Game Design Thoughts #5 - Yet Another Iteration of CyMS

“CyMS will be the death of us.” - Johnny “Cyborg” Sinclair-Ariza

But seriously, they might be the death of Brendan and I on this journey to create Omicron Protocol. =P

The game is different because of the “3rd party enemy” that is the CyMS, but it is also one of the hardest elements of the game to get right, both in the sense of how they fit the lore as well as balance. In the lore, they are erratically behaving everyday person, who at one moment is doing their own thing, and another moment starts attacking you randomly because you attracted their attention (usually with noise). In the game, they have to be:

  • Frightening enough so players don’t just ignore them.

  • Not so frightening that the game becomes almost co-op with both players spending all their actions KO-ing CyMS.

  • Be unpredictable enough to make the game exciting and give players tactical options to screw with the opponent.

  • Not so random such that the winner of the game is determined by chance.

Balancing all of these things have led us to revamping the CyMS rules over and over again, until this “version 4” that we just completed this week.

The idea came about as we observed many playtests and demos and discovered that:

  • Players wondered why noise generated by Characters only affected how many CyMS spawn, but all their attack and movement were not influenced by noise at all.

  • CyMS all activated at the end of a turn, so they were very static and can be ignored by both players during the Character Activation Phase.

The Taiwan crew helped us figure out that we needed to change the CyMS rules.

The Taiwan crew helped us figure out that we needed to change the CyMS rules.

After talking to some playtesters in Taiwan, especially 黃堂益, who provided a lot of invaluable feedback about how CyMS should interact with noise, Brendan and I decided to bite the bullet and change how CyMS acted. The actual rules you’ll see in our soon-to-be-released Print-and-Play rules, but in short, CyMS now:

  • Activate after every Character activation (so they activate up to 8 times per turn)

  • Is affected by how much noise is made each activation.

  • Is controlled by the opposing player for some added tactical choices.

And as I mentioned in previous “Game Design Thoughts”, changing something as fundamental as CyMS rules utterly wrecked the balance of almost every Character in the first 2 factions, Survivalists and Peacekeepers. We spent the last 3 weeks furiously playtesting the 2 teams over and over again, in our 4 current scenarios, trying to get the 2 teams to balance against each other, as well as answer tons of edge cases that were created by the new CyMS rules.

Got some help from Zack and Jordan testing out the new CyMS rules too!

Got some help from Zack and Jordan testing out the new CyMS rules too!

The process was painful, especially when it came to re-writing major sections of the rulebook (thank goodness Tania, our graphics designer and the person laying out our rules didn’t hate us too much for changing so much of what she already laid out!). Some characters who were weak became super powerful, others became useless. But after 3 weeks of testing, we did our double playtest Wednesday night at Gamescape San Francisco with our long time playtesters, Austin, Jean-Loup, Nate, and Ben, and the feedback has been unanimously positive. CyMS feel more interactive, threatening, strategic, and interesting now. Whew!

Thank you guys for your feedback!!!

Thank you guys for your feedback!!!

In summary, changing rules to make the game more interesting, both tactically as well as fitting with the lore, is part of the game design process. It can be super painful, but if done correctly, it can make the game even better. We’re glad that this revision of the CyMS is a success so far, and we now move on to RE-BALANCING the Animals and Red Dragons factions again, oh boy!

What do you think of our changes to the CyMS? Was it for the better? Let us know in the comments section!