Friday, February 19, 2010

Global Game Jam report, part 2

One of the pieces of scratch paper we used during discussions.

"No, we can't do it that way. If the player can get through by waiting until the guard's backs are turned, then the lesson doesn't work, it's not reliable. The idea with this approach- look, call them Tutorial Gates. You see them all the time in Valve games."

It's several hours past midnight, and I'm trying to articulate yet another game design concept which I've never consciously thought about before. I just noticed them at some point, and added them to my understanding of game design. This can make things rather difficult when I need to explain something counter-intuitive.

"They'll give you a crowbar, and then they'll immediately block your path with these flimsy wooden boards that you use the crowbar to break. You lay the game out so that the player has to learn the lesson in order to get past the barrier. It's a subtle way to teach someone how to play the game if you integrate it right, but it's also one of the most effective. So if we lay the level out like so, and the guards are always facing this way, then we can assume any player who has completed this level now knows guards can see you at any distance when you're in the light."

Patrick and I have been figuring out the early levels of the game, figuring it best to start with the levels that'll introduce each game mechanic- "Guards see you if you get too close", "guards see you at a distance if you're in the light", "crates can be pushed to create new shadows", etc. Once we've got a decent idea of how those levels will go and the order in which their elements will be presented, we can roughly gauge where other levels will appear based on which gameplay elements the player needs to understand to complete them.

Of course, as we're starting to lay these tutorial levels out there are multiple cases where I need to stop and check with Josh about precisely how some game element's going to work (or rather, see whether he can give me a reasonable guess or if we need to hold off on dealing with that gameplay element until later). For example, one part of the initial concept is to have some guards with crossbows (who will instantly shoot you if you're spotted) and some guards with swords (who move at twice your speed and try to chase you down). Obviously, this implies cases where a level can be completed in a way that involves being seen by a melee guard and then managing to escape them. But what were viable means of escape? If the guard sees me run down a dead end but I'm hidden in the shadows by the time he's looking into said dead end, is he going to move in and reveal me? In that case Josh and I wound up spending a good 10 minutes hashing out the concept for the guard's movement AI, with a final concept (a guard that shifts between four states, Patrol, Chase, Track, and Return) that was largely my proposition. This would be more impressive if we hadn't decided to cut melee guards altogether a few hours later, since they weren't worth the time it'd take to write all that relevant code.

Our plans for the game are steadily developing in response to new setbacks. The first fully developed concept we came up with for the core gameplay centered around moving crates so as to manipulate the areas of light and darkness and create a working path to the end of the level. Twelve hours later we'd completely given up on that, because we just couldn't get dynamic shadows working in flixel- meaning an object couldn't block a light source. Instead, we'd figured out a viable alternative approach using traps, which I had previously written off as a third-tier priority- if you give the player a light source they can activate and deactivate at will, and they can only see traps when the light reveals them, then you've got setup that's tricky enough to make for some interesting puzzles.

Ian continues to steadily work on his sprites, which is basically all that needs to be said about his side of things. The rest of us generally alternate between talking some issue out, hunkering down to work, and leaning back in our chairs to stretch, groan, and get lost in thought for a minute (or at least, that describes me). Ian keeps one ear on our discussions and just plugs away on whatever's needed next. We're very lucky to have him.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Divers: Quantifying Supernatural Combat

I first came up with the concept for divers back in the fall of '09, hashed out the fictional premise a little, and then put it aside. About half of everything I've written so far has been the material I came up with during that initial brainstorm, with the other half being progress I've made on the concept (through my own work and the input of others) since I got back to work on developing & discussing it in mid-January.

Divers' hibernation ended because of a spontaneous breakthrough. Since it was getting close to midnight, I had decided to watch a couple more action amvs (the good kind that you find by using community sites rather than youtube) before going to bed. In my experience, nothing fuels inspiration better than good fan-made music videos; they combine their songs with the imagery to create potent moods, and at the same time the footage itself provides you with a concentrated stream of ideas. In this case, it was enough to get me thinking about Divers and the kind of supernatural action I was hoping to capture. I opened a new document, and started pausing the videos every time I had a new thought to record or revision to make.

This wound up lasting about five hours.

