As the old adage goes: writing is re-writing, meaning a good piece of writing comes through iteration. The same logic can, naturally, be applied to game design. Through iteration, playing, testing and rebuilding we can create a fully refined gaming experience. They say a film is truly made in the editing room; a game is truly made through the lens of each and every prototype.
As you’ll be aware from our previous update on Salvaged, we’ve added a couple of new features to the gameplay, namely: crafting and ranks & mastery. Let’s take a juicy closer look at these latest additions to the Salvaged gameplay family and analyse where they’ve come from and why we feel they’re the right direction for Salvaged.
Crafting. It’s cool to build things with your own [virtual] hands. I believe, as a designer, that the interaction between a player and their equipment helps to form a bond with the tools of the trade and, therefore, immerse them further into the gaming experience. It’s like peeling the cellophane cover off of a smartphone – the moment you do, the device feels like it truly belongs to you as though it somehow acquired a dash of your DNA or soul.
In the world [universe?] of Salvaged, people scrape their lives together through rusting and derelict environments. They are a gazillion miles from other humans so can’t just nip to the shops to buy the latest and sexiest piece of kit. It wouldn’t be practical, economical or logical. These are hardy folk pushed back into a resource scrounging and manufacturing way of life due to the social death grip exerted by mega-corporation, Panopticon. These people are handy with their hands; these people are builders.
A key element of Salvaged’s gameplay is picking up our own variation of loot (aptly/confusingly called ‘salvage’) once each room of a wrecked starship has been cleared of ungodly beasties. From Diablo to Dark Souls, the mechanic at hand is instant rewards following an intense and deadly bout of gameplay involving hostiles. Salvage, however, lacked any function beyond being a series of images proffered to the player upon clearing a room. As a designer I could assign as high a fictional value as I wanted to each piece of salvage but their true value would still be squat. Value of items in games, I believe, is governed by how useful the item is to the game experience – does it make me stronger? Quicker? Or grant access to something else? Crafting gives our loot true value.
It was always a part of Salvaged’s design to have stronger variations of all of the weapons and armour available in the game. Originally the plan was for each iteration of a weapon to unlock after a certain amount of progress through the story missions. Progress equals reward - a standard game design principle. The weapon iterations, however, naturally lend themselves to the concept of crafting.
The paradigm now shifts from progress equals reward to choice equals reward, the player now chooses which salvage items to sell and which to keep to build a stronger weapon or piece of armour. Through their own savvy – or lack thereof – the Salvaged experience becomes tailored and more personal to the player’s interaction with it, rather than being passively rewarded by the whims of a game designer. Rewards earned are sweeter than rewards simply handed out.
Speaking of rewards earned, the agents the player hires to send out into the field are going to kill a lot of baddies - a LOT of baddies. This has always been the design plan for Salvaged but just like our salvage loot, it lacked any depth or meaning beyond the act of survival. Salvaged isn’t one of those ‘ludonarrative dissonance’ games wherein characters preach about despising the act of killing only to have the gameplay wilfully indulge in it – no siree. Salvagers kill things. Salvagers go into dangerous places to make a living. Salvagers are survivors.
The purpose of our new rank and mastery system is to show how defeating enemies and surviving missions changes an agent. In the life of a salvager the number of kills and successful jobs under your belt dictates your worth, your skill and the respect they command. In this case once an agent has killed a certain number of hostiles their ‘rank’ will increase from Novice to Adept and finally to Veteran. The principle behind this mechanic was inspired by the likes of Pokémon and FTL – your creature/crew battles, gets stronger and eventually evolves. It’s a form of game progression and reward through input rolled into one.
Beyond being an immersive gameplay mechanic I believe that evolution systems such as these help to form an emotional bond between the player and the characters they interact with. It sucks when your beloved Pokémon gets its ass handed to it in a fight, but a euphoric sensory overload after the two of you work hard, train hard, evolve and overcome your challenges. Given the permanent nature of any mistakes made by the player in Salvaged, it makes sense to design a mechanic that’ll enhance their emotional focus. When they succeed they’ll cheer, when they fail they’ll cry.
Gaining a new rank will allow an agent to then ‘master’ one of their attributes. In Salvaged, agents level up by spending currency earned from salvage loot to buy skill points for each agent’s attributes. These attributes range from the internal (health, accuracy etc) to the external (proficiency with each weapon type). The player decides which attributes to focus to tailor and grow their agents as they see fit.
The mastery system provides a permanent boost to a chosen attribute once an agent’s rank has increased. Doing this provides further customisation for the player concerning their agents but also, thematically, alludes to the idea that an experienced salvager would naturally become more capable within their own physiology. For example, if the player masters an agent’s health attribute they’ll receive a permanent 50% boost to their health. Master an agent's proficiency with shotguns and they’ll become more deadly – ‘I’m a damn surgeon with a shotgun’ etc etc. The agents at the player’s command are living, breathing people, not mindless cannon fodder. I hope rank and mastery goes someway to embracing that quality of Salvaged.
The great steps toward bringing Salvaged to life march on and on. As we create, we reflect and we respond to the feel of the game. Ultimately we want Salvaged to be a fun, satisfying and memorable experience. By being bold and brave enough to ‘write through re-writing’ I believe we’ll do just that.
Praise doge x