Sunday, August 12, 2007

Your Turn, Episode 1: Aftermath

Aftermath. Has kind of an ominous sound to it, does it not?

Yeah, it sure took me a long while to get around to this, but if you only knew all the stuff that's happened to me in the last few months...

I got a new job. 3 weeks' training, and I only ended up working for 3 weeks after that. Because I found another new job. I'm doing some technical writing for Touch Tunes and it's actually very interesting work, even if it's not directly game-related.

My place got burglarized again, and then a week later, they finally caught the asshole who stole my stuff both times: it was my neighbor. So a few weeks later, I got most of the stuff from the second time back, and a few items from the first time. That sort of crap, plus the new job have been in my mind a lot these last few months.

But anyway, enough about me, here's the aftermath of that previous feature I tried out called "Your Turn", where I asked readers to come up with concepts for a combat-less RPG.

Someone who calls himself emnmnme on the Penny Arcade forums suggested a game where the point is to avoid fighting at all costs.

Someone else with the handle jothki mentioned that combat could be replaced with some kind of sports match. While this still seems to me too close to actual combat (watch an American Football match, and you'll realize it's not that far off from gladiator fighting) I like the parallel here with history, where, in many ways, national rivalries have switched from actual fighting to sports contests to settle "who is better". Unfortunately, many fans still haven't realized this yet, so we still have "soccer hooligans" and such.

Someone who posts under the name piL had this to add:
An RPG without combat? Simply an RPG with different skills that are used in checks to perform goals that aren't related to fighting. You might come upon a gateway on the side of a hill. If your character is strong enough, he can knock it down. If he's good at climbing, he can climb over, and if he's skilled at lock picking, he can pick the lock. An adventure game would do this by having you acquire a key, a ram, or a rope at some point. Instead you would design a character and attempt to overcome social and environmental problems.
I like this idea. In the same way that I'm tired of Adventure games where there is only one obscure solution to most puzzles. I'd love to see an Adventure game where your character and the skill set you develop for him are part of the solution, and the whole game world can be manipulated realistically (somewhat) instead of the very limited ways that adventure games have provided. For example: you need to get through a door. You can either try and get the key (which might require influencing a character into giving it to you, if you're charismatic enough) smash in the door (after developing your strength and finding a suitable object to help you smash it) or maybe pick the lock, after learning the skill from a master thief somewhere.

I eventually came up with the following, in order to illustrate the kind of game I was hoping to see come up in the discussion:
For example, think of an RPG where you're a politician. You have to manipulate public opinion in your favor, you accumulate facts, you decide which ones to say, which ones to distort, and what lies to say. Then the game system crunches some numbers and then spits out the results of the latest opinion poll, along with new headlines (including some surprise events, such as, say, a school shooting, or a successful Space Shuttle mission.)
I also mentioned the following:
I had a discussion recently with someone where a character's "growth" in the game was based on how many secrets he knew about the other characters, meaning that the more dirt you have on your "opponents", the higher you are in the sociopath ladder.
Some using the name Rhesus Positive had a pretty cool idea:
Guitar Hero RPG: save the world with rock!

I entered a Photoshop contest with a similar entry, with the idea of blending Loom with Guitar Hero. While the idea has elements of straight substitution, I'd like to see more of a focus on the role of a Bard - making other people look like the heroes.

The bulk of the game would be coming up with material for your heroic verses - basically exploration of a world where there are a bunch of heroes tackling quests. The environment would present more of an obstacle than active enemies, like in the 2d Zelda games - you'd need to be a certain level to break rocks with your songs, for example. On the successful completion of a mission, you'd be presented with the music and lyrics of the hero's accomplishments, to be played like a regular Guitar Hero song - your grade would then be translated to character points, to be used on stats like Agility and Charisma.

The world itself would be free-roaming, but when you attached yourself to a specific hero it would become more linear. When not following a hero, you could explore for better instruments, unlocking more powerful spells to allow yourself to explore different areas.
I then posted the following, which seemed like a cool idea, at the time:
You're a "spirit" or "angel" without a physical body. You can "possess" humans for limited intervals, which lengthen as you progress through the game. Your main goal throughout the game is to help make the world a better place.

The world is full of "angels" like you, as well as "demons", who are your enemies. Since you and your enemies are immaterial, you can't fight directly, and neither of you has enough control over the humans you possess to actually fight it out that way either (a possessed human who gets hurt causes whatever is possessing him to leave.)

Humans, left alone, would be neither good nor evil. They only do good or evil deeds when possessed. People who seem particularly good or evil are people who are possessed with a very high-level angel or demon who is particularly attuned to them.

The story would take place in the "present world", in some big city's neighborhood, where the player could roam and find good situations to strengthen, and bad situations to turn around. As the player gets better at this, his angel spirit becomes more adept at staying longer and influencing his possessed target better. The player gradually learns of a plot by devils to completely corrupt this neighborhood and then have all the evil spread from there.

So the player must work, sometimes with other angel spirits, to prevent this, and eventually the player will find one important human character who is in tune with his angel spirit and start possessing that character more and more, for longer and longer. This will provide that character with the means to turn the situation around in the neighborhood, as that person is either a (good) politician, a (good) policeman, or perhaps, in an ironic twist of fate, a nice mob boss who dislikes violence and has more of an economic control over the neighborhood, and who rules out of benevolence and not fear (only the people working for and with the other mob bosses fear him.)

