Gameplay Mechanics Outline
by Beau Cronin Monday, October 31, 2016

While the taming of climate and economic models probably constitutes the largest technical challenge in the development of Earthers, the biggest risk to the project's ultimate success is whether a simulation game based on scientifically realistic models of the entire planet can actually be fun and addictive. In order to have real impact, players need to choose to play Earthers over all of the other fun and engaging things at their fingertips - Minecraft, Snapchat, Pinterest, Clash of Clans. In other words, Earthers needs to play in the big leagues of the attention economy.

One part of this is that the game must be beautiful - players must want to spend time inside it. We'll talk more about the art design later, but in this post I want to focus on the core game mechanic - what players are doing, why it is interesting and challenging, and what keeps them coming back day after day.

  • Earthers is turn-based, with each turn representing a year. A sequence is a play-through from present day to 2100, when the simulation ends.
  • Each sequence is played collectively by a group of players, numbering approximately 20 but varying from one sequence to another. Each player has one or more of 50 shares, where each share represents a geographically-derived fraction of the Earth's population (about 150 million in 2016).
  • Each share commands a set of resources, with different shares having different resources depending on their geopolitical station. The exact makeup and allocation of these resources is TBD, and will be discussed in a later post.
  • On each turn, any player may put forward a proposal outlining the actions that will be taken on that turn. Other players can then commit the resources of their own shares to an open proposal. All proposals with sufficient resources committed (above a minimum threshold) will be executed on that turn.
  • Actions are drawn from several realms, including technology R&D, subsidies and direct funding, tax and policy, other forms of regulation, public awareness and media campaigns, and so on. Each action requires a certain minimum level of resources, and some actions may have greater effect with more resources committed to them.
  • At the end of each turn, accepted proposals are executed, the game models are run for the year, and the resulting outcomes - climatic, economic, agricultural, technological, etc. - are determined and made available for the players to observe.
  • The game state at each turn is scored along multiple dimensions, reflecting at least the ecological and economic state of affairs. These scores can be compared to all previous sequences.

Many details remain to be worked out:

  • What exactly are the resources, and how are they allocated among shares?
  • How do each share's resources change as the sequence progresses, as a function of population, economic growth, peace and security, etc.?
  • What are the actions, and how are they "priced" in terms of resources?
  • How are action availabilities and prices affected by the game state?
  • What is the minimum resourcing needed for a proposal to be executed?
  • How important is it for players to come together and agree on one or a few proposals, rather than fragmenting?
  • How are the outcome scores computed?