August 31, 2007

Video Game Idea: "The Jovian Infestation"

"Hey, you... Yah, you, asshole... Rise and shine. Time to get to work.

"First off: Don't ask me your name, I don't know it any more than you do. You've probably been frozen for a thousand years... your memory may come back in time. Or maybe it won't. I don't care either way.

"Second: You're my property now. Yah, you heard me. I don't care who you were or what you did. You can tell people what you want, but my advice is: save your oxygen. Nobody cares or believes you.

Everyone you ever knew or loved or hurt has been dead a millennium, and chances are great you're gonna join 'em soon enough if you want a little reunion. Until then, you work, or you don't get oxygen.

"Third: Yah, you're noticing you have a suit on. Don't fuck with it. Most environments aren't pressurized here -- oxygen's too precious to share with every damn idiot in the rings. It's our base currency. You're breathing mine right now, which means I own you until you work it off or kill me. You want to take a stab at the latter, you go nuts, but I gotta tell you I've got a pretty little frozen statue garden outside of the corpsicles who tried before you.

"So here's the deal: You do whatever I ask, you get oxygen, you stay alive. You don't, you die. Don't worry, I ain't one of those pervo types -- most of those guys got dealt with a long time ago. Infestation's been around forever, we take care of our own, one way or the other.

"You'll probably start by mining. If some miracle happens and you actually have a talent for something, I'll move you over to that. You survive a couple years, we'll call your debt paid up, and I'll give you a quarter 'M' of Oxygen -- enough for a year if you keep your yap shut -- and that suit you're wearing, and you're a free man. Now, don't get all misty-eyed on me, that suit is total crap -- I wouldn't put my third-cousin in it. But you'll learn how to keep it running.

"Now get to work."

--

The rings of Jupiter -- the area of a thousands earths -- have been turned into the biggest penal colony civilization has ever known. For thousands of years the planets of man have dealt with their undesirables through exile; their frozen bodies are shot towards the rings to be picked up (or not) and thawed out by the "Jovian Infestation" -- the ragtag, fiercely independent great-great-great-grandchildren of convicts of a hundred worlds.

The rocks of the ring have enough oxygen, water, and raw materials to support life. Barely. If you're smart, and lucky. Technology in the rings is the scavenged garbage from a hundred different civilizations, plus whatever trinkets they can create themselves.

You wake up after being thawed out by a "body prospector"; a man who's chosen occupation is to track incoming corpsicles and revive them to be his indentured servants for some number of years.

--

The game starts with you creating your character by answering multiple-choice questions about your early life in the Infestation: you pick a path and some time goes by and the results are shown to you, and then you choose what you're going to do next. For instance, when you start, you can decide to be a miner, try to work on fixing gadgets, or try to rebel against your master. If you pick mining, your character will get mining skill. If you rebel and fail, you'll get more time as an indentured servant, or dead. If you rebel and succeed (unlikely), you'll be a free man with the assets of your former master, but his entire family will also be trying to kill you.

After this initial period is over, the game proper starts. You will have a ship (or two) for flying between the asteroids in the ring -- since these are claptrap, unpressurized, single-person craft, they aren't much. Think space jalopies. You'll mine from the asteroids, find caches of items that have been lost for centuries, defend yourself from outlaws, and interact and trade with the other colonists.

As you get more advanced, you buy more and upgraded parts for your ship and bolt them on, using an interactive editor. The ship's aerodynamics don't matter (space!), but the ship's handling is entirely dependent on where you place attitude and main thrusters, and your defense (or offense!) is entirely dependent on what weapons you can cobble together. If you lose a thruster in a fight, well... better hope you can repair it. If not, you don't have a thruster there until you buy a new one. Which may or may not work the same.

In many senses, this part of the game is kind of like the old "Privateer" game, except with a ship that you can build (and rebuild, and repair) from the ground up, in 3D, in any configuration you like.

