A relic hunt by Jeff Warrender and Steve Sisk

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Into the temple

I've been putting off thinking about the temple phase until the thoughts for the external phase solidified, and while that's still in progress, it seems like an appropriate time to see where the temple stands and where it could go.  

The goal of the temple phase is a satisfying third act that mirrors the third act in the IJ movies, in which Indy, armed with some knowledge, enters the lost temple to try to recover the lost artifact.  There are four qualities that characterize the temple exploration:

  • Urgency  The player feels time pressure to complete the temple before the other players, or the enemy, complete it first.
  • Danger  The temple is a dangerous place, and is full of challenges the player will have to overcome en route to the artifact.
  • Discovery  The temple's layout and characteristics aren't fully known in advance, and exploration in the temple reveals surprises.
  • Intentionality  The information the player has collected steers his decisions in the temple and help him to make decisions about, e.g., route-planning.
Our previous version of the temple had all of these qualities to some degree.  There are 9 temple tiles, all of which start face-down, and each of which had 4-6 rooms, 3 spaces for challenge tiles, and 1 testable "feature".  The multi-room tiles let you do some intermediate route-planning, while still presenting some uncertainty with respect to what is on the next tile.  

The problem, as I see it, is that it doesn't really fully deliver on the last two characteristics.  There isn't really much drama to the route-planning at present;  if you don't know what feature you're looking for, you just wander around trying stuff, and if you do, you just wander around looking for it.  The path you take in both cases is a random walk.  And there isn't much discovery -- if you know what feature you're looking for, you activate it; if you don't, maybe you'll activate some features randomly, but again, there isn't a strong sense of wonder unlocking the temple's secrets.

The reason that these aspects fall flat, I believe has to do with the mostly generic nature of the tiles.  Yes, each card has a different feature, and yes, the random challenges will make each tile different, and yes, the rooms all look different thanks to Steve's great visual design work.  But there isn't a feeling of place-specificity to each room, a sense that the room I'm currently in, or the path that I want to follow to get to the Throne Room, is fundamentally different from others.

What makes this more challenging is that the temple phase should feel closely connected to the external phase.  This means of course that ideally, mechanics should be similar, but also that game elements that are important outside the temple should play some role in the temple.  Additionally, we want to keep players on-task, which means single-mindedly searching for the artifact; we don't want to send them off on extraneous side-missions to recover lost gold or something.  

With the addition of new concepts to the external phase (e.g. phobias, enemy operatives, allies, powerup cards), perhaps there is an opportunity to utilize these concepts to amplify the discovery and exploration -- i.e., they provide more stuff to see without necessarily encumbering players with more stuff that they want to do.

Here are sketches of some ideas of things that could possibly be included, and then a future post will pull everything together once I've figured out how to do that.

Phobias are easy:  these can be incorporated overtly into the artwork, and if you face a temple challenge in a given room, and you have a phobia that is illustrated in that room, your response to the challenge is reduced by 2, same as outside the temple.  (The difference is that it's out in the open, it doesn't need a player to "discover" it in the artwork).

Powerups are also easy:  illustrations in the temple rooms can show icons matching those of the powerup cards, and when you go to a room with an icon matching a card that you hold, you get to execute a special ability as indicated on the card.  

Enemy operatives have to be handled carefully.  On the one hand, the idea of enemy agents chasing you through the temple works thematically; on the other, forcing players to police the operatives via some AI is a distraction.  But not having operatives in the temple at all may feel like a missed opportunity.  I may have an acceptable compromise:  some of the temple rooms have a color-coded spot that matches the color of one of the operatives.  If that operative is activated (ie, his card is face-up in the row of enemy operatives), you place an enemy pawn on that space.  Then what happens?

The easiest thing is that the pawn stays put and does something bad when you enter that room:  moves the enemy progress track, or increases the difficulty of a challenge, etc.  Something like that could work.

But I have an idea for a different system, that integrates with this.  The idea is basically this:  the player can set his "aggressiveness" level at the start of each turn, basically representing how fast he's going:  more aggressive means he will traverse more rooms in this turn.  But, there are three aspects that counterbalance going full-speed.  The first is that he's more likely to trip on the trigger for a trap.  The second is that he's less likely to "see" features that he can test.  The third is that he's more likely to generate noise.  Noise acts like a magnet for operatives in nearby rooms, pulling them closer to him. 

I think the way this would be handled is with a set of icons on the traps and in certain rooms. When you pass through a room with an icon, you check your aggressiveness and see if you are required (or enabled) to activate that icon.  What's neat is that some of the features can organically have associated effects; opening a heavy sarcophagus inherently creates noise; approaching the forbidden altar inherently triggers a challenge.  

As more rooms are discovered, the attributes of each room will create a network of effects that players will have to navigate, and this will add route-planning, particularly if the solution to the temple involves multiple steps (eg find the grail and then bring it to a font to test it).

The details need to be worked out further, but I'm optimistic these new ideas might provide useful raw material.

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