Jun 29, 2014

Here Comes the Cavalry

Mass combat is one of the toughest things to do in RPGs. The idea of having huge armies fight each other is cool, more so in a game about giant robots. Just upscaling the regular rules for smaller skirmishes doesn't work in most games. If you have a hundred NPCs on each side, plus the PCs, the GM would basically be playing solitaire. Not the best of ideas to spend your roleplaying time. BCG has a few ways to help you with this.

On the side of the bad guys you have Squadrons to multiply mook numbers by four, and you could even make a Colossal boss that represents a huge mob of enemies. You're not supposed to be throwing Superbosses with Capstones all over the place, and a Colossus-type wouldn't represent more than a couple dozen enemies anyway, but if you want your PCs to face overwhelming numbers you have the tools to make it work. Just stick to fifty baddies per big battle instead of a hundred.

Allied NPCs are done mostly through Supports and Reinforcements, depending on whether the PCs can give them orders or not. Because of this, Reinforcements are essentially independent Support Upgrades with a few Genre Powers thrown in for good measure. They help the PCs carry the battle without taking up multiple turns to do so. They mostly have offensive buffs and enemy debuffs though, plus a few direct damage abilities, so they are completely useless at keeping the PCs alive. If Reinforcements had their own set of special abilities instead of repurposing Supports and Genre Powers, they would do a much better job of being... Well, Reinforcements.

So we'll make some of those. And while we are at it, maybe we could also give them a way to simulate NPC on NPC combat too. Nothing intricate, but at least have something in case Enemies would like to fire at them instead of the PCs and we don't have to curse those useless NPC allies for losing by default if the PCs have to retreat.

We'll keep the Reinforcement Points and Level system, but we'll touch it up a little. We'll be replacing Support Upgrades and Genre Powers with Reinforcement Powers. Reinforcements would know one Power per Level, having 3 Reinforcement Points to use them per Level. They also recover one spent Reinforcement Point back each Turn, so they can help through the course of the whole fight if they stick to the cheap ones.

Enemies can attack Reinforcements to remove some of their Points. Grunts remove PL+1, Rivals PL+2, and Bosses PL+4. If Reinforcements ever hit 0 RP, they're defeated.

What would Reinforcement Powers do? Well, they'd cover the kind of things you'd expect from friendly NPCs that those two don't get and we can't really give them. The rest would mimic the best Supports and Genre Powers for the purpose of Reinforcements: Granting Aim or Suppression bonuses, dealing flat Damage and restoring Threshold.

For example, here is a thing that wouldn't work for PCs but NPCs should be able to do:

I’ll Grant you Power
Reinforcement Power (1 RP)
Effect: One Ally gains a single Genre Point.
An experimental Overcharger variant with several experimental modes of function to suit potentially any purpose.

This kind of ability is way too situational to be worth GP or MP, but as a bonus given by NPCs it is perfect. These Reinforced Reinforcements solve the current problems with allied NPCs, and they make great buffs to give ad-hoc as Plot Powerups. There's enough variety in Reinforcement Powers that you could theoretically even have a Mecha-less PC to commandeer all the allied forces. It is obviously not as deep as having your own giant robot, but now it is a possible option, and that wasn't really the case before.

Jun 22, 2014

The Long Road to Printing

A big chunk of game design does not actually involve designing any game parts, but rather the best way of presenting it. Some of it needs other people to step in (illustrators and editors, mostly) but there's another element that is crucial and you need to work it out: Text presentation. By that I don't mean choosing the right words to express something (that's for your editor to worry about) but rather choosing the right look for your words.

This is relevant because I spent several days fixing issues that came up when I talked with a local printer. The issue is more complex than it seems, even though I was already familiar with a lot of prerequisites, I still missed some. You don't see a lot of discussion about this aspect of game design so I figured I'd offer my experience and thoughts on the subject.

Put on a Happy Typeface

Characters (the symbols, not the fictional people) are the atoms of writing. And one of the most subtly important steps of proper presentation is to choose the right typefaces and fonts for your text. But first a clarification: A typeface is not the same thing as a font, rather, fonts are individual styles of typeface. Verdana is a Typeface, but Verdana Bold is a font. I call typefaces fonts all the time in everyday talk, but this is one of those instances where the difference matters. And now that we all have learned something of mild usefulness we can move on.

