Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Creating Worlds

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 21, 2014

U4ScreenshotBack in its heyday, Origin’s motto was, “We create worlds.”

When I think about why I love games and why I love making games, that’s the key. As much as I do appreciate these “little” games with the single, focused game mechanic – as much as I used to love the arcade machines in the past – they aren’t the things I dream about.  Maybe it’s a hold-over from my childhood steeped in science fiction books about visiting other planets and cultures, but I want entire worlds to explore. Even back in the arcade days, I was the kid who always wanted to discover that there were entire, larger game-worlds hidden inside these simple shooters.

No, I never actually believed that you could drive your tank to the volcano and find a castle inside, as was rumored in Battlezone. Or that you could break out of the maze in the teleport tunnel to find a new maze in Pac-Man. Even then, I understood that while Easter Eggs might exist, nobody was gonna hide the bulk of their game away so that very few players would ever experience them.

But then, I soon had far bigger games. Ultima III, to me, was something of a revelation. I think it predated Origin’s “We create worlds” motto, but it was certainly the kind of thing they were thinking of when they coined it. It was the first game I ever played with that kind of scale, and it was incredibly satisfying. While not a “sandbox game” as we currently understand it, it was a big, open world, with tons to do and explore.

Frontier_elite2_screenshotFortunately, it was only the beginning. Games like Frontier (aka Elite II) were just as thrilling to me as a gamer.  Really big, procedural worlds – like Daggerfall – were awesome. The huge, heavily detailed, highly interactive world of Ultima 7? Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

But just being big and interactive isn’t enough. One of my all-time favorite games was Falcon 4.0. What really thrilled me about that game was that it was dynamic and interactive. There was a virtual wargame being played in the campaign mode. The AI had certain starting points and priorities, but after that, things (in theory at least) flowed organically. As the head of your squadron, your actions could be highly influential in the conflict – critical, by definition. But while you might be the queen of the chessboard, you were still just one of the pieces. But you could deviate from your “official” tasking to set your own missions. Were you suffering too many attacks from a nearby enemy airfield? Re-task a mission to level the airfield. You might not put it out of commission long, but you might get 24 hours of reduced airstrikes. In the most difficult campaign, the winning strategy was to ignore whatever tasking the AI gave you at first, and to set up strikes against bridges to slow the enemy advance until your reinforcements arrived.

FALCON4DemoOne of the coolest things was returning from an engagement and just passing by a pitched ground battle taking place. You could see it happening, especially at night, because of the smoke and explosions flashing all over the landscape. It felt great if you had some left over ordnance to “swing by” and held out your guys by shooting a maverick or two at enemy tanks.

The cool thing was that the game responded to you. “Dynamic” didn’t mean random – it meant that you were interacting with the world, and the world would respond accordingly. You weren’t going to “cheat” by taking an approach the predefined scenario hadn’t considered (a trick I sometimes used in many other flight sims). If you lingered overlong (I learned to my detriment) in an area, you’d find yourself fighting a pitched battle against enemy planes which had been vectored into your area.

While it had its bugs (lots and lots of bugs), that helped define in my mind what a true, “dynamic world” should be. Not just interactive, not just detailed, but responsive to your actions on a fully integrated level – not just a few “decision points” in the plot. And yeah, “simulation-esque.” I think about how that would be in a role-playing game, like a roguelike. I haven’t played one that has come close, yet, but Soldak Entertainment’s titles have made some very impressive strides in that direction.

So if someone asks me what game I’d be making if I had unlimited budget and time… something like that. A kingdom simulator RPG where there are wonderful and terrible plots and subplots, and the player character(s) grow from being nobodies with almost no impact on the events of the world to being powerful, key players in everything they touch. It’d be cool.

Fortunately, as an indie, there’s no requirement for these kinds of things having huge budgets or being big productions. Nothing says I can’t start on something like that today, and let it grow organically, a la Dwarf Fortress or something like that.  Well, nothing but the colossal, nagging feeling of guilt because Frayed Knights 2 is already late. But hey, if you ever wonder what kind of direction I’d like to wander as an indie – if I didn’t have any kind of concern about ever being able to afford to finance my little hobby – that’s the gist of it.

I’d just like to create worlds. Is that too much to ask?

Filed Under: Design - Comments: 12 Comments to Read

  • Felix said,

    Sadly, in games that’s a lot to ask. I’m more familiar with creating worlds for my sci-fi stories, and it’s already plenty of work. But having to actually draw all those maps at the required level of detail (or even just retouch PCG maps), populate them with all kinds of creatures, doing all the coding needed to make everything tick… that’s a tall order indeed. And unlike in tabletop RPGs, you don’t even have the luxury of waiting until you know which way your players are going and only create the next town over between two game sessions.

