Since I make the claim that I want to be a game designer, I think it’d be best if I actually started laying out my game design theories and prototypes in detail. Normally I’d be concerned about simply handing out intellectual property that I may receive absolutely no credit for. But in this case, I recognize that this blog receives virtually no traffic so that’s a bit of a non issue.
One of my current pet projects goes by the name “Rain” it’s roots can be traced back to virtually any 1 vs. 100 type game currently on the market today. Be it, Gears of Wars Horde mode, Killing Floor, Left 4 Dead, or even Counter Strike’s zombie mod, “Rain” has borrowed the best of these ideas while weeding out the flaws. The core of the game is one simple fact, you are going to die, no matter how well you perform, in the end, you will be unable to resist the enemy waves and the game will end. The entire game can be summed up in its name. What do you feel when it begins to rain? The first few cold drops of liquid splashing on your exposed flesh, chilling you, heightening your senses, and you are left with the distinct impression something is about to happen. Then the rain begins to fall in earnest, drenching you, overwhelming you, until eventually you are completely soaked and chilled.
In games such as Left 4 Dead or CSS’ Zombie Mod, you are fleeing from an enemy towards some sort of salvation, be it a boat, plane, car, or safe house. This works well enough as a game mechanic, as it gives the player a sense of urgency bordering on panic, that if they do not keep up, they will be left behind to suffer the worst. This premise suffers from a fundamental flaw however, if you are spending all your time moving forward, that’s typically where your gun is pointed as well. You shoot enemies to clear a path so that you may continue to move onward. but the majority of enemies do not receive your immediate attention and often just turn into an ominous presence behind you, that you rarely stop to face. Sure there are occasional stop points, typically where you hold one position while waiting for some contrived and painfully slow escape mechanism to allow you to move onward. But these defense events are often no more than standing around, hosing down enemies as you wait for that helicopter which always manages to be late and trigger a bunch of enemies. Again, all of this would normally be fine, the problem is, that after you’ve done the same thing a dozen times, the sense of urgency and fear from the chasing enemies dulls, and the impatience at defense points where you are forced to hold out is relegated to a sort of bland shoot in place checkpoint.
The map design in “Rain” borrows the concept of a relatively linear long map, but in most other aspects, it is a sort of up-ended version of the map design mentioned above. Effectively the players would begin at the “end” and finish at the “beginning”. For the purposes of demonstration I’ll lay out a match in this game mode from start to finish with key components being elaborated on at the end.
You start in a garrison in the woods with a number of other players, the walls are crumbling and the blast door to the complex looks like it could topple inward at any moment. You spend the next couple of minutes searching around for weaponry, armor, and building supplies. Weapons initially consist of the most rudimentary of firearms, low caliber revolvers, bolt action rifles, pump shotguns, and perhaps a couple of frag grenades. The players would use the remaining time to shore up their defenses, load their weaponry, and position themselves before the first enemy attack. Waves would initially consist of the most basic of enemies, their weapon accuracy, damage, and hit points would all be relatively low. Players gain points for barricading and repairing barricades, along with kills and assists, they may also gain points based off of their equipment and how well they use it (ie, use of medical items, buff items, etc, etc). Enemy movements and attacks are dictated by a player commander.
After a while the players will begin to run low on ammunition and enemy waves will become too difficult to handle with their current equipment. It is at this stage that the players may decide to fall back, on this particular map, their garrison has an underground bunker attached to it. They would retreat inside the main entrance to the bunker and close the blast doors, granting them a set amount of time to prepare, however now that they have passed the first stage, they will have their first armory open to them. After making their purchases, they will once again take up position and hold off the waves of enemies until it becomes necessary to retreat. The end goal of the game is to have as many “community points” as possible by the end of the match. Finally they will reach an area from which there is no retreat, the players are reminded that this is the “Death room” and to make any final purchases at the armory they need. Here they will hold out for as long as possible, while receiving suicide offers at various time points.
When all players are permanently dead, the game will end.
Armories: Armories are just what you’d expect, rooms containing armors, items, and weapons all of which perform specific roles, and cost certain amounts of points. Borrowing from DOTA style games, some of these items are flat uses and some form item trees which lead into more powerful items with more unique attributes. For instance, you may choose to purchase a shotgun and a type of armor which protects against thermal damage. Possessing one or both of these items may reduce the price of say a cryo shotgun, which gives a buff against thermal weapons, and fires rounds which freeze enemy limbs on impact. Additionally, they may buy med kits, building materials, and various other stand alone buffs like night vision goggles or laser sights for weapons. This includes special items like armored suits, turrets, and friendly defense bots which may be deployed to aid the players. Armored suits are just what you’d expect, player piloted mechanized suits armed with a multitude of different weapons and abilities, these suits retain the abilities of any of the player’s previous equipment. Meaning that if you had a flamethrower, the armored suit will also have something similar if not identical. How do you keep players from all simply buying armored suits and never fighting on foot? Simple, make repairing them at armories costly, along with a costly purchase price and reduced movement speed.
Just a side note, the reason these locations are called armories and use points versus being called shops and using money for purchases is simple, immersion. I enjoyed Killing Floor immensely, its gun-play was excellent as were the maps and enemy units. However, one of the things that killed it for me was that in order to gain new weapons, you had to go to a shop and use money to buy new weapons. This situation causes two major questions to arise.
1. How is shooting a zombie in the head somehow giving me $5? Where does this money magically appear from, and who is paying me?
2. Why the hell… is a shop keeper demanding money for weapons in a clearly post apocalyptic setting where paper currency is likely worthless. Not to mention the fact that you are the ones protecting her. Wouldn’t it be in her best interest to just give you whatever weapons you demanded?
