Operation Power Cables

Overview

The concept is a computer role-playing game in the vein of Neverwinter Nights; a GUI applied to the Traveller mechanics, which given how simple they are should be fairly simple to automate. Character generation and growth is problematic, given the involved nature of Traveller chargen and the relative lack of advancement, but the system is a mere 2d6+modifiers mechanic which - if nothing else - makes the in-game RNG fairly straightforward.

The setting is, naturally, the Shadow of the League setting. The prime candidate for the plot of the game is Manticore Sector, centering around the rift between the Core Systems Free Republic and the Brigade of the Spartan Ideal. My personal preference would be for a straightforward military-type game regarding a subplot against the backdrop of the Core Systems-Spartan War, but Reiz suggested the potential to explore into the wastes of Prometheus Sector as a 'deniable asset' crew with Core Systems and Spartan members. One other possibility would be the exploration of Hydra Sector as the Jensai go on the warpath against Chao Sidh, but perhaps it would be better to keep the Jensai mere myth for the introduction to the setting.

Where do we look for inspiration?

  • Starflight (PC): A classic and beloved game about exploring the unknown. You have to manage your ship, train your crew, build up your equipment and fuelstocks, and can trade with numerous alien races and explore uncharted star systems and planets. Also set against the backdrop of a galaxy arm that is slowly being consumed by unknown destruction.
  • Elite (PC): Another classic space game, this one with a heavier emphasis on trade.
  • Mass Effect (X360/PC): It had serious flaws in both incarnations, but the epic plot and compelling setting serves as a great inspiration.
  • Crusader: No Remorse & Crusader: No Regret (PC): An isometric third-person shooter game. The plot perhaps is not the best thing to be inspecting (nor are the awkward and dated FMV cutscenes), but depending on the direction of real-time vs. turn-based combat in the game design, might serve as a basis of comparison for action flow.

What would need changing from now?

  • Removal of copyrighted materials from the setting or resulting game. The effort so far has been to avoid posting such content, but inevitably some aspects have slipped through - chiefly the Traveller's Aid Society. The TAS serves an important role in the OTU as the home away from home for travellers, but it is also one of - if not the - most tightly associated aspects with the copyrighted material of Traveller, past and present.

Where do we post in lieu of a forum board?

Right here is good enough.

There are only two real options for locations, and only one of them is at all feasible. A truly "sandbox" game is completely out; with a dozen or more worlds, designing even one entire city on each planet would take teams of developers months.

The best option (barring the creation of a random city generation algorithm) would be a few key locations on each world, laid out in a format that allowed the player to explore an area freely while being restricted to that area and one or two adjacent areas. The starport is an obvious choice for worlds that have one. Consulates, market districts, apartment blocks and outlying areas are all fertile ground (ahem) for locations.

Realistically, a 3/4-type perspective like Neverwinter Nights with static perspective and backgrounds and sprite-based characters is probably the extent of our capability. A FPS-type system is far too unwieldy at this time.

Plot

The important thing to sort out at this point is the overarching story of the game, because its balance of trade, exploration, combat, diplomacy and survival will affect their relative importance and the attention to detail as regards each element.

Manticore Sector (Plot Alpha)

Two potential arcs come to mind; a mid-war plot regarding Core Systems individuals working against Spartan ones, and a post-war game involving general Republic citizens caught up in a plot of some sort. More than any other, the latter offers the most balanced experience - an equal potential to use trade, diplomacy, combat and exploration, with survival being less of a problem. The war game is likely to offer mostly combat and survival, with trade and diplomacy being problems for the civvies and exploration mostly a matter for the NPCs.

Prometheus Sector (Plot Beta)

The prospective plot offered was a Core Systems- and Spartan-backed expedition into Prometheus Sector to evaluate the human colonies left over from the days of the Human-Skaald War. This plot would heavily de-emphasize the trade and diplomacy aspects of the game and force the players to focus on survival, exploration and combat.

