Death Area: An Inside Look at Killzone Design #1

Reposted from Wolves For the Wolf God (01.09.12).

As promised, here is the first article about our involvement in Special Operations: Killzone. At the moment we are not sure about the length of the series, but expect at least two more. Hopefully by reading these articles you will be able to see Killzone for what it is and what it has been during the transition from v2.0 to v3.0. The entire Killzone team is very proud and extremely excited to bring you the new edition of Special Operations: Killzone and with the following articles we hope to share our excitement with you as well as the process of reshaping Killzone into what it is now.

Article #1 is going to cover the story of how Joe and I become part of the Killzone crew, some of the general changes we had to make and the challenges we had to face with v2.0 after AdeptiCon 2011 was over.


Frozencore Joe: For those of you who are familiar with the rules for Special Operations: Killzone, you may have noticed quite a few changes over the course of the past couple months. Those of you who don't know about Killzone should stop everything else they are doing right now and look up the rules. It's OK, I can wait for you to get back.

The more observant among you may notice that the file says version 3.0, though the truth is we have undergone many more iterations than just 3. Over the past two months large areas of the game have been worked and reworked, and dozens of subtle tweaks have been made to give a better Killzone experience.

Skarvald the Troll-faced: That’s right, Joe. What a long, strange trip it’s been! Has it really been 2 months.. Christ, how time flies.. I suppose that when you are really busy it kind of doesn’t seem like you’re running out of time.

With every Skype conversation and play-testing we had so many things to discuss, fix and play-test... It’s been hectic, to say the list. But now we are done. What say we start with some of the issue that we had to fix since Killzone’s first debut at AdeptiCon 2011?

Frozencore Joe: Sure thing; my involvement with Killzone started about a year ago when Brian asked me if I could help him run this game for AdeptiCon. I wasn’t to sure exactly what it was about, but I soon fell in love with the skirmish-style game-play. The basic idea of Killzone back then was small scale skirmish battles that tell a rich narrative story, and that is something we have tried to keep on and enhance in the new rules.

Frozencore Joe's Deathwatch Team!
As the games at AdeptiCon 2011 went on I started to pick up on some issues that the core game had, that honestly hadn’t been foreseen. With such a competitive crowd at AdeptiCon the loose narrative style of the rules were easily exploited.

Running the event was both fun and a little draining (I plan to have some hand sanitizer this year), as I had to make a few rulings on things that hadn’t quite been addressed yet. Fixing abuses, and patching up all the holes in the army creation were the two main priorities for all of us, right after AdeptiCon 2011. After that, though, things kind of lay dormant for a while until recently, which is when the two of us really got involved! Both Vlad and I were apart of the Heroes of Armageddon project, where we helped Brian build some spectacular tables for the Chicago Games Day. We both expressed our desire to help him again in the future, and a few months later we were called into service once more. For me, this would be my 3rd set of tables with that gentleman, and I just could not say no.

Skarvald the Troll-faced and Frozencore Joe ogling
the Heroes of Armageddon tables!
  In all it's glory!
The Heroes of Armageddon table!
Skarvald the Troll-faced: To be fair, Brian didn’t even have to ask. We were both very eager to help out in any way we could. That we got to be a part of the Killzone experience was just an added bonus. Even after playing a single game of it as a ringer at AdeptiCon I was utterly hooked! HOW could I say no? I played a single game with Joe’s Deathwatch Marines and I have yet to have more fun playing a Warhammer 40,000 game!

After AdeptiCon I got to spend some more time with Brian while we were working on his insane tables for the Heroes of Armageddon Games Day event and when we were done I offered to help with Killzone.
I was cautious at first, of course, because I was really hoping to play at the AdeptiCon 2012 Team Tournament for a third year in a roll, but when the tickets sold out faster than a Space Marine fails his armor save I had nothing to do. It was almost like a sign, you know?

The rest is a blur of play-testing, Skype, phone conversations and many, many e-mails. But it was all in the name of Killzone, which was well worth it.

