I’m coming down to the wire on S.C.R.A.P. – after about 2 years of on-and-off work and tons of learning, the mod is finally feature-complete. In all honesty, I have additional content I’m planning to add down the line, but I’m desperate for feedback and both factions now have a solid place from which to grow and I feel comfortable releasing the game with its current feature-set (pending balance).

My current plan is to release S.C.R.A.P. into the wild on Saturday July 1, 2017, and I currently see nothing that would stop me from reaching that goal. I’m currently undergoing a 3rd iteration of the game’s map, which is needed now that I’ve decided that S.C.R.A.P. is going to be a 1vs1 game instead of 2vs2 for its initial launch. Additionally, I’ve made some changes to the game’s victory condition that requires some changes in how the map is laid out.

Victory Conditions

Up until this point, S.C.R.A.P. has had a victory condition, which I’ve been calling the Data Victory. On the map were 3 Data Cores. Building a Generator (for Fabricators) or Axon (for Dendrites) next to the Data Core would capture it, and the player would get 5 Data every 10 seconds for each Data Core they owned. This is differentiated from, say, Company of Heroes 2 where the player had to own more Victory Points than their enemy to be able to gain victory tokens – having even one Data Core would mean you’re making some progress towards winning.

The idea behind the Data Victory is that, even or especially in a post apocalyptic scenario, knowledge is power for my little pseudo-sentient robot armies. Strewn across the blasted landscape are access points to an ancient and defunct knowledgebase, and powering up those access points would allow robots to search that knowledgebase for usable information, something they can learn to give them an unrecoverable advantage in their bitter war for survival. So, control of access to otherwise inaccessible information is another scarce resource, as valuable in its own way as access to life sustaining energy reserves or scrap metal.

That idea still exists in S.C.R.A.P., though in a different form.

I have been playtesting S.C.R.A.P. on and off since September 2016. Since that time, no player has ever captured a single Data Core, making the win condition effectively meaningless in the game. Part of this is due to the game’s map, which neither clearly marks Data Cores on the minimap, and has the Data Cores tucked away in the map’s least traveled corners. But a part of this is also information overload: players have reported to me that there are a large number of things to consider in S.C.R.A.P. and that this often pushes aside considerations like worrying about Data, especially since enemy bases and armies are obvious threats and objectives. So, I’ve decided to start testing out an alternate method of generating Data, and I’m pretty positive about it so far.

In the latest version of the game, Generator Wrecks can confer control of Power Nodes, which allow for the construction of buildings and recharge units’ Energy. Additionally, Generator Wrecks can house Data Cores. Data Cores associated with base locations means that effectively, controlling territory in the game is both a direct and an indirect benefit to players – in previous versions of S.C.R.A.P., players didn’t really have an incentive to capture Generator Wrecks unless they needed to build additional tech structures; now, controlling Generator Wrecks is a goal in its own right, whether or not you’re planning on using it to expand your tech options. This is a direct encouragement of several of my core play principles, and I’m eager to get some testing in to see how it works in real time.

My main concern with this change is that the increased emphasis on controlling base locations will make fighting an actively bad idea. While I want to de-emphasize combat as the central method of winning a game, I don’t want to create a situation where the optimal method of play is to just run around and kill your opponents’ Generators as quickly as you can, avoiding combat because that just limits your ability to kill Generators. Such gameplay seems innately and intensely uninteresting and I’ll be focusing future design work around ensuring that doesn’t become the best way to play my mod.

Cohesion

All of this work on the game’s win condition has had me thinking quite a bit about how to communicate its theme. Inside my head, I still picture S.C.R.A.P. as Wall-E meets Tim Burton’s 9 meets The Road, but that’s just, well… that’s just inside my head. The game doesn’t really play that way. I think I’ve come up with an interesting and, at the risk of engaging in a little bit of hubris, fun gameplay model. But I really want the gameplay to create a compelling and cohesive narrative, and I don’t think I’m there yet.

