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Wilderness Survival gameplay options

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Hi guys, I'd like to get some feedback for a few specific gameplay ideas which I've come up with for my new game based on wilderness survival. Before I get into the various aspects of possible gameplay, I'm basing the game off my 5 year, part-time project that I've recently completed simply named 'Adventure Game'. It was built with web-technologies such as PHP, HTML and javascript. Although many limitations are presented with web-games that do not use Flash or Applets, I believe I can push these technologies much, much further than I previously have. So for this next game, I've decided to develop a Wilderness Survival/Life in the Woods style Adventure Game. I've been constructing the Design Doc and I've come to the Gameplay section; therein lies quite a few questions. Here's an excerpt from my document on Gameplay:
Quote:
  • To build a fire, the player must gather needed resources like wood and kindling from the world to be-able to create one.
  • To hunt, a player must build weapons like a spear or bow, and search for an animal to hunt and to gather food from.
  • To create a shelter, the player must find logs or an alcove suitable for his shelter then find palms or grasses to use as a roof and bedding.
So now for the specific gameplay elements of the game: Creating a fire, how would the player go about this? 1. He could move his character out in the forest and click on dead wood objects to collect them, go back to his camp and start the fire by rubbing sticks together or using a spark from certain rocks. (More detailed, more realistic, but more objects in the world) OR 2. He moves his character into the forest, and clicks on a tree to cut it down (may need an axe/cutting tool) and collects wood that way. Then goes back to camp and starts a fire in a similiar way as point 1 (More complex with requiring tools, less realistic as live trees don't burn as good as dead wood, less objects in the world) From a usability point of view, is it too involved? Will it be too difficult for a player to be-able to ascertain what he needs to do? What about the player having to go hunting or fishing? Both require tools of some sort. Hunting 1. In order to hunt, the player needs a spear or bow, does he find this from dead wood or from trees? If it's trees, does he need an axe or cutting tool to be-able to get a bow or spear from trees? And then is there a process for the player to be-able to build tools? There are alot of options for the gameplay of this game, I think one of the more important aspects is the UI. It can't be too complicated, but has to be-able to tackle all the different tasks a player can perform through simple mouse-clicks on objects directly or through action buttons. What do you guys think is the best approach? Simple object clicking or action buttons for all tasks? And how much detail involved in each task (fire, hunting, fishing, tool building)? Perhaps the tool building can be taken out aslong as the player has a starting inventory of an axe or hatchet and a few loose items? Look forward to hearing your thoughts guys. And sorry for the long post. :) -Mark W

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I would advise that you keep things as simple as possible: you'll find items on the ground, can put them in an inventory (possibly with some sort of carry cap and speed penalties as you approach), and you can do stuff with them. But more refined items would require some infrastructure. So you could use a knife to make a wooden-headed spear, but to make a metal-tipped spear, you would need a knife, the wood, a piece of metal, and a log emplacement to assemble it.

The only problem, is survival games usually end up being a test of whether you can survive the first ten minutes, and after you have a tent, fire, and axe done, the game becomes easy and mostly pointless.

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You can always tell the player what he needs to do if you don't think he'll just intuit it.

Is this a single player game? I like the method where right-clicking on an object shows all the possible ways of interacting with it. Left-click most basic action like talk to, pick up, use what you are holding on a target. wasd or arrows to walk.

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Thanks for you comments so far guys.

sunandshadow:
It will be a single player game. I thought hard on how to implement multiplayer into the game type and style but could not think of a good solution.

A good idea could be to have a group of players all surviving a plane crash or disaster, in which they'd all need to work together. However I don't think I have the players for that kind of game, perhaps when I'm getting lots of players through the site and in the game, I can go down that road.

It shouldn't be too difficult to get all those mouse/keyboard controls working as you suggested, I have Left/Right mouse button controllers and Keys to use in the game, so I agree with you that it'll be best to use the tried and true method there.


doomhascome:
I've come to those conclusions about the 'survival' style game as-well. As soon as you're 'maintaining' health and your environment, it becomes too easy. I originally thought the game might be a 'Life in the woods' as opposed to 'Survival in the woods'. Basically taking out all possibility of being rescued and getting out, but instead living in the woods deliberately.

I will need many story-line/spontaneous quirks to keep the players interested no doubt. One idea I had wasto include Mini-Games that would take a few hours each.
For example, I could have 4 different areas of Canada say, in which the player could pick in which he'd like to survive in.
Each area would offer different challenges, some would be more fishing oriented, others more rocky with small game animals, others with big game and more dangers, some with extremely cold climates (temperate will play a role).

