What I Want to Make… Simple. Interesting. Scalable.

Here’s a good video of game designer Tom Francis speaking on what he learned making Gunpoint (also a first project in done in Gamemaker on the weekends). He mentions that one of the things he found most time consuming was content creation: creating the individual levels of the game so that they would be sufficiently interesting. In part because of this experience he’s quite a strong proponent of proceduralism (you can see this philosophy reflected in his next project, Heat Signature).

This is something I gave a lot of thought to when I started to seriously consider making a game of my own. I had to think: What would the game need to be, such as that I could actually make it, and also want to make it? (See this cool Venn diagram). It’s easy to play “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” in your head when you don’t have to take into account the other side of the equation. I spent a few months scribbling down ideas and almost feeling like I had a few things only to run into numerous dead ends. Either it would be too hard to make, or it wouldn’t be something I would actually want to make (and play).

The idea I’ve settled on, Innkeep!,  is a result of this thought process. You are an innkeeper. You stay where you are, while the adventurers and travelers come to you. Economic management can neatly dovetail with gradually introduced challenges in the form of new types of guests. On top of this can be added a story element. It’s not level 1, 2, 3, but days 1, 2, 3, with each offering something new added to the mix. Papers Please is an example of this style executed perfectly. The world responds based on your choices as well as the flow of time, while still being compact and manageable.

My plan for Innkeep is such that it should be:

1. Very simple

It has minimal content when it comes to things such as levels, or puzzles which need to be uniquely designed, etc. There are only a few rooms, with everything except the core gameplay location, the common room, being optional. And while there will be “fighting” occurring within the game, I don’t need to learn how to design or manage actual controllable combat.

2. Interesting

The setting of some kind of Prancing Pony-like inn allows for all kinds of interesting characters and interactions within the limitation of a few rooms. Every visitor represents an opportunity for a small or not-so-small story, or a small or not-so-small player choice which may effect the gameplay or how things “end” when it comes to an over-arching narrative.

3. Scalable.

Things can be added piecemeal. I don’t -need- to have a certain level done in order to finish the game. I can make something which is already a complete if bare bones experience in a relatively short amount of time, and then gradually flesh it out until it feels good or I exhaust myself. I shouldn’t ever end up stuck with a bloated monstrosity incapable of being kicked out the door.

Finally, what of the actual game play? The core game mechanic will be organizing the incoming types of the guests in order to extract the maximum possible amount of money from them. Economic survival through a couple of months is success. Although it might come at a cost (narrative). The bar in the common room functions like a “landing strip”. Four or five slots. From here you can also assign people to rooms for the night via a guest book. Guests can drink at the bar, but they will want to go and sit down fairly soon. They are a little like the next tetris piece which is going to fall, or the card you are holding in reserve to see how things play out. Each table has a limited number of spots, and here is the main challenge. Who should sit next to who? Guests will stay longer if they have someone to talk to and if they like that person, less if they dislike them. As the days progress you are introduced to new types of guests: Peasants. Peddlers. Merchants. Ruffians. Adventurers. Soldiers. Etc. They all have likes, dislikes, and indifferent relations to the other types, so you will have to study up in order to cleverly balance the tables to produce maximum income. Along with this is more active intervention by the player in table conversations. Different guest types will have their own unique conversation actions which can be deployed by the player directly in order to help improve a conversation which is going south. “Tell them about that scar of yours…” These special moves would need to be “researched” through talking with guest types at the bar. Discovering and unlocking some of them may require special choices or objects acquired through narrative structures embedded in the gameplay.

What I hope is clear from that above explanation is that we have points 1, 2 and 3 all on show. There is a (fairly) simple core game mechanic of mixing/matching characters in real time, collecting your gold and keeping your head above water financially. It is (hopefully) interesting, because it rewards experimentation and discovery, offering the player the opportunity for mastery and power, while also allowing for added flavor in the form of various stories and choices. And because I can get the “lose”, “win” and “game” components built relatively quickly, it is (if I’m careful) scalable. I don’t need fourty guest types or a hundred mini-narratives to complete the game. First comes the core game experience, then layered on to that are extra features and narrative elements which I have the time and desire to add before a release.

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