Ecodians (Game Concept)

Invite to help create a finite game about our infinite reality

There’s a distinct desire for more natural lush games aside from all horror and conquering. Image from Moss.

Game Blurb

You as Ecodian must help civilization on your island to progress while keeping all nature healthy. The balance and flourishing of your world lies in your hands.

Nature is, in this game concept, not a commodity, but an ecological living system, just like in the real world. It’s up to the player to keep it healthy. Protect the forests and wildlife against ravaging tribes. Side with weaker tribes to protect them from destructive aggression. Play very different levels of challenges (fighting, diplomacy, sabotage, building and more) to protect your civilization from itself. And discover that simple solutions, most gamers automatically assume (“kill all of them”), may have devastating consequences.

“We’re all crew members of planet earth.”

This is an excellent basis for a game, where players work to make sure animals don’t go extinct. Because the importance of maintaining the balance of life systems will overshadow any growth model in our near future.

Core Concept

How to progress civilization on a large island and protect it from self destruction? On an island with an intricate ecological balance live 7 (or more) tribes. Each tribe has their own specialty and customs. They may war on each other and or trade with each other. I know, you think you have seen that game concept a 1000 times before. Which tribe will win? No! This is NOT that game. In this game, if either one tribe wins, the whole island will die. If the miners win, they’ll ravage the island to death. If the fishers win, the fish will be gone; with the fish gone all animals who eat fish will start to die too. Etc. And if all tribes hunt and cut trees too much, nature as a whole will whither away. You as Ecodian, read Ecological Guardian, must protest the balance with a small team of balancers to help your world to flourish on all levels.

NOTE: We may even trick players into not knowing what the purpose is (at first), so they go crazy trying to get high scores, each time killing all life on the map, until the realize, balance is the key. Then only slowly let them learn the true mechanics of the game. That means during the game, they need to change mindset about purpose. Not winning, but balancing the whole is what brings flourishing. We only win when everything alive wins! And that forces players to change the rules of play for themselves and others to even reach the next level. Players tend to play ecological when the game says so on the box. But, like in the real world, changing your mindset when caught in a losing game for us all, all for a ‘winning economy’, is the biggest challenge human kind may be up against.

“Infinite growth on a finite planet is suicide.”

This game concept was born out of the following post on Swarming in Games.

Watch this video to see how such an ecosystem both is possible and how players can destroy it all. This game would have you do the opposite.

Or watch here how a coder, tries to create a balanced eco-system, which would then be a player challenge, like play hunter, fence builder, etc, everything needed to keep all of nature alive and healthy.

*) The subtitle of this post refers to the cult classic “Finite and Infinite Games” by J.P. Carse.

Four Possible Ways to make this game:

Example of isometric game design, perhaps a bit too zoomed in for this concept, but you get the idea, I hope.

Super Simple: phone based gameplay.

On your phone you see animals and people moving. You have the choice to kill any living dot (too many wolves, hunt them), build walls to separate living dots (keep out rabbits eating farmers produce), break down walls (rabbits dying of hunger need access to farmers fields), ect. So tap your action on the side and tap on the map where that action needs to happen. On each level certain complexity that is unbalanced needs to be balanced. Each time the balance is totally sound, you reach the next level and challenge. So, winning isn’t getting the highest score. It’s a healthy zero you need. Each next level adds difficulties and sometimes new options to do, bring in disease or heal the sick, grow or cut down trees, etc. Setting may include speeding up breeding among humans and or certain animals, heavier punishment when ecosystems start to die, the dying rate speeds up as more things are out of balance.

Simple. 2d Isometric Turn Based.

Much like in Civilization all tribes have AI, or even better, multiplayer based, turns. The turns are way smaller in effect, like all steps of village building. This is the cliché stuff. Cut a tree, build a house, attack or defend, trade and negotiate, etc. But in this game all natural ecological processes start with a turn too. All deer may feed, mate or run away from predators and hunters. Wolves and hunters may try to catch them. Wolves (also run by players?) also may attack life stock or, when very hungry, even humans. Rabbits, Bears, Bees, whatever animals are part of the living system, all make their moves, much like in classic game theory. Even trees and plants grow. Then the Ecodian player may perform certain actions. He can build or destroy a wall in order to change movement patterns of people and or animals. He may kill or negotiate with a tribe leader for a change in course, perhaps even blame the murder on another tribe. Perhaps do so, to get them attacked to stop them from expanding too much. The object of the Ecodians, or the gathering of tribes, is to get a full balance figure after a certain amount of time. Level design is based around the increasing amount of area to balance, growing number of factors to take into consideration and the progressing diversity of interventions the Ecodians can choose from. This version is best played from the Godlike perspective.

