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Expand: An abstract RTS

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Hi there!

I got one of those game idea that kept floating since ~ 1 year and now I came to the point were I want to realize it.

Basic concept
Expand is an abstract RTS where players struggle to gain control of the biggest surface. It is played on a rectangle map with a limited space (size of the screen, no scrolling). When the game starts each player already control a small area of the map. Players can place buildings only within the area they control. New buildings expand the control zone around themselves, allowing the player to place more buildings, and so on.

Neighboring friendly buildings connects to each other creating links that they can use to exchange packets (resource/attacker/...). At a given time, only one packet can pass through a link (limited throughput). This can be pictured as a mathematical graph with nodes and edges. One problem the player has to solve is to optimize the resource flow within the graph to grow as fast as possible. Neighboring enemy buildings also connects to each other, the resulting link can be used to attack the opponent's graph (by sending 'attack packets'). Inspired partially from Creeper World.

Buildings
I identified 4 types of buildings mostly inspired from games like Settlers and Anno.
  • Generator: generates resources
  • Transformer: transforms resources into other resources types
  • Consumer: uses resources to generate effects (expand control zone, send attacker to opponent, ...). They can be though as a Transformer expect that their output is not a resource.
  • Accumulator: accumulates resources (so buildings are not blocked waiting on a free Transformer/Consumer).
    Buildings can be updated and destroyed.

    Resources
    There are 3 basic resources:
    • Green: To build and repair buildings.
    • Blue: To expand the area of control, defend, and slow down opponent's flow.
    • Red: To attack the opponent and speed up the flow.

      A Transformer can mix 2 basic resource to create a secondary resources. For example mixing red and green will result in a yellow resource. There might be tertiary colors as well. A path finder algorithm is used to distribute resources among the buildings. The decision of which building will receive a given resource is a function of the building need (a value that increase over time until the buidling receive the needed resource) and the distance.

      Platform
      The primary targeted platform will be iPad (and any other touch devices) so I can make extensive use of multi-touches. Although I'm not locked to it and might imagine one day having it on PC/browser if feasible (game control wise). This is going to be a 2 player game. Playable against AI or against human on the same device. The idea is to play it like a board game, iPad on the table and players facing each other. Updates might bring 3-4 players mode and network play later.

      Feedback
      First of all, is this somehow understandable or am I looking alienish? What is your overall though on this concept? Would you like to play such game?

      Here are the points I'm trying to address now. Help there would be very appreciated as it seems that I'm blocked now. I guess I need a fresh look at it.

      1) Theme
      Although this is an abstract game, it still needs a theme. I came up with two:
      - sci-fi: The map is the memory, each building is a program. Program takes memory and communicates through messages. This will be a 'squarish' design with Tron-like effects.
      - biologic: each building is a cell, resources are proteins. Each cell needs a free space to live. This will be a 'roundish' design more abstract than the sci-fi theme. But also more "peacful".

      2) Map
      I'm poor at level design and this weakness shows off here. I think there should be resources points on the map. But I do not know how to implement it:
      - Generic resources spread on the map and colored generators. For example a red generator will transform gather the resource and output a red resource.
      - Red/Green/Blue resources spread on the map and generic generators.
      - No resource points at all.

      3) Competition
      How to make the game exciting from begin to end? More control area -> More buildings -> more control area -> win faster. It looks like a dangerous circle that might remove the fun. I think this is the biggest issue. How to balance this? I would like a game that is simple to understand, hard to master.

      I'm fully open to critism, suggestions and ideas.

      Thanks for reading my wall of text!

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3) Competition
How to make the game exciting from begin to end? More control area -> More buildings -> more control area -> win faster. It looks like a dangerous circle that might remove the fun. I think this is the biggest issue. How to balance this? I would like a game that is simple to understand, hard to master.


What you need here is risk/reward. You need some global strategies the player can use to counter whatever the other is doing. In most RTS, it starts with the build order. Rush > Fast Expand > Tech > Rush. There is also the choice of units that provide another counter cycle.

You have no units, so that can't be used. What could be used is map features and global abilities. Having resource points on the map is a good start. You can add a risk by allowing the other guy to use a global ability to make you fail. For example, you can store energy. If you rush toward a resource point. you will create a single supply line. This is vulnerable to a "lockdown" attack the enemy can throw at you because it prevents packets from going through a node. However, if the enemy decides to uses a "growth" ability to cover more ground rapidly, you will reach the resource first and be at an advantage. If you didn't go for the resource, then he would be at an advantage because he covered more ground.