At first, I was just writing down every supernatural combat ability I thought of (or saw in the videos) that might be worth including. This was very much an intuitive selection process- it could be any form of supernatural fighting ability, so long as it still "felt" like the person themselves was fighting. To put it another way: I wanted the kind of superhuman power that lets Spider-Man lift a car, rather than the kind that lets Superman lift a cruise ship into the stratosphere. The former act of "lifting" is closely related to what we do in reality, and thus resonates with us more deeply. Meanwhile, Superman's just floating in midair with his hands raised. The only way we can see that he's having to make an effort is when he wears a strained expression and starts to sweat; there's more of a spectacle, but less actual substance to his act of "lifting". This was the criteria I was using- that the act of using the supernatural power needed to be something I could still label as "fighting".

I then started focusing more on the actual interactions of these fights- identifying individual "actions" and "reactions" (He launched a bolt of energy, she negated it with a strike of her sword), noting whether these succeeded or failed (Her counter worked, so his attack didn't), and envisioning the parallel-universe scenarios that could occur where someone had chosen a different action or seen that action have a different outcome (She might have tried to dodge the attack, the energy bolt could have been too intense for her sword strike to nullify it, and so on). In other words, I was putting together a coherent view of the underlying "mechanics" for these fights; the parts of the underlying "system" that had the most direct connections to what was going on.

If D&D was somehow being made from scratch using this approach (as opposed to the system I'll eventually have for divers), the equivalent to this point would be a designer watching ren faire swordplay enthusiasts spar. He'd be conceiving each person as having a static value representing how effective their defense was, with their enemy making attempts (which might or might not succeed) to overcome this defense with their own offensive abilities. He'd also have the idea that attacks which did succeed would inflict injuries on the target with varying degrees of severity, and that the total "severity" of your injuries would eventually be enough that you'd stop fighting and die. These would be the very first details he'd come up with for the system- there'd still be a long ways to go before he'd reach clear framework these "attack roll" and "damage" mechanics would fit into, like "rounds" and "initiative". Right now he's just identifying elements of his perspective, the same way I'm coming up with concepts like "attacks" as these oncoming entities which you must choose how to react to.

Once he's identified enough of these potential actions, he can start to look for the underlying factors that dictate their results; the innate qualities that are relevant for both sides. In his case, he'd conclude that after training and experience are taken into account, the remaining factors can be summed up by three concepts of roughly equal value- Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution. Me? I've got some concepts of my own, but they're dealing with something a little trickier.

This was the last stage I reached with that 5-hour brainstorm; coming up with a set of scores whose concepts covered this spectrum of supernatural fighting abilities I'd laid out- with each getting an even share. Looking back, it was a rather deranged thing to do; I was setting aside the elements of these action sequences that you'd find in realistic fights, and trying to puzzle out the workings of what remained. Directors and animators and choreographers the world over had dreamed up these impossible acts; now I was trying to identify a shared internal logic that all this impossibility had managed to follow, allowing human beings to find these fantasies intuitive and believable.

In the end, I also came up with three scores- the working names were Power, Energy, and Control. Today, the best names I can offer are Intensity, Energy and Skill. We'll see if that's still the case when I get around to writing out these concept's explanations.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Global Game Jam report, part 1

It's the evening of January 29th at the Art Institute of Portland. After taking a little time to socialize and get to know one another, 32 people have formed 5 separate teams. Each will spend the next 46 hours trying to make good on their chosen pitch. Some of these teams have as many as 8 members. Ours is half that size; 4 guys, all around 20 years of age.

The one whose concept we're going to try and make good on. If memory serves he'd taken classes covering a general array of game development topics like programming & modeling, and was now starting to focus on design matters.
Ian: The artist who's going to be handling the graphics.
Josh: A fairly experienced programmer; the potential catch is that none of that past experience involves working on games.
Brooks: Myself, the guy with no art or programming ability to speak of- like Josh, I was here to see whether my skillset was actually up to the task.

The criteria for our time zone's GGJs was twofold. Our games had to involve the theme of 'deception', and feature either a monk, a punk or a skunk. The premise Patrick had was simple- a 2D game where you (a monk) had to evade guards and escape a dungeon by manipulating areas of light and darkness.

