Noodling on Game Mechanics and Themes

The internet is being especially slow tonight, hampering not only our ability to watch the latest Roots and Refuge video but also my ability to download asset packs to run through some beginer Unreal Engine 5 tutorials. I was hoping to play around some and begin to learn the interface but that seems like it’s not in the cards for tonight. *ba-dum-ching*

Even though I’m not able to work on that side of things, there is still work to be done. I have a loose idea of things that I want to create but it wouldn’t hurt to flesh out those ideas a bit more.

The game in brief

You’ve accepted a customer support position at some no-name startup company. You’re excited and eager to do a good job and climb the ladder as you’re told that you’re supposed to. The objective of the game as presented is fairly simple. Do your job (represented by card battles), gain additional skills through professional development (represented by new cards you can add to your deck), and manage your stress to get ahead and get promoted.

Stress is a big feature that I want to include in this game. Certain cards will allow you to gain extra productivity points but increase your stress levels as well. Stress won’t go away between battles and you’ll have to do things like take time off or get a massage to reduce your stress levels. If you let your stress build up too high, then your social relations might suffer, you might start seeing things, and you might gain cards in your deck with strange powers.

I want the game to start out fairly straightforward. You’ll first get introduced to the concepts through Employee Onboarding where you’ll be taught the basic mechanics of the game and will be given some fairly easy card battles to warm you up. Once you finish the tutorial, you’ll be thrown into the pace of everyday life and the tasks and card battles will gently increase in complexity and difficulty. Every so often, you’ll be given a “big project” and you’ll work with up to two other people to accomplish a larger goal.

In addition to having the normal productivity goal of normal work tasks, these big projects will have an additional measurement of reputation points that get measured separately from productivity points. Reputation points will not be shared across the team working on the big project evenly but will instead be largely individualized. If the big project is completed successfully, each person will gain the amount of reputation points that they earned during the project. However, if the big project fails, each person will lose the amount of reputation points that they earn during the big project.

At first, group projects will seem pretty easy. Everyone you work with will be fairly straightforward and will try to earn productivity points and reputation in equal measure, ensuring easy success. As time goes on, however, you may work with people who care more about furthering their own reputation without accomplishing much or even people who are willing to try and sabotage a project for their own goals.

As if working with hostile coworkers isn’t enough, when you progress in the game, you’ll also encounter other common examples of organizational toxicity that increases your stress and generally makes it difficult to do your job. Along the way, I want to give people options (some healthy and some not) for dealing with their stress. I want to teach healthy work habits such as taking time off, setting boundaries at work, and not pushing yourself too hard. But ultimately, I also want to show that individual habits alone isn’t enough to shield yourself from a toxic work environment and sometimes you just need a change.

It’s in this last aspect that I really want to include some elements of existential horror. I want the player to feel haunted – first by the souless drudgery of work in a corporate environment, then by supernatural forces as their stress rises. Then I want the player to realize that the supernatural forces that are haunting them aren’t trying to hurt them but are rather encouraging them to “rewild” and break free of the environment that they’re stuck in.

I don’t know that I want it to be totally impossible to succeed at the game as initially presented. I think that it might be a cool idea to allow the player to succeed (in one form or another) by practicing healthy work habits. Maybe they won’t get the promotion that they were initially aiming for but maybe there can be some other meaningful ending. I really want to reward people for taking care of themselves even if that might mean sacrificing professional or personal aspirations. However, the feelings of frustration and hopelessness in a toxic system are essential to the horror of the situation. Perhaps this is a path that can only be taken in a New Game+ scenario, representing the fact that we often have to go through many failed jobs to gain the skills needed to have a successful career.

That’s the idea that I have so far. If you have any thoughts or feelings about this idea, I’d love to hear them! Hit me up in the comments below if you feel so inclined.

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