TC Preview: Chaos Reborn, or how I learned to continue to hate Kickstarter.
TC Preview: Chaos Reborn, or how I learned to continue to hate Kickstarter.
Preview - posted by Whisky on Sat 12 April 2014, 17:08:37Tags: Chaos Reborn; Jullian Gollop; Kickstarter; Tacticular Cancer Preview
Our man, sser, conscripted a few Codexers and lured them into a wizard's arena, forcing them to fight to the death. After surviving, he decided to write up a preview of Chaos Reborn and provided some of his thoughts regarding the Kickstarter phenomena.
It’s weird to start a preview of a game by being so negative about the platform on which it is using to fund itself, isn’t it? But goddammit, people, what are you drinking? You see, I hate Kickstarter. I shouldn’t, and I know I shouldn’t, but I do. There’s a lot of cool things coming out of Kickstarter that might not have otherwise existed, but there’s a damn great deal of tomfoolery, too. I feel like it time and time again displays that clever and charismatic people can easily separate fools from their money. It’s a silly place where internet videos, comic books, and god knows what else suddenly cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to make. Why? Because the person who for years had been making said products without hundreds of thousands of dollars said so. Alright then. I trust this odd new turn in independent creativity will have no impact whatsoever on the natural human impulse to… do things.
Aside from outright scams and snake oil sales, Kickstarter’s, ehem, “going green” movement is also a place for manipulation and nostalgia to copulate in greasy, greedy sex. It’s where already-famous companies coyly ask for only a small helping hand, then act amazed when they get oh so much more. A place where concept art can be sold for millions, and where pitches consist of game designers cracking jokes with their game designer buddies. Many a time, an actual game need not be present. No, simple brofists between industry insiders will be sufficient.
But what does this have to do with Chaos Reborn? A lot, actually, and possibly much more if Mr. Gollop’s Kickstarter fails. You see, it didn’t quite take off like the other Kickstarters. And that’s something important to note when you realize the Kickstarter has a playable proof of concept that is quite good.
The great irony here is that were Gollop as gregarious and handsome as he is good at designing games, he probably could have tripled his Kickstarter funds without any evidence of Chaos Reborn to speak of. What I’m saying is that it is quite the indictment of the system and its partakers that a man presents his Kickstarter game with a playable build, sparing us from eyerolling bullshit, and yet the Kickstarter’s funding seems to be fumbling about. To which I think it’s fair to say: Goddammit, Gollop.
Gollop is truly an oddity in the industry. He designed one of the greatest games ever, the immense and still playable X-Com, and yet he has not really used that as a trump card to build an empire of any sort like so many of his peers did with their own successes. The game industry is full of old designers who float around on giant clouds of their own smug, building “futures” and “imaginative experiences” from their asses, failing miserably, then doing it again as if it never happened. Meanwhile, Gollop has just been designing good games and little else. Sometimes nothing else at all, sadly enough.
So what else is up with Chaos Reborn’s ailing funding campaign?
Well, it probably has a lot to do with the source material. Many Kickstarters bank on nostalgia or a sort of faux nostalgia, a yearning for a type of game you wished you played, but “can’t” because it’s just too archaic. Chaos isn’t just old, though, it’s old as hell and not particularly well known these days, thus falling out of both categories simultaneously. The title is so ancient there’s probably more pixels in this paragraph than there were in the game itself. That’s definitely a formidable challenge to overcome. Nostalgia is a key ingredient in Kickstarter stew and here it finds itself gathering dust on a shelf.
Another issue might be the strategy of the Kickstarter’s pricing. Most early adopters of Kickstarter set their games at around $10-15 for the game. Chaos Reborn’s starting price point for acquiring the game is $20, which some might feel is a bit steep, particularly as Kickstarter gets flooded with other titles competing for wallets everywhere. Combined with the unknown quality of Chaos, the idea of plunking down $20 might seem too risky to many.
Well thank G-ll-p that He released a super-early alpha version on Kickstarter to let people actually try the game. That’s quite literally an infinite amount of more preview for a game than 99.9% of other related Kickstarters out there. And if the game itself can’t sell you on the Kickstarter then I don’t know what will.
