See What You Can Do With These Game Ideas

A couple of posts ago, I promised to share one of my game ideas. This is my post to make good on that promise. Even better, let’s take a look at two ideas.

My game ideas tend to originate from either a twist on an existing game or some concept that can be made into a game. As a starting point, I think of ten ideas, anything goes. Most of them probably won’t amount to much. By coming up with ten ideas every day or once a week, eventually one of them is bound to be worth pursuing.

These are two that I think merit a closer look.

Pyramid

If you have made it to your 20s, you have lived long enough to be aware of pyramid schemes. How about turning that into a game?

Here’s the premise. Anyone is allowed to start a pyramid and be the boss, and players can join any of the active pyramids. The object is to convince players to join your organizations, which requires an investment of points. Those who join become recruiters who try to convince others to join.

Each player collects points based on a portion of the points collected below that player in the organization. The lower you are in the pyramid, the smaller the portion. At some point, it wouldn’t make economic sense to join, but recruiters can still do their best to persuade new joiners.

Players can participate in any number of pyramids as long as they have enough points to “invest.”

At some point, the top boss either makes the call to shut it down, say when growth starts to stall, and heads for the Bahamas. Or he or she gets caught by the authorities and goes to prison. Maybe the closest lieutenants have to pay a fine. Everyone else just loses their investment.

That’s the general sketch. Indeed, it might seem a little sketchy. Perhaps the point of the game is to demonstrate the problems with pyramid schemes, or to teach how to recognize them.

On the other hand, it might offer a way for the unscrupulous to practice without legal consequences. Also, people might also find a way to use the game as a proxy for a real-life pyramid scheme, where player points convert to money. That would be illegal (at least in the United States) or dangerous.

The game is suited for online play because it requires a lot of players the way I described it. In another form, the game could be laid out on a board and played in a way that’s similar to the Game of Life. Some of the spots allow you to form or join a pyramid, some add followers or receive regular payouts, some are where you get exposed and lose everything. If you make it to an undisclosed private island to live the life of luxury (and lonely isolation), you win.

Good idea or DOA? Alright, take it or leave. Let’s look at another.

Entrepreneur

This game is designed to give players a sense of the life of an entrepreneur. The premise is that you have this great idea for a business, and you want to launch a company and take it public.

You have to advance through levels, each of which gives you a baseline 10% chance of continuing. That’s a 90% chance of being wiped out each time you try to advance. You also have the choice to cash out once you complete the level you are on. Cashing out might cost you but probably leaves you with some rewards.

Maybe your odds are impacted by decisions you make. Choosing a narrow market, expanding in a way that builds on existing assets, getting the right professional help, and making good deals with helpful partners would all improve your odds. You can also make bad choices that lower the odds. Hmm, I can probably come up with a few of those, too.

Is this a board game where you have to go around some number of times? Is it based on decks of cards, one specific deck per stage?

I can imagine using dice to determine outcomes. Want to make a deal? A roll of 10 means it’s perfectly executed. A 5 through 9 means it goes through but is less effective than hoped. Roll a 2, 3 or 4 and the deal is off. A 1 means the deal is shady and costs you in the long run. That’s got the feel of an RPG.

Entrepreneur might be well-suited as an online multi-player game. Each player is busy trying to build his or her corporate empire. The “daily news” feed could be filled with the wins and losses of the other players, deal offers, and so on. Perhaps specializations develop: some want to build companies, others want to be venture capitalists. Maybe the bankers and lawyers are all bots with a range of programmed skills and ethics.

You get the idea, right?

Ta Da

So there you have it. Two seeds. Two kernels. Two ideas that might be developed or morphed into any number of interesting games.

If you liked those, let me know in the comments. I can share a few more someday.

If you are new to game design and want help getting started, check out Design a Game. It’s got all of my best thinking on the subject of game design. By the end of the course, you’ll be coming up with playable ideas of your own.

Finally, remember to subscribe because it shows me that you are interested.

Pictures of the Mind

Today, I ask the question, does entertainment require pictures?

The obvious answer is, “no.” People enjoy books without pictures. Music is fine without an accompanying music video. Both forms of entertainment often leave the visuals up to the imagination. Ideally, your brain fills out the experience in engaging ways.

