From the very start of development on Adventure Box we wanted the crafting of cities to be a fun and skillful activity. We didn’t want to just offer players the ability to scattering buildings around – we wanted the kinds of buildings you build, and how you arrange them, to play a part in the character’s development and in the procedural narrative of the game.
We experimented with various approaches and finally settled on a gameplay system that should be fun and also require skill and learning on the part of the player.
This post describes where we are with the system right now – but feel free to give us feedback and ideas! (and point out any problems we missed : )
When the game opens the player is faced with the task of building a great city from the remains of an isolated village in a ruined world.
Near the beginning of the story the player encounters a character called The Maker. The Maker is the first person to build in the player’s isolated village. He creates a workshop and a mine and sets up shop. The Maker also has a steampunk (possibly magical – it’s unclear!) system of portals that customers use to visit his shop from distant locations around the world.
At the same time that The Maker is setting up shop, the player is following a story-line that will eventually lead to discovery of the secrets needed to understand how the world became as dark and hopeless as it is, and ultimately, how to save it. Following this story brings the player out into the open world – to explore, meet people, fight monsters, and pursue his or her destiny.
Meanwhile, back at camp, the Maker will contact the player to report that one of his customers wants to set up home in the village. The specific customer will depend on the kind of character the player is developing, but it will be one of:
- The Mage
- The Solider
- The Hunter
This new inhabitant in the village will build a home and start to offer training in spells, melee combat, or archery – so the player gets some real benefit from this person moving in.
However, the player will choose where this character builds his or her new home – and this is the first important decision in deciding how the settlement will develop.
When two buildings are close to each other, they increase the probability of a character with a combination of skills coming to build in the village.
For example, if we place The Mage’s house far away from The Maker’s workshop, then we’ll just get a Mage who’ll teach spells. However, if we place The Mage’s house near the The Maker’s workshop, we’ll see a popup informing us that placing this building here will increase the probability of The Scroll Merchant or The Enchanter coming to live in the village. These are characters who personify a combination of The Maker’s merchantile or artificer skill, and the magical talents of The Mage.
So where the player chooses to place buildings makes a big difference. A developing city should be laid out to maximize the chances of people who are really useful for the player moving in.
Periodically, non-specialists characters will also request to come to live in the settlement. These people don’t initially have any usable skills – for example, The Ponderer (who likes to think about things a lot – but doesn’t actually produce much), or The Brawler (who has a good heart, but mostly just drinks ale and start fights). If permitted to move it, these people will build standard houses and initially do nothing of much use.
However, teachers – which is what core specialists like The Mage or The Soldier become when they move in – will train up non-specialists to become useful inhabitants of the city.
The kinds of specialists that teachers produce will be based on the non-specialist being trained and also the proximity of the teacher’s house to other houses. So if The Mage is teaching spellcraft in his house, which is beside The Soldier’s house, there’s a chance one of his students will become The Battle Mage, who will offer specialized combat spell training to the player and to other characters in the town. When a student upgrades to become a specialist, he or she will request to upgrade his or her boring house to a school or shop (depending on the specialization).
It won’t at first be clear how a non-specialist can upgrade, and some characters will never upgrade (at least, not with the available teachers) so the player will need to make smart decisions about who to allow to build in town.
There is another way to find specialists – people who might never come to the town based on the players building activities – and that’s to meet them out in the wild while the player is exploring. Some specialists will be trapped – in prisons, captives, etc. Some will ask the player to do something before they’ll consider moving to the town. Some will be just be happy at the chance of living in a (relatively) safe place. These may be very specialized characters – types that could be really tricky to produce in town (The Javelin Maker – requires The Archer + The Fletcher + The Spear Maker). So the player has another reason to explore, and there’s an element of excitement in seeing what kinds of exotic specialists might turn up.
Finally, each building has an age. Once a building reaches a given age, the game engine will check if it should be upgraded – and if so, to what. For example, the Mage’s House can eventually upgrade to The Mage’s School – and finally, to a named building – let’s say, The College of Sorcerers. Some buildings will upgrade because of the kinds of neighbours they have.
The Maker’s Workshop will eventually (after making enough money) upgrade to The Maker’s Emporium, which sells better equipment, and so on.
Combining each of these mechanisms with the player’s quest should allow us to follow the two principal stories of the first chapter of the game – the Rise of an Empire, and the story of the player’s character – while also ensuring that these stories play out with different relationships to each other for every player. Each city will also provide a fertile ground for the introduction of procedural narratives based on the kinds of characters and interactions happening around the city.
Also – don’t forget – we’ve just launched our Kickstarter campaign and we need all the help we can get to build all these gameplay systems… So back and share!!