I remember a great gaming experience I had with Might and Magic VI. The game started in a small town where everything seemed to have a place and a purpose. I really enjoyed the immersion factor of this area. Never did I get the feeling that I didn’t belong or that my actions were meaningless. Unfortunately, the rest of the game didn’t quite live up to the promise of that first area.
That initial town started me thinking about crafting playing areas where everything had a function. As per my previous posts, I will explore the potential of using a village (and surrounding areas) as the main questing area in the context of a roguelike.
I want the village to seem alive with every actor having a clear role and back story. The village should function like a living organism. It should be able to operate without relying on the actions of the player and should react to environmental events (weather, economic, physical threat) in a acceptable manner.
It is my vision that the player will be able to see the impact of his actions on the livelihood of the village and it’s villagers. If the baker gets sick (special event) the player can choose to go find a cure or do nothing. If the player fails (there might not be a cure) or does nothing, the baker could either die or get well. If the baker dies there might not be a baker in town for a while, which could impact the baked goods supply within the village. There might be other consequences depending on the other relationships impacted by the death of the baker.
It is these indirect consequences that I would like to explore in a game design. I am hoping that direct feedback (through quest rewards) and indirect feedback (through changes in the village) would inspire the player to engage with the game.
For the next few posts, I hope to explore building the indirect feedback loop into the fundamental game design.
Traditionally, roguelikes have been about random generated environments, turn-based game play, tactical combat, character progression and inventory management. A few modern incarnations have had some form of questing system, but not to the level as described in my previous post.
In order to facilitate a meaningful gaming experience I need to find a way to engage the player with the game world. I want the player to feel like he belongs in the world and the he can make a difference to his character’s life and the lives of the other characters within the game world.
As a first implementation, I propose to centre the action around a single village. Each character in the village will have a specific role and purpose. I don’t want any meaningless elements within the game world. Everything should be built according to a plan and a purpose.
The player character will be a member of the village. I want the player to feel like he is a part of the village and has some purpose in the village. I don’t think the player will take a primary role within the village, such as the role of the innkeeper, smith or butcher, but will have some kind of supporting role within the village.
I can achieve the above mentioned supporting role through various means. An obvious way would be to make the player a child of one of the villagers. The player will start his journey by assisting his parents with their particular tasks and then gradually branch out to do greater things.
Another possibility is for the player’s livelihood to be threatened by some external force, causing the player to seek refuge at the village and requiring the player to take steps to get back on his feet. For example, the player could have his farm destroyed by a band of Orcs and would then need to take refuge at the village Inn. From there he has various options available to him. For example, he could assist the villagers with their tasks or leave the village to find the Orcs. It becomes the player’s decision and his decisions will change his experience.
The outcome of the player’s actions would, hopefully, have a lasting impact on the lives of the villagers, the overall future of the village and possibly the player himself.
I’ve been thinking about doing an experiment with quests in a roguelike game. My ideal quest implementation would steer away from the traditional Fedex and “kill x number of y creature” quests. The problem with the aforementioned quests is that they are easy to implement and simple to complete and therefore very tempting to use. Unfortunately, they are also very boring and unfulfilling.
I hate it when a game gets me to spend my time on it and then rewards me with inane quests and even better, zero consequences for completing them. I don’t see a quest reward in the form of an item or experience points as being a good consequence for completing a quest. Although these rewards have an impact on my character, they don’t have any bearing on me, the player.
A great example of this is Oblivion. A game with an “immersive” game world, where you can do almost anything, but whatever you do has no real impact. I remember one quest where the champion gladiator asked me to find out about his parents. During the quest you discover that his father was a vampire or something sinister like that. Upon telling him the disturbing news, he responds with some cookie cutter dialog and carries on hacking away at the practice dummy he was busy with. So after I travelled half way across the world, fought many deadly enemies and delivered this dire news, my actions have had no impact whatsoever. I ask myself, what was the point? All the game designer actually did was waste my time to give my character experience points and maybe some items or gold.
These quests although meaningless from the player’s perspective, do serve some purpose. They are useful in driving world exploration and rewarding the player character with experience and better loot, constantly steering the player experience towards a (hopefully meaningful) conclusion. In essence there is nothing wrong with this, but I want more from a game. I want to be engaged and entertained, I want my efforts to have some meaning to the world my character inhabits.
I hope to explore some quest designs that will, hopefully, engage the player and reward him with a meaningful playing experience.