Hydra Sector (Plot Gamma)

More than any other, this would probably require the most diplomacy, as this enters into the territory of dealing with the Jensai. As mentioned above, it's my considered opinion that introducing the Jensai in this, most likely the introduction of the SotL setting to the player, runs the risk of making them seem less uncommon and thus less significant when they do show up. In the event we do wind up using Hydra for the game, combat is likely to be restricted to small-scale skirmishes than anything resembling a proper stand-up battle. Exploration and survival too are likely to be curtailed due to the tense diplomatic situation and lack of desire to antagonize the Jensai, but trade and diplomacy are very likely to pay big dividends to the player.

Wild Card (Plot Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot)

Other ideas - butting heads with the Penitents? Exploring uncharted space? Investigation game in Titan?

Game Design

Modularity

One of the best features of Neverwinter Nights was its editor; the fact that it could easily and quickly be modded (or rather, that mods once designed are easy and quick to install) to include other campaigns and missions. I feel that the ability to use the game as a Traveller engine, not just a one-off game, would make it appealing to Traveller fans who wish to tell their own stories, not just to science-fiction game aficionados in general. This may or may not be possible depending on the way the game is built, but once the basic rules of play are in place, it seems like it should be relatively simple to add new sprites, worlds, ships and NPCs to the game.

Character Generation

By design, Traveller is not a complex game to play - 2d6+modifiers is the basis of 90+% of the game. However, designing the character is another thing entirely; by the RPG ruleset, the player will roll a lot of dice, and a lot of tables are needed. Neverwinter Nights sort of sidestepped the random aspect of generating a D&D character by using the point-buy system, and perhaps that's the direction we should take here as well. Mongoose Traveller offers the point-buy system at the tail-end of the Character Creation section with a list of points-per-number-of-terms; depending on the level of opposition we throw at the player, perhaps 2-3 terms is appropriate?

Multiplayer

Another pie in the sky prospect, but in the same vein that NWN (yes, again with the NWN comparisons) offers the ability for other players to supplement the NPCs or other party members, being able to join other players (and perhaps a GM, continuing on with the comparison) on the adventure would be a significant selling point.

Gameplay Elements

Personal-Scale Combat

The decision should be made whether combat is turn-based by initiative or real-time. My preference would be to turn-based because that would allow the player to control all elements of their party independently. If done in real time, the player should be able to switch control from their stock PC to one of the other members of their party, and that necessitates the implementation of AI to control the other members of the party, not just the enemy NPCs.

Ship-Scale Combat

Regardless of the decision as regards personal-scale combat, the time involved in ship-scale initiative turns (unless time compression is used) makes it necessary to make ship combat turn-based. The player should be able to issue orders to each manned station (or group of stations for large ships) on their ship per turn, allowing the use of all relevant skills - Sensors, Comms, Mechanic, Engineer, Gunnery, Tactics, and the like. This forces the player to 'predict' what their enemy is going to do and take action to counter it.

Trade

One of the features of Traveller as an RPG system is its randomization of trade. While there are certain aspects that remain constant - ores and raw materials will generally be more valuable on industrial worlds than agricultural ones, for instance - the fact that the trade value for any given cargo on any given planet is subject to a bell-curve probability of 3d6. It can be taken that you'd have an average roll of 10.5+mods on any particular roll for rough guesses, but a fair amount is going to be in the wind - if we fully implement the trade system and randomize prices.

This would be one option, but two others come to mind; one is to have set unit prices with no randomization, but this challenges suspension of disbelief for players canny enough to realize that their actions of glutting the market with goods aren't driving prices down or making it difficult to find more of their supply. Another option would be to have target points where the market begins and model an economic system influenced by the player. X3: Reunion did this, but it had the problem of killing off NPC freighters and making goods hard to find in the later part of the game if the player didn't step in with their own economic ships. This is one concern (one, granted, which could be sidestepped by saying that the necessary freighters and no more 'make it through'), but another, greater concern is the immense complexity in modeling this economic system.

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