Scone: a social strategy game

The Concept

Everyone lives in a world full of other people.

Most of what matters most in life-- jobs, love, respect, help in trying times-- depends on how you’re able to interact with people in it. Doors open and close; friends, lovers, enemies, and allies enter and leave your life; and being able to get what’s needed for you, your friends, or the people you work with makes a huge difference in what kind of life you end up leading.

This game is about letting you take on any of many different roles in a stratified society full of differences in power, notions of acceptable behavior, and status-- basically, one like the world you live in-- and giving you freedom to play “what if” with how you could pursue what matters to you while conflicts arise from others pursuing what matters to them. You can try out approaches you’ve thought of or approaches you’ve heard of using personal influence and your network of relationships, then see what happens short-term and long-term in a way that’s not possible (or ethical) in real life.

The hope is that besides being fun, it will give a frame to make sense of the unlimited behavior of real people, to understand where they may be coming from and why.

The ambition is to make this world “no holds barred” and support meaningful responses by characters in-game to as wide an array of social behaviors as possible, both for you and the characters you meet.

You could be a diplomat. You could be a mobster. You could be a celebrity, or someone happy to stick with your own select circle of friends.

Whether the situations reflect ones you’ve been through, ones you anticipate, or you just assume a role and roll with where it takes you will be up to you, the player.

It’s just a game, but the issues it explores are fascinating, emotional, significant, and potentially hilarious.

And that is why I want to make Scone.

Summary

As a denizen of a community, your avatar influences other characters in a stratified society, where you can negotiate outcomes to conflicts or to win allegiance for future interpersonal and political challenges.

Other characters have goals in keeping with both their expected social mores and innate human nature (things often secretly in conflict).

Affinity, obligation, bribery, intimidation, and outright violence will all be options for influencing people.

Development plans are to make the dialog-centric design as a “gamelet”-- a playable but small-scale game in its own right building basic functionality that will be built upon with further gamelets each focusing on developing a limited aspect of gameplay (such as trade/economics, violence, stealth, large-scale politics, etc.).

Central Premise

“Anything can be negotiated.”

Format

Fully 3D first-and-third person view video game. Alpha builds may be text-based or 2D to explore basic game logic.

Single-player; possibly small-group cooperative. Game would be fundamentally different and less effective as MMO.

Open-ended sandbox style gameplay within a dynamic social world. Wins are all achievements rather than formal victories.

Communication-based interaction with AI behind it to manage motivated behavior in response to the player’s input and character output that makes sense in terms of the interaction and the larger social world. Dialog will not be literal dialog but abstract “subject + verb + object” communication of intents about specific subjects.

Physics currently not needed beyond keeping characters on the ground. Future expansions after this communication gamelet will include combat and the need for physics as seen in action-RPGs.

Indoor and Outdoor locations throughout the urban landscape are where social activity takes place. Initially it can all be contained within indoor testing areas, but this should not remain artificially limited, else it won’t feel like a city.

Realistic models with stylization per social group possibly. This will have to be decided as the setting, story, and their needs become settled. The effect would best be handled by shaders (cel-shading, others).

Lightweight models and textures to ensure consistent high framerates without slowdown or loading zones disrupting the player’s immersion in the game.

Sound effects and soundtracks with capability of being stealth-friendly (a la “Thief”) not needed for communication gamelet but should remain options for later development.

Overview

The player roleplays as a member of a stratified society initially modeled as a system with rigid expectations for behavior of each group as well as defined privileges.

Society will become more nuanced as the game develops.

The setting is a single town with multiple neighborhoods, each generally belonging to a particular social strata.

There are 4 strata in a linear hierarchy, as an arbitrary number and arrangement until the story is developed. Initial list is as follows from highest to lowest rank: Ruling Class, Educated Elites, Working Class, and the Poor.

The player can choose to have their avatar belong to any of the classes, though at first they will be limited to Working Class until we implement the others.

Interaction with other characters through social interaction and trade (or gifts) are the main forms of gameplay. Violence has social repercussions and thus well be an option in social strategy.

Challenges come from other characters choosing adverse actions relative to the avatar and characters important to him or her, and from the difficulty of achieving player-defined goals (such as keeping enemies at each other’s throats ignoring opportunities to act against the player’s avatar).

Wins come from successfully fending off dangers like the avatar losing their house or a character they like being sent to jail.

Core Gameplay Loop

Choose a character to talk to.

Through various means (dialog, appearance, behavior, gossip from others) learn about their motives, views, and needs.

Choose avenues to influence the character consistent with the player’s goals.

Assess the changes in your social landscape and pursue further goals.

Example Gameplay

Your avatar is a member of the Working Class.

You talk with your neighbors, also of your class, and establish a positive impression. On repeated later interactions you explore subjects of mutual interest and establish solidarity with them regarding the way things should be in the city.

An Educated Elite member proposes to make common farmland that your neighbors use exclusive for their caste.

You talk with your neighbors and form a group to petition the Ruling Class to block this change.

Ruling Class are resistant at first, so you talk with them trying to gain affinity. This proves expensive, but opens them up to negotiate.

The Ruling Class want the Working Class to report thieves and vandals among them to the police.

Your neighbors don’t want to narc.

You talk with them about the value of thieves versus the common fields. Your neighbors concede they need the fields more.

You present the agreement to the Ruling Class, and they block the Elites from seizing the fields. But you lose much of your affinity from your neighbors. You have also spent most of your money on “appropriate” gifts to Ruling Class.

It will be a challenge to regain affinity and money, or to find some other means to protect your place in society.

...alternate outcome...

Your neighbors don’t agree that the fields are more important.

You persuade them that they only have to say that they’ll report on criminals.

You present the agreement and the Ruling Class block the Elites.

Your neighbors like you, but you are now poor from buying gifts for Ruling Class.

The Ruling Class check on the kind of reporting that’s happening and find nothing has changed.

The Ruling Class and the Elites are upset with you and produce “proof” of various debts you must pay.

It will be very difficult to come up with enough money to keep from losing your home, but your neighbors want to help you (secretly).

Base Functionality Needed

Characters and social groups

Motivated behavior to acquire resources

AI notion of alliances with social classes and individuals and improvised groups

AI ability to formulate Nash Equilibrium accounting for other actors seeking resources

Reputational factors:

Resources to contest, such as locations, access to locations, goods...

Dialog system with capability to reference

Philosophy

Without *meaningful* choice, the player is not playing, merely observing or acting as a component, mechanically advancing the progression without any agency in it.

My ideas on agency for characters in-game is approaching the notion of multi-player games against other humans, but applying the notion of limits and potential mastery TO that interaction.

This is where it becomes social strategy-- a game exploring how one deals with the complex and actually impossible to master interactions between people.

If this game were non-coop multiplayer, massively or otherwise, then the social interactions would cease to be a game because human-to-human interaction is too complex for most any human to go beyond developing skill to developing mastery.

What We’re Stealing From

Good artists borrow selectively; great artists steal. And nothing is original.

In some ways, this social strategy game could most easily be related to as playing The Sims without being an invisible sky jerk, but rather being one of the characters trying to have a happy life overcoming the obstacles of life with “other people”.

We all face these challenges, and depending on how easy it’s been for you, they mean a great deal in real life. Our work lives and also family are dominated by the reality that often you don’t like some people, but you’ve just got to find a way to get along or you’ll never get what you want.