I wanted to run an idea for a game mechanic past you all. One reason is to see if you think it will work and what the likely issues and pitfalls are. I used this mechanic in my CHOMP entry and wanted to get some community thoughts as I work to finish the story.
Secondly I wanted to open up a discussion about different ways of writing CS games.
Caveat: I’ve not played many CoG or HG so I may well have missed games that already do this (grateful to be pointed toward them). I’m also no game design expert, so everything I say here is just my opinion and not founded on anything other than my own experience and thoughts.
CS games are all built on one fundamental mechanic: choices (and variables storing those choices and their outcomes), by definition every game uses choices to drive the game forward. The difference to a book is that in a CS game the player is determining which page to turn to via these choices, rather than always turning to the next page as in a normal book.
But I think there are two concepts that are inherent to any game or story (even standard books): time and space.
In Harry Potter we have a book that takes place over a year and in a school. During the story we move through both time and space (from lesson to lesson, or to the great hall, etc.). And this all means something for the story, such as: Harry has breakfast in the great hall every morning. Here of course, time and space are incredibly passive and just used to provide context (classes in a classroom), pace the story (action dies down at holiday times) and to build the world (world cup every four years).
This is a representation of a story in a book:
Each circle is an event (a fight, breakfast, a lesson, whatever) and each line is a transition. Each event takes place in different ‘spaces’ and each transition takes a certain amount of time to get there (could be immediately after leaving class, or we could time skip by 3 weeks). The important part here is that there is only one route through the story - because it’s a standard book.
And a representation of a story in a CS game:
Obviously the difference here being that there are multiple choices at each event.
The different choices (and their outcomes) can move us through time and space differently. For example, one path might unlock an additional fight scene, which all other paths skip (in time and space).
Different paths can occupy the same space (e.g. the castle) at the same, or different times, whilst telling different stories.
Fundamentally though, I think that CS games are still ‘fixed’ in how they utilise time and space. The movement through both is determined by the author when they write and code the game. The player can’t alter what happens after taking a specific set of choices.
Whilst the player chooses which path to take in a CS game (unlike a book), they are still only interacting with the choices mechanic. Time and space are still passive - they simply observe how they both change through the narrative of the story.
What if the player could choose what to do and when? And do it in (almost) any order?
This doesn’t fully portray what I mean - don’t worry, there is a demo!
Here the player starts in the middle circle (think of a ‘main screen’, or ‘hub’, such as your office, or house). From there the player can pick from many options.
Some options require certain criteria to be met (time: to be 10:30, space: to have visited the museum or achievement: have solved the riddle) - this allows the author to control the overall flow of the story and prevent the player breaking the game. This obviously has implications for balancing the game and making sure it ‘works’ under all circumstances - the overall design of the game would need to fit into this model.
The player can visit a location, which will take a certain amount of time. Then, that location offers some choices, again depending on what other things they have, or haven’t done, or what time it is). Your NPCs can also move around in time and space (visit the pub before 20:00 and Charlie is there, otherwise, he’s at home).
I guess one term for this is ‘sandbox’, which is kind of right, except you sitill have to maintain tight control of what the player can do at any one time. Such a game requires an enormous amount of control flow work to make sure the right things happen at the right time.
The other thing is to make sure this doesn’t all happen at the expense of story - which is why we’re all here after all. One of the key things about this model is the box (the picture isn’t a graph with time and space as axes like the first two, it is contained inside a time/space box). There are set end points for when this time/space box ends (e.g. at the end of the day, or when you find the item, or when you’ve had 10 actions). From here the author then moves the story onwards. I would envision a game consisting of 2-3 of these boxes, joined together by ‘fixed’ story (as per the second diagram).
This is a demo of a game I started and abandoned a little while ago, but it shows the sort of thing I am thinking of: https://dashingdon.com/go/8223
Ignore the story and the writing (and the unoptimised code design) - This was the first thing I did in CS.
The relevant bit here is the mechanic from when you wake up, presenting you with different choices which you can undertake in any order. The time/space box is the period between 07:00 and 09:00 where the player is free to move as they wish amongst all the different options.
Things to look out for: Your phone battery, the different text depending on whether you were in bed or not, the time and what actions you can do and that at 09:00 it moves you on to the next bit of the story, closing off the time/space box.
This is a simplistic version of the mechanic (my CHOMP entry does/will have a lot more going on), but I think it is a sufficient demonstration for some thoughts/discussion.