Prototyping: Inspiration and Play Test Iteration
Last night I decided to try Project Zomboid with Super Survivors! Mod that adds NPC survivors, who consume food/water with delegations on performing labor around a 'base' camp area. This helped me return to play testing with a new perspective on changing some mechanics to better adjust to the idea of the Player's initial turns being based on just trying to survive.
The game system in PZ doesn't really accommodate the intent of the mod well, and it's quite janky, but it was a pretty good insight on the 'phases' of progression that are built on the secondary mechanics: the opening sequence of the apocalypse is PANIC and total chaos. The second stage is consolidation, or trying to find a rat hole to get one's bearings. After that, seems to be focusing on sustainability and survival - this is a stage that helped me break some things down that were a bit of a problem with the current prototype.
So mainly, the idea of just 'growing' a border makes no sense - it seems more like an abstracted 'zone of control' that I kind of want to move away from. So I've changed the 'tile ownership' mechanic to the size of your camp - the adjacency tile ownership is your camp growing by a tile. At the start you have two - one is the central camp area, the second is an adjacent tile.
The next concept I paired back was the idea of population growth. In Civ, Stellaris or any 4X game the expansion element is tied to a formula that roughly equals to 'if there is enough resources, a new population will grow ever x turns'. In Civ, this is scaled by increasing the base cost per population, and in Stellaris it is blocked by the size of a planet/and each planet/system increasing a range of base costs. Ideally this helps prevent snowballing, as advantages in these games then to become exponential by mid/late-game.
This is where inspiration from my play of PZ actually hit home; I was driving a police car through a horde of zombies (trying to frantically find food), and a survivor wanted to be rescued/join. Even though I'm completely out of food, I still rescued her, but now the pressure to find more food had increased. What a neat balance of pressures, risks and rewards. Instead of 'growing' population tokens on tiles, finding them out in the world and trying to support them made more sense - this could pave the way for 'random events' that add benefits to the player (or risk/reward choices), such as refugees/survivors turning up at your camp randomly.
So this current prototype is focusing on 'finding survivors' in tiles, with an emphasis on buildings/urban locations or places with certain properties. It's already increased my own interest in even having a reason to move units around and I think this has worked positively - also, it adds constant pressure to the base camp.
These rule changes caused me to require a type of worker unit entity that can operate in the wild - and this surprisingly wasn't inspired by 'Worker' units in Civilization, but more so by the Super Survivors! mod in PZ. Delegating areas for survivors to go chop wood, forage etc. Since tiles were moved into becoming extensions of the camp itself, instead of borders, I needed to a work unit. Enter the work 'crew', which is a type of unit that can be placed on a tile to produce resources/build small work camps.
This has worked a bit better in the paper prototyping, as I have a reason to explore, patrol, but also prioritize needs of the camp and move my worker crew to the necessary tile.
Now the concept is playing fairly better and there is a type of micro-loop for the rules. A concept I added to test out was 'investing' Survivor Populations into units (ie Work Crews) to change them into Work Details, which produce more resources per turn -or- higher 'hitpoints'. This concept is a little hazy and I don't know if it will even function well, but right now the current rule set simply 'plays'.
The deficiencies I'm encountering are a couple of rules that are missing:
- How do we expand the camp?
- Can we build extra things on tiles that we do not own, like watchtowers or outposts?
- How do we know when a tile has been scavenged? Or when something might be there?
- Are resources infinite on tiles? Do they ever change? Can a lake, for instance, dry up or become poisoned?