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Never Give In dev diary #1

Hello blog

What's this?
This is a dev-diary blog I've decided to start keeping about a game I'm trying to design. I'm hoping that by codifying and recording thoughts here it will encourage me to be more disciplined about working steadily on the project. I'm also trying to get the ideas for the game away from my internal monologue and into the outside world so, while I don't really expect anyone will read this except me, if you're interested in anything you see please feel free to comment.

What's the game concept?
The game is a sci-fi, co-operative, 3-player only, scenario-based, space fleet combat game with variable player powers. Working title is Never Give In (NGI), and the game would put three players in charge of a fleet, with each of them occupying a different role:
- Player 1 is the ADMIRAL (AD), commanding the fleet's capital ships
- Player 2 is the WING COMMANDER (WC), commanding the fighters
- Player 3 is the OPERATIONS OFFICER (OP), who is in charge of the inner workings of the fleet, making everything work together in tandem and providing the resources the others need to achieve their goals

Another key element of the game would be combined arms: players have to work co-operatively to achieve their goals, and any of them just employing their own element is unlikely to be successful, e.g. either fighters or capital ships alone find it difficult to take down an enemy ship, but together they can do it. Enemies would be controlled by an A.I. deck.

The core idea for the game came from two things:

1. I can't remember when I first learned of the idea of strategy and tactics being different, but this is a concept I often use to understand things in life, i.e. the overall aim you're trying to achieve vs. the specific things you will do that will contribute to that aim being achieved. A few years ago I came across the concept of a 3rd middle layer of these specifically for warfare, which is the operational level. The roles in the game don't directly correspond to these, but I liked the idea in a game of one player being in charge of overall strategy, one player the detail, and one player in charge of making everything work together or keeping the engine running.

2. The second one is another game I tried making a few years ago which was a near-complete failure. 'Untitled Fleet Combat Game' was 2 player PvP in which each side had control of a big fleet and they fought it out. There were 4 factions with different units, powers, artwork, back story; I had a tonne of cool mechanics in my head that were definitely going to be really fun to play with, and a zealous drive to draw this idea from the ether into the real world.
I think it was a good learning point that what works well in your head often doesn't translate. For example I had this idea I really liked about each ship having 3 different health bars - structural integrity, life support, and reactor. There would be three corresponding damage types and whichever one reached 0 first would determine how that ship would be destroyed and this would affect the battle, e.g. if reactor went down it would explode dealing damage to those around it; if structure failed it would break apart, leaving a debris field that fighters could then use for cover, and so on.
But each side had way too many ships for this to be at all practical - I quickly found that each ship had to have a massive number of different-coloured counters stacked onto it, which would overflow and couldn't really be taken in intuitively to tell a player what to do or affect their action / choice. It was the kind of thing that possibly could work well in a video game, but this is a different medium.

Although this game was an absolute hot mess and did not come anywhere near working - and I spent a huge amount of time making the counters, writing flavour-text inserts for the rules, and thinking about the world it would be set in - I didn't count it wholly as a negative experience. Failure, the best teacher is, as they say.

3. Well I said two but I suppose the third influence is that I absolutely loved playing the X-wing and TIE Fighter games from the 90s (and Freespace); I loved being the fighter pilot flying around in the midst of a big battle with lots of other things going on, and the bits I enjoyed the most were when I felt like a cog in the big machine - like shooting down bombers that were going after my home ship, or escorted a transport full of boarding troops by fending off interceptors. I really like the idea of the importance of fighters and combined arms, and can't stand it in a space combat game when the system is "there are 4 tiers of ship - battleship is the strongest and fighter is the weakest"; much more enjoyable IMO when each element performs a specific, integral role.

Lastly, the game would have well-developed scenarios where players are set a clear purpose, with set-piece events occurring at specific points. For example the players might be called upon the defend a space station which is under attack, where they will have to fight through groups of enemies in a race against time, then later finding themselves ambushed by reinforcements and having to fight their way out. This was another learning point from Untitled Fleet Combat Game - when I eventually playtested it, the two sides just moved towards each other firing - there didn't seem to be much point to it or much the game was doing to drive players' actions or create interesting decisions for them.

Well, that's probably enough from the Admiral on the big picture, next dev diary will be from the detail-guy about the components I made to test v0.1 of the game, what worked (almost nothing) and what didn't work (dear god).

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blog | by Dr. Radut