We asked players of our current text-based roleplaying game Star Conquest to give us their questions about Signal Nine, our upcoming cyberpunk roleplaying game! And here they are (reworded for brevity) along with our answers!
Q. Where does the name Signal Nine come from?
In Unix-based systems, a process that receives “signal 9” is terminated. The signal cannot be ignored and kills the process immediately. Signal 9 can also be represented ominously as SIGKILL. In the wider context of cyberpunk, we hope it evokes the image of a cold and unfeeling machine sending this SIGKILL down the line and straight into a hapless decker’s direct neural interface.
But mostly, naming a game is hard and we thought it sounded cool.
Q: Is Signal Nine based on Gibsonian cyberpunk or is it a more modern take? Will it include variations like biopunk, nanopunk, and so on?
William Gibson’s Sprawl series is of course a large inspiration for the game, and yes, it is probably safe to say it is the principal influence. Our other big inspirations are K C Alexander’s SINless series, Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson, Trouble and Her Friends by Melissa Scott, Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon (as well as the television adaptation), the classic film Blade Runner (and other things written by or adapted from Philip K. Dick), Akira, and tabletop roleplaying games like Shadowrun and, of course, Mike Pondsmith’s Cyberpunk.
There will be some elements of biopunk, with vat-grown organs and clones and such, but nanotech and the like are considered too “high tech” for our aims. We will, however, have a large focus on artificial intelligence and robots, including playable ones.
Q: Will Signal Nine extrapolate from modern technology, or will it be retrofuture?
Decidedly retrofuture. For those not in the know, that means we’ll essentially pretend that 1980s assumptions about future technology were correct and largely ignore developments that were not anticipated. As our Star Conquest players will know, we’re quite fond of this subgenre. We want to capture the aesthetic of talking to a rogue AI through a chunky CRT monitor, plugging a thick black cable into your neural interface, diving into C-space via a hookup in a phone booth, and so on.
Q: A common theme of cyberpunk is transhumanism — what it means to be human. Will Signal Nine tackle this theme?
To a degree, at least! We have the concept that cyberware places stress on the mind and body — that, past a certain point, your meat will rebel against all of the augments you’re stuffing into it, as if too much humanity has been lost. Some people will have more tolerance than others… and we also have what we call The Robocop Principle, where traumatic injuries lessen your attachment to your body and make it easier to accept cybernetic replacements. A sufficiently augmented human may appear to even survive past death, still functioning after the mind has shut down. The extremely wealthy also have the ability to transfer their consciousness into cyberspace, an artificial brain, or a clone — are they still the same person afterwards?
Or think of it the other way. When society structures itself around the assumption that everyone has implants that let them interact with the net, what does it mean if someone does not have that implant? Are they then less than human?
Then we have robots, who will have cognition equivalent to humans, or at least appear to. Most robots will be obvious, but we also have artificial skin and components that mimic human vital signs, making at least some difficult to detect. In fact, one of our favorite ideas to toss around has been making a random character who rolled as human a secret robot — unknown even to themselves! They think they’re human. Everyone around them thinks they’re human. So are they?
And then, of course, there are the classic inscrutable artificial intelligences, created by humans yet vastly surpassing them in intellect. What are their motivations? Can humans even understand them?
Q: Another pillar of cyberpunk is the idea of “style over substance.” Will this philosophy be represented?
Very much so. As William Gibson has remarked, cyberpunk tends to be less of a realistic “hard science fiction” extrapolation of modern technology and more of a surrealist metaphor for present times. Ironically, it’s this quality that has given cyberpunk what is arguably better predictive results than other genres of science fiction. Signal Nine stays true to this; it is more important to us to capture the essential feel of cyberpunk, to view modern sociopolitical realities through this strange lens, than to be strictly realistic. Certainly it would be hard for bulky computer systems and androids indistinguishable from humans to exist together in the same world otherwise.
