All posts tagged with "game design"

A Little Something For The Pipe Fanciers Out There

From just about the beginning we’ve been into the idea that Clockwork Empires should involve running giant assemblies of pipes and cog-laden axles across settlements to transmit energy and water and completely harmless high-pressure superheated steam between various machines and factories. The basis for this came early: if we’re to embrace the aesthetic we desire we need to fully embrace the visuals of mechanization, of machines and factories and the wonders of technology of this Age of Progress & so forth. If we hide the machines inside the factories then you won’t be able to see any of the Fun gears and pipes. So, the breakthrough: put the machines, the pipes, the gears on the outside of the factory.

For the sake of simplicity we’ve rolled pipes, axles, and anything else that falls into this category of things-that-connect-to-machines into a category we call “dynamics lines” (whereas “dynamics” are water, mechanical force, steam, voltaic energies, nourishing goo, etc).

Very, very old concept art playing around with the idea of exposed pipes & axles.

This has not been without controversy in the Gaslamp Games Design Discussion And Knife Fighting Arena because this is both intrinsically insane and poses some really difficult problems with being able to clearly express what is actually going on in the game.

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Storytelling as Game Design

You’ve all read Boatmurdered, right?

A “Let’s Play” (or LP) is a narrative write-up of a game playing experience, preferably entertaining. Fans of Dwarf Fortress do this a lot – they’ll either play a game themselves and write up the events that occur into story form, or they’ll pass it between forums members with each writing a chapter for their part of the game.

This is not a recent phenomenon or one limited to the DF community. Or the Something Awful community, for that matter. Over in Paradox land, players of their historical strategy games have written up “After Action Reports”, aka AARs, in a tradition that goes back to tabletop wargaming. These probably started out as purely functional reports of the course of a game, but over time they’ve grown into elaborate alternate histories with characters and drama that don’t exist in the mechanics of the game ending up somewhere between a walk-through and fan fiction.

These stories give a look into gamers’ experience of the games they play – it’s not just what happens on screen; there’s all kinds of imagination at work especially in games that leave room for speculation, implication, and creativity. So sandbox games, building games, simulations, and even especially open-ended RPGs are perfect environment for this sort of thing. (I’ve even seen some Quake fanfic that … wasn’t terrible.) Well, it’s only natural for people to write down the stories they make & experience.

With Clockwork Empires we want to make a game that gives players just that kind of creative space and experience. And of course as game-players and creative people ourselves, these stories are just the sort of thing we love to enjoy & create.

So: could not the principle be applied in reverse? Sure, any game designer does this to some degree eg. “I want to make a game where you’re a hero and go on adventures and find a magic sword and fight monsters!” can be turned into a game simply enough; from story/theme to mechanics. Dwarf Fortress does this quite explicitly as a conscious practice; Zach Adams writes short stories that take place in a fantasy world then he and Tarn sit down and work out what game mechanics might support that story taking place.

We’ve done this too, in a few forms. On at least one occasion we sat down with a grid-mat and some dry erase pens and played out what amounted to a free-form tabletop roleplaying game of Clockwork Empires: It started with an expedition meaning to build a bridge, some wood getting chopped down, then spiraled directly out of control as a Mysterious Statue was discovered, found to spread Madness, dumped in a lake to contain it, then water from the lake used to create ale, then everyone was driven Quite Mad.

There’s a proper write-up of that one somewhere, but for now I’d like to share with you all a story of imagined Clockwork Empires gameplay I wrote while in a powerless cheap hotel in the middle of British Columbia. Join me, friends, for:

The Tale Of The Founding of New Sogwood On The Sour Coast

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Conquest of the Wizardlands: Pocket Dimensions & Banksters

What with all this talk of pocket dimensions and wizards and somesuch, we thought it would be helpful to give a little tour of the sorts of things you’ll see in the upcoming Dungeons of Dredmor expansion pack Conquest of the Wizardlands.

