Friday, January 30, 2015

Balancing a Game (part 5)

The exact rules text for this change now reads: “Prevent damage to the user equal to Stamina points spent. Does not end Conditions. Lifeforms only.” Short and simple. Characters now have an additional 4 “hit points” essentially, but there was now a gamble—if a character needed to Sprint during an encounter, that meant 1 less Stamina point was available to use towards ignoring an injury. Our weapon-damage limitation in the game has not changed, but the chance to survive has, if you've been judicious with your Stamina point usage. Now there is an option to sustain a devastating attack and survive a few more rounds, which opens up further strategic options. It has also prevented the “instant kill” situation that sometimes frustrated players (and MC's—we MC's hate it when our well-designed enemy goes down in the first round!) The use of Stamina points has increased the strategic depth of Solar Echoes, and the game is now even more fun to play!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Balancing a Game (part 4)

The obvious answer was staring us in the face, but I did not want to follow the same path that other games had and increase character hit points. This would eventually lead to weapons with higher damage, and produce the need for more hit points, and the cycle would spiral infinitely upward, producing longer and longer battles as characters gained levels and hit points. There had to be a solution! I began to consider one existing factor of the game that we used for other purposes—Stamina points. Each character has up to a maximum of 4 Stamina points available (depending on the character's race and initial point investment). We'd been using Stamina points for things like re-rolling one of the dice, allowing a double-move (sprinting), using an especially powerful talent, and even ignoring a wound penalty. It was up to the player to decide how he wanted to use his Stamina points, and there was always that risk that he might run out of Stamina points and need them during an encounter. The solution was right there, though, and it was such a small rule change that I barely had to alter the text in the book: Stamina points could allow you to ignore your injuries.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Balancing a Game (part 3)

While the Solar Echoes damage system worked extremely well in encouraging team-play, it also meant a number of other challenges. The damage range of weapons was limited, though this was somewhat mediated by armor (damage reduction) and using cover (which makes it harder to actually hit a character.) Yet despite this, there were a lot of encounters when a character would directly face another in battle, and both might deliver enough damage in a single round that both would fall. Battles were always intended to be faster in Solar Echoes than in other games, but not so fast that they would only last one round. A single round of combat eliminated options and sometimes even the need for any strategy at all. We saw a pattern that the most engaging battles—the battles that lasted the longest and required the most strategy—were battles with robots. Robots, in Solar Echoes, have more “hit points” than characters, we call it “hardness.” Hardness is a measure of how much damage a material like metal on a vehicle or robot can sustain before being destroyed. Essentially, having more hit points produced the kind of battles we wanted, but only robots had this—battles with other enemy characters were almost always short, and this was discouraging, especially considering that enemy characters often had many more talents and strategic options to utilize than robots...

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Balancing a Game (part 2)

One of the most challenging aspects of designing Solar Echoes was our deviation from traditional damage systems. In other RPG's, characters and enemies have large amounts of “hit points,” basically, the amount of damage a character can sustain before reaching the “death” stage. One of the core concepts I insisted on when we began designing Solar Echoes was that we needed to have very low numbers of hit-points, and that being damaged needed to be reflected in character performance. I always disliked, in other games, that my character could have 200 hit-points, suffer massive damage, but still be functioning without penalty with only 1 hit point left. Another thing I disliked was that some players would walk their characters out into the middle of a fight and “soak up damage” from enemies. This kind of behavior discouraged team-play, because players weren't worried about their characters sustaining damage. So, in Solar Echoes, wound penalties were attached to damage. The first damage sustained (Lightly Wounded) incurs no penalty, but once your character has been Moderately Wounded, he will carry a -1 penalty to all skills and movement. When Seriously Wounded, -2, and at Critically Wounded, -3 (after that, the character is in the Unconscious/Dying state.) This system made a lot of sense, and it definitely encouraged team-play (you and your allies are less effective if damaged, so everyone works at protecting each-other to survive.) There have been some difficulties with the system, however...

Monday, January 26, 2015

Balancing a Game (part 1)

One of the most difficult--and time consuming--aspects of game design is making sure that everything is balanced. Balance is a crucial component for a fun and challenging game experience. If the game is too easy, there won't be a sense of accomplishment, but if the game is too difficult, only a few may attempt to play it (there are some types of gamers that actually enjoy punishing games, but they aren't in the majority.) Recently, we have made some minor adjustments to the rules in Solar Echoes to fine-tune game balance. Adjustments to existing games are common, such as with video games and the patches that are periodically issued to update the game. Designers do the best they can with the smaller test groups they have to work with, but once the game has been released to a much larger population of players, it is inevitable that exploits and flaws will be discovered. If designers don't address these issues, the game may tilt towards being too easy once these imbalances are widely known. Thankfully, Corefun can easily “patch” our digital rulebooks online with rules updates. With all the feedback we've been getting, it has helped us to make Solar Echoes a better game experience for players. This week, we'll discuss the discovery of an imbalance in Solar Echoes and the path we traveled to fix it!

