Hello there. Richard here!
When we launched the Kickstarter, one of the biggest lingering question-marks was over combat. It was always going to be there, but its exact form was very much TBC. That's what I've spent most of the last month working on, so for this update, I thought I'd give you a quick preview of what we're planning. Just to repeat that - this is a preview, full of programmer art and half-wired up systems and quickly laid out parts, before Ben gets his hands on things and we make things look pretty. It will look nicer than this!
Originally, the plan was to do combat via some kind of dice-rolling system, but... well, that was boring and unambitious, and those are two crappy words to describe a core game system. Instead, I spent a lot of time brainstorming alternatives, with three key pillars in mind - the combat should be fun, should convey narrative, and, for scope reasons, be mechanically interesting without the need for complicated AI routines, tactics, etc.
This immediately discounted a few things, like Shadowrun style battles (too complex) and gamebook style combat (too long-winded - fine for serious battles, and setting up a fight, but not much fun against mooks. Also, despite this being a text-driven game, it's important to give your eyes regular breaks from that, otherwise everything just becomes a wordy mulch.) On top of that, as with everything, we have limited art resources, so it needs to use our existing character art where possible versus fresh sprites/animations/etc.
After almost three minutes of intense thought, the answer was obvious.
Yes, I'm pleased to announce that the Nighthawks combat system... will be a Match-3 puzzler based on a YouTube Unity tutorial! Fight enemies by selecting groups of skull icons to deal damage, and deploy incredible vampire powers of your own, at least assuming the lazy uploader gets their arse back in front of a microphone and finishes their series.
I'm kidding, of course. Let's play some cards.
Decking Your Enemies
I did say 'quick preview' for a reason! Game development isn't pretty.
Anyway, if you've played card-battle games like Slay The Spire or Dream Quest, you'll get the basic concept/inspiration here. Of course, there are many, many differences, starting with the fact that in Nighthawks, there's no deck-building. At least, not as such. Instead, your deck represents Opportunities, with the cards being generated by your character at the start of each battle - your equipped weapon, your background, your Companion, your skills, and so on. All of this happens behind the scenes, with the quality of your deck being an amalgamation of your choices and weaknesses. Some cards are powered by simple opportunity points, restored each turn, while others burn through your precious blood.
(This makes blood more like mana than I'd originally planned, but I think it'll still feel appropriate, not least because unlike mana you have to, ahem, replenish it, providing more encouragement to step into the deep-end of the alignment pool. I'm also still planning to keep blood points spent on major events in the narrative choices as their own currency, replenishing over time as long as you've recently fed, so that you don't have to decide between doing something cool with a vampire power and being at a disadvantage in battle. Instead, you'll have specific combat powers linked to your Gift in addition to those choices, which burn blood but don't spend your blood points. Unrelated, yes, I'm looking for a better/less confusing name than 'blood points'. Something on my list for next year!)
As a simple example, equip a damaged pistol and you'd get, say, three 'shoot' cards and three useless 'misfire' cards, while a fully repaired pistol would just give you the 'shoot' cards. Your choice of outfit determines how effectively you can block incoming attacks. Your Companion adds abilities to your deck that may or may not synergise with the rest of your skills. That kind of thing. Everything contributes, for good or ill, with the big idea that you'll want to equip yourself for specific situations rather than trying to have a one-shot-does-all build. Expecting to fight vampires? Silver bullets are your expensive friend. Against a human? Probably better sticking with the regular kind. More granularly, are you going to head somewhere where you might be searched for weapons? The best gun in the world is useless when it's locked up in a nightclub safe, while a simple pair of knuckle-dusters are easy to conceal and slip on as needed. Preparation is as important as the actual fight.
The really cool thing though is that these attacks can mechanically tie into characters in lots of fun ways. Madame Lux for instance might (again, this is theoretical, the exact cards aren't decided) give you a set of low-cost, low-damage throwing knife cards that let you inflict bleeding effects on enemies. A tougher character meanwhile might give you a super-powerful attack, but a costly one that you need to work up to using. Or someone like Maze, as introduced below, who isn't really a fighter, will likely instead give you cards that let you confuse foes and interrupt enemy attacks you might not be able to block.
(This is largely inspired by Hearthstone, which does such a wonderful job of baking in class personalities to mechanics - my favourite being that as a Warlock, you're constantly given demonic themed cards with heavy costs and consequences that you then spend much of the game trying to weasel out of or twist to your advantage. It's so elegant.)
While the system's pretty rough around the edges at the moment, it's working really well. Nighthawks isn't necessarily a combat-heavy game depending on how you play, but all RPGs need the ability to throw-down from time-to-time. This feels nice and tactical against a tough opponent, but quick and dirty against someone not at your level. As each fight is driven by game-state, it's also possible to do some cool things like let you kill off a potential combatant prior to the battle with something like a nice quick neck-snap and so leave your enemy without backup, or poison their food to weaken them. That kind of thing.
Plus, I'm taking the opportunity to fix a few things that really annoy me in the genre. The biggest is that fights aren't necessarily lethal. It's kinda ridiculous how the average RPG character operates on a binary of "Hello, adventurer, can I give you a quest?" and "WE MUST FIGHT TO THE DEATH!" Here, fights are tagged as either lethal or not, so while going up against a cop or a vampire hunter or similar will send you to an early grave, random street punks just want to knock you on your undead arse and steal your wallet. The exception to the rule is that with each fight you lose, you will acquire a Wound, and three Wounds (which are expensive to treat, unlike your auto-restoring Vitality) always mean death. So, maybe make sure you've healed up from your last battles before picking a fight.
As with everything, all of this is currently in development and so subject to change, yadda yadda yadda, but I think it's going to work pretty well. I hope you'll like it!
Anyway, let's meet another Companion.
Nightbook Profiles: Maze
Maze (originally Mazlow, but nobody's called him that since the first time he was hanged) is a Mandarin vampire who has considered the world his playground for over a hundred years. You might know him as the author of one of the first vampire autobiographies, "LOST IN ME" - a tissue of lies and exaggeration that has earned itself a place in the fiction section of many libraries. It doesn't matter. Maze isn't ashamed of who he is. He's a grifter, a con-man, a liar by trade, with his favourite trick being to persuade promising marks that they've seen through his tricks and are on his level, looking down and laughing at the sheeple. But sins have a way of catching up with you, and Maze has curated the finest collection...
I'll be honest, this year isn't quite ending as I was expecting early on! The idea of Nighthawks didn't really spark until around March, and I had no idea then that we'd be doing the Kickstarter thing and actually making my goofy vampire idea into a Proper Game.
Of course, I'm not complaining!
Now that we're almost done with the foundational work, 2019 is mostly devoted to producing content. We'll be keeping up a feed of updates throughout the year, not least because I really hate it when Kickstarters go silent, but for obvious reasons we're not going to post too much and risk spoiling the game. Backers who've pledged at one of the 'be in the game' tiers - we'll be contacting you relatively early in the New Year to get your photos and ideas of what you want your in-game characters to be, so give it some thought!
Until then, have a very Merry Christmas or whatever other religious/secular holiday floats your boat, a Happy New Year, and we'll see you on the other side...