The armory system resolves these questions by having it so that you are receiving weapons from an AI installed in the armory that distributes weapons to players based on combat performance. The AI “observes” this performance via security cameras scattered throughout every map. This is not literally how players gain points, they will receive points regardless of their location while in combat, however it does serve to maintain the atmosphere and protect immersion.
Commanders: For a good comparison, it may be prudent to look up the Half Life 2 mod, Zombie Master. Commanders are randomly selected players who view the entire map from an RTS perspective. At the beginning of each wave, the commander is given a set number of unit points to spend on a multitude of different types of units to throw at the players within a certain amount of time. The number of NPCs available to the commander scales based upon how many players there are and what stage of the game they are at. However, the number of enemies and variation at the commander’s disposal will increase with each stage, regardless of player count and deaths. If the players survive to the final stage, commanders will receive dramatically increased numbers of unit points at their disposal and the ability to spend them on super units.
From the map overview, commanders will see the layout of the entire map, and deploy units how they want to. For instance, they may tell 50 NPCs to attack from the East, and use melee attacks. While they may order a detachment of 30 units to attack the players from the North but to hang back at 500 meters and engage with ranged attacks. This does not require sophisticated AI, or a massive learning curve, you simply issue basic orders and AI with simple friend/foe recognition can carry out these orders. Obviously player controlled “defector” units are outside of the commanders control. NPC attack groups can consist of any unit combinations, attack types, and directions the commander desires, to clarify, you can attack with more than just one unit from one direction. Or alternatively, you could get a large amount of the same type of unit and have them attack from multiple directions.
Building materials: Building materials serve a number of different functions, their first and primary role is to shore up defensive weak points. For instance the weakened blast door may be strengthened by reinforcing it with some iron bars and planks of wood. This is a temporary solution that helps to alleviate pressure on the players when enemy waves become overwhelming. The secondary role of materials is to act as temporary cover, the items if placed as cover may have a certain number of hit points based on what the item actually is. Obviously a concrete barricade will be able to withstand more punishment than say an overturned wooden table. Certain special building materials may be purchased from the Armory for various amounts of points. For instance, items like deflector panels may deflect 20% of the shots fired at them back at enemy troops.
Death: The death mechanics themselves are relatively simple, a player may go down 3 times before they are permanently killed. In this downed mode they may crawl and use a side arm before bleeding out (assuming a teammate does not help them up). Enemies will ignore downed players unless all players in an NPCs vision are downed. Once a player is permanently dead, they are given two options. They may either receive whatever community points they earned during the game, and quit. Or alternatively, they may choose to defect. The concept of defecting is really quite simple, dead players may occupy a lesser enemy NPCs body and fight against his former allies. The limiting factor to this, is that they are not allowed to occupy the more powerful NPCs and they have a limited number of respawns. What this means is that while they may be more precise and dangerous than your average NPC, they still have very limited firepower and durability and as such will not be a dire threat to players. Players gain minor amounts of community points for defecting, though the real allure to doing it, is to have the ability to shoot at your friends. Players are able to occupy and lose up to 5 NPCs before they are barred from occupying any more NPCs and have to either spectate or leave the game.
Suicide: The suicide mechanic is integral to the game’s reward system. On the last stage, in the room from which players cannot escape, they will occasionally receive a prompt asking them whether or not they would like to commit suicide. The benefit to committing suicide, is that in addition to your flat reward for completing the entire map, you receive a community points bonus. This introduces a bit of a gambling factor, the players will be given the choice to vote on whether or not they will all suicide, if they refuse, they will have to hold out until the next suicide offer. Each successive suicide offer brings greater community point rewards. However, the risk to going for the greater rewards, is that if players are killed between suicide offers, they only receive their flat community points reward for reaching the final stage, all bonus offers are revoked. The way the actual suicide mechanic would be worked into the game in a believable way however, is that there will be a bomb which is capable of detonation during set points in time. If the bomb does not detonate, the base remains intact and the enemy gains control of it. However if the bomb is detonated the facility is destroyed along with all enemy units. This is why players are rewarded when they detonate the bomb, and are not rewarded when they die between suicide offers because they were greedy.
Community Points: Throughout this basic game layout, I have referenced “Community Points” a few times. The purpose they serve, is a sort of ranking system within the games community that does not directly impact game play. For instance, a player earns 1 million community points, at this stage they may apply for a position as an admin on the game’s official forums. This grants them some community power, but no direct game advantages (assuming of course they are approved for admin-ship). In addition, players may unlock certain customization options for their character as they level up, such as being able to apply custom paint jobs and logos to their gear and in game weapons. As players gain more points, they may also be allowed to actively influence the games development. Lets say a player has 250 thousand community points, they may be allowed to vote on the community forums in polls regarding what sort of weapons, maps, items, and game variants they would like to see added in the next patch. One of the key reasons that games such as Minecraft and Killing Floor are able to maintain such high levels of popularity while spending next to nothing on advertising is quite simple. Tripwire and Mojang studios are actively involved with their customers and community, they make them feel important, and in return the community gives the game popularity via word of mouth. Which as any advertising agency will tell you, is in the end, the most powerful means by which something may gain publicity. The other benefit to giving your community such a degree of involvement, is that your game becomes tailored towards the majority, as they are able to influence its development in a limited way.
In conclusion, this game is still in its early stages of mental development. There are probably many mechanics that will require a bit of fine tuning, and no doubt some flawed concepts. I am still a newbie to game design after all. However, I do believe the premise is solid. The basic mechanics make sense and would provide hours of entertaining game play.