Forming a Posse

For some reason I never identified before that I love games with lots of characters until recently. Shining Force, Final Fantasy, XCOM, Baldur’s Gate and other BioWare games, Crusader Kings, the list goes on. I loved Shadow of the Colossus and Journey as well, but you’re getting different experiences: the personal journey vs the shared experience. And hell, Journey was made for multiplayer, and SotC was a story about someone taking desperate measures to not be alone.

There’s probably a reason for this: there’s only so many good stories to tell with one or two characters. How many different ways can that story play out? I mean, how many movies or tv shows are based on a single person? Our species is built around understanding and caring about how people respond to other people.

In The Banner Saga, I wrote almost all of the dialogue between roughly 30 characters. It was the first time I’d be in charge of something like an HBO series. It was also exhausting, both literally and figuratively. On Killers and Thieves I’m finding myself again drawn to lots of characters, but with an emphasis on emergent story instead of explicit content.

First step, of course, is generating a lot of characters! New screenshots and design talk in the post:

character_key

Here’s some in-development work as we get closer to a final layout for the character screen. Keep in mind it’s all in pre-alpha development!

Almost everything about the characters in Killers and Thieves is procedurally generated. Each character has stats for Strength, Skill and Stealth that factor into both high-level strategy and active heist gameplay. They also have special abilities and can be promoted over time, improving their stats.

Each character generates a random name and nickname, which the player will be able to change. Their bodies and heads are randomly generated to create a wide variety of visual appearances. Pretty basic stuff… but we can go deeper.

Taking a note from old pen and paper, each thief has a positive trait and negative flaw. These are generated randomly, and can lead to some interesting combinations, like a character who is shy about working with the opposite gender or a thief who has higher morale when he’s got a high price on his head, but won’t accept missions if he’s wounded.

The idea isn’t to make a bunch of super-soldiers, but a guild of killers and thieves. Dealing with their flaws is half the game. Their weekly costs depend on what deal you can get when you hire them, and some might not be worth the price. Sometimes they have bounties before you even hire them.

Each character also has hidden stats that affect things behind the scenes. How well they take to training, their loyalty and how lucky they are on missions all come across in subtle ways that the player may only notice after using that thief for extended period of time. You might start to feel like one of your guys is especially lucky about not getting caught, or get the feeling that one might be plotting to leave the guild and take valuables with him, and you might be right.

The thing I’m most happy about is implementing a personality system (click below for larger):

character_reports

Each thief is assigned their own personality at creation, from professional to crazy and several others in between. Send them on missions and they’ll report back on the outcome, in different ways depending on their personality.

On the topic of reporting back, each thief lives their own life. They don’t always return immediately after a mission, and they won’t necessarily tell you what they’ve been up to. They may go missing for days, come back wounded or end up in prison if a job goes bad. Or, they may go out of their way to find extra loot on the job and cover their tracks. It was important in my mind that they do better than you expected just as often as they screw things up.

This culminates in the biggest threat you’ll face in Killers and Thieves: your own allies. Mistreat someone or don’t pay them for too long and they might decide to disappear from the guild completely, leaving you short-handed and taking his investment with him. Hire a real scumbag and they might try to blackmail you to the city guards, exposing your headquarters and leading to a game ending base raid.

Below: in-development art showing a “threat” coin- this case the player is going to have to deal with being blackmailed within a certain number of days.

blackmail

Threats to your headquarters can come from several fronts: traitors to the guild, vindictive guards or rival guilds. There’s a variety of ways to deal with them: hunt down and kill the blackmailer, pay the bribe, make clandestine deals. The goal is to give the player choices.

At the end of the day, the player shouldn’t feel paranoid about every action of every thief, or harassed by their own guild. That’s not fun. Instead, it should feel like you’re building an empire of trusted criminals with unique skills, quirks and needs, and weeding out the rats and spies on the way to crushing your rivals.

But the bottom line is create a system that feels alive and makes interesting stories. Maybe you raised a high-ranking thief from a pup that turns traitor and you send his own protege to hunt him down before he can inform your rivals. Or you’ll send your crazy-but-gifted stealth expert on a suicide mission and she returns with extra gold to boot just when you think you’re not going to be able to pay the guild dues this week.

Most of this system is already working and currently being balanced! Hopefully with the advantages of early access we’ll be able to keep expanding this into the most dynamic system of agents possible. This is just scratching the surface of a bigger espionage system I’d love to implement in the future.

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Forming a Posse

16 thoughts on “Forming a Posse

  1. cjgeringer says:

    Happy to see a new post here.

    Do you intend for characters to be able to pick-up new traits or do you wan tthem to be necessarily fixed?

    Will each charcter necessarily have a positive and one negative flaw, or might them have more or less of each?

