Home Forums General Game Design Zero Dark – Development Blog

This topic contains 18 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by Olaf Meys Olaf Meys 1 week, 3 days ago.

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  • #125747
    Robey Jenkins
    Robey Jenkins
    Participant

    I’ve had an aspiration kicking around in my head for years, now, to write the ultramodern/sci-fi skirmish game I’ve always wanted to play.  I’ve played Infinity and that had some of what I wanted but ended up just being to “game-y”.  I’ve tried Black Ops, but it was a bit bland.  I gave Rogue Stars a try, but it was too schlock-y.  Probably the closest thing I found was Tomorrow’s War, but it was optimised at a higher model count than I was looking for.  For a long time I was an Inquisitor fan, because of the narrative freedom it permitted, but in the end that was just TOO open-ended.

    I really wanted a game in which I could lavish my attention on a small collection of miniatures, which didn’t dictate what I could and couldn’t take within the bounds of reason, and which would let me enjoy narrative freedom within a sensible rules framework.  Most importantly, I wanted a game I could play as easily solo as I could co-operatively as I could competitively.  Now, there are a few games doing this, now, but when I started work, the cupboard for miniatures games you could play both solo and PvP was entirely bare.

    I made several abortive starts on these rules over the years, from about 2005.  But it wasn’t until a year or so after Horizon Wars had been out that I was struck by the idea that eventually led to Zero Dark.  So many people joined the Horizon Wars community declaring their intent to play HW with 28mm miniatures that I realized that, in Horizon Wars, I already had the framework that people were looking for.  It was a bit simplistic at that scale.  It had a lot of things it just couldn’t do.  And it wasn’t terribly narrative.  But it was a start.

    So I took Horizon Wars back to the table and started tweaking it to do the things I wanted it to do.  By April 2017 I had the basic concept for the game down: players build a small team of 3-6 characters in a similar way to mechs in HW – a pool of points to spend on stats, and a list of extra upgrades they can also take.  Then there was the Red Force: a small number (6-10) of enemy models on the tabletop that were controlled by the flip of a playing card.

    But it’s taken most of the last two years, testing each part of the rules, carefully balancing out the different options and advantages, playing missions, playing operations (linked missions) and campaigns (linked operations!) and trying out every conceivable combination of upgrades and options and stats to try my level best to ensure there’s no “easy button”.

    So now I’m working towards independent publication.  Obviously, I’m keen to promote the rules.  There will be a limited public beta release in December.  There will be a less limited beta release to Patreon backers.  But I’ll be blogging on my own site and, on a later schedule, across several forums with intersted groups, to tell them about the mechanics and the challenges that the process encounters and how they are then resolved.

    #125754
    Mike
    Mike
    Keymaster

    What sort of tech will it be using, or will it be generic.

    Heavy rifle and medium rifle, rather than gauss gun and particle carbine?

    Not that it makes any odds as you can change names.

    But curious all the same.

    #125776
    ian pillay
    ian pillay
    Participant

    I Like the idea of it being solo / cooperative play from the ground up rather than being core rules with solo bolt on. Good luck with the rest of the project.

    Tally-Ho!

    #125778
    Robey Jenkins
    Robey Jenkins
    Participant

    Just like HW, weapons will be defined by their properties, rather than their names.  So a character has a Fight stat that broadly describes their shootiness, then you can make them Lethal, or Suppressed, or Explosive or whatever combo you want to recreate the particular weapon you have in mind.  Grenades are dealt with separately.

    #125795
    Ruarigh
    Ruarigh
    Participant

    Very interested in this. I like HW, so a solo/co-op skirmish game based on that engine appeals greatly.

    Never argue with an idiot. They'll only drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.

    https://emidsvikings.ac.uk/
    #125810
    Olaf Meys
    Olaf Meys
    Participant

    Sounds like it’s right up my street, particularly the solo from the outset idea.

     

    I’ll be following this for sure. The only real question for me is about the mechanics. Do you plan to use any cards?

    http://mainly28s.com
    wargames review site...

    #125816
    John D Salt
    John D Salt
    Participant

    Mr. Picky finds himself mildly baffled by the name. Do you suppose that “Zero Dark” is half an hour before Zero Dark Thirty? I don’t think it works quite like that.

    The British equivalent always used to be “Oh Christ Hundred Hours”, but now there’s a film out I’m sure we’ll all switch to the American term.

    All the best,

    John.

    #125826
    Robey Jenkins
    Robey Jenkins
    Participant

    John will be pleased to know that an answer to his question will be the first piece of text in the book.  Yes, it comes from Zero Dark Thirty.  When I was in the Army it was called Oh Dark Hundred, but the “Z” was too good to miss (there are more Zs in the future – they’re like typographical hexagons).

    Olaf – yes, a deck of normal playing cards runs the AI system to operate the Red Force.

    R.

    #125851
    Olaf Meys
    Olaf Meys
    Participant

    Oh dear- that makes me a little concerned. I very strongly dislike any card-based mechanics…

     

    Still, I’d love to hear more before I make a final call on them.

    http://mainly28s.com
    wargames review site...

