Posts Tagged ‘battletech’

Dice are one way to carry your team’s banner on the tabletop battlegrounds.


For Davion!

…of course, there’s not really a Tinker faction in BattleTech, but Tinker Dice will fit into a WarMachine play session nicely.  Unless you’re going to play WarMachine digitally, thanks to this project, but I digress.

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I’ve written about this a little bit before, in my Losing Control article, and I previewed it a little bit in my card preview in the Keeping Track article.  One of the key mechanics of my Zomblobs! game is the Heat mechanic.

Once again, here’s the preview card:

zomblob card murmurer

Of note for the Heat system (which I suppose could use a more snappy name, but hey, “Heat” worked for BattleTech, and this is inspired in big ways by that game, so I can’t be too picky) are the three key values in the lower left corner, and the Heat values in each Action Tile.  Action Tiles are the largest visual elements on the card, the stack of pink and blue rectangles on the right side.  They define what the unit can do for its Action each turn.

A unit’s options are limited by its present Heat value.  Heat is a scale from 1 to 12 (easily tracked with a D12, 2 D6s or pen and paper) which every unit needs to track.  The Norm value is where the unit starts along the scale in any given battle.  The Coma value is where the unit slips into a comatose state, unable to move, and only able to use the universal Recover Action instead of any of its other Actions.  The Fever value is where the unit crosses the threshold between cool and warm.  This is really where each breed (Aspirant, Feral or Zomblob) most strongly differs.

The card above shows a Zomblob unit, which starts in the warm section of the gauge.  While it’s there, it can only use Actions that have the pink “warm” background (and the standard Actions, Recover and Absorb).  These actions will make the unit’s Heat go down by the number noted in the costs section of the ‘Tile.  Zomblobs prefer to be hot and fevered, and when they cool down, they start malfunctioning.  This is reflected in the blue Action Tile; when in its non-Norm phase (cool, in this case), a Zomblob unit can only use the Actions with blue backgrounds, and as can be noted, the Murmurer’s cool Action isn’t quite as desirable as its warm ones (though it may be useful in mirror matches… otherwise, it’s going to be attacking its teammates).

Aspirant units, on the other hand, start off in the cool section of the gauge and melt down into mania if they get too hot, and their available Actions will reflect this.  Feral blobs are perhaps the most quirky here, as they are about as effective warm as they are cool, just in different ways.  A unit that specializes in fast melee single target strikes while cool might settle into slower strong Area of Effect or Swipe (arc) attacks while warm.  Ferals don’t particularly mind being warm or cool, they just function differently (and unlike the other two, they may use the Recover and Absorb Actions while in their “non-Norm” state).

This dance between heat states is one of the most important things to track in the game.  Sure, Health is important and the Time system is key to some tactics, but Heat will dictate what Actions you have available on any given turn, and that can make all the difference.

Consequently, one of the most crucial aspects of Support units in the game is the way they can help other units manage heat (or inflict heat troubles on opponents).  Notice the last Action Tile on the sample card up there.  The Murmurer can make a target unit gain heat (and time).  This is a multifaceted tool, usable on *any* target.  Sometimes it might be advisable to heat up your own unit, even if it does mean a time delay (though I might just reduce or omit that to make the Action more useful).  Sometimes it’s best to heat up an opposing unit to throw their tactical options off.  It might even be useful against an opposing Zomblob, purely for the delay.

Each unit also (often) has access to the universal Recover Action, which costs 2 Time Points but heals 2 Health Points and moves the unit’s Heat 2 units towards its Norm.  Sometimes it’s best to stop and take a breather.  (Though the healing part of that might be too strong… playtesting will be key to nailing down the magnitudes of these functions.)

This will probably make more sense with more cards to compare, but that’s the core idea behind the Heat system.  It’s a way to modify the tactics of combat, and a way to make choices and timing more important.  Do you go for the big attack that will put your unit in its “off” state, or do you play it safe and Recover or use a cheaper Action?  I think it’s these choices, and their concurrent risk and reward, that make this sort of game most interesting.

What think you?

Oh, and I’ll write more about the combat system next time.  That’s really important, too, I’m just trying to break these articles up into concepts.

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One of the cardinal… guidelines… of game design is the K.I.S.S. mandate: Keep It Simple, Stupid.  Designers (and I count myself in this group, though I’m just an indie, and an artist by day) have a tendency to want to make intricate systems with many moving parts.  Part of the beauty of a good game is how well design elements mesh and make something more than the sum of their parts.  Tangentially, this is why emergent gameplay is so fascinating, but that’s an article for another time.  This tendency is an asset and a liability.

