Tuesday, 22 October 2013

What setting should I choose for my action game?

I currently have more time than usual to work on game design. So, typically, I've been plunged into a dry spell creativity-wise. After a couple of weeks not making much progress, I decided to try a new strategy: To make a very conventional game. It's not very original, but it will still be a challenge to make it good, and it can still be fun to play.

So I decided to make an action game of the traditional sort - running around shooting enemies. Since then I have had some neat ideas that I may talk about in a future post.

Since the game is violent I am keen for the antagonists of the game not to be moral entities. I do not want to make a game amount shooting people - or other sentient, morality-bearing creatures. So monsters with animal-level intelligence that attack you on instinct - fine. "Demons" who have no free will to choose, but by their nature (possibly with a great deal of intelligence) do evil - fine.

So far we have a player running around levels fighting monsters and demons. This is sounding a lot like earlier games - such as Doom. That's no surprise - one of the reasons these kinds of trappings crop up in games is that they are well suited to game-like problems. Designers can make games about other things, and these days are doing so in wonderful ways, but it is very easy to make games using these kinds of trappings. That's why I chose it when my motivation was a low ebb.

Earlier games didn't worry very much about fictional plausibility - why are their bullets and medipacks strewn across the demon-infested halls of Doom? It doesn't matter. And I could go with that approach too. But it would be nice if the game was a bit more internally consistent, and I think that would go a ways towards my other goal for the game - to have some horror themes.

So here's where you come in: I want suggestions for a thematic setting that will work with the kind of game-play I'm looking at. Here's the requirements:

  • I want to be able to have lots of levels, mostly or all in enclosed spaces - rooms, corridors, caves, pipes, etc.
  • I want the protagonist to be a human with access to a range of different abilities as the game progresses - accurate, explosive, setting traps. Mostly, I want the protagonist to use ranged attacks.
  • I want the protagonist to be able to find useful items - ammo, health, etc. - scattered throughout the levels
  • The enemies must not be moral entities. Mostly, I want the enemies to use melee attacks.
  • Horror themes - preferably scary monsters
The two basic ideas that spring to my mind are a Doom-like setting - a marine in demon-infested hallways - and a fantasy setting - let's call it Diablo-like. I think the fantasy setting will be easier to make fictionally consistent, but something about it makes me feel like a wizard-type character will lend itself less well to the theme of horror than an ordinary soldier in the same kind of situation.

What do you think?


  1. You could give yourself the best of both worlds: a 'mundy' soldier (Fables reference there!) from a now magic free world coming across an ancient complex wrought by and fraught with magic. Healing could be magic based but as a non-wizard the character would be limited to using the items they find rather than spells of their own.

    The ammo becomes the only harder to justify component of the lore, but if there were simple object replication spells in certain areas they could act as ammo stations, or perhaps the soldier would discard conventional weaponry as they go deeper and are forced to rely on the more outlandish (but still limited) weapons within.

    It becomes quite easy to lore-justify scattered support items if you are essentially exploring a place where people once lived - we do so in scattered pockets almost anywhere we do settle after all!

  2. A large space-ship or spacestation crashed into a strange planet? Perhaps an observatory station to scout out an unknown planet? It has crashed and some of the local wildlife has found its way in. The station would justify medkits as first aid boxes would have been a requirement on every floor or couple of rooms. Firepower is also justifiable. Ammo a bit less, though the crash could have easily scattered stuff around, or the guns work on power and you only need to find a power outlet to charge it. Could take a while though. Something like that?

  3. I like both those ideas. What I have been thinking to myself recently is a colony / research station on a largely unexplored planet that has been overrun, either with the indigenous fauna or perhaps by some kind of biological experiments they were researching.

    If we assume that there was plenty of fighting before the player character arrived, that would justify there being lots of weapons and other supplies scattered chaotically throughout, from where the defenders had retreated through the rooms and corridors.