Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Steal This Game Design: NeoRally

I've recently applied for a bunch of game designer jobs. If you came to this blog by clicking a link in my cover letter, I welcome you to Steal My Game Designs!

One of the reasons I started this blog was that I kept getting some great ideas for games, but I would never write them down, so I probably lost some cool ideas in the past. Now, I can just post the idea here and see what kind of reaction I get.

Well, on to my latest escapade in creative game design!


NeoRally

Gameplay

NeoRally is a rally-style racing game, with a twist. Instead of a track to follow, there is only a large area, either indoors our outdoors, where the racers can move around in, with different kinds of terrain and obstacles.

At the start of a race, each racer receives a different target, a checkpoint to reach. Once that player reaches that checkpoint, another target is assigned, and so on. A player wins after he or she reaches the required number of checkpoints.

To make things as fair as possible, the sequence of checkpoints that each player must reach should come up to the same distance total, assuming the player drove in a straight line between each checkpoint. This is pre-calculated before each race.

Terrain has a lot of bumps, hills and valleys, along with relevant obstacles, such as trees, rocks, rock cliffs, water (rivers, small lakes, puddles), snow, ice, swampy terrain, muddy terrain, high grass, sand, and so forth. There can even be buildings that must be entered, and some courses can take place entirely indoors, with the players having to reach checkpoints on different floors, and so forth.

Vehicles are basically like Halo's warthog, in that they tend to be bouncy and react with realistic, if over-exaggerated physics. Players can choose between many different vehicles where the characteristics that vary are top speed, acceleration, shock absorbers, gyro stabilizer, tires/traction and special. Special can be a special speed boost that can be called upon once in a while, or it can help with certain special conditions, such as extra traction on cold surfaces, floating on water or swampy terrain, ABS brakes, or a way to turn almost instantly towards the next checkpoint when hitting the current checkpoint. Gyro stabilizers make the vehicle more or less likely to tip over in the course of driving; this can make a big difference on levels where the terrain has very steep inclines, or jumping ramps and such.

Vehicles can also be customized with weapons and protections against those weapons. It's also possible to enter races that don't allow weapons. There are three types of weapons: beam, bullet, and explosive (rockets and grenades) and protections for each of these: shields for beams, armor for bullets, and countermeasures for explosives. Generally, players will have room for maybe one powerful weapon of one type and maybe one weaker secondary, and room for two types of protection, one strong, and one weak. This can be chosen (or bought) before each race.

Graphics

Realistic, with a high-tech look. Explosions can be exaggerated. Terrain types and surfaces should be easy to distinguish; if exaggeration of the colors is necessary for this then it should be done.

Vehicle paintjobs are customizable, permitting vivid color schemes as is common in most racing leagues.

Racing Options

I've already mentioned the possibility of weaponless races. Other options include:
  • Team racing, with one racer per team who must reach all checkpoints, while his teammates defend him or attack the other teams.
  • Team racing, where all the players in the team can reach the checkpoints. This mode is a little more like the king-of-the-hill mode in other games, except that the hill is a different spot for each team.
  • Team racing where one player gets a checkpoint, and when that is reached, a different player gets the next checkpoint, and so on.
  • An option can make the checkpoints for all player or all teams the same.
The number of checkpoints can be set before the race.

Marble Collection

Another, special gameplay mode which might also be fun: marble collection! The arena is randomly sprinkled with giant (about 1 meter in diameter) marbles, which can be picked up by racing through them, at which point they shrink down to the size of a softball and go into a special trailer that is attached to the vehicle. The trailer and its load can affect the way the vehicle handling, especially when full. The marbles can spill out of the trailer if it tips over too far. When a player reaches a checkpoint, the trailer is emptied, and the player gets points for all the marbles, with some colors being worth more than others. The first three places in the race get extra points at the end of the race, and the winner is the one with the most points.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Embryonic Idea: Jargon

When I said I might start getting more ideas after I decided to stop sticking to a weekly schedule, I didn't entirely believe I would. I hoped, but that's all.