Like a precision watchmaker, I find joy in making initially disparate parts work together to make a great game, and like that watchmaker, sometimes most of my work will never be seen.  It’s like working in special effects in a movie; if you’re doing your job right as the FX guy, nobody knows because the effects are seamless.  (I almost went into movies; that is what my degree was geared for, Pixar-style, but I refuse to work in California.)  Like a good watch, a good game should present a simple function to its end user, and do an excellent job with this primary function.  Maybe there are bells and whistles under the hood that are there for further tinkering, maybe the function takes a lot of work behind the face, but in the end, a watch tells time.

A game provides… what?  A good play experience at the very least, hopefully with more depth as players dig into the strategies and implications of the design.  This exploration should come naturally, though.  Dropping an encyclopedia on a new player might be fine in some niches, but generally, the old Othello tagline “a minute to learn, a lifetime to master” is a pretty good rule of thumb.

Of course, each game will be different, and will appeal to different players, so this is more about culling extraneous design elements than it is about establishing a baseline for all games.  If a particular game design element just isn’t giving a lot of benefit for its cost, maybe it needs to be cut.

A couple of days ago, I posted a unit card for my Zomblobs! game.  This is a game that is meant to be a tabletop wargame, in the vein of BattleTech or WarMachine… just with blobs and some other quirks.  Here’s the card again for reference (and remember, it’s effectively boiling a whole page of data into a single card):

Zomblob Card Murmurer

As Andrew and Yeebo noted last time, it’s a busy little beastie.

There are three major mechanics in play here that drive the game engine:  Time, taken largely from my Tick Talk Time articleHeat, inspired in equal parts by BattleTech and Hordes and a simplification of what I wrote about in my Losing Control article, and the D6 Combat (no fancy single word keyword for this yet) based largely on the World of Warcraft Miniatures tabletop tactical game.  There’s nothing revolutionary here, like 4D space or psychometric controls, but that’s not really what I’m aiming for anyway.  This is a part of a bigger whole, ultimately, but it needs to function as a tabletop game as well.  Consequently, I’m dancing around a few self-imposed design constraints.

One, I want it to be easy to pick up, both for new players and veterans of Warhammer and the like.  Two, I want it to be a relatively small scale game, where every unit is important (think Final Fantasy Tactics rather than Warhammer).  Three, I want to explore the tactical implications of time.

It’s that third one that I hung a lot of hopes on.  Zomblobs! Tabletop isn’t a game where players take turns moving their whole army, like Warhammer or WarMachine.  It’s more like the WoW Minis game, where units move according to their own personal clock, and turns can wind up interwoven like the queue in Final Fantasy X.  (Again, I wrote more about this in the Tick Talk Time article.)

This, of necessity, means each unit needs a way to track their time.  Officially, these are the rules for Time (though I may rework the text for clarity as time goes on, this is the core of the design):

Every Action in the game costs Time.  Time is listed in the Costs section of each Action.

When an Action is used, the unit gains Time Points as noted in the Action Cost.  A unit can never have more than 6 Time Points.

Each unit will need to track its current Time.  A D6 die will work well for this.

A unit can only take its turn to move or use Actions if it has no Time Points.

If all units have Time Points, remove one Time Point from all units.  After this, any units that now have no Time Points may take their turn as normal, acting in Initiative order (highest initiative goes first, roll for ties), choosing to move and/or Act.

A unit’s turn incurs at least a single Time Point cost no matter what, even if they do nothing but pass their turn.

This should do what I want it to do, with teams interweaving their turns, units acting when they are ready instead of waiting for their laggard teammates.  This is also a mechanical theme; Feral units are fastest and will be able to act more frequently and move farther, while the Zomblobs are slow, plodding, powerful beasts, and the Aspirants are somewhere in between.  It might be a lot to think about and track, though.

…wandering off on a brief tangent again, Mark Rosewater has written a few times about tracking information in the Magic the Gathering game (though my Google-fu is weak today and I can’t find said articles, sadly).  The game has this Frankenstein’s Monster card with a weird mishmash of counters to show its state.  In recent years, they have tried to make counters only be +1/+1 or -1/-1, with a few exceptions like time counters.  This streamlined the game and made it easier to understand just what those little counters on the cards meant.  In effect, it means that the players have to track and parse fewer things to understand the game state.  The game has been “dumbed down”, perhaps, but it made it easier to play while still maintaining the bulk of the complexity and tactical depth that comes with those unit modification counters.

