Tuesday, December 31, 2013
The Krissethi mafia is a powerful threat, but the greatest of Krissethi criminal organizations is the syndicate known as “The Seven.” This organization is run by seven different clans, and they are influential and powerful enough that some fear they may even be able to compete against the ruling clan of the Krissethi. Their goals seem simple—they wish to accrue power and wealth to rise to the top of Krissethi society. The Seven focuses on quick roads to power, and utilizes a wide range of illegal activities to gain wealth and influence. Smuggling, hacking, theft, extortion, piracy, and poaching are a few of the main activities the organization is known for, but they also enjoy profits gained from “legitimate” businesses such as casinos and off-world importing. Of course, investigations into these businesses have proven that the crime syndicate is quite skilled at keeping illegal activities beneath the radar, and their money-laundering methods have been difficult to track. It always seems that proof somehow evaporates just before the Union Guard arrives...
Monday, December 30, 2013
There are a variety of organizations in the Solar Echoes universe, ranging from legitimate corporations to the mafia to groups with bizarre ideologies. We have detailed a few of these organizations in our books, but the universe is a huge place, so MC's are encouraged to design their own groups to fit their particular campaign. We offer some guidelines towards developing your own organization: What is the organizations goal(s), and how far might it go to achieve that goal? Who is in that organization—is it primarily one race, or a variety of the alien races? Are the members of the organization aware of its goals, or are they participants in something bigger than they understand? There are a number of questions to ask when forming your own group, and this week, we'll examine the details of a powerful group in Solar Echoes...
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
What should you buy your alien friend? Gift-giving among the different alien races in Solar Echoes can be very difficult, if you are unfamiliar with the various cultures. Giving the leafy Erwani a bouquet of flowers is considered extremely insulting and barbaric—Erwani instead prefer to sink their roots into soft, fertile, premium soil, so brand-new hydroponic shoes filled with top-grade soil will do the trick. The reptilian Krissethi are relatively easy to shop for, as they enjoy expensive jewelry and gaudy clothing, hunting weapons, preserved animal trophies, or even small, live animals for snacks. If you or your friends are unfamiliar with the alien races in Solar Echoes, how about introducing them to the Solar Echoes universe, with the Player's Guide or Mission Controller's Guide?
Discounted Solar Echoes Guides:
We are excited to hear your thoughts about Solar Echoes. Please feel free to email us any questions or comments about our game at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we look forward to your reviews.
Thanks again for your support, have a Merry Christmas, and have fun playing Solar Echoes!
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Cultural celebrations vary in the Solar Echoes universe. The Chiraktis revere their leader, the Queen, as a god, so holidays in Chiraktis culture are about honoring the Queen in some way. By comparison, the Krissethi race is very materialistic and is focused upon status and wealth, so Krissethi holidays often involve giving gifts to those of higher status, competitively purchasing expensive items to try to out-do other gift-givers. The Erwani observe a day each year in which they silently honor their elders, who deliberately seclude themselves from modern day culture.
Monday, December 23, 2013
What kinds of holidays are celebrated in the Solar Echoes universe? Holidays stem from cultural traditions, and when considering some of the alien cultures in Solar Echoes, it would be interesting to imagine what types of holidays they might celebrate and which holidays they wouldn't. For instance, consider the Archaeloids—their young are born of eggs in the deep oceans on their home planet, and the young must fend for themselves without parents or family to help. It is not until they reach maturity that the survivors are welcomed into Archaeloid society, so the day of their entrance into civilization (also seen as the day they escaped from the wilds) is celebrated. The day of their birth is uncertain, so birthdays are not even considered as a holiday worth celebrating in Archaeloid culture.