The world also expresses this theme within itself. We want to have a variety of fashion available to players, from plain and functional to edgy and attention-grabbing to just plain cheap. NPCs, too, will dress in distinct styles. And, of course, body modifications will be extensive — perhaps get your arms chromed so someone thinks twice about tackling you, even if you don’t actually have any cybernetics! People in this world will be constantly advertising — or unable to hide — their place in society, and variably trying to appear to be no threat or to seem very dangerous indeed. Will they actually turn out to be dangerous if pressed? That’s always the question. But, in this world, the seeming of a thing is often more important than the thing itself.
Q: What is the moment-to-moment pace of Signal Nine? Is it fast or do things take time?
The pace tends to be more deliberate, with the idea that players will pre-plan their moves to some degree. Traveling across the city is meant to be something of a minor event, giving an incentive to instead stick to your own neighborhood and visit your local hub venue. Speedwalking is impossible for reasons that I can’t cover in this single answer (though it isn’t whatever you’re likely thinking, like an enforced delay). Of course, while the fact it takes measurable time to leave your apartment and walk down the street to your local club might seem novel the first time, it might also be tedious the fiftieth time, and one of our main focuses during early playtesting will be to strike the right balance with this.
Other things tend to take time as well. If you’re in a firefight that goes south, tending even minor wounds will take a few minutes, and if you need surgery to treat or replace severely injured body parts, that will be a whole process. Then there’s the healing! But combat is asked about below, so I’ll write more about it there.
When it comes to the longer term, our goal for Signal Nine is for characters to be able to experience a major event or notable progression about once a week (for example, a hospital heist to score some drugs or cyberware). The rest of the time will mostly be things you can take at your own pace: hanging at the club, doing things in your day job if you have one, and prep work for whatever bigger project you’re working on.
Q: Does Signal Nine need many other players in order to have fun (especially if you’re a “support” role like a decker or ripperdoc) or can it be played solo?
One of our goals is to enable and encourage players to form into small “gaming groups” not unlike what you’d gather for a tabletop roleplaying session — something like three to six players, with one person taking a larger organizing role in setting up the session. This group would come together for their weekly major heist or other event alluded to in the previous answer. We would expect members to rotate in and out or for the group to reform entirely week by week. Finding the people you need will be the functional purpose of the hub venues in the city.
But this more group-based dynamic does not preclude solo play, and may in fact paradoxically create it. These ops need prep work: cyberware installed, medicine and ammo sourced, security scouted out through a cyberspace run, and so on. It can even be as intricate as finding out who’s on guard duty that night, hacking into the employee database to find their home address, and making sure they are “indisposed” when they should be on duty. All of these things are smaller jobs that can either be kept within your core group or contracted out to players inclined toward solo play.
Of course, a complete and robust player economy cannot just be assumed to exist, especially in the early life of the game. Our job system will ensure that there is always something you can do to earn a living in the game, and as our city simulation system progresses, we will be able to have NPCs offer entire jobs to players.
Essentially, we want to accommodate all sorts of styles of play, from solo to group, including being able to make some progress even if you have only a few minutes a day and can’t put in any serious time until next weekend. Additionally, we don’t want to accidentally design a game that requires two hundred active players in order for anyone to do anything. This is why we want to design activities around small teams, or around instances of solo play that add up to a greater whole.
Q: Can players form and join guilds, clans, gangs, corporations, or other groups?
Characters rolled on the corporate side of things will certainly be part of a specific corporation, surrounded by other players and NPCs in their own office space. Similarly, characters on the criminal side will likely be able to join specific gangs, though we haven’t entirely nailed this down yet, and we may end up emphasizing the looser hub-based approach described above. Isolating players in different separate clubhouses, though it always sounds cool on paper, has some large downsides. The advantage, though, would be to start new characters off with some preexisting structure and resources.
Again as described above, we foresee players naturally forming loose, transitory groups in order to accomplish specific tasks, perhaps ending up with, for instance, a different hacker from one week to the next, and a different heavy the week after that, and so on. It’s also likely that players who come to enjoy working with each other will end up forming more permanent bonds, and for these cases, we will probably want to allow these players to form their own gangs.
