Friday, May 27, 2005

Tiny Things

All the talk
of the amazing, revolutionary, drop-my-freakin-jaw astounding Spore by the incomparable Will Wright has brought to mind an old, old game design I had kicked around once in middle school and have been refining ever since.

I had been given an assignment to write a report on a dangerous disease. After skimming material in the library I settled on diphtheria. A very badass disease. "Very contagious, potentially deadly, horrible host of varied symptoms, once a major killer of children? Beautiful!" That's just how I thought at the time.

So I had a vision of a game wherein you were in control of infectious agents. Choose bacteria or viruses or the body. Each would have different strengths and weaknesses. Bacteria reproduce by cell division, viruses only inside of host cells. The body can muster different kinds of antibodies. This early vision was highly informed by SimEarth, another Will Wright game (not surprisingly), so much of the game in my head consisted of lots of little tiles shifting around with very loose control over different variables.

Over the years this vision would alter as I was introduced to new and different games and gameplay concepts.

From exposure to Homeworld I added a fully three-dimensional innerspace, with virii and bacteria and blood cells all flitting around and interacting.

I decided that an important part of this game would be the idea of levels of detail. That is, the game proper would probably require at least a medium level of abstraction, but there would always be more information to be found by selecting units and, from there, more technical knowledge available if the user so desired. I know, I know, educational games.

I imagine that rather than individual unit types (soldier, spearman, cavalry translated into the disease theme by procrustean means) that each unit would instead be made of characteristics that could be mixed and matched, and would lead to behaviors.

For example: I have chosen to control a virus. At first it can only attach and infect weak red blood cells. After I have taken over my first cell, I get to choose a set of low-level characteristics for the new copies. Let's say I'm getting ten copies. I can set five of those copies to go after weakened white blood cells. The other five can be set to go after medium-weak red blood cells (since the initial infection slightly improved my ability).

I see a mix of direct control and autonomous behavior. You can direct your virii, give them patrol routes or just tell them to engage in seeking out new cells to infect. I'm still brainstorming on exactly how to model information increase (the way to advance your available characteristics). Maybe it could be related to the infection percentage of your current area.

As for these characteristics, there needs to be a way to suss out what kind of defenses the opponent has without the opponent necessarily knowing. Hidden information. The problem of codebreaking - how do I use what I've learned to my advantage without tipping my hand?

Levels could be broken down by organs, with different tactics necessary in each one. Different types of cells and improvements available. The host having access to different types of drugs and treatments.

And, of course, the ultimate challenge would be attacking the entire body. Redirecting infection routes to attack vulnerable areas. Changing what tissues your bacteria can enter. Striking a balance between destroying your host and keeping it alive long enough to spread the disease.

To indulge in what I'm dubbing Wright-ism (wherein the seemingly simple concept of a game is expanded to an awesome and shocking level of complexity), I see the infection eventually spreading to other hosts. Maybe different ages and sexes and ethnic groups providing slightly altered challenges.

And eventually a final tally evaluating your infection and mortality rate.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh shit, no I see the ultimate challenge. After you've spread to a body or two you come across a stronger strain of yourself! Come on! Also, I think this could be used by the religious right to play as their favorite minority targeted diseases. It's a game with undertones to horrible to imagine.