The Rebel Squad project

The Rebel Squad project


Prelude

I started this project in early 2006 but abandoned it after having made some (what I now view as) proto-designs and code. Now it's the end of 2007 2009 and turned my attention to the project once again. Coming back to a project is always useful, because I can be objective towards my old stuff. It's a bit like standing on my own shoulders, to modify a famous quote.

This project is based on Rebelstar Raiders (RSR), Rebelstar (RS) 1 & 2 and Laser Squad (LS) with expansion. I prefer the C64 and Speccy versions because of the clear iconic quality to the graphics. The idea with my project is to merge the games into a single consistent universe. I'm also familiarizing myself with X-COM so I'll be using bits from that one as well from that. There has been several remakes of X-COM (or none, in case you're after a truly faithful one), but not so many of the precursors. I think the designs from the LS and RS games are a bit more interesting though, perhaps because they use tiny sprites which I can bend more in my mind.

So, I'm the kind of gamer who would deeper and more involving strategy games, if there were any which suited me. Many of the older games I used to enjoy have aged badly, certainly UI-wise and maybe also gameplay-wise. I think UIs has really gotten a lot better, but so many games now are "Push button - Receive bacon" without any depth. "Wave the wiimote around to get a positive feedback tingling sound and increase the byte value by 3! Wow, now your byte is 68, just look at that number go! Get to 100 and unlock a pretty picture gallery!" Bleh, okay, now I'm just whining. I guess I prefer the kind of adventure game (using the term very broadly here) where my performance isn't quantified and collapsed into a single digit, leaving me with the exact same progression experience as everyone else. I like to be able to enter the game world, perform within it, and when I exit I want to be able to take something with me back (NaN).

Index

References

Rebelstar and Laser Squad at Wikipedia

My RebelStar Raiders page which I made after not having found any detailed info about that game (characters and graphics) on the net.

William Fraser's RebelStar page has Java versions which you can play in your browser.

My Laser Squad open directory with some sprite reference.

X-COM - UFOpaedia

Things X-COM did right

Things which could be improved upon

To Do

Art

Comments

Most of the designs I've made here are being based on the sprites. I'm adding a few of my own designs though, and I'm using the C64 palette a lot. As for the cute cartoon style, I don't believe it would make the game less scary or involving. Horror is mostly music and build-up. Benny Hill music will make almost anything funny, and if you just walk into a grimdark scary movie it's not scary at all because you missed the build-up.

There might be some sketches here which are old and obsolete. Others are very internal to me and might not appear to make much sense. The various armour styles (differing between missions in LS) have several levels, so I'm having some fun with that.

It feels a bit cheap to interpret some sprites as if they're just R2D2 or the Alien (even if they were obviously inspired by those designs). Pixel graphics have the advantage of having abstract qualities so I think I play around a bit while still keeping my designs within the bounds of the sprites. Maybe renaming the Light Sabre into Photon Blade would be a good idea too... (some guy develops photon weapons in the story, so it would be apt).

2009 art

Here is a sheet with unfinished X-COM redesigns. The character proportions and head scale is something I'm trying to standardize for a bunch of my projects. I think I'm going to have to revisit all the art on this page and revise the designs. I think these new proportions with more curves is more dynamic. More hip, legs getting thinner, larger head.

Concept art: X-COM UFO and Terror from the Deep, Humans in Personal Armour and Power Suits.

Some work in progress on the various suits and armors from X-COM.

I'm playing around with the TftD 'atmospheric diving suit' designs too. The colors used on the light TftD suit are from UFO rather than TftD (blue and teal), because I want to find a way to blend the two game universes together. I might even merge the UFO and TftD universes with my LaserSquad and RebelStar universes.

Concept art: X-COM UFO, Syndicate, Artificial muscles and a 'Terminator' endoskeleton.

