Our Little World, post-mortem

Posted by
April 25th, 2012 5:27 am

Every time I manage to pull through the 48 hours and end on the other end with something that doesn’t crash, I feel pretty good about myself.

Looking back at my prior work, it is clear to me that I’m gaining momentum in regards to workmanship and speed, but I’m still overly ambitious. If Our Little World is any indication, brilliant (… imo) gameplay concepts fall hard on lack of polish, both technical and abstract. I can live with a compo game having its glitches and oddities, but it should clearly communicate its message and play style. Our Little World did neither very clearly.

What was intended as light-hearted jab at religion became a mess of a non-descript, glitchy interface. I was averaging a feature every 80 minutes right up to the submission deadline, pumping without stop, but losing 24 hours to an optimistic implementation of a Bayesian network really dented my progress. I even considered switching to the jam to gain another day of work, but even I have more sense than to compete single-man against the talented teams who submitted works Monday.

With only a few days’ more work (and a competent artist), the game will be solid in its current design. Therein lies the true flaw. There is no inherent risk factor in the game. For one thing there’s no win condition, but the problem is more intricate than such. I wanted to create a game where you were forced to place the sides against each other. All too often you only see a true reward if you go to the extremes of “good” or “bad” (or the equivalent), and steadying in the narrow center is nothing but a hassle. I wanted to shift that paradigm, so to speak, forcing the player to constantly weight the power of mortal faith in you (empowering your godly abilities) with their self-reliance (which would enable them to move forward as a society). This requires an antagonistic element. Something that everyone is against, regardless of how pious they are. I had a massive backstory going in my mind as I was writing out the game concept, and the ultimate goal would be to allow humanity to raise itself to a demi-god-like status, capable off fending off unknowable terrors from beyond the veil. Now, the big picture works – you need to maximize humanities self-reliance, but doing so requires that you remain powerful enough to help them when they are in truly dire straits. But this only sees a long-term result, thousands of game cycles later, at the end times when the fruits of your labour are tested. The design direly needs a short-term risk-reward factor, which goes beyond the choices of punish/bless. They were intended as a power/wisdom tradeoff, granting the player greater power to affect the world as needed, but the consequences of procrastination were never explored. How greatly would society suffer if you sat idly by, testing their ability to overcome the Black Plague instead of granting them immunity? Even more importantly, how should this be expressed in game terms?

The best answer I have after this time is that the game requires more granularity. Instead of granting static structures boons or curses based on your immediate needs, I need three things:

  • Introduce single individuals to be the targets of wisdom buffs (give Newton the idea for gravity, jolt Graham Bell and let him make the first iPhone, etc). Furthermore, individuals have their own beliefs, so picking a mortal to bring forth the next leap in technology requires much forethought (you want the wealthy priest, who is almost guaranteed survival over the next few years, or the ambitious inventor, who may die with the next hunger epidemic?). A current effect that is very (too) subtle, is that trying to upgrade a building that has been punished or blessed quite often means that upgrades will take much longer time.
  • Let god powers be more free-form. They should be targeted more freely (single-target/AoE style) and have an effectiveness augmented by your current faith, total power and income. They also require more utility. I’m thinking rain powers to cause crops to grow and fires to be put out, or floods to cause havoc. Then move on to topological changes; land from the sea, natural dams to protect against invading hordes (or natural floods) and the like.
  • Genuine risk. With the current model, you would have to play through the entire (envisioned) game before seeing any real results. That’s not often enough for most players. This is also where I’m mostly stumped. What kind of short-term threat can you introduce that will force the player to manage their faith levels?

I guess the short-term end result for this post-mortem boils down to limiting ambitions. Ambitions are good. They’re great, even. Without them we’d be stumped. But we also need to know the limitations in order to get a proper end product.

I hope I can keep that sort of restraint on myself next time.

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