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Update #1 - The Character System

Discussion in 'Titan Outpost' started by MF, Aug 10, 2017.

  1. MF The Boar Studio Developer

    MF
    Joined:
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    Location:
    Amsterdam
    Thanks for the positive feedback, everyone!

    This first bi-monthly development update is about the character system. I wanted to tell you all about the setting and the main gameplay elements first, but I was constantly referencing the character when writing about it, so I might as well start here.
    There are a couple of ‘win’ conditions with a branching story, and aside from choosing which faction you want to be with, you can also go for personal gain or do everything ‘for science’, as it were. Most of those paths tie into the skill system, so there is a ‘science path’ through the game, as well as a ‘negotiation path’. They’re not mutually exclusive or gated too harshly, but getting through the science path with 0 science skill is of course not the best idea.

    For Titan Outpost, I came up with a relatively simple character system built around the following principles:

    -Every stat and skill should matter

    -Every stat and skill should make sense

    -Building a character and playing to its strengths and weaknesses should be fun

    [​IMG]
    The Stat Screen


    First, the four base attributes. They range from 4 to 10, with 4 being below average and 10 being exceptional. You can’t go lower than 4 because your employer would not send complete morons or frail weaklings on an expensive mission.

    They spell PICA because it was the cutest anagram for the four letters I could find. So I call it the PICA system. Like a tinier version of SPECIAL.

    Given the fact that the game is not focused on combat, I cut out most of the emphasis that traditional systems place on physical attributes. They are all rolled into one: Physicality.


    Physicality is the emphasis your character has placed on physical exercise as well as inherent physical talent, and will determine your strength and ability to endure things. For example, you can pry things loose, lift heavy things or carry more in your inventory on the strength side, and you last a little longer with hypothermia, low food or oxygen and have a reduced impact from prolonged low gravity on the endurance side. In some cases, it will also determine movement speed. In the rare circumstance that you meet an actual person face to face, this stat determines your chance to overpower them without a weapon if all else fails.

    Intelligence speeds up scientific development, increases the amount of experience gained and allows you to spend more points on skills throughout the game. Pretty much what Intelligence does in most RPG’s, except that this game has a substantial tech tree and speeding up research will impact everything. For example, you can go exploring to search for new alpha decay materials to use in your generator to increase power -more on that later-, or you can research a more efficient thermoelectric converter from the safety of your base. A more far-reaching consequence would be setting up a prelude to terraforming, which can be considered the game’s win condition for the science path. If you choose to go that way. You can also completely ignore all this, if you want.

    [​IMG]
    The research station, well on your way to squeezing more juice out of your 35kg of plutonium.

    Charisma is fairly traditional. You can persuade people and you gain a boost to your negotiation skill. You also get a better initial reaction from people and your standing with all factions is increased a little. You all know how this one works. With dialogue trees looking like this and a system for tracking someone’s disposition, conversation skills do matter. A more direct benefit you get from high charisma is that you can get away with more. Missing deadlines isn’t a death sentence, shorting people in deals won’t make them turn hostile right away, etc.

    This is what a typical simple dialogue tree looks like.
    [​IMG]

    Awareness - Your ability to directly know and perceive, or to be cognizant of events. You get a boost to exploration, construction and logistics and notice things that are easy to miss. Apart from that it’s a lot like perception in most games.

    Now for the six skills. They are partially derived from the attributes as you get bonus points from them. Progression is relatively flat with a maximum of five points. You start with 0 points in each skill, or 1 if your base stat is high enough.

    Science

    The systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world. A high science skill unlocks new potential discoveries at the research station. If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts.

    Science speeds up research time and unlocks new technologies and avenues. There are also a few skill checks down the line, but not too many as I don’t want to overpower this skill. It used to be subdivided into Biology, Geology, Physics & Chemistry schools, but that didn’t really add anything besides needless clicking and the bad kind of content gating.

    Construction


    Engineering structures and manufacturing items. The 3D printing robot on Titan Outpost is automated but requires knowledge and skill to program and operate. Construction increases building speed and allows you to conduct repairs in the field more efficiently, or at all. The road to success is always under construction. The base comes with an underpowered habitat, a rover, two methane tanks and one drone when you arrive and you’ll have to build and maintain much more if you want to survive or even prosper. Of course, you can also procure things in ways that do not involve building them yourself, which leads me to the next skill.

    [​IMG]
    Your friendly neighbourhood construction bot

    Negotiation

    The skill to reach agreements. This works best in conjunction with a high charisma, but even unappealing personalities will be able to negotiate their way in and out of situations. Negotiate better contracts, new allegiances and better deals. Maybe you can even get them to pay for the wall. There is a hydrocarbon market where you can offload shipments behind your employer's back and increase your personal funds. This is where the negotiation skill shines. If your skill is higher than that of the other person, you can outsmart him or her. But you need awareness to be able to know the other guy's skill level. Also, dialogue checks. Lots of dialogue checks.

