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Author Topic: CSG update #5 - making an RPG  (Read 12226 times)
Vince
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« on: May 18, 2016, 08:22:28 am »

We started working on AoD back in 2004 which was a long time ago, so long, in fact, that I’ve completely forgotten what it feels like to start from scratch, when you need everything but have nothing. To say that it’s overwhelming is to say nothing at all. If anything it was easier the first time around when our naïve belief that we can do it in two years shielded us from lasting mental harm. It’s not the same when you know that 4 years development cycle is the best case scenario, if everything goes smoothly.

So what does one need to make an RPG?

  • An engine would be nice. Fortunately, it’s not my department so I’ll scratch it off my list and pretend that it will magically appear one day. So far, the plan is to use Unreal 4, but if we run into trouble we can always use Torque (the AoD engine), aka oddly comfortable plan B.

  • Setting, story, locations, quests, characters – the writer's domain. If AoD’s 600,000 words are any indication, it’s a big project that would probably take at least 3 years out of 4, if not all 5 out of 4, but as long as I’m half a step ahead of Oscar, it’s all good.

    Right now I’m working on the 'foundation': history, mutiny, early factions, post-mutiny events, schisms within factions, etc. Basically, the past events that explain why things are the way they are and how "we" got there in the first place. It’s important to see such things clearly when working on quests and leaders who don’t spring out of nowhere but are the product of their age and milieu. Overall, it’s been about hundred years since the mutiny and more than three hundred years since the ship was launched.

  • Systems. While the exact details aren’t important yet as all systems will keep evolving throughout the development, gaining more depth and complexity with every iteration, we need to get the 'foundation' right the first time, then build on top of it. More on that later.

  • Art. Surprisingly, the biggest problem right now is art. We need a lot of art, all kinds, shapes, and sizes. No, we don’t need it right now, but all these tasks take months and years, so we need to start planning now or we’re going to miss the train.

    It feels like a Tetris game where you have to put all these different pieces together and make sure we get everything we need and in a timely manner. Mazin (our artist) is truly exceptional and there is very little that he can’t do well, but he’s working part-time. Even if he weren’t, he can’t do everything as the list is too long, which means that we need to hire freelancers.

    That’s where it quickly gets prohibitively expensive. Quality takes time (days) and nobody will work for days for $25. Now we know that the game will still look crappy indie because we don’t have the manpower (the Witcher had 80 people, the Witcher 3 250 people, we have one artist/designer which explains why AoD didn’t snatch a single “Best Graphics 2015” award), so if we can’t deliver awesome visuals, we HAVE to deliver awesome details like portraits, icons, intro art, models, etc.

    So what do we need?

    • Logo
    • Interface
    • Intro, Menu, Promo art. Each piece takes 3-4 weeks, so that alone is a year-long project IF the artist is committed and dedicated. Sadly, that’s a big IF so it might take 2 years IF it goes well. When it comes to freelance artists, your mileage varies greatly.
    • Visible Things That Must Be Designed:

      • Weapons
      • Mechs & Turrets
      • Anti-Riot Droid aka your faithful companion
      • Shuttles
      • Mutated critters
      • Space Suit and other trendy clothing items
      • Gadget effects when deployed
      • Non-generic locations. For example, the cargo hold is visually interesting (looks amazing in Excel!), but it's built from generic parts (containers, cranes, etc). A place like the Bridge, for example, or the Neo-Church, or the Breached Hull :have spacesuit – will travel: requires a concept artist’s touch (weeks of work per location).
      • Misc; ideally a lot more things should pass through the Concept Art department, but we have to be realistic and never ever bit more than we can chew on.

    • Portraits. AoD has 57 portraits. Let’s say we’ll go with 60 portraits because they really do add so much to the dialogue screen. 3-4 days per portrait, that’s 180-240 days right there.

    • Inventory Icons. AoD has 252 unique items (not counting different variations like bronze, iron, steel, etc using the same models and icons). We don’t have a full item list yet but I’d be surprised if we end up with less than 200 items, so we’ll have to split the items between two artists to make sure it’s done by 2018.

      So far we've finalized weapons, armor, and gadgets.  We started with 81-90 weapon icons but reduced them to 66 for cost-related reasons, which is still more than AoD’s 40 weapons plus uniques. It takes 3-4 days per icon (including the back-n-forth design phase), so 6-8 months of work with a dedicated artist, about 2 years of work with a busy artist who’s working with multiple clients, and that’s just the weapons.

