Alright, after playing this game for 27 hours:
And after seeing this unrelated GameMaker’s Toolkit video:
I’ve realised that Heat Signature seems to have conflicting goals that don’t guide the player into interesting things to do.
- The main loop of infiltrating spaceships => going back to base with loot.
- Missions that reward infiltration with cash, loot and liberation progress.
- A liberation mechanic that unlocks loot to buy from the stores for all characters and frankly seems to be the only actually worthwhile thing to do.
- A fame mechanic that limits a character’s progress as they do things and at the same time saves their achievements for posterity (poorly in my opinion).
- A personal mission that offers a difficult mission … and if successful, a basic new line added to your character’s fame epitaph.
- A retiring mechanic that lets you “save” one item for future characters to discover and record the epitaph for everyone to know who liberated what for some reason.
By themselves, the goals and mechanics I’ve just described seem adequate for player motivation and interesting gameplay loops. The thing is, this all starts to seem kinda off when considering that the heart of the game is getting into and out of hairy situation by the skin of your teeth. Better loot is nice, yes, but nowhere as interesting and entertaining as planning out how to get out of almost impossible situations, MacGyver-style.
The game, as of right now, heavily rewards careful planning and monotonous play styles. Since playing recklessly doesn’t grant any rewards aside from getting things done quicker and maybe some achievements, there’s plenty of reason to play the game as boringly as possible without tapping into what actually makes it great.
Alright, this is all well and good. Pointing out what’s wrong with a game is particularly simple once you’ve spent 27 hours with it. The tricky thing is how to fix it … so this would be my suggestion:
Make the fame mechanic a more prominent, interesting and worthwhile goal. By necessity of what I’ve already described, the fame mechanic needs to be more compelling that getting more loot already is, and that is a mighty challenge.
On how to do this exactly, I’m a little less certain but I’d suggest de-emphasizing the liberation aspect of the fame epitaph since we as players are already inclined to do that for the sake of more loot. I’d replace that with all of the actual things the player got to do during gameplay, either good or bad. How many people they’ve killed, how many people they’ve harmed, how many missions they’ve done, how much time they’ve spent floating in space, how they’ve died, the alarms they’ve triggered, the missions failed, the liberated stations and any other interesting data. On top of that, make the note-worthy achievements visually pop with medals.
- Pincushion: Got stabbed 5 times and survived the first 4.
- Almost a saint: Killed only 3 people.
- Space floater: Nearly suffocated three times in the same mission.
- Never in a hurry: Timed missions? No thank you.
- Alarmingly effective: Triggered the alarm on every. Single. Mission.
- FlusterCuck: Got stabbed, airlocked, sounded the alarm 3 times and STILL managed to steal the (insert MacGuffin name here).
- Ninja of the future: Never left a *living* witness.
- You WHAT?: Sometimes, the capture target became meat soup under mysterious circumstances.
- And he/she was never seen again: floated off into space. Permanently.
And so on and so on.
To make the former epitaph medals more meaningful I’d make them contribute towards liberation progress in a significant way upon death, especially for high fame characters that don’t contribute as much with just plain difficult missions.
Also, replace the retiring mechanic with a “going out with a bang” one: Basically, the more spectacular the character’s death, the greater the multiplier on their epitaph medals.
So, with these two changes you’ve made the character death a big part of the game as well as the main way to remember a character.
On the subject of naming an item and making it available for others … I’d suggest extending the fame mechanic to the items themselves. Every time your character does something epitaph-worthy, the most used item in that mission receives the fame by proxy. At the end of a character’s life, the most famous items of a character become collectively remembered. The thing is, they are only remembered … and that distorts what they actually were. In gameplay terms, the item you find later on is slightly better than the original one (higher use count, better range, armour-piercing, faster recovery, self-charging, etc).
I’d also add some way of buying these famous items. Maybe in the miscellaneous store as one of the overpriced things.