That will be down the road a bit, though. Due to the nature of our Karma system, most characters initially will be quite low on the food chain. As time goes on, we will want suitable players to be sorted into leadership roles, to become gang leaders in character and something like a dungeon master out of character, to provide an organizational core to other players and drive the action.
Q: Does Signal Nine have an experience or point system to represent character progression?
No, and intentionally so. The closest we have is a skill system, but players do not see the numbers. Given the diminishing returns built into the system, there will be no expectation of every player maximizing all their skills until they’re homogeneous. In other words, skills exist to give characters some limitations and a framework for interacting with the game’s mechanics, not so that they can be raised through constant grinding. Basically, we want to avoid players ever seeing a number as their goal, something that can be achieved through repetition of the same small task.
Instead, think of progress in terms of accomplishments. For example, let’s say you’ve rolled up a character who is a low level street thug… but with aspirations to become an enforcer, a real heavy. Looking to the future, you invested in cyberware tolerance during character generation instead of immediately going for a cybernetic limb, a choice that can net you more cyberware in the long run. But a character like yours has trouble affording that sort of thing. What’s the alternative? Stealing it. So down at the local bar, you make a decker friend. If she can get you info on the next Integrand Inter-Solutions shipment going through the docks, then you can intercept it and hopefully score yourself some of their cyberware, and since they also make deck hardware, you can hopefully pay back your friend too. Long story short, the heist goes down and you find yourself in possession of a shiny new cybernetic arm that’ll let you punch people through a wall. Now to find a “qualified” street doc…
Generally, players will create a character with some idea in mind of what direction they want to take it, whether it’s highly enhanced, biologically augmented, an arms specialist, a well-equipped street doc, or whatever else. What constitutes progress, then, is finding something that brings your character closer to your goal. Goals can shift, too; if you planned to build your character into a sniper but, while on a job, you stumble into a brand new Hikari BoneScythe implant that’ll turn your arms into deadly weapons, you may be inspired to go in an up-close-and-personal direction instead. Whether everything goes according to plan or not, your accomplishments are not getting Number X to 1,000 but rather finding a way to empower your character or open up new options, and what constitutes progress for you will be as individual as your playstyle.
Q: Is there a crafting system?
There is! Creating or customizing things will play a large role in certain aspects of the game. For example, a top tier decker will surely want to customize their deck. The crafting system also enables skills like tailoring, cooking, and chemical synthesis.
The corporate side of play is all about player-created content. Want to write articles, shows, advertisements, or create your own store menu? Create a corporate character in the desired field and get your work into the pipeline for addition to the game. As you might already know, we’ll allow multiple characters, so this doesn’t preclude having a criminal character as well.
Q: Is there a cyberspace/decking system?
Yes. Cyberspace is one of the core features of the game and will receive a lot of attention. C-space itself will be extensive, consisting of databases, corporate sites, personal sites, and all sorts, and will be accessible on multiple levels, from text to direct neural interface.
Hardware and software will both be a very big deal if your character is a decker. While you can always buy a deck off the shelf, the best decks will be custom built. You’ll worry about architecture, RAM, CPU speed and so on as you build your dream machine. Similarly, you can install software off a mass-produced disk, but a serious hacker will code their own.
Q: Will cyberspace be integrated with “meatspace” or more of a wholly separate environment?
While one of our main goals with C-space is to have it be a “game within a game” with its own unique environments and mechanics, we also want decking to have a very real and noticeable impact on the real world. Players and NPCs alike will have a data footprint in the net (unless they’ve deliberately scoured it clean), as will corporations, buildings, and so on. We want just about everything with electronics to be vulnerable to hacking, like keypads, cameras, security robots, and so on. Our goal is for good deckers to be extremely sought-after, both for their ability to unearth data and scout things out ahead of time as well as smoothing the way while an op is ongoing.