Friday, December 20, 2013
The level cap in Solar Echoes is currently at level 20. When players are in their late teens, so to speak, they may potentially be very rich and might be able to afford to build not only their own customized starship, but possibly even their own space station or terra-form a planet to start their own colony. The MC should be imaginative and allow players to pursue and achieve ambitious goals for their characters. Campaigns can start to become dangerously difficult to manage when character levels are so high, so the MC may need to do a lot of extra preparation to create a reasonably challenging environment for the characters. At such high levels, it is realistic that characters may have major impact upon planetary markets and economies. The universe is a big place, but if the characters have a huge presence across the worlds, then it is up to the MC to bring them up against equally powerful organizations or individuals. The most deadly alien threats are always lurking at the edges of uncharted space, so it might be time for the characters to encounter them in a big way. Some of the largest criminal organizations that rival the power of the characters should bring some pressure against them for their obvious presence and the impact they have upon the worlds. Having a lot of money and power in Solar Echoes will bring forth challenging threats that seemed unconcerned with the characters in the past.
Thursday, December 19, 2013
Buying weapons, armor, and even starships is not the only way players will be spending their character's money. The Union Guard, which is the special op's force the characters are part of, does pay the characters for their work but does not cover all expenses they might incur. Players may decide that living at UG headquarters is not their first choice of residence after a while, and may give up the free room and board to find a place of their own. Traveling through space, even if the players have bought their own starship, costs a lot of money—starship fuel, maintenance, and repair can be costly. If players really want to get from point A to point B quickly and not spend weeks or months in space getting there, the use of a Warp Gate is extremely expensive. There are many reasons that players will want to see their money grow through investing; leaving it in the bank might not provide the team of characters what they need to achieve their goals. The Mission Controller in a Solar Echoes game should be careful not to give out too little or too much to players for mission rewards—amounts are detailed in official Solar Echoes missions, but for individually-developed campaigns, it is a good idea to slowly ramp up financial rewards and not allow things to become unreasonable. If the players can barely afford to buy their own ammunition, or if they have managed to buy a fleet of starships that rivals the Union Guard, then the MC is doing something wrong.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
If players show interest in playing the stock market in Solar Echoes, the Mission Controller can add another layer to the experience by dropping occasional hints throughout each mission. For instance, a player might succeed at an Awareness check during a mission and notice that starport guards were listening to a newscast, and it was mentioned during the newscast that Hyperion Industries was experiencing a labor strike. Players that happened to have stock in Hyperion might want to sell immediately before the stock value drops too low. The Mission Controller could have a lot of fun with players, using descriptions about different companies and situations to flesh-out a believable universe while giving keen players a chance to enterprise on the knowledge and benefit financially. Players might even influence the course of events enough to realize that their decisions could have serious effects upon financial markets. What if the players discovered that a Farmakia orbital lab was illegally producing a forbidden product? In the process of accomplishing their mission, they might have negatively influenced the outlook for the Farmakia company behind the orbital lab, and if they play their cards right, players might just be able to make a profit in the stock market by investing in a rival company. When the news of the illegal activities reaches the media, Farmakia stock would plummet and the stock of its biggest rival would skyrocket. Insider trading? Sure it is, and it's up to the MC to determine whether or not shrewd players should be rewarded for their cleverness.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Throughout the development of your character in Solar Echoes, you will find a variety of ways to spend money. At first, mission rewards and the sale of unwanted items found on missions can provide enough credits (the standard form of money in Solar Echoes) to buy new armor, weapons, and other items. However, larger purchases can be made later in the game, such as the purchase and customization of starships and possibly even your own orbital space station! But credits aren't just given away in Solar Echoes—characters would do well to invest in the stock markets on different worlds to enhance the money they are paid by the Union Guard for their work. In the Mission Controller's Guide, details are provided for several different investment types and their potential monthly gains and losses. Interest rates on loans from banks or loan sharks are provided, as well as the interest rate on fixed-rate investments. Of course, playing the stock market is the best way to grow your money, but unlike fixed-rate investments, the risks and rewards are determined by the simple roll of a six-sided die. It's gambling in its simplest form, but despite all the theories and strategies investors use to navigate the fluctuating stock market of today, sometimes stock behavior really does feel like it is determined by “the luck of the die.”
