The Game I Want To Play Isn't Out Yet

All this desperate flailing with Minecraft mod mixes basically adds up to the fundamental fact that, despite how over-saturated the gaming market may seem to be, the game I want to play is not truly out yet.

However, I might have made a few steps in understanding exactly what that game is that build a bit upon my previous definition of that game.

1. It should be an immersive role-playing experience.
http://www.n00bsquad.com/comics/84_Meta-Escapism.shtml

While the term "role-playing game" may invoke in many readers the ideas of statistics and progression mechanics, those are just clumsy means to an end.   What I'm actually going for here is immersion of playing a role; the player needs to be in the game, thereby evoking a sense of escapism.  This is why I've been dabbling with Minecraft and not Banished.

2. It should feature a dynamic, virtual-worldly simulated environment.

This role-playing game should take place in a simulated environment where a real space is being simulated and there is very little in the way of limits on prefabricated content.  I want this to be a role-playing simulation more than just a crude game.
http://makingplayware.blogspot.com/2012/03/3dhive.html

MMORPGs dangled this as a promising potential idea that got us very excited before the theme park approach to designing them took over.  In any open-ended game I've played, encountering parts of the game which were clearly "theme park" in approach is really unfortunate.  Yes, I know it's a lot more approachable to design a set piece, but I want the unlimited potential that occurs when we eliminate the influence of developers trying to strap the players into a prefab experience.

Funny enough, when I punch "rpg simulation" into Steam search, I end up with a list of the games that is uncannily close to the kinds I have been the most excited about.  For example:
  • Craft The World - I was rather impressed with this Dwarf Fortress clone that does it in a side view.  It's really quite good, if a bit akin to taking a casual-gamer approach to many facets of the design.
  • Fallout 3 - All that Skyrim I've been playing is basically the same game as Fallout 3 with minor differences and a change of setting.  Made by the same company, of course Fallout 3 is a few years older.
  • Planet Explorers - Open-ended, shooter/builder/explorer games have a way of capturing the imagination, and even more so when they're not cliche fantasy.  There's a few other games being made of the same concept that have similar (e.g. Starforge) or dissimilar (e.g. Space Engineers, Starbound) executions.  I have not played it because I've burned out from pre-release versions of good games before, Planet Explorers deserves better than that.  Like any game, it's all a matter of implementation, and Planet Explorers puts on a good face.
  • The rest of the list branches out a bit in strange directions, but includes the likes of Project Zomboid, The Guild II, Mabinogi, Eldrich, even Recettear.
Combining "roleplaying game" with "simulation" is a very solid pedigree!  But something's missing...

3. It should include the extra-worldly simulation of a strategy game.

Alright, here's where things get a little more innovative.

When I was playing with Minecraft mods lately, the likes of Buildcraft and whatnot, I could not help but think, "Sure, it's great that I'm able to make all this stuff in the game, but what's the point of it all?"
There are other really cool mods for Minecraft that allow me to create elaborate gearworks and digitized item distribution networks, and that's all very cool, but I don't need any of these things because I'm ultimately just a spaz running around a block-based world with absolutely no greater purpose to it besides what I bring with me.  What a damn waste!

Yet, I happen to know for a fact that these greater purposes can exist because strategy games have them.  They introduce a genuine need for all these resources you are generating in-game, as well as some some serious conflicts to overcome.
http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/3st89p

Imagine, if you will, that everything you do in Minecraft is actually just being done as one citizen in an elaborate game of Civilization that is sitting on top of Minecraft.  Suddenly, it's important that you're developing all this excess wheat because you're feeding the people in town, and this helps support the local industry, so they can churn out all kinds of production (scientific, military, ect) and the civilization thrives.

What we have right now is endeavors like Civcraft.  They are made up of players straining themselves to try to create this greater purpose... but never quite reaching it.  Yes, you can get together a bunch of people on a Minecraft server and pretend to be playing Civilization on top of Minecraft, but players are flighty creatures whose agendas often run contrary to the game, so ultimately you're going to spend so much time herding cats that it's more work than play.   This is because technically all the game supports is the trappings required to be gank-happy despots, that's what it's ultimately fated to become.

In order for this idea to actually work, it needs to be coded into the game, and that's going to require NPCs are doing most of the heavy lifting while the players are just trying to be influential figures in something much bigger than themselves.  Does that sound familiar to you?  It should: it's the core of the pen and paper role-playing experience that has yet to gravitate properly to computers.

This is the game I want to play.  It should not ape Civilization in particular, of course; even a rudimentary city builder game is better than nothing.  The whole goal of this "strategy" component is to try to simulate something bigger than yourself in ways that merely marrying RPG to simulation does not.

I want all three components in the same game.

Just like that, this becomes a game that isn't out yet.
 Oh, there's been some pretty near misses:
  • I tried using Millenaire, MineColony, and Minecraft Comes Alive mods for Minecraft specifically to add something like that... they're not quite there, yet.  Those Minecraft villagers could get there if only they had some genuine needs and ambitions of colonialism, but neither stock Minecraft nor these mods quite manage to get them to do that.
  • Hinterland and many of the games by Soldak have tried to pull something like this off from time to time.  Each time, they end up cutting the scope a tad too narrow.  They end up playing more like Diablo with rudimentary 4X aspects tacked on.  The marriage between RPG simulation and strategy game is incomplete, it needs to be seamless to work.
  • I understand The Guild II tried to be this game.  I never played it but, from what I hear, they backpedaled into Real Time Strategy territory overmuch.  Alas, it's almost a half-decade old now, and reviewed fairly poorly because of bugs.  Still, I should really give it a play one of these days...
  • Lets not forget Mount And Blade. Epic game, but you're never really an individual in Mount and Blade so much as you are a war chief, constantly leading men to their deaths.   Playing Mount And Blade feels more like I'm playing Sid Meyer's Pirates! with an overhauled combat system.
So what am I saying here?  Less Diablo or Warcraft, more Ultima Online or A Tale In The Desert?   Meh, the idea loses fidelity if you try hammering it into easy-to-understand existing models.  I think I was a lot closer with "Minecraft with Civilization on top," but even this is little more than a pitch statement that will be torn apart by the details of the implementation of such an artifact.

