16 November 2012

Syndicate

Last Update: November 2013
Whats all this about? Re-imagining Syndicate (1993) in a sandbox city.
Developed By - Bullfrog Productions (1993)
Published By - Electronic Arts

Syndicate remake cover



Another classic from the 90's, Syndicate takes place in a gritty cyberpunk future where the player assumes the role of an executive working for a crime syndicate, controlling a team of four cyborg agents. Success in missions grants the player money, which can be used to upgrade agents with cybernetic parts and equip them with more powerful weapons.

I asked myself what would happen if the game took place in a sandbox city similar to the one from X-com Apocalypse or GTA with its pedestrians living their everyday lives, vehicles hovering the streets, agents following their masters dark agendas, street gangs causing havoc, police force trying to prevent order and as these things happen the players freely roam the city, looking for things to do.

 

Index

  1. Game Highlights
  2. Gameplay
  3. Agents & Implants
  4. Equipments
  5. Conclusion

 

Game Highlights

  • 3D, isometric angle, free camera
  • Randomly generated GTA style living city to explore
  • Story based missions and side quests 
  • Main story changes according to the chosen syndicate

 

Gameplay

The Sandbox City of Syndicate 

The city will be randomly generated but the players can have control over some aspects such as the amount of buildings, gangs, syndicates, police coverage, shops, population density and similar stuff via the use of sliders. Any damage dealt to structures of a saved city will carry on to the next play, giving the city somewhat history and lore.

Syndicate - randomly generated city map


Cities will have places of interests such as shops (arms dealers, implant shops) to buy stuff, banks to rob (robbing a bank will grant huge amounts of cash but will make the cops pressure the player) clinics to get healed, labs to research stuff. Some of these locations will be under a syndicates control granting bonuses to the members of the syndicate.

Civs: Civilians populate most of the city streets. They walk around the city minding their own business, busy with their every day errands, until someone shoots them in the head. Their main reason to be in the game is to be persuaded (brain washed) or to be used as cannon fodder. Civs will drop money when killed. The amounts will depend on the proficiency of the civ which can be distinguished from the way they dress. Civilians can either panic and run around or can try to call the cops when they see a dead body or a gun wielding agent. 

Police Enforcers: Cops will patrol the streets and try to settle unrests. They can usually be seen walking in pairs, riding in police cars or fighting against street gangs They wont attack as long as weapons stay concealed. They tend to be equipped with body armour and light weapons but wont hesitate to call for backup if needed. Better armed police teams and mechs will be dropped to the troubled zones via dropships. Police will also barricade the streets and buildings if needed.

Gangs:  Gangs are small groups of thugs and bandits who pray on the weak. They tend to get involved in street wars, attack wondering cops and do other nasty stuff.  Gang members are usually poorly equipped with whatever they can get their hands on.

Agents: These are the operatives of syndicates and are heavily armed and extremely dangerous. Messing with these guys wont go unnoticed by the syndicate they work for. Agents can be easily distinguished by their cool looks and black overcoats.

Vehicles: Streets will be filled with hovering vehicles. Vehicles can be hijacked for faster transportation or protection from bullets. They tend to go boom when shot too many times, causing a chain reaction of explosions if there are other vehicles around. Each vehicle can have different armour speed and steering depending on the type of vehicle. For example a hover bike will have good speed but poor armour.



I thought it would be more fun if the players start the game as a gang of 4 poorly armed agents, if they want to play a story based game they can roam around the city and join a syndicate of their choice to follow orders given by the syndicate or if they prefer a sandbox game they can duke it out with the rival gangs, make them submit by force or persuade them and become a newly established syndicate with the use of pure force. There will be no guiding hand for the players to tell them what to do but the there will be benefits of joining syndicates.

Joining syndicates will allow the player to use the shops and labs belonging to the syndicate, giving access to the armoury of the chosen syndicate . It will also allow the players to take missions and quests from the key operatives of the syndicate. Completing a mission can reward players by granting money, loyalty, implants, research or the players can sometimes be given access to new parts of the city, new vehicles and weapons.

A loyalty meter similar to GTA2's respect mechanic can be implemented to major syndicates that populate the city. The player will earn the loyalty of a syndicate by killing its rival syndicate's operatives and sabotaging their operations but at the same time they will lose loyalty of the syndicate they are attacking - a syndicate with low loyalty will become hostile to the player and attack if spotted around rival territory. Loyalty can also be earned by doing missions for syndicates.

