Namaste and I were talking about game ideas tonight. Here’s my priority list (which is different from his):

  1. Strategy game
  2. Music and Rhythm game
  3. Psychedelic action game
  4. Linguistic magic game

I’ve mentioned these all briefly before on this blog. I’ll run through them, then talk about no. 1 some more.

The main idea for the Music and Rhythm game is that you have a keyboard (computer or music) on which you make beats and riffs. The game would have a certain tempo, but the only thing that the tempo does is make what you’ve already played come around again at regular intervals. Each line would gradually fade out, but you’d get points for keeping lines you’ve already made going… for a certain amount of time, until the points you get for that line are insignificant. Plus support for solo sections, perhaps existing songs, multiplayer (hey, why not just get a jam club together?), etc.

I’m under an informal NDA about the psychedelic action game.

My main idea for the linguistic magic game (which must be attributed to a fellow named Chris who used to come to GameDev) is that it will be a ballistic shooter à la Scorched Earth or Warheads. But instead of aim-fire, you’d have to concoct sentences (in an artificial, completely foreign language) describing what you want your spell to do and who you want it to target. This mirrors what you see in fantasy stories; Harry Potter doesn’t have a list of commonly used spells that he hits numbers to use: he says words and waves his wand to cast a spell.

Okay, on to the strategy game. This is the game we spent the most time brainstorming, and came up with some good ideas. I was thinking that it should be turn-based, but Namaste has managed to change my mind a bit. Still—the core idea for the game is that the speed of light is really really slow, say two “squares” per second, where a board would be 500×500 square squares or bigger. Everything must obey this principle, but it is still an RTS. This has some interesting consequences:

  • The first one I thought of is that there is no traditional fog of war. Instead, the fog of war would simply be that the farther away you looked, the farther in the past you would be looking. So you don’t know what distant troops are doing, you only have an idea of what they were doing some time ago.
  • There can’t be a traditional micromanagey interface (go to one army, put down a few moves, go to the next army, put down a few moves). If there were, then information would be going through you faster than the speed of light, which is impossible. Instead, you would have to possess one of your squads’ commanders and micromanage them, and then send out your other squads to be managed by other players or by the AI. You could send orders to other squads, but it might take up to 250 seconds (4 minutes) to get there, depending on your distance from them. Also, you could only repossess other commanders if you were in physical proximity to them.
  • You can’t communicate to other players faster than the speed of light. You send “look out” to your teammate 100 units away, it takes 50 seconds for him to see it. Indeed, there is a potential for cheating with instant messagers or whatever, but there’s not much you can do about that.

The upshot of all this is that you get a significant “lag factor”. That is, you might find yourself committing to decisions which may or may not be any good just because you have limited information. Clayton Lewis (a games for education researcher here at CU) says that, when you go back and read Napoleon’s logs, you find that he made these kinds of decisions all the time. You don’t know everything, you don’t know whether they have an army waiting for you, you don’t know if they’re just waiting for you to leave to plan a full-scale attack. You pick a plan and you commit to it, for better or worse, because wish-washing is always for worse.

So to make the game not so much about guessing, we’re thinking that we have a 10 minute “planning” stage before the battle. In single player or one-on-one, you would play large scale general, moving this army here and that army there, for the AI to carry out (this game would require a strong AI). In multiplayer, what the game would be optimized for, you would meet with the other players and Diplomacy-style work things out, ultimately for your own benefit. Because it takes so long to communicate on the battlefield, you have to have a strong plan before the battle.

Think about a few example scenarios. Keep in mind that the speed of light is two squares per second, so units move slower than that (probably max 1 square per second). Say you’re hiding a flank somewhere, and you’re waiting to see which way the opposing army goes to see where to stand-off. By the time you see which way they’re going, they’re half way there. The game should be balanced to make it very hard to assemble a strong defensive quickly enough to effectively counter them.

Also we were talking about limited population. Namaste cited several RTSs, but I don’t remember which ones. If you want more soldiers, you have to draw from your work force, which means you get less and worse equipment.

I’m just wondering how much effort it will take to prototype this. I want the battle rules to be really simple. For one, health bars are bullshit. If you get shot in the leg, you can’t keep fighting. You’re damn leg is off! (We were considering ambulances and a hospital for revival if you have limited population) But hopefully we can make do with only few types of squads with simple (rock-paper-scissorsish) rules. If we must incorporate tanks, we have to incorporate trenches too, because tanks need to have an weakness. But I’d be down with on-foot only.


3 thoughts on “Games

  1. Hi Luke, I discovered your blog when a random WordPress cross-link generated a Google link alert to my blog from yours.

    Anyway, I think you have a cool and interesting blog that covers lots of topics that Im into. You also come across as one seriously intelligent human.

