Friday, March 20, 2015

CORPS 4.0 is coming along

If CORPS 3.0 was about bringing simplification to the CORPS system CORPS 4.0 has been about normalizing the simplification process.  In particular the spell system being utilized by CORPS has seen a dramatic shift in how things work.  Previously the type of spell was very important to it's assumed action.  This grouping followed along the line of thought that certain spells were considered attack spells while other spells were considered utility spells.  At the highest level of spell abstraction these were the two categories of spells which seemed simple enough.  But a byproduct of the balancing and simplification that was introduced in 3.0 was that some spells such as creature summoning spells needed to be standard action spells instead of move action spells even though they were technically categorized as a utility spell.  This realization came about after extensive testing and it was clear to see just what kind of an impact summoning spells could have on a combat.   Of course in 3.0 we then had this arbitrary bit of complexity embedded in spells which just didn't feel right.   In 4.0 we've sought to address this by removing the age old assumption between attack spells being standard action casts and utility spells being move action casts. Since a move action was less costly than a standard action spell we inherently made utility spells weaker than standard action spells.  However before I go forward with explaining the new changes perhaps I should take a step back and better explain how things used to be and why the change.

As I mentioned, spells used to have an associated cast action with them.  This used to work because all spell casters were allowed 1 spell per turn and so could choose use their move action to cast a utility spell or a standard action to cast an attack spell.  The actions of a character within a single turn are normally limited to a standard, move and minor action.  With standard encompassing complex actions like attacking, disengaging or total defense, move actions being responsible for general movement and shifting and minor actions covering mundane tasks like loading a bow, opening a door, drawing/sheathing a weapon etc.  So as a caster when casting the spell the player had a decision to make which usually boiled down to one of two options.  The caster could choose to cast an attack spell and use the move for movement or overcasting the attack spell. (Overcasting is a method to slightly increase the strength of a spell at the cost of the casters move action) or the caster could choose to cast a utility spell and then use their standard for something like an implement attack which is basically like a weak version of a normal weapon attack for casters.

While this sounds good and fine there were actually quite a few issues with the system as a whole.  The most offensive was probably perhaps how pigeon holed certain spell spheres felt based on their roles.  For example, the elemental sphere is a high damage sphere that should be able to dish out a high level of burst damage.  But if the elementalist every wanted/needed to cast a utility spell their damage would tank because everything that made their spells strong was lost when they attempted to use an implement attack.   On the flip side the priest sphere which focused on powerful utility spells, could continually make use of those spells while making use of their implement attack and when their allies were under pressure the priest could simply switch over to attack spells and essentially lose nothing in the process.  This is only one example and there were plenty others but ultimately it seemed by limited casters to only 1 spell per turn was really constraining how they played out in practice.

One thing 4.0 sought to remove was the 1 spell per turn restriction.  Instead casters were restricted only in action.  This meant that so long as the caster had the action to cast a spell they could cast it.  This idea while fairly simple and straight forward immediately broke a lot of assumptions surrounding existing spells.  Casters were suddenly incredibly powerful compared to their martial counter parts.  The problem was inherit in the design of our spells and ultimately that high level categorization of attack spells being standard action cast and utility spells being move action.  The solution was to make cast action independent of spell type.  The way we did this was that rather than assigning spell strength based on attack or utility we now assigned spell strength based off of cast action.  We normalized the strength of spells such that if a standard action spell were considered 100% spell strength then a move action spell would be considered 40% spell strength.  Using this system we also realized that there was an interesting new category of spell actions for deliberate spells whose strength would naturally be 140%.  With this idea we were able to build around a set of assumptions for each type of spell and then started converting our existing spell system to this new more modular and elegant spell system.

So far we have performed extensive testing across nearly all types of martial and magic characters and our results are looking very good.  The multitudes of different builds along with their viability is simply astounding.  Players are free to mix and match a wide variety of pieces in their characters that allow they to cobble together nearly any kind of archetype they can imagine.  It really speaks to our goal of being able to create a tactically balanced, classless combat system that is fun and engaging.  The success we've found in our 4.0 revision has been so great in fact we are looking at expanding our normalization process that we applied to spells and are now looking to incorporate it into the martial class's knack system.  While this is still in the works it should ultimately yield a normalized set of combat knacks among all the various types of combat fighting styles.  Our goal with this, much like what we planned for spells, is to have a simple system that accurately defines all powers available to a particular character that provides multiple viable options that are both balanced and among other available options as well as other character types as a whole.  I'd be lying if I were to say it was an easy process but it certainly is a fun an exciting one.  Hopefully these milestones will put us one step closer towards an end product or perhaps a future kick starter project to get CORPS off the ground and into the hands of table top players.