Saturday, August 25, 2012

Seeker Design Idea

I've been racking my brain trying to find an underlying mechanic for The Seeker for a good while now. Seeker is supposed to be about seeking. It's supposed to be about the benefits of efficiency and bureaucracy. But how do you make that into a game?

Idea One: Coverage, The 'Neural' Mesh, and Scanning All The Things

My initial thought was to make it a game about scanning the MOST of an area. Scanning would 'infect' that scanned object, creating a kind of 'neural' mesh that would, upon reaching a certain threshold, calculate the position of the Seeked ship. Kind of like a CRC hash that can be used to determine if there's something wrong with a file.

The player would start the game by scanning stuff. Ships made the most sense. Large ships provided larger scanned areas. If ships were grouped in close enough proximity, they would infect each other, which would, in turn, increase the total scanned area. Also, buildings could be scanned. The player would have to find structures with certain qualities that could be scanned, also increasing the scanned area.

A map (like fog-of-war in Warcraft/Starcraft) or a simple percentage would let the player know how much of the current level they've scanned. Once that percentage reaches some threshold, the Seeker would be alerted to the position of the Seeked and the chase would begin.

To make things more difficult, later on there would be NPCs or obstacles that would 'disconnect' parts of the 'neural' network created by the player. The player would have to prevent these NPCs and obstacles from decreasing the scanned area by disabling, destroying, or blocking these things.

My biggest beef with this mechanic is that meeting the coverage threshold is open-ended. If the player never reaches the threshold, the game never proceeds. This could be good or bad, but I view it as a negative because there is not a lot of skill required to scan things. The player must avoid the NPCs and other obstacles, but there is nothing pushing the player to improve themselves. In my opinion, this becomes a boring game.

Idea Two: Planning, Traps, and Time Limits
So, because one of my major gripes with the first idea is the open-endedness of the scanning task, my second idea starts with a time limit.

The player is time-boxed for some arbitrarily short period of time. Let's say 1 minute, 30 seconds. During this time, the player must set up as many traps, scan as many ships (for coverage), and block off as many areas as possible (to limit the play area).

After the 1:30 mark, the Seeked will activate and begin moving about. Very similar to the first idea, if the player enters an area of coverage, the Seeker is notified and can go find the Seeked ship.

Traps may include things that disable weaponry, reduce maximum speed (traps would be dropped like datamines). (Certain traps make more sense once the number of enemies increases)

The player's job during this time will be to watch for Seeked notifications, travel between Extremist-targeted sites, and scan ships in search of the Seeked.

This idea splits the game up into two stages: Setup and Action. (one could argue three stages, but I'm going to keep it at two). Both stages are engaging, but in different ways. The Setup stage begins to resemble the setup stage of a Tower Defense game. The player builds their defenses, enemies swarm the defenses trying to get to the target, the player either defeats the enemies or the enemies make it to the target. However, in Seeker, the player gets a chance to play an active role during the enemy attack.

I like this idea more because there are specific goals and hard limits. The limits force you to make hard decisions and sacrifice one strategy over another. It provides a context by splitting the game into discrete phases.

I also think having a 'setup' stage translates well into the different mission types discussed.

Some thought still needs to be put into these designs, but we're getting closer to a solution.

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