Archive for category: Project Updates


04 Jun
June 4, 2015

The last two days’ work have mostly been playtesting the Criminal and Yakuza decks. (Yakuza are sub-faction of Criminal)

The synergies between Criminals and Deception (a type of Event) cards are pretty fun. Particular this card, Treachery. Waiting for the enemy to play something big and stompy and then forcing it to smack its neighbors is always satisfying!


Brain Pain

26 May
May 26, 2015

Man, but balancing System Crash is a gigantic pain in the ass.

Just impossible to handcraft ~100 missions. All I can do is setup distribution tables and hope my maths works out.

If it doesn’t, the difficulty ‘curve’ is gonna look like something a lie detector machine strapped to a politician would spit out. :p

If I could time travel, I’d go back and slap the younger me who thought “Yeah, a card game, that’ll be an easy project”. -_-

Screenshot Sunday

24 May
May 24, 2015


Reward screen now colours rewards by rarity, more exciting.

The psychology of presentation is interesting. Giving people a rare reward isn’t that exciting unless the game makes a fuss about it. Blizzard are great at that kind of thing, Hearthstone has a bunch of little cues that add up to a juicy experience.

I’m still learning. 😛

Talking to Make Games

20 May
May 20, 2015

I was out of town last week, flying up to Joburg for the day job.

It wasn’t ALL business, though. I got in some great board gaming, Cyclades continues to be fantastic and I finally played some Dominion, which was enough to put it on my “future buys” list.

I also gave a talk on System Crash to the Joburg Make Games community, discussing development, design decisions, challenges faced, etc.

Luckily it was recorded (thanks, Eugene!). So, for your enjoyment, dear blog reader, I present my talk. 🙂

(It picks up once we actually get the game running properly, past the text intro bits)

Those Cyberpunk Vibes

10 May
May 10, 2015

Writing is an interesting activity. It’s fairly close to acting, I feel, in that when I write I have to try to put myself into the mindset of my characters in order to write them. I have to try to feel their emotions, perceive their world as they perceive it. I have to reach deep down into myself and draw out the mood and tone of that imaginary place somehow, weaving it out of my own memories and imagination.

Good music helps. Music has a tremendous power to evoke emotion, we react to audio on a very primal level. Before I start writing, I like to load a selection of tracks tailored to opening up the pathways to those inner spaces.

Since I’m writing cyberpunk at the moment, that means a selection of electronica, 80s nostalgia synth, and urban-tribal grungey beats. Not forgetting soundtracks from classic cyberpunk movies like Blade Runner, of course. 😉

Here are some of the artists/tracks that I like to write to.


Blade Runner Blues

Carpenter Brut

Dredd Soundtrack

Tron soundtrack

Pseudo-Card Sets

04 May
May 4, 2015

System Crash doesn’t have card sets in the same was as other CCGs.

The cards are not divided by colour, like Magic the Gathering:


Nor are there character classes with class-specific cards, like Hearthstone:


I wish I could say that choice was made for the sake of a clever design, but no; the real reason is a far more tawdry one – money. I tried to split cards according to faction, but that always left me with too few “common” cards. There were always gaps in deck-building options.

In the end the approach I decided on was to allow any card in any deck and to try and encourage the idea that certain cards go together through the use of synergies. In other words, certain card combinations work much more effectively than others. Canny players, once they learn these synergies, will gravitate toward building their decks around them. And since there are more cards than can fit into any one deck, that will mean they need to make trade-offs.

Which should help avoid the primary problem with allowing any deck to contain any card – that people could simply build a deck with the most effective cards for any situation. The best Agents, the best Direct Damage, the best Resources Boosters, the best Crowd Control. That’s not what we want, that isn’t fun.

So synergy sets form what might be considered “pseudo-card sets” in SC. And core to those synergies are the card subtypes.

Each card is one of the basic types: Agent, Event, Modifier or Support. The basic types are then further sub-divided into subtypes (although certain subtypes are represented across multiple basic types).

One Agent may have the Law subtype, indicating that it is part of one of the game world’s law enforcement agencies. Another Agent may be a Criminal, a member of the criminal underworld. I try to differentiate these subtypes through mechanics.

