Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Mapping Space to Other Things

I have become more and more interested in mapping space to something besides space.

As I've said before, the basic idea of space (how you perceive it and move through it) is treated too generically for my taste. In essence, every game is fundamentally about navigating space. Sometimes the space is very fine and open, like a fighting game or a first person shooter. Sometimes the space is clunky and restrictive, like skill trees and dialog. But space is always treated as "generic". The only difference between here and there is simply that here is closer to the gold that we've placed on an arbitrary point in space.

Why not make a space intrinsically linked to some part of the gameplay?

For example, imagine a game in which you can fly. As you fly higher, it gets colder and harder to breath. There is a strong relationship between space and some part of the gameplay. This is rendered meaningless if you can't fly, though: the idea is that you have to be able to change your position and, in doing so, change the game dynamics.

That's the most basic kind of linking, and many games already have a vague Z-axis play modifier: falling. But that's basically saying "The difference between being here and being there is that being there sends you here."

How about something much more complex, though? How about a game where one of the play spaces is radiation? Walk right, you can sense ultraviolet. Walk left, you can sense infrared. Keep walking, and your senses keep panning away from the human norm.

If this was the main play field in a platformer, it could reveal platforms that are only visible to certain kinds of radiation - then you might have to go jump on that platform, which is invisible to you when you reach it. Or maybe it lets you see through things which are opaque to other wavelengths! Alternately, it could be a secondary play space, like the "sphere grid" the new Final Fantasy games use.

You could link space to anything. You could link it on one, two, or even three axes. You could link it to length of weapon, age, speed of attack, time, space in another play space, the health of a follower, gravity, research speed, the height of ladders, charisma: anything.

Suddenly you've got this weird game where where you stand affects how you play. If it's the primary play space, you've suddenly got a platformer where jumping while on the right side of the level might have a very different result than jumping while on the left side. Or where you can fly, but only where the updrafts are hot enough. Or something.

If it's not the primary space but is instead something like a power-up grid, the result of marching around on it is not scripted - the painful limitations inherent in scripting no longer exist. Walk far enough to the "fire" side of the grid and you take damage if the weather is less than 90 degrees outside. But nothing is stopping you: specialize as foolishly as you want.

Of course, you don't have to map it to space. You could map it to time, but that's pretty common. You could map it to velocity: While moving left, there is no gravity. While moving right, there is a lot of gravity. You could do all three, and make the player's head explode.

I think that would be fun.


David said...

Probably following from the other time/space post more than this one, I always loved the idea of a job-based MMO that actually had useful jobs. If you wanted to be a fletcher you need to get the wood... is it better to cut down a tree yourself or visit the carpenter... and did he cut down the tree or hire someone to do it, or what? And if I play the carpenter maybe I get to know alot about the wood in the world. Maybe I hear about a special wood that can make magical artifacts. Maybe in my younger years I would have trained and gone on an adventure to a distant land to find and cut down a tree like that... but I'm thinking of retiring, I've been a successful carpenter for several months... I could still go, but maybe I could mentor another carpenter and send him as a quest... or maybe I'll retire and "live vicariously" through my son.

Or maybe I'm a giant... I see a different (scaled smaller, less detailed, but I can see way farther) world than smaller players. I could find quests and stuff on a world scale rather than a local scale... maybe I can offer rides to smaller adventurers. When they're sitting in my lap-belt maybe they're seeing the world the way I do, with a little tavern to have a drink or sit and chat while I cross the zones in 5 or 6 minutes (a trip that would have taken them 30?) Maybe I fight bosses the way most people fight rats.

Also I always wondered why our MMOs are so democratic and capitalist. Everyone knows too many choices make you unhappy (which post of yours was that?) The guys on penny-arcade once commented that Mario Kart for GC's internet matching was kinda nice since the kart you got was random... same thing in say, Smash Brothers... if you choose a random character, you are challenged with new systems and because you don't have a choice, you're less likely to fall into your ruts. (I *always* play some sort of halfling bard/rogue)

So remove the choice... when you create a new character, the game picks your race, sex, starting location, skills, job, etc for you. You can customize yourself a bit from there, but then you're in the game. After you play for a bit you can discover ways to change your race/sex/skills/job if you *really* want to, but it's difficult maybe and limited perhaps, so you solve problems like "there are a million fighters" or "everyone is a jedi around here." Maybe one day you di e and reroll and you become the king of an undiscovered country. Suddenly you find yourself in a very different game. Maybe you're an adventurer and you set sail off the left edge of the map... everyone told you there is nothing over there (in fact, your last character sailed right off the edge of the world) but you have a new conviction (maybe an artifact showed up that you'd never seen before, and you're certain it didn't come from this continent) so you gather a crew of sailors, cooks , crafters (all hired from the player base) and set off, only to discover a new country, where certain players (beta testers?) have been playing in isolation for some time.

Your current character (maybe you can have two, for diversity) is active until you permadie, retire (after an approriate age), transcend (new race/class?), give birth, petition, or the world cycles (era ends, the big war is won, ala Tale in the Desert)

Novel length post!

Craig Perko said...

I have a lot of thoughts on that matter. I think I'll post!