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  Mechanic #192 - Droid Engineer
Posted: Feb 5, 2014

Build an army out of robot parts, connecting elements together to create unique combatants.

  Droid Engineer

Star Wars Galaxies had a character specialization called "Droid Engineer" in which you could build your own droids by combining different parts. For instance, you could install a compartment for it to hold inventory or a hard drive to store waypoints. Ultimately, they could never figure out what to do with droids so whatever you made became little more than a glorified vanity pet. I think towards the very end, they added combat capabilities, changing Droid Engineer into a hunter-like pet handling class. SWG will forever remain the greatest unfulfilled potential in gaming.

This entry is my attempt to take that concept of a droid engineer - that is, someone who engineers droids from useful parts - and making it into something interesting and worthwhile. Basically, it's a tactics game where you build your units out of parts.

  Building a Better Robot



Fig 192.1 - Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy.

You build robotic combatants using a series of off the shelf parts. Each robot consists of (generally) six different parts: head, body, left arm, right arm, legs, and back attachment. Some robots can have more or less, such as six armed robots or utility robots that have no arms or attachments.

Each of these attachments have a number of actions on them. For instance, an arm with a sword attached to it might have actions such as "basic attack", "cleave", "sweeping blow", and so on. These actions can not be used, however, unless they are powered.



Fig 192.2 - Divert power from energy core to the various components.

The core building block of a robot is power. Inside the body, one can install a power core of a certain value. This core can have its power diverted to the various parts attached to the body. Each body part has a minimum power requirement, but more power can be diverted towards it if desired.



Fig 192.3 - Powering individual abilities.

Each body part has a series of actions that can be made available, with the first action being a required default. Actions can be behaviors that are performed, passive abilities, or reactionary abilities. Each action requires power to become active. So if you have 6 energy being diverted to the right arm, that energy can then likewise be split up into 6 energy worth of actions, with the first action being required. In this example, the right arm has a basic attack action as well as the cleave action.



Fig 192.4 - Upgrading abilities through chips.

Robots do not gain experience or level up. It is the engineer's responsibility to improve function. Each ability comes with a grid upon which modification chips can be installed. These Tetris-like pieces are placed in the grid, where able, to improve an actions accuracy, damage, range, frequency, and so on. Some chips will be affected by the power surplus diverted to that action. For instance, a damage chip could increase the damage a little bit more at +1 energy than at the minimum requirement.


The point of all this is to have something for the player to tinker with. Experience points and leveling up moves a unit in a linear direction. Here, a unit, and everything about it, is defined by the pieces that make it up. A robot is made from body parts, each body part is made from actions, and each action is made from modification chips. Whatever you get, whatever you change, is going to profoundly impact the nature and capabilities of your robot. When you collect a new body part, it is going to open up the possibilities in profound ways.

Here are a few more additions to the idea that makes it more of a game:

You can install multiple power cores inside the body, but you can only use one at a time. For the cost of an action, you can switch between one core and another, allowing you to build multiple configurations of abilities. This functionality can also be used for transforming robots, so you can have one power profile as a robot and another for when it turns into a car or jet or something.

When a robot is damaged, his parts are damaged (not unlike Front Mission). Hitting a robot from the side is more likely to damage the arm part on that side. As a part becomes damaged, the actions on it become deactivated, from bottom to top. So Swing will deactivate first, followed by Cleave, DMG++, and finally, Attack.

The backpack body part is where the utility functions are generally located. It could be a big weapon, or a kit for repairing other robots, extra body parts to swap in and out, or mobility functions like jump jets and boosters. Hitting a robot from behind is going to primarily damage backpacks first and foremost.

While the head can have attacks, it is generally more for personal buffs, like increasing accuracy for a time or boosting energy output for a few turns.

Why stop at transforming robots? You can make giant robots out of smaller ones, with the individual robots becoming their own giant body parts. In these cases, each robot has a profile as a robot and as a body part, with the body part being powered by its own power core. So Robot-A turns into an arm, it will have its own arm actions (based on the equipped body parts) that can be powered. But instead of the power coming from a central core on the amalgamation robot, Robot-A's power core is diverted to the different actions directly.

  Conceptual Notes

- Why a tactics game? Well, for starters, I'm a bit of a fan of the genre and think the world could only benefit from more of them. But more importantly, I wanted something where the player would create more than one robot and continue to tinker with them over time. Making it a tactics game gave me the idea of tying combat actions to the energy core.

- Star Wars Galaxies was the biggest influence on this idea, but City of Heroes allowed you to slot enhancements into individual abilities, and the Tetris-like upgrade board comes from Mega Man Battle Network 3 (I think). Front Mission was also referenced above.



Copyright 2007-2014 Sean Howard. All rights reserved.