    Dreaming about it is nice. Heck, it’s why I went into gamedev (and writing) in the first place: so I can bring virtual worlds to life. But it’s just hard.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Yeah, I can scope it down to being within my limited indie budget, but what I really would like to do is considerably more humongous. That’s part of why I was feeling so disappointed with the announcement of no offline mode for Elite: Dangerous. It’s like… gah, they could have pushed things, but they backed off instead. I guess the money was better spent elsewhere, but that’s still disappointing.

  • Tesh said,

    I love exploring worlds. I love creating worlds. It’s a big part of why I’m an artist/author/photographer. Now, if I were just independently wealthy, say, with an oil well in the back yard, then I could afford to actually do that exploring and creating.

  • McTeddy said,

    Nope, it’s not to ask to create worlds. But to get PAID for it might be.

    While I’m one of Miyamoto spawn that prefers mechanics to world creation, I have picked up an obsession with “Simulation” stuff and dynamic campaigns. I love things like X-Com when the computer seems to be playing the same game and everything unfolds differently.

  • Xenovore said,

    With you there 100%!

  • Anon said,

    Re your comment about Origin’s “We create worlds” motto:

    Yes, the apparently didn’t use it for Ultima III – even if it was already true back then.
    This prompted me to a little search: When did they actually begin to use it?

    Note that all dates I mention are from Mobygames so there is a margin of error involved.

    Ultima III came out in 1983 and the next two Ultimas didn’t have it either – not on the boxes and not in the ads, at least not in any ad I’ve seen (perhaps an Ultima Dragon could chime in? There are Dragons for every possible aspect of the Ultima games…).
    Of course by Ultima IV they were absolutely creating worlds and with the wonderful Ultima V and its large underworld they practically had two worlds in one game.

    The first Ultima that apparently featured this particular slogan was Ultima VI in 1990, though.

    The “Worlds of Ultima” series – Savage Empire (1990) and Martian Dreams (1991) – which are based on the Ultima VI engine also feature this slogan.
    The first Wing Commander game also featured this slogan but it was also published in 1990.

    The first game I had seen this slogan on the packaging is “Knights of Legend” – which was published in 1989.
    I bought it in 1991 I believe, after Ultima VI(!), when I though that everything from Origin was pure bliss – I can still feel the disappointment… 😉

    “Times of Lore” didn’t have it, though, and it came out in 1988 and neither did “Tangled Tales”, also 1989.

    But in 1989 they had two more games featuring it:
    “Windwalker” and “Space Rogue”

    So there: They apparently started using it with their packaging in 1989, just before the next Ultima release.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    We could probably dig through old copies of Computer Gaming World, etc. to see when they started using it in their advertising.

  • Xian said,

    I was born with a wanderlust. I just have to see what is over the next hill. I love to travel and see new places. I have been able to see a lot in my lifetime, 49 US states and 9 Canadian provinces, many foreign countries such as New Zealand and Australia, and lived in Costa Rica and Thailand for a while. Time and money is what prevents me from seeing even more.

    I found that exploring virtual worlds is the closest I can come to scratching that itch. That is one of the deciding factors that made me pick RPGs as my genre of choice. From the early days such as finding the hidden city of Cove in Ultima IV to more recent titles such as the Gothic and Risen series where exploration is really rewarded, exploration has been just as much part of the fun factor to me as the storyline and character development.

  • Silemess said,

    To have a world that actually reacted dynamically to you, regardless of what you were actually doing, that would be amazing.

    An RPG where you could live out your life making it a farming sim, completely ignoring the evil overlord conquering the world. Save for the times when you need to negotiate that the marauding armies of good/evil traipse over your land and plunder it to sustain themselves. Or you could go to see and explore the far side of the world while the epic battle rages.

    Or go build the roads that lead to the hearts of the castles. Or join the army, and be promoted as the player character survives the engages and proves their mettle. Hire out as a mercenary to a side. Form an entirely new faction. Etc. Freedom to make decisions, any decisions, but those decisions having an appropriate impact upon the world. Someday, maybe.

  • Tohron said,

    “So if someone asks me what game I’d be making if I had unlimited budget and time… something like that. A kingdom simulator RPG where there are wonderful and terrible plots and subplots, and the player character(s) grow from being nobodies with almost no impact on the events of the world to being powerful, key players in everything they touch. It’d be cool.”

    So, Crusader Kings 2 basically?

  • ogg said,

    These are the sorts of thing I would love to try. +1

  • jwmeep said,

    “I’d just like to create worlds. Is that too much to ask?”

    I hope one day you are given the time and resources to fulfil that wish.