Natural Balance: Chronicles (NB:C) provides an innovative gameplay system that is unique to the isometric Action RPG / Hack-n-Slash genre. This blog will provide details about the energy system and its related components in order to help users understand what it is, why it is unique to the genre, and how all of the pieces work together as a complete system.
Our overall design goal is to shake up the Action RPG (ARPG) genre by providing an additional gameplay layer that does not disrupt what makes an ARPG an actual ARPG … in other words, this system is designed to keep the player in the action while having the option to actively or passively be a part of this new way to adventure. The energy system is the base component from which other areas of the game were then connected into it.
Natural Balance’s world is encompassed by nine mystical energies with distinct traits. Eight are associated with a specific aspect and color. The remaining one is immutable and unconditionally neutral, within the game it is represented by the color white and is simply referred to as “general energy”. Many, but not all, of the living and inanimate things on this planet have some form of a connection to one of the aspects. In the more exceptional cases, entities have the ability to finely control their aligned energy. The most notable users are the Elementals, who align with the energy aspects of Earth (rocky tan), Air (sky blue), Fire (flame orange), or Water (sea green), and the Primals, whose energy aspects consist of Poison (toxic green), Frequency (pacifying pink), Blood (blood red), or Disease (sickly purple).
As the quantity and abilities of these manipulators grew over time, it created rippling side effects that began to impact the stability of opposing energies. Eventually altercations began as each race tried to maintain their own declining energy. Eventually the energy levels became so dire that the Transcended, those who prevail over their respective energy, began to intervene by calling forth Guardians to protect the life force sustaining energy supplies. Thus began an all out war across the planet in an attempt to restore a more natural balance.
Even some of the vegetation and geology have varying degrees of connectivity to an energy. The weakest affinity commonly influences the tone of color of an object, especially in plants. An intermediate link causes the object to glow along lines or veins where the prevailing energy flows through it, however, because there is an explicit connection to an energy, the intensity of this glow changes in direct relation to the strength of the energy itself. This visibly conveys to the player the impact of the energy shifts on the world itself. Finally, the strongest connection allows those objects to store energy within itself, acting like a natural battery, thus their glow is not affected by changes in the aligned energy. This last type of object is rare and is not consistently found in the same location.
This section is to describe how the energy system interacts with or relates to the player character in the game world.
Every player has the ability to actively or passively help or hinder the eight fluctuating energy levels by performing various actions. And since they can play as a character in one of two opposing factions, this interaction creates a never ending struggle that yields spontaneous events that benefit long-term replayability, interactivity, and challenge to everyone.
Player Races and Factions
The races that players can select in the game are affiliated to one of two factions, the Primals and the Elementals. These factions are now in a constant conflict because the use of one race’s energy is diametrically clashing with the energy of a race in the opposing faction.
For example: Fire energies desire to burn, so they need combustibles. On the other side are Disease energies that rot similar things that Fire energies use to burn. Thus, users of Fire and Disease energies come into conflict with each when either side does not have enough ways for their energies to recuperate, this in turn weakens their global energy pool.
As a player, you can create characters in either faction, but you can only play one character at a time, obviously. Initially each race will have their own story and quests that will branch out into factional and more open content. While a rival pair of races explore the same zones, they will have different content depending on the faction of the character. This will provide a different play through experience and also diversify the content.
The ultimate goal of each race is to maintain a high level of their energy and support the energies of the other races that are a part of their faction while trying to weaken the energies of the opposing faction so that your side can survive. This also means that neither faction is inherently good or evil, just unwitting, natural adversaries as the use of their energies grew.
User Interface – The Energy Bars
The majority of the energy system information will be presented to the end-users via the comprehensive energy bars widget, which is regularly updated and located in the center left edge of the HUD. This full-sized widget shows the energy event threshold points and eight bars that display the percentages of the current global energies across the entire player base, not just your game.
These bars are separated in the UI by factions, with the Elementals on the upper half and the Primals on the lower half. And, for easier association, opposing races are directly across from each other (ie Fire energy is opposite to Disease). Finally, there is a section in the middle that is used for raids which shows its timer, triggered aspect, and raid energy of an active event.
For players who would like to save screen space, we are also considering making a user-selectable, compact version of the widget that would show the energy levels only as numbers along with a reference icon of each aspect in the background, thereby reducing its vertical size noticeably at the expense of not showing the threshold indicators.
Energy Affecting Actions
As each user passively plays through the game, many of their actions can positively and / or negatively change energy levels. However, participants may choose to intentionally perform, or not, some actions against select targets specifically in order to bolster their own energy and / or weaken enemy energies.
On the planet, cisterns are out of the ordinary plants and rocks that have the peculiar ability to absorb and store an aligned energy. Once this energy store is full, the cistern can be interacted with to impart a beneficial effect to the user, referred to as a “Boon” in the game. However, this discharge of energy comes at the cost of reducing the aligned energy of the cistern, regardless of the recipient. Players can use this knowledge to their advantage should they wish to actively manipulate them to your benefit.
For example: A Pyrokin (Fire aligned) player encounters an unused Lesser Fire Cistern plant, as denoted by an indicator icon (a base color of silver for lesser, gold for greater), above the cistern and the cistern itself would have an intense glow with the color of the aligned energy, flame orange in this case. If that player interacts with the cistern, it releases its stored energy by visually decreasing its illuminated areas, giving the player a temporary Boon to their Fire Resistance, and consuming a small amount of Fire energy.
Lesser Fire Cistern
Greater cisterns are rocks that provide more potent Boons, but they also drain more energy on use. Finally, there exist even rarer, white toned cisterns that align to the general energy, but their use does not affect any energy balance.
