Game Journal – Massive Chalice

Designer/Developer: Double Fine Productions

Platforms: Linux, Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, Xbox One

Release Date: June 1, 2015

Game Location: www.massivechalice.com

 

Explanation

Massive Chalice is a tactical combat strategy game that requires the player to not only manage their units on the battlefield, but throughout their lives.  There are no individual heroes in Massive Chalice.  The player’s characters WILL age and die throughout the gameplay experience.  Unlike most other games that take place in a small amount of time (say, a week, month, year or decade) Massive Chalice takes place over centuries.  Characters routinely die after about 50 years of age and the player is constantly tasked with training new heroes, seasoning them in combat, and passing on their bloodlines in order to raise the starting level of new attuned heroes.  Players have to deal with aspects like:

  • Genetic characteristics to pass down to future generations (trust me, you don’t want to be passing down the genetics of a character who has a maximum movement of 3)
  • The handling of the wills of dead heroes (passing on heirloom weapons).
  • Long term strategies that involve the defense of the country (protecting territory and getting success bonuses).
  • Individual decisions about heroes and citizens that arise during gameplay (sometimes it turns out very good, other times it turns out very bad).
  • Hero death (they die constantly, and permanently).

The gameplay is both methodical and fast paced at the same time.  Players have all the time in the world to make their decisions on the battlefield.  Even so, all it takes is a single wrong decision to ruin your day.  Players can be one shot by certain enemies.  The AI is smart enough to focus fire on specific targets, and they attempt to flank and pinch the heroes during combat.  Decision making is paramount in Massive Chalice.  Players have to research items, weapons, training all while handling combat, managing the country, managing dying and newly born heroes, and keeping their team as diverse as possible.  It is entirely possible to neglect the production of new attuned heroes for a few decades only to discover that you only have a handful of heroes to choose from, all your good heroes have died, and now you have to choose from level 1 children to fight your battle.  All bad.

Screenshot

Throughout gameplay the player’s territories will be attacked by the Cadence.  The three monoliths with glowing red squares beneath them show where the current cadence attacks are taking place.  As you can see in this image, there are currently three attacks taking place.  The player is only able to defend ONE of the three territories.  Each territory has three “lives” once it has been attacked three times without being defended the player loses that territory.  When the player successfully defends a territory, the amount of corruption it has is increased.  So if the cadence attacked a territory twice that the player chose not to defend it would only have one tick of corruption left.  If the third time the player chooses to defend that territory then the territory would gain a life back putting it back to two “lives”.  The game describes the “lives” as corruption.  Which makes sense.

World Screen

Below is an example of the research screen.  As you can see things are performed in years, not days or hours.  Typically this means that your current hero won’t be able to benefit from the research you recently started, they will either be old and decrepit or just plain dead by the time you complete three or four research options (dependent on what you research).

Research

Randomly as the game progresses certain scenarios will occur.  As you can see in this example the player has to make three tough decisions.  Each one will have a specific outcome that will affect the progress of the game in a positive or negative manner.  If the player chooses the first option they could miss out on an opportunity to learn more about the cadence.  If they choose the second option they lose an attuned hero.  The “Vanguard” box in the upper right tells the player that they will lose someone that they currently use to defend the cadence with.  The third option could result in the citizens of the territory becoming displeased or worse.  Hero’s attributes can be changed with decisions the player makes resulting in good or bad behavior in the battlefield.  In this example the hero Baltazar Weald will be gone for 10 years.  He will come back as an old man of 45, which in this game is close to the grave.  But he may also gain a new character attribute.  In another similar situation I encountered while playing I sent a character away for 10 years, only to be shipped back his weapon in a box and a message saying simply “I’m sorry”.  I lost a great hero that day…

Event

Here a hunter is shooting an arrow at a Cadence Advanced Seed. The range is just outside what an advanced seed can move in a single turn.  This would be an optimal position to be in if there weren’t two seeds below the hunter that flanked in from the right.

combat3

Players maneuver their characters based on a simple grid.  Below shows the area this hunter can move while still being allowed to perform a second action.  The player can choose to move outside of the orange area at the cost of an action. This is useful for rapid advance or retreat but typically is less useful than taking both a movement and attack action in each turn.

combat

 

Strategy

The heroes consist of three main types: Hunters, Caberjacks, and Alchemists.  Hunters are effective against single targets and at range, but they are weak defensively.  Caberjacks have high defense but they are a melee unit.  Alchemists are somewhat of a combination of the two.  They have a limited amount of ranged attacks that mainly consist of throwing bombs that deal AOE damage.  After they have depleted their ranged ammunition, they become high damage melee attackers.  Unfortunately, they are built like hunters, so they don’t hold up well to receiving damage.

