Campaign: Frontline – Prologue – Part 2 – The Influences

So, when creating a campaign, it’s important to have your influences clearly in mind, as I am sure you already know. It’s why we want to run a game, to put our own spin on stories we love, or to incorporate ideas we’ve seen in other tales and see how they interact with things in other settings. It also prompts you to be creative to make something fit in the setting you are developing whilst still making sense.

That last one is a real point of importance in my case, since one of my regular players (who I stress is a really nice guy!) is a veteran GM, with years of world building experience. He also has really high standards when it comes to games…OK maybe not that high – he wants continuity and sense and logic and PHYSICS. Which kind of makes me wonder why he signed on for the mecha game, considering the genre itself has as much to do with physics and logic as it does with ballroom dancing…

Ahem, excuse the tangent – the topic today is influences!

As previously mentioned, one of my major influences in running this game was the Ace Combat series of games by Namco. I honestly do not know why I love these games. I just know I do and I would love to be able to tell a similar story. So like any good writer, I stole. There’s a quote about good poets imitating and great ones stealing, but I can’t find the original citation…

In any case, to give you a sense of the story I’m aiming for, here is a collection of videos! Let’s start off with Ace Combat 04, the earliest released game in the series that I actually own, and the first to really develop the setting.

What did I take away from this game to put into ChromeStrike: Frontline? Firstly, the notion of an asteroid falling onto the world and triggering conflict. With a stalemate of sorts in place, it would take something drastic to upset the balance, and a giant rock from nowhere dropping onto the planet surely counts. Secondly, the Yellows. Anyone who has EVER played Ace Combat 4 knows what I’m talking about. The elite enemy squadron that is way beyond your capabilities to deal with the first time yo run into them, what with you being a far more inexperienced pilot. Of course, in an RPG, the players will still probably find a way to kill whatever expy of them I introduce in their first meeting, but if they don’t, they can become decent recurring villains and truly give the party a sense of accomplishment upon finally defeating them at some suitably dramatic moment later in the game.

Ace Combat 5 was the first Ace Combat game I actually played, and I still love it. Compared to 4, it had a greater story and actually developed characters. What did I take from this game for Frontline though? I took the notion of the players becoming truly (in)famous amongst friend and foe, their victories being recognized and rewarded, with enemies and allies reacting to their exploits (such as targeting them specifically to inflict morale damage on allied forces, or refusing to engage them, as well as allies demanding their support in various missions, making the group have to choose between objectives).

As well as this, the idea of the home base the party could rely on, making it as much a home or keep or even starship as possible. What do I mean? In traditional fantasy games, once the players have a castle or land that is theirs, they will guard it and love it and develop it. Similar to how in a sci-fi game players will bond with any ship they end up with. It’s THEIRS. So trying to develop similar feelings in my group regarding their carrier (similar to how the characters in Ace Combat 5 come to regard the Kestrel), became one of my goals.

And then we come to Ace Combat Zero, the prequel to 5. And this is still one of my favorites from the series. It was the first to truly incorporate enemy ace squadrons into the game, and that was certainly an idea I took for my campaign – having elite squadrons mixed in with the regular mook army to challenge the players through use of bizarre tactics or specialist equipment. Secondly is the superweapon. To be fair it is more of a common theme in all the games, with each one having at least one noteworthy piece of bizarre sci-fi tech. But it changes things up and gives one side in the war I was plotting a clear advantage and naturally came with its own opportunities for themed missions and assets to be called upon by the enemy to make the players’ lives harder if they were doing really well or finding things too easy.

Note, this doesn’t mean I aim to be cheap, rather, I aim to give the players a challenge. I want them to win, but victory without risk or some hardship is just not as satisfying.

I never got a chance to play number 6, since it came out for a different console than the series normally used. Why? No idea. In any case, I still followed the story, and that’s where the idea of a military junta controlled nation being the aggressor came from, an example of a nation struggling to cope with the fallout of the asteroid impact. Also, it was evocative of many stories against enemies in the shadows, acting as puppet masters whilst never confronting the players directly. I had the enemy aces to be the face of the enemy on the battlefield. The political arena was unlikely to come up during play – though politics and screaming your ideals at each other in the middle of a fight is part of the mecha genre.

Hmmm, may have to make one of the generals from this junta into an ace for the party to meet…

The closest we ever got to an Ace Combat anime, and a damn fine show anyway, Area 88 is what gave me ideas for subplots dealing with mercenaries fighting in war, having to deal with self-supply and other logistic issues in addition to the fighting. A fair few NPCs were born from this show in my campaign too, mostly focused on the links between pilots and the maintenance crews.

With the mecha genre being pretty much the domain of anime, it was inevitable I would be influenced by the various shows I had seen. One of the major ones that tend to inspire me is of course, Code Geass. I was too young to catch much Gundam when it was coming out, and instead latched onto Code Geass when I stumbled across it.

The main ideas and concepts I took away from this show was rebellion, audacious strategy, and the relationships formed between the characters. With the idea of a junta controlling the aggressor nation, if the players found themselves operating within it’s borders, I had some plot to keep things interesting if the usual military missions started wearing thin – such as supporting/combating rebellious elements, and dealing with the propaganda machine.

Whilst ChromeStrike does not have very detailed rules for the characters themselves as opposed to their machines, having something prepared to engage the players in a way they totally do not expect is always a good call. After all, the players characters cannot be in their machines all the time.

The only Gundam series I have actually managed to watch (trying to find the originals has proven…troublesome…), and one which certainly gave me some useful ideas – like how to deal with an enemy with vastly superior hardware (for when the players end up with stupidly powerful mechs), and the various motivations characters can have for being pilots (useful for fleshing out the enemy aces). Of course, the notion of life beyond the mecha is not heavily developed, but the concept of consequences of military action on civilians and the knock on effect it can have leading to some really big problems later on did help me craft the subplots I was developing with greater detail.

Aaah this show. Alternate earth, crazy sci-fi knowledge blended with relatively real robot concepts…for me the most striking image will always be from the opening episode, with a mecha wrestling a helicopter gunship to the ground. Again, this is a story of adapting to civilian life, and of being noble mercenaries. The idea of a submarine as a carrier is certainly an interesting one, and maybe something to offer the players partway through the campaign…combine with loot rolls if they successfully take an enemy dry-dock? Could link nicely to the Hrimfaxi and Scinfaxi ideas that Ace Combat 5 introduced…

And of course, we cannot forget the major inspirations behind ChromeStrike itself:

With all those influences noted and recognized…time to move onto building the stage for this little drama – the world.

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