Chimera II

Before David and I started work on Pandora, we talked about an interim project. We should have done this.

I loved the way we worked back then. I’d have these grandiose ideas and David would help me to ground them. This makes me sound creative and David sound organised, but actually, David is perhaps more creative than I. It was just the way we interfaced. It’s almost impossible to describe, but it worked to a fashion.

David went on to create Conflict: Middle East Political Simulator, one of the most innovative games I’ve played. (I helped with the graphics libraries and music, and with porting, graphics and music on the St and Amiga versions). He then created the even more ambitious Floor 13, which I’ve urged him to remake for the modern era.

Chimera II would have been a suitable half-way point between the commercial success of Chimera and the creative ambition of Pandora. I had a bunch of ideas, which David then ran with and turned into something actually useful. I present his Chimera II document to you after 27 years. This won’t be what I make next, but it might have been a very good Chimera II in 1986.

1985 Chimera II Design Notes 11985 Chimera II Design Notes 21985 Chimera II Design Notes 31985 Chimera II Design Notes 4

Crazy, Crazy World

The world seems to have gone to hell. Countries are on the verge of collapsing, economies held together with sticky tape and Pritt stick, kids getting beaten up by police on the streets of London and Liberals turning out to be utter sell-outs.

Yet for some reason that I can’t quite fathom, when I should be at my most radical, with all of my activist engines on full boost, I am excited about my trade. My trade? Video games. That’s right. I’m so very excited about games, about making them, playing them, learning about them.

I’ve talked about making games with a message, subversive games, but that’s not why I’m loving them at the moment. My guess is that coding is a problem I enjoy solving and something over which I have some control. It is an area in which I can experiment, ask questions and get answers.

I’m still kind of dumbfounded that I have anything at all on the screen and despite my tardiness in recent times, I have made great strides and the results of that will be visible soon.

I managed to get boost::signals (or is it the single ‘s’? I can never remember) working. I had to drag the source for the signals library into my Xcode project, but that worked just fine. I also updated to the latest version of Xcode 4 and I’m particularly enjoying the Assistant mode, but I can’t really talk about that I don’t think, so let’s stop right there.

I am really surprised at just how powerful boost::signals and boost::bind are, and I will be using them a fair bit now.

I’ve also been thinking about the design and have some more ideas on that. Happy to share too.

Remember I talked about two phases to the game? Material and Energy? Well now I know how to switch phases. I want to do a twist on “game over” – it’s called “it’s never over” – when your energy drops to a critical level in the Material phase, the game switches to Energy mode. Everything becomes brighter, ethereal, vector-like and yes, glowing and sparkly. I like the sound of that. And to get back to material mode (reincarnate?) you need to accumulate sufficient energy. Or rather, “recycle” it. Everything will get smoother, more dream-like. So that’ll be a particle system then.

[Update: 21:44 – I’ve just got the threshold value-checking in and I was just thinking aloud – how about if the switch from material phase to energy phase was under player control? And the phasing is quite fast and frantic. Other games have jump and shoot as “panic mechanics” – I could have “the switch” – I’m usually good with names so I’ll have to come up with something suitably pretentious to describe it. For now, it’s just “the switch”.

[Update 22:09 Eureka! Energy gradually goes down in material phase, culminating in death with zero energy unless you switch to energy mode, in which case energy starts increasing gradually. In material phase, you use large amounts of energy for more energy-expensive moves. In energy phase, you gain large amounts of energy, but you lose material (i.e. room structure, perhaps the floor or the hull of the spacecraft) – I like this – and it could be fun if the rate at which you need to switch phase varies according to environmental factors]



What is Chimera?

I’m really understanding what this game is about now.

  • Energy
  • Environment
  • Reframing the past
  • Redemption

In order for the game to be about the above list, these all have to be factored into gameplay. And that’s my challenge.

The energy bit is really easy and most games do a simple variation of this. The obvious example is an FPS game, where you have a certain amount of health, as do the bad guys, and shooting them, or being shot, affects your energy.

I’m taking that a bit further and turning it into more of a real-time-resource-management issue. Energy is a resource, the Environment is a “trust”. In order to fulfill your stewardship of the latter, you need to be clever about the former.

Energy is expended in varying amounts depending on your activity and on the prevailing environment.

Reframing the past is about being able to over-write your previous actions, committed at every stage, and thereby “un-commit” them. And redemption means going back in the game and fixing mistakes that would have been harder to fix at the time.


Developer Diary: Tuesday 28th September 2010

Chimera Supervision

I had a pretty grim day at work today, so it was vital that I didn’t let that affect me in the evening. It did. It slowed me down and made it harder for me to really focus. I didn’t let it put a halt to proceedings, I know that’s fatal.

So I cleaned up the code as best I could. I put cross-hairs up so I could get everything aligned. Can’t believe I didn’t do that before. Now everything is drawing where I want it to draw.

I think I need to do collision detection tomorrow.

Now, I promised I’d talk about design, so here it is.

The Good Stuff

There are three essential themes to this game:

1) Conservation of Energy

2) Materialism vs Energy

3) Constant feedback

“But it’s a maze puzzle game!” I hear you say. And so it was. You also know the subheading for this game. And I do indeed aim to get it right, this time.

Energy Conservation

Energy conservation is an important theme in any game, so that’s not new. What I want to do in this game though, is make it very explicit that everything you do costs energy, except when you’re in the Energy state. (I’ll explain that shortly). Moving forwards costs energy. Rotation costs energy. Retreat costs energy. Climbing costs lots of energy.

You will get opportunities to replenish your energy when the game is in the Energy state.

Materialism vs Energy

I want there to be a constant interplay between the two states or phases of the game. On the one hand, when the blocks are solid and material (as are you), energy use is expensive, but material effects are higher. For example, if you trigger an explosion, it will cost you some energy, but it will also destroy blocks and therefore have a big material effect.

When the ship is in the Energy state on the other hand, you too are Energy and you can freely move into and out of form and merge with the objects of the game. You can then “possess” the objects (some of which will actually be characters, like robots) and do what you will with them. Be careful though, because although you don’t use energy in this state (in fact you recuperate), if the phase turns to material, you are destroyed if you are merged with another object.

Constant Feedback

I want the game to always make it very clear when you are doing well and when you’re doing badly. The game has an intrinsic rhythm of play, indicated by some kind of visual indicator (undetermined) and audio (probably the heartbeat from the C64 version or similar). If you play to the rhythm of the game, the scoring multipliers are massive. I want scores every time you spend any energy, every time there is a composite side effect, and negative scores every time something hurts you. On the other hand, in the Energy phase, things are a lot more chilled, and there is no scoring, only contemplation, recuperation, reconfiguration and reimagining.

What do you think of this?

(Oh, yes, I did a version of Chimera for the ill-fated SuperVision handheld in 1991 or thereabouts. Powerful, nice 6502, but bulky. And no, I didn’t have anything to do with that cover. Why do they all think it was a robot? It screamed! Robots don’t scream!)