My Dear Mr. Duk:
This message comes to you from my grandmother's moss-colored couch in Paradise, California (with a little help from my trusty powerbook). Couldn't sleep and thought I'd add some more idea-logs to the Alex fire.
In my previous note I proposed a three-way game option. Upon further reflection I see that this idea needs some propping up. Essentially, the concept was that a third player, either human or program, would take the place of the neutral city player. If neutral cities were allowed in a three-way game I would have to create a FOURTH style of playing piece so you could tell neutral cities from the three types of captured cities; that's why I suggested we could do without neutral cities in the three player version. But how would we play a game without ANY neutral cities?
Obviously it would not make sense to give player one and two a single starting city and give player three all the rest. Instead I propose that, when playing in 3-way mode, each player be given one third of all the cities right from the start. We could leave everything but the city squares dark and unexplored or we could just light up the whole map and have done with it. We could select each player's initial cities so that they fall into three separate regions, or we could scatter each player at random across the board, or (if the entire map was revealed at the outset) let the players themselves take turns choosing cities one at a time as done in RISK.
This would be a radical departure but would have the advantage of shortening the game - especially important with three players. The warfare would start immediately and, if the map is revealed, exploration would be unnecessary. If I were playing I would prefer to stay in the dark with initial cities scattered at random across the map. But with the power to choose initial settings like 2-player or 3-player, map revealed or map dark, human or program (from a library of varying programs), random or orderly city selection, etc., Alexander could span a wide variety of gaming experiences and the user would have much more control over the LENGTH of the game. 3-player, map-revealed, orderly-city Alexander would be more like RISK than CONQUEST.
In addition to a library of pre-programmed computer opponents we could offer a library of favorite world maps, including a RISK-styled earth map, maps of famous battles (Battle of the Bulge, Seige of Troy, etc.) or even mythological maps (Narnia, Gondor vs. Mordor, etc. - although I tremble at the sacrelege of bombing Lorien or sending an aircraft carrier up the Anduin). Just as we would give players the ability to add to the library of computer opponents, we could also eventually provide a map generation utility (ala SimCity) so that players could add their own maps.
It's all enough to make my head spin, but it really isn't THAT much of an extension to our current scheme. The basic core functions (map generation, warfare, piece display, accounting, programming language, etc.) would be unchanged. All we would be doing is giving the user a few knobs to twist at the outset. If you are not repulsed (or terrified) by these ideas, I'll try to mock up a simple preferences dialog box that a player could use to navigate through this myriad of possibilities.
The irony of all this is that after sending my last note it occurred to me that it wouldn't really be so bad after all to simply paint the symbol for neutral cities right on the map itself, thereby eliminating the need to use up a separate piece style to represent them (thanks to our 24x20 piece size this is now feasible: the space used to provide the beveled look of pieces would protect a port city symbol from the ravages of smoothing). I also think I might be able to devise ONE MORE piece style (red plastic) to bring the possible number of players up to four. Now that I've written this note I think it might be fun to play without neutral cities even in two-player mode. So we could maybe offer two to four players with neutral cities (each player starts with a single city) or without (each player starts with dozens of cities).
One other idea for the road. How about a tiny pop-up world map pallette for easier navigation? The user could command-click anywhere on the main battle map to summon this small (99x99 pixel) floating pallette. The pallette would provide a little shimmering rectangle representing the portion of the main map currently displayed. He could simply drag this rectangle around the pallette to immediately reposition the main view, thereby avoiding much tedious horizontal and vertical scrolling. The pallette could be shoved to one side or closed. Whadaya think? Can do?
That's all for now. Please let me know if the tape arrived this weekend and what you think of all this.
Yours in haste,