Events And Scripting

Soren Johnson of Civ and Spore fame made a recent post on his Dev Blog “Designer Notes” about the Seven Deadly Sins of Strategy Games. His first sin on the list was too much scripting arguing that used unwisely (as a core feature) scripting undermines the rules set/mechanics architecture by dirtying up the decision space aesthetics with lots of exceptions… like triggers and other “story hooks.” I tend to agree with him on this point. Over at QT3 there’s a good thread discussing the whole list and the first sin in particular.

I’m very interested myself in “Emergent Narrative” in strategy games as it’s often called. The ultimate idea would be to have a text/image based story produced at the conclusion of the game that chronicled all the important decisions made by the player and the outcomes of those decisions as well. I think that the old canceled space opera game “Stars Supernova Genesis” promised an HTML type newspaper to be generated during the game and at its conclusion. This would be the Holy Grail of emergent narrative for me. Just how much effort it would be to accomplish something like this is something I’m not exactly sure of. With my limited resources and time I’m not about to take this on…. as the famous saying goes “Don’t look at me. I’ve got my own problems.”

A good question that arose in the QT3 thread is “What are some examples of scripting done well in strategy games?” I’d like to think my Cults of the Wastelands free mini expansion pack could stand muster. Basically the idea was to augment the free form random sand box of the vanilla AE game with some scripted narrative elements…various cults pursuing some type of special agendas. The payoff was the ability to force players to make some interesting decisions like the confrontation with the messengers of the Great Kabaagh. The downside was that once the script has fired the surprise is over and the repeat enjoyment value is diminished.

What triggered off this whole blog entry was a combination of Soren Johnson’s post, the discussion on QT3 and my own work over the last couple of days on Solium Infernum. I’ve returned the the Events system and have been fleshing out some of the more involved and intricate events and there’s a huge scripted element with some of them. For a little background on all this you can read this post here where I discuss my original intentions to have some type of event system for Armageddon Empires. The short of it is that I cut it to finish the game but when I took up the design gauntlet for SI, I was intent on working the events idea into the games mechanics.

So in Solium Infernum events are actions that are played by the players as one of their possible turn orders. You can’t just play any old event though. You draw an event “card” each time you are named Regent, an honor which passes from player to player as the game goes on in a clockwise direction. You can easily see who is the current Regent by looking at your Diplomacy tab or reading the turn log entry that is generated each turn making the formal announcement. Depending on the level of your Prophecy power you can keep one or two event cards in your “hand” at any time. If you have a full hand and draw a new card you’ll have to choose one to discard.

The events fall into a range of categories and costs. Generally the more targeted the event’s effects, the more it costs to play. Many events don’t cost any resources at all to play because they affect all players or a random player (sometimes including the player who played the event). The effects are also usually doubled edged swords with a “screw you” twist. For example, many of the events are posed as “Decrees of the Infernal Conclave” which as a Lord of one of the Great Houses of Hell you are compelled to comply with. The “Infernal Legion Tax” decree forces every player to pay a tribute card for each legion that it controls on the board or lose Prestige points accordingly. Not a bad event to play if you have a warlord neighbor who has put together a large collection of legions and you only have a few to whip the Lemures into shape.

Some of the events are more involved and this is where the scripting comes in. For example you can play the “Angelic Host of Divine Retribution” event and a host of angels will descend on the board and start causing trouble for the players with the most prestige points. The challenges here were very similar to those I encountered with the Great Kabaagh. Pick your targets, do the pathfinding, dish out some retribution, check your status and when your mission is accomplished fly back to Heaven. Special scripted events like this often get their own piece of artwork. Here is the art for the Angelic Host event

Angelic Host

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