Musings on the Game Design of Cataclysm

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about code, mechanics, components, monsters, and all that here on the board. But I think it’s time to move a bit beyond that.

To talk about Game Design, and specifically, what I think people want from this game. Our end goal. The roles I think our players should be able to play, the flow and feel I think we should strive to achieve, the STYLE of dangers and challenges we want them to face, the opportunities (and their costs) we want them to choose between, and maybe even, yes, the mechanics that I feel will support that.

So I’m going to record the thinking I’ve been doing on this front, and how it ties some of the suggestions I and others have made into a larger picture.

Part 1; Role and User Stories
So, let’s think a bit about who plays this game and why. What do they want to achieve? The way I see it, players have several core motivations we should be designing for and keeping in mind as we develop the game. Note that these roles are not concrete - many players will fill more than one or even swap off between them between characters or even within the lifespan of a single character. But at their core, they are fueled by different motivations, and making gameplay that works for them.

Scavenger - Scavenging the bones of a dead city, the scavenger works to avoid danger and gather loot. They may play as a nomad, or as a hoarder (overlapping with the builder).

Commando - This person has one primary concern - Doing awesome shit. Getting absurd powers, crazy mutations, shoving tons of bionics into their body or just grabbing an awesome weapon and going to town on zombies, this player may start at the same doomed-to-die nobody everyone else does, but their end goal is clear: They want to dominate. They WILL be the action hero.

Survivalist - This person just wants to escape from it all and avoid the towns and cities, choosing to conquer nature instead. Wielding primitive weapons and tools, they’ll try to make a home for themselves and find self-sufficiency out away from the routine of daily combat or avoidance common to town life and focus on making everything they need from scratch out in the wilds. They like the idea of building themselves from nothing.

Vehicle Builder - This player wants to cruise the wasteland in style. The details of mechanics, of making their own vehicle or jacking up an existing one, are the primary purposes of their play in game. They get something awesome that they can call their own that takes them wherever they want to go. Can easily cross over with the Commando or ReBuilder.

ReBuilder - This person wants to make their claim and conquer a chunk of the world, carving it into their own image. Whether building a fortress in the wilderness or expanding their hold on the city block by block, it’s not terribly important to them that there’s nothing in game that their absurd defenses and elaborate construction projects will every be truly challenged by - the fortress is it’s own reward. They will make this chunk of land truly THEIRS.

There may be other roles people play as well, and I’d like to hear them! When you play, what end goals do YOU have in mind? Did I miss anything?

Explorer - This player wants nothing more than to experience and explore the sights of a world which feels alive and unique every time they play.

Warlord - This player wants to lead other survivors, or work with them to achieve any of the other goals in question. Being a lone wolf is not in their game-plan, and deep interactions with other survivors will enrich the game for them.

My end goal is a mix of something between commando and warlord. I want to interact with other survivors, but not as their leader. I want to prowl the world, and deal with staying alive, but have a fallback plan or a base of operations I can return to. Essentially, what I want is this:

Hero - A character that does the things that NPCs can’t, either in exchange for supplies or training, or to give themselves a home, or just for the fun of being the Good Guy. They want to work alone, or maybe with one loyal friend (or loyal dog), but they want to do it for others. They need to be stronger, but they have a focus for where they’re going, and why they’re going there. The interaction with NPCs give them a reason to do all that awesome stuff, and add context, even if they don’t want to rule over or live with other survivors, they still need them.

Man I was looking for this topic earlier, but it got deleted or something. Hopefully I still have my response to that on the clipboard - OH YES I DO.

Well, if we’re going to get into the subject of end goals and the like, it seems most appropriate to talk about the end game - more specifically, the lack of one in Cataclysm’s current format.

As it currently stands, Cataclysm’s an endless roguelike - sure, there’s death, but that’s not really so much of an end as it is a loss. We don’t have anything that we’re surviving and working towards other than for the sake of surviving, and it creates a recursive loop of difficulty loss, as each forey into the wilderness that we survive usually rewards us with resources that make the next forey easier and more rewarding, so on and so on. We’re in an infinite rising action without a climax.

