Monday, January 12, 2009

Tactical Crazy!

I recently picked up Rondo of Swords, a DS game. (maybe originally PS2? Feels like it.) It's a tactical RPG, one of my favorite game genres. But it's SO WEIRD.

I mean, it's completely normal and average in every way. Except... you don't attack and defend. Instead, you move through people. It counts as attacking them. And you can move through any number of people, as long as you end in an empty tile. So the classic "warriors in front to protect the wizards" doesn't work: the enemy just sprints through them. Instead, the dominant "formation" is a knot of people at the edge of the enemy's movement range, followed by a rapid scattering as you close.

The amount of difference this rule makes is mind-blowing. It's actually infuriating at times, because it goes directly against my long-honed instincts forged in the fires of the thousands of other tactical RPGs I've played, all of which use the typical "close and clench" tactic rather than the... I have no idea what to call it. The tactic this game uses.

But it got me thinking. It's enough of a shakeup to be really interesting, at least in theory. (In practice, I seem to suck at it...)

So it made me wonder: what other perversions of typical gameplay could you do? Pick an old, standard genre that's so inelastic that just saying the genre immediately tells you everything about the game. Tactical RPG is one such type. What changes could you make to completely change the way they work?

Here's an example: in FPS games, the standard is shooting at enemies at various ranges while moving through the level. How can you shake that up? Without, you know, turning it into a platformer. How can you use the same fundamental controls, but come up with a radically different dynamic?

Or how about a platformer? You know, without turning it into a shooter. What changes can you make that aren't already in Braid?

I think these questions are important to ask, because just when I feel like all the options have been explored, I pick up a game which is exactly the same but completely different: FPS games where you have a camera, not a gun. Platformers where moving left or right makes time move forward or backwards. RPGs where you don't play an angsty teenager.

Any ideas? Any fond memories? What do you think?


Ryan said...

"Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland" is a Zelda-style adventure game where your money is your life, and just about everything costs money. People offer rewards for completing quests, but allow you to pick the amount. If you're too greedy, you get nothing!

One take on FPS, that might be really tricky to pull off, comes from a scene in the movie, Ultraviolet. Basically, a bunch of guys form circles around the protagonist and shoot at her. She dodges, and lets the bullets hit the guys behind her. Repeat 50 times. It was a really silly scene- why would the enemy keep doing this after the first time? I think it would make for some satisfying gameplay though, if you can get it to work.

I've also always dreamed about an RPG with a world similar to Oblivion, except that you're playing a military unit in a game of Civilization, with AI players for all of the civs. (Does that make sense? It's 2am...) I can't really figure out how timing would work though. Real-time games operate on a second-to-second basis, whereas Civilization leaps several years at a time until the end-game.

Mory said...

Decades from now, I'd like to make an RPG that's all about characters and emotions rather than weapons and statistics. The overarching plot would be told via a slightly-interactive 3D comic book (so that there's no wandering-around-aimlessly filler whatsoever), the long-term planning would be about developing relationships and dealing with emotional problems (rather than improving your own abilities and buying better armor), and the confrontations both physical and verbal would be a system that's a hybrid of tactical strategy and choose-your-own-adventure style branching paths. (You choose from a list of interesting actions like "surround soldier" and "feign ignorance", plus extra abilities if there's a relationship in the room you can utilize.)

Mory said...

Oh, and I forgot to specify: it would be like Animal Crossing in that nothing you do can ever be taken back. A battle has real stakes, in that supporting characters can die and relationships can fall apart, but there's never an outcome so bad that you won't continue from there. A line of dialogue can never be unsaid, an enemy soldier never "unkilled". (There might be situations where the surviving members of your opposition swear revenge, and if you don't manage to prevent them from escaping they'll be back and really dangerous later.)

Craig Perko said...

Ryan: The "game within civ" fantasy is a common one, but one I'd really like to see. I've never even heard of... whatever that first game is!

Mory: Yes, I agree, but I'm specifically talking about things that are the same as today's games. Those are radical add-ons that change the nature of the game entirely, regardless of what genre it used to be. I'd love to see them, but I'm thinking about things that are a little easier to do...

Mory said...

Gotcha. You're looking for crazy, but not that crazy. How about a competitive adventure game? Standard game mechanics, puzzle-solving, storytelling with branching paths, etc. But the fact that one player is trying to prevent the other from reaching his goal (and that there are two players to begin with) would change the entire feel of the experience.

Craig Perko said...

Hmmm, that's an interesting idea. Even simply creating a "reversed adventure game" would work, if you didn't want to go that far. An adventure game where your adventure is specifically to build or interfere with another adventurer...

I like it!

Ryan said...

FYI, "Tingle" is a Nintendo DS game, and worth picking up if you have a DS!

It's encouraging to hear that the game-with-civ idea is common. Do you know of any discussion of the topic? I'd like to hear what others have to say about it.

Mory: I also like the idea of a competitive adventure game, but I think you'd have to rely on procedural story creation a lot so that players aren't so constrained in what they can do to mess with each other. Superficial consideration makes me think it would be very much like playing capture the flag.

Craig Perko said...

I generally find that if I get in a game design conversation with people, everyone has some bright game idea based on playing "between the turns" of civilization. I don't know if there's any actual discussion group.

I think it's because Civ (and most Sim games) build a fairly rich world that the player is deeply invested in. But there's a lack of depth - the player can see the depth, can imagine the depth, but the game doesn't have the capacity to zoom in and show it to him.

Sim Copter is an example of a game on this idea that actually got made and sold, and although it wasn't exactly a stellar game it was a lot of fun to see your city from a new perspective. Civilization offers the same basic opportunities but squared because of the much more detailed and diverse setting.

You can build almost any kind of game "between the turns" of Civilization. You could do an Oregon Trail game, you could experience the more dramatic battles, you could explore the high seas, you could even play spies or traders. Even adventure games are possible, all generated off of the world you've built.

Even if the games are not terribly interesting on their own, they have the advantage of being based in (and affecting) a world you are strongly invested in. So there's a lot of potential.

The difficulty isn't even in balancing them or making them interesting: it's in the eeeeeeeenormous amount of content you'd have to build.

Greg Tannahill said...

RPG where your base stats never change; you instead spend XP to make more powerful monsters spawn in the world, carrying commensurately better loot, which you'll need to defeat the next rank of monsters... actually, not only has this already been done to some extent by Disgaea and The World Ends With You, but it's functionally how World of Warcraft endgame works, with "XP" swapped for "real-world cash".

I'll keep trying.

Craig Perko said...

Well, it's actually a fairly interesting idea, but maybe you're not turning it on its head enough.

If we imagine that your power level literally never changes - you can't even improve your equipment - that means the game can orbit the idea of changing the world rather than changing your characters.

In this sort of game, you could perhaps spend XP to rebuild bits of civilization, or to change the course of a war. To some extent, the actual things you do would have an effect as well - if you kill off the evil king, you're not going to have to spend the XP to weaken him any further. But at what point is he weak enough to take on?