    #125900
    Robey Jenkins
    Robey Jenkins
    Participant

    Copy/paste from a recent blog:

    The Control Deck runs the artificial intelligence behind the Red Force. It’s a normal deck of 54 playing cards. After every character activation, you flip the Control Deck. The result dictates the behaviour of the Red Force.

    The value of the card tells you which bogey will act. The suit tells you what they will do. If you flip a Joker, you get a complication – this can be anything from more bogeys to a booby trap.

    Bogeys come in three basic flavours: Grunts, Elites and Bosses. Grunts are plentiful and die easily, but they can gain support tokens that make them tougher or deadlier. Elites are harder to put down and more dangerous. But most dangerous of all is the Boss. Complications can introduce special bogeys, like the Sniper or the dreaded Defence Mech.

    You can manipulate the Control Deck in a few ways. The most basic is to move cautiously. A cautious move, if successful, negates the primary action on a Control Deck flip. Another way is to take a Spook: a special kind of hero. A Spook gives you a hand of cards from the deck that you can play at any time to replace the actual flip.

    However, the Control Deck also performs a second important role: it is the mission timer. Once you run out of cards the mission is over. If you’ve not finished, you lose. There are lots of things you can do in the game that give you advantages, but which “run down the clock” – that is, they remove cards from the deck, so you have less time to complete your mission.

    #126043
    Olaf Meys
    Olaf Meys
    Participant

    Hmmmm- interesting.

     

    http://mainly28s.com
    wargames review site...

    #126044
    Robey Jenkins
    Robey Jenkins
    Participant

    I’ll take that as a positive response given your antipathy to card-based mechanics.

    #127403
    Robey Jenkins
    Robey Jenkins
    Participant

    We all love a good heist movie, don’t we? My favourite bit is the early chapter – usually done as a montage or series of short, choppy scenes with a unifying musical track – when the Boss puts his team together. Whether it’s Ocean’s Eleven, Hogan’s Heroes or Justice League, you get this sense of a diverse group of character, each with their own particular strengths and weaknesses, who come together to create something greater than the sum of its parts.

    When I wrote the rules for building your “X Teams” (whether the X stands for Exploration, Extermination or something else is for you to decide) in Zero Dark, I really wanted to capture some of that flavour as well as borrowing from the popular Horizon Wars mechanics for building custom mechs – but with even more creative freedom!

    The baseline is that each hero – the main type of character, the other being allies, who are a bit different – gets 15 stat points to spend on four stats that will look a bit familiar to Horizon Wars players: M, F, A and D. But they mean something a little different in Zero Dark: Mobility, Fight, Acuity and Discipline. The first two are physical stats. The latter two are essentially mental stats.

    Then you can add as many upgrades to each hero as you like!

    What? That makes no sense!

    Mad, right? Well, the thing is, if you’re playing solo or co-op, then you add up all the upgrades you’ve taken on your characters and then you run down the clock by that many cards. So, sure, by all means take a ludicrous bunch of upgrades for a superhuman hero, but you’ll have less time to complete your mission.

    Now, things are slightly balanced in the heroes’ favour, because upgrades are better than the clock. This allows you to balance how hard you want any given mission to be by giving your heroes more upgrades and abilities. It’ll run down the clock, but your advantages will mostly off-set that disadvantage. Mostly.

    In a PvP missions, you must agree with your opponent how many upgrades you get to take on each hero. So there are no limits, but your opponent has the same advantages you do. The default position is 4/16/4, or 4 heroes with a maximum of 16 upgrades, a maximum of four of which are allocated to each hero.

    Makes a bit more sense, now?

    Hmmm… OK, so what are the upgrades?

    There are loads of upgrades, but they split down into five main types: specialisms (of which you can have a maximum of one of each in your team), traits, gadgets, weapons and allies. One of the traits – “synthetic” – also gives you access to things like artificial intelligences, robots and drones.

    They sound really interesting! Tell me more.

    I will. Next week, we’ll talk about allies. If you want to know more about the others, you’ll just have to wait. 😉

    #127407
    Olaf Meys
    Olaf Meys
    Participant

    Still following this.

    http://mainly28s.com
    wargames review site...

    #127408
    Robey Jenkins
    Robey Jenkins
    Participant

    Thanks, Olaf!  It helps to know I’m not crying into the wind.

    R.

    #127409
    Mike
    Mike
    Keymaster

    I r following too.

    #127448
    Thorsten Frank
    Thorsten Frank
    Participant

    Thanks, Olaf! It helps to know I’m not crying into the wind. R.

    What? I actually wait for your take on skirmish gaming since you first announced this project a few years ago on the HW group.
    Actually I used Horizon Wars much more then I intended first over the past years.

    "In strange grammar this one writes" - Master Yoda

    #127450
    Robey Jenkins
    Robey Jenkins
    Participant

    No man is a prophet in his own town, and no game designer can get any bugger to come and play his new game with him, so it’s always hard to know how much anyone really cares until you actually publish the damn thing.  But Patreon campaign is amazing because it gives me an immediate group of people who are already paying for the privilege of staying up to date with work.  It’s very motivating.

    Anyway, for an insight into the mechanics, check out my new video.

    Suffice to say that I am a game designer, not a video director…

    #127453
    Olaf Meys
    Olaf Meys
    Participant

    I’m still interested.

    http://mainly28s.com
    wargames review site...

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