In The Torus Syndicate, Lucas Lawson must fight across an urban landscape to bring down the syndicate’s thugs and restore order to the city. Everywhere he goes — every turn he makes — he faces unknown foes ready to respond with force. Of course, the dangerous criminal underworld won’t be as mysterious to return players, who’ve seen the plot unfold and know what dangers lie ahead. In building the game’s mechanics, we sought to minimize that loss of mystery, to try to keep the game unpredictable and make sure veteran players stay on their toes. Aspects of the campaign are, for example, randomized; players will note that different enemies stand in their way and behind different cover across each playthrough. The best example, however, lies in the newly released Survival Mode.
Survival Mode may look fun, but it’d be way too boring if you could predictably pick off each enemy every time, like above. Fortunately, we’ve though of that.
In Survival Mode, the game places the player near the docks from the second campaign level. It then throws wave after wave of bad guys at them, and it’s the player’s job to last as long as they possibly can. Unscripted behavior is key. We can’t script an infinite number of waves and, regardless, we need each wave and each playthrough to feel new. Our solution is twofold. It doesn’t have a name, but, if I had to give it one, I’d call it something like the Budgeted Sector-Front system.
The first part of creating a wave is deciding which Syndicate agents to send out, and that’s exactly what the Budgeted part of the system sets out to do. The difficulty of a wave is primarily decided by the number of enemy agents and their type: one basic thug does not equal one sharpshooter. To control both factors, each wave is given a budget, with later waves receiving a larger one. Each enemy type is given a cost. The game then randomly builds a wave by “buying” agents until it exhausts its budget. The end result is a wide variety of waves. Some might contain only many basic, weak units. Others might feature a smaller number of elite units. Still others might have a mixture of the two. Consequently, each playthrough has a similar difficulty curve with enough variability to keep the player challenged.
However, the difficulty of a wave goes beyond a simple roster of units. A few sharpshooters, for example, might be easy to handle when they’re bunched together but pose greater danger when they come at the player from all angles. The Sector-Front part of wave construction is responsible for ensuring that the placement and movement of enemies is varied enough to keep the player guessing without being overwhelmed. The docks are chock-full of cover, which are split into a ring of several sectors. A Survival Mode game starts with just one front — that is, just one continuous stretch of cover-sectors. As the enemy budget is consumed, the front grows into adjacent sectors to accommodate new agents. The agents still randomly choose their cover within each sector, and the front itself is randomly placed as well. However, confining the agents to a block of adjacent sectors helps to control the challenge posed by the agents’ positions. When the player has demonstrated their mettle, another wave is opened up. The agents attack from more angles, and surviving gets harder.
As a result of this wave construction process — through the combination of an agent budget and the consolidation of cover into well-defined fronts — each game of Survival Mode provides a consistent difficulty curve without sacrificing replayability. Each playthrough is different enough that even the most veteran of players will be forced to think on their feet to survive. And, ultimately, that’s what Survival Mode is all about.