      This brings us to the issue of costs and art budgets. Any work, be it a portrait or an inventory icon, that takes a couple of days of work would end up costing you $100-300 per item. For example, when I was looking for a portrait artist for AoD, I was quoted $80-100 for a black-n-white portrait, $200-250 for a color one, which explains why you rarely see high quality portraits in games. It's just too expensive. If not for Mazin's generosity, we wouldn't be able to afford them either.

      So 66 weapon icons would cost us anywhere from $6,600 – if we’re lucky and find a guy willing to do the top tier work for the low tier price – to almost 20k, which is a lot of money. It's very easy to understand how game budgets quickly grew out of proportions and to the point where you have to play it safe to get your investment back and make a few bucks on top of it.

      It’s tempting to invest more, to hire more artists, but I know of three indie studios that either ended up deep in debt or failed to make any money to continue after releasing RPGs that seemingly did well and I’m not in a hurry to join them. I'll go over the indie "business model" in the next AoD update.

    • Models (weapons, objects, etc) : Same story, there’s only so much we can do on our own because modeling guns and objects take time from Oscar and Ivan (our animator). So again, you outsource - you pay a lot and drain your coffers faster than you can blink, so it requires an approach so careful and balanced it would make Sawyer proud.

    • Animations. AoD has over 500 animations, but that’s mostly melee. Firearms and cover mechanics can easily double that number.


^ It's not the final name but it's one of the "finalists". My first choices was Adrift but it's already taken (a Steam space game creatively called Adr1ft). The Sunless World isn't the best name but it works. The ship IS an entire world to its inhabitants and 'sunless' is a fairly good and accurate description. There are some books with the same name (one's from 1967, the other is an e-book) but I don't think that anyone will claim we're trying to capitalize on their fame, although you never know. Anyway, until we launch a website, nothing is final.

Back to the systems. Now that you have a good idea of our workload, let's talk about two key systems: combat and stealth. I'll do my best to organize my thoughts and present them in a semi-coherent fashion, so bear with me.

Melee-based combat makes a lot of things simple in 3 key areas:

  • Melee attack can be dodged or blocked (or parried or deflected), thus you easily miss even if you’re standing next to the guy you’re trying to kill. The famous duel in Rob Roy would have been very different if both duelists had SMGs.
  • Damage dealt can be modified by effort (i.e. fast or power attacks).
  • Combatants can just stand there and trade blows all day.

So, logically, combat with guns should have higher THC in general, higher mobility, no dodging bullets, no damage modifiers, which means that fast attacks, normal attacks, and aimed attacks will do exactly the same damage, which means the player would want to use the fastest attack unless there’s a strong penalty, but we’ve just decided to keep THC relatively high.

The obvious conclusion is that we need grazing, cover, and a wide range of attack types:

  • Let’s start with grazing. I wanted to implement it in AoD but we were out of time and the fast attacks were basically grazing attacks, doing a lot less damage. The ranged combat is perfect for it.

    Let’s say you have 80% THC (to-hit chance). You roll the dice and as luck would have it, you’re 1 point short but the binary miss-hit system doesn’t reward your near excellence and treats it as you weren’t even close. So, we’ll change that and go with 4 roll 'ranges': miss, graze, hit, critical hit.

    This will give us some flexibility with damage ranges and allow you to trade damage for THC.

  • Cover is another way to lower your THC without raising eyebrows and explain why the combatants take 4-5 turns to kill each other. We don’t want to place cover objects everywhere, so we’ll go with energy shields you can place in front of your character (i.e. you throw a 'gadget', it generates an energy shield in front of you (not around you) which absorbs X amount of damage and makes it harder to hit you while you’re hiding behind it).

    Naturally, once you decide to go with gadgets, why stop with one? Why not have gadgets modifying every available battlefield stat?

    • Depletable energy shield (absorbs x damage)
    • Reality distortion field (THC penalty against you)
    • Optical illusion a-la Total Recall (chance that enemies will target the illusion)
    • Cloaking field aka Stealth Boy
    • Stasis field (holds enemy, no damage can be dealt)
    • Brainwave Disruptor (don’t leave your home without Psychic Nullifier)

    As mentioned previously, expect 10-12 gadgets with 3-4 upgrade levels. Earlier I was toying with the idea of energy armor but the energy shield idea is better as it ties you down, creating tactical opportunities for your enemies. Then you’ll have upgradable synthetic armor offering different degree of protection against melee, projectile, and energy attacks.