Law Agents, for example, get group synergies for having other Law agents in play, and have strong armor. They also synergize well with the Mech subtype.


Whereas Criminal cards involve a high-risk, high-reward strategy. Criminal agents are powerful for their Credit cost, but playing one often invokes an extra cost for the player, representing the “Devil’s Bargain” you need to enter into to call on those treacherous allies. They synergize well with the Deception subtype (an Event subtype), and have ways to debuff opponents.


The Anarch subtype are raiders, terrorists and street gangers. Their mechanics focus on speed and overwhelming an opponent with early aggression. They’re the Rush archetype. The Haste ability features in their set, and they have a number of powerful synergies for getting Anarch Agents on the board quickly and buffing their attack.

They don’t have the staying power of other Agents, long-term, but they can dominate the early game.


Subtypes can also be further specialized by additional subtypes. Yakuza cards, for example, are a subtype of the Criminal set.


Importantly, the more narrow/specialized a subtype, the more powerful the synergies between cards that focus on that subtype.

A card that affects Agents generally won’t be as powerful as a card that affects only Criminal Agents. And a card that affects Criminals won’t be as powerful as a card that affects only Yakuza Criminals.

For example:

Take Cover affects all Agents, and isn’t particularly powerful.

MetroSec Blockade affects only Law Agents. It’s the same cost as Take Cover, but the effect is twice as strong.

Little Tokyo affects only Yakuza Agents. It’s more specialized than Blockade and it’s also more powerful. It costs 33% more, but the effect is twice as strong.

For interest’s sake, I’ll end off with the full list of card subtypes in System Crash (so far):

Multi-Type Keywords
Program – all software cards
Deception – cards which aren’t direct attacks or buffs/debuffs, but which manipulate the player or enemies’ resources and agents. Tricksy tricks (support or event cards)
Connection – cards which represent an ally or resource the player can call on indirectly for support or resources (support or event cards).
Deck – a device for enhancing hacking abilities (support or modifier cards).

Support Subtypes
Security – security systems and devices. Cameras, turrets etc.
Tactic – battlefield manoeuvers granting buffs and debuffs to agents in combat.
ICE – long-term cyberspace defenses, firewalls etc.
Virus – code that infects an enemy system over time, to that enemies detriment.
AI – Intelligent programs.

Modifier Subtypes
Implant – a cybernetic upgrade for an Agent
Chem – any kind of chemical agent, whether a stim, poison etc.

Event Subtypes
Assault – Cards that destroy or directly damage other cards.
Exploit – Cards that exploit weaknesses in computer systems but which aren’t programs.
ICEBreaker – code that destroys or damages ICE.
Utility – a software tool.

Agent Subtypes
Criminal – Agents who corrupt or circumvent societies laws for profit. Syndicates, assassins, burglars
Anarch – Agents who spit on societies laws and conventions, living off-grid and making their own rules. Free spirits, street gangers, terrorists, raiders and reavers.
Corp – Agents of the megacorporations who run the world. Zaibatsu men and women, corporate security forces etc.
Law – Agents of law enforcement. MetroSec, detectives etc. Some upstanding, many corrupt, selling their services to the corps.
Runner – Grey and black-market mercs and soldiers of fortune, characters who make their living in the shadows cast by the glass and steel towers of the megacorps.
*Media – Agents of the media networks, celebrities, journalists.
Mech – Robots, androids.

Agent Sub-Subtypes
Yakuza – Members of the Japanese Yakuza crime syndicate.

*Media agents aren’t in the game yet, but are planned for future SC expansions.

Scratching An Itch

03 May
May 3, 2015

Ahhhh, much better! That’s been bugging me for ages.


Time Out For Injury

25 Apr
April 25, 2015

As I mentioned in a previous post, a week or so ago I started feeling the twang of repetitive strain in my mouse arm.

Pretty alarming. That’s your body ringing the alarm bell before you suffer long-term injury.

So, whether I wanted to or not, I’ve been taking a break.

Difficult, since so much of what I do, work or play, involves a computer. And I didn’t want to take leave from work just yet. But after hours I (mostly) avoided the computer. I even browsed twitter on my phone using my left hand, as I wanted to completely relax the right.

