Monday, July 24, 2006

Steal this Game Design: Chlorophyll

I made it! I got this one done before the end of the day!

This idea was harder to flesh out than the last few games I've posted. Even though it takes many elements from existing games, it has enough new stuff to make it a headache to keep concise, consistent, and complete enough for my needs here.

This is based on an original idea a friend and ex-coworker once suggested. If he ever reads this and wants to be credited, he can contact me and I'll mention his name here. What you'll read below is a lot more fleshed-out and thought-0ut than what we'd originally discussed, but since he provided the original spark, he should get the credit for it (if he wants it.)

On an alien planet, plants are the dominant life form.
Make sure it stays that way!

In Chlorophyll, you are the first consciousness to emerge from advanced plant life. You decide how the plants you're made of grow, expand and function. You must also fight for survival against other plant consciousnesses, single mindless but dangerous plants and the few primitive animals that have started evolving into more complex creatures.

Your final goal: to spread your consciousness across the whole planet, and beyond.

This game falls somewhere between the Real-Time Strategy genre and the God-game genre.

Instead of ordering people or creatures around, however, you decide where you're going to sprout new plants, what type they are, and how they should behave.

You start with a few different plants that, together, form your consciousness:
  • The brain plant: bulbous, greyish-green with only a few fat, yellowing leaves, this is where most of your consciousness resides. Through roots, you can create new brain plants, but there are special requirements that make these hard and costly to grow. Your resources are better used in generating other plant types.
  • Collector plants: these tend to have more leaves, and be greener all around than any other plant type. Once they sprout, they grow as fast as the resources available permit (water in the soil, nutrients in the soil, and sunlight.) Your other plants can consume these collectors to grow or mutate themselves, or to sustain themselves when the resources available in the soil are not plentiful enough (collectors are more efficient at absorbing water and nutrients, they are often the last plants to die before the brain plant.) A variation of this plant type looks more like a cactus: better at retaining resources and surviving, but this grows more slowly.
  • Warrior plants: These tend to have a leopard-like pattern of yellow spots on their otherwise green foliage. These plants cost the least to sprout far from your main cluster, they can grow fast if they share roots with collectors, and they sometimes have spines or other elements that can damage other plants. Some variations can also poison the soil around them, causing other plants to die. You use this type to attack an enemy consciousness or prevent it from establishing it in a certain area.
  • Guardian plants: These should be grown around your main plant cluster. These are the most resistant plants, they need very little in the way of resources, but they grow slowly, and can't be grown far from your other plants. Enemy plants that try to grow close to your guardian plants will have their roots "strangled" and their water sucked out, until the opposing plants die. Only warrior plants can hope to damage and destroy guardians.
  • Specialty plants: this includes bug-catchers (for nutrients), reflectors (to redirect sunlight to shadier areas and make them more productive), diggers (to move dirt around and redirect water flows) and spore-spouts (send spores out to try and establish new "colonies" where your roots can't reach).
  • Rogue plants: one very special plant type will let you cut part of an enemy's root system to isolate a cluster of plants from its colony. If the enemy controller can't re-establish new roots that connect to this cluster, and you can grow roots to the cluster, this special "rogue" plant will help connect the cluster to your roots, thereby stealing the cluster from the enemy.
As mentioned above, you can't move plants around, but you can control where and how roots grow, and where your plants sprout (and what type they are.) All your plants are connected through their root system. You never directly control what each plant does, they just act and react based on what's around them (collectors grow, warriors attack enemy plants, guardians grow slowly and react to enemy plants that try to sprout in the area, etc.)

Interface and Controls

You give orders by marking areas where you want your roots to grow into, and where your roots should avoid growing (some areas can be damaging, or could cause a premature reaction from an enemy.) Your roots automatically grow slowly around your plants, except where you marked the ground as "no-go." Automatic and directed growth only happens if your plants are getting an adequate supply of light, water and nutrients. If any resource is lacking, either your collectors will start shrinking, as they're consumed by the other plants, or other plants will shrivel and die, while your roots will retreat.

You can only sprout a plant on ground where your roots have reached (except where spores are concerned.) Right-clicking (or pressing the right controller button) on an acceptable spot brings up a radial menu where a plant type can be chosen (specialty plants are in their own category.)

The health of each plant is immediately visible, there should be no need to display health bars or anything of the sort.

There are different soil types, shown using different colors, which affect how easy it is for roots to grow, and can also make it easier for certain plant types to grow faster or impede the growth of other plant types.

The whole interface should look very organic and plant-like, including front-end menus, etc.


There should always be a background "nature" soundtrack to the game, with varying wind, trickling water (or rain), possibly as part of a completely dynamic musical soundtrack that can add some "tribal"-sounding percussion, flutes, didgeridoos, possibly mixed-in with an occasional bird-call (although birds should not feature prominently, as the world in question in the game doesn't have much in the way of animal life.)

The music should dynamically convey the current situation: calm and soothing if all is well, some sort of digging rhythm if a lot of digging is happening, more percussion if there is some "fighting" going on, with subtle differences in the percussion denoting whether the player is the attacker or the attacked, and how the fight is going, mushy, disgusting sounds if some of your plants are shrinking or rotting (from lack of resources or because of enemy attack.)

All sound effects should sound natural, or like exaggerated versions of natural sounds, with no artificial- or technological-sounding noises.


This seems like a natural for multiplayer, in the same way that most RTS games make good multiplayer games. The whole "indirect control of individual plants" aspect should curb the otherwise common "rushing" problem.

This concept still needs a lot of fleshing out, and could seriously benefit from some concept art. I'm useless as a graphic artist; if you're not, and you can picture this game well enough to create some artwork that should represent the different elements of this game (just keep thinking "lush vegetation" and you should be on the right track) just put up a sample or two in the comments, and if I like what I see, I'll incorporate it into the design post itself, with full credit to you and a link to the website of your choice -- as long as it's related to your artwork or to game design and art.

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