In July of 2013, I became a solo indie game developer. Though I wasn’t able to make a lot of progress for the first few months due to a relocation and other mundane life happenings, I’ve now been plugging away at a game thing, and it’s probably past due that I start talking about it.
In my yet-to-be-named game, you are a medieval merchant. You make long treks across a vast desert with your camel caravan, managing resources and the morale of your fellow crew and passengers, so that you can bring treasures and precious necessities back to your homeland.
That’s all I’m going to say for now. My intention with this blog is that in future updates, I’ll show, rather than tell, what my game is shaping up to be. Also, quite importantly, it’s early days, and there’s still a lot I need to discover about the game. Lots of assumptions that remain to be tested, and many concrete ideas I have about the game will likely change before I’m done. However, I can tell you why this is the game I’ve chosen to make.
So, when you’ve set yourself to make an indie game, one common piece of advice is not to make an RPG. Make something simple. A puzzle game, or an arcade action game. I decided to make an RPG, kinda.
I had originally intended to heed that advice and start with an indie platformer. I really do love platformers and, around that time, I had been pretty into Pixeljunk Eden. Controlling your little “grimp” is so expressive and such a satisfying thing to master, and I had an idea to create something like it, but ideally less punitive and with more obliging level design. However, this idea was a relatively new, amorphous one, and several others had been simmering longer in my mind, and it was those that would occupy my thoughts and get me fired up. Despite my love for platformers, I was also more interested in seeing more indie RPGs than another entry in the crowded indie platformer market. So hey, since I already quit a steady job for this, why not follow my passion rather than the more conservative path?
I should perhaps say up-front that, when I say RPG, my touchstones aren’t Final Fantasy or Baldur’s Gate. Think more along the lines of Sid Meier’s Pirates! or Papers, Please. You may disagree that these games are RPGs at all, and that’s fine — genres, especially that of the RPG, are fairly meaningless constructs anyway. Those two games do, however, underscore what I most enjoy about RPGs: using consistent systematized rulesets to interact with and explore deeply considered worlds/settings. My ideal RPG would be relatively light on prescribed, special-case content (long dialogue dumps or cutscenes) and heavy on systemic interactions that alter the world state (conquering a port in Pirates!, detaining or denying certain NPCs in Papers, Please).
I’m also interested in exploring non-violent gameplay. As I think back on my favorite moments from RPGs past, they’re very rarely about violently dominating NPCs, and if they are, it’s because I did it in some clever, systemically transgressive way. Yet in most RPGs, it is a foregone conclusion that you will have slain dozens of beings by the game’s completion. I recognize that most game violence is just an abstraction, but I do feel it important that we expand the vocabulary with which games can speak by learning to abstract other verbs.
Finally, the roguelike-like thing. I guess that being a roguelike-like just means that the player’s actions have consequences, and that you procedurally shuffle your content. Meaningful consequences is just good game design, so sure, I want to do that. “Randomizing” content is an invaluable trick to an indie with limited sources, helping to keep a set amount of content fresher for longer.
Those three ambitions probably offer good insight into how I arrived at this idea. Who’s a cool person you can be in an RPG world that doesn’t kill hundreds of dudes? How about the road-wise traveling merchant? In bartering, haggling, and parleying, the player can systemically affect change upon the world state. In traveling across hostile landscapes and visiting settlements at differing times, “randomized” encounters can be offered up.
Thanks for reading!