As your ship improves and your range expands, you'll find more types of people and also have new types of missions -- for example, you can track and intercept one of the garbage barges heading towards the sun from some unknown civilization, and scour it for discarded treasures. In a colony where something as simple as a piece of tubing can be the difference between life and death, garbage is like manna.

--

There are also factions in the game - almost everyone is part of what they call a 'family' -- a group of people, some related by blood, who bond together for protection. Each family also has a list of enemies -- people it thinks the colony would be better off without. The problem is, if you get caught killing someone, everyone from their family is more likely to want to kill you. Of course, if YOU have a powerful family behind you, they'll think twice about it. Unless, you know, they think they can do it without being caught.

Every time you interact with another character in the game, she takes note of how you treated her (traded fairly? traded unfairly? robbed her? tried to kill her?), and tells her family. Families will also offer you quests for items or errands that will earn you their loyalty. You can choose to be a total loner and piss off everyone, or you can be a sycophant and try to join every family.

Families all interact on a giant wikipedia-like network, for which you'll be able to buy or assemble a terminal at some point, and join in. There they bicker and rant and air grievances against each other and try to sway other families to help them, and, of course, mention what can be done by people wanting to get in good with them.

--

In addition to the explore / mine / trade aspect of the game, there's some role-playing, but done in a new way. Over time, other characters will grow curious about you, and sometimes they'll ask you plot-advancing questions, such as questions about your past, and you'll be offered multiple-choice answers. The twist is, whatever answer you choose BECOMES reality -- that is, you get to choose your character's backstory as the game unfolds, instead of picking it all in advance, OR having it handed to you.

For instance, a trader may say, "You buy a lot of guns, newbie. I take it you weren't a stranger to action Before?" If you answer yes, then word will get out about you, and you may later get asked if you were a soldier or a killer or what-have-you. As you define your character, you'll 'remember' skills that you'd forgotten during your long sleep -- if you were a soldier you might pick up a sharp-shooting ability, but if you were a scholar you might gain the ability to sway people with just words.

Since which questions get asked and when they get asked (if at all) is random, each game you'll have different opportunities available for your character.

--

One possible endgame: an unbelievably beautiful and advanced ship breaks the quarantine of Jupiter and visits the Infestation... for you. "Why" depends on your choices throughout the game. If you were a noble person Before, it could be your family's descendants have come to rescue you from wrongful punishment. Or maybe you're a prince in exile, and now the last known descendent of the royal family. If you were a good soldier who was framed, it could be that the old government was overthrown and the new one discovered your case history and decided to right an old wrong. If you were a bad dude -- well, maybe they realized that it wasn't safe just to quarantine you, and even all these years later they'd feel better if you were actually dead-dead. Maybe you tried to escape being killed by hiding in the colony, and your would-be killers have chased you.




[Every once in a while I wake up with a game idea or something crazy in my head. I've decided to start writing 'em down so I don't lose 'em.]

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33 Comments:

Blogger Chris said...

The opening speech reminds me a little of Gantz.

August 31, 2007 6:26 PM

 
Blogger gritmonkey said...

Dammit, I was ready to run out to the store and buy it:) Oh well, back to waiting for Spore.

August 31, 2007 7:31 PM

 
Anonymous Crosius said...

I'd buy that game. I'd buy copies for friends.

Especially if it handled orbital dynamics with any accuracy.

Sounds like a very ambitious UI, though.

August 31, 2007 9:31 PM

 
Anonymous Jim said...

Nuts! Here I was all set to Google it and plunk down cash. Hey Wil, don't you have some coding to do? ;)

August 31, 2007 11:08 PM

 
Anonymous max said...

Awesome Idea! I see kind of a "Futurama" influence?? Love it...

September 01, 2007 12:04 AM

 
Blogger Maya said...

add this to the list of future inventions

September 01, 2007 1:18 AM

 
Blogger Capt. Miraculo said...

