So I need a game design based around a heightfield/billboard engine.
First, let’s be explicit. What do I mean by a heightfield/billboard engine?
I mean a base world defined by terrain, and that terrain defined by a heightfield. Other models may sit on top of this heightfield, but the heightfield is the “ground” of the world.
Units in this world will be done with billboarded sprites. A “billboarded” sprite is one that is actually rendered as a 3D object, but is always rotated so that it faces the player.
Lots and lots and lots of games have been made with this system, and some of them have been truly great, like…
Populous (It counts, although you couldn’t rotate the map):
Myth: The Fallen Lords and Myth II: Soulblighter
You can see that this engine style lends itself to real-time games with strategic elements (although none of the above are “real-time strategy” games as that phrase is defined today).
I definitely want my game to be real-time. I want the player to have buildings and units. I want the game to be fantasy-themed or mythology-themed. I also want the player to be able to raise and lower terrain, and I want that to be an actual game mechanic. But I’m not sure if I want the player to be able to directly control units. And I’m not sure if I want resource gathering.
Standard real-time-strategy: The player has direct control over resource gathering, building creation, unit creation and unit direction.
Populous: There are no resources. The player has indirect control over building creation and unit creation, and unit direction.
Powermonger: Some resources can be gathered directly. Others simply control what you can build in each city. The player has indirect control over building and unit creation, direct control over special item creation, and direct control over his army (but not villagers).
Dungeon Keeper: The player has direct control over buildings, resource gathering and resource collecting units, but only indirect control over fighting unit creation and direction.
Syndicate: Syndicate is more of an action game than a real-time strategy game.
Myth: There are no resources. There are no buildings. The player has direct control over his units.
Notice that Powermonger and Dungeon Keeper are practically mirrors – in Powermonger, the player indirectly controls the creation of his army, but directly controls the army itself. In Dungeon Keeper, the player has more direct control over the creation of his army (though not total control) but has little control over the army itself (he can drop his monsters directly over the enemy, but if they don’t want to fight they’ll just walk away).
Hmmm…this is going to take some pondering.