Enemies Have Feelings Too
Great to see you yet again :)
In today's post I want to introduce you to the enemies of Rogue Angels. I want to talk about how they are implemented in the game, how they scale, their presentation, and of course - how their AI/programming functions and why it has been developed this way.
Hopefully you will find some inspiration along the way :)
All enemy illustrations have been drawn by Linggar Bramanty.
The Thoughts Behind Enemies
You might have heard the saying "The hero is only as good as the villain.", and while it may sound like some of those overused tropes, there is certainly truth to it - also in gaming. If you want the players' characters to shine, they must also face worthy and interesting adversaries.
The overarching plot/narrative of Rogue Angels has its own villain, which I am not going to spoil here of course. But there are many other NPCs and enemies to measure up against on the hero's journey, and they all need believable motivation and behaviors.
For the world to feel more fleshed out, I have tried to stay away from "completely random baddies". Now, you will meet random bad characters, but they are handled primarily in prose. Those organized enough to put up a fight against your crew, will have factions or gangs, each with stories and agendas.
The basics of the enemies look a lot like those found in other crawler-type games. The stats are being presented in the order of which they have to be processed for players to determine how the enemies move/act, and how much of a threat they are.
All information at the tip of your fingers
I understand many gamers love plastic, and it is easy to imagine all the cool illustrations translated into 3D. The challenge with this approach, besides the insane increase in production cost/selling price, is that players would need reference cards for each of the enemies, tracking their stats and current health. Something that would increase both overhead, upkeep, and play time.
It will always remain my goal that Rogue Angels ends up being both streamlined and easy to overview, no matter how many things I plan to introduce. It is therefore also very important for me, that I can present all relevant information about an enemy in one place, and that has to be on its standee.
A way I decided to lower upkeep was to introduce all enemies with shields as "permanent shields". Instead of placing tokens or tracking both shields and hit points, I kept shields as a constant, making it easier to digest with no fiddly tokens or secondary health-meters.
I have also spent a lot of time on trying to create a cardboard dial solution for a simple plastic base, which provides clear visuals on the enemies' base color, initiative, and their current hit points.
Like in many other combat focused games the enemy with the lowest initiative acts first, followed be second lowest etc. No need to fix what is not broken ;)
Context driven Behavior
Most crawler/skirmish games present enemies with fixed AI programming (behavior). This means that enemies will always act according to the type of enemies they are. An archer will shoot from afar, a brute will try to get up close, mage will cast spells etc.
With Rogue Angels focusing so heavily on storytelling and atmosphere, I found it underwhelming to use regular enemy behaviors, and therefore started to experiment with other approaches early on.
The system I came up with was "Enemy Behavior Cards" or EBCs. These cards dictate what a group of enemies will do. Each card has a red and yellow side allowing two different outcomes to the same type of behavior.
By placing enemies in either red or yellow (or orange, as a merged color), I can direct the behavior of different enemies based on the mission and the context the enemies find themselves in.
- In practice this means that enemies act according to their situation. If enemies have ambushed the players, they will be fighting more efficiently. If players are attacking them, they might be using a more defensive tactic.
Below is an example of a "Chaotic attack", which in some instances will hurt all characters (players and enemies), vs a "Planned attack" where the enemies will deal extra damage to players if at full health.
In Designer Journal #1 I described the three pillars behind my development of Rogue Angels. The EBCs are a result of having all three pillars weighing in on the final design choice. As a player, you will therefore also encounter EBCs geared towards a specific category of enemies with the goal of enhancing the overall thematic experience.
Below are a few examples of that. Here "Automated attack" is meant to be utilized by mech/robot/drone enemies, and "Frenzy" to be used by creature-like enemies.
I created some EBCs with more specific situations in mind. Missions might unfold in a way where certain conditions or parameters force enemies to act in a distinct way.
Below are examples of a "Jamming attack" used as a way of disrupting players' cooldown, and a "Swarming attack" used to overrun players in a short period of time. Both EBCs activate all enemies instead of the usual two (first row = lowest initiative, second row = second lowest initiative).
At A Glance
The last thing I want to touch on is the illustrations. While I understand that sci-fi and fantasy leaves a lot of room for interpretation, magic stuff, and fluff, I have always wanted Rogue Angels to be consistent in its worldbuilding and easy to decipher for players while playing.
- In practice this means that I end up with a range of demands for each individual illustration, like the examples below. Players must at a glance be able to tell that the enemy to the left can hit them from afar, and that the enemy to the right is protected by a shield and is a melee fighter.
Thanks a lot for diving into yet another topic with me - I hope it also sparked some interest with you :)
Now I would love to hear what you think about the enemies of Rogue Angels, if you know of other interesting ways of programming AIs, or if there are any particular behaviors you look forward to encountering? ;)
You can see all enemies (also those still in prototype format) on Tabletop Simulator.
