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Wavinator

The Democratic Party

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Wavinator    2017
No, not a Lounge post... an abstract party-based RPG-like game where the player may or may not be the leader... From time to time I've been exploring a theme involving an adventuring party that conveys more of a sense of life than the quest/story dispensing meat-shields we get in many RPGs. In the past a big problem I couldn't see getting past involved stupid NPCs that might not prioritize or plan as well as the player. Because of this the idea of not being able to control your team has always had limited appeal. Recently I looked at this idea again in the framework of a very abstract single-player RPG driven more by events and text-based situations than anything else. The basic idea would be similar in depiction to Empires and Dungeons, a game which strips dungeon crawling down to a character portrait moving through rooms and having encounters. My twist on this (besides a separate screen for abstract tactical combat) would be that everything would be party-based but that the party would be democratic and the player wouldn't automatically be the leader. At the moment I'm thinking of the player being a character on a futuristic pirate ship which, like some ships of old elects its leader by popular vote. The goal would be getting and keeping control for a certain amount of time, directing the party in an open-ended environment toward ends you choose. Whether and how you use resources (gear and NPCs) as well as objectives would depend on your standing and alliances within the group. For example: Let's say that you start out as one of the lowest on the totem pole aboard the ship. You're given the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs, which include tactical raids and resource-based "abstract work" gameplay. As you make friends, stand up for yourself at the right times and prove your worth, however, you are seen to be more valuable. This allows you more options for control, say in designating surrogates to catch bullets and disarm bombs or take the fall for you in other ways. But you have to guard against rivals trying to do the same to you. Eventually, this skullduggery and backstabbing serve to help you survive longer, and your goal is to do that as long as possible without becoming horribly mutilated or dead. Gameplay *might* lead to captaining the ship itself, but doesn't have to. In fact, you could have situations where you play Rasputin, say setting up a character to be leader on a mission you KNOW is deadly, only so you can blame them and consolidate more power for yourself. General reactions / thoughts?

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Sounds pretty interesting. I'm not seeing a real solution in your post to the "stupid NPC" problem you describe, though. If some NPC is captaining the ship, what kind of decisions is the AI called upon to make, and how good will it be at it? Also, when it comes to the player being assigned raids and scut labor, will they be at the mercy of the AI, or is your game design going to pretty much provide the details of what gets assigned?

I like the "career" element, starting at the bottom and working your way up by hard work and natural leadership. I love a good bootstrap story, and the mild political tones make me think of one of the old Conan stories, where he swam onto a ship at sea, volunteered as a deckhand, and three months weeks later discretely murdered the captain, confident that the crew would select him to take over. Good stuff.

As I think about the "tactical raids" you mentioned, I like it more and more. Since the NPC captain would be assigning mission objectives, and then the player would be at liberty to set about it any way they chose, it would be no more oppressive than any Rainbow Six mission or sortie in Wing Commander, and nobody ever whines that such games don't give them the freedom to go have a burger instead of rescuing hostages or ambushing supply freighters.

In fact, I'd say a very limited AI could manage the player's experience, fudging the stellar navigation and other things that the player's character is unlikely to see first-hand in the course of his daily routine and then generating tasks and events from some library or algorithm.

And yeah, I did a double-take at the thread title. Heh.

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Wavinator    2017
Quote:
Original post by Iron Chef Carnage
I'm not seeing a real solution in your post to the "stupid NPC" problem you describe, though. If some NPC is captaining the ship, what kind of decisions is the AI called upon to make, and how good will it be at it?


I think if you don't want the NPCs to look stupid then you have to tightly manage how situations are presented and conveyed. If I tried to do, as I thought long ago, a kind of simulation where low level actors have to make complex decisions (kind of like what Radiant AI was supposed to be for Oblivion) it's going to open up a lot of holes. If, however, it's presented as a fait accompli then the player doesn't get to second guess the AI because there was no behavior to observe and second guess.

Maybe that's muddled. Here's an example: You're in the bowels of the pirate ship. You can't watch the minute permutations of the captain's AI, nor can you see the ship fly about. You're told that the captain's keen and is always lining up good hauls. So the game has to make good on this. This assessment has to come from some check of generated stats or (in a high level game director sense) some notion of the kind of game the player should be having. This means that the levels and situations you encounter all draw from whatever library "keen captain" holds.

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Also, when it comes to the player being assigned raids and scut labor, will they be at the mercy of the AI, or is your game design going to pretty much provide the details of what gets assigned?


Raids I can see doing easily. These are dungeon crawls with objectives. Labor I'm still working out, leaning right now toward skill use / actions that cost resources and promote relationship building and backstabbing. So if the quartermaster orders you to clean the waste filters, this action affects certain resources (maybe lowers health and energy but builds up strength and work credit which is needed to pay for rations and quarters); you then get options such as saving resources by doing a shoddy job or tricking someone else into doing it. Or you can screw off and just not do the job, resulting in lowered relations to the point that you earn a futuristic keel hauling.

