Character creation in Spy DNA

by Jason Sams, Lead Developer

When you download and start to play Spy DNA, one of the first experiences you will have is creating your character. We want to make a good first impression, so we’ve spent some time making the new game experience look and feel more like the rest of the game.

Here is a screenshot from the updated “New Game” screen.

Spy DNA (64-bit Development PCD3D_SM5)  2019-01-30 16_07_33.png

You can compare this to the old “New Game” screen.

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We have split the new game options across multiple pages to allow for us to describe what effects on your game experience each of the choices will have. It will also gives us more room to put in more options for gameplay customization and difficulty options.

As you make your choices, the next page becomes available.

Here you can see the gameplay effects that will occur based on changing how a character looks. The choices here are merged with the choices you later make going though the character personality questionnaire. We don’t show raw +/- value at this stage, because the values are not simply added. We tried this, but found we needed an additional step to combine the values that would produce more human-like results.

We combine the choices in a way that preserves your ranking. So whatever values you prioritized will continue to be your strongest attributes. What we add is a rounding of the character. So for example if you made a character that focused on strength, you will also get smaller buffs to other strength related attributes such as stamina and quickness.

We will have screenshots of the gameplay and difficulty options in future update. Right now they are still undergoing some changes.

Please let us know what your think of the new UI look for the new game screen.

Xmas at Spy DNA

‘Twas the night before Xmas at Spy DNA
All missions completed, all agents home safe.

The spies getting sleepy, and ready for bed
When roaring of rotors came from helipad.

The agents ran up to the window and saw
A FLEA helicopter had landed below.

What could be the reason for a visit so late?
What was so important that it couldn’t wait?

FLEA agent in charge saluted our spies
“Lieutenant St-Nicols, support and supplies.”

“I need you to sign,” lieutenant continued,
“For receipt of the goods contained in this shipment.”

“Five gallons of vodka, five gallons of rum.
Deluxe set of dumbbells, two-point-oh-three tons.

“Assortment of fireworks and incendiary rounds
With fuses and det-cord. Makes three hundred pounds.

“A new Gauss rifle with wind compensation
Steel-toed velvet pumps with heel stabilization.

“A DIY kit for a race airplane
And access credentials for quantum mainframe.

“A gift set of knives, shuriken, and nunchucks.
VR gamer system with goggles and gloves.

“Here, sign on this line, so we can go on.
“We have a few stops still left before dawn.”

With that the Lieutenant gave sign to the pilot
And the chopper took off leaving agents behind.

Karsten and Zoe, Ivan, Ronda and Shin
Tank, Nuri, and Ros rushed to open their gifts.

Though gifts were so many, there was no confusion.
Each knew which was theirs. What would be your conclusion?

Run! It's the cops!

Stealth missions usually revolve around you not being noticed or identified as trespasser by the civilian NPCs around you, but what happens if they do?

He’s ready.

He’s ready.

A regular civilian NPC such as a researcher, office worker, or even a building night guard would pose absolutely no challenge to a Spy DNA agent, which would make missions boring. To help up the ante a bit, we’ve added the police.

The “police” NPCs will have a non-zero “combat tactics” skill, and depending on their experience level they’ll have other relevant skills, such as Pistols or Observation, to name a couple. This will make them more formidable opponents than your typical night guard. They will also arrive at the scene expecting trouble and will definitely carry weapons.

“You’re under arrest!”

“You’re under arrest!”

When civilian NPCs see something that we’ve defined as crime (picking a lock, using specific items, being in restricted areas, etc.) or if they see something that would hint at criminal activity (an unconscious body for example), they won’t go after the perpetrators or investigate the crime themselves, they’ll call the cops instead.

When the NPC “calls the cops” we start a countdown until the police units are spawned on the map. How soon they arrive depends on how remote an area is, among other things.

We’re playing super-spies, so when the Police Dispatcher activates the response units, your character will pick that up on their police scanner. The dispatcher will state how far out the response units are at regular intervals, to give you an idea of how urgently you need to get your character out of the area.