Based on what’s been done thus far, it seems quite clear that the next stage of the game was to be the Netherworld stage. With the world overrun, a direct approach to dealing with the hordes is simply impossible, and even in eliminating the current stock the contamination from XE037 means that it’s only a matter of time until another sizeable horde develops and things go right back to where they were. The only way to truly stop the cataclysm is to somehow cut it off at its source, either going to the netherworld and doing something there or SCIENCE!-ing up a solution that can draw all the XE037 out of our world and putting it back where it belongs. The world is saved, the game ends and we can finally start to calculate how well we did compared to other players.

I’d like to throw a little twist on your idea there. I don’t think the game should ever really end. It should be possible to clear areas, yes. It should be possible to undertake grand, epic, world-spanning missions to shut down the source of the zombie virus, or close the gates of hell, or whatever. But it should not be possible to ‘win’. The world is huge, and there’s always going to be more out there for you to fix. Whether that comes in the form of new updates adding in dangers you didn’t think possible, or just moving on to a new part of the world once you’ve cleansed and fortified the one you’re in, that’s up to you.

And that’s really the best part of this game. It ends when you say it ends, or when you die. The game doesn’t tell you that you’ve won, it’s up to you to give yourself a goal. For me, that would be creating a community of NPCs, and then taking convoys out to establish new colonies and save more people. For others, it might be becoming King of Punching, and being able to walk through a dead town unarmed, unhindered, and totally cool with throwing zombies through plate glass windows. It’s up to you.

The game tells you when you lose, but only you tell yourself when you win.

How about more endgame buildables and shit. I don’t really want an end, but completely removing zombies (those people are too decayed to live) would be awesome.

Also more survival thingies.

Also: Fuck someone posted before me about this.

We are working on a concept I’m calling “zombie replacement” -> basically, making zombies mutate over time. This means that day one would be mostly regular zombies, but the longer time passes, well…

I would also mind seeing things like ant colonies/bee colonies/triffid groves/fungus areas spread across the overmap over time. Really convey the feeling that the old world is truly changing.

Finally, we plan to expand portals. We’ve discussed basically having portals serve as an outlet for “energy” in addition to subprime creatures, and different types of energy have different results, but ultimately it would be an expanding border of modified terrain. A desert portal, an ice portal, and far more alien environments would all have their own small areas of influence at the start and gradually grow until the whole world is hostile.

A portal that changes the area around it into a place where observation works the same, but light has the speed of a walking human. It would constantly be dark, since sunlight would just get stuck somewhere in the upper atmosphere, and if you turn on a flashlight, it would take six or seven turns to fully grow out to its full radius. The creature that grow from the rock there use pulses of light to communicate, giving off living roads that lead to landmarks, and other, fouler creatures would absorb the light, hunting it like prey and feeding on it.

A portal that shifts the laws of reality to slowly solidify liquids near it. Rivers would have a gel-like coating that could be walked on, but would spawn variants of the goo-monsters. Goo creatures would be slowly drawn here to build massive nests, diverting rivers and ponds into them to feed their new hive. Players walking through would have to worry about their thirst, as drinks would be a little viscous and only provide half-quench value.

I like the idea of really alien landscapes that actually warp the laws of reality. It’s not just that the world has ended, the world is CHANGING, and you are no longer welcome in the new order of things.

[quote=“Benedict, post:2, topic:490”]Explorer - This player wants nothing more than to experience and explore the sights of a world which feels alive and unique every time they play.

Warlord - This player wants to lead other survivors, or work with them to achieve any of the other goals in question. Being a lone wolf is not in their game-plan, and deep interactions with other survivors will enrich the game for them.[/quote]
These are both good points. Exploration in this game really is quite fun, and the LoreSeekers would definitely fall under this heading as well. Thanks.

