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  Game idea: Manage encounter with extraterrestrials  (Read 2414 times)
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Offline digitprop

Junior Devvie





« Posted 2005-01-30 09:41:59 »

Am currently reading the Rama quadrology by A. Clarke - a very fascinating read for any geek, by the way.

The books evoked an interesting idea for a game: The object of the game is to prepare and perform the encounter with an alien race, at minimum costs, with a maximum probability of success (defined by the level of communication achieved, technologies exchanged, percentage of crew safely returned to earth, etc.).

The player has to equip and staff a space ship at minimum costs which is send on a year-long journey to encounter an alien race of which almost nothing is known (e.g. just the fact that their home planet emits artificial radio signatures).

The player has to maximize the chances of a successful, peaceful encounter both by planning ahead and by eventually managing the actual encounter.

He will, for example, decide about:
- whether and how the ship will be armed
- what communication devices to take along
- assumptions on the stimuli the aliens can process
- assumptions about their environment (ooops, they are gelitinous blobs floating inside a gas planet; well, so much for our excavation equipment)
- assumptions about their biology and sociology

When the final encounter actually happens, many more options have to be chosen, contingency plans to be developed, equipment refurbished to adapt to unexpected conditions, etc.

The two most difficult problems in creating such a game would be:

- to produce a 'world creator unit' which can generate randomly believable planets and aliens with features that change from game to game;
- and to have a flexible, believable AI which represents the aliens and their communication efforts.

The AI will have to simulate the complete biological, physical and social context in which the aliens act; it will decide whether the primary conditions for communication are met (i.e. are we using appropriate stimuli); it will provide a linguistic 'interface' which is accessible to the player IF he manages to figure out the basics, etc.

The job of the AI is somewhat facilitated by the fact that a large degree of communication noise, of misunderstandings, and of undecernible social subtext will be part of the game fun. Therefore it doesn't have to be too smart.

In case that you wonder how such a game could be fun, just keep in mind what can possibly go wrong on such a mission, and how many options the player would have to still 'rescue' the mission.

M. Fischer . www.digitprop.com
Offline zingbat

Senior Devvie


Medals: 1


Java games rock!


« Reply #1 - Posted 2005-01-30 18:26:59 »

What is the player imideate reward in playing that game ? When you play a game like Doom you get an imideate reward when you shot down foes pass through blocked doors. In your game for what i understand the player tries to guess what the problems will be and then assign resources to solve. So you have several game phases: preparation, journey, initial contact, gather imformation from the race and finaly return. For each of these phases the player needs to know when things are going ok or when he is screweing up the game.
Offline cyberyoyo

Junior Devvie




Java games funk


« Reply #2 - Posted 2005-01-30 19:09:36 »

Zingbat: I think Digitprop was seeing that software more as an explorational software than a real game (yeah that's the sort of ideas you come up with after reading an exciting book Smiley  )

The idea sounds good but at the same time very risky.I can see many places where the game can be made to suck.
For example you need to put enough randomization on the destination parameters , so that the game doesn't become a game of optimization that becomes boring once you have found the best development tree and the best options for the flight.
On the other hand too much randomization could make it frustrating and too much arbitrary with too many expeditions being too ill-prepared to score big.  
Conclusion : a good part of the gameplay should reside in an observation phase where you would observe the planet and try to devise conclusions from remote observations.And there should be enough parameters to enable that.
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Offline zingbat

Senior Devvie


Medals: 1


Java games rock!


« Reply #3 - Posted 2005-01-30 20:34:52 »

Quote

The idea sounds good but at the same time very risky.I can see many places where the game can be made to suck.
For example you need to put enough randomization on the destination parameters , so that the game doesn't become a game of optimization that becomes boring once you have found the best development tree and the best options for the flight.
On the other hand too much randomization could make it frustrating and too much arbitrary with too many expeditions being too ill-prepared to score big.  
Conclusion : a good part of the gameplay should reside in an observation phase where you would observe the planet and try to devise conclusions from remote observations.And there should be enough parameters to enable that.


