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  Mechanic #121 - Abstract Open World
Posted: 06/15/11

An abstract way of representing an open world strategy RPG.

  Abstract Open World

A while ago, I started wondering how a one person team could create a large, open world game. Can one guy create a forest area, ice capped mountain tops, and dark cavernous dungeons? Of course, I thought, if they were doing a text adventure. Text is the cheapest content you can create. Though it would certainly take time, it is well within the realm of possibility that a single person could create a thousand, or even a few thousand, rooms.

But what if you wanted graphics? Text games don't really do so well when it comes to the physicality of the world. You have to consult a map if you want to know, geographically, how the lighthouse is related to the sea shack. And text games, like MUDs, traditionally work best with limited rooms. Creating a thousand empty rooms to represent a large field doesn't quite work, while creating just a single room that is intended to represent a hundred acres doesn't work either. Perhaps even more criminal is that it is very difficult to work with text on an iPad.



Fig 121-1. Zork 2's Map.


Then I was looking at a map for a text adventure and it hit me. That's all you need! A little square with a room title tells you everything you need to know. How is the "dark forest" different from the "moldy dungeon"? It's all in the name. I realized that you could make a giant, visual world using only boxes with names in it. Heck, throw in some color and it's even more immediately obvious.

So, I started with the concept of playing ON a text adventure's map directly. Of course, I wanted to make it more challenging than that.

  Building a World



Fig 121-2. An Example Map.


Simply put, the world is made out of rooms. Each room has a name and a color. This example is a bit more elaborate, as I'd probably limited to only one or two colors per game zone, but I wanted to show how effective it can be to just use colors and names. Also, note that the rooms are different sizes (and shapes), with a different configuration of locations characters can stand in.



Fig 121-3. Each Room Is a Stage.


Each room should be considered a stage, with minimal set dressing. If you are creating a forest, a couple trees is more than adequate to sell the illusion. Likewise, a cave might have a few stalagmites. Between the name and floor pattern/color, it shouldn't take more than one or two props to sell the location. Similarly, props can be placed on the grid to change the tactical layout. Everything you can interact with, like signs or shopkeepers, are similarly placed on the grid. Minimalism is the key.

Players control a team of four adventurers that move as a group, room to room. Doesn't matter what their locations are inside of a room, they can all move to the next room at any time. You can move from the foyer to the hallway to the audience hall in two steps. The group fills in the closest squares to the entrance they came in from.

If there are enemies in the same room, the group is considered to be in combat. They can not move to the next room, but they may "flee" back to the room from which they just came.

Interactive objects can be interacted with regardless of where in the room the characters are. In the above example, the player can examine the sign without moving the individual characters.



Fig 121-4. A Three Dimensional Boardgame.


Think of the map as the world's biggest boardgame. You should be able to zoom all the way out and see the entire world. What's more is that the game world is three dimensional. Levels on top of levels allow you to create towers rising to the sky, or caverns below the earth. It should all be one map. It should feel like it has a physical existence. You should be able to build it with enough construction paper.


Combat is a bit different that you would expect. It's real time and largely non-interactive. Each unit will perform actions automatically, according to a priority system (I'm rather fond of the gambit system from Final Fantasy XII and can't believe it hasn't been ripped off more). So, if a weak enemy is adjacent to them, they'll attack them over a strong enemy adjacent to them. If they are hurt, they'll prioritize using a health potion over attacking.

However, position matters. Units can only use melee attacks against units in the eight adjacent squares. Projectiles can only hit enemies in a straight line in the four cardinal directions. AOE magic attacks will hit every enemy unit within a small radius from the target.



Fig 121-5. Move Units to Affect Combat.


You can move your own units within the same room. Just drag and drop them. You can move them to any valid square in the room, even if it is blocked off by the enemy. This will affect the tactical situation. In this example, the ninjas will throw their throwing stars at any enemy along a straight line in any one of the four cardinal directions. This means, that the middle ninja will be able to hit the blue haired warrior, but not the woman behind him. By moving the blue haired warrior next to the ninjas, not only can he hit them, but their priority queue places adjacent enemies higher than distant ones, causing them all to turn and attack him.

There is a timer on movement. After you move a unit, it will take some time before you can move them again. Certain specials can speed this timer up or slow it down. Melee attacks will slow down the defender's timer for a little bit - not enough to stick him there, but enough to make sure he's committed. Some special attacks may add to the timer, increasing the amount of time before that unit can be moved.

Basically, the only action you can perform is to move your units. Should still be a tactically rewarding experience, I think.



Copyright 2007-2014 Sean Howard. All rights reserved.