On stealth missions, getting arrested by the police will result in mission failure, as will shooting any civilians, so our heroes should ideally clear out before the law enforcement officers show up.

Combat hesitations

by Jason Sams, Lead Developer

In Spy DNA we have talked about how you can queue actions for your characters. When we were discussing the difference in behaviors of well trained troops or agents, vs thugs, vs civilians, one of the things that came up is how quickly a character can evaluate the situation and choose their action.

One of the concepts we have introduced to represent this in-game is the idea of a character being indecisive. To model this we introduced a skill called “Combat Tactics”. It’s a passive skill.

We used to key a character’s combat response off of their highest combat skill, but after thinking this through, we concluded this was not an accurate portrayal of how people respond in a tactical situation.

Let’s say we’ve got someone who’s a very skilled marksman while shooting at the range, but has no actual combat experience. Such a person would do worse in combat than a basic soldier who may have a significantly worse shooting skill, but has been trained specifically for a combat situation.

The new “Combat Tactics” skill will use mental quickness as its primary attribute, and mental memory as its secondary attribute. When an NPC decides to change their course of action in response to something it sees, this skill will be used to generate hesitation before starting the next action. This means some civilians and green troops may freeze for a bit once things go loud.

So how does this impact PCs?

When a PC is carrying out their queued actions this will not affect them at all. However, should you cancel your action queue, we will generate a hesitation for the character to represent this changing of their mind. Some PCs will be able to do this almost for free, either due to extreme mental quickness (Margo), or lots of training (Ivan). On the other end of the spectrum, avoid changing things up on Karsten, who’ll need some time to figure out the next steps. In effect it will be important for some characters to stick to the plan, whatever plan you made.

The “Combat Tactics” skill will improve with use, but the governing attributes will still have a large impact on how fast a character can respond to the change of orders.

Spy DNA background brief: Character bios

by Alex Maier, character profiler

As we work on the missions and figure out the best ways to make each team member useful for the team, we get to know our characters better. As a result, we were able to add quite a bit more detail to each of their bios. Additionally, we’ve changed a few callsigns to better match their owners’ personalities.

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As we become more familiar with the characters, we can begin to flesh out inter-team relationships. Who would befriend who? Would there be any conflicts? (The answer is always yes!)

By looking at their alignment chart, you can imagine that our two ex-mil “paladins” Zoe and Ivan wouldn’t get along super-well with Nuri, but will have an easier time working with Shin or Ros.

Our two chaotic good folks, Margo and Tank, are both firmly in the “making things go boom is fun” camp. Tank prefers working with explosives, and Margo is more of a mad-scientist type who likes unorthodox solutions. They are both fairly easy-going and get along with most folks, but given their intelligence levels, they prefer to hang out with the smarter members of the team. Conversations with Margo often leave poor Karsten in a state of bewilderment.

Speaking of Karsten, both he and Ronda are true neutral, and place great value on mission success rather than on philosophical questions of whether their actions are truly “good.” For Karsten, whatever helps his friends and teammates, is the right thing to do. Ronda values hard work and a neutral, more scientific approach. They both have no issues working with anyone who’s not chaotic.

As a side note, Ronda with her perfect memory, is a walking encyclopedia of mixology, and has become the squad bartender. She rarely enjoys her creations, being busy making cocktails for her team.

Oh, and Karsten has a giant crush on Nuri, who’s only too happy to tease him for amusement.

Shin is the living embodiment of the “dura lex, sed lex” principle. For him, the highest priority is upholding the law, and given his experience investigating organized crime, he’s come to believe that in some cases, enforcing the law won’t look pretty. He’s made his peace with that a long time ago.

Our two entertainment industry buddies, Nuri and Ros, go a long way back, and through the years, Ros had to be Nuri’s moral compass. They share love of martial arts, along with a passion for dressing sharp. Nuri is most at home hanging out with Margo and Tank, with a drink in hand. Margo knows how to party, and that means a lot in Nuri’s book.