May you have a great day :)
Best regards Emil
Part of what makes Rogue Angels stand out is the playable characters. Each character has their own unique play style, personality, and origin. They all have strengths and weaknesses, they each fight their own battles and demons, and shape their own relationships and legacies.
Today I want to talk about a changeling named Adryel Koltis. In this journal entry I will dive into my thoughts on the character, provide some details, and some recommendations on how the character can be played.
Illustrators: Original concept by Angelita Ramos. Character by Linggar Bramanty. Action cards by Gunship Revolution.
I hope you will enjoy the read, and do not worry, it is spoiler-free :)
I knew from the beginning that changelings would take up several spots of both playable characters and NPCs (non-player characters). Their ability to shapeshift makes them a fun contribution to the dynamic of the story and interpersonal conflicts.
Like in the original Burning Suns game the changelings are known for their ability to adapt and learn. In Rogue Angels I have therefore given them a high focus count and often a broader spectrum of abilities compared to their allies. They are also usually portrayed as having a more cautious and supportive personality.
The changelings' nimble size makes them fast and precise but also very vulnerable, which results in their very low shield count.
Details & Origin
Full name: Adryel Koltis
Species: Changeling (learn more about the species on wiki)
Date of birth: 976 ATA (see timeline on wiki)
Place of birth: Lazarus Depth (find system on wiki)
Former work: Various
Adryel was born in one of the toughest known places in the galaxy, Lazarus Depth. Here they learned to survive by wits, cunning, and cautiousness. Adryel escaped Lazarus Depth before adulthood and ended up in Ice Serpent where they managed to fit in with the many other races occupying one of the largest galactic markets of Assembly space.
Adryel had to flee Ice Serpent when the Templars invaded the system. Homeless and alone, Adryel now try to team up with different mercenaries while waiting for an opportunity to be able to return to Ice Serpent and search for their soul mate, whom they were separated from during the chaotic escape.
Like other changelings, Adryel is capable of shapeshifting, which makes it possible for them to blend into different communities. As with all changelings, Adryel is also an extremely fast learner and has therefore managed to take a degree in both programming, medicine and martial arts while living in Ice Serpent.
Adryel has lived among many different species and formed an intimate relationship with a human while living on Ice Serpent.
Adryel Koltis is a cautious fighter with a lot of mental strength and focus. With their medical and technical skills they can support team members on a wide range of missions. Adryel's physique and lack of personal shield emitter makes them vulnerable to enemy fire and damage in general.
Adryel Koltis is equipped with a blaster and a communication device, which lets them interact with all sorts of consoles and doors.
Adryel can heal themself and fight in close quarters but lacks the ability to engage enemies at long range. They should join a team of stronger and heavier individuals.
As Adryel you must choose your fights carefully. Engage and eliminate the weakest enemies with your frenzy, but try to avoid being the first to breach a room full of combatants. Stay close to better shielded allies whenever possible.
With your regen pack you can easily assist "tanks/bullet sponges". Always seek maximum effect of your weapon, as your only other damage comes from hand-to-hand combat. When you get the chance, you should prioritize to loot/upgrade ranged weapons until you have one extra option at your disposal.
Thanks a lot for your time. I hope it provided you with some fun insights :)
Now it is time for you to tell me what you think about Adryel and/or the changelings. What other characters are you looking forward to learn more about?
And if you cannot wait - you can always play Rogue Angels on TTS.
Another thank you for keeping me company on this journey :)
Best regards Emil
Glad to see you made it to another one of my designer journals :)
Today I want to dive into an extension of my previous entry about the cooldown mechanic. We can call it a relativistic take on how to do health points in a game system and what I have done to make Rogue Angels stand out on that front.
I hope you will enjoy the read :)
Hitpoints and regenerating health
To understand the health system at its core, you must first understand the cooldown mechanic of which it is part of. If you have not already, I would recommend you read my previous entry on how the cooldown mechanic works in Rogue Angels.
You have probably played both board and video games with a traditional health point system. You get hit and your 100% health status starts dropping until it hits 0% and you die, or you find a medpack and heal back up again.
This 1:1 mechanic works fine for many games, but it was not something I found appealing for Rogue Angels.
For Rogue Angels I was more inspired by the concept of regenerating health like in Call of Duty, Halo, or the luck-meter of Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series. I wanted something that felt more cinematic, thematic, and dynamic. Something with variations that could influence the player turn differently each time.
For Rogue Angels I came up with a relative health system that merges damage taken with the cooldown of the player's action cards and presents the player with a new challenge for each damage they receive.
How does health work in Rogue angels?
Each character has a number of shields that represents the first level of defense against enemy fire. These stats vary from 1 to 6 shields depending on the character's origin and species. The shields must be depleted first, before the character takes damage, and the player usually have some options to regain shields, including rolling shields on dice.
