Level 7 [Omega Protocol]: Commandos

For our second design diary ofLEVEL 7 [OMEGA PROTOCOL], we’re taking a closer look at the heroes of the game, the commandos of Disco Team.

When we first started working on the game, we wanted to make the characters an integral part of the story and to give each of them a defined role. This approach works well in the theme of a military team in which the members each have a specialty, and it makes playing each character feel very different.

The first task was deciding what the different roles would be. It was obvious there would be a leader, a recon guy, and a guy with a big gun. In the real world, combat teams usually have quite a few standard riflemen, so I knew it was a natural role for one of the commandos, but we didn’t want him to seem average or boring. Finally, we wanted a commando who would further explore the sci-fi elements of the setting. One of the promo cards for LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE], the Cerebral Override Module, hinted that the Ghin mental abilities could interface with technology, so we designed the fifth commando to wear a suit loaded with countermeasure technologies.

After determining commando roles, the next step was to design the specialties that made them all different. The Team Leader is designed to do what his name implies. His abilities support the other commandos by allowing them to attack for free, move when it isn’t their turn, and push the limits of their own abilities. The Reconnaissance Specialist is the team’s scout; he opens almost every door and is routinely the most mobile commando. The Heavy Support Specialist is a killer tank—he is usually the team’s primary damage dealer with abilities that make him very survivable. The Rifleman has the most options: he can provide support (including being the best medic on the team) and can focus on offense and eliminating targets as well. The Countermeasures Specialist is also primarily about support, but his support focuses mostly on interfering with what the enemy is trying to do.

Once we defined the abilities of the commandos, we then needed to give players a way to customize them for a different experience each game. We talked over a few options and briefly considered standard sub-roles for each. In the end, though, we decided the best way to let each player decide how his own commando plays was through the kit card system. Each commando has eight unique kit cards to choose from, and there are four common cards any commando can take. Kit cards offer a spectrum of abilities that all fit into the commando’s specialty, and while subcategories exist—the Rifleman’s drone kit cards, for example—players are free to mix and match the cards to find the build they like best for each character.

The kit card system gives the commandos a lot of choices during setup, but I wasn’t satisfied with the amount of interesting choices they could make during gameplay itself. This is where the second unique aspect of each commando came from: During play, they have access to three stance cards. At their most basic level, these cards indicate how quickly the commando is moving, and each has a slow, medium, and fast Stance. In addition to determining the commando’s Speed, these cards also determine defense stats and grant a special ability. When a commando moves slowly it is because he is focused on a particular task, such as the Concentrating Stance of the Countermeasures Specialist. When he moves cautiously through the facility, he has a chance to react as enemies act. When a commando is in a hurry he can cover a lot of distance but is paying much less attention to staying out of the line of enemy fire.

The last part of the process for creating the commandos was to build their half of the adrenaline system. We knew this would be tied thematically into how fear worked in LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE], but we wanted the commandos’ actions to more directly tie into the system for this game. In early discussions we also decided enemy actions should be directly fueled by the actions of the commandos. This quickly developed into a cyclical economy—adrenaline became the cost of each action a commando takes, but instead of spending adrenaline, they gain it. This leads to interesting budgeting concerns. If you need to take down two targets and move toward a goal, it is very important you use as little adrenaline as possible to accomplish each task. If a dice roll doesn’t go your way, you can often afford to attack the same target again but that will rob you of resources to do something else.

Once the adrenaline system was established we built a lot of synergy into the commandos’ abilities to make their jobs easier. As the team came together this synergy became another kind of resource that must be managed. Take the Countermeasures Specialist Guidance kit card. For another player to benefit the most from this ability, the Countermeasures Specialist has to use his Concentrating Stance, which makes him move slowly during the turn, and the other commando needs to stay within three spaces of him. There are times when this is easily accomplished, but there are also times when using this combo might be too much of a risk.

As you play LEVEL 7 [OMEGA PROTOCOL] you’ll see a multitude of options for how you can tackle each mission. Next time we’ll look at the commandos’ opponent, the overseer, and how he tries to prevent their successful completion of missions.