Creating your own abilities

Creating your own abilities

We’re quite pragmatic in our approach of designing game mechanics. Throughout our lives we played tons of multiplayer games, from Fallout Tactics (say what?), World of Warcraft to days on end of Assassin’s Creed multiplayer. Looking for what really makes multiplayer work for us.

A lot of singleplayer games made us cringe for the lack of a proper multiplayer, and a lot of games that did have multiplayer made us cringe for the horrible execution. Multiplayer can be incredible, when done correctly it highlights the most interesting elements of competition and Technique, mechanics, is knowing the ins and outs of a character that I created myselfteamwork. Competition being more interesting than beating the patterns of a computer, playing together fulfilling the very primal social feel-good of learning, teaching, solving problems and beating your opponents by knowing and understanding your friends.

We don’t want to have the player spending hours a day surfing for ‘builds’, when he could be coming up with cool stuff that’s unexpected, looking at the system and being creative. Fallout tactics had us building dogs that could sneak behind enemy lines and blow itself up on unsuspecting enemies, not looking around for cookie cutter ways to play the game; or perfecting your ‘last hitting’ technique. Technique, mechanics, is knowing the ins and outs of a character that I created myself; being surprised by the enemy’s setup and thinking steps ahead when I know what he’s putting on the table. Most of this rather creative free-form gameplay is limited to single-player games.

This meant we couldn’t simply follow-up on existing multiplayer games and slightly improve upon them. We love playing League of Legends, but we are hardly interested in swapping a few things around (or god forbid, adding just another system for the sake of it such as base building) and calling it ‘new’. It’s not about playing some ‘innovation’ that doesn’t really work, it’s about playing a game that work so well it becomes practically indivisible. We don’t want to make a cocktail out of everything, just the ingredients that really ask for each other (as once spoken very deliberately by a grand cocktail master).

We start out, as real designers, not with the final idea of what the shape of our game will be like. We hardly care whether it will be turn based or 256 versus 2 players. We don’t make a zombie movie because zombies are scary, because we consider that an ill-advised approach. If you want to make something really scary, you investigate and explore what really makes things scary and you build that to perfection. You try to nail the essence.

a playstyle that is both personal and interesting, we want agency

So instead we take a few critical design criteria or goals and work from there, having absolutely (I tend to exaggerate) no idea what the game is going to be like except for those guidelines. One of those criteria has already been mentioned, we want to be able to put together a playstyle that is both personal and interesting, we want agency. So we look at Warcraft’s ‘classes’ and League of Legend’s characters and with tears in our eyes, lovingly remembering Fallout’s character customization, and exploding dogs.

Bottom dude

We realize that there’s a lot of re-use in all those trees, characters, options, talents, abilities; so we considered the possibility to bring these down to their core elements. When you ignore their narrative (ice, fire, godly powers!), what you can really do boils down to something simpler and much more similar. For example: positioning, damaging projectiles, damage within an area, healing. At the same time we know that combining them and giving them ‘unique’ aspects is what makes them interesting. Taking League of Legends as example, Singed’s primary ability is the gas cloud; it’s a continuous area of effect damage spell that decays over time.

How we approached this is simple (though both rocket science and art are essentially about simplicity): there will be area of effect damage abilities. So in fact this is the core ability; in our system this is called a primary ability, and we call it ‘Blast Radius’; it’s an area of effect damage spell that you can activate for a single point.

Now, you can completely build a whole new playstyle out of that ability by expanding it with a secondary ability: ‘Sure Fire’ makes it continuously fire at a short interval, only disabling when you run out of mana. Add another secondary ability and you extend the duration of the area of effect damage: ‘The smell of morning’ makes that stuff stick around for a bit, so your enemies will keep receiving damage if they stay in that area of effect. To make sure that your area of effect damage trail isn’t completely overpowered we have mechanics and controls in play (such as the two-tiered ability system and the mana) to balance these abilities instead of having to balance each individual ‘character’, ‘class’ or playstyle.

you do not have to learn over a hundred slightly different characters

An additional (and totally free) benefit we gain from this is that as a player you do not have to learn over a hundred slightly different characters; like playing with Legos you need only to understand the basic concept of fitting bricks together, not memorizing the thousands of different boxes in existence.

So this is how we cook, not with a recipe, but by developing a sense of taste (and discovering some funky new things along the way!).

A place to put your stuff

A place to put your stuff

It’s not exactly easy to tell a computer to decorate a room; in fact there’s a lot of unconscious stuff going on when you put stuff in your own room (not even considering the tastes of your friends and family who will either declare your stuff wonderful or frowningly wonder at your fancy choice of second-hand antique stuff scavenged from the streets).

There are some other games trying to build random environments using different approaches. Diablo 3 for example uses big pre-designed blocks for its outside environments, Valve built an experimental tile-procedural generation is becoming one of the most interesting research fields in programming and game design based level generator called Tilegen for Alien Swarm. In fact, along with animation technology it’s slowly becoming one of the most interesting research fields in programming and game design. Even some armies are interested in its use of decorating towns and interiors for simulations.

