Ice age encroachment mechanics

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This document describe the basic game design for PARPG. The point of the game is to survive the encroaching ice age (at least for a couple of years). The game has two main elements; the "wilderness" map and the "local" map, representing different scales of interacting with the game world. In general, one travels from place to place on the wilderness map (aka world map) and interacts with people and objects on the local map.


World Background

2009, 20 years after devastating series of world wars (III, IV, V...) between NATO and Warsaw pact involving huge arsenals of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons killing billions and depopulating all major cities world wide.. The post war crash of nuclear winter, starvation and disease results in the deaths of 95% of the worlds population. People being people have scraped by, somehow, and have rebuilt remnants of civilization around meager food sources. The world's forests and wildernesses have boomed with the downfall of humanity - and the areas between wildernesses teem with wild animals, and bandit groups.

World Map

General flow of the game

The player starts out somewhere along the northern most boundary of the map. It is currently "late spring" on the calendar, but the long-awaited thaw has not occurred yet, even though last year's was the latest thaw anyone can remember. As the game progresses, the world gets colder and colder, starting from the north. Northern areas eventually become "ice/snow pack" with essentially no wild food available. The has the effect of forcing the player evermore southward. The further south the player travels, agriculture becomes more viable, and civilizations become more organized and technological - presenting a different set of challenges to the player. Once the player reaches the southern most part of the map (Germany / Poland) he can trigger a few different game endings.

Now, it would probably be "dumb" if the whole content of the game could be circumvented by simply "driving south" as fast as possible. So I think we would want to work in "natural" plot barriers and story "choke points" that the PC has to "beat" to continue the game. As a first guess, I would say that there should be around 3 of these plot choke points in the whole game. These would be designed to be "beaten" in the Avellone sense of have 3+ ways to solve (Fight / Talk / Sneak). I think we can actually do a bit better than that and maybe even have more than 3 (6-9?) "character" paths (each "PC build" being good enough at 2-3 of them to get past all 3 choke points). Not that being designed for a SINGLE challenge only (i,e, the biggest bad-ass in the frozen waste land) is not enough to get you all the way through - each challenge would solve no more than 2 out of 3 choke points.

6 challenges

There are 6 here because I couldn't really think of 9. Obviously I could split off the "slashed" ones to get 9, but that didn't feel quite right to me.

  • Fighting ("beating stuff up")
  • Diplomacy / Schmoozing / Leadership ("talking to people")
  • Wilderness Survival ("hunting, fishing, and igloos")
  • Technology / Engineering ("building stuff")
  • Scrounging / Stealing ("finding stuff")
  • Stealth / Subterfuge ("sneaking around")

I would expect a "good build" to be something like Major/Major/Minor in 3 of the above 6 areas.

The Ice Line

At the start of the game, the "Ice line" is somewhat north of the player's position, just off map. As time progresses, the line will move south (representing Earth's transition into the next ice age). The line can be considered "the arctic circle" (already several hundred miles south of it's current location in real-life temperate earth) ever expanding southward (and northward from the other end, but our game isn't that big!). The player can survive for short periods of time above the ice line - and in fact may have to undertake missions that force this. However, there will be no mechanism for generating significant amounts of food, so the player will eventually starve or move south. If he doesn't freeze to death in a blizzard first. All NPC locations will decay over time once the line passes them. I might be very interesting to model this process in terms of declining town population, increased banditry, increased refugee/migration encounters.

Note that the "time scale" of this feature is critical to the game. If the "Ice Line" is going to cross the location you are in in 4 weeks, then you have that much time to "finish" the quests in that area. In this way we force the player to manage his game time as a resource. This is CRITICAL because of the use-based/training based skill system.

Glacier Option

As outlined above the lack of food makes a natural "soft" barrier. The hard frozen north will 'naturally' become boring and (eventually) deadly to the PC, so he is forced to warmer/more interesting areas. It might be worthwhile (or maybe just cool) to implement a hard barrier of a 30' high glacier that is literally impassible. I don' t think the "game" needs this, but I find it a cool visual to think of reaching "the northern end" of the world. One reason I disfavor this idea is that I find it frankly unrealistic that "enough" ice could accumulate over the course of the game to make an essentially impenetrable ice barrier. Another option would be to just have this be the "original" northern border of the map - representing 20-odd years of ice accumulation, but not have it move during the game.

