Game Idea #1
Tuesday, 6 October 2015
Borderlands 2 by Gearbox Software
Introduction

So, I thought I'd have a go at writing down what my ideal game would look like. Why? Well, I was wading through the mind-bogglingly huge Steam catalogue a few days back because I'd just finished Mad Max and needed my next fix. I couldn't see anything at all that I wanted to play, well, other than Bethesda's Fallout 4 but that's not out until November. There were any number of games that were initially interesting but when I drilled-down to the detail there was always something to put me off, fussy bugger that I am. I ended up collecting scrap with Max again.

I suppose I could have played something I already have. There are quite a few games in my collection that I want to play but haven't yet. These are generally real-time strategy and 4X games that need a bit of patience/learning to get into and, well, I'm not able to do that at the moment; I'm hoping it's a phase I'm going through but my concentration is severely limited at present, too much on my mind. It's a shame because I just love the look of Endless Legend and want to play it. I keep starting the tutorial and going all gooey over the design (and the UI, I loves me a good UI) then utterly failing to get started on an actual game.

So, it's fair to say, I'm looking for something a bit more immediate and faster paced at the moment, something that can grab me and not let go for hours at a time. Something that is relatively easy to learn, or that will leverage what I've already learned from other games. At the moment that leaves out quite a few genres for me, stuff like real-time strategy, 4X and puzzle games amongst others.

This isn't going to be a 'fantasy' future game, I'm not going to just pull features out of the ether, I'm going to try to at least keep it grounded in reality and hopefully do-able 1 in the framework of a modern pc game.

Ok, here we go. Please keep in mind I'm not suggesting that there is anything mind-blowingly novel here, a fair few of these ideas have been done before. There is a reason that Borderlands 2 is pictured at the top of the post after all – I loved the weapon variety and different types of damage from that game so much that I had to include it. The parts that make up the game may be derivative but the overall whole would be something that I, certainly, have never played and really really want to.

Generalities & Genre

Science-fiction (or speculative fiction if you prefer) set in the future.

I am going to go with a first-person, combat-based game. I did toy with the idea of Divinity: Original Sin's style of turn-based combat which I really enjoy but decided on first-person because I just feel it's more involving. Also, when I say combat I'm including the use of stealth as a viable alternative in certain situations.

Single-player with an alternate 2-4 player co-op.

A game that requires good reaction speed, good observational skills and a sound sense of strategy for success. Obviously there will be different levels of difficulty but at the higher levels it will by no means be certain that you will achieve your mission objectives.

Structure

A series of combat scenarios where you (or you plus friends) try to take over an enemy base – or, maybe defend your own?

Each base will be on a different planet and set in an expansive environment. The area will be overrun by your enemies, you will be outnumbered and out-gunned. The local wildlife will most likely try to kill you as well.

I'm thinking that before entering the map you will be able to adjust various scenario settings. Difficulty, obviously, but also the type of enemy strategy (defensive, pro-active etc.) and the level of environment hostility i.e. do you want to be surounded by fluffy extra-terrestrial bunnies or giant poisonous/carnivorous plants, that sort of thing - possibly giant fluffy poisonous bunnies?

I'm quite happy with multiple scenarios but scenario modules could be chained and used to provide a bigger story like in many real-time strategy games.

Each scenario/mission should take a couple of hours to complete if all goes to plan.

Scenario & environment

You are fighting a galaxy-wide war against an alien power. This power has subjugated many planets and their dominant life-forms. It uses these life-forms in many ways but primarily within its armies. So we are talking about a multi-species force like the Covenant from the Halo series.

Each enemy will have a role and a level, something along the lines of standard, veteran and elite with higher combat effectiveness and better equipment at each level. An enemy is defined by its race (defined by base body type), role and level. So you could have an elite assault trooper of body type A, a veteran sniper (marks-alien?) of body type B.

