Archives for category: Game Idea

Think Eve Online, get rid of the spaceships, and add cowboys, railroads, factories, slaves, and Indians.

The map would be simple enough in theory, but a remarkable achievement if actually done – use USGS satellite survey maps, and historical documents, to create a digital simulacrum of North America West of the Mississippi as it may have looked at a certain time in the 19th century.

Factions are simple enough – Northerners, Southerners, Mexicans, Canadians, and Indians.  Carve out space for your faction in the lands of the West, build up the strength and wealth of your people, and survive.  Set up farms, mines, factories, towns, etc. that are populated by NPC’s – NPC’s that you need to recruit and escort to the West, and perhaps feed, house, and support.  Cooperate with other players from various factions to do this – but be aware of which faction will gain the most from your new developments.  Engage in range wars and vigilante actions against your faction enemies when it suits you, but beware of causing too much chaos lest the army come in to settle things down.

This would be best run on instanced servers.  Each server would have a set time-dilation.  Travel and economic actions would take time in the game, similar to what they might take in the real world, but as game time moves forward far faster than in reality, things would move forward.  Allow players to have multiple characters in game, acting as part of a clan or tribe or business empire, so that they’ll usually have new orders to give and new things to do.

As time passes, the game world would change.  Towns will grow, populations will move, the economy will develop.  Along with this, political boundaries will shift.  Land may be incorporated into free states, slave states, Canadian or Mexican provinces, or it may stay under the control of the Native Americans.  These political developments would take place in part due to population triggers (so much population of one faction in an area, and stuff starts to happen), but could be molded by player activity as well.  Players could become politicans, and work for support both amongst the NPC population (by doing things that those NPC’s would like) and amongst the PC population.

As things change, the game would move closer and closer to a set end-game time, perhaps 1914.  Then, it would all start over.  The game would play out differently every single time, both due to modifications in the resources available on the map, and what sort of PC’s join the server, what faction they support, and what they choose to do.


When I was younger, I played a lot of Magic: The Gathering.  I got in at Revised, just as Legends went out of print.  My first boosters were two packs of Legends, and I got the Elder Dragon Legend Arcades Sabboth, who was utterly unusable but nonetheless awesome.  I was primarily a white and blue player, because I like to suffer and do everything the hard way.  I had two signature decks.  The first was my Meekstone deck, using Zephyr Falcons and Serra Angels to pummel opponents who had trouble defending properly.  This deck was always better in concept than in practice, being slow.  The second was my Army deck, a weenie-white based on banding.  I invented it just before the big weenie-white craze hit, and always felt superior to run of the mill weenie white which used lots of Savanna Lions and White Knights.  Banding was complicated and sophisticated and cool.  Yeah.  As should be obvious by this point, I was never very good, but a lot of that was by choice.  I hated direct damage red, and I hated black removal, which are the two most powerful things in the game, so I was never going to be good at it.  The MTG meta-game always favored removal and sorcery, and rewarded decks very light on creatures.  I didn’t like to play that way, so I didn’t, and I lost.  Oh, poor me.

Last night, I was listening to the Gamers with Jobs podcast, episode 384, and they were talking about Wildstar and MMO’s.  In defending his like of Wildstar and other old-school MMO’s, he cited the sense of place they had.  Different zones felt really different, and were truly distinct, and you always got psyched up when you earned the right to travel to a cool new place.  Something clicked, and I had another idea.

Magic is, in theory, about planeswalkers who summon armies and magics from different planes of existence to do battle.  What a wonderful idea for an MMO.  You have all kinds of different planes, sorted by color and theme.  Here’s the merfolk plane with lots of blue, here’s the dark forest with giant beasts and elves and stuff, etc.  Through the years Magic has already created the look and feel of a hundred different interesting locations – use it!  You can do even more – on different planes, certain cards will work or they won’t, depending on all kinds of arbitrary and fiddly rules.  You could even do this entirely to your expansion – you can’t use that Urza’s Avenger in Icatia, because they’re different sets. As you travel, you’d have to manage your deck or decks accordingly.