    Logistics

    Organization and implementation of complex operations. You gain a resource gathering bonus of 25% per point per day and can set more drone waypoints. Right now this is the skill that you can pump and sit back to get rich quick, until things break down and you’re left without repair skills. Drone waypoints are ways of making drones do more than just wait around until a tank is full and haul them back to the space elevator, you can set up a route to make the most of these expensive flying trucks.

    Hacking

    Gain unauthorized access to systems. The interplanetary communication system, wherein every byte counts, can be eavesdropped by even the novice security aficionado, but Chinese protocols are a tough nut to crack. If negotiation can’t get you solid intel, hacking into your employer’s database will. It will also let you reprogram the base computer to work for you instead of your employer, which is very useful in the long run. By the way, if you were intent on doing some killing in the game, this is the easiest skill to do it with.

    Exploration

    Much of Titan is still unexplored. The thick atmosphere makes optical imaging from space almost impossible and all you have to go by is radar data. A high exploration skill will enable you to widen your range with the rover, travel faster and get better encounters. You can even find things mankind has never seen before.

    That’s it for now. I’ll be happy to answer questions, and I’ll talk about the setting next time!

    Here’s a new screenshot for your viewing pleasure. A view of the fledgling base from the top of the nearby cryovolcano.

    [​IMG]
     
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  2. MF The Boar Studio Developer

    MF
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    It says China Space Administration. I removed the 'national' moniker since it has become a supranational organisation in this setting. But I see your point. Too bad we can't order spacecraft off AliExpress. Yet.
     
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  3. TZ3K Arcane

    TZ3K
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    Still looking good and promising.
     
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  4. HoboForEternity Arcane Patron

    HoboForEternity
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    Looks nice, several questions though:

    1. How do stats affect skills? Modifier? Limiter? Etc. Like some of my problems is in some game the relationship between stats amd skills only being limited modifier means you can have 4 charisma but gajillion points in negotiation, so you can be outright butt repulsive and basically an anti human, but you can negotiate with a master's wordsmith skill and master speaker way of carrying yourself, etc.

    It doesnt make too much sense. The same is for int and scientific skills. You can be a total idiot yet a super computer whiz in fallout new vegas.

    I think i got several solutions thats viable, like making these skill checks doublr like yo pass a dialogue, you need for example 5 points in INT and 75 points of speech, etc. (Think age of decadence in some cases)

    Or you can make the skill you can take are limited to your stat ( the new shadowrun games does this, the skill system are great, though the numbers itself are pretty simplified) it is even better when you take race contributing to your max skills, like an orc will never be as good mage as an elf, because the higher tier skills in mage tree is locked due to stat limitations etc.

    2. I agree there should be a main path, but skillchecks and stuff should be really balanced so you can experiment with hybrods (again like age of decadence does, you can be a merchant and it is obvious you have to have mercantile skills, but it also offer the option for your merchant to bash skulls or sneak in some situation)

    this one you really should plan out carefully and tests arduously
     
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  5. MF The Boar Studio Developer

    MF
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    Attributes act as bonus modifiers for skills and there is a hard attribute limit for the highest skill tier. Skills and attributes are synergetic to a certain degree but they're also separate modifiers and checks in the game. So you can negotiate a good deal with a few points in negotiation even if you have terrible charisma, but you won't be able to convince someone who has little incentive to do something for you if your charisma sucks. Both are important, but in general, business transactions lean more towards negotiation and personal checks rely more on charisma. If you want someone to give you stuff for free, you'd better have both good negotiation and good charisma. There is also a system that tracks someone's disposition towards you. If you piss someone off and your charisma isn't great, it has consequences. It's like a reputation system, but for each individual NPC. It's doable because I don't have hundreds of NPC's.

    Another example is the search mechanism. You can enter areas that are searchable and a 'search area' icon pops up. Your exploration skill determines the 'search tier' and how well you know what to look for. That determines the quality of stuff you manage to find. If you increase your exploration skill you can later search that area again and try the next tier. Awareness grants a boost to the exploration skill, but it mostly modifies the speed with which you search. If you take too long, your suit will be out of power. If you didn't bring a spare battery and can't get back to a place of warmth in time, you die. So the exploration skill in this case determines what you can find, awareness determines if you can find it before freezing to death. If you're a min-maxer you could still make a few spare batteries and do it with a low awareness, but batteries aren't cheap and charging takes time. If your physical stat is through the roof you'll last a little longer with hypothermia and you can run longer and faster so your character will make it through some of the easier searches even without power.

    You're absolutely right and I'm trying not to harshly gate anything but the most specialist parts of content. At first I was carefully balancing progression for each character archetype, but right now, I'm just trying to make sure it's fun to play no matter what your build is. Character archetypes are a crutch for developing specialised content, but I came up with a classless system so I'm not relying on the idea too much. So yes, you can be a hybrid charismatic hacker or a buff scientist. You will have to play to their strengths, of course, using those same characters as dumb logistics experts or blind explorers will not be possible.

    But you can definitely make a jack of all trades and get through the game, in fact that is the blueprint character I'm building the level progression around.
     
