Understanding the world

20th September 2004

I spent yesterday afternoon in the company of 5 babies, all under the age of 13 months. It was very interesting to watch their interaction with one another and the environment. I began to think, “how could we make a game of this?”

It would be difficult to put ourselves inside the mind of a baby because we now understand how the world works, we might not like it but that’s another thing! So what could we do? Well, my first suggestion is to be a human explorer who lands on an alien world. Unlike the human race who would either kill it on first site, take it to an underground military base and perform experiments on it or give it so much media attention that it simply goes crazy, these aliens pay you very little attention.

Before I tackle the gameplay let’s look at the objectives. From the player’s point of view it’s simply to make contact and share knowledge. To try to understand the world around him or her, to learn. Same as the baby. But whilst the baby has no preconceived ideas about life, we do, so those will have to be turned upside down. Unbeknown to the player the aliens are performing a test on humankind to see if they have the ability, notice I didn’t use intelligence, to make meaningful contact.

From a design point of view the players objective is to learn enough about his environment to either enter an area where he or she is greeted in a friendly manner and introductions are made and everyone is happy.

Now for the gameplay! My first thought is that I don’t think this game should simply be a complicated puzzle, with IQ-like tests. We all know, or should do, that jumping off a building or putting your hand into a fire is dangerous. This is learnt through experience but things are different on this world. Jumps from tall buildings may not be as dangerous as on Earth, I’m not suggesting that everything is reversed, just that we have to question everything. I know I’m being vague on this but to be honest I’m not exactly sure the best way to approach it.

I certainly think there should be some inconsistency otherwise it may turn into a complicated logical puzzle. Let me try and give you some examples of how I see the gameplay working and then you can tear the idea apart!

The player lands on the planet a few kilometres away from the main city. The game starts with a recorded message from some superior reminding the player NOT to take any weapons, be as friendly as possible and learn as much as he or she can. The player exits the spacecraft, either in 3rd or first person.

The first thing the player encounters is a group of six small dog-sized animals that seem to be having a conference on the ground. As the player approaches one of them changes colour and moves towards him/her. It stops roughly five metres away. Does the player think the change of colour is a sign of aggression or defence (maybe the same thing under the circumstances?) Are they intelligent? The player waits for a few moments not wishing to frighten or alarm the animal. After a few moments the animal moves back into the group. As the player begins to move forward another animal from the group changes top a different colour and starts to circle the player.

At this point I have no idea what the different actions or colours mean, maybe they don’t mean anything and are there as a diversion or just to test the players first reaction. If the player chose to take a weapon and killed the entire group then that would change the behaviour of certain other creatures they encounter, perhaps making them friendly perhaps not.

So, tear away.

When I first wrote the post I wasn’t really thinking about an FPS game, but it could easily be adapted. Imagine the expolorer is captured and put into a huge city/arena (Think The Running Man). He has to survive to be able to get enough respect for the aliens to bother communicating with him.

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