Hokay, so game jam stuffs.
I’m currently taking part in a longer term game jam, Awful Jams Winter Jam. Deadline is the 21st, and I’m working solo. However I have been, and will be fairly busy with other things during this time so for me it’ll still be fairly small in scope as I continue to work on other projects, job hunting, and spend some time visiting family. Taking part is partially just to force myself to stay active, and keep deadlines that someone other than me knows about.
So what am I doing? Well the theme is “weird history”. I had a lot of themes bouncing around my head that either had interesting mechanical spaces, or were simply evocative like railroad barons, pioneering, conquistadors. But I very quickly ran into a sense of responsibility to the word “history”. I have a certain reverence for history, and so while I was pretty set on doing some kind of fantasy-fied alt-history, I was also hesitant to do things that I might misrepresent even at a high or thematic level. So I fell back on what I know best: World War 2, a hobbyist interest of mine.
I had a number of ideas bumbling around based on past musings, like making a high-fantasy version of WWII with magic users on each side. But I didn’t have a simple or elegant hook for that. The first promising idea I had was some kind of tactical wargame, but in the structure of an old school or Dark Soulsian boss fight. Have traditional armed forces maneuvering around predictable attack patterns, and attacking weakpoints, etc.. I never quite settled on a premise, but was debating something (inspired by earlier conquistador aesthetic) like discovering and fighting over a new continent on Earth that featured giant monsters.
I also debated doing a game around Japanese grand strategy leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbour. It would be a game of managing tensions, and pressing your luck to try and build to the single devastating attack. You would manage tension between public opinion at home, tension with the US, keeping your plans and movements secret, but trying to build up, and deploy as large of a force as possible, all while running out your limited fuel supplies. I still like this concept, and may return to it, or an abstraction of it some day. But I decided against it both because while unique, it wasn’t particularly “weird”, and also felt like it could quickly grow too complex.
As a way to better focus, and contextualize the boss-fight idea, I recentered it around the Pacific theatre. A Pacific fleet against a giant kaiju-like monster. I had been having trouble figuring out a compelling way to make use of ground forces in such a boss battle, but ships and airplanes both relying on momentum made the idea of dodging attacks more interesting. From much earlier I wanted to feature the very different characteristics of different armies, and the IJN (Imperial Japanese Navy) and USN (US Navy) have pretty distinctive highlights for this.
I liked the imagery of a kaiju popping up literally in the middle of an engagement between the two fleets. And this solved the issue of including both navies being meaningful. I was already thinking of a very simple combat system where units attacked automatically on being issued move orders, or based on targets entering firing arcs. So with that I felt it would make the combat system more interesting, and difficult to solve if both fleets remained present, and hostile throughout the fight.
And so I settled on the concept, working title: World War Kaiju. It will be a turn-based game on a hex grid with 3 factions: the monster/kaiju, IJN, and USN. Both navies will be player controlled, and allow for local multiplayer so you can work with, or troll your friends. Mechanically there is no incentive to harm the enemy fleet, and you are better off trying to avoid this, but it could be a source of silly fun.
Larger ships (battleships, cruisers, carriers) will likely take up more than 1 hex. Other ships, and airplane squadrons will only occupy 1. The monster will be many hexes large. These hexes will have mechanical significance to its attacks, and where it is vulnerable to attack from. Ex: you may only be able to harm it by hitting a hex where its neck is from the sides.
The IJN and USN fleets will have different compositions, and performance characteristics to very roughly reflect historical differences, and create a greater variety of play.
The kaiju will select semi-randomly from a series of potential attack patterns. It will have learnable wind-up animations, and potentially ground indicators of where certain attacks will hit. Ex: a thrown chunk of land may display a shadow where it is about to land.
In addition to direct strikes, and thrown projectiles, a key mechanic to the kaiju’s attacks will be the creation of waves. Waves will be created in predictable patterns by certain attacks such as striking, emerging from the water, or charging in a direction. Once created a wave will occupy 1 hex, and have a direction. It will travel in that direction at a constant rate until it goes off-screen (or dissipates if this is included). A wave that strikes a small ship will kill it. Since larger ships will likely lack the speed to avoid them, the current plan is to have them be stunned. Ex: a carrier will be unable to rearm aircraft, maneuver, use AA, etc. Waves will likely not affect aircraft.
Ships, and aircraft will be limited in their movement based on the direction they are currently traveling. Most units will attack automatically a target (kaiju, or opposing fleet) if within a defined firing arc. Though there will be a likely exception for torpedoes. Torpedoes, if included, will behave like waves travelling 1 space in a direction each turn, and not affect aircraft.
The initial plan is for all attacks to do 1 damage, and the kaiju will be the only thing with more than 1 hp.
Non-Kaiju Units and Characteristics
The goal is to keep the number of units to a minimum. Some may only appear on one side, and if they appear on both they will likely have different characteristics for movement or firing arcs. An initial list of likely potential units (to be tested, and refined) is carriers, battleships, cruisers/battlecruisers, destroyers, fighter planes, bombers, torpedo bombers.
Ships will be very limited in how fast they can turn from their current course, but will have control to change the speed at which they move each turn. Turning will likely only by 1 hex edge per hex moved or per turn. Large ships will likely be 1 hex wide, and 2 hexes long.
Aircraft will be able to travel in a similar way, but also be able to perform tight turns. Though most will lose the ability to attack in a turn they perform a tight turn.
Ships and aircraft will be differentiated based on fleet. Ex: IJN fighters will be zeros, and be slower travelling straight, but be able to attack the same turn they perform a tight turn. I’ll be doing some very cursory research to find how to differentiate the two sides. But the main design space axes used for this will be speed, maneuverability, and firing arc pattern.
Stretch/Optional Combat Stuffs
The monster may create some sort of aerial target for the player(s) to defend against. Maybe launched drones, debris, acid. This would be to include, and justify anti-air defenses on ships, and airplanes in the game.
Ships and airplanes might take into account the speed at which they were moving on previous turns.
I want to aim for something fun, and dramatic tone and look like a Saturday morning cartoon. Games like Sentinels of the Multiverse and Galak-Z are close to what I’m imagining.
I want to have an effect for the wake, and vapor trails (of airplanes) to help give the game a very dynamica look of swirling chaos even with low fidelity graphics. And building on the cartoon or action anime aesthetic I’d like to have dramatic splash images that can come on screen as key attacks happen. Ex: if a battleship delivers a killing blow we might see a commander thrust his arm while yelling an order before the guns fire.
To feed this heroic drama, and make things less impersonal I also want to name every unit on both sides after well-known individuals from history. The IJN battleship will be the Yamamoto, the US carrier can be the Enterprise, a Zero fighter may be famed pilot Saburo Sakai, etc.
Right now I’m wrapping up things I need to get done before my trip home. Once there I’ll be spending time with family, but also digging in with this project. A week from today I want the game effectively done. The remaining time will be primarily for tuning. If there’s time I may also use it for the stretch goals or including more art assets/effects, or additional kaiju attack patterns.
I’ll be partaking in the Global Game Jam from the 26th to 28th back here up north. And some time between now and then I will have completed a variety of design fan-projects related to Warframe that I can show off. I need to look into it a bit more, but I think I’ll be posting my honors paper related to game design soon as well.