It’s probably very nice to not explain too much, so players can also try out ‘winning’ with, for a faction and then seeing the whole island die.

Example of Polygon Game Design, simple, on point, and even the landscape may easy adapt to change.

Medium. 3d Polygon with clear levels and simple story design.

In this version everything moves at the same time. Everything out of sight is calculated in a very simplified way. Certain actions and events can be triggered, like the news of a new impending war, or illegal cutting trees in a certain part of the island. Thus specific missions can have your hero traverse the island to stop poachers, or an invading species bringing unbalance, perhaps even investigating the reason behind this unbalance.

Special is also that the game may not explain too much in the beginning thus luring players into automatic game cliché responses, and thus unleashing new problems. Think getting rid of all the wolves in a certain area will lead to all crops of the local farmers being eaten by rabbits and deer. Our hero may even get banished for this, spoiling missions until he either meets the Ecodians, or starts to understand the best figure on the balance bar is the middle and not reaching a full score. In this game version we have thus a little Ecodian running around, who can fight, flee, talk, build certain things, growing in rank and options as the guardian of life on his island.

And while levels are offered by area, the last one may be running all area’s at the same time, where the results of earlier levels influence the whole. This time it’s running all around. Specific bars must be created for this game, like a simple wildlife bar (middle = healthy, too green is not enough predators, red is too many of them) and a nature overall bar and a tribe ranking bar, showing tribal growth, health and % of natural destruction.

Magical elements and trusted older Ecodians may guide the hero in his development as Ecodian. Mind games for the player may be having to fight the very wolves you seek to save. Or observing that a war is started because a tribe can’t get a certain food source. Than by insuring them access through trade, finding that the traders start over producing for profit, thus you’ve created new problems. Or he may have to stop friends, made earlier in the game, from doing what they do, either by fighting them or developing enough trust to be listened to. Those friends may include wolf leaders, trees and birds.

An amazing extra asset this games offers for replay is that players may even set bars, like wolf birth rates beforehand, perhaps creating wolf plagues. Thus game play may focus one run through on stopping a plague, and the next one on stopping or helping one faction or replanting forests.

What challenge is more real, solving an issue with killing another end boss, or healing a system as a whole, searching in a immersive landscape for what the hell went wrong. Example picture taken from Outward.

Towards TripleA. 3d (non)RPG in an immersive landscape.

In this version the game is a huge living system, though what is not seen works through simple AI packages, slowly developing certain unbalances which will involve the hero in certain missions. But rather than a focus on storyline, it’s the immersive AI that creates certain needs (that once again may be set by the player beforehand). Thus when a certain tribe gets too powerful, it may have another tribe flee and rebuild on the other side of the island. It may have the hero kill a warmonger to find his predecessor is an industrialist bent on building factories. And killing that one too, may make him being wanted by that whole tribe, who’ll never trust our hero anymore.

The simple bar in this version is replaced by a huge tree. If certain branches whither away, it’s up to the hero to find out why and how to restore that part of the tree. This tree may even have an actual location in the game, and the hero may develop a magical relationship to it, being able to access the tree at all times. And as the hero further develops, it may become visible, through symbols on the leaves, what certain leaves stand for.

Imagine this game to be a variation of a sandbox landscape, but with a full on ecological system that will trigger changes everywhere on the map. Also dialogue lines can be triggered by developments. Dialogues can automatically shift from “Can you chase away these wolves for me?” to “Help our village is overrun by rats!” or “No time, we need to flee.” Thus even tribes act a bit as flocks of animals with certain rules for all and certain rules for individuals. Think of smart villagers, who all may start fighting you, when you attack one. So the player, acting as an agent for the whole, must be ready shift in attitude all the time, as circumstances demand. And that is not having a sword ready all the time. This is also about visiting a village several times, seeing it either spiral downward, flourishing, or growing into a war machine. It’s almost like you have to stop all cliché versions of games bent on growing your power and domination as much as possible.

