Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

5 November, 2007

Weekend Design Challenge: Proverbial trouble in paradise
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 12:05 AM

Having just gotten back from celebrating my birthday in Hawaii, I figured I’d give everyone an easier challenge this week.

Imagine that a game simulates a paradise. For a game, this will eventually get boring; so, we have to introduce some conflict. So, the challenge is: what is that conflict?

Some thoughts below the jump.

Of course, the first thing to consider is: “paradise for whom?” While many people think of a tropical island as paradise, someone from a colder climate might find it less than friendly. In a fantasy setting, an ice creature or denizen of colder regions might not enjoy it much at all.

It might also be interesting to use the player’s expectations. Modern tourist spots are relaxing because things are taken care of for you: your room is cleaned, you dine at nice restaurants, etc. Nicer places cost even more money. But, being left on an undeveloped island might seem nice at first, but eventually you have to put in some hard work to survive in the long term. Perhaps not as much as in a more harsh environment, but there’s still a lot to learn in order to survive for the typical modern person.

What are your thoughts? How can you provide a challenge in paradise?


  1. Hmm. Given the variations in taste that you’ve pointed out, Paradise_MMOG will have to be instanced. Since it’s a MMOG, tradition requires that players will have to grind faction to unlock instances. Make the source of faction points contestable; sounds like a source of conflict…start at the 9th circle and grind your way up.

    Comment by JuJutsu — 5 November, 2007 @ 7:34 AM

  2. This design challenge is wonderfully simple. There are so many possibilities. I like the idea of introducing external conflict (Man vs. Environment) through the paradise setting. The paradise can be a catalyst for multiple (possible) internal conflicts. Being stuck on a beautiful island with some people that you have clear problems (conflicts) with.

    If you took a more traditional approach with the story, you could have 3 or 4 NPC archetypes with goals that might conflict with your own. Once “your goal” has been chosen (e.g. prepare for rescue OR explore the island…), one of the (NPC) archetypes would come to the front as the antagonist (e.g. hoard available resources for long term stay OR insist that members of the party remain in a single location…).

    The choices you make will define “your character’s personality” and create rivals that must be contended with (doing your best to not mark them as “enemies”). As character and story developments unfold, you can introduce scenarios where it becomes imperative for you (the main character) to bend your morales and values and possible adjust your goals as you learn more about your problem (stuck on an island) and the ostacles (both external and internal) that remain…

    Keep lots of branching available for a varying level of experience (cater to distinct archetype “play-styles”) and let the player lead themselves to their black moment and through resolution… all of which is based on the way they are playing (chosen archetype and goal). I would also skew the experience to rely heavily on dialogue (spoken and read) and relationships (friendships, alignments, malignments, rumors…), as this allows for personality to show (e.g. audible tone).

    Basically, put the player in the position where they are faced with interesting, but difficult (moral) decisions. Most people skew their (in-game) decision making process to match their personal beliefs and experiences. The island would act as a facilitator, while introducing the (positive and negative) consequences of each decision (no such thing as a wrong decision – as the player will always be able to choose a plan that will lead them toward resolution). Let the player choose the story being told (ideally it is percieved as the player telling the story).

    Gotta say, this is one of my favorite Design Challenges. BTW – Happy Birthday.

    Comment by Will McGuire — 5 November, 2007 @ 8:08 AM

  3. And then there’s Burnout paradise – glorious car racing destruction in island settings. :-)

    It’s hard to see how you’d avoid the “something’s gone wrong in paradise” plot, unless you embrace the idea that truly mass market games don’t have to be about conflict, and can just be fun toyboxes. Seetting up a beach economy and ecology could have some fun aspects to it – managing a towel service, scuba diving, training dolphis.

    Comment by Beevis — 5 November, 2007 @ 9:44 AM

  4. Use the Die Hard brand! Adventure FPS, Terrorist attack in paradise!

    Comment by moo — 6 November, 2007 @ 8:18 AM

  5. “Marooned” the MMORPG. Stranded on a tropical island after a civilization-destroying war has engulfed the planet, you must strive to build a society that can maintain the legacy of your race. But you are not alone – other refugees have come to the island as well.

