I’ve been a lazy bum lately – my new puzzle/management/adventure game Wildhollow is progressing very slowly. This last week I have only written one dialogue, and added eyeblink and speaking animations to the dialogues. I’ve tried to defend myself with the fact that I’m still waiting for some art in order to test the dialogues properly…but the fact is that I still have a lot of work left on the puzzle and management parts of the game.
First of all, I need to decide where to apply puzzles. I’m thinking that the player has to capture wild animals in order to get new traits and fresh genetic material to crossbreed with the existing animals, but I haven’t decided on the puzzle mechanic for these captures. Also, I haven’t decided what other puzzles should be present. Puzzles when the player breeds animals? Gambling in towns? Tasks the player can perform for various people in order to earn money? I’m still undecided…
And this leads to the second big issue: how the game economics should work.
In Spandex Force I decided early on to have a number of resources: money, reputation and experience. It made sense to have many resources that have to be gathered, which enable different things in the game. Money allows you to upgrade your base, buy powers and get artifacts. Reputation decides your rank, affects the difficulty level of the minigames, and decides what artifacts you have access to. Experience decides your level and what powers you have access to. There are many other kind of resources and checks in the game (clues, power levels, etc) but these are the most important resources and checks. It wasn’t completely trivial to come up with this structure, though: the biggest task was to try to think of a scheme in which the player always has need for all of the resources.
In my first Spandex Force designs, money essentially became useless after a while. I partly solved that by raising the base upgrade costs in the later game, but even that would have made money completely irrelevant after the last upgrade. So, instead I went for a solution where you can only have a certain number of powers and artifacts at a given time. This has made people annoyed, but it was a carefully selected choice in order to make money useful throughout the entire game – there’s always a new artifact to try, or a new power to try out. (Well. At least for a long while.)
Now I’m facing similar problems with Wildhollow. I’ve cut down on the number of resources to one: money. Yes yes, I’m a capitalistic pig who can’t see beyond monetary power, but it was the only thing that would make sense. Granted, there are lots of other things to keep things interesting: items, animal food, animals themselves, etc. But money is the common thread throughout – every item and animal has a value.
But how can I make money useful throughout the game, except as a score-keeping mechanism? In order to make money relevant, there need to be things that have a cost. “Well duh,” the reader sighs. But this isn’t as easy as it sounds. What can I introduce into the game that the player wants and/or needs? Food for the animals, of course. Items that improve the animals. Upgrades to the ranch. But then what?
And, more of a problem, I’ve almost decided that the player should be able to sell his animals to make room for new and interesting breeds. But this will generate money – and I still have no real solution to the what-to-spend-money-on problem. It’s easy to fall back on the upgrade solution. You need to collect cash to upgrade your ranch. Then you can breed more expensive animals that you can sell in order to get more cash you can use to upgrade your ranch. …But after the last upgrade, this economic setup will crash and burn like a tinder house in hell. (Unless it’s Dante’s version of hell.)
I’ve been trying to think of ways to get around this:
- The tired old cliché: you’ve borrowed money in order to build your ranch in the first place. When you’ve paid off your debt you’ve finished a vital part of the game! Go you! This is actually surprisingly tempting, and would work very well. But it’s not a solution – it just delays the point of economic failure.
- Capturing animals costs money. You can capture new animals but this costs something. I don’t know why exactly - it could be bait for the animals, or one-shot items used to capture beasts… This is still vague and undefined.
- There’s no way to capture wild animals; you have to buy all your animals at the market. I don’t like this solution, but irritatingly enough it would solve a lot of things. This would mean that you could never get an animal for free, so, while you might make a profit on selling it later (after some grooming and taking care of), it wont be as big.
There are probably hundreds of other things I could do. As I’m writing this I’m starting to realize that point number three makes way too much sense for my own liking – I just might be forced to go for a combination of one and three. …With the possible addition of just capturing a couple of magical beasts in the wild…