Saturday, July 1, 2017

Blob my barbarian bears

My recent complaints about the simplistic, uncreative aliens in the turn-based strategy game Pandora: First Contact bring to mind the consistent lack of creativity in game monsters as a whole. Even RPGs with slightly artsy aspirations like Torment: Tides of Numenera will promise an astounding world of mind-bending futurosity, then restrict themselves to little green men and painfully trite black slimy tentacle monsters. It's especially jarring when a game promotes itself as the spiritual successor to a title it can't even manage to imitate, as Pandora does. Alpha Centauri's ersatz nerve runners didn't just benefit from a solid backstory and flavor text. They interacted with terrain (hiding in fungus) and reacted to player activity.

So in what other ways might we move past the gimmick of "a barbarian bear" using standard movement mechanics and unit stats?

What about monsters coalescing from smaller constituents? Say two mind worm boils randomly enter the same square. They coalesce into a larger boil with the unique property of attracting more boils from any neighboring square into itself. As it grows its attractive range grows as well. Should be easy to implement in a flat turn-based TBS like the Civilization games and their clones: add another square or hex to its radius of effect. Maybe such brain vermin might gain more abilities and not just stats as the swarm grows. It should be particularly amusing combined with invisibility mechanics or simple fog of war. Breathe a sigh of relief as monsters seem to wander out of your lands only to be blindsided by their re-emergence as an unstoppable wave of destruction.

Easily adapted to less sci-fiyish settings as well. Substitute "charismatic leader." Maybe the rebels that spring up in your lands flock to a particular Luke Skywalker, boosting his army.

Or hey, why don't we make better use of that classic of B-horror, The Blob? Give me a blob that doesn't just grow in stats ("experience points") as it grows, but literally grows, taking up more and more squares / hexes as it engulfs your units, terrain improvements and bases.

What else, let's see...
Why can't we adapt those noise-sensitive, sessile tentacles from the first Half-Life to TBS? Place an invincible (or nearly so) and immobile monster on the game map, capable of striking at any of the hexes surrounding it. Scale its aggression with nearby potential targets' ... movement speed, let's say, as a stand-in for noise. So it would swat at any fast-rolling batmobiles but infantry units would slowly trudge past in relative safety. Maybe it tolerates any quiet terrain improvements but attacks any noisy / polluting industrial areas, imposing a quiet amishy farming lifestyle in its surrounding terrain.

Also, why don't flying monsters make nests? I don't mean regular monster spawners, but that wandering neutral monsters should, ida know, lay an egg or something every once in a while. Bring the egg back to base before it hatches in x turns, and you got yourself a tame monster unit.

Turn-based strategy games seem a fairly sterile, stiff medium, but even here there's so much room for creativity outside the expectations of the unthinking.

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