As everyone else moved out of the conference room and back to the computer labs, I suggested we hold up a moment. It seemed like it'd be worth taking the time to clearly lay out the games each of us was seeing in our heads; even relatively minor differences in our creative visions for the game could cost us down the road if we didn't identify them now. A couple of us took turns sketching out 'screenshots' of the game on the whiteboard, explaining the game elements and the overall scenario as we went. My version was the most thorough, which mostly just means the others had more chances to point out how some element wouldn't be feasible or worth the time it'd take to implement. The exercise took all of 10 minutes, and let us work out alot of the basic details (top-down perspective, a mix of patrolling and idle guards, etc). More importantly, it allowed us to conclude that the best approach would be to eschew inventory-based "adventure game" puzzles as well as any kind of coherent story; instead, we'd build the game entirely around the core mechanic of sneaking past guards using the light.

We made our way back to the labs, where Patrick and I started laying out some sample levels and the puzzles they could involve. One thing we needed no discussion to reach a consensus on was that the game should have a retro presentation, with graphics reminiscent of early titles for the Super Nintendo. Josh started looking into whether Flixel would meet our needs, and Ian wasted no time getting busy on the task of drawing out sprites.

Josh pointed out that we needed a working name for the project. There was a pause as people tried to come up with something. Light and Darkness? Great Escape? Monk of Darkness? After a moment's thought, I leaned over and gave my two cents: "Shadowmonk. Just as a single word." We quickly decided to go with that one.

Things were off to an excellent start.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Warlock High returns!

My last attempt to run a playtest game of Trigger Discipline with this Harry-Potter-meets-Rival-Schools premise quickly fell flat, in large part because we wound up not having enough players. This time, I don't expect that to be an issue- since I had 10 people applying for the 4 slots available.

I handled the selection process by running with an idea I'd put forward when I first announced the game- that the image above (taken from a panel showing various background characters in the Air Gear manga) was the class the protagonists were in. Everyone would be picking one of the characters in that picture as the person they would play as.

So for tryouts, I had everyone submit a short pitch (about two paragraphs) for a potential character- one that included notes on their fighting style (in a genre like this, a good half of a person's characterization consists of how they kick ass), personality (Trigger Discipline PCs lose chances to earn GAR Charge if they can't produce entertaining character interactions on a regular basis), and motivations (I didn't want too many mild-mannered types who'd always be trying to stay out of fights, since that'd mean I'd have to constantly come up with ways force them to participate in the gameplay).

I made it clear that people didn't have to worry about overlapping with other pitches; I wasn't selecting characters here, I was selecting players based on the quality of their concepts. Limiting the final pitch to a relatively short length let me see who could distill their character concept down to the key elements and communicate those elements effectively. Even then, deciding between these applications wasn't easy. Here are the pitches I received...

Character: 3 (where the character on the far left is #1 and the girl on the far right is #14)

Makua is a young, impressionable kid who's been picked on his whole life. He someday dreams of becomeing a badass hero like in his videogames and cartoons but understands that such a lofty goal is impossible for him to attain... or is it? Akuma, Makua's alternate ego, is a rash, headstrong and terrifying demon who represents all that Makua desires to become. Makua wishes some day to be the badass, Akuma IS the badasa. Makua has no idea that he has this innate power within him. But Akuma is keenly aware of Makua's shortcomings and wishes to make his prescense known to people so that he may properly put them in their place.

Makua's main hobbies include playing games and hanging out by himself. He's recently shown interest in learning how to fight. But Akuma is the real power behind Makua and when the demon makes his presense known he's only interested in one thing: bringing down everyone in his path. Akuma's fighting style is a fluid mix between hand to hand brawling and improvising various items on hand into various weapons. Because of Makua's love of games it's uncommon to see Akuma battling opponents with billiard balls or marbles.

Luis Castaneda
Character: 6
Luis has always had a mistrust of authority; The Man has always been up to some kind of shennagins in the back of his fertile imagination. This attitude solidifed one evening when Luis and Romero, his father, had an argument over sneakers, of all thing, before Romero went out on his evening beat. Luis has never forgiven himself for his last words to his father being so stupid, and while he does not wear this pain on his sleeve, the guilt and shame have guided his life since. Overall Luis is not nearly as misanthropic and bitter as he acts, but prefers to keep his compassionate side as buried as possible.

