Continuing the look back through OTC’s development, today we’ll be focusing on the Black Market.
The Black Market is a very familiar mechanic to anyone who’s played OTC for more than a couple hours. This is the tool that player’s have to directly and immediately interact with their opponents, by blowing up their key structures, disabling large sections of their headquarters, or sweeping all of their resources out of the sky. That’s why it might be surprising to learn that the Black Market wasn’t not initially part of Offworld’s design at all.
In fact, the Black Market originally was created because one playtester commented that “It would be cool if I could sabotage the other players’ buildings.” And from that thought, the Black Market came alive. And now that the idea was had, the iteration began.
And iterations there were. Some items have admittedly stayed relatively stagnant. The EMP shuts down a large area of stuff. Bribing a claim gives you an extra claim. Others have changed in dramatic ways. Pirates (I hate those filthy bandits) have gone through at least half a dozen versions in playable releases, varying in function (stealing vs exploding), form (ships vs a giant cannon), availability (auctions only vs Black Market tray), efficacy (200 units vs 100 units stolen), and consistency (%chance to steal vs cooldown).
Yet other items have shifted in other ways, with the ever popular Power Surge being a key example. Power surges were one frustrating area of randomness for players, specifically the way that they interacted with Goon Squads could be annoying. A Power Surge is placed on a tile then “bounces” to another adjacent tile. This used to be a completely random bounce, and if the surge hit a Goon Squaded tile (a “bad bounce”) the surge would stop immediately and reveal the Goons. These days the surge will not run into a Goon Squad until it has no other choice, significantly reducing the randomness of a Power Surge.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, is a change to the Black Market itself rather than the items it contains. Previously the Black Market was a constant set of seven items (and even before that a set of six). There were plenty of ideas for Black Market items that could be added, but if they were just thrown in with the others the design space would simply become too crowded. So when additional, more complicated tools were added (hologram, spy) a system was implemented to select a random group of Black Market items for each match. This allowed for the new items to be added, and increased the variance of a game of OTC in a way that was manageable and interesting for the players.
There’s plenty more to say on the history of the Black Market, and if you’re interested in finding out more I encourage you to take a look at Soren’s own musings on the subject, available here: http://www.designer-notes.com/?p=1127.