Anyway, something like that. You don't fight, you just try to make humans do good deeds.
Then someone going by the name of Hotlead Junkie posted two pics that made me laugh out loud: one was a screenshot of the original NES Final Fantasy game, and the other one was the poster to the movie You Got Served. I'm still laughing thinking about this idea, since it seems to fit so well, although it is a case of simply replacing combat with another directly confrontational activity.

Many people mentioned existing games which fit my requirements somewhat: Harvest Moon, A Tale in the Desert, The Sims, and especially, Uplink, which I've played and agree that it's probably a perfect example of what I was talking about, since the combat mechanic is replaced with something that is not directly confrontational, but still very exciting, and there definitely IS a plot as well as significant advancement for the player, who does play a role.

All the ideas mentioned above came from the thread on the Penny Arcade forums I started right after posting the "Your Turn" entry in my blog.

Now here are some ideas that were posted as comments on this blog, which are certainly worth featuring here.

David came up with a gardening RPG that seemed interesting:

You play as a gardener in a gardener world where some people are becoming "bad" or "sad".
You are to travel the land to find new flower species, you have to mix them to get original colors, to get biggest flowers and increase their "love power". Ultimately, you are to save the King who is attacked by some villagers that want to bannish love from the country.
You can buy tools, special chemicals to make your flowers grow faster, alter flowers colors and size.
You can plant them everywhere, around people's houses, around people themself (so you need to have flowers that grow very fast to act on people before they leave the area or before they make you feel bad or sad or angry).
In addition to health (you must eat, rest, ...), agility (you have to go in dangerous places to get flowers) and other classical statistics, you have a "love level" that can decrease or increase with time and various events (other people have it too). People are sensible to specific colors, or colors combinations, to size or to perfume and when their love level reaches a limit, they are happy and let you go/give you items/give you hints or missions.
There is a parallel here to be made with my previous design post of the game Chlorophyll, although my idea did not involve an actual gardener character, and it was more of an RTS than an RPG.

Well, if anyone has any further ideas to add to this challenge, just post them as comments to this post, I promise you I'll read them.


Random said...

Hey there! It's the dude from the Radiohead concert - the one with hair.

Regarding adventure games that are non-linear and with less of an emphasis on combat - did you ever play Fallout? I don't think I've ever played a less linear game.

You can accomplish every objective, save the world from the mutant army, etc. etc. without firing a shot. If there's a locked door, you can pick it (using a more effective electronic pick if your lockpick skill is low), blow it up, or find another way around. You can talk your way out of many confrontations and sneak your way around others.

You can barter with just about anyone and become a rich, successful, charismatic merchant, or you can become part of a neo-religious organization that believes in peace through superior firepower.

All this is accomplished with a strong plot, great voice acting, and an awesome soundtrack. The game is old, so you can pick it up on a torrent in no time. You should go play it if you never have.

shutz said...

I know about Fallout. I remember playing the demo for a bit. Unfortunately, in the last 5 or 6 years or so, I've lost the motivation to play through long RPGs. I'd still love to design one (story and all) but I just can't make myself play through those games anymore. I bought KotOR around the time it came out, but never got off the first planet before giving up (in the meantime, my Xbox was stolen, then replaced with a 360, and now I have a bunch of other games I'm playing through, so I never got back to that.)

I also bought the original Neverwinter Nights, around the same time as KotOR, but I didn't get too far in that one either, for the same reasons. I actually bought it because I wanted to start creating more scenarios for it, but I gave myself the requirement that I should play through the main single-player game once before I went and made new adventures, and since I never filled that requirement, well, there you go.

The only RPGs I've played through in the last few years were GBA and DS Final Fantasy games. For some reason, what makes me lose interest on the "big" platforms doesn't apply as much on the handhelds... In particular, I got pretty far into FFIV Advance, set it aside when FFVI came out because it's so much better, but recently picked up the new FFIV DS, which is just way better than the GBA version.

But otherwise, I tend to play "shorter attention span" games, like the new Geometry Wars 2, or Pac Man C.E. on XBLA (along with Catan, which is the most addictive multiplayer board game ever, for me) and lots of cool stuff on Wii.

Oh, and Guitar Hero II. Now if I could only set aside enough money to buy Rock Band...

Concerning the whole RPGs without combat idea, if you want to try a completely different type of game, see if you can find Uplink. It's by the same people who later did Darwinia (which I also recommend!) Uplink is like a simulation of hacking, but presented like these things usually look like in the movies. Sounds like it would be boring, but the tension and excitement while you're conducting a hack, and you can see enemy tracers almost knocking at your door during the last seconds of your hack... well, it's something you really have to experience for yourself.

Feel free to leave comments about other posts, if you like. I automatically learn about any comments made to my blog, so I'll know and will be able to reply.

Random said...

Aw man, you have to get around to playing Fallout, or at least KotOR, at some point. I understand not playing Fallout as it sort of lacks direction, but not playing KotOR is missing out on one of the best gaming experiences the Xbox had to offer.

Je n'ai jamais joué Neverwinter Nights, mais j'ai entendu qu'il est un jeu fantastique.

Je pense que le raison pour ton intérêt dans les jeux GBA et DS est parce qu'ils sont très linéaire. Pour jouer les RPGs sur le PC, tu dois avoir beaucoup de patience et engagement. Quand tu as beaucoup de jeux pour jouer, tu peux n'avoir pas le temps pour ces jeux grand.

Bon, mon français est terrible, mais je veux l'améliorer, et c'est bon de le faire par pratiquer.

Random said...

Oh yeah, and I played the demos of both Darwinia and Uplink. I thought they were both great games, but didn't have the interest or resources to purchase them through Steam. Hopefully I'll get the chance to play the full versions sometime.