Monday, December 16, 2013
I still remember playing old PC games about space exploration where earning money was best accomplished through trade between planets. It was fun buying an item cheap on one world and then selling it for a high price on another because of the demand for that item. For instance, while a rocky, mining world might have tons of iron ore available, consider the need for raw materials on another world such as a gas giant, with the population residing in orbiting space stations. They'd pay high prices for the iron ore, and it would be easy to sell it there for huge profits. Of course, when I played these games I had to be careful, because if I saturated the market with a surplus of iron ore, the price the people paid for it would drop due to low demand. We have a similar system in Solar Echoes, and have detailed a number of planets in the Mission Controller's Guide with information about how certain commodities will be received depending on the planet. Here is an example from an icy Archaeloid planet called “Keban Shuul,” where its moon is heavily mined and the planet's surface is primarily water: Contraband (-15%), Food (0%), Lifeforms (-10%), Luxury Items (-10%), Medicine (+10%), Precious Metals/Gems (0%), Radioactive Materials (+10%), Raw Ore (-20%), Refined Ore and Alloys (-10%), Synthetic Materials (-20%), Technology (+20%)
Friday, December 13, 2013
Beyond industrial societies are Inter-stellar societies, the current level of civilization for the characters in the Solar Echoes game. This type of society is able to easily travel at faster-than-light speeds, so inter-stellar travel is routine. Trade and exploration among the different planets is common, which has allowed various cultures to come into contact with each other in a manner not much different than traveling overseas would be for us. However, this level of civilization is not the last level we have considered in Solar Echoes; beyond inter-stellar societies are inter-galactic societies, which can travel between dimensions. The distinguishing factor in such a society is that energy and distance is no longer is an issue. This society ceases to be limited by technology, and its reach might seem limitless. In game terms, such a society should be very rare to preserve game balance. Advanced civilizations capable of inter-galactic travel operate beyond standard game rules in Solar Echoes and are rare exceptions, possibly only encountered as plot elements. Otherwise, an extremely uneven playing field would be created and the impact of the players' characters in the story would be greatly diminished. In our own reality, it is interesting to wonder if such a civilization might exist, operating beyond the understood laws of physics and freely moving through dimensions. One might potentially classify such a race of beings as “spiritual.”
Thursday, December 12, 2013
After industrial societies have advanced, they can be classified as space-faring societies. This type of civilization has begun to move its population into space, for whatever reason (exploration, overpopulation, fleeing persecution, etc.) Other planetary bodies within the same star system are colonized, often with terra-forming technology that can provide habitable environments. Such efforts are usually possible when powerful nation states are allied, because wars and the threat of conflict tend to reallocate resources away from space-related endeavors. Consider our own stage of civilization: It is notable that NASA space programs have been seriously dismantled while private industries are beginning to emerge. Plans to establish a colony on Mars are not from the government but from the private sector. It is hard to imagine our current government allocating funds towards the space program when so many other issues abound, so it makes perfect sense that the private sector would begin to self-fund these projects. Private industries may be the answer for the space program, rekindling an enthusiasm for space exploration that seems to have been forgotten in the last few decades. Is our own society beginning to approach the means of becoming a space-faring society?
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
The easiest type of civilization to identify with is our own, which can be characterized as an industrial society. This classification can cover a vast range of time, from when mass production and technology first begin to emerge all the way to when society is able to regularly travel to space. Typically, technology is prevalent in industrial societies, and long distance communication as well as instant information access is common. Most civilizations in the industrial stage are, unfortunately, plagued by infighting between nation states. Some parts of an industrial civilization even experience pre-industrial living, and poverty is an ongoing problem in both industrialized and under-industrialized areas. When running a mission or campaign in Solar Echoes that takes place in an industrialized civilization, the most common challenge the MC will meet is that of familiarity. Players are most familiar with industrialized civilizations and expect that they would mirror our own, so the MC may find some players struggling to “suspend” their disbelief and immerse themselves in a world that is expected to parallel ours.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Imagine traveling through space and discovering an alien civilization in a pre-industrial stage of development! We always imagine alien cultures to be more advanced than our own, but consider that an alien civilization may be younger than our own, or may have faced circumstances that prevented advancement at the same rate as ours. A pre-industrial society can encompass a vast range of development, and could involve an agriculturally-focused civilization with the beginnings of cities all the way to a society that has begun to manufacture goods and make technological advances to improve the quality of life. These societies will have a basic understanding of science but are likely to still believe in superstitions. Illiteracy or at least poor education will be prevalent, communication over long distances will be limited, and travel will be reliant upon natural means. Medicine in a pre-industrial society is most likely inadequate to deal with disease and overall poor health, which are common challenges for a society in this state. If players visit a pre-industrial world, it is less likely that they will be viewed as “gods” but may be held in high regard for the knowledge and technology they possess, though they might also be viewed with a great amount of distrust and suspicion.
