Game Idea Giveaway - Gridslime

...continued from The Game Idea Giveaway Thread

Request by TobiHeidi:
  • what sort of game idea you're looking for
    strategy, action (often a problem in Multiplayer games cause of lag), open to anything
  • what your goals are in making this game
    Create a Multiplayergame that creates a community, keeps players coming back, forces players to interact (attack, but also help each other).
    I like to have the players to be able to upload s.th. (i.e. graphics) and autmatticaly intergrate them in the game as gfx / or maps
  • what games you've made already
    All my games are Multiplayer, made a strategy and a soccer/pong game.
  • your favorite Flash games
    many, not some special ones
  • your abilities in game design, programming, art, and sound
    Game design = %60, Programming = %99, Art = , Sound = %30, in terms of how well I am with them
  • your preferences in game design, programming, art, and sound
    I only make Multiplayer games.I am very bad when it comes to art...
    I also would like to avoid strongly physics based games (doesnt work to synchronize in Multiplayer games), and games that have problems when there is more lag then about 200ms (ping).

The weird idea: Random Lulz

The normal idea: Gridslime

The idea is to take the minimal gameplay of Slime Volleyball, and expand it into a 3D multiplayer game of four square. It retains the fluctuating rules and interesting social dynamics of four square, while simplifying the physical aspect of the game into simple bouncing spheres.

You play as a sphere that can move and jump with the mouse. Your short-term goal is to hit the ball when it bounces into your square, your medium-term goal is to advance to the lead square in each game, and your long-term goal is to make your way up the global grid by challenging other players.

Four square is a popular playground game played on a grid of four squares with a bouncy rubber ball. It is simple to play, and features a compelling blend of physical action and political strategy. If you haven't played it before, there are a lot of websites and videos around that will introduce you. And plenty of player nostalgia to go along with it, too.

The idea is that each player has a square to defend. The squares are ranked, and your goal is to progress to the highest ranked square and stay there. If the ball bounces in your square, you have to hit it back to another player's square before it bounces again. If you don't hit the ball in time, or you hit it out of bounds instead of into another player's square, you're out of the game, and everyone in a lower ranked square moves up by one to take your place.

In the playground game, there's usually a line of people waiting to get in the game, since only four people can actually play at a time. In that case, you'd be sent to the end of the line. Otherwise, you're sent to the lowest ranking square to start over.

The interesting part about four square is that the leader, the player in the highest ranking square, gets to change the rules of the game. This is also the player who serves the ball at the start of each round, and before serving, this player can announce changes to the rules, such as allowing or disallowing certain moves or situations. There are tons of these weird rules and moves, often known by obscure names like "cherry bomb" or "bus stop", many of which can be found online. It's a phenomenon analogous to Pokemon or Magic: The Gathering. And as you may expect, it is ripe for adaptation into a game.

the rules of four square...

So how do we turn this into a computer game?

You may be familiar with Slime Volleyball and its many variants - these were Java games that were popular several years ago. Most of these games were simple 2D games analogous to Pong, where you move a "slime" that's like a circular paddle and try to bounce a ball to the your opponent's side of the court. Move left, move right and jump. There's a lot you can do with these simple controls. It's like playing table tennis with a basketball instead of a paddle.

It's easy enough to adapt this to four square. Just replace each human player with a sphere that can move around in its square and jump into the air. Aiming is accomplished by hitting the ball at the appropriate angle. On a computer, you might move with the mouse, and jump by pressing the mouse button. You can see a similar control scheme in Slime Volleyball 3D, except that the slime moves slowly toward the mouse cursor instead of moving instantly with it, which can be frustrating. I'd recommend making the movement instantaneous. And allow for a variable jump height, based on how long the mouse button is pressed.

But there's no reason to restrict the game to what is possible in Slime Volleyball or four square. You can take it further. In particular, you don't have to restrict the game to only four squares. You could have as many as you want, in any configuration. They don't even have to be square. Assuming that you keep the whole thing on a grid, you could make some squares neutral, some impassable, some into walls that bounce the ball, and change the size and shape of each player's area. You could even make them all shift around over time. This would be a great place for procedural and player-created content.

There are a lot of cool things you could do with the rule changes as well. Since this is a computer game, you can let players modify the physical properties of the ball or players, to change things like size, speed, bounciness, mass, or friction. Beyond that, you could even include ways for players to directly disrupt each other, with weapons or environmental hazards, kind of like the shells and banana peels of Mario Kart. Any of these might be special abilities bought by players with earned or purchased currency, or they might just randomly appear in the game to keep things interesting.

