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Project Grammar

Project Grammar is the working title for a conceptual game I'm working on. The simple outline for the game would be that it attempts to blend classic gaming along the likes of the classic Legend of Zelda games with choose-your-own-adventure books in order to provide children with an opportunity to be involved in a story while answering simple grammar questions. The technical goal of the game is to combine HTML5 Web 2.0 cloud content delivery with high moderation to provide a safe community and allow dynamic content across stationary computers and mobile phones. The game would also be capable of "portable" play with the entirety of game files or specific stories being exported into one of several formats (HTML5 "app" with central file to run, .exe and equivalents for other platforms, or just as data files).

Continue onwards to read the verbose outlines.

Mode 1: Action

  • "Zelda-Style Gameplay"
  • Players experience a cartoon-styled action game with a minimal level of violence (for core content)
    • Bird's Eye View (simplifies art assets, rendering pipeline)
    • Layers in levels allow "2.5" dimensions, as players move between different heights
    • Default content involves fighting specters rather than living creatures
      • The lack of solid evidence for or against psychological impacts of video game violence leads to minimal graphic violence, to avoid psychological effects of violence
      • Consequences are present for attacking non-enemies (whether friendly specters or "normal" creatures).
      • Allows us to shrug off physical laws for a more interesting experience, though this isn't necessarily verboten for physical foes
      • Specters invading allows an engaging background story 
  • "Blind mode" or "Friendly mode" removes Action Mode ("Author's Big Book" points this out, but recommends including action scenes for entertainment)
  • Action scenes allow limited story driven-action (i.e. bad guys talking, etc.)
  • Action mode characters are persistent, advancement handled by Story mode or temporary power ups
  • Typing game style "abilities", with accuracy determining power cost and typing speed increasing deployment rate

Mode 2: Story

  • "Choose-your-own-adventure"
  • Players choose storyline by selecting options from a list- all options are valid.
    • Allows increased engagement- while it's not possible to have full interaction using the sort of technology that's available, we can maximize it by involving multiple valid pathways.
    • Authors must make all offered plot lines valid and immersive, this will be in the "Author's Big Book" for aspiring content developers, or else the game feels boring to players.
    • Segmented content delivery allows players to move through pathways easily with minimal central server-load; whole modules can be downloaded as they are accessed, no need to download the whole game, though doing so should be possible.
  • Grammar challenges can be included within gameplay- players must correct offered text. Integrated lessons help them do this and learn why and how to fix certain sentences (i.e. what's wrong, what misconceptions it can send, and more).
  • While gameplay is done with text, visual aids are a must, for instance illustrating the king's palace or a similar area so that the player can see their environment.
  • Text to speech support allows correct options to be read aloud to assist players
  • Story mode includes "Scene editor" which allows the setup of an action scene for the background images of a scene or to show motions i.e. cutscenes (picture RPG Maker games).
  • Each successful Story mode action choice grants rewards based on difficulty of grammar challenges and in-story events. Rewards are only granted once for each individual choice/outcome, but modules can be replayed to get all different rewards.

Mockups:

This set of mockups uses the public domain RLTiles from RLTiles.sf.net.

The player's character approaches the king.
The player approaches the king with a letter.

There's some descriptive stuff here, most of which will be obsoleted by animation. Then the king speaks, and the player is prompted to respond.

Here the player is given options on what to say- the player has choice but not complete freedom.

Finally, the player answers, and must solve a grammar question. The "E" in envoy would not normally be highlighted, it represents player selection. There is then a quick selection of stuff to choose from.

Mode 3: World

  • Network of individual points that allow the player to move between storylines and modules
  • No travel delay (unless server load is high, in which case delays may be added equally to all players to let it compensate)
  • Each region has independent plots except as far as is appropriate
  • Regions can be "reset" once in a while (weekly? monthly?) to allow players to experience all the different story paths
  • Each region is of similar difficulty within, but different from other regions
    • Based on age-achievements standards
    • Higher standards give higher reward
  • Regions can carry "plot arcs" between other regions.
  • Regions should offer ~10 hours of gameplay for any given plot choice (and can have more by differing plots)
    • Not all plots have to be equally complex- younger levels may allow less flexibility, with the very earliest being just grammar challenges and highest being reliant both on grammar and reasoning to achieve the best results
  • All plots should end with a similar level of character advancement, though some can be "better" than others in the sense of rewarding arbitrary items

Items

  • NO CASH ITEMS!
  • NO PREMIUM ONLY ITEMS!
  • Divided into four categories: Equipment, Cosmetic, Consumable, Quest
    • Equipment: Two types: Tools and Gear
      • Tools: Have active effect on gameplay, sort of like things from Zelda (i.e. candles, boomerang), allow action mode fancy things to happen, one per age level
      • Gear: Change action stats, typically on a ratio of the character's normal stats. Can provide health/stamina regeneration
    • Cosmetic: Only changes look, no impact on gameplay. Can be unique to certain plots/quests.
    • Consumable: Used in action or story mode for a boost, gives hints or restores health (or similar things)
    • Quest: Used to access plot events, access gold content. May be consumable or permanent, in latter case may function as equipment or cosmetic

