Humans, invaders, and trees.
For my first project since going indie, I've been working with the artist brontosaurus on a little game. The specifics of this project change around a lot, since we're taking a loose, spontaneous sort of approach to developing it. Lately we've been heading in a space invaders-ish direction, and we've been trying to think of how we might extract some actual gameplay from the procedurally generated toys we've been playing with.
In order to focus in on something simple, we've decided to base the entire game off the feel of the concept art above, I Have You Now.
We thought that might mean creating a little ecosystem of invaders that the player, a human, could observe and mess around with. Like, the invaders eat each other, maybe reproduce a little bit, and maybe you can help some invaders fight off some other ones, maybe do a bit of genetic engineering, and it would be all cool and stuff.
But I'm realizing that it would not really be all cool, or stuff.
In general, the full artificial life approach with procedural terrain, trees, and invaders is both too big and too bland. It's too big for us to finish quickly. And it doesn't have enough human interest. We've got to put the feeling in it, the fantasy, the thing that makes it worthwhile to participate in the experience.
It's too big in a lot of ways, but the main problem is artificial intelligence - how the invaders behave. Adopt an Invader is an elegant design because the core behavior of all the invaders is the same - a simple flying, shooting ship. Additional behaviors and personality, like dropping goodies or flying in a certain pattern, are manually added by the players. Computers do what they're good at, and the players do what they're good at. Everyone's happy.
The problem with this approach is technology. We can't make Adopt an Invader right now, since we don't have time or resources to set up a database-driven web site. But we could incorporate the core idea into a single player game. That is, take generic invaders and manually add personality to them through playing the game.
It's like Pokemon. But instead of collecting the creatures so you can fight better, you collect them so you can start building onto them. Not physically, but mentally, in terms of behavior. Each invader is like a base for your LEGO pieces.
Now you have a goal - find and acquire invaders to build on, as well as the raw materials with which to build. And now we can start turning this into an addictive loop. And so now we're getting somewhere, with this game design.
We'll see where this idea takes us. Both brontosaurus and I like creating things, so hopefully we can turn the process of creating itself into a game. Creating, as well as collecting things with which to create, that is. It's a lot like what we're doing right now - collecting inspiration art, trying to build on that to create a game. We'll see. :)