On each plane, different cards would be available to get.  I imagine that you collect creatures Pokemon style – hunt them down and defeat them in the proper way.  You could make a mini-game that uses cards in totally non-traditional ways for this – or several different ones, for different planes.  I imagine that you would collect non-creature spells in a totally different way – puzzle-based mini-games where you do “research” would be one way, or doing quests for Great Wizard trainers, or dueling them for access to their secret spells.  A combination of opportunities for standard-game MTG duels, restricted game MTG duels, and mini-game special matches combined with Pokemon-style monster collection and the usual exploration stuff might well make for an interesting game.

Rob Zacne and Troy Goodfellow over at Three Moves Ahead (which just celebrated its 250th episode!) had a discussion this week about the new game Pandora, from Proxy Studios.  It’s billed as a “spiritual successor” to Alpha Centauri, one of the all-time greats of the strategy genre, and is about the colonization of an alien world by rival ideological factions.

Hearing the discussion of Pandora, and thinking back to my own time with Alpha Centauri, I started thinking about how those games match up with some of the novels I read back in the day about the same topic.  The Legacy of Heorot, by Niven and Pournelle and Barnes, is one example, while Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy is another example a bit closer to home.  In these books, the colony is quite small, and it is very clear that everyone’s skills and everyone’s knowledge and everyone’s labor is vitally important to the survival of the colony.  Getting people to such a distant place is really, really hard, and there aren’t any reinforcements on the way.  Every contribution matters, and every loss hurts.

This sort of setting clashes with one of the most basic mechanics of 4X games in the lineage of Civilization – the city.  Cities start small, but grow regularly.  The people in a city are generic population points, who can be assigned to do various different things, but are pretty much interchangable generic units.  Alpha Centauri actually called them drones.  The sort of small-group politicking that creates tension and interest  in the aforementioned novels is flattened entirely, and projected out onto multiple conflicting civilizations.

There’s one game I can think of in which the personalities and conflicts within a small group have been used to create interesting gameplay mechanics, and that is King of Dragon Pass.  The basic model of that game might be adapted to make a smaller-scale game of alien colonization.

Imagine Alpha Centauri, but where all the leaders had to try and live together for the majority of their lives to ensure that the mission survived and succeeded.  Instead of taking place across the entire globe, imagine the game revolving around the initial landing site, and the first tentative steps into the alien wilds beyond.  Imagine that every colonist had a name, skills, and beliefs, but that some are more influential than others.  Crusader Kings might provide a model here – the most skilled and charismatic leaders amongst the first colonists would be the leaders of major ideological factions, and colonists might be tied to them by their profession, their nationality, or by their own beliefs.  As new discoveries are made, and as problems arise with the colony, the player would have to balance these groups and their ideas against each other, all the while ensuring that buildings get built, farms get planted, wildlife gets studied, and nobody gets killed.

This would be a much more story driven game than something like Alpha Centauri, where the story is implicit from the lore but only rarely intrudes onto gameplay.  But it would be interesting and unique.

Imagine a big multi-player shooter map, with 2 teams duking it out.  Every player is an AI bot.  You, the human, fly around in ghost mode and give orders – go here, take up firing positions there, cover that flank, etc.  If voice commands were done right, it would be a perfect fit.  You can only see what your squaddies see – fog of war covers the remainder of the map.

This would be fundamentally different from other strategy games because of the freedom offered by the full 3D map.  Every inch of space, every angle, every possible sight-line, and every possible ambush point could be used to your advantage – but it would have to be done coherently, with a plan in mind, or you’d just get rolled.  It would offer the player a very different experience than is possible in shooters as well, because the player is only giving orders and not shooting, has the disembodied perspective to give solid orders, and has bots which will actually follow orders instead of running off to get killed by themselves Rambo-style.

This could scale up nicely – have squad commanders, each watching over a group of bots, and coordinated by a team captain.  Done like that, it might perhaps be MOBA-esque.

