Editor’s note: Actually written April 13, 2013 but I don’t want it to be the first article people read if they scroll through these archives. Far as I can remember, this was an undergrad assignment where we had to remake an old retro game (I programmed in Multimedia Fusion 2) but add a gameplay twist that discussed some sort of social issue. Sadly nowadays I don’t have the game I made or even screenshots of it, but rest assured it wasn’t very good.
At its heart, Lemmings is a pretty straightforward game. You have a pack of Lemmings stereotypical in all aspects except appearance, and you must allocate skills among the members to get the majority of the pack to the exit. At the moment, if one wanted to assign themes to the gameplay of Lemmings, the most obvious would be those of teamwork and self-sacrifice. Through specialization and role assignment the pack of lemmings can work together to reach an exit impossible to reach otherwise. However, certain skills require the assigned lemming to give up his dream of reaching the exit, either because the skill was self-destructive (for example the “exploding” skill) or because it will place him outside of the reach of the exit (the lemming that blocks the others from a death trap can no longer move, and therefore must die once the rest of the pack is safe.)
Neither of these themes fit well into a scenario regarding economic inequality and homelessness. More appropriate themes would involve competition and acquisition of property, so our first step was to mod the game into a multiplayer; each player controlled a single lemming (palette-swapped from his opponents) in a given map and fought over control (exactly how was yet to be determined). The skill system would have to be adapted since lemmings would be less sacrificial; now when a player clicked on a skill his lemming would instantly attempt to perform that skill, and cease performing it when the player de-selected the skill or the skill became impossible to continue (for example “digging” once the lemming has completely dug through a platform). The “miner” skill would be converted to an “attack” (a successful attack kills an enemy lemming) and “block” would become a way to become immune to “attack.”
To maintain the same sprites as the original and follow the theme of housing, we chose the territorial control to be “capture point” based; there would be bases scattered throughout the map (indicated by “exits” from the original game) and they could be claimed by walking through them. The challenge would be to reach the point while preventing others from reclaiming it once it became yours. Every ten seconds every player would gain points equal to the number of bases they own. If a player’s lemming dies for any reason it could respawn at any base controlled by its player (or in the fringes of the map if none are controlled.) Once the timer runs out, the player with the most points is the winner.
The backstory is almost as simple as Lemmings: the previous owners of the homes were evicted, and the players are rushing to claim the land “homestead run” style. The race to control land is indicative of a game of Monopoly, with all of the drawbacks of a slow start. The point multiplier for players who can keep control of multiple bases (as well as the freedom to choose where to spawn) means that a strong start can be difficult to catch up to. On the other hand an early unexpected setback can create an uphill battle just to catch up with your opponents. This is true for wealth redistribution in real life. Also note that the original owners of the homes are incapable of regaining them, as is usually the case in our modern system of debts and property ownership.