General Category > A Valley Without Wind 1 & 2

Some Thoughts on Design Elements So Far

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Flatfingers:
Oh, my.

I read about A Valley Without Wind over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun earlier today, and I had to come here to say YES! I'm enthusiastically looking forward to this game becoming a reality.

From what I've read of AVWW, I came up with a somewhat similar design concept myself a couple of years ago. I called it the Living World; the idea was that you'd play in an extremely large world, with enough story- and exploration-based content (which changes over time) that you could play in it every night for years and never run out of new places to see and new things to do.

Those interested can read more about this idea on my blog (http://flatfingers-theory.blogspot.com/2008/06/living-world-massively-single-player.html). Since this is the AVWW forum, though, I'd like to focus on this game as its features have been described or shown to us so far.

First, however, I quote the Official Statement:


--- Quote ---To some extent we're not really looking for community feedback on things like game mechanics prior to alpha, because, well, we generally are never interested in feedback from people that haven't played the game in question.
--- End quote ---

Fair enough. I quote this comment to make the point that I understand the ground rules, and that just because I'm interested in objectively discussing various gameplay mechanics doesn't imply that I'm advocating their inclusion in or exclusion from AVWW, or that I intend to argue with anyone in favor of or against this or that idea. No point in that. The developers will make the game they want to make, and my comments are intended to be just one data point among many of reaction to that actual game's elements.

That said...  ;)

Procedurally-generated world: YES. This is a requirement for unending exploration gameplay, which is a particular interest of mine as well as being a gamestyle preference that is currently going unsatisfied except in unusual games like Minecraft.

Dynamic world: YES, YES, YES. This is the aspect of AVWW that I am most interested in hearing more about, as it's the part that can help keep the game playable over long real-time stretches (as well as being a distinctive element for marketing the game if it's given serious design/implementation attention).

Crafting: YES. This is an often-overlooked form of exploration -- it's exploration of a creative system.

Leveling: MMMMAYBE. I'll have some comments on that in the "How will leveling work?" thread; for now, I'm reserving judgement until people can play the public alpha and report on how well this feature actually works for this particular game.

Permadeath (of sorts): YES. I've contended for some time now that permadeath can work if certain design requirements are met, such as being able to "will" some subset of the dying character's goods to the player's next incarnation, and that characters don't have levels. (I understand the current thinking may be that rather than characters having levels, it's actually the player who gains levels -- that might be enough for permadeath to work, since it eliminates most of the worst kind of loss when a character dies.)

Music: HMMM. Based on the current trailer, I'd hoped for something more ambient or orchestral. The square wave sound might be appropriate for a game that intentionally wanted to look and play like a retro 8-bit game, but it's not clear that this is intended to be such a game. (Is it?) This is possibly more a question of personal taste than Obvious Game Design Law, but I hope the comment is understood as being aimed at fitness for a particular game, not a criticism of the music itself.

Visual Look: NO. Again, this is not a criticism of the current art assets (as a long-time developer I can't draw or paint to save my life, so I'm in no position to criticize there), but of whether the art style is appropriate for the intended player experience. My feeling is that a game like this is much, much more immersive as a first-person 3D world -- somewhere in between Minecraft and CryEngine 3 would be just fine. On the other hand, that means cranking out a massive number of 3D assets, all of which is prohibitive for a relatively small independent studio. Even so (and bearing fully in mind that all we've seen so far are highly pre-alpha images), if I'm being honest then I have to acknowledge that I'm a little disappointed that a highly world-y concept like AVWW will be presented in a style that (IMO) makes immersiveness more difficult to achieve and maintain. Still, maybe I'm wrong, and the more stylized JRPG presentation will work just fine. I look forward to seeing more of it!

Overall, I'm very excited by what's been revealed so far about A Valley Without Wind. What's important is not how I'd make such a game, but that the folks who actually are making this game are encouraged to see their vision through to production. The game industry is desperately in need of such innovation, and I cheerfully support those who make the effort to create these new kinds of games.

Good luck!

