Saturday, October 18, 2008

Rex Does Kongai: Gangsters Part Three - Gangster Gear

Sorry about that missed post the other day. It's crazy around here. But I'm going to make up for it with a double shot today. We've already talked about the latest version of the Gangster characters so, rather than move forward on that, let's step back and focus on the other half of their group: the items.

Item creation is at once easier than creating characters and much more problematic. When creating an item you have far fewer points of data with which to concern yourself. Beyond which group is going to snap it up, you need a name, you need the way it's going to appear on the card, and you need a function. And, really, when coming up with an item you only need to concentrate on the function. The appearance, the name, and the related flavor will suggest themselves before long and even if they don't, they're not actually relevant to gameplay.

All you need, then, is to come up with an ability that can be bolted on to your characters. This could involve procs. It could involve values. Then again, it could not. Therein lays the difficulty: an item's function can be anything. And that's a broad canvas on which to paint. A lot of design space in which to get lost and confused, even before you get into the task of finely balancing an item so that it's not creating a problematic combination with your finely-tuned cards.

Rather than cast about in the dark, trying to pluck five surefire ideas out of the ether, it might be useful to start not from scratch but with a few, simple guidelines. Rules and templates for items that can be applied to a group's basic design just as we've been applying our generic builds and modified roles to those same principles to create our character cards.

First, set some limitations on what an item can be. Your item can be used by at least 5 different cards (I do have some ideas about that which we'll get to eventually, once I get around to filling in the Psychos.), and potentially many more if it's a generic item that any card can use. A wide variety of characters will be able to pick up and use this ability and the chances that the result will be an overpowered, imbalancing nightmare will be much less if you've already restricted the power of each item. As a general rule, I find that if I wouldn't give an ability out as an innate that I probably wouldn't want to hand it out as an item, either. And that, generally speaking again, an items power should be ever so slightly lower than that of an equivalent innate. If you've got a character, for example, that's immune to, say, stuns you could itemize that ability but, in doing so, you'd probably want to include a bit of an error rate. The end result being the abilities of Helene and the Girdle of Iron Will – the difference between being completely immune to stuns and having only a 75% chance to avoid them isn't all that major but it's there. Because that item can be used by more characters, it's helpful for it to be less objectively powerful – more characters means more opportunities to see play so you want somewhat of a lowered impact.

In a similar vein, generic cards should be weaker than their equivalent group-specific cards. The comparison here would be Healing Salve versus Herbal Remedy. Since the Salve can be used by more characters that's potentially many more problematic combinations so it pays to hold its power level down and channel those cards into items that have been more tailored to suit them: their group's items.

By the way, try not to make items like Salve and Remedy. Items that are simply an improved version of something that already exists are, if you ask me, a bit of a waste. Not saying you can't do it, but if you want to enhance an ability that's already out there, why not try to give it a bit of a twist? You could still have an item that heals, say, but maybe turn it into a random proc rather than a flat amount. Maybe it only kicks in when your character is under a certain amount of health. Maybe their attacks drain health. There are a lot of possibilities to explore and if you try and come up with a unique twist, chances are you'll end up adding more to the game than another carbon copy would be.

Now that we've got that covered, we can move on to more structural concerns and attempt to create frameworks in which to build our newly restricted items.

There are, I think, a few different techniques that can be used to create items wholecloth. Templates that can be applied to a group and its needs in order to assure yourself not just of having useful cards but having a variety of uses.

As I've mentioned before while working on the Rock Star items, you don't want to create items that are too similar in function. Because, chances are, if you have two items that do the same thing, one of them does it worse than the other one. And, then, you've got a worthless item, a card that's just taking up space.

The example here would be Deadly Poison and the old (Well, okay, current. But the proposed change has been around since forever, so it feels old) Tiger Claws. One dealt Poison. The other caused Bleeding. Both DOT effects that served to enhance a character's damage. But they weren't equivalent. They dealt around the same amount of damage but Deadly Poison spread it out over more turns, and had a higher proc rate because of it. While the Claws frontloaded that damage, making it more deadly, but almost requiring a lower proc rate. An interesting difference that might result in some soul-searching amongst players – do you prefer the item that's more certain but slower or would you rather gamble on the kill? If it weren't for how those DOTs got applied. Because Deadly Poison could proc off of any attack and the Claws could only work with physical hits (In, I'll add, a line that wasn't chock full of them.), that made the Poison the clear winner. It did everything the Claws did and more besides. And, unless you're very careful with their construction, any pair of similar items you create might very well do the same.

Better, then, to try and make sure each item has its own distinct niche. A function that's not covered by any of the other items. And an ability that adds something that no other card does – at least for that group.