Another method would be to have different turrets counter themselves. A shield could block lasers, but be vulnerable to bombs. Bombs could cost more than lasers. That would give a basic counter cycle.

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Neighboring friendly buildings connects to each other creating links that they can use to exchange packets (resource/attacker/...). At a given time, only one packet can pass through a link (limited throughput).[/quote]

Can you explain this concept a bit more? I'm having trouble visualizing it.

The overall concept of controlling a single plain of space is a good one and it does seem like a game where the gameplay can go on for a very, very long time. When does a player win, however? Is this based on a "Zones" concept where a player captures space and earns points for that space? Or is it after a certain amount of "square footage" (for lack of a better word) is taken over? Or is the game simply continous until someone gives up? The players need to fight for something besides space so they have a reason to use more patient strategies or rushing strategies. I'm not seeing that here. Maybe I just didn't see it...

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Tiblanc:
You got a point here, I need some rock paper scissor. I'm thinking about using the basic resources types for that: Red beat Green, Green beat Blue, Blue beat Red. So if say opponent is going aggressive with Red, one could counter him by playing slow and safe with Blue based Buildings. If the Red player is smart, he can start using some Green as well. That would also give him access to the Yellow secondary resource (by mixing Red and Green). I'm still not sure about all this system though ;)

Your abilities ideas are really nice, however I have an additional constraint that I forget to mention in the OP. Players can only act on the area they control. It is impossible to target directly an opposing building (needed to be able to do 2 player games on the same touch device). However one can have a building that sends packets to an opposing building, so targeting opponent can be done but in an indirect manner. I can imagine having packets that "lockdown" opposing tower when reaching them.

Concerning the map I'm considering having concentration level of resources. This would affect efficiency of a Generators depending on were they are placed on the map.

Good luck on your indie project, it looks cool :)

sirkibble2:
Sure I could try to explain it a bit better. In attachment you can find a screenshot of a basic prototype (I know I know it is not gorgeous), I was playing the left side. You see various buildings (squares and circles) that are connected with so called links. Also you can see a small gray circle on one of the links, this is a resource packet. This resource packet is going from the Square with a number to the non-solid Circle building on top. So it will have to pass by 3 different links and 2 buildings. If in his path it encounters a Link on which a packet is already circulating, it will wait on the building until the Link is free, then continue his path. Hope it makes it clear.

Indeed I forgot to give details about the win condition. My basic idea is that a player win if he control more than 50% of total amount of "square footage" for a given time period. I would like to try a few prototypes with only this single win condition because I think it is simple and elegant. However I'm afraid that you are right and I might end with alternative win conditions.

Oh by the way, thanks to both of you for the feedback! It makes me think on weak/untouched aspects of the game.

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[color=#1C2837][size=2]1) Theme<br style="color: rgb(28, 40, 55); font-size: 13px; line-height: 16px; text-align: left; background-color: rgb(250, 251, 252); ">[color=#1C2837][size=2]

Although this is an abstract game, it still needs a theme. I came up with two:

<br style="color: rgb(28, 40, 55); font-size: 13px; line-height: 16px; text-align: left; background-color: rgb(250, 251, 252); ">[color=#1C2837][size=2]

- sci-fi: The map is the memory, each building is a program. Program takes memory and communicates through messages. This will be a 'squarish' design with Tron-like effects.

<br style="color: rgb(28, 40, 55); font-size: 13px; line-height: 16px; text-align: left; background-color: rgb(250, 251, 252); ">[color=#1C2837][size=2]

- biologic: each building is a cell, resources are proteins. Each cell needs a free space to live. This will be a 'roundish' design more abstract than the sci-fi theme. But also more "peacful".

[/quote]

I had an idea very similar to what you described. The theme I had in mind was radio towers that send out signal. There would be repeaters, signal jammers, etc. The win condition I had in mind was to get certain amount of signal to a point on the opposite side of the board (the opponent's side.)

