Grinding Gears In The Idea Factory

I know I’m a fellow who enjoys thinking, but I often like to do something as well, even if that something is program or play a game. As resolved as I am to see a BYOND project through, I regret to say that a lot of my time has been spent thinking in the earliest levels of refinement. Going, “hmm,” and laying back on my chair, wracking my brain, with very little contact occurring with with the keyboard.

A brief history of what didn’t happen.

Project Xenoverse began as an idea of being a virtual world where dynamic change occurs through the actions of the players on the outside – something many MMORPGs are afraid of – while, on the inside, featuring enjoyable gameplay – something many MMORPGs sacrifice in lieu of a grind far longer than it deserves to be.

As wonderful as a seed idea as that was, it’s not very specific. Not too long ago, I took Project Xenoverse back to the drawing board because I came to realize that the lack of story and overly flexible tool given to the player left the whole thing feeling flat.

I ended up with Project Xenoverse version 2, which ultimately mutated into a bit of a AutoDuel/Battlemech game while still allowing the players to freely modify the world. Equipment that the players were used become a lot more poignant when it made up the parts of combat vehicles.

That would have been good too, but it still wasn’t quite good enough because the trouble with vehicular games is you lose that personal touch when you = vehicle on the screen versus you = person on the screen.

Yesterday, Project Xenoverse mutated into Planet Xenophobe, which attempted to bridge the gap between you = vehicle and you = person by suggesting that you = person who is a vehicle via a transhumanist premise. Between this and some other background aspects that had been floating around but had yet to be nailed down, it was a quantum leap forward in terms of plot, but it still wasn’t quite where I wanted to be.

Today, the vehicular angle is gone. Much of my teen years were spent enjoying Battletech MU*, and I may well see that through some day, but my first BYOND game is going to be more of a straight-up RPG.

Finding the why of it

Currently, it seems I’m looking at something very similar to Space Station 13, in that you are a space colonist trying to keep your colony running. Although, my design spares a lot more detail to the game aspects, adding things like advancement skills, while keeping that dynamic world focus, and is built to be a virtual world that can stay up without reset.

Even that isn’t quite enough, I don’t feel I’ve adequately established the “why” of it. Why is this colony out in the middle of nowhere suffering disasters? Why should you care? It’s a problem in which even Space Station 13 has trouble answering, as it seems many players would rather just sabotage the space station, whether or they’re running a “traitor-mode” game, or even if it was their turn to be the traitor. If I could establish the “why,” the wheels spin much better, the players’ motivations are better refined and ready to go.

I’m an extremely tough audience, and whether this proves an impassible barrier or an incredible lens which generates games the likes the world has ever seen is possibly a matter of how much will I’m able to direct at this.

Some excellent answers in a book.

I picked up The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell awhile back, but I haven’t read it very much. It’s not a bad book, quite the opposite, I just haven’t read much of anything that hasn’t been on the Internet or related to a class for months.

Today, to break my stalemate, I gave Chapters 6 and 7 a skim, and it was very well used time indeed. I came away with two noteworthy points: First, as part of Chapter 6, I was advised to seek inspiration on how to make better games from outside of games, as therein lay a lens of infinite inspiration. Second, as part of Chapter 7, I was made aware that game development is very much a matter of a looping principle where they become better with each major pass applied.

Perhaps I’m on schedule to produce a great game, and didn’t realize it. Maybe Project Xenoverse, Project Xenoverse Version 2, and Planet Xenophobe were just earlier loops of refinement.

A new focus arises in my game development goal, and that is to code in such a way as to leave myself open to new possibilities, so that I can move on with the next loop with little difficulty. The modular programming practices discussed in the previous Blog entry will no doubt help with this. This way, even if I end up scrapping a hundred ideas, I’ll be steadily building a code base that will rapidly accelerate me to my next one.

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