I am obsessed with interactive fiction. To be more precise, I have spent a lot of time thinking about text-based games, a sub-category of interactive fiction.

This kind of game probably started in the margins of text books. On the upper left of the inside cover, you would find something like, “Turn to page 23.”¬† The bottom of page 23 would have an instruction to turn to page 16, which would take you to page 76, and finally to page 42 to read the message, “You are a dummy.” Nice payoff.

At some point, a bright lawyer, Edward Packard, during his daily commute devised the mechanic for choose-your-own-adventure stories. You are (sort of) in control of how the story unfolds, making key decisions at the ends of the chapters. Packard and another gentleman wrote a series of books that were popular when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s.

Computers are all about information and branching logic, so they are a natural tool for hosting modern “pick your path” style games. Imagine the available options auto-magically readjusting based on previous behavior, AI, and a bit of randomness.

That kind of adaptation is impossible (or at least highly impractical) in print. So most interactive fiction is played on computers. For that reason, the category expands well beyond simple text-based games. An obvious enhancement is to add graphics, first for the “cover” art, followed by chapter illustrations. Some forms allow you to create an avatar and place you in immersive scenes.

My interactive fiction platform StoryTime is still exclusively in the text-only camp. That’s more due to the limitations of my time and skills than some conscious choice. I use the system as a way to practice programming, and being a team of one only takes things so far. C’est la vie.

Some platforms choose to keep pictures out of the mix. Choice Of Games successfully sticks to text, touting the power of the imagination, rather than being spoon-fed eye candy (my tongue-in-cheek characterization).

From their website:

By using text, we can interact with the imagination in different ways from a graphics-based game. We can also allow game designers to quickly and inexpensively produce games in comparison with graphics-based games.

I agree. I also appreciate the practicality of their message. Good writing takes time for one writer and an editor. Producing a game with compelling visuals takes a lot longer and requires more skill sets, which means larger teams and a bigger budget.

While I may be biased by the limitations of my own platform, the case for text-only adventures is strong.

Another favorite of mine is TriadCity by SmartMonsters. This text-based adventure explores the idea of a game as literature. To quote from the TriadCity website,

We find that our own ability to form excellent pictures in imagination is more fulfilling. And, blind and visually impaired players are first-class citizens in TriadCity.

That quote exposes another way to extend text-based games, by having them read so that people who cannot see can enjoy them. This twist is not as obvious to those of us with working vision. Ironically, it may be the ease with which we take in supplied images that deadens our ability to have visions of our own.

Did you notice how we crossed over to the realm of sound? There’s another form of entertainment that hearkens back to the days when a “radio” was a giant novelty box that sat in your living room. Well, not your living room, but those of your ancestors. Of course, I mean theater of the mind.

This form of entertainment blossomed again with podcasting. When podcasting was new in the mid-2000s, the character John Bell came to life in Bell’s in the Batfry, with a whole cast of characters primarily voiced by Bell himself. John, a.k.a. Professor Zounds, is a talented voice actor with a sense of humor that has me guffawing in just about every episode.

Have you heard old-time radio programs? You have to think of ones like The Shadow that haven’t (to my knowledge) been portrayed on television or other visual media. Do you have a picture of what the characters look like, even though you have never seen them? This can happen over a conference call with someone you just “met” on the phone.

The same is true of Bell’s in the Batfry. The show revolves around him trying to produce a podcast with his cohorts: the inventor Arnie, the ad man Brad, the science professor Mr. Whizzr’d (who likes to torture his assistant Billy with his experiments), and the ditsy by lovable Miss Schmacklehiemer, to name just a few. It does not take long to imagine how these characters look, although each listener’s rendition is certainly different.

To bring this to a close, many forms of amusement rely on the creativity of the reader or listener to supply the visuals. So it’s okay for games to impose the same constraint on players. The best part of the game might be what the player brings to it. Don’t count on it, though. You’ll need to supply plenty of context for most people to follow.

Once you have the text-only basics worked out, you can always think of ways to introduce visuals and sounds without disrupting the intended effects.

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