The initial idea was a game where it just felt good to sculpt the landscape with your fingers and where huge numbers of creatures flocked and interacted in a way that was fun to watch. Beyond that we didn't know where it was going but we were pretty sure it wasn't going to become a standard FPS or farming simulator. We had ideas about the goal of the game being just to keep things balanced.
After a few months this was kind of working. Even though there was literally nothing to do beyond stroking the landscape into various shapes and watching the animals slide down the steep slopes into the sea it got positive reactions wherever we showed it. The problem was that everyone who saw it seemed to imagine a different final game.
Some wanted a Populous clone, others seemed to want something where you just clicked on animals (this didn't sound much like a game to me at the time but I gather it's how a lot of 'casual' games work these days), others insisted that it just had to be a freemium game, that we could milk users by selling consumable IAP. This last suggestion scared me the most.
Some have accused me of being anti-freemium because I'm somehow idealistic but it's not that. Or maybe it is. I have a simple philosophy when working on a game, a philosophy which is almost certainly directly related to the fact I'm working on my own on a game I find hard to explain to other people. Basically, I can't work on a game I don't like. Well I can, and have done for too many of the years I have worked in this industry but those were the most boring and also the least productive years. If it's not a game that I want to play then it's not a game I want to work on. I can't imagine wanting to play a game that's basically been programmed to milk me for money so it's looking very unlikely that Topia will be one of those.
If that's what it isn't, what is it?
That is a very good question. Right now I have to admit that Topia is still not really a game. This isn't because we don't have a very long list of things to try, it's because it's actually a pretty huge project for a single programmer. If I look at the amount and quality of code I've written for this thing it could well be the most productive nine months of my career.
So where does it stand right now?
- The graphics engine is doing its job very efficiently, even on older devices, running at an 'arcade game' frame rate.
- The multi-touch UI works really well, the line-drawn herd directing controls are simple to use despite being, to my knowledge, the first game to take line-draw controls into 3D. If it isn't the first to do it in 3D it is definitely the first to wrap that type of control onto a lumpy planet.
- The landscape sculpting feels better than I dared hope. I've been wanting to write a new landscape sculpting system ever since we ended up reusing Populous's isometric block system in Populous II.
- The in built level editor is half finished. Levels are built from fractals (kind of like Minecraft) but with a fair amount of user control over the fractal generation.
- The animal simulation is pretty advanced. Several thousand moving creatures and several thousand static objects can interact with each other, herds form and scatter when predators attack, some eat the grass (which slowly grows back) and explore the planet. There is still a lot to do, breeding and a fully working food chain are going in very soon.
But where is the gameplay?
This is the big question. More info on this coming very very soon...