Friday, January 31, 2014

The Flow of the Game (part 5)

Another aspect of Solar Echoes that really keeps everyone involved as a team is the low number of hit-points each character possesses. Hit points can never be above 5, and after the first point of damage, each hit point of damage suffered accumulates wound penalties. You'll not only want to avoid damage, but you'll want to protect your team-members. An injured team-member will be less effective, due to his injury penalties, and it is much more likely that he'll end up in a position where you'll have to protect him! Damage can be avoided, however, in a number of ways. Armor absorbs and reduces damage, and your character can avoid being hit altogether by using cover (which adds points to your dodge.) Certain talents you may have chosen for your character also add points to your dodge in certain circumstances. The risk of character injury and death has made Solar Echoes a very player-involved experience, where everyone ends up working together to survive and achieve their mission. Through our many beta-tests, players with the best strategies and coordination were the people who emerged with the least injuries. Yet those who barged into the open, guns blazing, also still managed to survive and achieve their mission—though a few of them barely made it!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Flow of the Game (part 4)

The ability to react at any moment keeps everyone involved, because even if you stated your character was attacking, say, with his pistol, circumstances change quickly on the battlefield. The enemy you were attacking might retaliate by throwing a grenade in your direction, for instance. In this case, standing in the same spot to effectively target your enemy might mean that you will also be standing in the epicenter of the grenade blast when it goes off, so reacting to the thrown grenade may be wiser than trying to tough it out. One innate reaction that every character starts with is “Dive for Cover,” and it is exactly that—the character may dive to the ground five feet (1 square) away from where he had been standing. He'll probably still take some of the blast damage, but since grenade damage reduces every square away from the center, the chances of survival are much greater.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Flow of the Game (part 3)

Another aspect of Solar Echoes that keeps it fast moving is the game system itself. Actions don't happen until the third phase, the resolution phase, where everything happens at once, regardless of who stated their actions first or last. Once everyone has declared their actions, events play out through a series of quick die rolls. If a player is attacking an enemy, he will roll the dice and quickly add in any of the simple modifiers he might have available (up to a maximum bonus of +4, allowing for quick and easy mental calculation.) His opponent will do the same, and the resulting numbers will be compared: the highest wins, ties go to the attacker unless the defender is a lower-level character, in which case, he wins the tie (our “underdog” rule.) Once this has been determined, the enemy can attack the player, using the same method--even if the enemy died from the player's attack, everything is happening simultaneously, so he still calculates his attack as if nothing happened yet. This system keeps the focus on the action, and actions resolve quickly.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Flow of the Game (part 2)

Does Solar Echoes really play fast? Sure, there are still phases in each round and each person has to state his moves and actions (and reactions, which are interruptive actions), but the difference is that it is totally a team effort without a prescriptive turn-order. During the movement phase, the players can move before the Mission Controller (MC, which is what we call our Game Master) or they can wait to see what he does with their opponents. If both sides are waiting on the other, then an alternating turn-order must occur, beginning with a player. The beauty of this system is that it mimics a real-life situation: sometimes a team will get the jump on their enemies because they coordinated well together and moved quickly. In other situations, the enemies might take advantage of indecision and seize the most advantageous positions. The better the players work together and coordinate, the more likely they are to overwhelm their opponents with superior tactics.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Flow of the Game (part 1)

In lieu of the upcoming Solar Echoes demo on February 8th (see side panel for information and link), this week the focus will be upon the elements that define gameplay. Three words that we think best describe Solar Echoes are: FAST, TEAM, and FUN. If you've played other table-top RPG's, you've likely spent a lot of the game time sitting at a table waiting for your turn. We wanted to do away with that, and designed Solar Echoes to be a no-initiative, cooperative endeavor where everyone moves at once, coordinating together as a team. Another element that keeps the game fast-moving and involved is the option to react during the movement or action phases of the game. During a beta test, I actually missed an opportunity because I went to the next room to grab a drink—you literally won't want to walk away from the table with this game!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Hacking in Solar Echoes (part 5)

Though hackers have resorted to the formation of hacking teams, they have recently developed programs that enable non-hackers to join in their efforts. With the use of a pair of neural relay glasses, non-hackers are able to experience the hack conveyed to them by a linked hacker. As a result, non-hackers are able to take down security nodes and assist hackers in their attempts to bring down security systems. This has posed a significant problem for UG agents seeking to track down hackers, because lone hackers are now able to move among the criminal population and group with non-hackers to bring down systems. The new method of hacking has given hackers greater mobility and anonymity, allowing them to utilize people with a variety of profiles as a hacking resource, thus frustrating UG profiling efforts.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Hacking in Solar Echoes (part 4)