Well, I've decided to inaugurate a new feature here at Steal My Game Designs: I call it Embryonic Idea.

This is for when I get a cool idea for a premise, setting or character, without being able to picture the whole game. Sometimes, it will only be a paragraph. I won't try to address all the points I normally try to address, like graphics style, sound or music, unless they're part of the core idea.

So here's my first Embryonic Idea:

Jargon

You wake up one morning with extreme amnesia. You don't know who you are, you don't know any language (which means you can't read.) You can still count and read simple numbers and equations, but anything with more than numbers or simple arithmetic seems alien to you.

You still know how to walk, but every area you walk to is new and alien to you. When people talk to you, you can't understand a word of what they say. Herein lies the game.

The objective of the game is to learn the language and figure out how to live and behave in the city of Jargon. This city is somewhat like any modern civilized city on Earth, but somewhat simplified (so it can be modeled in a game.)

As characters talk to you, and you see text in various places (the game could have two difficulty levels: an easier level where text actually uses the Latin alphabet, and one that uses made-up symbols) you begin to make out certain things, until you become fluent in Jargonese.

Luckily, there are people around you who will try to help you; at first, you'll want to stay around them until you're confident about your understanding of Jargonese. Once you venture out, you'll have to watch others in order to get accustomed to the right way to deal with things.

You communicate with others by typing out what you want to say (unless speech recognition becomes efficient enough to be able to deal with a vocabulary of a two or three thousand words...) and the people you meet react accordingly. Say too much gibberish, and you'll get puzzled looks, at the very least.

You "win" the game when you can get a good job and hold it for at least a week of game time without getting fired for saying too much gibberish or misbehaving in some way.



I can even see this game "engine" being used to "immerse" someone in an existing city and language, forcing them to learn enough to manage. Could be way more efficient than taking boring language lessons.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Steal This Game Design: Victor the Exterminator

I recently got a flurry of hits with few or no referrer URLs, so I don't know where you (new?) readers came from. Please, just leave a comment if you see anything interesting! Let me know what you like (or don't like!)

I would really love for this blog to turn into some sort of community that discusses cool game ideas, but for that, there has to be more than one person contributing! Post your own game ideas in the comments! If I see anything worthwhile, I will repost it by itself as a blog post!

Also, really new ideas have been semi-hard to come by for me recently, so I'm thinking about removing the "every Monday" schedule for a while. Maybe the removal will in itself trigger a new batch of ideas, so for all you know, I might actually start posting more often! (Okay, it's unlikely, but it *could* happen!)

Anyway, onto this "week's" idea...


Victor the Exterminator

Story

Victor is The Best, Most Efficient Exterminator in all of the City. When he says it, you can hear the capitalization. Nemesis of unwanted intruders, hero to the infested, Victor leaves no stone unturned when it comes to ridding his clients of pests of any shapes and sizes.

If you met Victor, you'd think you've just met one of those evil geniuses that the heroes of the old movie serials used to thwart all the time. With his pointy mustache and tiny goatee and the voice of a villain from old 70's superhero cartoons, you would more than likely attempt to call upon the Justice League the moment you saw him, then remember that you just hanged up the phone, where you called him to take care of your roach problem. He's that fast.

His uniform, which he designed himself, again has the look of a supervillain's costume, with pointy shoulder pads and a cape that conceals many of his tools of trade. Yellow, red and black are the company colors, but the way they come together have nothing to do with the company logo, and everything to do with his warped sense of style.

When he speaks to you, it is with total confidence, and a deep eagerness to KILL DESTROY ERADICATE EXTERMINATE any pests he comes across. Total satisfaction of the client is only a happy side-effect. Collateral damage is another side-effect that comes with contracting Victor, but that damage is rarely as bad as the consequences of cohabiting with an infestation, and he knows it.