We do, however, want to stop short of cyberspace and hacking feeling like magic. For example, imagine running a program where you blank yourself out in the mind of everybody who would otherwise see you, basically becoming invisible — kind of cool, but not what we’re going for here. But jacking into a building’s terminal and running a program where you look at its environmental controls and can surmise where all of the guards are and keep your team informed? We’re all for that. Basically, we want cyberspace and meatspace to be closely integrated, but accessing where they overlap should be a very clear and deliberate interaction.
Q: Will there be cyberware?
Yes! Cyberware (cybernetic augmentations to the body) is a core feature and we want to have a wide array of it available. Currently, we have just under a hundred bits of cyberware implemented, and that is mostly just to cover our starting essentials. They include mundane and ubiquitous chipsockets, cybereyes with smart targeting and video recording capability, powerful cyberlimbs, wired reflexes, muscle mechanization, direct neural interfaces for decking, a chemical analyzer that reveals the active ingredients of anything you taste, pain suppressor chips, a catalytic fuel cell implant that finally gives you a reason to drink gasoline, tools implanted into your fingers, monowhips, skullguns, and many, many more. This will certainly be an area that sees constant expansion throughout the game’s life.
Q: How common will cyberware be? Is this an endgame thing?
Not all cyberware is created equal. Some will be ubiquitous, likely present in nearly every character from the moment they’re created, like chipslots and retina displays. Other cyberware will be rare, expensive, military grade, or outright dangerous, and just revealing that you have it installed will make you the talk of the streets for a while.
Even cyberware that performs the same function will have different models and tiers. For example, if you lose an arm, you might only be able to afford to replace it with a prosthetic that doesn’t work as well as the original. But there are also cyberarms that match or exceed human capabilities, up to high-end ones offering superhuman strength.
Cyberware is a core mechanic and mode of progression, and a core aspect of the world’s theme, and it’ll be for characters in all roles and at all points in their arc.
Q: How well will Signal Nine’s different systems integrate? For example, is it difficult to add a new type of ammunition that causes different wounds, or to add the ability to hack vehicles?
Signal Nine is extremely modular behind the scenes. For example, weapons (represented internally as objects that can be carried around and interacted with, much as they seem to the player) and cybernetics (represented internally as a set of data on a PC/NPC entity) were developed in isolation, yet when the time came to integrate these two systems to create implanted cybernetic weaponry, it took about ten minutes. Weapon objects and cybernetics can both just point to a particular data structure that tells it what ammunition it needs, what type of damage it does, and so on.
All of our data is structured like that. If we want to add new ammunition with a new damage type, then we’re done as soon as we add in that new data with no new code required, because the system is already flexible enough to handle it. Similarly, hacking has been designed with the expectation that if not now, then perhaps later, we may want any given object to be running an operating system and be hackable, from vending machines to vehicles to a person’s cyberware.
Q: Do drugs with different effects exist? Will players be able to make them?
Drugs do exist, and they can have about any behavior we care to define. The selection is not terribly extensive at the moment, and mostly consists of what was needed for the medical system, including things like painkillers and antibiotics.
However, we do plan to have a fairly extensive selection of drugs. Some will be purely for recreation and roleplay, and may have minor mechanical effects like reducing your stress level or what it takes you tip you into a state of shock, but will mostly be mechanically negative. On the other side of this are combat drugs, which can boost your abilities extensively — like cyberware, a way to become more human than human — but will also have significant downsides.
Our chemicals system also combines well with our materials system, allowing you to pour yourself a tall glass of hydrochloric acid or ipecac. Bottoms up!
And yes, players will be able to make them through our crafting system.
Q: What is the medical system like? Will real medical knowledge be beneficial?
The medical system is fairly detailed, modeling individual body parts, blood, pain, shock, and so on — extensive enough to be considered another core feature. We felt that modeling things to this degree was necessary to implement the meaningfully dangerous combat system we wanted (more on that in later answers), as well as properly representing cybernetic augmentations, that being a key aspect of the genre.