Your typefaces must fit your style. Sometimes the best way to explain something quickly is with an example, and I am going to use a controversial one: Comic Sans is actually a pretty decent typeface, it just doesn't go well with anything you want to be taken seriously. It looks super goofy and cartoony and yet people use it for their Linkin Park AMVs made with Windows Movie Maker and I have no idea what they're thinking. There are hundreds of thousands of typefaces out there for pretty much any style you can think of, you have to find one that works. Don't just use Times New Roman and Arial for everything, because you are missing out.

Your typefaces must be comfortable to read. Times New Roman and Arial work with eveything partly because they are solid typefaces and partly because we are so used to seeing them everywhere our brains already recognize the words written with them automatically. Point is: The more distinctive and unique your typeface is, the harder it is to read and the slower the text is to digest. Fancy fonts make cool headers and titles, but are terrible for reading full sentences.

Balance serif typefaces with sans serif typefaces. There is some research indicating that typefaces with the pointy ends (the serifs) to be easier to read on printed paper, while the reverse is true for sans serif typefaces and text on a screen. Honestly a lot of it is ambiguous and highly subjective so I don't particularly subscribe to the idea, but it bears keeping in mind. I personally find serif typefaces to be an overdesigned blight on my eyes, but sans serif fonts annoy a lot of other people so I try not to go overboard with them. What I get out of this is that you need to use them both. My method of choice is to use headers in sans serif and body text with small serifs.

The less typefaces, the merrier. Good design is as little design as possible, and that extends to the number of typefaces you should use. All your headers should have the same typeface, as should all your tables, and basically everything you can think of. You do this because you want readers to recognize the parts of the text that interest them the most immediately, and also because you don't want your text to read like a ransom letter. Distinctive, unique sections can have their own typefaces if you want them to stand out, but for the most part you want to have no more than three or at most four typefaces per page: Chapter Header, Paragraph Header, Body Text and Table Text.

Get the Layout of the Land

Ease of use beats fancy visuals. If you can fit a whole section of rules text in one page or can split it into two pages with some art in the middle, you should do the former. Games are meant to be played. I'm going to care a lot less about how pretty your book is when you make me flip back and forth between 10 pages just to check out the descriptions of the weapons in your huge weapons table.

Mind your Margins. Margins are not a problem as long as you are working with just .pdf files, but they become very important if you want to print things out. You don't want to accidentally have large chunks of text missing, after all. The amount varies depending on page size and publication type, which is why you ought to figure out both of those before you commit to writing anything. Hardcovers need more inner margin space, color books need a sizable gutter and bleed. There are too many variables to list, really.

Backgrounds are nice but they should be unobtrusive. People have been reading black text on white backgrounds for hours at a time since forever without any significant problems, but now there's this trend where RPGs need to have the text on a background with pretty colors and give their sidebars ornate borders and so on and so forth. Sometimes this is helpful, but the grand majority of the time it doesn't add anything and only gets in the way.

Don't be afraid of splitting text into columns. If you need to write many short text blocks with short sentences in your page, you should split it into columns because you can fit more text in one page that way. I could fit 10 weapons in one page by using two columns, or I could fit six without columns. It is a matter of practicality. Don't use them if you don't need them though, and you should not have more than two, or text will be too small to read at a glance. Newspapers get away with it because you're supposed to take your time with them.

In my case I had to change the body text typeface and make a few extra milimeters of space in each margin. This may not sound like much, but I had to basically go over every page readjusting the columns and making sure the text still fit within its borders, because the same characters have different lengths depending on their typefaces.

It got so troublesome that I decided the book interior will only be in black and white. I already have some things in color but the requisites to do something good in color would require me to cut on text or increase pagecount considerably. The positive side of this is that it'll be cheaper for everyone involved.

It basically took two weeks and the better half of a third but that hurdle has now been solved.

Jun 15, 2014

June 15 is Father's Day

I'm going to be out of the house for a good chunk of the day so I won't have time to write anything.

Yes, that makes it two weeks in a row without a post. What is the world coming to?

Jun 8, 2014

Jun 1, 2014

Two Routes to Attributes

Today will be quick and to the point. Testing has been progressing fairly well and I now have a poll for you concerning the future of Attributes. But first, a recap of what brought us to where we are.

Once upon a time, I thought that Starting XP should be split between Attribute XP and Ability XP. You would have a considerably high number of points to assign your Attributes and a considerably lower number of points to get your Skills, Weapons etc. The logic behind it was that this way you couldn't accidentally make a character with Attributes too low or too high.

