Patrick Curry’s Thoughts on Game Design


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January 29th, 2006

Game Idea #5: Pack Rat

Here’s a little game idea that strikes close to home for me…

High Concept:

Pack Rat is a puzzle game that puts you in the role of a professional mover. It’s your job to quickly load your van with all the earthly possessions of your clients. Not only do you have to get everything to fit in the van, but you also have to be careful not to break any of their dear possessions in the process. In short, it’s Tetris meets The Sims meets Katamari Damacy!

Platform:

Nintendo DS / PlayStation Portable (mostly)

Why it needs to be made:

Tetris is possibly the greatest videogame ever, but for some reason no one has been able to create a great 3D version of this highly-addictive game. I think there are a number of reasons for this, but the primary one is that it’s difficult for the average player to visualize each piece’s rotation along three axes while maintaining a mental image of the game-board. It’s just too much abstract information. My theory is that using everyday furniture instead of strictly abstract forms would help the player over this hurdle and enjoy some good-ol’ block-stacking fun.

Description:

Pack Rat is much like Tetris in that you have a limited-sized gameboard and a number of pieces to fit onto it. But instead of a 2D grid and a series of tetra-pieces, there’s the volume of an empty moving van and a big pile of 3D boxes and furniture. It’s up to the player to arrange each piece of furniture to not only fit in the van, but also to be placed snuggly and securely enough that it doesn’t break on the drive to its destination.

Each piece of furniture is an iconic representation of itself, built out of a number of uniform sized cubes (think Legos). As such it would be easy for players to see that two upside down chairs can fit into the concave volume of a sofa, and that a guitar case can then fit in-between the legs of the upside-down chairs.

The game is played from a mostly isometric view, with the player moving each piece into position along the horizontal plane. Pieces are rotated in 90 degree increments on the vertical axis or on one of the horizontal axes (no need for both). The vertical positioning of the piece of automatic, based on the pieces placed below it.

Why it will be fun:

Everyone knows stacking stuff is fun! Since Pack Rat is more complicated than Tetris it’s important to not upset the almost perfect balance of the original. To make up for the extra challenge I’d remove some of the risk – the pieces can be placed in almost any order the player likes, there isn’t a drop-dead time limit for each piece, and there’s no way to place a piece and then lose because of it. On top of that, the cartoony real-world setting can be used for more flavor – special pieces like fragile china that can’t be crushed or a cat-carrier that can’t be flipped upside-down would not only add variety, but would also add to the humor and charm of the game. “Meow!”

Final thoughts:

I’m really tired of looking at boxes and dealing with movers, but the geometry-nerd in me still loves the process of fitting everything together just right. Hopefully Pack Rat would be a slightly less sweaty experience than the real thing…


5 Responses to “Game Idea #5: Pack Rat”

  1. James Craig commented:
    posted January 30th, 2006 at 12:16 pm

    I dig it. Best one yet… (Are you worried anyone’s gonna steal your ideas?)

  2. Patrick commented:
    posted January 31st, 2006 at 2:13 am

    Thanks James! Erin convinced me that it was good enough to post, so she gets partial credit for this one. I was worried that no one likes moving (I know I don’t), but I think the tetris-pieces-as-furniture keeps it lighthearted enough. It’s not like the game would make you look at old photos or throw out precious keepsakes.

    You know, I’m not really too worried about people stealing ideas. Everyone has their own ideas about what would make for fun gameplay, so they’d have to be pretty desperate to come take some of mine. But if people are inspired by these ideas to do their own thing, then that’s awesome.

  3. Mason Dixon commented:
    posted January 31st, 2006 at 6:02 pm

    Since the name is “Pack Rat” maybe the main character would have a pony tail. i guess as you advance in level’s your Moving company would get better and buy bigger trucks, and work for more expensive clients with more special items like fragile china.

    i still kind of want a driving round after loading up the truck, to drive it to a new location. I guess that ruins the simplicity of the Tetris portion of the game. Still would be fun, especially with a really wobbly looking truck that would sway back and forth when the driver changes lanes.

  4. Devin Curry commented:
    posted February 2nd, 2006 at 11:08 am

    I dig “Pack Rat” the Mason Remix. I think theres an element of purpose that is added by the truck drive.

    You could have at least two versions. One called INFINITE, and another called CAREER for those that arent already completely mesmerized by the coolness of the packing game.

    There could be an extra meter that measures BALANCE that would effect the maneuverability of truck to add an extra level of skill required to be a MASTER

  5. StGabe commented:
    posted February 3rd, 2006 at 3:37 pm

    One thing that intrigues me about Tetris is that it has been proven that most Tetris tasks are NP-complete. It seems like that is an interesting metric because NP-complete problems are quite difficult from the metric of pure computation but can often be approximated well by the sorts of lateral thinking that us humans are capable of. I wonder if a lot of addictive puzzle games involve NP-complete problems. There are a few obvious counter-examples: Mahjhong and Bejeweled are both puzzle games that would be very easy for a computer to do but these rely more on visual skills rather than problem-solving.

    Anyway, one thing about this game is that it is basically an instance of the knapsack problem so it’s very easy to show that for interesting enough pieces it too is a game based around an NP-hard problem.


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