Montgolfier: The Idea

During the pandemic, I've built out a gaming area and rigs to play with my kids. I wouldn't call myself or them hardcore gamers, but we would get hooked on some long stretches of time in one game or another. These included many of the usual casual suspects like Minecraft, Stardew Valley, and Fortnite. For me there were also many single player games both big and small that stood out, Outer Worlds and Firewatch, and then massive online worlds like No Man's Sky and Elite Dangerous.

The two most played titles though were and continue to be Sea of Thieves and Microsoft Flight Simulator. There's just something about the idea of setting out and always finding something to do in SoT, and about the intricacies of operating complex physics based machinery in MSFS. So although I've enjoyed the early learning phase of many games, all of my favorites included elements around exploration, adventure, planning and navigation, and skills needed to operate some machinery. So I thought ... what if Sea of Thieves had hot air balloons and the physics were more real? I know it doesn't fit the theme, but it was an intriguing idea for me.

A sketch is worth a thousand words.

Using a hot air balloon in a first person world like Sea of Thieves has its challenges. While looking at winds aloft and forecasts during flight planning in Microsoft Flight Simulator is standard practice, it's not a very welcoming environment visually (you're reading tables, or looking at multiple charts - not even in game), and it's time consuming . So the idea of using winds to navigate a balloon around in a 3D environment has obvious drawbacks as a mechanic.

But what if it wasn't a 3D game? The complexity of the environment is reduced in either a top-down or side-scroller approach. Planning can be on the order of seconds (as you figure out how to move around), and execution of the flight should be simpler. Planning and strategy time should be aligned with executing those plans, and one wouldn't trump the other. But you do need some challenge. So the winds shouldn't be static, which means some sort day/night cycle where the environment evolves.

I'm also not exactly an artist (as you can clearly judge by my first sketch of the idea), so my implementation had to fit my graphics budget of zero. I can put together primitive shapes, and those would have to do, at least initially, but maybe even in the final product, giving it a minimalistic aesthetic.

But I was jumping ahead of it all. I haven't used any of the major game engines (Unity, Unreal) before (and I don't think Cocos2D counts), and if I'm doing this I'd like it to be multi-platform. So the goal for now is to get up to speed on of those, and try to get the rough idea into something that executes and feels like what it's my head. Then I'll take it step by step and evolve as I go.