Friday, January 9, 2015

BGP: Story Outline & Multiplayer


     This will be my first game with a deep story. Actual events happen and it's my job to make players care about the characters involved. I abandoned the open world approach I started with in order to take the player on a journey where excitement and mystery is around every turn. The player will be so into what's happening that they won't notice the hours go by as they try to just get to the next city.

    Something even deeper than the story is the player-to-player interaction. I need to establish a thriving online community that keeps players entertained for years to come. I need to make multiplayer so fun and complex that new things can be discovered by an individual every single day. It'll be players talking excitedly about those hype moments during competitive play that really spreads word-of-mouth and keeps the game interesting in the long-term.

     Get a breakdown of the multiplayer modes and general game progression below.


     Progression in Battle Gem Ponies is just what you'd expect. Pick your protagonist, meet your starter pony in an emergency situation, travel to the 4 gyms to collect badges, stop an evil organization's attempt to capture the legendary alicorn sisters, and defeat the region's 5 champions at the big annual tournament. By meeting player expectations upfront I can throw in surprises from there and make a unique experience that creates an entirely new set of expectations going forward.

     The story is meant to keep the players entertained while they unlock new features to use in multiplayer. Over the journey ponies will be unlocked, new moves will become available, complex mechanics are demonstrated, emotional moments will make the game memorable, and the player's pony will climb to level 100 while not a second of it felt like grinding.


     The game starts with you selecting the boy or girl to play as. Based on that decision you'll be taken down a unique story arc. The boy's story starts with you moving into a new town with Mom who was just employed at the local laboratory as a pony caretaker. The girl starts off at home with her father who's working himself to death to make up for some financial problems.

     The stories evolve over time in a way that avoids bombarding players with walls of text early on, when they're the least invested. The goal of the first chapter is to get to the action quickly while building up excitement to the first battle. Later on story details can unfold.

     After you battle a few times and return home you discover that the girl's mother died from an illness and the father is in debt after trying to save her. You find out that the boy's father is one of the region's champions but he abandoned Mom to be a celebrity. Hours into the game you find out that the girl's father got involved with the game's villains in an effort to save his wife and that's who he owes money to.


     The point here is that the story is simple on the surface, but it can get deeper for those who want to look into it. Maybe most players won't think twice about the haunted house that only appears at night while a few players look into it further and find clues as to why it's haunted in the first place.

     Just as important as the main story (to me) are the small sidequests. The little moments that stick with the player or get them to think and reflect when they put the game down. Sometimes there needs to be a short story that can be resolved in one sitting to make the player feel like they accomplished something that day. I want players to recall their journey the way I can recall my first time with any Zelda game.

     I think a good way to keep the PvP community going is to have that journey in every players head. In the back of their minds they remember catching the pony they're climbing the leaderboards with. They remember their surprise when running into a certain species that just looked really cool. They'll remember the first time they activated an ultra transformation and how awesome it was when that pony dealt the finishing blow in the championship match.

     On the topic of PvP (the player vs player combat in a mode separate from the adventure), I wanted to come up with a way to make it last forever. I want it to stay fresh so people can look forward to playing every day and seeing something new. To do this, I'm going all out with the competitive play features and match customization.


     I'll be drawing on my experiences from playing Pokemon Stadium with friends and family. The N64 Pokemon games manage to do a lot with the mechanics established in the Gameboy titles. If I can get so many hours of entertainment from this, why not squeeze that content into my game.

     In multiplayer matches, each player will make a team of 6 fully customized ponies and save that team to a set. The player can have a huge list of sets containing their favorite combinations for easy access. When ready for a match, the player picks a game mode then selects a set to use. Before a match starts, both players will see each other's team of 6 and from that team each player picks 3 to use in that match. A timer is present so players have about a minute to decide what to use.

    It's like pre-battle mind games as you guess what the opponent is going to use based on what you have and how you think they'll react. The battles are paced so that your pony can switch to any of the three you've chosen and attack on the same turn. Players are constantly trying to stay one step ahead.

Look at these teams and imagine what goes through each player's mind
when they can only pick 3. The game hasn't even started yet and
you're already having a mental chess match.
     Matches be be held on a shared device, online. through local connectivity, against computers, and even against random strangers. Players can set what level to use (level 5,30,50,100, or just natural), set the number of rounds (best of 1,3,5, or 7), and choose which kinds of ponies should be allowed.

    That last option is the interesting bit. It's based on the way my girlfriend likes to play Pokemon. Since she managed to catch 'em all she likes to have battles where only certain kinds of Pokemon can be used. Categories for these battles include: babies only, blue ones, fire types, bipedal monsters, Pokemon that start with an "S", and the list goes on. I love playing Pokemon Stadium like this now and I think this kind of thing being coded into the game would be incredibly fun.

     I'll be calling these battles Category Matches and it'll be the prominent PvP mode next to standard fights. Players can narrow down the pool of ponies by color, class, appearance, moveset, habitat, personality, and name. To keep online play against strangers fun I want to implement a synced playlist of category matches on a weekly and daily rotation. Every day there will be a new worldwide challenge with it's own leaderboard and every week there will be a different category challenge for a shot at the weekly leaderboard (so the glory of reaching the top lasts longer).

    The playlist of categories will be a long one filled with the matches I think will be the most interesting. To play online you'll have to sync your game to web-time so the appropriate setup is live on your device in your part of the world. I can even make it seasonal so that in October spooky themes are common and ice themed stuff happens in winter. It serves as a marketing tool and a way to keep PvP interesting year-round.
 

     Alongside the daily and weekly rotations there will be a set of regular leaderboards for competitive players. Unlike rotation ones they won't reset on a timer and are specific to how many matches a player has won under certain rules. Since each of these leaderboards will have to be hardcoded, there can't be one for every category or combination of rules. There will be ones for what I decide are the most common modes of play based on what people do during the open beta.

     Players should be able to see how they stack up against the world and everyone on their friends list. I want people to find their favorite way to play and keep trying to climb the ranks in that category. When the story is finished and all the ponies are caught, players will be looking for more things to do. Keeping up with a community that had a similar adventure to yours is that thing to do.

     Trying out the endless number of strategies and facing opponents with creative teams is going to be the soul of Battle Gem Ponies. PvP is the core gameplay experience that the story builds you up to take part in. Multiplayer will extend way beyond the post-game and keep people entertained for an endless amount of time. Pretty good for an app that costs as much as a cheeseburger.

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