Monday, December 9, 2013
Traveling around the vast universe in Solar Echoes can bring players into contact with all kinds of alien civilizations. The Mission Controller's imagination is literally the only limit to what the players might encounter. When we designed Solar Echoes, we considered that not all civilizations will be at the same stage of development as the 7 races in the Union. Imagine journeying to a distant planet and discovering intelligent life, and those beings were only in the early stages of technological development? The first type of society that we discuss in the “Mission Controller's Guide” is Neolithic society, which is very primitive and involves the use of only the most basic tools, where the people are living mainly as hunter/gatherers. What could it mean for players when they arrive on this planet? If they crash-landed, could they find the resources needed to repair their ship or signal for help? And how would the inhabitants of the planet view the players, who possess superior technology that would likely be viewed as “magic” to primitive people? Survival on such a world might become quite a challenge when the players' weapons run out of ammunition, and the players may have to learn to adopt the use of more primitive weapons to defend themselves against hostile lifeforms.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
The humans in Solar Echoes have a similar culture to our own, but their experience in space and the process of colonizing a new planet has changed some aspects of human society. For one thing, the long journey wandering through space in the “Ark” starship convoy has given humans a certain resilience and comfort with space travel that is unmatched by the other races. As a result, humans all have an innate talent for piloting in space. In addition to this, the early struggles of managing colonization on their planet, known as “New Terra,” have allowed humans a versatility and adaptability that gives them an edge over the other races. The initial government in New Terran colonies was a Meritocracy, which developed out of the needs of the early colonies. Responsibilities were assigned to individuals with the appropriate skills needed to keep the colony running. Decisive and intelligent people quickly became the chosen leaders. Eventually, new roles were assigned when people in existing roles were unable to fulfill their duties or perform them sufficiently. The colonies finally divided into states ruled by governors, and appointments were made through the votes of the colonists. Now that the Human population has exploded upon New Terra, countless disputes have arisen over appointments, with arguments ranging beyond merit and skill to now focus on morality and character. Voters have become very influenced by the campaigning of individuals seeking office, and politics have slowed practical development. If this sounds familiar, ask yourself if you think we humans will change much in the future. Hopefully democracy will still be in style, because things certainly could be worse (a dictatorship, for example.)
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Archaeloid society is influenced a great deal by the process their young must endure to survive. Archaeloid young are left on their own in the great oceans until they reach adulthood, if they can survive that long. Once they have matured, these young adults are welcomed into society and a great loyalty exists among Archaeloid people because of the respect they have for each other for surviving the trials of the harsh ocean environment. As a result, their society is structured to award anyone who has developed a strong work ethic, and Archaeloids look down upon anyone with a victim mentality—it is their belief that no one is owed anything. Honesty is another aspect of Archaeloid culture because Archaeloids reflect their emotions through skin coloration involuntarily, which has made it difficult for them to lie effectively. However, they are quite skilled in telling only the truths they want people to know. The other races are quite aware of this, and in some political situations, wild accusations have been thrown at the Archaeloids just to see if they might confess to anything.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Reln society is focused on education, and those who are awarded places in the government have gained that opportunity through recognition of their many degrees and academic achievements. In Reln culture, education is a life-long pursuit, not something that stops after one or two degrees are earned. The Reln continue their education while maintaining full-time or part-time work, throughout their lives, and it is only when they retire that Reln are legally allowed to have children (Reln are able to bear children throughout their entire life, without age-related risks.) This society has suffered what many now refer to as “educational inflation,” where keeping a job is about staying ahead of others, continually adding on certifications and degrees to remain competitive. Whenever they are not working, Reln are constantly reading or researching, with a tenacity that is driven by an obsessive fear of falling behind. In our own world, we only need to look around us to see the same thing happening. This is especially present in the medical community, but is also becoming more and more apparent in other fields. With less and less time for children because of the demands placed upon us by our jobs, how will the human race cope with this shift in society? We don't have the physiology of the Reln in Solar Echoes, and educational demands push us closer and closer to the dangers of “geriatric pregnancy,” which begins at age 35. Will our society eventually degenerate to the dystopian vision chillingly illustrated in the comedic movie "Idiocracy?"
