Modeling characters (pt 2)

(Part 1 is here.)

Frasgird will include both true non-player characters (NPCs) as well as characters working for the player (PCs), either under the player’s control or — if multiplayer implementation happens — under control of another cooperating player. I haven’t fleshed out completely what their exact roles will be, but here are some ideas.

One purpose of PCs is to assume responsibilities, helping to lessen the risk of the game devolving into spreadsheets and micromanagement as it goes along. Thus you (as Elare) may end up appointing a PC as what would effectively be the chief operating officer (COO) of Frasgird. This is roughly analogous to the ‘governor’ role that shows up in a lot of 4X/sim games, though I’d frankly like it to be ‘smarter’ than most such governors (which tend to simply emphasize one general emphasis over others). One idea is to give the COO a set of goals and let it work towards those. A similar chief financial officer (CFO) role could take over managing the budget, again possibly within the framework of some goals.

Another purpose of PCs is to leave the colony and do stuff: exploring, trading, diplomacy, recruiting immigrants, mining, and so on. Thus, as mentioned before here, you might start off the game with a single trader at your disposal who is, in effect, the young man Jace BansSon, flying Sundog. You would give this trader a list of trade goods to bring back, as well as a promised price for them; the trader would then travel from system to system, returning when s/he has some subset of the goods. Sundog-level events would be abstracted up.

First parenthetical note: right now, I’m leaning towards one game turn = 1 week, that is, 7 Terrestrial days. Hey, we still use time and calendar conventions derived from the Babylonians and ancient Jewish cultures; I suspect Terran hours, days, weeks, and years will survive the destruction of Earth itself. Things like that tend to embed themselves. Besides, one week seems to be roughly the time it would take to go from one system to another and do something there (3 days out to a warp point, instantaneous hyperjump, 3 days back in to a planet, 1 day to carry out business). Ditto if the trader chooses to travel from city to city (on the ground) on a given planet. Other anticipated PC and NPC actions fit decently within this game turn framework also.

Thus, I might tell a trader that I need ten loads of seeds/sprouts, at least quality C, for which I’ll pay 1000 credits (with a bonus for quality B or A). The trader checks against my current database snapshot of goods (and prices) available across the game universe (by which I mean the star systems within the game, not the entire universe) and plots a course to one or more other systems. The trader moves from system to system during each game turn, eventually ending up back at Frasgird, where s/he sells me the cargo collected. Each game turn introduces a certain chance of encounter with pirates during in/out system transit, resulting in damage, dumped cargo, or even death. Other events might happen while the trader is on the ground in a given system. If the trader can’t make a profit on the runs, s/he may eventually decide to stop trading with me. Many other elaborations suggest themselves, but as always, the ruling principle is “Start out stupid and work up from there.” (Bruce Henderson)

Second parenthetical note: the original Sundog game had very limited space: just two loads of cargo. That had little to do with game design and everything to do with lack of screen space and resolution. I don’t consider that constraint binding on Frasgird (or my novels); the detachable pod in Sundog is likely much larger than the artwork and screen images in the original game and capable of holding a greater assortment of different cargoes. Beyond that, tech upgrades may provide some form of cargo compression that allow more cargo loads as well. But I do think it very useful to assume the equivalent of modern standardized cargo pallets and containers here on Earth right now.

Now let’s talk about some of the other roles that PCs might fill in Frasgird.

Finding cryogens. There are some number of cryogens — humans from 12,000 BC, encased in “green ice” stasis — scattered throughout the game universe.  Finding and returning them to Frasgird for awakening both increases the genetic diversity at Frasgird and possibly introduces new technology. These will tend to be in remote locations on inhabited planets; some may be in normally uninhabited locations (asteroid belts, moons, uninhabitable planets); some may be in museums or religious structures (human or alien). The tech to open green ice was wiped out in the same quantum quake that made Earth vanish; it has only recently been reinvented, and so Frasgird must retrieve and open these cryogens before others do. Note that a trader could be tasked with looking for cryogens (in addition to doing trading), which is pretty much the situation in both the original Sundog game and in the first novel. Or you could have an ‘explorer’ PC whose job is specifically to hunt for and bring back cryogens.

Gathering information. This is a tricky aspect, given the multiverse nature of Frasgird. Each time a PC travels to a given system, that system may be slightly different. I am assuming a relatively standard mechanism by which a traveler entering a system from hyperspace can get digitally (qubitally?) what would be in effect the equivalent of a Google snapshot — except, of course, in systems where the tech level is too low, or where there is tight enough control over information (and we know how hard that is) to block such a service. When the PC returns to Frasgird, the Frasgird universe database is updated with the latest snapshots for systems that PC has visited.

Diplomacy. All the habitable worlds in Frasgird are predominately occupied by sapient alien species, with humans being a niche population on a given world (if they exist at all). There will be some role for diplomacy (and diplomats), but I have not fleshed it all out yet. One area, however, is establishing diplomatic relationships with human populations on other worlds, with the express intent of encouraging immigration into Frasgird to increase genetic diversity. Note that after Frasgird reaches a certain point, there may be a reversal with encouraged emigration from Frasgird back to human colonies to make them more viable (genetically) as well.

Mining. I’m using “mining” as a catch-all term for harvesting resources not under active cultivation and (generally speaking) not under ownership or control of some other entity. The most obvious is some form of asteroid mining. This can start out with a one-person/small crew ship that looks for useful deposits, spends some number of game turns extracting materials, then travels back to Frasgird to deliver them. This can either be done by a for-profit firm (much as trading), or Frasgird can outfit and send out its own mining ships. This approach could be extended to mining from planetary rings, comets, moons, and even planetary surfaces — most likely of uninhabited worlds, but it could happen on habitable worlds as well.

Production and management. In Frasgird itself, it may make sense to have PCs assigned to control portions of the colony — say, an entire ring — in order to again avoid the need for micromanagement. But it may also make sense, particularly in later stages, to establish developments in other systems and do the  mining/processing/manufacturing right on the spot.

Transportation. For both immigration and transport of materials and goods mined/produced elsewhere, some sort of transportation services will be required. Again, this could be contracted for with outside firms, or Frasgird could set up its own fleet of transportation ships and use them to ferry goods, equipment, and people as needed.

Missions. The SPI board game Freedom in the Galaxy (1979) was clearly an effort to create a “Star Wars” game without, you know, actually licensing anything from Lucasfilm (take a look at the box cover at the link). It was a two-player game — Empire v. Rebels — and each player had a set of characters that they could use. These characters could carry out missions (coup, spaceship quest, sabotage, question prisoner), which in turn would be resolved using action cards, which in turn had results for urban, special, and wild (i.e., wilderness) settings. In short, typical SPI detail and convolution (though not as bad as some of their historical wargames). But I always thought the ‘missions’ idea was a nifty one. It’s one that could work well in Frasgird: sending PCs on missions to achieve certain ends. With a sufficiently rich set of missions, particularly ones that are procedurally generated or modified, and that are tied to the multiverse shifts, this could give a high degree of replayability to the game while keeping things interesting through the later stages.

More to come.




Filed Under: CharactersGame DesignMainModelingTrading

About the Author

Webster has been doing game design since 1980, but only has one actual published game to his credit -- Sundog: Frozen Legacy (Apple II, 1984; Atari ST, 1985). This is his second.

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