Designer’s Diary: Corefun Studios – Solar Echoes

Solar Echoes
Solar Echoes is a complete roleplaying game published by Corefun Studios.
By Andy Mitchell

Welcome to the forty-first Designer’s Diary, a column where designers are given the opportunity to take readers on an in-depth ride through the design and development process of their system, setting, or product. If you’d like to share your product in the Designer’s Diary column, send a message to

Purchase Solar Echoes here

Designer’s Description
Solar Echoes is a tactical, team-focused role-playing game with a science-fiction theme. The game is based on a newly designed system, which we call the Reactive Battle System, and was developed to promote team-play and quick movement. Solar Echoes is set in a universe that has united under the Inter-Stellar Union (ISU), formed to provide seven alien races with peace, prosperity, and freedom. Will this alliance be able to guard against the lurking threats in unknown space, or even protect the races from themselves? The future of the Union and the very races that formed it may depend on the actions of the Union Guard, a highly specialized force of agents that work tirelessly to keep the universe in order. These operatives do what regional security forces cannot and strive to preserve the crucial balance that must exist between the races. With access to classified information from the ISU, the Union Guard is aware of a looming threat that could mean the absolute destruction of all the races if they fail to work together.

We developed Solar Echoes to address issues we had with other role-playing game systems. We were tired of waiting for our turn, sometimes waiting a full 20 or 30 minutes, depending on the size of the group we were playing with. Another issue we had was that players didn’t tend to work and plan together—game sessions often involved each character grandstanding, doing his own thing. We’ve seen game systems try to promote team-play through various edition updates, but these options were peripheral and never felt as if they were a core part of the game system. With those things in mind, we began designing Solar Echoes from the ground up. We wanted a game that moved fast and involved all players working and planning together. Our interest in science fiction, special ops forces, and spies provided a great scenario for our tactical team game system to shine through.

We drew from a variety of influences, and honestly spent a lot of time watching movies, anime, and TV shows based on science-fiction and spy themes. We’d often pause the movie or show and turn to each other and say, “That was so cool, we need to be able to do that in our game!” We also sampled a lot of video games with similar themes, and when we saw “Act of Valor” and heard the news about Navy Seal Team 6, we realized our game was finally where we wanted it—the players could do those things with their characters, and the game promoted those types of tactical approaches. That’s why we chose the Union Guard setting—the characters are special ops forces in a futuristic universe.

We spent a lot of time researching technology, the military, vehicles, astrophysics, biology, and various other topics that related to our game. For instance, I spent a lot of time reading up on biology to develop the special racial abilities of our aliens, and Matthew researched and used his knowledge of astronomy to detail the anomalies and locations in our game universe. We wanted our universe to be believable and based on current knowledge, but we also didn’t want to get bogged down in details so much that players would be likely to argue over the actual blast radius of a fragmentation grenade. Our weapon damage and equipment fits within the realms of believability, and even the “neural interface” required to hack computers wasn’t too much of a stretch considering virtual reality and the wireless internet of today. We felt that entering into our game universe would be easier for players if we avoided changing everything they knew about our current reality. It seemed easier for players to become more attached to their characters and the game environment when we required less suspension of disbelief.

Art Direction
From the start, we decided we didn’t want the artwork for our game to look too edgy or dark. Solar Echoes does have some comedy elements to it where we poke fun at aspects of our current society–almost like a light-hearted satire–so we felt that a gritty, harsh look did not fit the style of our game. I tried to steer our artists toward a blend of anime and realism, with a slight cel-shaded look. The artists did a great job, and were able to take a lot of my concept sketches (I tend to draw with a more realistic style) and convert them into that blended-style. In other instances, the artists worked entirely off descriptions alone, and they would send their concept sketches to us to look over. We usually only suggested a few changes, though the toughest process was getting some of the alien races down. The Erwani (a plant-like alien), Reln (a hairless humanoid with large ears), and the Chiraktis (an insectoid race) were the toughest. For instance, the Chiraktis is somewhat similar to a praying mantis but we couldn’t make him look like a tough fighter until I realized that he needed the thorax of a grasshopper. We lucked out with space art, because Matthew Hannum (also an author and developer for Solar Echoes) had already digitally painted many space-scapes as a hobby, which we featured as full, two-page spreads for every chapter in our books.

Gaming Experience and Comparison
I don’t want to give any direct comparisons with other game systems out there, but this project began because of our dissatisfaction with the games we’ve played. Matthew and I have been playing table-top RPG’s for over 30 years, so maybe we’re just jaded, but we wanted to challenge some of the traditions. In Solar Echoes, there are no longer huge hit-point pools to chew through—the risk is real, and a single gunshot wound could place your character near death. Tactics instantly become crucial, because “soaking up damage” is not an option. For example, one of our beta testers had served in the Navy. He approached one of our game Missions, “Gun Runners” (included with our Starter Kit) with excellent tactics, and accomplished his mission without injury while still taking out all the smugglers. That’s not to say other methods can’t work, though—a group of our teenage beta-testers crashed in, guns blazing, and though they barely survived, they managed to tear the place up and still accomplish their mission, too. In all situations, though, our players quickly realized the importance of coordinating their movements and actions together, and our game system allows for this to be done without players taking turns. In addition to promoting team-play, the absence of turn-taking results in a faster-moving game, and we designed our rules system to be streamlined as well. I literally missed things when I got up from the table to get a drink from the kitchen around the corner! You’ll want to be there for every moment, or you could miss the chance to react to something.

There are many different aspects of gameplay in Solar Echoes, too. A lot of it involves squad combat with your team facing enemies, robots, and alien threats. Yet there are several other scenarios that will come up frequently during missions: starship battles, car chases, dialogue encounters, and computer hacking. In starship combat, all players are involved as they take on different roles on the ship. It’s like all the players are working together to operate one big player character in battle, their starship. Car chases are similar, though it’s a mixture between driving and shooting, using either mounted vehicle weapons or your own weapons. Dialogue in Solar Echoes is like its own mini-game, where characters work together and use their skills to reveal leverage usable against their target while trying to influence him through a variety of persuasion skill checks. Finally, our hacking system requires the entire team to dive into virtual reality, where the hacker provides programs that allow each character to contribute to the hack using their own skills, combat or otherwise. In all of our game systems, teamwork is necessary for success.

Development Process
As mentioned earlier, we first spent a lot of time watching movies, anime, and TV shows with sci-fi, special forces, and spy themes, and then started talking about how we could make what we saw in these shows happen in our game. Our rules development process consisted of a lot of bouncing ideas around while trying to adhere to the core precepts we’d established. It was often easy to start down the path of developing a new set of rules for new ideas and situations, but we always tried to bring things back around to use rules we’d already established to keep things simple. Once our core rules were set, it was just a matter of throwing out ideas, which we’d jot down and then work on balancing. I often had ideas during my long drives to work, so a lot of those ideas were conveyed over the phone. We also constantly talked about our game universe and how the races interacted, and were always planning out the larger story.

We have pages and pages of ideas and short stories we plan to use for missions, some which have already been written and will become available soon online, and we spend a lot of time sharing story ideas back and forth. As we discuss these stories, new items, talents, aliens, starships, and other ideas are written down and fleshed out for upcoming books with expansion material for Solar Echoes. Once we’ve put everything together and organized it, we start the formatting process. Our typographer then sets everything and makes sure all of our charts and art fit in with the text like we want. Finally, she prepares a digital copy (pdf) for us to post on while she prepares a slightly different version of the file for physical printing so that the pages print out with the proper amount of “bleed” at the margins. Then, it’s off to the printers!

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