  • Attack types

    • Three basic attacks are Fast aka unaimed (increases your Graze roll range and cuts the Hit roll range in half), Normal, and Aimed Attack (doubles the Hit roll range, cuts in half the Graze range). You can use these attacks with any weapons.

    • Class- and weapon-specific attacks like Short, Long, and Wide Burst for SMGs (some SMGs would be more suitable for wide bursts whereas others would be more suitable for long burst; however, these attacks would be available to all SMGs) and certain shotguns; Fanning for revolvers, Double Shot or Full Broadside for multi-barrel weapons.

    • "Tactical" attacks like Suppressive Fire and various Interrupt, Attacks of Opportunity Reaction Shots

Another thing worth mentioning is that firearms, unlike fairly straightforward melee weapons, have very different designs, so each category (Pistols, Shotguns, SMGs) will have 3 subcategories. For example, Shotguns will have One-Handed Shotguns (sawed off and ‘Mare’s Leg’ style shotguns), long, heavy-barrel shotguns, and shotguns with revolving cylinders. So even if you choose to specialize with a single weapon class, you will have plenty of tactical options within this class.

Last but not the least is the focus on mobility. In AoD we didn’t want a melee opponent chasing you all over the map, so your movement rate was slow (2AP per square). In the CSG we want mobility play a large role, allowing the enemies (and encouraging the player) to move around, flank and flush you out.

TB Stealth feature list:

  • Your actions will generate 'disturbance' (the word noise doesn't work with visual disturbance caused by cloaking), modified by your stealth skill and the guards’ perception. The disturbance meter will show both the disturbance you generate while in stealth mode and disturbance you detect (cloaked or hidden enemies).
  • You determine how fast you move while sneaking (2:1, 1:1, 1:2 – AP to square ratio), the faster you go, the more noise you generate.
  • If you manage to get to a guard from behind without alarming him and triggering an interrupt attack (like a shotgun blast in your face), you can kill him using Melee weapons, your skill level will determine whether you succeed or fail. If you fail, we switch to TB combat.
  • The guards will have 3 states; each state will increase the detection radius, representing alertness.
    • unaware of your presence – do nothing
    • suspicious – investigating
    • alarmed – hunting down and summoning reinforcement, will get an interrupt attack on sight

Well, that's about it, folks. If you have questions, ask. If not, wait 'til the next update. Only 55 updates to go.
« Last Edit: June 16, 2016, 01:08:46 pm by Vince » Logged
Pol Vetosh
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« Reply #1 on: May 18, 2016, 01:32:26 pm »

Has there been a 'suggestion for names' thread yet? My take:

The Crawl to Sagittarius
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Morbus
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« Reply #2 on: May 18, 2016, 02:55:16 pm »

Holy crap, that's a lot of crap to deal with!
Nice read though Smile
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Vahha
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« Reply #3 on: May 18, 2016, 03:02:36 pm »

The outline of the the game's principles and ideas is most curious. Knowing you guys I know the game is going to turn out even more epic than AoD!

Reg. the name, The Sunless World rather sounds like a title for a decadent novel or movie, or a doom metal band. It's rich yet doesn't sound like an RPG title to me.
The Drifting Shell?
The Space Leap of Faith?
Out Of Void?
The Shelled World?

« Last Edit: May 18, 2016, 03:06:03 pm by Vahhabyte » Logged

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Trashos
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« Reply #4 on: May 18, 2016, 04:50:05 pm »

A proposal for the ship's name: "Starchild"

This is a reference to the final scene of Kubrick's Space Odyssey, and it symbolizes humanity's next evolutionary step. A quick search on google revealed a couple of organizations using the name already, so I don't know if it can also be the game's name (would be great though).