Chaos Reborn can be played on your browser or installed onto your desktop. It requires a very simple Unity engine download, a quick (and presumably temporary) username selection, and that’s it. Servers allow for people to play 1v1, 2v2, and three/four man free-for-alls. (Co-op vs. AI and campaign-modes are planned for the final product.) The graphical settings range from serviceable to sharp. The engine is surprisingly flexible, the players being able to adjust their settings on the fly in-game with a single click. Not bad for something that can be played while you surf the web one tab over.
The presentation of the game itself might be off-putting at first glance. Tapping into the original Chaos’s designs, units are monochromatic meaning they consist of one and only one color. They are also noticeably polygonal. Your summons are but shapes and silhouettes and little else. For better or for worse, it’s quite the contrast to the pixel-rage gripping most indie projects. Odd contortions give the beasties some personality, but Gollop is clearly focused on function over flash. With your minions starkly splashed against the battlescapes, it only takes a moment to see what is going on. Information is presented to the player at an instant, so more time is spent thinking, and less clicking around to see what is what. (Note: the current unit designs are placeholders.)
Gollop can get away with a more simplistic approach to presentation because he has been plying his trade in turn-based strategies since, well, apparently since a bunch of kids wouldn’t let him play their boardgames. The man, once a spurned nerd, is now a master of game design, and Chaos Reborn has all the nuts and bolts of a Gollop-designed affair.
The rules of Chaos Reborn are pretty simple: you are a wizard placed on a hex-based battlemap and must do battle with up to three other players by casting spells from a limited spellbook, ultimately winning the game by destroying the enemy wizard, or by scoring enough points to win in the case of a stalemate. Think of it as like Chess, but you start the game with only the King and you build your playing pieces around you as the game evolves.
Your spellbook carries a strong variety of options. Summons allow you to place units onto the field, giving you map presence. Buffs bolster wizards with magical bows, shields, and swords. Debuffs can strip spells from your enemy’s already limited catalogue. Some spells allow you to build walls or big forests of angry trees. So and so forth. Currently, in the playable build, you are assigned a random spellbook, but in the full game you will be allowed to construct your own. This will assuredly give Chaos Reborn a sort of build-your-deck card game feel. (Players will also ‘level-up’, making their actual wizards increasingly more potent in a quasi-Elo system.)
The game operates on an RNG system – every spell in the game has a percentage to be successfully cast or fail outright. Every attack operates in the same fashion: you either kill something or you don’t. There are no hitpoints, only attack and defensive values which can be alternately boosted or debuffed based on terrain and certain spells. More than anything else, the RNG is what might turn off players before they really dig into the game. I watched a number of players fail to cast numerous spells, causing them to be upset and, well, not have fun. Most gamers’ experiences with RNG are pretty negative as many designers fail to give players ways to maneuver around it.
That said, Gollop has designed two distinct ways to make sure player skill can still ultimately trump luck.
The first is the alignment system. Every spell follows an alignment: Law, Chaos, or Neutral. While Neutral spell percentages always remain the same, every Law or Chaos spell can affect the alignment counter. If players are casting lots of Elves, Dwarves, and Unicorns, the alignment counter is going to have a large Law-bonus. Whatever percentage it states gets added into your probability to cast Law spells. Chaos spells are not inversely effected, they simply miss out on a bonus. But if somebody is throwing down Shadow Woods, Vampires, and Goblins, then Chaos spells are going to be getting a boost. This means it is smart to build your way to higher-tier spells by first casting lower tier and acquiring an alignment-bonus. It also means if your best spells are in one alignment, you need to be sure your opponent is not taking that bonus away from you. Both alignment trees have a penultimate spell in the dragons which start the game with a 20% chance of being successfully cast. They are the end of the “alignment tech tree”, so to speak, though there is another way to get them…
Alignment bonuses have another large effect and it is upon the second way Gollop navigates away from pure-RNG. That is the illusion system. Every summon can be cast as an illusion. An illusion is a carbon copy of a normally summoned unit, except it is susceptible to guaranteed dispel attacks and is instantly destroyed if it is hit with anything magical (Magic Bows, Sword, Bolts, etc.). Most importantly, though, illusions are guaranteed to be cast. Now here is where a huge layer of complexity hides. Players can’t know if one another’s summons are illusions until they test it out. For all you know, your opponent’s entire army is nothing but illusions. And they just might be, because the act of finding out if something is an illusion or not requires the player to essentially spend a turn doing so. If you cast dispel and it’s not an illusion, you just wasted a turn. If it is, then your enemy lost both his spell and essentially a turn of action. But some players might be alright with this outcome anyway since illusions can also be used to build alignment points.
