We’re long overdue for a more thorough breakdown of the game, and in this particular post I’ll be talking about the pilots. Jack and I have both spent a lot of thought on how to best build a large, persistent character base with a comparatively small, low budget game. A point of reference we keep coming back to is X-COM (1994 version — if you’ve never heard of it then go look it up; going into detail would mean being here all day), and for a couple of good reasons.
X-COM manages to create a compelling character narrative using only random name and stat generation, a handful of character visualizations, and permadeath. I’m generalizing quite a bit here but the mechanical simplicity involved is important. The soldiers themselves are just player controlled avatars with a series of stats to modify their actions and one of 4 or 5 possible mugshots for their appearance. The randomness of the characters themselves in a way gives license for the players to fill in the gaps, and conveniently is also much easier to produce content for. There’s also a certain egalitarian quality to the X-COM soldiers; they could be anyone from anywhere, and many of them actually start as pretty terrible soldiers. Nothing like the current preponderance of gruff white male superhero-protagonists. So instead our intent is to build characterful containers for the player to fill with their own ideas and assumptions.
Our current spec for the game has a selection of 50 personnel to choose from, first for the player to pick a captain from (who you play as / control directly) and then to choose a support crew from. These 50 personnel will all have custom portraits, and be split as evenly as possible between race and gender. This was sufficiently important that we actually did an entire chart breakdown of race, age, and gender for all the pilots, as well as what the expander slots should be if we have time for more portraits. As it stands mechanically, each time you start a new game the stats and names associated with each portrait will be randomized, as well as what initial set of starting crew you have available to you. Part of this is because we don’t want to inadvertently create bizarre stereotypes like “Indians are good with lasers”, the other being that from the beginning every playthrough can have an element of randomization. We want to discourage ‘optimal starting builds’ as much as possible.
As it stands pilots will persist through the entire game with you, provided they survive. So yes we’re including permadeath, and yes we’re including some form of pilot skill progression. The longer these guys stay alive the more their skills improve and the more they’ll confer that bonus to their squadmates. Pilots themselves are assigned to a squad of units, and will confer a portion of their skill bonus to that squad so long as they remain in the field. An example would be a pilot who has a +10 bonus to accuracy and who confers a +5 accuracy bonus to the other tanks in the squad.
The game itself appears to be evolving along rogue-like-like territory, in that randomization and skill progression / unlocking will play a major role (even if the combat itself is much more akin to a faster paced Crusader). There’s still much to work out on the gameplay side, but we’re close to a proper full mission run, at which point I’ll be able to detail progress more fully on the blog.