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The plot thickens… and how we treat progression in Shadowrun Online

Shadowrun Online - 18.04.2013 2:29PM

As promised, it’s time to dole out some insight into the game’s plot. Fear not — there shall be no spoilers; just a sneak-peek at the story and an inkling of how we plan to treat story progression in Shadowrun Online (SRO).

As you know, SRO will be a little bit MMO, a little bit not. Many backers have expressed their wish to run with their friends, and while we’re all for that, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Any seasoned MMO player has surely experienced the effect of different progress speeds, i.e. you start off as one big, happy family; but then one guy (or gal) isn’t able to keep up with the group, and two of your street sams join another guild and pretty soon it’s a total clusterf***. This effect is even more pronounced when you add in different platforms and take our mixed model of campaign and free-to-play accounts into consideration. Ok, so what’s our plan?

First off, unlike many solo-RPGs, we’re not looking at SRO as a linear main story with side-quests. Instead, we view it as “experiential phases” – chapters, to the layperson – in a continuously developing 6th world (or at least the small corner of the 6th world inhabiting our servers), with the meta-plot moving towards certain key events. So, from the get go, you’ll of course experience YOUR version of the game, stringing together your specific path within the plot, which becomes your unique story; but everyone has their own unique story. What’s also notable is that everyone on the server will contribute to the game world’s advancement.

Obviously, with the world being moved forward by each player, we don’t want to leave anyone behind, or put off newcomers — which is where the “chapter plan” comes in. Many of our runs consist of “mission boxes” which aren’t necessarily linear, and whose successful completion depends on player strategy. For example: your Johnson – an overworked, desperate Ares officer – contracts you to stop a bunch of marauding, psychotic, “high on some new drug” gangsters. Occupying different locations, these loons are indiscriminately killing innocents. Now, depending on your team, you may want to tackle the gangsters hiding in the Talismonger’s Shop, or the ones barricaded in the Stuffer Shack, or the ones torching cars on the street corner, or the ones holding hostages in the office building etc. SRO won’t force you to take on the whole lot, though you’re free to do so. Instead, once you’ve secured a certain number of locations, you may discover a common pattern to the gangsters’ craziness, thus unlocking the next mission box and advancing the plot. After enough other players have advanced this far, Ares may order an attack on the gangsters and a new global mission box will unlock for all players, perhaps offering a special mission for those in Ares’ good graces. Also, there might be an additional mission box dealing with halting the drug’s production. All of these mission boxes may in turn improve Ares’ standing on the mega-corp “power board”, thus influencing the next layer of unlockable missions  (for instance, other mega-corps might start hiring operatives for sabotage runs against Ares). Many of these boxes can be played at different power levels, or at least within a certain power tier. So while there is a slow, server wide-progression that coincides with runners’ collective effort, new players might start off seeing only certain box parts, and by the time they advance into the appropriate power tier, Ares may have already been brought down a notch. By then, NeoNet might ask you to steal a shipment of those drugs for examination in their SOTA lab. So while it technically means you play the same mission map with the same goal (i.e. hijack the drug shipment), the mission context changes and so does your personal story; and of course, enough successful runs means NeoNet gains an advantage on the corporate power board, thus unlocking new global missions for or against them.

What does it all mean for you and your band of not-so-merry men? For one, you don’t have to do every mission in order, which makes it easier for runners that “missed” a mission to join the team. Secondly, your group may choose to do runs together, or each player may do them at different times and then team up again for the “next” unlocked mission box. Thirdly, even if your team is at different power levels, you can still play the same missions and profit from them. And best of all, everything contributes to your favorite mega-corp’s standing.

There are several power tiers in the game, which coincide with plot phases — so after a while your runs will lead you deeper into the game’s scheme, churning up juicier missions. Ultimately you’ll arrive at a point where each faction/mega-corp is scrambling for control…in other words, the campaign’s ultimate mission box. What follows is an all-out shadow war for a unique item that holds the key to some of the 6th world’s deepest secrets…no, it isn’t an artifact or Anvil’s lost album. The struggle may take the form of actual PvP against other runners, or coordinated PvE conflicts within a given timeframe (think of it as one faction seeking as many successful mission completions as possible against the other factions).

The goal is to take the classical MMO structure and mix it with a “dynamic world” experience while allowing you to select your personal mission path, which you help shape. We encourage group play (or “association”, “network”, or whatever term we settle on) no matter whether you’ve been shadow-running together for the past few weeks, or just dropped in for a spontaneous, first-time session. As the game progresses and the stakes get higher, we want players to join forces with other players without requiring 30 people to be present simultaneously for a massive raid.

Sure, it’s an ambitious goal and it may sound slightly (or even very) complicated, but it’s all about creating a memorable game that plays fluidly and feels natural.

To maintain some level of control, one thing we need to do is lock you down in certain locations. All MMOs do this in some fashion (the world geography ends, areas unlock over time, etc.), but we’re going further: in SRO, the lockdown actually meshes with the story. In fact, even the SRO campaign book will be called Lockdown! How’s that for synergy?  Anyways, instead of embracing some weird mechanic to keep you from veering off course, we decided to make the lockdown theory a cornerstone of the game. To wit: the city is on lockdown. Nobody gets in or out, which means resources are scarce and a lot of Johnsons are in need of assistance, since most law-keeping forces and mega-corp armies have their hands full enforcing the lockdown. In a total lockdown, many things (including most virtual connections) get cut off, which means fewer prying eyes; an ideal situation for the shadow denizens set to get some work done, for gangs to run amok, for old feuds to be settled (the hard way), for power grabs and for straight-up, citywide havoc. As violence erupts amidst a desperate struggle between several mega-corps (who by the way are hiring every disposable asset they can), the city descends into chaos. This means blood in the streets and more work for the Shadows.

A city left to its own devices while a shadow war wages? Who wouldn’t wanna be part of that?

We’ll finish with a story teaser: it all starts with a blurry trideo recording of a dragon bursting forth from an underground complex in mid-town, writhing in agony and then going mad, killing hundreds of people in a frenzy and laying waste to a corporate arcology. In its wake is found a weird trace of iridescent rain…and an entire city must deal with the aftermath.

Welcome to Shadowrun Online: LOCKDOWN!