    Best Regards

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    1. Right now the plan is that you’ll start with one of each. As you promote thieves they’ll get multiple positive traits, randomly. Not unlike training roulette in XCOM if you ever tried that second wave option. Hopefully it’ll deviate the value of your thieves even further- some will get a random grab-bag of things while others end up with some really powerful synergy. One thing I’ll have to playtest and find out is if it gets too difficult to track all the variables across your roster- it’s not just one or two characters you’ll have to keep in mind.

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  2. Zach538 says:

    Do you have any idea as to when the game will be ready for early access and the general price range it might be in? So far it looks amazing and will probably be a Day 1 buy for me. Also will you be able to fight with the other guilds? Something like having a spy find the base and then raiding it later on for money or burning it to send a message to other guilds sounds like it would be a really cool addition.

    Keep up the good work its looking awesome so far!

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    1. Thanks for the comment! It will probably released for early access later this year, hopefully before the holiday rush. Still thinking about price, but it’ll definitely be in the indie game price range. I expect we’ll be updating it with new content and features on a monthly basis after launch. One of the first additions will be new territory with rival thief guilds competing with you, in addition to guards (at launch, probably just guards). I’d love to add more interactivity between all the different factions working against each other.

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  3. Quirk says:

    Hey there,

    Interesting theme, gameplay and very appealing artwork so far 🙂
    Really looking forward to seeing this game live!

    On the main page, one can see a picture of a heist with a thief hanging on a window board and the description reads that you will play them yourself. Your last devlog posting reads a bit different, when you write that you send the thieves on missions. No problem with either version, but I am curious on how it will play out in the end? Active or passive?

    Like

    1. Both! You direct your thieves on a strategic level, and then take control of them during heist missions. Not unlike XCOM in some ways, though the strategic level will be less about building new tech and more about sending thieves on smaller jobs like stakeouts and diversions. Often the strategic level is about finding the best place to start a mission.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the reply!

    So when the action part is finished, it is still possible that the thief does not come back, like you explained in this devlog?
    But it is not going to be action from a sidescoller perspective (Another World, Flashback etc) then, right? That would have been nice, but XCOM is of course cool as well 🙂

    Like

    1. There’s two types of missions- the kind where thieves go off and handle things themselves, and heists, which the player controls. A normal job is successful or not based on the thief’s skills. A heist depends on the player- so your thieves will come back if you successfully get them out alive yourself. The heists will definitely be in 2D sidescrolling like the example screenshot. I was just making a comparison with XCOM in that there’s a strategy part of the game and an active mission part of the game. I’ll definitely be doing an update going over this in more detail soon!

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  5. Anonymous says:

    Have you played Darkest Dungeon? Are you taking a lot of ideas from their design? On forming a posse, I was wondering if you plan on creating any unique characters in the game that are playable with unique skills. A majority of those games you mentioned used pre-built characters and not randomly generated ones except for the main character or “recruits”. I am not sure on how you plan on delivering story with a roster of randomly generated characters because it is hard to give them a unique personality. For instance, like in Pillars of Eternity the main characters really drove the story forward and gave the game much more personality, but then again they were actually all optional to finish the main quest. Would you consider making some pre-existing character killers or thieves into the mix of the game? Of course making them perma-death and optional would be best as well. What do you think about it?

    Also, I was wondering if the characters will have different fighting styles and movement animations as well. ???

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    1. I have played Darkest Dungeon, great game! While most characters will be randomly generated, the story will be based on unique characters that have unique traits. But do please keep in mind we’re talking about a much smaller game production than something like Pillars or even Darkest Dungeon- think more along the lines of Gunpoint or FTL. As for different fighting styles, it all depends on how much animation I can produce in the next couple months. Thanks!

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  6. Christian Wei, Jr. says:

    This game looks really cool. Love the Renaissance-esque artstyle going on. Gameplay looks similar to “Mark of the Ninja” by Koei, but with a cool management part to it. How will stealth be implemented besides line-of-sight? Will some characters have ninja-like qualities so they can scale walls and hide in shadows better? Is it turn-based? Thanks. And once again, love the concept and design.

    Like

    1. The guild should feel like both thieves and assassins, so the end goal is some characters who are experts at disappearing and stealing, while others have ninja-like wall climbing and killing skills. The heists are not turn-based, but they’re not exactly action-stealth like Mark of the Ninja either. You have the ability to control multiple thieves in a heist, and hiding some while using others will be an important piece of gameplay. Thanks and looking forward to talking about it more!

      Like

    1. I like the idea! That’s the kind of feature that would probably be a ways off, as we’re currently getting the primary stuff up and running, but worth keeping in mind. Thanks!

      Like

    2. Christian Wei, Jr. says:

      I like this idea too.Kind of like Warhammer 40k Space Marine Chapters. Each with their own heraldry and culture. Will we get to equip our characters with different armour sets and weapons?

      Like

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