Emergent story universe sandbox.
I've started a blog where I can ramble about this stuff in a more formal setting.
You'll probably want to go over there for more information. (yes, this is one huge link. Sue me. (please don't sue me))
Here's the first version of the Fledgeling Game Design Document, if you're interested in reading even more words.
I've envisioned this as a game with huge scope and deep simulation, based on interconnecting procedurally generated systems. That pretty much means it would be a 'real' space sandbox. Not a fake sandbox (like Spore) but something more like Civilization or Sim City and Minecraft and KSP all working together. I'd like a game where you can design and build a fleet of working starships, arrange trade and alliances, and/or go rogue, build an asteroid base, and hide from everyone. Many space simulation games simplify away complexity. I'd like to have a game that allows you to intelligently automate away complexity.
The current playstyle is a 3d turn based strategy/tactics game with vastly variable turn lengths and size scales.
And, while we're at it, why not make it a generic everything-simulator platform? The rules of the Heavens apply equally well on Earth.
Simulation games have been hacking away at the challenge of emergent story for a while now. Tarn Adams of Dwarf Fortress fame is working the rogue-like angle. The challenge is that one must have a comprehensively simulated world with well simulated characters to interact with. In essence, this amounts to writing a simple Artificial Intelligence. By simplifying both the world and the characters, it should be possible to make a world that is both believable and player mutable.
To introduce players to the simplified world, Fledgeling needs a great tutorial. Ironically, to teach a human how to interact with simplified AI characters, the most straightforward approach seems to be to put the player in the shoes of an AI themselves. The story I'm going for is that of a developing AI, with the player as the AI. Just like any intelegence, you must grow up, learn, and make choices. Unlike a human intelligence, you influence the world not through an organic body, but through machines and subroutine programs. As you grow, your abilities, options, and playing field become broader and broader. You start off doing simple machinery repairs in a simulator. In the end, you could be engineering the interactions of entire galaxies. Along the way, you can create, befriend, help, subvert, or destroy machinery, people, governments, planets, and star systems.
If this sounds like the whole game, it should! The tutorial is merely a way to get the player thinking along the lines of the simulation. One could play the whole game in the "tutorial" universe and not miss out on anything. On the other hand, you could start somewhere else.
Because the game will be able to generate a broad range of characters, the player should be able to do the same. The character creation tools in most games allow you to change your hairstyle and eye color. Some good RPG games allow you to modify your skills and even some of your background. Fledgeling will have the capability to allow the player to choose any present state, and the story universe will be built around that character concept. From there you can explore, build, destory, and befriend as you like.
* NOTE: the idea here is that the world is vastly simplified. There will be enough breadth of options to have believable characters and interactions, but not much more. Simulating a real-life level of detail is beyond the scope of the Fledgeling project. Perhaps next is project Falcon?
Of course, to get this kind of scope would require some very good planning. I have some ideas and software prototypes for salable modular node objects that should be able to handle both the complex interactions and the vast scope of politics, machinery, and scale involved. Ironically, it would also require an excellent actual AI to simulate all of the people you would be interacting with. It wouldn't be very fun if there were no one to interact with, would it?
One of the core ideas is that of sub-routines. Doing the same thing (or the same kind of thing) over and over in a game gets boring. After completing a similar task a few times, the player (an AI, after all) should be able to create a subroutine that consumes some processing power and does the task automatically, with similar results to those achieved by the player. This allows the player to ignore tasks that aren't fun. It also rewards going back and trying to do better at a task, since the subroutine will remember it and perform the task well in the future.
Tightly tied to the idea of sub-routines is the time perception mechanic. When the AI has lots of processing power free, time crawls by. When most of the resources are used, time speeds up. Sub-routines (like repairing ships, managing a battle, or a planet) take processing power, so operating at near maximum capacity makes time fly by, and also makes it difficult to react quickly to developing situations. Upgrading the processor would allow more simultaneous tasks, or a quicker response time, whichever the player prefers.
This has all been tried before of course. Interstellar trade (both simplified and complex) has been done well many times (Stars! for example). Dungeon Siege did vast node based architecture. Spore did scale spanning and procedural generation. This kind of game is well within the technological limits of present day computers; If done well it would be a blast. If done poorly, the most giant bore in the galaxy.
Currently, it's a kind of choose-your-own-adventure tutorial mockup. It should give you an idea of what kind of game we're shooting for. (note, it does not do so, not even in the slightest. However, I hope you enjoy it anyhow.)
Click Here to Play the Tutorial MockupAnd of course, if you'd like me to pursue this kind of thing full time, consider supporting this and other work! Follow this link to