Luis works for the school paper; he thinks that everything is a story, and everyone has a hidden angle that he can discover, and Luis pursues them passionately, not being above using his natural knack for sensory magic and gift for 'talking' information out of inanimate objects to fill in the blanks on a story. His fighting style reflects this attitude, as Luis prefers to evade and confuse opponents until he is certain he has detected a weakness, and then use his mastery of the terrain to strike with back alley brutality. While Luis doesn't have the heart to really cripple or brutalize someone, he does believe in fighting smart rather than fighting fair, and isn't above an eye gouge, hair pull, or whatever else will finish the fight-after all, you never know who might be crazy enough to pull a knife on a prospective doctor of journalism.

Leon Hargrave
Character: 9
The poor kid who never has anything going for him. He tends to be clumsy, socially awkward, and overall not very impressive. Everyone pretty much takes the piss out of him. The fates deemed him unable to be happy. In fact, he’s not even supposed to be here. A paperwork mixup sent him here by mistake, and there’s no way to correct it. He tries to remain upbeat about it, though. This may be less optimism and more denial. He’s a bit of a wisecracker, and he has an unhealthy obsession with his weapon of choice. An aluminum bat that he’s dubbed “The Baseball Bat of Justice”. He talks to it.

In essence, Leon is a bright kid. He’s more the tactician than heavy bruiser. He has the power of “cut-and-paste” and “drag-and-drop”. Much like the MSPaint feature, he can trace an outline around an object and effectively remove it from the universe. He can then later “paste” the object back into the universe at any given time. He can also telekinetically move those objects around, which he does to create platforms for his acrobatics. He’s a springy bastard, he tends to hop around, smash your face in with his Baseball Bat of Justice, and then get out of range of your attack.

Angus Wicque

Character: 13
Angus is, despite his physique hinting to a football or rugby player, is a theatre actor, and a bit of a ham. He tends to be friendly to EVERYONE, even when it's a little inappropriate for the situation. He often likes to flaunt his "wordly knowledge," which may or may not be real or even applicable to the situation. He does have his moments of insight, but it's not like he's stupid when he isn't, it's more of an exuberant, theatrical need to break silence. He gets in fights fairly often, more for the HONOR OF A COMRADE or FOR GLORY AND SOME GOOD OLD FASHIONED VIOLENT SPORT than for a motivating cause.

His way of fighting is fairly straight fisticuffs, but since he dances a lot, he gives it a pretty entertaining flair (Pirouette, kick, turn, FIST IN YOUR GUT, and jazz haaaaands). He's just as amiable in fights as he is out of them, and he likes to talk about the weather with whoever he's fighting. Since talking isn't always a free action, though, he does need to incapacitate or hinder his opponent to allow him to catch his breath. He does this via his Sense magic: He tends to dull his senses slightly so that he can't be easily blinded or overwhelmed by sound or smell, and overloads his opponents by exponentially increasing their own senses. While they're seeing in over a hundred different colors at once and flailing at every single movement in the nearest 50 yards, he tends to either end it quickly or try and think up some improv to continue the fight with while catching his breath. Despite this fairly foul play sort of style, he upholds his own sense of honor, never hitting them below the belt or physically attacking their eyes or ears.

Fujimoto Kuniumi
Character: 12
Fuji is the second generation son of a local convenience store owner and his wife. He's a guy who couldn't care less about things like "responsibility" and "honor" or all the other bullshit his parents yammer on about. Instead, he's taken up partying, and when that isn't enough, picking a fight with whoever happens to piss him off at this very moment. He will probably not take the fight very seriously, as he's just funnin' around. Fighting someone is like knitting or baking a pie. Some people may suggest to him that he does this because of the empty hole in his soul. That person will then probably be blasted.

When Fuji fights, he will brawl and use his bokken. While brawling, he uses his Mind magic to do things such as slow down the opponent, or simply fill their mind with so much junk that they will stop fighting, leaving an opening that Fuji will gladly take. When that doesn't work, he uses Force magic, using the bokken as a focus, to blast pure energy at the opponent.