Summary for the last two versions

So, all in all, this is not a hack and slash sandbox forcing you towards given cutscenes anyway (well perhaps a little). This is not a ‘do the same thing in every region, but bigger and harder’ game. This is not an RPG where locations look very different, but are actually the same: puzzle and fight through a labyrinth and beat an end boss. There are puzzles, like what causes this unbalance? There are fights, perhaps many, perhaps a few. But it is not about killing endless amounts of monsters. You may even have to fight to keep certain monsters alive, because they too are essential in the ecosystem. Even more interesting is that there are huge shifts possible in the landscape and for the characters as the game progresses, and things either flourish or decay. It’s up to the player to make it the first. You’ve clearly lost when you’re the last one alive and all around you is dead. But then, hey, you get to play dystopian survival in a game, where a lush living forest experience is equally possible, all depending on your choices and perhaps how you set the bars to begin with. :)

I can already see cultish players share certain settings for certain effects that are either hilarious, or very interesting challenges.

Note to Game Developers

For the game designers this means a special challenge. One the one hand, it’s probably much much less work than something like Red Dead Redemption, because you don’t have to prescript all options and side quests. It is all AI driven alternatives. On the other hand this might be a challenge. How to calculate and run the parts of the land you can’t see? How to prescript all AI dialogues to create a 100 different options based on data packages based on overall game data and current events? I have some ideas, programmers know what is possible.

If you’re really interested and a game designer and or publisher, reach out in the comments. :) Also, here are more ideas to really revolutionize the industry by rethinking concepts.

Background: the principles that call for this game.

  1. Too many games show ‘winning’ as the solution to opposition. Do we really ‘win’ when all dangerous life is dead? Winning at capitalism seems to mean everything is owned by one person, and all nature may be destroyed to be sold. In reality our world is an infinite game. Endless cycles of birth and death and a living nature make our civilization possible. Keeping that alive is essential, because…
  2. Nature is not a commodity, but a living system and it’s importance should be felt in a game as well. Too many games let you win, when almost all nature is cut and only one culture stands. That is not how nature, our lungs and food source works. Civilizations have fallen because the trees were gone, let alone wars lost because there weren’t any young man able nor willing to fight anymore. That too is nature. It limits the growth of empires, yet what game includes the danger of collapse through the depletion of resources? Having one winner is also dangerous because…
  3. Going for one culture dominates all is, to my opinion, basically a fascist concept that furthers racism and nationalism. It dismisses the importance of diversity in cultures, opinions, gifts and life styles. Just consider a world with only Trumps truth alive, or even yourself as absolute dictator. We need a diversity in opinions and approaches in our complex reality. This is essential because…
  4. Turns out, many civilizations that ran everything, with no ‘outside’ available, end up destroying themselves, like Easter Island. Our current global society is heading in that direction, one giant Easter Island, with one dominating culture: capitalist economy. We also become more and more aware how fragile such a state can be. It used to be that when the economy collapsed in one part, another could help. Nowadays we’d all could fall into a depression. Then who can help?

In short this game is based upon essential principles that keep us alive and thriving, namely a healthy nature and a diverse society. It offers subtle training in real world principles in very exiting different gameplay.

Cutting down trees makes civilization possible, but at what cost?

Additional Remarks

7 tribes is because it should never nicely balance out. Tribal factions could be centered around fixations (they all can of course have some agriculture, but have real overflow in their specialties, and sometimes additional needs from the others). Think: Coastline Fishers, Mountain Miners, Agricultural fieldworkers, tool makers, Forest Dwellers, Nomadic Plain tribe, City. They all need each other, they also may have reasons for conflict. Forest dwellers may resent other tribes cutting too much from ‘their’ forest. Miners may find access to rich resources blocked by other factions, who live on them, etc. When the 3rd option prevails there may even be some smaller hidden tribes, or factions within factions.

A bit more research will be the natural eco cycles. It’s clear wolves eat deer. Less clear is how they influence their behavior, as seen in this amazing video. It’s clear too me, some part of the mechanisms steering this shouldn’t be too obvious. For instance what would happen to the bees if the bears were gone? We can of course invent our own ecosystem to this effect, with some nasty looking but essential monsters. :)

NB: I’m currently designing a real world version for school classes, where they have to turn a destructive economy into a regenerative one to save their island or their planet. I hope, as I’ve seen before, young people come up with answers, most others cannot even imagine.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Floris Koot

Play Engineer. Social Inventor. Gentle Revolutionary. I always seek new possibilities and increase of love, wisdom and play in the world.