This Flash prototype shows mechanics like Treasure's Bangai-o. Players have a normal attack and a special attack, the strength of which is depends on how many shots and enemies are nearby. So the special attack is much more powerful if a player puts themselves in a more dangerous position. This idea is covered more on the page about Incarius in the section titled Attack Absorption and Multiple Meanings through Interactions.
This is a puzzle game prototype I made in XNA. It melds Lumines and my favorite puzzle game, Tetris Attack. I wanted mechanics that had depth and complexity, which was the goal of the chaining rules, along with longer / shorter connections.
This final video warrants some explanation.
A Mini-Essay: Feral
1. Base Rules
This prototype uses the Flash first person rendering techniques described elsewhere.
The design works like so. The player can navigate and look around. Bonfires are out in the world, casting light. If the player has any torches, those torches can be dipped in a bonfire. A torch will burn for roughly 15 seconds until it extinguishes. Players can plant burning torches in the ground to build a new bonfire at their feet.
Dark, mysterious, red-eyed black shapes prowl out in the dark. They will tear the player to shreds if given the chance. They only emerge occasionally; they bay and howl for a few seconds before coming out. A player standing in light is safe from those evil creatures, as they fear the light. To explore, the player must advance the amount of areas that are lit. Most of the level starts out dark and therefore dangerous. The player must push the boundaries of the bonfires.
That uses up torches, though, which are in short supply. More torches are scattered and hidden out in the dark, in nooks and crannies. To conserve torches, players must run as far as possible after lighting a torch, to space bonfires far apart. But, the interface gives no indications of how long a torch will last. So an overly brash run might leave a player far from their last bonfire, torch extinguished and in the darkness. If a player is too timid, on the other hand, spacing bonfires too close together, they run the risk of using up all the their torches. Then the player would have to go searching for more torches, out in the dark.
2. Rule Development
Extra features flesh out the design from this base. Water, in the form of ponds and streams, extinguishes the player's torch on contact, but the black shapes refuse to enter it. So water is safe to be in but a danger to running players far from their bonfires. And of course players can't build bonfires in water. Player can hurl burning torches; a hurled torch explodes in a ball of fire on landing. That explosion will burn up any grass in the area. It won't make a bonfire, though. Tall grass massively slows players down, a hazard when a player is carrying a burning torch. Hurled torch explosions will clear tall grass, but it's easy to use up too many torches this way. Unlit bonfires exist to be lit by a hurled torch. These are on the other side of waterways in pitch black areas, so players must hurl lit torches across the water to light those areas and permit exploration. Other dark areas past waterways provide no promise of light; players have to fumble through the dark, hoping they are quick enough to find another bonfire or patch of water before the dark shapes re-emerge. As another feature, players move more quickly on cobblestone or brick than on grass, and slower still in water or tall grass, so planning routes for movement is essential.
And then the player must find the exit. That's this prototype.
3. Topic: Lights
Several sources inspired this game design. Fear of the dark, and the primal idea of light sources as safety with scarcity, are foregrounded in Zork, Shadowgate, and Montezuma's Revenge. Light and shadow taps into deep fears generally, of course, but the thought of light being extinguished and not coming back, ever, of getting lost in the dark, is especially terrifying. Zork's lantern and Shadowgate's dwindling torches both tap that fear. This fear is vastly more acute in games with non-linear (fractal or just maze-y) level designs rather than linear paths. It's not just the dark, but the fear you might not find your way back, that is so fear-inspiring.
4. Topic: Procedurally Driven Challenges
The dark, evil shadowy forces also call back work I did a long time ago. Back in the fall of 1997, after my work on Take No Prisoners at Raven Software, we were building a Wolfenstein pitch, a game ultimately made by Gray Matter as Return to Castle Wolfenstein, I think. Our team went on to make Soldier of Fortune 1 instead. Anyway, we wanted a World War 2 city under siege during a air bombing campaign. Our level designers, relying on their normal set of tools, wanted triggered scripted events for the air bombing. You'd traverse the level, and then, at an appropriately paced moment per the level designer, you, the player, would be subject to a bombing attack. This would have worked fine; FPS game designs have gone in exactly this direction over the last decade. Still, as a game designer, I find procedural solutions to such problems more intriguing. So I pushed for a simple scripted bombing system instead. Every two minutes or so, with some randomness, a siren would blare, warning players that an air raid was imminent. Then, about 15 seconds later, a line of bombs would plummet from the sky, causing giant explosions, screen flashes, and so on. If the player got under a ceiling, they'd be safe. Otherwise they'd be pummeled. If they were already indoors when the cycle started, they'd hear a muffled siren and see dampened screenshakes and hear muted explosions.
