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Developer Talk #2 - Progressing Inflection Points
Tuesday , 11 April 2017

Welcome to my second blog post about Infamy: The Big Smoke's development. It's been a productive and enjoyable couple of weeks and the biggest obstacle I faced was nothing to do with any game design struggles, which makes for a pleasant change of pace! I had to travel and put in some time to ensure Tara Kurkova's Kickstarter fulfilment went as smoothly as possible. I'll be at Element Games tomorrow actually, tying up that fulfilment and foolishly purchasing new ships for X-Wing along with the new Games Workshop Triumvirate of the Primarch... It seems that getting my hobby vibe back has come at a cost! The good news here is that after I head home from that, there's no more Kickstarter fulfilment for me to worry about. Phew!

I've still put plenty of focus on Infamy: The Big Smoke, particularly the opportunities that came through changing the rules for the Strategy Deck. Bringing in Inflection Points has opened a rich vein of game design options and I'm focusing on the character profiles.

Back to basics

    Changing the way the Strategy Deck works and adding Inflection Points was motivated by a strong desire to improve the flow and feel of the character profiles. With that in mind, that was where I started my new design work after the changes. However, in looking at the different characters' profiles, their attacks and their other abilities, I soon realised that it was important to take a step back - I couldn't leap in and focus on the details without developing a wider view first. I needed to make some lists!

    I start to make lists when I feel a need for clarity. They are my way of bringing order and understanding to a task that feels chaotic and I thoroughly recommend them! The process of writing a concise list (I usually make sure they are only a few entries long, always less than ten) forces me to pick the most vital aspects for each entry (which must also be written in a concise and condensed way). The list method is easily applied to any sort of project too, be it a lengthy Kickstarter, a character profile, a story, a day that feels like it's packed with too much to do, etc. Condensing things down to a sentence, then putting that sentence into a list (either bulleted or numbered) makes the brain process them in a different way and makes the task ahead less intimidating somehow.

    So, what new things did I have to work with after the changes to the rules?

    • Not every model would get SV cards of their own.
    • Inflection Points would vary a character's abilities.
    • Any factor could act as an Inflection Point, not just a character/gang's SV total.
    • The "21 or less = attacking, over 21 = defending" rule was out!

    This allowed me to move to the next layer of complexity, the overall attitude and approach that each gang would exhibit in the game - their play-style if you like. Once I'd locked this in I could start to find the gameplay concepts that would relate to that style. Once that broader-stroke of rules application was established I could move ahead at a progressively granular level. So, I've established key elements of the rules to consider for all gangs > individual gang approaches and play-style > gang-wide ideas > the approaches and play-style of each character in that gang > character traits > character actions.

      It's still a little while until profiles will be released but you can get an idea of how my work has translated to the models in the new 'gangs' section of the site. The pages here talk about the overall style of the gangs and of their members.

      The Baker Street Irregulars basics

      I wanted this gang to reflect the genius and strategic mastery that their Kingpin, Sherlock Holmes, possessed. That one simple decision established some core principles I would use to further the design of the BSI:

      • SV should be important to the gang, especially to Holmes.
      • SV should be the main factor in the gang's Inflection Points.
      • Holmes should have some kind of big impact on SV.

      In determining these guidelines I instantly saw that Sherlock should have an SV of his own, in addition to the one that his gang members shared. Furthermore, this Kingpin SV should be available to be used by anyone close to Holmes. With just two SVs to use between five models, rather than each character having an SV (as in the old rules) it would cut down a lot of busy work and it actually made the gang feel more flavoursome - Holmes was most certainly in charge here, able to boost up the rest of his gang with his foresight.

      I knew there should be something more though, an additional level of strategic control, but before I dived deeper I moved my thoughts to a new gang. 

      Tesla Triumphant basics

      Tesla has a very different sort of intellect to Holmes. He is a master of technology and machines rather than a strategist. Many of his gang are different to other gangs' members too - they are emotionless machines. How could this be represented in the game? 

      The words "The Mainframe" had been written into an earlier page of design notes that I'd made for Nikola - I envisaged it as some sort of connection between him and his machines. It was especially relevant to the Tripods he uses as Pawns and it was when designing them that I'd noted it down. These small machines network together, literally, via forks of electricity that surge between them, penning enemies in:

      • SV should not work the same for the machinery in the gang as it does for the humanoid characters in other gangs.
      • Tesla should get cards in the same way other models draw SV, but should use them differently.
      • He could give incremental boosts to the Mainframe, changing the efficiency of his machines.
      • The machines could be better represented by a more reliable starting-point than a fluctuating gang SV.
      • Professor Hoome could get his own SV, representing his place as a lone human subordinate in a gang of machines.