However, some enemy fire may penetrate shields exposing the character from the beginning.
When a character is out of shield or hit by unblockable/piercing damage, the player is required to draw the top card from a pile of damage cards. When doing so, the player must perform what is written on that card, usually resulting in the damage card being placed on their cooldown track, thereby occupying the slot.
These damage cards now present players with a new set of dilemmas, as action cards cannot be played in the already filled cooldown slots.
Luckily the damage can be healed or rested away, so if the player can keep their character safe by running away or eliminating the threat they can recover from their wounds.
A blast of adrenaline
Damage cards range from 0 to 4 in cooldown cost. With 0 being the damage cards that has no lasting effect and 4 being those that need a long time to heal. So, depending on their severity they must be placed further up the cooldown track. This allow for some layer of thematic depth, as damage cards can come in several versions.
Now a limited workspace like the cooldown track can result in a downwards spiral, as damage mounts up. And it was therefore important for me to find a mechanic that could compensate players in some fashion.
To do that, I decided that if damage cards were to be placed on a slot with an already played action card, players would get said action card back in their hand, due to a burst of adrenaline. This would provide players with an immediate compensation, to counter their now more limited action space.
A catalyst for pressure
Now the damage in Rogue Angels is not meant to kill any characters. Characters may become unconscious if they receive a damage card they cannot place on their cooldown track (like if slot 4 is already filled, and they receive another 4 damage), but players can always revive each other in those situations.
The damage system is meant to work as a catalyst for pressure. If players must use actions to rest and heal each other, they are not using them to complete the mission, which makes it harder to be successful. In other words, damages demand more coordination and well executed actions for the players to prevail.
Difficulty on an individual level
The last damage-related element I want to touch upon is the way the damage difficulty level can be set for each individual. As a seasoned TTRPG player or dungeon crawler you may want to deal with a few more dilemmas during play, but may have to team up with players not as used to this sort of game.
In Rogue Angels that is not a problem, as players simply announce before the beginning of a mission what difficulty they will be playing on:
As damage cards are all handled individually, only the affected player will experience these effects.
Another way I tried to incorporate theme was to have the wounds reflect a plausible effect, e.g. shock reducing the amount of dice, concussion eliminating rerolls (focus) and fractures limiting the movement of characters.
Thanks again for reading with me, I hope you have enjoyed learning more about Rogue Angels :)
Now I would like to hear what you think about the damage concept? Have you tried other models, and how did it work in games you enjoy? Any effects I should consider including in Rogue Angels? Let me know.
I cannot wait to share more with you, and if you feel the same, do not forget to join the community :)
Best regards Emil
A Matter Of Cooling Down
For this entry in my designer journal, I want to touch upon the most praised mechanic of Rogue Angels, which is the cooldown mechanic, and luckily enough, also the cornerstone of every player action in the game ;)
I hope you will enjoy today's read and find some inspiration in there as well :)
The Cooldown Mechanic
When you want your character to perform any actions in Rogue Angels, you must play your action cards from you hand into your character's cooldown track, below the character sheet. The track is numbered from 1-4, indicating where you must play the cards.
Cards must be played in the cooldown slot matching or exceeding the number written on the cards top left corner. So a card with a cooldown of 2, may go on slot 2-4, depending on when you want it back in your hand, or what slots are actually available.
At the end of your turn, once you have performed 2 actions, you perform a free mandatory rest action, where all cards on the cooldown track is moved 1 slot to the left. Any card going from 1 and off the cooldown track is immediately returned to your hand.
The mechanic forces players to think and prioritize every action, while also trying to predict when they will need the specific action again.
Inspired by Video Games
The idea for this mechanic primarily came from the different video games I have played throughout the years. I wanted to capture the feeling of timing an attack when dealing with enemies, or time a particular effect that can benefit the rest of the team.
I am also a big sucker for properly constructed dilemmas, where you cannot state a clear "best action". Dilemmas where you have to imagine how the next few turns might go, and act according to what you think will help you the most. Games that manage to present these choices in a compelling way have always intrigued me.
You can find ability cooldown in many different video games like Warcraft 3, LOL, DOTA, and of course Mass Effect ;)
This mechanic is the only element of Rogue Angels that has stayed the same since its inception.
The benefit of cooldown
As mentioned above, the mechanic forces player to make interesting decisions. But the mechanic also makes Rogue Angels a much more appealing game to watch unfold. Players are compelled to change their play style and approach situations all depending on what is available to them. They cannot just rely on spamming the most efficient actions or "move and attack" all the time, which makes for more interesting table talks between the players.
As a designer the cooldown system gives me a "currency" to build action cards around. I can put more depth into some card abilities, I can provide different types of benefits or penalties, depending on what I want the action card to do and how valuable I want it to be.