This may not be technically possible, but it would be cool.

Obviously, this needs a new title.

I got the idea for this game listening to the Three Moves Ahead podcast from last year about Warlock – Master of the Arcane.   A couple topics of conversation caught my ear, and reminded me of some ways in which the classic 4X model simply does not fit the Fantasy Theme all that well.

However, I think I should start by describing some things that I think are important to creating a proper “Fantasy Theme.”  These are obviously entirely objective and universally agreed upon by anyone of sound mind, as I am an all-knowing oracle of wisdom and aesthetic judgement whose statements are in fact proclamations of eternal law.  Ahem.

  • There’s almost always the sense of an impending evil which must be opposed.  This isn’t just “oh, the neighboring bad kindgom is bad!”, but something a bit more – Sauron’s army of Orcs is the prototypical example.  Obviously not all fantasy features this, but it’s safe to say that it is a genre staple.
  • Heroes have to do the really important things.  Mobs of ordinary folk aren’t enough.  Need an ancient spell unearthed, monsters slain, legendary artifact found/forged/re-forged/quenched?  You need some heroes, not a bunch of dudes with spears from the villages.  Unless they’re heroic dudes with spears.
  • Kings and Lords are usually not all that interested in fighting the great and ancient evil, and usually are doing a pretty damn crappy job of governing in general.  After all, if big government was dealing with goblins in the forests and trolls under the bridges, peasant orphan boys wouldn’t need to reach for that spark of heroism deep within themselves, and would instead be dependent on government handouts.  Or something.
  • Magic simply can’t be as common, predictable, and reliable as science, and it’s can’t be a substitute for technology.  Otherwise, you get Harry Potter, where every modern convenience is re-skinned with magic.  It needs to be its own thing, rare and powerful and only slightly controllable.
  • There need to be dangerous places in the world, beyond the realms of man, where cool stuff awaits those brave enough to find it.

That said, what problems does the 4X genre have with fantasy?

  • “Producing Units” makes no sense in anything other than the modern context.  The only game I’ve ever played that gets this right is Crusader Kings 2, and the warfare in that game is correspondingly authentic-feeling and awesome.    No, you can produce a group of guys with spears . . . and not the heroic sort.  And guys you could “produce” shouldn’t be all that useful.
  • “Producing Units” sounds and feels especially odd when we’re in a fantasy context.  Your city “Produces” Minotaurs, or a Dragon?  Yeah, right.  Gamey Gamey Gamey. Even worse – can you “produce” a hero?  I think not!
  • “Wars of Attrition,” something that is apparently a particular problem in Warlock, are a modern problem, and don’t really fit the theme all that well.
  • The Dark Age/Golden Age problem.  So many high fantasy stories and settings are based on the idea of the scattered, weakened, and demoralized forces of good having to come together at the last moment to defeat the newly resurgent forces of evil.  This is a cool and thematic setting that will NEVER show up in a 4X game.  Players always start at the same level, and no good player will ever leave his realm scattered and weak and demoralized, because that would never happen with a single intentional immortal ruler calling the shots.  That happens when greedy petty individuals screw things up and forget the lessons of their ancestors.  The Golden Ages never really show up in gaming as well – they’re kinda boring.  Civ 4 and 5 give you bonuses and stuff, but it’s not terribly thematic.
  • Research doesn’t make all that much sense.  The War of the Ring was not won when Gandalf discovered Improved Fireball Three.  “Research” as a concept doesn’t really fit anything but the modern era anyway, and as it’s usually represented in 4X games it doesn’t even describe modern technological advancement all that well.
  • Building new cities would be, at best, something that happens during those Golden Ages of yore, not during the ramp-up to a war against Ultimate Evil.  I’m not a big fan of the whole idea of founding cities, as it buys into the particularly American “Empty World” idea, the notion that there has ever been new land for civilized people to go out and settle.  Anyways, how long was the War of the Ring, really?  A couple years, maybe?  In that time, you’re barely going to get a wooden hamlet started, let alone anything meaningful built.  Construction of anything doesn’t have much place in a Fantasy game, in my opinion – at least not like you see it in the traditional 4X game.