Players of strategy games will immediately see the simple yet effective strategy of placing the caberjacks at the forefront of the battle in defensive positions while using the hunters and alchemists to deal the vast majority of the damage.

Dynamics

Hunters

Due to the two action turn system, hunters can be extremely effective if they utilize a retreat and attack method of fighting, also known as “kiting”.  The player can retreat to the furthest orange area in their hero’s movement radius and then shoot an arrow at the enemy.  This strategy can be compounded by the use of a special type of hunter called an enforcer.  Enforcers can utilize knock-back attack which further increases the distance between the hunter and enemy at the end of each turn.

Caberjacks

Caberjacks are really useful for blocking bottlenecks on the map.  If players use caberjacks to fill small holes on the map the enemies will be forced to take turns trying to kill your strongest unit.  Which allows your hunters and alchemists to wreak havoc on the enemy forces.  Players should combine alchemist with caberjacks so that they can breed blastcappers.  Blastcappers are caberjacks who can deal AOE damage to enemies.  It is devastatingly effective when combined with the bottlenecking strategy mentioned earlier.  Enemies will line up just to get smashed into minuscule particles by the power of the blast cap.

Alchemists

Alchemists are mostly a utility unit.  They are best kept near the center of your formation so that they can provide AOE support as needed.  Players should avoid using the ranged attacks of the alchemist on single units since they are limited and AOE.  Because of the ability of the alchemist to dispatch multiple units per attack, it is a wise investment to research the upgraded throwing claw early on.  This will allow the alchemist to throw further.  When paired with a hunter who has the advanced technique of listening to the enemy the alchemist becomes a murder machine.  All other characters are limited by line of sight for their attacks but not the alchemist.  Players can position hunters against a rock face or similar obstructing object to listen for the cadence soldiers on the other side.  The sound markers can then be used to aid the alchemist in throwing a bomb over the obstruction, decimating all of the enemies on the other side without ever needing to be in line of sight.

Additional Notes

The manipulation of time has long been a novel theme for games but to my knowledge it has never been applied in such a massive fashion.  Fast forwarding through years is so interesting and it raises questions about how important characters are in games now.

Similar Games

Heroes of Might and Magic

Final Fantasy Tactics

Fallout Tactics

Jeanne D’Arc

Design Ideas

The idea of having time progress in such a macro fashion gives me ideas for all sorts of games. I could foresee a game in which players manipulate time on the micro scale instead of the macro scale.  Where this game progresses in years I could create a game where the player is manipulating milliseconds.  The concept of the game could be something atomic in nature.  Maybe handling  and manipulating atoms in an attempt to create different elements or reactions.  Another idea could be having situations where the player is faced with situations that require split second decisions but the player is limited by the speed of the current avatars thought process.  The game could progress in slow motion allowing the player to make decisions each time the avatars thought cycle completes.  Afterward the player could be shown the entire scene played out in real time using the decisions they made while in micro time.  Situations could be things like car crashes, robberies, fights, deactivating bombs, manipulating delicate objects or even controlling packets through a computer system critical for defending a cyber attack.  Anything is really possible.

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Game Journal – Elite: Dangerous

