Let's face it, it's hard to trust anyone nowadays—even your closest friends. Humans are unpredictable creatures, and social deduction games intend to exploit a great flaw: our tendencies to lie. Enemy on Board takes a unique spin on the Werewolf/Mafia formula by making a full, top-down action experience while pitting two teams of players head-to-head.
In social deduction games, players are assigned a role only known to them at first. The goal is to survive, figure out who is who, and help your other teammates out. Enemy on Board, developed by Windwalk Games, is a sci-fi action title with two vicious aliens hunting a crew of four other players. The catch is, you don't know who the alien is until they reveal themselves to (possibly) kill you. TechRaptor spoke to Windwalk Games CEO Colin Feo about how they synthesized that classic, social deduction game experience into an interactive and exciting multiplayer game.
Enemy on Board: A Spin on an Old Classic
The team at Windwalk are no strangers to classics like Mafia and One Night Ultimate Werewolf, the de facto games of the genre. Feo says his team noted the simplicity of these games' mechanics and realized that there is an incredible amount of replay value found within.
"As a game designer," said Feo, "you are always looking for the holy grail of easy to learn and massive depth. Plus, we realized that we had friends who would sit on the sidelines and watch our games of Werewolf with rapt attention. This pointed to these hidden role mechanics being super 'streamable.'"
After realizing the potential behind this idea, the team faced the dilemma of creating an experience like this that appealed to "modern mid-to-hardcore" PC gamers. Many social deduction games are played with simply words or in person with a group of friends. The team decided to go forward with action-packed, competitive gameplay and shorter match lengths. Voice chat was another necessary feature to accompany a more interactive, competitive gameplay experience. Thus, prototyping began.
"We avoided creating any big, monolithic design documents and focused on playtesting with a rotating cast of friends," said Feo. "We would invite them over for pizza and get them to try the game. At first they would play for 20 minutes and then excuse themselves. Over time, we were having to kick them out after a couple hours. This is when we knew the idea was worth pursuing. We also realized that when players reveled in playing as either crew member OR alien, we were on to something. Most social deception games only make you want to play the deceiver."
Enemy on Board sets itself apart from other games in the genre, since actions aren't just conducted through text. Players have to actively maintain a ship and attempt to kill each other. Feo says that ship maintenance in particular can lead to funny situations, since it's a shared responsibility—this forces opposing sides to work together at times in order to win. If generators aboard the ship aren't fixed within a time limit, this results in both teams losing. As for combat, Feo said that it often leads to funny situations.
"Combat is generally hilarious because there is obviously 'team damage.' Since people can’t know others identities for sure we have to allow everybody to kill each other. This lets Enemy on Board avoid a lot of the 3v1 dogpiles that make multi-user combat boring in other games. If people try to dogpile an enemy in our game, they frequently end up killing their friends in the process."
As development of Enemy on Board progressed, Feo and his team did encounter the issue of the power of combat versus deception. A theory was that players could become so proficient at killing with the aliens that they could forgo deception completely. Humans in Enemy on Board can fight back, but the aliens are meant to be fearsome foes, too.
"Our solution was to be careful about what stage we add killing power into the game for human players," said Feo. "As the round progresses, we give players more and more ways to kill each other. This avoids random killing early on."
One other dilemma players could face is that one side has the total advantage over the other. Four players versus two sounds like a disproportionate and unfair battle, but Feo and his team uses data tracking to assure Enemy on Board is as balanced as possible.
"The game is actually remarkably self-balancing," said Feo. "Furthermore our 'ELO' skill tracking takes changing win rates between the two roles into account (eg: if aliens are slightly underpowered one patch, then you will get more points for winning as them)."
Many of these social deduction games are dependent on an active, interactive community, and inevitably, this can attract trolls and griefers. Town of Salem, for example, implemented a strong filter system to discourage this type of behavior. Feo is taking measures to assure that the community of Enemy on Board is a welcoming one.
"Building a strong community of players who call out racism and personal attacks is our current method," said Feo. "Past that we are currently building a 'social score' into our game. Essentially if people don’t think you are fun to play with, then you will have more trouble finding a match."
Enemy on Board ticks all the boxes for what makes a game of this genre good. While it isn't out yet, Feo's team is working hard on getting ready for launch. Post-launch, there's even more content to come. He says that a larger mode is coming in the future, featuring duos with around 20 people total. A map editor, and later items and game mode editors are on the way too. Post-launch, there will also be seasonal updates with new crew members, aliens, and themes.
If you're interested in hearing more about Enemy on Board or want to be a part of the community before launch, you can join the game's Discord server. Stay tuned for a release date and Enemy on Board's Steam launch!