Monday, August 1, 2011

The Need for Struggle

As mentioned last post, I'm trying to make the first 5 minutes of the game playable. That means core systems are in place and working with each other. Once in place, I think I can begin focusing on the whole experience, and start tweaking it. Until now, I've been building and testing systems in near-isolation. I'd like to see if these systems can work in harmony, and start putting my efforts towards increasing fun factor.

So far, I wouldn't say the game is fun. While that doesn't overly worry me yet, it hasn't escaped me. I have a hunch that part of what's missing is a struggle. The player just wanders right now, and while he can die of hunger or exposure, it doesn't feel like a game. More like a (very dangerous) sandbox or toy. I recall my first experiences playing Minecraft.

What most people first see when playing Minecraft.

What I didn't realize when I first tried Minecraft is that there are two versions of the game: Classic and Beta. With Classic being the free option, that was the one I chose to try first. In Classic, you have a lot of the same elements of Beta: you can move around a randomly-generated world, place blocks, and remove blocks. It was interesting to move around and build a few things in Classic, but I didn't really get what the big deal was. Fortunately, I came across this:

What I hadn't realized is that Minecraft Beta has a few extra, crucial features. Of course, crafting is one of them. Being able to pull resources from the blocks in the world and build tools and items from them is pretty interesting. But I have a feeling even that would rapidly grow old, as did the ultimate freedom of block-building in Classic.

But then the sun goes down, and monsters come out to kill you. Suddenly, it transformed from an idle Lego-like game to a desperate struggle to survive. You'd better hope you can mine enough wood and coal to carve out a torch-lit cave before nightfall, or else the exploding zombies and jumping spiders will destroy you.

My first game of Minecraft, in Classic mode, lasted about 10-15 minutes. And I might've said "that's nice," walked away, and forgot about it forever. My second game, in Beta, lasted several hours. And I still remember constructing my fortress of safety fondly. Even now, with the webpage open for screengrab purposes, I'm tempted to play it a bit.

I think I may be approaching a similar point in NEO Scavenger. I have several interesting systems in place, but I'm not sure why I'm playing. There isn't any pressure. No struggle. No resistance from the game. No opportunity to test my mettle.

So I'm focusing on the encounter system next. It can be a vehicle for introducing obstacles to the player, aside from hunger or exposure, and provides an opportunity for the player to be clever. It also makes finding loot and managing inventory more meaningful, since there will now be a use for that loot down the road.

Watch for screenshots soon. And if I can manage to make it cohesive enough, perhaps it'll be time to launch a pre-alpha for readers to try out?

PS: In the time it's taken me to shower and proofread this, I thought of some ways of making the food situation a little more game-y and less tedium. Be on the lookout for that too.

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