Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Audacious Game Features

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 10, 2012

Last month’s article, “Going Big When You Are Small,” was inspired by the discussion about the ability for Might & Magic 4 & 5 to “merge” on the player’s hard drive to create a total game that was larger than the sum of its parts. Apparently, I needed to write what I did, because I haven’t stopped thinking about it, and about “audacious features” in games. Really cool features, innovations that surprise and delight players.

Or, in other words, things that you might wish a game would do without ever really expecting it.

For Frayed Knights, there were really two: the “first-person party” with personalities and intra-party dialog (mostly a new thing, though some past games had given your first-person party some small reactive speaking roles), and the Drama Stars idea.

Audacious enough? I dunno. I like the drama stars thing enough that I suspect something like it may be a part of any RPGs I design in the future, so it will likely not be a “Frayed Knights exclusive” feature. They seemed like big ideas at the time. But is it butt-kicking to the level of Might & Magic‘s never-attempted-before-or-since concept of cranking game continuity up to eleven? I don’t think so. But then, people don’t talk about the Might & Magic thing that much anymore, either.

So what would be some “killer features” that, as a player, would make you stand up, pay attention, and say, “Holy Crap That’s Cool?” Emphasis is on RPGs, but any game genre would do.

I’ve seen some meta-game ideas in the past that have done things like scan your hard drive and pull real-world stuff into a game, which is definitely interesting, but I really don’t want a game digging around my files or my browser cache. There are some nifty things that could be done with world updates from a server. There are plenty of shocking, audactious things that could be done that could ruin the game. But I’m really looking for things that might help make a good game go “over the top.”

I suspect the readers here, if we get up a good head of steam, could brainstorm enough ideas to keep indie game developers busy for decades.

Here are some ideas to get us started. We’ve seen some of these before – particularly in indie games – though they could always be refined and customized for a particular experience. It’s all in the implementation. Or, as some say it, “The key to creativity is hiding your sources.” Are these big and audacious enough? You know, I don’t really care. I’m just thinking about things that would make games stand out, add something really fun and cool to the experience, and go outside the box a little bit.

1) A summary of your progress in a game could be uploaded to a website for your friends to follow your exploits. In real-time. Victories, losses, and progress could be summarized in a simple message, like: “Sir Darkfred has opened the door to the Gate of Insanity.” This could appear on a website, or even in-game. Just so long as it doesn’t end up looking / sounding like the Facebook Game updates / invites. (ICK.)

2) In addition to uploading your character to a server, your character could appear in other people’s games as a computer-controlled enemy or ally.

3) Certain major variables or game-world rules are dependent upon a random number created at run-time. It may determine things like relative strength levels of spells, what spells are available in the game, the commonality of certain magic items, the strengths and weaknesses of various bosses, and so forth – making the game different from play session to play session while still having the same general rules and storyline. Players could opt to use a manual seed number instead to generate these parameters, sharing some of the more interesting parameter sets (a world where butterflies are actually the most fearful enemy in the game?)

Okay, there are some of my Big Audacious Feature ideas. What do you have?

Filed Under: Design - Comments: 14 Comments to Read

  • Craig Stern said,

    A game that discretely enables your webcam and takes compromising pictures of you during especially difficult sections of the game, then uploads them to the internet with inappropriate labels.

  • WhineAboutGames said,

    craig, stop trying to spy on me and my cuddly comfort support dolphin! He’s PROTECTING me from the monsters!

  • Wavanator said,

    Interesting ideas. Updates of friends progress is kind of meh unless it could tell a story. It would be more interesting to me if I could somehow influence or affect their progression.

    Your M&M example reminded me of the old sci-fi series called Breech (I think) which had standalone games whose results could be mixed. The two I had let you mix the results of a naval battles with tactical boarding missions. Maybe you could take this further with different game types– a kingdom simulator mixed with an open-world RPG where your party could solve threats to the land while the king’s action in the sim could spawn quests.

    I like the idea of procedurally varying the world but having some constants that are common so when you talk to friends you have slightly different results. You could take a page from Legend of Mana and let players share effects/items in a common game stash.

    Taking this all farther and maybe solving a problem that’s the bane of RPG creation might be a hybrid editor/game where players actually generate faction / mission / NPC content a bit like how players share creatures in Spore. The difference would be that it would arise from players playing the game rather than the uneven quality you’d get as with a mod. It wouldn’t be an MMO, rather a single or multiplayer game which would turn the actions of different players into quests. Maybe one group of players would spawn dark gods to take out a noble, which would download to your game as a “protect the noble” quest filled with the steps the other players took to create the challenge in the first place. Stuff like that.