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I like the "career" element, starting at the bottom and working your way up by hard work and natural leadership. I love a good bootstrap story, and the mild political tones make me think of one of the old Conan stories, where he swam onto a ship at sea, volunteered as a deckhand, and three months weeks later discretely murdered the captain, confident that the crew would select him to take over. Good stuff.


I'm focusing on ships of different styles at the moment (Federation style military, free trader, pirate), but as with your example or Lessbread's, you can take this a lot of different ways. Maybe the player is a secret agent busting open a pirate clan. Maybe they're a freedom fighter / terrorist gaining control of a deadly asset equipped with nuclear reactors. This could be a matter of choosing (like in some PnP RPGs) a starting background which shapes the goal of the game.

(Ironically the toughest challenge is in the most peaceful and orderly environments-- I'm not sure how this would work for a Navy battleship)

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Since the NPC captain would be assigning mission objectives, and then the player would be at liberty to set about it any way they chose, it would be no more oppressive than any Rainbow Six mission or sortie in Wing Commander, and nobody ever whines that such games don't give them the freedom to go have a burger instead of rescuing hostages or ambushing supply freighters.


Right. If I can have my cake (erm, or kitchen sink????) and eat it to, then don't sign up with or get shanghai'd by a ship. Run your own! We'll see what's possible, though.

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In fact, I'd say a very limited AI could manage the player's experience, fudging the stellar navigation and other things that the player's character is unlikely to see first-hand in the course of his daily routine and then generating tasks and events from some library or algorithm.


Yes. What might make the most sense is to break the map into regions and embed encounter values. If Sol is one region and Alpha Centauri is another, you don't need to see minute behaviors. You only need to be told, "Navy encounter chances are high at Sol, but this shipment is a goldmine." I'd like to see characters throw in votes and actually support or oppose (overtly or covertly) where the ship goes.

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And yeah, I did a double-take at the thread title. Heh.


Gotta figure some way of making these long freakin' posts interesting.

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Yvanhoe    157
Mount & Blades has a similar (albeit very simplified) system : you begin like a single warrior, managing a troop that at the begininng looks more lika aa band of bandits than anything else. Your goal is to raise in the hierarchy of a kingdom. At first, when you get accepted as a lord, you are the lowest and weaker lord of the kingdom. The highest place you can get to (through voting by others) is marshall of kingdom, deciding which places to siege and when to lead a campaign against ennemies. Their system is straightforward : you first have a relation score system toward factions (the opposing kingdoms) the higherit gets, the more willing lords will be to ask you for strategical missions. You also have a relation score to each individual lord, that raises when you do missions for them, help them in battle, (depending on the criticality of your intervention) and lowers when you fight them or plunder villages in their fiefs. Each lord apparently has a relation with every other lord. When voting occurs, they simply vote for the person whith whom they have the highest relation.

Even such a simple system can become quite complex : a mission for lord A could involve persuading another lord B at the cost of some relation with B. When choosing who must get a fief, you are almost guanranteed to make ennemies as you have to choose one amongst many, etc...

Unfortunately, I have never seen a game using such a system combined with a good planner. I am working on planners right now I would love to make a game where NPCs would be treacherous bastards with a hidden goal they would do anything to reach.

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Pete Michaud    137
I think from a gameplay perspective you should just drop the concept of drudgery like chores. We have chores to do in real life, we don't need them in games too 8)

The more interesting aspects of this are the combat and politics.

Imagine a "ship" with a limited crew -- we'll make it easy and say 100 total people. There are factions on the ship that are organized around various personalities. In effect, the captain of this ship is the person with the plurality of "votes." So you start out with no followers in your faction, and by siphoning off people from other factions, you gain traction.

If you wanted to make it complicated, then crew members could have stats like equanimity, merit, and blood thirst. Depending on what you do in the game, your stats change, and like attracts like.

So, imagine you've just started out, and you decide to stage a midnight raid of an enemy ship. This is your own thing you decide to do, not something your captain decided (maybe in the game there are ship missions, and individual missions). You have no followers, so you go alone, you take a dingy to the ship, and you do something there without getting caught. The mechanics are getting complex here, but maybe you steal a token item to prove you infiltrated it, or maybe you steal a poorly guarded chest of treasure, or maybe you manage to sneak past all the guards and kill the captain in his sleep, and you take his ring or hat or something to prove it.

Well, now you've come back, and depending on what you did, you get credibility. Your "this guy has balls" stat goes up, your blood thirst stat might go up, your "value to the collective" stats might go up if you bring back the chest and divide it among the crew. Now, by doing this, you gain admirers, and maybe followers. Next time you stage a raid, your followers will follow.

