{Game Idea}

Death Note, art by Takeshi Obata

Thesis: Criminal vs. Detective massively multiplayer game {MMO}. Online PvP and PvE. A long-term strategy game, a thinking man’s game of cat and mouse across fictional cityscapes and their many internal institutions of potential help and harm to criminal and investigative enterprises alike. ‘Criminals scheme and detectives discover‘. Once they come into contact, may the best gambit, or series of them, win. Together, the masterminds making their corrupting and bloody profits and the lawmen tasked with capturing them and proving their illicit deeds make up the contests within {Lawcraft}.

Setting & Story: Modern day | Urban metropolis | Hideouts, getaway cars, command centers. {Lawcraft} takes place on the streets of the enormous mega-city of NERO, in the underbelly of its underground machinations as well as at the forefront of the financial corporatocracy. In all zones of the city, different forms of lawlessness, at varying levels of sophistication, exist and thrive. The most cunning and resourceful agents of criminality and the law alike will use every possible institution and locale throughout Nero to their own advantage.

Playable Characters: A player jumping onto the servers of {Lawcraft} is initially faced with a choice of their side: Criminal or Detective. Ala the classic children’s game of cops ‘n robbers, the game features this duality of playing position. However, players should not consider their choice in terms of good vs. evil, for the nature of the crimes to be committed may be morally grey {ex: stealing from the rich and giving to the less fortunate}, and the corruption of the law is not ever exclusive to the criminal class. Good and evil are not so clearly defined here, there is only the law; such concepts as ‘justice’ and ‘injustice’ may be collectively decided on the streets of Nero by the turn of a final maneuver in a game of life and death. The winner metes his own justice at the hierarchy of his chosen craft.

Both Criminals and Detective progress along a non-linear chain of differing roles within their respective enterprises. Each role affords different capabilities on the board of the city of Nero. Each role can be effective working alone, working toward the most influence, power, or deductive/inductive capabilities, or working within the group, playing a specialized role in their enterprise’s collective success.

Criminal progression:

  • Thug – {fighters on the ground; a pawn but vital}
  • Thief – {heist-runners; rogues that can infiltrate and escape}
  • Specialist – {charming marksman, can fit a variety of roles}
  • Saboteur – {chief technical workmen, use computers like thieves tools}
  • Manipulator – {institutional role, influencer of city officials and unofficials}
  • Boss – {veteran of crime, capable of influencing above and below}
  • Kingpin – {forceful personality that wields a commanding presence, can deploy the enterprise in new and powerful directions}
  • Mastermind – {the ultimate criminal}

Detective progression:

  • Cop – {workhorses of the law; fill out a knowledge base in local communities}
  • Sarge – {powerful everyman on the force; former military, know their way around how to counter heists}
  • Spy – {undercover experience at the federal level; they know the crime enterprises as well as the criminals themselves}
  • Gumshoe – {charismatic journeyman of the grift; former P.I.’s that can get you intel but dangerously}
  • Detective – {the backbone of the force battling back crime in Nero – masters of deduction and evidence-gathering}
  • Sleuth – {eccentric but brilliant, their detection performance is erratic and enlightening all the same}
  • Inspector – {detective in command of the investigation at large, plays the macro game}
  • Lawmaster {the ultimate detective}

Gameplay ~

  • The game operates as a long-term, turn-based strategy game.
  • Each player creates their character, who is classified as a Criminal or Detective. All players start as independent operators in a random zone within the city.
  • The city of Nero makes up the field upon which the different players – Detectives and Criminals both – operate against one another, antagonizing the others’ operations via schemes and counter-schemes and gambits.
  • Not unlike chess or go or shogi, the gameplay consists of moves {crimes} and countermoves {investigations} — for example, heists, raids, other clandestine operations — within the spaces of the city’s infrastructure and public and private enterprises.
  • Using the skills and abilities of the different members of a crime group, crimes can be initiated at different points of interest throughout a city, such as banks, power plants, refineries, cyber centers, archive centers, security centers, corporate headquarters, manufacturing centers for everything from weaponry to mobile devices.
  • Criminals gain resources or levels of control over these city centers, depending on the skill and planning of the criminal group, the level of resistance from the detectives, the effectiveness city’s baseline defenses.
  • The difference between each side winning or losing is based upon a complex interplay of factors {skill and size of criminals vs. detectives, timing and planning from each side for the op} before and during a given operation.
  • When a Criminal is defeated, they are either arrested or killed; while in jail, they await sentencing and/or a potential jailbreak operation on their behalf // When a Detective is defeated, they are either captured or killed; a captured Detective can be tortured for intel and/or held for ransom.
  • The Detectives can use their own acumen, or intelligence-gathering resources within the city, to counteract upcoming criminal enterprises, deploying agents to stop heists and raids, etc.
  • Both criminals and detectives can use relatively neutral groups and locales throughout the city to support and further their designs in the city: corporations – executives and underlings, gangs, lawyers, information brokers, informants, dirty cops, vigilante lawmen, hackers, FBI/CIA, serial killers, anonymous patrons, etc. Each of these resources will populate within the city semi-randomly, or as the game progresses in time.
  • All players can see an overland isometric map of the city of Nero, marked by the influence of the different parties interacting within the game world and the ground they’ve made.
  • The more influence within the city of Nero one has, the more resources and power they wield. At the same time, as one’s influence within Nero expands it becomes easier to be stretched thin and struck at weak points within areas of control by antagonists.
  • Each instance of the city of Nero can house up to 100 different players, evenly split between 50 criminals and 50 detectives of varying power levels and influence. They can operate independently or group up into factions, working together or apart in all parts of the city.

