The (Not So) Final Countdown

17 Mar
March 17, 2015

Countdown

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m busy spicing up the beginning sequence of System Crash, making sure there is an early conflict to motivate the player and drive the gameplay forward.

Making the early game interesting is important for convincing folks that it’s worth buying the demo to see what happens next. 😉

Paying Miriam the Loan Shark her money back before time runs out is the driving factor in the early narrative. But that new plot device, of you needing to pay her back in 30 days, added a complication – namely, that System Crash doesn’t track game time at all.

It would feel fairly limp, slapping the player with a big “You’ve got 30 days, go go go!” narrative and then failing to actually exert any genuine time pressure. We’ve all played games like that, right? The world is in desperate peril! But oh, you want to do 30 or 40 side quests and pick some herbs before tackling the Evil Necromancer? Sure, no problem bro, the Undead Hordes will wait patiently over here…

No, that won’t do. So I thought about adding some sort of actual time tracking mechanic, before remembering that I’ve been working on this game for over 3 years now and fuck that. So instead I (mostly) used the systems that I’ve already built, creating a simple script variable that tracks the countdown toward Miriam’s deadline, and adding a little bit of code to be able to display dynamic script vars in the objective/mission text strings.

And, to keep things simple, I’ve made it that doing a mission, any mission, ticks the counter down by 1 day. Easy to setup in the XML scripting system I’ve built, and viola, genuine time pressure.

(From this point on there will be spoilers for this early section of the game, don’t read if you want to go into System Crash completely fresh.)

But that brought up a different problem. I have intentionally designed System Crash to be fairly ‘casual’. By casual I don’t mean simple, I mean that it’s something you can play casually, here and there. Pick the game up, play for 20 minutes, unlock a new card or two, try a new deck and progress the narrative a few beats.

What I specifically don’t want is for a player to play for a while only to realize that they’ve screwed their campaign progression because of some decision they made 10 missions ago, unknowingly. I want missions to challenge players, but I don’t them to get really stuck. And that includes losing the game because they fail to gather Miriam’s money by the deadline.

So what I’ve done instead is added a little branching. You can fail that objective. In fact, you can simply refuse to pay up, even if you have the money. The game won’t stop. Instead, Miriam sends her goons after you. Wave after wave of them. And, at a certain point in the storyline, you won’t be able to progress in the main plot arc until you deal with them.

But you can deal with them. The fights aren’t very rewarding, in that they don’t drop much in the way of rewards (you may still enjoy the battle, regardless. I don’t want to make them dull). But if you beat enough of your attackers, Miriam eventually decides that this whole endeavor is proving too costly and calls off her dogs. And you can carry on playing the main arc again.

So those are your options. Either pay the money, or beat a number of optional fights. Pay some of your in-game currency, or pay with your time.

You might be asking, at this point, “well, why would I ever pay her, then?”

Well, I’m not going to actually tell you (outside this blog) that you can ignore her threats. So some people will do it just because it seems like it’s the game’s designated path. Or because they want to skip the goon fights and progress the story quicker. And for those who refuse/fail to pay, it might be kinda cool to see that the game responds to that, you don’t just hit a game over screen.

I think it’s kinda cool, personally. If I had the time and resources, I’d flesh out the rest of the campaign with interesting branching choices and long-term consequences. But, as I said, I’ve already sunk a huge amount of time into SC, so I’m holding those ideas in check for expansions/sequels/new games built using these systems. With the core tech built, expansions will focus more on doing interesting things with content and fleshing out the world/characters in System Crash.

Something I’m really looking forward to. 🙂

4 replies
  1. Kris says:

    From an outside perspective, it seems that the most important lesson a game developer can learn (okay, one of them) is the following:

    “…before remembering that I’ve been working on this game for over 3 years now and fuck that.”

    Reply
  2. gareth says:

    Haha, yes. 😉

    Reply
  3. Maximillion Miles says:

    I would actually be ok even with the fake “there’s a time limit except not” thing, since all you can do to waste time in System Crash is for the purpose of getting more money, so it still fits the narrative. Whether you`re doing a job for Jojo or fighting in the Arena, or doing a smaller mission, you`re still trying to get money, to pay your debt, supposedly.

    I mean, I`m not complaining on getting an extra choice, with consequences attached. It will reinforce that aspect of the story with gameplay aspects, definitely. I`m just saying it might not be as necessary as you might think. Either way, sound cool. Good luck, Gareth!

    Reply
  4. gareth says:

    Good point, but it’s already implemented and I like it, so I’m keeping it! 🙂

    Thanks Maximillion!

    Reply

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