This system felt more organic to me, and more replayable, too. In the middle of a fire fight, the siren could go off, and suddenly the player would rush to decide if they could finish the fire fight or if they needed to flee to cover. But it wouldn't always. And, it might just be me, but sometimes I tire of games amping adrenline to 11 with audio visual bombast, making grand claims of drama, and then doing a lot of nothing if you set the controller down. You go get lunch, change the tires on your car, come back, and the game still barks at you like time is of the essence. But it isn't. The illusion is impossible to sustain once the curtain is pulled back even a bit.
That 1997 design choice has lingered with me. So the shadowy beasts follow a similar rule. As a side note, there's a symbiosis between this style of game mechanic and a fractally non-linear approach to level design. These systems force far more interesting choices on players exploring an interconnected space than on players wandering down gussied up, on-a-rail, linear hallways. This realization came to me belatedly after working on AI for Soldier of Fortune. The stealth gameplay of Thief had impressed us, and developers of nearly all shooters were adding superficial steath gameplay to make their games "smarter". So I was tasked with figuring out how to make the AI encourage stealthy gameplay. It was a thankless task, and it didn't really much happen. Only later, after shipping, did it dawn on me that good stealth gameplay is 95% level design and 5% the rest of everything. Procedural systems (which good stealth has an elemont of) work better in fractal non-linear spaces that highlight and encourage their interactions and amplify their possibility spaces.
5. Topic: First Person and Player Actions
When Half-Life 2 came out, I was working at Rainbow Studios in Phoenix. Single player HL2 was available on Steam prior to multiplayer being live. After playing single player Half-Life 2, my co-workers were filled with anticipation for deathmatch with a gravity gun. The gravity gun was just SO cool - surely gravity gun deathmatch would be a radically different, thrilling experience, right?
But alas, it was not so. Deathmatch with a gravity gun along with normal weapons turned out to play, mostly, like deathmatch. The gravity gun was a weird, weak fit with those other faster, direct weapons. It was an unused and unuseful gimmick.
As a contrast, imagine, for a moment, taking Bomberman, a tremendously great multiplayer, and adding a pistol powerup, and a rocket launcher powerup. Would the game be better? Almost certainly it would not be; Bomberman is explicitly interesting and unique because of its orienation around bombs (obviously). If players could instantly, directly hurt their foes, why would they bother with bombs? No play space would be open for the details of bomb gameplay to emerge.
This, in a nut shell, is an odd problem with first person action games. First person action games nearly always include guns, and when players have guns, they default to solving their problems with guns. Now, I have no problem with either guns or violence in video games. The release of Doom literally changed my life, I killed a Cyberdemon with just a pistol once (for what that's worth), and I'm still very fond of Soldier of Fortune, which is silly in its level of violence. But I do have a problem with games being less interesting and varied than they could be, and gun oriented definitely makes such games more bounded, predictable and limited. (I'm including melee weapons and gun-like spells, too).
That's one reason I have so much respect for Portal. It sounds silly, but I think Valve showed a lot of intestinal fortitude in making a first person game and not including the expected combat resolution tools. It was exactly this omission that freed them to make a game entirely oriented around their much more interesting player action, the laying and using of portals.
I wish this were a broader trend. Pick an interesting action, really, really elaborate on it, and then build an entire world around it to prop it up and magnify it.
That was roughly my philosophy for the game design here. Everything in the game reacts to the player and their light source, the torch, with all mechanics oriented back towards and spiraling out from that relationship.