07 August, 2010

Major College Project

I've gone back to study for this semester.

I'm upgrading a qualification in Web Design and I'm adding a qualification in Multimedia.

All in the hopes that:

A) I might become more employable...

or

B) My own business ventures will rely less on the fickleness of third parties.

As a result I'll have a couple of major projects for the semester. One of which will be a website driven by a database, andother of which will be an interactive flash project.

So I'm wondering about the options of combining these two projects into a single entity...a flash driven web-browser game.

I know that there are already plenty of these around, but on the whole most of them aren't that great. I'm thinking that there might be a chance to get some fun interactive storytelling happening in a game like this, to really push the envelop beyond a simple point and click adventure. In mush the same way that storygames are pushing the envelop with roleplaying.

Let's look at some of the first ideas for the project.

1) It needs to draw players back time and again...as a result there should regularly be new challenges and new rewards. Some existing browser based games already do this, by providing "festive encounters"...Santa only shows up in the week leading up to Christmas, the Easter Bunny only shows up around April, Halloween treasures appear for a week or so...you get the idea. I'd also like to make sure that players are enticed to come back by allowing their characters to develop, perhaps offering tougher opponents or quests that only become accessible once key character development aspects are met.

2) It needs to be self sustaining. There are some great browser based games that have developed dedicated online communities, hundreds of players who interact over forums and wikis centred on the game.

3) I don't want to run the type of game where money will buy you a better character and the richest kid on the block will automatically buy up the best character. But the problem with this type of game is that a lot of people don't have the dedicated time to develop a character the slow way. Providing a "premium membership" for a monetary value would help offset any server costs.

4) Maybe a real world reward cycle, earn points in the game, and those points may be used to get discounts on game related products. This is sort of related to number 3.

Let's look at the power-19 questions in relation to a game of this type. I'd be very surprised if other web-browser game designers went through this kind of process for their game, after all this style of play is only a few years old, still equivalent to the early boxes of D&D. A lot of the browser games on the market are very cookie-cutter in their approach.

1. What is your game about?
This will be a browser game set in the endless labyrinth setting that I've mentioned a few times in my "Games for Goblins" projects. It is a game about little creatures struggling to survive in a nightmarish world, these creatures survive by scavenging, trickery, occasional trade and generally by avoiding conflict when possible.

2. What do the characters do?
The characters begin in small towns scattered across the labyrinth, towns are always under threat from marauding monsters, lost adventurers from the mortal world, and celestial beings who wiped them out on a whim if they become too noticeable. All characters start as a lowly brood member, and only once they've proven themselves through a series of lesser quests do they become capable of exploring the lands beyond their township. Over the course of their lives, they scavenge parts, build contraptions, learn secretive magics and may eventually get the opportunity to join the goblin king's royal army.

3. What do the players do?
The players connect to the game when the opportunity presents itself. They move their characters around the labyrinth, with a random chance of encountering savage and dangerous opponents, or possibly finding useful "stuff". When a player logs out of a session, they may set their character to "search the area" for more stuff, "defend the area" from possible threats, "tinker" with their stuff to build contraptions, "meditate" on the mysteries of the universe, "hide" or a range of other possible options. I'd like players in local taverns to be able to talk to one another via a chat function, to help develop a community aspect, and there should be some kind of noticeboard system for long term messages or important news.

4. How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what the game is about?
The game is about the chance of a little guy becoming a hero. Everyone starts little, and everyone has the chance to succeed. You can succeed by doing more than just fighting; talk, tinkering, study and trade are just as useful for developing experience. All it takes is perseverance and a bit of luck.

5. How does character creation reinforce what the game is about?
The game is designed to be simple. Characters are quick and dirty, they are expected to die, because there are so many goblins. As a result, a character needs to be quick to build. But once they've passed through the first couple of quests they'll start to develop a bit more personality. While most starting characters will start off fairly generic, the actual development of the character will occur through the first couple of quests. If you do a combat related quest you'll pick up combat traits...if you do a trade quest, you'll pick up trade traits. Once you've done two of these starting quests, you'll be ready to proceed to the "Halls of Honour" to become a fully fledged member of society. The starting quests teach you how to use the traits that you possess...unlike a of of games where you are given a complex character generation system then thrown in the deep end.

6. What types of behaviour/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?
The game rewards each type of activity with it's own traits and special bonuses. If you fight all the time, you'll get fighting abilities...if you talk and negotiate all the time, you'll get better at these skills. At a deeper level, the actions of a character will be reflected in their bearing and their aura. Someone who is always using magic might have a crackling aura...someone who is always negotiating and being friendly might have an entourage following them or might just seem pleasant to talk to.

7. How are behaviours and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?
Games like this often need to be competitive to keep players playing, but the flip-side of this is that if you allow players to kill one another you'll get competitive players who drive others away with their antagonism. The game will apply a "bad aura" or bounty system on those players who kill other players.

