Maia, developped by Simon Roth, is an indie RPG project, that lets the player assumes the role of an AI intelligence to lead a team (party based RPG) of astronauts settling a distant planet in the Tau Ceti. The current stage of developpment is a very early alpha stage.
The game reports use of outdated technology, 1970s technology, corresponding with the space missions to the Moon. This design decision stems from a gameplay orientation and esthetically adds charm but comes with a price, the constantly flickering screen display makes any text hard to read. Be ready to strain reading hints and reports.
Maia is one of this indie projects that takes up to exploring gameplay closed to bigger studios, following the rejection of players.
Players usually reject anything but a command and conquer formula, that includes the perfect chain of commandment. Avatars are not supposed to exhibit their own will and should be reduced to puppets on a string.
Maia features a different approach: the colonists have their own ideas on how the colony must be settled. After all, they are the ones who put their life on the line. They think their own priority list in what to do next.
As such, the player does not command but guide them through their survival attempt.
It means that the player does not issue direct orders but suggestions that are fulfilled faster when they match the expectations of the colonists or when they come at a stage when colonists are secured enough in their environment to be open to mid term suggestions.
The game makes the most of the setting: the settled planet environment is hostile to human beings with a lethal to breath atmosphere and the technology they use is outdated and unreliable.
To recreate an environment friendly to human life, the colonists dig their base underground, an airlock room serves as the life sparing gate between the surface and the base.
Settling an unknown world is stressful. Settling a distant unknown world hostile to human life and with unreliable technological means is even more stressful.
This is the key used in this game to let the player understand what the colonists think and want.
The player is given the means of telemonitoring the vital signs of each colonists to let him understand how each colonist manages their stress.
Matching the indirect orders and the stress level of the colonists is the way for the player to guide the colony through.
For example, the colonists are subjected to lethal threats as thirst, sleep and food deprivation.
Each colonist want these threats to be addressed with due priority. It means that at the beginning, they tend to disregard suggestions that does not help to diminish the lethal threats and are eager of carrying out suggestions that go in that way.
The order of suggestion is non linear though as it depends on the perception of colonists of their own situation.
It might mean that colonists might want to carry out work to ensure supply in water but will reject excess to prefer to work on their sleep conditions etc… making each game different as colonists wont tackle tasks the same way. Dropping a long chain of orders, especially redundant orders while breathing out like an ox, complaining the avatars are too slow to carry out the will of their master simply does not work in this game.
Work load and the consequent exertion are another factor of stress. The underground base is separated from the surface by an airlock room that might fail. In this prospect, colonists assign time to upkeep the inner doors in order to maintain them shut lock in case of failure of the main gate. This limits the expansion of the underground base as expansion adds doors. Other equipments also require upkeeping. Calling for a larger workforce to be maintained. Larger workforce that is provided when the colony is deemed able to support an additional colonist. That will stress more vital resources like food, water, air to breathe…
At this very early stage, the game is more about second guessing the colonists than working with a team of self motivated colonists as the situation is pretty unclear because the report tools and the threats are too few. It is quite hard to understand where each colonist is at, what plan might meet the approval etc
The whole thing looks promising though.
As usual with this type of unpopular design, the test will come to see if it resists the lobbying of players as already, voices of complaints have been heard.
Avatars should not feature their own will and should carry out any order they are given. Which goes against the very core of this project.
Technology used by the colonists is the technology used in the 1970s (mission Appolo, 2001: A Space Odyssey)
This level of technology is also emulated for the screen display of reports (flickering green text case)
And from a gameplay direction, it helps to justify that technology is bound to fail in this game. The gameplay uses stress as a motive and using a near future technology, that players would think as most reliable than today's technology, would lead to lamentations by players who could not stand unreliable technology.
In the ME series, technology never fails. They have a 100% reliable technology.
In Maia, many things might happen because of a failing technology and colonists are always on the edge because of that.
It is a core argument for gameplay design as it contextualizes it.