Fleshing out the Cooldown
Having a certain room to perform actions in, also means that there is a risk of players running out of that room. So to counteract this I created the "basic move" and "basic interact", which are two cards with a 0-cost cooldown. This allows the players to always perform something, even with a completely blocked cooldown track.
Another element I created along side the regular "do something"-actions is "effect"-cards. These cards allow players to invest in an ongoing effect that continuously benefit them while the card is located in their cooldown track. In practice it reverses the idea of wanting to get your card back as fast as possible, as effect cards are weaker when played, but allows you a return on that investment for as long as they stay in the cooldown track.
That is not really all
Now the cooldown mechanic is more than just an action management system, as it also integrates the health system of each character, but that is a topic for another time ;)
Thank you for reading - I hope you learned something new about Rogue Angels :)
Now it is time for you to tell me what you think about cooldown effects. What do you like/dislike about it? What other games do something of the sort, and does it work? Any cool card ideas for Rogue Angels? Please let me know.
See what other testers and reviewers think of Rogue Angels.
In advance, thank you for your awesome encouragement.
Best regards Emil
The Layers Of An Onion
I am glad to see you have arrived :)
You may be new to Rogue Angels, or perhaps you have been with me from the beginning. In all cases, I welcome you to this first entry into my designer journal for Rogue Angels. Through these posts I will try to uncover more of the gaming experience, while also giving you some insights into what, how, and why I have designed the game the way I have.
This will also be part of Rogue Angels' journey to Kickstarter and final product.
I hope you will enjoy the ride :)
So, what exactly do I mean by comparing Rogue Angels to an onion? To my mind, a good game must consist of several layers that can slowly be peeled away as players discover its story, mechanics, and strategic depth.
A game must have something awaiting the returning player. Personally, I return to games to explore more, look at new ways to play and enjoy it. It has more to offer than what I first encountered. The game must not impede this with unnecessary roadblocks or constraints. You could even say that the bigger the roadblock, the bigger the pay-off of returning must be.
I have built Rogue Angels around three pillars:
These pillars must always complement each other and always stand aside when the other elements are taking stage.
- In practice this means that the rules must never bog down the flow of the game, and the story must never become so long or complicated that players cannot follow it or get to the action parts. And neither of those must take away from the player agency.
Marketing vs Experience
From a marketing perspective, it would make sense to have Rogue Angels firing on all cylinders from the moment player set foot in the first Hellfire bar on Fury's Fall. It would perhaps be easier to sell too - "look at all these fancy bits and mechanics all fused into the game".
However, when you look at it from a perspective of getting a 40-hours-campaign-experience to work, things start to look a bit different. I want Rogue Angels to be a fresh, engaging, and fun experience every time gamers sit down to play. Each mission must unwrap a new element, new dilemma, new mechanic twist, new story arc, new NPC, new enemy behavior, or new action cards.
It WOuld Be Cool If...
Not everything can or should evolve all the time, as you want to keep the whole experience familiar and easy to pick up, even if gamers have to go into a hiatus for a while. It is, however, very important to me that Rogue Angels keeps players on their toes, that it can surprise them and present new challenges that will spur engaging table talks.
After trying the introduction mission, I have had many testers say something along the lines of: "It would be cool if...". While I do take notes from all those awesome ideas, I can most of the time say with confidence that the players have something in store for when they return to the table :)
As a campaign designer you should always strive to hit the balance between new and old. To never shy away from what makes the game great, but also not leave the players to fall asleep at the wheel. In practice this means that I introduce a lot of different elements down the line, instead of shotgun pepper players during the first three missions.
I think it is best we keep it spoiler-free, but I can assure you that even 30 missions down the line, the game will still present something new :)
So What Is Rogue Angels?
What exactly is Rogue Angels, except a metaphoric onion? :D
It has RPG relationships and character development but is not pure RPG. It has stealth options on some missions, but it is not a stealth orientated game. It has boss battles when needed, but it is not a boss battler. It has tactical combat but is much more than hack and slash. It has hacking and puzzles, but also loot, upgrades, and personal stories.
I usually go with the term "sci-fi adventure", as it touches a lot of different elements from other game genres, and the underlying theme is the epic adventure that players are taking part in.
I would however be lying if I did not say that I often fall back on the easier descriptor of: "Imagine Mass Effect as a board game". It is usually the best way to convey just how many elements have been worked into the game and how they are tied together by an overarching story with unique characters, exciting moments, and personal stakes.
Thank you for reading. I hope it inspired you :)
Now I would like to hear what layers of the Rogue Angels onion you have enjoyed so far? And if you have not already, which one do you look forward to dive into, or what would you like me to talk more about?
You can always try Rogue Angels on Tabletop Simulator.
Thanks again for all your encouragement in this endeavor :)
Best regards Emil