So, here’s my idea.

In this game, you play a dynasty of Kings/Queens/Whatevers in a fantasy land.  Each round of the game, you play out the life and rule of one member of your dynasty, game out the heroic deeds done in your name, defeat evil, and then make some decisions about how your Kingdom will take advantage of the Golden Age that follows the Great War Against Evil.  Then the game resets – time passes, your Great King and his Okay Son and his Tolerable Grandson pass, and your Igornate Great-Grand-Nephew and his annoying relatives screw things up.  Start round two.

The game has two main phases – the War phase, and the Peace phase.  The meat of the game takes place in the war phase.  Each War phase is predicated on a particular nasty challenge – Sauron in the East, or the Goblin King rising in the mountains, or whatever.  You are the Great King, but your predecessors kinda let things go to crap during the long times of peace behind you.  As King, you have to pull things together and make your stand against the Dark.  Find heroes across the land, send them to get the things that need to be got, gather enough armies of normal dudes to fill up the ranks, pull your squabbling lords and allies into line, etc.  This takes place during a span of two or three years – no construction, and very few raising of units is involved.  Instead, you have to figure out how to motivate the various Lords and Allies and Neutral powers around the land to throw in their forces, and to do it with gusto.  This process would be part Crusader Kings-style dynastic wrangling, part hero-allocation, and (maybe) part tactical battle game.  At the same time, you have to figure out how to deploy your meagre and insufficient armies so as to protect as much as possible from the Hordes of Evil, and hold out until you have what you need to put down the evil, whether it be an ancient artifact, lost magic, or a great big army.

Okay, you win, Evil is Defeated, etc.  Depending on how well you did during the War phase, you’ll get a number of “political capital” points.  These allow you to build things and reform problems during the Golden Age that follows.  Send farmers to cultivate new lands, build new mines in the Mountains of Madness, open trade routes to Distant Hyperbolia, reform your succession laws so that your scheming in-laws are less likely to take power during a bad regency, and whatnot.

The damage you took during the War phase, and the improvements you made during the Golden Age, are then plugged into the system to create a new start point for the next Great King of your lineage.  Every choice you made will have consequences – did you assasinate the leader of the Western Lords to bring them into line?  It may have paid off in the short term, but their descendents will be a lot more wary of you in the future.  Did you send settlers to farm the valley of the Old Floody?  Now you have to protect those people from the Spiders of the Woods.  Those villages you abandoned to the Horde so you could concentrate your strength for a last stand?  Now the angry ghosts of those people are after you.

This would be complicated in all kinds of ways to develop, because nothing even vaguely like it has ever been attempted.  However, I think it would be really awesome.

This is a game that takes the basics of the “space survival horror” genre and turns them on their head.  You find some sort of derelict space station, and have to use your knowledge of space technology and space systems to gradually work your way inside the station, survive against the horrors within, and get to the final MacGuffin.

That’s all pretty standard sounding – Dead Space sounding, in fact.  Here’s the twist – you can’t fight.  At all.  Your suit is easily punctured by the slightest sort of mishap, and you have no weapons.

You have to do everything with technology, taking advantage of your control over power, mechanical systems, heat, and air.   You’re on the outside, and so long as you stay there, you’re safe – but everything you need to reach is inside.  The ship’s automated survival systems won’t let you just purge the entire station – you’ve got to be a bit more surgical about the situation.  Get station power working, figure out how to push the horrors away from areas you need to work, figure out which systems can give you abilities that are useful against the enemies,

I imagine this playing out a bit like a Mega Man game.  You need to do a series of things.  Any one of them is hard, but as you gain access to more systems, certain other challenges open up, or become easier.  Activating a system gets you access to new tools and abilities, but none of them can help you if the bad guys get too close.    It’s also a bit of a puzzle game – how can you use the tools at hand to get to your objective?  And finally, it’s still a bit of survival horror.  Sometimes the bad guys will still get to you, but if you’re fast enough, you just might be able to get to the airlock before they get to you.

