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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Brainstorming, Continued: Building a Skeleton

With this contest, I'd really like to show my design methods as much as possible.  Not only do I think that it might--MIGHT, mind you--be interesting and instructive to others, but it will be a good resource for myself.  I can analyze what I do and why I do it, which will hopefully lead to improvements in my own methodology.

As demonstrated in the previous post, my preferred method is to brainstorm a variety of ideas, then use deductive logic to eliminate the weaker ideas.  We now have a very basic shape or outline of the game.  It's time now to build a skeleton.  We'll put some meat on the bones later, but for now we just want a good sturdy structure on which to build.

The game requires the construction of three major components: the rules, the stories, and the customizable decks.  The game cannot function without all three components, so we must always keep these three aspects in mind as we put our skeleton together.

Before the player begins a game, he or she must construct a deck.  (I'm assuming they have gone through the process of building or purchasing the components and are familiar with the rules.)  Of what does deckbuilding consist?

Well, first they must select a Persona.  I find the idea of four separate and distinct Personas to be very balanced and pleasing.  This means that there should be at least four different thematic strategies for approaching the game.  Let's explore those briefly.

  • Human - Humans are (relatively) physically weak, with shaky limbs and poor eyesight.  This means that they struggle in combat unless they have the correct tools for the job.  However, they are very good at ACQUIRING the correct tools for the job.  Human cards should focus on digging through the deck, manipulating cards in hand, sifting through the discard pile, and maybe even pulling cards back from exile.  Humans are innovators, using creativity and planning to overcome the obstacles they encounter.  They are also very adept at social challenges, particularly since they almost always deal with fellow humans, or with creatures that have human-like emotions and motivations.
  • Robot - Robots are quick, calculating, and equipped with many different tools to get them through their tasks.  They particularly excel at hacking and electronic warfare.  They are also very good with guns, favoring long-range attacks over melee combat (where their fragile joints are a liability).  They suffer socially, however, being handicapped by their historical status as slaves and servants, by their difficulty in understanding human emotions and motivations, and by their general appearance and demeanor.  Robot cards should focus on different tools and settings to uplink with or disassemble anything that gives them trouble.
  • Cyborg - Cyborgs are tough, powerful, with vast stores of knowledge they can access.  They are often equipped for hacking, but it is more dangerous for them then for robots--electronic countermeasures can sometimes fry a cyborg's brain.  Their enhanced speed and strength make them excellent at hand-to-hand combat.  They can struggle socially in some circles--not all sentient beings approve of man/machine hybrids.  Cyborg cards should focus on brute strength, bashing straight through trouble with little regard to consequences; also cards that can mitigate potential consequences, to represent the cyborg's toughness.
  • Uplift - Uplifts are intelligent, yet retain their animal senses and instincts.  It would be thematically useful to decide on a particular species for this Persona, such as dogs, cats, chimps, or pigs, but I don't want to commit to anything just yet.  Uplifts are smaller than humans (or robots or cyborgs), making it easier for them to utilize the environment to their advantage.  Uplift cards should focus on stealth play--hiding in small spaces, avoiding detection, using maintenance tunnels and air ducts to reach objectives, etc.  Uplifts struggle with hacking, as the interfaces are always designed for human use.  They can struggle in combat against prepared opponents, but stealthy attacks often allow them to subdue threats without a fight.
That seems good.  Four different strategies--deck manipulation, finesse, brute force, and stealth.  Hopefully they will combine well to create a wide variety of deck types.

Now, once the decks are crafted and the game has begun, most of the decision-making will take place during encounters.  So we really need to get those RIGHT.  What do encounters look like?  What sort of information is presented to the player?  What tools will they have at their disposal to overcome the encounters?  

The current plan is to have semi-linear stories that introduce random encounters.  Let's brainstorm some RE ideas to make sure that we can include encounters that play to each Persona's strengths and weaknesses.

  • Locked Door
  • Machine Gun Turret
  • Malfunctioning Bridge Extension
  • Robot Sentry
  • Sniper on the Ridge
  • Guard Post
  • Angry Mob
  • Crafty Salesman
  • Indifferent Pilot
  • Bounty Hunters
  • Data Storage Unit
Well, the good news is, I can come up with plenty of ideas for problems that the player must overcome.  The BETTER news is that the problems tend to break down into one or more categories:

  • Combat - The player must fight someone or something.  They may not need to kill or destroy their opponent, however; sometimes they can merely subdue it.  Since I'm very much a life-affirming person, I like the idea of providing cards that accommodate a no-kill strategy.  Stun guns and tranq darts all the way!
  • Hacking - Sometimes the player must interact with computer terminals.  Maybe they have to hack some bots, turrets, or security cameras.  Maybe they have to dig up some information from a data storage unit.  Maybe they have to scramble the coordinates before some missiles are launched.  There are a lot of interesting ways this could be incorporated into the story.
  • Social - Occasionally the player will have to deal with people, not all of whom will want to deal with them.  Maybe they need a component or weapon that they can only get from a black market dealer.  Maybe they need to calm an angry mob before someone gets hurt.  Maybe they must bribe a pilot to take them somewhere discretely.  Whatever it is, some Personas will have an easier time than others.
  • Environmental - The door is locked!  The bulkhead is leaking!  The bridge won't extend!  The forest is freaking ON FIRE!  There are a lot of ways to force the player to overcome obstacles presented by the environment, some of which will require some fast-thinking, some of which will require brute force.  
It's looking more and more like some of the encounters within the stories will or should be pre-scripted.  They will be the same every time.  I'm okay with that.  It's a good way to provide narrative structure.  There can still, of course, be plenty of random encounters, as well.

It's interesting that there are four Personas, and four encounter categories.  This makes me wonder if perhaps the different Personas are adept at different categories.  Let's see if we can rank each Persona and how good it is at dealing with the different types of encounters.

That seems to work, mostly.  Some of those numbers are a little difficult to justify, though.  For example, why is the Cyborg Persona the weakest at overcoming Environmental obstacles?  Busting through locked doors or climbing up cliffs shouldn't be difficult for a cyborg.  I do think that it's appropriate for Humans to not be great at hacking--after all, the average untrained human would have a hard time interfacing with and manipulating unfamiliar computer systems.

Still, this does give us a rough guide of what we can expect.  Perhaps, for balancing purposes, the important thing should be that each Persona's total should be 10.  So the Cyborg might actually be Combat 3, Hacking 3, Social 2, Environment 2.  The Uplift might be Combat 1, Hacking 1, Social 4, Environment 4.  Et cetera.  But this does illustrate the relative strengths and weaknesses of the Personas.  That will come in handy when we start brainstorming the actual cards.

This was a very useful session!  I think the next step will be to outline a rough story, including some encounters, and then working on cards for each Persona.  Then we can stress test the system and start hammering out the rules.

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