    Games: Im making my own RPG series for mobiles entitled “Heroes of Arcadia” (see blog/site for details if curious)

    Linguistic Magic Systems: How did you get on with this idea? Did something come of it? If so, I’d love to see anything you can show, even paper notes or a prototype.

    Ive been thinking along some very similar tracks for the magic system in Arcadia. ie a language/DSL/API that the player, or more strictly, the spellcaster (since it may be AI) uses to write down the desired effect the spell should have, using pre-existing atomic units, which one might term “Magic Words”.

    Such words become very valuable items that can be found, earn or won as part of gameplay. Initially, they provide pleasure upon Aquisition due to their value, then follow up with the puzzle of learning how to best combine them with other words to yield Effects.

    When I model it, I find that the caster can pretty quickly assemble too-big, too-powerful spells if the use of words is uncosted.

    Eg If you have 4 words meaning:

    Fire: Specifies that the Effect of spell is to make something burn, thus damaging it
    Strong: Increases the magnitude of the effect it is attached to
    Ball: Specifies the spell affects a spherical area of space
    Big: Increases the size of the spell’s area of effect

    Then fairly soon, the player is going to figure out (or just learn from the web) that “Big Big Big Big Big Ball of Strong Strong Strong Strong Strong Fire” is a dominant strategy for dealing with most monsters they encounter. ;)

    So I suspect that such “open” magic systems need a cost function that can price a spell in terms of difficulty, or required mana, to cast. The cost calculation could either be on formulation, or at effect-resolution time.

    Ive done some thinking about which is better, and I generally lean towards resolution-time costing (which can be based upon the actual effect of the spell), because its harder to exploit. However, too strong a relation between spell’s costs and effects could be boring; at the limit, it almost becomes a case of M mana paid per D damage inflicted to enemy, in which case a wizard might as well trade his spellbook in for a sword, if its D/M ratio was superior. Magic no more…

    Anyway presumably you would have hit some of these issues in your own game, though perhaps in another guise?

    FRP: I have a predominantly Java background, migrating to Scala now, but have done some reading in Haskell to try to incorporate Functional Programming methods into my craft. Along the way, I encountered FRP in Hudak’s book, and was struck by the sense that I’d stumbled onto something fairly profound.

    To date, my embryonic appreciation of Haskell has limited my ability to grok it, but I’ll read your article on FRP in games when I get a free moment.

  2. Sorry for taking so long to reply.

    Unfortunately I never made any concrete progress on the magic game, and although it has been three years, it is still something I want to do. Experiments with the core system for the magic game led me along a tangent which eventually developed my most popular game, Ichor, which I made with my friend Namaste.

    Anyway, Chris’s original idea was an RPG idea, which I reframed into a ballistic shooter. His idea for dealing with too-powerful spells is not to add an artificial cost, but rather to require “magical maturity”, which is linked to your level/stats/etc. You may cast a spell that is too powerful for you, but there is a significant risk of doing it wrong, losing control, and hurting yourself or getting an undesired effect.

    I despise leveling-based games, so my version of that is to require wand gestures with spells (on the mouse or joystick), and a clumsily done wand gesture will lead to a clumsy casting of the spell. So leveling up is moved into player skill.

    I had trouble making progress with “brute force” — i.e. just thinking of all the atoms and modifiers I could. Turns out I couldn’t think of very many interesting ones. That is why I started experimenting with different underlying “magical physics”, a framework about elements and energy on which spells could operate. Then the physics would determine the atoms, not vice versa. And one of these frameworks was fluid dynamics, which is what got me side-tracked into Ichor. But I think it is a good approach nonetheless, if you are having trouble coming up with a rich set of atoms.

    I’d like to talk about this more. If you have more concrete ideas you’d like to bounce back and forth, I’d be happy to participate.

  3. Hi Luke,

    Spell Costs: to me cost is almost synonymous with difficulty. Its about being able to relatively compare different spells’ power (and by implication, different spellcasters).

    The cost mechanics might manifest as a spell level (eg old-style D&D), a depletion of mana at casting time (Warcraft etc), a chance of failure/error (your proposal), or something else (eg monetary cost of spell ingredients).

    I think any sane magic system needs a Cost Metric as way to compare the power/difficulty of spells; some way to express that SpellA (ignite a piece of wood) should be less challenging than SpellB (white hot fireball that melts permafrost in 100m radius)

    Its the design of that metric function that Im finding somewhat difficult. Simple metrics, eg number of words in the spell, are too vulnerable to exploitation.

    I’ll try to CC you on any substantial progress I make (be warned it might be months away.) What email should I use?

    PS Good you re-linked to Ichor. Are you aware that that alot of your older links to Soylent-hosted games go to an abandoned domain?

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