First aid therefore consists of several things, most importantly managing bleeding, whether it’s with bandages, a tourniquet, or as a last resort, cauterizing the wound. After that, the wound itself should be treated, and there are various methods to do that as well. Surgery also exists as a way to remove and replace body parts — though if the replacement is cybernetic, then that is cybersurgery, another separate skill.
Real medical knowledge might provide some small advantage — it probably helps to know what exactly a cardiopulmonary bypass machine does without having to look it up — but the treatment options in the game should be self-explanatory enough that players of medics and surgeons can pick up on things quickly. Our goal with the medical system, as with the rest of the game, is to create enough complexity to allow for emergent interactions without overwhelming the player with multitudes of details whose significance is difficult to grasp.
Q: What will combat be like? Is it dangerous? Will there be non-violent approaches to a situation?
Combat is dangerous indeed and not to be entered into lightly. Being under fire at all will often mean that an op has gone very wrong. If you do plan to be in combat, you will want to prepare extensively, leaving as little as possible to chance.
The complexity in our medical system leads to three main ways to become incapacitated in combat:
- Direct damage. If you’re shot through the heart, whether love has a bad name will be the least of your concerns.
- Pain. Traumatic pain can lead to a state of shock and unconsciousness.
- Blood loss. Similarly, losing too much blood affects body function and leads to unconsciousness.
Additionally, every wound you take must be treated or risk infection, which can kill as well. A severe wound, even if treated well, will likely leave behind a scar, permanently if slightly impairing that body part’s function. If a limb is left in a sorry enough state, then you’ll be glad you’re in a world with cybernetic replacements. Either way, even a fight you win may not be entirely without permanent consequences.
However, we are also mindful of the fact that it quite frankly sucks to get a favorite character blown away by a sniper you never saw, so things are not left entirely to chance. Generally speaking, combat will be a developing situation where you have a chance to react. Also, even if you are incapacitated, it will generally be some time still before you die, so murder is not the foregone conclusion of combat. Once the city simulation is a bit further along, we plan to have police and medical NPCs swoop in on a bad situation when possible, and we will want them to prioritize saving characters from death — assuming your contract with your favorite emergency services company is paid up. Of course, that would also only apply to altercations on the street. If you’re invading someone’s hideout, you’re likely to be on your own.
Given all of this, yes, we very much want to provide non-violent approaches to things — or if not exactly non-violent, there are chances to at least avoid a prolonged altercation. As said at the start of this answer, we expect players will prefer ops planned so that combat is largely avoided. Or you can just go in guns blazing, but overconfidence rarely leads to a long life in this genre.
Q: Are you afraid that permadeath will make players afraid to take risks? Do you think it may end up being too harsh?
We’re not afraid of permadeath factoring into risk calculations — we expect it. The cyberpunk setting is a harsh and unforgiving world, and players should certainly feel that to some degree, and not grow too cavalier when planning their next heist. Of course, we don’t want it to feel unfair either. Death should generally only be the endpoint of a situation that has been escalating for some time, where the player could have made other choices besides sticking it out till the bitter end.
We hope that the fact a character won’t last forever will be factored into how players approach the game. If you roll a wizard on your favorite roguelike and he dies fifty floors down, what will you do? Never play again? Or will you roll up a warrior instead and try the game a whole different way? Our hope is that players approach Signal Nine in a similar fashion. When your decker character comes to an end after weeks or months, that’s an opportunity to try playing an augmented heavy, or something else you haven’t tried before. Besides permadeath, climbing the Karma ladder will also encourage players to try something new after a while. We want characters to come and go in a fluid and agile way, with players trying one build and then wanting to try another, rather than hanging around for years gradually accruing more and more power until they grow bored.
But if that answer made you nervous, let me offer some reassurance. We know that any of our decisions may have an impact we didn’t envision, or one that we thought we accounted for but did not sufficiently. “Will this be fun?” is a question we’re asking ourselves constantly, and often it’s one we can’t answer accurately until we have testers in the game. We have a certain design in mind and we’re pretty sure it’ll work… but we’ll certainly be wrong about some things, and perhaps we’ll even be wrong about some of our core assumptions. If that is the case, we’ll make the changes that need to be made. Alpha and beta will be a very fluid time!
Q: Will combat tend to mostly be against NPCs, or against other players?
Player vs. player combat is certainly accommodated, though we are also mindful of griefing, ganking, and the other issues that go along with this. Our ideal here is essentially that, yes, you can murder someone, but either you prepare well or you can expect to face various in-character consequences, whether it’s from law enforcement, that character’s friends seeking revenge, or both. Also, of course, players who enjoy causing chaos for out-of-character reasons, or otherwise end up having a deleterious effect on everybody else’s fun, will be strongly encouraged to find another hobby.
Knowing that not everyone enjoys PvP, though, we will also not be basing the game around it. Players will most likely usually be fighting NPCs. For players who do prefer PvP, we expect that certain gangs and certain parts of the city will provide that for them.
Q: What about food and drink? How hard will it be to just survive day to day in The Sprawl?
It is necessary to eat, though our goal is to avoid tedium here as well. While going into a fight when your character hasn’t eaten all day puts you at a bit of a disadvantage, it takes days to actually starve to death. Food systems often turn into a tedious, nagging mechanic where you’re eating four steaks every half hour just to survive — that is the sort of thing we definitely want to avoid.
While real meat and the like are hard to come by in The Sprawl, it’s generally not that hard to fill your stomach. Microfarming (algae) and microlivestock (a fancy way to say you’re eating bugs) are practiced across the city, and their products are available everywhere, in food stalls and vending machines. Healthier meals are better for you, but at least you won’t have to scavenge through dumpsters to survive another day unless you have truly, deeply screwed up.
We also plan to have a sort of “catchup” mechanic where, if your character has been idle or offline for a while, you’ll have some input into what they did during that time in terms of roleplaying, which is likely to include eating a meal if it was time for one. However, this mechanic isn’t fully fleshed out and we don’t want to say much about it quite yet. In any case, we certainly don’t intend for it to be deadly if you can’t actively play for a few days.
Q: You’ve mentioned that Signal Nine mostly takes place in one city. Will there be other cities or more exotic locations like orbital stations?
Our city is the classic cyberpunk “Sprawl” — that is, multiple cities that have grown together and become interconnected. Extreme weather and rising sea levels have also driven humans to consolidate rather than attempt to preserve more rural outlying regions. This and the influence of multinational corporations have brought many nationalities and cultures into close contact. Basically, even what is technically one city is extremely large both in area and the types of settings and stories we can explore there.
That said, we do expect to want to add other locations down the road. We would not, however, expect them to be frequently visited or lived-in locations. Our overall design is served by keeping players near a handful of hubs so that they can easily find each other and interact, and spreading people out among many different separate-but-equivalent locations would likely paradoxically make the game seem smaller.
Q: Will player characters be “special” or just regular denizens of the city?
Player characters are not a specific entitled subclass, immortal, or anything like that. Another of the pillars of cyberpunk is the idea that nobody is really special. Your classic cyberpunk protagonist is just somebody wrapped up in events too big for one person, who comes out the other end not having gotten everything they wanted but just having survived another day… at best. Even the mighty can fall. And we want to be able to tell all sorts of stories with our players, not just about movers and shakers but also the down on their luck.
What this means for a Signal Nine player is that they are just an ordinary citizen with all that entails. You’ll want food and shelter and you’ll be needing money to get those things. You’ll need a day job, and it may well be a boring one (though don’t worry, our plans don’t include forcing players to actually perform repetitive minutiae; only your character will truly suffer). If you want time in the limelight, you’ll have to claw your way into it on bloody fingernails.