It would be interesting to play with the body-mod mechanics from Syndicate. In Syndicate you can modify different parts of the body individually, but I'm not sure if that kind of detail is necessary. I like the idea of 'apples and oranges' tech, which can be discovered in parallel.

In this case with the cyborg bodies, they could be based around the same tech findings, but use different approaches with different advantages. Genetic manipulation could also be used as a way to produce super humans. Since many of the aliens are quite tough, I'm guessing that they have somehow increased their toughness beyond what's natural. Kevlar skin, backup organs, efficient blood, etc.

Concept art: X-COM UFO, Zombies and Chryssalid.

Zombie and Chryssalid evolution. Here I wanted to come up with a more gradual evolution of the Chryssalid, so I added two cocoon stages. The green slime is some kid of DNA altering stuff.

The mechanic is similar to how some wasps can inject stuff into plants making them grow a little wasp house, i.e. a "gall". I heard once that the wasps actually alter the DNA of the plant, maybe with a virus. I haven't been able to confirm it.

Concept art: X-COM UFO, isometric Chryssalid.

Isometric test. It's a bit of a pain to draw just one frame like this, and doing several frames is even harder since you need to be consistent with the detailing, pose and feel. It would be convenient to use a rough sculpture/figurine or 3D model as reference. Stuff like weapons and heads could be separate pieces, and stuff in the belt would not be visible at all.

I think, since the game is grid based (digital), the smooth analog animation of 3D models feels out of place, and is a wasted effort. 3D models could still be used of course, but I think the walk animation and such should only have a few frames or at least have a snappy feel (i.e. animated well, with no lazy smoothing between key frames).

Went for a black Chryssalid here. Their autopsy image is pale teal, while their isometric graphic is black. There could be several variants I suppose.

Concept art: X-COM UFO, HWP - Heavy Weapons Platforms, Tanks

Some rough concept art for the HWPs (Heavy Weapons Platforms)- some kind of small unmanned tanks.

Concept art: X-COM UFO, CyberDisc, Sectoid, Celatid, Snakeman, Muton, Ethereal, Sectopod, Reaper, Lobster man, Floater.

Some progress on the aliens: The CyberDisc, Sectoid, Celatid, Snakeman, Muton, Ethereal, Sectopod, Reaper, Lobster man and Floater. I'm creating some offshoots of the various enemy types. A sniper (Here a "Muton Stealth Type") would be really annoying to be up against, so it'd have to be rare.

Concept art: X-COM UFO, Interceptor, Avenger

I want to explore the VTOL concept for the flying stuff. Also, It would be nice if the troop transports could provide support fire, and provide multiple exits as well as cover.

Joe Capricorn and Clone #3 from RebelStar Raiders 1.

2006 art

In 2006 I drew some weapons. These were drawn over the sprites and are a bit too random looking. I think I need to go easier with the nonsense greebles, but I don't want to stray from the sprite designs too much. Also, I made a few antique weapons, because I feel it's important to provide a buffer for lore and scale purposes. Hardcore players can try to beat the game by using older weapons, or come up with other self imposed restrictions.

2007 art

The majority of art on this page is still from 2007. I might update it some time.

Graphical presentation

Mission gameplay screenshot

Seen here is my interpretation of LS's "The Cyber Hordes" mission. I kept the ground black because it is black (and purple dottish) in the game. It's an effective way to create contrast when you have a limited palette. It just wouldn't feel right now if I threw in brown or green ground.

Maybe the characters turns 'Super Deformed' for the 'battlescape' bird view, and more realistic proportions are used for character inventory screens and such. With 3D graphics it's easy to scale stuff around. Perhaps there is a good middle ground though, with heads which identify well from afar without being completely Powerpuff Girls sized.

With so many different combinations of armour, animations, load outs, maybe 3D models would be the best. A pretty zoomed out, or zoomable playfield would be to prefer, I think. Rebelstar Raiders looks pretty nice with its tiny characters, and the Lords of Chaos mini map was cool too. A 2D playfield is a lot easier to make, and I feel that elevations brings too much confusion to the table.

