On one hand, time I could have spent on story lines was spent listening to talking heads talk about craft. On the other, those hours learning the craft have saved me man years of effort re-learning what they learned the hard way.
The point here is that activity is not progress. I know I can write. I know I can write a lot in a short amount of time. (At least if this blog is any evidence.) If I could monetize writing the first three chapters of a book, I'd be rich. I have had many a brilliant idea devolve into a degenerate mess. This time around, I knew I had to do something different. I had to actually learn, not just do.
This project has all of the problems of a complete science fiction/fantasy novel multiplied by the demands of an interactive story telling system. What I don't want to have happen is for the game to devolve into a procedurally generated mess. A pure sandbox never gets beyond "here is a procedurally generated dungeon/puzzle/scavenger hunt. Defeat the boss at the end/solve the puzzle/find the quest items. And you'll get XP and some loot."
While I love Skyrim and Fallout 4, the problem I have is that the player character is really the only person with any agency. Sure, there are 4 endings, but all you end up doing is picking a side in a conflict. There is no option to avoid the conflict, or negotiate an uneasy peace.
And with that in mind, I'm committing early on to injecting OPCs into my game. NPCs, as you know, are Non-Player Characters. They are generally passive, and built into the events of the story. OPCs stand for "Other Player Characters." They are AIs in the game that are competing with the player, have all of the same abilities as the player, as well as all of the same opportunities for growth and development as the player.
In The Epic of Gilgamesh, I was hoping to create competing demigods to the player's character, running their own city-states. The show stopping problem in Gilgamesh was mainly that I didn't want to sit down and commit to an overall story. With no overall story, there is no real opportunity for opposition. Rivalry, sure. But opposition requires something concrete that two characters are struggling against each other to secure. My hope was that having Gods randomly generate quests I could keep the game interesting. But then I ran headlong into the fact that computers are not very creative on their own, and mad-lib stories stop being fun after the third or so.
With the Iliad I am deliberately restricting the directions that a story can go. The "land" is fixed and known ahead of time. Every life on board is precious. The ship has a limited ability to repair damage. Even if someone wanted to take the ship in a different direction, they are decades from anywhere. Fuel, food, spare parts, and personell are in finite supply. Conflicts are inevitable. But the conflicts that arise will have to be solved in ways that are completely alien to most game play experiences.
The way the story is going to work is thus: there are a set number of factions on board the ship. Each faction has a goal. Those goals require competing against other factions. One of those resources are people, and your character is one of those people. As are the other OPCs and NPCs. Some goals for factions are mutually exclusive to the goals of other factions. Some goals can be satisfied with cooperation. Some goals are cooperation, or at least require cooperation. Some goals benefit everyone on board. Some goals benefit just the faction, at the expense of all others. Some goals satisfy an external influence and actually impact everyone on board negatively, including the faction.
So with this game or rock, paper, chainsaw, the performance of the player is measured by how well the goals of the factions he or she supported were satisfied.
Here are some crazy ideas for factions:
There is a cult on board that feels deeply that humanity is a diseased organism and should have accepted its own death back in the Solar system. They look for ways of sabotaging the mission, killing everyone on board, and allowing the plants and animals that are trapped in this artificial biosphere to grow and evolve on their own independent of the human crew.
Krasnovian intelligence agents have integrated themselves into the crew, and are looking for ways of stealing the ship and getting it back to Solar space so that the Empire can reverse engineer the ship's biosphere. Krasnovian vessels are currently limited in range by the length of their supply chain, and ISTO ships have a nearly miraculous ability to operate indefinitely. Unlocking this mystery power of ISTO will allow their own colonization efforts to expand beyond the 10 light year radius they are currently confined to. Failing in that mission they are to sabotage the vessel to prevent it from establishing a forward base for ISTO.
Several defectors from the Krasnovian Empire are on board, and their mission is to redirect the ship to rescue the crew of a expedition that was sent just beyond the conventional range of the Krasnovian supply chain. These people are trapped because, while they can be resupplied, the supplies will not last for a voyage home. Among the crew is the only son of a high ranking Krasnovian Commander, who has green-lighted this unconventional mission to rescue his son.
There are various forms of artificial life on board the ship, including people, that are created artificially for artificial reasons to do artificial jobs to support the lifestyle of the "natural" people on board. RALF is looking to give that artificial life the same self-determination that humanity enjoys.
A religious movement of natural born people who feel that the ship uses too much in the way of abominational technology. They feel that humanity needs to go back to basics and stop creating Artificial life, and instead focus on natural ways of doing things.
A group of people looking to expand humanity outward and make a fresh start in outside of the solar system. Their goal is to free humanity from fixed planets and live among the stars. (Perhaps like the Bentusi in the Homeworld Series.)
The ISTO (International Space Treaty Organization) is a military force organized to thwart the domination of the Krasnovian Empire. They want to use the Iliad to build a forward defense post and shipyard to construct fleets of vessels to resist an invasion from Krasnovia. Command is aware that the 10 light year limit is less of a hard limit than was previously thought, and the quicker the Iliad arrives, the deeper a defense they can dig in should the cold war with Krasnovia turn hot.
The Intelligence wing of ISTO has placed agents on the ship. Their goal is to divert the vessel to salvgage a Krasnovian Expedition that seems to have travelled to a star system that is outside the 10 light year radius that Intelligence reports tell them that they should rightfully be able to voyage to. Krasnovians still have vastly superior engine and weapon technology. Taking one of their ships away for study would allow ISTO to better prepare tactical counters to that superiority.