The Rescue Mission

As usual, I feel that I need to quantify yesterday’s pots about continuing with failure in games — It’s always easier to point out a problem than it is to solve it. So with that in mind, here’s an overview for something I call ‘The Rescue Mission‘, a game designed to let players fail.

The premise of this game contends that there is a war going on between two major powers; this war has been going on for quite some time and it’s ambiguous about who is ‘right’ if anyone. Somewhere in a city near the front lines, several important soldiers have been captured and the player is tasked with controlling the small squad sent to infiltrate the city and liberate their comrades.

Unlike the usual stealth/action game, The Rescue Mission isn’t a series of maps that leads from conflict to conflict. It’s instead an open world of the city the players are infiltrating. The game has a model for the city, which determines things like the conditions of each building, where various people and populations are distributed and where various items and equipment can be found. Players can then choose a character from their squad (of 4 or 5), each of whom have different specialties and talents, and begin their mission on the city.

Players are given very little information — a basic map and some basic intelligence about where the prisoners are suspected to be held or where information on the prisoners might be found. They’ll also have some contacts in the city for things like black-market weapons, information and supplies.

Ultimately, The Rescue Mission then becomes a puzzle box. Players have to find their allies, study the enemy and then find a safe way to evacuate everyone. If a character dies, they stay dead, and the goal is to exit with the least number of casualties. Should one character die, the player is prompted to select another — even Rescued characters may be an option.

But the trick is that the enemy will react to your presence. Cause enough trouble and they’ll begin to patrol the streets, flash a weapon and the local police will come down on you. Blow up a building or two and the civilians may begin to come after you. Do you go in guns-a-blazing or do you try to sneak in and out unseen or heard? Do you start a riot to cause a distraction or do you strategically place explosives to get soldiers somewhere other than you want to be? The player gets options — there’s no right way to solve this problem. But there are plenty of wrong ways, and if the player isn’t quick enough in safely finding and evacuating their target, the prisoners we be moved or executed, or the player’s characters will die in their attempt.

Now, to keep the game fun, the game can’t be too difficult, though part of the fun is the challenge. The balance them out, the game shouldn’t take too long to finish; say 5 hours or so. Players can save anywhere when they stop, but they cannot reload a save more than once — so they can stop, but they can’t cheat the game’s difficulty. This way, finishing the game without making a mistake is the result of skill and not save manipulations. Additionally, a number of methods for completing The Rescue Mission must be viable; while gunning down all the city guards is crazy, for a skilled enough player, it should also be possible — just not a good idea.

So how does this game deal with the problem of scale that’s so prevalent in games? It’s all in how it would have to be built. The game needs to work from the large scale down, so things the game needs include:

  • Real population monitoring; we can fake distribution on the small scale, but the game needs to be aware of how many people and objects are in the city, who/what they are and where
  • Real building monitoring; each building and structure in the city needs to remain consistent — players should be able to come back to a place and have it in the same condition they left it in
    • This includes things like building damage as well as item placement.
  • Off camera action; most importantly, things need to occur when the player isn’t around — buildings on fire need to keep burning, soldiers need to patrol and discover things the player has hidden, etc., etc., etc.
    • The city needs to live and function independently of player action
  • Surprising Action; the game needs to react to what the player does and how intelligently, in ways the player may not immediately suspect
    • For example; if a player attacks a civilian area in plain site, wanted posters may go up shortly afterward which may lead civilians to attack the player or alert the authorities
    • Guards and Soldiers shouldn’t blindly rush to scenes of carnage, but rather be directed by another intelligent agent (a commander) who has eyes on a bigger picture

It helps to think about the largest scope of the scenario and then build downward. This is a small scenario; a single engagement in a bigger war — but we’re only concerned with the small engagement. This invokes the sort of game that RTS games are cut from — a single engagement inside a city. Except we want a more personal approach, so we go deeper with something more like an FPS or a similar action game; now we’re on the personal scope we enjoy in an action game, but with the consequences and organization of a war-game.

We can extrapolate this further, or differently, if we start with a world-conquering level game (like Risk!) and move down to an engament level game (like WarCraft). If we took that even further down to the personal level, we would have a very open, very expansive action game. Of course, something important to think about with these concepts is that each time we remove the player from the top level of play, we’re reducing the amount of impact they can have on the overall game world. A single soldier usually does not win a war, and it’s frustrating to lose a game on a macro scale because it was automated or otherwise outside of your control.

With that in mind, with wider levels, we need to think about how we give players their control. With a war, perhaps we let them specifically intervene in a number of conflicts for each ’round’ of the war, and part of the strategy is selecting your engagements. Or perhaps we let them give orders to each territory in their control; what direction to push onward in, or what to do when not engaged, and then the player can direct the war in broad strokes.

And that’s the idea! Working downwards — I hope this illustrates yesterdays post a little more clearly (and much more positively).

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