Over at RocketHands HQ we've entered a game prototyping phase. We plan to spend the rest of 2010 discovering and proving two totally awesome game concepts that we'll develop and launch in the first half of 2011. We're doing this by meeting up on Sundays for a "weekly scrum", during which we pitch and demo the game ideas that we worked on the previous week, and brainstorm what we'll work on the following week. It's fun!
One idea that I've had for a very long time (meaning, at least FIFTEEN YEARS) is to make a game engine based entirely around a cellular automaton.
If this term is unfamiliar to you, then strap yourselves in for a quick introduction. A cellular automaton (or CA) is quite simple. You have a world of cells (which is usually a 2D grid, althouth Minecraft, for example, uses a 3D CA to do the water simulation), and a bunch of rules that describe how to transform a 3x3 group of cells to another 3x3 group. The prototypical CA is Conway's Game of Life, which you can read about on Wikipedia. It's fun and interesting, and there's countless implementations out there to play around with.
Well, FIFTEEN YEARS ago a friend of mine wrote a version of Emerald Mines, a BoulderDash clone for the Amiga. My involvement in this project made me realise that most of the rules in that game (such as the rule saying that a boulder with a space underneath it should fall down to fill that space) were in the form of CA rules, and that it should therefore be possible to write a version of BoulderDash using a CA. Not only that, a whole bunch of games from Pac Man to Space Invaders to anything based around a 2D world of blocks, could also be implemented this way.
I've carried around this idea in my head ever since. Until last week, that is, when I spend a measly 8 hours proving the idea, using RubyGame. Here's a video that explains it all.
Apart from actually releasing a generic CA game engine that allows people to create all sorts of weird and wonderful games and other simulations, I'd like to make a puzzle game, in the spirit of Angry Birds and Cut The Rope, that would see the player authoring a small number of rules to satisfy a goal condition. So that's my pitch; what do you think?
P.S. I once spent 24-hours straight helping my friend to convert his BounderDash clone to run on the original PlayStation, using the Net Yaroze hobbyist kit, which I still own. Crazy times.