One of the semi-famous games with a cult following is S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (henceforth Stalker,) which I also happen to be a fan of. The series has three games, a lot of rumors (and even a “confirmation” that is vague and shady) about a second game and a game that fans hoped to carry the spirit, but failed. Of course, this doesn’t stop me from mingling!
I actually started on a design but noticed two things: First, there is so much that can be done. Second, Stalker belongs to the community at this point. So what I’m going to do is write some stuff, present it to the cheeki (not a typo) folks at 100 Rads Bar, see what they have to say and proceed to next step.
Defining the Purpose
Before anything else, I want to start by defining the purpose of the game. Who does this game target and offer to the players?
As for target players, I think there are a few categorizations. The most obvious one is of course new players versus old fans. Another one would be those who like story more, those who like freeplay more and those who like action more. A third one would be solo vs multiplayer and multiplayer could be co-op players and pvp players. That’s a lot of categories. We can pick one and focus on that, but I think a better choice will be to provide options for players and connect different play styles in meaningful ways. Here is what I personally feel the game should have and a rough idea of how it can be implemented:
The basis concept of a stalker is a solo bounty hunter in a dangerous world. You take what you need to carry, head in the wilds. You take out your trusty scanner and some bolts, navigate through anomalies, take down a couple mutants and reach a loot cache or extract an artifact from an anomaly. It’s creepy, it’s dangerous and strangely, it’s comforting. For this to work, instancing is needed.
I think this mode can be something you can go at any time, just to enjoy the atmosphere but also get some rewards that pile up in time. Zones could be partially or completely generated via procedure.
Another idea could be to unlock new zones as you “get points”, challenge zones, changing the difficulty of procedural generation (more and stronger anomalies, stronger mutants etc.) and random cosmetic rewards to make it relevant for players even if they just enter for the atmosphere.
What comes after the solo stalker is stalkers screwing each other and working together. The biggest and most repeated question in 100 rads bar is “Freedom or Duty?.” And the answer will probably be “Free stalker” or “Monolith.” We’ve seen many factions in Stalker and both in games and very popular modes, players have enjoyed factions taking over locations. This needs to be in game.
I’m conflicted here. A part of me likes the idea that you can take your pals at any time and raid the enemy and if you are good enough, you take over. Part of me thinks it’ll be shitty game-play because people will do it at odd hours meaning not only it will be awkward to defend against, but also majority will miss the fun.
This makes me think of Ragnarok Online. If you google it, don’t judge it by the looks. It had a weekly castle fight system. At certain hours you could attack the enemy castle and they had to defend it. If an alliance was made, others could help them. Once the fight was over, the winner held the place for a week.
Another game I’m thinking is of course Warhammer Online. While the game failed due to bad management, the idea was solid and the pvp was extremely enjoyable. In WHO, there are several tiers of pvp fights. Each tier is level limited and as you move through tiers, the fortifications are also stronger, the last tier being the capital of a faction. I haven’t hit the max level so I’m not well-versed in that.
So what could happen is a mixture. There could be several locations, in different sizes. The smallest ones could be like a campsite that basically has some kind of advantage and can be taken over by individuals or parties. Mostly the bonus would be local. Maybe a lockbox, a campfire that gives you regeneration or protection from blowout. “Taking over” one would be as simple as being the only people around.
The average size ones could vary from a two story building to a small building complex and they could be taken over by parties or guilds. These would offer some extra advantage and taking over would require completion of a simple task. For example, turning a switch in the bunker (that requires a few seconds to “channel” so you can’t just run and click it if someone’s defending.) The advantage could be access to a sort-of unending ammo cache, maybe a crafting station etc It could be a store that generates cash and whenever “requested”, they pay whatever’s generated. More cash could pile up in time, so waiting for it may give you more cash but also would be riskier. It could take time to grant the cash once requested and maybe signal this to players around, forcing you to defend to get your cash.
The larger ones would be where the guilds fight. Probably a couple per area, these zones would only be taken through pvp fights similar to WHO, including faction bases.
An exception would be the neutral zones such as 100 rads bar or the Cordon village sponsored by Sidorovich. These would work like Ragnarok: There is a certain time that you fight and if you win, you gain the allegiance of the trader. For example, the bar would always be open to anyone but if the guild is with Duty, all Duty guilds would get a bonus and the guild would get something extra on top. Cash flow and discounts comes to mind, along with some locations being available only to the faction/guild. Of course, the owner guild or guilds have their banner in the area for extra bragging as well.
You’ve been mauled by mutants, thrown around by anomalies and shot by bandits. But you also the spoils of your hard day: A new weapon, tons of Tourist’s Delights and some artifacts. You place the food in your locker and get a good night’s sleep. While the sirens of blowout offend your ears, you are safe, home. You mod your new weapon, sell unneeded stuff and grab a drink in the bar and listen to the new guy play the guitar.
The cordon village, 100 rads bar, the factions bases… I can’t think this game without them. Plus, you need to keep your loot somewhere. Mortgage rates are too deadly to own a house in the Zone, but a locker and a bed will give you enough comfort and breathing room. Maybe you need to hire it, maybe you get one if you have a faction, maybe you can even get a room with enough reputation. In fact, maybe your guild can get their own place.
Regardless, a safe spot should be there.
You are navigating through an anomaly field. An izlom roams in the horizon. Your eye catches a cave nearby. Seeing the zombies outside, you suspect a controller may be inside. You check your scanner. If you manage it through two more anomalies, you can get that nifty artifact. Suddenly, the izlom stops. You hear howling on the distance. You get goosebumps. You curse. You know what’s next. Sirens start tearing the air and the sky starts becoming red. A blowout will happen. Soon it will get worse. The energy will build up and explode. You can’t stay outdoors. If you start running back now, you can make it to the nearest safe spot. Or you can take a risk, go for that artifact before it disappears with the blowout and go for the cave. What do you do?
Originally introduced as a single scary event, blowouts have become an important part of the fun in the game and I can’t imagine a Stalker game without them.
So, the actual implementation of features can change entirely, but in this article I named some things I want in the game: Solo roaming, faction pvp, a home of sorts and blowouts. I also listed some ways on how to implement them. What do you think? Do you agree? Am I missing anything? Is anything unnecessary? Let me know in the comments (or in the 100 Rads bar.)