The following wall of text is a manifesto of my justification for wanting to develop a game. I might edit this a little later, but what you see here is enough of a final version to post.
When video game developers set to hash out another first person shooter, real time strategy, racing, role-playing etc. game, they have most of their variables set by the moulds of the industry. A few gimmicks, some new, perhaps upgraded, graphics and a new storyline are added to make the game unique. The end result is the absolute lack of anything unique at all. But, when something breaks the mould, it runs the chance of not playing well. Players might be confused or might not like the new gameâ€™s feel.
In other words, the problem with uniqueness is risk. The problem with the video game industry is that it hardly wants to take risks, which is the same for any other large industry. The stakes are too large for 50 million dollar budget American films to go out on a limb on unheard of actors and atypical, confusing plots. The problem with industries not taking risks, not backing unique projects, is stagnation, the lack of creative and novel products. From there, either lightning strikes with the industry taking a well thought-out risk or some low-budget operation outputs some product that gains vast popularity. That becomes â€œthe next big thing,â€ which in turn becomes target for the industry to rehash for the next decade.
Before the video game industry started grossing more than Hollywood, it was willing to take risks. Game developers did not need to spend large chunks of their budget on convex volumetric fog rendering, bi linear interpolated textures, atmospheric scattering, ambient light effects and other graphical eye-candy that contribute little to any actual fun factor. The age that spawned any of the game genres that anyone plays today allowed more freedom in development. The video game industry at that time had the luxury of being able to risk making a fun and novel game. What an ironic statement.
This is where I come in. I have nothing to risk but my own opportunity costs. I also have precious few resources to accomplish my goals. If I could snap my fingers and have my will of some action-y, graphically-intense game be done, this would be a lot easier. As it is, I will have to struggle with what mediums I can muster. Yet, what limits also liberates. If I took a career in video game design, chances are I would find myself paying the bills by working on the shading for some snowboarding game. At best I could probably design weapon graphics for some mediocre online role-playing game.
But, with my limited means, I still believe I can do the unique. I hope to do some things that have never been done before. I am working on a PHP game (with possible Flash elements) with the current pet name Emporium. Technically, I would have to call it a browser-based, multi-user, role-playing, economic simulation. This does not sound particularly novel since plenty of other games could be considered such, but the approach I am taking is having as much player interactivity as possible. I could go on about the subject of gaming as method of human interaction for days, but here are just some details in bullet form:
Dynamic World Map â€“ Each hex of map will have its own dynamic attributes. Players could turn a plot into farmland to till, build a house, inn, smithy shop or they could trample the natural growth into trails and roadways. Trees could grow, rivers could be irrigated or players could see deforestation and raging flood waters. Governments could build defense walls to keep out raiding parties or could call armies to pillage and burn neighboring towns. See, while newer games are constantly intensifying their graphics, they are actually doing less by foregoing the opportunity to make limitlessly dynamic worlds.
No Non-Player Characters â€“ There will be no structures other than player-made structures. There will be no weapons other than player-made weapons. There will be no stores other than player-made stores. There will be no bread, beer, bottles, bags, shovels, candles, scrolls, books, magical wands or potions other than player-made bread, beer, bottles, bags, shovels, candles, scrolls, books, magical wands or potions. Simple enough concept but I have not seen it elsewhere. Most so-called role-playing games start characters out fighting something harmless like rats, which, when defeated, somehow always seem to cough up human currency. Then you develop your character until you are strong enough to defeat huge, bat-winged beasts that, for the same strange reason, seem to cough up human currency when defeated. In Emporium, even currency will be player-made.
Player-Interactive Economic System â€“ This is going to borrow very heavily from M.U.L.E.. Since there are no NPCs, any goods and services will have to be supplied by players. Players will have to make their own stores and products and thus must have control over production and pricing. Primary and secondary materials will be available on an open market with a M.U.L.E.-like bartering system. Those materials are turned into end-users products by players who will have to base their prices on production costs, added value, rarity and how much other players will want said products (i.e. demand).
Intuitive Complexityâ€“ The above supply/demand stuff looks like it could get pretty complicated. Too complicated. Unintuitive complexity is a large problem with many browser games. Many cannot be played without a calculator present and even then it takes months to come out of the confusion about what you are supposed to be doing. Again, M.U.L.E. is the key. It demonstrates creative ideas on how to develop a complicated 4-player, produce/consume, buy/sell game to be played with nothing but a 1 button, 8-direction controller per player. This thought process is going to apply to everything in Emporium from the materials trading to the combat system. For example, if I can at all avoid it, I will not have any typing in of numbers when I could used buttons and slide-bars instead. As another example, the storefront selling would lay out for the owners suggested base prices. Instead of making those players add up all the costs and then figure a sale number, the game would figure the costs up and then ask the amount of currency players want to make, or lose, on that particular item (of course letting them see the final price as well, but having a money gained/lost meter as a guide).
