Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Stealing Ideas

I was thinking about my old game engine the other day. I've barely touched that thing in over four years. Yet still I kinda feel like someday I want to do something with it. I don't know why, I just can't let it go. Some time late last year I put a few weeks into cleaning up the lowest-level module and converting it over to build with a makefile system (I'm running Ubuntu now, no more MS Visual Studio). I was having fun for a while trying to design a powerful multiplatform makefile, and I got the first module to build with it. I guess I ran out of time and/or steam shortly after starting to look at the second module, and of course then the momentum was gone.

I'm thinking about maybe going back to that second module, trying to get that to build under the new system. If I could get the engine running on Ubuntu that would be nice. I just have so little time these days, and to be honest I have less motivation than I used to; I don't really play very much these days, I have multiple time-consuming hobbies, I'm very busy at work, and with the Indie market huge on Steam these days there's seems to be less reason to try to produce a game for it's own sake, not when I don't exactly have any big ideas that I feel the need to see made.

Speaking of ideas, maybe I'll just put down what ideas I have had in the last year or so. I might have mentioned some of these before so bear with me.

First of all, back when I started this blog I had an idea for a game which I tentatively titled "Ghostwalker". The general idea was that as you got closer to death you would start to see into the spirit world; this could be an advantage since you would be able to see enemy souls through walls etc. A later idea involved multiplayer games where different players saw the world in different ways.

Well, recently I was thinking about that again and came up with a different take. This is heavily inspired by a short comic I read online a while back (I believe it was called Milk Run, although I remember something similar in a Spiderman comic once), where a man was stuck in a powered suit that fed him altered images of reality, making him think he was a knight battling demons. Remembering this, I thought, why not do that in a video game?

It would work something like this: the game would never break from first person. There would be very little narration; as much as possible the "story" -which would probably be quite minimalist - would just be communicated through events in-game, and as much as possible without trying to take control away from the player. There would be no HUD (except I suppose the pause menu). You would play a character who remembers nothing. This might not need to be explained outside of their body language in the first few seconds of the game, as they look at their own hands with unfamiliarity; I think perhaps it's enough that no backstory is given; he is as confused as you are (well, more-so since you know it's a game), which I think helps to put the player on the same page as the character they are playing, even if it can be clichéd. But hey, what isn't a cliché these days?

So however the game starts, the main character is quickly fighting for their life against demons or monsters or something, in old-fashioned or possibly unearthly environments (this would take some thought, but one element would be that all text that you come across would be in unreadable runes, as part of making the world seem unfamiliar). Early on you pass a mirror - and see your reflection: you are fully armoured (which you might have guessed from the sight of your gauntleted hands earlier). I'm thinking that at some point - probably the very first few seconds of the game, before the player is handed control - the character tries to take the armour off, but can't. It might be a good idea to scatter mirrors through the game so seeing yourself is a normal occurrence. You discover that you are capable of firing energy blasts from your hands (this might not even be scripted or explained; when the player naturally starts pressing buttons on the controller he discovers the "attack" buttons?). Perhaps there were glowing runes inscribed in the gauntlets' palms.

So the game goes on for a while. Some kind of narrative might start to take shape - I haven't put much thought into this, other than the idea that (in keeping with the comic) you probably learn about someone who you have reason to kill. Perhaps you are presented with a "vision" of the persons face, and he is made to look evil / shown at the head of the army of monsters/demons who you are fighting. Perhaps you occasionally come across text leading you to him, or perhaps you are just guided by visions.

After you've been playing the game for a while, there starts to be some bugs. Graphical glitches and so-on; animations that look off, etc. Nothing big, but it starts to get noticeable. Occasionally the whole screen glitches a little, but only for an instant, then it's back. This should be fairly subtle, always in-game (never trying to draw your attention to it in a cutscene or anything heavy-handed like that - heavy-handedness is the mortal enemy of plot twists), and it should go on for several hours of gameplay. Then it starts to get a bit more noticeable - occasionally you see models that look like they are from a completely different game - humans in modern clothing and so on. The model will probably be replaced after a moment with something more fitting in-game, like a demon. Then it starts to get even worse. As you pass mirrors, for just a moment (so at first the player will almost certainly miss it, or at best only catch it from the corner of their eye; eventually it might happen for long enough that if they are looking for it they will see it) the mirror doesn't reflect the knight in armour, but a man in a robotic powered suit. Finally - perhaps when taking damage from certain types of enemies - the whole screen starts to flicker and show you a completely different view, one of a slightly futuristic world populated by humans and robots rather than monsters and demons. During these glitches text suddenly becomes readable, the incomprehensible sounds your enemies are making are replaced by people yelling to each other in English, and so on.

I'm not exactly sure how exactly the full truth should be revealed (although I think it should be mostly obvious by now), but eventually you discover that you were locked in the suit and manipulated into killing a target (whether you realise this in time to not kill the target could be left open to player actions?). Perhaps there needs to be some motivation provided, like the suit is very powerful but people won't wear it willingly because it fries your brain or something, so in order to reach a well-protected target you were kidnapped, brainwashed and strapped in, and it's been feeding you an altered view of the world, but as it sustained damage it started to fail. What I do know is that surprise and journey of discovery is everything; it must be subtle, slow, and it MUST NOT BE REVEALED IN THE BLOODY TRAILER!

Ah-hem. Well, to be honest that's a pretty similar idea to a great game idea Yahtzee wrote about once, though the actual execution is obviously different.

Anyway, some other ideas I've had include:

-A split-screen multiplayer first-person arena deathmatch shooter that takes place on the inside of a miniature Dyson-sphere like structure. The general idea being that a) there aren't enough split-screen multiplayer games around, and b) a small arena where you can pretty much always see everyone else (as all you need to do is look up to find them) should help solve some of the problems associated with a "deathmatch" style game with only a few players playing.

-As above, but with fancy gravity mechanics, so there would be floating structures in the middle of the sphere, and if you get close enough (by jumping or using a jet pack or something) their gravity starts to affect you and pull you down onto the them, so you can go leaping across this space by jumping between the gravitational pulls of these floating asteroids and things.

-A strategic shooter (X-Com style) which obeys strict line-of-sight, so you can only see on-screen what is in the field-of-view of your characters, everything else is just blackness (except things that they have seen, which is then a muted grey to represent the fact that it's their last view of the place, but it may no longer be accurate).

-As above, but multiplayer with timed turns, so eg 30 seconds to decide on a character's action, then the character does it, now the next player has 30 seconds to decide what to do with their next character etc. Commands would involve things like "move then go into overwatch" or "move then scan for enemies" or whatever; you would have to que up all commands before triggering the execution, after which you have no control until your next turn. Not sure how well this would work, but I think the idea has potential - it would probably need lots of balancing though to give players a reason to advance without them very slowly stepping forwards while just hugging cover. I know that there's a game that works like this (can't remember the name), only everyone decides their moves at the same time then they are all executed at the same time, and I don't think there's any line-of-sight limitations? Dunno if there's anything closer to what I'm thinking than that, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was.

-A cartoony Street Fighter-like game that ONLY has special moves and ultra-over-the-top-super-moves, no regular jabs and kicks. Silly and probably relying much more on luck than skill, but could be funny for a few minutes.

As I've made clear, none of these ideas are very original, mostly they are slightly different takes (at least to the best of my knowledge) on what's already been done. Some of them I think have potential, but I suspect that even with modern game dev tools they are mostly too ambitious for just one man even if he had the time and skill, which I certainly do not. Which is why I'm writing them down; I'll obviously never be able to actually create them.

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