Sinister Soups Serving Musings On Game Development and Play


Designing S3: An Introduction

If you take a look at my About Me page, you'll see that one reason why this blog exists is to eventually serve as a design document for a game I've wanted to make for a long time now. I've been putting off this intro post, even as I develop drafts of actual design articles, but I think the time is right to start revealing information about what this game is and what my goals are in designing it.

The game I intend to someday make happen is called Setting Sun Saga, and it is a turn-based tactical RPG based closely on the model of Final Fantasy Tactics.

Why a FFT clone then, if we should call it that? Because FFT is one of my favorite games of all time; because I have many ideas about how to make my own game of this type, as well as a setting and the beginnings of a story I want to present with it; and because there are not many games of this type made anymore. What few tactical RPGs are released these days inevitably come out of Japan, don't take themselves seriously, and don't use FFT's unique approach to character classes or unit initiative, both of which I consider integral to the game's appeal.

In any case, though FFT will be the basic model for this game, which I will refer to as S3 from this point on to save on some otherwise tiresome typing anytime I wish to refer to it, below are some points I plan to emphasize in my design that will distance it from FFT and make it its own game.

  • A completely custom setting, with a set of classes, abilities, and mechanics that hopefully feel new and different.
  • More non-linear and player-driven narrative, taking cues from some of my other favorite games, like Planescape: Torment and the Fallout series, I hope to give this game a little bit of the freedom and meaningful choice that those classic western PC games offered.
  • New and interesting battle mechanics, with a major goal being adding interesting new decisions while maintaining FFT's surface simplicity and making sure that the unit stats and combat results remain clearly understandable.
  • More emphasis on custom units, one of my biggest problems with the original FFT is that you get a large roster of special story units as the game goes on, and these characters are clearly much better than any custom units you may have been cultivating. This is the opposite of what I want for S3, where I plan to keep the roster of special characters very small, and add depth and unique characteristics you can give your custom characters, to foster your connection with them and increase their utility.
  • Greater control of unit development, I want to stay away from the trap a lot of Japanese RPGs fall into, where characters' stats develop arbitrarily because they happen to level up while in a specific class, for example, leading to arcane hacks like trying to de-level them or otherwise working around the game if you want your characters to develop in a specific way.
  • Mechanics not limited by hardware, the Playstation, the original platform for FFT, didn't have an FPU. Consequently, all the formulae controlling the game are designed to work using only integer math, and while I definitely have no desire to fix things that are not broken, I will be reviewing systems to see if they can be made more robust on modern hardware.

So there you have it, hopefully now you have a clearer picture of the kind of game that S3 will be.

In the coming weeks, I will be posting articles about specific aspects of the game design, and I hope you will join me in discussing these deisgn decisions and provide your feedback on how to make Setting Sun Saga a success.

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  1. This is relevant to my interests. Some comments for you:

    Completely custom setting: Good luck, most everything here has already been done to death, especially if you are going with a high or low fantasy setting. Attributes and statistics play a big part in this genre, so even if you don’t have strength or intelligence, or any other of the D&D big 6, you’re still going to have some number tied to physical damage, or damage resistance, etc.

    Player driven narrative: “But you must!”

    Battle Mechanics: All about balance. Make any class combination too powerful and you’re discouraging alternative strategy. DragonMage anyone?

    Custom Units: See above blurb on custom setting. You might consider classes playing a minor role, with most skills or abilities having prerequisites on attributes. Dedicating to a single attribute score (see below) will let you get to some of the more powerful abilities. Splitting between attributes might make your warrior hit a little lighter, but at the trade off of being able to heal himself and others. Maybe make the classes add flavor, with unique skills which have prerequisites both on class level and attributes. I guess what I’m saying is have a large commonly available set of skills, which players will constantly be using and always want to have access to in some way. Add in specialized class skills to throw in flavor and pull off those pure moments of awesome when you create a synergy between class skills and common ones.

    Unit Development: It might be kind of interesting to make it so that class determines the primary attributes for each skill or ability. Example, melee damage for a warrior type is based on strength, but for a rogue it is based on dexterity. Maybe even a class that has their melee damage based on their charisma! “You fight like a dairy farmer.” “How appropriate, you fight like a cow”. Take it a step farther by doing away with random attribute increases on level up. Let the player manually distribute points or else select from “templates” to distribute the points on level up. Add in unique skills for each class which are unlocked after increasing an attribute to a certain point, to encourage specialization and also unorthodox class builds. Warrior class skills that have a wisdom prerequisite. Wizard class skills that have strength prerequisites. The possibilities are endless. Lot’s of ideas here, hit me up sometime if you want to talk about it.

    Mechanics: No need to have the mathematics be absolutely insane. They just to be insane enough as to not be easily discernible to the average player, while still being decipherable to the power gamer. Randomness inherent in the system? Randomness depends on player actions and equipment choices (similar to tactics)? There’s also some fun to be had here.

    End wall of text.

  2. I may have overstated what I meant by a custom setting. I didn’t mean that I would try to reinvent the wheel on things that already work in RPGs or in the Tactics genre in general, but rather that the setting itself, and the classes and abilities therein will hopefully be somewhat different than the typical fantasy setting or Final Fantasy game.

    You are of course completely correct about the problem of balance, which is why once this thing actually gets going it will need a great deal of playtesting and iteration, which is really the only way to get not only balance, but gameplay in general to work. While I will be writing many articles about how I think I want systems to work, I am not at all under the illusion that those decisions will actually hold up under playtesting. ;)

    I don’t want to go too deeply into the attribute system yet, because I’ve got some stuff already outlined on that front that will likely be up towards the end of the week, and it would make more sense to discuss it then.

    As far as unit development, the first part you talk about is essentially what D&D 4E does, and I have some ideas along that front, but the second thing you mention is the crux of what I meant with that unit development section.

    I do not, under any circustances, plan to have random attribute increases, it’s exactly the kind of thing I want to avoid, and the idea I am currently considering most seriously for this problem is very similar to the “template” idea you mention here. And yes, I will certainly be talking to you about all this stuff as it develops, brainstorming and discussing these sorts of things is another Very Important™ aspect of designing a game. ;)

    As far as the mechanics go, I hope to strike a balance between complexity and intuitiveness. I think no matter how crazy the mechanics might get behind the scenes (or how not simple), they need to be understandable, even to a relative novice. Any one feature should at least be easy enough to understand and explain that a player can immediately begin to use and get some benefit out of it, even if there is a lot of complexity in the background that an expert could exploit for even bigger gains.

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