I’ve been trying to put together some assets so that I could post screenshots, or something, so you could get a better feel for the game. Right now, I’m having a hard time finding out the art direction, and refining the sprite for the player character. I work fast, but it turns out that planning the entire art direction for a game takes longer than a day, so, bear with me.
One thing that bothers me is that, as I start planning out the first iteration of the game and setting deadlines, I’m afraid I’ll have to leave something very important on the back burner. Specifically, city building. I don’t mind it not being in the first ‘demo’, in full. It’s big and complicated and only good if it’s at a late stage of development, so I don’t see it as a failure on my part if it’s not there yet in January. But it does indicate what I’m wanting from the game.
This is a common complaint among gaming elitists. Games, these days, are alarmingly shallow. We seem to be putting a lot of processing power into simply ‘making shit pretty’. And I don’t mind my shit being pretty. Really, I’ve spent plenty of time tweaking Crysis, weighing FPS against the desire for, say, Full Scene Anti-Aliasing, and tri-linear filtering. And I don’t even know what those are. It’s cool, I don’t mind graphics. I just wish that processing power went towards making the world deeper and more interesting.
Disgaea 3 did just that, and got plenty of criticism for it. With the most love one could possibly have, it looks like ass. And the game is a huge influence on Megatronica, so, I’m being gentle. It was released for the Playstation 3, the most advanced console on the market which, to most, is synonymous with ‘having the prettiest shit on the market’. When asked why they didn’t just release it for the Playstation 2, they replied,
“PS2 could not load the same amount of data on to memory and process it like the PS3; therefore, we decided to develop it for the next-gen platform.” (1)
Even shitty 2D games with low resolution sprites need a fuckton of memory if you have 100 things with a kajillion stats each on-screen at one time.
While I try to be better with graphics, my priorities are kind of the same way. Games are wonderfully complex things, capable of having more going on than any other medium. It’s one thing to have a ‘cinematic experience’, but it’s another to have a deep, complex system at your fingertips. It’s the difference between a model train set with one track, and an ant farm. Only, with a game, you’re in control of all the variables. And an ant farm doesn’t have an objective. But why the hell would you even have an ant farm? The same reason SimAnt sold 100,000 copies (in 1992, when only 100,000 people had computers), got perfect reviews, and was named ‘Best Simulation Program’ for that year. Ants are interesting little bastards. They do the same stuff everything else does, namely they find shelter, they eat things, and they occasionally fight for their survival in a world where everything wants them dead. They’re also the only things that capture and use slaves, but we’ll ignore that for now. What’s interesting is that they build, they create, and seem to operate on a complex, intricate hivemind. Even if we don’t bring a voyeurism fetish into it, we have a natural curiosity about these kinds of things. It’s that weird, nigh-fetishistic urge of ours (I am of the belief that everything is a fetish) to create, control, and observe that resulted in, y’know, human civilization.
And as our processing power gets better, it just goes into shooters. You literally could not get more simplistic core gameplay if you tried.
I sound like an elitist, I know, but I can’t be the only one who thinks there’s something missing here. If you read my last post, you would know I’m not against shallow, mindless fun. The problem is that the industry is 99% shallow, mindless fun. In order to find something interesting, you have to go really out of the way. Minecraft and Dwarf Fortress are such games that, by game industry standards, have no business even being in the market. And yet, there they are. Critical darlings. The Dwarf Fortress guy offers it up for free, and he still makes a living off of it.
So behind the madcap gameplay of Megatronica is this weird, quasi city-building game. I like to compare it to ‘Animal Crossing where you kill things’. It’s an Action-RPG that takes place in a deeply simulated world, that you also build and control. Animal Crossing didn’t have any combat, or even an objective, really. You just talked to the stupid little animal-people, did random, boring activities, all while immersing yourself in what seemed to be an actual, living, breathing world. It would be pretty pointless, only it simulated something deeper, beyond the button presses. And that’s what I want going on in Megatronica. A world that does its thing without you. People that live for things other than pleasing the player.
I won’t say how it gets to this point, but eventually, the player gets to be in charge of their own town. There are only a few people in the world, at the time (125 planned, but the demo will probably have much less). You have something called a ‘Home Stone’, a sacred artifact that people can stake their claim to, making it the centerpiece of a community. Kind of like a country’s flag, but more mystical. The stronger the community gets, the more magic is imbued in the stone. The more magic is imbued in the stone, the more power that goes to everyone who claim it. It’s like communism, but eventually everyone gets the power to fireball shit.
Obviously, if you’re the only one holding the Home Stone, it’s pretty much worthless. But when you get a few people to build a commune around it, simply having claim to it makes you, and everyone else in the town, more powerful. So it’s not just for you, it’s for the NPCs. Having more powerful NPCs means they’re able to defend the town while you’re away, but, more importantly, they also get smarter. On one hand, this means they’ll get better at farming, foresting, mining, etc… On the other hand, they’ll also be advancing along a tech tree, resulting in interesting additions to the town, some of which will also benefit the player. And of course, the player will directly benefit from the Home Stone as well, in ways both basic (stat increases), and unexpected (fireballs).
City building involves, in part, the simple placement of buildings. You’re the mayor, and you direct the actual development of the town. In the beginning, though, you’ll also be actively involved in directing the people. While they get smarter under the influence of the Home Stone, they start off pretty retarded, to the point that they need to be told how to farm, and what trees to cut down. As time passes, they figure it out for themselves. It’s like watching a kid grow up. One day they’re bashing their heads on walls, then the next, they’re developing video games.
“Wait,” I hear you say. “Is this actually in the game? I thought you were going to STFU about ‘planned’ features until they were for-sure in.”
This is different. I’ll be honest – I don’t expect to see this in the first iteration of the game. The AI will be there, but not the city building itself. The city-building is being developed in parallel, but it probably won’t be polished enough to be in the ‘demo’.
But until this is in, I will not consider the game finished. What I release on January 25, 2012 will be assurance of the reality of the project, and something to play.
I don’t think this is crazy-ambitious. It’s already lumbering along this path, and I have no reason yet to believe it won’t reach my standards. If it doesn’t get done then, by my reckoning, the game is a failure.