Of course, gaining followers means others lose followers -- that could make an interesting dynamic. Also, when you bring followers on a raid you risk them dying, so your boldness has to be tempered by reason.

Also, there is a limited number of people in the crew. Maybe when your influence is wide enough, you can organize the ship to go fully take another ship that's bigger, and in doing so create more total crew slots.


Trying to grow your influence that way sounds neato 8)

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Wavinator    2017
Quote:
Original post by Pete Michaud
I think from a gameplay perspective you should just drop the concept of drudgery like chores. We have chores to do in real life, we don't need them in games too 8)


Yeah, you know that fact has hit me as one of those common sense type things, and it'll have to go if I can't fill it with interesting choices. I'm going to make a separate post about this that may (or may not) explain what I have in mind that might make "work" playable.

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Imagine a "ship" with a limited crew -- we'll make it easy and say 100 total people. There are factions on the ship that are organized around various personalities. In effect, the captain of this ship is the person with the plurality of "votes."


This is good. I can see gameplay here for demonstrating your support for the various personalities, ranging from what you say in reaction to other NPC's conversational statements (like "I'd sure like to get my hands around that Captain Bligh's throat!") to who you give power-up loot to.

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So you start out with no followers in your faction, and by siphoning off people from other factions, you gain traction.


Yes it'd be an interesting two-way tension to weigh building your own faction with supporting an NPC who holds you in favor and can protect you.


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If you wanted to make it complicated, then crew members could have stats like equanimity, merit, and blood thirst. Depending on what you do in the game, your stats change, and like attracts like.


Agreed. My preference would be to make this happen not just for you but between NPCs.

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You have no followers, so you go alone, you take a dingy to the ship, and you do something there without getting caught.


Heh, secret shuttle or away missions, I like it. Would work well if you had to figure out either the brute force approach of hacking security and running up against a "where have you been" timer OR trying to dovetail it with an assigned mission (as in taking a detour and covering it with a lie about engine troubles).

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Also, there is a limited number of people in the crew. Maybe when your influence is wide enough, you can organize the ship to go fully take another ship that's bigger, and in doing so create more total crew slots.


I'd like to also deal with the possibility of turn-over, false loyalty and death among crew (even ardent, powerful allies).

But you're right, the mechanics start getting complex!

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Trying to grow your influence that way sounds neato 8)


Thanks! Yes, I agree, that would be cool. (Now I'll just go work up that post to see if I can convince you that "work" folds into this in a similar way [grin])

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Pete Michaud    137
Quote:
Agreed. My preference would be to make this happen not just for you but between NPCs.


Yeah, I didn't make that very clear, but that was my concept too -- to have everyone with those stats and see how they play off each other like a "flock" of pirates.

Also, I look forward to being convinced to do chores. I won't be very impressed though, my wife does that all the time 8)

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swiftcoder    18426
Quote:
Original post by Wavinator
(Ironically the toughest challenge is in the most peaceful and orderly environments-- I'm not sure how this would work for a Navy battleship)
I would submit that there is plenty of low-key blackmail, backstabbing, gambling of resources/duties, etc. at the crew/non-commissioned level on a contemporary naval ship, and plenty of politicking at the officer level. And if you drop back to the Napoleonic wars, when crews and non-coms were mostly press-ganged, and kept in line through plentiful alcohol and brutal discipline, I imagine the system was not that far evolved from that of a privateer/pirate ship.

However, one aspect you may want to be careful of is starting the player too low on the ladder. For instance, dropping back again to the age of sail, there was very little chance for a deckhand to rise to captain (even on a pirate vessel), because there were certain pre-requisites for command (among them both literacy and celestial navigation) which would generally be out of reach for a deckhand.

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Wavinator    2017
Quote:
Original post by swiftcoder
I would submit that there is plenty of low-key blackmail, backstabbing, gambling of resources/duties, etc. at the crew/non-commissioned level on a contemporary naval ship, and plenty of politicking at the officer level. And if you drop back to the Napoleonic wars, when crews and non-coms were mostly press-ganged, and kept in line through plentiful alcohol and brutal discipline, I imagine the system was not that far evolved from that of a privateer/pirate ship.


This is an interesting view. My worry is that we're pretty much conditioned in games to view things that aren't life threatening as trivial. If, for instance, you're threatened into keeping silent about a deckhand's illegal whiskey still, what needs to happen to make this a significant event?

I see your point and maybe can work with it, but what I'm saying is when the stakes are too low it's hard to take threat / challenge seriously.

I like the Napoleonic angle, though. If the navy was filled with washouts, criminals and potential deserters it'd make for a more interesting environment than snobby Starfleet cadets.

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However, one aspect you may want to be careful of is starting the player too low on the ladder. For instance, dropping back again to the age of sail, there was very little chance for a deckhand to rise to captain (even on a pirate vessel), because there were certain pre-requisites for command (among them both literacy and celestial navigation) which would generally be out of reach for a deckhand.


Good point. I've been mulling this one over and it seems that the size of the ship might make for an interesting challenge in terms of advancement, risk and the social dynamics you have to contend with. On a smaller ship, like a scout or "PT boat" equivalent there's more room for individual actions and heroism to matter. A smaller ship is also more vulnerable, on the other hand and may even be expected to be the guinea pig on missions that protect larger, more valuable craft.

So then maybe larger ships might be safer, offer less risk and more mission support, but also offer less options for advancement. It could even tip another way: Larger ships offer more social dynamics whereas smaller ships are more action/adventure and blood-n-guts gameplay.

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swiftcoder    18426
Quote:
Original post by Wavinator
This is an interesting view. My worry is that we're pretty much conditioned in games to view things that aren't life threatening as trivial. If, for instance, you're threatened into keeping silent about a deckhand's illegal whiskey still, what needs to happen to make this a significant event?
Permadeath. However, given that that would take us into a whole different discussion, I agree that this is too hard to pull off in a traditional game.
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I like the Napoleonic angle, though. If the navy was filled with washouts, criminals and potential deserters it'd make for a more interesting environment than snobby Starfleet cadets.
I never bought that angle of StarTrek, to be honest. The 'grit' of other series (particularly recent ones, like the new BSG, or FireFly) seems to lend a lot more depth to the story than the whitewashed Starfleet academy...
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So then maybe larger ships might be safer, offer less risk and more mission support, but also offer less options for advancement. It could even tip another way: Larger ships offer more social dynamics whereas smaller ships are more action/adventure and blood-n-guts gameplay.
That sounds like a very neat idea, but I am worried about the risk/reward balance. If you don't have something along the lines of permadeath (or at least permadeath of friend/ally charaters), I don't see that the social dynamics route would ever be balanced with the danger route.

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Wavinator    2017
Quote:
Original post by swiftcoder
Quote:
Original post by Wavinator
This is an interesting view. My worry is that we're pretty much conditioned in games to view things that aren't life threatening as trivial. If, for instance, you're threatened into keeping silent about a deckhand's illegal whiskey still, what needs to happen to make this a significant event?
Permadeath.


Am I right in assuming by permadeath you mean not so much that you can die but that whatever you choose is irrevocable? If, for instance, the whole illegal whiskey thing ends up with you being set up in a way that makes you look responsible for some mishap, and as a result your opportunities / compensation gets limited, then would you say that this should be something you can't just reload from?

(I laughed at this at first, thinking you did mean death, as in "steal your shipmate's lunch... permadeath!!!!" but that would be too silly.)

I was thinking of an idea of demerits and a concept of a permanent record, which could work either for bonded service (like the military) or more at-will commercial ventures. It could work like this: Getting aboard good ships and getting better pay and perks means you need a good word from the captain or senior staff. Ship voyages could be broken up into sessions where you do all the social gameplay and character management with an eye toward whenever the voyage ends (and maybe all the hazards / opportunities along the way). You would have to keep a certain rating to stay aboard ship, and the rating gets higher and higher the more elite the vessel. If you fail, you get transferred (if bonded) to a lesser vessel or dumped off at the ship's destination.

But I think there needs to be an imperative here not only in terms of what to achieve but what to avoid. Since I'm doing RPG/Life Sim stuff, something as simple as expenses or survival at your destination might be one deterrent. Getting set up and then dumped off on some remote mining asteroid that sees ships once a year could be a real negative the player might want to avoid, especially if there's some sort of decay associated (skills, resources, stats).

You could even spice this up a bit by folding in notions of factions, standards of living, disease and range of opportunities. If, for instance, you're a cyborg or genetic exotic heading toward a colony that has some supremacy stuff going on about "pure humanity" then you'll definitely not want to get dumped there.

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I never bought that angle of StarTrek, to be honest. The 'grit' of other series (particularly recent ones, like the new BSG, or FireFly) seems to lend a lot more depth to the story than the whitewashed Starfleet academy...


Yes and that grit probably creates more opportunity for gameplay than smooth running machines that never need human intervention. Even just having to deal with venting steam or get dirty repairing an engine part can lead to interesting gameplay.


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If you don't have something along the lines of permadeath (or at least permadeath of friend/ally charaters), I don't see that the social dynamics route would ever be balanced with the danger route.


What do you think about situations which crop up over time, say beyond the convenient span of save / reload? If something's been brewing for a few hours of real play time and presents a binary "send someone to their death" choice (assuming I'm using a system of event 'cards' where what's presented can't really be nerfed or massaged by the player) then reloading will be far less desirable, particularly if some rewards are randomized. Or no?

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