Take the movement and combat system from Dark Souls.  Create four to six clearly distinct and powerful classes using their pre-existing abilities, stats, and items.  Set up multi-player code to allow 2 to six people to play together in co-op mode. Create some dungeon-like maps.  Populate those maps with bad guys using the procedural bad-guy spawn controlling algorithims from Left for Dead 2.

Just sit back, and imagine the awesomeness.  Hacking through orcs and skeletons and zombies and whatnot, Left for Dead style, using the dense combat mechanics of Dark Souls and the combined-arms awesomeness that you always imagined was hiding deep within Gauntlet.

Oh yeah.

As I mentioned a while ago, I’ve been playing a lot of Card Hunter, by Blue Manchu games.   The most recent episode of Three Moves Ahead (237) had John Chey of Blue Manchu on the show to talk about it with Rob Zacny and Julian Murdoch.  The discussion got me thinking of about space games again, and how something like the Card Hunter system may be a wonderful fit for the 4X genre.  I posted the short blurb over on the Idle Thumbs forum, but figured the idea was worth fleshing out in greater detail here.

This would be a Space Combat Game with a 4X wrapper.  The balance would be along the lines of XCOM, where there are some real strategic decision to make about the direction of your development, and about your Fleet composition, but these decisions would be fairly quick to make, and take a back seat to the turn-based tactical battles.

A ship in this game would be a collection of components, and each component would add a certain number of cards to the “deck” allotted to that ship.  A ship could be as big or as small as the player desires.   In theory, all of them could be allocated to a single mega-ship.  Total fleet size would be regulated by the number of components available to that player in their library.

The maximum size of one’s library would be determined by some economic constraint – space stations, worlds, or whatever.  Components, and thus cards, would be added by research.  Different races would have different components available for research, and some wildcard components might be found through exploration.  Should one have researched or otherwise acquired more components than can be supported, these unused components would be stored, available for use later.

Every so often, a war will take place, either between players or between a player and some NPC fleet.  Each war is a turn based battle, between the full fleet of each side.  The player will take turns moving their fleets around and battling each other, using the move and attack cards available to each ship.    Damage is done to the enemy deck, representing system damage.  If an enemy ship runs out of cards, it is destroyed.  Each turn, players will use up the hand available to their ships, and pass when finished.  The war ends when one side is totally defeated, or when both players are willing to declare a draw.  Depending on the relative forces remaining, and the possession of victory points around the map, a level of victory will be declared, and spoils granted accordingly.

The war takes place on the full map, divided into little squares or hexes.  Various space hazards are present on the map – radiation belts, magnetic fields, dust clouds, asteroids, gravity, etc.  Many cards and components allow ships to deal with these hazards, or use them to their advantage.




You take on the role of a private Monster Defense contractor.  The United Nations puts out contracts on various monsters and menaces around the world, and your job is to fill these contracts, destroy monsters, and accumulate enough profit to pay for your own private estate on the Moon.

Each monster has a set of stats, showing how nasty it is.  The nastier the monster, the more valuable the UN contract.  However, you’ll only get paid if the monster is defeated.  If you lose the fight, the monster rages on, and you eat the losses.

To defeat monsters, you put together a specialist fighting force, the best of the best.  These come in the form of cards which you can buy (or bid on, if the game is made multiplayer).  These are all be incredibly silly pop-culture references, mixed in with actual army divisions.  Anime mecha, superheroes, Dracula, James Bond, that sort of stuff.  Each card would have stats as well.  When you fight a monster, you’ll choose which of your units will go into battle.  Some units match up better against some monsters.  For example, giant robots are great against things like Godzilla, and not so good against things like Jason (from Friday 13th).  Dr. Evil has his own private army of henchmen to fight off any conventional military forces, but is incredibly vulnerable to espionage units like James Bond.

