BattleTech - Dev Diary #2
Dev Diary #2 covers the Arano Restoration campaign for BattleTech.
Internally we’ve been describing the Arano Restoration campaign as “the BATTLETECH movie”, with the idea that we’d then be able to do “the BATTLETECH original series”.
To make this happen, we needed to add some additional infrastructure to our content systems -- a framework to manage the various contracts and conversations and events. In the original Kamea campaign, we used a mechanism called “milestones” to manage the flow of gameplay through the content. For our new infrastructure, we needed to expand, polish, and make generic the milestone system.
We call the new system "Flashpoints", and it’s kind of like a Swiss army knife for creating longer-form content than our single encounter model. Flashpoints represent a sort of "campaign construction kit", with all the parts needed to build small, bite-sized episodes of story, and then tie those episodes together into longer narratives.
When we talk about how the game is procedural, that’s a misnomer; we don’t actually randomly generate our content. The maps are hand-sculpted; the encounters are placed on them by hand, and the contracts that layer story over the encounters are authored one at a time. The apparent randomness comes from the way these parts work together to make an actual game experience. We call it "curated procedural content": content assembled from carefully designed components.
The Flashpoint mechanism is an extension of the "curated procedural" idea into longer-form stories. We have encounters and their contracts, which are the basic building blocks of a story - you fight a patrolling lance of ‘Mechs; you assault a base; you escort a caravan of rescued prisoners to a pickup location. Within the Flashpoint structure, we connect those into a single, continuous story - you fight a patrol to clear a path to a base where your employer’s people are being held prisoner; you assault and capture the base, neutralizing its defenses and the lance guarding it; the prisoners are loaded into vehicles and you escort them to a pre-arranged extraction point, defending their convoy from the enemies that had captured them in the first place.
In addition to the sequenced contracts and encounters, we’re also adding branching conversations to the Flashpoint infrastructure, to provide both story context -- a briefing from your employer, or a conversation with your crew -- and moments of choice. The Kamea campaign was necessarily linear, because we were building highly-specific content, bespoke encounters on bespoke maps, and that doesn’t leave a lot of room for variation beyond minor cosmetic things. By assembling these short episodes from the curated building blocks of encounters and contracts, we streamline the fiddly technical work of putting a story together, and we’re able to focus on the storytelling. Maybe your employer has a side job she’d like you to look into on the way. Maybe there’s an ethical line your employers are crossing that you’re uncomfortable with. Maybe you can choose a larger strategic goal -- destroy a logistical base, or capture a communications station -- with different repercussions to the overall campaign.
Flashpoints have two other exciting aspects as well. The first is that we’re introducing the idea of rare rewards for completing Flashpoints, in addition to the normal rewards and salvage, because they’re longer and more complex and more difficult than one-off contracts. In some cases, we’ll be asking you to do multiple missions back-to-back, with no chance to repair or heal up your pilots, so you’ll need a much deeper bench of both ‘Mechs and MechWarriors to handle them. But you’ll have the chance to find rare weapons, ‘Mech upgrades, and even LosTech items as possible rewards, on top of the usual c-bills and salvage. So branching choices and cool bonus rewards are what make Flashpoints something you’ll want to play.
The other really exciting part of this new structure is that Flashpoints are all data-driven. They’re built in human-readable JSON in the exposed and easy-to-access asset directory. That means it would be pretty simple for someone to use the structure to create their own Flashpoints. Or even a longer campaign. Which we don’t officially support, of course! But… just saying.
Genre: Tactical RPG