Your explorational software looks a lot like a game otherwise it wouldn't have scores and clues to the performance of the gamer.
Grin

It seems to me that some barriers would also be needed for each stage. What would be the main limiting factor:

fuel ?

a time limit ?

not being attacked by aliens ?
Offline cfmdobbie

Senior Devvie


Medals: 1


Who, me?


« Reply #4 - Posted 2005-01-31 09:30:40 »

There's a problem in this plan that you don't know enough in the first instance to base your decisions on.

If you need the VibroAnalyser device to communicate with gelatinous beings, and gelatinous beings may be encountered, then you have to take a VibroAnalyser with you, or else risk failure.  If you can't take all the equipment you know you might need, then you're left guessing and hoping - that's not fun.

In order to make the required assumptions, you'll need a lot of (admittedly vague) information about the situation - how high is gravity likely to be, how warm might it be, are organics detectable in the upper atmosphere, have you detected transmissions that might suggest a base-3 counting system, is there a general hum of data coming from the planet, or just one or two distinct signals?


And yes, the Rama books are very good, although Rendezvous is easily the best of the lot.  I generally recommend people read Rendezvous, and skip the rest - the effort involved in reading them wasn't worth the storyline, in my opinion.  (Although I had nightmares about those goddamn spiders for a while there.)

I recommend you also watch/read Sphere if you can find it anywhere.  Towards the beginning it (briefly) covers human-alien contact using today's technology - relevant to your research, I think.

Hellomynameis Charlie Dobbie.
Offline digitprop

Junior Devvie





« Reply #5 - Posted 2005-02-03 08:16:32 »

Thanks for the input, guys. Actually I do not intend to make that game for the time being, but it sure is tempting.

You are right that the game would not be much fun if you would have to make random assumptions and have to pick your equipment without any a priori information and any chance to adapt.

However, the idea would be to select equipment which you can use as creatively as possible later on, and to be able to adapt everything to the situation you eventually encounter.

There would have to be a very powerful physics engine so that the player would be able, for example, to construct new communication devices out of existing stuff, etc.

Well, I don't know if that would all make sense in the end. However, what I think is very appealing is to create a situation where the communication between the player and the computer is so restricted and abstract that an AI has in fact a realistic chance to be taken seriously.

I was always intrigued by how simple it is to fool humans into social relations with inanimate objects (e.g. Tamagochi, your car, soft toys, etc.). The reason why it is often so difficult to suspend one's disbelief with game AI is that it is supposed to simulate entities we are very familiar with - i.e. human beings.

If the simulated entity is a very unfamiliar being, i.e. an alien, it should be easy even with today's means (e.g. neural networks, Bayes math, Elisa-like avatars) to create a believable interaction.

M. Fischer . www.digitprop.com
Offline Malohkan

Senior Devvie




while (true) System.out.println("WOO!!!!");


« Reply #6 - Posted 2005-02-03 10:37:20 »

How about being able to search nearby planets for clues which might give you new technologies or even further development at home.  The more advanced your tech, the wider range of aliens you can communicate with.  Successful communications would also result in a MASSIVE gain in tech levels because of the exchange.

That would add the game play element of, "do I do more research slowly at home to ensure successful encounter, or do I risk encounter now for a faster and more rewarding boost?".  Now if you have an opposing threat eminent and you have only 2 years before you're invaded and you need all the advancement and allies you can get before then, people would be willing to take risks in the game to try to get to techs faster Smiley

Hmm... starting to sound like StarGate SG-1 hehehe.  But considering that's an awesome show that just keeps going and everyone still loves it, I guess that might be a good thing!  This could very much play as an online MMORPG actually.  That's where this storyline would be best suited.  Build up your planet among your solar system of friends and try to gain allies and tech to support your fight against hostile systems.  That's how all web-based MMORPG's work.  You can grow slow and safe through peaceful means, or you can grow fast through riskier or dangerous means.  There's a balance there in the game that makes it fun for all play types.

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GameLizard.com
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