosystem adds an interesting nurture element of having to look after the level itself, which should appeal to fans of games like The Sims, whilst providing somewhat of a more solidly defined objective.

It does sound though, like the kind of environment you could get carried away in and spend ages trying to create a balance without realising that balance will be very difficult or impossible to achieve, it could have swung too far one way to recover. I wonder if the game should perhaps nudge the player in the right direction by informing the player what elements are out of balance, or would this make the game too simplistic? Should it be based more on exploration, examination and intuition?

I also like the idea of some creatures that need capturing being aggressive and a challenge in itself... strangely enough, the idea for this was originally inspired by the book I linked to, but the (very sad) news about Steve Irwin also played a part in bringing the subject to mind and putting it in another perspective. I suppose elements of the idea could be likened to a sort of crocodile hunter : the game, but hopefully in an original manner rather than a rip-off idea. Hopefully that's not in poor taste!

Cheers,

Steve

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It does sound though, like the kind of environment you could get carried away in and spend ages trying to create a balance without realising that balance will be very difficult or impossible to achieve, it could have swung too far one way to recover. I wonder if the game should perhaps nudge the player in the right direction by informing the player what elements are out of balance, or would this make the game too simplistic? Should it be based more on exploration, examination and intuition?


Hmm, i think it would largely depend on the size of the eco-system and how much the player can handle. After a certain point of familiarity the player would be aware that Creature B's population being to low is really bad, since C would roam out of control, but directly informing the player of that maybe to obvious.

Maybe the player could have a "logbook", that he can use to keep track of the relationships between specific creatures (IE: hunter/prey/plant), so he can tell if one creature is endangered it could potentially cause problems. Another way to ensure the game doesn't become "hopeless", is to have one or more species adapt to the current environment, such as birds developing a taste for frogs, which are normally eaten by snakes who are near exinction.

Thinking of books, i starting thinking about Piers Anthony's Xanth series, which was a magical world filled with ammusing puns. I specifically thought of the Tangle Tree, which would create a path attached to a nearby road in an attempt to lure in unwary travelers into its clutches. ;D

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A logbook would be a nice idea if presented in a simple manner and would fit in with the inspiration being a fantasy field guide, perhaps over the course of the game a player could compile their own field guide? I wonder whether it is best to allow the logbook to be used like a text editor, or whether best to provide a hard coded system for loggin such relationships?

Having thought about replay value, I wonder if procedural systems would work well such that no two games are alike, perhaps the relationships and behaviours of animals, or even their appearance could be generated randomly, but then perhaps the game may lose some character?

The idea of a TangleTree is good and is the kind of thing I would like to incorporate, I don't like the idea that all creatures are designed around combat, I think a game like this would succeed based on a rich variety of flora/fauna that revolves around many different natural functions of which combat should only be a part... I also like the idea of a bit of humour =)

I like to try and design my ideas such that they will work as both a single player game and a multiplayer game. Do you think this is possible in such a setting? In multiplayer, should the players work cooperatively, or against one another, and if so, how would this affect the objectives?

The idea of a mini-game to tame creatures is interesting too, however I like to avoid breaking up gameplay if possible... so it would have to be something that integrates well with the flow and feel of the game. I'll see if I can think up any ideas :)

Cheers,

Steve

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Having thought about replay value, I wonder if procedural systems would work well such that no two games are alike, perhaps the relationships and behaviours of animals, or even their appearance could be generated randomly, but then perhaps the game may lose some character?


I think that depends on the kind of game you want, whether or not you choose to use any creatures from traditional mythology, and how many different creatures you plan on having in the ecosystem at a time.

If you use any creatures from traditional mythologies, then randomizing their behavior/appearance/relationship's could be pretty odd (vampires walking in the light and eating flowers sort of stuff). If you also have alot of different creatures in the environment (like pokemons 150+), then having to whip out your log-book every time to re-catalog and learn them over again could become tedious.

On the other hand, if you used static creatures it could allow you to release expansions with different eco-systems and environments of strange dimensions, snowy landscapes, and other regions with unusual rules and denizens.

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A logbook would be a nice idea if presented in a simple manner and would fit in with the inspiration being a fantasy field guide, perhaps over the course of the game a player could compile their own field guide? I wonder whether it is best to allow the logbook to be used like a text editor, or whether best to provide a hard coded system for loggin such relationships?


