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Chronicles of Frost Designer Diaries: The Discovery

B. G. Kubacki
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One of the most exciting things about adventure games is exploration. One of the most annoying things is the randomness. You can’t really have one without the other, but you can still have a damn good game running right through the middle.

From the first time I played the prototype I knew that Chronicles of Frost would be a game that plays fast. I also knew that its nature would require me to condense some of the fun adventure genre staples in a way that would not destabilize the whole construct.

Exploration in games is always a difficult thing to do right. Give randomness complete rule over discovering new regions, pieces of the star map or encounters, and you wrest the reins away from the players. Reduce randomness too much, and you’re running a risk of annihilating the magic of discovery from the game.

Right from the start I knew I wanted the world to grow as the game unfolds. The first solution was simple: exit your current location into the unknown, draw a new location from the deck, and place it on the table. As you can imagine, with different location abilities this was a very swingy mechanism – and one that I eventually left in the game, but only as one of two rather different options.

The new option was literally born mid-game: how about I let the players choose one out of a few locations whenever they explore? After all, the Mists have made their world unstable, and reaching a specific destination (on time or at all) is never a certainty. You can still just wander off into the unknown, and see where fate takes you, but you can also put a little bit of effort into trying to look before you leap into what lies ahead.

In a blink of an eye an already aptly named “scout” symbol became one that would allow you to not only draw from your own deck, but also from the deck of locations, in order to choose what specific place will land right next to your hero. And to spice things up, to make exploration even more exciting, I decided to add one more thing to each location: a discovery effect.

Simply put, the discovery effect is a one-time bonus which you receive when you place a new location. You get to draw a card, you get some extra Resolve (that allows you to buy more cards), you get to heal a little – you get a small but useful effect designed to reward you for being an explorer. None of these effects will turn your game completely around, but resolving the right one at the right time can be most useful.

What about people who want a faster and more risky approach? Well, you can still just ignore the more ponderous exploration in favour of just going blindly into the wilds. You still get the benefit of discovering a new location but you have little control over what it actually is, as you simply topdeck a location into the play area.

Since one of the driving mechanisms of Chronicles of Frost is a quest system that requires players to find either specific types of locations, or their inhabitants, scouting is important, but you can still come up on top if you choose mobility and resilience over preceding research.

And the best thing? The way exploration works in Chronicles now makes it possible to approach expanding the map either truly strategically, or more deliberately, and it’s only up to you how you will learn the current shape of the lands of Valskyrr each time you sit down to play.
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