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[Brainstorm] Ephids

OK, for the first exciting brainstorm we’re going to talk about real-time strategy and, uh, strategy in general, I guess. You see, I come up with too many game ideas to actually make, because I have the programming skills of a sea monkey and the artistic skills of a snapped pencil, and turns out that programming and art are actually a big part of making a game. As such, I’ve decided to write up the majority of my designs here so I have them on file, and so other people can mock me for my no-doubt-laughable game design skills. Who knows, perhaps you’ll get inspired to design your own game reading these. Without further ado, then: real-time strategy.

The RTS genre has always had a bit of a niche. It’s a very specific audience that’s into that sort of thing, and most of the time I am not that audience. Nothing personal, I just don’t like to play games where I have to send innocent people to their deaths when I could just switch to a different game and start staving heads in with a fucking crowbar. However, games like Pikmin have shown that RTS can be something I might enjoy when executed in an interesting way, and Pikmin has two things that most RTS games don’t that I like – the ability to get stuck in yourself instead of being some nebulous godlike entity watching your little army men fight and die for you, and units with a modicum of personality.

As such, I wanted to design an RTS game like this, but focus more on the whole ‘units with a modicum of personality’, and came up with Ephids. Essentially, the idea was to take aspects from Pikmin, and Civilisation, of all things, and create a strategic RTS focussing on a core group of characters. You play as Melisande, who is an Ephid Delta and therefore destined to rule. She takes over the kingdom of Beckett following the death of her mother and has to unite her kingdom to lead it into power and glory. So, that’s the whole getting stuck in part done – you control Melisande in the overworld and guide your Ephids personally; the Ephids are insect-like creatures that have many uses and roles, and your job is to furiously oppress them until they do what you what.

The gameplay is divided into two phases: exploration and political. In exploration, it’s essentially an RTS – you control groups of Ephids to gather honey, which is the currency because I’m incredibly creative, and build strongholds before nightfall, so that the next day, you can travel out slightly further. The world opens up slowly and steadily as you make strongholds on the edge of your territory, fighting off wild Ephids and other foes, to try and find new kingdoms to unify with. Which brings me nicely onto the second phase: political. This is where the connection to Civilisation begins. In the political phase, you and a team of Ephids enter the castle of a well-to-do Ephid and your goal is to unify your kingdom, bringing them over to your way of thinking. There would be meetings where you could select how to approach a situation, but you can’t forget your team of Ephids, either; before the meetings, they can bribe politicians and nobles, use force to threaten them or even get their sultry on and seduce them, and through these less-than-noble methods, you can recruit new kingdoms to join your cause, bringing money and men with them. Well. Money and insects; you know what I mean.

The key difference to Pikmin was that the Ephids were going to be far more unique. Rather than Pikmin, where you raise an army of 100+ nameless, colour-coded dorks to do your bidding, in Ephids, each summoned Ephid would have a name and type to play different roles in your group, and they would also have interpersonal relationships. For example, you might put send two Ephids off to collect honey from a nearby area, and they could do the job as normal, they could dislike each other and get the work done much more slowly, or they could like each other a lot and fuck every alternate step to their goal, but somehow get it done faster. This way, you would actually feel like you’re ruling these creatures as you try to put groups that like each other together for greater efficiency, and keep them alive so that morale is higher.

Ephids all serve different roles too, in both exploration and political. Alphas are the combative ones; in political, they can threaten people, and in exploration they are the strongest, both in combat and in lifting heavy objects. Ephid Betas produce honey: in political, they can bribe other Ephids and can advise Melisande on how to spend her money, and in exploration they tend to stay out of the field, but produce honey every so often to keep you rich.

Ephid Gammas are more intelligent and controlling. In political, they can back up your arguments and tear down the opposition’s claims, and in exploration they act like a mildly competent middle manager, able to command nearby Ephids without you having to be there, which increases efficiency the same way that a bouquet of flowers increases your chances at getting laid later than evening.

Ephid Epsilons are construction workers. In exploration, they are the fastest stronghold builders, and they can maintain strongholds with minimum effort. Now for a fun exercise! Can you think of what Epsilons would be useful for in political phases? Because I certainly thought of bugger all. Finally, Zetas are sneaky and like collecting. In political, they can dig up background information on the kingdoms Melisande visits to give her the edge in meetings, and in exploration they can locate hidden items that other Ephids wouldn’t even be able to see.

I planned to have lots of small, fine details to really make the game world feel alive. For example you could end up going to war with rival kingdoms simply by the number of Ephids that you bring to enemy strongholds – too few and they would be able to overpower Melisande, and too many and they’ll believe you are declaring war. Melisande herself, used to being a rich princess, would change her mood based on the current coffers, and get stroppy when low on money, which could affect the happiness of Ephids in an expanding tidal wave of depression. General morale is calculated based on the efficiency of each day: how many items were found, damage taken by Melisande, Ephids hired, Ephids lost and strongholds constructed. At the end of each day, as Melisande rushes to find a stronghold before the nightcrawlers bite her lady parts off, this efficiency value is calculated – if it is low, morale will drop a little, and if it is high, morale will increase, which in itself increases the efficiency of all your Ephids.

So yes, there were a lot of little things that would have made Ephids a highly enjoyable experience, in my opinion. The rush of the exploration phase, finding things and building strongholds, would complement the slower, more thoughtful strategy of the political phase, and I think making the Ephids slightly more personable would made them far more relatable than the Pikmin: the only creatures in the world that have fewer survival skills than a lemming.

[Brainstorm] SAND

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