LEVEL 7 [Omega Protocol]: The Overseer

In my last design diary for LEVEL 7 [OMEGA PROTOCOL], we talked about the commandos. Today, in the third of these four diaries, we’ll take a look at their antagonist, the Overseer.

The overseer is one aspect of this game that really sets it apart from its predecessor, LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE]. On your first adventure through Subterra Bravo you were fighting a system; for your return, we pit the heroes against another human player for an even greater challenge.

The biggest concern we had when creating the overseer position was keeping the game fun for the overseer player without making him too powerful. This would require giving him a lot of control over what he can do while still limiting his resources.

There are two parts to the overseer’s role. This week we’ll talk about what he does during the game. Next time we’ll look at how missions work and the overseer’s role in them.

The overseer’s main tool while playing the game is his dashboard. It started as a simple idea to give the overseer non-random abilities. In the beginning these abilities were going to be on cards, but the more it developed the more it felt like it wasn’t significant enough. Eventually the idea evolved into what the dashboard is now: a set of puzzle-cut tiles that comes together to form a kind of board made up of specific abilities for each mission. This gives the overseer significant control over what abilities he can use and when he can use them.

At the same time I was working out how the overseer would use his abilities, I was also creating an action system for the commandos. We had already decided there should be a connection between the actions of the two sides in the game. The two developing systems complemented each other so well that it felt natural to connect them into one economy.

As it turned out, the limits of the adrenaline system gave the overseer access to all his abilities while still applying limitations to what could be used. As we discussed last time, the actions the commandos take generate adrenaline the overseer uses. He then has to decide which dashboard abilities to use and, more important, when to use them.

When I think about how a game will work, I pull inspiration from everywhere. For the rules of dashboard ability activation I quickly focused on the way abilities function in many video games. The overseer activating an ability puts adrenaline tokens in its well, which creates a built-in cool-down timer system for the abilities. In addition to an adrenaline cost, we added a refresh rate to each ability. This determines how many tokens are removed from the ability at the beginning of the Overseer’s Phase, and an ability can’t generally be used again until it has no tokens. This means that it will commonly be two or three turns after an ability was last used before it becomes available again. With the inclusion of the refresh concept, we had created a system by which the player’s choices, rather than randomization, regulate the use of abilities.

During the early stages of the process we were also deciding what the dashboard would do. The first thing I knew it would be used for is spawning enemies. There are some enemies scattered across each mission map at the end of setup, but the overseer needed a way to react to the commandos’ actions in a more immediate way. The most important decision we needed to make when thinking about how spawning would work was how the enemies would enter the map. We decided to base this around entry points to again limit what the overseer could do while also granting the commandos more information for making tactical decisions. Maps have enemy passages and vents that are locations to spawn enemies; enemy passages are large doors that anything can come through, and vents are smaller openings that spawn clones. The possibility of spawning through a vent or passage is something the commandos have to be constantly aware of, and a commando who ends his turn too close to one of these can be in a dangerous position.

After the spawning system was established I starting creating dashboard abilities to let the overseer manipulate the map by causing cave-ins and opening doors the commandos aren’t ready for and to give him ways to make the commandos’ enemies better. In the end it became a very powerful tool for stopping the commandos without allowing the overseer too much power.

The adrenaline system wasn’t complete at this point, though. The overseer still needed to be forced to decide how his figures activated. Early in playtest, activating enemies had been free. As the adrenaline system took its final shape it became clear that enemies had to be a part of it. This was the final piece of the puzzle that made sitting in the overseer chair a difficult but rewarding position. It forces him to manage each his resources well and makes pulling off that perfect maneuver all the more exciting.

The adrenaline system creates a kind of tug-of-war that sides will strive to manipulate to their advantage. I hope you’ll enjoy it no matter which side you decide to take.