Sunday, December 03, 2017

First Past the Post

Part twenty-three in a weekly(🗿) devlog.

Standard development disclaimers apply. This is pre-Alpha content, everything is subject to change, features may not be present in the final version, there's a chance none of this will ever be released, etc. etc.

There shouldn't be any plot spoilers in these posts, but there will be occasional discussions related to characters, locations, mechanics, and other aspects of my potential upcoming Shadowrun campaign (tentatively titled "CalFree in Chains"). You may wish to skip them if you'd like to be completely surprised.

I've finished my first-ever run-through of CalFree in Chains! I think it's pretty good. It's always fascinating to actually encounter these scenes that have been trapped inside my head for months and that I've spent so much time building. I'll never experience them as a player will, but I do feel a certain sense of awe at watching them turn from idea into reality and manifesting inside this game that I'm playing.

My high-level takeaways from the game:

The difficulty curve is inverted. Early missions are too hard, and the final missions are too easy. That was exactly my experience in all of the official campaigns, though, so I suspect it's at least partly due to the underlying mechanics of the game and not something I can completely solve. In the short term I'm adding a few more healthpacks and such to the earlier missions. I'm experimenting with what I'm labeling "homemade" medkits, which act the same as a basic medkit but are worth far less. My goal is to encourage players to actually use these instead of hoarding them (which is what I, personally, always tend to do in these games).

The last battle in particular seems to be easier and faster than I had expected. This is kind of a bummer because there's a fair amount of content that only triggers after the battle has gone on for long enough. I'm still mulling over how to address this... the simple thing would be to just add more waves of enemies, but that seems dull for a final fight. I'm also tempted to bump up individual enemies to have boss-level stats and be more menacing, but then I risk having crew members die and not being available to deliver dramatic lines. I dunno. Maybe players will enjoy feeling powerful in that fight (and it is interesting, even if it isn't all that hard).

I think that the story makes sense and doesn't drag too much, but I'm too close to it to be objective. Honestly, at this point there probably isn't much I can do to change it since it's so closely interwoven with the gameplay. There may be an opportunity to add more explanations if things are unclear, but I don't think I'll be able to cut out much without hurting the game.

I do worry a little about some long-running side-content. There are a couple of references near the end to stuff that happened back near the beginning, which should be fine if someone is playing straight through, but would probably be confusing if they're going weeks between play sessions. The critical-path main plot stuff is all refreshed fairly frequently so I think that's OK, but I can see some players going "Huh?" when a companion says "Haha remember the one time you did X way back in mission Y?", when nobody has mentioned it during the five missions in between.

There's a bit too much nuyen. I thought that Hong Kong was too stingy, but in this runthrough I was able to completely kit out every slot of cyberware, buy my best armor, get some good Adept abilities, and still clear out the doctor of every platinum Doc Wagon and premium medkit before the final run (none of which I ever used...). I've already made some adjustments to tune this down a bit, though I should probably go further. Games are more interesting when you need to make choices and trade-offs, and being able to buy everything you want isn't all that compelling.

The karma level feels pretty good, though. I brought my CHA all the way up to 8 for four etiquettes, maxed out my Cyber Affinity, and came close to maxing Close Combat. And I still had some points to splash around in Qi Casting, Biotech, and other useful things. I think there's enough for specialists to max out their primary skills, but not enough to max out multiple skills, which feels like a good place to be in.

So, yeah... there's definitely more tuning and fixing to come, but the overall shape of the campaign feels decent, so I'm starting to cautiously expose it to other folks. The first person to endure the torture will be Hades Scorn, my longstanding lead tester, also known as the infamous pistol street samurai. Shortly after that I plan to open it up to a small group of alpha testers, hopefully drawn from current Steam followers and one or more of the active Shadowrun communities. It now seems possible that I might get this out before the end of the year, which would be awesome, but I'm not prepared quite yet to commit to that.

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