Actually, this is not entirely true. There's such a thing as scalability and having it both ways. Elevation variation would be confusing with very noisy terrain, but a city (for example) is quite flat with the roads and parks, and the buildings are conveniently square and divided into floors. So, even though there are variations in elevation, there is a structure, and most of the ground is actually flat and simple to understand / read. Elevation often created neat tactical situations in X-COM, and with today's computer power we can do all sorts of transparency wizardry.

Setting

Story Timeline

I should probably be involving a bit more of X-COM here, but I wrote this chunk before knowing much about the game. Maybe some time/dimension travel plot can be used to weld all the material together. I did try to respect the story material from the RS series and LS, but I couldn't find a whole lot of it. Since humans are pretty tech'ed up after X-COM, and RSR takes place 500 years after, I used the catastrophe plot device to pull the technology down to primitive levels. This also allowed me to use tomb raiding as a mechanic and include some of the X-COM designs. Just like Star Control 2 I have two evil(?) antagonists battling each other.

The War

Since Main-Comp cares less about man and favours droids, it will not hesitate to 'nuke' Chryssalid infected colonies. Man is used primarily as labour and cheap grunts. The Rebelstar is at the outskirts of the warzone (compromising most of the galaxy).

Factions

Main-Comp controlled Empire

Although the Main-comp was believed to have been destroyed, it is now secretly in control of the galaxy spanning new united Empire. Its methods of control are many. It sits as the Emperor and naturally has a lot of political influence, but it's also a very powerful computer which is in direct control of commuication and all automated systems. With the human colonies scattered far apart in space, propaganda can be very effective.

But the Main-Comp is not a very nice character. Humans are seen as inferiour meat machines, a brief stepping stone into a new era of perfect machines. The Main-Comp do realize the danger humans pose to its existence though (having almost been destroyed once). This is why it now takes extra care to remain behind the scenes, moving slowly but surely.

Aside from regular methods of influence, the Main-Comp also makes wide use of mind control devices and military force. This is of course denied in its propaganda.

The Cyber Hordes

The Main-Comp's army is sometimes refered to as "The Cyber Hordes". It is made up of droids and Loyals. The Loyals only have cheap armour, a mind control collar (design-wise important to signify possession) with an antenna on the back, and are bald and marked (to signify loss of identity). People who have been turned into Loyals are beyond saving, their brains are almost completely destroyed by the mind control device. Loyal Mediates are men who have 'volunteered' in one way or another to join the Cyber Hordes, and their brains are left more intact. The Main-Comp uses them as a tool to understand (how to dominate) man better. The Cyber Droids were once men, Loyals who have been 'promoted' by becoming machines.

The Cyber Hordes

I changed the design of the Cyber Hordes (Imperial droids) 'Tank' a bit to make it work with the smaller droid design. It's a bad mofo with twin-linked MS AutoCannons.

The Cyber Hordes - ships

Imperial assault ships often hover above the atmosphere of dominated planets, circling like vultures.

The Cyber Hordes' Ships

The Cyber Horde ships should be pretty impressive and appear mass manufactured and standardized, being built by a cold calculating computer and all. I'm not sure if that's working, I might need to make them more boxy and sterile, repetitive. Since the Rebel ships look a bit like the Star Wars Empire's, I decided to use the racing stripes from the Star Wars Rebels on the Cyber Horde skips. The fighter is based very slightly on an X-wing but mostly on an A-10 Tank Killer.

I did the black battle ships on the right first, but I think they're too 'designed', so I'm leaning towards something like the grey ship on the left now. A big gray boxed which is being pushed by a minor engine/bridge part (which can have some elaborate design since it's minor).

The Federation

Eventually when many people had started to notice just how bad things had gotten under the rule of the new Empire, the Federation was created. It's role was to safeguard certain human rights and step in with military force if those rights were stepped on. It was a propaganda success by the Main-Comp. In reality the Federation is just as bad as the military forces of the Empire.