The problem was that you would often end up with leftover Attribute XP, so if you didn't want to risk forgetting that you have spare points (that don't count towards your Power Level XP and can only be spent on Attributes) later down the line, you had to do some extra math to get them sorted out. There were various templates you could use or easily modify to bypass this, but it was still somewhat annoying for Players who wanted to do everything by hand.

So I tried to think of a way to fix this without requiring drastic changes to the rest of the game, and came up with the idea of Dual Rank Advancement, which is to say that you could enhance Attributes by 2 Ranks apiece instead of 1. This way each Enhancement would cost a multiple of 5 and would completely eliminate any math complications. It had a noticeable downside in that it took away from your freedom to assign stats however you wanted to, so it wasn't quite a strict upgrade to the previous system.

Well I have been trying out another alternative, one that goes by the name of "Just free up starting XP so you can spend it on whatever you want." which I'll call Single Rank Advancement for the sake of simplicity. You still have leftover points sometimes, but having 1-4 extra XP that you can spend on anything (and the book would clearly state you can spend those points later but they don't count towards your Power Level) is much better than the original method.

Both systems have their ups and downs compared to the other, and I can't really call any of them a superior choice from where I stand.

Some say this thing is overdesigned and others say it is perfect for a fully decked out suit.
This may or may not be relevant to our poll between more options and simplicity.

Single Rank Advancement

It offers more freedom in Attribute distribution: This one is obvious. For some builds (like those dependent on Energy and Systems) a difference of one point can be a pretty big deal, and being able to eke out a 5 instead of having to purchase a 6 can make or break their functionality at a Power Level. It also means you can represent better specific concepts, for example a 3 in Fitness puts you at the lower end of average while a 4 is the higher end, it might not seem like much but sometimes the little details make the difference when it comes to flavor.

It is less punitive towards dump stats: This one is important for optimizers and specialists. Single Rank Advancement lets you have an Attribute at 1 or 3 to save up points for something else, which Dual Rank Advancement can't do. Both let you have an Attribute at 2, but for Dual Rank Advancement that costs 5 while it only costs 3 points with Single Rank Advancement, so this one is a pretty big strike in favor.

It lets us have more diverse Energy costs: It should go without saying that having a bunch of Upgrades and Weapons that cost 5 Energy to use when you can have 4 or 6 Energy but not 5 is kind of irritating. With Single Rank Advancement we can have stuff that costs 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 Energy. With Dual Rank Advancement we'd have to stick to costs of 2 and 4 (rebalancing things around that if necessary) plus the occassional ability that you can choose to activate for 1 or 2.  

One point can be what separates the prototype and mass production versions.

Dual Rank Advancement:

It makes creating NPCs faster: When I first gave this a try by creating a whole lot of NPCs it took me half as long as it usually does. That is a lot of time saved that can be better spent elsewhere. The extra simplicity is especially relevant for high Power Level Bosses, because you can take their Attributes over 10 for just 30 points and that essentially covers a whole Power Level apiece. When advancing a Rank above 10 costs 11, 12, and 13 the math gets more complicated and bothersome to work with.

It eliminates leftover points: To go with the simplification and ease of creating characters, you have the benefit of never having to worry about whether you'll end up with one or two (or three or four) points you can't do anything with. Letting Players spend those points later is a workable alternative, but it still feels slightly bad when it happens and you have to remember that those points don't count towards your Power Level.

It lets us round up halved numbers: The entire reason that BCG rounds down numbers with fractions is because of all the stat halving in the game. Rounding up would skew the math in favor of odd-numbered stats which are cheaper and just as good when halved. If Attributes are even numbers by default we won't run into this problem though because they will almost never give us fractions (well a 6 getting halved into a 3 and then into a 2 would, but it is far less of a problem there) and once we can start rounding up again the game will speed up slightly. Not in a particularly significant way, but it will be a factor. And besides, rounding up feels better than rounding down doesn't it?

Statting this guy goes from "only technically possible" to "actually quite easy".

Choose your own Attributeventure

So there you have it. Both tested decently in different ways and I'm honestly not sure if I genuinely prefer one over the other. Both systems uphold different values that are very important to the game, so I don't have a favorite, though I think I know which one will be more liked in general. Like always, but now more than ever, I'd love to hear your opinions on this.