Monday, September 09, 2013

Time-Allocation Play

One of the things I've been flirting with a bit is the concept of time allocation as play.

There's a lot of games where time allocation is a big part of the play, but it's usually slightly hidden behind a pile of other kinds of play. I've been thinking about bringing it out into the open. To make it less clear: I'm not talking about scheduling or waiting. I'm talking about time allocation. Manually turning things on and off, basically.

Imagine you run a space ship, and you basically have a bunch of switches you can flip on and off. Warp drive, research, repairing, harvesting space particles, partying, biofood labs... whatever we can come up with. Could you make flipping those switches into a compelling game?

I think you can. I think the heart of it lies in making the switches have complex inter-relations and time delays.

For example, you have a battery with X energy in it. You have a starship generator which generates a small amount of energy, but not a whole lot. And you have a fuel amount that the generator burns to produce energy.

You're running low on energy. So you flip the switch to harvest particles from space, knowing that it'll refuel you steadily. While there is definitely a net gain, this does drain energy faster than the generator can provide it... and it has a slow start as the mag-sails slowwwwwwly deploy. So you flip the switch only to realize that you don't actually have enough juice in the battery to get past the early stages, and you're not going to make a profit before the energy runs out.

So you shut off the biofood labs to reduce the draw on the battery, so hopefully it'll last long enough. However, this shuts off all the secondary effects of the biofood labs, such as air purification and good food - putting increased strain on both your life support and your morale. Still, it works out, you get some fuel, and you switch off the particle gatherer. You switch the biofood labs back on, but it'll be quite some time before they regain full potency. So you also turn on relaxed scheduling, raising moral but lowering work hours. And you have to turn on the backup scrubbers to get the air filtered well again, but they are degrading rapidly because the maintenance staff are on R&R...

This kind of play takes advantage of the way delays and limitations play against each other, forcing you to weigh both timing and duration. In addition, you can add in a lot of long-arc play.

For example, you decide you want to research black holes for the healthy science prize, and find you can harvest plenty of fuel from the accretion disk as well... now if you can only keep your ship from disintegrating from the heat and radiation. So after a while of that, maybe you (and your full fuel tank) pop over to a friendly space station for some drydock repairs from all that damage. You notice they have a new module on sale that will increase your energy output with only a modest increase in fuel cost, so you go back to the black hole to get a few more science points, get the cash prize, and then go back to pick up the module...

And the long-term goals are a big part of what makes the short-term ship management important. For example, maybe when your crew is happy you earn culture points. There's a "combo"-type thing going, so the longer you go with a happy crew, the more points you get per day. But the instant the crew drops below "happy", the combo is broken.

Now you have an important, self-imposed constraint. Much of the time you aren't going to give a shit about how happy your crew is, so shutting off the biofood system will be a no-brainer if you need the extra power. But if you're going for a culture chain, it might be better to eat the fuel penalty for a failed harvest rather than break that combo.

Add in random events and every location having limited resources, and now you have a game. You choose how fast to burn through whatever resources aren't easily available. You choose your own goals - a larger ship? High culture ratings for the luxury items? high science to improve the modules you have? Cash to buy better modules?

A very basic game, but I think it'd be interesting.

No comments: