Emergence, the concept of several small systems interacting to form a complex system that is “larger than the sum of its parts” is something we’ve discussed briefly before, but which I’d like to bring up for discussion once again, today. I find emergence to be one of the most fundamental elements of game design theory; incredibly deep games can result from the combination of relatively simple components. Go is an excellent example of this — there are pieces, nodes, and “liberties” associated with each node. Players simply take turns placing pieces, one of the most basic game interactions possible (the same interaction that defines such games as Tic-Tac-Toe). However, despite its rather simple structure, Go is an incredibly deep game that involves incredible amounts of strategy, and requires heavy use of both analytical skill and creativity. The reason for this? Emergence — the complexity of the game increases drastically on larger boards, as the number of potential actions to secure or capture liberties increases.
Emergence is about possibility. No matter how simple a game mechanic might appear on the surface, it can lend itself to a very subtle and nuanced system by simply interacting with other elements of the game. Today’s post will deal with a few properties of the character movement system that I’ve been working with over the past week, giving a first-person account of how a few coupled systems can lead to some fairly complex interactions.
You might recall that last weekend, I expressed a desire to make the position and orientation of characters an important aspect of battles, requiring players to consider their motions and spacing while fighting entities in-game. Obviously, it would be unfair to ask for players to manage their orientation without giving them the means to do so effectively; thus, I implemented the ability to make the player character strafe, on top of the more basic movement system I already had working to an extent (the manner in which I merged this capability with the touch controls is something I’m fairly happy with). It was when dealing with the strafing movement that it occurred to me to write this post: see, watching the character run backwards and sideways just as quickly as he could run forwards was a bit disconcerting, so I took it on myself to modify the character’s speed based on the direction he was facing relative to the direction he was moving (sidestepping is slightly slower than moving ahead, and running backwards is a bit slower than that), and the end result felt much better.
Where am I going with this? Well, what these adjustments called to mind was a system I’ve long been planning to implement for handling varying terrain types. It hardly makes sense that a character would swim as fast as they walk without some form of dedicated training, and it certainly wouldn’t make sense for a character to trudge through deep snow at the same pace they might be able to stroll down a dirt path. Of course, these are concepts that players of the two-dimensional Zelda and Pokémon games are likely well-acquainted with, as both series have used terrain to varying extents, with a good deal of success.
Even in the earliest phases of planning for Atma, I knew that the game’s environment needed to be an important element in the core mechanics; the theme of humankind’s relationship with nature would simply feel incomplete if the layout of the world had no impact whatsoever on player interactions. This led to the conceptualization of the movement ability system, something I’ve mentioned in passing before (and which I promise I’ll get around to explaining eventually), but on a broader scale, it led me to dream up a system in which the player’s capabilities strongly influence the way they traverse the world. The animals that populate our world all have unique ways of moving about — fish swim, birds fly, et cetera — that I feel lend themselves nicely to the character movement mechanics for Atma, a game which was inspired by the parallels between members of the animal kingdom and traditional RPG classes.
The idea of characters possessing varying levels of skill at traversing different terrain types lends itself well to subtly influencing how the player interacts with the game’s environment; the movement abilities (which I think I’ll discuss at length next weekend) offer a somewhat more exaggerated version of this dynamic, offering characters the ability to access entirely new areas instead of influencing more regular interactions with the world. In the same way that fish are inherently excellent swimmers, a character bound to a fish soul might receive movement speed bonuses while in the water, or a character bound to a snake might be at an advantage when moving through sandy areas. The system as a whole offers another means by which players may define their character’s role in the game world, allowing them to specialize in the exploration of certain regions.
There’s an expansion of this concept which I feel really brings the whole thing together: the Instinct system. I’ve decided to explain this system fairly thoroughly in tomorrow’s post, but as a preview, it’s something that I feel will lend itself nicely to the development of a more player-centric system for character development in Atma. I’m looking forward to discussing it.