Monday, December 2, 2013
The culture of the reptilian aliens, the Krissethi, is highly competitive and very materialistic. Krissethi are all about status, and image is very important in their society. Clothing, jewelry, and other displays of wealth are a measure of one's status in this culture, and Krissethi status is derived from their family name. The Krissethi language itself is designed so that one must use honorifics and speak “up” to those of higher status, which is determined by understanding the complex hierarchy of the clans. Those of higher status may make more demands upon people of lower clans, and though not everyone abuses it, it is common to see people taking full advantage of this system. The capitalistic system of the Krissethi does allow for great shifts in power, however, as clan fame is directly tied to their economic success. When a clan experiences failure in their businesses and suffers financial set-backs, sometimes the very clans that had to talk up to them suddenly find themselves in the position to require the same. If this doesn't remind you of certain cultures in our own world, some aspects of it are clearly here in America, though much stronger examples of it can be seen in some Asian countries. For example, some Asian languages are designed such that younger people must speak up to anyone that is older, in addition to the obligation to unquestioningly serve and obey the elders. The upside is that Asians treat their elders with far more respect and care than most other countries.
Friday, November 29, 2013
Thursday, November 28, 2013
Things change from generation to generation, and it is not uncommon to see some cultures experience radical shifts between generations. The plant-like Erwani in Solar Echoes have experienced a very distinct cultural shift, and the two generations are so at odds with each-other that they cannot co-exist. The older generation of Erwani, referred to as the “Elders,” are naturalists and despise anything technological. The are adamantly against the use of technology, and remained so even during the wars against their aggressive planetary neighbors, the Omul. The younger generation of Erwani recognized that the Omul's technological superiority was likely to win them the war, so these young Erwani studied and began to embrace the use of technology themselves, even integrating technology through grafts with their bodies. Though the younger generation was were able to defend against and minimize the Omul assaults to protect the Elders, the Elders refused to acknowledge this aid and attributed the Omul defeats to their own battle prowess. The Elders subsequently banished the younger Erwani for their connection with technology, though these young Erwani still graciously maintain their efforts to protect the Elders from afar. There can be notable disparity between generations experiencing cultural shifts today, and I have witnessed, first-hand, extreme differences between immigrants and the children they have raised in America. In some cases, children raised in America cannot communicate with their own parents—the children have become fluent in English from the public school systems while their own parents never learned to speak it!
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
While the Omul are all about individualism and relativist thought, the insectoid Chiraktis in Solar Echoes can almost be considered a polar opposite. Their entire society is structured around a single point of focus--the Queen. Her will is followed without question, and the males, or drones, exist only to serve her. Individualism is not only discouraged inside the hive, but punished severely. Outside the hive, exceptions are made for the drones so that they may blend in with the other cultures and quietly pave the way for Chiraktis expansionism. Even the names of the drones reflect their ideology—in the Chiraktis language, each name is merely a number. Lying or dying for the Queen is considered a great honor, and Chiraktis drones are fiercely loyal to her. However, it does seem that the longer a drone is away from the hive and its brothers, the more the influences of other cultures appear to have an effect. Some drones have even adapted rather well to life outside the hive, but if there is even an imagined lapse in their loyalty or quality of service to the Queen, these “defectors” are hunted down and killed quickly for their betrayal.
