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One mechanic short of a working prototype

Hello, so I’ve been fiddling around with an idea for the past couple of years and this project is really important to me, but I can’t help but feeling like I’m one good mechanic short of making this project something truly special.

The game is about the life of a dog and his struggle to survive. As a pup he grew up in a puppy mill, then as an adult he had to survive out in the wilderness all on his own. So naturally the game is survival. I have several mechanics functioning properly but, it all feels like it’s been done before. I need something that (from a gameplay perspective) makes this game unique. I’ve been brainstorming for months and months about this but I’m coming up short. Is there anyone out there who can help me brainstorm and figure this out?

I’ll just drop a list of all the mechanics I’ve got going so far here

Hunger, thirst, fatigue, XP, stamina and health. You know, the basic survival stats.
A sensing vision that lets you envision scents from food and animals, sounds being made nearby and lets you identify poisonous and healthy food
A digging mechanic that lets you preserve food and gather rainwater
Basic combat

This project is very special to me and I want the gameplay to reflect that. Unfortunately, right now all it reflects is a re-skin of every other survival game ever.

You posted about this before… That’s a good sign, as it means the story is memorable. But it sounds like you’re stuck in ‘writers block’. When that happens the best advise usually is ‘make new choices’…

To start, ask yourself is this meant to be a game at all?.. Maybe its a killer short-film / animation… Maybe its better as a choose your own adventure game, instead of crafting / survival etc… The latter is kinda lame anyway, as its too like ‘exposition’ in film… Where’s the drama? … Where’s the action? That’s why heaps of games end up ultimately being geared more towards combat etc.

But in general, the chances of someone seeing this thread, finding quick inspiration, and giving you the ‘right answer’ isn’t high. So why not start out by showing some gameplay… Then talking about why this project is so personal and important to you… In your shoes. I think I’d look for a writing / gameplay partner … If you can model characters, you can offer a skills-trade / barter deal.

Overall, its really hard to adapt stories into videogames. Most people armed with a GDD find this out the hard way. It doesn’t work most of time, and that’s why so many games end up being shooters. :stuck_out_tongue: However, here’s an exception… Koola is making a game about the adventures of a cat. Why not track that down and see if it gives you some inspiration.

You’re missing some kind of ‘arc’. What are the goals / needs of the dog… Are they trying to get back to somewhere… To escape the cruel city / country maybe… One obvious gameplay mechanic not mentioned yet is ‘the chase’ or being pursued by a pack of wild dogs or whatever… An urgent potentially deadly challenge forcing the dog to run and then desperately seek out safe ground to hide. But what if they’re trapped or ‘its a trap’, and the safe route is blocked etc. With the dog panicked what new choices will the character take… What new options does that introduce to the gameplay… Its like a race… The dog has to win…

Dogs are pack animals, lonely dog would be very unhappy. So maybe you can give your dog some friend dogs.

If your Dog runs in a pack, add a ‘Nemesis dog’ that makes life hard on the hero.
Or if they don’t run in a pack, give the Dog a ‘companion character’ of some sort.
A companion wouldn’t necessarily have to be real, it could be a memory / ghost

Watch some pixar / disney animations. There’s so many ideas there to draw from…
Ideas often lead to other ideas… If you’re still stuck, you’re probably trying too hard.
If so, take a break / take a night-time course in writing, explore the character more…

You’re right, I have written about this before lol. Tbh I have the story down. It’s got some good character arcs, all the events in the story are historically accurate, the characters are thoughtfully written (at least I think lol) and I think I’ve found a good way to translate it into a video game, where the gameplay and the story don’t compete with each other. Right now I’m trying to figure out how to make the gameplay more unique. Cause right now it just feels very much like a cookie cutter survival game. I feel like I’m missing that one mechanic that would make this game truly special. I’m kinda in this creative block right now lol.

Although you know what, maybe I’ve been thinking about this all wrong. What if it’s not just one mechanic I’m missing? What if it’s several smaller ones that when experienced together make the game unique? I’ve been thinking the problem is one missing piece, maybe what I need is to reshape the pieces that I have so that they fit more coherently together. This is something I had not considered that I’m now thinking may be my issue.

I’m not gonna lie, adding a party member is a concept I fiddled around with for a little while. My main issue with this idea is that the story is based on actual events, and adding a party member would compromise the non-fictionality of the story.