Fade

As I briefly outlined in a previous blog, the basic idea behind Fade will be an expanding variable engine. Without providing specifics on plot or setting the idea is to create a dynamic environment that is different every time you play. As asdfjkl pointed out to me Resident Evil: Outbreak will utilize a similar idea in its gameplay, although it is more basic due to its linearity.

Ideally Fade would be unique every time you start a new game. This would include level layouts to some degree, as well as item placement and character development. The concept here is to change the game every time you play by providing enough variables that the chances of ever having the same conditions are virtually impossible. Examples of this would be a random character appearance. More specifically your character would be unique every time. Want a male protagonist in his late 40's? You might just get it, or possibly even a teenage girl next time. The variable setting would make each game unique to the extreme. You may want to find a mirror in the game just to check out your new look every game.

Of course the possibilities are limited by the number variables included, but by using enough variations you would be able to maximize the differences allowed. Although it would be nice to have a randomly generated level, this may not work due to certain variables. Instead a random level order can be used to progress the game depending on what items/information has been found by your character. This means that certain levels may or may not be used in a given game. So provided that there are 12 total levels, you may only need to play through 8 in order to complete the provided story.

As for the story, it will be generated via the available items. A generic plot that I had constructed involved a person with amnesia trying to uncover their past. In this manner the items/information found would trigger memory sequences which provide clues towards your next goal. As the goal will be random the chain of events will play out differently each time. Also note that there may be possible paths to the end within a given game, so you can even have alternate endings in the same game. Whenever a memory segment is gained it would be shown via a snipet of a black and white cutscene. Once the memory is complete (all the segments are found) the full cutscene would be shown in color. This would then complete the given level.

As for the level layout it would be ideal to allow the player to backtrack across areas that they have already explored. The trick here is to provide new areas without streamlining the player along these paths, think Grand Theft Auto. I'm still unsure about how to handle navigation hints, but I'm thinking that flashbacks may be a possible way to accomplish this task. An example is that you walk into or near a given area and trigger a memory segment that will clue you in to your next goal. A memory management system would be needed in order to keep track of the goals in order to prevent them from overlapping, but that is more a gameplay mechanic.

In the end, Fade would be an incredibly intricate and detailed game with almost limitless gaming possibilities. Sure this game would be insanely hard to script and code but hopefully we will see more games that utilize random variables in the future. With any luck Fable will be similar to this genre.

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Pretty ambitious, Pimpy. But very interesting :)

A bunch of us on SNHL were having a similar discussion a few weeks ago about openness and non-linearity in game design, and I kept the notes for possibly a series of articles in the future.

One thing that came up was how there is a wide gulf between lineary, plot-driven games like Halo, are more open-ended, interaction-based games-- like the Sims or SimAnt-- basically "software toys" (as Maxis used to call them) that simulate systems, where a lot of the elements are repeated but never in quite the same way.

It sounds like what you've got in mind here is something that sits right in the middle of that-- striving for consistently unique situations without sacrificing comprehensibility.

Simply providing enough variations to cover everything sounds like Morrowind, which achieves a bit of this through sheer volume of content-- but sacrifices a lot of comprehensibility when switching between the main plot and the side quests. (For instance, characters involved in apparently simple side quests often act inexplicably, such as staying in the same spot day and night supposedly traveling somewhere or looking for something, waiting for the player to interact with them).

Any thoughts on how to bridge this gap?

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Rampant for over four years.

In regards to the NPC interactions, wouldn't it be possible to program specific subroutines that are dependant upon given set variables? I guess it is tricky to get into specifics in this regard without knowing the details behind the plot/story provided but basically it would come down to creating a routine per each character that they follow regardless of variables. Then you have subroutines that rely upon specific variables, such as an item being placed or another character being active (or possibly a combination of both). Like I said a game like this would be fairly short due to the complex coding involved, but the replayability would be limitless due to such complex variables.

The problem with games like Morrowwind were that it involved a type of static variable. By static I mean the characters were programmed too rigidly, sometimes to the point of being downright illogical in terms of actions. Freeform AI is nice but often leads to many mistakes due to the freedom of movement, such as characters getting stuck on objects etc. A game concept like this one is definitely reaching its prime in the next few years, so hopefully a developer has the time to develop it for the next generation conosles or computers.

I actually had a list of notes regarding plot specific program details, etc, but opted to not post them in my blog as they might be somewhat too specialized and therefore confusing to anyone not familiar with the overall idea. As with all games a story-driven plot can make or break it, so developing a plot to use such an advanced program is almost as important as the coding itself. Hopefully a developer with a strong or ambitious goal will pick up on a project like this one. It would be a shame to see a B-rate game utilize such an interesting concept.

Sincerely,
Vic Mitkal
a.k.a. Pimpy™

Well, I'm wondering if making the kind of changes you propose would create another level of complexity but end up only trading one kind of illogical behavior for another.

For instance, the Morrowind NPCs mostly have their own little mini-plots to be in, and they don't deviate from them. This can end up looking illogical because they have no room for improvisation and can't cope with circumstances they weren't meant to encounter. (Like bringing Marines into the interior of AotCR rooms; they can't fight because they never expected to have to fight there.)

However, I think it might be difficult to allow them to react more flexibly and more realistically without coding outcomes for a really large number of eventualities. Simple things might be easy-- like coding fight or flight responses that respond not just to the player, but to NPCs and monsters as well (sometimes in Morrowind NPCs would not respond to combat dangerously near them if they were not targeted themselves).
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Rampant for over four years.