A game has been buzzing in my head for 20 years. Running this site has only made the buzzing worse and if I don’t make it soon I’ll turn into a gibbering mess, standing downtown screaming about the merits of permadeath at uncaring Torontonians trying to get to work.
Take the rigorous statistical fidelity of classic sports managers (Championship Manager, Out of the Park Baseball, etc.) and apply it to the running of a gladiator school. Set it in a familiar but subversive Tolkienesque city and wrap it all in a player-run economy.
Why should this exist?
Because I really want to play this game and it doesn’t currently exist. When I think of why my favorite games are my favorites, they always have two qualities working in concert. First, they provide enough choice to make me feel like my avatar (be it a character, city, or star spanning empire) is actually me. Second, they react to those choices in a realistic way that maintains the illusion that it’s me inhabiting the digital world. They let me test my attributes, morals and personality against a set of challenges I’m unlikely to ever encounter and enjoy in the real world. Get those two things right and a magical third quality emerges – emergent gameplay that creates distinct, vivid stories unique to your playthrough.
Looking for these qualities has fueled a 35 year obsession with tabletop roleplaying games, where a competent human DM naturally provides both elements. But digitally, the two games I think do this the best are management games, not RPGs. After 60-hours of gameplay, my Civ-4 or Rimworld society will look very different from yours. Both in physical appearance as the societies slowly build out over thousands of prioritizations, and in character as each player tries to both win and stay true to their personal beliefs (or explore opposite beliefs). Rimworld let’s you build a socialist utopia of equality and care for all or a nightmare hell of slavery and organ harvesting for profit. There are an infinite, viable, highly personal ways to get to the end.
As much as I love Civ and Rimworld, I wish all that wonderfulness was focused tighter, on a character or small troupe so that the reactivity and insight they provide is directly tied to the player rather than abstracted at a high level. And that’s what I hope to do. By letting you play as a single character and placing you in a highly reactive, realistic world with extremely detailed but intuitive systems I hope to let you create something uniquely yours that reflects all the difficult (but delicious) choices you made along the way. The brush this personal story will be written in is made of the lovely, crimson, viscera dripping bristles of gladiator combat and all its attendant glories.
The basic pillars
1) Complex simulation
If you’ve never played a sports manager, the level of simulation they offer is unparalleled. Where modern games often lean towards streamlining and abstraction, they try to simulate every possible action. Championship Manager doesn’t give a basic chance to score when your striker kicks on net. It knows how fast your player is running, how tired he is, what his accuracy and kicking skills are. And more importantly, it knows how you treated that player before he took the kick, if you bothered training him and providing coaches, if you took his feelings into account and was fair during negotiations. It tracks how well that player gets along with the other players and whether they’re happy with their place on the team. It knows whether you kicked with the left or right foot, and how the goalie (with all of choices made to bring him to that place and time) will react.
A battle axe should not be a sword with +1 damage and -1 weapon speed. If you chose it for your fighter, you probably had an image in your head. A yearning for severed limbs and frightening tissue damage. A rapier shouldn’t be that same sword with -1 damage and +1 weapon speed. It’s an entirely different thing, a tool of finesse, dispensing death with accurate pinpricks to vitals. This game cares deeply about those choices.
2) Fully realized setting
If a game world describes a city market as vibrant and full of wonders, but only lets you purchase from a handful of mundane items, does it matter? Yes! It is a grievous sin. Whatever positive effect the words had on my imagination is instantly destroyed by the reality staring me in the face. This market is not vibrant, it is not full of wonders, it is just like the last market I visited in the last city. As a wise elf once said, “you sit on a throne of lies”.
Our game doesn’t just care if your weapon is a battle axe or rapier. It cares about the quality of the ore, the skill of the smith, whether he was fed when he made it and if he had assistants and resources. It cares about how this weapon got to you and the stresses it endured under other owners. And it gives you control over all of those things, whether just as a careful shopper or as a diligent employer of a crafter making it directly.
And this attention to detail is not limited to weapons or combat. It extends to the characters, their actions, their environment and all the attendant skills required to keep the world running. I fully expect and hope some players will derive joy while never touching combat, by producing fine goods for others to consume or playing the currency markets and iron futures.
3) Laser focus on UI and accessibility
If you’ve never played a sports manager, it might be because they’re a nightmare to get into. The cost of all that complexity is the steepest learning curve imaginable, made vastly worse by interfaces that feel a lot like trying to make sense of someone else’s 12-tab, 2000 line spreadsheet. If you’ve read my reviews on this site, I don’t think that’s OK. The game needs to provide enough feedback so that you can play it like a spreadsheet if that’s how your brain works. But you can also play it entirely intuitively, choosing what feels right without diving into the underlying mechanics and having the world’s reactions feel like they’re coherent and internally consistent.
The site will continue as it always has. It’ll just have these daily game diary entries along with the regular reviews and articles. I’ll share the steps, successes and setbacks along the way, maybe they’ll be useful to someone else trying the same.
Tomorrow I’ll discuss the game’s basic loop and some key features that I think are super cool. Then why I think it will actually get made, followed by the setting and the 10 commandments that guide the design and company conduct in general. After that comes some real world issues and opportunities (employee requirements, incorporation, grants etc.) then the basic infrastructure needed to attract talent and create a community for those who wish to get involved and go from there.