Procedural generation as it’s called is hard to do right, but at that very point it will be incredibly rewarding both in terms of financial and time constraints. The most difficult thing about that point is to know when to design something and when to generate it. This distinction is something that could probably lead a lot of designers to pick up some programming skills. If you are generating a room, are you going to make a computer put the dishes on a table or is this really the responsibility of a designer?

The way we’ve been thinking about this is in narrative terms; if the table has a small plate with a bunch of little green peas, small cutlery and a high chair, you can bet there’s a kid in the house. If you see a dumbwaiter in the middle of the table with tons of different small bowls, we’re definitely not in the Netherlands. So all these visual elements are not simply ‘decorative’, they are interpreted by a viewer as a narrative choice. This very choice is the qualitative difference between why random generation can often be worse than something created by a designer; a good designer distills narrative from the shape of a rock.

a good designer distills narrative from the shape of a rockBut so do we, as human beings we have this incredible innate ability to create narrative: reading poetry, looking at clouds. We look for patterns and relationships, no matter how far-fetched or whether they exist at all. This is what we can exploit beautifully with random generation. We need to give the player these things to interpret and fantasize about.

Nothing out of the ordinary

Another thing to realize is how a designer makes choices that can be simulated by a computer; which means as a designer that you need to re-consider the ‘rules’ that are the basis of your own intuition. When you move into a new house, how do you start putting stuff into the room? You won’t put a closet in front of the windows, or is there an exceptionally low chance that you will? Is there some Feng Shui rule that makes you put the bed in a certain place? What we needed to do is build some kind of ‘photoshop’ for random generation: narrow down the basic tools and hand these over to the designer. And I mentioned some of these rules already: allow something to avoid a door or to specifically exist in front of a window? Along the way you will look around your own house and start to realize that most things are put into a room according to where the walls are, whether that’s a desk or a closet.

Another one is recurrence, architecture and placement is often based  on repeating elements. An office floor needs structure, and within that structure of similarly placed cubicles there has to be space for what would happen if we had five artists..personal little pictures of all the individual workers’s families (with different husbands, wives and children); clean desks and messy desks. As such repetition is both enemy and friend, as without a certain architectural order things will look messy; while too much of it destroys tension and only makes for dullness.

We’ve only had a single artist working on our environments for now, which is insane compared to the amount of artists that would work on triple A titles. And like clouds or poetry, I barely have to tell you what would happen if we even had only five artists.

Follow our Facebook or our RSS feed if you’d like to read more about how we generate the environments in Pathos.

Elevator Pitch

Elevator Pitch

The slight of words you wittily mumble while rubbing the blemish off your rifle’s stock. The little mantra that will echo through everyone’s head the next fifteen minutes. Interrupting grave stares you trade with your partners while moving through the shaft. The one short sentence that remains with you as you breach another door and stake out the room. A little summary before the execution.

Something like: ‘Nice build’.

It’s short, maybe even cliché. But if you had wanted to write a book, you would have become a writer.

But you became a specialist, a professional.

Whose every mission is different. Who will have learned how to adapt, outsmart and outplay the enemy. Jumps through walls and charges head on or preys stealthily in their footsteps waiting for the perfect ambush. A specialist you put together through an infinite variation of conflicts and tactical decisions, through an infinite variety of buildings.

Pathos is a team-based tactical espionage action multiplayer game that we are developing for pc, mac and piece together a unique synergy of abilities for your characterlinux. A game that actually gives you the ability to build a unique character with its own unique toolkit, as part of a specialist tactical combat team.

In the character creator you can piece together a unique synergy of abilities for your character. We don’t build your character, we give you the tools to build a kit. There’s no reason to learn the specifics of a hundred characters; just the power of combination. Start with a comprehensible skillset and be inspired by the setups people use against you or use your own insight and imagination to baffle your opponents.

Decide your character’s look and flavour; face, body and clothes. Build a grotesque cybergenetically enhanced giant that stomps through his opponents or a nimble assassin teleporting through walls setting up spectacularly dangerous traps. As you become better, you will start to look the look. Pathos features a system that makes your successes show. Your character will start looking more spectacular as you win more games. On a winning streak? You’ll look like a boss.

you’ll play a different map every timeLevels in Pathos are procedurally generated. No need to stare at the same map over and over, you’ll play a different map every time. Learn to quickly understand each environment and use it to your advantage. You and your team decide how to approach each level at the beginning of every match.

Throughout you will hunt and be the hunted, whatever you are or will be, it’ll be up to you.


The elevator wheezes and halts, the display panel disappears and the doors part. You step out into the sullen lobby where a water cooler fizzes and the little kids’ bike lays abandoned.

As are your teammates, right now you are glad you’re not a writer.


[Leading image is a collage based on a Stock Image by Sara Goldman]