Looking forward, the mods for Minecraft might be the closest thing to what I want specifically because I want to keep the mutable nature of the world.  If you can't change the land, or use its resources to craft things, it loses important layers of the immersion in the process.  The shortest path to success might be modding Minecraft or similar game - something that already nailed "RPG + Simulation," just add strategy fixtures.

Somebody make that.  No?  God dammit, you're going to make me do it, aren't you?  Well, don't rely on me, my track record sucks.  Yet, if somebody doesn't get around to it soon, I might end up making some crude artifact out of utter despair... I wonder how hard it is to get into Minecraft modding?

Comments

Vetarnias said…
So, I've been reading up about Civcraft. Here's a quite telling account, if you didn't come across it before: http://declinefm.com/blog/what-ancaps-should-learn-from-the-demise-of-civcraft-1.0

I'll be damned if that doesn't sound like what Putin is currently doing to Ukraine. But in a video game, it's not exactly the kind of thing I'd find remotely fun. I guess that the limitations stem in part from the Minecraft structure, and in part from the fact that all those competitive games rely on an honour system that can't be made binding on players. And from there it's a quick race to the bottom.
geldonyetich said…
Very interesting read indeed. I was saying here that "all [Civcraft] supports is the trappings required to be gank-happy despots" but I never actually played it. There's always a unique manifestation of this depending on the specifics of the platform, and it sounds like a very "Minecraft" thing happened here.
Vetarnias said…
I decided to try Civcraft out. Not surprisingly, it's a grind, with strange design decisions to make it unnecessarily hardcore, like being unable to grow wheat or vegetables outside of dedicated structures (which you can't build at the start anyway).

The game design tells you to first build a camp, "a special structure that allows players to deploy a cheap, semi safe, temporary shelter" (from the wiki), if you can call 400-odd logs as well as 72 feathers and 18 leather "cheap" (oh, and you also can't breed animals outside of a dedicated structure). And after you've built the camp, you have to keep it going by stoking it with 4 coal per hour. The most telling indication that this is deep into arbitrary designer diktat territory is that you can't even use charcoal for this purpose, only coal.

And that's before you've even started a city or a civilization. Then it really gets harsh: http://civcraft.gamepedia.com/Founding_A_Civilization . And after that you have to grind to keep it going. Soon you realize that all that Civcraft did was to add dull grindy parts to get in the way of the fun grindy parts that make up the core of Minecraft, while leaving you exposed to griefing and ganking. It's as though whoever designed it decided that Wurm Online was the better game that Notch was involved in.

It's a pity, the idea of a cross-over between Minecraft and Civilization sounded like a good idea.
geldonyetich said…
Sounds like one of the many "Hardcore" Minecraft servers, for players who are bored of stock Minecraft PvP they devise means to make it more complicated.

I still think a cross-over between Minecraft and Civilization is a good idea, but the trouble with any game idea is in the implementation. Sounds like the creator of CivCraft's ideal implementation is very much different from ours.
Vetarnias said…
Hello again. I found out since writing my posts that there are two games calling themselves Civcraft. The first, which I played, is the one you linked to. It's occasionally referred to as CivilizationCraft and can be found at civcraft.net. The other one is mostly linked to Reddit and can be found at civcraft.org. The link I posted in my first comment (about the demise of CivCraft 1.0) refers to civcraft.org. Likewise, civcraft.org was recently embroiled in a controversy about virtual slavery and even virtual rape, which was mentioned by the Daily Dot: http://www.dailydot.com/gaming/minecraft-civcraft-slavery-rape-reddit/

I haven't seen anything as bad in civcraft.net, but the game also seems overrun by teenagers who name towns after pop-culture references (and I was on the one server where war was consensual, so I can guess what happens on the other ones).

You know me, I'm a masochist, so I kept playing, gathered the materials to create a civilization, found a good spot, built most structures, then ran out of things to do. When it became clear that my friends would not play the game, I set about contacting the nearest large civ to see if I could join, because it was getting boring on my own. This is what I got: http://i.imgur.com/D8balM8.png

The server itself is not even three months old, but the community goes back further. So yeah, if all that goes on on that server is the same old EVE Online paranoia (I later discovered that the civilization in question even has, you guessed it, an application form: http://eureka-mc.weebly.com/apply.html ), I think I'm done there. I should have quit sooner.
geldonyetich said…
It definitely sounds like CivilizationCraft has gone down the road I've seen for many open-world PvP games. It's not enough to gank people, oh no, that's boring now: what if we try demeaning them? Ergo: rape and slavery in a virtual space.

There's always folks who will find no problem with just seeking the path of least resistance to get what they want. This is why, if the game not coded to prevent them from doing this, that's basically what will happen. In that way, these novice endeavors in CivCraft and CivilizationCraft were somewhat destined to go down this road from the start.

Although there is another way, involving heavy GM regulation (like you'd see in enforced roleplay scenarios) and gated access to the game (so people aren't just creating another account as soon as their first one gets banned). A lot of people aren't particularly interested in such heavy-handed tactics, but the small niche that are will have a blast.
geldonyetich said…
As for that kid you met in the imgur link, reminds me a lot of the kids who hung around BYOND. They're primarily there before the game is completely free, and there's not a lot a 12-14 year old can play before they get their first paper route unless they were born with a silver spoon.

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