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Starting Game Design



Starting Game Design

When you start with a game design you have to typically start somewhere. Either you start writing lore and develop a rule system that goes along with the story. Or you create a rule system and then later write lore, weaving it into your game based on the rules. Either way you have to make a plan on what you want your game to actually do. You may not need to fully flesh out the rules or how to accomplish certain things, but you do need to figure out what you want the game to entail. After you determine the list of what you want it to do, you will need to order them in terms of priority. The more detailed your list, the better and easier it becomes to flesh things out and make sure you stay on track. That doesn't mean you can't change your mind on a design, it is just an outline to help guide the process.


Code Zero started development years ago, at least when it comes to the world creation, lore, history and background. It was originally created and written as part of a Cyberpunk world. It was generic in terms that it wasn't tied particularly to a rule system either RPG or miniatures, but was able to be a setting for almost any future scifi game. It was futuristic scifi setting with a dark future focusing on greed and corruption. Humans nearly destroyed their home planet, spread to the galaxy in search of new worlds, planets, resources. Humans violent, greedy, emotional, creatures of habit, considered the cockroaches of the universe to many. There was a degree of racism weaved into the story. You had the pure almost Aryan faction, the most human. The was the religious faction, who took in the psionics, which many people feared and were racist too. There was the mutants, diseased, forgotten, considered monsters. The cybernetic faction, almost fully cyberized, birthed in pods, schooled at a young age until indoctrination into a cybernetic body. The pirate faction, rebels, pirates and mercenaries.


Since we had the developed story. It was time to determine what we wanted from the actual game. What did we ultimately want to accomplish with game play? To answer and flesh that out, we started to create a list of everything we wanted the game to do.

Futuristic Scifi Skirmish Game

  • Utilizes a small amount of miniatures.

  • Scaleable games, can utilize 5 models but can handle up to 30 models, creating multiple squads.

  • Utilizes D10

Squad Based Combat

  • A Squad is made up of 1-3 fireteams which consist of 3-5 models per fireteam.

  • Squad is commanded by a Lieutenant, typically a hero, single model commander.

  • For every squad you can have up to 2 Lieutenants or Sergeants (single models).

Activation Point System

  • Activation Points generated based on unit type.

  • Single Lieutenants or Sergeants generate 1 AP.

  • Fireteams (3-5 models) generate 2 AP.

Activation Limit

  • You can't use all activations on just one or two units only, but you aren't limited to just one activation.

  • Lieutenants usually can be activated 2-3, depends on model. Fireteams usually can be activated once. Some units or Lieutenants can increase this amount.

  • Players could activate a unit beyond the AP Limit, but until will gain Fatigue status, which can effect them.

Alternate Activations

  • Players alternate activations, until no more remaining AP or both pass.

  • Player activates 1-2 hero or fireteams, then next player does the same.

Shot/Long Action

  • Basic activations consist of 2 short actions or 1 long action.

  • Shoot + Move or Move + Shoot

  • Move + Move or Shoot + Shoot

  • Basic attacks, ranged, close quarters combat, suppression fire, grenades.

Action/Reaction System

  • Active player takes actions.

  • Opposing player can react if LoS with opposing active player unit.

  • Normal and opposed dice rolls for actions

  • Overwatch (long action), reaction with access to full dice pool.

Alternate Movement Methods

  • Different Movement. Not just simply flight, mechanized or foot moving around, up and over obstacles.

  • Jump Packs, Acrobatics, Flight Packs, Teleport Units, Wall Busters, Drop and Camouflage Troops

Utilizes Terrain

  • Utilizes terrain, preferably city, street fighting and interiors of building.

  • Rules should allow other terrain fighting like jungle, swap, etc.

Campaign / Scenario System

  • Missions are about achieving objectives, not simply wiping out the other player.

  • Scenario is a basic one shot game that most game systems use.

  • Campaign is a set of 3-5 scenarios.

Game play should have a cinematic feel to combat and movement.

