Game Concept: Astral Armageddon (aka MC:B)

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6 years 10 months
Submitted by SuperSayu on Fri, 05/01/2020 - 15:15

One of the things I have been keeping myself busy with this winter (in addition to my writing, which is still going alright) has been working on an old project--one started somewhere in the 2012-2014 timeframe but never worked on seriously. And there are reasons why I never worked on it--the game engine I'm working with (BYOND) is good for demonstrations but not for end products, and I honestly do wish I could make this a real game.

That said, it has been cathartic to have something I can sink my teeth into and see progress tick by slowly. The BYOND engine lets you do a lot of things with native code, but I'm only able to do as much as I am with the engine because I sunk a lot of time into working around its numerous flaws. There is no good native debugger, so I built one, but that's built on top of a browser-based system that needed a whole separate library to use well, and I made one (based on plain javascript) from scratch over the years. The resulting system is not as flexible as I'd like, but it does a whole lot of things--and, distinct from similar libraries that the other BYOND project I worked on used, it uses proper html tags to do everything. Regrettably, the library is the opposite of portable--usable only with BYOND and only with the internal bundled browser, so it's frankly useless outside of this highly specialized niche.

Anyway. The point is that I have tinkered with BYOND on and off for around eight years, ever since I started messing around with Space Station 13 for some friends on the internet. I have libraries of code that let me express my thoughts pretty easily in BYOND, as long as I don't need to do anything particularly hard like pathfinding, AI, and similar. The result is that when I finally sat down at this again, after having started and abandoned it a few times, I quickly got to a point where if I had the right team, I could more or less start putting actual non-placeholder content into the game pretty quickly.

The problem is that even if I do that, it's still a placeholder game. I'm using the engine to replicate isometric perspective and that makes it a little prettier than a purely top-down 2D plane, but it's still very simple spatially, and it's frustrating how limiting that perspective is. The game this is most closely based on is a DOS game from the 90s, and that still had 3D graphics. If I were going to really go whole hog on this game, I'd want to do the real thing.

I want it enough to be writing yet another concept document that will probably never get to see the light of day, but writing that document just makes it clear, again, how much help I would need even to make a simplified 2D version. If nothing else, achieving that ambition requires a whole load of sprite work that i can't do on my own--several biomes each with several different types of terrain, hostile creatures, harmless creatures, and minions; character sprites, equipment sprites, spell sprites, interface work, predator and minion AI... and it would sure be nice if I could get the map to wrap on the edges, though I tried that ages ago and couldn't get it to work reliably. The only really good thing is that BYOND has internal networking code that I would not have to touch, meaning that it could easily be a multiplayer-only game with no major enemy AI code and no server/client code for me to handle.

A "real' version would include all of those headaches and more. But it would be better, and I really want it.

Without further ado, the concept for Astral Armageddon is a variant Battle Royale--amazing, since I don't particularly like battle royale games. That is mixed with a conceit I first saw in the game Magic Carpet by Bullfrog Entertainment--that you build defend, and upgrade your own respawn point, killing miscellaneous creatures in the world for their mana, and using that mana to advance. You only lose for real when you and your respawn point are both dead, which means that the game must have a serious power snowballing issue in order to have rounds of reasonable length; you build up your power, making choices based on what's available, and take a gamble: use your fort to wage a defensive war, or go hunting?

I have a lot of ideas for making the midgame interesting, mostly by virtue of diversity. Each player is competing to "research" a number of upgrades, and the first one to get to each of them gets a special bonus--while at the same time lowering the requirements for everyone else. In theory, each bonus should be equally valuable to someone... as long as it meshes well with your play style. And for those who don't get the early bonuses, hopefully what you saved in resources by not chasing after them, you can use to get later ones.

Additionally, I have a concept to add to the game that is frankly unique, and I think that demonstrating it in action would prove that it has legs. That is the "designated loser, environmental faction" player--someone who gets to play with more and different toys, but cannot win and is designed to lose more and more as the game wears on, rather than their power ramping up as the main players do. There are a lot of facets to the concept, and at least a few dangers--if these "guardians" team up with a regular player, there may be an unfair advantage, but I believe that can be rectified--but the main theme of their interference is to keep rounds interesting by acting as an additional source of chaos.

And chaos abounds in Astral Armageddon.

From the start, as the name implies, the map starts as a blank "Astral" space, unformed and uninteresting. Whenever a player sets their spawn fortification, a new biome is created, a different biome for each player. The biomes start spawning critters that you hunt for their mana, expanding until they reach a boundary with another biome. Where biomes meet, there is an abrupt shift, one far more jarring than you might imagine; for example, one biome may be "heaven" and appear as clouds very high in the sky, while another biome may be "factory" and appear to be a maze filled with large machines and robots. Where the two meet, the factory floor falls away; or, from the other perspective, a hole in the sky appears with a building in it. A third biome might be "deep sea", emulating the crushing depths in appearance, except where it runs into another biome. When fighting around those boundary, you would constantly be aware of the dichotomy, and of the different dangers and benefits of each side.

And the principle benefit is different types of mana. Each of the unlocks you are struggling to acquire require more types of mana than you start out having access to; you must either hunt down creatures in other players' biomes, or find a way to spawn them in your own, most likely by summoning Chaos to tear your own realm apart. The different mana lets you unlock new abilities and equipment, and that gives you an edge over others--but if you choose not to go that route, you can also try to upgrade your starting equipment and use that as the edge you have over your opponents.

Either way, eventually the standard creatures of the realm are no match for you, and you must fight other players, bringing us finally back around to the "Battle Royale" portion of the game. Player abilities go up and up, but the forts start strong and only get a little stronger as time goes on; by the mid to late game, it is harder to kill enemies than to destroy their home base, but without that base, they are mortal. And whenever they die, even if they have their home, they lose something--their equipment, a portion of their mana, and time. To the victor go those spoils, and while each player might get multiple shots at surviving the round, once they fall behind, they are increasingly unlikely to win. Their best bet is to find a weak player and take what's theirs, collecting spoils to make up for what they themselves lost.

Along the way, small factors can always sway things. The monsters of your realm can be commanded to rally to you or attack an enemy--useless on their own, but possibly enough to tip a battle when massed together. The strategic and tactical differences of the equipment is also a concern--swords, shields, ranged weapons of many types, defensive structures, healing, boosts and debuffs, and many other small differences will play out differently depending on circumstances.

Eventually, only one player (or team) wins, and if the game goes on long enough, a "final judgement" of invulnerable super-minions will be triggered automatically to determine a winner. At that time, the players become the hunted, and the last one left alive is the winner.

Like a lot of my designs, just describing it makes me want to play it--but it's far more than I can do alone, and I am frankly incompetent at advertising myself.