Chloe Walken
Character: 8
Chloe Walken, 14, is the second born daughter of her lawyer father and, near predictably, the black sheep of the family. With an older sister who’s an Honors Student at the prestigious Cowfreckle Academy, Chloe’s gone a more decidedly violent route. In middle school, two weeks before the end of the eighth grade, Chloe decided to finally usurp the school’s “Queen Bitch,” Miranda Solheim, apparently for the hell of it. She is every snide, smartass popular girl you ever hated in high school, except she’s telekinetic and wickedly ambitious. She’s got her greedy eyes set on taking over the whole school and it will take an act of God to shut the girl down.

Her preferred type of magics are force and matter. She is a “full body” spell caster, meaning she tends to be very kinetic in battle. She will gesture, spin, and generally bound about while transmuting plastic lunch tables to solid metal to be properly thrown about. When she’s not tearing apart the floor or throwing someone halfway across a room, she’s wailing on anyone who will sit still with some wooden sword she stole from the gym. Her hobbies include making fun of Leon’s cap, waiting for someone to start shit with her, and watching old 80’s movies.

Character: 11
Spencer's got something most other kids don't: rhythm. Rarely seen without a pair of headphones on, he's off in his own little world, carefree and easy-going. Quiet and collected, Spence is the type to analyze a situation and pick it apart precisely; his actions speak louder than words. Not quite a mute, he's personable and by some standards, even nice - just don't fuck with his groove.

While other students might focus on more subtle ways of solving their problems, Spencer's straight to the point. When things come to blows his rhythm comes into play; Spencer's a boxer, plain and simple. Footwork, speed and a mean inside right get the job done. His magical affinity tends to give him the label of a "tank." Straight and simple, with a touch of flair. Body movin', body body movin'.

Sarah Van Allen
Character: 14
Sarah doesn't look like your average Warlock High student. Rather, she looks like the sort of person who people get transferred to Warlock High for bullying. And up to a point, this is correct: she is timid, shy, and easily pushed around. That is, until other people need her help.

While a lifetime as a bullying victim has made her virtually incapable of standing up for herself, for whatever reason, the same does not apply when other people are the victims, or otherwise in need of help. She will, in those cases, transform from her usual, timid self, into a determined figure dead-set on protecting others.

She is not terribly physically imposing by nature, and so does not favor direct combat if she can avoid it. Instead, she uses Matter magic to reshape the walls and floors into weapons, creatures, platforms, or whatever she needs to lay a hurt down.

Kyle Kairen
Character: 1
Personality wise: Intelligence but antisocial. Particularly pissed off at authority figures. All in all, just has a rather large chip on his shoulder.

Combat: The words on that large ass jacket are each tied to spells. Think of them like advanced rune spells that come off and activate when they leave the fabric. About half of them are odds and ends he picks up from other people but they aren't usually as effective as if someone else just cast the spell. The other half are summoning spells he makes for himself. Pretty much all of them turn into stuff like baseball bats and brass knuckles and the like for whatever situation he might need them for. Doesn't do well with weapons with moving parts though.

Spends a lot of time sewing the words onto his jacket, and is quite adept at needlework, but gets more than a little pissed off if anyone mentions it.

So who'd I select? I stuck with what I'd said going in, and chose 4 players- the ones who'd come up with the pitches for Luis, Angus, Chloe and Fujimoto. I gave the first two places on the waiting list to the players behind Spencer and Leon, and asked them to stick around- my plan is to quickly determine whether the format and new version of the system can support a 5 or 6-person group without getting weighed down.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

What I mean when I say I'm a game designer.

I must have had some variant of this conversation 20 times during the Global Game Jam, just in the process of getting to know various people. (I was a part of the event hosted at the Art Institute of Portland, whose student body included a good 3/4 of the participants.)

"Well, the thing I do is game design- *literally* game design in and of itself."

Okay, so what does that mean?

"It means working with the game's mechanics, the rules and abilities you have and so on. Figuring out how to bring all the different elements together so that they'll lead to a certain kind of experience for the player. "

How are you studying that?

