Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Timelike Roguelikes

I was thinking about roguelikes. If you squint, you can think of every room in a roguelike as a scene. Sometimes the scene is not straightforward - you end up backing off, or running off to a closet for a moment, or falling in a pit and getting shunted somewhere else, or luring enemies out the room to fight them in a hallway...

But rooms are largely self-contained scenes.

So, I was thinking: can we create a timelike roguelike? Where the randomly created "rooms" are literally scenes?

Let's think in terms of a made-for-TV medical soap opera, such as House.

There are five fundamental kinds of scenes:

1) Surgery. This would be the direct skill challenge scene.

2) Bedside. This shows that the patient is a human, allowing the people to empathize. It also shows the patient's health and how fast they are getting better/worse (sometimes extremely rapidly).

3) Brainstorming. This is a scene where the doctors are grappling with the situation intellectually, a second kind of skill challenge that is also used to show that the doctors are very smart but grappling with very complicated situations. In soap operas, this sometimes involves breaking and entering.

4) Hall Blitz. This is where the doctors have figured things out at the last second, or are rushing to stop someone who thinks they've figured things out.

5) Personal Scene. While the personalities of the staff thread through every kind of scene, personal scenes show them outside of medical emergencies and allow us to empathize with them directly. Hospital politics and love affairs are the most common kinds of personal scene.

These five kinds of scenes can be arranged in more or less any order.

What if we think about a particular 'episode' (floor of a dungeon) as having a particular layout of scene sets. Basically, rooms and hallways of various sizes. As time passes, you move through the set, entering different scenes. If you leave a bedside scene for a brainstorming scene, and then move back into the bedside scene, that means you're returning to the same patient for more conversation and humanity reaffirmation. Two rooms, three actual scenes.

But a floor could easily have two or three different bedside scenes, each of which represents a different kind of bedside scene or a different patient. The shape of the scene is different.

We can think about the sort of challenges that would arise. For example, bedside scenes would be about gathering information and improving the patient's stats. Brainstorming scenes would convert information into stat buffs for the doctors. Personal scenes would allow the doctors to level up. Surgery allows you to do the best work, but rapidly drains the patient's stats. And so on.

But, of course, individual challenges arise like monsters in a roguelike. A hidden allergy, an obstructive doctor, a patient that sneaks alcohol in, a heart that just won't behave...

Like a roguelike, you can tackle them in the scenes they emerge... or retreat to a different scene, luring it along to tackle it in a setting of your choice. Bedside scene - patient shows sudden crash due to an allergy to new medication. You can treat it in a bedside scene using bedside scene tactics... or you can rush the patient into emergency treatment and deal with the reaction in a surgery scene, although that also debuffs the patient heavily. If it's not a fatal allergy, you can simply retreat back into a brainstorming scene and try to gain more stat buffs before tackling it again.

The whole time, you have a party of characters under your command, being characters, moving slowly through character arcs and leveling up. This is necessary to keep involvement high.

I was thinking... this kind of temporal roguelike could be a lot of fun. I used a medical drama because they have a pretty simple format, but the same basic idea could be used in a lot of ways. It's a strategy RPG that builds its own story.

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