The main story of the game will depend on the syndicate the players choose to join, story will be told through linked missions, the players will be able to switch the story any time by leaving their current syndicate and joining a new one if their loyalty allows them to, effecting the main story of the game in various different ways. 

Other Additions to Gameplay

  • Mouse and direct controls. Unlike the mouse interface in the pc versions, agents were controlled via gamepad the sega version so the players had direct control over their actions, things started lacking when multiple agents needed one by one micro management during heavy combat. Mouse controls would be much more useful for squad management but direct controls make the players feel more connected to the action. A option to choose what control scheme to use would be a fine addition.    
  • x-ray vision to see behind walls. surprisingly the 93's Syndicate didn't allow you to see what was going on inside buildings and behind walls. the player had to rely on the radar. This can easily be fixed with a rotatable camera but an x-ray vision would be even more cool. Maybe such vision modes can be used to see stealth units too.
  • destructible terrain
  • ability to cover behind solid objects to reduce damage
  • team commands for the ai controlled agents in the players squad
  • Heavy weapons cannot be concealed
  • Ability to slow down time,  by injecting chemicals to overload the agents adrenalin and perception levels allowing the agents to move and aim with increased speed for a very limited time. A neat way of saying bullet time :)
linked missions, the players will be able to switch the story any time by leaving their current syndicate and joining a new one if their loyalty allows them to, effecting the main story of the game in various different ways. 

Playing the Game

Here is how the game can progress:
- Game begins as the player is given a tiny gang of 4 agents and is free to do whatever he wants. Ideally the player will want to explore the nearby streets to find easy targets to earn money and locate the syndicates nearby.

- Divides his team into two groups, a group explores the map persuading civilians and rival gang members to join the players cause while the other defends gang territory and  researches some basic weapons to gain the edge over rival gangs nearby.

- The player raids a couple of shops for cash, uses the cash on buying weapons and recruiting thugs, while crushing the rival gangs nearby. However this doesnt go unnoticed. Some syndicates become impressed by the players performance as the police force begins to recognize the players gang as a threat.   

- Now the player has considerable firepower but the police force seems to put pressure more and more. Its getting hard to survive police raids one after another so the player figures its time to take the game to the next level by joining up a syndicate. 

- The player takes couple of his gang members to the nearest syndicate territory and offers to join Eurocorp (assuming Eurocorp is friendly to the player) this begins the Eurocorp syndicates story line. They give couple of story driven missions to let the player prove his worth and offer to take the police heat off the players back in return.

- While working for Eurocorp, the player gains access to tons of new tech to research, better armour, deadlier weapons and skilled agents. The player kills tons of Aspari (a rival syndicate) agents, bombs couple of their key structures and kidnaps some of their personnel causing the Aspari syndicates reaction level against the player from neutral into hatred. Every now and then Aspari death squads try to ambush the player. Some syndicates friendly to Aspari also side against the player but some who are neutral try to bribe the player into joining them. 

- Eurocorp seems happy and the story based missions keep going but the player decides to switch loyalties and joins a third syndicate with a totally different agenda, the Castrilos. After the players defection both Eurocorp and Aspari want the player dead but this time a new story, equipment and squad members make the game more exciting.

- Working for the Castrilos the player causes quite a few hits on the rival syndicates so finally they decide to team up and take on the player. The players base becomes wiped out after a surprise attack and the player loses its production and research abilities. After such a blow Castrilos offers peace to its rivals with the condition of disbanding the player and his personnel. 

- The player is now left with a few agents and has a couple of armed to the teeth syndicates to fight against. No longer protected by a syndicate, the police force decides to hunt the player and captures / kills some more of the players remaining agents.

- The player is left with a handful of agents which take shelter in a building, praying on the civilians for their cash but the building gets bombed by an Aspari suicide bomber and as all agents die the game is over.

- Now the player must start over but has two options; A) to create a new city or B) to resume the same city but start over as a new gang...     

Agents & Implants

Syndicate had nothing to differentiate agents from each other apart from their names and portraits (sega version had anime portraits). Some skills and stats would be welcome to add bit of character to the agents, however these skills must not be complicated since I would prefer the remake to be an action game rather than another x-com or a role playing game.

