[004] Shuffled World Devlog

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Thought I'd post some thoughts on this project lately. Well, I haven't had time to work on this, but some comments on previous devlogs got me thinking I should at least post where I'm at with the design right now. Those comments are here if interested, from a few weeks ago: https://han-tani.itch.io/shuffled-world-codename/devlog/463183/shuffled-world-de...

Simplifying Design

The gist of those posts is that I'm not sure what to prototype. There's various ideas behind the mapping system, and how complex that should be, but the more complex the mapping is, the more potentially perfunctory the exploration side of things is. It seems the mapping system seems to imply the existence of a potentially finicky 'keys+doors" game of trying to spawn the right rooms. 

I think maybe a key to progressing is in a thought I had in response to a reader's comment on devlog 003

"Your comment also gives me an idea about 'solutions' to maps... sort of inspired by 'closeness' in things like recommendation engines, maybe the path to a treasure merely needs to be 'close' to the ideal solution (the analogy would be like, a game that's a 90% "match" to Anodyne 2). I kind of like that, it might even fit with the theming of the story.

I wonder how the exploration (on a granular basis) would stay engaging, but with a game like Yume Nikki in mind, maybe filling rooms with strange sights and characters is enough? I guess this is a case where overthinking things would lead to perfunctory design (e.g. if it was combat-based, and I had to kill enemies with a Red Weapon to get to a Red Room... etc)."

If I strip down my thinking, what am I trying to do here? I'm trying to tell a story through a game where the gameplay mirrors the psychological state of the protagonists, living in a world where setting out to another town is not guaranteed, where you're more likely to end up where you started out. To that end, maybe something like a mapping and keys system, as fun as they sound on paper - maybe those are too complex. Can I capture that feeling through something simpler?

Initially, I was thinking simpler. But I felt that just walking around was too simple - that I needed to make it more complex through stuff like "killing monsters in certain ways" - which then led to the keys/maps system.

In my posts about Analgesic Game 5 I've been reflecting on our preproduction phase. Whenever we have to generate a new set of mechanics and worldview, there's a lot of back and forth between moments of wide brainstorming and prototyping, then revision and consolidation. Naturally this takes a bit of time - you need time to be able to figure out what prototyped/brainstormed ideas to cut out, consolidate, or work out more. 

When I look at the shuffled world design - I sort of identify this common pattern in some past early game designs where there's two large, competing systems - in this case the mapping and exploration. I think it would be better to simplify/reduce the mapping and think about what that's really trying to accomplish.

The mapping is an way of making the exploration of the game playable. But because it sort of 'makes too obvious' a solution, you need to introduce an element of improvisation to not make it feel kind of rote to execute on - hence my keys idea and RNG. Or, alternatively, as a commenter mentioned, the 'puzzle' behind creating a valid map needs to be really hard and satisfying (and thus rotely executing the map would feel okay), but I don't think making hard 2D puzzles is something I want to pursue right now.

So, that doesn't quite take me back to the very start where I'm stuck with exploration that seems too simple or random. I both have a focused sense of the story/themes I want to tell, and I also have some sense of how to generate the mystery I want through exploration. Further, thinking about the maps and keys made me think about potential ways I can 'change up' the core system I have in mind. (Like it could be fun, once or twice, to have to use clue maps to figure out a destination, etc).

Getting Lost

Slight digression... I read this post yesterday by thecatamites on a few games, including an early 3D platformer, Alpha Waves. In that game you beat 3D platforming levels, which take place in a cube-shaped room. Leaving the level takes you to another level, sort of at random? Or so I understand.

"But the prospect of these didn’t excite me as much as the other thing: the desire to get lost inside the grid, to carve some winding, lugworm-esque path from cube to cube until you get to another zone, another country, a place you could never find your way back to. You could live there: start a new life, out in the cube suburbs."

I feel like that captures a bit of the sentiment I have in mind for Shuffled World - in that I'm trying to put protagonists, dedicated to a way of life, kind of standing in awe at the communities their mentor was once a part of. Portraying the shock someone might have if other ways of life were really, near-mythical. But I don't want to do that through the angle of a wealthy country citizen visiting a low-GDP country, nor a bigoted person "stumbling upon" for the "first time" the world of "cartoon porn".

The Current Design

If you search for something in a code editor or unity, they might find results through "fuzzy matching".. it's when parts of your query match parts of the search results. Like searching "My lamp" might pull up "My great lamp" or "Give me my lamp", or "My lamb is pretty cool".