Dispatching of an energy manipulating adversary is the most common way to influence the balance of energies. The tougher the foe, the larger the reduction. However, even though many foes may appear to use an energy, not every one of them is directly connected to an energy to cause an energy loss.
This mostly holds true for the natural, wild creatures of the planet who simply harness an inherent energy within them. Yet there are exceptions … some species do have a strong link or direct capability to use an energy. In other cases, a creature may have been created or enhanced by someone or something that allows it to be a direct user. Lastly, intelligent enemies are more commonly, but not always, found to be energy users as many of them have learned how to attune to and shape the energies for more potent uses than what was initially provided by nature … which consequently is what caused the great imbalance.
For example: A Wind Reaver is a natural, savage beast that focuses Air energy in order to make short, teleporting jumps to surprise or overtake their prey. A death of this creature would reduce the Air energy in relation to their threat level. However, a Mountain Leech, that only exists in the warmer, rocky terrain of the Pyrokin realm, has no connection nor use of Fire energy and thus would not reduce any energy upon its demise.
Some quests in this game can affect the energy system either via a completion reward and / or via actions related to fulfilling quest objectives. Quests may also cause direct or indirect losses to your or allied energies. Because of that, players may choose to delay or not complete optional quests if the impact is greater than the reward, at least at that moment.
For example: A Pyrokin (Fire aligned) player receives an optional quest to thin out an overpopulation of savage Wind Reavers, who are Air energy using creatures and thus a part of the same Elementals faction in terms of energy as the player … even though they are aggressive to all races. Killing them will reduce Air energy, but the quest reward provides a large amount of Air energy in exchange. If the Air energy is near to triggering a raid event, the player can decide to skip this quest entirely or wait until the energy level of Air is in less danger. However, if the player is from the Primal faction, they would want to slay the Wind Reavers at any time, but possibly not complete / turn in this quest to avoid the energy gain to Air. Or they could finish it when the Air energy is very high to minimize the gains.
Most quests will be more straightforward and directly beneficial to the player and their faction’s energy, however, this example was used to demonstrate how players can have a choice in how their response impacts everyone.
Ley Line Portals
Ley Lines are an ethereal web of the mystical energies that runs throughout the planet. At some termination points, natural portals can be formed once the player attunes themselves to these special end-points. Using an attuned portal allows for rapid travel to other attuned portals across the planet. However, portal use consumes a small amount of aligned energy in order to power the transportation of the character.
Map and Portal
Other actions or sub-systems that can affect energy levels are planned to be added in later releases. One idea is to add a bounty board to hunt down enemy, non-player energy abusers, thereby giving players a chance to target a specific energy while providing an additional challenge.
These are game-wide events that trigger once an individual energy reaches a certain threshold. The triggered events occur only to those who are actively playing the game at the time an event is active.
When an individual energy remains at excessively high levels, the planet cannot contain the surplus. If it is sustained for too long, the extra energy is released onto the world in the form of a short-term, cataclysmic discharge that negatively impacts all of the active players in a manner that relates to the overloaded energy. Only one upheaval event can be active at a time.
Upheaval examples: In the case of Fire energy, volcanoes erupt, raining balls of magma onto the world. For Disease energy, corpses rise out of the ground and plague those who wander too close to them.
Upheaval of Fire Energy
This event was mainly designed as a deterrent for players who try to hoard the energy of an important or popular race or which has too large of a ratio of active players in comparison to the opposing faction.
In the UI there is a yellow highlighted “Upheaval Zone” in the full-sized energy bar that indicates where the potential for an upheaval event may trigger.
When an individual energy reaches certain tiers of depletion, characters of the rival faction gain the opportunity to participate in a special raid event against a powerful protector who is associated with the affected energy.
Unlike typical raids, players do not need to be in a party, guild, or open world instance to participate. And lower level characters can contribute to the success of a raid even if they are not ready or willing to take on the main challenge.
During any raid event the main goal for the assaulting faction of players is to attempt to reduce the raid energy to zero before the timer runs out. This countdown represents the time where the aligned Transcended is regenerating the lost energy.
Reducing the raid energy is accomplished by defeating protectors who are summoned into the world to defend their energy and any accompanying aid that they may bring. But as this is a raid, it is not a one-on-one battle, it will require many protectors and their aid to be vanquished by many players across the entire enemy faction.
Success in finishing a raid will be designed to provide the best loot in the game and it will maintain the current level of the triggered energy so that players can try to progress to the next raid tier. Failure to complete a raid will restore a large amount of triggered energy, thus setting back any progress, but otherwise it has no other ill effects.
In the UI, the three raid tiers are indicated by copper, silver, and gold lines in the full-sized energy bar. The quality of loot, time to complete, and difficulty all grow with each raid tier, with the last tier facing off against the energy’s prevailing Transcended as the ultimate challenge in the game.
Other energy events can be easily added in later releases to further expand the gameplay of this system.
How To Try It
Except for the higher tiered raids, you can experience all of the previously described features in the Pre-Alpha Offline Demo (Indiedb.com), provided that the energy system server is running on your PC. In the Pre-Alpha version a bot is simulating a single, enemy faction player, but in later demos the server of the energy system will be moved into the cloud so that the actions of each player will truly affect everyone.
At a simplistic level the energy system simultaneously provides active players with exciting, unscripted events while you play Natural Balance: Chronicles as you would in any other isometric Action RPG. But at any moment along the way you can decide to perform actions that would benefit the race / faction of your active character or that weakens the opposing player faction by actively performing specific actions in order to gain access to the most challenging and rewarding content.
“The ideas behind the Energy System are great and very unique!
This is something that can stand out from other ARPGs on the market!”
Because the opinions of our players is important to the enjoyment of the game, please consider providing us with feedback or questions regarding this information on our Natural Balance Discord server in the #devbits channel.
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The Accompanying Vlog