Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Our Design To Prevent Savescumming in Graywalkers

Game development is chiefly exploratory in the initial phase of development, and this is mostly where we come up with ideas to overcome certain problems.

Here's a look at one design proposal I have for our ongoing project, Graywalkers: Purgatory, as an answer to the savescumming issue found in games. Graywalkers is part squad-based tactics game, and part grand strategy-esque game.

Design Proposal For Preventing Savescumming: Hostage Situations

Savescumming is a metagame technique that players do to turn otherwise unfavorable situations into their favor if the outcome is determined by random chance (i.e. dice rolls). By saving right before such "dice rolls" happen, they can keep on reloading until they get their desired roll results.

Savescumming is a thorny issue. You can stiffle the player's power to save, by say, having save checkpoints instead. But this turns into an inconvenience. What if the player suddenly needs to take a long break? You could implement a "Save & Exit". It won't deter the stubborn savescummers though. But what else can you do?

If the game is built well and the player is savescumming they're way through it, I think it's an indication that they are focusing too much on one solution to their problem when there are really several ways to deal with it.

And the problem I think, is how to let the player learn better solutions without the jarring experience of a Game Over screen.

What I'm going to propose is only one way to go about this. Certainly, better tutorials, perhaps an in-game advisor, can also help.

Dark Souls

Dark Souls is brilliant in this. Savescumming is discouraged by having a "Save and Exit" instead of just a save. It of course does not completely remove savescumming, but it makes it inconvenient for players to do so (i.e. have to close and restart the game all over again just to reload).

Also this means each character has only one save slot.

But the major thing that helps prevent savescumming is the fact that the game gives you a chance to correct your fatal mistakes:
  1. When you die, your corpse (or rather, your soul) is dropped at your point of death.
  2. All your unspent EXP points (and money) are left in that corpse.
  3. You need to get back to that corpse to get back all those EXP (and money).
  4. If you die while attempting to get back to your corpse, then those EXP (and money) are gone forever. Instead, your corpse (i.e. soul) is now in that more recent place you died. The EXP points (& money) you gained while trying to get to your old corpse is now the ones left in that new corpse.

In this way, the player is given a second chance when he dies. If he screws up a second time, well, he has only himself to blame.

It also jives with the narrative: in this game, you are an undead soul who keeps coming back.

Whenever this happens to me, I always refer to it as "my EXP points are held hostage", and that "I need to rescue them".

The idea of not giving an immediate Game Over screen on death has also been done before in other games.

In the FPS, Prey, when the player dies he is put in a mini-game where he is in some sort of spirit world, needing to shoot at corporeal monsters to collect enough health back to magically revive himself.

World of Warcraft has something similar, but their idea is more relaxed; there's always the easy way out of death where you don't lose anything, other than the time to get to your corpse.

Applying this idea to Graywalkers

So with that about hostages, I have an idea for Graywalkers about hostage situations on your own characters.

Short explanation for those unfamiliar with the game: Graywalkers is a post-apoc strategy RPG. But as far as the combat part is concerned, it's turn-based tactics, similar to XCOM, Final Fantasy Tactics, Jagged Alliance, or the old Fallout games. The player can send out multiple squads into the real-time world map.

I'll explain by example:
  1. You encounter some bandits.
  2. You fight but your squad dies or you chose to surrender with the remaining party members unharmed (or rather, not harmed further).
  3. It's not game over yet. You are brought back to the world map and a dialogue opens.
  4. The bandits open a negotiation:
    • "Hoo whee! You there boys? We got your blokes strapped up here. And hey now look, we're all seeveelized folks, so if you give us 100 pieces of canned goods we'll give them back to you the same way we found 'em. But uhh... better hurry up. 2 of them don't look like they got much time left."
  5. This is essentially a hostage situation. In fact, this is a new quest entry for you.
  6. Of note here is that they mentioned what they want (100 pieces of canned goods), and that 2 of the hostages are in critical condition. The rest of the hostages may be unconscious, or weak. They are all tied up or trapped in a prison of some sort.
  7. If you have some of their people held as prisoners of war, they may ask for those as payment instead (i.e. prisoner exchange).
  8. This negotiation can be in conventional means (a diplomat representing them is sent to your nearest remaining squad), or via a video phone if they are hi-tech.
  9. You can still choose to haggle what item/s to give them (and how many) in exchange for your fallen units. I.e. "How about 3 first-aid kits instead?"
  10. If you choose to refuse or accept the deal, or ask for more time, that's not the end of it.
  11. If you accepted, they will give you a location to go to, and you still need to send a new squad there to give the goods (assuming you're not lying) and get your people.
  12. If you refuse or openly say you can't give what they want, you can still get them by force, but they won't give a location. You can start your search from the last place of battle.
  13. But you have to hurry because they don't have unlimited patience, and the 2 of your characters in critical condition can die if you don't act soon enough.
  14. If your bandits are actually from a well-to-do faction (or serving under them), the negotiations may be allowed to take longer, and the hostages will be given minimal food and medical support.