Monday, November 25, 2013
It is sometimes difficult to imagine cultures much different than our own, but for anyone who has lived in a different country, it quickly becomes apparent that the mindsets of people across the world are quite varied. When designing the culture of the amorphous, amoeba-like Omuls, we imagined that the formlessness of the Omul itself might cause them to tend toward a more unstructured, relativistic outlook. An aversion to symmetry seemed another likely outlook for this odd alien race, and I found myself thinking of a culture where, in a way, the opposite is the case. In Japanese culture, for instance, there is an old saying: “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” In this culture, individualism is largely discouraged and conformity is praised, so I tried turning that a little on its side when considering Omul culture. The Omuls do not respect other Omuls that hold fast to a single ideological position, and they have great disdain for those that are not in the practice of changing their opinions fairly often or viewing all opinions as equally true. For a people that believe there is no single truth, holding to one would be viewed with great contempt. In some ways, hasn't our own culture begun to reflect this as well?
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Our last example of redefining life in the sci-fi universe of Solar Echoes focuses on an alien that exists outside our dimension. It is difficult to conceive something that exists beyond our knowledge of three dimensions, as even our understanding of the fourth dimension (persistence through time) is influenced by our fixed existence in the present. In Solar Echoes, there is an extra-dimensional race that is said to be composed of pure energy, able to exist within the vacuum of space and to move through solid matter. These aliens do not behave as we would expect, seemingly violating the physical laws of the universe only because they move through dimensions and are therefore not entirely bound by these laws. Some might readily classify such beings as “spiritual,” but we simply imply that these alien beings are not fully understood and seem to be able to act apart from some of the known laws of our universe. These beings are detailed in the Mission Controller's Guide, and the MC is told that they are to be used primarily as plot devices rather than actual threats (for purposes of game balance.) Regardless, the concept of extra-dimensional beings does bring up the same question again: are we being too narrow-minded in our search for “life” in the universe by imposing our paradigm upon this search?
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
We challenged the common concept of carbon-based life again in yet another Solar Echoes alien, one of the villains players will be likely to face when their characters have become more experienced. This alien is not organic or silicone-based, but entirely digital. Though it is not Artificial Intelligence, it may seem so upon first encountering it. Yet this advanced alien is a multitude of consciousnesses networked across all of their starships and robotic avatars. These digital aliens did not begin this way, but that story is reserved for those who would seek to learn more in the Mission Controller's Guide, which has the details about these and other alien races. Players will discover new alien races as they play, as the MC will slowly reveal them over the course of a story campaign. Considering this alien race, if we were able to upload our consciousness and exist as data moving across the internet, would this not redefine our classification of life again? For more on this concept, I highly recommend the Japanese anime, “Serial Experiments Lain.”
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Though yesterday's article from “The Onion” about fire-based lifeforms was a joke, it does bring up an interesting point—are we operating on assumptions about what constitutes life? We form our presuppositions based upon our knowledge of this world, but what if there is life in space that shatters those assumptions? In Solar Echoes, one such lifeform that challenges this is an alien that is not carbon-based, but silicone-based. Its crystalline structure allows it to exist on harsh, volcanic worlds that would otherwise be entirely inhospitable to life. A creature like this caused us to entirely re-imagine certain aspects of life. For instance, how would a creature like this communicate? What would it feed on? Does it need to aspirate, and if so, what would it breathe? These questions and others were a fun challenge to address, and we enjoyed developing a creature beyond our biased concept of what “life” should be.
Monday, November 18, 2013
Our search for extra-terrestrial life has always been based upon our understanding of life. We have been looking for planets in the “habitable zone” (also known as the “Goldilocks Zone.”) This zone is “the region around a star within which planetary-mass objects with sufficient atmospheric pressure can support liquid water at their surfaces.” We assume that all life needs the same conditions we have in order to exist. We assume that life will be carbon-based, and that it will require water. In Solar Echoes, we challenge these presuppositions by giving the very same bias to the 7 playable character races—they at first assume that all life, like themselves, is based upon these same factors. The character races in Solar Echoes are in for a rude awakening, however, when they begin to encounter lifeforms that do not fit under these assumptions.
Even though the article below is a joke (it's from The Onion, after all) it brings up this very same concept. Are we assuming too much?
Scientists theorize the sun could support fire-based lifeforms...
Friday, November 1, 2013
It's been exactly one year since we released Solar Echoes, and we're excited to offer a $5 discount off both the newly revised Player's Guide and Mission Controller's Guide for a short time. We will be discounting other Solar Echoes products in the next two weeks, but this is the only time to get the Player's Guide and Mission Controller's Guide at these low prices!