Paranoia amongst the players. Spoiler: the Elf was a lie.
A huge Law-bonus ends with a summoned – and quite real – Gold Dragon. Green Wizard whimpers.
Because illusions require a certain investment to dispatch, sometimes you can actually get away with having them on the field even though they’re obviously fake. I’ve been in multiple games where late into the match, when the wizards are closing in one another and every turn counts, there have been blatant illusion cast which I could do nothing about. So even if a dragon is a 20% chance, and even if you can’t get the alignment counter to go in your favor, if you box your opponent in well enough, you can cast that dragon anyway, forcing your enemy into quite a pickle.
It’s only after you play through the game a couple of times do you pick up on little nuances like this. Illusions at first just seem like basic bluffing, but they’re obviously so much more. And the gameplay dramatically changes based on how many players are in the game. You’re far more likely to get away with illusions in big free-for-alls because no one player wants to waste their turn dealing with, so they’ll let someone else handle it, or they won’t handle it at all because they need to be busy casting their own spells (many of which could be illusions, too).
If all these gameplay mechanics weren’t enough, the strong variety of spells and terrain only further diversify your portfolio of wizard-bashing. The game is rich with tactics, ploys, and maneuvers because of how deep the unit roster is. (And it isn’t even finished.) Undead summons can only be hurt by other undead or magic, making them potent in a very particular way. While all units gain bonus attack if they strike from higher terrain, Eagles get even better bonuses if they stoop on high elevation before swooping down upon their enemies. Many units have similar alternate attack-states, like the Spider which can web its victims. Some units can even be mounts. When a wizard hops aboard a mount, they essentially get +1 hitpoint, as any damage will kill the mount first before it kills the wizard. A mount also serves as a way for wizards to speed around the field. Both elements are crucial to the game and Gollop, in all his genius, has made almost all the mounts a 40-50% chance of being cast – meaning there’s a strong possibility of coin flips and illusions going on. (The 40% chance one is a manticore, a beast capable of flying and shooting ranged attacks.)
Many spells can also outright alter the battlescape, dotting the hexes with impassable trees, goo, vines, etc. Wizards can surround themselves in Evil Dead-styled forests. If you’re feeling boxed in, a fortress of vines can work to protect you in a pinch. Vengeance spells – which also gain power based on alignment-bonuses – can wreak havoc on multiple units at once, as well as destroy spells in your spellbook. One particularly nasty spell is Subversion, which converts enemy summons to your side. Many finely planned attacks and defenses have been utterly spoiled by a sudden loss – or gain – of an opposing wizard’s summon.
Eagles, the assassins of Chaos Reborn and most responsible for first-time losses.
Codexians shake their fists at the Gods of RNG.
All these spells, units, terrain features, and all-around smorgasbord of mechanics give the game amazing depth. It allows for so much procedural gameplay that no match is ever really the same. While RNG can lead to boom or bust moves, I feel as if the game’s handling of luck is a lot like poker’s: while anybody can catch a card, there’s a reason all the people at the ‘final table’ are familiar faces. Illusions and the alignment system deepen the gameplay while defanging the RNG.
Chaos Reborn is a much better game than it might look at first glance. There is a lot here to love and there’s a lot more to come. If the most base, barebones pre-alpha state of the game is this good, I can’t wait to see what Gollop will produce in the coming months. If all is right with the world, the Kickstarter will pick up steam, literally and figuratively. We can only hope or donate. One is an illusion, the other a coin-flip. Go figure.
We'd like to thank sser for his preview and all the Codexers who volunteered to play the Alpha with us. If you're interested in donating to the Kickstarter, you can check it out here. Likewise, if you want to try out the multiplayer alpha, check it out here.