I haven’t got much time/willpower in the past few weeks to move forward with this project too much (still working on the peeps’ budgeting skills) so I decided to ramble about some long term ideas I have instead of sharing my progress - because apparently I do have enough time and willpower to ramble about that sort of thing.
I’ve got a pretty good idea about the game world, even though that’s something that’s not going to be very relevant for a looong time. Let me walk you through the way I got there:
The original idea
The basic inspiration for this project was the Nemesis system in the LOTR game Shadow of Mordor. You can read about it here in case you don’t know how it works.
The system is relatively simple and just works. It’s awesome. I was honestly expecting pretty much every game made since to rip it off and do something similar, but as far as I know it hasn’t really been copied. Curious.
Anyway, my first idea was to use a similar system and give the player the role of a police officer. Most of the game would revolve around the fact that you’d do your best to get criminal scum off the streets, only to watch them walk after paying off judges or simply doing their time, while the real bosses laugh to your face. The game would give you the option to either stick with this “hard way” or simply snap and start dispensing lethal justice as a vigilante. This was actually meant to be a board game. This simple premise evolved and mutated and eventually I ended up with something completely different (more focused on on player in the role of journalists and/or crime bosses trying to subvert or eliminate various politicians and businessmen). Eventually I decided that the board game has become so different that I might as well give the original idea another go. I found Defold and here I am.
While I haven’t completely resigned on the original police officer approach, it will only be one possible way of playing the game, as I’ve decided to make the whole thing much more open-ended. Which meant that if I want bad guys coming back for more after being defeated, they must have a way to do that even if the player decides to go on a kill frenzy (and I expect that playstyle to be rather popular). So that rules out most realistic settings. For me that meant three possibilities - fantasy, sci-fi or something like superhero comics (comic villains are notorious for their refusal to rest even in pieces). And since sci-fi has always been my thing, I’ve decided to go with that, though I plan to utilize many comic book tropes as well, since they seem to fit my idea rather neatly.
As for subgenre - well, I don’t want to spend all the energy that would be needed to create a hard sci-fi world, so I tend heavily towards space opera (the game Strange Adventures In Infinite Space being a prime example of what it should be like). Additionally, since I’m currently heavily invested into the cyberpunk genre (as I’ve mentioned elsewhere), that’s going to colour the game a lot too.
So the idea is to have a big, colourful and a little bit silly futuristic world with heavy use of body augmentation, surveilance and cutthroat everyday life, which will neatly support the gameplay mechanics I want: character development way beyond baseline human - if the player so choses, higher-ranking NPCs being physically much harder to destroy, plenty of justification for enemies to come back from the dead to haunt you - by ways of cloning, consciousness upload or good old-fashioned miraculous medicine.
So… space station
Given the way I’m doing things, I can hardly simulate a sprawling metropolis (which is where I imagine most of the denizens of my world live). One option was for the game to take place on a tiny colony, a frontier town. Think Firefly. As seductive as that sounds, that lends itself to a western, which is a genre I never explored much. You could say it’s for me an unknown frontier it itself. And even though it would be an interesting challenge, what I don’t want is to add even more challenge on top of the whole actually learning programming to be able to do this.
Besides, space station offers me claustrophobic space with tight corridors, service shafts, possibly entire subspaces for the homeless and undesirable to dwell in and more. While I tend to think of Startopia when thinking about the basic systems I’m working on now, my idea is something like Omega in Mass Effect or the underground city in Demolition Man.
The grander scheme of things
I love when certain gameplay considerations push me towards concrete lore decisions. I want different space stations appearing in the game to differ from one another, especially when it comes to the system of government. For now I’m focusing on anarchy, but I’d very much like autoritative regimes, capitalistic societies, hell, even something like a monarchy isn’t out of the question. The question is - why would someone build something massive like a space-station and then let some rabble run it the way they see fit? And to take it from a different side: I want crime, and I want peeps to be able to hit one another over the head and take whatever money they have in their pockets. Or ransack their homes and find whatever is stashed there. Would there still be physical money in the far future? It always bothered me that in games where all payments you do by wireless transfer (often explicitly called that) you find credits stashed in all manner of places (I’m looking at you, Deus Ex).
