Character Progression (DOG EAR)

Character Progression (DOG EAR)

’m happily working on a game, Solar Trader 2, which I’ll post in my links as it gets to a more playable state. But why the heck am I talking about that… in a literature post?

The original Solar Trader was an Excel game, a massive attempt to bring near-future space ship maneuvering into a game format. It worked okay but never found any following – it had a very steep learning curve that pretty much killed it for most people.

It’s been a couple of years and I really like the idea of its Expanse-like setting. During this time, I’ve gotten heavily involved in a platform named Squiffy, which allows for the easy creation of gamebooks (these are eVersions of the old Choose-your-own-adventure pathing books that allow you to pick the path of your adventure). I really enjoy coaxing it to do things beyond its intended design (such as my StoreyMinus game).

The problem with Squifffy is that it is meant to be a one-shot experience – you can’t “save”. The game is the game and when it’s over, it’s over. Now, I’ve learned a cheater – you CAN save off specific variables (allowing players to cut&paste this string somewhere, and post it back in to resume). And that’s cool, but you are passing variables. And the more variables you pass, the longer and more cumbersome your string gets.

The problem with Solar Trader is that it had A LOT of variables. Where are the planets. What items are you carrying. What missions are there, and which have you completed. All this stuff will make that string cumbersome.

It hit me last night – inventory is a pain in the ass. In fact, a lot of the stuff is a pain in the ass. But what if all that stuff (the missions and the character and the inventory) could be combined?

It hit me then (from my writing apprentice days) that all interesting characters have arcs. They start off as unknowing novices, learn their way through the world, become experienced, then reckless. Then they turn into antiheroes, falling to the vices of drink, low friends and sad soliloquies. Eventually they recover, are reborn, and become the end-of-book triumphs that we can expect.

So what if I tied the fourteen cargo missions to these? The first two mission, you are “the kid” – you can’t fight well, you don’t know how to talk well, and you have a certain limited inventory. The next two missions, you are “the hotshot” – maybe you know enough to always carry a spanner in your back pocket. You can fight on par with others, you have certain items and skills. The next two missions are when experience becomes dangerous, and you could be “the showboater”. Maybe you carry a gun now, and you have other items, but you also are more reckless (you fight better but defend worse).

This achieves a number of things. First, it gives your avatar a character. You can see him progress as he flies his missions. Also, it continually changes the game. Where once you could get into a brawl with your spanner, now you seem more likely to draw a gun and take chances. It also makes inventory more automatic and in-keeping with the story progression.

And, most importantly, it makes inventory a more background thing. Your character has what would be appropriate.

I’m very excited by this idea. I might even hire an artist to do seven face images of a guy: young, competent, roguish, disillusioned, restored, and powerful (I’m still missing one here). But this should really flesh out the adventures, putting some sort of man (and possibly a woman) behind the controls of that ship you are piloting.

More to come.