Daniel and I talked about how to approach writing this post and we’ve agreed to do something a little different that we haven’t done in quite some time. Instead of just listing the features, we’re going to dig a bit into the game design process and discuss the thoughts behind the decisions we made in coming up with these features and their functionality.

Let’s start with the big feature that may do the most to change how Dredmor is played.

Pocket Dimensions & You: A Room Without a View

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Of Stairs And Such Twisted Architectures

Yes, this is the post on stairs alluded to by Nicholas a few days ago! And it is actually just about stairs. … But it might well tell a story which informs all manner of gameplay design processes carried through the development of Dungeons of Dredmor.

To start: Dredmor needs stairs. They’re the classic portal between dungeon levels in roguelikes, and as much punk-rawk pleasure as I’d take in flouting convention, this is one we’re rolling with. (Portals to sub-dimensions and doors to sub-rooms will have to come in the expansion.)

Here are our wonderful stairs being wonderful at us; on the left some down-stairs, on the right some up-stairs:

They’re lovingly cut into the dungeon walls and use of the stairs is implicit in walking onto them. Simple enough. It was not always so.

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A Quick Word on Difficulty

As discussed on the, uh, “Live Design” portion of our interview on the Immortal Machines podcast back in February, Dungeons of Dredmor is going to have a difficulty level selectable at the start of the game. This should make it a bit more accessible to players both new-to-the-genre and those that play only roguelikes and love only pain.

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Dredmor the Roguelike

I’ve been trying to figure this out for myself for a while — is Dredmor a roguelike?

And confronted with the obvious (in the midst of recording the Immortal Machines podcast, even; good fun by the way, will post a link when it’s released), I’ll have to concede entirely on this point. To lay it out:

Why Dredmor is a roguelike

  • Dredmor’s gameplay is turn-based with the implicit movement/action-as-a-turn mechanic
  • Dredmor is definitely a dungeon crawler; you explore a dungeon, fight things, loot things, etc.
  • Dredmor uses random, emergent structures for gameplay instead of a linear narrative structures

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Gameplay as a Hierarchy of Cycles

I’m going to quote a post in whole that covered most of what I was meaning to write on this subject but far more succinctly than I imagined possible. Brenda Braithwaite’s post “Design Truth 1″:

Focus on second-to-second play first. Nail it. Move on to minute-to-minute, then session-to-session, then day-to-day, then month-to-month (and so on). If your second-to-second play doesn’t work, nothing else matters. Along these lines, if your day-to-day fails, no one will care about month-to-month, either.

This  seems like an excellent imperative to good game design – especially a mechanics-based game. In counterpoint, (though I could quibble about “good” vs “successful” design) whole games are built on hooking players with long-term investment, be it emotional, social, or time (read: sunk cost fallacy), rather than refined short-term, low-level gameplay (see: grindy MMOs, Zynga), or some kind of story that players get invested in despite the gameplay (see: Final Fantasy games). I think an argument can be made for classifying games according to higher-level design philosophy. But yes, Dredmor’s core is certainly in the mechanics. Well; the mechanics and the insanity, which might count as “story” content though ours is decidedly nonlinear. But I digress. I’ll be doing a lot of that.

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Making The Cut

I just redid the character information panel again. I had to re-arrange all the info boxes then type out the size and position of every single textbox and tooltip hotspot. It was awful. Now Nicholas gets to update the code to my specifications, the poor bastard.

Dungeons of Dredmor, as some sort of RPG, and god-help-us, as a roguelikeish game, lends itself to a maddening excess of features, ideas, items, skills, spells, potions, special abilities, factions?, unique rooms, artifacts, vengeful gods, and and.. and … Well, one of the most important points of successful game development is knowing when to cut; no, being able to cut features so that the project can ever be completed.

We have done this. No, really! A bit, at least.

Dredmor Hero dodging a blade

At least you’ve survived with piles upon piles of unique items, silly skills, and an upcoming hellishly complex crafting system, dear hero!

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