Automated Social Capital â€“ Online role-playing games usually have inadequate ways of dealing with player vs. player combat social dynamics. Some restrict players to only player-killing in certain areas others, only allow it between a range of character levels and/or above certain levels, while others just have an optional marker that brands killers as such and plenty just do not allow it at all. I have trouble believing that no other game has attempted some sort of automated friend/foe function, yet it seems most online games let you keep a contacts list, sometimes â€œfriendsâ€ and â€œenemiesâ€ lists. My idea of making one will probably be the most difficult to implement out of all the ideas here. Consider this simplified example. Every player character has an invisible chart that includes every other player character and gives them each a rating from 1 to 10. 1 means that character is a mortal enemy of your character and 10 means the character and yours are like brothers. If someone attacks you, steals from you or if you see someone attacking someone else, that playerâ€™s score on your chart gets drastically lowered. But, if someone is constantly around you, patronizes your store and/or helps you in certain ways, their score on your chart goes up. Scores on two different characters would adjust mutually, since if you hate someone, they will probably hate you back. Now, if you have a friend (rating 7-10) that gets attacked by someone else, their rating on your friends chart will go to â€œfoeâ€ status (rating 1-3). But it does not stop there, since he is your friend and you are on his side, especially if you witnessed the assault. Thus, your rating of the attacker also moves to the foe range. If you see your friend attack that perpetrator, your rating, your opinion, of your friend will not go down, but the original concept is strengthened. In fact, if the original victim is in good standing with the bulk of society, others will not only frown upon the attacking such perpetrators, but rather encourage it. Upon sight, players would be able to identify friends and foes by some simple system like coloring their names different depending on the relation. From there, you will have self-policing societies, heros and villains, most likely resulting in certain characters being branded as murders and not being allowed participate the economy, essentially banishing them from the society. Those fugitives have the option of building their own inter-character bonds and constructing their own towns, possibly bandit towns built on raiding those who still have wealth. Why bother with creating bandit non-player characters with complex AI and spend time making forts for them on the world map when you can simply let players do it for themselves?
Physical Properties Rather Than Preset Items â€“ So, if players can make items, then how would they go about constructing them? In other games where you can make items, the player is usually given a list of items to fabricate and a list of materials needed to make them. At their most creative some games let you simply combine a few objects together and watch them become the end product. Consider if a wizard wants to brew a potion. Instead of a potion template, he could be left to experiment with adding certain ingredients together. An eye of newt and ground up mandrake root potion could give a different effect than ground up newt eyes and whole mandrake root potion. But, rather than making some specific map of what combines with what to make what, each material could have properties. Perhaps eye of newt has several properties, one of which gives you magical power when boiled down from a whole eye and consumed, but when ground up targets the eyes. And maybe mandrake root has some properties, one of which grants general healing when ground down, boiled and consumed, but when kept whole in a mixture gives specific cures. So, an eye of newt and ground mandrake root potion might be a general healing potion while ground up newt eyes and whole mandrake root potion cures blindness. In coding terms, do not think of it as â€œif you ground up X and boil it down for consumption, it will give Y effect.â€ Think of it as â€œif said item has X property in Z amount, grounding it up and boiling it down for consumption will give Y effect in the Z degree.â€ These are hypothetical examples, but the general concept could apply to weapon making, armor making, spell casting and more.
The Economy Fuels Combat, Combat Fuels The Economy â€“ One of the problems with most real time strategy games is that collecting resources is painfully boring and often bothersome. The latest trend in RTS games is to combine fighting with resource collection. Applying this to a browser-based, multi-user, role-playing, economic simulation means somehow combining material collection with combat. What I have come up with so far is such: there are passive skills, such as mining, lumberjack and farming. Then the active skills are combat skills. A lumberjack has a lumber mill, but chopping down a tree requires both the act of chopping it down and fighting whatever monster pops out of the tree to defend it. The lumberjack, in this case, acts as the closest thing there is to a non-player character. The lumberjack offers X currency for the active duty of fighting the monster. All the player has to do is choose the tree (the type and size of tree that the lumberjack requests), kill the monster and then â€œghostâ€ of the lumberjack automatically chops down the tree and takes it back to the lumber mill. The better player characters can fight, the better they can fuel the economy. The better resources available to the economy, the better equipment can be manufactured to enhance player fighting ability.
There are plenty more novel aspects planned, like increasing character attributes and skills through usage rather than the simple choosing of unearned improvements, using nourishment to build character attributes (a throw-back to River City Ransom) and specific experience gained based on what kind of actions taken (another throw-back, this time to games such at Wasteland and Quest for Glory).
The point is to make a game with aspects that I do not see in games produced by the current industry. I would like to think this is because no one yet has dared to think outside of the box in these certain ways as much as myself. Perhaps we do not see these features because they would be too tricky and volatile to implement, or, worse yet, because they would be virtually impossible to implement. I am banking my time and effort in creating Emporium in that my ideas are novel and that I can add meaningful concepts to online gaming.
I know people who are trying to create amateur video games and all but precious few of them are reaching for anything novel. I hear, â€œI want to make a game just like [some other game], only better,â€ or, â€œWeâ€™re trying to combine all the best elements of the Final Fantasy games and put them into one game.â€ I do not desire to create video games simply because I want to make them. I am pulled to do so because I believe I envision things that no one else, at least no one else in power, sees. Through creative thinking, through the proper effort spent and with the help of my friends, I we should be able to see if I am right.