People really love games where they can order around other people. Its a fact proven time and time again. Evil genius, Black and White, Dungeon Keeper, Majesty, Startopia. All very good examples that being in charge can be so very good and fun. Why do we need to talk about this? Because the genre has been sleeping for 5-6 years! And only recently has it been awakening from its slumber to see how the other genres are doing. Its good friend RTS has been in rehab. His cousin FPS is a hitler youth psycho killer and RPG is a cult leader now. What a horrible shock!
What does that metaphor mean? The God Game/Indirect Control RTS genre has finally begun to come back only to see the other genres being doomed to either extinction or cloning. RTS being the one facing Extinction and RPG/FPS being the ones being cloned over and over again. I say its coming back because of recent games being announced and pseudo announced. Majesty 2 came out awhile ago, while it did ruin a little of the series, it was in general a good game. Dungeon Keeper World, a asian project sanctioned by EA is in closed beta and unless you can type chinese there is no way you can play it because the registration page does not allow english characters.
While speaking of DKW lets also talk about what it plays like. According to popular hype and a official trailer you choose a race for your keeper, the current only choice being a demon much like "Horny", the mascot of the series. You then divide your personal timee developing your dungeon in the traditional Dungeon Keeper way (However with many more resources to keep track of) and going topside in a game mode called by many english speakers: World of Dungeoncraft. It looks like a freaking carbon copy of WoW, however the combat does seem to match the total brutality of the dungeon keeper series. With a player demon grabbing a dwarf and then repetitively slamming it against the ground with a satisfying thud. To be honest, I am willing to forgive this if they just translate it to the country that has been waiting for a DK sequel for over a decade. And I really, REALLY hate WoW-Clones.However, for now our elite team of internet ninja are sniffing out when DWK finally is released so we can translate it into the right language and play it.
There are also rumors of Evil geniuse getting a long awaited sequel by a small publisher called Rebellion. Which promptly lifted all the music in the original game and turned it into a Facebook Mafia Wars Clone. I really hope another company takes the IP from them before its too late. Whats funny is the company even justified this by saying they didn't have the funding. Yet renting servers and a team of expensive artists and coders to clone a facebook game just happened to be ok? Next time, Sequel first, crappy facebook game second.
Now that my ranting has been finished, lets actually talk about the game design elements here. The common elements in these games are as very simple. All of the listed games all have these things in common:
- The player starts the game (Or match) with the bare basics, usually with only a tiny handful of workers and your "Main" structure and a modest start up fund.
- Gives you a "Main" structure (Or character). Elimination of this main object means failure.
- Supplies different character types or races which posses different behaviors.
- Usually presents two factions or sides with one side being composed of characters you can hire and the other side being monsters you cannot hire. Though this is more of a guideline then actual rule.
- Characters level up in some fashion
In this type of game, there is a lot of focus on the players characters as well as building a paradise for them. be it a gigantic underground complex filled with various rooms or a huge kingdom with tons of shops and guilds to a space station filled with shops and pieces of engineering greatness. At this point, I am wondering why nobody ever though of making a MMO like this before. There are clear reasons:
- WoW made other publishers think only WoW-Clones can thrive
- Servers powerful enough to run such a thing have only began appearing in recent years at reasonable prices.
- Lack of MMO-Developer originality
- Skinner-Box design principals
Sure I bash them hard, but you really have to realize this. Most MMO's are just clones of another popular game. Most famously WoW's GUI, which has been recolored and recycled more times then the term "Halo Ripoff" (And boy is that alot)
I say the God Game thinking would be good for a MMO for many reasons. Players love customization. They like to recolor their characters, manufacture new equipment, and design things. Which is why the concept of giving DKW a Wow-overworld and a DK-Underworld all in the same game is just ingenious! The addiction of doing quests to get amazing loot for your keeper and traveling the overworld combined with the intense addiction of building rooms, expanding your dungeon and customizing the hell out of it.
The Main Character is in some way the players Avatar, be it a gigantic heart that powers the dungeon, a palace that houses you as the king, or a tower that is your connection to the mortal plane. The Main Character cannot fight and must rely on its minions in some way to defend it. For a example let us take a look at Evil genius. Your main character is you as a evil genius. You cannot fight and your death means game over. Your only defenses are traps and your minions so you must order your lackies to tunnel deep into the mountain and hide yourself as deep as possible as you are very fragile.
The common theme is that you are the brains of the operation and you have a symbiotic relationship with your minions as without them you would be unable to expand your domain or attack your enemies. While without you, your minions would be unable to know where to build, what to build, or really what to do to progress. In order to succeed, you must coach your people to success.
For instance lets take a game where you build a underground complex. Your minions need to sleep and eat as their most basic needs. So you need need to build them such facilities. They will then visit these rooms when they have to. They will probably need a place to hone their fighting skills so you have to build them a room for that too. The payoff being that by filling this need you are making your minions stronger.
So now let us add the game design perspective. Lets say we are putting together something called "Generic Dungeon Building Game" . As a main character lets have a room with a CEO in it and if the CEO is killed the player loses. He will probably need some critters to dig out dirt so lets give him to ability to create Interns using a spell. Interns will collect gold, dig out dirt, claim tiles and drag downed characters to destinations. Interns however do not need to sleep or eat as they are too worried about getting sacked to focus on such earthly things. The players Interns find a HR office and claim it so now workers will appear. The workers will need rooms built to interact with so lets give the player the ability to build room tiles on empty claimed tiles.
Creating a little ecosystem like this is a good start. The creation of it fully depends on the players decision and ability. Giving him many room choices gives him more need to expand. However now there poses a issue. Making the player behave in a way that we want. Whats to stop the player from not keeping any walls dug out and just having his whole area be a glom of tiles? A tiny simple fix is to reward the player for not doing that, for instance room objects may appear on straight sections of wall. Or we can go the collateral damage fix in which the player quickly realizes that if a bomb were to say, explode in his gigantic room then it would quickly sweep across and destroy everything when if the player built individual rooms like he should the damage would be severely minimized. Small incentives like this easily nurture the player into a general design idea without forcing the player to only build his dungeon a certain way.
Putting this on a MMO level is also incredibly simple. Since you probably would not be getting too attached to your minions anyway lets just make it simple. You can send off minions to another players dungeon so they may cause havoc. Even better is when you can find portals in your game world that link to other players dungeons. Possibility's are abound.