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Aerdna

Seeking criticism for our AI-themed game idea

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I'm part of a little italian indie team (me and other 2 guys) and we started thinking of a game idea 2 months ago. We have just completed our "first round" of the brainstorming and (I think) estabilished a base where our game will be built. I'd like to listen to some feedback from other people so I'm sure that our design has no significant and big flaws that we haven't found and/or thought of.
(Before going deep into the design specifics, I apologise for my poor english, I'll try by best).


Core concept
The core concept of the game will be how we (gamers) are willing to give away our control freedom in order to pursue a goal. The game will set from the beginning a goal, and to pursue this goal the player has to make as less mistakes as possible: the more mistakes/time loss, the more the player will be punished both in the gameplay side, both in the narrative/story side (and so far, that's what every game does, but there is a twist in the design, described later, that will add more meaning to this).
To keep describing the game idea I have to introduce the main narrative theme: the player is immersed in a post-apocalyptic world (wow, a setting that no one used :wink:  ): before the apocalypse the humanity were at a point where human AIs were invented, the technology had an even major presence than in today life. All over the globe you could see AIs, cyborgs, robots, etc... . After the apocalypse (not a nuclear one, the apocalypse that the player will live in is more like an anarchy one) the survivors have no limits on how much to use cyborg implants, hacking systems, lethal weapons, etc...

Core mechanics idea
So, going back to the game core mechanics, the game offers the player the opportunity to implant electronic powerups to improve his/her performance in order to complete the game in less time and mistakes. But, obviously, there is a dark side of the coin in applying these powerups: the player loses freedom.
Some powerups will just improve the strength of our avatar, and have no effects on how we behave in the world. But there are other types of powerups that directly take action to reach their prefixed goal: for example, there could be a powerup that is in charge of shooting to any threat that we (our character) encounter. This powerup is very helpful because it takes automatic aim and shoot to the enemy target, so the player feel (and is) more safe from the threats of the dangerous world. But, on the other hand, this powerup could cause collateral damage, maybe killing a survivor, or damaging a structure. So the player has to balance between getting more and more efficient, but at the same time (if he/she cares) not giving away too much freedom, otherwise there will be heavy consequences.

Story/Narrative
So, you'll be questioning: why would I care to be as much efficient as possible in the game? how does the goal impose me to not make mistakes in order to not "lose" the game?
And here comes another gameplay side of the core idea, and the basic story plot. We, (players) at the beginning of the game, will be appointed to carry a "memory chip" to a mysterious place: the game is all about reach that place and deliver that chip.
Without talking too much about the whys and hows of the story plot, in the chip there are memories of a dead person that lived before the apocalypse, and that chip deteriorates more and more with the flow of time and the damage that we (players' avatar) take. Every time that the chip is damaged, it loses a chunk/fragment of memory. The player can access the chip and live the memories of that person: so we can explore the story of that person and (hopefully for us developers) empathize with him (we decided he is a boy).
That empathy (if estabilished) is the reason for the player to reach the target place as soon as possible and with less damages as possible, because we are also told that the chip is needed to create a robot that will have the personality and memories of the owner of the memories in the chip: it's like revive a person. So, the more the chip is intact, the more the reconstruction of that person will be accurate. Losing large portions of memories of that chip means change and damage irreparably the identity of the person.

In Conclusion
So this is the core narrative element that fuel the (we hope high and significant) contrast that the player will face in the game: the game will not be that difficult, but the player will be so careful and paranoic about not making mistakes that he/she will be really tempted to implant powerups, and maybe even the ones that restrain his/her freedom.
So, for the core game idea I finished. I hope it is not too long for this section of the forum: I read the guidelines, rules and other similar threads, and maybe it could be that I have written too much (I hope not).

I'd really like to read feedback, especially I seek criticism to know if the idea has the potential to evoke in the player that sense of interior conflict, rush of time, and risk of "killing" a person with his/her actions, and what could be improved to enhance those elements.