Big Jim deserves a lot of credit here, gents. He started Killzone from literally nothing and with almost no help created the foundation of something glorious. However, Killzone is a very ambitious undertaking and one should not have to do all the work. Things had quieted down a little after AdeptiCon and especially after Games Day and the game didn’t have any major updates ever since its first debut. Fortunately for us we were able to use the knowledge we gathered from Killzone tournament and knew that the game had many, many loopholes. But that’s bound to happen when people have an incentive and competitiveness is at hand.

Frozencore Joe: I’m a little anxious to see what happens this time around. As the man on the floor from last year all I can say is, “We tried so hard this time I swear!”

Skarvald the Troll-faced: Well, *I* certainly tried! :P One of the first things that changed was the dual point system for all the gear and skills. Basically each upgrade had a different cost depending on different stats. I personally liked it, but it was VERY prone to abuse. We actually went back and forth a few times until we eventually settled on a universal value for all models. It’s just hard to artificially come up with the correct points and some upgrades were always preferred by certain armies, while others were simply ignored. Our general policy is that all generic upgrades are at least a few points more expensive than the Codex variants. For example, assault grenades are 3 points, even though in Codex: Orks “stikk boms” are just 1 point. One of the biggest changes points-wise was the Crack Shot skill which doubled, becoming 10 points. This skill was literally on every model at AdeptiCon and quickly lead to some abuses. We also played along with the maximum points a model could be, to limit min-maxed builds of unkillable Assassin with a bunch of saves. We limited skills to one per column, per model. We wanted people to field many models with different skills and gear, not identical clones or powerhouses on steroids... which is why I suggested that gear be split into General and Limited Issue categories. The best items were then limited to 2 per team in order add some variety and encourage some more creative thinking. What else did we change, Joe?

Frozencore Joe: As long as we are talking about list building I might as well mention something else that went through many changes over the past few months, Themes.

In Killzone there are restriction on how many of each type special unit you can have, to prevent things from getting too crazy in a normal special operation team. There had always been this idea of dedicating you force to a particular theme, like all jump packs, allowing you to break the normal 0-2 restriction so long as the vast majority of your team was that type. Between last years AdeptiCon, and a month of play-testing or so afterwards we found that the original method of paying a few extra points for the ability to break the restriction was prone to min-max list building. To try an curb the possible abuses themes then went to paying extra points per model, with the first two being at normal cost.

This ended up working in a way, there were fewer people who were willing to buy more than they would normally be allowed, because the premium you paid started to add up quickly.

What we found was that instead of sticking to a theme of “a bunch a terminators banding together” we ended up with people just buying 1 or maybe 2 more and then continuing with the rest of the list like normal. It wasn’t so much of a “themed” special operation team so much as “I can pay points to break the rules” special operations team. I didn’t particularly like this method because it actually ended up limiting people who wanted to completely stick to a theme, while rewarding those who wanted to just min-max even further. Themes continued to be a learning process for a few more iterations as the 75% of your force being in the theme came and went, and then we had our break-though which oddly enough had nothing to do with list creation at all. The whole idea of themes finally came together when we changed how the missions worked and how long games of Killzone actually lasted. We will talk more about that in the next article, but the basic idea is that games were much shorter, and there was a lot more to do in that short period of time. I noticed that with expensive lists you really lacked the models to be able to accomplish all of your goals in a particular game. Having a force of terminators, while tough, also hindered your ability to complete all of your objectives. Some missions were extremely difficult to the point of being impossible should you even lose a single model. I suggested that we test the idea of themes requiring no additional cost, because when it came to Terminators/bikes/3 wound models paying a premium on guys combined with the already low count made winning doubly hard. Even having jump packs (who we were most worried about), with their natural speed for objective grabbing, ended up being limited on weapon options to deal with all the opponents they might face. So after some input from the other guys and a few weeks of play-testing “all of X” type lists we settled on allowing someone to break the restriction for free, but the cost ended up being that EVERY model needed to be of the same type. Hopefully this will allow players to have a nice theme, should they want to be a little different, but it limits the min-maxing of having multiple different model types.

- Skarvald the Troll-faced, Killzone Servitor

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