Enemy units will generally be grouped into specialised units according to role. So you could come up against an entire group of elite troopers when playing on higher difficulties. To keep it interesting I'm thinking of maybe individual snipers and/or assassination units.

Enemy units will have guns, lots of 'em, I'm thinking ballistic, laser, plasma, Tesla for good variety each with different damage types, strengths and weaknesses. Also a variety of close-quarter-combat (CQC) weapons: I'm thinking knives, swords and some larger stuff. Maybe they could have different damage types as well. Electro-shivs, laser swords (Star Wars!) or maybe I'm getting a tad over-complicated.

There will be a variety of other equipment: shields, med-packs 2, heat-sensors, movement-sensors, mines, grenades, cloaking/stealth tech, portable emplacements and maybe some drones.

All weapons and items to be graded by rarity/effectiveness like in an ARPG (white, green, blue, purple, gold?). Think of a Borderlands type of randomness to what the enemies are carrying. You will get all your equipment and supplies from defeating enemies and taking over their outposts barring your initial load-out.

Intelligent AI

When it comes to AI-controlled enemies one of the most common complaints that I see on games site comment sections and fora is the fact that they are as dumb as bricks. Some say that AI-controlled enemies will never be as fun to play against as human players. Well, this may be true but there are always downsides associated with multi-player, ranging from organising time to get a bunch of people together to toxic online behaviour and lag from bad internet connections.

The newer consoles, and certainly a decent pc, all should have enough computing power now to adequately model the level of behaviour needed to provide an engaging and reasonably complex enemy. It's just that developers, for whatever reason, rarely go in that direction. This is somewhat disappointing to people like me who are mainly into the single-player experience.

With the game I am proposing the complexity of the AI will be a major selling point. Enemy units will behave in a sensible fashion given their circumstance. They wont blindly run at you or remain in static formations while shooting. I'm talking about things like flanking, retreating when out-numbered etc. But one of the things I'm also suggesting is that not only do the individual units act logically but that the enemy faction has an overall strategy that is coherent and logical as well. Hmm, I wonder if I ask too much.

I would like to see the following:

  • If you are spotted by an enemy force then they will communicate with their HQ your party number, composition and position unless you kill them immediately – every enemy unit has comms linked to its base. If you then destroy that force then a larger force may be sent out from their base to the place they last saw you. This will largely depend on the amount of alien-power available to them at that point in the game. They may just call in any local patrols. If you are quite a distance from the base they may not bother at all as you will be considered less of a threat. The enemy reaction to your skirmish may give you clues to their placement and available resources.
  • Flanking and calling for aid – if a group of enemies has you pinned down they will call in all available patrols in the surrounding area to flank you.
  • Retreat and regroup – depending on how close the enemy is to their base, i.e. if a 2-alien patrol is attacked and one of them is taken down then the remaining enemy may call for backup or if he is a long way from other troops (which will be stationed mainly around the base) just leg it back to the base or possibly suicide-rush you (this last thing could also be made dependant on the alien's type).
  • If you have taken over an outpost then the enemy HQ may send out a force to re-take it depending on available resources.
Avatar

Customisable human female and male soldiers. Enough options so that when you are in co-op you will be able tell your mates apart.

Visual style and engine

No blocks, no retro. Either Crysis 3 levels of near photo-realism or something akin to the Borderlands style. Or maybe similar to Blizzard's Overwatch but a little less glossy and bright. Whatever the style the enemies/local wildlife should be a bit gross & scary, the environments should be exotic and exciting places to just wander around in never mind conduct warfare in.

Given the choice I would go for the Frostbite engine used for Bioware's Dragon Age: Inquisition. Or possibly the lastest incarnation of Crytek's CryEngine. Bear in mind that I'm no expert when it comes to what capabilities these engines have. I'm just going on what I've seen that I've liked.

Example scenario single-player & notes

You are part of a task force being transported stealthily by flier behind the enemy lines to take out an enemy base on an alien planet. Your commander has said it's a routine op, but too late, you realise the enemy has enforced a kill-zone around the base and your team is decimated by anti-air. You are shot down but survive, nobody else does.