Both of those problems can be solved by means mankind has been solving its problems for ages: war. The way I see it, mankind, possibly united in a single empire/alliance/federation has been spreading across the galaxy, until something happened. And since natural disaster on a galactic level sounds far-fetched, it’s better to use war, being a decidedly unnatural disaster. I’ll let the question of whether the war was waged against an alien civilization or “enemy within” undecided for now, but we now know there’s still a much diminished old empire, whose power extends over a couple of core worlds, while the outer planets and space stations have descended into anarchy or declared independence. Pirates reign supreme. Political situation is volatile. Much has been destroyed and/or forgotten, a lot of technology is rare. So the society where the game takes place can be both highly advanced in some ways and rather barbaric and low-tech in others. Perfect for me.
Some more details and gameplay modes
I spent some time thinking about game modes I’d ideally like to have and how they should differ from one another. Obviously the basic one is going to be simply:
Sandbox. A randomly generated station, put the player in and go! Do what you want and have fun! This can be spruced up by additional optional rules and customizations, such as an enforced no kill rule, different starting conditions, hell, that police officer thing I was talking about would fit in here perfectly. This mode would probably have heavy rogue-like elements.
Challenge / puzzle mode. The existence of this mode fully depends on whether the finished game will be able to support it, which is far from certain, but I imagine it like this: Say I build a set up a game world which is going to be blown up after a month of game time by a madman. It wouldn’t be directly scripted, just overwhelmingly likely (and 100% sure if the player didn’t do anything). The madman in question could be a normal guy who hates his life, works a dead-end job, has no friends etc. Within the month, he’d get fired, robbed and come across a way to sabotage the station’s reactor. The player could solve this in a number of ways - he could find out who the madman ends up being (over multiple playthroughs) and then just go directly to him and put a bullet in his head pre-emptively. Or he could wait and prevent to sabotage. Or he could go on a killing spree and hopefully make enough changes that the butterfly effect breaks something and the sabotage doesn’t happen. Or he could find the guy, befriend him, help him turn his luck around and prevent him from being suicidal.
Story mode. This is a personal thing. I tend to think that no game is complete if it doesn’t have some sort of single player campaign, some story, something more than just gameplay, no matter how good it is. Plus I’m a storyteller at heart. Of course there has to be a story mode. It does, however, come with some problems that need solving. Since the game is meant to be very open-ended, it would feel wrong to constrain the player too much, but the story still has to make sense no matter if you’re a by-the-book good guy or a murdering psycho. I’m thinking that each stage should take place on a different space station, so that it woudn’t derail should you decide to make it uninhabitable before your departure. Leaving would then be your objective each time, though it doesn’t have to be a matter of buying a ticket or stowing aboard a trader (though I’d very much like these things to be an option some of the time). You could have an authoritarian regime that simply won’t let you, unless you gain favour with it, topple it or work with the resistance to flee covertly. Other time there could be a blockade by ships outside and nobody could leave until a specific problem was solved, say an outbreak of a zombie virus.
One more note on the story mode
One core gameplay mechanic is going to be the ability to reset the game back to the original state where the (random) events will happen the same way unless you interfere, basically making the game a Groundhog Day simulator. Hopefully that will also allow me to skip making a save/load system, which sounds like pain anyway. What I always liked was when gameplay elements like this were explained in-universe (the Prince of Persia trillogy being a great example). So what I’m thinking is: the player character gets affected by… something. An experiment. A weapon test going wrong. An alien influence. A trillion-in-one freak occurence. What it does is that should he ever die, he’ll return back in time to the start of the game, Edge of Tomorrow style. In case of the story mode that would be time of arrival on the current space station. That can be neatly explained by saying that whatever it is, it’s influenced by whatever kind of warp-travel is typical in my universe and thus resets every time he travels somewhere. The story can then revolve around someone or something trying to get this power for themselves.
So yeah. That’s pretty much where I stand right now in terms of “lore”. None of this matters. It’s going to be ages until it’s time to implement almost anything mentioned above, and things will change. They always do. But the way I see it - you have to have a plan; just so you have something to modify or outright abandon once you get a better idea.
Hopefully I’ll have some actual development news next time, though I do have many more topics to ramble about. We’ll have to wait and see which it is.