When I start working on a game, one of the first things I decide is how will the game make the player feel. Different designers have different ways of driving and focusing the design of their games: some will use a short elevator pitch, some will use key pieces of art, some will let the mechanics dictate the rest. I prefer to use the way I want players to feel to anchor the design, and I flesh out the rest of the game around it.
Once you have defined that feel, you can run every single design decision by it. Every game feature should support those feelings in some way, if not, they’re a good candidate to cut. And if some contradict them directly, you can veto them right away and not go down that path any further.
For Lasting Legacy, we have two main feelings we want to evoke in players:
1. Experiencing the drama of complex family stories.
A playthrough of Lasting Legacy lasts about 20-30 minutes and the game is intended to be played over many times (more details on this for a later post). Each of those playthroughs is completely different, and the player experiences an entirely different story of a family through the generations. The combination of the player’s actions and the behaviors of the game characters should create funny, memorable, and sometimes bizarre situations.
For example, this is a recount of something that happened in just one of the generations of one of my recent plays of the game:
The Novak family was pennyless and without any income. Mr. and Ms. Novak spent all their effort into trying to gain prestige and money to secure a place in society. They had two children, Jakab and Andrea. Jakab, unfortunately, ended up being the Town Gossipmonger and never held any real jobs. Andrea managed to become a Baker, but the income was meager.
Things started looking up when Andrea, caught the eye of Mr. Kende, a handsome, rich friend of the family. They were quickly married and the family felt the relief as they had access to Mr. Kende’s fortune. The parents approved very strongly of this union and made sure that Andrea would become the heir of the family.
Years passed, and even though the disappointing Jakab was married and provided numerous grandchildren to Mr. Novak, Andrea and Mr. Kende didn’t have any children of their own yet. This was a grave cause of concern for her parents, who even encouraged them to see an herbalist to increase their fertility. A few more years passed and at this point it was clear that there would be no children out of that marriage. Something had to be done or the dynasty would end right there.
Jakab started spreading rumors about how Mr. Kende had come by his fortune through shady means, hoping to hurt his reputation and have his parents choose him as the new heir. His attempt failed, ended up being further distanced from his parents, and Andrea was still the sole heir.
Mr. and Ms. Novak died after some time, and Andrea and Mr. Kende, still childless, became the new head of the family. It looked like the dynasty would end here, but that’s when they became acquainted with Ms. Bognar, the orphanage director. She was able to facilitate the adoption of Henrietta, an adorable 6 year-old girl who would become the hope of the family’s future for years to come.
We want to be able to let players share their most memorable stories, but we haven’t fleshed out exactly how we’re going to do that. As you can see from the previous paragraphs, it’s not a trivial matter. One possibility is to export some kind of autogenerated scrapbook that players can annotate if they want to, but there are many other ways we can go wit this (Any great ideas? Let us know in the comments).
2. Feeling smart for discovering combinations of occupations that create really powerful outcomes.
The explicit goal of Lasting Legacy is to score as many points as possible (i.e. build the largest legacy). In order to do that, players will acquire gold, prestige, and eventually turn it into legacy through different means. To get really high scores, players will have to carefully combine the actions and abilities from the different members of their family and their friends. The more outrageous the combination, the bigger the score.
This is an example of the kind of thinking that goes behind finding combinations of powers:
The current head of the family likes prestige and will give 1 legacy for every 10 prestige the family earns. You have a Philantropic Benefactor in your family that gives you 5 prestige for every 50 gold you “donate”, but gold is running low. However, you also have access to a Ruthless Negotiator, who reduces all action costs by half, so each Philanthropic Benefactor activation gives you 5 prestige for 25 gold. This works for a few years, but you’re almost out of money.
Then you notice that one of your friends is a Radical Anarchist, whose power is to get rid of all debt but he goes to jail. So you bring him to the family, rack up the debt to the maximum with the Philanthropic Benefactor, and finally send off the Radical Anarchist to erase all the debt. As a result, you gained a large amount of legacy, greatly increased your prestige, and didn’t spend much gold in the process.
This is very similar to the kind of combination of powers you find in games like Magic: The Gathering (a huge influence on me in general), and also reminiscent of the specialists powers in Subterfuge.
Those two goals are orthogonal. I could see some players enjoying one but not caring about the other, so we’re making the game that can be enjoyable even if you just care about one of those aspects. We’re making sure that both kinds of players can enjoy the game to the fullest. Someone who mostly cares about the stories, can just focus on growing the family and dealing with the emerging drama. On the other hand, someone who cares about maximizing their score also need to maintain the family going because it means playing longer and scoring more points, but they can ignore the in-game meaning of the actions they’re taking and just visualize it in terms of how big of a legacy they’re creating.
We hope that once players have played through the game many times and they become really good at it, that they ignore the explicit game goals and make their own constraints. The game becomes more of a toy at that point (unconstrained play) which is an aspect I love in games (we did that with Casey’s Contraptions as well). For example, the player may want to decide to play through a family in extreme poverty that never earns any gold, or a family that is all made out of criminals and low-life characters, or maybe just try to breed the most extreme physical characteristics possible. We hope there’s a lot of room for exploration and enjoyment beyond just getting high scores.