Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Gestalt - Concept Part I

The currently active concept I'm working on at MCG is currently named Gestalt. A Plushie Axon will be winging its way to the first person to figure out where the direct inspiration for this concept comes from.

(There are no illustrations yet, as few exist outside of sketches on pads. As this game is almost entirely code-side, I haven' t really involved the art team at all. I will add piccies when the demo is ready.)


The game opens on the Map Screen; a scrollable view of an abstracted network. Nodes, represented by circles, are connected by blue-white lines. Pulses shoot along those lines, representing packets. One of the Node circles has a highlight around it. We click on this Node, and we find ourselves in the Node Screen.

Within the Node Screen, at least to begin with, we find a rectangular "bucket", and a large mass of yellow, in the rough centre of a few areas clearly representing the connections out of this Node. Every so often, the yellow mass moves and wriggles and a new Axon drops into the bucket - a circle with two short lines coming out of it.
There are 3 kinds of Axon available at the beginning of the game: Yellow, Blue, and Red. Three sliders next to the yellow mass (known as the Yellow Core) permit the player to choose which of these colours is preferred. This is important, as each of these colours has a different yet essential role to play.


Yellow Axons contribute to the "consciousness" or general self-motivational capability of the Gestalt. They naturally connect together in long chains, which pulse and throb in colour at a rate connected to the activity level of the player. So if the player is making high-speed clicks in the game the Yellows will flash and flicker rapidly, while if the player is taking their time and considering their moves carefully the Yellows will throb slowly. If for any reason they remain unconnected to at least one other Yellow for more than about 30 seconds, they die.

To the right of this screen (and indeed all screens once in-game) is a large meter showing a yellow bar and a smaller greenish indicator line. At this stage of the game both the indicator and bar are quite low down the screen. This is the Gestalt Meter, and indicates the "mental health" of the entity you represent within the game. The Gestalt Meter throbs at the same rate as the Yellow Axons, indicating the relationship between them.

To keep the Gestalt's consciousness intact, the player must keep the number of Yellow Axons above a certain quantity, indicated by the green line. This quantity is determined by a combination of the total number of Axons in play, and the number of Nodes you currently control. If the number of Yellow Axons falls below this level, first the player will begin to lose control of the Gestalt, then outlying Nodes will begin to fragment and their Axons flee back to core Nodes in an attempt to restore the Gestalt's balance. This process will continue until only a single Node is left, and if the Yellow Axon level remains below the green target line, the Gestalt "dies" and the player loses the game.

It is therefore clear that management of Yellows, and attacking enemy Yellows, is central to victory or defeat in this game. (My colleague Ian refers to the Yellow Bar as the "Custard Bar" and came up with the tagline "The Custard Must Flow.")


Blue Axons contribute to the Gestalt's ability to think and evolve, to rationally examine itself and its surroundings and modify its own nature to suit. In order to function correctly they must be connected into geometric shapes called Definitions. If left together they will generally connect up into simple Definitions, but they can be guided by the player (by clicking and dragging with the mouse on the Axon's body to move the whole of it, and on one of the legs to force it to connect with another Axon) to form Definitions of their choice. Blues not connected into Definitions give no benefit, but do not eventually die like Yellows.

Once formed into Definitions, a crackling electrical effect is seen across the blue Axon links and the Definition begins producing a resource called Paradigm. Paradigm is used on the Paradigm screen to drive the Gestalt's evolution. More geometrically complex Definitions produce more Paradigm - so a pentagon produces more Paradigm than a triangle, while a kite-shape using more advanced 3-Axons produces more than either.

The player can pull Definitions apart, but as with Red Assemblies (see below), destroying a structure will randomly destroy some of the Axons within it.


Red Axons are specialised elements of the Gestalt's being devoted to its attack and defence. Reds form special geometric structures called Assemblies. Red Axons make no attempt at self-constructing, instead waiting to be told what to form, and do not die if left unconnected. It is not necessary for the player to hand-construct an Assembly - all currently available Assemblies (depending on the player's Paradigm and Evolutions) are shown as floating icons near the Axon "bucket" inside each Node.

Clicking one of these Assembly Icons expands the icon into a large "frame", onto which Reds will automatically travel and assume the geometric form indicated. These will then float into the area surrounding the Node's structure, orbiting near the Links. Clicking one and then clicking on the link will either send the Assembly out along that Link or deploy it for defence on that Link, depending on its type.

If during the course of its life a Red Assembly is broken apart entirely, a portion of the remaining Red Axons will die and the others will disconnect and attempt to flee to a friendly Node.

Next up - Paradigm & Evolution, Game modes, and more!

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