In addition to providing a design document, Patrick is providing himself as a human asset—this means that he may continue to provide art as you develop the game. You can contact him through Facebook by clicking.
Marek Kapolka & Patrick Khachi
Forward on Ambiguity:
Many of the details of setting have been purposely left ambiguous in this document. I'm doing this because I believe the core rules have a somewhat universal quality to them, and I want to leave the implementers free to experiment with different settings, which will all have different particularities and will create interesting variations on the core rules.
The game will create a small simulated ecosystem, teeming with animal life on all levels of the food chain. Animals need to eat, sleep, reproduce, etc, all according to the same mechanics, the player being no exception. The player's goal is to survive as long as possible.
At the very least there should be 3 “tiers” of animals on the food chain. A player's species, one level above the player (a threat to predate on the player) and one level below the player (for the player to eat).
The absolute core of the game revolves around the eating / reproduction cycle. Every level of the food chain needs to eat (except for the bottom tier- autotrophs (i.e. plants)- which are not playable), and every level is eaten by something (the top level is sort of an exception- they can be killed and eaten but they are not at significant risk- these may be the hardest to balance the system for).
If the ecosystem is simulated correctly, the game should maintain a steady equilibrium on its own- each level of the food chain will reproduce enough to feed the next level up, and maintain a steady population. If any level goes extinct, the level above will soon starve, and if any level gets overpopulated the population of the level above will rise to match. Biodiversity will help prevent instantaneous extinction (i.e. having more than one type of animal on any given level of the food chain, so if one species goes extinct the level above will still have something to eat).
This core set of rules: the cycle of tiered predation and reproduction, is the absolute, non-negotiable, platonic form of the game. The following parts of the document are strong suggestions on how to implement these ideas, as well as a few more features that may make the game more textured.
All animals require food to stay alive. Herbivores can eat plants, and carnivores can eat other animals. Animals should not be strictly tied to the food chain- i.e. an animal that is considered “lower” on the food chain shouldn't necessarily be prevented from eating an animal that is higher on the food chain, but since they have a predator-prey relationship it should be very difficult for the prey to kill the predator.
An animal must be killed before it can be eaten. An animal's health will be reduced when it is attacked, and when its health hits 0 it is killed, leaving an edible corpse behind. A corpse will gradually rot if it is left in the open. Eating a rotting corpse will reduce the health of the animal who eats it.
Predators can be attacked and killed by their prey, but attacking a predator should never be an “acceptable” way of getting food. It should be a substantial risk to try killing a predator if you are it's prey. Predators keep the population of their prey in check by eating them, and if they are too easy to kill or wiped out for whatever reason, their prey will be able to reproduce to the point where there isn't enough food to sustain them, and will risk going extinct.
Breeding is the mechanic that will add new animals to the game. Animals should not just “spawn” in as they might in other games. Male and female animals have sex, the females become pregnant, and some time later 1 or more offspring are born. The exact details of when, how long, and how many will need to be tweaked for balance.
The player controls a female animal. At some point during the year, the player will have to find a male of their species, mate, and some amount of time later give birth to a litter of offspring. The litter will follow the player around, relying on her for protection and food. At the end of winter the player's character dies, and control is transferred to a now adult child, if any survive. The other children scatter.
The game begins in spring, and cycles through the seasons. During each different season different the parameters of the game will change. In general, the game should be easier in spring and become progressively harder. This may mean that there are fewer edible creatures around or more predators, or the player may need to find shelter at night to avoid freezing. There may be natural disasters such as wildfires, storms, floods, or other natural disasters.
The player can control all the actions of their animal with the arrow keys and a single, context sensitive action button. By default, pressing the action button will cause the player to attack. If the player is near a corpse or other edible item, it will cause the player to eat. If the player is near an animal of their species in heat, it will cause the player to mate, etc.