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Sure I could try to explain it a bit better. In attachment you can find a screenshot of a basic prototype (I know I know it is not gorgeous), I was playing the left side. You see various buildings (squares and circles) that are connected with so called links. Also you can see a small gray circle on one of the links, this is a resource packet. This resource packet is going from the Square with a number to the non-solid Circle building on top. So it will have to pass by 3 different links and 2 buildings. If in his path it encounters a Link on which a packet is already circulating, it will wait on the building until the Link is free, then continue his path. Hope it makes it clear.[/quote]

Thanks for that thumbnail. That helped a lot. I could visualize that much better.

About those packets, how fast will they be moving between the links? I see you're idea about passing them between building to building which creates a sort of "be aware of what you're choosing" concept but I look at that and get concerned about the pace of the game. While both sides have to deal with the same issues which creates a balance in strategy, how long will it take for these things to move through? I'm sure there will combat and other options going on while the packets move their respective links, yeah? Just trying to visualize this, that's all.

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Suspense:
Like the radio tower concept although that would be a different game :) Do you know Reactable? It is a kind of musical instrument. You have a dot in the middle and you can place 'pads' that sends signals to it. This center dot can be thought as a speaker and will 'render' the signal. Of course there are different kind of pads: Pads that generates signals, pads that transform signals and pads that control other pads. It had the chance to try it at the Science Museum in Montreal, it is amazing. I think this partially inspired me Expand and also few other game ideas that were similar to yours.

Sirkibble2:
Glad to see you see it better now :)

Concerning the pace, they are going quite fast. In the example it will take less than 1sec for the packet to travel through the 3 links. My goal is to design a fast paced game, that should not exceed 5min per game. This is by personal preference but also because in my opinion it is easier to balance and test. In my current view of the game some packets will be faster, some slower. Some buildings will also speed up packets in a given radius, other might slow down enemy packets, etc... So it looks it will be all about having a good 'flow' of packets within your 'graph'

Concerning combat: Looking at the screenshot, at some point the control surface of the two players will touch and they will have buildings close to each others. If two opposing buildings are close enough, a link is created between them exactly like links between friendly towers. Now this new link allow players to send packets to the opponent. Such packets could be 'attack' packet, 'lockdown' packets, etc... All this still need a lot of polish though.

Next objective: Provide a small gameplay video illustrating resource gathering, resource flow, expansion and combat.

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I've always had the same kind of game idea, albeit with circular "pulses". The rest of the ideas were all pretty similar :)


Anyway, I'm a hobbyist game programmer, and if you're using windows, I'd like to help out. PM me if you're interested.
Thanks!
Bollµ

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Sirkibble2:
Glad to see you see it better now :)

Concerning the pace, they are going quite fast. In the example it will take less than 1sec for the packet to travel through the 3 links. My goal is to design a fast paced game, that should not exceed 5min per game. This is by personal preference but also because in my opinion it is easier to balance and test. In my current view of the game some packets will be faster, some slower. Some buildings will also speed up packets in a given radius, other might slow down enemy packets, etc... So it looks it will be all about having a good 'flow' of packets within your 'graph'

Concerning combat: Looking at the screenshot, at some point the control surface of the two players will touch and they will have buildings close to each others. If two opposing buildings are close enough, a link is created between them exactly like links between friendly towers. Now this new link allow players to send packets to the opponent. Such packets could be 'attack' packet, 'lockdown' packets, etc... All this still need a lot of polish though.

Next objective: Provide a small gameplay video illustrating resource gathering, resource flow, expansion and combat.


Looks like risk/reward is the issue you'll need to work out that Tiblanc mentioned. His suggestion is good.

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[color="#1C2837"]

Bollµ:

[color="#1c2837"]Thanks for your interest in this project, it is really appreciated! Unfortunately I'm not using Windows (it is an iPad game) and I'm not needing an additional programmer yet.


[color="#1c2837"]Sirkibble2: [color=#1C2837][size=2]Yup!


[color="#1c2837"]Small update:

[color="#1c2837"]Did several playtest games with a friend this week-end. Two strategies were used:

[color="#1c2837"] -Rush: Expand fast by putting as much space between buildings as possible. Try to lock the opponent before loosing steam.

[color="#1c2837"] -Turtle: Expand slowly but pack buildings. Avoid being locked by guessing opponent moves and win in the long term.

[color="#1c2837"]Another nice thing that I noticed is how the pace how the game changes. At the beginning each players take huge area and as the game advance it becomes more difficult to find free space up to the point were you have to fight for a little square!

[color="#1c2837"]Should update the OP anytime soon. Quite some things changed already.

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