1. Comments are back! :)

2. Sounds vaguely like Steven Donaldson's 'Into the Gap' series... Not a complaint, more a a compliment.
The biggest thing lacking from games in general is a good story... This certainly makes for a great story with great motivation for the player... Here's to the next Mass Effect challenger (hope it comes to PS3 instead though :)

Peace,
-Adam

September 01, 2007 1:22 AM

 
Blogger JL! said...

I really like these ideas, Wil. Maybe Delicious Monster should try its hand at a game? Seriously, consider it! Or consider partnering with someone, like the folks at HotHead who are helping Penny Arcade do theirs.

Just don't give away the ending on this blog. ;-)

September 01, 2007 1:45 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd love to play that.

September 01, 2007 2:34 AM

 
Anonymous Mat said...

The fact you write your ideas on your blog also means you don't mind if someone "steals" them and uses to make games out of them. ;)

(To be clear: I have no intentions on using your ideas, I would not even be able to. Just a comment)

September 01, 2007 3:33 AM

 
Blogger John Muir said...

The ship designer bit in particular sounds pretty cool. Reminds me of ideas my brother and I had about crossing X-Wing v TIE Fighter and Tyrian to make a tactical-programmable battle game from black box components accessible to the player.

As for penal colonies on the edge of nowhere … I wouldn't be too surprised if they wound up taking over Earth after a while. Speaking as a Brit: our own experiences always proved that wild outlaw colonies where everything goes tend to out-pace more organised, hierarcgical "old world" societies.

Of course: it's the strategy lover in me that's beginning to see the possibilities for an end game where you assemble your united Jovian fleet and seize the Earth instead!

September 01, 2007 5:11 AM

 
Anonymous Zack said...

That reminds me of the Golden Age Trilogy by John C. Wright, on some levels.

September 01, 2007 6:28 AM

 
Blogger Capt. Miraculo said...

1. Comments are back! :)

2. Sounds vaguely like Steven Donaldson's 'Into the Gap' series... Not a complaint, more a a compliment.
The biggest thing lacking from games in general is a good story... This certainly makes for a great story with great motivation for the player... Here's to the next Mass Effect challenger (hope it comes to PS3 instead though :)

Peace,
-Adam

September 01, 2007 6:39 AM

 
Anonymous Daniel Brauer said...

I know you don't have time, but hey: you're one of the few people who has a game idea and is actually in the position to see it through. If you decide to take a crack at it and don't want to program from the ground up in OpenGL, I can't recommend Unity enough. Little projects can get done in a weekend, and a few months of work will get you serious results. The IDE is Mac-only, which might tickle your elitist side, and the workflow is second-to-none as far as game engines go.

September 01, 2007 8:34 AM

 
Anonymous Daniel Brauer said...

I know you don't have time, but hey: you're one of the few people who has a game idea and is actually in the position to see it through. If you decide to take a crack at it and don't want to program from the ground up in OpenGL, I can't recommend Unity enough. Little projects can get done in a weekend, and a few months of work will get you serious results. The IDE is Mac-only, which might tickle your elitist side, and the workflow is second-to-none as far as game engines go.

September 01, 2007 8:35 AM

 
Blogger Markus Amalthea Magnuson said...

Sounds like Fallout meets Escape Velocity, great!

September 01, 2007 11:05 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To everyone who's saying "I'd love to play that":

I HAVE played that. Many times.

Elite, Privateer, SCII, and gazillions of other games have already done this exact thing.

Not that it would be a bad game, or necessarily derivative; after all, the Devil is in the details, and Shakespeare making plays out of already well-known stories didn't stop his plays from being masterpieces.

Just don't operate under the illusion that your game has never been done before.

September 01, 2007 12:39 PM

 
Blogger Wil Shipley said...