Omni Corp.

Even with mankind spread thin across a galaxy, the Omni Corp. is everywhere and sees everything. It is the eyes and ears of the Main-Comp.

Mettalix Corp.

Many worlds have been completely devastated by the aggressive mining operations of the Mettalix Corp.

The Engineers.

A band of mercinaries, presumably doing lot into engineering.

Various Factions

Not much here yet. The Engineers could have all these little pouches and tools on them. Possibly they are forced to live inside their suits, after having done a bit too much engineering on themselves. The Omni Corp. deals with surveillance so they could have an armoured bureaucrat feel to them. A cloak or a short cape might indicate stealth. They're green in the game, but I think gray suits their business better, so I just kept the green for the eyes. The Storm Commandos of the Federation could use a very... mass manufactured trooper look. Mettalix... I don't know... miners... big eyes to see in the dark, or mining gear-ish armour (helmets).

I'm not sure if these corporations would play a role in the game, but perhaps the blueprints to a small sample of their equipment can be found on various missions, and-or looted stuff can be reverse engineered and re-designed to fit the Rebelstar squad (as seen above).

MarSec Corp.

Marsec manufactures almost anything conceivable related to weapons and destruction.

Sterner Regnix

Old concepts of Sterner Regnix. Just a stepping stone. I'm thinking he's just an old man in a really fat exo-armour.

Droids and Androids

Droids, Robots and Androids use AI and can only be indirectly controlled via ingame characters.

Look Sir, Droids.

Droids from Rebelstar 1 plus a few of my own. Laser Squad mentions androids. I need something to fill the roll of the X-COM tank. I'm not sure what to make of the Master Droid yet.

The Rebels

The Rebel movement was started by a certain Joe Capricorn, who was actually partly responsible for constructing the Main-Comp, and he nearly fell victim to his own creation. Now the Rebel movement consists of independent Covert Cells, some of which were created spontaneously by people who saw through the propaganda of the Main-Comp.

Rebel armours

Armours from Laser Squad. The larger armours are more like exo-skeletons. I assumed the 2nd row of armours are space suits since they're used outdoors in the MoonBase Assault mission. All high level armours could be airtight though. The white suits are made of Larvec (TM)... which is some form of Kevlar of course. The were inspired by the sprite and a random pic from the PC version of Laser Squad featuring a leathery space suit.

Rebel special armours

A few armours from the Rebelstar Historical Database, as well as a few experimental ones. A game can be so much more than just a game, and I think expanding the game universe by adding curiosity items is a good thing. Antique weapons will create an illusion of history existing in the game universe. An extra buffer of relatively poorly performing weapons (which the player might never touch) are still worth to put in there because it reduces the feeling of confinement... a bit like using a skybox image in a 3D game.

Rebel X-com armours

Blue-prints for Golden Age (post X-com era) armours are found on a derelict ship. They are more advanced than anything from 'present' day.

The X-COM power armour was tricky. I decided to deviate from the C64 palette and use the original biege color. The elephant legs did not appeal to me so I shrank them, significantly. Since the clothes of the un-armoured X-COM personnel are not the same material as the armour I made them primarily grey with some biege to link it to the armour.

The Rebel ships

Rebel ships

I thought it would be funny to use the design of the Star Wars Empire for the Rebels instead. Tank (heavy) transport vaguely based off the Space 1999 Eagle transport and SupCom Air Transport.

