sanity check: idea for a video game

Paperclip-01 (xndr)
Paperclip-01 (xndr) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We got this letter from the Internet Browsing Club:

[tell me if this is sane and interesting]

game based on the “paperclip maximizer” thought experiment, as featured in My Little Pony: Friendship is Optimal. I have no idea what it looks like. It could easily be a roguelike, for all I care. Or it could have cutesy bright graphics. Whatever.

At the start, you play as a paperclip maximizer. You’re in a world with resources of various types floating around, and other maximizer robots that try to eat you and turn you into some other resource, something other than a paperclip.  We can add whatever fun little floating things we think of. maybe super-special resources you can use for upgrades to your maximizer, I dunno.. Everything, though, can eventually be turned into a paperclip. Provided you can get your mitts on it and provided it doesn’t eat you or blow you up while you’re working. 

You advance past the first level when you produce above a threshold level of paperclips within a time limit, with neat bonuses (more and better tools/weapons/sensors/whatever) for your next maximizer if you make a particularly large number of paperclips. if you totally win you celebrate by taking yourself apart to make paperclips. it’s funny.

You can make more than just paperclips. You can also make your standard cute weapons — little bombs, mines, laser traps, yadda yadda. Maybe you can only make a few things at the start and you unlock the rest. But always, everything can and should be turned into paperclips.

After a few tutorial games, you unlock the ability to make… wait for it… paperclip maximizers. You can build other things that are as driven as you are to make paperclips, and you can program them with basic features (what weapons they have, what tools they have, etc.) and behaviors (how aggressive they are, how likely they are to make paperclips vs. make other things, whether or not they also get to make paperclip maximizers, there are a number of things we could do, right? we’ll have to brainstorm at some point). Making paperclip maximizers can obviously be personally dangerous, because to them you’re just more raw material to maximize paperclips with.

Paperclip maximizers (including you) have a life bar that diminishes over time, and can only be replenished by building paperclips. I don’t know how to explain this mechanic. Maybe it’s the deep cognitive dissonance caused by being a paperclip maximizer not down there in the trenches maximizing paperclips. Work is good for the soul… less maximizer.

Paperclip maximizers can be a little bit stupid and a little bit prone to mutation. Perhaps there’s even little radiation particles floating around, so many that you can’t dodge all of them. Okay, this is sounding less like a roguelike now, but if we were going that direction we could find another mechanic to cause mutation instead. When a lot of radiation hits you, your controls start getting screwed up (lagging?) and maybe even you start doing random things at intervals (every three seconds you move randomly for a half second, something like that). When a lot of radiation hits other paperclip maximizers, they change their behaviors randomly.

You can get eaten and still win, provided you’ve programmed enough paperclip maximizers well enough that you get the threshold number of paperclips by the time limit. If you manage to turn everything into paperclips, you get this cute little animation of the last paperclip maximizer taking itself apart for paperclips, and a special bonus of some sort.

This is where it gets fun.

After the first real, non-tutorial stage, you start the second stage (I know, right?). In the second stage, you’re no longer maximizing paperclips. You’re now maximizing paperclip maximizers OH SHIT. But here’s the deal; paperclip maximizers need to maximize paperclips. Their life bar goes down if they don’t. Likewise, though, paperclip maximizer maximizers need to maximize paperclip maximizers. You’ll have to program the first-order maximizers such that they’re sort of deluded into making other maximizers, instead of the paperclips they need to thrive. But on the other hand, though, you can’t let them start dying out or anything, because that’s no way to maximize maximizers.

The paperclip maximizers from the previous stage are still around, except now they’re a different color (or something), and instead of maximizing paperclips they’re maximizing something else. They still have the same behaviors as their predecessors, though, just with paperclip swapped out for [x].

The trick here is balancing the needs of the paperclip maximizers (to make paperclips) with your needs (making paperclip maximizers). Program them to sort of starve themselves? To let themselves fall apart, to be inefficient kinda broken miserable failure paperclip maximizers… except they make a lot of other equally sad maximizers? yup, if that strategy works based on the resources, that might be what you do. Being a paperclip maximizer maximizer can be strange and cruel. Or maybe you’re tending a happy garden of paperclip maximizers, what do I know?

What’s this? You’ve successfully maximized the number of paperclip maximizers? oh shit you know it. Stage 3, you maximize paperclip maximizer maximizers. Your critters from the previous two stages are still around, they have different colors (the batches from the two different stages are different from you and from each other, I mean) and they have similar behaviors as their previous incarnations but different goals. You see how we gradually build an ecology here. When does it end? Why, my friend, this is atari 2600 style. It doesn’t. It goes as high as you can take it.

Tell me if you think this is good / sane. If it marginally is, we’ll brainstorm ideas for details and tell [NAME REDACTED] to write it for us. It’s the new spore (but not sucky) crossed with robo-rally. But I don’t care what it looks like. Actually, no, if this is interesting and not lame, post it to kittysneezes (replace all instances of [NAME REDACTED] with [NAME REDACTED], and call me Internet Browsing Club. In introductions. never refer to me in the singular (even if I refer to myself in the singular). Or just say like “We got this letter from the Internet Browsing Club” in the introduction. Put in a link to “Friendship is Optimal,” up above where I first mention it, and maybe the first thing that comes up from googling “paperclip maximizer” on bing, duckduckgo, or google. Basically I’m saying do the sensible thing with the markup. Ask me if there’s stuff that needs to be more fully fleshed out and if you have ideas put them in with >s in front or something. Don’t remove this paragraph.

All my pieces end with the club name and the tagline in italics, “Browse the Internet the safe and responsible way, in a club!”.

-Internet Browsing Club

“Browse the internet the safe and responsible way, in a club!” 

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One comment

  1. ThatGuy

    I didn’t read the whole thing, it sounds like a decently sized project for the poor person that you intended to place the burden on. I think it’s almost ridiculous to pressure someone else into making your game (no matter how simple you think it is.) When you start putting in autonomous minions into games that can go off-screen and do their own things, the complexity of the game goes up quite a bit (the environment being updated isn’t only what is visible to the player anymore.)

    If you’d like to try programming it yourself, then I’d be more than happy to give you information on where you could start in learning how to program (learning to program comes before learning to program video games of course.) But I would refrain from being a dick to other programmers (I’m sure that s/he already has a ton of stuff that s/he already wants to program, I know I am like that.) Life is short, don’t become a burden on programmers of any kind (unless you’re willing to compensate them accordingly AND they’re willing to do the project.)

    This link should be suitable for learning the basics of Python (which games can be programmed with:)

    Then when you’ve AT LEAST made a few programs and understand some of the tools available, you can get to learning how to use a multi-media library (Pygame is pretty nice as it is actually C’s SDL in disguise.)

    Here’s Pygame’s website:

    And after you’ve figured out how to make a very basic program with Pygame (moving an image around the screen with inputs for example,) you can setup a physics library to deal with gravity and collision detection/reaction.

    A good physics library for Python and Pygame is Pymunk (which is C++’s Chipmunk in disguise.) You can find that library here:

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