Friday, January 23, 2015

What is Addictive about Games? (part 4)

Another powerful draw in games is a sense of customization and ownership. Rewards earned in this form are major draws to players, because these rewards convey specific recognition of accomplishments and choices made. In Solar Echoes, players have many options for developing their characters, and as they go on missions and earn enough experience to “level up,” the path to customization becomes even more varied. What skill investments will unlock which talents, and which talents will enable unique options, specific to only that character? What weapons will best take advantage of those talents, and which gear will be best when combined with these factors? There are countless paths to choose, and developing a character can easily become an addictive pursuit, where each new item presents new options for play-style, and each level opens a new path for unique abilities and combinations of those abilities. The quest to develop the most powerful character—one that is the best at a particular role that he can be—this goal can easily become an obsession fueled by long hours reading over talent descriptions to find the best possible combinations. Yes, games are designed to be fun, but game developers know it goes beyond far that--we've designed the game to keep you coming back for more.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What is Addictive about Games? (part 3)

The rate at which progress is earned is also a major factor in game design, and this rate can be what keeps a player coming back for more. If the rewards are earned too quickly, they will lack value and feel too easy to acquire, so few players will remain to accrue easy rewards. If the rewards come too slowly, players may tire of the game and move on to something else more rewarding. However, slower rewards can be compensated for with engaging gameplay, to an extent. If the path to rewards is fun, then the lengthier time investment to earn those rewards makes them feel that much more valuable. 

The video game, Destiny, has multiple reward systems in play at once, and it is up to the player to set his or her own goals by selecting which reward system he wants to pursue. There is even the option to pursue multiple rewards at once, and by mixing and matching goals, the player can generate a faster pace of progress earned across multiple fronts. However, the designers of Destiny failed to make these systems abundantly clear to players, and many gave up on the game within its first month of release. I almost gave up on it myself, until a friend who had done some research online learned about how the reward systems worked. Now, I keep going back for more, because the rate of reward has increased significantly once I understood how to manage the reward systems.

What is Addictive about Games? (part 2)

The first question to ask is what does a game fulfill for someone? It isn't just about entertainment, though entertainment is definitely a necessary component. Games must provide players with a sense of accomplishment or progress in some form or another. How often have you heard a non-gamer look at the activity and ask, “What's the point?” Or, as my wife puts it bluntly, “Why is this fun?” The answer seems weak to non-gamers, but in truth, it is the accomplishment of goals, whether these goals within the game have been set personally, or if they have been set through the game design itself. The goals are often presented as recognition of the gamers skill (through points, new equipment, skills unlocked, new areas in the game opened, etc.) but there should be something earned. Seeing results in real life often requires weeks, months, or even years of patience, and sometimes we work at our jobs without any goals beyond making a living. Yet games can provide results with far less time investment, thus making the player feel as if he at least accomplished something by the end of the day. Gaming can serve as a healthy way to move through the dull times in life where some goals are too distant to appreciate. Gaming “addiction” can be healthy, as long as gaming doesn't supplant the pursuit of goals in the real world, where more substantial and meaningful results can be earned!

Monday, January 19, 2015

What is Addictive about Games? (part 1)

We've all either experienced addiction to a game or have witnessed others with a game addiction. There are few parents that haven't faced the challenge of regulating their child's game-time, and some may have used games as a disciplinary tool—you didn't clean your room and finish your homework? Then no games today! Children aren't the only people subject to game addiction, however. Marriages have been affected by games like World of Warcraft, some of them even ending in divorce as a result of a spouse's hopeless addiction to the game. Jobs have been lost as a result of obsessive game addiction, and many gamers find it difficult to simply turn off a game and walk away when it is time to go to work, eat, or sleep. There are even cases of gamers being found dead as a result of malnutrition and lack of sleep. Why are games so addictive? I'm not an expert on this topic, but after years of playing games myself and going through the process of designing Solar Echoes, I have a few theories about game addiction that I'll discuss this week.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Imagining Alien Lifeforms (part 5)

There are a wide variety of lifeforms in the Solar Echoes universe, and their numbers are always growing as mission-writers for Corefun Studios continue to develop and expand this universe. Lifeforms aren't always dangerous, but many are designed to pose some threat to characters as they explore alien worlds and new environments. Lifeform threats range from deadly, tiger-like creatures to cute, seemingly innocuous mammals that reflexively spray clouds of sulphuric acid when frightened. Some creatures are small enough that they might not be a threat alone, but in a larger pack can be deadly. And some lifeforms are beyond classification, with extra-dimensional properties that allow them to phase through matter itself. The universe of Solar Echoes is full of exciting alien lifeforms just waiting to be discovered, but just to be safe, I recommend you bring a gun!

