Thursday, October 31, 2013

Alien Design (part 3)

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

Alien Design (part 2)

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

Alien Design (part 1)

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

Design Decisions: Realism in Solar Echoes (part 6)

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

Design Decisions: Realism in Solar Echoes (part 5)

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

Design Decisions: Realism in Solar Echoes (part 4)

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

Design Decisions: Realism in Solar Echoes (part 3)

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

Design Decisions: Realism in Solar Echoes (part 2)

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

Design Decisions: Realism in Solar Echoes (part 1)

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...