Astrobase Command and Mental Health & Operational Readiness

If you have any feedback, we'd love to hear from you!
User avatar
Dev Team
 
Posts: 151
Joined: Wed Aug 21, 2013 2:00 am
Location: Canada

Astrobase Command and Mental Health & Operational Readiness

Postby MaxShields » Thu Sep 26, 2013 3:12 pm

The intimate interpersonal dynamics Astrobase Command seeks to achieve could provide an interesting forum to explore the impact of mental health and operational stress injuries.

Movies and games spend a great deal of time focusing on the momentary heroics of dealing with hordes of bad guys shooting at the protagonists, but very little on the long term impact of being placed in a high stress environment. Even the bravest of souls can come back changed after having had a swarm of ruby red PEWPEWPEWS shot at him. There are also chronic stress issues that can affect characters that, if left untended, can create significant dropoffs in performance and behavioural changes that can have a deleterious impact on operations and the character's health.

A few examples:

CRITICAL INCIDENT Crewman Foggarty wakes up in the medical bay. He is told by the astrobase's chief surgeon that he is the lone survivor of an expedition to Tyria VII. The party became cornered by a large pack of towering Tyranosorids and were eaten to the last man. The rescue team was fortunate enough to recover a small quantity of viable biological material from one of the creature's droppings and was able to bring it back to the station to be reconstituted (in a 5th Element-type resuscitation pod -- which incidentally could be a very high level technology to develop and mitigate permadeath at a cost of a reversible/temporary reduction in the character's attributes and skills.) Foggarty seems to take it all in stride at first, but is soon torn by the demons that haunt his memories of the mission.

CHRONIC STRESS Petty Officer Nevil'a has served admirably aboard the station for the past two decades. He has never complained or asked of anything from his chain of Command. However, his performance has started subtly eroding in the past months. It turns out that he had missed all of his four children's births because he was always needed on the base or away on a mission at their due date. He is awaiting his fifth child, and has noticed that he has been slotted to lead a difficult mission along the volatile demilitarized zone with Ka'azin Empire. As much as duty impels him to serve, his mind is elsewhere.

Very few science fiction tales provide the means by which such issues can be addressed. ST:TNG does provide Counselor Deanna Troy, which is a nice touch. Perhaps a similar function could be included? It may not need to be a counsellor per-se, but a function that can be accomplished by a member of the medical crew. I don't think it should be a timed cycle that every character needs to touch bases with the counselor on a periodic basis to refill their morale/mental health meter (I typically hate that type of game mechanic unless it relates to supply issues like food/sleep/power sources.) But rather on a case-by-case basis as a result of the character's particular predispositions and circumstances.

In terms of managing these issues, the medical community could prescribe some form of therapeutic treatment (sit down with a counselor, drugs), or simply recognize that the character needs some time off and order them to get some extra rest (cannot be tasked for a certain amount of time), or leave (may need to leave the station for a while, or for ever if the psychological damage is too severe for them to effectively return to duty.) This would put more onus on the player to ensure that the proper conditions are in place to ensure the success of missions and avoid needless exposure to horror, giving motivation to seek diplomatic solutions to conflict where possible, or avoid missions with near impossible odds of success. The player could still chose to engage in those activities, but his organization will bear the burden of those decisions.

Since you are depicting each character as unique and having a life before joining up, it would be worth considering the addition of family (or other -- previous criminal/gang activities, etc.) dynamics that occur outside of the player's immediate span of control. Characters may join up and leave their families behind on a distant planet. Those families may need help, or the characters may want to go back and see them for holidays and special events from time to time. Being prevented to do so for operational prerogatives is acceptable, but for many (unless gifted with a rare trait), it will begin to wear thin after a while. Measures can be taken by the player to manage these issues, granting shore leave (for medical, or so many days a year, as in real life), or building family accommodations to allow the characters to bring the spouse and little ones with them, reducing the separation between crewmember and their loved ones, for instance.

This brings up an interesting possibility of breaking the fourth wall. Players could become enthralled in the astrobases they are building, and the characters within. Perhaps a gentle reminder from time to time that the player needs some shore leave could be a good idea? This has been done elsewhere, but other than a periodic prompt, I don't really know of instances where there is a game benefit for the player to do so. Ignoring the prompt would not result in any adverse effects, but heeding it could lead to a slight boost in every character's morale or performance when the player returns. After all, everybody tends to notice when their boss comes back from vacation rested and happy. A little more carrot and a little less stick is a good idea. This could also be tied in with a series of personnel updates given to the player when he logs back in. Notices of character's upcoming birthdays, or of a birth in the family (to which he could choose to send a letter or take a moment to highlight the event on the station intercom, leading to a slight boost in morale -- the boss' small actions are just as important to keeping his team in good stead as are the big ones.)

User avatar
Dev Team
 
Posts: 151
Joined: Wed Aug 21, 2013 2:00 am
Location: Canada

Homefront Events

Postby MaxShields » Tue Oct 01, 2013 2:35 am

A further means to get the player to fully invest himself could be to treat the player as a character as well. All too often, we forget that the people in charge are just that: people. They are not these monolithic representations of The Man. They have their own issues and deal with the same challenges that their staff do. Although the player does not need to be represented in the station (though it could be neat to do so), the player could be presented with issues that come from the homefront.

At the beginning of the game, the player could select or receive a randomly-generated "homefront" profile that will orient the theme of events that he will face. These events would be infrequent so as to not overwhelm the core game, but rather add an additional layer of nuances and attachment.

Minor details on the player's workspace could help immerse him in the homefront aspects of his life. Pictures of the wife and kids, love letters, and the like could pop into his inbox or be displayed around the desk. How the player treats these will have consequences in how later events play out, benefits or penalties to performance, and open up different overarching scenarios that run parallel to the Astrobase's operational missions.

For example, if the player is tagged as a family man, he could eventually receive a letter that his child is ill with an unknown disease. The player could ignore the event and eventually find out that the child has passed away, which could have an effect on his ability to clearly see options available for commanding his personnel, chatter among the crew could reveal some sympathy for his plight, and so on. Alternatively, the player could become focused on the home front issue and decide to devote station scientific resources to resolving this issue. This re-attribution of resources could enter into conflict with operational prerogatives, putting at jeopardy endeavours which are of importance to his crew or the higher command, or even get the player into trouble with his bosses because of the unlawful assignment of faction resources to a personal use.

Not all events need be bad or traumatic.

As in life, there would be no right or wrong answer, just a series of choices that can help the player gain a better understanding of the role he chooses to play.

User avatar
Dev Team
 
Posts: 151
Joined: Wed Aug 21, 2013 2:00 am
Location: Canada

The implications of combat

Postby MaxShields » Thu Oct 03, 2013 8:27 pm

http://warontherocks.com/2013/10/is-it-like-call-of-duty/ Here's a nice short read that could help inspire the "after the fight" consequences that can help ground the characters and ensure they have a connection with the player.

Return to Feedback/Suggestions