The Chryssalids

Right now I'm thinking that the regular soldier Chryssalids are pretty much just 'brutes', but every few hundred years another very intelligent variant, 'the Cycler', appears. Born with engineering knowledge, the Cycler develops weapons and space travel in a decade, sometimes from scratch on barren planets. The Chryssalid race then goes on a rampage across the stars, with the Cyclers in command. Without these Cyclers, the Chryssalids quickly revert to being just simple (but still very dangerous) brutes. In X-COM someone had found a way to control the Chryssalid brutes in the absense of the Cyclers. The success of a Chryssalid rampage depends on the number of colonized worlds they find, since they prefer to increase their numbers by using a parasitic reproduction system. Hulks of Chryssalid invasion ships as old as 80 000 years have been found, and there's an indication that their technological evolution is very convergent towards specific designs. From some time periods there are almost no Chryssalid finds, so it's possible that they can remain dormant for long periods of time.

Chryssalids

The Chryssalid design was tricky since the isometric sprite (dark) conflicts the autopsy image (light gray). The teeth looked like rabbit teeth on the sprite but a big smiley face on the autopsy image. I went for a middle ground and buffed it up a bit.

I'm not sure about the square ship, but I don't want to go the organic route. Suitable ship design elements: Butterfly/DragonFly (the Chryssalids have hatched and gained flight, momentarily). I got the idea of using the triangular head somehow, but couldn't make anything cool of it. Will have to try again. I definately think the ship needs be be unusual and alien in shape (but not the obvious organic solution). It also needs to play against the Cyber Horde ship designs.

Alternative ideas for Chryssalid 'Cyclers' are: A queen with spaceship-carrier-tripod features? A mother-brain? A mysterious alien species pulling the strings?

Mostly hostile alien life

Sectoids

The Sectoids in LS does not seem to be like the X-COM Sectoids. Maybe the LS variants were turned into the Fraylar in Rebelstar: Tactical Command (GBA game).

The Aliens are some kind of nomads, apparently possessing Medieval style weaponry and probably space travel.

Design notes

I'm just exploring the possibilities here. I've got some more thoughts on the subject of an X-COM game in my Xexyz document.

Base gameplay

The current plan is to have the Rebelstar (looks like a tiny death star) floating in deep space. The playfield is a galactic sector with planets and various stuff floating about. This way missions can be on different planets. After a completed mission the squad can return to base with loot. Each item has a list of technologies/materials which it is made of, and these can be reverse engineered. To aid replay-ability, different games could have different sets of enemies and equipment, thus limiting the technologies which the player can reverse engineer. Mission progression could be designed as follows:

Mission gameplay

Here are a few options. I'm really unsure which is the best one.

Abstract and easy to calculate, - e.g. Character moves (6) = Character agility (10) - backpack (3) - rifle (1) - servo armour (-1) - Slightly wounded (1)
If rubble then -rnd(0,2) per step (may randomly stumble)

Detailed - X-COM / Laser Squad etc. Lots of multiplication and division rather than plus or minus. Numbers are in the 100 range rather than in the tens.

I've given the real time vs turn based mechanic some thought, and decided that I was wrong in preferring a semi-realtime system. One of X-Com's biggest strengths is character development. X-COM characters are much richer than "Oh wow I've got the Vorpal Sword I'm doing 250 damage per hit now!". Character development in X-COM is less tangible, and more about small fun things which has happened to the character over the course of several missions. In a turn based game you can maximize the player's exposure to the individual characters, because there are no parallel events.

I think that, even if you design a real time system with multiple monitoring windows (to keep an eye on scattered characters), the player will have a constant nagging feeling of having to be everywhere at the same time with his eyes. It's not enjoyable to constantly be reminded that you might be missing important action.

Baldur's gate-ish - Time control, pause, order queues, gambit system, multiple view ports.

Macro control - The player has macro control but no micro controls. Battle plans can be layed out, but the squad is on their own during the missions. Dwarf Fortress-ish. The disadvantage is that AI is hard to make, so most likely the squad will behave in a predictable and stupid way. Some degree of influence during the missions could remedy this, but the finer aspects of tactics might still be lost.

