I suppose it’s as good a way as any to introduce this game development blog with a bit of background about the idea for Atma, and a bit of explanation as to the thought processes that seeded this project for me. You’ll pardon me if it seems we’re starting off a bit en media res, as my high school English teacher doubtlessly would have encouraged me to say, but there’s not really any other way to introduce an idea that has been rattling around in my brain for nearly two years now. Yes, I did say that this is a game development blog, and yes, I’ll get to that in a moment, but first I’ll brief you on exactly what the idea for this particular game is.
Atma, which you’ll recognize as one of the words I dropped into my muddle of an opening sentence, is the title of the game design I’ve been mentally fleshing out over the previous months. I’m not entirely certain when the ridiculous notion popped into my head, but I found myself thinking of the similarities between wild animals and various character classes in role-playing games. Some animals, such as rhinoceri and turtles, with their thick hides or carapaces, and solid physiques, thus seemed to be designed for little more than shrugging off the assaults of predators, the “tanks” of the animal kingdom. The predators themselves (lions and tigers and bears, oh my), it followed, took on their roles as the wild’s damage dealers, while their prey, peaceful herds of grazing animals, seemed to me a fair analogy for healers, eking out a living by supporting one another. Then, of course, there are the rogues, animals that earn their living by taking that which belongs rightfully to others.
One thought led to another, and soon I was envisioning an online world not filled with orcs, undead and elves, but with the normal animals upon which so many of the imaginative creatures populating fantasy worlds are actually based. I always liked going to the zoo, growing up. As I observed the animals in their synthetic habitats, I would wonder what it was like to be a bird, able to soar freely in the skies, or to be a tiger, powerful and fearless, slinking through the tall grass with feline grace. This admiration for the beauty and uniqueness of animals that some might consider mundane in light of the colorful, magical beasts prowling around Middle Earth or Azeroth is something that never quite left me through maturity, and even now I find myself thinking that many of the creatures of our world can rival even the most quirky of fictional critters for sheer ability to awe and amaze.
The idea for my game started as this: let people play the roles of wild animals, in an experience more like the Massively Multiplayer Online games they’re familiar with. There were several problems with the initial concept, most of which I can probably detail in some later post at no great loss to this one, but the most outstanding problem that occurred to me is that, given such a game to play, it’s hardly likely somebody would choose, say, a docilely grazing lamb as their vessel for global exploration, given more viable options with claws and teeth. Without getting too far into discussion about the evolution of the proposed game mechanics, which is better saved for a later and more thorough post, I’ll summarize the finalized concept, as of now: Atma is intended to become a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game in which players control human characters, in a setting that allows these characters to bind their souls to those of wild animals, an act which grants them their ultimate weapon in the fight for survival: the unique skills of the animals they are bound to.
This, as I mentioned before, is intended as a game development blog. Given the two years I’ve already spent repeatedly stumbling over this game idea in my head, I would be ill-advised to pretend that this blog will chronicle the entire evolution of this game concept as it occurs, but I certainly intend to do my best job of logging my decisions, revelations and insights regarding the development of this idea into an actual, tangible thing. My plans are to translate my game idea into a fully-fledged game design, then into a fully-fledged game for the iPhone, a platform choice which deserves its own post and thus shall have one. My hope is that this blog will be a useful resource to somebody, anybody else who is struggling to find their way in this world as a game designer. If this ends in disaster, as is certainly a grave possibility, then at least people will have a reference for what not to do in developing a game. Hopefully it won’t get to that point, and this blog can be remembered as one of my crowning achievements, rather than a depressing tribute to half-baked schemes and bad ideas.
As I continue to write entries for this development blog, I’ll be detailing the fiction of Atma’s world and discussing my choices of mechanics for different aspects of the game, as well as explaining just what Atma means, and why it’s important enough to name the entire game after. So maybe you’re interested in seeing where I can take this game concept. Maybe you’re just interested in the game development process. Maybe you don’t care about either, but you think it will be fun to watch me crash and burn, my shattered dreams spilling over the pavement when I inevitably fail to accomplish what I’ve so ambitiously set out to do. In any case, I’m looking forward to what lies ahead, and I’d love it if you were there to experience it with me, whoever you are. Let us share these dusty roads that point toward the future.