Hacking itself has become much more of a group effort than ever before, in response to intrusion countermeasures designed by ISU security teams. Newly designed systems have become so effective that teams of hackers attacking simultaneously are often the only way to bypass security. False nodes loaded with traps to confound hacking efforts, along with augmented intrusion detection scans have served as effective barriers against lone hackers. As a result of the necessity for hackers to team up, the Union Guard has seen more success in capturing greater numbers of hackers in their ongoing cybercrime initiative. Sophisticated UG trace programs and improved response times have caused hacking groups to become migratory, never staying in one location for more than a few hacking attempts.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Hacking in Solar Echoes (part 3)

Though society in the Solar Echoes universe has completely converted to a cashless system, many governments across a number of worlds in the Union have been considering reverting back to a cash-based system. While armed robbery upon businesses and banks is far less common than in the days of cash, digital theft has risen to staggering levels, and these silent crimes have jeopardized anyone connected to the Stream in some way. Efforts are continually being made to engineer information networks to isolate and control data exchange in order to prevent hacker intrusions. However, systems are becoming frustratingly difficult to use for the average citizen as a result of the restrictive security measures. Pre-loaded data chips with varying limits of Credits (the currency used across the Union) have seen increasingly popularity. However, the downside to the pre-loaded data chips is that personal theft is again on the rise.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Hacking in Solar Echoes (part 2)

Stream security in Solar Echoes is in a state of constant development, as security experts are constantly playing catch-up to hackers. Though efforts have been made to be more pro-active instead of re-active, all it takes is one breach to send security experts scrambling to plug the hole and develop more effective security to block further hacking attempts. It is not uncommon for captured hackers to be given the opportunity to work for security teams and use their skills to find weaknesses before criminals are able to exploit them. However, screening processes have recently become stricter for hackers working for security companies—several discoveries were made where backdoors in security programs were traced directly to these “helpful” pardoned hackers on government release programs. Constant efforts are being made to stay ahead of the criminals, but to many, it seems like a losing battle.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Hacking in Solar Echoes (part 1)

“Target last month disclosed the theft of some 40 million payment card numbers in a breach uncovered over the holiday shopping season, and later reported that 70 million customers' records had also been taken.” Just like today, hacking is a very real threat in the Solar Echoes universe to security and privacy. The “Stream,” which is the name given to the internet used across the worlds in the Union, is constantly being used by outlaws to conduct theft, blackmail, espionage, and other crimes. The Stream is much more segmented and compartmentalized than the internet we are used to today, not only for obvious security reasons, but because of knowledge the ISU has pertaining to a particular alien threat. Security measures have been developed to deter hackers, or at least slow them down enough that they cannot successfully perform more damaging and wide-reaching attacks. This week, we'll discuss some of the details about hacking and security in the Solar Echoes universe.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Entertainment in the Solar Echoes Universe (part 5)

The oceanic dwellings of the Archaeloid have greatly influenced their preferred forms of entertainment. Swimming competitions exist across a wide variety of sports events, and Archaeloid underwater Olympics occur every year due to their extreme popularity. Other than water-based sports, however, Archaeloids have shown a great love for sculpting—one of the few art-forms that may be performed easily underwater. Archaeloids do enjoy music, but this art has not developed much because of its limitations in a watery environment, usually tending towards primarily percussive manifestations. Undersea hunting and gathering events have also found great success among the Archaeloid people, and exploration excursions in some of the deepest depths of their oceans have seen a rise in popularity. As a result of the Archaeloid affinity for water, a common saying among other races is: “You can keep a big Archaeloid entertained with a small puddle.”