Ros is an extremely compassionate person, especially when it comes to animals. When he says he could just kill wildlife poachers with his bare hands, he actually means it. Over the years he’s rescued multiple animals, including his hawk Razor (who sadly had to stay in Israel with a friend).

Which characters do you like best? Which ones do you think will come in most useful on your missions? We’d love to see your comments!

Object interactions

by Jason Sams, Lead Developer

We have been hard at work creating missions. Part of this work has been to test our model of how the player interacts with the world in-game. We have talked about combat interactions in the past, and this month I’d like to cover the non-combat interactions.

We use a five-segment menu for our interactions with the world. The center action is the default action. If you quickly left click an interactable object it will select this action. The mouse cursor changes to reflect this default action. This is to allow the player to know what will happen without having to wait for the menu to appear.

Around the center there are other actions that will appear after a very short delay. The bottom option will always be examine. We always show this option, even for non-interactable objects to avoid leaking which objects are interactable and which are not.

On the right we will display an aggressive action, if applicable. For example, break down a door, attack an NPC, or trip a trap. The option displayed will change with the object. The available options are set as part of the object editor.

For the other options we will place a stealthy action on the left, if applicable. For example, sneak if moving, lock-pick to pick a lock. On the top will be a neutral action, again if applicable. Examples, knock on a door if locked, lock if unlocked.

Locks:

Doors and containers may be locked. Once you are close enough to interact the cursor will change to a lock if this is the case. Each item will have a lock type assigned which determines which skill (usually electronics or lock-picking) will be needed to pick the lock. In addition difficulty and sigma (see Alex’s post for info), will be set.

Capture.PNG

Traps:

Items may also be trapped. By default a trap will not be shown unless a character passes an appropriate detection skill check. Once detected, a trapped object will show as trapped, until then it appears normal. The default action for an object, known to be trapped, is to do nothing. This avoids accidentally triggering a trap the character knew about. A trapped object will have three interaction. Examine, disarm, and trip.

Disarming a trap will require a skill check. Success will disarm the trap. Failure will trigger a second check to determine if the trap is tripped. Once disarmed or tripped, the item is considered normal and will return to appearing to have normal function.

Travel objects:

In Spy DNA Spy DNA we have a category of objects used for covert travel. For example ventilation ducts. By default you won’t know where the ducts lead unless you have mapped them during infiltration or via exploring them. Some will require a check against attributes (ex: dexterity, flexibility). A failed check will remove that path as an option for that character. Other character will be able to try, if desired. While attempting the travel the character will be removed from the map and unavailable. Upon a successful transit, the path will be marked and available for that character to use again if desired. Other characters attempting would need to pass the same attribute check.

The last category of object is called “custom.” These are unique objects where the options are entered in the item editor. We support overriding all the action slots except “examine” as the bottom option. Custom menu options are used for story-line objects or objectives. Our level designer can use them to trigger unique events as needed.

I hope this gave everyone an idea of what you may be doing when not in combat or talking with NPCs.

Dialog flows and skill checks in Spy DNA

by Alex Maier, conversationist

Over the past few weeks, we focused a lot on combat in our game, but there’s another aspect to it: dialog. In Spy DNA you can talk to members of your party as well as NPCs, both at the base and during missions. While some missions have combat at their heart, others can be completed, or at least aided, by talking to people.

In the full release, you’ll be able to complement your Commander’s skills and attributes with those from your party. If the character you create lacks in stealth, charm, or ability to hit targets with any weapon, one of the nine specialist PCs can fill the skill gap and help you succeed.

In the Demo release, we’ll be including a few mission scenarios, and a limited complement of PCs to accompany you. Because of this, my goal as writer/level designer is to provide you with many different options to complete the missions where the combat-oriented PCs can’t help, to make any kind of Commander specialization viable.

Right now, I’m working on a covert mission where you’ll encounter only civilians, and if you screw up badly enough, civilian law enforcement. You’ll be under strict orders not to engage any civilians, and will fail the mission if you do. This means that you’ll have to use radically different tactics here than you would say, on the mission to extract the hostage from a remote rebel camp.

