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Wavinator

Options for Empire Game Spies You Never See

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Here's the scenario: You have a spy unit in an empire game that has infiltrated your enemy's space station. She's got a name, a stylized portrait and stats. But you never see the agent walk around on a map or flip or do karate or whatever. Let's say that you can give this agent a detailed mission, such as "Assume the identity of a researcher and infiltrate the command center. Once there, use the truth serum on General Thorn and get the location of the Phobos Device." (let's leave the GUI for this out of the picture for the moment) Since you never actually see the interior of the base or and the agent around, I'm trying to figure out how in depth (read buck wild) to go with this. Some options: Units Have Rooms? Bases and ships would be tactically fleshed out by giving them "rooms." Rooms would represent critical areas or systems (such as the bridge or engineering), spies would take a risk entering them, and only certain actions would be possible in certain rooms. Give Spies Inventory? Spies would have things like poison, fake identities and bombs they could use while in the ship or base. Combined with the rooms idea, there might be a bit of a puzzle getting into certain rooms (e.g., you need the Technician ID to enter the Engineering room). Spy vs. Spy? Either automatically over time, as a result of skill, or by performing actions in a room spies would have a chance to notice other spies, non-spy characters or valuables. Spy options could then cover things like stealing internal assets, trying to compromise characters, or assassinating enemy agents. Rooms Ridiculous? Rooms could be nested, giving more interactivity and exploration to otherwise two-dimensional assets. Players could also build rooms in addition to the normal sensor and weapons modules they add to ships and bases in some games. Taken even further, players could set traps for other players in a kind of abstract dungeon crawl. Obviously, this could get way out of hand. My main hesitation is that you don't actually see this happening. One the one hand it's an interface problem, but on the other you could feel VERY ripped off by not seeing the acts, especially when the spy fails. Thoughts?

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Most of those ideas seem like overkill for any game that isn't explicitly about covert operations. Even your mission description seems a bit much. All you really want your spy to do is locate the Phobos device; the rest is just flavouring.

If you're not going to see or control the spy on her mission, I don't see much reason to go too beserk with covert operations. You're going to end up abstracting the mission to some form of algorithm anyway. The question is how complex this algorithm will be and what the variables are. I wouldn't go much further in fleshing that out further from what else you've also added to the design; if you've already got rooms in your bases for some other reason, use them in your algorithm; otherwise, abstract them away.

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You know how many "spy" games actually allow you to just spy? I mean you're not supposed to be caught, seen, or recognized. So fighting, killing, or causing any sort of disruption should be a bad thing, no?

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Cutscenes!

(hey, Medieval 2: Total War sort of did this)

The other way you could probably do this is to give text updates on what the spy is doing as she is on her mission, fictionally, and have each of those steps randomly generate a challenge to which will test one or more of that agent's abilities. In order to complete the mission successfully, the Agent must pass all tests generated.

> Turn 1: Agent X is now sneaking past the messhall towards the living quarters (Stealth Test passed).
> Turn 2: Agent X is now attempting to break through the security pad on Officer Y's office door (Hacking Test passed).
> Turn 3: Agent X attempted to rummage through Officer Y's things but to no avail, she did not find the secret documents (Searching Test fails).

You could then insert more steps/tests after that so to test her ability to get out of there safely for you to reuse her again on another future mission.

-

Hey how about this one: Turn 20: Agent X is now attempting to seduce Officer Y into giving her the secret documents over the private dinner party to which Officer Y invited her over to. (this might involve a Disguise Test and a Persuasion Test)

It's just like the movies! (and I admit, that would be pretty fun).

-

When you have a spy on your side and an enemy spy attempts to infiltrate you, your spy could probably hamper/counter the enemy spy's progress by him personally inserting a few extra steps/tests in there to which the enemy spy will have to overcome or become caught at your spy's counterespionage measures.

[Edited by - Tangireon on July 4, 2008 11:17:38 PM]

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Original post by Trapper Zoid
Most of those ideas seem like overkill for any game that isn't explicitly about covert operations.


I take your point, but one thing that confuses me is why such detail is more acceptable in combat. In these types of games, you often can design ships with multiple weapon mounts and internal systems, all of which (theoretically) give rise to a variety of strategies. Even in games where you can't, like Civ IV, units gain experience and have a host of defensive or offensive advantages over other units based on what they are.

Do you think that this is more acceptable in 4X games because they are, at their heart, war games?

Quote:

Even your mission description seems a bit much. All you really want your spy to do is locate the Phobos device; the rest is just flavouring.


Making the combat comparison again, you could say "you really want to invade planet X." There's no need for a bombard option, or landing suited marines, or nuance in the form of "Mind Control units automatically cause a planet to surrender"

Or am I really missing the point here? One argument I had was what do you do if the game's not a war game, or if the situation demands a cold war? Or what if you want to be a spy heavy empire (like the Darloks in Master of Orion)? If you're not slinging fleets around, it'll probably get pretty boring.


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I wouldn't go much further in fleshing that out further from what else you've also added to the design; if you've already got rooms in your bases for some other reason, use them in your algorithm; otherwise, abstract them away.


Part of my problem is that I'm starting to think 4X/Space Adventure hybrid based more on characters than units, so rooms could work in other ways. But I think your overall point about making it robust is one I need to pay attention to. If I do it, it can't just be something you see solely for covert ops.

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Original post by Alpha_ProgDes
You know how many "spy" games actually allow you to just spy? I mean you're not supposed to be caught, seen, or recognized. So fighting, killing, or causing any sort of disruption should be a bad thing, no?


Heh, yes, I admit to thinking James Bond over John le Carre.