But how best to do this? Well, I think like characters each item can be considered to have an established role. Call it a type. Whether it's adding damage or creating healing, there are classifications for the many items in the game. And including a diverse selection of these will almost guaranteed that you've got a varied group of items.

This brings us to our first template: the Five Item Types. Which I think looks something like this:

  1. Offensive Item.
  2. Defensive Item.
  3. Protective Item.
  4. Yomi Item.
  5. Meta Item.
You can slice the categorizations more finely grained but the five basic archetypes above are, I think, a pretty representative sample. I know with a bit of effort you can cram the grouped items of the original set into the, although I'll leave such an intellectual exercise up to your own devices. But the general idea here is that you want a mix of cards. You want a mix of cards providing aggressive effects, that enable your cards to attack better, and defensive effects, that allow them to stay around longer to attack. You want a mix of cards with swingy, gamebreaking results and those with constant, steady results.

Offensive items are, simply enough, those items that directly affect your ability to attack. The examples here would be the General's Insignia or the Sharpening Stone. Although, I should point out, they don't necessarily have to add to a character's damage. They just have to make them attack harder.

Defensive items, then, logically enough are the items that blunt the attacks of others. They lower an opponent's damage or otherwise blunt their assault. The examples would be the Reinforced Breastplate or the Elusive Feather. Healing items would fit under here, too, since their general effect is to increase the amount of damage your foe needs to deal. But, whatever it is they do, however it is they go about doing it, they allow your character to last longer.

Next, with what I call Protective items we're going out on more of a limb. You could definitely argue that most of the items I'd mention here could be included under the Defensive umbrella. And that's true – these aren't hard and fast rules only vague models that can help you with your design. Some of those examples I'd mention would be the Origami Crane, both new and old, or something like the Sacred Candle. What these items do is to protect, in so many words, some element of a character. Whether it's keeping their hit rate from being debuffed or their speed from being lowered or just offering immunity to a certain range of effects or even attacks, they're about making sure that something bad doesn't happen to you. Even something like the Death Mask or the Phylactery could be included here, if you extend the protection to include something like a card's death.

Then there are the Yomi items. This is a bit of a catch-all term that I think includes any cards that affect the normal valuation of the game's choices. Whether it's switching – as with Flash Powder – or moving the range – as with the Stoneheel Totem – or even something else they're about altering the game's payoff for performing certain moves. And, more importantly, altering how players interact with them. They provide incentives for doing certain things, enforce prohibitions against others, they reward successful moves and punish others, shifting the overall perception of what's a risk and what's safe. They tend to deal with the elements of the game that aren't attacking, instead being about everything else.
Finally, we have Meta items. These are the items whose abilities expand the capabilities of your cards, giving them powers they wouldn't otherwise have. Now, that's true of any item, really, but these items go beyond the normal additions and instead graft on completely new mechanics. Instead of throwing a few more points of damage onto a skill, say, or tinkering around with energy costs, these are items that change the way your card plays. They raise your speed and let you do things you wouldn't otherwise be able to do, changing unfavorable match-ups into fights you should dominate, like the Valkyrie's Charm, or they do something wacky and coming in from out of bounds, like the Gem of Souls allowing you to pick up new innates. Meta items are really the place where you can include some really wild ideas and, as such, are a really varied group, but the general trait they all share is a powerful effect with wide-reaching implications for certain characters.

If you create a batch of five cards and try to have one that's offensive, one that's defensive, one that protects a certain trait, one that alters how players approach the game, and a final one that affects how a card plays then you're probably pretty far along in creating a group of varied cards with interesting effects. A batch where the items don't step on each other's toes and, in fact, one where different players with different needs can find something suited to their tastes.

It's not the only way to go, of course, but if you're ever stuck asking yourself if you've covered all the types can help. But, let's explore another way of going about it.

I call this method the Character Based Design and it works as follows. You make a list of five items and then you fill it out like this:
  1. Something Character 1 would really like.
  2. Something Character 2 would really like.
  3. Something Character 3 would really like.
  4. Something Character 4 would really like.
  5. Something Character 5 would really like.
In other words, you have five characters and you have five items, so if you knock out one specifically tailored to each character then you know at least one card out there is going to find an item useful. Items that are useful get played and don't eat up valuable space so as long as you've got at least one customer, so to speak, your item is in business. And then you build from there, trying to find ways that it could be useful to other cards within a group. Which, if you've got a well-constructed group sharing certain themes and concerns, isn't such a herculean task. If your cards have been based on the same underlying frame then they're going to share certain features. Including the features that make them gravitate towards one item or another. By creating an item for each character you might have given them each a favorite but if the characters share a common enough cause then you've also likely created a few other options at the same time.

