Oasis was the winner of the IGF’s 2004 Game of the Year and Innovation in Game Design awards in the web/downloadable category, but the history of this project was anything but glamorous. It was created by Mind Control Software of San Rafael, California, a company that has specialized in game design since its formation in 1994. The company’s first project was Alien Logic, an action/RPG based upon SkyRealms of Jorune, a paper-and-pencil role-playing game designed by the company’s founder, Andrew Leker. Mind Control Software has historically split its time between development for hire and its own independent aspirations. Oasis fit squarely into the latter and eventually saw the light of day in April 2005, with PlayFirst as its publisher.
|Oasis, a 2004 IGF Game Of The Year.|
Oasis is an Egyptian themed, turn-based strategy game played on a 10x10 grid shrouded in a mysterious fog. The player has 85 turns to move his character, the Scarab King, throughout the playfield in hopes of rebuilding a civilization that will survive the inevitable barbarian onslaught that arrives after the 85th turn.
The levels, consisting of desert, mountains, cities, an oasis, and barbarian entry points, are randomly constructed according to some fairly complicated heuristics. The goal of each level is to both find the obelisk, which is hidden in one of the oasis tiles, and to defeat the barbarians militarily. The player is rewarded with a magical glyph each time he or she succeeds. Players win the game when they have obtained twelve glyphs.
Oasis has been described as Civilization™ meets Minesweeper™, as it has the quick, clicky feel of Minesweeper, and the empire building aspects of Civilization.
Oasis started out as a quickie design that I scrawled in my design pad on a particularly slow day back in mid 2002. The dot-com bust and the sluggish post 9/11 economy created the opportunity for concentrated design time, which I seized upon. The first draft of the design felt very compelling. It emphasized discovery, resource allocation tension, and oddly enough, an emotional misdirect that I hoped would add to the game’s mystique.
The first person with whom I shared the design principles of Oasis loved it. He didn’t think that the game would be commercially viable, but he said he’d be the first to play it if it was available. This was to be the catchphrase of Oasis, “I don’t know who’d buy this game besides me and my friends.” As a businessman, I thought it best that I put Oasis on hold, probably indefinitely. Then, in fall of 2002, I described Oasis to my mentor in the game industry, William (Bill) Dunn.
He immediately offered to pay for a prototype, which shamed me into creating one post-haste. I created the first Java prototype of Oasis over the Thanksgiving weekend in 2002. Oasis was fun, right off the bat; it just needed a few years of work to polish it. I spent every spare hour I had on Oasis, turning over some of the work to a programmer that Bill paid to work remotely on the game. Combined with the art resources of the company, we had a sharp looking Java prototype.
Buoyed by a sense of confidence in my little Java prototype, I made my boldest move. I emailed a copy of Oasis to Marc LeBlanc, a friend and former co-worker at Visual Concepts. Marc and I taught game design at each Game Developers Conference to about one hundred industry folks each year through a tutorial that Marc had devised.
There are two things to know about Marc LeBlanc: 1) he’s exceptionally smart (almost cripplingly so), and 2) he’s exceptionally opinionated. I thought carefully before hitting the send button. He might hate Oasis and waste a chunk of my life with long rants or a flame. In fact, I did receive the rants, but they were aimed at constructively improving the game. He was bitten by the Oasis bug. Marc joined Mind Control Software in the summer of 2003, intent on creating a C++/DirectX version of Oasis in time for the September 1st Independent Games Festival application date, and winning an award for Oasis.
What had started as a slow afternoon was turning into a significant investment of time, resources, and brain share. All bets were on Oasis.