Of course, there is also the option to roll up or become a more important character. Every cyberpunk tale needs the rumored hot shit street samurai, the top tier decker with a local fan following, the high-level exec authorized to pay “freelancers” for difficult jobs, the fixer with the connections to get all these people into a room together, and so on. But, again, these roles do not guarantee immortality and may just as often be played by NPCs!
Q: Will there be major plots that affect the whole game?
Yes, the world will certainly evolve over time, and major shakeups that player characters have a role in are certain to happen. Keep in mind, though, that cyberpunk stories tend to be about getting caught up in events much bigger than yourself. Imagine yourself as part of a small gang doing a heist in the midst of an AI rebellion that’s shut down all the electronic systems in an entire district, and not as part of a mob of player characters filling a conference room to give advice and ultimatums to the Executive Council.
It is a common pitfall of plot-driven roleplaying games to have the player characters take on too-large, almost godlike roles in the unfolding of events, and it’s certainly a mistake we’ve made in the past. Our goal will be to strike a balance here, having characters involved in and influencing ongoing major events without ever being able to seize the reins completely. You have a part to play in an ongoing story, like everybody else, but that story is much bigger than a few individuals.
Q: How is it decided what type of character we can play? Will character backstories be required?
We’re using a Karma system. As a new player, you’ll start out with no Karma and initially be offered the opportunity to create a low-level corpo or an unemployed lowlife who perhaps has gang connections. Little to no backstory will be required for these — though given that such characters will never influence any governments or fly a car-sized laser around, any profile requirements will be decidedly less strenuous than they are in Star Conquest anyway.
Once you accumulate Karma, you’ll be offered the option to create a character a bit higher on the societal ladder — a corporate supervisor, or someone starting with notable decker skills, for instance. But a thoughtful character profile can also bypass a Karma requirement. If your character concept would be a brilliant fit for the setting, then you may well be able to skip a few character tiers ahead.
To summarize, you can create low-level characters with little or no character profile requirement, and if such a character aspires to reach the top of the food chain, they have a very long and difficult journey ahead. Creating a character with more influence on the game world at the outset, however, will require either demonstrating directly that you’re good at roleplaying and familiar with the game’s theme (represented by the Karma system), or by proving your credentials with a well-written profile. In any case, we do certainly want to streamline the character approval process and make it easier on both players and staff than it is in Star Conquest.
Q: Is the game class-based? Can you branch out into other roles?
During character generation, you can pick a role for your character. This defines your starting skills and social class. But from there, you can do basically whatever you want. Choosing a role sets you onto a certain path, but it’s not a path you have to follow to its conclusion. Want to start as a decker and then train yourself in handguns so you can hold your own in a fight? Go for it. There is very little you will be outright locked out of when you choose a role.
Q: How well-equipped will characters be for the role they start with? Will street heavies already have cybernetics? Will wheelmen start with cars?
During character generation, you can pick from a set of advantages and disadvantages. Disadvantages might include things like nearsightedness or even missing a limb. Advantages can include above average strength, a boost in social class, or even equipment, including basic cybernetics.
These will be mostly freeform, so that if you’re intent on being a driver, yes, perhaps you’ll choose to start with a cheap car. Or maybe you’ll want the car even though you’re a decker. Maybe you’ll be a street doc with a cyberarm. These are all just starting points, and meant to push you toward where you want to take that particular character. However, even with some advantages, this won’t look anything like the eventual endpoint of your character.
Q: How accessible will the game be for the visually impaired?
Reasonably! We’ve been keeping it in mind as we develop, and our experience with this issue in previous games — including mistakes we’ve made — certainly come into play. Visually impaired players will hopefully enjoy features like our “landmark”-based navigation system, where a snappy sentence tells you where your character is as they move around.
Q: Has there been any work done on a soundpack?
Not yet. We do not have any experience in developing soundpacks ourselves. One thing we are hoping to do is work more closely with soundpack creators, providing out-of-band triggers and the like to help them more closely integrate their functionality with the game.