  • Wavinator said,

    Haha… apparently I’m Wavanator now & awaiting moderation… oh the perils of mispelling your own nick when you’ve had only 3 hours of sleep ๐Ÿ˜€

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    I enjoyed the Keep building and management in Neverwinter Nights. It gave you a project to dump all your excess gold into, it affected the world and provided tangible benefits, etc. It was kind of the fulfillment of a promise from the early D&D PnP materials, where they had all sorts of rules for running a keep and the gold required etc. It seemed liked in early editions of D&D it was assumed that once you became a god-like adventurer you’d do something with all that wealth and power – like rule a small fiefdom. It was cool to finally get to experience that in an otherwise large and full-featured computer D&D adventure.

    For wish-list features? I’ve always wanted to see an RPG play with the idea of reloads and restarts. Like actually incorporate them into the game in some way. Just really crank up the meta-game, where the in-game character was just as aware of what had happened prior to the reload as the player was. Some twist on the “Sands of Time” mechanic cranked up to 11.

    I think “Breath of Fire – Dragon Quarter” did something similar that was really cool. In the game’s story, the underground society the character is born into rates everyone on their genetic purity, or D-Ratio. The first time you start the game, your D-Ratio is quite poor, and you are barred from doing a lot of things and even looked down upon. The only way to increase your D-Ratio was to restart the game. The further you got into the game before restarting it, the better your D-Ratio would be when you started again. If you beat the game and restarted, it gave you a much better D-Ratio. D-Ratio improvements stacked, so the more New Game+s you nested within one another the better it got. The better D-Ratios unlocked new areas, new reactions, new cutscenes, even different treatment from major NPC characters. In a game that encouraged death and perseverance against staggering odds, it was a really cool mechanic.

    “Dragon Quarter” also did something awesome with the series’ traditional “turn into a dragon and be awesome” mode from previous games. The series had been forced to find more and more ways to neuter the dragon power as the games advanced, because turning into a dragon in a traditional JRPG was essentially an “I win” button.

    In “Dragon Quarter” the player starts off with the dragon power. In fact, it is essentially a god mode where you can destroy anything in your path. But by adding a meter that starts at 0.00% and kills you at 100%, Capcom finally made the dragon form an interesting choice. It increases every moment you’re in dragon form and with each attack you perform as a dragon. The meter NEVER RESETS. The player now must choose whether it is worth it to steam-roll over (very very difficult) bosses and risk dying before the end of the game from their power burning them up from the inside out, or employing lots and lots of strategy to forge the hard path ahead without pulling out the “win” button. The meter even increases by tiny amounts just walking around in the game, so best strategy isn’t always AVOIDING the power either. Really brilliant design stuff going on.

    I’d like to see more RPGs and games explore that kind of choice in their mechanics. In “Dragon Age Origins” we’re TOLD that being a Gray Warden means risking death from the demon blood, but the player never experiences that risk in the gameplay. They KNOW they’ll survive when they use their Gray Warden abilities, even if those smuck NPCs are getting killed by the demon blood inside them left and right. How much more interesting and tense is it for a player to make a weighty decision – “Do I use this power and risk death or setback to win easily?” – rather than expending a magic meter refilled with a potion. The best games, like Capcom’s “Dragon Quarter”, will make sure the road is difficult enough that using the option will be REALLY tempting. And if the player dies using it? Why not reload? Well, because we’ve given you all these cool new features in a new game plus if you start over each time!

    “Dragon Quarter” was my favorite of the Breath of Fire series, and was honestly one of the most innovative RPGs I’ve ever played – the kind people keep clamoring for. Unfortunately the public rejected it and it killed the franchise. Sigh.

  • Viridian said,

    There was a roguelike (for the GBA if I recall) that had a feature whereby you could a) invest in the town so they could make better weapons and armor and accessories for you and b) bequeath some of your possessions to your “descendants” (IE, the next character you would roll).

    The game was brutally difficult and was next to impossible to complete with your first character, but you could mitigate the difficulty by spending your gold wisely and planning your NEXT character intelligently. I really liked that concept though I never got to play the game.

    As for hiding your sources…well, I’m probably the exception, but I simply cannot see/play a game nowadays without it reminding me of something I saw/played in the past. I don’t consider that a huge problem.