"I'm not one of the students here- actually never taken any formal education on game development. The trouble in my case is that you don't get into the video game industry as a designer, you know? You get in as a programmer, or some kind of artist or asset creation position, and then you work your way up for a decade until you actually have some real input on the game's design. All the schools that teach 'game design' only offer one or two basic classes that're actually about designing games, and I was past that level before I got out of high school. I'm actually studying Psychology."

So it's like a side job?

"Yeah, kinda. The way I normally put it is 'starving artist passion'- not saying that I'm an artist, just that it's something I'm going to do regardless of whether there's a profit in it. I'd love to turn it into a career, but that's not something you bet on. I do have a blog that I use as a portfolio of sorts, so I'm building up a decent audience that way- currently about 500 unique vistors per month, around a quarter of those are making multiple visits."

What sort of stuff do you make?

"Most of what I do is tabletop games, just because those are things you can design and prototype as a one-man show. There have been multiple times where I've hashed something out and written it up in the space of a day, put the game out there, and gotten these emails a day or two later from people who tried the game out and liked it. Going into this, I had no idea whether it would give me a skillset that really carried over to video game design. Turns out the answer is yes, so long as you get into things enough that you've grasped some of the fundamentals. So that was a pleasant surprise."

Of course, that last matter was actually my main goal for the event. All my other work on designing electronic games has been as more of a consultant than someone truly responsible for the production process. A 48-hour game development marathon as a part of a small team would let me figure out if my skillset was viable enough for me to pull my weight- a trial by fire.

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Realism vs. Fun a false dichotomy. An inaccurate oversimplification that ignores a number of underlying factors at work.

This'll be shorter than most blog posts I make, but it needs to be said (and I need to quit stressing about post length anyway). Realism in games actually creates fun, in a number of ways:
-It creates additional challenges. The pleasure we derive from overcoming challenges isn't just what makes a game fun; it's the core of what "fun" is.
-It provides depth. The moment-to-moment gameplay of first-person shooters like the Call of Duty series would be far less engaging if you didn't have to constantly factor in things like recoil or having to reload.
-It provides authenticity, helping the game's events seem more genuine. You sympathize more with your character's injuries if they actually have to go through the process of bandaging themselves up, rather than just instantly healing when they run over a medkit.

All of the above elements help the game; personal taste comes into play when you start considering how much challenge/depth/etc. is the right amount. And yes, obviously the same realistic gameplay element that improves one game's experience could detract from another game if you applied them there instead. That's not a question of taste; it's a matter of poor implementation on the part of the game designer.

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Divers: Concrete Explanation, Part 2

The above is my clumsy rendition of a diagram I drew in my notebook yesterday, while discussing Divers with a fellow game designer. The upper row's your character's stats; don't know if they'll change too much. At this point they're little more than rough categories for the various ways I'm thinking of quantifying your character. Same goes for the bottom- it's a rough description for the different kinds of gameplay I have in mind at the moment. The arrows indicate that the former plays a notable part in improving your performance for the latter; so your skills help you while trying to analyze and understand the character of a region's depths, and the insight that provides can then help you while operating on the surface.

The original diagram had one other element I didn't bother to include here: A set of arrows leading from each of the gameplay types down to "Player's Goals", with a question mark next to each one. Divers is a very flexible premise, both in terms of story and gameplay. Those I've talked to so far have described a wide variety of games they'd like to run and stories they'd like to tell in this setting (one of them has actually started writing out anecdotes). These different ideas have been a huge help, often showing me new takes on the premise that I'd never thought to consider. (If you're reading this and have some ideas of your own for what could show up in a Divers game, tell me! I'd hate to miss a chance to support something you hope to see/do.

