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Monday, 9 July 2012

Frankenstein's Legions game overview Part 4

Gameplay features

Assembling monsters

Monsters are created at the player’s laboratory between levels. The player has a set number of heads and can choose what body parts to attach to them. Regardless of the body parts, it is the head that defines the monster.

The heads set the behavior protocols of the monster and the weapon and clothing that the body will be equipped with. Each head type has its own combat abilities and maneuvers. The five heads you begin the game with are:
characteristic behavior
Good vision and stealth
Good in attack; tendency to berserk; cannot be hypnotized
Favors missile weapons; avoids close combat if outnumbered
Extremely good in close combat, but slow to take initiative
Good vision, best suited to patrol and sentry duty

Each monster is characterized both by body language and the sounds it makes. Stubbs is breathless, twitchy, looking around, always thinking on his feet. Caulder lopes along cackling wildly. Graves glowers at you and is apt to respond to orders with a suspicious grunt or a contemptuous hiss. Newman snarls and stamps his feet continually, barely able to contain his rage. You can see that he’s eager to crush men’s skulls with kicks from those huge hobnail boots. Rackstraw is given to acquiescent groans and will howl dolorously if you leave him behind.

Throughout, the gameplay evokes a world in which characters are really responding to your presence, each with their own personality which the player will come to recognize and use to best advantage.

Body parts

Body parts have a mix-n-match effect on the monster’s attributes:
can be asymmetrical; thinner arms strike faster; muscular arms have more strength, longer arms give greater reach
a larger torso means more hit points but also more mass, reducing mobility
large hearts allow more frequent paroxysm attacks (see below) but use up galvanic charge faster
long shanks mean a long stride, fast on the flat; shorter limbs are more effective on slopes; thickly muscled legs are slower but good for leaping and climbing

Subject to the body parts available, the player can choose any combination of physical characteristics with any of the heads. This makes a very wide range of different monsters possible within the game. The gameplay trade-offs are subtle and can be exploited by the player: extra mass means lower speed, long arms mean greater reach but may be brittle, and so on.


Monsters need galvanism (electricity) to function at full effectiveness. Without any galvanic charge, a monster is a match for half a dozen men. With a full charge, each monster is a regiment in itself.

Each monster has both a hit point bar and a galvanic charge bar. Galvanic charge is expended making special attacks called paroxysms. A full charge makes the monster less prone to combat effects such as stun, knockback, and so on. Galvanic charge also functions as armor, absorbing some of the damage from direct impact attacks (but not from acid, fire, etc).

Injured monsters slowly recover hit points, like human characters, but only if they have a galvanic charge. The rate of recovery is proportional to the remaining charge. When a monster has used up its charge, it will no longer recover hit points. Damage at this stage can cripple or sever the monster’s body parts.

Heroes of Pain

Paroxysms are special attacks, unique to each monster. One kind of paroxysm is a direct assault whereby the monster wades into the enemy, dismembering men and scattering the bloody stumps in all directions. This can have a significant effect on morale. Other kinds of paroxysm have special effects. Stubbs leaps in among the enemy from behind, slicing down individuals and then darting off into concealment before attacking from another direction. Whereas Graves’ paroxysm causes him to dig into the earth and leave a deadly fizzing bomb that your own side can see but the enemy cannot.


The morale of human troops is a significant factor in the game. You will more often see units break and run than stand to be destroyed to the last man.

Monsters are immune to morale effects. The player’s goal is to direct his monsters around the battlefield to support wavering friendly units while inflicting maximum casualties and loss of morale on the enemy. This is in line with our intent that the game will convey the immediacy, feeling and personal experience of war, rather than simply the tactical choices.

Morale means that tactical choices can have a far-reaching effect. An unsupported cavalry charge on infantry in good defensive order (such as Ney undertook at Waterloo) leads to the cavalry taking far heavier losses than they inflict. This lowers the cavalry unit’s morale. If it routs back through its own lines, other units will be affected because morale is catching. The result is that combined arms strategies that make best use of different troop types will yield more success.

Morale is outside the player’s direct control and provides rich emergent gameplay. The player will have the choice of fighting a slow but effective war of attrition by attacking enemy units at the front and flanks – or alternatively, a riskier strategy of surgical strikes against key targets deep into the heart of enemy territory, where morale is harder to break.

Terrain & weather

The terrain on most levels depicts a rugged landscape of ditches, mud, sunken lanes, crags, high brows of hills, etc. Simply picking the fastest legs for your monsters is not always the best choice. Sometimes the monster with squat, powerful legs will make better headway.

Terrain and weather interact to create a wide variety of game challenges. Rain can make a field impassable. Frost can harden the ground to the point where boots cannot grip. Winds can be so powerful that ordinary men are beaten back. By contrast, bright sunlight will slowly sap the galvanic charge of monsters but raises the morale of human troops.

Weapon types

In addition to firearms and melee weapons, soldiers and heroes can use other weapons. Some of these are restricted to unique situations. Others require the player to have captured the necessary technology in an earlier level.
  • BombsEffective against men and monsters, generating plenty of spare body parts for carts to harvest.
  • FireFrightens monsters, who will not cross
  • Barbed wireInflicts damage to cross and drains monsters’ galvanic charge
  • SmokeAffects visibility – can create “friendly fire” situations
  • Acid gasDissolves body parts off monsters; does general damage to men
  • CannonCannonballs better vs monsters (can knock off body parts) but less likely to hit than canister, which is more effective vs men

The goal of the design is to create interesting trade-offs with all such features, as in the best strategy games. However, a deep tactical understanding of terrain, weather and combined arms is not the only way to achieve victory. A player who prefers fast-paced action can still win by boldness, persistence and fast reactions. The difference is in whether the player wants a victory that feels as if it was won by carefully considered means, or by luck and reckless courage.

Active camera

During a level, if the player hasn’t taken any action for a few seconds, the Active Camera AI cuts in. This allows the camera to track or cut away to show other scenes that may affect the player. For instance, the camera might do a fast-track over to a hostile cannon that is being swung round towards the player’s position. Typically this allows impressive cinematic visuals that also serve to give the player advance warning of certain events. The moment the player touches the controls again, the view switches back to him and Active Camera switches off.


  1. This seems like a great game! A shame it was never 'brought to life', as it were.

    I'll confess that John Whitbourn's 'Frankenstein's Legions' has been nesting, unread, in my iPhone since I downloaded it a few weeks back - largely because the iPhone is a little uncomfortable for lengthy reading, and I don't own a Kindle reader. But reading about your ideas here makes me very curious to see what kind of stories might spring from such a grisly concept...

    1. Jamie and I have also been thinking about turning it into a gamebook, Paul. But don't wait for that, as John Whitbourn's novel is well worth risking eye strain for :-)