Co-operative Headache

This was a difficult weekend of game design. Or, what, I should say game flailing. Is that a thing? Because if it is, I did it.

I've never designed a cooperative game and as a result, there are things I seemingly need to learn from scratch, re-learn, or throwaway from the experiences I've picked up the past few years. I hate starting over, yet here I am. Hi Square One, I'm Grant.

The biggest issue is that whole cogs have been added to this machine. Typically for a competitive game I must conceive a goal, a conflict, and choices players make to achieve that goal and contribute to the conflict. However, with a cooperative game I must consider and design a few more significant elements, including:

  • How does the game actively try to hinder and stop the players from accomplishing their shared goal? I have to create an AI that is interesting for hundreds of games.
  • How can players work together in interesting ways to accomplish their goals? Synergy is key.
  • How do I create an interesting goal that feels fresh and not immediately solvable? This is less of a problem when you have a human opponent at the wheel. Now, the AI needs to do it. This is somewhat like bullet #1, I realize.

On top of this, I need clever mechanics (as always) so players feel like they are doing compelling things every game. You know, a unique game that isn't a clone of every other game.

This weekend I just spun my wheels and quickly found myself stuck in the mud. Do I have pre-set planets, purely random planets, or various components that create the planet. What's the goal? Is it the same on every planet, but it's just more or less difficult based on the planet itself? I fluctuated on this topic for quite some time, especially as I could see the component list exploding. I really try to corral my components from the outset. I like an easy setup, a low cost, and, with all things, focus.

What do players do on their turns? Or do they have turns? I toyed with an odd mix of simultaneous decision, followed by individual turns, then back, and...nothing connected. I spent hours on this until I realized I hadn't even picked a goal for the game. What's the point of figuring out what players are doing if you don't know the why?

Really, this is a massive chicken and egg issue. But, I'm not familiar with this egg. And this chicken is acting really squirrely. Is he a squirrel? Gah!

I'm figuring it out, actually. I'm telling you about my failures, but not the interesting things I've discovered. I want to be careful about talking too much about things I'd like to see in the game before they actually get there. I've already talked about Personality, Chit pulling, and some other high level things. I need to shut up and make them all work first.

Back to work...


This is also something I'd really like to do but find hard to make it right. One of my major concern is that it becomes a one player game- so one player can dominate and tell other players what to do.
I'm looking into getting individual goals for the players to accomplish that all work towards a common goal. Then I run into the problem that each player is playing their own game- so there has to be some interaction between the players! So in all it is interesting topic, looking forward to read more of your experiences!

I'm kinda surprised that you position this sort of step in the process as flailing or as a negative thing. It's almost like referring to an artist adding mud to a piece of pottery they are just starting to form as a step backwards. I know that you know this is a required part of the process -- to add and sort, and cull ... and repeat. It only feels like treading water, or running in place, or getting stuck ... but it's real progress at the same time.

I had an interesting discussion with a young artist over the weekend about how she draws "the strangest, weirdest stuff" (her words) in her sketch book, that are nothing like any of the end-result things she offers up for other people to look at. We came to the conclusion that sometimes you need an outlet for putting that sort of output *somewhere* in order to get it out of the way for something you'll want to share with others. (Plus, it also helps you see what you're good at, where you need more work, and helps to hone skills.)

I see the early steps (and sometimes, more painful later steps) of game design working like this too. Your questions around what sort of planets will you have -- and almost having *too* much freedom at this point -- is a great example.

So, add the mud now in order to shape it ... most of it ends up on the ground anyway. But it has to start on the thing your making, or else it won't have what it's supposed to end up with.

(Wow ... that was pretty meta. You know that's a strange land for me to walk though.) ;-p