Another proposal for the ship name from the same movie (well, it's my favorite movie): "Monolith"
This is harder to explain, as there are thousands of pages of analysis on what the Monolith in the movie actually is. Anyway, watch the movie. Cool

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Vahha
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« Reply #5 on: May 18, 2016, 05:34:52 pm »

I guess the ship has already been christened Mayflower. That's historically rich and full of symbolism.
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Trashos
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« Reply #6 on: May 18, 2016, 06:53:17 pm »

Ugh... I had somehow missed that. "Mayflower" is fine too.
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Pol Vetosh
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« Reply #7 on: May 19, 2016, 06:53:54 am »

Oh, another one:

The Void of Hope

Has a double meaning even!
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Vahha
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« Reply #8 on: May 19, 2016, 08:08:18 am »

Pehaps some Latin?
Ad Aspera

The colonists could originally have the slogan of "Per aspera ad astra" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Per_aspera_ad_astra - "Through hardships to the stars", and then all things went wrong so basically the slogan got inverted, they're moving among the stars towards hardships.
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Scott
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« Reply #9 on: May 31, 2016, 02:18:06 pm »

Couldn't you save a few bucks by buying the non-exclusive rights to existing 3D models (like Wasteland 2 did) for weapons, vehicles, armor details, stuff like that? The stuff wouldn't match the vision exactly, but it would bring the vision closer to reality and also lessen the burden on Oscar/Ivan. If you found one artist who had done a bunch of viable models you might even be able to get a bulk deal.

Doesn't 'Sunless World' sound a little too much like 'Sunless Sea'?
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Vince
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« Reply #10 on: May 31, 2016, 07:41:48 pm »

Couldn't you save a few bucks by buying the non-exclusive rights to existing 3D models (like Wasteland 2 did) for weapons, vehicles, armor details, stuff like that?
We could but I don't think it would work well. Like I said, small studios need to excel at as many things as possible. WL2 had that old license magic and Fargo's name that opened all media doors. They didn't need to try harder to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. We have to try twice as hard to sell half as much, if we're lucky.

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The stuff wouldn't match the vision exactly, but it would bring the vision closer to reality and also lessen the burden on Oscar/Ivan.
"But it ain't easy I'm after."

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Doesn't 'Sunless World' sound a little too much like 'Sunless Sea'?
I don't think it will be an issue in 2020. Not saying it's the greatest name ever, but it works.
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« Reply #11 on: June 01, 2016, 04:59:10 am »

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Sunless World
Reminds me of Arx Fatalis. )
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Cazzeris
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« Reply #12 on: June 01, 2016, 08:19:43 am »

I have some questions regarding the TB stealthy set-pieces:

Will skills like "Lockpick", "Mechanical" and "Computer" have direct uses in these encounters? I mean, will the player only have to avoid enemies while moving or shall he have to secure certain areas in order to perform time-consuming activities such as hacking or lockpicking? Will the player be able to control the companions during these encounters?

Will spying be a common practice? Stealthily following a non-player character as a way to collect information could be interesting.

I see that you plan to have some different "movement modes" for the stealthy gameplay. Will there be a similar option during combat? I'm talking about crouching, going prone and the like.

Will it be possible to use the environment in advantageous ways like by throwing objects? Will there be different degrees of disturbances depending on the surface the player is walking on and the equipped footwear? Will the movement efficiency be affected by the player's equipment, burden and wounds?

Will it be possible to use the "Pickpocket" skill in dynamic ways? Stealing consumables, money and planting timed/remote bombs could be fun. In fact, any similar action would be more interesting than insta-killing the most powerful enemy (when it comes to using stealth to make a violent encounter easier), like poisoning supplies a-la-AoD by freely using the system instead of clicking the option once it becomes available in the dialogue screen.

Will there be non-lethal takedowns like choking? Since you mentioned stealthy opponents, it'd be cool if some of them tried to kidnap you or your companions as a way to open a quest. Seems like a decent way to create paths where stealth is useful.

Will it be possible to steal stuff and kill people in peaceful areas? Will there be secret passages and traps scattered across the ship?

Regarding unusual melee actions like choking: Would it be possible to have some variety of actions for unarmed characters? I guess that punching will be possible since there is a "Fist" skill planned, but it'd be nice if you could also kick, tackle and hold your opponents (or even popping their eyes, breaking their necks/arms/legs/jaws, removing their weapons or armor pieces...). I'm guessing that ammo will be scarce, so putting your gun away once the toughest enemies are down will be an usual course of action, which might be AP-consuming. In those cases, it'd be very logical and convenient to use the gun's butt (or knife, if bayonets are available) for hitting nearby weaklings.
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Vince
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« Reply #13 on: June 01, 2016, 11:08:12 am »

I have some questions regarding the TB stealthy set-pieces:

Will skills like "Lockpick", "Mechanical" and "Computer" have direct uses in these encounters?
Yes, absolutely. From the design doc:

- Should be a viable path through the game like combat and talking.
- We should include stealth solutions to as many quests as we can, including the armory: you can get a cloaking field gadget in the Pits and use it to get past the thugs, avoiding the ambush and using the turrets on them
- 4 main aspects of Infiltration should be:
        - Sneaking, with or without the cloaking field (sneaking and/or gadget)
        - Dealing with automated detection systems (gadgets to detect, jam, disable, etc)
        - Hacking and lockpicking (computer, lockpick, pickpocket)
        - Disabling guards (killing or gadgets) – optional, high risk, high reward

This way the player would need a logical balance of skills and gear.