If you can’t shoot’em… talk to them, I guess?

If you can’t shoot’em… talk to them, I guess?

If your Commander is an infiltration specialist, you’ll have no problem convincing the people you speak with that you’re just an employee of the company you’re infiltrating. The security guards will let you stay and complete your task in peace.

But what if your Commander is more of a breach-and-clear kind of person? This is where level design becomes interesting. To provide a combat-oriented Commander with a viable approach, I’m including options to intimidate your vis-a-vis, if you couldn’t charm your way out of a wet paper bag. In addition to tough talk, your attire will also be taken into account, as will your other choices, which I don’t want to reveal quite yet.

To account for all the possible combinations of Commander abilities and under which circumstances they engage the person in the conversation, the dialog is very branched, and can have a variety of outcomes for the player. Here’s an example of a mostly finished dialog with a security guard in the building. It’s about 80 percent complete, so just imagine another branch or two in there.

Dialog tree example for an NPC on a generated mission

Dialog tree example for an NPC on a generated mission

Other NPCs in the level will have similarly complex dialog trees, and in each case, I’m aiming to provide options for a combat-oriented character to have a chance of success. Mind you, this will not be a requirement for generated missions in the full release, since you’ll have a full complement of specialist PCs in your squad, to help you get through the missions that your Commander wasn’t designed for.

While failing or skipping a generated mission isn’t going to endanger your overall objective of saving the world (as one does), storyline missions will have to include solution options for Commanders of all kinds. They may not be the most obvious ones, and may require a bit of planning ahead, but I’m determined to make sure y’all don’t get stuck because of choices you made during character creation.

Skill checks

As you’d expect, picking different dialog options and interacting with objects in the world results in a skill check which in turn decides whether you fail or succeed. You’d be “rolling” against the skill relevant to your selection (infiltration, intimidation, lockpicking, etc), but we also factor in an attribute, which gives you a chance to succeed if your skill is zero. The flip side to this is that an extremely poor attribute will generate a penalty.

The skill roll is also modified by Sigma, to set how steep the success/fail curve is. The smaller the sigma, the smaller is your margin from the number you’re rolling against. This means that you’ll experience a critical failure or a critical success with sigma of five more often than with sigma of twenty. Smaller sigmas are reserved for more daring checks, such as last-ditch attempts to convince that night guard that you’re not breaking in.

X axis represents difference between your skill and the difficulty of the task

X axis represents difference between your skill and the difficulty of the task

In the dialog example above, you’ll be checked against combinations of infiltration + leadership, infiltration + charm, intimidation + strength, or persuasion + mental quickness, to name a few. I select the attribute according to dialog context and common sense, to create the closest approximation to real life we can within our system.

While making your choices, you’ll usually have more than one attempt at succeeding within the dialog branch that you chose, but the guard will remember your choices, and you won’t be able to just quit the dialog and attempt a “redo” a moment later. That’s not how life works.

And on that cheery note, let me wrap up here and go back to writing those dialogs, instead of blog posts. Post your questions below or tweet at us, we’re happy to explain stuff in more detail if you’re interested!

Life after Kickstarter

By Alex Maier, writer of words

It’s been just over two years since we’ve concluded our Kickstarter campaign, without hitting our funding target. If I said that we were completely unfazed by this setback, I’d be lying, but despite the disappointment we decided to continue on with the project anyway.

As the new demo and early access are drawing closer, I felt a bit nostalgic, so I began to compare our actual progress to the goals we set out to hit two years ago. And you know what? That made me feel good. Aside from having to push out our release dates, we’ve stayed largely on course.

Also, it helps to remind ourselves just how far we’ve come in those two years. So let me take you along for a trip down memory lane, beginning with the Kickstarter video.

First off, I gotta say, thank you Denis for kicking my butt to create our current logo, it is definitely better than what we had back then.

