Diecast 180: Game Design By Way of Twitter

By Josh
on Dec 12, 2016
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Hosts: Josh, Rutskarn, Campster. Edited by Josh.

With both Shamus and Mumbles out, Rutskarn proposed something a little different for this show: Before we started, he asked twitter for game pitches. The following podcast is our attempt to design them.

The pitches:

0:02:10 – WRPG about a prisoner trying to escape a dungeon to start an adventure–never succeeding – @justcallmenmd
0:10:40 – Lovecraft-themed Pokemon – @Barmn89
0:16:30 – Open-world crime, real-time sentences @NerbieDansers
0:28:00 – The Sim City of legislation – @ErikRadman
0:33:05 – Mass Effect from POV of Reapers – @bhleb_bhleb22
0:39:40 – Mystic Messenger via Watchdogs 2 – @MrRicce
0:44:30 – Vending machine manager- @BryceWalton
0:51:00 – Game about podcast about designing games – @BryceWalton

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From the Archives:

  1. Christopher says:

    This starts out promising. During the WRPG prison game design prompt you went straight from jokey answer(Oblivion parody) to actual answer(Tons of games take place entirely in one closed off location, like Arkham Asylum) and finally landed on the tiny artsy indie game answer(The real way to win is always not to play the game) over the course of five minutes.

  2. evilmrhenry says:

    Regarding real-time sentences, the obvious answer is to compress time. Your character gets 20 years for bank robbery, but that’s “only” 2 days from your perspective. The trick here is that you don’t want the player to have multiple characters they can just switch between; so your choice is basically to either delete the character, or play something else for a couple days.

    This allows you to have significant punishment for the player that’s not just killing the character.

    • silver Harloe says:

      I was kinda fond of the idea where you’re in prison, but that’s not just a “abort, retry, fail?” prompt, that there’s things to DO in prison – make contacts, deal with factions, work on your trial, work on your parole if the trial failed, etc. Then you compress 20 years to like 20 days instead of 2 – because you can totally work on getting that cut to a fraction of the 20 years if you game it right.

  3. silver Harloe says:

    re: “Mass Effect from POV of Reapers”
    I think Josh was close to something when he said it’s like a 4X but you’re elder gods.
    Imagine you take a universe in the mid-game state of MOO or Stellaris or GalCiv – it’s pretty much fully explored, but only core planets are fully developed and the factions are just starting to try to rearrange their borders in long bloody conflicts. But all that is AIs playing each other.
    The players are space-god factions that come in from outside the game map. They have a limited number of “main” units which can be used, but never rebuilt (lose them all, game over for you). Their primary tools might be espionage and religion at first. They try to manipulate the AIs, turn them into followers, or turn them into rubble. Whichever, as long as your faction dominates the galaxy. Some of the systems might include trying to control information about your existence – if you directly attack a world, you want to make sure that you clean up the evidence or control the communications. When you combat, it’s probably not using your “main” units, but using ships you made the AIs make for you, or which you took over or infested or whatever.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      Drop the “In space” part of the design doc and you’re talking about That Which Sleeps, a very promising “Play as the awakening elder god” fantasy game that got Kickstarted a few years ago. Unfortunately the project is dead-but-dreaming: one of the developers quit and the other has stopped all communication.

    • Mark says:

      I… I want to play this game more than anything now.

    • Echo Tango says:

      This’d be a pretty cool game, but I wonder how much effort it would take to actually make. Like, RTSs are generally one of the most mechanics-heavy, engine-heavy (in terms of budget) game genres, and on top of those systems, you need some mechanics for mind-control, not being seen by mortals, long-term indoctrination, government puppetry, etc. If it ever got made, I’d buy it for sure, though! :)

      • Philadelphus says:

        I bet you could mod Stellaris to do something like this. I agree, it does sound like a fun game!

      • silver Harloe says:

        Well, I said 4X and not RTS because you can hide a lot of sins behind the extra time you get in a turn based game. Stellaris is a hybrid, though – which makes a real-time-with-pause, which is is pretty much the full RTS challenge-and-some, so I’d hesitate to use it as a base (also because we couldn’t get any help from Shamus, who would hate it on the “but it’s RTWP” principle)
        Though modding a game sounds easier than making a game. Depends on the level of modding capabilities available, though.

        • Echo Tango says:

          One benefit of RTWP, is it forces the devs to have their computations happen in real time, instead of dumping it all into the “end of turn” button-click. Sword of the Stars was particularly bad with that – by the middle of a game against 3 AI, the game had 30 seconds of me making my decision, and 60 of the computer deciding what to do with the opponents! :S

        • Philadelphus says:

          I just suggested Stellaris (which, for the record, I have not played) as a mod would probably be a lot quicker to make than a game from scratch, and know from personal experience that Paradox’s games are incredibly moddable. Also I personally think RTWP combines the strengths and eliminates the weaknesses of both real-time and turn-based gameplay, if done well (I’ve heard Stellaris’ implementation was a bit below the standard of Paradox’s other grand strategy games), but I could see such a game being turn-based as well (sort of a reverse-X-COM on a galactic scale).

    • Ysen says:

      The Last Federation is kind of like that. You are the last surviving member of a race of overpowered space jerks. You have a powerful ship, but it’s the only unit you’ll ever own, so although you can engage in combat it’s mostly about manipulating your way to victory.

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        Yeah, I was thinking something like The Last Federation meets Plague Inc./Pandemic (the flash game). On the one hand the TLF thing where you can manipulate the factions/races, incite them to various actions, even to warfare upon one another, you can give them tech to either further their advantage or to balance things out… at the same time you need to balance this out with obtaining resources for yourself, possibly hunting for caches of reapertech or reactivating various reaper facilities. On the other hand do the Plague thing where your initial advantage is your (relative) invisibility, give player actions like brainwashing agents to perform missions or maintain your influence in places where you can’t be, indoctrinate people in a position of power that make further influencing a faction easier, or even control and modify them enough that it lets you turn it into a full blown locust trying to wipe out everything in its path (like Rachni or Geth)… but you need to balance these actions because if a species becomes aware of your true intent they may just focus all of their resources against you, form an anti-Reaper alliance, research technology tailored to fighting you, reverse engineer tech you gave them (or that they obtained from fighting a species you huskified)…

    • Cybron says:

      I was actually thinking an indoctrination flavored Pandemic.

  4. Christopher says:

    Lol, that fade in/rewind/fade out. I can’t trust the credits music anymore.

    The whole cosmic horror monstrosity looking for spawn thing has already been done, in a AAA game at that. It’s Bloodborne. You’re not playing the horror, naturally, but the plot of the game involves various factions trying to reach out to eldritch gods to either have their spawn or transcend humanity to become a familiar of the gods. The best, true ending involves you transformed into some kind of eldritch spawn yourself, a pitiful snail-like creature.

  5. Andy says:

    Also, for your vending machine sim, you have to refill the pipe-dream fluid so heroes can hack it.

  6. mhoff12358 says:

    For anyone who thought the lovecraftian pokemon idea was funny, there’s actually a parody RPG based on the concept called Pokethluhu (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/TabletopGame/Pokethulhu)

  7. Fast_Fire says:

    Vending Machine Manager in Borderlands:

    So… you play as Marcus or Doc?

    • Nessus says:

      That’s what i was thinking. All the while they were talking about being a gun vendor on Pandora, selling to all factions while trying to make a profit, I kept thinking “That’s Marcus. You’re talking about playing as Marcus. Why aren’t you mentioning Marcus? You’re describing EXACTLY Marcus…” etc.

      I kept waiting for them to say “Marcus”, or even just “that sleazy Russian guy”, but they never did. They kept struggling to name the faceless weapon manufacturers, while never remembering the big colorful character you’re always buying/selling guns from, who owns all the vending machines, who’s got ads coming out every radio, who narrates the freakin’ game intros. It was so bizarre.

      I guess they really weren’t kidding when they said they couldn’t remember many of the characters aside from Handsome Jack.

  8. MichaelGC says:

    Rutskarn came up with this crazy idea in like two minutes.

    And that’s unusual, is it? :p

    PS The word for when you gently chivvy and encourage is pronounced exactly the same as the plural of ‘Diet Coke’. Er, minus the ‘Diet’. But definitely just the one syllable. In the past tense it’s even odder – you’re basically saying ‘Cokes-duh’. But it’s still all one syllable.

  9. I like the idea of the Mass Effect from Reaper POV.

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Lovecraft-themed Pokemon

    So just regular pokemon then.

  11. Grampy_bone says:

    They already have Lovecraft-themed pokemon; it’s called Shin Megami Tensei/Persona. Persona 2 even had Nyarlathotep as the main villain.

  12. Cinebeast says:

    I haven’t listened to the podcast yet, but a couple of these sound like they would make genuinely interesting games.

  13. Gypsy says:

    Mystic Messenger via Watchdogs 2

    So… basically Yandere Simulator, but with a phone interface added?

  14. Joe Informatico says:

    I guess Dungeon of the Endless is sort of the roguelike procedurally generated dungeon, but with tower defense elements.