More on Gameplay
Ehm... I just realised only this far that I have totally forgotten to mention how we imagined the gameplay could be. So, here it is:
We're sure that the game will be 2D, we're still unsure what to choose between isometric or orthographic. The first is more visually detailed and realistic, the second would be more "clear" from a control/space-visualization perspective.
About the genre, it's a a kind of adventure (heavily narrative-based game), but I have no real classification of what we want it to be, we're not designing by asking us "what is the genre that the game will be based on?".
Talking about mechanics, the only sure mechanic is hacking: the player can upgrade and use his/her hacking tools that can get into the AI/robot minds/circuits. Obviously this mechanic will be touched by the concept explained before of the powerups. The more you upgrade to automatic and more efficient hacking systems, the more you risk to destroy some parts of the brain of the AI.
We're still thinking about the possibility to introduce other mechanics: we're unsure if introduce at max another one (we're evaluating shooting, parkour, stealth, ...), or just have the hacking and spend all the design and narrative resources around that.
I'd really like to have one mechanic and explore it deeply (maybe through the design description you already understood that we're heavily influenced by that masterpiece of Undertale :)  ), but it could be not that rewarding for the player and it raises various narrative questions ("why can we only hack in a post-apocalyptic world where we can do everything we want?").



Other threads
I've already posted this same thread in another forum, here is the link: http://www.indiedb.com/forum/thread/seek-criticism-for-our-game-idea.
In this one there are some replies/questions that could help understand better the idea behind this. In the future I could update with other links/threads in forums where I'll discuss about our idea. I post in different forums because we want to hear as many opinions/feedbacks/criticism as possible.

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Violence and combat, in addition to hacking, are necessary for social and thematic reasons.

Socially, when characters meet the interaction can take a violent turn, and the violence needs to go both ways.

Thematically, restricting AI intrusiveness to an immaterial machine activity like hacking is a limitation; the body and perception of the character should be corrupted too, and physical enhancements need to be expressed through physical activity like combat.

Allowing AI to kill people, as you (more or less) already noted, is also a way to increase player responsibility.

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Violence and combat, in addition to hacking, are necessary for social and thematic reasons.

Socially, when characters meet the interaction can take a violent turn, and the violence needs to go both ways.

Thematically, restricting AI intrusiveness to an immaterial machine activity like hacking is a limitation; the body and perception of the character should be corrupted too, and physical enhancements need to be expressed through physical activity like combat.

Allowing AI to kill people, as you (more or less) already noted, is also a way to increase player responsibility.


Yeah, you're right about needing violence. We have only said that we'll have certainly hacking because it's the only mechanic that we could think of that doesn't put the player in a "death spot".
For what we have tought of the game, the game has to constantly apply pressure on the player, and because of that we need to think of a way that is both in the narrative and in the gameplay valid to eliminate the concept of death and rewind. There are a lot of games that apply high pressure on the player and still have death in them, but we have to remember that in our game there is also the performance/efficiency concept: letting the player reset the game in a previous point or die purposely for spawning in the most recent spawnpoint and redo the level totally eliminate the pressure. A player could just play infinitely a level until it completes it perfectly, and then proceed the adventure.
So, returning to the violence topic, we haven't still thought of a mechanic that imply violence, because violence against our avatar more or later needs to imply death, but, as I said, dying at the moment is not a viable design. Surely between characters/AIs there will be violence, but we still not know how to handle that related to the avatar.

So, a very important design question that I didn't mention in the main thread: would you remove spawnpoints/time rewind/player death in order to keep the player constantly engaged/under pressure?


At the moment we have thought this, but is a weak idea, it doesn't seem a really a good one: our avatar is an indestructible robot, but it can get damaged. The damage accumulates over time, and there is also a heal per second. It's just like the mechanic of over heating weapons in many shooters. When the player gets heavely damaged, he/she will be slown down and also the chip gets damage. So, taking damage does not cause death, and there are still punishments. But, there is a clear problem: if, for example, the player does not move totally and keeps getting damaged, how are the NPCs/AIs damaging him/her going to react? Realistically, they will notice that their weapons won't kill the player, so will they just go away? Or do other things? Will they hope infinitely that sooner or later the robot will explode?

