Saturday, June 30, 2007

Tree Story

I just wanted to share a quick design that occurred to me this morning. This isn't a design challenge since I don't have new graphics for it. We watched My Neighbor Totoro recently and my brain has been quite inspired by the scene where Totoro grows a giant tree from a seedling. I imagine that with a sufficient level of polish, this game might inspire some of the same feelings of delight and awe.

So I present to you Tree Story, a platform game where you grow trees in order to collect all the pieces of your broken heart.

The Tale
One upon a time, a young girl in love sang a most beautiful melody. A Bird of Fate, called by her song, blew through the window and struck her full upon the chest. Her heart shattered and she could love no more. Full of sorrow, she left her lover behind and began wandering the earth. She sits now alone on a land that borders a distance sea. All around her is emptiness. The only thing she owns is a single seed. If she plants it, it will grow into a tree. Perhaps, if she is strong enough, she can regrow her world and rediscover the pieces of her heart. Only then can she love again.

You control a character that sits in the middle of a scrolling screen. On the screen is a simple scape made of branches and foliage. At the bottom of the screen is the sea. You start on a small island in the middle of the sea.
  • When you press left and right, you can walk around the circumference of the tree foliage until it becomes completely vertical. Your character is always oriented relative to the normal of the foliage.
  • You can jump using the jump button (the up arrow)
  • When you jump, you jump straight out from the normal of the foliage. However, gravity points downward.
  • You have some slight air control when in the middle of a jump using the left and right arrow keys.
  • If you hit another bit of foliage, you grab on and reorient yourself to the new foliage.
There are many objects that are strewn about the world. You can interact with them in a variety of ways.
  • Picking up a seed: If you happen across a seed object, you can pick it up by running into it. You can only have 1 seed at a time, so if you run into another one, you will ignore it.
  • Using a seed: You can plant a seed by pressing the action button. When the seed is planted it will sprout into a tiny branch with a new bit of foliage. This slowly grows on its own until it reach a small fixed size.
  • Picking up flowers: If you happen across a flower object, you can pick it up by running into it. You can have as many flowers as you want at a time.
  • Growing a branch: If you stand at the base of a branch, you can feed it flowers in order to make it grow. By standing at the base of a branch, a HUD appears that instructs you how to perform the basic growing action. Hold down the action key and press up. Your flower count will decrease and the branch will grow. I can imagine turning this into a simple rhythm game, but for initial prototyping it is okay to keep it simple.
  • Bending a branch: You can also bend a branch. Stand at the base of a branch. Hold down the action button and press left or right. Your flower count will decrease and the branch and its foliage will grow. Branches can only be bent so much.
  • Chopping off a branch: You can remove a branch. Stand at the base of a branch. Hold down the action button and press down. A meter builds up and you give the base a mighty blow. The branch and any attached branches will be turned back into seeds that fall to the ground.
  • Picking up a star: Stars hang in the sky. Most of them you cannot reach. However, if you grow a tree, you can climb upon it and reach a star. When you catch a star, it pops and spits out a random prize. The prize could be a branch seed or it could be a dozen flower seeds. The prize falls down and rests upon whatever foliage it hits. Flowers seeds immediately blossom into flowers when they hit foliage.
  • Picking up a heart: If you happen across a piece of the young girl's heart, you can pick it up. Collect enough pieces and the girl is able to love again.
The basic game play

You start with a single seed that grows into a tree. You climb upon the tree and reach new stars. When you collect them they sprout into seeds and flowers. When you collect the seeds and flowers, you can grow new branches off your old tree. This in turn allows you to reach more stars and grow more branches. Eventually, you collect all the hearts and win the game.

Advanced game
There are numerous types of seeds, each of which creates a different branch.
  • Tall branches
  • Fat branches
  • Branches that sprout extra flowers all on their own.
  • Branches that sprout a specific type of seed if you feed them flowers.
  • Branches that are homes for little creatures. They tell you hints, bits of story and give you goodies. Give them a seed of the desired type and they may give you a rarer seed in return.
  • Branches that teleport you to another sister branch
  • Branches that sprout powerups that give you temporary flight or super jumps or double the number of goodies that you get from stars.
When night falls, more stars appear. When day comes, more flowers sprout and trees grow larger. There is a natural rhythm to the game world, despite its simplicity.

Winning the game
There is only one level in the game. This is not a puzzle game where you beat carefully designed levels. It is a playground game where you build and build and see how far you can get. The more hearts you get, the closer the girl becomes to achieving true love. Players who win will have built hundreds of branches and their tree will cover the entire map.

The game can be won, but it can't really be lost. If you come back to your saved game later, new flowers will have sprouted and new stars will have appeared. The little creatures on the map will have new trades and they'll let you know that they missed you.

So there you have it. There is a dash of Animal Crossing mixed with a hint of Knytt and a whiff of Little Big World. And of course, the spirit of Totoro. In my head, at least, it all seems like a pleasing way to spend an afternoon. :-)

take care