General rewards are basically that if you keep doing the same type of task over and over, you'll get good at it, but at the expense of other characteristics fading away. Players need to keep a balance about their characters for maximum survivability, but will often develop the best reputation and usefulness to the community if they develop a single skill to higher levels. This isn't a point and click game, it's a game where players need to think a bit.

8. How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?
A series of hidden algorithms will drive the game, offering random encounters and random descriptive elements in conjunction with fixed details about various locations. Players will be able to modify the environment to some extent by writing on walls, placing specific pieces of equipment around (eg. traps), or making other modifications to the environment based on their skills/traits. Players will also be able to chat to one another and hopefully develop up a mythology beyond what is merely presented as images and text from the game interface. I'd like to think that this is where the fruitful void and the "roleplaying" will come from in the game.

9. What does your game do to command the player's attention, engagement and participation?
In percentages:
I'm expecting about 60% of people to look at the site maybe play a couple of times then lose interest. Nice graphics, an intuitive interface and an interesting setting will hopefully lure a few of these players to stay around.
Another 30% will probably play until they "level up" once or twice, then get drawn in by the next big thing...or go back to playing their "regular game of choice". They might play daily for a while, then play weekly for a bit longer when they remember about it. They should be lured further by the reward cycle of added skills/traits and added complexity in the tougher missions.
6% might really get involved in the game, playing it daily for weeks on end. These would be the players who really start to get ahead in the game. The built in reward cycle would cater to these players by rewarding daily returns to the game.
3% would end up truly getting ahead, logging on multiple times a day to gain an edge over their competitors. These players would gain the opportunity to become faction heads, and thus give them the chance to reward lesser players by offering them quests.
The final 1% might be fanatical enough to earn administrator privileges, allowing them near magical abilities to change the labyrinth and the over-arcing storylines within the game.

10. What are the resolution mechanics for your game like?
I'm actually thinking of using an Otherkind dice system for this game. The computer rolls 3 dice, +1 if you've got a special trait in an area. Extra dice will be gained or lost depending on the area you are in...(a "Jungle Specialist" gains an extra die in "Jungle" locations...a "Dishonoured" character loses a die if they are engaging in social interactivity). The basic system would follow FUBAR. With a scene being an hour or a movement between locations (situational traits vanish once a character moves or after an hour, whichever comes first), an act lasts half a day (short term traits vanish after 12 hours have passed), a story lasts a week (long term traits vanish after 7 full days have passed), etc.

Dice are rolled by the computer, the player gets to allocate them into "Degree of Success", "Degree of Sacrifice" and "Degree of Fallout". The computer then translates these values into a resultant animation or short randomized story text.

When players decide to log out and engage in a task during their down-time, their character remains locked into this task non stop. If they dedicate an hour to a task, they gain a free extra bonus die, if they dedicate 6 hours they gain 2 bonus dice, a day earns them 3 bonus dice.

11. How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?
This is very different to the existing browser based games, and since the game is more about the stories of young goblins who are struggling to grow up as heroes, it makes a better storytelling method.

There will probably be an ongoing chronicle about characters (in their history), showing a goblin's rise through the ranks. Maybe they'll need to visit the "Hall of Honour" to update their tales.

12. Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?
This has already been described. The characters advance by performing actions suitable to earn them traits. Characters may turn these traits permanent once they have proven competent in the related skill.

13. How does character advancement reinforce what the game is about?
See above

14. What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?
I want to create a mystical world that lures players back time and again. Something a bit different, whether this is through good graphical interface, good story, or good gameplay. I want the players to feel a part of this world through their characters.

15. What areas of your game receive extra attention and colour? Why?
The goblins themselves are the heroes of this game, and as they develop they will gain more colour and emphasis. Only those characters who have proven themselves an ongoing oart of the environment will gain the benefits of this added colour though. The majority of the goblins will simply be unnamed hordes.

16. Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?
Using Otherkind Dice in a browser game seems awesome. It's going to take a bit of work to get it right, but I'd like to think that this will make a great interface between the table-top story-games which are always looking for new markets, and the browser game community who are getting sick of the same old thing being rehashed.

17. Where does your game take the players that other games can’t, don’t, or won’t?
As I've said many times, most games of this nature are simply point and click, and most of them are really combat intensive rather than political or social. Some have a bit of detail in these regards, but I haven't seen any that really fulfil this niche.

18. What are your publishing goals for your game?
I'd be happy enough to get 100 regular players by the end of the year, I'd love to get 1000 players for the game. If I could use this game as a vehicle toward luring players into the other products of Vulpinoid Studios (or other forms of indie gaming), that would be awesome.

19. Who is your target audience?
Players looking for a bit of escapism, but who don't have the time to dedicate hours and hours to MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. With a lack of combat focus in the game, I'd like to think the game might be more accessible to a female audience as well.
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