Q: What is the system in the game you’re most proud of?
To be honest, there are a lot! This is a very ambitious game and has us doing a lot of new things.
My favorite thing is how modular the objects and data structures are, and how they can be made to interact with only a little work. One of my favorite specific systems is perhaps the medical system, which is a good case study in this. Lay someone down and amputate their arm. Are they unconscious? If not, they’ll probably go into shock! Did you apply a tourniquet first? Then they’re bleeding heavily, with a pool of blood forming on the floor! Stop the bleeding, suture the wound, and then you can pick up that cyberarm and install it. Hook up an IV, get some antibiotics into their system and replace the blood they lost. This all involves the interaction of many things: medical procedures use the crafting system, drugs and blood use the materials and chemicals systems, then there’s the skill and stats systems, the body function system to measure your fine motor skills, obviously the cyberware system, and so on. And what was the cyberware? A character will wake up able to shoot a gun implanted in their arm, read data through a chipslot in their skull, record their surroundings with their cybereye, and all the other strange things we’ve allowed for.
All in all, the modular structure of the data allows a lot of emergent behavior. Though the data may be complex behind the scenes, players can interact with it in a simple way, and then still get complex results. Do players need to understand that when they drink a can of Chroma Cola, it’s both its caffeine and sugar content that contribute to a slight boost in some of their stats that lasts until the chemicals are metabolized by their body, which depends on the health and functioning of their liver? Not at all! But when they take a drink, that’s what’s happening.
Q. What system has given you the most trouble?
Probably our new building system. I don’t mean to tease it, as we aren’t quite ready to go into detail about it yet, but building and the way the environment is presented to the players is quite different from anything we’ve ever done before, and this system has gone through several revisions already. Making it usable for both players and builders has been a challenge, and we may even need some server modifications before we’re fully happy with it. For all we know, it may not even survive alpha testing! But we rather hope it does.
Q: How is development going? When can we play?
This question came up a few times, as it happens. Development hasn’t hit any major snags or surprises, though we do of course have a lot we need to get done. While making text-based games is fun and satisfying, it also doesn’t pay the bills, and concerns with money, family, health, and so on can very easily set our best-laid plans awry, particularly with this year being as crazy as it is. For that reason, we’re not likely to set any specific dates until we have basically already done everything we need to do in order to be ready for a deadline.
We have a few systems I’ve declared ready for playtesting: Object interaction, inventory, movement, clothing, shops, and all the basics. Body part and medical systems. Combat, including damage and various weapons. The crafting system. Cyberware. The very basics of the city simulation. Several other major features are begun but not complete, and I won’t list them all here. What we need to have done to test for playability is a very different milestone than what we need to have done for the game to be fun to play and ready for the door to be thrown open wide. We have some concrete plans for the former but no timeline yet for the latter. The ninety-ninety rule is very much at play here, and we have enough experience to know when it’s not wise to make firm predictions.
Above all, we want to have something we can be proud of when the time comes to let players in. We want to have something that will blow your text-based socks off (and then let you wear them on your ears because our clothing system can do that). We understand it’s natural to be impatient to play a game that sounds like something you’d like. We’re at least as impatient to finally see our ideas come to life!
I apologize for not being able to give a date, but rest assured that beyond the time required to do this right and the sheer madness of the year 2020, development hasn’t hit any barriers. In the meantime, I would like to begin posting here a bit more regularly in a sort of dev diary format, so everyone interested can get a sense of where we are in terms of progress and just what kind of game Signal Nine is going to be.
Thanks to all who submitted questions! We hope you’ve enjoyed finding out a little more about what Signal Nine will be. Again, we plan to begin posting dev diaries now and then, right here, to highlight certain systems and explain our design philosophy. If you’re a Star Conquest player and these answers have raised more questions, feel free to keep using the @S9QA command, and we’ll let those steer our dev diary topics or even do a followup Q&A. Thanks for reading!