I was reading the Roadmap overhaul posts and it got me thinking about some of the old features suggestions like multiplayer but also stuff like where the Titans could fit to truly work as the crowning achievement(or failure) of a village/city.
So for example it was mentionned there was a feeling that “Titans” almost felt “tacked on to the game” as almost more a series of mini-game rather than the crowning conclusion of a settlement’s story and that was why their feature was under revision(if I recall the devlog properly).
So I found myself thinking a bit about the gameplay loop of a lot of the many settlement-manager games out there that come from the Dwarf Fortress-line of inspiration:
-You start with a few settler.
-You build up you settlement, extracting resources, refining them, growing in wealth.
-Eventually you increase your population, allowing you to do “more” as you must also grow your settlement to house and feed them.
-Throughout it all, you face increasing waves of challenges from monsters and the like implied to covet your wealth and riches.
-You either fall to ruin under the pressure, or “succeed” until there is no challenge you cannot overcome anymore.
And that’s the problem. If you fail… it’s basically nothing more than a “Game over” unless you have access to a previous savegame.
If you succeed? Then it’s a matter of how long you can continue playing before you asks yourself “Now what?”
It’s possibly the flaw of something like the Titans. It’s almost better to “fail” since you can at least feel like you still have a challenge to overcome(assuming the frustration doesn’t cost you), whereas “victory” can almost be as much of a problem in it’s own because then you reach the biggest problem of that loop… the one where you go “Now what?”.
But that’s basically one of the problem with mechanics of most games who emulate that loop Dwarf Fortress likely helped inspire: The mechanics of their settlement-building gameplay make it as if your settlement is the only thing that exists in that world… which in a way rob it of the “context” which a “greater world” laying out there could provide them.
But ironically? I think it’s Dwarf Fortress which possibly has one of the better answers to this issue, in what might otherwise be thought at merely “features” yet nonetheless are possibly an oft overlooked element of it’s “Gameplay”.
It not only has a “wider world” outside of your settlement: That world also persist even after your settlement cease to exist.
Think of it in term of the aforementioned issue of a feature like the Titans:
In the loop of a “Settlement-without-wider-world” like Stonehearth, where the “world outside” is a purely abstract contraption that come to you exclusively in the form of traders and sometime procedurally spawned goblin camps, the Titan are an “issue” because if you defeat them… there’s a “now what?”.
If you don’t… then it’s a fail state of your settlement which might as well never have existed.
In the loop of Dwarf Fortress, where there is a physical wider world which not only exists outside of your settlement’s confine but also persist even after your settlement cease to be, something like the Titans is an almost different deal.
You progress, reach major wealth… then you dig too deep and unleash unfathomable abominations(for very often, it is you who accidently unleash them) who then bring ruin to your settlement.
Everyone dies… but the world goes on.
And not only that, the very existence of your settlement has been recorded by the wider world. Which’s where something like Adventure mode in Dwarf Fortress can be interesting:
You can make an adventurer in a nearby region, explore that wider world out there… and even explore the ruins of your past failures or achievements.
You can even fall upon that unique masterwork sword one of your smiths had previously made and make use of it for yourself.
I feel this sort of feature alone might be interesting and add further context to something like the Titans. They don’t become just a “feature”, but very much a part of the structure that help your world tells it’s own emergent stories through both your succeesses and failures leaving very permanent mark upon the world itself.
Perhaps it could even play on the future of a “Success state” settlement that has faced all the challenge thrown at it: Dwarf Fortress often implies your dwarves come from a greater kingdom as part of that later’s expansion’s attempt.
Here, becoming such a Kingdom might be the very result of the “success state” of a settlement. Your settlement could upgrade itself to a “Kingdom” and then you could select a new batch of villagers directly from those currently populating your settlement to send as the expedition tasked with settling a new land within the same persistant world.
An “adventure more” might even give them further context by then allowing you to more personally exploring your own handiworks, successes and “failures” both as you’d go on your more procedural quests, perhaps with a goal to attain some form of “immortality through becoming a legend” status for your adventurer character or something similar where, again, Titan might also be available as the very end goal of such an adventurer: here the mark left on the world possibly being in the form of a shrine in honor of your hero or item of theirs upgraded to a level comparable to a relic.
It might even tie into the gameplay loop for multiplayer!
With a word divided in it’s many chunks, players could control either adventurers or a settlements, and interact with each others as these very roles.
A “settlement” might make use of a new “Trader” villager class to sell wares and items to travelers, be them NPCs or controlled by a player. In turn, as Trader might be ordered to keep specific stocks available for sale. this could tie into feeding even more of a role to your settlement’s villagers as you could order your Smith to make sure there is always X amount of Steel Swords in your village inventory to make sure your merchant always have Y available for sale should “clients” pass by.
Similarly, if you say that stuff like Goblin villages spawn on the world map itself in a separate chunk(where they might use a prefab handcrafted terrain and/or village for ease of use), a “Villager” player could thus provide a “Quest” to a player-controlled adventurer passing by, even setting a given reward to further entice them to take the quest.
This in turn could also tie into a “Renown” mechanic for adventurer themselves which might tie into their own end goal to become a “legend”.
Thus with such loops, keeping a persistant world, part of your gameplay thus become not a matter of reaching but a singular end goal and wondering what to do after you’ve “done it all” with a single settlement… but to then see how the world itself grows through the action of settlements(and potentially adventurers if such a mode is included at some point).
It’s just a thought, but I feel a “permanent” world that continue to exist(rather than being reset) even after your settlement is gone is a gameplay feature that is too often overlooked in settlement-manager games inspired by Dwarf Fortress’ DNA.
Imagine if Stonehearth was able to mechanically support an adventure mode, and that after you would lose a settlement to a massive all-powerful Titan… you could then explore the very remnants of it’s own then monster-infested ruins as part of your adventures?
World persistence is a quality I feel that should not be overlooked too readily when it might possibly be able to bring so much to these games.
So it’s where I think games like Stonehearth might benefits; it might not be enough to just be able to build stuff, but perhaps it could be worth it to explore what context could be given for the act of us building stuff in this world.
And perhaps it could start by giving us this wider world for us to leave a permanent mark in the form of our settlement even if we fail or move on to build a new one.