    I never played it, but Ultima IV was about achieving a state of enlightenment. Does anyone know how they systematized that?

  15. Mr Compassionate says:

    Pokemon cross Lovecraft reminds me of this

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vn05qpn2e1Y

  16. Cybron says:

    On the first prompt, you have to ‘detect’ (though not necessarily systemize?) when the player is not playing the game. Basically give the player a bunch of ways to interact with the world which are at best tangential to the main systems. Hide them as flavor details. Stuff like reading meaningless books on pointless stuff or, as Rutskarn originally said, moving furniture. As the player stops attempting to advance and just starts fucking around, they approach freedom.

    It’s the chinese finger trap approach – the harder you try to get out, the harder it is.

  17. garrrrrrrrrrrettttttttttt says:

    If making up video games based on twitter suggestions is exciting and fun for you go look up Coolgames Inc from Polygon.com for just that. Its hilarious.

    • Jarenth says:

      I was gonna comment this as well — better not let Nick Robinson and Griffin McElroy find out you’re stepping on their turf. I know they have that reputation for being friendly soft boys, but I wouldn’t want to be the one to put that to the test.

      Seriously though, Coolgames Inc. is this good idea as well and it’s great. Maybe listen to it sometime?

  18. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The one in which Rutskarn designed basic d&d,only with no magic and with realistic jail time.

  19. Daemian Lucifer says:

    None of us have played democracy,though

    And thats why Trump won.

  20. James Porter says:

    Aw man, mine was the Lovecraft Pokemon one, and I really liked the ideas you came up with! Its for the better you took out some of my ideas, but I do want to say you were missing a particular Lovecraft story to draw from, The DreamQuest of Unknown Kadeth.

    It may just be how much I loved how Bloodborne used dream worlds, but the DreamQuest is such a bonkers story, with sentient cats, pirates, giant birds and walking mountains. Combine with the more personal aspect of dreams, I think you could justify basically anything you want from the setting.

    Oh, id also want the Color Out of Space as a ghost type.

    • Rory Porteous says:

      Lovecraftian Pokemon should totally be a Pokemon Snap type game.

    • skelter says:

      Yeah I was thinking his dream stories too. Plenty of dangerous but not necessarily mind-rippingly evil creatures.
      Heck you could do a whole pokemon style game about the elder things in antarctica trying to keep control of their various shoggoth species.

    • Cuthalion says:

      I’ve not read that story, but that sounds kind of like the concept of the Numenera tabletop RPG. I wonder if it was inspired by that story at all.

  21. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Divinity:dragon commander is really hard to get into because half of it sucks.The rts portion of it is just mind numbingly boring.

    • Eskel says:

      Yeah, the RTS is not that good. But you can just auto-resolve all battles as I did and treat it as a turn-based game with NPC conversations :-)

    • baseless_research says:

      IMO the best part is the branching short-stories with the various court members, everything else is janky at best and boring at worst. The strategy layer manages to be both.

  22. Tizzy says:

    I’m sorry to have to disagree, but it sounded like ASMR Chris to me, rather than NPR Chris.

  23. Tizzy says:

    I really loved that enlightenment game idea. I would do it where power is achieved by picking up ever more powerful equipment. As you grow in power, the challenges offered by the monsters grow as well. Same pace? Faster? slower? Not sure which one would work best.

    Your inventory is unlimited, and enlightenment is reached when you discard all of your equipment.

    Inspired by the vending machine idea, I’d also love the opportunity to play a character who stubbornly sticks to their routine while the world around them plunges into chaos. The character either is unaware or maybe they dont care. Extra credit if the character is deliberately being an ass about it. Picture the early scenes fron Shaun of the Dead, maybe. Picture a guy who is slowly going to unlock the front door of a store while others are desperately needing the supplies inside, and trying to make them understand the urgency of the situation.

    No idea what the gameplay and goals would be. I just like the idea.

  24. Hal says:

    Re: Dungeon Escape

    That made me think of Binding of Isaac a bit; a dungeon that you keep delving further and further into, but it’s really enlightenment that brings your freedom.

    If you wanted an enlightenment mechanic, I think a reverse-insanity mechanic might be an interesting way to do that. Maybe like an “undoing Silent Hill” sort of thing. Usually in Silent Hill games, the world starts off normal and gets progressively more corrupted and demonic. Now imagine a game where, as you accumulate “enlightenment points” (whatever that looks like,) the world becomes more and more normal, with different avenues of exploration opening up as your mind clears, until the exit becomes available. (Or maybe you never needed to escape at all. Oooooooooh.)