Player's Guide (was $25, now only $20!)
Mission Controller's Guide (was $20, now only $15!)
Since the release last year, we have updated the Player's Guide based on player feedback, now with more setting information, rules clarifications and tweaks, a few formatting adjustments, flavor text for our chapter art, and even some new alien character art throughout the book by artist Sarah Carter!
We are excited to hear your thoughts about Solar Echoes. Please feel free to email us any questions or comments about our game at email@example.com, and we look forward to your reviews.
Thanks again for your support, and have fun playing Solar Echoes!
Thursday, October 31, 2013
The thin, fragile Erwani was just not going to be as naturally strong as the mighty Archaeloid of equal level. The socially inept Omul would not be able to innately compete with the Reln's mastery of persuasion. However, this did not prevent such things from being possible—it just meant that the player had to invest in Talents that could boost his character above his natural limitations. With the right talents, an Erwani could become a deadly warrior and an Omul could become a master con-artist! The talent system in Solar Echoes enables players to customize their characters to be whatever they want them to be. Though some alien races are more or less inclined towards certain roles, they can be designed to fit those roles. The only downside is that if, say, an Erwani character is designed to be a brutal melee fighter and an equal-level Archaeloid takes the exact same path with the same talent choices, in the end, the Archaeloid will be slightly better at it, because of his natural Strength advantage.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
One of the core concepts I outlined when we began building Solar Echoes was regarding the way each playable race would function in the game. I have never liked it in other RPG's that, through attribute tinkering (adjusting Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity, and other scores), every race could essentially mirror another. It never felt right to me that a player could dump all his available points into Strength for his halfling (think hobbit) character and make him as strong, or stronger than, an orc. In Solar Echoes, we decided that we would limit the amount of attribute tinkering—we allow only a single attribute to be boosted, and no further than a set maximum. At first, seasoned RPG players balked at the idea, but once they tried our game they accepted it readily. The attribute scores in Solar Echoes decide how many dice you are allowed to role when attempting something, and you must pick the highest roll for your score. The more dice you can roll, the greater your chance at a high number. So, in a melee fight between a powerful Archaeloid (who can roll 4 dice) and a weak Erwani (who can only roll 2 dice), the Erwani could roll a 6 and the Archaeloid a 1, which means that the Erwani could still beat the Archaeloid in a fist fight with a lucky shot. It's just far less likely, when considering probability.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
The aliens we designed for playable characters in Solar Echoes are quite different from each other. From the outset, the aliens were conceived based on what creatures we thought might survive harsh environments on earth and displayed unusual resourcefulness and adaptability as a species. Insects were one of the first to come to mind, and reptiles weren't far behind, which both became our bug-like Chiraktis and lizard-like Krissethi races. We thought about the vast oceans on earth and immediately the octopus stood out, a clever organism that scientists have studied because of its impressive intelligence. This led to the Archaeloid, a crustacean/mollusk combination I designed similar to a nautilus and a lobster. The huge variety of plant-life on earth inspired the Erwani, a race of sentient, mobile plants—how many other sci-fi games out there have plant aliens? Very few. Then we looked to the microscopic level, and my personal fascination with the amoeba (and an unfinished sci-fi story I'd written years ago about alien amoebas) immediately brought the Omul to life. Humans, of course, had to be in the game—a character race that everyone could identify with and was something that served as a baseline standard for us to develop from. Finally, the mysterious humanoid Reln was developed because we wanted something players could relate to, but still have a unique “alien” feel without getting too bizarre.
Saturday, October 26, 2013
In Solar Echoes, equipping your character with armor was not the only factor that helped balance out the 5-point injury system. There were two other factors: cover, and talents. Cover made it more difficult to hit a character, essentially adding to his Dodge score and allowing him to avoid an attack altogether. It became crucial to stay behind cover in a firefight, and it was important to adjust your character's position if an enemy managed to move to a location with a better vantage point. Talents also contributed greatly to preventing injury, with many Reaction-specific talents allowing the character to dive out of the way, use something from the surrounding environment for spontaneous cover, or even deflect an incoming attack. Though the injury system in Solar Echoes was at first a major paradigm shift for experienced RPG players, these same players quickly adjusted and enjoyed our system, having fun while working better together as a team—more than we'd ever seen in other RPG's! Mission accomplished!