Not that bad, overall. I caught up on some TV, read, spent time with my girlfriend. And it seems to have helped, the arm is improving. Not quite 100% yet, so I’m still being cautious, but getting there. Whew.

With almost 2 weeks of unproductive-ness, though, I’m starting to feel the itch. The urge to do something. R&R is fun, for sure, but it’s not fulfilling in the same way that building things is. I desperately want to finish SC then move on to all the other ideas bubbling around in my head! Time’s a-wasting!

I gave in to the restlessness the other night and started doodling. Here, enjoy this work-in-progress picture of an evil ghost lady. A dress that is both gauzy/transparent AND made of glowing ectoplasm? Hahahaha IHaveNoIdeaWhatImDoingDog.jpg.


The hand held up pretty well, though. Painting is a different set of movements to mouse use but it’s still a good sign. Almost ready to get back to work.

Fortunately, there is a confluence of public holidays next week that mean that I can take 3 days off and get a full 9 day stretch of holiday time. Which is perfect, I can put in 8 hours a day on SC, feel productive AND relax the arm in the evening, avoiding immediately straining it again.

I’m looking forward to it!

But that’s next week. No work today. Today, I’m slightly hung over. And I think I’m going to get some quality time in with Pillars of Eternity. 😉

It’s been pretty difficult, given how much I was enjoying it, to not dive back in to Pillars every evening after work. I have been disciplined and patient. But now, now I play!

Enjoy your weekends, everyone.

Screenshot Sunday

05 Apr
April 5, 2015

This weekend, I’m all about those green ticks.


Script Surgery

25 Mar
March 25, 2015

This post will contain a minor spoiler about the game’s plot. Don’t read if you want to be completely fresh.

In the last dev update I talked about how I was updating the narrative to have a bit more punch, a bit more personal conflict right out of the gates.

An important problem to tackle, that, but not the only plot issue I’d identified. The other, trickier problem, is moving the inciting incident to an earlier point in the narrative.

For those who aren’t familiar with script writing terminology, the inciting incident is the plot event that kicks the protagonist out of their everyday routine and forces them to grapple with the core conflict of the narrative, whether that’s saving the world or winning the heart of their love.

It’s Luke Skywalker finding Princess Leia’s message, Trinity contacting Neo, Ned Stark being called to King’s Landing. It’s Gorian’s murder and Imoen’s kidnapping in Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2.

And it’s best if you get to it fairly quickly, so as to give the story direction and movement. Wait too long to kick things off and your story feels limp and uninteresting, your audience gets restless and starts to lose focus. Like a crowd forced to wait too long for the band to come on stage.

And this, unfortunately, is what I did with System Crash. I kind of outsmarted myself (The KISS principle is something I wholeheartedly endorse but often forget to practice myself 😛 ). I had this “neat” idea that I’d write a number of smaller story arcs that seemed isolated from each other, but would eventually be revealed to be tied to the main plot arc. So that later in the game the player would go “Aha! X and Y were actually about Z!”

Which sounds, like I said, neat, but my execution was a bit flawed. I held off on starting Z, the main plot arc, until the X and Y mini-arcs were finished. Which is a lot of stuff to get through before the story really gets its main surge of energy and motivation. The smaller arcs aren’t compelling enough, by themselves, to hold attention.

The answer, of course, is to start Z, the main arc, earlier. I’ll run it concurrently with X and Y, but make sure that X and Y are completed before getting to the part where it’s revealed that they’re linked to Z.

So that’s why I’m moving the inciting incident forward. It’s really the kick-off point for the main arc, for Z.

What that has entailed is figuring out how to rearrange the pieces of story that I have into a new, more compelling configuration. I really don’t want to rewrite a lot of narrative, I just want to shuffle what I have. Luckily, since there were already a number of smaller arcs, they can be rearranged without breaking the entire structure. The change looks something like this :


System Crash Sections Sml


System Crash Sections 2 Sml

Notice how much more overlap there is in the starting bit, and how much earlier that yellow blob starts. 😉

I think this will be better. I hope so, I’m not rewriting the entire bloody thing.