    Re: Pokethulhu
    I think “insanity mechanic” still works here. The more monsters you catch, the worse off you become. Sure, you’ve caught them all . . . but at what price?

    And no, it doesn’t really fit the mythos, or any semblance of practicality, to be catching Lovecraftian horrors. I think that probably misses the point of a genre-mashup like this.

  25. The Nick says:

    I’m glad Campster said “Sounds like Ultima Underworld” at exactly the same time I thought that same thought.

  26. Jokerman says:

    I do like the idea of a game where you gotta do the jail time…. maybe one where you age with every mission, and your goal is to get a load of money for your family (like… breaking bad) so getting caught takes those extra years off your life harming your abilty to achive your overall goal, maybe lower your skills too.

  27. Rayen says:

    Please do this again. that is all.

  28. Volvagia says:

    1. WRPG about a prisoner trying to escape: So, Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay…ish?
    2. Lovecraft Pokemon? Hmm.
    3. Open-world crime with real-time sentences? Well, it’d probably need to be a multiple characters game (say 4-5), but it could work.
    4. SimCity for Legislation? Bold, but I don’t quite see how that would work.
    5. Mass Effect from the Reapers? Cool idea.
    6. Someone already mentioned something that basic concept reminded them of. We’ll see what the fruits of Yandere Simulator might be in a couple years. Could be a good sequel feature.
    7. Vending Machine Manager. Hmm. Could be interesting.
    8. Game about podcast about designing games. How meta.

    A couple things I would have suggested?

    1. How do you make a game actually feel like you’re controlling someone like the mythic James Bond?
    2. Name one spin-off game you’d want to see from the Sonic, Overwatch and Persona Franchises. I’ll start with: A Rouge The Bat game of some kind, a BioWare style Tracer game and a 3-D brawler featuring Teddie from Persona 4.

  29. Christopher says:

    As for the enlightenment prison game, I feel like Undertale did it well. For some of these artsiest of indie games that you have to stop playing, it’s simply an option in the menu. In Save the Date, you can pick the correct option(Cancel the date) at any time, and playing the game at all is just to get a slightly different text after having had a good meta conversation with the date in a romantic location. It’s okay, but it’s also cheap, quick, and lasts all of fifteen minutes. It’s also entirely predictable.

    But Undertale has a stripped down RPG system with a basic attack and leveling, and then to avoid playing that game(which gives you a more dire story the more you play it), there’s a whole other bullet hell game in there that will take you on a journey. That’s the only way the enlightenment game would be interesting for more than fifteen minutes, by giving you a different way to interact with the world. Perhaps you could do some base building in a room you particularly liked.

    Gamers aren’t stupid. If some indie game comes out and has the option to never attack/give away your items/give in etc, that’s the first or second thing I’m gonna try, because it’s a trope at this point that a certain flavor of indie games will take the subversive(and easy) way out.

  30. Galad says:

    Re: Lovecraft Pokemon – there’s also Army of Tentacles: (Not) A Cthulhu Dating Sim – http://store.steampowered.com/app/427930/

    Loved the credits music bit :)

  31. Arctem says:

    Was the city management game mentioned supposed to be Urban Empire? It’s not out yet and doesn’t have a Victorian setting, but it seems to focus more on managing the city council and whatnot and has popped up in news feeds now and then.

  32. Felblood says:

    I was talking about VR with my wife last night.

    “I want to be able to play Warframe in VR.” she said. “I think that would just look amazing.”

    I replied, “Bullet Jump *BARF* Dodge roll *BARF* Cancel bullet jump into a backflip *BLAAAORRFFF* Welp. I’m done gaming for tonight.”

    Like, this game has fixed most of it’s funky gamma issues, that used to make me ill to play it for too long, but there’s a reason it uses a 3rd person camera. You don’t want to see the world from a Tenno’s eyes, without a matching kinesthetic sense, even if the monitor isn’t strapped to your eyes.

    InB4: I Aim Glide with a sniper scope. Git Gud! Clearly Void Stuff is used for aiming during Bullet Jump, because your head doesn’t point the same way as your scope.

  33. anaphysik says:

    Rutskarn was probably trying to reference the excellent without qualification old kids’-game-show ‘Legends of the Hidden Temple.’ (From the early/mid 90s – I have a definite memory of watching it while my brother & mom were in hospital dealing with that him-being-born thing.) Each pair of kids was a team, named in [color] [animal] format – Silver Snakes, Red Jaguars, Green Monkeys, Purple Parrots, Orange Iguanas, with Blue Barracudas being what he meant to say instead of “blue cobras.”

    “The Shriiiine of the Siillllllver Monkeyyy”

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