Colony Ship Interview
Pladio reached out to Iron Tower Studios to talk about their Colony Ship game, which is currently in development.
RPGWatch: I think most people know you from having developed Age of Decadence and you have been an active member of the RPGCodex for quite some time as well. For those people who have never heard of Iron Tower Studios, could you provide a brief background of your studio?
Vince: You can say that we're deeply committed to a certain design:
- turn-based & isometric
- stat- and skill-driven (i.e. stats and skills do more than help you kill things)
- dialogue trees with more skill checks than can you shake a stick at
- choices & consequences (from multiple solutions to branching storyline)
We'd like to spend the next 20 years evolving this design, improving it with each and every game. AoD was merely the first step, flawed by definition. We learned a lot during the development, so hopefully Colony Ship will be a much better game in every way. At least, that's the goal.
RPGWatch: Now that introductions are out of the way, please tell us a bit of the Colony Ship RPG. What is the background of the game ? How will it play ? Mechanically, is the game Age of Decadence in space ? How will players move from location to location in this new game ? How will exploration work ?
It's a generation ship game, meaning a colony ship traveling at sub-light speed, the voyage taking centuries (and many generations of the would-be colonists). Naturally, the game would be boring if everything went according to plan and everyone knew their place, so a mutiny brings in much needed chaos, destroys the old order and half the ship in the process, and creates three main factions plus a score of smaller groups.
While Colony Ship is based on the same design principles as AoD, I wouldn't call it AoD in space as the differences are fairly significant: party instead of single character, turn-based stealth instead of text-adventure, learn by using instead of point-buy, stronger focus on exploration and secondary locations, etc.
As for the travel system, you'd have to reach each new location 'manually' since they are all interconnected. You start the game in a container town sitting in one of the cargo holds. You'll be able to explore the locations surrounding the cargo hold, although you won't get far without better gear and skills. If you want to get to the Habitat (a mega 'building' housing the three main factions), you need to cross the Factory (industrial decks between the cargo hold and the Habitat). Crossing such locations will always be a challenge, so you won't be able to simply run for the exit.
Once you've reached a location, you'd be able to fast-travel there.
RPGWatch: Where do you see the roadmap to completion for the Colony Ship RPG?
Now that the character and combat systems are done, we can finally focus on the content and the stealth system. Our goal is to hit Early Access by the end of the year. Then we'll need another year to do the rest, so the end of 2021 sounds fairly realistic right now.
RPGWatch: Where do you draw your inspiration from ? Are there any books/shows/movies you would recommend to people to familiarize and immerse themselves in such a world?
The classics of the genre would be a good start: Robert Heinlein's Orphans of the Sky, Brian Aldiss' Non-Stop, and Gene Wolfe's more fantastical The Book of the Long Sun. I'd throw in more recent Hull Zero Three and Dark Eden.
RPGWatch: These next few questions may be a bit harder for you to answer. Many praised Age of Decadence for the different ways for the story to unfold as well as lasting and meaningful choices (e.g. the entire destruction of a city). The game was heavily stat-dependent and whilst playing a jack-of-all-trades was possible, it was certainly the most difficult method. Backgrounds had a very large impact on your storyline throughout the game and made it so playing through the game a few times was necessary to appreciate the content of the game. Will the Colony Ship RPG be similar in nature ? What are you planning to keep the same and what are you definitely changing?
As I mentioned earlier, the overall design remains the same:
Role-playing requires choices, choices require consequences, otherwise it hardly matters what you choose. Your character's stats and skills should determine what your character can and cannot do, which means you won't be able to do everything. To be good at many things should be harder (but also more rewarding) than to be good at one thing (specialization). This won't change, ever.
The backgrounds are gone as they weren't really necessary (beyond the different roles in the intro quest). You could have just as easily joined a faction and followed its storyline to the end, which you'd still be able to do in Chapter 2, when you reach the Habitat.
On the complete opposite side of the fence, some players railed against the amount of gated content, which was dependent partly on these choices but also on starting - and almost unalterable - stats. Some players did not understand the logic of passing a skill check with a skill of e.g. 4 but not a 3. Many others just found the game way too difficult. Do you plan on addressing these concerns ? And if so, how ?
An interesting, almost philosophical question. Why not 3? Anyway, let's tackle this in order:
1 – Unalterable stats.