…back to the Time mechanic of Zomblobs, then, it’s one more thing to track in the game.  This, on top of Health (Hit Points, really, as Yeebo wrote eloquently about) and Heat (both of which will have a 12-unit span, making them trackable with a D12 like Time Points can be trackable with a D6).  Now, tracking three things per unit isn’t terrible when compared to some tabletop games, but it does mean fiddling around with pen and paper or dice.  I’m not inherently opposed to this, it’s expected in this sort of game, but I am keenly aware of the potential pain involved in tracking too much.  It seems like tracking Time isn’t quite as essential to the unit as Health or Heat (it’s not even part of the unit card), but at the same time, it’s pretty central to what I’m doing with the game’s combat tactics and pacing.  Time and Heat are both costs for each unit’s action, and they are fundamental to how units interact.

On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that the time system will be too much to handle for players who just want to take turns.  I think in the balance, the Time system adds enough tactical depth that it’s worth the cost of tracking it.  Maybe I’m wrong, but hopefully playtesting will give me a better idea of how well it’s received.

I hope to have a set of PDF files available here in a couple of weeks or so for printing by beta testers.  I’d greatly appreciate any help in testing this, especially by those of you who do have experience with other tabletop wargames.  I’ll make a big post on that when it’s ready, but I figured I’d mention it now.  In the meantime, does this make sense?  Any thoughts?

Thanks for the input!

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Copra asked a little while ago about MMO settings, specifically, “What would you like your MMO to be?

I’ve written about this sort of thing before, but mostly in a whole package sort of way, pontificating mechanics, business model and such along with the setting.  Just for fun, though, while I’m working on another balance article, I wanted to write a bit purely about a setting I’d love to see in an MMO.

While I’d like to see things like Dinotopia (from the book, not the lame TV versions) and Midkemia represented well in a graphical MMO (Midkemia Online is a text MMO… I’ve nothing against such, they just don’t interest me as much), or even Warmachine, what I’d really like to see is a blend of things.  Over at Copra’s place, I called it “an alternate history Steampunk MechWarrior game”.  Perhaps a bit more detail is in order, perhaps not, but it’s fun to get things down in type.  That’s sort of what I do here.

First, there’s Steampunk, a curious fiction genre adequately summarized by the Wikipedia entry, or in more entertaining form, by the Girl Genius comics (yes, yes, the Foglios refer to GG as “gaslamp fantasy“, but I like that twist of the fantastic in the steampunk mix) or the Clockworks comics.  It’s a sort of alternate history where steam power became more prominent than it did in our history, with a bit of Leonardo da Vinci and even Escher thrown in, maybe with some magical elements.  I love the look and feel of this sort of gritty, gear and steam-based technological world.  The Industrial Revolution was a fascinating period of history, so riffing off of that makes me happy.

MechWarrior, on the other hand, is a subset of the BattleTech universe, a fictional far future where different factions of humans use big, stompy robots to fight interstellar wars.  It has a long and storied history, and the IP has spawned a ton of games in a variety of formats.  MechWarriors are the elite warriors of that universe, pilots of said big stompy robots.  There are other military units to be sure, but infantry and even most tanks aren’t much of a match for these giant walking tank-things that typically range from 20 to 100 tons, bristling with energy, ballistic and even melee weapons.

I’d like to mix the two.  I’m imagining a game setting where the Industrial Revolution turned into an arms race, with each country devising its own steam-powered ‘Mechs as the ultimate fighting machines.  A purely terrestrial political war might not have the vast resources that the interstellar Inner Sphere of BattleTech has, but that’s part of the draw.  ‘Mechs would be more ramshackle, more likely to be MacGyvered into military service than perfectly cloned assembly line hot rods.  They wouldn’t be far and away better than the other machines of war, but they would be important “heavies” in combat.  They would be steam and gear-powered, but you could even see prototype Gauss Cannons (purely magnetic) and Gatling Guns.  Scientific innovations would be rapid, and experimental weapons might just carry the day in several instances… or might backfire spectacularly.

The political landscape would be a mix of feudal systems and nascent city-states, with most major countries shattered into several internal factions.  Such a diverse political backdrop could provide very fertile ground for mercenary work.  Reputation could be interesting, and managing a career by playing the lines between powers who may or may not know of your work history (communications being a bit more primitive in those days) could be an interesting non-combat large scale puzzle.