For instance, I created a group of characters based on the classical elements. Five elements, five characters. And when it came time to create items, it was a natural fit to continue on in the same theme and design one item for each specific element. And, then, to make sure that each item matched up to the desires of the character also representing that element. I set out to design items that a certain character would love but what I found was that other characters would be drawn to them as well. The Fire item might work best with the Fire character but because it was addressed towards covering their weaknesses or enhancing their strengths it was a draw for those other elementals since that had similar needs. That Fire item could be slotted into the Water character or the Wind character to give them a unique spin. They all shared the same basic design and, because of that, they wound up sharing the same items as well. But because each item was targeted at a specific subsection of those concerns, they were also distinct enough to stand on their own.

That's important because the danger here, of course, is that you create an item that only one character finds useful. An item that only one card can use is almost as bad as one that no one will use. You want your items to be expanding your characters, and offering them options. But if you, in effect, take one item away from them, then you're limiting those options. Not every character will be able to make use of every item but the general idea should be to add as many viable combinations to the game as you can. By focusing only on a single character then you're narrowing your view and you could wind up with an item that your other characters can't use. Taking a bit of time to think about how your other characters are going to make use of those items, though, should remove much of that concern.

There are other techniques I could mention, like the Hodgepodge way I handled the Rock Stars where you just pick some strong ideas and let them knock around until the sort themselves out, and probably more than I can't mention since I don't know they exist. Use these ideas, come up with one of your own, it's up to you if you're interested in following in my lead. My point, though, is that thinking about items structurally and considering how they all fit together can help you to handle them individually as you build them in.

But, now, let's apply some of those guidelines as we construct the Gangster items. Or, at least, their first, rough draft.

Because, after all, these items are still in their initial stage and we're not going to be able to set together a finished group just yet. As with the Rock Star items, we'll start with some ideas, some areas we want to target, and some iconography we wish to include and we'll go from there, filling them in over the coming days and, well, week at this point.

To start off, then, let's talk about what we want the Gangster items to be doing.

We started this group with the idea that the Gangsters would be able to bypass their opponent's defenses. That they'd have a way of dealing with all the buffs and interrupts and reflects that would be floating around the rest of the set. And while they've been given a lot of ways of ignoring resistance I haven't been so diligent at addressing those other concerns. But, that's alright because that can be handled through our items. So, one thing we'll be looking to do is to have items that provide protection against interrupts and other disruption.

I think the Gangster's character is such that they'll be less interested in outright immunity and more happy with retribution. Rather than giving them an item that, say, prevents someone from landing an interrupt they'll instead get an item that punishes an interrupt. Somehow. But rather than restricting their opponents, they'll try to lessen the pain of their actions or convince their foes that it's not worth their while.

Also in keeping with the Gangster theme, I think we need to have at least one item that's going to boost offense here. What I call a damage enhancer, something that boosts up damage in some reliable way.

As for the flavor, well, the Gangsters are a group of mobsters and machine gunners, hardened fighters that are armed to the teeth. So we want a Guns & Ammo kind of theme, along with, perhaps, items that hint at their criminal activities and nefarious schemes.

So, with that said, here are some of the items that I'd like to see along with some of the things I'd like to see them do:

  • Bulletproof Vest
  • Brass Knuckles (Although we already used that one with the Wrestlers)
  • Cosh or Blackjack
  • A Mysterious White Powder (Never get past the censors but, come on, we've got a Scarface card, how can we not include some nose candy?)
  • Switchblade
  • Pearlhandled Gun
  • Contract Hit
  • Money Clip / Roll of Cash

  • Deals damage when interrupted.
  • Retain energy when interrupted (Do not lose costs of skill used, maybe even gain energy).
  • When attacks are reflected, heals instead of harms (Needs something more, probably, a passive effect since this won't happen very often).
  • Gain energy and/or health on kill (Sort of like Zina's innate. Except...not.)
  • When opponent buffs, chance you steal that buff (This is Gangster #5's innate but, basically, I'm not happy with that card and it's probably not long for this world.).
  • You steal energy when opponent buffs (Raises cost of buffing)
  • Add +1 to multiplier of multi-hit skills (See Gangster #1's buff, although this might be trouble if they're both in the same group.).
  • Add opponent's resistance to attacks.

There, that should be a decent start for right now. I think we're on the right track with aggressive items and a punishment theme for those that aren't. Of course, before we go much further, we'll need to figure out which cards are actually in the set and what it is they're doing. But we'll get more into that in the next edition.

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