The player takes on the role of the U.S. president, formulating and executing a war against ISIL. This is where the player finds their agency, and the entirety of feedback comes in response to these actions. In other words, this is an important part of the game. I’m going to start with this core, and build the rest of the game around this.
I want to present the player a wide and accurate breadth of tactical and strategic options. In the context of this game, tactics will refer to the what and strategy the why.
The why is extremely important in this game, as we wish to give feedback contextual not only on the player’s action, but also their intention.
Let’s start by defining some of the actions we’d like to allow the player. We’re lucky and lazy enough that our game attempts to mimic reality, so let’s steal from it.
Here are a few example scenarios, picked from recent headlines that we’d like to be able to replicate. I’ve broken each of these scenarios into strategic (the why) and tactical (the what).
- Kill ISIL leadership with targeted strikes.
- Kill ISIL leadership with carpet bombing.
- Degrade ISIL revenue by bombing oil tankers.
- Degrade ISIL revenue by bombing oil infrastructure.
- Bolster anti-ISIL rebels by training.
- Bolster anti-ISIL rebels by supplying weapons.
- Capture ISIL territory by deploying ground forces.
Now obviously the why in each of these scenarios is not an end in itself – there’s no explanation why killing ISIL leadership is inherently positive or how it ties to an end-game, for example – but it should suffice for us here, and the follow on effects should be reasonably transparent. And if I’m questioned by anyone about it, I’ll probably tell them it’s a commentary on the current political climate and how no-one is actually presenting a strategic path or thinking more than a single move ahead. Or some shit.
So assuming we’re to continue on this path, we should take note and realise we’ve just defined what some of our work will be – one piece of content we’ll have to create is a set of ‘verbs’ or player actions, defined by strategy and tactic components. How long will that take? I’ve got no fucking idea, but it will end up on a list somewhere.
Teasing the strategic reasoning out of the player is important, given that we’re offering feedback through media. It’s also a notoriously difficult task – how do you know what the player is thinking? Well the simplest answer is: to ask them. Given our limited time, we’ll go with the path of least resistance, and I’ll propose that as our solution.
So now we can take another note: we’re going to ask the player to tell us their strategic intentions, the simplest way is through a user interface. Assuming we continue down this path, we’ve just made the first decision about how the player interacts with the game.
Interrogating what we’ve come up with so far reveals one more piece of useful information – there’s a one to many relationship between some of the strategic and tactical options.
There’s certainly a bias in the examples I’ve selected, and had I decided to structure those examples differently, the pattern may not have emerged – but it has – (assuming we’re to continue on this path) this information informs us that strategic decisions should be made first, and tactics selected to ultimately reinforce this strategic decision.
So now we have that start of our puzzle. (Assuming we’re to continue on this path), glue that one down because it’s not going anywhere.
If we were to turn the above into a game, we’d have the player making strategic decisions, and executing tactics in attempted support of this. Although that sounds like it’s lacking goals or any real motivators, it does sound complete within itself – there aren’t loose ends. Sprints and User Stories should always be focused on working towards deliverable, functioning software. We’ll take a note here that this chunk of work would be a prime candidate for a User Story, or given it’s size, more likely a sprint (comprising of multiple User Stories).
Okay so we agree this might be cool, but it’s without context or anything motivating, it seems pretty pointless. So let’s wrap it in something. That something is the gameplay loop by the way, and it’s going to act to contextualise, add pacing and meaning and motivate the player and really just solve all our problems.
We’re going to take that puzzle piece we like, and join others to it. One we’ve prepared earlier, is media feedback.
We want the media feedback to contextualise and gently guide or influence the player action. A flowchart displaying that might look something like:
Hmm.. but surely we want the media feedback to be a critique of the player’s action, in other words the feedback from the media should be in response to the player action.
There’s an easy solution there, let’s just add another line:
When we look at this structure, we’re given some more information.
I don’t know what will happen inside the Media feedback box yet, but I do know two things:
- Player action needs to deliver something that can be input into Media feedback.
- Media feedback’s output is supplied to the player – meaning it needs to be human readable.
It’s not much, but it’s a start – we’re beginning to understand the job of Media feedback, that is to take the player’s actions, turn them into something human readable, and return them to the player. Now the fun part will be deciding how we mess with that process and distort the information returned.
I’d like to leave this for today, I’ve already written a lot of words, but I’ll try and tackle one small last piece.
We probably need an end game. I don’t think it’s necessary to have a win, or lose condition specifically, but I do think it’s important the game has both a natural, and artificial end.
Our natural end is an odd fit. We’re replicating events in the real world, and in the real world nothing ends. If you’re lucky it just turns into something better.
But here’s a thought: There’s 48 weeks until the next presidential election, so let’s make our loop time represent a week, and the game ends after 48 loops.
As for our ‘artificial end’ – also known as quitting – let’s keep that in lore too, we’ll give the player the option to ‘resign’. I think with such a simple loop and limited player actions, the experience will become repetitive and disheartening. Wanting to walk away from that is a valid response.
Tomorrow, I’ll probably start doing some work. First I’ll outline how long my sprints are (likely 2 day sprints) and get a very high level idea of my stories together.