When creating a character, you *define* your character through stats. If you decide that average STR is enough for this particular character, it stands to reason that you'd fail all checks requiring above average or heroic STR, no? You might be one stat point short, but you were the one who decided to spend this point on another stat to gain something else.
Having said that, everyone likes stat increases, so you'll have a feat granting you an extra stat point (once) and implants increasing each stat (except for Charisma) by 1, so there will be a bit more flexibility.
2 – The logic of passing a skill check with 4 but not 3.
Not seeing a problem here. Do we not all fail countless times at various tasks over the course of our lives? Half the time we were very, very close (like a 'point short' close), but we failed all the same because in the end it hardly matters how close we were. You either have the required stat/skill or you don't. If you don't...
Sure, we don't say this task needed 4 and you only had 3 in Toaster Over Repairs, but we rank our skills all the time: novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient, expert (Dreyfus' model of skill acquisition). Replace it with a 1-5 scale; would you still wonder why 3 wasn't enough?
In the end it comes to this: stats and skills either matter outside of combat or they don't. If they matter, we need checks to see if your character is tall enough to ride a particular ride. We can do a simple check or make you roll for it. We prefer simple checks.
3 – The game is too difficult.
I've always felt that difficulty should be integrated into the setting. Heroic fantasy calls for a mighty hero, He of the Oversized Sword. In such games you're filled to the brim with the Power of Awesome waiting to be unleashed.
If the setting is a bit gloomier, the sword is a bit smaller, and the only power you're filled with is that of unwarranted arrogance, well, maybe you shouldn't get into fights unless your character is built for war and you, the player, is willing to take some time to learn the combat system and become a True Hero who's earned his or her chops. Just a thought.
For the record, we did try difficulty modes in Dungeon Rats since it was just a combat game and didn't have much setting to speak of. Sadly, it didn't really work out the way we expected. Most people who complained about the difficulty played on Hard and didn't want to lower the difficulty. One person said it would be humiliating [for such a great warrior] to play on Easy. He wanted to beat the game on Hard but he wanted it to be easy. Quite a conundrum.
RPGWatch: Age of Decadence had many secret lore elements which were very difficult for some and almost impossible for others to decipher without some meta-gaming. For example, some players did not understand what to do with many of the 'ancient artefacts' such as the Eye implant. There are different schools of thought here, whereby one thinks that the player character's skills should be the decisive factor in understanding how to use items. For example, if a character had a lore of 10 (the maximum), they should automatically be able to decipher what should be done with the artefacts. Other players find triumph in finding these solutions on their own merit. Where do you stand on this and will the Colony Ship RPG be more or less reliant on the player or character?
Since role-playing is about playing a specific character, the player defines the character via stats, skills, and choices, and issues commands (attack this enemy, attempt to extract an implant, to fix a generator, to hack a computer, etc) and the character does the rest. So if the player decided that the character doesn't need to worry about the ancient trinkets, then the character would be utterly clueless:
[lore failure]You carefully insert the jellyfish artefact into the slot and a low humming sound begins nearby. A row of miniature ghosts leap up from the console. Your teeth rattle in terror as they bow and gesticulate, appearing to beseech your help. One by one, they start bleeding, until they've turned crimson. You don't need to be a loremaster to know the ship is cursed.
You step back, one hand on your weapon, never taking your eyes off the haunted ship, until you've escaped the chamber.
While Colony Ship won't have any ancient artefacts, plus the Ship's inhabitants haven't lost any knowledge (i.e. there's no regression), there will be plenty of 'secrets' and things that are not immediately obvious that would require certain skills to understand. To give you a quick analogy, plenty of gamers are tech-savvy enough to build their own computers and maybe even do some programming. Would this knowledge help you repair and reprogram a reactor? Of course not. You'd gaze upon it with the same dumb look on your face as a novice who's never seen a computer before. Sure, unlike the novice you'd know it's a reactor (duh!) but that would be the extent of your knowledge.
RPGWatch: And the final and hardest question of them all, what is your favourite pizza topping(s)?
I like mushrooms in/on everything including pizza.
Information aboutColony Ship - A Post-Earth Role Playing Game
Developer: Iron Tower Studio
Play-time: 20-40 hours
Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· Expected at 2020-09-30
· Publisher: Iron Tower Studio