Issue #1 – game focus
I’ve been wondering, what is the focus of Splintered Core Tactics: Awakened (SCTA)? I have been flip-flopping between a full-blown strategy simulation to a simple casual tactical game, and haven’t decided on which one to be (at least until I wrote this post).
Let’s think aloud!
It is definitely possible to turn SCTA into a full blown strategy simulation, where the possibilities are endless. Instead of pitting the Awakened against the Combine, we can write a campaign in which all 3 sides (Saberions, Awakened and Combine) duke it out in the Oasis, re-enacting the Oasis Invasion (where the Awakened is dominant, which could be used as a tutorial for the player) to the Hades Exodus (where the Awakened has to abandon the Oasis and trek all the way to Hades) to the Day of Apocalypse (where the Awakened have to resist the numerically superior invaders in all Hades, Gauntlet and Oasis). This can prove to be a massive undertaking, with various options like diplomacy, espionage (which is extremely important given the secretive nature of the Awakened), logistics, research, etc available to the player.
But I wonder, is this too massive an undertaking? Admittedly, graphically wise there’s not much difference in effort between the two approaches. We still need to draw shit loads of tilesets (including their variants), sprites and UI; not to mention the whole range of animations that we need to polish up. The real meat of the deal lies in the game mechanics, especially when it comes to programming the AI.
Like I said, it’s a strategy simulator, and without a strong AI it’s just impossible to effectively entice and challenge the player at all.
So this brings me to the point of making it a casual game instead. Or even, god forbid, a much much simpler rogue-like (AwakenedRL anyone? ). The idea is to create something. Anything. The reasoning is simple – we need to create and publish a game, to get the idea of how to design, implement and actually FINISH a game project. It does wonders to team morale to push something out and have people play it, and it can also be used to generate the community that will fund the creation of the RPG trilogy in the future, which is the main point.
What should I do? Be ambitious or keep it simple? I guess I should choose something in between. Maybe a rogue-like tactical game? That’ll be amazing, won’t it? Every ‘mission’ will be randomly generated, and played out like a phased-based tactical wargame.
Wait, that actually sounds fun.
How about this: There’s a strategic map (a simple 20×20 grid map) where the player can choose a deployment point. Once a deployment point is chosen, the player can start “attacking” adjacent tiles, which upon doing that will cause the engine to randomly generate an “enemy encampment”, which the player would have to destroy. The player’s units will gain tactical points (used for equipment upgrades) and experience points (used for skill specializations) when they survive a mission, which in a way creates a veterancy system.
On the strategic map itself, there will be three kinds of tiles: encampments, supply points, and story points.
Encampments are normal tiles, in which the player has to destroy all enemy units. The twist is, there’s a chance (around 10-15%) an encampment tile would instead of a re-inforced encampment tile, where if the player doesn’t defeat all enemies within x number of rounds a contingent of enemy reinforcements will arrive.
Supply Points are important tiles that players need to capture. Each tile generate a set amount of resources (provisions and munitions), which is the “currency” that the player can use to “buy” research, heal units, resupply units (ammunition is limited btw) and so forth. Supply Points generate an extra amount of these resources, sometimes more than double of normal tiles, and thus they are extremely important for the player to capture.
Story Points are tiles that advances the story line. They are scattered around the map, and can be captured in any order, but the storyline itself is linear. Meaning, on the capture of every story point, the player will advance the storyline, but it doesn’t matter WHICH story point he captures. Other than advancing the story, Story Points work the same way as supply points – they provide a large boost in resources.
Issue #2 – Combat Mechanics
Firstly, it’ll be phase-based. Meaning, there are two phases – enemy phase and player phase. During the player phase, the player can move his units around the map, and take various actions. Once all AP of all units have been exhausted, the player can choose to end the phase, which then the enemy phase will begin.
Secondly, each unit will have its own action points (AP) which it can spend on various actions. They can exhaust 1 AP to move 1 tile, 2 AP to fire a shot, 1 AP to use an item, and those are the basics.
Units have four special actions that they can take: (1) aimed fire; (2) suppressed fire; (3) snapshot, (4) run-and-gun.
In aimed fire mode, the player can invest extra AP to increase the odds of hitting the target. The more AP the player invests into it, the higher the hit chance as well as critical chance. This is especially useful for snipers, whose high damage to low fire rate ratio demands absolute accuracy on every shot.
In suppressed fire mode, the player is presented with a cone with the tip of the cone originating from the selected unit. The player than selects a “killing zone”, which during the enemy phase, any enemy units trespassing this zone will attract fire from that unit. However, with every burst the player’s unit’s AP is drained. Therefore the player is required to invest more AP into this action in order to sustain this mode. Suppressed fire is low on accuracy but deals heavy damage to morale and have a high chance of “stumbling” the enemy, causing the enemy unit to fail their actions when this happen. If a unit is performing an action in the kill zone and gets hit by the suppressed fire, a stumble check with heavy penalties is conducted, and upon failure the unit will lose the amount of AP equivalent of the action the enemy unit is then performing.
In snapshot mode, the player’s unit is given a “free move” out and back into cover, which is immune to interrupts. Once out of cover, the player can choose to attack an enemy with penalties to accuracy, but with bonus to defense against the returning fire. Basically this is what happens. When the player chooses snapshot, he gets to choose a tile to move to. This movement is immune to interrupts. Once the movement is done, the player gets to choose to shoot a target. This action is NOT immune to interrupts, suffer from a reduced accuracy but gains a bonus to evasion. Once the action is completed, the player is again given a free move back into cover, which again is immune to interrupts.
In run-and-gun mode, the player gets a free shot on every movement action, at the cost of accuracy penalty and higher AP usage. The benefit is that the player gets a higher resistance to interrupts (NOT suppressed fire though), and can shoot on every movement. When a player selects this special action, the player can only move the unit one tile at a tile. Upon moving to the next tile, the player’s cursor changes into a shoot cursor, which he can choose an enemy unit to fire at. Once the shooting is done the cursor changes back to the movement cursor, and the player can move to the next tile.
Now the last mechanism is interrupts. Each unit has a field of fire, and any enemy unit trespassing into this field of fire during the enemy’s phase will cause an interrupt check to happen. Two preconditions need to be satisfied before the check will proceed: (1) the interrupting unit has AP left over from the previous phase; and (2) the enemy unit is trespassing the interrupting unit’s field of fire. Once both conditions are met, an interrupt role is done. If successful, the interrupting unit will open fire (if the roll is a critical success, the interrupting unit gets to fire without depleting AP. If it is a critical failure, the interrupting unit shoots with heavy penalties).
Issue #3 – Perspective
Originally, we planned for a hexagonal, side-scrolling-esque battlefield, kinda like Heroes of Might & Magic. However, after much thought, I think this is too limiting.
First and foremost, this is a tactical shooting game. Players need to take distance into account, more so with the interrupt system. Thus, relative positions of units amongst each other becomes a very important piece of information, which cannot can replicated by the hexmap that we chose to use previously.
Thus the choice to employ a top-down perspective, to maximize the player’s tactical view to allow them to make the best tactical decisions. This also cuts down the effort of sprite artists when designing and animating sprites, because the engine can simply rotate them without needing the artists to draw different sprites for different orientations (like in isometric maps).
It is also easier to transform grid coordinates into pixel coordinates with a top-down view, which again cuts down development time.
So there you go, the flimsy justification for the change of perspective.