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Entertainment in the Solar Echoes Universe (part 4)

The hard-working Chiraktis race is the closest society to being all work and no play, but even these tenacious insects have forms of entertainment. To a Chiraktis, all activity must serve a purpose and be in some way productive, so entertainment involving passive experiences such as watching a movie or listening to music is not condoned. Tests of skill, however, are quite popular in the Hive and Chiraktis often hold combat competitions. Marksmanship and martial arts contests are well-liked and see very high participation among Chiraktis soldier drones. Hacking and engineering challenges are very popular among Chiraktis worker drones. Outside Chiraktis society, it is common to find Chiraktis drones practicing these activities for hours on end. Second only to the Krissethi, Chiraktis are always extremely eager to step up to a competitive challenge to prove themselves the best.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Entertainment in the Solar Echoes Universe (part 3)

The leafy Erwani have a different outlook on entertainment due to their long, slower-paced lives. Consider that to most Erwani, a game of chess is “too fast.” Erwani prefer entertainment that spans many hours, and as a result, their movies, operas, and competitions can last for days at a time. By contrast, however, Erwani seem to also enjoy tests of technical skill in digital environments, and often hold competitions that involve hacking. Fast-twitch video games and simulations are popular among Erwani grafted with data tendrils, and challenges focused on computational or coding skills have become some of the most popular broadcasts. This odd dichotomy between fast-paced, active entertainment and long, drawn-out passive forms of entertainment demonstrates that Erwani may have found a true balance between tension and relaxation.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Entertainment in the Solar Echoes Universe (part 2)

The reptilian Krissethi are the easiest race to imagine having a major societal focus upon entertainment, next to humans, of course. Krissethi are all about materialism, extravagance, and the pursuit of pleasure. Yet despite the obvious forms of entertainment shared with the human race (gambling, games, music, and movies to name a few,) the Krissethi's favorite pastime is hunting. Krissethi are so serious about hunting that they have an entire planet dedicated to the sport, where zones are partitioned for different levels of hunting challenges against a variety of deadly lifeforms. Reality shows dedicated to following some of the top hunters have gained the highest popularity ratings among all Krissethi broadcasts. The sport, however, is quite brutal, and hunters are sometimes mauled by the very beasts they hunt, while the public watches. Though other alien races consider the Krissethi sport barbaric, it is hard to say that this form of entertainment is much different than some of the darker portions of human history back on their old world, when human gladiators fought to the death for the enjoyment of others.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Entertainment in the Solar Echoes Universe (part 1)

A variety of entertainment options can be enjoyed across many worlds in the Solar Echoes universe. If work isn't counter-balanced by play, most societies would suffer greatly. Depression, stress-related health problems, and even high suicide rates could be just a few of the consequences of a culture without any form of entertainment. Most of us need some time to pursue hobbies or enjoy some form of entertainment. The Solar Echoes universe is often roughly based upon or inspired by our own, but stretched a little when considering how things would change among different alien cultures. Players will sometimes have opportunities for their characters to take a break from Union Guard work and enjoy themselves. This week, we'll discuss a few of the forms of entertainment found among these alien cultures, because futuristic societies are very unlikely to be all work and no play.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Risks of Travel in Outer Space (part 5)

An often unforeseen risk of space travel is the psychological state of the crew. An angry crew-mate could become a very serious risk aboard the confines of a starship, traveling through space far from civilization. Worse, a crew-member might become entirely irrational and pose a threat to the survival of the rest of the characters, fueled by pride so much that he'd prefer to take down the entire ship if he can't have his way. Imagine someone you've worked with in the past that caused problems at your job, maybe even threatened your job or the success of the business itself. Sometimes such people are power-hungry, are delusional about their position or are angry about imagined offenses. It's possible people you've worked with could be considered as megalomaniacs, manic-depressives, or maybe are just downright insane—we've all probably met someone in life that fits one of these descriptions. Now, imagine being trapped on a starship with that person, in the vast emptiness of space. Be very careful about choosing your crew!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Risks of Travel in Outer Space (part 4)

Another result of space combat is mechanical failure. During space combat, enemies will attempt to target vital starship systems such as a ship's engines, communications, or life-support. Even if specific systems were not targeted, hull breaches can quickly suck all life out of a starship. Once the battle is over, starship damage needs to be addressed immediately, and characters with engineering skills become vital to survival. A damaged starship could be left drifting without propulsion and risks collision with floating debris from the battle, asteroids, or even an unplanned entry into a nearby planet's gravitational field. If communications have been damaged or destroyed, characters may be unable to hail a passing starship in the distance for help. If life-support cannot be repaired, it won't be long before the remaining oxygen and heat is depleted, and the starship may soon become a floating tomb for the characters.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Risks of Travel in Outer Space (part 3)