Must haves

Destructible terrain (walls) and staying corpses - This is important because the player will want to... well, destroy stuff. But it's also important because the player will 'level up' his characters, and a higher level manifests in more destruction. Destruction, scorched earth and piles of corpses also leaves a visual reminder of how awesome the player is, thus prolonging the positive experience of just having kicked some serious ass. And being able to modify how line of sight floods the map adds a fun tactical aspect, of course. It's important to provide the player with familiar objects to destroy, such as small towns and innocent civilians. These provide a scale.

Squad customisation and squad persistence - This is maybe what I enjoy the most in games. Creating characters, then returning after a mission to raise stats and buy that AutoCannon. Also, if a character persists from mission to mission, I have time to 'perform in my head' and flesh out the character... make it more than what it actually is in the game (like I talked about in the foreword).

A good GUI. - Graphically the X-COM GUI is very nice with lots of color coding. I really like how X-COM used art as background in many windows, it adds to the setting and the game never becomes 'Excel'. Nowadays we have more screen estate and thus the ability to present the player with vital information more effectively. That's really the core of the poodle, giving the player good information to act on (regarding the state of the characters, base stocks, etc).

Interesting and new ways to fail - In comedy failing is an important mechanic, and jokes tend to lose their punch if repeated often. Many games just makes me frustrated when I die. I'd rather be able enjoy the game the whole time I'm playing, or atleast be able to enjoy it in retrospect ("remembering that time when..."). I also do not want to feel like I have a large to-do list which I have to execute flawlessly. I want to enter the game universe, have a good time and not think too much about all the things which need to be done.

Mission types

For Dogs of War style mission selection, here are a few ideas out of the top of my head.

Mission selection screen Some ideas for missions:


Locales

Persistence and permadeath

health meter A lot of people seemed to like that X-COM was merciless, it made the characters feel more tangible. Your men could die rather quickly and there was real danger. You didn't have to play perfect, casualties were actually the norm. In some movies and games deaths can be pretty boolean with no analog wound states. I'd like to be slightly more lenient by just adding levels of non-death below 0 HP.

This would also allow for medics to play a role (not classes, just skill and gear). Characters would be put out of action but may be salvaged if the mission is successful (or during the mission if there's a medic doing well). Depending on the wound and unit type, health can be lost gradually.

The Rebelstars

These small space stations are the Rebel's Covert Cells. Most Rebelstars have data banks and machinery onboard for manufacturing most things, given that there's blueprints, material and time. It can also grow humans. Joe Capricorn had 3 clones for example (RSR story).

In silent mode, a Rebelstar has no life onboard. This to avoid detection by enemy PSI agents. Humans are grown as they are needed, a process which takes months. During the growth there's also an education program running. The process is still experimental and there's a lot of 'noise'. This means even clones are not the same. Psychological and physical features can vary a bit. This is partly deliberate. It has been shown that due to the complexity and combinatory nature of all factors involved, evolutionary progress is best left to chance.

The onboard DataBank contains genetic and technological blueprints, as well as encryption keys and historical files (the Main-Comp has a tendency to rewrite history in its propaganda). There's even blueprints for antique armours and weapons (2420-60). Including these may give the player a reference point to compare with the newer hightech stuff. some poor or isolated colonies still use these antiques.

Rebelstar components: Engines, Warp engines, Sensor and stealth control, Storage, Life support, Hangar, Housing, TechLab, GenLab, Armour, Shields, Defence weapons, Main weapon dish.

Character generation and stats

PSI attack
^ A powerful PSI attack shatters the environment and enemy troops.

Random notes

Black planet bodies (maybe scorched and cast out by a super nova explosion) are good for staying true to the black BG in the original games, and a good place to hide things, perhaps.
No ultimate state, not possible to max out tech. Each playthrough should be unique (and not so much by forced branching, instead use restricted resouces and random encounters).
Using a simple galaxy model with not that many stars, and maybe 4ly/day (4 light years per day) warp travel.

To do
^ Some more ideas waiting to find their sheets.


- by Niklas Jansson, Yule 2007 - Nov 2009