Put in the language of shuffled world exploration, I'm thinking each destination of the shuffled world (be it spawning a person, finding a town, dungeon, or treasure), can have up to three conditions to visiting it.

1. Departure Conditions (Strict)

2. Journey (Fuzzy)

3. Neighborhood (Fuzzy)

For instance, finding the Red Town might require leaving from Blue Town with Mr. Red in your party. (Or, in other cases, it doesn't matter where you depart from nor who is in your party. However, certain departure points might make life easier for the subsequent conditions)

The journey might require you to be at a distance of 10 or more from the departure point. (Or require you to go through 5 Red Rooms. Etc)

And the 'neighborhood' might require you to have 6 river rooms near the final room.

Where "fuzziness" comes in is that the conditions don't need to be perfectly satisfied. For example, for the Journey, you could allow a range of +/- 2 units of distance. For the neighborhood, maybe 3-9 river rooms are fine.

What this does then is I could make some kind of compass device - you can register the "idea of a destination" on it, and it'll tell you how close you are.

The device would be blank if you have the departure conditions wrong (so you can't pointlessly set off on a doomed journey). It could have two concentric circles that glow - dim/red for "not close at all", yellow for "near the valid range", light green for "in the valid range but not super close" or blue for "very close to the correct value". 

What I could then do is let the player save the maps of their journeys, as well as saving the picture of the device. If the game is pretty clear that the conditions are always "journey" and "neighborhood" then these maps + compass icons could serve as a way of comparing, say, two journeys from Red to Blue town and better figuring out what the conditions were.

What I think then could make this more interesting is if we do variations like having Secondary Destinations associated with Primary Destinations.. maybe you can 'load' old journeys and then branch off from paths to try finding other destinations. (E.g. maybe Red Tower only spawns on a journey to Red Town.) This could save time having to rebuild a valid world before being able to test getting to Red Tower. Etc. It also sort of builds a weird sense of memory in the player of this world they generated themselves - maybe giving a bit of that procgen-game feel or minecraft-feel.

I also like this idea because maybe some destinations you stumble on by chance! And you could register the things there to your...Exploredex... which would let you try to deduce how you got there in the future. Hm.


So, puzzles - I was wondering for a while, but if I cut the 'mapmaking' and 'key system', what determines how you get through the world? Well, I was thinking it could be simple or obvious stuff. Like if a Grasslands room has a river running through it, then the river exits take you to somewhere water-associated. Previously I was maybe too obsessed with the connections being totally random - like you could theoretically go from "Grasslands" to "Demon Castle". And maybe you still can! But I feel like having some simple ways of 'traversing' the world might go a long way for playability. I think the randomness can be simple - you can just keep rerolling a room if you want. After all, even if a Grassland's door leads to a River door, it's still going to pull a room from the River Roomset. Maybe there's one you're particularly interested in. This, of course, will be a little repetitive, but I think it's fine with the "fuzzy conditions" - you won't Need to spawn a particular 1 river room out the 10 river rooms. And I feel that making everything too elegant might go against the random feel of the world. It's okay to be messy sometimes.

The other idea that came to mind is from a game I just finished, Elephantasy Flipside. I think it's really good! Basically many of its platforming rooms have 2 or more solutions based on the items you bring and how you travel through the room. I don't think making Shuffled World a platforming puzzle focused game is a good idea - probably too overscopey - but I did like the idea of making the "Height Economy" in shuffled world quite strict, and having different items that open up some platforming possibilities, even just by giving you ways to find +1 jump distance or +1 jump height. I thought I could tie these items to NPCs that accompany you on journeys, and they give you the items after. Bringing items with you on a journey could open up some possibilities. Well, maybe that's still making the game puzzley... I'll think about it. Basically maybe the game can have a rough progression of  "1 jump height/1 jump distance", and through the items you gain and can equip, your jump abilities scale to "4 jump height/4 jump distance". But because that ability growth is tied to items (and the situations you can apply them), it's a little more interesting than just boosting your skills passively.

Or, well, I don't know. It's something that would need a lot of prototyping, and I feel like if the game is fun enough with the exploration simpifications I have in mind, then maybe I wouldn't go down that item route. Having a simpler base is better before making weird variations..


Well, thanks for reading! I feel like actually this could be prototypable... we'll see!

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