Thematically Evolved Design

I’m coming up for air after a very intense coding run over the last few weeks. Solium Infernum is in that phase of development where the flesh has to be grown on the bones and the little details have to be carved into the fancy woodwork. One of those little details is the special abilities.

I love special abilities. Just the name indicates that they are interesting and unique (special) and full of action (ability). Special Abilities are often all about breaking the rules that have been set up…the game’s mechanics. They are also the ornaments on the tree. So how did the tree get built. My approach to the whole design process is probably a bit unconventional. I start with the Theme. For Solium Infernum first there was the idea based on a simple thematic sentence:

“To reign is worth ambition though in Hell, better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

From that starting point I sat down with a bunch of cannibalized board games and started tinkering. I built the major mechanics systems and integrated them… map, player avatar, agents, rituals (super powers), bazaar for bidding, event system, and victory system. These were bare bones systems though. All the fleshy detail had to wait for the computer implementation.

Once I got the major systems coded and functioning the basic game ideas were set in place. But I didn’t have a list at this point describing all the details (special abilities, perks, bonuses, events). These all needed to be brainstormed, implemented and tested and would flow from the theme.

The Legion power up system is a great example. Legions are the fundamental agent of the game. They are hired by the players in the Infernal Bazaar via a blind bid system. They are placed on the board and move across it to claim/control territory and key locations called Places of Power. I started with a list of legion names. The list was divided into archetypes such as Melee Bruiser, Ranged with mobility, Infernal Power focused (magic), hybrids, devil’s bargains (cost Prestige/Resources to keep in your service) etc. At this point the art was commissioned and then shortly after I commissioned background text descriptions for each agent. Only then did I sit down and start creating special abilities for select Legions. I had a good idea what they would be since they focus on bending and breaking rules but each special ability often requires that I go into the code base and hand craft special functions, data structures or exemptions. In general I tried to match special abilities to the flavor of the legions’ stats, image, and flavor text.

The same process was followed for the Power Up system that permeates the game’s mechanics. Legions are the sole agents on the game board but you have a lot of room to customize them to your strategy goals or compensate for any built in weaknesses. Legions get one attachment slot for every two levels with a maximum of four slots. You can attach Praetors (a Demon Hero, but only one per Legion), Artifacts or Combat Cards (which you create yourself).

Places of Power also allow for attachments but in this case only Praetors (max 1), Relics or Combat Cards. Since places of power almost always generate some type of Prestige bonus per turn (through a special ability), Relics are a great way of powering them up to increase their Prestige generation. Here is an example of an Unholy Relic that you might purchase in the Infernal Bazaar and place in one of your conquered Places of Power.

Bowl of Abject Darkness

The Bowl of Abject Darkness
What was once part of you is now part of me. Look into the liquid and see what squirms beneath its surface. In my body swims the little creatures that was made from your flesh. You put them inside of me, and now I must let them grow. Do not look at me with disgust when you have finished. It is because of you that I take this shape.

–Etched into the side of the Bowl of Abject Darkness