Just don't operate under the illusion that your game has never been done before

I'm pretty sure I mentioned most gameplay would be kind of like Privateer. And, no, I didn't think I'd invented the space game. I just had some ideas on a story and refinements to play that I wanted to write down.

September 01, 2007 2:41 PM

 
Anonymous Thomas Aylott said...

That intro was extremely gripping. REminds me of an old short story I once read.

You should really get into writing short stories. I know I'd be thrilled to read them. I would pay to read them actually.

September 03, 2007 4:59 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone should try prototyping it in Second Life.

September 04, 2007 12:24 AM

 
Blogger Seraph said...

Sometime in the not so distant future, I'd love to play this game, and know that I first read a blog about it.

Will this perhaps have a multiplayer aspect?

September 04, 2007 9:59 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd play that, particularly if crosius' suggestion (of accurate orbital dynamics) were implemented.

We could use a new game for the Mac.

September 05, 2007 12:32 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

forget the game, do a movie!

September 05, 2007 1:16 PM

 
Anonymous Josh Farkas said...

I want to play this. The reason games are so inbred is they don't let smart folks from the outside make them.

September 06, 2007 7:05 PM

 
Anonymous Christopher Camps said...

Caught Futurama last night, season 1, episode 2 "The Series Has Landed." Watch it again Wil, I think you'll then agree your game needs the following:
1. The Crushinator
2. Space Alligators

PS. How awesome is it that the second episode EVER can have you in tears laughing? That show just gets better and better every time I rewatch it.

September 09, 2007 11:48 PM

 
Blogger Andre said...

Sounds cool. Maybe you should make a Delicious Game?

September 11, 2007 11:43 AM

 
Blogger jdack said...

I'd buy it.

Get crackin', programmer man :D

September 12, 2007 10:36 AM

 
Anonymous Pierre Lebeaupin said...

Interesting... Sort of like Escape Velocity (for space, free roaming and open storyline) meets Avernum (because you're also an outcast in a penal world where the outcasts have their own government, and also free roaming too).

However, I dislike the ending. Sounds too much like christian apocalypse and final judgement. Not to mention it's completely unrealistic.

September 15, 2007 2:02 PM

 
Blogger Mose said...

"Who are you that flies so good? Are you insane?"

"No. It's just got a load of cargo..."

Of course, you'd have to throw in a reference to Jupiter somewhere.

September 20, 2007 10:16 AM

 
Anonymous Giom said...

I'd love to buy that game....

It feels a bit from the description like a good mix between fallout and privateer, two of my favorite games....

Now please please, make this game ;-)

September 21, 2007 1:33 AM

 
Blogger Wil Shipley said...

I've always wanted to make games, all my life. I have to be honest, though -- I mean, I've been programming for 25 years, and all I've written is Light Cycles in Pascal, 23 years ago.

Not a good track record.

Interestingly, "The Omni Group" was named after a game I was designing in college -- I invited Tim and Ken to come to dinners and design the game with me, and when I started working at McCaw Cellular I invited the same group to come program there with me after a year or so.

When they asked who we were, it was just, 'Uh, "The Omni Group"?'

-W

September 21, 2007 3:32 AM

 
Blogger Vic said...

Dear Wil

Your kickass blog has reached all the way to Chile, congratulations on a very well written site :)

Your game strongly reminds me of Planescape: Torment as well as Privateer 2, in which the main character had completely lost his memory. The interesting twist was recovering memories (and thus skills or special abilities) depending on what you did in the game or what decisions you made. For example, if you trained as a fighter you'd learn everything very quickly because you HAD BEEN one, so you never really did anything fomr scratch (which explained why you learned things so quickly). I suggest you take a look at it if you plan to move forward with your game. If you don't, I'll steal it from you! :P

Oh and if you need more feedback feel free to drop a line to vmeschi@gmail.com

Have fun and keep on blogging,

Vicente Meschi

September 28, 2007 12:30 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

SOUNDS GREAT

February 20, 2008 9:16 AM

 

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