Thursday, April 23, 2009

On the World Map, Tier 2.

So the remaining piece of the gameplay is the top tier. This component has only undergone theoretical development, so it'll feel pretty rough. That's okay. First we're working on the skirmish, and when that's fun, we'll contemplate this level further.

The top tier gameplay has several important aspects, which I'll list in order of importance and likeliness to get implemented. First, it is where the player manages his commanders and their units. Second, it is where the player finds and joins skirmishes. Third, it is where the player interacts with other players, with the exception of grouped skirmishes and global chat channels. Fourth, it is another aspect of the gameplay; the player will create settlements, set up trade, set up resource harvesting, construct new items and buildings, learn new abilities, and train new kinds of units. Fifth, it provides impetus for skirmishes; Skirmish events may be created dynamically based on the environment. That is, the game (or a GM) may spawn a set of moving skirmishes that represent a force attacking a player settlement.

Perhaps more detail is in order.

Management: Commanders develop in terms of skills, learning new abilities, setting up new formations. Primary units may change class. Equipment can be shifted around. Primary units may be traded in and out of the active set for the commander. Most of these are not 'twitch'y changes, so we'll keep it disabled in skirmish mode. This way the skirmish stays focused on combat and the skirmish objectives. More options of management are provided as the player's faction's settlements expand and resources are harvested.

Skirmish selection: I think of this similarly to questing in WoW. You want something to do, you go find a skirmish to join. If you succeed your team is rewarded. Skirmishes come in several flavors. There may be permanent skirmishes located on the map, say for a type of dungeon exploration. There may be temporary skirmishes involving attacking an enemy camp. There could also be a user-generated skirmish ability, for, say, something like dueling another player or testing formation abilities in a controlled environment.

Faction, Social, Settlment, Resources: The intent is that players belong to several tiers of groups. The top level being their associated major faction, i.e. the Alliance. Secondly being a group of players, like a guild. As a guild players will share resources, and should want to develop guild-centric settlements, rather than solitary small settlements. Guilds may fight over resources, but we haven't worked out how we want to limit this. With user controlled settling and exploration, you run the risk that you cannot control the development of the world and keep it within realistic limits. My tendency is to limit this not with artificial methods, but rather through realistic ones? Why don't cities just spring up right next to each other (ignoring the modern world for a moment)? Because they would not have enough resources to both survive, or maybe because they'd blow each other up, depending on what they thought of each other. This aspect isn't exactly finished design.

Dynamic Skirmishes: Part of settling is the risk of being attacked. Why build defenses and walls if they won't be used? We want to provide the sense that, in the more dangerous areas, you will be attacked and you could theoretically lose resources. But players don't like resources being lost. They don't want to have their work undone. The current thought is that there are two levels of these NPC attacks. First, there may be a set of nested skirmishes that change as the enemy approaches. The first aspect may be a set of scouting missions, which open up further skirmishes. The second may be some hit-and-run tactical missions, or perhaps some assassinations. Deeper in could be some group-based larger army missions. Depending on the type of NPC group attack, this could all culminate in a raid-style boss encounter.

But what happens if the player isn't there to defend his stuff? Well, first, we want people to guild-up. Guilds as a whole can help defend each other's property, and this would also keep the focus on larger, fewer, guild settlements. Second, pacing. These attacks would be slow moving. The overall attack may take weeks of real-time. Third, automated defenses. Commanders of offline players are still in the game. While they are not used in a skirmish, they may be providing static defenses to the settlement. So if an NPC group reaches an attack phase, the attack will be 'simulated' against the present defenses of the town, including offline commanders. So mere presence will help defend, though in defending this way fewer (if any!) rewards are granted to the player.

We want this tier of gameplay to be able to stand on its own. We'd like players to be able to focus on one aspect of the game, if they desire to, and play it relatively exclusively. The top tier is also more natural for mobile or web-based gaming, so we'd like to manage a portal to the world map via the web.

Now that we've created years of work for ourselves, perhaps we should get started? Next time, where we stand now.


  1. How much of your setting is pre-formed, and how much procedural?

    Are you starting with a finite map with all the geography laid out, or are you starting with a blob of explored space and then generating (or revealing pre-generated content) as players explore in a given direction?

  2. The engine we're planning on using (we have the go ahead to use it, but the details aren't managed yet, so we don't have access yet) specializes in procedural content. We should be able to pretty easily construct a large world with a small amount of data. If the game calls for procedural landmass then we can think about that when we get there.

    At the beginning we'll start with some predefined areas. The introductory/training gameplay will need to be utterly deterministic in any case, so the hand built sections will not be wasted time.