Where we are going - The game design of Fireside
Hey, person on the internet! You're interested in our game Fireside, that's awesome! As it turns out, we're currently looking to expand our team with a writer. We'll keep sharing this call during the coming weeks and decide on a new teammate in 2021! So please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to join! For now, Fireside is still a hobby/passion project. But we're looking to increase our ambition in 2021!
So let's get back to the topic at hand. Where is Fireside going?
We've been developing Fireside for around 8 months now and have been updating you about us solving technical problems and creating art assets. Many of you have been checking out our developer logs here on itch.io and we are grateful for the attention and feedback we've gotten so far!
However, there has been one question we've been asked many times now: What is the game you're making? What's the gameplay? The demo we created for Stay Safe Jam conveys the game's atmosphere and to be honest, that's still the core of our vision. Building on that, we want to introduce you to our game design in this developer log. Hopefully starting to answer the question: What is Fireside?
Focusing on the breaks of a journey
First, let's see what we've got so far. The core of our vision always has been that Fireside is a game that focuses on the breaks of a journey. In RPGs, the screen typically fades to black once the player decides to take a rest and skips the moment of calmness of sitting at the fireside. We're of the opinion that an evening at the Fireside can be just as memorable as a day of adventuring - perhaps even more so. Showing solidarity with fellow travelers can be as rewarding as slaying a ferocious beast.
We want to highlight these moments of rest as a time of cooling down (or warming up); not necessarily free of conflict but free of violent conflict. The warm shine of the fireside conveys a wholesome atmosphere which we're already showcasing in the game jam demo.
However, many video games are fun precisely because of violence. Mostly, because violent mechanics easily justify combat-based skill checks. And while we do enjoy playing such games, that is not our vision for Fireside. We also didn't want to make a puzzle game. So leaving out combat- and puzzle-based skill checks what can you do in Fireside? The answer is: You can talk, trade, and gather resources.
By talking to fellow travelers you learn about their personality, backstory, and problems. Maybe Sira had a though day making her way through a winding ravine so you share some of your water. Maybe Leo found a sunken treasure he's excited about only for him to find out later it was cursed and now he's asking for advice on how to deal with it. We will need exciting characters and stories to build interest.
Trading means exchanging items fellow travelers are offering for items they need. The challenge is for the player to decide what items to keep in their inventory and what items to give away. It is important for the player to make assumptions about what other travelers might need in the environment the player is traveling to. The player must gather hints from the environment and by talking to NPCs to make informed decisions on which items to keep and which items to give away.
In order to have material for trading, the player must gather resources. Here, we want to expand the interactivity of the demo by providing opportunities for interaction from which the player gains resources. This means opening a treasure chest or chopping down a tree. Providing rewards when clicking the correct object in the environment will liven up gameplay.
The next question is how to take these elements and make a coherent game while always focusing on the wholesome atmosphere we're after. We can't overdo the trading aspect thus making the game an economic simulation (not very wholesome) and we also can't make gathering resources a competition from the player's point of view. Working under these constraints has proven to be quite tricky. Still, we believe to have found a way of designing a game that stays true to our vision. In our opinion, it is an issue of framing and balancing the systems correctly to find a sweet spot of wholesome atmosphere, gameplay, and challenge.
The game loop
In Fireside the player will go on multiple journeys where they will explore different environments. On a single day of travel, the player will first choose a destination. Like in the demo, the traveling part of the player's journey will be highly abstracted by the player simply moving along a pre-made path. They may encounter an event along the way which will influence their resources.
Once the day's travel is complete, the player reaches the campsite. Here, they will meet other travelers with whom they can talk and trade. Additionally, the player must decide how much wood they want to use to stoke the flame of the campfire. This will influence how long the fire keeps burning thus influencing how much time there is to talk & trade with fellow travelers. Once the fire has burnt down to embers everyone in the camp goes to rest and the next day of travel starts.
After completing a journey, the player arrives back at their house where they invite some of the friends they've made on their journey. The player finds out about new places to go to and sets off again. This makes Fireside similar to a rogue-lite but cutting combat-mechanics in favor of a more dense story.
Who am I?
But who is the person or being experiencing these journeys? Up until now the term "traveler" was sufficient. This is a tricky question because simply being human quickly implies a system that doesn't fit a wholesome atmosphere. The issue is human needs (such as hunger, thirst, or exhaustion) quickly create a competitive environment amongst travelers, going against the core of our vision. We want the player to help NPCs and not compete with them.
It took us some time to come up with a solution to this dilemma. After all, the player's needs are core to classic survival games and it's easy to make them the center of a trading system, too. In our opinion, a system that communicates wholesomeness is one where the participating entity's goals are aligned. If the player wants to give the NPCs what they want and in turn receives a reward that abstracts the notion of "wanting to help" there is a way to construct a wholesome system.
While there is no intuitive systemic reason for sharing with strangers if we take the physical world as a reference, we can still invent one in the context of our game. This works by having the player have different core needs than the NPCs thus changing the nature of who the player is:
You play as an immortal spirit which makes it intuitive not to be bound by physical needs. Still, we need to justify why and how the spirit communicates with other travelers. So we decided for our spirit to have a humanoid form and be generally human-like. However, instead of hunger or thirst, the spirit requires soul energy (working title) to survive in the wilderness. The farther the spirit travels from its home the weaker its soul energy becomes. Once the spirit's soul energy runs out it is transported back to its home. Sort of like HP in rogue-likes work. However, the spirit may gain soul energy by helping travelers and performing trades. You can think of the player converting soul energy into resources for the NPCs who in turn give the player soul energy. A win-win scenario; perfect for a game with a wholesome atmosphere!
The end goal is for the spirit to find salvation by recovering relics and forming relationships with other travelers. This means, as the spirit the player must travel a set distance but doesn't have enough soul energy to make it there by themselves. This is why the player must make trades and help NPCs efficiently. In a way, the player is cursed to be the good spirit of travelers and is trying to lift this curse.
By introducing this goal we create a systemic reason for the player to help NPCs which isn't directly coupled to the resources the NPCs require. The game is no longer about competing for resources but instead about helping NPCs as efficiently as possible. This serves the wholesome atmosphere we're going for!
Of course, the atmosphere will still be the element that carries our game but it is important to have a game system that harmonizes with this part of the vision.
Of course, the system we're describing here still leaves plenty of questions open but we now have a framework that we can use to design our game. Some questions we're working on answering as of now are:
- What people do you meet?
- What stories do they tell?
- What areas can you explore?
- What items can you trade?
However, the design now becomes a question of execution rather than concept. So if you have any feedback on our overarching game design or even ideas for the content we might implement, please do not hesitate to suggest them if you want to! The best way to reach us is through our discord server but Twitter works, too!
As with our development up until this point, we intend to keep you updated on the progress we're making with the design and development of Fireside. As mentioned in the introduction we're looking for a writer to join our team. If you want more details about the project, its scope, and our ambitions please write an e-mail to email@example.com!
So stay safe and happy holidays from the Fireside team! We're excited about the future!
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