Today I've been spending time designing verts for fluids, so they don't look so much like bricks of water, which got me to thinking some more, through some process, about the direction of the game.
One of the little disheartening things that happened early on was when Terraria was announced, which immediately seemed to steal some of the niche that I was aiming to fill with In Profundis. But it wasn't long before I started noticing that Terraria, while good for what it is, isn't really the kind of game I want to make. And neither is Spelunky (although I think it's aces). Not to try to bury either of those games, but I'm trying something different here, which is part of why I had a bit of trouble with direction some time back. Let me see if I can explain what that is through two major differences.
* Terraria has an advanced crafting system, like Minecraft. In Profundis will not. I've always kind of looked down my nose at overt crafting systems, where you're collecting ingredients in order to make higher-order tools that are the things you really want. There's usually too much trial-and-error, which is a purposeful waste of resources, to find out what the recipes are, unless you're just given them (in that case why not just give the item?) or you look up a FAQ (while I am a fan of Nethack, most games which demand looking up FAQs as an aspect of play are just broken).
* Terraria is a game with action combat. In Profundis will have a kind of combat, the exact form of which I'm still working on. It'll probably be a RPG-style separate screen, although it won't take the form of a traditional RPG battle screen. This is because the other actors in the game are not necessarily your enemies.
In many games, the creatures you find are opponents to fight. In Profundis is meant to be a game of exploration, and one of the things about exploration is the finding, and interacting, with other cultures, who may have alien viewpoints. I can't think of a better way to present that than making them actually aliens.
Real-world explorers have had a somewhat unsavory history. Often "explorer" has been basically a synonym for "exploiter." And In Profundis is intended to be a game in which you are a treasure-hunter, which is often just another name for thief. It is not my intent to make a game to wallpaper over the nature of the play. In this game, you can do some pretty mean things; you won't be able to actually kill aliens, nor will they you, but you can hurt them, and you can steal things from them, as will they be able to do to you. How you interact with them is up to you.
I am also aiming to not have the game presenting a false choice. You are in a tight spot, having to find a good source of income to continue your explorations and do research. You might be forced to steal to keep the game going, and that might hurt your relations with the natives. But on the other hand, you might find a culture with a policy of giving visitors copious valuable gifts. The plan is to have these things semi-randomized each game. You might find a race that thinks you're doing them a favor by cleaning their territory of all that bothersome shiny trash. You might find a race of aliens who seem to be giving things away, but actually expect trade, or favors, later. You might find a race who views martial aggression as a sign of honor, and so if you attack them and take their stuff they respect you for it, looking down upon mealy-mouthed peacemakers. And you might find a race of pacifists who just want to be left alone, and as their sign of this wave around their Surrender Sticks, which just happen to look like spears aimed at you. Circumstances can make people act in ways which seem nonsensical to us, but they have their reasons. And there might even be individual aliens with attitudes that don't match up with their comrades, just to throw you another curveball.
But if this is too random, then players will assume it's best just to shoot everyone anyway, assuming they're screwed no matter what they do. So the idea is to have a list of 100 possible civilizations, and the player may have access to an item by which he can look them up and try to identify which each race he encounters might be, and what their attitudes are. Of course, there will be potential for false matches. And there will probably be other, completely random races, but most of them will be from the list. The intent in this is to make the player work to figure out what is going on, in a way that, while not invulnerable to FAQs, still forces him to bring more of himself to the play than your typical time waster.
Well, that is my ambition. I think the road towards that goal is clearer now than in the past, and I am running for it. Who knows if it will work out that way.