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I enjoy the initial concept, and definitely find it interesting. Giving up control of certain functions in order to make them more powerful, but having to do deal with the consequences of an AI's actions rather than my own? Neat. I think there are a lot of great possibilities there.

My main concern with that gameplay is how you make the AI of your various upgrades actually feel like AI and not like more basic programming. For instance the combat powerup that assumes control of your shooting: we usually expect "AI" to do things better than human beings, that being why the AI is used. So if this AI can make "mistakes" or take actions you wouldn't want it to take, there must be a reason. Maybe the AIs are being controlled/influenced by other things? Maybe they have ulterior motives? Maybe some AI have weird quirks you have to deal with? Like one Shooter AI has the quirk that it absolutely hates blonde people, and will attempt to shoot at blonde people wherever you encounter them (an extreme example just to demonstrate a point). Thus the player would need to try and avoid blonde people unless he doesn't mind killing them. 

As I said, I do like the concept - but removing agency from the player is something that must be done extremely carefully, and whenever you do it you should hand back ways that the player can take it back (work around the problem). That being said, I would certainly take a second look at a game like this.

Oh, and one note about the story: if this is post-apocalyptic that usually means people die all the time. Even if we get to know this boy from the memory chip, what would make the player character try so hard to bring him back? Is it a family member? Otherwise important?

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For instance the combat powerup that assumes control of your shooting: we usually expect "AI" to do things better than human beings, that being why the AI is used. So if this AI can make "mistakes" or take actions you wouldn't want it to take, there must be a reason. Maybe the AIs are being controlled/influenced by other things? Maybe they have ulterior motives? Maybe some AI have weird quirks you have to deal with? Like one Shooter AI has the quirk that it absolutely hates blonde people, and will attempt to shoot at blonde people wherever you encounter them (an extreme example just to demonstrate a point). Thus the player would need to try and avoid blonde people unless he doesn't mind killing them.


Well, the powerups are just not AI, are more like powerful programs. AIs are NPCs, characters, etc...
Being programs, there are many that do the same thing, but there are some that are more efficient/"strong" than others. The thing that you point out about the "imperfection" of such powerups will do the trick: the cheaper the powerup you buy, the less efficient and usefull it will be. The imperfections so are caused by two things: the "accuracy" mistakes are caused by low-level powerups, but the collateral damage ones are intentional in the design: the irreversible powerups, that automate certain actions only have efficiency in their "mind", they totally don't care about ethics, personal morals, harming uselessy, etc... . They only care about doing their job. By a design perspective this is done to introduce in the mechanics the question "do the ends justify the means?", "how much the ends justify the means?". The player will now clearly the downsides and implications of implanting these kind of powerups, so he/she can decide consciously.
A lot of the design that you have seen is heavely influenced by the Promethean Shame, described in Gunther Ander's work "The Outdatedness of Human Beings 1" (that I have just seen was never translated to english, ouch).

Oh, and one note about the story: if this is post-apocalyptic that usually means people die all the time. Even if we get to know this boy from the memory chip, what would make the player character try so hard to bring him back? Is it a family member? Otherwise important?


In this game post-apocalyptic means that where the game take place there is anarchy, other parts of the world instead faced nuclear/chemical war.
About the memory chip, I'll just copy and paste the answer I gave in the IndieDb thread:
This boy, that from now I'll refer to with the name of K (that is the "name" we're using at the moment xD ), is not a special person, neither important to the plot itself (this is not so true, we're still working to the final part of the story and K could be relevant plot-wise in the journey of our avatar). The memory part of the game has "only" to tell an engaging story (that will touch both AI/tech related themes both personal/relationship themes) and has the purpose of letting the player see how the world was before the apocalypse. Like mentioned in the previous post, we will be crafting this story (of K) hoping that the player will empathize with him.
I think that is not necessary that K has to be necessarely an important character plot-wise, I want(/hope) that the player will think this when playing: "ok, K may be useless in the plot, but I'm so attached/in empathy with him that I don't want to damage his chip and reach that place, I want to give him a second chance. Heck, now how would I overcome this obstacle? Should I buy that powerup?".
But yeah, we have to think more about the story of K, especially in the question "why would I want to protect this chip?"

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