Most combat video games stress tactics and firepower, but in the upcoming sci-fi strategy game “Destiny’s Sword” you will also want to take into account your bedside manner.
The online role-playing computer game from Ontario, Canada, studio 2Dogs Games puts players in the role of a squadron commander in a futuristic faction war. Scores of players can compete online – think “World of Warcraft” mashed up with the movie “Starship Troopers.”
But there’s another unique twist: As you direct your troops, their experiences in combat will affect each character differently – that, in turn, influences their effectiveness in subsequent battles.
“You really have to get to know the personality and psychology of your characters to put them in the best place to succeed,” said studio founder Ken Hall, who is demonstrating the game at the PAX East independent game festival in Boston, which runs through Sunday. “What makes them tick? Who works best with whom? Are there certain situations that some characters handle better than others?”
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The player’s job, Hall says, “is to keep their team at peak performance and to recruit new characters as the squadron size expands.”
Your choices will likely affect the characters’ mental health. One trooper may get depressed should too many battles be lost. Another may develop PTSD or an addiction.
The game designers have created an “Insight Engine,” an artificial intelligence that simulates “all these characters’ psychology and personality and the way they react to different stimuli,” Hall said.
For realistic input on how soldiers might react, 2Dogs Games sought the help of the clinical psychology team at Take This, a game industry-focused mental health organization, and Spartan Wellness, a veterans support group. Also consulting: Alda Communication Training, the non-profit arm of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science.
That’s appropriate because the TV series “M*A*S*H,” which actor Alda starred in, was an inspiration for 2Dogs Games to make mental health a key factor in “Destiny’s Sword.” The beloved series, Hall said, “was the perfect blend of entertainment and message.
While playing the game, you oversee the battle and issue orders from orbit. Afterward, your squad returns to the support ship and the characters may approach you with concerns or you will want to check in on them.
“You are managing your relationship with those characters, their trust and happiness and mental health,” Hall said. “If you see a character struggling you urge them to get into (the) treatment process…. We are trying to encourage people to break the stigma that seeking help is a bad thing or a sign of weakness.”
Sometimes, he said, “there’s no right decisions … and you know you are going to have to deal with repercussions.”
2Dog Games hopes to conduct a closed beta trial in November and launch the online game, being developed for PC and Macs, a year from now. “Destiny’s Sword” is being developed as a subscription game with a two-year story arc, Hall says.
“We like to think of it like a second-generation role-playing game,” he said.
Software and development tools have allowed indie developers to create a game RPG that in the past took “200 people and a $200-million budget,” Hall said. “That means that we can take risks. We can do products that are maybe a little more niche, and we can innovate and try to take the genre forward a little bit.”
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.