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Saturday, November 17, 2007

An Ancestry RPG

Corvus asked kindly if I'd elaborate on an idea I mentioned over at MBB for this month's roundtable, and in return he'll give me my cat back*.

Theoretical game design is something of a common sport between me and my friends since it costs nothing and you can get really excited about games you probably will never make. I think out of our group I'm the one who has gotten farthest down the road of actually trying to create any of it - with Unreal mods and the occasionally dabbling into indie/hobbyist design.

This concept followed a talk about permadeath, which I've touched on here at CT before and would go hunt down the links but I'm only on my second cup of coffee and The Girl is about to return from her walk and yell at me for not moving boxes around. We were talking about permadeath and alternatives to the usual extremes of "you're dead, respawn" and "don't". The idea came back with, "you're dead - be reborn."

In Ancestry (theoretical working title), when you die you'd have two choices. The first would be to choose and PC (that had agreed) or an NPC (that you had met) and have an offspring. You could also choose to spawn as a sibling. Kids would be born in specific stages depending on that choice in a fixed timeline. While daddy/mommy is off fighting a war, the kids would grow up in moderately safe zones where they can finetune their skills and abilities before heading out. Parents would have the option to send inheritence to their kids so that when they reach a certain age, they can continue using some of the equipment the player had before.

The advantages here would be that you don't have to lose your favorite +99 sword when someone kills you cheaply. You get a chance to respec your character through some wacky retcon ("I didn't know I had a kid!") and possibly build up familial roles with other characters (kids' abilities would be a mixing of the parents, so).

The other flipside is age. As players advance in level they would also continue into new timeline zones. Eventually, they'd die. While enforced death probably makes every MMO player groan, the idea here is that you could have an afterlife. Once in the afterlife, you can continue adventuring in a plane of existence depending on your life choices. Get powerful enough and players in certain timeline zones can even worship you and you can offer boons, blessings and curses.

So the basic idea here is several timezones being played concurrently, each with their own purpose and restrictions. There'd be two or three zones for new players and the offspring of other players. There's be two or three main zones for fighting whatever premise makes up the game, and then a handful of afterlife zones for the veterans. Each of these interact (child zones feed into war zones, war zones feed into child zones, war zones feed into afterlife zones, afterlife zones alter war zones).

So hey, if anyone wants to take a stab it - let me know how it turns out ;) Now I must lift boxes and find some time to NaNo.

Back to the table:

* Just kidding, Corvus loves cats. He'll never give me my cat back...


Anonymous said...

What would push this into a really compelling structure, I feel, is to really make the goals and gameplay of each timeline reflect the age of the character(s) within it. The 4-7 zone could be about navigation and communication. The 8-13 zone could be about exploration and testing limits. The 14-20 zone could be about developing community and learning skills. The 20-29 zone could be about establishing a power base and testing endurance. The 30-39 zone about gathering resources and forging alliances. The 40-49 zone... etc, etc, etc.

Josh said...

That would be interesting. And I think I made the error of mentioning MMO in the post, but I don't see why this could work for and SP game. Fable with time zones, essentially.

Oooh, Fable meets Ocarina of Time. (drools).

Leukos said...

Respawning ala WoW and perma-death each have their own clear issues so a system of Ancestry or inheritance like you are postulating seems like another possible solution. You have discussed the positives of such a system, but what negative impacts on the world and game play does this system cause?
I'm thinking it through still, but wondering what you or the others can come up with.

Josh said...

Well for one thing I think I've left implementation details with holes so large you could drive a transformable semi through them.

For instance - what is the barrier of entry to being reborn as an offspring ? Are potential wives powerups or should some kind of social interaction be enforced? Do you even need a wife or should the game award some kind of Lothario love child making machine?

In software dev terms, it's a complicated solution to what normally has a simple answer. Generate a virtual family tree over several distinct time zones or just ... respawn?

Plus, it is still permadeath, albeit mitigated permadeath. There would have to be limits to the concept so that someone could be his own fifty fourth brother just because he didn't want to give up that full set of special armor. So while it present an angle to that old mechanic, the mechanic remains.

Finally, I think in an multiuser environment it could lead to abuse by veterans. Things could get clantastic real fast, and not in a good way. One family could start hoarding all the good items and make it that much less interesting for new players (depending on item/smith mechanics of course).

Although that could be a neat slant too - one house gets into a war with another over a stolen family heirloom...