Lore Spotlight: Factions and Worlds

Hi everyone! It’s me again, your favorite friendly, neighborhood, behind-the-scenes bulgarian. Man, that’s a mouthful.

I was talking to Alex a while back and he viciously commanded kindly asked me to shed some light on the writing process, specifically regarding the Factions and World Development.

I forgot about that request immediately. But now, he has activated my pain implant graciously reminded me, and here I am with a new blog post for your reading pleasure.

The Factions

I think most of you will agree that one of the keys to having a memorable game experience is the believeability of the game world. Those that do not agree, please go back to playing Tabula Rasa. Oh wait, you can’t! <gloat> Ahum.

Anyway, one of the types of action that the player can perform in the game will be interacting with the Factions. These are large collections of human beings that share the same philosophy, goals and are big enough to be a factor on the political stage in the Sector. So how to come up with these? The truth is, some of the factions were born out of a need for a particular role to be filled within the game. For example, we knew we wanted a big, monolithic, largely obtuse but powerful organization that claimed to be the spiritual successor of the Domain of Man. Thus – the Hegemony. Next, we wanted a counterbalance to this feel, and we came up with the small, intelligent, vicious and astute corporation – Tri-Tachyon. And so we created most of the factions in this manner, as actors fulfilling roles, and their allies/enemies based on the type of feel we wanted to create within the game. Some of the names and portfolios of these factions have a rich history, based on years of wasted time by yours truly, as a young lad writing GURPS Space campaigns and short stories designed to flesh out those campaigns.

While having a number of factions to pick from and knowing what it is they roughly represent, want to achieve etc. is great, I really felt like I had to nail the psychology of each faction more accurately. After all, the situation in the Sector is pretty unique. The pivotal, crucial thought that occupies the minds of most humans within it is the role of technology in their lives. Unlike the present day, while technology plays a critical role in survival, it’s also poorly understood and is retrogressing with each breakdown that can’t be fixed. In addition, I wanted to present each of the factions as realistically as possible, which included having both negative and positive qualities. So, I decided to do some research on personality types and see if I could associate each faction with a particular psychology.

In order to grapple with the large amount of information, I used an excruciatingly boring, colossal spreadsheet to write out each factions’ outlook, motivators, virtues and vice, fears and fixations. Thus, I proved once again that all game design is just mucking around in some spreadsheet. Ah, well.

To give an example, I profiled the Tri-Tachyon Corporation  as arrogant scientist/corporate types. They see themselves as keepers of knowledge, heirs to the technological marvels created by the Domain. Obsessed with efficiency and the acquisition of technology that remains in the Sector, they condemn those that shun them. They are prone to over-thinking problems as a group, and care little for the plight of those outside their inner circle. At their best, they are competent, effective and cooperative with one another. At their worst, they are detached, elitist and cruel. Their belief is that the non-functioning star gates are merely dormant, and they they are actively looking for the key that will awaken them – thus restoring to them the lost technological wealth of the Domain. Secret tech-mining operations run by the Corporation can be found in the farthest reaches of the Sector.

But wait, there’s more! Hey seriously, if you’ve read this far, please get up, stretch your arms and legs, and get yourself a nice treat as a reward for persevering though these, the inner secrets of Fractal Softworks’ design process. Done stretching? Don’t open that other browser tab!

The Worlds

Designing worlds is always a challenging task for a variety of reasons. The main one is, we humans have only ever set foot on one (the Moon landing was faked!) so it is real hard to get a different frame of reference. Also, the sizes we are talking about when we describe planets dwarf the imagination. Our minds are literally incapable of visualizing such vastness. The process roughly follows the following flow. First, pick a defining planetary characteristic. Is the planet surface a scorched volcanic wasteland? A dry, parched desert? A frozen, uninviting chunk of ice? Or is it a verdant, terran-like gem?

Once the biome has been chosen, you have to think about the other layers of a world that make it a point of interest. Which Faction is in political control of the planet? What kind of government is there? How many people live there and under what conditions? Answer to questions like these also tie into gameplay systems, because they dictate the beginnings of the supply and demand based mechanics that underpin the in-game economy.

Conclusion

Well, I hope you guys had fun reading that post. Now I gotta go, and build my fifth outpost on that jungle world. Maybe this one won’t sink into the swamp.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, October 22nd, 2011 at 2:03 pm and is filed under Development, Lore. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

15 Comments:

  1. Great read. I literally had a big and goofy smile on my face while reading it.

    by NPrime
  2. Great read. Can’t wait to see this design process in action.

    Can I make a suggestion? In addition to the standard “jungle”, “frozen”, “volcanic” worlds, please make some truly bizarre worlds that challenge the notion of a “colonizable”. Worlds like Venus or Titan, or even “chthonian” plants. To many games and movies just project earth environments into space rather than taking a look at some of the seriously strange yet possible environments that could exist out there.

    by Rook
  3. Very interesting. And I’ve got another suggestion: do NOT make too many habitable planets. Terraforming is fun and everything, but it is impossible to make Pluto (for example) habitable – it’s too cold no matter what. Did you play Ad Astra? All systems have dozens of Earth-like worlds, which is plain stupid and breaks all immersion.
    Great work by far and good luck with your project!

    by Flanker
  4. Flanker, to touch a bit on your post, I think it’d be pretty cool to see a partially terraformed world in the game. Say, the planet was well on its way to being fully terraformed during the Domain days, but since the Collapse, the tech has broken down and the knowledge has been lost. As such, a mission or two could be made in which you can supply the world with tech and knowledge and stuff.

    by NPrime
  5. Hey guys, thanks for the kind words.

