Friday, May 27, 2011

Games I Desire to Bring Into Existence: Train of Thought

Progress on "Aldea Lenta" continues to steadily move. For the next couple of a days I will be sitting down and laying out the big picture layout of the game, planning its structure and brainstorming some ideas to fill in the important details. Until I have enough content to post on that experience, I am going to start what I hope will be an interesting returning feature: "Games I Desire to Bring Into Existence." The title is self explanatory so I won't waste any space dedicated to explaining what the feature is about.

Here we go!

At a time when I was significantly younger I came into possession of a rather obscure puzzle game created by Sierra Entertainment called "3D Ultra Lionel Traintown." Unlike almost all other video games in history that had taken the concept of trains as their primary theme, "Lionel Traintown" was not a simulation of any kind. Instead of attempting to emulate the complex systems that exist in the world of trains, "Lionel Traintown" decided to take its inspiration from the model train world (hence the licensing of the Lionel name).

To explain the gameplay of "Lionel Traintown" in as briefly a manner as I possible can, the basic mechanics are selecting different chains of train cars and choosing a speed at which they either move backwards or forwards along the rails, changing the direction that a switch track leads, and picking up and dropping off goods. Using these basic gameplay concepts, the designers of "Lionel Traintown" craft some really interesting spacial puzzles that test the player's ability to successfully organize and plan the movements of their trains in order to accomplish their given goals.

I would really like to see this idea expanded upon and brought into the modern era of video game design. There is nothing like "Lionel Traintown," and its unique, casual, and addictive qualities could allow a game like it to find great success in today's downloadable market. I see fully 3D-dimensional environments allowing for more complex and beautiful track layouts and puzzle designs. With an appropriately simple cartoon-like art style, the game could look amazing. One of the few flaws of "Lionel Traintown" are its clunky controls coupled with some really frustrating timed missions. The controls need to no longer be tied to the interface. No more timed missions; puzzle games usually suffer greatly from unnecessary action mechanics (if a designer feels the need to use these they should really consider the quality of their current design).

Of course, a puzzle game like this that is based around designer created levels could easily grow a strong, dedicated community. If powerful tools are built to allow for easy user content creation and a easy to use distribution model was built around delivering this content to other players (look at Trackmania or LBP), there could be some serious increase in replay value. And if supported by occasional content updates that introduced new features and gameplay elements (similar to what Valve is currently doing with TF2 and L4D), this new take on "Lionel Traintown" could have a long fruitful live in digital stores.

In conclusion, I would like to clarify some of the thoughts I have tired to share with some links. First off is a link to the Wikipedia article on "3D Ultra Lionel Traintown." It includes a far more in depth description of the game's workings than my brief paragraph and anyone who has a further in the game should check it out: 3D Ultra Lionel Traintown: Wikipedia. Second, if anyone is actually interested in purchasing the game and giving it a try (which I do highly recommend; it is an extremely underrated classic), check out some of these cheap, used copies on Amazon: 3D Ultra Lionel Traintown: Amazon. From all the reports I have heard, there should be no issues with trying to run the game on newer operating systems like Windows 7 or Vista.

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