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Mephs

Emergent gameplay through hybrid procedural system

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Hey all, Further to Wavinator's thread on 3rd person space shooter control systems, I'd like to talk about one of my own ideas. I'm thinking of an idea along the lines of "Strange Adventures in Infinite Space", or the sequel "Weird Worlds". I loved the idea of a pick up and put down 20 minute experience, where every game plays slightly differently. I'd like to take the idea, tweak it a bit and run with it. Firstly, SAIS and WW both went with a 4x game feel. The combat was based more on light strategy than on action. I'd like to go more for the action approach making my idea more similar to a vertical scroller, albeit with 360 degree movement. So, taking this as the basis for the idea, I'd also like to run with the idea of procedurally created galaxies. I think these two games had great potential, but suffered from a few flaws in this area. *EDIT* I only had time to go into detail about one specific flaw here, but may expand on this later if the thread gets any interest! *EDIT* Firstly, you could guarantee certain events would occur in almost every single play of the game. You would always come across one of the trader species that would allow you swap any items for their stock free of charge and you would often see the same events occurring each time you played. It didn't take long for you to come across most of the content, or at least most of the significant content. For my adaptation of the idea, I would like to go with a hybrid of procedural content and hand crafted content. Players will fly in zones or sectors in my game. Each sector will have a variety of standard friendlies or enemies, but each sector will also have a chance of containing a number of events/encounters to spice things up a bit. These events will be the hand crafted elements of my hybrid system, but I would also like to make it a little more procedural. Rather than being happy with random events, I would like the random events to further generate their own content. Say we have an event where pirates are attacking a cargo ship. If we add in a procedural element that wherever pirates are, there is a random chance of "Space Police" turning up to put an end to their nefarious deeds, then we increase the potential for this single event to become unique. Further to this, there could be a chance with any ship that is has succombed to "space rot", which could cause one of the police ships to fall apart unexpectedly in the middle of a battle and infect other nearby ships. Adding random chance situational elements should hugely expand the replay value of the game. Running further with the police/space pirate example. The player could encounter a police barricade. Due to the earlier event, the procedural system could determine that the pirates want revenge on the space police and so a squadron of fighters arrives to attack the barricade. How the player handles the situation, what happens during the event could influence future events. A stray bullet may pit you against the police forces, or you could be commended for your bravery and awarded extra credits. I think this kind of system would make for a very interesting game, but what I'm interested in discussing is how we might take this even further and make it even more interesting, unpredictable and above all, fun :) I look forward to any discussion! Steve *EDIT* For reference, here is my current list of ideas for events: Death Squad Distress signal Weapons of mass destruction Warp signature trail Wild goosechase Ambush Blockade Piggy in the middle Chase Hide and seek Bully Nemesis Sabotage Bounty Hunter Solar Storm SlipStream (use comets slipstream to get a speed boost) Sentinels Harbingers Arbiters Custodians Point origin Galactic core Space Rot Recurring characters Mysterious benefactor Lost World Kamikaze Traitor Smuggler Infestation Interception Drifting Wreck Secret stash Spatial Rift Treasure hunt Space Weed Bound evil Onslaught [Edited by - Mephs on July 13, 2008 3:11:35 PM]

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I think its a little overly complicated for an action focused game especialy if players are required to trade/buy/collect the tools they will need for success. It sounds like you are createing seperate competeing systems (player growth through buying/selling/tradeing items/weapons/shields/etc -verses- gameworld growth through pseudo random cause/effect scenarios) At some point gamebalance could easily be broken if the two systems arn't in near lockstep with each other.

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That's not so much of an issue. I have an idea for a scanner system which will allow players to ascertain threat levels of nearby encounters which I think will help in those regards. Also I'm not planning to go for character growth so much as character diversity in the same way Guild Wars achieves it. New weapons will not make you all powerful, they will just add to your skill set which may well make you all powerful, but only against a limited subset of encounters.

Also, part of the appeal of SAIS and WW in my opinion was that sometimes you could get really lucky and end up with awesome equipment and do really well. As each game was relatively short, the imbalance was soon corrected and somehow I think it worked. The focus of the game just shifts from "how can I get the best score ever!" to "how can I perform the best given the situations the game has thrown at me".

I think it will be fine in those regards.

Steve

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I've heard SAIS referred to as "Space Game Geek's Solitaire." I think this helps take some of the pressure off of balance, as you could end up with a good "hand" of events one game, then a not so great hand another game.