Endgame ~ {Lawcraft} is an experience designed to simulate complex interactions of law and order within an emergent environment: the city of Nero. As the game progresses, more of the players are eliminated – arrested, captured, killed – the dividing lines of the city’s territory becomes established as either Criminal or Detective controlled. Victory is reached when all of one side is eliminated, or surrenders their remaining territories.

Inspired By ~

Death NoteKira vs. L

Sherlock HolmesSherlock vs. Moriarty

The “Gambit Pileup” ~ TVTropes

Concept and Story

In the massively sprawling city of Nero, the game is afoot.

For the majority of the population here, they make their living like anyone else: working the 9-to-5, doing their damndest to raise their family up in security, stay out of trouble and keep the nose to the grindstone. The wheels of industry turn, corporations grow and expand their influence, providing goods and services, and precious jobs, to the masses via the pivotal tenets of the market and its many efficiencies. The people of Nero make their way inside a complex system of emergent conditions and changing incentives.

But there are vital cracks within this system. And ever since the illustrious and infamous master criminal known as M. threw the city into chaos with his sprawling criminal enterprise five years ago, many daring folk within Nero have turned to their own devious enterprises of crime to get ahead. At the height of his power, M. nearly took over the city, operating it from the shadows as a puppeteer for the secret sake of his criminal syndicate. He was eventually taken down by the city’s late Lawmaster, aptly named Nero himself, but not before himself dying in the process of the legendary arrest. Both M. and Nero make up the paragons of crime and the law, respectively, and have driven recent changes within the city at large. Every Criminal and Detective making up the machinations within the game to gain control of Nero are consciously or unconsciously emulating these figures.

In recent time, Nero has become a battleground. Master criminals initiate magnificent schemes and super sleuths try to stymie their efforts via deduction. Competent citizens, formerly working within the bounds of the law, have become fed up with the system and are acting out against it via crime. The increase in these crimes – heists, hacks and city-wide corruptions at the hands of intelligent thieves, specialists and manipulators from within the city’s anonymous millions has prompted officials to call in the necessary reinforcements to combat this new culture of crime. A bevy of detectives and their resourceful associates have entered the fold to combat them.

This is where the player comes in, on either side of the grand conflict for the soul of Nero – does it fall into the chaos of opportunistic master criminals, or will order be restored under the rule of its super detectives? Each game will decide upon the falling of this coin.

Design / System / Mechanics

In short, {Lawcraft} is designed to be a low action, high gambit criminal drama MMO game. A thinking man’s strategy game, meant to be played over turns that may span days and games that span month(s).

{Lawcraft} is so named after the endlessly replayable classics of real-time strategy of Blizzard’s Warcraft and Starcraft. Not unlike chess or go, the game is designed to fit into this category of ubiquitous replayability. This replayability lies upon the grounds of its varying strategies, tactics and roles one can play, on either side of the equation of the game’s battlegrounds. The player-versus-player aspect plus the diverse collection of mechanics available to the players means the Nero endgame states of play should be practically infinite, just as any given Starcraft game or chess game plays out differently each match. The most difficult aspect of the design of such a game will be balancing; the balance between the options for maneuvers and their odds of success must be equivalent between criminals and detectives. {Like all games, the only way to achieve such balance is through prototyping, playing and incessant iteration.}

The game also shares characteristics with 4X grand strategy games such as the Total War series or Crusader Kings. Players take control of single criminal or detective, vying for influence and power within an overland map of the city of Nero.

Total War: Three Kingdoms overland map
Crusader Kings overland map

As 1 of up to 100 players playing simultaneously upon the instance of Nero, you take turns initiating schemes and counter-schemes. The player controls an individual, but can cooperate with other players, as well as neutral resources to aid in their mission of crime or detection.

The criminal or detective starting from a lowly position of commonality and minimal influence and resource, each individual player is trying to move up within the ranks of the city’s grand game. As players progress, they can choose from the various roles for the sake of specialization and their chosen method of crime or detection {ex: thief or sleuth, etc.}

Criminals – carefully plot various crimes, execute them, gather allies and utilize acquired institutional resources within the city to promulgate additional crime. Criminals operate out of a hideout.

Detectives – observe, deduce suspect locales and personnel, gather evidence and bust criminals. Depending on the nature and effectiveness of their investigative work, gain ranks within Nero’s governance, gaining resources and influence over institutions to aid in future investigations. Detectives operate out of a command center.