What you really see in S.C.R.A.P. are armies of robots fighting over resources, and territory. I’m trying to de-emphasize or challenge the “your side of the map/my side of the map” convention that most RTS take for granted, and treat Generator Wrecks as relatively temporary Points of Interest that players are constantly warring over with their nomadic robot armies. As far as it goes, “nomadic robot armies fighting over temporary points of interest and shifting resource deposits” strikes me as a decent elevator pitch for my mod.

Going into the next phase of development, one of my main goals is to increase S.C.R.A.P.’s so-called affordances. I want to make it visually obvious and intuitive what’s going on. New players don’t have to grok a specific lore when they look at S.C.R.A.P., but I want the game to be as obvious as possible. Names, art, and rules will all be targeted towards clarifying the function of each unit and reinforcing the themes of the mod.

Damaged Systems

One of the key designs I’ve been pursuing is disabling, rather than destroying, enemy units. I want limiting the options and effectiveness of the enemy to take center stage over breaking their toys. One step I’m taking in that direction is a mechanic I’m calling Damaged Systems.

Damaged Systems has actually been in S.C.R.A.P. for a while, but I’m taking a harder look at it now. Here’s how it works: when any mobile unit is brought under 35% health, it acquires the Damaged Systems debuff. This halves its rate of fire and disables all of that unit’s active and passive abilities, making it basically a liability until it can be repaired or sold. To offset this, the unit takes 50% damage from all sources. Going forward, I’m continuing to evaluate Damaged Systems to determine if it is sufficient, and what other changes might be needed to be made to reinforce “disable vs destroy” as a viable and even attractive option for players.

Goin’ Live

As I mentioned previously, my plan is to release the mod on July 1st. Before that date, I have a number of objectives

  • Redo the S.C.R.A.P. map to account for mechanics changes and lessons learned since the creation of the existing game map
  • Continue to playtest and balance the game; consult with balance designers regarding gameplay tweaks
  • Update/review all tooltips, unit names, “how to play” etc to make the game as understandable as possible.
  • Review currently implemented VFX/SFX/ unit stats to improve quality-of-life and eliminate bugs

If you want a real-time look at the progress I’m making, you can see my task list here, on Trello.

After launch, I am planning to add 2 structures, 8 units, and 6 research options for each faction. But I’ll talk more about that once I actually go live.

If you are interested in playtesting S.C.R.A.P., please reach out to me on twitter.

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2 thoughts on “State of the Mod: Victory Conditions, Cohesion, and Damaged Systems

  1. July 1 is quite an ambitious date, but it sounds like you’re getting really close and making subtle tweaks at this point!

    I like your idea for improving the Data Victory condition with generators. Regarding the Data Victory condition, I see four broad ways this could go down:
    1. Improving communication (through text, hints, or an improved map) helps players see that Data Victory is a viable option. They start playing with strategies that pursue the Data Victory. The game is better for it.
    2. Improving communication doesn’t change player behavior. They still ignore the Data Victory. Every once in a while, someone will go for a Data Victory and players complain it’s kind of cheap.
    3. You strip the Data Victory condition out in the name of simplicity. The game improves for it.
    4. You strip the Data Victory condition out in the name of simplicity. The game becomes a slugfest.

    There’s no telling how this could go until you test. Based on my (admittedly very limited understanding), I think 1 is achievable.

    Like

    • Testing is definitely needed, but a Data Victory is kind of baked in now. Eventually, someone’s going to get eliminated from the game, or someone’s going to get a Data Victory from holding territory. I need to make sure that both routes are viable and interesting, but I’m committed to having both of them in the game.

      My gut is telling me that tweaking the rate of data gain will be critical to making S.C.R.A.P. interesting, but the current system allows me to have pretty fine-grained control over the victory condition, and lays the foundation for other types of custom objects for bases to contain, should I determine that’s in the game’s best interest.

      July 1 basically allows a month for map design and a month for balance and QOL, which I see as pretty reasonable targets. I also see S.C.R.A.P.’s launch as kind of an “open beta” where I can start getting a lot of feedback much more quickly and in less tightly controlled conditions. I expect my rate of work on S.C.R.A.P. to actually increase after the launch, and am tentatively targeting December 2017 for a more complete/user friendly version to go live.

      Liked by 1 person

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