In John Harris’ work-in-progress game In Profundis, you’re a lone adventurer with a few bucks to your name and one driving goal: explore a massive universe of procedurally generated star systems and planets, bring back valuable minerals and treasure, and claim your fortune.
The game is sort of like Spelunky, but more strategic. It’s sort of like Dwarf Fortress, but less brutally chaotic and overstuffed. It’s sort of like Minecraft, but lonelier, with a focus on exploration rather than building. It’s sort of like Dig Dug, if Dig Dug were whacked out on performance-enhancing and mind-altering drugs.
If this is enough to intrigue you, please: support Harris’ Kickstarter project. He has less than a week left, and is just under halfway to his funding goal.
However, if you need more convincing, or if you just want to know more about the project, I encourage you to read on. I spoke to Harris via Skype about his project, and he answered some key questions I had about the gameplay, both high-level and low-level, that the demo videos don’t really cover.
As Harris envisions it, In Profundis will be a game “about you against the environment. That feeling of loneliness — Metroid is an influence, where you’re left to your own wits to figure out how to get out of a situation.”
The player has an initial level of seed investment that allows them to explore planets and their caves. The money can be used to purchase equipment to take down onto a planet. There’s basic, intermediate, and advanced equipment, and you can only carry so much with you onto a planet on a given expedition.
Additionally, just being on a planet costs money, essentially an upkeep cost. “Every additional trip you take costs more money, and that number slowly increases as you spend more time on a planet. Eventually it gets to the point where the income you bring in doesn’t make up for the payment you have to make to remain on a planet. At that point it’s in your best interest to abandon a site and go to a different planet.” Each planet allows for multiple expeditions on multiple days. Harris may approach the overmap in such a way that star systems contain planets of similar type, with similar fluids and gases on the planets. Once you decide to go to a new star system, you’re faced with a newly generated set of gases and liquids and you’ll have to figure out your play strategy all over again.
But the real magic is in the cave-level simulation layer, built on the principles of cellular automation, the principles of which Harris kindly laid bare in a recent Gamasutra article. Words don’t really describe it, so I will let the demo video do the talking.
The game is going to be a character-based platformer. When asked about the gameplay, he draws attention to the ghostly cursor that floats in front of the player at all times. “It’s a context-sensitive thing. If you push the action button, that’s the place that you affect” — similar, in a way, to Minecraft’s selection cursor. “If you want to destroy a bit of rock, you highlight the rock. If you want to hammer equipment in, you highlight the space beside the rock.”
Harris is very much aiming for a deliberate, strategic pace for the game, and the selection cursor turns what might otherwise be a fiddly interaction scheme into a series of strategic decisions with known outcomes. “I want players to try and figure out the best way to approach a situation at their leisure.”
He has plans to reward long-range play as well. “One thing I like is the idea of a character record. This can be traced to a few things: one being the achievement system from Xbox Live. Although a better inspiration would be from old Might & Magic games, where there’s a list of titles that your characters build up. You do this thing, you get this title. Some of the titles you couldn’t always count on getting. Other titles are just a way for the game to make the quest flag visible.” The character’s history would be listed out: the treasures you’ve found, and the days and times you found them, along with descriptions for various ways of conducting oneself.
So again, if that sounded remotely interesting, please throw a few bucks at the Kickstarter project for In Profundis!