Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sneak Peek At Bionic Dues


Our last full game for the year (aka not an expansion pack for an existing game) is called Bionic Dues, and will most likely arrive in October.  We've been working on this for a while, but didn't want to share much until it was further along and we could share some actual graphics, etc.

What is this thing?  It's basically a tactical roguelike (turn-based), although it's not squad-based.  I'll get better at describing the genre of this with time. ;)

No screenshots yet, as there's still loads of pieces that are placeholder, but gradually we're moving pieces into a finalized state.  As with these two:


Those are "Exos," which are basically like legless mechs that hover around.  In the game you play as one of six characters, and you remotely pilot any combination of four Exos pulled from six classes: Assault, Sniper, Science, Siege, Tank, and Brawler.

Story
The premise of the game -- and the genesis of the title -- has to do with these Exos.  You were an ordinary citizen in a futuristic city... that was, naturally, taken over by robots.  As always, right?

People still live in the city and try to go about their business, but frankly it's dangerous with the robots all around, killing people and causing other problems.  But the expense of moving from the city is way more than a regular person can afford.  And the common people can't even afford the bionic implants that would let them better defend themselves from the robots!  Sheesh.

But good ol' corporations have a deal for the citizenry: they'll give you bionic implants for free, so long as you do a tour of duty in the city, trying to wipe out the robots.  (Aka, these are the dues you pay in exchange for your bionics).  The tours of duty range from going on very dangerous missions to the front lines as cannon fodder... or remotely piloting the massive Exos.  Thankfully your aptitude tests placed you in the latter camp, so the danger to your person is negligible.

Except that things are getting worse than ever.  The robots are making some immediate headway against the central command of the humans in the city, and a massive assault force is building for a battle that will wipe out the human presence once and for all.

And, gosh darn it, wouldn't you know it: all of the Exos of the more experienced pilots got wiped out in a recent raid.  Since you're fresh out of training, yours were the only Exos not stored in one of the regular bunkers.  Exos are hardwired to their pilots and can't be transferred without a lengthy and dangerous process.  More Exos are being rapidly manufactured for the other pilots, but for now you're the only thing standing between the city and total annihilation.

Exo Choices


As mentioned further above, when the game starts you get to choose both 1 of 6 characters, and any combination of 4 out of 6 Exo types.  You can run 4 Tanks if you want to, although that would be super hard.  Most of the average-difficulty builds will include a single Science Exo and a single Tank Exo, and then whatever other combinations you wish.

You'll notice that there are two sets of visuals for each of the Exos: one is the "regular" build, which you start the game with.  The second is the "epic" build that you get after certain major events in the game.  The epic versions not only look cooler, but they have more slots for customization, and in some cases whole extra guns.

Exo Customization
As you play, you'll find various "parts" for your Exos.  Some of them are for specific weapons or subsytems, while others are generic enough to be used in lots of subsystems, with varying effects depending on the subsystem.  As with any good roguelike, these things have procedural stats, etc.

The number of slots and weapons varies by type of Exo, and we're still working on the balance for all that.  But typically each Exo has between 2 and 5 fixed guns, each of which can be heavily customized; all have a reactor and propulsion and shields/hull slot; and almost all have some manner of computer slots (the science by far having the most).

You can't do any of this customization while you are in the tactical missions, so you have to plan your loadouts prior to going in.  You do know the general type of the mission as you go in, though, so that helps you choose what in general you want.

City Map
Between missions, you're looking at the city map.  It shows you a matrix of mission nodes that you have already completed, as well as new ones that you can move to.  Which missions you take determines which other parts of the city you gain access to (and which become revealed at all).

This isn't a strategy game, but which missions you choose does have lasting importance.  Missions might weaken your enemy (denying them certain types of robots, destroying specific Boss Bots that will be in the end-of-the-game wave, etc), or they might strengthen you (awesome parts for your exos, upgraded exos in general, etc).

On the city map you can see how the end-of-game forces are looking, and you can also see the current status of your command center.  Every time you fail a mission, your command center takes damage.  Too many missions failed, and it's game over.  But there are certain types of missions that, if you win them, will repair your command center.

There are a fixed number of days that you have to play through before the final attack from the robots will play out against you.  However, there are certain robot command areas that you can attack to get some awesome loot as well accelerating the timetable forward by five days.  So you can control the length of time (in number of days) the game takes as you play, depending on how the situation looks at the time.

Oh, I should have mentioned that normally each mission (won or lost) advances time by a day.

(The above epic/regular Sniper Exos are actual in-game resolution.  However, they are not quite finalized as the lights have not been added to them yet.  The Assault Bot way up top actually has the final lighting applied.)

Tactical Roguelike
Most of the gameplay takes place in a straight-top-down view inside of various buildings in the city.  There are a variety of flavors of missions that emphasize different aspects of your general skills.

In other words, it's not like Valley 1 where there were a bunch of crazy missions that all broke the general rules, strung together by free-exploration bits that worked by the general rules.  The missions themselves here are the general rules, but each mission type might be best suited to specific types of Exos or customization.

You control one Exo at a time, and can switch between any of your four living Exos at any time.  When an Exo gets destroyed, it is out of the mission and you must switch to a different Exo immediately.  But after the mission, all your Exos are back even if they were destroyed (yay repairmen!).