--Flatfingers

x4000:
Thanks for your support!  In terms of the music and the art, we're really happy about the music, and the art is something that's been flogged to death in many threads.  There's not much more for me to add at this stage.  3D is absolutely a 0% chance of happening.

Flatfingers:
Thanks for taking the time to respond -- it's sincerely appreciated.

On the various perspectives I mentioned, I completely understand that you're happy with your choices. Mentioning my preferences is nothing more than a single data point that can be considered or disregarded, whichever works for you. I'm not one of those gamers who feels a sense of entitlement, as though if you don't code something as I demand then it's clearly a personal insult. I'm just here because this sounds very close to a kind of game that's of special interest to me as both a gamer and an amateur game designer, and my comments don't carry any more weight than that.

So I definitely want to respect your preference that we out here don't talk about the design of AVWW in a way that might lead some readers to believe that you're soliciting ideas. Still, that leaves me scratching my head a little bit -- if we need to sort of ramp down discussion of design choices for this game, then what's left to talk about at this time?

Maybe I should ask it this way: what kinds of conversations can we have out here that would be helpful to you (or at least not interfering)? I want you to succeed -- how can we help?

x4000:
My pleasure.

And please don't misunderstand and think that I'm not wanting anyone to post their thoughts -- my intention isn't to censor, or to silence all "opposition" or whatever.  Rather, what I was trying to say in both my original disclaimer and more recently is that I'm not going to engage in debate over the merits of one gameplay concept or another.  I've been down that road before, and when it's all conjectural, neither party can agree.  And what I need to be doing at this point is making the game, not talking on forums. 

We've been bitten in the past -- hard -- by not sharing info early enough so that there was no prerelease "buzz" about the game.  So here we are, sharing early and often.  In the case of the screenshots, that's been a mild disaster so far, but ultimately it probably won't hurt the project because the game won't always look like that.  In the case of the design commentary, the response has been pretty much unanimously positive with some small quibbles on this or that aspect, which is a lot better than I expected.  The press response in general has been a lot better, too.

So in a lot of respects it feels like we're "doing it right" this time in terms of the PR side of things, but it's a bit of new territory.  Normally I'm used to talking with players in depth about gameplay design aspects, and looking for ways to refine x or y aspect of the design, for instance.  That's quite routine with AI War, and even to some extent Tidalis.  But with AVWW, we can't start putting on detail polish until we finish the underlying structure.  And even moreso, we can't get into big debates with folks about the merits of this or that design trope, because it just is going to make us miss our target and ultimately nobody really has a full sense for this project other than us, since nobody can play it yet.  That's very different from a released game, where others can have just as detailed of knowledge of at least what is there (if not what is planned) as us.

So again, it's very new territory for us in having this sort of early PR.  So far it's working pretty well I think, but I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings by declining to debate on whatever topic.  But at the same time I can't take my eye off the ball.  But I do read what people post, so it's not like things go into a vacuum.  So always feel free to share thoughts and opinions, but I just am exempting myself for the time being from having to explain why I don't agree if I don't agree. ;)  We'll see if people accept that exemption, if course.  But hopefully the sting is taken out of that by the fact that we will be more willing to engage in our usual style of discussion about this game once it's actually in player's hands.

That's what I was trying, but failing, to convey with that one sentence disclaimer thing.  Hope that makes sense!

Flatfingers:
Message received. :)

Honestly, if I were in your things on your feet I'd make the same call. Most people just don't realize the number of things that have to be designed and coded and tested in a game of any size -- if even a few of the core elements were open to debate, you'd never finish implementing the darn thing.

I appreciate being extended the privilege to comment here. So for myself I promise not to expect any changes to design elements of the pre-alpha AVWW just on my say-so. And when discussing design concepts here, I'll try to be careful not to sound like I'm seeking to influence you.

Thanks for taking the time to clarify.

Now, what shall we talk about until the public alpha? :D

I should have said earlier: the ideas in my initial post here were intended to be an invitation to further discussion. I'm interested in hearing what others think about these aspects of AVWW specifically and character-based world exploration games generally.

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