  • Intelligence - ability to persuade and protection against persuasion
  • Accuracy - ability to lock and hit targets
  • Health - ability to regenerate health
  • Strength - ability to carry items
  • Speed - ability to move around
  • Hit Points - shows how much life the agent has
  • Armour - shows how much armour the agent has
  • Implant limit - maximum number of implants an agent can have
Cybernetic implants will provide bonus to their skills. However there will be a limit to the maximum number of implants each agent can have. Forcing the agents to have more implants then this limit will have random negative effects like periodic shutdowns and hearth failure etc.

There are a total of 6 body parts that can be improved. Each part will give a different bonus to a different skill.
  • Brain - major bonus to intelligence minor bonus to accuracy
  • Eyes - major accuracy minor intelligence
  • Hearth - major health, minor armour
  • Chest - major armour, minor health
  • Arms - major strenght, minor speed
  • Legs - major speed, minor strenght     

Adrenalin and Perception Injections (API) Boost

The classic game allowed modifying each agents API (Adrenaline, Perception and Intelligence) levels to allow them to move faster, aim better and act smarter. However the act smarter with intelligence boost bit was a bit unnecessary because it had almost no visible effect on your agents. What it meant to do was to allow the cpu controlled squad members to open fire on incoming enemies sooner. Agents with and without intelligence were somewhat brain dead both ways so it was better for the player to control all of the team members no matter the intelligence levels were. I guess the cpu team member reactions should be already maxed out in a modern game standard.

I'd like to remove the Intelligence and change the way API acts. Players choose to use Adrenaline and perception boosting injections on their agents to give them the edge over enemy personnel. Once activated these boosts will allow the agents to act and aim with incredible speed. It will almost have a bullet time effect by slowing down the game. Players will have a very limited time to take aimed shots causing critical hits or quickly move agents to a safe or advantageous area.

Aimed shots can have two options like "disable" or "damage".  Both will make the agent target different body parts.
  • Disable will try to hit a targets Arms, Legs, Weapon or Chest (negative strength and speed, armour or health)
  • Damage shots will try to hit more lethal parts such as Eyes, Brain, Hearth and Chest. (negative intelligence, accuracy, health and armour)

Equipment

Syndicate had around 12 or so weapons but all of them became obsolete when the player found heavy weapons such as miniguns, rockets, lasers and flame throwers. There comes a time the player gets to equip its agents with 8 miniguns or 8 launchers turning the agent into unstoppable terminators. I would prefer a more balanced scheme where the player would choose the most effective weapon against different targets so most weapons would remain in play.

To keep things simple, rock paper scissors style classes can prove useful for this. Weapons can be divided into 3 classes (bullet, energy and explosive) and armour can be divided as (energy (shield belt), bullet (body armour) and explosive (heavy armour) Each weapon can have a base damage and a bonus or penalty can be added when facing different armour types.

Just make up a reason like energy shields are designed to stop energy beams but are less effective against bullets and shrapnels so a bullet can do double damage against an energy shield but would have penalties when penetrating body armour. This can sound unrealistic but it will give things a nice balance.

Bullet weapons have bonus vs shield belts but penalty vs body armour
Energy weapons have bonus vs heavy armour but penalty vs shield belts
Explosive weapons have bonus vs body armours but penalty vs heavy armour
Syndicate - Weapon Concepts

Bullet Weapons
Pistol, shotgun, assault rifle, minigun, sniper rifle (may have take some time to ready the scope but once done the player can see further away from its usual view) 

Energy Weapons
Laser Pistol, Laser Rifle, Plasma Grenade, Railgun (railgun can lock onto targets with guided energy blasts) 

Explosive or Incendiary Weapons
Flamethrower, gauss gun, grenade, rocket launcher 

Support Equipment 
Medkit, emp grenade (spoils the players "on screen" stats and energy based equipment), Persuadertron (used to brainwash people), Stimpacks (temporary boost to agents speed, intelligence and accuracy for a limited time)


Weapon Stats
Brand - The manufacturer of the weapon. different syndicates work with different brands and each brand has different bonuses to weapon stats.
Ammo type - (bullet, energy, explosive, support)
Condition - (health before breaks)
Damage per shot
Attack per second 
Range - (max range)
Reload - (time required to reload)
Ammo - (ammo per clip)
  

Conclusion

This post has tons of detail missing. Should focus more on the visual side. Removing the world map and its linear mission structure, adding a living city to explore, sandbox style gameplay, quest based missions, and open ended story may sound a little bit ambitious but will have a high chance to turn the good old syndicate into something much more dynamic and fun.