On each turn, each Criminal can undertake a selection of potential actions to further their criminal enterprise:

  • Devise – plan a criminal maneuver / examples: a bank heist, corporate hack, kidnapping VIP, assassination, undercover official op, etc.
  • Scout – scout out the location of an upcoming crime and gain valuable data prior to attempted execution / ex: watch the bank and learn security systems + personnel routines; scope out corporate systems, learn of potential value to be gained from crime locale.
  • Execute – attempt to perform the crime / ex: send a squad to perform the heist, or do it yourself.
  • Gather – after a successful or failed criminal activity, as long as you are still active {i.e. not dead or detained}, then you can perform this downtime activity of gathering your forces and accreting or investing stolen funds. It means to reach out to other players or neutral institutions, such as public officials, corporate personnel, lawyers, information brokers, the detectives themselves etc. to try and ally with them. This works better after successful crimes and the more money you have to offer.
  • Relocate – if a criminal believes themselves to be compromised, they may be forced to relocate from their current hideout to a new one. Given there are a finite number of hideouts within each zone of the city, moving to a new one may mean clashing with another player and having to negotiate their way into a new group’s fold.

On each turn, each Detective can undertake a selection of potential actions to further their investigation:

  • Plan – detectives can spend time planning their investigation, focusing upon potentially vulnerable locations or personnel within the city, or review potential suspects. / ex: highlights points of interest within the city, informing neutral parties or other players of your intentions during future turns; create or continue to work on a dossier of criminal suspects and their tendencies based on past experience with them.
  • Observe – take time to observe locations or persons of interest for the sake of discovering data and acting on it during enforcement. / ex: stake out a vulnerable bank or business; increase security of vulnerable personnel; shore up cybersecurity measures for an archive center containing invaluable data.
  • Enforce – move to raid an expected location for criminal activity, shooting to kill, capture, or merely observe or watch the criminals carry out their plan, following them back to another location. / ex: move on a bank with a SWAT team; watch and track a group of criminals following execution of their criminal plan; intercept a criminal, moving to stop them from completing their plan by any means necessary; send a detective undercover into a criminal operation.
  • Converse – in the midst of an investigation, share information with other detectives or neutral parties for the sake of allying with them and continuing to share information going forward. / ex: create and command informants, team up with other detectives in different parts of the city.
  • Storm – alone or with a group, take combat-ready detectives to raid a hideout where groups of criminals are believes to be congregating.

Complexities within a game of {Lawcraft} arise as more turns pass and the game’s board of Nero shifts and changes with all 100 players’ moving with decisive self-interest. The idea of gambits, and of gambit pileups comes into play within a game once each player realizes the methods in which they can try to deceive the other players. Each turn, each criminal and detective is taking simultaneous actions. Depending on how these turns are being used, and the information that is being gathered by players involved within the different zones of the city, it becomes possible to feint and to hide intentions and plots, and to deceive antagonists into making ill-fated decisions. Through the use of informants, undercover agents, falsified evidence, etc. criminal and detective players can be fulled into wasting their Executions / Enforcements, or falling into traps that result in their deaths, captures, arrests.

It is possible for Criminals to be arrested within the first few turns or a game and it is possible for a Detective to be killed or captured in the same time. Over time, in order for the game to progress, influence shifts over to one side of the criminal or detective equation and players are generally eliminated from the game.

Arrests of criminals must be proven with appropriate evidence, as gathered during the stages of the investigation. Generally, this isn’t a problem as most criminals with be detained in the act of the crime. Once jailed, it is possible for other criminals, or rogue detectives, to break criminals out of their imprisonment with plots of their own.

Detectives and Criminals may be antagonistic toward working with one another; disadvantage – more difficult to maneuver in the city as others group up into factions and indirectly oppose you / advantage: keep all the spoils – information and resources – of your successful operations, less likely to be betrayed.

At any point in a game of {Lawcraft}, criminals or detectives can choose to turn. This could involve a betrayal of the group they are working within at large – by informing upon them to the enemy, or a betrayal of the thieves’ code {for Criminals} or the law {for Detectives}.

  • Criminals effectively detained by a Detective can be killed without due process; which makes dispatching them without bureaucratic tape easier but requires a coverup and threatens their own freedom if discovered by other detectives.
  • Criminals can betray each other at any point by ratting them out to the authorities or stealing from them / trying to eliminate them. However, it also means making enemies of fellow criminals who then may go after you with their plots out of vengeance.

The duration of {Lawcraft} games is meant to be variable. Before officially starting a game, the players can decide to customize the rate at which turns transpire. The base game has each day encompassing a single turn. This promotes maximum consideration upon maneuvers in the game, but also extends the length of a given game to weeks or months of time. Alternatively, a game can be played in real-time with all 100 players taking their turns in simultaneous real-time, or by the minute or hour. Not unlike speed chess, this introduces new challenge to the game.

{Lawcraft} is designed as a collective cat-and-mouse affair, styled after the classic master criminal versus super detective battle, alongside the grand strategy of an MMO-like experience. The endgame of each instance of the game is to create an intriguing and dramatic experience, in which one tries to claim the top spot in Nero as the ultimate source of order or chaos within the city. ~

Who is ‘justice’? Who will win?