You also don't have to faff around with things like ammo collection or what have you, but during missions you do have a fixed amount of ammo for your big guns in particular.  Precisely how much depends on how you've customized your weapons, your reactor, etc, on each Exo.  So there's a definite principle of scarcity here during missions (and there are some ways you can get a refill on ammo in some missions, if you find the right thing), but it's not encouraging hoarding between missions.

The combat here is something we are still balancing, but the general idea is that your Exos (except the Tank) are mostly pretty fragile.  You want to deal devastating force before the robots in a given area are alerted, then move forward to the next area, etc.  This is not remotely possible all the time, but you want to do it as much as possible.  There are also various environmental things that you can do in order to whittle down the enemies you will have to face in an area you want to cross, etc.

Exploration
I'm not sure how people will view exploration here compared to most roguelikes.  There is exploration in the individual missions (though we are still experimenting with exactly how much there should be, via mapgen), and then there is also AI-War-galaxy-map-style exploration in the City View.  And of course the contents of the missions themselves are procedural, as well as the loot.  I think it's a cool amount of exploration, but it's not a sandbox.

(RaptorBot, at the stage of having been inked -- so post-sketch phase -- but not yet colored/textured, and not yet lit or animated.  All in all it takes a pipeline of 5 artists for each robot or Exo, and I'm super excited about the results.)

Hilarity
The robots in the game range from incredibly-stupid-and-buggy to run-away-now-frightening.  The lowest form of grunt robot in the game is literally called the DumBot.  It always misses its first shot at you, no matter what (Storm Troopers much?).  Some of the others are hilariously stupid and ineffective as well, and their debuffs are referred to as bugs.

This actually serves as a nice contrast from things like the Boss Bots (of various sorts), the higher-quality variants of each general bot class, and the standalone scary bots like RaptorBot or DiamondBot.  Maybe that's why Storm Troopers are such bad shots: because then Darth Vader seems even more imposing.

Anyway, we thought it was really fun and funny to mix in deliberately-bad robot AI with frighteningly-effective robots.  And even the DumBots are not without peril, because if you let them whittle you down that's Bad... and if you step into a room with a few dozen of them, that's still Really Bad.  Unless you're packing a couple of plasma siege cannons, in which case it's back to Really Funny.  But now you're out that ammo, and I hope you don't need it later in this mission.

Subject To Change
There are a lot of holes in my explanation above, because I didn't want to talk about things that I felt were most likely to change: specific weapons or skills, what the heck the reactor and the computer systems do, the differences between the Exos, the breakdown of the various bots, and so on.

And even with the things that I did talk about, we're still in the middle-prototyping stage on these things, and tuning them and testing them heavily, as well as straight-out still implementing them.  So things may change before you get your hands on it.  But we have hit a point where I was comfortable enough with the design and the current alpha implementation to share at least this; Keith and I are both super excited about this game.
(Much-enlarged view of the Epic Brawler Exo, prior to lighting or animating, but after everything else.)

Schedule
Right now the expectation is that we'll be ready for private alpha with players by the end of August, and then into public beta by mid-September at the latest.  And to 1.0 by mid-October.  All of that is tentative at the moment, but things are proceeding well.

Also on our schedule for the rest of the year:
- Skyward Collapse: Nihon no Mura (Expansion 1) beta next weekish, 1.0 by the end of August.
- AI War Expansion 6 in lateish October (full release) with a beta in September sometime.
- Skyward Collapse Expansion 2 in November or December, with a beta a month or so prior to that.

And that's what's going on with us!

7 comments:

EmperorPenguin said...

Coop?

Anonymous said...

I am not a stickler for genre definitions, but the internet will be. Prepare for some grief over the use of the term "roguelike", which has become a buzzword. Not much about your design actually sounds like it has roguelike qualities.

Christopher M. Park said...

Of course, co-op as always!

Christopher M. Park said...

Well, there are a lot of games these days in the roguelike or partially-roguelike genre. Some are more it than others, since the idea is to riff of the genre rather than just copy everything from it a lot of times. Let's look at a list:

Procedural levels: yes
Turn based movement: yes

Permadeath: in spirit - there are permanent consequences to each mission loss, and if you lose too many you perma-lose

Multi-level dungeon: in spirit - each mission is analogous to a floor in a single-dungeon roguelike. The difference here being that you have choices of what order to take them in and which ones to take.

One action per turn: no, but there are other roguelikes with per-turn action points

Procedural loot: yes
Character customization: yes

Noncombat character skills: yes, some (hacking, lock pick, stealth, etc)

EXP and character levels: no, but there is a progression through the loot

To me, even by the Berlin Interpretation, it looks like we have pretty close to everything. It's true that we are not directly wiping out your savegame when you lose, but there are other roguelikes that don't. At worst this is a roguelite, anyhow.

Or am I missing something? I'm legitimately asking, I'm not trying to beat you over the head for bringing up a good point. :) We had also been worried that people would not feel like this is a roguelike.

Jason Visser said...

Absolutely can't wait!

Jason Gose said...

So far, I've enjoyed the hell outta the games you guys have put out... from the description, this one has the potential to end up as my new favorite!
I'll be impatiently waiting for it :p

Anonymous said...

(Different anon) Regarding use of the word roguelike, I'd certainly want to see gameplay before coming to a conclusion, but based on your description, it's certainly more reasonable than the use of the term as I've seen it applied to other games, like FTL.

Still, in my opinion a game has to cleave very close to the formula to warrant the term roguelike, otherwise something less specific is more appropriate. We don't call all corridor shooters with health and armor pickups Wolfenstein-likes, after all.