I’m definitely a builder (or re-builder), with some survivalist, explorer, and scavenger, too. Definitely not a commando, I guess, and I have yet to find a vehicle. (I played older versions of this game, but can’t get this one to work for me past Day 2 or so.)

I like this comment, because I’m just the reverse. I want a world I can try to restore (even if that looks hopeless). But that’s why I like this whole thread: the recognition that we’re not all alike.

So I want to plug OPTIONS. I love options. I turned off skill-rusting because I don’t like it. I don’t care what anyone else likes. Rather, I’m glad they have the option to play with it, if that’s what they like.

I also like the static spawn. So far, with the little I’ve been able to play, it seems to make the start lots harder, but it gives me the promise of actually accomplishing something.

And some options I might choose for one play, but not for another. Nothing like a little variety, right? :slight_smile:

I know that options aren’t always possible, and that even when possible, they might be difficult to program. (And I certainly recognize that the people working on this game are all volunteers!) So if an option isn’t possible or it’s too difficult to implement, no problem.

But where it is both possible and practical, I’d urge options as a way of letting people play the way they want. (I’d even prefer a save game option, but I know better than to open that can of worms!)

Options: not just for Gradius. Supporting WCG there.

Scavenger, Commando, Builder, Warlord/Hero; I like the idea of establishing a base and recruiting/upgrading* folks to go out and rebuild civilization.

*Yes, I stockpile CBMs & manufacture Mutagen. With over 100 internal battery power, I should probably start saving the batteries for others too.

Having “monster” facilities such as beehives expand and interact with each other would be a positive thing; more so if the player can intervene.

To illustrate: There are roughly equal amounts of ant colonies & beehives around my Lab, with a triffid grove a mile or so to the north; suburban area between Lab & grove. River north of that with a major urban area on the Lab’s map.

Problem is, the nearest anthill is alarmingly close to the underground portion of my Lab. And I prefer honey to rotten food. If the ants & bees got into some sort of territory punch-up, probably having to do with ants raiding the hive, bet your ass that I’d intervene on the bees’ behalf, and encourage their expansion as a counter to the ants. (If I nail the ant queen–not in that sense, the biology is in all likelihood incompatible anyway, so get out of the gutter–I’d expect the bees to expand to cover that surface area in time.) In time, however, the beehives near the triffd grove might find that the triffids don’t need their help and get into a fight there.

(It looks very much like giant bees are the Good Guys here. That’s probably because they don’t mess up terrain, provide useful resources, and aren’t that difficult to kill in melee, should it come to that. Bonus if leading zeds to the hive decremented the town-population and incremented the hive-population, leading to more Scarred Zombies.)

I’m all about options, but less so options that change fundamental mechanics of the game, if only for technical reasons. The gradius mention is good, because I think it’s something people generally seem to be pushing for - Giving you options on character creation to help you reach your actual play goals faster and worry less about the other playstyles.

So how can we give the player meaningful options that influence their play and aid them in having fun, hopefully without being to incredibly difficult technically?

So let’s go a bit deeper - WCG, you’ve established yourself as sort of a Builder and Reclaimer, it sounds like. Ignoring game wide-configs for a moment, let’s focus on your character, and starting a new one. (Others who fill this role can chime in too)

What sort of build do you choose for your character? What do your first couple days look like? What are the least fun bits of trying to fill that role right now? What are the most enjoyable bits? What things do you just plain not want to deal with?

Are you things you could start with or tweaks to your character that you feel would make for a more meaningful experience?

I’m a Builder and Reclaimer type myself, actually.

I play naturally gifted idiots-- High stats, lots of traits (both positive and negative), and a point in dodge. I tend to stay in town an hour or two past when zombies spawn looting shit. and make a narrow escape out into the woods. I read the rest of the day, camp for a night, then start working on getting gas/a vehicle.

Once I’ve got some form of transportation, and a set of basic necessities, I work on finding a place to hole up at-- Either a farm, an LMOE shelter, or a remote evac station. I unload there, do some basic fortifications, go get a shit ton of supplies, and start work on building something worth staying in.