    - Characters begin with nothing but the tattered clothes on their back. Washed up on a beach, they must learn to forage for food and make simple tools to survive.
    - As gameplay progresses and characters master simple skills, they begin to explore the island and meet others stranded such as themselves.
    - Beyond food and water, a character’s first goal will be shelter. Build a small hut by yourself or team up with other players to build larger structures.
    - There is only so much to go around. Compete with other players and groups of players for access to limited resources to improve the quality of your character’s life.
    - Build your domain. Eventually, if your tribe is able to grow large enough and strong enough, and obtain enough resources, you can build rafts and ships and stake your claim on other islands in the nearby tropical waters.

    There’s not really any need to introduce an outside conflict apart from scarcity of resources – players will create the conflict on their own, if you let them :)

    Comment by Talaen — 6 November, 2007 @ 12:13 PM

  6. The theme brings me to Huxley’s “Brave New World”. A “perfect” society where happiness is available in pills, sex has nothing to do with keeping species alive and everything is mandated by a centralized, organized, and dare I say efficient (?) government. Poetry is dead, love is unheard of, and chaos is not tolerated… But everything is fine if you can just sit down and conform.

    It certainly would seem like paradise to many, specially if left undisturbed. But the appearance of the Savage, who is not bound by the mental yokes everyone else has donned since little kids sleeping with speakers whispering into their dreams, provokes people to rejection and, therefore, pondering. A few Star Trek episodes also come to mind, as do Logan’s Run, THX-1138, and other works in this line.

    Games where we play the savage are not few, I think. I’d like to see a game where we play the “host” — the character who, while still inside Plato’s cave, listens to the Savage’s tale of real-life objects and wonders what should be done, Books of Magic style (where Tim, by choosing to have an option, already made his choice). We would accompany the Savage’s tale of revolt — and his ultimate demise — and have to choose, by our actions, whether we’ll side with the system or with the promise of an unbridled — albeit perilous — existence. A “blue pill/red pill” choice, if you will.


    Comment by Shade — 6 November, 2007 @ 1:03 PM

  7. I would say the tileset lends itself to settings that encourage the players, in subtle ways, to destroy the beauty of the place for individual gain, but to preserve it for collective gain.

    Perhaps the game consists of an island chain. There is some sort of ancient story about the chain, a hidden island where some great secret has been locked away for centuries, from which subplots branch. People form teams in some sort of newbie area, then are given an island. There are forces encouraging people to work together (trade, shared costs, friendship) and forces tearing them apart (competition, secrecy, hostility). The team that wins will strike a balance between individuality and collectivism. Teams that are too individual will deplete their limited resources as each player tries to be the hero. Teams that are too collectivist will fail to strike when the iron is hot. (imagine the range of situations between being unable to build a boat because everyone cut down all the trees while working on their logging stat, and being unable to build the boat because nobody has a logging stat higher than 1).

    This is vague, I suppose. The thrust of it is, paradise is a tough thing to maintain, because there is never quite enough to go around. How do people respond?

    Comment by Bret — 6 November, 2007 @ 8:30 PM

  8. Isnt the definition of paradise the absence of challenges/problems to deal with?

    Comment by paul — 9 November, 2007 @ 7:18 AM

  9. Well, the thing about paradise is that almost everyone wants it. So one clear point of conflict is, your perfect paradise is about to be overrun by tourists, but on the other hand if you don’t get any source of income, you can’t maintain it. (ISTR SimIsle did something like that…?)

    Another is to crib from Judeo-Christian ideas and say, you have the guy who architected the paradise (whatever it might be), and his right-hand man, and the right-hand man is an ambitious guy whose vision for the paradise is different, and who wants to take over (economically, militarily, whatever). Assuming that we break from the religious stuff and make both sides look equally good (or bad), who do you side with?

    Comment by n.n — 14 November, 2007 @ 6:24 PM

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