Imagining Alien Lifeforms (part 4)

Many scientists today suggest that the first form of life we might discover beyond earth will likely be non-intelligent, either as a micro-organism or as a type of plant life. Some of the lifeforms in Solar Echoes are just that, ranging from carnivorous plants to deadly fungi. In one example of an alien fungus, the Geurina Masinarta grows upon the decayed remains of plants or animals, spreading its spores through the air. Spores inhaled by an organism cause severe hallucinations, resulting in violent behavior similar to rabies. Fits of coughing from the victim will also dislodge more spores from the lungs and spread them to others nearby. If left untreated, the spores will develop into a fungus that destroys the organism from the inside out until all remaining tissue is consumed. In another example, an ooze-like fungus called Grangrid is capable of generating a strong gravitational field that draws its prey to it, where they become stuck to the powerful adhesive that covers the surface of the fungus. Once captured, the victim is slowly broken down by excreted digestive juices.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Imagining Alien Lifeforms (part 3)

Some alien lifeforms are inspired by creatures on earth, but are then given a slight twist. On earth, feather worms live in the ocean, but in Solar Echoes, a type of feather worm lives in the atmosphere of particularly humid planets. The Ectrobranchia worm floats in the air with a natural buoyancy provided by several helium-filled glands, and can be a danger to other organisms because it has characteristics similar to the electric eel. Ectrobranchia generate an electrical field with their tubular bodies, and can also be a problem for anyone operating electrical equipment nearby. Starships and other vehicles have been known to completely malfunction in areas populated by Ectrobranchia, and it is theorized that large numbers of the worms can generate a powerful electrical disruption. An encounter with groups of these worms might leave a person stranded on a remote planet with a starship full of fried circuitry!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Imagining Alien Lifeforms (part 2)

I've always been interested in biology, so designing aliens is very exciting to me. When the intelligent alien races of Solar Echoes were developed, one of the main questions I asked was: what are some of the most resilient creatures on earth that would be likely to survive a variety of environments on different worlds? For example, insects are an obvious choice, so the Chiraktis seemed a logical and believable type of alien race that might exist on other planets. I asked myself the same question when designing alien lifeforms, but it was broader—these creatures didn't have to be intelligent or have any form of civilization, and they might only be indigenous to their own respective planets. Often, I imagined lifeforms based on their environments rather than design them and then try to explain why they made any sense biologically. For example, I thought about an ice-covered planet like Jupiter's moon, Europa. What might live there, and how would it adapt to living there? I designed a creature that had grown its hoof-like toe-nails into blades for skating upon the ice while using a membrane stretched between a two-pronged tail to catch the wind like a sail, propelling it at high speeds over the planet's icy surface. This lifeform was designed while considering how it would adapt to and survive in a specific environment.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Imagining Alien Lifeforms (part 1)

One of the most intriguing aspects of designing a science fiction setting is imagining what strange creatures might live out there beyond our planet. Whether for a story or a game, the first thing that is usually focused upon are intelligent aliens that have some form of civilization--these are the aliens humanity is likely to come into contact with. However, after all the design work is completed with intelligent alien races, the next step is to design the various alien lifeforms that may exist in the universe. These aliens are creatures or “animals” in a sense, and are unlikely to ever form a civilization, design a starship, or even develop a single tool. Entire science fiction films have been written about encounters with a single alien lifeform (Pitch Black,The Thing, Aliens, The Blob, to name a few), but imagine exploring an entire universe filled with strange alien creatures! This week, we'll take a look at some of the unusual lifeforms that populate the Solar Echoes universe and learn about what inspired them.

