I realized with a little dismay that today is February 1, and the game that Luis and I have been working on has yet to see the light of day. It's not that no work was done. In fact the game is mostly complete at this point, and we're just making the final tweaks and hoping to release before the end of this month. Till then, let me share a couple of sketches of the initial game ideas I presented to Luis over bottles of Craft beer.
For the past few months I've had a tortured relationship with my career. I always hated that everything I made is digital and had to impact on the real world. I wanted to do stuff that changed the environment (Metro Manila) I lived in, and there was never going to be a way to do that through making art for games. I went through a brief, insane moment where I was semi-seriously considering going back to school to become an architect or railroad engineer, basically anything that lets me affect the world around me in a positive way.
After these flights of fancy died down however, I realized that even if I did push through with this radical career change, it would take me years of study and building up a career before I even managed to do anything remotely near as world-changing as I want to. I already feel like I'm running out of time as it is. So I made a compromise with myself : I will satisfy the urge to fix the problems I see around me by making games about solving them.
The first problem I wanted to "solve" was traffic. Solving traffic marries my love for efficiency with my almost disturbing fetish for mass transit. This first game idea doesn't actually touch on mass transit however. It's more about managing the flow of vehicles. People love to complain about how bad traffic is and how they could do a much better job than our traffic enforcers (which may be true), so I wanted to make a simple game about how managing even a couple of intersections can be pretty damned hard. It's very much inspired by this game I found while doing research on traffic games, but I wanted to streamline it as well as make it aesthetically prettier than it is right now. Gridlock Buster goes deeper into actual traffic management systems used by traffic engineers worldwide, and while I personally find that fascinating, I don't know that it would translate into good gameplay.
My second game idea has to do a lot more with efficiency and making traffic lighter. The basic idea is to map out a route for a bus or other mass transit system based on the number of users on that route. So a successful route would be one that managed to serve the most number of customers and be profitable while not creating too many stops and slowing things down. This sketch was even color coded according to the density of the city blocks. This was inspired by the game Cities in Motion, which is a game that is based solely around creating Mass Transit (ie it was made for me). This was the game that opened my eyes to the possibility of creating games about traffic. It's not a triple A game by any means and it's not raking in triple A money, but it's a well made niche game made by a small team that's profitable.
Ironically profitability is one of the things that I feel makes the game less interesting than it could be to me. I felt that the overriding purpose of the game was to make a profitable company, and not to ease congestion and make traffic and public transport better. That's not necessarily a huge problem, but I never felt like my transit systems were making much of a difference improving the flow of traffic. In fact in some cases, like operating bus lines, it ended up making the traffic worse, which undermines the whole point of mass transit.
This second game idea of mine would place slightly less emphasis on profitability and more on improving traffic flow and efficiency. Plotting out a good route would not only make you a tidy profit because more people will want to use your services, it will also create visible improvements in the traffic situation.
Luis and I ultimately chose to make the first game because it was much simpler. This being our first game ever, we wanted to try something that wouldn't be too complicated and discourage us too quickly. The second game idea is the one I like better, and offers the possibility of a much deeper, complex game system, but that will have to wait.