I’ve been playing video games for as long as I can remember. The earliest game I recall playing was Psycho Fox, a platformer on the Sega Master System in which you play as a fox trying to stop a bigger fox from doing… Something. Honestly, I never actually understood the story, if there even is one; games often had their stories contained in the instruction booklets rather than the games themselves, in those days, and I’m pretty sure I couldn’t read at the time.
At a glance, there’s probably not a lot that set Psycho Fox apart from other games in the same genre. A colorful character bounces through a colorful world jumping on colorful enemies; pretty standard fare. However, one of the biggest things setting it apart was the-… Magic sticks? Again, not a lot was explained. But essentially, by using a consumable item that looked like a stick, you could transform from the default fox character into a monkey, tiger, or hippo. The monkey was slower, but jumped much higher; the tiger was so fast that they could skip across water at full speed, but couldn’t jump very well; and the hippo was both slow AND a poor jumper, but could punch through walls that the other forms couldn’t. I liked playing as the monkey, myself, whereas my mom seemed to prefer the tiger.
This ability to decide how I wanted to play the game was huge, to me. Other games that I played later, such as Super Mario Brothers 3 or Kirby’s Adventure, similarly hooked me through their powerups, though not as permanent as the available forms in Psycho Fox. I vaguely recall another game where you’d make a robot character out of different individual parts, comprised (I believe) of head, torso, arms, and legs. Each part controlled different aspects of the character, and I desperately wish I could remember what the name of the game was so I could revisit it now.
A theme might be starting to emerge, here; I love customization. Games with a set character can be okay, but give me some choices and the likability skyrockets. Super Mario 64 was, eh. Fun enough, but nothing super special in my mind. But Super Mario 64 DS? Now I could play as one of four different characters, and though there were some challenges that required a certain character to be played (a fact that made me grind my teeth a bit, I’ll admit), the fact that I could use whichever character I wanted most of the time made the experience so much more satisfying.
I’ve long held a game idea in my head based off of this notion of playing the game with the character you want. It’s gone through a few different iterations, and frankly, I’d love to make every one of those iterations a reality. I’ve considered it as a pseudo-3D shooter akin to DOOM, and as a top-down isometric view similar to the appearance of Super Mario RPG. I’ve wanted it to play in real-time, and I’ve wanted a prediction-heavy turn-based system that’d play out like Toribash.
In pursuit of this “play how you want” dream, I’ve contemplated ways to make all of that viable within the same system; first-person players fighting on the same battlefield as the top-down third-person players, each player working with their own advantages and disadvantages based on the chosen camera angle. The real-time vs. turn-based system isn’t really something that can be mixed together, sadly, but groups of players could still decide on their preferred system, and my intention (should I ever really get to work on the game) is to allow for a “turn duration” option that can be set to 0 for real-time combat.
And then, of course, there’s the character customization itself; movement speed, jump height, durability, traction… I want to make everything controllable. And not just the basic aspects of the character… Things like stealth, with detection to counter it; weapon capacity, which may just end up rolled into an overall stat point pool for balancing purposes; buff receptiveness, to make a character that benefits from stat-changing abilities for on-the-fly adaptation to the situation; the list goes on.
Then there’s weapons and abilities, themselves! I’ve played a few games that touted themselves as highly customizable, but a lot of them have disappointed me. Changing the fire rate, damage, range, magazine size… Those are far too basic. I want crazier stuff, like area-of-effect, charge rate/power, homing, arc, pierce, remote detonation, longevity… Whenever I play a game with unique weaponry, I wonder what kinds of individual stats could be made to accommodate the creation of that same weapon in my theoretical game system.
The biggest problem I see with all of this is in the game’s accessibility. Can I make a system that has such a huge degree of customization, while not overwhelming potential players? Excessively long tutorials without any gameplay are a surefire way to bore someone to tears. Perhaps start the player off with a selection of premade-yet-unique weapons, let them play around with it a bit, and then show them how they could make the same thing for themselves. With gradual introduction of each feature, it’s likely to be less intimidating.
Oh, but the customization wouldn’t end there! I mentioned that I wanted pseudo-3D rather than flat-out 3D, and there’s a reason for that: sprites are much easier for regular people to work with than 3D modeling. I want people to be able to truly create their own characters exactly as they want that character to be, and I figure that being able to draw that character outright and have it show up in the game is the quickest yet most-impactful route to such aesthetic customization. Granted, there will be the inevitable juvenile whose character will be some grotesque amalgamation of genitalia and boogers, but that’s where yet another component of my desired customization would come into play.
I want the game to be multiplayer, as you may have gathered. But I don’t want to host the entirety of the game myself. For one, the cost of running a large-scale game server is something I don’t particularly care to endure. But more than that, if I want the game to be so thoroughly customizable, then shoving everyone into one game is likely to result in inconsistent chaos. Maybe some people would enjoy that, but others might be looking for a more cohesive, coherent experience.
To that end, I want to allow for players to host their own servers, similar to Minecraft, where they can decide on the game’s direction for themselves. Do you want to play a sci-fi game where everyone’s controlling their own personal mech? Someone’s probably hosting a server for that. How about medieval fantasy, where knights and wizards fight using self-made swords and spells? You can look for a server doing that, instead. A server where everyone’s a magic pony? Hey, I won’t judge. (Toss me a link to that one, will you?)
As you can see, I’ve had this game rattling about in my head for quite a while, now. I’ve got the outline worked out, and even have a lot of the inner workings planned as well, down to specific mathematical calculations. I actually started working on the game quite some time ago in Clickteam Fusion, before hard drive failure wrecked the files. Always keep backups, y’all.
I’m heavily considering starting the project up again, and documenting the progress on this blog, along with sharing what I learn in the process. I’ve gotten some great mileage out of Clickteam Fusion and its predecessor programs, but one roadblock I’ve hit with it is setting up the pseudo-3D I mentioned before. I’m considering a move to the Unity engine, but I’d be starting almost from scratch as far as programming knowledge goes, and I’m not clear on the capabilities of the engine and whether or not I could pull off the turn-based or third-person components I want to have. I’ve got some research ahead of me!