One of our goals for version 0.4.0 of co.llide was to provide a small but fairly balanced set of building blocks, called modules, for all players to use in constructing ships. However, variety is the spice of life, and we plan to eventually release a large number of unlockable modules for players to add to their personal collections. In this post, I’ll be discussing some ideas for these future modules. I’ll also be talking about a potential problem that we face as designers, and one particular source of inspiration that we believe offers the solution.
The Current Constellation of Modules
The current set contains 37 different modules of varying size, shape, and function. The most important is the Galileo Core. Every design is required to have exactly one core, which serves as the heart of the ship and must be protected at all costs. The core also provides a small amount of omnidirectional thrust, giving the ship its base mobility.
The remaining 36 modules help to shield the core and provide additional gizmos that benefit the ship, including:
- Two types of thrusters, which help the ship to move and turn.
- A damper, which automatically slows the ship’s momentum whenever the thrusters are inactive. Some pilots may like this effect, as it helps maintain control.
- Five different weapons with varying range, speed, and firepower.
More Modules, More Mayhem!
At this stage in development, the current set of modules feels OK, but it barely scratches the surface of the kinds of mechanics we would love to see in co.llide. For example:
- What about new weapons? What spaceship battle game would be complete without homing missiles, death rays, EMP emitters, tractor beams, corrosive gel, nanobot swarms, and energy lances?
- What about stealth mechanics? Perhaps some modules could include gizmos that hide your ship from view, or make it invisible on radar.
- What about the ability to repair a ship mid-fight?
- What about new forms of mobility, like the ability to “dodge” by changing trajectory in a quick burst, or even a short-range teleport?
The Threat of Module-splosion
While all this may sound exciting, simply cramming new mechanics into a game can be a recipe for disaster. Imagine that rather than sitting down at the editor with 37 modules, you are instead presented with 100, or 500, or 1000. Even if the various weapons and abilities contained within were perfectly balanced, the average player would probably feel overwhelmed at the sheer number of available choices.
So as designers, how do we proceed in growing our game without falling into this trap? For starters, we can take a page from those that have gone before us. In particular, we plan to borrow a few techniques from one game genre that has dealt with this problem in a way that stands the test of time. I speak of course of collectible card games, or CCGs.
I need 20 cc of CCG, stat!
To be clear, co.llide is not a “card game.” Thinking abstractly however, it does bear some similarities to the typical CCG. Both involve a build phase, wherein the deck/spaceship is constructed by choosing elements from a much larger set, and a separate play phase, wherein players compete using what they have built.
Richard Garfield’s Magic: The Gathering is perhaps the most widely known CCG, and for good reason, considering it’s the one that effectively started the genre with its debut in 1993. Twenty years later, MTG has racked up a mind-boggling number of cards (the official database suggests that over 13000 unique cards exist) and yet remains fun and manageable for new and old players alike. One of the keys to the success of MTG is, in my opinion, the way that it segments the massive library of cards into smaller, more reasonable groups for the benefit of both the players and designers.
When a new player purchases cards at a game shop or online, chances are high that they will start out with a basic starter deck. A starter pack comes with a small set of cards, providing everything the player needs to build his or her first deck but without throwing them immediately into the deep end.
Sets and Blocks
MTG releases cards in sets, which are organized into groups called blocks. If you’re a relatively new player with a small collection, or if you like to play in tournaments, chances are you’re only looking at cards from within the most recent few blocks, which limits the pool to somewhere between 1000 and 1500 cards. That still sounds like a lot, but MTG breaks it down even further.
Anyone who has played Magic knows that most cards fall within one of five different colors: white, blue, black, red, and green. Each color comes with its own particular strengths, weaknesses, and general flavor of play. Each also corresponds to one type of card, called a basic land card, which is used during a match as a resource for playing other cards of that color. To build a deck that consistently draws enough of these resource cards, players often choose to restrict each deck to only a few colors.
Putting it All Together
The beauty of this system is that it offers players a high-level decision that helps narrow the pool of possible cards for consideration. As a player, I might decide that I like the feel of, say, the black and red cards best, and then set out to build a deck that only contains those colors. Next suppose I stumble upon a couple of cards that seem to work well together, playing off similar mechanics. Now I’ve grasped at the beginnings of a strategy, which gives me a lens through which to view other cards in my collection. Soon I’ve built a deck around this strategy, and possibly incorporated a few others. Only by playing matches will I determine whether my deck is any good, or if it needs work. Either way, I’ll have learned something about the game that I can use later when I inevitably return to the drawing board.
This experience, the satisfaction of building under constraints, testing out strategies, pushing them to their limits, throwing them away, and starting all over, is ultimately what we want for co.llide. So what have we learned? It’s all about constraints and categorization! Therefore, to organize the modules, and to make things a little more interesting, we are proposing to add the idea of…
A faction will consist of a set of modules that share a common theme, similar to a color from MTG. In addition, each will provide a specialized core module. Building with a faction’s core will apply a small faction-specific bonus to the ship, and most importantly, will provide a discount to the build cost of other modules within the same faction. Under this system, players will be able to build a ship around the style of a single faction, while still being allowed to pull from other factions for hybrid strategies. And of course, factions are a promising way for us to add some more detailed narrative to the world of co.llide. After all, as any CCG fan can tell you, it’s all about the flavor text!
So that’s the plan, or at least, part of it. As much as I’d love to dip into details of some of the factions that we have in mind, we feel that it’s still a little too early to mention specifics. I expect that soon we will start unveiling these factions, so be sure to follow along and give us feedback!