Other Equipment, Powers and Vehicles - Psionic Powers, Mutations, Vehicles, Cybernetic and Bioware Enhancements

Warfare simply isn’t just about outmaneuvering, having better firepower or luck with rolling. There are unexpected situations that happen to create interesting encounters. That was why we wanted game play to be objective based, with their being varying objectives between players. We can also increase this by having command cards which may call in extra military assets or change things. For example call an off-board artillery strike or maybe another player boosts his troops (at a cost).

We want the game play and turns to be fluid and make sense. There shouldn’t be a need to lookup rules in the rule book. Everything should be easy to understand and referenced on the player cards for ease. There are elements that are similar from other games but combined together with everything else, it should create a unique game play experience.

Ultimately I think if we can recreate the feel of a real time strategy game with a miniatures game, with a bit of twist we should on track. History and lore should be rich with information, leaving plenty of maneuvering to change with future expansion. Rules should be able to be used for tournament structure, scale upwards and down. It should have the ability to expand into more (vehicles, weapons, equipment, etc), without limiting what is already available.

With the initial brainstorming process we spent almost a month going over and analyzing. We wanted the games to be quick, but not too quick at one point it was completely abstract with nothing but checkers on a board that had a grid. Parts were removed, added and removed again for the outline until we roughly had the example above as a final version. At this point we were ready to move to the next step.


Creating the Stats

Now that we have a basic outline, have a general idea of the background and lore behind the game we move on to the core. Starting with the basics before we start play testing, we need to establish a baseline for the units involved. That means we have to determine what stats the units will have and how much they would have. We needed to determine a base understanding of what the numbers could mean.

2 - Untrained: Never picked up a weapon, used one, would at least succeed sometimes. Basically they should succeed roughly 20% against a non-moving, non-shooting target.

3 - Green: They understand the basics of a weapon, but never had real training.

4 - Regular: They have had basic training, but have not really applied it in the field with extended use.

5-6 - Veteran: They have survived basic training and actual combat, have a love more experience in the field.

6-7 - Elite: They've survived many more encounters, becoming the best of the best, best training and equipment.

7-8 - Hero: Hero and almost legendary levels, the leaders of most units.

The numbers need to be applied to some stat to mean something. All units will need to have movement, hit points, mental (perception, intelligence, wits) and physical attributes (strength, dexterity, stamina). These attributes determine the dice pool that is used. There are normal dice rolls, when there is no opposing reaction. There are opposing rolls when there is a opposing reaction, with successes canceling each other out. Physical covered close combat, melee, shooting and constant use drained stamina (dice pool). Mental covered leadership, fear, and psionics. Quick and simple to use.

We then had to ask ourselves do we want situations that a physical attribute doesn't cover all physical actions, should all physical actions basically be equal? Is there going to be a situation where we would want someone to be able to shoot better, but not be as good with melee or vice versa. Is there a situation that someone should be able to throw something better than shooting or fighting? Was it too simple in the current format and need more to create more diversity to characters? The answer was yes.

Movement, Hit Points were staying constant but now we needed to add more. We added Ranged Combat, Close Quarters Combat attributes. Ranged covered everything dealing with ranged weapons. Close Quarters Combat dealt with melee, hand to hand, throwing weapons. Physical now covered feats of strength or stamina. Mental dealt with courage, fear and/or resolve in combat. We also added an armor attribute, since some units were unarmored or more armored than others. The armor effected whether they could or would take a wound.

This process was only about a week. Not as long as the initial part because a lot of the discussions had already happened previously.

Playing with Mechanics

Now we had the basics, more or less equivalent to what many games have. Some have more attributes, saves, others have kept a more simplified version closer to what we started with as well. It was a start that would let us start to flesh out the game mechanics. With the basic units created and on a spreadsheet, that let us see how everyone matched up to each other. A game is more than just stats and attributes so before we could properly determine a value, working out point costs for everything, we had to develop the mechanics with the game more. We had basic units with a rough stat line, we had some basic weapons (assault rifle, pistol, knife, sword) and now we needed to figure how modifiers and how units relate to things.