Title: Elite: Dangerous

Developer: Frontier Developments

Original Release Date: December 16, 2014

Location: https://www.elitedangerous.com/

Mechanics and Explanation

Elite: Dangerous is a space adventure exploration game where the player is free to explore scale replica of the Milky Way galaxy consisting of 400 billion unique star systems. The game doesn’t have much of a story to speak of but that is fine because it quite frankly doesn’t need one. Players have 100% freedom in the game and may fight, trade, or explore to their heart’s content. What little story there is mainly consists of space station requests taking the player to new star systems resulting in them learning about the current system and the previous system through the messages they receive from NPCs they encounter while on their travels. Player pilot a ship through space seeking combat, exploring star systems, completing missions for space stations, and trading for profit. The player is also free to engage in military operations and pirating if they so desire. The ships are controlled using a somewhat complicated set of key and mouse inputs thought the player is provided with the option to use a flight stick if they desire. The cockpit of the ship presents the player with myriad information. Type6_CockpitMoving from left to right, top to bottom, the player is first presented with their communication panel (closed in this picture) and then their information panel (again closed in this image. They are then presented with their target data next to a target image (the small blue planet). Next to the target data is a small circle with a white dot in it. That is an orientation gauge that helps the player align with their target in 3D space. In the center of the screen is the radar. It displays all contacts in 3D space within sensor range. On the left side of the radar is the player ship’s heat gauge. To the right of the radar is the throttle and speed indicator. To the right of that is the players shield and hull display. The blue rings are the players shield and the orange bar below it is their hull integrity. The three vertical orange bars to the right of the player ship status display is the ship power settings. The power settings consist of System, Engine, and Weapons in that order. Finally to the far right is the player’s fuel gauge and their cargo, landing gear, and mag lock indicators. All of this is just the basic interface the player uses on an ongoing basis. Additional panels are found on the far left and far right of the main screen which contain much greater detail and functionality for the player. A major part of the game is managing and mastering the dozens of systems involved with controlling the player ship. 447493610A secondary goal of the game is mastering the flight controls of the ships in the game. Each ship handles differently from the next. The game also allows players to choose from two methods of flight. Assisted flight aids the player in controlling the ship by forcing it to handle similar to an airplane. Unassisted flight allows the player to fly their ship with 6 axis – 360 degree freedom. While unassisted the player ship will retain all momentum applied to it just as a true spacecraft would. Unassisted flight allows the pilot with some freedom that assisted mode does not such as rotating 180 degrees while maintaining forward momentum. Control of the player ship is a core mechanic of the game. In Elite: Dangerous if a player’s ship is destroyed it is gone forever. Players must use the credits they earned while playing to either re-purchase a similar ship or settle for the starting ship which is available for free but is not great at any specific task. Players are also given the option of taking out a loan with the game to purchase a ship similar to their destroyed ship. The player will have a fee deducted from their earnings automatically every time they are LEGALLY paid. Another very interesting mechanic of the game is the bounty system. Player who engage in hostile actions against other players earn wanted status. Wanted status makes system authorities hostile to the player until they have either paid off their debt or they have been destroyed. The interesting thing is that players can see the wanted board while they are in a space station and they are informed of the player’s current bounty and their last known location in space. This leads to some intense player vs player combat situations.

Player Decisions

Elite-Dangerous-Loadout-Eagle-02Elite: Dangerous is almost completely decision based. The amount of decisions available to the player are almost endless. The player sets their own goals in the game. They determine if they want to participate in the universe in a legal and respectable manner or in an illegal hostile manner. After making that decision players need to determine what they need to do to reach those goals. Typically this starts out with making money to purchase a different ship and then outfitting that ship with the proper equipment for the task. elite_dangerous_05062015_8After a player has determined what they want to do in the game they typically search for a sector in the galaxy that allows them to engage in their preferred method of play with impunity. Determining a solar system or solar systems to operate out of is a major decision. Most of the sectors are controlled by a major governmental faction that polices its sectors vigilantly. Players who engage in unauthorized combat in protected sectors run the risk of being intercepted by the authorities in the area. Because of this, players who decide to engage in pirating typically hang out in sectors that are out of the jurisdiction of the major powers.

 

Elite_Dangerous32_2015_04_22_23_03_44_39Players are responsible for starting their ships, managing power, managing weapon systems, landing, docking, equipping, upgrading, painting and flying their ships, choosing a faction, associating with a government, engaging with an interstellar allegiance, increasing or decreasing their influence, managing their state affiliation and handling relationships with all of the major and minor entities within the game. Players also have to choose a ship that is appropriate for their intentions. Some ships are better for combat while others are good for transporting large amounts of goods. One more decision to be made by players thatUnique is of merit is the type of influence they wish to have on the galaxy. If players decide to spend their time exploring the galaxy they will be rewarded with credits from the Universal Cartographers for their exploration data. If the player is the first one to ever visit a solar system, explore it, and return the data to a space station that accepts cartographic data then they are also provided with a unique reward. Their name becomes permanently associated with the systems they discovered.

Pacing, Flow, and Interest Curves

Because the game’s pace is largely determined by the player’s actions it is tough to decipher and translate it into a quantifiable value. Therefore I used my own experiences with the game to determine the values for the chart below. Due to the nature of the game the chart only reflects my experience and will likely be invalid for almost any other player. Some players will see peaks in their interest for things like trading or exploring but I prefer combat situations.