This could make for a solid boardgame, where player bid against each other for unit cards and contracts.  It could also make a nice single-player browser game.

Building off some of my Game Theory posts from last week, I want to introduce a game idea I had years ago, but which I think would make an interesting vehicle for some ideas that may, in part, address some of the concerns I raised earlier.

The Ultimate Kung-Fu Game

This is a combination between a rogue-like, an open-world RPG, and a fighting game.


Open world elements.  You begin the game as a young novice fighter, and guide his/her path over the course of their life.  You can engage with story-arcs to solve (or create) problems in the world, as in typical RPG games.  You can go and seek out masters of the art to learn new skills and practice their use.  You can explore the map, and find interesting things to see and do.  And, you can improve your own standing in the world, acquire possessions and social connections, and whatnot.

Rogue-like elements.  Each game you begin has a time limit – age.  A system such as is used in Japanese life simulators might work – x actions per day, or per week, or something.  Long actions, like traveling and training, take up days, weeks, months, or years.  The game is only saved in the “now,” and the effects of actions are permanent.  Furthermore, story and plot options appear and disappear as time passes, and will change the world accordingly whether or not you get involved.  At a certain point, age will start having an effect on the options available to you and on your skill in the fighting game.  You can choose to end a game by retiring, or it will end when you die.  Maybe it will give you a score depending on what you’ve done and what you’ve accumulated, or maybe just a title, or an auto-generated biographical entry, or something.  This aspect reminds me a bit of Sid Meier’s Pirates!

Fighting Game elements.  Combat in the game is resolved with a fully developed fighting game engine.  You start out with a few moves, and can acquire more by training with teachers, finding books of lore, and whatnot.  At any time, the player can only have so many moves incorporated into his/her “style,” but can add or remove or substitute moves by practicing.  This would definitely work best with a proper controller, and the maximum number of moves that can be incorporated into a style would probably be determined by the nature of the controller used.  Moves could be sorted by type or style or whatever, which might have an impact on their speed or effectiveness.

RPG Elements.  Stats, such as they are, affect either your ability at social challenges, or your speed/power in the fighting game.  At the beginning of the game, the player can have some influence over these, after which they are more or less set.  Exceptional training might allow you to improve a stat a little bit here and there.  Injuries are also stats, of a sort, and have a direct effect on your ability in the fighting game.  Over the course of the game, you may also acquire particular social statuses, which would open up options in story challenges or bring problems of their own, on a probabilistic basis.  I imagine a huge set of possible statuses, sort of like Fallen London, which are acquired as a result of game choices and luck, which guide the nature of the plots and stories available to the player each run-through.

Example – You decide to study with a master of Calligraphy for a year.  Having a superior ability at handwriting would then be a permanent trait, and will have an   effect on your interactions with anyone who knows or cares about such things.  This might affect their opinion of you, open up dialog options, or generate story paths to follow.

One-shot enemies.  There are no wandering bad guys or meaningless grinding in this game.  Every enemy you fight is a planned and significant encounter, and depending on your own skill at the fighting game and your character’s build, you have a real chance of losing any fight in the game.  However, losing a fight would not mean game over.  The story will resolve in a different way, and you may lose status, prestige, wealth, or be injured.  To practice the fighting game and get used to the moves, you would have the option at a Dojo or at your home to practice fighting in a safe environment.

Experience and Leveling – there are no XP or levels in this game.  You can improve skills by spending time, and you get rewards by finishing stories and quests.  Fighting opponents and story opponents are what they are, regardless of your stats and attributes.

Wealth and Status – there is no loot in the game, and very little in the way of equipment.  Social connections allow you to turn money into place and position in society.  Money, by itself, can only buy you a rented room and a meal for the night.  A rootless wanderer who acquires a fortune would need to hide most of their treasure, until such a time as they would be able to spend it on meaningful things – property, servants, political position, and family connection.