      Determining card draw for the gangs

      From these basic ideas I was already giving each of the gangs a very distinct and different style that worked within the same simple systems. Time to add more specifics:

      • Holmes' gang would draw an Up card and Down card to determine their gang SV.
      • Tesla's gang, on the other hand, would only draw an Up card to determine the base-level power for The Mainframe.
      • In addition, each Kingpin would draw two cards to determine their Kingpin SV.
      • Finally, Hoome would draw his own two cards to determine his Character SV.

      This meant that instead of drawing a minimum of 10 cards per-gang, per-turn, as in the previous rules (which was cycling the deck too fast and leading to a lot of busy-work) the Baker Street Irregulars would draw 4, Tesla Triumphant would draw 5. Players had less cards to deal, but would have to manage them in a more focused and flexible way (as they now impacted on more of the gang).

      Flavour and function

      With the basics and more expanded card draw ideas in place, I needed to look at the ways that models would use the draw's results. It became apparent to me that Kingpins should usually have the most interesting SV associated mechanics. This befits their position as the gang's leader and adds hints to their character.

      • Holmes would have a Kingpin trait that allowed him to see and manipulate upcoming Strategy Cards for either gang
      • He would also be able to modify the SV of individual models more directly, moving values up or down.
      • Tesla would have a Kingpin trait that allowed him to boost The Mainframe with his SV.

      Holmes had, within the limitations of the standard rules, become a flexible tactical option. Should the gang's SV be wrong for a certain situation Holmes offered a backup - his own SV could be used and he could manipulate SV totals in various ways. In the game this is as simple as "Watson is going to use Holmes' SV to perform a better action and Holmes is going to use his Kingpin trait to move it up 2. So Watson has 21SV" but what it represents is a story, a narrative. Holmes is assessing the flow of the battle going on before him, calculating every possible outcome, predicting Watson's approach and shouting better advice to his long-standing friend, ensuring he can make the most powerful and fitting attack in the circumstances. It brings flavour and function at once. And that, I think, is something that is core to the best kinds of systems in games. So I'm hopeful! There's plenty of balance to do, but there's now character without so much confusion!

      I've tried to bring this sort of flavour and function into SV modifiers and the Inflection Points across the gangs and their members. With characters' diverse approaches already very clear in my mind it's become a question of how best to represent them in their Inflection Points.

      Here, to finish up, are some more features of characters in these gangs, all very different, but all working within the same rules framework:

      The Professor has two very distinct types of weapon, one a long-range bomblet launcher that requires precision, one a rapidly spinning, bone breaking, flesh tearing blade. This is not a harmonious armament so I've made sure that each weapon's associated attack has its SV Inflection Points at opposite ends of the spectrum. The launcher needs a high SV to be more efficient, the blade is more damaging at a low SV (where it is far away from any defensive considerations that might occur past an SV of 21).

      Sergeant Crookes' focus is on defending his fellow gang members. He has an Accumulation trait that builds as he blocks attacks, so the onus is on him to get in harm's way. His accumulated total can allow him to meet Inflection Points on some actions, and improves his defence by granting wards at different stages of the Accumulation Tracker.

      Mrs Hudson is one of the less physically strong gang members in the Big Smoke, but finds herself in a comfort zone when surrounded by poisoned and trapped areas, so she has some non-SV Inflection Points that are based around how many trap counters are nearby. When she's in amongst things that can cause her foes problems she feels more at ease and will perform her attacks better.

      Quaker is little more than a mobile gun platform with no real intelligence or autonomy, in the game the Quaker's Inflection Points are completely determined by The Mainframe and any boosts that Tesla applies to it.

      Pigeons are numerous and interact with Tesla in strange ways, as though they have an open dialogue with the man. To make this fit into the game I determined that they should have no reliance on SV. Instead, their Inflection Points come from the security of their roost spots, which their controlling player can scatter around the Battleground. Initially these roosts will all be untouched and safe, so the pigeons will be especially effective, but once the enemy starts to raid these roosts the pigeons will find their abilities diminished. 

      The rest of my week

      I've still got a lot to refine but things feel like they are in a good place. For the rest of this week I'm considering going dark! I'll throw out some Tweets and Facebook posts, of course, that's a promise I made, but I'm mostly planning on shutting myself away, rolling dice, scribbling notes and re-jigging the profile layouts until the Baker Street Irregulars and Monstrous Menagerie are released!

      Cheers,
      James