After talking to a developer, I’m switching to a turn-based format for Deme. I probably should have done this to begin with, and my reasons for not doing so earlier owe a lot to my own misconceptions about myself.

I don’t think of myself as a turn-based game fan. When I find out a computer game is turn-based, I tend to stop reading the description and look for something else. Somehow, this notion of myself as a real-time game guy persists despite my whelming affection for several turn-based games. These include computer games and tabletop games alike. Of course, many tabletop games are inherently turn-based.

The new concept I’m pursuing is fairly simple, drawing mechanical inspiration from games like Battle for Wesnoth and Heroscape. These games, likewise, are derived from other systems (turn-based tabletop strategy games, in general, have an interesting genealogy that includes H.G. Wells). One benefit of a turn-based system is ease of balancing and modification. Real-time games require finer simulation, which means more complexity. I want people to be able to modify Deme in the future, so this process should be as painless as possible. Initial development will also be much faster and simpler.

Another big bonus is the ease with which the game can be prototyped and balanced on pen and paper. I have hauled out my 20-sided die for this purpose, just in case. Fortunately, HMSC is a pretty good place to find nerds, ecologists, biologists, computer geeks and gamers. I only learned recently that my minor advisor is an Age of Empires fan. At some point I may have to pit him against my wife, whose historic conquests in that game’s campaign mode have filled many a night with the din of clashing steel.

Meanwhile, I have rejoined the husbandry team. I’ve switched gears a couple of times to focus on one area of my career or another, so it’s interesting to walk between worlds. I find I miss the FCL Lab when I’m working on aquarium systems, but I miss the animals when I work on interpretation and design. I think—or rather, I hope—this is a good thing. I want to do everything. I find it very motivating, but it could become paralyzing without the proper focus.

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2 thoughts on “Rolling Twenties

  1. Harrison – does this switch change the number of players you envision playing the game? I’m no gamer, but it seems that turn-based games often only allow for a handful of players at a time.

    On another note, my first thought when you talked about turn-based games was something along the lines of the old text-based Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or the like, wherein one types a line of text and then gets a line of text in reply. Fun to be sure, but a little less sophisticated than your game and really, a different purpose, I guess – not simulation but almost more maze-like, single path.

    We miss you, too.

    • Thanks, Katie! I miss y’all, too.

      In the case of my game, a turn-based system actually should make multiplayer easier, as several people can play on one machine. I had planned for Deme to be single-player due to the complexities of real-time play, but the switch has opened up a lot of possibilities there.

      The appropriate amount of choice and control is something I’m excited to explore during evaluation. For example, what if players find a way to exploit the game and survive a condition that’s not survivable in reality? Do they gain more by learning to exploit the game, or by getting hit with an inevitable (but realistic) failure?

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