Sunday, October 11, 2009
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Homelife - Scrivener's Waltz
Part II on Invasive Species is an overview of the major players and variables in the world:
The first major variable is the roughly eight or so escaped convicts: they're unpredictable, amoral bastards (just like an FPS player). Each has a certain profile, habits and goals, though most want to escape the planet as well. Every playthrough a couple of them die at random in the crash and their starting order (time at which they escape from prison ship wreckage) also randomizes, which increases replayability.
This is partly inspired by the uncompleted Black Isle Fallout 3 design (Van Buren). Chris Avellone posited that the most dangerous force in the world as other player characters and their parties. The player is always the prime mover in games--what if NPC characters were given the same volition?
The second variable is the deathgrass: the crash will scatter the spores somewhere different for each playthrough, which may hurt or hinder its chances of growing, and alter the local geopolitics considerably when it does. While the crashed ship is always in the same location, the deathgrass is not. As the playthrough progresses, the deathgrass is more and more a factor, moreso if it's not dealt with early on.
Deathgrass, contrary to it's name, is not strictly lethal. But it hurts and will impede movement. To a healthy player it's scarcely an issue, but to find oneself in a firefight deep within a field of deathgrass is asking for trouble.
Third variable is the local population. Unlike in Unreal the Nali are not a stock alien slave race/noble savage stand-in. They can and do fight the Skaarj regularly.
The Skaarj on the other hand are feral, bestial race of hunter gathers who rule the majority of the considerable jungle/forest areas in the game. They are far more difficult to gain trust/alliance for the player, but it is possible.
An alliance with the Skaarj will net basically no new technology or supplies other than basic food, but will allow safe travel through considerable portions of Skaarj back country as well as some helpful friends for certain fights.
Depending on your character's diplomacy and/or xenolinguistics, you may ingratiate yourself with either side, or be the bane of both by raiding food and supplies. Other convicts coming into contact with either side before you do first will also change things.
The final variables are the other crashed spaceships on planet aside from your prison ship, including the pursuit ship. Skiptracers are out for what they think is easy money when their ship crashes; other ships crashed and have been marooned for centuries. In them might be dormant aliens or powerful weapons, but like other factors in the game their location and presence are not reliable.
If it sounds like a too-busy free for all, good. Nothing worse than a neat game environment with nothing to do in it, or replayability reduced to nil because of strict linearity.
If you think it vaguely resembles S.T.A.L.K.E.R. if you cock your head at an angle and purge enough radiation from your system with GSC vodka, you're right. That game reaffirmed my believe that you don't sweat player choice if it's not really that tough to let them have it, all else being equal. And you can let them have a lot more choice than most, if you plan from the start to allow for it.
Invasive Species becomes about what the player wants it to be: the stated goal is to escape, but there are no forced failures if they decide to stick around. Myriad 360/Steam achievements are wired in to recognize various player-set goals: capture all other convicts to bargain for your own release, kill all other convicts, King of the Nali, King of the Skaarj, I Survived 200 Game-Days of Deathgrass spreading And All I Got Was This Achievement, and so on.
On release, Invasive Species receives a Metacritic rating of 83/100. It is roundly praised for the extensive replay value and the variability of one person's playthrough as compared to another. Gaming forums have multi-page discussion threads where players recount specific playthroughs and their attendant unexpected gameplay moments. Other players dive into their own new playthroughs in an attempt to reproduce such scenarios.
And so by request a patch is produced that allows players, upon a single successful playthrough, to start a "New Game +" that exposes a number of otherwise hidden variables for seeding the gameworld.