Friday, January 9, 2015

New Developments in Solar Echoes (part 3)

There are other things in store for Solar Echoes, but we are keeping some of the biggest surprises a secret right now. I could detail some of our other plans as well, but this is the perfect opportunity to ask, what would you like to see happen with Solar Echoes? Are you interested in:
  1. more missions (we're lining up some new potential writers so we can pump out missions faster)
  2. more rulebooks (we already have one half-way finished and a few others in the works if there's interest)
  3. more aliens and weapons (see number 2, “more rulebooks”)
  4. Solar Echoes videos on youtube (we have a few game sessions recorded and we've streamed a game live...)
  5. other...(what other interests do you have?)
Feel free to post your opinion here, or email us at with your thoughts. We look forward to your feedback!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

New Developments in Solar Echoes (part 2)

If you liked the Solar Echoes comics we've posted on this site in the past, there might be more on the horizon! We are currently looking into possibly having some online Solar Echoes comics with actual 3D graphical renders. If this works out, the humor from our past comics will be present, but we're also thinking bigger—we hope to tell the stories of past missions that some of our players have gone through. This comic will be fueled by future missions that are currently being developed and playtested. The challenge, though, is that there aren't renders out there of our aliens, and it is tricky (and costly) to design them. We are looking at some of the free renders that are available, and seeing if we can splice them together. The most difficult alien to design from Solar Echoes is the Erwani, with the Omul a very close second!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Developments in Solar Echoes

There are a few things we are working on right now for Solar Echoes, as I mentioned yesterday. One of them is the ability to play online, and we are putting together icon packs that can be used to play the game in online environments. We have some new artwork from an artist we recently hired to design the look of a few Solar Echoes vehicles. In addition to this, we will also have map icons that were designed by another artist, including floor tiles, objects, furniture, and other items. We've already been using these when we design our maps for our missions, and these maps will also be made available. There have been several successful tests in the online environments, so when we're up and running, we'll be sure to announce it. Now, people from all over the world will be able to play Solar Echoes together, though there is still that pesky issue of time zones to consider!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Happy New Year!

It has been quite a year, but I'm looking forward to what 2015 might bring. This past 2014 has been a good year for Solar Echoes, and we've seen increasing interest, even more sales than 2013, and lots of new opportunities. We reached out this year to some of our consumers with a few questions, and rewarded those who took the time to answer by offering them discounted and free products--their answers have helped shape some of our decisions for Solar Echoes. We've also spent time this year with gamers, running their characters through our missions which resulted in very valuable feedback, some of which actually catalyzed a few improvements to the game system and some balance tweaks. We've also been looking at expanding the game to an online environment, and are working the details out for that in early 2015—soon, you can play Solar Echoes online using a simulated, live table-top environment with other players all over the world! We're also planning to attend a few more conventions this year, where we'll be running Solar Echoes games and making our products available. There's even more to come, and hopefully a few surprises! Thanks everyone for your support and interest in Solar Echoes, it encourages us to keep on pressing forward in bringing you the best sci-fi tabletop RPG we can imagine!

To bring in the New Year, we're running a 15% discount on our core rulebooks over at RPGNow, enjoy! Solar Echoes discount

Friday, January 2, 2015

Colonizing Planets (part 5)

Some might argue that NASA looking to start colonies on another planet is a waste of money and resources, when we already have so many problems on Earth that should be prioritized over expensive off-world projects. There is definitely merit to that argument, and it is easy to wonder if these projects might be an effort for NASA to justify its own existence. Yet, on the other hand, would we ever get around to considering off-world colonization if we focused entirely on Earth's problems? Still, one of the dangers of pursuing off-world colonization is that we might abandon our responsibility to take care of Earth, eventually investing all of our money and effort towards another planet. Other scenarios might emerge, where only the wealthy get to move to the new, unspoiled world while those who can't afford the trip are left on Earth to deal with the damage and pollutants that no longer seem a concern to those who can leave it behind. I'm reminded of Agent Smith from the Matrix, telling Morpheus that he's “realized” humans are a virus, moving from one area to deplete its resources before moving on to another. Though moving to a fresh new Earth sounds like a great thing, it's hard to imagine that we wouldn't eventually end up with the same problems we have here. Are we really responsible enough to handle the discovery of another Earth?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Colonizing Planets (part 4)

We've seen it done in many sci-fi movies, but is terra-forming really possible? Terra-forming is the process where we artificially generate the conditions necessary for life on a planet that did not initially have them. Researchers at NASA say it is possible, and they are already considering the process necessary to terra-form Mars. Gases, such as the chlorofluorocarbons that contribute to the ozone layer on earth, would be produced and this would trap the heat from the sun and raise the surface temperature. Factories would manufacture the chlorofluorocarbons from the air and soil, and these factories would require immense amounts of power to do so, so large nuclear power plants would have to be built to provide that power. If all this was achieved, the rising surface temperature would vaporize the CO2 in the south polar cap on Mars, which would introduce CO2 into the atmosphere, further increasing the warming and thus the complete melting of the polar ice cap. As a result, the water needed to sustain life would be present on Mars. The final step would be to plant trees to thrive on the CO2, which would provide the oxygen we need to survive in the red planet's atmosphere!