Lumpies Prototype


Mouse Click: Select character to interact with
'f': fullscreen, 'escape': leave fullscreen.
'm': mute/unmute sound (not in fullscreen)
GOAL: No goals. This is just a tiny aesthetic demo.

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Design Notes

Fiddling with the world

   One regret I have about the direction big budget games have gone is that ideas about how you interact in game worlds is so often so small. If it's an action game, then you have complex controls to navigate in a handful of pretty obvious ways, along with being able to shoot or melee. Maybe quick time events will be thrown in there for good measure. If it's 3rd person, the clambering on surfaces controls will be more complicated. If it's 1st person, aiming and combat will take the lion's share of attention.
   You could easily make a similar paragraph about WoW-style MMOs, or RTS's, or adventure games, or Farmville clones. Genres tend to circumscribe the kinds of interactions that we explore, or even can concieve of, both as players and as designers.
   I think that's a shame.
   Interaction is FUN. Asking "what if" is fun. Wondering what is possible is fun. Genres have a nasty habit of vacating that natural sense in interactive spaces. I think we often get more concerned about making sure players aren't confused, rather than hoping that we might find ways to make them curious.
   I really appreciate games that buck this trend. They tend to be weird. I remember the first time I saw the GBA Warioware being delighted that such a game was even possible.
   Anyway. If I were to go further on this game, I think I would make this little world much richer, with a lot more curious iconic critters and clutters, all of which would have some sort of meaningful interactivity attached to them. Then, the gameplay would revolve merely around the player selecting one creature or object at a time. The mechanic would be this: the system is in motion, but creatures and objects do one particular thing when selected, and another thing when not selected. That's it. So the green guys grow into giants when selected, and shrink back down when unselected. Maybe the snails race twice as fast when selected but leave a gross slimy trail on the ground. Perhaps the rocks hop in place, potentially dazing the angels if they smack into them. Maybe the mushroom houses open their doors when selected, with a chance of something interesting coming out. THEN there would also be events to be reacted to. So perhaps a swarm of meteors falls from the sky from time to time. What happens if you select a green guy, making him giant, to stop them? Which green guy? And perhaps a green guy who catches a meteor becomes enraged... now what? Now maybe angels have a soothing little song they can sing when selected to calm the green guy - but don't let them sing near the trees! The trees drop incredible dense acorns when rustled by noise like angel songs, and that can kill a snail. Or maybe you have a good reason to kill one of your snails? Maybe snail snail shells have some kind of use?
   You get, I hope, the general idea. I like the idea of exploring state changes, and very iconic object identities, and very particular, symbolic interactions and relationships. I like the idea of having lots of peculiar rules and interactions, but not things that you can guess at the outset of play. Basically, a system with a very strong orientation towards emergence, with consistent, simple, highly peculiar and stylized interactions and objects. I feel like the original Super Mario Brothers gestured masterfully in this direction, and Mario 64 also strongly pushed in a similar kind of space, but the Mario franchise has sense abandoned encouraging a "what if" kind of aesthetic for what has become just predictable cartoony Mushroom Kingdom stuff. They are no longer games that strive to surprise and delight.
   I've spent a fair bit of time mulling over the nature of objects and interactions in games. That's at the core of some of my ideas here, I guess. Adventure games, traditionally, seem like they're worlds full of interesting, unique, fascinating objects. In practice, though, adventure game objects almost all are shallow masks over key/door puzzles - there are graphics or textual descriptions implying that the objects you're using are doing interesting things in the world, but in practice, they usually just open up closed paths in the adventure game or advance scripts - and more to the point, all objects and interactions are one-off and unique, making it impossible to reason later about interacting with systems in interesting ways, to build longer sentences out of the game grammar. When you solve a puzzle in the Curse of Monkey Island, you don't really learn anything about the objects you're solving problems with, or the objects you're applying those solutions to.
   Meanwhile, most action games have objects that reduce down to straightforward action game math. When you get a new weapon in a first person shooter, you don't generally think, "I wonder what this does? I wonder what I use it on? I wonder what this let's me do?" - not in a really broad sense. Instead, you probably wonder about damage, and rate of fire, and special properties, and if there are any interesting projectile properties to the thing. Same goes for new enemies, too - motion, and attack patterns, and AI, and tactics in relation to the environment are all possible things to wonder about, in most shooters. More interesting or complicated interactions are much less common. Things tend to come down to combat resolution or, more rarely, mobility (and more recently sometimes novel physics simulation).
   This holds for RTS games, and Diablo clones, and MMOs (the derisive term "playing the database" sums this up nicely), and most JRPGs, and... Generally speaking, when you encounter new spaces / weapons / classes / enemies / objects, you have a preexisting theory about what kinds of interactions are possible with those objects, and those interactions tend to be very tightly bound - even in good, or great games. The kinds of "what if" questions you can ask about new content are not really pushed.
   More recently, we've seen the rise of much more complicated physics engines and AI and vehicles and destructible environments in some games. I think that changes my point just a bit, but not by much. It's still the case that the sorts of interactions possible in play spaces in these games tends to be pretty circumscribed, even with these very complicated bits of technology.
   So that's the direction I would go with this, had I all the time in the world. I think this would make for a super fun touch screen game, too.

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