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  • Writer's pictureRobey

Zero Dark Design Blog 7 - Synthetic Characters

Synthetic characters are some of my favourite bits of the game.

The first thing I need to point out, because some patrons pointed out that it wasn't immediately obvious, is that heroes - your team's main features - can be synthetic.  In fact, it's often a good idea to have at least one synthetic character in a team as you'll see.

Synthetic heroes come in three flavours:

Robots are sci-fi staple androids: human- or roughly-human-shaped, independent and a bit stupid or, at least, not as independent as a true intelligence.  They are smart enough to move quickly, fire accurately and to help and support their allies, but they must be given a program that dictates broadly what they do with each action when they are activated.

Drones are best thought of as robots with human minds.  Their operator is likely to be some way away, but sees what the drone sees and acts accordingly.

Artificial Intelligences meanwhile are digital superminds that exist on the Battlenet, but which are able to "bodysnatch" other synthetics on the Battlenet to take an active role on the battlefield.

Let's look at some of what makes each of them special.

First of all, all synthetics are "inhuman" - this makes them immune to the feelings of panic that fleshy beings feel when they are shot at and immune to any other effect that causes stress (an effect in the game that causes characters to freeze and have to use actions - and run down the clock - to get back in the game).  The other thing all synthetics have is an immunity to the effect of the heatlight visor.  I've not mentioned this upgrade before, but it gives some pretty major advantages to the wearer when shooting at warm-bodied targets - but it doesn't help at all against synthetics.  In playtesting the PvP game, we found that people do love the heatlight visor, but their faces fell when facing an all-synthetic enemy!

Then each type of synthetic also gets its own advantages.

Drones are all Alert - this gives them a 360 degree arc of awareness: literally eyes in the backs of their heads.  Other than that, they really are "one of the team" and are otherwise just like any other hero.

Robots may have the limitation of their program, but each program confers another upgrade.  For example, the Assassin program confers the Stealthy upgrade.

Robots also have a special relationship with EWOps (see this blog for details on EWOps) because one of the things EWOps can do to a robot is change its program.  So if you've got a robot with a Medical program but you really need it to go kill that Boss, you can use the EWOp to re-program it to the Assault program.  Of course, this sword cuts both ways. EWOps in the PvP game can hack enemy robots to change their program, too!

AIs get an upgrade of your choice for free (although they can't be Leaders, and can't have weapon upgrades for obvious reasons).  They also have a special relationship with other synthetics, but whilst the EWOp's is relatively benign, the AI is more of a puppet master.  An AI can possess another synthetic, gaining the possessee's upgrades (as well as its own) and replacing the possessee's stats with the AI's.  This can be a great manoeuvre for objective grabbing or saving a colleague's life, as a high-F/low-A character can be replaced with a low-F/high-A one with the right skills for the moment.

When you face enemy synthetics, be it in the PvP or solo/team mode, an EWOp can also dominate enemy synthetics, joining them to their own Battlenet and making them available for a friendly AI to possess them.

I hope you'll have seen, just from this short visit to the Battlenet, that synthetics can really mix up your tactical options in a game and provide some tempting choices for a small team.  A popular combination for a 4-person team has been a robot with the Medical program, an AI Spook, a drone EWOp and a human Leader.  But for all that is has some fancy synergies, it's not an unbeatable combination or a guaranteed win in a solo mission: after all, you have one fewer ally on the table unless the EWOp can dominate an enemy synthetic.  And the robot is basically incapable of claiming objectives, which can put you in trouble if the other side has some good shooting results at the wrong moment.

In the next blog, having touched upon it in this one, we'll have a look at Electronic Warfare in more detail and talk about the extra dimension that EWOps bring to the team.

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