- Trade offs: cloaking field should make sneaking easier but increase the chance of detection by automated systems (they detect energy fields and can disable them, leaving you out in the open); interfering with the systems should make the guards more suspicious and increase their detection radius.

- Stealing things before should make sneaking easier: stealing keycards, codes, etc. Basically, homework should pay off and make “runs” easier.

- Gadgets should play an important part, as important as the skills. Basic gadgets should be easily available, but they shouldn’t do much (a minor boost or a way past some dumb thugs). It’s the advanced ones that should make quite a difference, but they are appropriately rare. Acquiring different gadgets should be a vital part of the Infiltrator experience.

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I mean, will the player only have to avoid enemies while moving or shall he have to secure certain areas in order to perform time-consuming activities such as hacking or lockpicking?
The player would have to avoid being spotted, both during his turn and during the guards/systems turn. It should be possible to hack/lockpick during your turn.

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Will the player be able to control the companions during these encounters?
Too early to say, probably not.

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Will spying be a common practice? Stealthily following a non-player character as a way to collect information could be interesting.
No stealthy following as it requires a new feature/extra programming.

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I see that you plan to have some different "movement modes" for the stealthy gameplay. Will there be a similar option during combat? I'm talking about crouching, going prone and the like.
The main limiting factor here is animations as there's only so much a single animator can do. So far we're planning to have shooting while standing still and shooting from cover, possibly while crouching. The rest will be determined when Ivan starts working on the game.

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Will it be possible to use the environment in advantageous ways like by throwing objects? Will there be different degrees of disturbances depending on the surface the player is walking on and the equipped footwear? Will the movement efficiency be affected by the player's equipment, burden and wounds?
Probably not.

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Will it be possible to use the "Pickpocket" skill in dynamic ways? Stealing consumables, money and planting timed/remote bombs could be fun. In fact, any similar action would be more interesting than insta-killing the most powerful enemy (when it comes to using stealth to make a violent encounter easier), like poisoning supplies a-la-AoD by freely using the system instead of clicking the option once it becomes available in the dialogue screen.
All skills will be usable in dynamic ways.

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Will there be non-lethal takedowns like choking? Since you mentioned stealthy opponents, it'd be cool if some of them tried to kidnap you or your companions as a way to open a quest. Seems like a decent way to create paths where stealth is useful.
Not planned at the moment.

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Will it be possible to steal stuff and kill people in peaceful areas?
In general, yes, but you won't be able to run around killing people. There will be consequences but it's too early to talk such fine details. You might be hunted down and ambushed, you might be kicked out, etc.

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Will there be secret passages and traps scattered across the ship?
Define secret passages.

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Regarding unusual melee actions like choking: Would it be possible to have some variety of actions for unarmed characters? I guess that punching will be possible since there is a "Fist" skill planned, but it'd be nice if you could also kick, tackle and hold your opponents (or even popping their eyes, breaking their necks/arms/legs/jaws, removing their weapons or armor pieces...).
Animations. See above.

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I'm guessing that ammo will be scarce, so putting your gun away once the toughest enemies are down will be an usual course of action, which might be AP-consuming. In those cases, it'd be very logical and convenient to use the gun's butt (or knife, if bayonets are available) for hitting nearby weaklings.
Animations.

Firearms ammo is plentiful as it's not a post-apocalyptic world. Energy ammo is rare.
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Cazzeris
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« Reply #14 on: June 01, 2016, 11:44:35 am »

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Will there be secret passages and traps scattered across the ship?
Define secret passages.

Will there be doors, trapdoors or air vents which can only be used if the player-character (or one of his companions) has enough Perception points?

Now that I think of it, I guess that these shortcuts are part of what you meant when you mentioned that the companions' knowledge could open up locked paths during certain quests. Still, I wonder if the Perception stat will be more connected with the exploration. Perhaps with messages popping up whenever you character sees something unusual.
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