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dpwhittaker

Game concept: PC/Mobile MMORTS

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This idea is still on the drawing board, but I'd like to hear what the community thinks about it. I could write for days on the concept, but I'll try to summarize it here. Let me know if you want more detail on anything.

The story: Earth has finally exhausted almost all of its natural resources. Luckily, it's far enough in the future that we can mine other planets now. Unluckily, none of the planets in the near vicinity have the resources we need to survive. A living planet (inspiration: Avatar) is discovered, with resources that exceed anyone's wildest imagination. Elements that have eluded earth scientist occur naturally in stable alloys. The opportunity for materials research is immense.

Closer inspection of the planet reveals a difficulty. The indigenous life on the planet is somehow empowered by the richness of the planets resources, and will do anything to protect it. Humans are seen as outsiders and dealt with in force. The chance of making a peaceful home on the new planet is non-existent.

Back on earth, three corporations begin making plans to capitalize on the planets resources. With their remaining reserves of materials, massive cargo ships are built to carry resources back and forth from the new planet to earth. Each faction has different ideas of how to go about things.

One corporation has developed ecologically friendly biological resource extractors that take raw elements and return biological enhancements to the earth. Due to this, they are unable to mine particularly high quality resources or particularly large amounts, but the resources they mine last longer than the other factions' less conservative approaches. They are the only faction that has been able to make peace with at least a subset of the indigenous population. Their armies are populated by the creatures and indigenous peoples of the planet. The planet has some very fierce creatures, so they are able to hold their own against the tanks and mechs of the other factions.

Another faction is not concerned about the environment, but does seek to mine high quality resources. Their extractors retrieve the highest quality resources, but are the slowest in the game. However, since they are only finding the highest quality resources and skipping the rest, they mine nodes out quickly. They use their high tech approach to build armies of robotic mechs.

The final faction is only concerned with making as much money as possible, at all costs. They drain resources from the land faster than any other faction, yielding larger quantities of lower quality resources. Their armies are formed of hordes of low-tech cheap tanks.

Gameplay:

The idea is relatively simple: consider a world similar to SWG's where resources are constantly shifting around. There are many types of resources that are hierarchically categorized, and each resource that spawns has a list of attributes that are of varying quality levels. Everything in the world is crafted, and the crafted items have different final attributes based on the quality of the attributes of their component materials.

Players build mines to extract resources, factories to build items, generators to power them, and turrets to defend said buildings. Non-combat structures can also be built for housing, guilds, shops, transportation, etc, and each faction has a relatively large safe area to build non-combat structures. Sort of a giant base of operations that functions as the major hub city for trading, relaxing, etc. Anything outside of this area is open world PvP.

Players can own as many structures as they wish, limited only by their ability to obtain the resources to build them. However, all but the simplest shacks are relatively large investments, so it will be difficult for a single player to dominate an entire resource spawn and be able to defend it well. However, a guild working together may be able to. Structures also have an energy cost and a maintenance cost in resources. The resources fueling the structure determine its mine rate, energy production, unit production, or attack rate, as well as its defensive capabilities. In other words, the more structures you have, the higher quality resources they must be mining in order to keep working. Structures lacking power or resources cease operating, and decay until they fall apart within a few days.

Players also are able to build armies. The player directly controls a hero unit in rpg style, and issues commands to his army in rts style. The army size is again only dependent upon the players ability to gather enough resources to run the army, but each unit has a resource cost (ammo/repair) and an energy cost (fuel), so there is a soft upper limit to the army size. The player can opt to bring a teleporter unit along that will teleport units from the factories to the front lines. However, this unit has a significant power and resource consumption, so the player will have to decide whether it is worth it, or if the power should be spent on repairing units and defensive shields. Players can overbuild their resource generation rate for a short time (i.e. if a player saves up a lot of resources, uses them all to build units, but doesn't have the resource flow to keep those units maintained), but these units will decay to destruction over the course of a few hours. This, however, gives the player who logs in to discover that his primary resource nodes have all run out of resources time to defend himself while moving his harvesters.

A normal play session will generally entail finding any harvesters that are no longer mining something useful, packing them up (an instant process due to teleportation technology), and searching for a new place to put them. To aid in this respect, orbital satellites provide a rough layout of the resources (with very general descriptions of attribute quality - high, medium, low). The map can be filtered for resources with high quality in a specific attribute. Then, once he selects a node, he will travel to it. Faction teleporters are scattered throughout the land owned by the faction, and are tiny PvP safe areas. Guild/alliance teleporters may also be used, but they are in the wild. Guilds will probably set up a network of heavily defended teleportation stations to aid in moving about the planet. A player can teleport to his own teleport structure from anywhere (he carries a homing beacon tuned to his own structure), but must use a teleport structure to travel to a guild or faction structure. In any case, it shouldn't take more than a few minutes to travel to the area of a resource spawn, and sample it to see its exact attribute qualities. A hardcore crafter may choose to sample every resource that is listed as high quality for the attributes he's looking for, while a player that prefers combat may just leave his stuff where it is and let it mine whatever happens to show up under it.

Alternatively, combat oriented players can assault mining operations for resources and energy. Harvesters fill up with resources before teleporting them to the player's home base, so it is feasible for combat characters to obtain all the resources they need by attacking mining operations. Attacking characters or structures from your own faction is illegal, and results in being labelled as a criminal. All the turrets scattered through your own land then fire at you, so there is nowhere safe except among your own equipment. Therefore, combat oriented characters will spend most of their time in the areas controlled by other factions, searching for weaknesses in their defenses and exploiting them. This obviates the need for either building a strong defensive ring of turrets around any mining operation (and a strong energy supply nearby to power them), or mining far from the front lines. Also, flying units and ground units with short-range teleports will exist, so players will have to be prepared for an enemy that can get around a blockade. This means some of the best resource land will have to be used by turrets to prevent players from teleporting into the innermost part of the mining operation and then being able to attack with impunity.

I'm also debating not allowing resources to be teleported, and forcing the use of supply lines instead. You can either build resource storage next to your harvesters and login to collect resources and run them to base yourself, or you can set up a transport/defender army to do it automatically. This will allow another point of attack for combat-oriented characters.

The game will be cross-platform - windows, linux, and android at least, iphone and mac if I ever find a compelling reason to pay the apple markup. Everyone will play in the same world regardless of what machine they are running on, so the PC version will, at least in combat, allow you to only do the things you can do on the mobile. In practice, this means that every unit (including your hero) works autonomously, orders can be given and queued, but there are no "twitch" elements to combat.

Your army is a scripter's dream come true. Complex pathing, rules of engagement, and unit interaction are all possible through either a series of dialogues or simple scripting layer. For instance, you can set one set of units to follow your transport, only engaging enemies that attack the transport or one of the defenders, but never going more than 100m from the transport unless it is still directly under fire. Then tell your transport to cycle through each of your harvester locations, one by one to load up, but only leave when no enemies are within radar range. While waiting, your escort group can engage the enemies on radar one by one, retreating to the safety of the turrets when they come under attack, until all threats are destroyed and your transport is ready to move on. Once issued, these orders remain active until they are changed, even when you log out.

Teleporters (aside from the special teleport unit, which itself cannot be teleported) only carry personnel. This excludes all faction armies. You can tell your army to follow you, but if you take a teleporter, they are coming the long way, so you should either wait for them, or take your chances in whatever form of stealth mode you have. Stealth is not 100%, and you are easily visible if you get anywhere close to the enemy, but at least you don't show up on radar. It's up to the player to avoid the enemy as much as it is to your stealth ability.

Alternatively, you can load your ground army up in transport aircraft, escorted by fighters and bombers, and fly to your destination. But of course, the enemies may take to the sky as well. The transport game alone should open up some interesting metagames.

Finally, guilds may decide to leave a warehouse full of teleporter units at some teleport locations, giving the ability for a player to stop by and use them to teleport in their army, but their very slow rate of teleportation and extreme cost will make this strategy difficult to support.

So the fundamental conflict of the game is over resources. Some people will turn this into a huge tower defense game and let their turrets protect their precious resource harvesters. Others will build huge mobile armies, using part of it for defending harvesters while the other part will roam for new locations. Still others will forgo static harvesters altogether, using 100% of their forces on attacking existing installations, reaping the resources from defeated foes and harvester installations, and harvesting on the move. Still others will harvest what they can in the safe areas around town, and spend their time crafting, buying, and selling.

Some of the best resources will be found in a central area of the map far from any faction's home base. The very air in this area is opposed to human presence. Furthermore, the indigenous peoples consider this area a holy ground, and defend it ferociously. And it is home to the most ferocious creatures on the planet. Any army attempting to mine these resources will be under constant bombardment, from animals, indigenous people, and opposing factions. But, if they can survive to the inner sanctum and hold out long enough to set up some extractors and get them going, will have access to some of the most powerful resources on the plant, with high quality in all attributes. The corrosive atmosphere will overwhelm even the most heavily armored units over time. A guild with an army of repair vehicles may be able to survive in the inner sanctum and set up a "permanent" mining colony, but after a few hours will be easy pickings for an opposing faction with fresh non-corroded armor and weapons. So, any guild which attempts to harvest the area permanently will have their work cut out for them refreshing units, bringing out the corroded ones for recycling into the next batch of fresh units. One mistake, a few hours too long between refreshes, and the area is up for grabs again. Many players will consider gaining and/or maintaining control of this area to be the fundamental goal of the game.

Players and guilds can send any unused resources back to Earth. This determines each faction's score. When a faction reaches a certain goal (should take 1-3 months), it is declared the winner, and the game resets, starting everybody over on equal footing. Everyone will have all available stats in this game mode. In the other game servers, players will start with very limited skills, and while they will eventually be able to learn everything, that will take years. This game server will run perpetually though. In this format, the resources sent to earth are a mandatory tax. The more land a particular faction owns, the higher the percentage of taxes. This should push the metagame toward equilibrium. If one faction still manages to take over more of the planet, the planet will begin to revolt against that side, sending more and larger creatures to tear it down until it yields. Finally, there will be a PvE game mode where all three factions are friendly, and are working together to take control of the planet. This game mode will have more creatures, and more raid zones like the central area on the PvP servers.

So, what do you think? This game will take me several years to develop, but I'm still interested in getting feedback on the idea. I plan to contribute to Open Source projects like jMonkeyEngine (OGRE is a very purist graphics engine, WorldForge is too genre-specific to pull in all the elements I want, but jMonkeyEngine aspires to be a generalized game framework) until a strong set of integrated tools is in place for the Open Source community, including myself. Then I'll use those tools to build the game once building an MMO game is on the same level as building a huge MUD in terms of the amount of effort required. Of course, there will be the additional requirement of graphics assets, but the hope is that some Open Source communities have found a way to bridge the gap to artistic communities and there is some good public domain game art out there by then.

I plan to build the game iteratively, attempting to get a playable game of some type as soon as possible, then open it up to invite more players, developers, and artists to join the team. The process will be: each developer can run a testing shard from their own computer. People can log into this server and play the changes, and vote on whether or not to include them in the official game. A majority vote and vet of the source-level changes from the core team (to prevent exploits from being written into the system by an unscrupulous "contributor") is all it takes to get your change in place.

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