Given that there's a number of different 'mini-games' the players could choose, still all of them would eventually finish with either being rescued or finding your way out.

I'm not sure whether a open style, never-ending game is quite possible without the constant difficulties of wilderness survival, and as you said, once you have fire, tent and food, things become a bit too easy.

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I think it will be a better game as a singleplayer than a multiplayer, and a better game as 'life in the woods' than 'try not to die'. Although you could have the playable character finally build their tech up enough that they can travel to others (or choose not to) as the happy ending. Or, you could maroon the player with one or more NPCs to get more of a group dynamic. A post-apocalyptic setting with a few scattered survivers would also work, depends whether you're going for the feel of wilderness or would be interested in the feel of scavenging the ruins; could also combine the two by making the setting a non-earth world with ruins of some civilization that collapsed a while ago and was mostly reclaimed by nature.

I've watched/read a lot of good marooning stories, which would make good resource material for designing your story. The example that immediately springs to mind is the anime series Uninhabited Planet Survive. Then Hatchet, My Side Of the Mountain, Julie of the Wolves, The Valley of Wild Horses, the movie Cast Away, and of course classics like Gilligan's Island and The Lord of the Flies.

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I'd prefer to actually obtain the wood stick by stick, and have the "chop down tree" operation just give you a felled tree, which could then be the target of an operation that destroys the tree and spawns a bunch of grabbable sticks.

Alternately, you could just have a "forage for kindling" command that puts up a progress bar and returns a result at the end. It has a more Oregon Trail feel that way, and the same kind of skill check mechanic could be used for lighting the fire or building a shelter, with bonuses and penalties for how much light there is, how much dry tinder you have, how plentiful the wood is, or whatever else might be relevant to the task.

I love the idea of wilderness survival, by the way, and I wish you the best with this design. It's never explored enough.

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Thanks so much guys for all your input.

You've given me alot to consider for the story and gameplay of my game.
I think picking up all the sticks & firewood individually has some merit, it will be easier to calculate just how much wood you'll need to keep the fire going for (x) amount of hours. This could also take in factors such as temperate & weather as to how long a fire will last.

I'm also a big fan of marooning stories.
I've read quite a few Gary Paulsen books (author of the Hatchet series) and have always enjoyed movies, books and games that capture the many facets of survival and pioneering.

Looks like I have a few more books to read (thanks sunandshadow) to see how I can develop the story further.

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You might look at a system of attributes for objects so that your game mechanism will allow the players intuition to be used instead of alot of (probably frustrating) arbitrary limitations. Things should act/react as expected so the player can use their preknowledge of 'how things work' to get things done.
Less well known interactions/results can be discovered as part of the game.
Finding useful things would be another part of the game.

Attributes defined for any particular object (or the class an object instance is a member of) would define what actions can be applied to an object and what results can occur upon another object (of some class) if the action interacts with a 'target'. Both positive and negative results would be defined for the actions (ie- eat banana has one result versus a very different 'eat knife' object+action) Bones can be burned, but dry wood is usually much better (unless its one of those tropical woods that give off their poisons in their smoke) All things would have a 'fuel' quotient (attribute) and applying flame
(with available oxidizing environment) can be calculated.

The interactions also have a magnitude/effectiveness of result (and probably probability, etc...) Example -- just about any object could be *thrown* as a projectile weapon just some go further or hit/impact harder or move straighter.

A leather belt has marginal food value, but eating a rock has much less or even very bad results. Fruit might have good food value ( when the action is 'eat' or 'push into mouth') but other fruit might be poisonous (or marginally poisonous)

Environment (terrain location) effects the actions and they would likewise have 'attributes' or factors which will add in to resolving the effects of making actions on objects. Making fire while 'underwater' is not usually successful and making it while its raining is usually at least difficult.

In the 'flame+ fuel' -> fire result in a 'semi-persistant localized terrain environment' of high heat (a fire) which could be used to carry out other interactions like cooking or straightening wood shfts for arrows or fire hardening wood (actually a state change imparted on the object -- mutating its attributes)


Of course survival deals largely with continually meeting a number of needs, and the goal is to carry out actions upon objects in an accommodating environments which have positive results which meet those needs.

Skill might be accrued (seperate from the player discovering what works and where to get things) which increases chance of success (or quantity/quality of result).


Interactions with 'active' objects might also be done. I recall in Daniel Defoes book he talked of almost being driven crazy (when he was marooned on an island) by rats until he tamed some feral cats who kept the rats away.

The 'active' objects would have their own behaviors (interacting with their environment independant of direct control of the player) which the player can provoke/use to get positive results for their survival.



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