    And oddly enough, Jeff Vogel just had a post on this subject, though he kind of comes at it from the opposite direction – be small but awesome. http://jeff-vogel.blogspot.com/2012/09/how-indie-games-can-be-cheap-and-awesome.html

  • Ruber Eaglenest said,

    But those three ideas are implemented nowadays. And you told it, one of them is bad idea, because: nobody cares about your f$ยท&%ยท$ farm. Anyway:

    Facebook games, roguelikes and roguelikes do all those ideas.

    The problem with facebook games is that the feed of actions does not interest to the audience, so the thing here is to find the proper audience for the feed. However, it is supoused that facebook games does only feeds about games, to people who already play those games.

    Maybe the problem is not of facebook, maybe the problem is for the games that populate the place, so we need indie rpgs on facebook to have the correct kind of feed for ourselves ๐Ÿ™‚

  • jeffsullins said,

    #2 Would fit quite nicely into my current project…. hmmmm…..

  • McTeddy said,

    One feature, I’d love to see more of is Journals. I don’t mean the RPG standard “What’d that guy say” journal.

    I mean the journal from Oregon Trail or Pinobee. I want to be able to print off (Or at least save) my journal and get an actual record of my adventure that I can share with friends.

    For those who don’t know, these aren’t handwritten. Instead they are made up of prewritten journal entries and linked together based on the events that you accomplish. It’s not a perfect system, but I like it.

  • Robyrt said,

    Kingdoms of Amalur’s main unique feature is #2. You create and customize a sidekick, then hire the two remaining members of your party from other players at your level. These hired guns don’t gain experience, encouraging you to switch them out every few levels and thus see more players’ customized content. It works very well, and it reuses the existing pool of gear, skills, character models, etc. that the designers already built for your own hero and sidekick.

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    I’ve always had this idea of a mixed-genre game. For example, when playing Mount & Blade, I often wondered if commanding large armies would be better with a Total War style interface (especially once you become Marshall or King).

    Similarly, to put a little extra challenge/excitement into otherwise routine combat in 4X space games, why not allow the player to control a single spaceship, X-Wing/TIE Fighter style? Or when your tanks roll towards an entrenched infantry position in Civilization, why not take them on with a Men of War sort of real time interface?

    For the ultimate in audacious game features though, you combine things from all levels… Allowing the player control from grand strategy all the way down to first-person.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,


    I like the idea of that. I’ve always had the idea of an RTS game where you plan out the strategies and troop movements, special offensives, etc. prior to the battle with your existing resources (just like real life commanders had to do in the past), then you execute the plan, and the you are put into a 1st person shooter on the ground, unable to see the larger picture, but able to “jump” into any soldier on your side.

    Sort of a old school Rainbow Six style mash-up of preplanned tactics and on the ground shooting. A game to really test the “no plan survives contact with the enemy” saying.

  • alanm said,

    Good post.

    Something I’ve considered for my own hobby CRPG project is an optional “scavenger mode” – characters start with nothing but pants and sandals, almost all loot is replaced by trash, and the player is entirely dependent on the crafting system. Usually crafting is layered on top of the loot system, I want to swap that around.

    The Nethack community maintains a some interesting voluntary challenges (http://www.steelypips.org/nethack/conduct.html), I’ve often wondered how such things might be built into a game system.

  • Yoel said,

    I feel kinda bad for not reading all the other comments first, but here goes…

    I really like your third idea. That’s the sort of thing that would be extremely easy to implement, if impossible to really balance. I suppose it would make a neat “random mode” sort of like random map battles from Age of Empires II. Except with a lot more things being varied. I would probably avoid that in a story-based game as a default mode, but it sounds like a fun thing I could try in a sort of skirmish mode for the TRPG I’m working on.

    Idea: Save File Passwords. I don’t mean that you have to type in a password to save your game or load a save file. I just mean that when you press delete or when you overwrite a file that’s different from the one you currently have loaded, it asks you to confirm by typing in a password you entered when you first saved the file. For those not worried about Sibling Savegame Sabotage, it could just be “please type in this here word”, only there to make you pause and go, “Wait… why is it asking me to type something? Oh! OH MY! I didn’t mean to do that. *Cancel*”

    Not exactly a shock and awe feature, but one I haven’t figured out why I don’t think I’ve ever seen. It would’ve saved me much grief as a child. (I’m looking at you, Exile III’s always-save-over-the-last-saved-file-even-if-it’s-not-the-one-you-loaded “feature”.)