In Gaiaian Defense: My First Game

First of all, I just came up with that name as I was forced to title the blog post.  I like it though, and I’m likely to keep it.  Not only is [in-guy-in] fun and easy to roll off the tongue, but I love the letter combination “ai” (it’s everywhere in there, forwards, backwards, and even palindromically) and I like the modern appropriations of the Greek Goddess Gaia as a sort of personification of the superorganism that is the living planet Earth.  I also like the juxtaposition of the personification of the global superorganism with all those “ai”s, like some sort of hieros gamos.

So, once I realized how prepared I actually was to create a game, and decided that I wanted to, I was of course faced with the next most obvious unknown: what kind of game do I wish to make.  I didn’t know, exactly.  Two things, however, I did know.  One positive and one negative.

Positively, I knew there is a prepackaged bunch of 3D trees and other terrain elements and textures that are free to use that I wanted to include in my game.  In fact, I have almost no graphical editing skills and that, probably more than anything else, is going to be my challenge in this whole process.

Negatively, I knew I didn’t want to make some kind of shooter game.

So, I had trees and shrubs but no guns.  What to make?

I’m still a parochially bound mind that plays out the same boring cultural patterns as everyone else.  Case in point,  I decided on a game in which “pests” attack a grove of trees and “friends” defend those trees.  So, as you can see, not a shooter, but still a conflict.  C’est la vie.

Here’s the initial game board concept:

game board concept

As soon as I had that on paper my imagination started simulating games and coming up with new options.

I really like one of the earliest ones I came up with: the Orchid Mantis.

The orchid mantis is a praying mantis that looks remarkably like a generic flower.  It is the only known case of an insect mimicking a flower.  It attracts insects that are attracted to flowers and eats them.  It’s like a super bug.  So, I figured, that the orchid mantis could be a cool super powerful “friend” against the “pests”.  But obviously, there’d be a limited number.  Games have to simulate scarcity.  God-mode is no fun.

The above is a specific example of a more generic thing that I am already loving about writing games.  In them, you can mix up all sorts of things that interest you and the fact that it is a game allows everything to be blended together with a custom-fit narrative.  A good game is one where the narrative is interesting and isn’t too much of a stretch.  Or that is one kind of good game, anyway.  As I said in the previous post, I don’t play games much, so I’m no expert.

I’m going to do a list style breakdown of various aspects of the game.  I’ll have to refine these bullet points and give them some organization as my game comes together.  For now, I’m satisfied with a hearty helping of higgledy piggledy:

  • Start only with level 1.  Level 1 will limit gameplay flexibility, which is convenient since I am limited in skill and don’t have complex gameplay in any case.
  • Pests come in waves and have types that are of various degrees of Pest-Strength
  • There can be up to ‘x’ friends on the board at one time.
  • The player initiates control over friends by “tabbing” between them like active form elements.
  • Once the player has control, the movement options of the friend light up and the player can choose a direction to move.
  • The player also has the option of performing an action at the current location, whatever the friend species is capable of
  • The player also has the option to initiate an attack against a pest within range of the active friend.
  • Friends, when not active, have a default kind of behavior that is pretty stupid, but will attack pests if they happen in range.
  • Pests have a default behavior that is optimized to be destructive, but can be toggled in difficulty (Easy, Medium, Hard, Etc)
  • The game becomes a sort of real time strategy game of the player toggling between friends to prioritize the destruction of pests.
  • The player is themselves represented by a penultimate tree (think Hometrees in Avatar)
  • The control the player takes over “friends” is represented by pulses of energy leaving the Player’s tree, traveling to the “friend”.
  • The player has “life” that is whittled down as pests make their way through the defenses and chomp on the player’s tree.
  • The player can only communicate to “friends” that are ‘y’ distance away and that distance dwindles as the player’s health is reduced.  This has the effect of narrowing the effective range of activity as the player is under active attack or has been under attack.
  • The player uses energy to communicate but can reroute that energy to heal.  Active friends cannot be controlled from as great a distance when energy is so rerouted.
  • The game is over when the player has lost all health or the level’s final wave of pests have been neutralized.
  • I will work on the following “friends” for level 1
    • Orchid Mantis
    • Ants
    • Bees
  • I will work on the following “pests” for level 1
    • Termites
    • Beetles
    • Wasps

There’re lots of details that I’m not clear on yet that I think are best approached as the thing takes form.

I’ve also got lots of ideas for later levels.  For instance,

  • I like the idea of adaptive gameplay in which the options available to the user increase in complexity as the user completes levels
  • I like the idea of introducing “worker” friends that are able to build infrastructure that increases the effectiveness of the “friends” defenses (becoming more like a RTS)
  • I like the idea of increasing the strength of the player, so that communication can increase in effective distance.
  • I like the idea of the player being able to prioritize their own strength increases by reducing the energy level put into defense, at the player’s own risk, of course.
  • I like the idea of allowing the player to advance the number of moves that they can queue up in a “friend” so that “friends” can begin to have more intelligent behaviors configured by the player so that they can be more autonomous.  As the player advances through the game, it is less about micromanaging particular “friends” and more about managing the “network” that is producing them.
  • Also allow the player to advance to the number and kinds of “attitudes” or “purposes” that can be assigned to “friends”.  This would allow different gameplay styles to organically (hehe) arise.
  • I like the idea of continually integrating the idea of changing the game’s purpose from destroying pests to designing sustainable networks of behavior by adjusting for pest side-effects and controlling pest populations while exploiting their strengths.
  • As the levels increase the types of threats could escalate.
  • The game could perhaps go the direction of social satire, morphing the pests into Oil companies, who, for instance, want to dump vast quantities of waste product in the Player’s beautiful landscape.  Aliens could swoop down.  Always appropriately outfitted “Friends of Gaia” would step up to bolster the planet’s chances.  The oil company level could have a sub level that takes place in a courtroom and involves “shooting down” impending dumps with “cease and desist” motions.  The oil companies could be made to look really sinister and perversely desirous of gratuitious destruction of the environment in spectacular ways.  Just a ‘for instance’ of one of the many directions a game like this could go.
  • Perhaps multiplayer could be supported such that one side controlled the “friends” and the other the “pests”.
  • It could also be much more of a game of life simulator, which also interests me much more than a social satire piece.

Now I’m going to go make the game.