Spy DNA screenshot August 2016

Spy DNA screenshot August 2016

Spy DNA screenshot, August 2018

Spy DNA screenshot, August 2018

We’ve also improved the UI to make it look more like a sci-fi game. Gone are the sharp rectangles and mostly gray-on-gray elements, but on a deeper level, we’ve also streamlined the way our players interact with the game.

Lab tech Oxalana Guy before and after

Lab tech Oxalana Guy before and after

But one of the changes most noticeable to me are our new character models, unique guns, and the look of the in-game world. Then there are things like large landscapes with literal thousands of trees on them rendered at high FPS rates, and level loading times of 10-15 seconds. In our playthrough video, you can see how quickly a 1 x 1 km map loads.

Now, let’s look at the game we’ve promised to you when we launched that Kickstarter campaign, and how we did on each point.

Super-realistic combat and AI make you feel like a real super-spy on a mission
If you watch our latest mission playthrough demo, you’ll see the realism in action, and in a little bit of time, you’ll be able to try it out yourself when we release the new demo

Realistic weapons behaviour, aiming, and cover
We account for character stats, time spent aiming and recoil when calculating shot accuracy, and we take projectile velocity and total energy plus aerodynamic drag when calculating damage. We use actual line of sight for determining which parts of the target are in cover and which can be seen and shot at.

He's got his heart in the right place, so you can aim for it

He's got his heart in the right place, so you can aim for it

Hit points replaced with anatomical damage
We’ve got per-polygon collisions enabled for characters, so we know where they get hit, and if the bullet has been stopped by cover or armor. We’ve additionally filled our character models with collision primitives that represent different organs and parts of the skeleton, and base the actual physical consequences of getting shot on what parts have been hit.

Dynamic turn duration based on character stats; turns execute at the same time
Yep. Got that one.

Immersive story and deep branched dialog
Okay, you’ll have to basically take me at my word on this one, but that 200-page script that I was showing off in the KS vid is still alive and kicking. It's been expanded quite a bit, and we’ve added Lua scripting support to the dialog, to make the conversations have real effect on the game.

Rich character attributes and skills allow you to create and play a character based on your own play style
While some games try to simplify everything down to just a couple stats that have to stand in for a bunch of marginally-related skill checks, we’ve gone the opposite way, providing the detail and granularity to help the player have a clear understanding of what their characters are good at.

Character creation August 2016

Character creation August 2016

Character creation, August 2018

Character creation, August 2018

High tactical flexibility creates replay value
When we wrote this sentence, what we had in mind were static, hand-made levels where only the NPC placement and their actions would vary on each playthrough. Today, we’ve taken this idea much farther: to generating all the levels procedurally, based on mission scenarios that we create in our Editor tool. In today’s version of Spy DNA, you will have a different map each time you replay a given scenario/mission, and the mission objectives won’t alway be in the same spots, so you have to approach each mission individually.

Gratuitous picture of two Spy DNA agents shooting the same target at the same time

Gratuitous picture of two Spy DNA agents shooting the same target at the same time

As you play, you will encounter two types of scenarios: storyline missions and side quests. The storyline missions will be required for you to complete the story arc, while the side quests are one-off missions that you can take (or leave) between storyline ones. Storyline missions will feature unique dialogs and allow you to develop relationships with the members of your squad, who we’ve made as different from each other while still being useful for the team, as we could.

Side quests will be based on several different scenarios, which, coupled with a unique map generated each time the scenario comes up in your intelligence screen, will provide you with hours of challenging levels to beat.

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The demo will ship with only a handful of scenarios and none of the storyline missions, but you’ll see the first few story-arc levels in the early access release.

In addition, we’ve also built a few things from the stretch goal list: guns that you can customize in-game, and recorded voice-over “barks” for our squad.

So while we’re going to be shipping the game quite a bit later than originally planned, we’ll be shipping the game we promised we would, and in some aspects, it will even be a better game than we ourselves could anticipate back in 2016.

Let me wrap up here before I pat ourselves on the back too much. Please subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on social media to make sure you know when that demo will be ready for you to download and try out.