This is an entry about games in general, URR specifically, and some differences between games and what URR turns out to be. Programming for 0.2.0 is coming along – all the medieval skill trees have been planned out, programmed, and can now be navigated – but in creating the skill trees I’ve been doing a lot of extra thinking about the direction the games going to take. To illustrate this, I’ve long thought there are three ways in which games provide a challenge – skill, puzzle, or choice.
SKILL: this relies on the mechanical skill of the player’s hands using the mouse/keyboard or controller. For me, the ultimate example would perhaps be a game like Score Rush (skip to a few minutes into the video): you require incredibly rapid controller movements, and observation, to both elude your foes, kill them promptly, and clear out an area of the screen to occupy when – 0.5 seconds later – the area of the screen you are currently in will be filled with bullets.
PUZZLE: this relies on the mental skill of the player in deducing how to figure out, most often, an interesting mechanic. Obvious examples would be Fez, Braid or Portal. While you obviously need to enact the solution which requires some skill, the focus of the challenge is on figuring out the mechanics, how they interact, and how to make it through a specific puzzle.
CHOICE: this relies on the player being able to assimilate and consider a huge number of factors. This could be Civilization games, or – obviously – Dwarf Fortress. The game mechanics are not focused on puzzles, nor are they focused on technical/mechanical skill; they are instead focused on making decisions, generally long-term ones. There will likely be a huge number of small decisions; every turn, every minute, whatever; that add up to long-term trends and strategies that the player can take. These games often have vast numbers of routes to victory (or no clear definition of ‘victory’) and a large number of factors and considerations.
Of course, if you wanted to push the comparison, you could say any game is any of them; Civilization is a puzzle because you have to “figure out” the best way to manage your empire against complex internal and eternal mechanics; Braid is “skill” because you have short timers and have to rewind time at just the right moments and for just the right lengths of time to progress; Ikaruga is a game of choice because you have a wide number of choices at any moment about which group of foes to combat. But that’s besides the point; yes, of course each game has some factor of the others, but I think most games that pose a genuine challenge to the player fall into one of these categories.
I tremendously enjoy all three categories; I think all three offer very different kinds of challenge. However, if it was not clear already, URR is very much the third category. There is little way to demand intricate mechanical skill in a keyboard-based roguelike (ok, hypothetically not impossible, but difficult) and whilst I hugely enjoy puzzle games (and do intend to have a significant cryptography element in URR) that’s not the kind I want to make. In a way, I think most roguelikes are somewhere between puzzle and choice; I want to err very much on the side of choice. As with the idea of choice games being long-term strategies produced by lots of small decisions, that’s a direction I’m interested in exploring; you build up a collection of skills, a collection of allies, and each is one small step that all add up to a much greater whole than the sum of its parts.
Whilst I do want the strategy elements to exist, I realize not all players will get to that stage (or want to) and, for the time being, we’re focusing on the roguelike elements, and the skill trees are a clear part of that – they are big, contain multiple choices, multiple routes, and hopefully will allow a lot of different play-styles. The point of the challenge is to get the player, in this case, thinking about the right combinations of skills, attacks, special abilities and the like to achieve what it is they want to achieve. Some skill trees work nicely in tandem, some don’t; some weapons need more than one tree, some don’t; some skill trees have specialized use and some general. Then again, maybe it’s not a surprise a game with trillions of potential worlds is, on a very fundamental level, centered around choice? It has become a cliche in gaming to say you give the player “choice” – most often a choice between a “good hero” and an antihero – but I’d like to give genuine choice to the player – nothing is essential, no objectives exist, and everything is optional.
Anyway, the next blog entry will contain full information, and screenshots, of every skill-tree; I want feedback before these things become relatively fixed in stone. See you all in a fortnight…