Local Map game

This is the 2D isomorphic "core" of the game where the player interacts with people and designed areas. Some local maps may be randomly generated from templates if they are "off in the middle of no where". Quests are designed around Local areas -- although some types of "resource accumulation" (hunting, for example) would likely be controlled from the world map. Of course, a Quest might send you "away" to a nearby area, or even on a round trip to another Location, but the business of the quest as well as the usual "question all the NPCs" mechanic would be implemented on this map. Combat and other "conflict resolution" would likely be handled on this same map as well, with a strict turned-based combat mode being triggered by (either party) opening hostilities.

Time Scale

The time scale of the local map should pretty insignificant to the game play. What takes "real time" (i..e., "glacier time") is stuff like healing, sleeping, training, traveling, and "working" (performing a service for money or barter). Running around the map and talking to people should not really "cost" the player much time.

Option: Combat Scale

It has occurred to me, playing a few late 90s era 2D games that the best scale for "interacting" with townsfolk is NOT the ideal scale for reaping their souls like wheat. This is particularly true when any sort of "ranged" combat (be it gun, archery, or lightning bolt) is thrown into the mix. On the current parpg scale of 1m square the effective range of a rifle or crossbow (to say nothing of a support weapon like a machine gun or mortar) is many many screens -- even at a modern high resolution like 1600x1200. Unless the squares are made very small (in terms of pixels). The problem then becomes that the whole TOWN is a battle field. Modern 3D-1stPerson games do this better, but have their own problems of trying to cope with multiple friendlies with a fixed perspective (camera)

To summarize, I would be interested in some ideas to have a game that scales reasonably to a low-ish tech mix of ranged and melee weaponry. It seems impractical from a graphical assets perspective to actually "scale" entire towns and locations... BUT maybe we can go even OLDER school and and make isogeomorphic semi-random combat maps. So, we would have combat maps of the proper scale, but different random terrain for outdoor (tundra, taiga, forest, village, town) or indoor (ruin, hovel, etc.). This also gives us good potential for "mixed" maps where PCs are assaulting a stronghold (or vice-versa...).

The time scale of the combat map should not really effect the other scales - it should be significantly faster. What I envision is that when combat is initiated between 2 sides, the game will use some kind of heuristic to determine which NPCs in the "local map" area are close enough to be "involved" and if they are friendly/enemy to the PC or neutral. We could also have NPC-NPC fights, with the PC/party as neutral. Some NPCs in the local "area" will be close enough to "note" but not close enough to be in the fight. These could arrive in later rounds as reinforcements to one or the other antagonistic sides (probably there should be some "belligerence" check for the NPCs, so you don't get grannies involved, etc.) More on Combat

Wilderness Map game

If the 2D RPG map is the meat of the game, the WIlderness or World map is the backbone. In addition to providing a large scale map to allow the player to navigate between "locations", the meat of the "survival" mini game takes place here. This means, resting, food gathering, shelter building, weather prediction, tracking, and "trip planning". What all of these game functions have in common is that they are very abstract. There is no "wood chopping" animation or "duck hunting" game. There is just a little pop up window that reports to the player the inputs and (approximate) outputs of various survival tasks.

Internally, this means every "World Map" tile has a set of properties that such tasks act upon. You can view this as each tile having "resources" that can be harvested by the player, given a certain set of skills and equipment, and having allocated a certain amount of real time to them. Some tiles would be "generic" (forest, snow pak, frozen late, farm land, mountain, snowpack mountain, swamp, etc.) and some would be more specific (locations of some type). There is also a "climate" associated with each area and this along with some semi-random weather determines the "exposure level" of the area (that is to say, how long can the PC stay here -- given various amounts of shelter -- before suffering ill effects).

The player can also mark "caches" on the map where supplies can be dropped or hidden. These may be subject to theft or spoilage (depending on how mean I am). The marking system can also be used for things that the PC finds or loots, but cannot carry. Back "in town" the locations of the these caches have some trade value (depending on the goods reported, and the PCs reliability)

Finally, on this map is where the PC plans his travel - by clicking on a "distant" area, he will get an interface that estimates how long it will take to get there, given his current transport and food stocks. There would be an option to "forage" on the way which will slow the travel down, but allow the party to travel without carrying all their food. The accuracy of such predictions depends on the PCs' skills.

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