    I actually did think of a partially terraformed world as a setting, but then forgot about it. It is a really great idea, thanks for sharing it!

    by Ivaylo
  6. @Rook: Well, we’ve also got “cryovolcanic” (Titan), “toxic” (Venus), and a few other types like that. Nothing chthonian as of yet, though I have to admit I like the idea :)

    @Flanker: Yeah, absolutely. Habitable planets shouldn’t be very common.

    by Alex
  7. What is meant by “role” when you say “The truth is, some of the factions were born out of a need for a particular role to be filled within the game.”

    Are the factions token factions only?

    by Horrigan
  8. Starfarer’s not a 4X game, so I’d say the player colonizing or terraforming planets is rather outside its scope…

    “First, pick a defining planetary characteristic. Is the planet surface a scorched volcanic wasteland? A dry, parched desert? A frozen, uninviting chunk of ice? Or is it a verdant, terran-like gem?”

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SingleBiomePlanet – Terra’s answers are “yes”, “yes”, “yes” and “yes”.

    …Although of course Tropes Are Not Bad. I’ve often thought it would be the best of both worlds to tie the most important *city* on a planet to a distinctive biome. I’m sure the shorthand works well enough.

    by Hypocee
  9. @Horrigan: That means that the various factions fulfill some roles in higher-level, sector-wide game mechanics.

    @Hypocee: Right, like you said, tropes aren’t bad. Have to make sure that any added information/complexity actually pulls its weight mechanics-wise, otherwise it’s just that much extra noise – unless it’s particularly useful for immersion. Tying a planet to a biome says about as much as we actually want to say about the climate of a particular planet – after all, we’re not building a weather sim :)

    by Alex
  10. This is looking better and better by the day! :)

    Can I make a suggestion?
    Each planet is going to be different, so why not different have animals/intelligent life and danger levels on each planet? Say, one planet is rather uninhabitable but is still possible to colonize, so it would be safe to colonize because there would be no animals/intelligent life but take a vary long time and cost a lot of money, then there would be another planet that is vary fertile and could be easily colonized. there would be life trying to stop you though, making colonizing it be vary fast or vary slow. If it took a long time fighting off the life the maintenance cost would be pretty high, having to suit up and hire people to colonize the planet and giving them resources to do so.
    I like the ideas everyone else has come up with too, and I hope you take a bit of the ideas I and them have had and put it in the game.

    by misterjscape
  11. Off Topic.
    Damn it grammar errors…
    Being a grammar nazi at heart makes this even more painful.
    Also Hypocee, You are about to cause me about 2 hours of time due to that link…

    by misterjscape
  12. Please for all that is sacred don’t make this game a 4x one… don’t make me regret my pre order… realistic batles are great, realist worlds are awsome, research, harvest resources… omg I have sins of a solar empire for that, starfarer is one of my favorite games and it’s still alpha don’t ruin the fast paced shootout that it is, make the ships customizable, make it a great RPG that’s all cool, but please no 4x. tyvm

    by Vanguard
  13. Colonization mechanics don’t necessarily mean 4x.

    I love love love the idea of owning an asteroid or station or city in an RPG. Even an entire planet sure why not, though I’d expect that to take work. (Though I prefer a procedural, grind-able approach to this, rather than there being ‘Exactly 3′ places that I may purchase or not purchase.) I love harvesting resources, and I love having production chains, and I love RPGs. Like, X3 would have been very cool if it was more of an RPG than it actually was.

    I hate 4X games, because their focus is inherently competitive/pvp – there are a number of factions that start at the same level, progress at similar rates, and it’s a function of player skill whether you ‘beat’ them in the end, whereas an RPG is a single-player, non-competitive experience where you are pretty certain to ‘win’ eventually.That’s the fundamental difference I think. (Also, 4X games are inherently timed, you can’t dick around forever at your own pace like you can in an RPG, or you’ll get outpaced and lose.)

    So I agree with ‘please not a 4x’ – but I disagree with the idea that colonizing is necessarily a 4x concept.

    Also: I love how you update these blogs at least once a month. Thank you so much for keeping in touch!

    by Konstantin Vernikovskiy
  14. @misterjscape: Thinking about something like that, actually. May end up getting compressed into a single “hazard rating” for a planet, will have to see how it shakes out. At some point, the design doc had gotten way out of hand with some 10+ planetary characteristics :)

    @Vanguard: I’ll say this – the focus of the game is squarely on your fleet, and I definitely wouldn’t call SF a 4x game. That being said, I like the idea of exploration leading to more than just conflict – for example, setting up a little mining operation and making it function smoothly sounds like a lot of fun to me. But, a combat-focused character wouldn’t have to get involved in that – and in fact, couldn’t do it profitably, without the right skills.

    @Konstantin: Right on!

    Funny, I feel bad any time there hasn’t been a blog update for a week or so.

    by Alex
  15. @ Alex, that`s reminded me of freelancer with fleets and RPG elements, that is what i`m expecting of starfarer and i`m sure you will keep up the great work you have done so far, this game is worth every cent.

    by Vanguard