Similarly, the economic game could be a lot of fun.  The arms race would be fueled by weird science, always chasing new energy sources.  Factions would try to squeeze the most out of their controlled territory and even expand into the New World.

…which opens up even more potential.  Forget the Eastern Kingdoms vs. Kalimdor, let’s talk stompy robots storming New England.  And don’t forget, ‘Mechs function underwater…

…and you never know what sort of things a mad scientist might come up with.  Even smaller mouse-sized ‘bots might be a threat…

Mouse Mech

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My Perpetuum

I want to like Perpetuum, I really do.  It has stompy robots, EVE-like thumbing of the nose at MMO traditions, and pretty visuals.

It’s just… I can’t run it.  OK, technically I can, mostly.  I’ve been through a couple of early tutorials (fairly nicely done, actually), but it’s slow, visually inconsistent (with texture resolution wildly variable) and a bit laggy or unstable (I’m not sure which, but at least it hasn’t crashed).

I should stress here:  I think this is almost entirely my computer and connection’s fault.  It even has some trouble with WoW, of “runs on a toaster” fame.  Quite naturally, Perpetuum, a more demanding game, will have trouble, then.  I was hoping to be able to play anyway, but it’s just not working well for me.  I bear no ill will toward the game for this.

From what I’ve seen though, I can make note of a few things about game design:

One, there are a LOT of choices to make in character creation.  Since I have almost no way of knowing what those choices will mean in the long run, I leaned to energy weapons (I love PPCs in BattleTech) and mining/crafting (I was curious to see if one could make a career in that instead of combat).  There winds up being nine “classes”, I think, if the “spark” choice is indicative of major gameplay focus, but plenty of knobs to fiddle with under the hood to make yourself a generalist or specialist.  The sequential nature of this series of choices is a bit tedious if you want to go back and change some aspect of your character, but without knowing what any of them really do to the play experience, I didn’t really bother much with a lot of tweaking.

The game itself doesn’t do a good job of explaining what it actually is, or what you’re expected to do.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing for a sandbox type game, but Perpetuum does seem frontloaded with decisions with no measure of what’s really important to gameplay.  Not having experience actually making those choices work, I’m not sure if any build is viable or if there will be one or two “golden path” builds.  I’d like to think anything can work, though; otherwise, frontloaded decisions like that are a Bad Idea.  It stinks to require a third party wiki doctorate program to understand character generation.  (And of course, if you can respec, it’s not a big deal, but they make it a point to point out a few immutable choices, like the Spark that I’m roughly equating to a class, fairly or unfairly.)

Two, built on the first, is the system of character progression.  Apparently, your account gets the equivalent of XP (or skill points, rather, that get spent on training) based purely on time.  Also, any character on the account can spend those points.  As near as I can tell (though I’d be happy to be wrong on this), spent points cannot be refunded, even by deleting a character.

This does a few things.  First, early adopters win.  At least, if skills are important.  I presume this will be like what I understand of EVE, though, where skill points are mostly just a baseline and player skill and planning are the real key to progress.  Second, altitis hurts.  If you want to try out all nine “classes”, or even just different builds, making alternate characters to tinker can suck up those account points quickly.  Maybe.  Again, I’m not sure, not having spent a lot of time with the game, but again, this seems to benefit those who plan far ahead and/or can live with whatever uninformed choices they make on creation.  If the game is flexible enough and/or playable with low skill points spent, that’s not likely to be a big problem, but if it’s easy to make a deeply flawed build and/or it’s expensive spending skill points to get to playable states, that’s going to be an unfortunate limit in the game.

Three, the UI isn’t like DIKU MMOs much at all.  I’ve read that it’s like EVE’s UI, which would make sense (yes, I still need to try out EVE, but that probably won’t happen until next year).  Looking at it in a hypothetical vacuum, it’s a complex beast, but it seems to be laid out fairly well.  You can move around most elements of the UI, which is a great feature.  It does come across a little like Windows on top of a game, so it’s not really high on the immersion scale, but that doesn’t bother me too much.  All in all, the UI seems complex, but clean and usable.

Aaaand that’s about all I’ve got at present.  I do wish I could have a cockpit view, like a MechWarrior, but that’s more a matter of taste than anything else (and maybe I just missed it).  The basic robot I started with couldn’t jump, so Guild Wars haters take note, but I didn’t really expect it to.  Controls are clean enough, standards WASD/mouse controls… though A and D strafe rather than turn by default.

Anyway, the game is still in open beta until November 25th, I think, so if it’s interesting to you at all, you may as well check it out. They aren’t planning on wiping characters at the end of the open beta, so if you like it, that’s a bonus. EDIT:  I just got an email from them announcing the launch, and I was wrong, they will wipe characters and experience. I do recommend at least investigating it, as it seems like it has a lot of potential.  I’m curious to see how the progression scheme settles out, and whether or not those character generation bits really matter.  That could make or break the game.

As much as I’d like to like it, though, it’s just not going to be a game I can play much at the moment, and with a $10/month subscription impending, it’s not likely to be a game that I can play later if I get a better machine.  Still, I wish the Perpetuum guys well, both for their own sake and in hopes that their success can pave the way for a MechWarrior MMO.  It really does look like a good game that I’d have plenty of fun with, it’s just not going to work out.  Maybe it will for you.

Other voices chiming in:

EVE + Battletech?

Gremrod’s Terminal Chat

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Perpetuum looks like a fusion of BattleTech and EVE.  “EVE OnLand“, perhaps.  I’m not sure if that’s a fair assessment, so I’m going to go tinker for a little while with their open beta (which starts today!), assuming they let me.  I’m looking forward to it, anyway; I’ve wanted to play a good Mech-flavored MMO for a while now.  (It turns out that Project of Planets wasn’t terribly impressive, but then, it was still under construction when I last checked in.  Maybe it rocks now.)

Now that I’ve got WoW out of my system (thanks, BBB!  Screenshots thisaway…), it’s time to see what I can do with some stompy Mechs.  It’s a subscription game, so I may never have a better chance to see what it’s like.

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I’ve been designing some miniatures I can get the Shapeways guys to print out eventually, ultimately for use in a pair of games I’m working on.  One is a six player (or three or two) elemental sort of chess, so I just need models, but the other is sort of a fantasy/BattleTech mashup, a tabletop tactical miniatures game almost in the vein of WarMachine.

I’m running into a design question, though that I’d like some input on.  I’m trying to find a good way to keep track of information for the combat units.  For those of you with experience with or interest in mini games like this, how do you like to keep track of unit status?  This might include things like hit points, status afflictions (morale, poisons, buff and debuffs, auras, that sort of thing), weapon loadout, special moves, or any of a number of other variables.

I’ve seen games like HeroClix and the World of Warcraft minis game try to encode at least some of this data on a rotating base under the figure.  This has always seemed like a gimmick to me, but it does reduce the number of things you have to keep track of on paper off the combat arena.  The models seem a bit flimsier for the mechanical base, though, so it’s definitely a tradeoff in terms of usability.  They also seem a bit more… “gamey” than the games that just use minis on bases that might have a more simulationist feel.

Other games like WarMachine and BattleTech offload the bookkeeping to papers.  This isn’t as easy to tell the status of things at a glance, but it does allow for much more detailed information and thus, potentially more game design elements and clearer design.

Warhammer does a little of both, in a way, letting unit count in a block of infantry be a visible tally of a combat group’s strength, but it also has a lot of data offloaded onto paper, especially for hero units and special gear or magical effects.

One of the strengths of the Magic: The Gathering card game is that they have tried to reduce the bookkeeping and memory issues over the years.  Once upon a time you might have to keep track of multiple different upkeeps, special effects and what different counters represented (is that a +0/+2, +1/+1 or +2/+0 counter?).  These days, they have tried to distill these issues and have the “board state” give as much information as possible.  It’s nice to have a lot of data out there in the gamespace rather than offloaded to paper, but some things just don’t code well in a small amount of space.  Reducing the number of things players have to remember also helps speed up the game and make it easier to learn, as well as easier to play.

My question then is about that data encoded in the figure bases, whether it’s HP, action arcs, facing, whatever.  Is that method actually helpful in real gameplay?  (This includes noting that it’s more of a hassle if you’re always picking up the models and twiddling with their bases, and on a non-grid gamespace, that’s kind of annoying.)  Is it better to have all bookkeeping off-model?

Which do you prefer playing with and why?  I have my opinions, but I also have relatively little experience with miniature tactical gaming.  I’d like to get a bit more information if possible.  Tangentially, how much bookkeeping is too much?

Thank you in advance!

(Perhaps this could be generously noted as a bit of game UI design.  Playability is a big component of whether a game sticks or not.)

Oh, and bonus question while we’re talking mini design.  Painted or nonpainted?  Shapeways can print in full color now, and it’s even cheaper than nonpainted models.  Painted models are more brittle, though, and don’t have as much detail, so again, it’s all about the tradeoffs.

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