Interest is initially provoked by the startup of the game. The player is introduced to the cockpit and its many controls via a short tutorial during which time the player runs systems checks on their ship, powers it up, and launches from the docking bay for the very first time. Player interest quickly drops as they begin learning the complicated and varied controls for their ship. The steep learning curve associated with the controls is not quite enough to force a player to quit but it can be very frustrating. Interest slowly increases as the player becomes comfortable with the basic controls and begins flying for the first time. As the player begins exploring and engages their frame shit drive for the first time their interest begins to quickly rise. newdockThe player is being bombarded by some amazing visuals, the vastness of the universe, and some very delicious music during their first exploratory flight. After learning the basic flight and exploration controls the player is introduced to combat. Interest in the game peaks for a player like me here since combat is the pinnacle of fun. After the player has successfully dispatched their first foe they have a greater understanding of the controls of their ship and their own abilities. The player is then faced with the task of docking their ship, on their own. The final task is difficult enough to keep the player’s interest high enough that they are willing to embark again on another adventure through the Milky Way.

The learning curve of the game starts out fairly steep. It then levels out for a while and again rises when the player experiences combat for the first time. The difficulty increases yet again as the player learns to dock, which in itself can be daunting the first time a player attempts it since the player can and will die if they do not dock properly.

Since the game in its current state does not have a true storyline it is difficult to determine the pace of the game. The pace in the chart above is equivalent to my perceived pace of the game during a typical play session.

EDCharts

 

The flow of the game follows a very well defined flow channel. The ship controls initially increase difficulty followed by another slight increase in difficulty when the player begins flying the ship. When traveling to the next location the player activates their frame shift drive. The game takes over for a short period of time allowing the player to relax. Before boredom sets in the player reaches their destination and begins manually flying again increasing difficulty and allowing the player to practice the skills they have mastered. The player will always travel to a new area when seeking combat resulting in a period of relaxation before they are incited by combat.

Game Journal – Gunpoint

Designer/Developer: Suspicious Developments

Platform: PC

Date: May 23, 2014

 

Explanation

In Gunpoint player take the role of a private investigator who has been hired to find a murderer. Players must infiltrate buildings in an attempt to retrieve secret documents, video tapes, email correspondence, and much more. As the game progresses the player is able to purchase tools to aid them in their endeavor. The player is able to perform acrobatics in the form of jumping, clinging to walls and ceilings, and tackling. Players can, and must, also rewire the electronics in certain buildings in order to proceed. This can be done in multiple ways. Players can wire light switches to devices like elevators, doors, security cameras, and even enemies weapons. As the player progresses they begin facing increasingly complex security systems. Eventually the player cannot simply hotwire anything they feel like and must bypass additional security systems to gain access to subsequent systems. The player faces the challenge of using the guards in buildings as pawns and they must also figure out how to gain access to closed circuit systems. In addition to the main objective in every mission there are also sub objectives that increase or decrease your reputation with your clients. Some clients will want you to avoid violence completely during a mission while others will want no witnesses left alive. Since Gunpoint is an espionage game the player is able to complete missions without ever being detected if they desire.

 

Screenshot

Explain the screenshots and all of the relevant information on them.

Gunpoint gameplay

Figure 1. Tackling a security guard out of a 3rd story window is pretty typical.

Gunpoint gameplay 2

Figure 2. Crosslink allows players to rewire the level.

 

Strategy

  • Utilizing the crosslink can have some amusing and irritating consequences. Try linking multiple things together to create automated systems that do the work for you.
  • Players can turn off lights to draw a security guard’s attention. This is very useful for ambushing them and knocking them out.
  • Buff guards can’t be pounced on or killed with doors, try locking them in a room and removing their access to the hand scanner on the door, otherwise, they can be killed with a shorted out light switch.
  • Sound detectors and movement detectors can be used to link systems of different colors together, not directly, but it is possible.

 

Dynamics

  • Since players do not have an ability to attract guards other than being seen (which usually results in death) sometimes taking out a certain guard can completely break the level.

Notes

The game could benefit from some sort of attraction ability, like knocking on a wall. Sometimes it seems that the levels are designed in such a way that if the player takes out certain guards the level is unable to be completed, this can be frustrating since there is no way to restart a level unless the player dies. If all guards are dead/disabled and the player cannot progress without one alive, they have to abandon the level (which can only be done twice). Providing the player with an option in the menu to restart a level would be beneficial. I found the jumping charge-up mechanic to be clunky at first but once it was fully upgraded I found it to be significantly more useful. Maybe players should just have fully charged jumps all the time and make the distance relative to the suit upgrade only.

 

Similar Games

Tenchu: Stealth Assassins

Metal Gear Solid

Dishonored

 

Design Ideas