And of course, there are all the special rules of four square itself. These generally determine how you can hit the ball or who you can hit it to. Here are some common examples:
  • windmills - putting a lot of spin on the ball is allowed
  • cherry bombs - bouncing the ball really high is allowed
  • lemon drops - hitting the ball really low to a corner is allowed
  • chicken feet - hitting the ball at a player's feet is allowed
  • dictatorship - getting a player out with a serve is allowed
  • air ball - you can hit the ball before it bounces in your square
  • poaching - you can hit the ball no matter where it bounces
  • jump ball - you can only hit the ball while you are jumping
  • treetops - you can hit the ball up to two times in the air
  • bubbling - you can hit the ball any number of times in the air
  • holds - you can catch and hold the ball before passing it
  • tea party - two players may only pass to each other
  • friendship - two players may not get each other out
  • no passbacks - you may not pass the ball back to a player
  • around the world - you must pass the ball around (counter) clockwise until it has been passed to every player on the court
  • other variations - you may only pass the ball to players who are orthogonally adjacent, diagonally adjacent, wearing the same color, or whatever else you can think of
There are also rules that allow special situations to occur, often when a player catches the ball and shouts a certain word. The words and situations differ from game to game, but here are some examples:
  • pops - if you catch the ball before it lands in your square, then the player who last hit the ball is out
  • poison - if you catch the ball before it lands in your square and say "poison", the player who last hit the ball is out, but if that player says "poison" first, then you are out
  • mail man - if you catch the ball before it lands in your square and say "mail man", the last player to put their foot on the outermost corner of their square is out
  • bus stop - if you catch the ball before it lands in your square and say "bus stop", the last player to put their foot on the center intersection of the squares is out
As you can see, there's a lot to choose from. And they should be fairly easy to adapt to a computer game. What's most important is how they contribute to an interesting social dynamic without totally unbalancing the game. The powerful moves - like "cherry bombs" or "poison" - should also be risky moves that won't guarantee dominance.

In a game with four or more players, it's all right to let one player gain an advantage, since the other players will compensate by allying themselves against the offending player. Temporary alliances and betrayals are common in four square as players make deals to help each other get to the lead square, only to stab each other in the back when they are in power. But players who lie and betray others will find that their tricks stop working once players discover their true nature. It is a delicate balancing act, one which is at the core of most compelling multiplayer experiences. This is how you get a lot of gameplay for free in a multiplayer game.

In order to support this dynamic you must have abilities that benefit the lead player, as well as abilities that benefit all players. Obviously there must be benefits to being leader, so that players are motivated to reach the top spot. Perhaps they earn more points this way, which they can spend on special abilities, or maybe the ability to control the rules of the game is motivation enough. Either way, there must be advantages. But there must be ways for the leader to reward other players as well. That way, players can make campaign promises to each other to get their support: "Get me to the lead square and I'll use my Pay Day ability to increase your earnings for every round that I am in power!"

So far the game that I've described does not involve a long-term goal. Or even an end condition for each game. But don't worry, that's what I'm going to explain next.

grid slime?

There is a world map, a giant grid where each cell is a Gridslime court. At the bottom of the map are the newbie courts, where new players enter. At the top are the expert courts, where the stakes are higher - more points can be earned the higher you go. Players strive to reach the highest courts, both to prove their mastery and to enjoy the richer rewards.

As a new player, you start in the lowest courts. You can move freely left and right between courts, each of which might feature different terrain and configurations, but you must earn the right to go up to the next level. To move up, you must get to the lead square in your current court. Then you can choose to leave that game behind and join the court above - or wait in line to join it if the court is already full with players. Once you're up, you can move between courts left and right and below, but to go up again you must attain the lead square in one of the courts. If you come to an empty court, you can start a new game there, but you can't advance to a higher court unless you are the leader in a full game.

Alternatively, there might be a level requirement for each row, where players earn experience points through play that let them level up over time. The basic idea is to make sure players are matched with others of similar skill, to keep things fair and interesting. If it's not too unbalancing, you might also allow players to earn or buy free passes to get to the row above. You could also make some grid cells that are not courts - either completely impassable, or with free movement in any direction. You could even make movement cost a certain number of points, and make some grid cells cost more than others. This could help control the flow of players around the grid.

Enough of that. How about monetization and player-created content? First of all, you'll want to have some sort of virtual currency in the game. Actually, you'll want two - one that players can earn through playing, and one that players can buy with real money. And what will the players buy with this virtual currency? They will buy special abilities and avatar decorations.

The special abilities can be things like "cherry bombs" or "bus stops" that players can use when the leader allows them, or they can be rule-changes that players can use when they are in the lead square, like calling a "tea party" or allowing "poaching" for a round. They may also be physical changes like increased size or bounciness, or even weapons used to disrupt other players. For the most part, these will be bought in bulk with earned currency simply through playing the game, but rarer abilities may be purchased with real money. Because the leader has control over which abilities are allowed, there's less of an issue with players spending money for an unfair advantage.

Avatar decorations can be purely decorative, serving no in-game purpose. Or, if your engine supports it, players could customize their avatars beyond simple spheres, adding extra spheres or even other shapes in a ragdoll-ish way, or just adjusting and upgrading physical properties like stickiness and bounce. You can also incorporate player-created content here as well, allowing players to upload images as textures for their avatars, for a fee. They could even then go ahead and sell their images to other players, with you taking a transaction fee off the top. Since all players are spheres, you could just generate a circular cutout of the uploaded image and use that as the player sprite, maybe with a bit of shading tacked on for a more 3D feel.

The other place for player-created content would be in designing custom courts. One approach that might work is to let players form guilds or leagues (for a fee, of course) where members have access to special league-controlled courts as well as permanent abilities available in games within the league. And special hats, or something. This would be good if you want to keep player-created courts separate from those on the main grid. Or maybe you could find a way to combine the two. Could be cool.

I'm going to stop here. I've already gone on far too long. If you have questions, feel free to let me know. I'll leave you with this excellent article on design considerations for competitive multiplayer games, Testosterone and Competitive Play. Read it.

Want an idea? Make a request on The Game Idea Giveaway Thread!

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