To start we started with two forces consisting of a Lieutenant, 2 fireteams of 3 models for a total of 7 miniatures. We set up a table, deployed, and played without dice. We would play multiple games taking notes, playing out in a storyteller, almost rpg fashion. We would move units, declare intentions of what we were doing, shooting and discuss based on individual model placements, what a rough outcome would be. It wasn't meant to be exact or determine a winner or loser. We wanted to determine just what options or actions we would available for our units. Then we would randomize players again, retest the gauntlet. This took quite a bit as we discussed different things from destroying walls, climbing, peeking around corners, cover, mines, grenades, locking doors, opening doors, jumping through windows, etc.

With each new test we would ask and answer several questions which would help fine tune what would eventually become available during activations. Some examples of the questions we would ask would be:

Is there a situation where one model could have LoS and shoot, but the target couldn't have LoS with the shooter?

If cautiously moving, would they have access to full movement range?

If cautiously moving, could they peek around a corner to shoot one model only when there was a fireteam of three?

If shooting an assault rifle in close quarters range, was it less effective?

Does a unactivated model have access to more dice pool to return fire vs a model previously activated?

Can you set traps on objectives?

Do models have a 360 degree of line of fire or does it just have 180 or less?

Can models choose to switch weapons or have access to different ammo types?

What are the advantages of an active unit, fighting against a reactive unit?

Does attack position effect the outcome, if a unit is forward facing, does attacking from the side factor in?

Is flanking simply considered attacking from the side of another unit or does flanking only come involved if multiple units attacking one from different directions?

What does suppressive fire do (lower dice pool, can't react, something else)?

How is camouflage different than stealth?

When a fireteam reacts, does everyone get to respond?

Are fireteam actions/reactions grouped together or handled individually?

How does one determine who dies when a fireteam is fired on?

When we determined quick fashion who won encounters, it sometimes was as simple as more power vs less. In some cases it was easier. A unit with 0 armor, 1 hit point is more likely to die vs someone who has 0 armor and 2 hit points. The guy with 2hp is almost twice as effective. If he had 1 armor and 1 hit point vs a 0 armor, 2 hit points then he was fairly even. The unit with armor being able to negate damage part of the time, but not all the time.

We spent another month on this part going back and forth.

Finalize Initial Mechanics

After all the testing we have a pretty good idea what each action can do. We also have a basic idea of what we want each action to entail or possibilities for units. That let's us start to finally create an initial point system to measure the strength of weapons, equipment, units and their relation to each other. We also take this opportunity to look at attributes again, are there any we want to remove, add or modify?

Don't be afraid to experiment.

One discussion that happened was 'lethality of modern/future weapons' vs defensive equipment like armor. In a future world of lasers, plasma, caseless ammo and varying ammo types, is armor effective. If you were going against lightly or medium armored infantry, aren't armor piercing rounds still lethal and aren't they just as lethal against no armor? For a time we did abstract armor saves, reducing a step, by removing them and having the contested roll determine survival. The contested roll basically covered who shot first, who hit who and if it was lethal enough to cause a wound.

This abstraction worked out fine when we were only dealing with infantry. It wasn't until we started to add vehicle armor, power armor, mecha, and robots that this started to not make sense. Larger armored vehicles had increased survival rate, not so much because of armor but because of what it took to disable it. There was also the cyberized faction to consider as they are basically fully armored people, not just an armor outer shell. Armor as a value ended up being added back in.

Game testing for this has been proceeding for months. Factions were essentially the same, some had access to better units than others. Each step in the process we added more, psionics, special weapon and support upgrades, command points for certain actions, and healing. Now we have been making changes to what factions have access too, adding in certain strengths and weaknesses to make them more unique, effecting the access to tactics and how they were utilized.

With board games we go through a similar design process. Start with what we want to accomplish, create a guide, discuss the story and actions, create a necessary attribute/stat line. Rinse and repeat multiple times, polishing each part, until the vote comes back that it is near complete.

Edited by Shinlocke

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