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  Mechanic #097 - Tiny iPhone World
Posted: 12/09/08

Tiny Crawl World, as distributed via the iPhone and iPod Touch. While not a new idea, the delivery is entirely unique.

  Old Ideas, New Technologies

This is not strictly a new idea. In fact, many of the core gameplay aspects of the Tiny World concept are unchanged. However, what this idea does is instead wrap it up into a rather unique delivery mechanism - something that's kind of a cross between a MMORPG, SimCity, a Tamagotchi, and a collectible card game. I don't even have a name for what this type of game is.

  A Hero In Every App

The basic premise is the same. You have little autonomous heroes that walk around various dungeons without your help or input. These heroes don't grow based on your actions controlling them, but instead based on what environments you introduce them to.

Each hero is a single iPhone App. It represents the hero himself and his home. This means you might buy Zigurt the Warrior and his castle or Bobert the Forest Man and his treetop village. This is the Tamagotchi part. You can check in on him during the day to see how he is doing. Maybe he is eating food or training in the gym or whatever. There might be some mini-games you can play with him to give him temporary buffs or craft weapons from ore or even earn money at side jobs or whatever. In general, he is "living" in this iPhone App, even when you are not watching.

Similar to Digimon, if you locate someone else with a Hero App on their iPhone, you can connect together. Maybe the characters could have a duel, socialize a bit to share skills, trade items, train in each other's gyms, and so on. Hopefully, you are seeing where I'm going here. By connecting to other Apps, your character can visit them and buy/trade things from there. Travel around a lot and see the world. Due to the fact that iPhones can do that whole internet thing, you don't even need to be in the same room or continent.

  Every App Is a Location

The Hero Apps come with a Hero that can be trained and grown, but it is better to think of an App as a location that just happens to have a Hero attached to it. Other location Apps do not necessarily comes with Heros. Instead, they can represent locations like towns, dungeons, arenas, farms, carnivals, and so on.

Usually, they will be dungeons. Here, you buy a Dungeon App and it represents a specific type of dungeon, like a Volcano Dungeon or Underwater Dungeon. When a Hero connects to a dungeon, he can travel over to it and hack and slash his way through it, earning fame, fortune, and lots of glorious fat loot unique to that dungeon type. Multiple players can connect to a dungeon at one time - sure, someone has to be the guy hosting the dungeon and he doesn't get to play... or does he?

Similar to idea [#072 - Tiny World Encounters], Dungeons are an entity that levels up too. By having Heroes visit your dungeon and go through it, you earn points that you can use to customize it, grow it larger, or add traps and enemies to it. The more people play the dungeon, the more dungeon points you earn to make the dungeon truly your own.

Though a Dungeon doesn't come with a Hero, it instead comes with a Villain. This is a character similar to a Hero. He can be customized and improved. He can also wander around his dungeon at the command of his dungeon keeper. What he can't do is visit other locations. So the dungeon's owner can send him after players going through his dungeon. Think of him as a controllable boss monster.

Towns work in a similar manner, gaining points from visitors used to upgrade the town, but work as more of a hub where players can trade items. A player who was just in Jennifer's slime dungeon can sell a Bow of Straight Shooting + 3 in Gary's Castle Town, which can then be bought by other visitors to the town. You can post bonuses for certain types of items so that players who sell those items in your town will make more money, allowing you to customize your town's focus and economy.

Now you see that the more environments you collect, the more heroes and dungeons you collect, the more possibilities there are. You are literally collecting, with your friends, the game world.

  But I Want To Solo!

There are three basic flaws with this approach. The first is that you are essentially connecting two iPhones and then watching what happens. It's an aquarium you watch, not one you necessarily interact with. This can be fixed a bit with some limited interactivity, such as the Hero asking before performing certain actions (ie "I want to sell this sword? Yes/No") and the ability to focus the Hero's attention on things and places to give him some direction.

The second flaw is that while you are doing this, the iPhone must be on and running the particular App. As you can imagine, this idea works okay between friends, but it would be even niftier if you could just leave a town up and online to be visited by anyone at anytime. Almost a MMORPG or MUD where you leave it on as a server. That would kill your iPhone battery, no doubt. Not a possibility.

Finally, you can only run one App at a time. This means that your hero can't visit any locations on your own iPhone, since the Hero App must be loaded. And if your slime dungeon is running, people can't visit your town or you theirs. You can't really play this game solo because the parts are unable to connect without the help of another iPhone / iPod Touch

  Enter the Matrix

The solution to those second two problems is the Dummy Server. Essentially, it is an application that runs on your computer (I assume on your Mac) that works as a server that other players can connect to as long as it is active. Turn it on, leave it in the background, or just watch the players wandering around doing their thing.

The Dummy Server has no locations of its own. Instead, you connect your iPhone up and upload your locations to it. If you have the Deadly Carnival and Hellfire Castle, you can load them up on the server. The server can control multiple zones simultaneously, connected via an overworld map of your choosing. Because it is on a computer with lots more ram and a better connection, it can also accept dozens, if not hundreds of players at a time.

After the locations are loaded, you can then change your iPod over to your hero and have him visit your world - heck, you can transfer all your heroes simultaneously (only the server owner can transfer Heroes to live in the world temporarily). Then when you are done, transfer all the heroes and locations back to your iPhone. You can use this to solo or to populate your online world with lots of interesting characters for others to trade with and fight.

Two things. First, the dummy server is non-interactive. Once you've loaded a dungeon into it, you can't modify it as you could when on the iPhone. The location is essentially frozen. In fact, you can modify your iPhone version while the server is running, leading to two different dungeons. For this reason, locations on the server only collect dungeon points or town points, which are then transfered back to the location on the iPhone. They are considered temporary instances that just accumulate bonus experience. Items which are traded between towns are simply added to the iPhone town's item pool, rather than replacing it.

Heroes, on the other hand, are replaced completely. When you hook up your Hero Home to the server and try to transfer the Hero back, you will be prompted with whether or not you want to override the Hero currently on the iPhone (everything, including experience, money, and items will be replaced).

The second thing is that it could be a real pain in the butt to transfer lots of things to and from the server repeatedly, since you'd have to open up each App individually and connect to the server. With any luck, there will be some way to automate this. Perhaps one application can talk to the server and then launch the other applications with specific command line arguments or something. Maybe some sort of App which configures the server, so you can just run the Dummy Server, then run the Server App and everything proceeds automatically.




Copyright 2007-2014 Sean Howard. All rights reserved.