Friday, October 25, 2013
The injury system in Solar Echoes was not without its challenges, however. What we gained in promoting team play and tactics, we potentially lost in design space. With a fixed, essentially 5 hit point system, we had removed the design space for weapon variation. RPG's typically vary weaponry by damage range, so that players become excited to trade in their old weapon for a shiny new one that does twice the damage. This was not an option for Solar Echoes. Our solution for weapon variation was not focused as much on damage (which ranged between 1 to 6 points, depending on the weapon,) but instead focused on damage type, armor piercing, effect, range, firing mode, and ammo per clip. Characters without armor that were hit by a bullet were likely going to be in the Seriously or Critically Wounded state. Some guns would even place an unarmored character in the Unconscious/Dying state with one hit. This made sense realistically, but did it work? We found that armor was definitely helpful in reducing damage, but characters still faced death with as little as 2 or 3 hits from a firearm, despite their armor. What other factors made this system viable? Find out tomorrow...
Thursday, October 24, 2013
The injury system in Solar Echoes made a lot of sense. If your character is injured, he should not perform as well. Penalties begin to accrue once your character is Moderately Wounded. He suffers a small penalty to all skills, movement, and has a little less stamina. The penalty gets worse at Seriously Wounded, and is very debilitating at Critically Wounded. What was the game result? It was, in our opinion, a tremendously successful result. Suddenly, players were very concerned about their characters and played more tactically--using cover and coordinating with other players. No longer was grandstanding an option like we'd seen in so many other RPG's, where the strongest character would wade into the middle of combat while laughing at the GM (game master), soaking up damage from multiple enemies so weaker members of his group could attack from the shadows. Suddenly, in Solar Echoes, allowing even one member of your group to be injured was a performance liability that affected the entire team.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Once we had our injury system in place, we quickly realized that having bloated numbers of hit points was completely artificial. Though we had considered our injury system as a percentage-based measurement of damage (ie, if your character had 200 total hit points and you suffered 50% of that in damage, you would incur the penalties we'd designed for having a serious injury,) this violated another principle we tried to adhere to during game design: keep things simple for fast gameplay. This was just another calculation that players would have to make, and we could see them making rough estimations or even forgetting to take the penalties. Instead, we decided to make the hit points the injury levels themselves. Slightly, Moderately, Seriously, and Critically Wounded could all be sustained, but once a character reached Unconscious/Dying, that character was no longer functional until healed. Essentially, your character only has 5 hit points, corresponding with each of the injury levels mentioned above. This never changes—you can't gain more hit points, no matter how experienced your character is. The question is, does this level of realism work, and can it be fun? Find out tomorrow...
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Most RPG's use the system of increasing hit points and damage ranges to increase design space, but there are some fundamental flaws to this approach. While it can be argued that games need to sacrifice realism for fun, we decided to focus on making a fun game that didn't sacrifice realism. One problem we felt was inherent in the traditional hit point system was that a character could have, for example, 200 hit points and if he suffered 199 hit points of damage and had only 1 left, he'd still function the same, yet would suddenly drop dead if something caused even 1 more hit point of damage. From the very beginning, we wanted an injury system in our game so that the character would suffer penalties proportionate to the level of damage he had sustained.
Monday, October 21, 2013
One of the core principles that we built into Solar Echoes was the concept of realistic injuries. Most RPG's start characters with a certain number of “hit points,” a way to measure damage that can be sustained before character death. Each time a character gains a new level with sufficient experience in the game, characters are given more hit points. This concept is fundamental to many, many RPG's because it allows for greater design space: the more hit points characters have, the more damage range weapons and other forms of attack can have. This method, however, seems artificial and unrealistic; it is merely a mechanism to create seemingly tougher threats and weapons by increasing the number range. While it may be fun to feel increasingly powerful as you play a game, taking on increasingly difficult enemies, we decided to take a different approach with the Solar Echoes system...