February 16, 2009

Entering the Imagine Cup

Not a very imaginative blog post title, is it?

As you may have gathered, I've decided to enter Microsoft's Imagine Cup in the Game Development competition.

Other teams (of up to four people) from around the world have been working on this since August of last year. I discovered the competition three weeks before the due date. As such, I'm not too confident about my chances, and I'll have to crunch for all three weeks to get anything decent done. Still, what's there to lose, other than time? The theme is pretty much "a game about technology solving the world's problems", so I'm making a game about researching and deploying alternative energy solutions.

Not having high expectations also frees me to experiment with game mechanics. By that I'm pretty much trying to say that I have no clue of whether or not the game on which I'm working so hard will turn out to be any fun at all.

The game (still searching for a title) has two basic actions: researching (at a few different speeds) and building new power plants. It's said again and again that it's what the player does that's important. I worry that this game will be too sparse on the user-action side of things. It could be that the player spends all of his or her time waiting for a new tech to upgrade and then building a new plant. What's interesting about that?

My hope is that I can compensate for this sparsity of mechanics by increasing the pace of the game. Cities constantly demand more and more power, and new cities will pop up from time to time. Still, what do I do with the downtime in between? I'm wrestling with the question of whether or not I should let players pause the game while building; it would certainly make things easier, but it might, in the process, remove any excitement from the game.

Ultimately, the only interesting choice in the game is judging the most useful level of research and the best time to build. I couldn't simulate the game in my head quite well enough to tell if this was going to be fun, so I decided to build the game and find out. It's a gamble. We'll see how it goes.

And now my skepticism is on the record.

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