As a rule of thumb, people don't like being subject to restrictions, but there are some situations in which being restrained winds up going well. This is as true in game design as anywhere else, 'Robots, Monkeys and Cannibalism' would never have existed if I wasn't specifically trying to come up with a game that is comparatively cheap to manufacture, quick to test and can make good use of our library of sci-fi art.
Recently I've run into another of these "constraints breed creativity" situation with the same game. I'd originally planned on having an array of robotic characters for players to choose from, to give a little more variety between games and as an excuse for cool little bits of lore. I've always enjoyed that Robo Rally had little stories about all of the robots and wanted to do something like that. In case anyone's managed to miss out on that excellent game here's an example of one of their robots:
Type: Heavy Gauge Roller Bot
Operation Notes: Roller Bots like things nice and flat, and they see flatness as a sign that they're doing their job well. Anything that isn't flat is bad, and is perceived as both a challenge and an insult. Luckily, they are very slow.
Factory Task: Rolling mill operations.
Unit History: Roll-M 2D had a stunning insight one day when he realized that the factory itself was disturbingly un-flat. His attempts to rectify this earned him an immediate slot in the current RoboRally.
Sadly the real world has got the better of me and I won't be able to produce a bunch of robot designs. The complexities of producing a digital 3D model, printing a perfect version, casting a mould from that and finally making the models for the game are such that there will be no way to do it for six different robots for the first project. Part of this is that we don't know how well the games thing is going to go, once we've got some projects under our belt and have a better idea we can be more free with hiring extra artists and so forth, but until then this is going to be more of a "one model in several colours" affair.
On reflection it's fairly clear that the best modeller in the world wasn't going to turn this 3D model into something that didn't have the head break off the moment it was removed from the cast. To get to the point of the post though, since the game is playtesting well I wanted to keep the design stable through this physical limitation and the restriction lead me to an alternative solution:
Now all of the robots on the ship are the same model and they've just been upgraded with new hardware, which is full of bugs causing the scrambled objectives that make up the premise of the game. Each player can choose which chip has been installed in their robot and that will offer them the same sort of unique power that character selection originally did. Since my spine is still exploded and I'm not supposed to leave my house for long I mocked up how this might look to present the idea to the folks in my office. My art is poor at the best of times, my spine is still exploded and I shouldn't be walking or sitting in a chair, I'm in a lot of pain and high on painkillers, my hands are shaking a bit and I only have MS paint to work with. So I hope you all appreciate what a work of art this is, especially the awesome lightning portion of the card:
That's not the robot model we're using by the way, I'll share that at some later time (I don't have a copy of the image at home) and there's room for more variety than this concept art implies. I just wanted to express how changing to the chip idea might work on a minimalistic level.
I could stop there and call it a job well done, but the chip idea feels like it opens up some design space that I'd not previously tapped. As I mentioned earlier, the game is playtesting very well so I'm reluctant to make sweeping changes, but there's still lots of room to work with optional rules and kickstarter bonuses.
The bonuses are an obvious place to start, now that a new character ability doesn't require a new model there's tonnes of room for adding new chip cards as stretch goals or as thank yous to people who are great. I'm extremely tempted to have "name the company that supplied the defective chips" as a reward level, but I can see this ending with me reading up on slander law so I should be careful with that.
The option to produce more than six chips means a game with more replay options, especially if I mess with the "one powerful ability re-flipped by planetary mission" formula. If there were enough it might make extra game modes possible, for instance a mode in which humans periodically tried to upgrade the robots to stop them going crazy in which robots changed chips several times in a game.
I should sit down and think these options through more carefully, so that when I get back into the office I can make a few up and test them. I enjoy the feeling that a constraint caused by an unexpected setback inspires more design ideas though. As features of human reasoning go, that one is pretty cool.