Taking the Solitaire idea further, one thing you could do is have different odds and diferent "decks," with player actions modifying odds or causing the game to switch to using another deck entirely. For instance, you could take out a pirate base and either greatly reduce a pirate encounters in the sector or eliminate them entirely. This could also have the effect of raising pirate encounters in a nearby sector, allowing the player to infer that pirates have been made restless by their actions.

One thoguth that has often occurred to me in trying to develop this kind of system is that it's important to have entities appear to be persistent. Naming ships, for instance, helps, as does being careful about their movements. Nothing screams random more than having a ship jump from one system, then disappear as you attempt to follow them into another.

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I'm not familiar with those "Strange Adventures in Infinite Space" and "Weird Worlds" games, but I think I get the general idea from what you've desribed.

Let me say I'm a HUGE fan of the word emergent when it's applied to video games. Maybe it's a side effect of lazyness on my part as a game developer, or the fact that I want to be able to enjoy the games I make, but I have MUCH more preference of emergent gameplay/ideas/events/strategies that occur based on some simple rules, rather than a scripted clockwork storyline where each element in the game is there ONLY if the game developer specifically put it there. Nothing happens 'by itself'. IMO, it's really fun to discover the hidden effects of a game that supports 'emergency' so to speak, rather than to mindlessly walk through what the game designer has put in for you (which can also be good, if done well).

For example, bunny hopping, rocket jumping and many other movement styles that were present in the original Quake games were originally the results of a bug in movement code, yet it created for much more entertaining gameplay for many people (not for all, but that's beside the point). Or putting a heavy object behind a door in order to block your pursuers in Half-Life 2. I'm sure there are many more other things that a game designer would never come up on his own.

From what you've described, it sounds like a really cool system that has the potential to really spice up the gameplay. If you can get it to be pretty consistent, so that you can see the effects of your previous doings later on, that'd be great. It's also nice that you can always throw in some scripted/hand-crafted events to reduce the feeling of randomness, or to provide the key storyline turning events.

One thing you have to be really careful about is not to overwhelm the player with all those possible random events and their combination thereof at the beginning. Make sure he can take his time to absorb the rules of play as he goes along, and increase the difficuilty/diversity of possible situations as the game goes along. What I mean is, if you were to throw out that list of possible random events at the player in the beginning, that might put them off as they might not know the details of each and every scenario. Make it natural, not requiring the player to investigate much to understand.

In conclusion, I think your thinking is on the right track, and I hope you get a chance to implement/prototype it someday. Like I said before, I'm a huge fan of emergent stuff in games, as that has the potential to offer much more rich and varied gameplay (i.e. multiple ways to complete the same objective) rather than a game where you can only do things that the game designer specifically created for you (i.e. only 3 ways to complete the same objective, if the designer decided to make three).

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Yes, I too have heard the game referred to as being similar to Solitaire in a sense. I would agree with the statement.

Every game is a bit different, every game takes very little time to play. It's pick up and throw away gameplay, but due to the design there is enough of a hook to bring you back, though I believe it could be improved even further in these respects.

The idea of treating events like a deck of cards is interesting and the ability to move "between decks" under certain conditions sounds very interesting too... you could completely change the feel of the game in this way which is very novel but the circumstances that cause the change could be different every time.

I also agree that the events need to be tied together and somewhat persistent. I would love players to get attached to certain characters and find a certain niche of gameplay they enjoy (such as a stealthy approach, diplomatic, trading or combat).

Movement tracking is interesting. Perhaps a simple implementation of this would be to have "cards" move between sectors over time and have the moving cards sometimes become intertwined with event cards in the new area they have moved to or sometimes just providing their own events. Yes, I'm quite liking the sounds of that :) Then, if an NPC character survives an event, you may encounter them again in different circumstances at a later point.

Perhaps some kind of rudimentary attraction/repulsion system might work as a simple AI for movement of NPC encounter cards so they move towards areas of interest and away from offputting areas with each character having their own set of motivations (i.e. some may seek danger, others money, others rare mineral, and so on).

I also agree with shurcool in that the system could suffer from being difficult to adapt to if it messes with the game rules too much. Perhaps in this sense, the number of events could act almost as a difficulty level of sorts. As most of the event system would be behind the scenes though, I think it may also be a little easier to grasp, as the player does not see all this work going on behind the scenes, they just see the outcome in terms of scenarios.

Anyway, thanks for the comments :)

Steve

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