The last transmission you receive is a broadcast from your commanding officer to any survivors saying that she is under attack from a larger force and can't help you but that it is imperative that someone infiltrates the enemy base, finds out why it was so well defended and preferably neutralises it, pretty please? Then command goes dark.

So, you are alone and injured at the crash-site. You just have time to scavenge some essentials before you hear an enemy patrol coming to investigate and have to leave sharp-ish. Your map will be inaccurate until you have explored a bit but you will know the rough direction of the enemy base. So basically a fog-of-war type of thing.

Between you and your target are: mines, traps, enemy outposts/checkpoints (with weapons caches), enemy patrols, impassable terrain, sniper stations and the local, sometimes lethal, flora and fauna.

All of these things will be difficult to deal with at first but once you obtain better weapons and tools from enemy soldiers and bases then they will get progressively easier. You start with a basic load-out and add to that over time.

I'm thinking that if you have all this stuff at your beck and call then you will quickly become god-like and that's not a good thing. Before the end of the game you should become powerful, after all, you do have an entire enemy base to take down. But there's got to be a limit to how powerful you can get. I'm thinking weight. If everything weighs a certain amount and you have only a certain amount of weight you can carry (no anti-grav!) then you have a way of making sure that the player has to make a set of interesting decisions about their load-out. Carry over a certain amount and you slow down and can't sprint far, carry less and you speed up a bit and can jog everywhere. Possibly.

A character wanting to specialise (albeit temporarily) in good defence could have a heavy laser weapon, plenty of ammo, a high level shield, a portable emplacement and some mines. Someone wanting to go light and stealthy could have a knife/sword, a silenced sniper rifle, limited ammo, a cloak and grenades & pistol combo for when they screw up. And yes, I'm thinking med-packs, ammo, and other weapon power sources should have a weight too. Maybe there could be a way of making you stronger so that you can carry more stuff. Additions to your regular combat suit?

Difficulty and re-playability

Ok, I'm thinking that difficulty can be set by adjusting the amount of resources that the enemy AI can bring to bear on you. If each enemy unit and defensive resource has a value of a certain amount of 'Command' points dependant on it's combat-effectiveness then when a mission is set up the game can select a defensive force based on a hard-limit of Command points for each difficulty level and, of course, number of human players.

The AI will also make choices on troop composition according to the terrain that it is dealing with. It makes no sense to allocate snipers to your defences if the base is largely surrounded by forest, but on hilly terrain they could be very effective.

The enemies of a certain type/level won't scale their HP dependant on difficulty. An elite sniper will always be the same whatever difficulty you choose. On lower levels a sniper may be on it's own or with a spotter. At higher levels it may be backed up by a patrol or have certain defences that may make it more difficult to deal with.

Higher difficulty levels will also mean you will have to deal with a higher chance of enemies spawning as veterans and elites.

In the early stages of each game you will have to think about your tactics for each encounter. It may not be wise to engage at all until you have better weaponry

In summary
  • Science-fiction first person shooter.
  • Set during a time when humanity has reached the stars only to realise that they are not alone amongst them. If we are to survive and expand we will have to carve out our own territory, taking it from an enemy that is both more advanced and more numerous. Or something.
  • Takes place on a variety of exotic and dangerous alien worlds.
  • Mission-based, modular structure - think RTS skirmish mode here. Could launch with a handful of alien types and locations, adding more at a later stage. Could even utilise user-made content for map locations but that would mean developing a map editor, hmm.
  • An ARPG system of random(ish) weaponry and equipment.
  • Very capable AI enemy that may sometimes surprise you but will always really piss you off.
Notes
  1. Worth noting is that although I have been involved in programmming quite a lot in my life it has never been in the sphere of games development.
  2. Yes med-packs! No regenerating health here.
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