Design Philosophy and Inspirations Pt. 2
Cris here, with the second and final installment of my overview of Wanderer's core design. In campaign update news, we've hit the $20,000 milestone! Amazing! We've come a long way, but we still have a long road ahead, so if you're able and willing please continue to spread the word to anyone that might be behind what the project is about. Thank you, thank you, thank you! :D
Anyway, we've got quite a bit to talk about today, so let's jump right back into it.
Design Philosophy and Inspirations Part 2:
So, in part 1 we left off with a cross between a cinematic platformer and a point and click adventure. A simple, solid foundation for a game, and an efficient delivery system for content. But from a design perspective, something to point out is neither genre is known necessarily for the scope or length of the stories they tell. With Wanderer, we're looking to take players on an adventure spanning numerous episodes. To sustain interest from beginning to end, some internal systems offering a bit more depth to our foundation would go a long way.
We want the player to feel they've grown, that they've become stronger and more capable as they advance through the narrative and explore the world. We want them to be able to have an impact on that world via their actions and the choices that they make. And what's a grand adventure without some friends to come along for the ride? Character progression, branching decisions, and party members - for the design of those systems, we can look to the RPG genre for inspiration.
Wanderer's RPG influences are very broad, borrowing and merging bit and pieces of ideas and systems from both classic and modern Western RPGs (including Bioware's Mass Effect series, Bethesda's Fallout 3, and Black Isle Studio's Planescape: Torment) and Japanese RPGs (including Intelligent System's Paper Mario series, Square's Chrono Trigger and FromSoftwares Dark Souls). Always keeping in mind the philosophy of doing as much as possible with as little as possible, and being sure to make each design choice count in a significant way towards the scope and variety of overall content in the final game, we can begin to layer these elements on top of our previously established foundation.
First we add a simple node-based world map which serves to give our world structure, breaking up areas into pre-defined levels and allowing a unified means of connecting them to one another. From a central hub, the player can travel via airship on expeditions to pre-defined areas on this map. With this simple approach, we achieve a grander sense of scope than we would otherwise be able and we eliminate the potentially frustrating backtracking an enormous open-world platformer might run into. We also add a small element of non-linearity, as when multiple areas are opened up to the player simultaneously, it's up to them to choose where to explore first.
From a development perspective, this also helps break the game into smaller, more deliberate chunks, allowing each area to have a distinct visual theme and helping to streamline the design and focus of content (i.e. one area can be designed as a sprawling 30 screen 'dungeon' full of enemies and hazards, another can be designed as a 5 screen area that contains a single self-contained puzzle and a reward for solving it, another can be a single screen vista with a unique NPC encounter who offers a quest, etc.).
Next, we add in a battle system to introduce obstacles in the form of enemies roaming the world. Though a turn-based system might not be an obvious choice for our platformer foundation, from a development perspective it's a highly efficient one for many reasons. Abstracting the action by transitioning to a dedicated 'combat mode' upon contact with an enemy reduces the workload and potential complexity of designing enemies, combat actions and companion AI, which ultimately means a wider, more interesting variety of battle content is possible, and that's exactly what we're looking for!
Also, by opting to avoid a 'random encounter' system (in a similar vein to RPGs such as Paper Mario and Valkyrie Profile), we are granted an opportunity to create a bit of a simple action based meta game via the cinematic platformer framework. Is an enemy charging towards you in the field, while you find yourself without the resources to survive the encounter? Make a run for it and jump a across a gap to safety! Or pull out your gun, take aim and fire off a few shots to stun the enemy, then close the distance and land a heavy attack, flipping the tables and entering the combat state with a heavy advantage.
For a party system, we take a page directly from the Mass Effect school of companionship. Two companions can be picked every time you venture out into the world from your 'homebase' location. They follow you through the world (occasionally engaging in unique background banter in true Bioware tradition), and are controllable in battle. In an example of the unique synergy of Wanderer's hybrid mechanics, the adventure game inspired verb-coin serves as a unified means of getting a party member's input on any point of interest that you yourself can interact with in the environment. This small touch goes a long way in developing the personalities of your party members, and adds some replayability to the game by creating the incentive to try out different party combinations!
With adventure game style branching dialogue being an obvious addition to our equation to serve as a means of conversing with other characters, we've additionally adopted the extra layer of roleplaying created by Fallout 3's prerequisite/skill based interaction options. Based on the choices you make and the way you customize Rook's abilities, certain dialogue/interaction options may or may not be available, allowing the games role playing elements to be about more than just combat. Match wits with a companion of superior intellect, deflect an aggressive NPCs threat with one twice as scary, or smooth talk your way out of a life-or-death situation - all depending on which aspects of Rook's physical and mental capabilities you choose to enhance.
And last but not least, we introduce the two sided coin of character progression and an experience point system to drive it. In the interest of keeping things clean and manageable from a design and balance perspective, character customization in Wanderer isn't about dozens of abstract stats and percentages. Instead, the focus is on distinct abilities and perks which open new options both in battle and in interacting with characters and points of interest.
And finally, tying everything together is a Dark Souls inspired take on XP (and with it, a 'bonfire' inspired checkpoint system). Our sci-fi twist on 'Souls' is a form a wireless energy called 'Charge', a resource that's stored on Rook's portable shield generator and that's incredibly useful in the context of the game world. As the otherworldly Phantoms appear drawn to feed on sources of the energy, the more you are currently carrying the more fearsome the foes that will come to claim it. However, as it can be used to activate drained electrical equipment (such as the medbay, where it can be 'spent' to level up characters) it's a necessary and vital part of your survival on Earth.
The 'Charge' system pulls together all of the RPG mechanics neatly into one package: exploring the world yields sources that can be drained of Charge (like a conventional treasure chest containing gold), killing the Phantoms allows you to absorb their Charge (rewarding the player in battle as experience points normally would), it can be traded as a currency and used for bartering with certain NPCs, and it can be used to temporarily activate electronics and mechanisms in the environment, making Charge an element used for certain puzzles and as a means of unlocking sealed off areas.
Dying causes Rook to lose all stored Charge (as his shields surge and deactivate), so death is something the player is encouraged to actually be wary of. Risk/reward comes into play as you might be saving up Charge for a particular use. Do you spend it and make sure it gets put to good use, or keep fighting for more and risk losing it all? As in Dark Souls (and tying into some narrative elements that we won't get into quite yet), lost Charge will remain in the world where you died, making it temporarily retrieveable if you can make it back without perishing again.
So, when boiled down, purified, mixed together, and poured on top of our basic design foundation, at this point we have a fully rounded out system with which to tell our story. An interesting, sprawling world to explore, lots of nuanced way to interact with that world and the characters that inhabit it, and a straightforward but gratifying system of risk and reward to add genuine stakes to the choices you make. As the designer of Wanderer my goal has been to explore new territory via the means of already well-traveled roads. I've strived to combine elements from some of my favorite games of all time seamlessly into one familiar, yet refreshingly new gaming experience which I think (and hope) a lot of you out there will enjoy.
And that's that, I hope you found this general overview of Wanderer's game design somewhat enlightening! In future updates we'll come back and take a more nuanced look at some of these mechanics and the secondary sub-systems that they're composed of. Until then, feel free to leave feedback or questions on the game's design! Given the early state of development, mechanics will definitely tweaked and altered over time, and your input will go a long way in helping Wanderer grow into it's full potential.
See you next time! :)