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  6. HoboForEternity Arcane Patron

    HoboForEternity
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    nice. It would be great to have this tight but deep cast of people and unique individuals, but each are deep, and all have their own views, react differently, agree/disagree than this hundreds of barely recognizeable NPCs hanging around acting as information kiosk.

    I also like "it should be fun" philosophy, but just remember challenge, there still should be an instance where too much branching cause harm than good, and of course, ultra specialist gated content, you have the idea right. Sounds better already :)

    also i know we arent talking about the setting yet till next 2 weeks, but i am interested on your research material you read to make your titan believeable.

    Since it is hard scifi, I expect there is tons of real world concept that you apply to your fantasy, etc, etc.

    Maybe you can share what you have read or will be reading?
     
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  7. MF The Boar Studio Developer

    MF
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    Thanks, that's good to hear.

    Like you said, the setting leans toward the more plausible end of sci-fi. I love the great stuff of the ‘50s and early ‘60s, but after the Soviet Venera probes showed us how inhospitable a planet like Venus actually is and after the Apollo program started to wind down, the genre took a more subdued, less grandiose turn.

    Some influences are Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘Imperial Earth’, the first part of Asimov’s ‘The Gods Themselves’ with humanity on the brink of a crisis, George RR Martin’s ‘Nightflyers’. Oh, and Heinlein’s ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’. There are too many to list.

    The description of living on Titan in Clarke’s ‘Imperial Earth’ is the vibe I’m going for, except that we’ve learned a lot about Titan since he wrote that and of course there is no hydrogen in the atmosphere. You are also much more connected to the surface and there is no established colonisation. The map is pretty accurately drawn from Cassini’s images and the polar map uses the Wiesmann/Cornell topology. There are plenty of gaps in their work, but where there is no data, I just made an educated guess. In some cases, I used those gaps to fuel my imagination.

    I have an academic background, so if I’m not sure about something, I read scientific papers. I can usually understand everything enough to write about it, except for some mind-boggling stuff like fluid dynamics on a sphere. I had to ask a friend who teaches the subject if my idea had merit and he said my hydro-pumps were an 'interesting idea', which is good enough for me. I stay away from magic substitutes as much as possible, so instead of saying 'we somehow have faster than light communication', communication with earth is terribly slow. Mission Command is on a space station orbiting in the Titan/Saturn L2 Lagrangian point, not on earth.

    Basically, scientific concepts come from three sources.

    -‘70s visions of the future. Some of it is too cool to ditch, other stuff won’t fly. Yes to polymers that don’t become brittle at -200C, no to black hole-powered starships. Yes to nonequatorial space elevators, no to interstellar travel.

    -Current research. Quantum dots, carbon lattices, Cassini data analysis, etc.

    -My noggin'

    The main menu features a working model of Saturn’s moon system. If your character goes to sleep, the sleep screen accurately reflects the passage of time by rotating all the moons and the sun relative to Saturn and Titan. It was a bit of a nerdy tangent to build and not entirely necessary for the game, but it is an example of the level of detail involved in getting these things right. Even the space station orbit is modelled correctly and needs an occasional push because the L2 orbit is unstable. That's a plot point.

    Show Spoiler
    On the human side of things, you've spent over a year in a tin can with your coworker getting there and she dies in the intro. This also explains your skill set in the narrative: Your dead partner had the skills you lack.
    You start out understaffed, lonely and tired. Right now I’m reading Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris. I had seen Tarkovsky’s gorgeous movie adaptation, but the novel nails isolation and alienation so well.
     
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  8. epeli Prophet

    epeli
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    Orbital mechanics and light delays in communication? That is so cool. The latter is sadly underutilized in games, even though it could offer many storytelling and gameplay possibilities for various genres of space games. And you must have implemented a pretty nice orbital model to have working lagrangian points with realistic(?) station-keeping needs! So far I'm really liking the bits of groundwork you've talked about. Gameplay sounds good too, but I won't judge before I get a chance to try it myself.
     
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  9. dionizeno Novice

    dionizeno
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    This sounds great. Hard SF-RPG that isn't a FPS...and no elves oc.
     
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  10. MF The Boar Studio Developer

    MF
    Joined:
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    The communication delay is definitely part of the gameplay, but the orbital model only so to a certain extent. The station-keeping is scripted, for example. It's timed correctly as per the model, but it's not triggered by the orbital model as that would require constant processing power and slow the game down to a crawl. It is updated when your character sleeps or waits. Even though I have a lot of the code in place to make one now that I think of it, the game is not a space station simulator.
    Thanks. I'll need beta testers in a couple of months if you're interested. Hopefully you'll get the chance before the end of the year.

    Thanks! I'll post an update about the setting tomorrow. Definitely no elves.
     
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  11. da_rays Learned

    da_rays
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    Hiding in the subforum heh? Almost missed your posts here, good to see this is coming along nicely . Very interested in how the gameplay is gonna roll and the use of the various skills you are describing . Will be waiting for more juicy info .
     
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