I admit my imagination is pretty poor when it comes to options for pure spying. I can imagine turning another agent, cultivating sources, stealing documents and all the other "human intelligence" stuff but so far removed from actors and physical levels, I don't see a way to make it gameworthy. Do you?

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Quote:
Original post by Wavinator
Quote:
Original post by Alpha_ProgDes
You know how many "spy" games actually allow you to just spy? I mean you're not supposed to be caught, seen, or recognized. So fighting, killing, or causing any sort of disruption should be a bad thing, no?


Heh, yes, I admit to thinking James Bond over John le Carre.

I admit my imagination is pretty poor when it comes to options for pure spying. I can imagine turning another agent, cultivating sources, stealing documents and all the other "human intelligence" stuff but so far removed from actors and physical levels, I don't see a way to make it gameworthy. Do you?


Yeah. Do what Resident Evil did. Scare the crap out of him. If you go undercover as Jones the scientist and someone asks you a question that Jones should know, will you answer it correctly? If not, how will they react? If they react badly, what will you do? Seeing that the mission (and whatever rewards you give the player) depends on a flawless performance, you're gonna get real nervous if someone starts poking in places you're not comfortable with.

What happens if you remove data and leave a trace? How much time do you have to erase your footsteps? Are you being watched? Did you remember to take down the security trips? All this could make you shit in your pants before you even hit "Start" to go to the menu.

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Original post by Tangireon
Cutscenes!


I'm probably to poor to give this the attention it deserves. [smile]

Quote:

The other way you could probably do this is to give text updates on what the spy is doing as she is on her mission, fictionally, and have each of those steps randomly generate a challenge to which will test one or more of that agent's abilities. In order to complete the mission successfully, the Agent must pass all tests generated.


This is interesting! One thing the UI would need to show (before you ever sent the spy) was the challenges up front. Maybe this occurs far more abstractly, in the form of "spying points." If you spend enough on intel, you get a sense of the challenges. Alternately, if your tech is good enough, the spy has the ability to be flexible (for instance, they don't have Hacking, but the do have Mind Control).

Ideally, what I think would be cool would be to have a small stable of agents (with brain implants?) at various ability / experience levels (which is why they'd be named and have portraits). You're not just sending a faceless unit in, you're sending in Bond himself, who you've spent millions training and upgrading.

Quote:

You could then insert more steps/tests after that so to test her ability to get out of there safely for you to reuse her again on another future mission.


I like this. Your agent assembled the antimatter device and placed it in the general's quarters. Now do you deploy it, sacrificing the agent, or put it on delay and risk it being discovered as you try to get the agent out of there?
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Quote:

Hey how about this one: Turn 20: Agent X is now attempting to seduce Officer Y into giving her the secret documents over the private dinner party to which Officer Y invited her over to. (this might involve a Disguise Test and a Persuasion Test)


The reports idea is logical and I like the melodramatic feel. How much control do you think you should have at each point / turn?


Quote:

When you have a spy on your side and an enemy spy attempts to infiltrate you, your spy could probably hamper/counter the enemy spy's progress by him personally inserting a few extra steps/tests in there to which the enemy spy will have to overcome or become caught at your spy's counterespionage measures.


That would be an interesting way to make it very interactive! Provided it makes sense and there's a UI, you could have players hampering each other turn by turn.

What about active misdirection as a form of hampering? IOW, you do something to make another player think that what they're after is somewhere else? It could be very deterministic, such as a report stating "We now think the Phobos Device is on Luna" or something built by one player for another.

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Original post by Wavinator
I take your point, but one thing that confuses me is why such detail is more acceptable in combat. In these types of games, you often can design ships with multiple weapon mounts and internal systems, all of which (theoretically) give rise to a variety of strategies. Even in games where you can't, like Civ IV, units gain experience and have a host of defensive or offensive advantages over other units based on what they are.

Do you think that this is more acceptable in 4X games because they are, at their heart, war games?

Well, one of the Xs is eXteminate. I don't see eXpionage in there. Possibly because no-one would mangle the spelling that badly [grin].

You are right, though. 4X games essentially are table-top war games with more micromangement. Spying traditionally is either ignored or implemented as an alternative method to subvert the other rules.

Part of the issue with covert operations is what difference all the options would make. I'm assuming you aren't baby-sitting your spy as she performs her mission as most of her tasks would be fairly mundane. As you pointed out, real spy work isn't an action film.

I think you could take spying in many different ways, but it really depends on what the rest of the focus of your game is. If your game is just a high level 4X space empire game, you probably don't want all that low-level modelling so spying should just be a bunch of simple stats plugged into a formula (i.e. experience of my spies vs. experience of your spies times difficulty of mission). If however you've got a very detailed social model, you could factor in the loyalty of the base's units. If you're building your planetary bases from components, then you can factor in security points or room-based missions. They all work, but it depends on the detail level of the rest of your game.

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Original post by Wavinator
How much control do you think you should have at each point / turn?

Well for me personally I'd prefer that to be all automated (generated test vs your spy's stats). Too much control over this thing, like Trapper Zoid pointed out, would probably reinvent the 4X. Not that that would be a bad thing, but it depends on what your game focus is definitely.

For me, if I was trying to make an all-around space empire game, I'd prefer to just stick them into the mission (after selecting which agent to do the mission), and wait a few turns for the results, where reports are given each turn on what is happening. You could perhaps have a few times when your agent talks to you (via hidden intercom, etc) and asks how to proceed with a certain situation, much in the manner like in Galactic Civilization's randomly generated situations that pop-up when you claim a new planet.

Overall I think this could add a lot of flavor to a space empire game however you wish to implement it.

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