Design Experiment

by Darius Kazemi on September 18, 2006

in Uncategorized

Here’s a design challenge. Come up with a design for a game based around the following concept:

“The fear of death is the beginning of slavery.”

My initial thought is a game about a small nation being browbeaten into submission by a larger, much more powerful nation. You play individual freedom fighters, and are randomly assigned one at the beginning. When you die (and you die often in this game), you’re replaced with a new freedom fighter, with a new name, family, and set of beliefs. But every fighter is fighting for the same cause. You play many freedom fighters, until dozens of years in game-time pass and you finally attain independence for your nation. Over the course of the game, the player realizes that she/he is not actually playing individual fighters, but is controlling on the micro level what is effectively an entire human movement.

Anybody else up for the challenge?

(FYI: The quote is something I pulled from a Robert Anton Wilson book that I read so long ago I don’t even remember which one. I read a lot of Wilson in my teens. The quote probably isn’t even his, originally.)


Aleks September 18, 2006 at 2:11 pm

I have heard there’s a game about Darfur that follows a semi-similar “plot”. Not sure if they have the characters die as much as you are proposing.
On topic of the quote, Everything2 says it is by Frank Herbert.

Ian Schreiber September 18, 2006 at 6:20 pm

Interesting idea! I know on the MCAT, there’s an essay section where you’re supposed to take a famous quote like that (provided) and write an essay on whether you agree with it or not. I never thought of doing the same thing for games. Really you could do this with ANY controversial quotation.

For this one, my first instinct is to make a retro game where the player must keep moving — hesitation is deadly. Include some mechanics where you have to force yourself to do the opposite of what you normally would in this type of game: projectiles that veer off and miss you ONLY if you run directly towards them, for example. In essence, if you play the game like a typical arcade shooter you will lose almost immediately; if you actively leap into the fray taking risks, you’ll survive much longer.

Bonus would be if the enemies are trying to trap you by surrounding you, rather than actually killing you.

I guess that’s taking the statement a bit literally…

Patrick September 18, 2006 at 6:24 pm

That sounds a hell of a lot like Fianna, except with randomly generated characters instead of specific, heroic ones. Basically its Fianna without the mythic element.

So I guess I’m up for it, heh.

You’re an awesome person amigo.

Darren Torpey September 19, 2006 at 2:14 am

Well, Frank Herbert is famous for the saying “fear is the mind-killer” in my favorite book, Dune. But that saying reminds me most of Alpha Centauri as Planet’s defense came in the form of brain-eating worms that psychically paralyze their victims with fear.

Perhaps the mod framewoork for that game or (the excellent, python-scripted) Civilization IV could be the foundation of this experiment.

Anonymous September 22, 2006 at 4:16 am

That sounds an awful lot like the basis for the moral choices in Bioshock, according to the previews. Do you exploit others to survive, or take risks to help them?

-Lucas Ackerman

jon September 24, 2006 at 7:46 am

Here’s my idea:

It would be a RTS style game where you a ruthless dictator controlling a country with a population of citizens. You want to stay in power, but the people are restless! And always, there is someone just waiting for an uprising to overthrow you.

To combat this, you must keep the “fear level” of your population at a constant level so that they are under control. There would be a bar indicating this level of fear on the screen at all times – if fear drops too low, the citizens will try to revolt – game over!

To keep fear high, you have to use a number of tools and strategies: deploy propaganda materials, secret police, military, and assassinations – whatever it takes to keep the masses in check!

Each level is a new, larger, country – the more citizens, the harder it is to control them. As you progress, your war chest of tools grows to include things like terrorist attacks and nuclear strikes. A measure of your success would be ending population – the goal is to kill enough of them to keep them enslaved, but not too many so that you still have a country to rule.

Ian Schreiber September 24, 2006 at 8:39 pm

Follow-up: I just read about an older game that more or less fits the theme here, called Every Extend.

From the description, it’s like an old-school 2D shooter, except the enemies are far too numerous for you to pick them off; instead you have to send your ship into a cluster of them and then self-destruct, taking out as many of them as you can. If you kill enough enemies this way, you get an extra life (hence “extend”).

Petri Purho September 28, 2006 at 11:40 pm

@jon, before I read your comment I came up with a similiar idea. Good to know that I’m not the only person thinking to slave other people.

My idea for the game would be that you play as a “construction manager”. And your job is to build this huge tower. And the faster you finish the construction of the tower the more points you score. Your workers are bunch of slaves. To motivate the slaves to work faster you can kill any of them. If you kill too many they will revolt. You can still get them to work, if you manage to kill the right slaves (the leaders of the revolition). Or if you kill too many or the wrong slaves, the slaves no longer fear death, thus you lose.

I run this blog where I release monthly experimental games. I might actually create a prototype of this. So thanks a lot for a great inspiration.

Petri Purho

jon September 30, 2006 at 7:00 am

haha petri I like the way you think – killing revolution leaders? Sounds like hours of family fun to me!

gummikana February 1, 2007 at 9:09 pm

I finally made the game based on the idea. It’s called The Truth About Game Development. I just changed the theme of exploitation from tower building to game development :)

Anonymous February 9, 2007 at 12:59 am

I’m trying to do a “game idea a day” group on GGE.

I saw this and thought damn. I came up with an idea like that (as below) and I thought it was unique. :( No such thing as new games, right? ;)


Clinton Ride can’t be killed. He can’t be shot, stabbed, crushed or poisoned. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Apparently bruises, paper-cuts and sprained ankles don’t qualify for supernatural assistance.

When his best friend Jimmy found out, they discussed the whole superhero thing. Clint pointed out that he’s only “super” when things are about to kill or maim him. Jimmy pointed out that that’s par for the course when you’re a superhero.

There’s only one problem. How does a regular guy find super-villians to fight? Fate solved that problem the day Clint’s parachute didn’t open and he crashed through a quarter of a mile of rock and reinforced concrete into a super-villain’s secret underground lair.

The aim of the game is to foil various supervillain’s plots using your unique abilities. Preferably without them realising that if they put you in a safe padded room you’d never get out. You’re at your best when you’re doing something suicidal, so bring on the jet-packs, flame-throwers, poison and nuclear waste!

Optional features would be protecting the secret of your weaknesses and protecting your secret identity. Complete with gossiping bad guys. ;)

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