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Four Species, One Galaxy

Four Species, One Galaxy

One of the key elements in Smugglers of Cygnus is character customization. It was important to our team that the player had an opportunity to have multiple experiences in the game world. Species customization is a big part of that.

Custom characters and species are central to many games, and customizing a character's statistics or combat abilities invites a player to approach gameplay and puzzles in more personalized ways. Smugglers is no different. Four initial species are planned for launch, two of which are being developed right now. Each playable species has its own art style, history, and culture—giving the player myriad means to experience and explore the galaxy.

One species may be extremely resistent to high temperatures yet vulnerable to hard radiation; another, resistent to hard radiation yet vulnerable to high temperatures. The ability to travel to areas dangerous and deadly to other player species would give that species an advantage. One species may have spent aeons collecting maps and data while traveling around the galaxy; another may have fewer maps and less data but might be more capable at the bargaining table. One species might have developed advanced stealth technology, which gives them an advantage when smuggling or ambushing other ships; another may be superior at recruiting followers in order to build a vast merchant fleet. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of the four playable species, and there are more species (both allies and foes) in the galaxy to discover. Creating a starting character will be more than just deciding on a few cosmetic details: It will change how the player experiences the entire game.

Powering this level of customization involves a great deal of data-driven gameplay. The team's first game to rely largely on this mechanism, it opened up a lot of additional gameplay opportunities enabled by decoupling the game elements from the code. In a way, it is similar to procedural generation. By having tables and structures that define what a ship, a solar system, a mission, or a cargo run might involve, I can proceed to write the rest of the game independent of the writers and artists working on the details of the species, ships, or interactions with non-playable characters. When the player plays the game, the elements will be put together based upon a set of adjustable factors unique to that particular player character. A player who chooses to deal mostly with one specific group will be able to increase reputation with that group. That player will unlock ever more favorable and interesting options with that group and allies of that group. They might also develop negative reputation, particularly with that group's rivals. A quick example would be that if you are spotted running a blockade, you will certainly lose reputation with the group imposing the blockade. One planet's hero might be another planet's smuggler. That only applies if you are caught, of course. Jealousies and power struggles are spread throughout the galaxy, so it's easy to make friends, gain clients, and earn enemies. All this is enabled by a robust faction system, quests and side missions based on a variety of criteria, and procedurally created trade networks that respond to a player's actions.

Mixed reactions
Actions may produce mixed reactions

There are several different play styles that we set out to accommodate in Smugglers. They can be mixed and matched however the player wants and will allow two players to create two different experiences within the Cygnus galaxy. Player One might simply pick up cargo, jump to the next system, fly to the port, drop cargo, and get paid. No mess, no complications. Perhaps Player One picks up the occasional salvage or fends off an overly eager pirate who wandered into the safe lanes hunting for easy prey.
This is one, perfectly good way to enjoy the game.
Player Two might revel in the temptation of high-risk, high-value smuggling as a great way to pay off their ship or buy a better one in short order.
This is perfectly good, too.
Player Three may delight in hunting pirates, earning a living from bounties offered by various planets or governments to make the galaxy a safer place (for them and their interests).
Player Four might decide that the best money is Other People's Money and lie in wait near jump points to ambush laden-down merchant ships, preying on others as they assemble a cargo hold of stolen treasure to sell to the highest bidder on the black market.

All of these are great ways to explore the Cygnus galaxy, and the development team wants players to mix and match game elements however they desire to create the most thrilling experience possible while traversing the cosmos, whether or not they choose to cause chaos along the way.

See you next time!