Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How I do Elements


Magicka did something that few games have done before: it brought elements to the forefront of gameplay. We’ve seen games play RPS with elements, and we’ve seen counter elements, but rarely have we seen games properly combine elements. Usually very little thought is put into what elements to include in a game. By default people flock to Fire, Earth, Air, and Water. Sometimes they have Wood or Metal. Furthermore they will grab Holy and Unholy as elements, regardless of the fact that they are not part of the natural order (since gods are usually part of the super natural order).

I’ve been working on creating an element system for my own games for awhile. It started as a pen and paper endeavor to help better define characters in a game that I had entitled Chaos. The point of Chaos was that the player would randomly roll up their character to roll play, pick some other initial stats, and go on from there. They could learn any ability at level up as long as it made sense with the class, race, or element they chose.

This allowed some players to be Blast Predator Rangers and Gem Zombie Warriors. They would then play through a combat scenario and attempt to survive it with the characters they created. It was very much a Rogue a like scenario, but in pen and paper.

The elements therefore were created to fit the stat system of the game, which can be included or ignored with how the elements function with each other. Personally I think that the combination has more potential for interesting choices and interactions. For now though, I’d like to focus on what elements are in the element system, how they combine and interact, and how this could possibly be ported into a game.

Like other people, I did start with the four basic elements, if anything, it is good to start people with what they are familiar with: Air, Earth, Water and Fire. The concept is that each person is born with these elements. If one dominates over all others, than their element is that base element. If two elements are in balance with-in the person, than they are of a combined element: Ice, Lighting, Smoke and Magma.

Ice is the combination of Air and Water. Lightning is a combination of Air and Earth (yes I know it is usually attuned with Fire). Magma is a combination of Earth and Fire. Smoke is a combination of Fire and Water. At this level is also where two weaker elements are made, Blaze (Fire + Air) and Mud (Earth + Water). These weaker elements work out well in a game of survival, as it is a challenge to overcome.

The next tier up are elements generated by the combination of three elements. These are Light, Blast, Gem and Shadow. Light is a combination of Fire, Earth, and Air (or more simply, Lightning and Magma). Blast is Air, Water, and Earth (Lightning and Ice). Gem is Air, Water and Fire (Ice and Smoke). Shadow is Fire, Water and Earth (Smoke and Magma). It makes more sense to think of it as a combination of two tier 2 elements rather than 3 base elements.

Finally, there are those that have equal ability in all elements. Those have the power of Wood, which I call Creation. The idea is that they can create anything.

Unlike in pen and paper games, there need to be ways of deciding how to use these elements. This is where Magicka was absolutely brilliant. They had Normal Use, Area of Effect, Self Cast and Imbue. These modifiers allow the creation of spells to grow exponentially and saves on what the player would need to combine to create an effect. We can take cues from what Magicka did when implementing the elements from the Chaos game into a video game environment.

Magicka also had certain effect combinations by how the elements were combined: Fissures, Walls, Storms, Sprays, Bombs, Beams, Projectiles etc.). Though these could also be done with the Chaos game, it is better to create other concepts and ideas based instead of the casting options (which are of more universal use anyways), instead of stealing specific recipes from a game that did so much so well.

I’m not going to specifically break down every spell possibility right now, but the seed of the idea exists. Perhaps as I approach the concept of the stats for Chaos. Perhaps a more robust element system could change the game of elements the same way that Lizard and Spock changed Rock, Paper, Scissors.