Project Micro – Part 1

I’ve had a few personal projects in the works for quite some time now, and they haven’t been working out. The cycle generally begins with enthusiasm and a grand vision, followed by inevitable scope-creep, culminating in the realization that the project has grown far beyond my capabilities alone. The obvious answer would be collaboration, but given my existing obligations and maladroit project management, I’d prefer not to rope anyone else into the project without a stronger roadmap.

The last project to be put on hold was an iOS shooter that I quickly realized required quite a bit more artwork than my non-artist self could provide. Turns out, a game where you fight giant robots with multiple destructible parts and reconfigurable weapons requires a talented character artist. After a while, I found it disheartening to work on. Fighting a cube in a gray-box level isn’t particularly exciting, and I found myself missing the forest for the trees. I enjoy systems-oriented work and would get bogged down, spending weeks building plumbing for a house not yet connected to the water main. The boss can’t die yet, but it runs on a custom hierarchical behavior-tree system with a full visual editor, so that’s neat, I guess.

I’ve decided it’s time for a change of pace. I need a project with a tighter control on scope. A project with a more focused end goal, and a project which doesn’t necessarily require an entire team of artists to complete. Thinking through these requirements, I came up with an idea.

Project Micro

Project micro is a physics based rogue-ish survival game, where the player must construct and evolve a virtual creature, battling for supremacy in the primordial ooze. The player initially designs a simple creature using cells connected by links. There are many types of cells and links, each of which serve a different purpose as a component of a player’s creation. Players must navigate through the (very limited) environment and consume as many rival creatures as possible. At fixed time intervals, the player is invited to edit their creature, making changes as they see fit. The severity of these changes is dependent on their success (eat more opponents, change more rapidly).

Opponents function identically to the player, but are controlled by a procedurally evolved neural network. Initially, opponents will be generated using a few seed creatures, and will flounder through the water aimlessly. Each time an opponent is consumed, the current most successful AI is cloned, mutated, and spawned elsewhere on the map. The vision for the project is a continually evolving ecosystem, where opponents become increasingly effective and aggressive, until they inevitably kill the player.

The goal is to construct a micro-scale arms race, where players must constantly update their strategy in order to survive opponents which are forever adapting to the game state. While this idea isn’t necessarily new (I admit, it’s heavily inspired by the early stages of Spore), I think building a much more dynamic game could really be interesting, both from a gameplay and design perspective. It also exists as an almost entirely systems-driven experience, interacting nicely with my skill set and keeping the scope relatively small.

Here We Go…

So now I’ve got an idea, and I’m off to the races! I’m also jumping on the old “gamedev blog” bandwagon and will “try to post regular status updates” as things come together. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to build a physics engine.