Saturday, March 24, 2012

Biopunk: Hashing out the theme of a text based browser game

I'm working on a text based browser game with a biopunk theme.

The main thematic element is a loss of humanity, which rears its head as apparent deprotagonisation of choice in terms of certain moral choices in the game.

It has a base line of battling for cash and XP/levels (well, actually it's social combat primarily, so your out-cooling the other guy to beat him. There may be an occasional actual fight, but its a rare exception).

But every so often you get pitched a moral question, like whether to help someone when it'll be out of your way to do so. Basically the code will watch for those situations where the player would do it (cause on some they wont - that's human diversity. But were focusing on where they will act). And it will report that that moral issue is to do with X layer of the brain. Where X is a made up name. And the whole 'layer' thing is a basically a made up approximation. The idea is simply to give a name to the source of these moral issues, rather if they don't exist, yet people do them anyway.

Now there's a range of bio mods you can get. Stuff like a mohawk that can flatten on command, stuff like that*. The thing is, in the latter levels there are 'brain upgrades' and these give you a really, really powerful boost in terms of out-cooling the other guy. Very desirable. Very more. Each one is said, in the description text, to affect a brain layer...

Ah, maybe you see where this is going - I'm not sure if it'll be blunt in the final program.

Also I'm not quite sure how I want to implement it. The first idea is the bluntest.

1#. The moral choice comes up and...there is no other option but for the players character to ignore it. There isn't even a sign of why, suddenly, the option of choice is gone. There's only a note on what layer of the brain this is associated with.

2#. Same as #1, except there's a 'hey, why can't I do it?' link, which informs the player that by getting a brain upgrade that affects layer X, they have ceased to be able to choose in terms of this moral choice that's to do with layer X.

3#. Same as #2 except the link only shows up after say about three moral choices have shown, to let them stew for awhile (assuming they even keep playing and aren't so pissed they stop, but hey...). This only bugs me because I'd have to put in extra code and space in the database to record it. Really it wouldn't be much code or space though, so maybe I'm being bitchy and don't wanna compromise.

4#. Paced out loss of control: Each brain upgrade to a layer adds a percentage chance of losing control on moral issues to do with that issue. Each time the moral choice comes up percentile dice are rolled and if it's below the percentage, the player gets no choice. Get enough brain upgrade on that layer and it'll add up to 100%, so always a fail. But this kind of doesn't hammer in the point - the lower the brain upgrades percentage add, the less likely the effect will show up in play. I mean, there's subtle...and then there's just obtuse.

#5. Strong decay: A brain upgrade to layer X has a percentage chance to affect AND that percentage chance grows over time (probably over three RL days, to capture the players attention) up to 80% or so. Another upgrade in that layer of the brain will by their own base percentage add take it to 100% straight off, or it's own degrading will take it to 100% over time.

#6 Same as #5, but the second implant decays you up to 90%. The third decays you to 95%. The fourth to 99%. The fifth...? Perhaps needlessly complicated, but this lends a sting to play because instead of just being able to shrug ones shoulders and discount the choice as gone, sometimes it will come up and...well, will you dust off the morality from before and act? Or will even the player give into the moral disruption effect and now not act? Whereas before in the moral question he did? However, this undermines the idea that you are altering the very fundiment of ones self - the idea is that you are not affecting yourself, what's happening is that you are replacing part of yourself. Really in terms of a specific moral issue (gawd that's a vague term but I use it a lot, I should give some examples but I'm feeling lazy - just a cliche examples come to mind right now, like helping an old lady carry her shopping, etc. I swear I can do something more nuanced!) if you've chopped out your response to it, then it's gone. It's like having your right hand chopped off - you don't slowly loose your capacity to pick things up with your right limb when that happens. It's just gone! Otherwise I like #6 for it's needling quality.

So, I'm not sure of the exact implementation method. Currently I have a basic social combat system down (essentially the same roll to hit system as a physical combat system - nothing mind blowing) and a chat room I pulled out of another project and smoothed off for this. Overall I'm definitely not looking to make a complicated or deep game. This implementation of theme is where I'm going to do the most deepity deep thinking.

* Personally I'm presenting a divide between external modification and direct brain modification. I'm not sure that getting a mechanical mohawk or such is going to really affect your morality. And it taps into the audience who thinks it's cool, to validate it somewhat.

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