Content Delivery

  • Consists of a three-prong system:
    • Core
      • Comes with the basic story and setting of [World Name]
      • Fully featured game experience
      • Should be 75%+ of official content
      • All made in-house by a team of three or more people collaborating on art, story, action, and balance
      • Each module includes both Action and Story segments
      • Free for all users
      • Heavily policed content, should get no more than E10+ rating
      • Built for k-12 students with exponential action mode character growth as grade level increases (so a handful of 12th grade content is equivalent to the full kindergarten content, for instance, if not more) in order to allow older students to get a strong character quickly.
    • User
      • Requires verification of identity and content appropriateness
      • Should be 15% of official content, include plenty of unofficial content
      • Includes growth for "official" bits, unofficial bits only provide bonuses for a selected group of content (policed by up to three users as administrators, modules can belong to multiple groups) and/or the author's other modules.
      • Authors get paid when their "user" content is upgraded to core content (with allowances as required for minors). Can take double the amount in a scholarship.
      • Category only applies to free content
    • Gold
      • Similarly stringent as users, plus more.
      • Focused towards copyrighted franchises and commercial authors
      • Can be behind pay gate
      • Requires "noteworthiness" or an adopted user module (i.e. from user to official)
      • Can be bought site-wide as a subscription or sold individually as modules, no expiration dates
      • Authors can allow "tokens" for access to be given out, whether reusable and send-able or not.

Security

  • Relies primarily on simplicity and not asking for data
      • Downsides: Can't age-gate content, only grade by age-level, hard to verify users' true identities, hard to contact users about changes if e-mail is optional
    • No personal information is stored (may require frequent user validation, but only rather insensitive usernames and passwords [maybe e-mails?] are stored)
    • High levels of encryption for user data
    • Financial transactions handled off-site (i.e. all through PayPal, rather than through the site and an integrated system, there are no subscriptions)
    • Cheating is prevented by the client/server relationship- while players could use a cheat sheet, they cannot retrieve answers from the server until after they have submitted theirs
    • Identity verification for premium content is handled by a database that the clients do not access, this will be handled manually at first after receiving notification from payment option providers, then automatically as a good method presents itself.
  • No interpersonal relationship through hosted services
    • There is no way to chat in-game, and no official forums or IRC channels
    • User content is scanned and evaluated for objectionable or unsafe material
    • There may be a "friend code" or "classroom" method of connecting, but this is not an intended core service
    • Players who wish to play together may use direct-IP connections with downloaded clients and web-hosted modules
    • Players may get anonymous "statistic links" for their character (dynamic or static), but these give no username or identifiable information (these can be integrated into forum avatars off-site, but we don't volunteer names or such)
  • Age gates for advanced age content (though nothing is terribly objectionable) requiring validation by a responsible user (i.e. teachers, who would send in ID for their own validation)
    • Content creation is one of the things behind this age gate to ensure that no young child inadvertently provides personal information to a predator

Monetization

  • Primarily to fuel server costs and content creation
  • Comes from sales of Gold content on site only
    • NO ADVERTISEMENTS!
    • NO SUBSCRIPTIONS!
    • NO FANCY ITEMS!
    • Only stories and areas are eligible to be "Gold" content
  • Project keeps 50% of Gold level sales (after transaction fees) in order to subsidize writers, server hosting, and software improvements.
  • Donations accepted during launch period (i.e. Kickstarter) and on occasion similarly to Wikipedia's donation measure, should Gold content not provide sufficient income.
  • Can buy premium content "lifetime subscription", basically a "flag" on a player's account that allows them to access all official content (including past special events and obsolete areas), should be equivalent in price to 2 age groups worth of official gold content (costing no more than 10 regions/100 hours of "first run" play)
  • Premium world areas do not "nag", areas are entirely non-gold or gold, no "You've saved 90% of the village, now buy the rest of the story" stuff. Similarly, regions that belong to an overarching story arc must be either entirely non-gold or be gold entirely
  • Authors can adjust pricing and gold restrictions for their content, but anyone who has ever played any given content can always access it

Licensing

  • Open-source, non-commercial for derivatives
  • Software licensed similar to a CC3.0 BY-NC-SA license but using a more software oriented solution
  • Includes server and client software
  • Official art assets are released under CC3.0 BY-NC-SA

Development Roadmap

  • Publicity
    • Get some contacts for potential writers/developers/artists
    • Test public reaction
    • Contact people for advice
  • Funding
    • Based on mock-ups and pre-code stuff
    • Prototype would either be made with a proprietary tool or by a generous coder
    • Attempt to get funds from ASU/Kickstarter (or equivalent)
    • If project fizzles, retry in a year or two
  • Project Start
    • Dependent on funding/volunteer interest
    • Not yet available to public/funders
    • Get core HTML5 engine started, then begin work on putting in content
    • If project fizzles at this point, could be problematic; refunds would be in order
  • Alpha
    • Generous benefactors get access
    • Start developing content
    • Released at the "five-hour-content" mark when most of the first one or two regions is finished
    • Code is mostly finished- from here on programming focuses on bug fixes and improvements, Mode 3 may not be final yet
    • If project fizzles beyond this point, content is open-sourced
  • Beta
    • Most (upper 75% of donation values) benefactors get access
    • Continue content development
    • Released once polished assets and writing for at least 25 hours of unique content are finished
    • Code should be pretty finalized at this point, except for "bug bounties" and the occasional unforeseen feature request
  • Early Access
    • Stress testing, all benefactors receive access, as well as random-chance key winners
    • Content should be ready for all proficiency levels, and there should be an area or two
    • Code not yet released, but at least some content for each grade level is
  • Full Release
    • Code and content is released
    • Gold regions offered
    • Anyone can register and play
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