Saturday, July 10, 2004

SWG: The Path to Becoming Force Sensitive

The developers long ago worked up the design document for Force Sensitivity, but it might be fun to revisit the concepts behind it. I doubt that many of the goals for this part of the game have changed; only the actual mechanics for achieving those goals are in question.

But for us players to do a good job of answering the question of "known vs. mysterious," we still need to start by identifying what the goals for this part of the system are. Once we know that, we can do a better job of suggesting specific mechanisms.

Here's my short list.


(0. The process must be fun! But this should go without saying.)

1. The process must be difficult for each character who attempts it in order to minimize the number of characters with access to Force skills, who are always rare in the Star Wars universe.

2. The process should be ultimately achievable by every character, but immediately achievable by no character.

3. The general path may be known, but the specifics should be mysterious -- not random, but not deterministic.

4. The process should be challenging regardless of a player's innate abilities, connection speed, number of accounts, or time online. In other words, the process should be scaled to each character's current skills.

5. The process should not require camping of any NPC or object. Having a static location leading to an instanced mission is acceptable, but multiple such locations would be preferable if this approach must be used at all.

6. The process must clearly incorporate key Star Wars license elements. Given that becoming a Jedi is one of the two or three most iconic elements of all Star Wars-related media, becoming Force Sensitive in SWG must have a strong Star Wars feel to it.

7. The process should expose players (through their characters) to many forms of the content created for SWG.

Based on these goals, here's my suggestion for a mechanic to achieve them. I first made this suggestion several months before SWG launched, and others have offered their own versions of it (so it's not a new idea); this is just my take on it.

It comes down to this: Force Sensitivity Points.

Every quest, every mission, every distinct action a character takes, may have some small number of Force Sensitivity Points, or FSPs, assigned to it. The number of FSPs may be 0 (for a basic action with no moral implications, or a generic mission with no story elements); it may be moderate (for an action with moral implications or a mission with some story elements); it may be large (for a very difficult mission that tells a key part of some Star Wars story, and which cannot be repeated); it may even be negative (characters should be able to lose FSPs for choosing actions -- or inaction -- that no Jedi would take).

As a character goes about his life in SWG, his FSP total is constantly updated to reflect the FSPs gained or lost through his in-game behaviors. When (if!) his FSP total reaches some appropriate number, bingo -- he becomes Force Sensitive.

I believe this approach would achieve each of the goals I listed for the process of becoming Force Sensitive:

1. By keeping the number of positive FSPs low and/or the required total high, the difficulty of the process can be made difficult but not impossible.

2. By choosing her character's actions, and in particular what (if any) NPC missions to take, every player has a chance to eventually make her character Force Sensitive. But because it's not possible to gain all needed FSPs immediately, becoming Force Sensitive will take time.

3. By keeping the number of FSPs granted by specific actions a closely-held secret, as well as the "magic number" of FSPs required to become Force Sensitive, the general path may be well-known ("you have to play like a Jedi") while the specific actions necessary remain for the most part not only mysterious but different for each player.

4. Scaling assigned missions to a character based on that character's current in-game skills puts all players on a level playing field, and insures that what matters most is how you actually play your character.

5. If the number of FSPs provided by NPC missions is generally low, then FSPs can be spread out over most of the hundreds (thousands!) of current randomly-spawned missions. Thus no camping of static mission-givers is necessary. However, some specific missions (probably the highest-value ones) may be created that use instanced dungeons to minimize camping. Although low-FSP missions should be spread all over, the high-FSP missions (which will become known) should be isolated in generally known but slightly randomized locations on the different planets.

6. Normally, when a player receives FSPs, he won't know it. He may guess that some action he's taken has given him some FSPs (positive or negative), but most of the time there won't be any obvious indication that this has happened. However, the missions that give large numbers of FSPs (positive or negative) should make it clear to the player that Force Sensitivity is involved by incorporating key Star Wars elements into the mission. This would explicitly tell the player that FSPs are at stake. Not only is this simple fairness to players, it makes LucasArts happy by being a use of license elements that will be both satisfying and memorable. The most effective license element in this case will probably be to let the player's character meet and converse with (or be talked at, if necessary) one of the advanced Jedi (Light or Dark) from the Star Wars universe.

7. Most FSP missions -- but in particular those that give moderate levels of FSPs -- should be designed to require players to experience different aspects of SWG. For example, what appears to be a simple combat mission ("go tranquilize the rogue falumpaset that's bothering my kaadu herd") might require the character to use basic crafting skills to build a specific kind of device needed to achieve the mission goal, or to interact with a crafter who can do so. Or a crafting mission could call for the character to travel to an adventure planet to hire a dancer or doctor, who tells the player something about that profession. Some missions might need to be solo; some missions might require grouping. The point is to design these medium-FSP missions to expose players to different places, professions, and content in SWG.

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