There is this small twinge of a Spanish accent that is all but eclipsed by a theatrical stage voice he developed suddenly at the age of eleven, causing no end of grief to his parents. He never stutters, but he will seem to stick on the oddest of syllables, and in particular, he always pronounces his job title as "Ex-Terminator" (capitalized to highlight his emphasis.)

His one other concession to the company is its logo, which he wears proudly (and about three times the company-recommended size) in the center of his chest, like a superhero crest: a generic but menacing black bug on a yellow background, with a thick red circle and slash that clearly communicate that no bug is permitted to live.

His weapons are many and mighty: Victor carries an assortment of bug sprays, powders and traps. He has also developed, contrary to company policy, a special kind of programmable robot drone that looks like a metal cockroach, and can zap intruders. He affectionately calls these little robots "roachbots".

On this day, an ordinary one to everyone else, Victor begins his mission to rid his district of all infestation (he opens his shop for the first time, after completing the two week training program at the company and spending a further six months developing his arsenal and designing his costume.) Little does he know that in the course of that mission, he will go up against bugs no human being should ever face, and survive (or not, if the player sucks.)

Will Victor be the victor? Can he keep his business afloat long enough to complete his "mission"? What's that on your shoulder? Get it off, Get it OFF GET IT OFF!

Gameplay

This game is a hybrid of a third-person action game (with limited jumping) and a rudimentary real-time strategy game.

The action part applies to how the player directly controls Victor in his moving around the environment and using his various weapons.

The real-time strategy part happens in how the player lays the different traps and poison powders, and in particular, how he uses his roachbots, as they can only run very simple programs and have very limited AI compared to your average RTS unit. This is by (Victor's) design: if the roachbots had more programming and AI potential, they might become pests themselves, and that's something Victor couldn't bear.

The game starts with a map of Victor's district. He only gets to take care of one client per day. Luckily, during the first few days, he only gets one call per day, with the location highlighted on the map. On later days, multiple calls might happen, and Victor will have to choose judiciously (either for financial reasons -- richer clients pay more -- or to prevent infestations from spreading.)

Once a call is accepted, Victor shows up at the place, and a resident takes them through the building to the main visible infestation hot-spots. After this, Victor is on his own, and must formulate a plan to eradicate the infestation before the end of the day, using all the tools he came with, as well as anything he finds around him (moving furniture or wall panels around can be used to direct the infestation toward traps, or to block entries, for example.)

At the end of the day, if Victor has succeeded, he gets full pay, otherwise he gets partial pay (up to half of the maximum) depending on how successful he was.

As the days progress, the infestations become more extreme, and Victor will start seeing abnormally large, fast or resistant bugs, with the worst cases happening in the buildings closest to the local Nuclear Power Plant and the Chemical Processing Plant, which are at opposite ends of the city. In the end, he will have to gather enough evidence to force both plants to close down and clean up.

Graphics and Visuals

Realistic, with an exaggerated, cartoony look to the bugs and vermin. Also, Victor's weapons will tend to behave and look like the gadgets that the villains on the old 60's Batman TV show, with colored smokes and powders, and unnecessarily elaborate traps.

The interface should parallel that gadget-y look, with a little steampunk style added.

Sound and Music

The sounds of infestation should be somewhat realistic, but also exaggerated and amplified (after all, Victor has a keen ear for such things) and should feel creepy, especially in cases of extreme infestation.

Victor's weapons make weird mechanical noises that you wouldn't expect to hear.

The music will vary between sufficient heroic (superheroic, even) and downright creepy. The music will start slow at the beginning of the day, and gradually go up in tempo as the end of the day approaches, to add to the urgency.

Multiplayer (optional?)

Rival companies also have businesses in the district. Players could compete for money, or for fame by trying to be the best, most efficient exterminators in the area.




This week's game is heavy on characterization. It's a good exercise to create and define a new character in detail. Just writing down the description can force you to realize when you're being inconsistent.

Victor here is a funny enough character that he could even have his own TV show. When a character feels like this, there's a good chance you've created a memorable character, where so many games have forgettable main characters.