I think i would perfer something more than a text parser, perhalps a template like a space for a picture (when i photograph one) with statistical informatino to the right (weight, height, name, regions where it lives, etc), with a paragraph on the bottom to describe it, its feeding habits, predators, etc. If I had to go out and study all their behaviors though i would probably need a grace period at the beginning, if i had to worry about balancing the eco-system right off without knowing any of the relationships the player may get frustrated.

Having an auto-log system though would remove part of the explorer aspect and help the player focus more easily on the bigger picture of balancing the eco-system more quickly.

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I like to try and design my ideas such that they will work as both a single player game and a multiplayer game. Do you think this is possible in such a setting? In multiplayer, should the players work cooperatively, or against one another, and if so, how would this affect the objectives?


Hmm, compeditively i think of a high wizard charging two players to maintain a patch of forest, and whoever does it the best wins. Co-operatively players can co-ordinate on large disasters, or split up and handle multiple problems at once.

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I think that depends on the kind of game you want, whether or not you choose to use any creatures from traditional mythology, and how many different creatures you plan on having in the ecosystem at a time.


Hmm, well I think in keeping with the inspiration, the creatures need strong characters, and a procedural system will probably lose something in the way of character, so I think that rules the idea out. Especially when I consider your suggestion of future expansion packs offering new environments/creatures, that sounds a very sensible idea.

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If you use any creatures from traditional mythologies, then randomizing their behavior/appearance/relationship's could be pretty odd (vampires walking in the light and eating flowers sort of stuff).


Dammit, now I want flower eating vampires in my game!! (actually that is quite funny!)

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If you also have alot of different creatures in the environment (like pokemons 150+), then having to whip out your log-book every time to re-catalog and learn them over again could become tedious.


I remember reading an article on Gamautra about the rule of seven, that a given person can realistically manage up to 7 separate elements at any given time, so I think the best bet would probably be to have a large number of creatures with which to populate a level, and choose a subset of them. Thinking about it, this could increase replay value too, each level would play differently when different creatures inhabit the level. Perhaps the creatures define the objectives you may have so they are different each time a level is played, certain creatures may be more likely to attract poachers, certain creatures act as parasites or pests, certain creatures have very specific environmental needs to mate, etc.

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I think i would perfer something more than a text parser, perhalps a template like a space for a picture (when i photograph one) with statistical informatino to the right (weight, height, name, regions where it lives, etc), with a paragraph on the bottom to describe it, its feeding habits, predators, etc. If I had to go out and study all their behaviors though i would probably need a grace period at the beginning, if i had to worry about balancing the eco-system right off without knowing any of the relationships the player may get frustrated.


That all sounds fair enough to me, I worry however that this objective of balancing the ecosystem may be too flimsy to hold much weight with the player... how do we know exactly when the ecosystem is sufficiently balanced? I imagine it would be hard to communicate this to the player... perhaps thee needs to be a built in grading system that gives you a balance rating and the objective is to reach a certain rating? I wouldn't want to tell the player what to do and hand-hold too much, but at the same time, I don't want them to be stood there wondering what it is they are supposed to do next! They need some form of guidance as to what they should be doing, but given that so many people don't read game manuals, I worry it may come across as unintuitive. The player may expect that this is a simple platform game and wonder where they are supposed to go to reach the exit and not realise that actually they need to check population levels, track creatures, etc.

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Quote:I like to try and design my ideas such that they will work as both a single player game and a multiplayer game. Do you think this is possible in such a setting? In multiplayer, should the players work cooperatively, or against one another, and if so, how would this affect the objectives?

Hmm, compeditively i think of a high wizard charging two players to maintain a patch of forest, and whoever does it the best wins. Co-operatively players can co-ordinate on large disasters, or split up and handle multiple problems at once.


I like that idea too, perhaps with my idea of a balance rating coop play can be achieved, I suppose we could also have a non-violent competetive mode, and for funs sake a standard deathmatch too. Just something to play with there if I ever get as far as making this (it's getting tempting!).

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All Glory To The Hypno-Toad!


Now theres an idea ;)

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If you're keen on replayability, procedural generation of locations whilst keeping the animals themselves fixed in terms of attributes is one possibility that should overcome your objection. You can generate an interesting world of almost any size as long as you're careful about the constraints you put on the generator.