During The Hostage Pickup

Once your rescuers are on the location, several things can happen. This can be in any order or in any combination that makes sense:

Take note that this table is relevant for hostage-takers of any sort, not just regular bandits.

Your Rescuing Squad Hostage Takers Hostages
Can be truthful to the deal and do as promised.

Take note that you need to make sure that your rescuing squad brings along the required items for trade.

For factions that you want to get on their good side, this is a good option.
May be truthful to their deal and do as promised. Can try to break free on their own (you, as the player, are still controlling these hostage characters). You can only control hostages that are not unconscious.

They won't have any items on them. In combat, they can hand-to-hand and magic only, in addition to any non-combat skill checks they can perform that don't require equipment (e.g. bashing cages open perhaps).

You can make them escape quietly, or use them to kill the hostage-takers also. Of course, they can loot any subdued enemies for temporary weapons and armor.

In fact, you may deal with the situation like this and not really have any rescuing squad at all (either lie that you agree with the hostage exchange or refuse their deal).
Can renegotiate the price at the last moment. May up their price at the last moment just to spite you or for whatever reason.
Can use intimidation to make the hostage-takers flee.

It can fail though, and the hostage-takers can get so scared they simply kill the hostages at gunpoint.
May actually just ambush your rescuers. They could openly kill the hostages in front of you to spite you.

It could also be that they are lying and the hostages are not there in the first place (e.g. there is an enclosed cage but it is empty).
Can have a secondary team infiltrate and rescue the hostages in secret while your other team is buying time by talking with the hostage takers face-to-face.

It can fail catastrophically though, if your secondary team is killed, overwhelmed, or captured.
Can fool you by giving you hostages that are not really your characters. Of course for this to work, the hostage-takers will put sacks over the heads of the "hostages".

Could also be something similar to the "hostage exchange" that Mel Gibson pulled off in The Patriot.
Can lie and just open fire on the hostage takers by surprise in the middle of talks.

Take note that you can make it seem like only 1 or 2 people are the rescuers, while the rest of your squad are waiting in ambush.

You may even find it that the hostage-takers have ambushers of their own, and your ambushers can subdue them quietly.
Can fool you by having only one out of the many hostages be present on the site. Their new demand will be that release of the other hostages require additional payments and will be picked up from other places.

Take note that this situation can be further complicated by having the hostage-takers specify the middle of a populated town as the place for the exchange to take place. So you have to worry about non-combatants in your line of fire and collateral damage.

Battle Plan

If the deal is off and you are engaged in battle with the hostage-takers, there are several things you can do:

  1. Kill/subdue all the hostage-takers. The simplest and straightforward. An offensive plan.
  2. Carry the hostages away and flee the scene without killing all the hostage-takers. A defensive plan.
  3. Attempt to break free the hostages to either evacuate them or let them help in battle. You can attempt to resuscitate (conventional means) or revive (magical means) any of your hostaged comrades on the spot if you wish. The reason is so that they can help in battle, if things are looking desperate. They won't have any items on them (i.e. in combat, they can hand-to-hand and magic only, in addition to any skill checks they can perform that don't require equipment).

Breaking Free

For hostages to break free, it will be skill checks. What type of skill check depends on the way the hostages are trapped.