That goes double for gameplay. Here's what I'm referring to with those four phrases in the lower section of that image:

is just the task of going as deep as you can. This important because you have to "train" at the deepest levels you can reach in order to get most of your benefits for 'leveling up'. I don't think there's gonna be much die rolling involved, at least directly; you'd typically just declare that your character's diving to a certain depth. But this changes as you go deeper- the wildlife is more powerful, and you have more reasons to figure out the 'passage' across each border you encounter. Eventually this becomes mandatory. I've got no firm mechanics in mind yet, but here's about how I see it breaking down:

-First 25% of your hypothetical maximum depth: Borders are nothing, you won't even notice them if you aren't paying attention. Partial submersion and full submersion are both possible.
-26%-50%: Borders are 'speed bumps', requiring little effort to cross. Partial submersion gets trickier; this leg is where you start having to either focus your attention on your actions on the surface or those in the depths. Towards the end of this leg this means having to hold still and do nothing on one end so as to remain active on the other.
-51%-75%: Borders are 'hills'. You actually have to roll dice so as to force your way past, and each 'hill' and 'speed bump' you already forced your way over makes the next one more difficult. Full submersion is your only option.
-76%-100%: This is the point where it becomes impossible to force your way past a border even if you haven't already forced your way past a single one. The only way to get through is by figuring out the conditions to pass.

Combat is the supernatural action. It can be the primary focus of a campaign, or come up intermittently via intense clashes that occurs within the framework of a larger story. I intend to support this via two interchangeable sets of rules, with the default option being the one that handles combat (and the character's corresponding abilities) in a much more in-depth, crunch-heavy fashion. The system's adaptability could be taken a good deal further, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

means all manner of reconnaissance and research you can do about any given region of the depths, from getting the "lay of the land" to determining just what secrets a given element implies and what corresponding person/place/community it's implying them about. Figuring out the mechanics here is going to be an interesting matter in and of itself.

Surface Matters refers to everything that transpires while not in the Depths. While there's certainly much a diver can (an often must) do here to accomplish their goals, the mechanics will tend to be more simple and arbitrary- operating through the depths generally leaves less to chance and involves more lenient personal consequences for failure.

At this point I can name one other part of the game experience that might warrant its own group of mechanics & whatnot: modifying the depths & everything that's in them (though obviously not all at once). This could just mean using your Combat abilities to subdue something and relying on your Investigation abilities to know what you want to change & how to change it; but I could certainly go beyond that. It would be a nice way of expanding on Aura powers, to have then also be tools for influencing the Depths in various hands-on ways...

As always, thoughts/feedback/suggestions are very much welcome.

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Divers: Whee, cool fight scenes!

I've been putting together a youtube playlist of various clips illustrating my vision for Divers- the action sequences, the supernatural mechanisms, and the general "feel" of the setting. But mostly the action sequences. I wrote some notes on the different clips, but it looks like it'll be wisest to post them here (rather than cramming them into someplace like the playlist description). I'll likely update this post as I add more videos.

KnK-Fukan Fuukei: It's a nasty spirit who can lure the living to their deaths, then draw in their spirits to serve her.

Hero-Jet Li vs Donnie Yen: Skip the first two minutes and you've a perfect example of Divers facing off using their partially submersed selves.

Bleach-Ichigo vs. Byakuya: 4:15 on is a fantastic illustration of aura powers vs. inner powers. (In this case, the aura in question has very direct combat applications- it manifests as thousands of razor-sharp blade fragments that glow with a shimmering pink light).

Soul Eater-Stein vs Medusa: Feel free to mute the audio and skip a good 45 seconds in. Both characters in this battle have some more unconventional auras with innovative applications- "Vectors" are a touch wackier than what I had in mind for forms your aura could take, but I'd certainly tolerate them if the players were using them this well.

SC-Mugen & Jin vs Kariya: Nicely captures many of the more subdued ways a diver's battles can be larger than life.

Matrix-Neo vs Agent Smith: The closes match here might actually be the environment. Neglected urban locations like rooftops and old subways stations are exactly the feel I have in mind for Divers, though it's purely a matter of taste.

KnK-Araya vs Shiki; Bleach-Ichigo vs. Grimmjow: Since the powers a diver places in a melee weapon are the same ones another diver manifests through their own body, you can get plenty of battles between bare arms and swords like ones at the start of these clips.

Matrix-Neo vs Morpheus: The Depths and the Matrix don't have the same keys to acquiring supernatural power. But Morpheus' point remains a valid one- you have to learn that you're not limited by your fighting ability in the "real world".

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