Sci-fi Action RPG

Personal project, ongoing
Role: Game Designer
Character Art by Ridwan Chandra
Environment Paintings by David Ellis and Keith Roswell

StarCaster is a Robin Hood story in space, patterned after anime classics like Cowboy Bebop and Outlaw Star. It centers around a private investigator and survival expert named Nick Caligo as he unravels the conspiracies that perpetuate a Galaxy-wide energy crisis. A piece of equipment called the "SpellBinder" is the game's focal mechanic, supplying the player with the equivalent of an iPod that carries magic spells instead of music, providing a variety of tools with which to interact with the environment.

Failed inventory prototype from the first version of the game

Pictured: Failed "tactical" inventory prototype from early game concepts

This game has undergone many iterations, starting with a rather bloated "kitchen sink" game that had everything I could possibly want (Document 1), including a full party of 7 playable characters. It was very much out-of-scope--even for a AAA company with a huge budget and five years to work on it. Meanwhile, interface prototypes that I developed and tested revealed that although I had engaging micromanagement aspects that saw players thinking tactically about their equipment and party members, it was in fact too much micromanagement and wasn't consistent with the tone that I wanted for this game. It was too much tactical shooter and not enough fantasy RPG.

For the second document I pulled back to a prequel, focusing on only one playable character this time and using it as an opportunity to find a sense of focus among the mechanics I was considering, answering key questions like "is this a gun game with swords in it or a sword game with guns in it?" It was here that I identified the SpellBinder as the core mechanic that defines the interaction between the player and the environment. In short, I used this document mainly to make up my mind about things and create a product that felt more in-scope. This second iteration involved two iterations of the game flow/storyline, the first attempting to develop a narrative choice system for exploring the themes of the story, the second (in final document) structured around the SpellBind system.

I am currently working on a third and final iteration with further revisions, the goal being to identify a stronger, more focused storyline and re-design the SpellBind mechanics now that they have been identified as the core of the game. Where the second iteration painted the SpellBinder as being very akin to a Green Lantern ring, manipulating energy on a huge scale, this version will focus on capturing the feel of sci-fi tools instead, with emphasis on an "extensible" setup founded in modern Talent Tree systems. Emphasis in this iteration is on flexibility, featuring SpellBinds less as a manditory "gateway puzzle" mechanic per The Legend of Zelda's items and more as a playstyle-building mechanic per Deus Ex's nanotech augmentations and equipment setup. Once this document is roughly outlined, I will commence work on a playable prototype for the game.

I commissioned several artists to do artwork for this game in order to better visualize the concept. Credit for the character art goes to Ridwan Chandra, while credit for the environment paintings go to David Ellis and Keith Michael Roswell.

Image Gallery

Environment Paintings by David Ellis

Environment Paintings by Keith Michael Roswell

Character Art by Ridwan Chandra

Artwork © Ridwan Chandra, Characters © Michael Prinke