If they are in a cage, your hostaged characters can try lockpicking (lockpicking skill), or those strong enough can simply break it open (strength).

If tied up, they can try to wriggle free (agility), or simply break the rope bindings (strength).


You can, in fact, let all this happen on-purpose to let your hostaged characters infiltrate the enemy's base (assuming hostages are brought there, perhaps a prison of some sort). Why you want to do is that is up to you. Perhaps you need to collect information on how well defended the enemy's base is from the inside, or you need to recruit a prisoner in your team and the only way is to get into the prison, etc.

In Closing

The whole point here is not to punish the player for savescumming, but to encourage him not to in the first place.

We give the player a chance to correct his mistakes naturally within the game in ways that fit the narrative, and in fact, opens up the game to more opportunities for the player.

This is really not about completely removing the player's ability to savescum, but give him less reasons to do so.

Graywalkers: Purgatory is the PC game we are working on at the moment. You can check out our Steam Greenlight page here, and our currently ongoing Kickstarter here.

Graywalkers Purgatory Kickstarter!

Wouldn't do well to forget about posting our Kickstarter on my own personal blog. This site is like a diary of events of my job stuff too.

Well, so here it is.

Graywalkers: Purgatory
A post-apocalyptic strategy RPG in a dynamic world

Kickstarter Page:

And let me practice my sales pitch here:

The game plays similar to Fallout and Jagged Alliance, where you control squads of mercenaries travelling the world map in real time.

When a squad visits a town or any location, the view moves to a more close up view (i.e. like in the screenshot below), where you can move individual party members of that squad, interact with NPCs, or engage in turn-based combat.


Tactical Turn-Based Combat Fights are a classic "I go, then you go" type of turn-based, set in a square grid. We use an Action Point system similar to the old Fallout and X-COM games.

Christian-heavy, supernatural setting mixed with post-apocalypse Instead of dwarves and elves, this game has demons, angels, vampires, werewolves, and faeries (apart from humans of course). Ancient magic and human technology play a heavy role in the lore.

Dynamic World When moving your mercenary bands in the real-time world map, think of it as there being an automated grand strategy game happening around you. NPCs move around, fulfilling their roles in the economics/politics simulation of the world.

Cities found in the map require constant food and resources or they will die off, and you can use that to your advantage the next time you invade an enemy city.

Factions The world has factions that war with each other, and it's up to you who to ally with. Do you side with the disreputable crime lords of Lost Vegas? Or the well-equipped but bigoted human supremacists?

All of them have their own agendas that they'll pursue, with or without your help.

Suikoden-style collecting of party members You need to gather 36 party members slowly as you play the game. There are about 50+ potential recruits so there's a lot to choose from.

Each party member has their own backstory, and personalities that affect combat (think Jagged Alliance). Some may be devoted to their faith, but prejudiced against half-breeds. One of them may be a crack shot, but has emotional baggage that would get you into trouble during a hostage situation.

No one's a complete goody-two-shoes or bad guy here, and it's up to you who to recruit.

More Screenshots

Gameplay Footage

If you have friends you think will like this, spread the word! Use the hashtag #KickstartGraywalkers and use our official short URL: when tweeting so we can find your tweets.

WARNING! Please take note that mass sending of tweets about the game to other Twitter users that aren't your followers is considered spamming and we could get suspended for that.

I'd also love to hear your feedback, good or bad. I'll forward them to the rest of the team. We can't improve if you don't tell us the wrong things we haven't noticed.

A few more related links:

Our Steam Greenlight Page
Our IndieDB Page
Our Facebook Page
Our Twitter Account
Our YouTube Channel

Thanks for your time!

So that's that.

As for how it's doing:

Which means it certainly could be better. I'm not the one running the show here--I'm not even the main authority with the development (I'm in as the lead engineer, doing the technical stuff only)--but I am sharing my thoughts with the rest of the team. And we got some back-and-forth going on. Certainly something to share afterwards.

Our lead has his own blog that he updates (supposedly) daily if you guys want to know more from his point of view:

Sweet bonus: here's a screenshot of our Greenlight with l33t amount of YES votes: