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Whalenought Studios' Hannah Williams talks Copper Dreams at Indiegraze

Whalenought Studios' Hannah Williams talks Copper Dreams at Indiegraze

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Thu 28 September 2017, 00:50:52

Tags: Mechajammer; Whalenought Studios

Hannah Williams of Whalenought Studios was interviewed a couple of days ago on Indiegraze, an interesting new indie-focused interview site that was launched a few months ago by one Erik Meyer. She was there to speak about Whalenought's upcoming Copper Dreams of course, a game which we haven't heard about for a while. It turns out that Hannah answers interview questions much like she writes Kickstarter updates - densely. There's a lot to unpack here, but here's an excerpt:

Erik Meyer: The release of games like Fallout, Diablo, and Ultima Online in the ’90s established isometric RPGs as a genre, but recent projects like No Truce With The Furies seek to expand standard conventions, such as dialogue. Your project uses a health system comprised of wounds in the place of a more abstract HP meter. Similarly, you have extensive sneak and weapons options systems. What other novel features and content do you see yourselves adding to Copper Dreams? What do you see yourselves implementing that you haven’t seen done elsewhere?

Hannah Williams: The heart and soul of Copper Dreams has always been creating a cozy, p&p roleplaying experience. A comfortable playground that allows you to approach the world as you would in a tabletop game, a ruleset that won’t hamstring your adventure by limiting your tools to those fed through specific dialogue options or one-note item uses. When an RPG does just that, rationing out your actions or even suddenly gifting you a narrative tool that allows you to do something that isn’t possible in game mechanics, it takes away the joy of actually roleplaying without being told what to do. Partially because the game designer spoon-fed you your actions like they did the narrative, but also because it also creates a sense of disorientation. Dice are rolled and actions are performed on the result, that’s a great start, but beyond that there’s a lot we wanted to rethink what a player has control of and what to do with it.

Here’s an example: I’m talking to a guard and I pick option A to palm him five gold coins so he’ll let me pass unmolested. Neat! Glad I didn’t have to stab him, he looked like he had a nice family at home waiting for him. But wait, can I do that with anyone? I never got that bribe option in dialogue before. Why did it pop up with him and not the now-dead guard downstairs? Was one less important on my narrative path? This one has a red vest, does that mean something? Did a writer get distracted and forget to add the dialogue option in before? Was there a secret charisma roll that I finally passed? Am I overthinking this? I’m scared, help! I wish I just had a button that let’s me try to bribe someone whenever I want to!

Most players, of course, are used to a bribe option popping up in dialogue and don’t need to dig out their smelling salts when it happens, but you get the idea. If you give a player all their tools to be used at will, it makes them feel like they can do anything they want, and also gives a sense of security, despite running around in an hostile environment, because you always know what your options are. If you want to try to bribe the final boss, by all means, give it a shot. If you want to bribe a chicken, do that too. Making the DM miserable is mostly what p&p is about, and the least we could do is give the player the freedom to do that to us.

The challenge of this is creating all these tools for players to use at will. Manually jumping over obstacles instead of clicking their hit box to disable them, climbing a roof for height advantage, dropping to a crouch to avoid a missile, dragging cigarettes out of your backpack to an NPC so they will spill their secrets, using your crossbow like a hammer when you’re out of bolts or just throwing it against the wall to make noise. These are the kind of things that we think create that cozy tabletop experience, and what will make our ruleset feel different.

EM: You incorporate a wait period into the turn-based combat system, meaning actions don’t execute immediately and can be interrupted. Can you speak a bit more to the genesis of this mechanic and how it translates to both small group (one-on-one fighting, for example) and large group (a bar brawl) encounters? How do you see players and NPCs anticipating enemy actions via this time element, and what added dimensions come with it, from a tactical point of view?

HW: This turn-time feature is really the crux of the game system and has been in flux since the Kickstarter. There’s been a lot of iterating. We wanted to do a turn-based system that is less abstract than the traditional model, where attacks take time and you can interrupt each other. It started with more of a combat timeline, represented in seconds, where character icons would travel across it while they performed their turn. They could get stopped on it, or when it finished they’d be prompted to do their next turn.

This was fun but had flaws. The time-based element was too arbitrary and became frustrating to try to compare between characters during combat. Eventually, we got rid of the actual representation of time in seconds and just had ‘ticks’ evolving into this now step-by-step turn based model. These ticks represent how long something takes, a certain attack might take 3 to prep, and 2 to recover from, where moving a certain distance might just take 4. If you get hit, you add more ‘hit’ ticks, which you have to wait through to get back to your action. Then there’s a tick to tile relationship as well, where you can see how many tiles you can cover while moving in the next tick, or how many tiles a bullet will pass through during one.

The beauty of the simulationist-based combat and ruleset is that things will play out largely how you’d expect them to. If there’s enough people on the screen, it turns into a bullet hell, but because it’s still turn-based, you have time to consider your tactics and adjust to the number of people you’re fighting and their abilities and strategies. Players (should) and NPCs will be seeking cover as much as they can to start with, as the life of characters can be quite limited. One-on-one combat gives you an easier opportunity to get the jump on an enemy or have a very dedicated shootout with each of you cat-and-mousing in and out of cover if you didn’t kill them stealthily or something. Since enemies can often be dispatched easily, other simulated aspects like the noise weapons make, calling for backup, or running for cover make engagements more interesting. There’s nothing stopping a player from sneaking around or instant killing anyone if they set up a roll nicely. There is no omnipresent AI for enemies, they individually read player location and actions based on your current position, stance and knowledge of what has passed. Different enemies could have different last known positions of where you might be, but alerting one in the presence of another would alert both to your location (or general direction). So gaming their senses is certainly part of the tactics, as you would in a stealth game.

To help show all this, players can anticipate enemy actions through the ticks that show up after an enemy chooses an action, and plan accordingly during their turns. If you see that they’re going to do something in 5 ticks, you can pick an action that takes less time, although potentially reducing your hit chance roll at the price of speed. We have a lot of indicators letting players know when bullets are coming and the direction someone is moving, so when that bullet-hell game happens, you can duck, crawl, and run to avoid what you can to get to more cover.
Cool stuff. Indiegraze also had a nice interview with the No Truce With The Furies team back in July. We'll be keeping an eye on this website.

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