I really enjoy creeping around at night, stripping towns clean. Building/modifying structures is fun as hell, and I wish there was more reason to actually use the Construction skill. What I don’t like is the lack of challenge once you have a basic set of defenses, and the lack of pressure to go out and do shit once you have a basic stock of supplies.

Not being able to batch craft really sucks.

I’m a scavenger, I love raiding towns for bits and pieces to drag back to my shelter and tinker with so for me the item crafting is possibly my favorite bit and one I’d love to see improved (more survival type recipes).

I play either a melee or archery build normally, and play with static spawns on so I start by looting the outskirts of towns for some gear then hiking out to find a base. From there I lead regular looting and clearing assaults on nearby towns collecting gear, food, skills ect.

We may need a new item for some kind of something here. Depleting natural resources is fun and all but no squirrels is not.

So we about a Triffid Queen Heart that would slowly replenish forest around it.

Good ideas.

You know what, let’s just hear from everyone. Get some nice user feedback about how you approach the game, and the bits that are enjoyable and the bits that aren’t. When do you get bored, especially? When do you have the most fun?

I like this comment, because I’m just the reverse. I want a world I can try to restore (even if that looks hopeless). But that’s why I like this whole thread: the recognition that we’re not all alike.[/quote]

I actually am totally with you. The feeling of alienation in our own world should serve as motivation to restore it and set things right. I want the alien landscapes to show up, both because it would be cool in game, and because it would give us a target and a reason to go into danger. You wouldn’t be able to simply sit back and build up indefinitely, because if you don’t hunt down and close those portals, the world will fundamentally shift to something unrecognizable.

Closing a portal would be both a symbolic strike against the idea that this new world is permanent, and also another step toward stable security for your new community.

Unfortunately, I’m new to this version (I haven’t played Cataclysm since last June), and I’ve had problems with the game crashing once I get to Day 2 or 3, so I started over a few times trying to get past that, without getting far enough to tell what I’m going to be doing.

I finally did get past that crash point with this character (by leaving for another evac shelter some distance away). But I’m still just feeling my way here with this version of the game.

For what it’s worth, I used every bit of advantage in my character creation, including 12 pts. of disadvantages. So I started with 1 in Mechanics (so I could make a crowbar), and I’ve got Night Vision and Light Step for night raiding and Animal Empathy to keep the wildlife at bay. But I’m playing with the static spawn option, and those things just seemed to be critical when you don’t have a grace period at the start of the game.

So far, during the day, I’ve carefully raided the most isolated homes I can find, and at night, I try to raid deeper into the city. I’m doing great on food and water, but even a raid on a gun shop didn’t get me a useful weapon (and I haven’t found a hacksaw to make a silencer, anyway). So when fighting, I usually shoot once with a crossbow (too slow to reload during a fight), then throw rocks. I really like the crafting in this game, so I made a steel spear, too, though it’s always my last option.

But I’m a very deliberate player, very cautious at everything, scared of my own shadow. I never liked to rush into town to get everything I needed in the first hour or so, so I love this new static spawn option. And it makes me play how I like to play, anyway - very timidly. :slight_smile: I figure my character is always scared to death, just like I would be in that situation.

To be honest, vehicles don’t sound appealing to me, so I haven’t even looked for one. I like the sneaking kind of character better, myself. I want to get stronger, better equipped, certainly more skilled, but I’m in no hurry. I guess I’d rather not feel powerful. I want a step-by-step process of rebuilding, but I don’t want to feel like the lord of anything.

And I really like this particular map I’m playing right now. There’s wildlife just everywhere, but no military bunkers or science labs, no bees, wasps, ants, triffids, or fungus (so far). Small towns are scattered around, so I can raid in almost any direction, but I haven’t found any sporting goods stores or pharmacies, and the gun shop was a huge letdown.

But again, for my particular style of play, this is perfect. I can stay the frightened rabbit of the zombie apocalypse this way. :slight_smile: