Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Steal This Game Design: Boxes

Wow, it's been a ridiculously long time since I've updated... After the burglary, I lost the motivation to keep posting regularly, I had way too much on my mind. I can't say I didn't have the time, because that would be a lie: I'm basically unemployed (doing a little bit of freelance game design on the side, but certainly not enough to support me) and that's kept me preoccupied. That, plus the stupid people at Sympatico who couldn't upgrade my connection from plain regular High Speed DSL to High Speed Ultra DSL without breaking something and causing me to be stuck on dial-up for about three weeks...

Anyway, all these aren't good enough reasons not to post. I came close to posting a few times, but some form or other of my intrinsic laziness came in and knocked me out... Left on my own, I tend to revert to an amorphous gelatinous state and I don't do anything except surf the web and play videogames (occasionally eating as well.)

It's a pity laziness can't be made into a video game concept. (Or can it? I think I'll think about this some more... This might turn into next week's post!)

In the meantime, here's something new that could work nicely as an XBox Live Arcade game:


Boxes is a simple puzzle game that is played in a 3D environment with gravity and realistic physics. The goal is to gather cubic boxes that are the same color, and insert them into each other in order of increasing size.

Depending on the level of difficulty, there are either 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7 box sizes (the more sizes there are, the harder the game is.)

The game is played inside a room that has a square floor, and a ceiling that is about two and a half times as high as the width of the room. The player controls a smoothly animated stick figure who can move around the room and jump up about the height of two of the bigger-sized boxes. But the main thing the player can also do is grab a box in each hand, or drop whatever a particular hand is carrying, or "combine" whatever he has in his two hands, if they're compatible.

The player must move around the room, pick up a box in one hand, then pick up another box with his other hand, and then insert one box into the other, but only if their colors match, and if one is smaller than the other. After two boxes are "combined", they remain combined, unless the player uncombines them. This only works if there's a box "missing" in the middle of the set, for example in a 3-size game, the player can place a size-1 box inside a size-3 box, then separate them when he finds a size-2 box to place in-between.

Picking up boxes is done in one of two ways:
  1. When the player moves around, the boxes around him light up, one at a time, to indicate "focus". Pressing the left or right trigger causes the corresponding hand to pick up the box with the highlight.
  2. If the player holds down one of the triggers, a bright little spark can be moved around with the movement controls (the stick figure remains stationary during that time) to choose a particular box. When the trigger is released, the stick figure picks up the box with the corresponding hand.
When a set is completed (for example, in a 3-size game, the player gets a size-1 box inside a size-2 box, then places that inside a size-3 box) the set itself disappears in a burst of colored lights.

The twist is that boxes just keep falling and tumbling from above, and each box moves, bounces and collides with other boxes as realistically as the physics engine will allow, which means the boxes will gradually stack up every which way, and very haphazardly. It also means that when the player picks up a box, the boxes above it might tumble down, causing an avalanche if a lot of boxes were piled up.

If the boxes get piled-up so high that no more boxes can drop into the room, the game is over (in the same way that a game of Tetris ends when the blocks reach the top.) If the player's stick figure gets completely buried under the boxes, the player can try jumping repeatedly, to hit the boxes above him. By moving around at the same time, the player might eventually land on top of higher boxes, and gradually climb and dig himself out. Another way is to randomly pick up boxes, moving, and then dropping them, as if your tunneling your way out.

As the game progresses, the boxes start to fall at an increasing rate.

The room walls change into different looks once in a while, based on the number of sets completed, but all rooms start with a mostly "cool" color scheme (blue, green, purple, some black) and every time a set is completed, "warmer" colors (red, orange, yellow, some white) appear at the bottom of the walls, move up after every completed set, and gradually down otherwise. When the level reaches particular levels (the higher the better) sets become worth more points. The net result is that it's better to line up almost-complete sets close together, so you can combine them as quickly as possible, raising the level more quickly to score more points.

Once in a while, a flashing multicolor box might appear. That box can be used in any color set, as long as you insert it in the proper order (according to its size.) Other special items are possible.

Other gameplay modes could include a puzzle mode, where boxes are piled in a particular way, and you have to make them all disappear through combination, without causing a haphazard stack to fall apart. Or a stage-by-stage "cleanup" mode where the room starts out full of boxes almost up to the top, and the player has to move around putting sets together to bring it down (this could also be a kind of time-trial style game.)

Multiplayer could be co-op (two or more players in the same room trying to clear it out as fast as possible), vs together (two or more players in the same room, each one trying to complete more sets than the other, and trying to prevent the other player from completing his sets) or vs separate (each player in his own room, except that as your level rises, boxes fall more slowly for you, and faster for the other player(s), and vice-versa (basically, the player with the highest level has his boxes fall the slowest, and the player with the lowest level has his boxes falling the fastest, with any other players in-between seeing boxes coming down at an intermediate speed.)

All this game needs is stylized, very colorful graphics, and an engaging puzzle game sound scheme that reinforces every positive action to keep players playing for as long as possible.

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