Why Not Games




City: The Core of the Game

Written: 2016-01-21

I've written a lot about the game that I'm working on, but I haven't written that much about the tenets of this game and what I hope for it to achieve. The game is about managing your mind as you go through life. The goal of the game is to take life situations and represent them in a way that feels entirely novel. Day-to-day life is full of meaningful decisions, you have to balance long term vs short term benefits, you have to figure out the best way to mitigate unpleasant situations and you have to constantly choose what you want to prioritize. These seem amenable to simulation, if in a very abstracted manner, and that's what this game is trying to do.

The game itself is a tower defense with creeps from multiple sources across the map. These creeps each represent emotions and towers represent ways to deal with them. An easy example is working out some anger through sport. The sport however, comes with wrinkles of its own, it has its own highs and lows and so we develop other activities to deal with that, building out the city of the mind that this game represents.

Things to Represent

I'm going to go over some things that I want my game to represent. Obviously, this list is non-exhaustive, the idea is to have systems that can support these concepts and to make sure that they're abstract enough to generate similar ones tailored to your play experience.

The obligation of doing favors for someone you like

This concept requires the game to represent the following pieces:

  • Other People - This is trickier than it would often be given that the game is set entirely in the player character's mind. Right now, this is just a non-tower emotion source (description), which seems like a reasonable metaphor to me. So, it is an entity that exists on the game map and from which emotions emerge.
  • Being Asked To Do Something - Now that we have the representation of the other person, we can just have that entity spawn items to represent a request (description). For example, asking you to pick up something from the store can be represented as an item named "Favor" that requires chores (produced by the towers that represent doing chores) to be completed. Completion can result in incrementing the favors done counter of that person, something distinct from the strength of your relationship with that person and something that does not necessitate that person doing you a favor in return.
  • Liking Someone - This is trickier as this is where the disconnect between the player and the player character needs to be handled. Even if there are no mechanical incentives to do so, I believe that players will like and dislike other people and take actions that reflect that. The risk of having the mechanics push you to people you don't actually like is real, and even if the mechanics overlap with the player's desires, being pushed into it can feel off-putting. However, liking people that you know you shouldn't is part of being human and something that I'm sure that players will identify with. This is going to be tricky to actually implement. My expectation is that I will end up letting the player lead the player character most of the time and generate impulses that the player can quell. This probably needs to have some degree of systems behind it for the sake of the simulation and to communicate finer detail.
  • Obligation - This is just having task completion result in something you want and having a penalty for task failure. This is pretty much a given with the point of being asked to do something. The player will add in his or her flavor to the system, but the system itself is pretty cynical.

Needing to build yourself up for big things

The first scenario is needing to build up the will to take a big life step. This would involve:

  • Will As A Currency - The idea here is that a number of day-to-day tasks require will, which is a currency of the player character that can be added to and depleted.
  • Cost To Not Using Will - This is implied by the previous point, but not using the currency needs to have negative effects on the player character (even if that is just not getting a positive effect), and so saving will for a major action needs to have a cost.
  • Short Term Actions - Similarly, actions with poor long term effects, but which generate will now help with this representation.

The second case is needing to bring yourself to an emotional state in order to take an action. For example, you need to be actually angry to shout at people. This requires:

  • Locking Actions Behind Emotions - This just keeps track of the player character's emotional state and prevents the player from taking certain actions unless an emotional state is active. As designs go, this one is kind of free.
  • Giving The Player Autonomy Over Emotional State - Given that the game is a tower defense in which the creeps represent the emotions, this is baked in, but it is important to remember how important it is for achieving aesthetics like this.

Friendships dying

For losing friends due to a diverging interests:

  • Actions That Require Other People - Some actions require more than one person and having those actions be locked by the people involved is key here.
  • Multiple Action Effects - If an action does multiple things and some of those things become less valuable, then the player is less likely to take that action and so less likely to spend time with their friend. For instance, if you are using sport to reduce anger and something changes to make you less angry, the player character could then end up spending less time with the people he or she played with and so losing those friendships.
  • Locking Actions to Global States - If hanging out with someone requires you to be in the same city as that person, then changing the city of the player character results in the player character being less able to spend time with the friend.
  • Deteriorating Relationship With Time Ignored - Right now, people are non-tower source entities, which also have a health trait. Adding a rule that causes them to lose health if not interacted with is not only trivial, but also something that should be done for all sources.
  • Changing The Player's City Of The Mind - This is necessary to represent a change in player character interests. This should happen naturally with enough content and with old parts of the city fading away, but we shall see. Ideally, an action from the player will lead to further actions down the same path and after enough time of that, things that once were key become obsoleted. This feels like something that would be better done through content instead of a system.
  • Changing Friend Traits - Similarly, the friend's traits and interests should change with time, making some activities less appealing to that friend.

These systems can also be used to represent growing away from a child as the child ages.

For losing friends due to depression:

  • Energy - If your daily activities require a certain amount of will or energy and being depressed greatly reduces your store, then the player may be unable to keep up interaction with that person.
  • Talking About Your Issues - Currently, it looks like this would be represented by an item representing the issue that can be killed by talking about it with a close friend, and having this friend constantly be the receptacle for this results in harm to the entity representing your relationship with the friend. I would prefer if this requires an attribute from the friend that makes them dislike talking about these items.

Moving cities because of major events

The goal here is to tie concurrent attributes together. So, if you spend a lot of time with a person, then the city you do that with becomes associated with that person and so if things go badly enough with that person, all activities associated with that city can start to create more emotions, requiring the player character to be uprooted and moved somewhere new. Mechanically, this is trivial, I just need to tie activities to things that they are active around.

The Flip Side

Now that I feel more confident about being able to represent scenarios like this mechanically, the biggest risk is whether people will react poorly to the philosophy codified by the game. After all, this is mostly just my viewpoint on how things work and I am a person who is often wrong. Hopefully, I'll be able to abstract the content to the point where people can put enough of their own beliefs into their interpretation of the game for it not to break immersion and that playing the game will lead the game into something mirroring the player's beliefs.

More importantly though, this is the game that I want to make. I'm interested in seeing where communication through systems can go and that's good enough for me to keep working on this game.

- @murthynikhil

< City: Honing City: A System Analysis of City So Far >

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Written for Why Not Games.