Pirates, smugglers, and even worse threats are very present in the Solar Echoes universe. The expanse of space is huge, and while law-enforcement exists (for example, the characters are part of an elite special forces unit, the Union Guard), the law cannot be everywhere—there is just too much area to cover. As a result, battle will happen in space when foes descend upon travelers. Starship battles are very intense experiences, because the fate of the entire crew rests upon the team working together to defeat their enemy. However, even if a starship battle is survived, the aftermath may be what ultimately defeats the characters. Injuries sustained in space combat can be severe, and limited medical facilities exist aboard a starship, sometimes being no more than a med-kit and the medical experience of one of the characters. Even a minor injury could become a huge threat if insufficient treatment is available, because in space, time is not on your side—it may take days or weeks before a bleeding or poisoned character can be taken to a civilization with a hospital.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Risks of Travel in Outer Space (part 2)

The first incident that may occur is something some of us may have already experienced—running out of fuel. In the days before cell-phones I remember being a little nervous the first time I traveled across a 2-hour expanse of desert in the West Coast or more than an hour on the Jersey Turnpike on the East Coast. Both roads were, for the most part, without exits, and if I hadn't put enough fuel in my car, I would have had a very, very long walk to find a gas station or help. Even if I could call from my phone for help, I could be in for several hours of waiting. On the West Coast, the heat of the desert was the danger, while on the East Coast during winter, the frigid temperatures were a serious threat. In space, without fuel to propel a starship to the next destination, both the oxygen supply and the cold of space could become very serious challenges. Food and water supply could also become crucial, if players haven't stocked up enough to cover the extra days (or weeks) they may have to wait for help to arrive.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Risks of Travel in Outer Space (part 1)

There are many dangers in outer space, and in Solar Echoes, we attempt to generate some of the fear and trepidation that accompanies space travel. We want players to have a sense of the danger in the vast emptiness of space every time they step aboard their starship to travel. Preparation is key to survival, because forgetting even the smallest, seemingly unimportant item can be a crucial mistake when the characters are floating days, or even weeks, away from civilization. While the MC will accelerate gameplay during lengthy spans of inter-stellar travel, gameplay will suddenly become very focused if something goes wrong. Space is vast, and even if some areas see frequent starship travel, most travelers will not encounter more than a few starships in between destinations. It could be a long time to wait, and there is no guarantee in space that someone will come along at all—imagine being stuck in the middle of the ocean, hoping for a boat to pass by. Even in a populated universe, being stranded in space has serious consequences.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Organizations in Solar Echoes (part 5)

Dealing directly with the criminal syndicate known as The Seven will not be something characters will experience at low-levels. It will take several missions involving minor criminals answering to The Seven before the characters will be able to form enough intel to reveal that The Seven is at work. Once this is determined, it may still be in the characters' best interest to construct a strategy before attempting to approach the criminal syndicate with any accusations. It is also important for players to keep in mind—criminal syndicates are so large that a “smoking gun” will never be found—only parts of the organization may be temporarily damaged. It may seem fruitless to even try to tear down part of the syndicate, but the alternative is leaving it alone to flourish. Without UG vigilance, The Seven may someday attain their goal and rule entirely over all the Krissethi clans. Should that day come, the fragile alliances among the races will begin to collapse.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Organizations in Solar Echoes (part 4)

Pirates are no longer the disorganized vagabonds they were once considered to be, and UG intel has indicated that pirating has become such a profitable practice that all major criminal syndicates employ at least several different pirate gangs. It has been viewed as a symbiotic relationship: pirates gain private backing to support common pirating needs, such as starship refueling, maintenance, and ammunition restocking. Syndicates gain a relatively steady supply of goods and illegal contraband through the pirates they support, reaping a large percentage of the profits. Supply is often distributed among various smuggling operations, money launderers, and front companies, making it a nightmare to trace for the Union Guard and regional law enforcement.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Organizations in Solar Echoes (part 3)

How is it that criminal syndicates are able to elude the Union Guard, whose sophisticated special forces teams and direct ties with the ISU have enabled them to become the biggest thorn in the side of lawbreakers? Though criminal organizations don't have funding or intel support from the ISU, their vast networks of resources provide funding and information enough to frustrate the efforts of UG agents. Normal citizens are often kept “on the take” through blackmail and other coercion methods so that sufficient alert may be given in time for criminals to escape or “clean up” their activity, while hacking and tracking efforts also reveal UG movements. Despite efforts to predict and avoid entanglements with the law, criminal syndicates such as The Seven face losses on a daily basis, thanks to tireless UG diligence. It is discouraging, though, that The Seven still seems to be gaining power...