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That all sounds fair enough to me, I worry however that this objective of balancing the ecosystem may be too flimsy to hold much weight with the player... how do we know exactly when the ecosystem is sufficiently balanced? I imagine it would be hard to communicate this to the player... perhaps thee needs to be a built in grading system that gives you a balance rating and the objective is to reach a certain rating? I wouldn't want to tell the player what to do and hand-hold too much, but at the same time, I don't want them to be stood there wondering what it is they are supposed to do next!


When thinking about this i thought of something rather puzzle like or linear, at least partly. What you could do is keep your monsters behaviors and preferences static and create a balanced eco-system of interactions. At that point you then introduce "problems" like coded disasters, a rock blocking the river, a forest fire, etc. This could have unusual side effects, like some creatures becoming to numerous than others, so the player would have to solve the source of the problem and "clean up" the results (culling populations or whatever), or the problem may even solve itself. It would be upto the player to watch all their behaviors and interactions to find out which elements are "unbalanced", and to find the source of these problems.

With this kind of problem solving, you could introduce random events into an established eco-system, like a forest fire driving creatures into area's that they otherwise wouldn't be found in, or a bored wizard causing a snow storm and freezing the lake, etc. Any number of random events could keep things interesting and have the player running around to undo them, so rather than focusing on maintaining the creatures directly, the player would instead focus on the core problems effecting the creatures interactions and behaviors.

In the event that a particular creature dies out, then the system can "balance" itself by having other creatures take over some of the things that the deceased creature did. After a certain point though (too many deaths/population balances), then the eco-system could collapse.

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They need some form of guidance as to what they should be doing, but given that so many people don't read game manuals, I worry it may come across as unintuitive. The player may expect that this is a simple platform game and wonder where they are supposed to go to reach the exit and not realise that actually they need to check population levels, track creatures, etc.


I think if your upfront with the player in the beginning he shouldn't have a problem understanding the rules of play, dispite it being a 3D platformer. If I saw a cinematic about some high king telling me to keep the local eco-system in the Woods Of Bandersnatch in check, followed by a fellow ranger showing me the ropes, i'd get the idea. ;D

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What I'm tending towards now is actually a 2.5d platformer, but I've come up with a possible method to keep the gameplay non-linear. Instead of having massive levels which will take ages to create and railroad the character into a certain path, I think I will make lots of smaller levels and combine them with a large overhead map something like in Super Mario Brothers 3, with special locations such as shops, hidden unlockable locations, things like that. This would of course offer the player multiple routes through the game and would mean that if a player got stuck on a certain level.. they could take another route.

In the case of this design, the map, I think, should represent an island, possibly with multiple zones/habitats. I'm thinking that each level must be played through to completion (in the sense that they reach the exit, balancing the ecosystem is optional) in order to progress that route on the world map, but once completed for the first time, the way is unlocked.

I think then we could have a combination of guided and unguided player actions. Players can observe and make note of things that need doing in a level and receive rewards for completion of certain tasks without being told to do so, but the tasks are never mandatory and as such each level has replay value in trying to fix all balance problems, though it should probably be made clear when all problems are resolved so that the player is not running around a level where the balance is restored. On the other hand, players can receive missions from characters in the game, which may relate to something they have already performed, in which case they are rewarded upon meeting the chracter. In this sense, players can complete missions before they are given them, or can miss a mission and be informed of it later when they meet the necessary character so that they have the opportunity to go back and clear up if they desire.

Again, the question of an ultimate objective comes up. The ultimate objective could be to balance the ecosystem of every level in the game, or certain select levels, but I wonder if this might go against the concept of trying to keep the game non-linear. It would be nice if the player could complete the game without visiting all levels, so there might be something to go back to next time around, so perhaps a different end goal is needed?

Something else I'm wondering about is a character design... I'm having trouble thinking up a decent idea for what the central character should look like. I don't think a character like your typical D&D ranger would look very interesting in this setting, I think it needs something more stylized... your typical Explorer type in khakis and explorer hat sounds a little lame too, but then prehaps I just don't have the artistic vision to make something of it. If anyone has any suggestions or could knock any rough design up, it would be much appreciated!!

Another thing I had considered is the possibility of multiple characters... Perhaps with their own objectives. Maybe where in this idea the player goes around saving animals, we could have a second character whose objective is the opposite... say, a goblin tinkerer whose objective is to cause the most ecological disruption possible!

Just some more thoughts to chew on anyhoo!

Cheers,

Steve

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