Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Snap-Together Colonies

I've been playing some shooter-adventure-survival-horrory games recently. Not my favorite genre, not since it peaked with System Shock 2, but it still contains a lot of goodies.

One of the things I really like about them is that you feel like you're part of the world. Most of the plot points involve getting somewhere, fixing something, hacking something - the monsters are literally just in the way. Even when it does come time to exterminate the monsters, you do it by building or hacking some part of the world. Sure, there's generally also a climactic battle, but you win by using the world against them.

There are literally as many examples as there are shooter-adventure-survival-horrory games. Venting the queen out an airlock, lighting sacred candles, putting poison in the ventilation, setting the self-destruct, using vaccine syringes after stunning the boss, jury-rigging the solar array to fry it... it's so central to the concept, I think it's why most shooter-adventure-survival-horrory games... let's just call them SASH games... it's why most SASH games are science fiction, and most of the rest are in a modern world where you have magic rituals. These settings give you a world where there's lots of stuff you can do to use the world.

The settings kind of remind me of lego - the pieces snap together like modules. The residential section has a solar tower "snapped" onto the top of it, so when you need to restore power you can use that rather than trying to reconnect or restart the main fusion reactor. Or maybe the residential section has a commercial section snapped on, in which case there's no natural light and no easy backup power source... but you can evacuate into the commercial district and hope to survive. Evacuating into a solar tower is like evacuating to the attic of a burning house.

I began to wonder: can you build a game where you can construct facilities, but then you can also run through the facilities as they are invaded by aliens?

In this situation, each "module" you can snap into your little colony has a purpose in terms of the basic function of your colony, yes. But it also has a purpose in terms of how it helps or hinders the player when they have to play through it live. The alien attack never plays out the same way twice, so it's not guaranteed that things will unfold as you expect. Maybe this time, the aliens actually came in through the solar tower. Or cultists took over the residential zone, and you have to fight through them in order to configure the tower and get power flowing to other sectors through the residential zone.

A basic combination of statistical use, resource chains, and downfall variations can be used to make all this happen.

The solar tower is the start of a power resource chain, supplying power to whatever module is beneath it and, from there, to other modules connected to that module. However, although cheap to build, it is an ongoing expense, so it is generally mothballed once the proper reactors come on-line. Downfall variations are slim: as a resource source, its primary downfall purpose is to be turned on again. However, it can also be used to shine burning bright light onto other surface modules, or can be collapsed to deal catastrophic damage to the module below it and in any one direction.

On the other hand, a bio lab has massive downfall variants - everything from evil monster experiments run wild to 95% completed vaccines to cultists who want to destroy it. Some downfall variants require you to establish a supply chain (of power, life support, or transport), while other downfall variants challenge you to fight off enemies.


Taking into account how things fall apart when aliens invade could make an otherwise pretty samey "build a station" game rather interesting.


Ellipsis said...

I would totally play that game.

eykd said...

Reminds me of the base-building component of X-COM (the original, at least). You built your base by slotting components into a grid. Eventually, the aliens figure out where you are and attack your base, and you find yourself defending whatever layout you happened to slap together. After that first attack, you became a lot more careful about base layouts!

Craig Perko said...

Hm, yeah, there's a little bit of that.

Soyweiser said...

This reminded me of space station 13.

Sure, the station is already in place. But there are a lot of different ways you can attempt to ruin other players day in ss13.