Spirit Island: Nature Incarnate

Spirit Island: Nature Incarnate

Spirit Reveal: Relentless Gaze of the Sun
3 months ago
by Greater Than Games
Hello again to the many thousands of you and welcome to our new 337 since our last update! You all are making our day every day by how much you’re exceeding our expectations. But now we are moving on from the bright and cheerful to the far too bright and not terrible cheerful Relentless Gaze of the Sun. Creator R. Eric Reuss and dev team member Nick Reale talk about the story, design, and some of the development notes behind this burning spirit. Oh, and of course, we have our bonus card at the end. Gentlemen, take it away!

Story

There are many Spirits of the sun and sun's light - some are gently beautiful, some are nourishing, some are aloof and barely touch the island at all. Relentless Gaze of the Sun is none of these things: it is a blazingly imperious Spirit that blasts the land with relentless heat. The tropical sun is something to respect and even fear.

The Spirit was not always like this - long ago, something happened that swelled its pride, turning its satisfaction at shining with bright and brilliant constancy into more and more of an obsession. It came to see the wilting of the land beneath as evidence of how amazing and powerful and important it was, rather than a sign of growing excess. It required rest between these bouts of intense activity, but the number of decades - and, eventually, years - between scorching bouts grew shorter and shorter, and the duration of the scorching-times grew longer and longer.

Some seaside Dahan villages figured a way to distract it, buying respite: every year before and during the dry season, they would send well-crewed boats out with shards of obsidian or reflective shell to flash the sun's brilliance back upwards, pulling the Spirit's attention slightly offshore with the apparent signs of an upstart contender for its brilliance. This held off disaster for a couple hundred years - and even after the growing hunger of the Ocean made such trips more dangerous, several Spirits of sky and heavens managed to keep the Sun's attention elsewhere... for a time.

But when its attention did return to the island, it was full of the wrath and built-up power of centuries. So began the Years of the Relentless Sun, when the Sun shone such power down on the island that it came near to devastating immense swaths of it. Several Spirits of moon and night tried to oppose it, but withered beneath the uncompromising assault; it was not until Shadows Flicker Like Flame took an interest that the Sun was effectively checked. Both Spirits came out of that confrontation somewhat the worse for wear, and are not nearly so powerful now as they were then - though perhaps this is a blessing in disguise. If they were as great in might and scale as they used to be, they would likely not be fast and nimble enough now to fight the Invaders effectively.

While it is still destructive, Relentless Gaze of the Sun has been at least somewhat tempered, and its motivations seem to be in the midst of a change. It used to act out of a sort of impersonal contemptuous fury, scourging low all who came under its gaze as an affirmation and manifestation of its power - not in an insecure way, or out of hatred, as a human might, but simply because that was its nature: to strike down those who dared raise themselves before it. But even Spirits with the constancy of Sun or Earth can change, over time, and grappling with a Spirit as shifting and protean as Shadows Flicker Like Flame may have accelerated that process. It is still a destructive Spirit, breaking down and burning up those upon whom it focuses its gaze, but it seems to be exploring the idea that 'those outside of itself' are not some homogenous mass, and that perhaps it ought to focus its contempt and fury on those actively opposing it? It is once again willing to communicate with other Spirits, and given that it's not actually trying to rule anything or boss anyone around, most Spirits are content to shrug and speak to it respectfully (if they speak to it at all), or just work around it - it is not a Spirit of great subtlety or connivance.



Design

The general concept for Relentless Gaze of the Sun has existed for a long time - during my initial reading for the game, I saw multiple references to how harsh the tropical sun can be. It was a candidate Spirit for Jagged Earth, but it never quite came together: it had a few different iterations, most of which revolved around “concentrating your Presence makes you more powerful but also adds Blight”. This could be an interesting minigame, but ran into some real trouble scaling between different island sizes: it was much easier to stay spread out in a 3-4 player game than it is in solo. Fixing this would have layered even more complexity onto a Spirit that was already both complex and fraught (any Spirit which adds Blight can be a bit nerve wracking for some players), so instead it got postponed for later work, with a bunch of brainstormed notes.

Portions of that handoff version were very different from what you’ll see below - Gaze was hyper focused in a way that proved to not actually work so well, requiring a mid-development redesign - but I’ll let the developers talk more about that journey.

One important part of Relentless Gaze’s story is that it is considering change; it has a choice to make about whether to continue being an overbearing, catastrophically antisocial force or whether to temper itself and sacrifice some offense in exchange for the good of others.

This ended up represented by an innate that makes use of elements that Gaze doesn’t have on its Unique Powers - something I’ve had in multiple Spirits before (it’s an interesting way of representing a path along which a Spirit could shift its nature) but aside from Starlight Seeks Its Form, it’s always been cut for complexity reasons. Here, however, it fulfills a core thematic need.


Sun is an element of constancy, so it can always place Presence. Unlike other Blight-using Spirits, it’s not immune to Presence destruction (even from its own Powers), nor does it gain benefit for doing so - but it can add its Destroyed presence back to the board without too much trouble. It’s the Sun, it always rises again (and if it couldn’t it would have scorched its own connection to the Island out of existence long ago).

Many other areas of the design reflect its nature of focus and concentration - its Special Rule requires having lands with 3 Presence, more than a normal Sacred Site; its opening Plays track isn’t great (it’s better at dealing with single big problems than lots of little ones), and its rightmost Growth option rewards it for focusing on Energy. (Which also solved the problem of “the Sun should be awesome at gaining Energy, but putting a huge absolute Energy boost in Growth gives it too much during the opening game” - particularly important because Gaze’s special rule means it can make use of huge amounts of Energy even if using Minor Powers.)

Dev Notes, by Nick Reale

Relentless Gaze of the Sun was one of the original candidate Spirits for Nature Incarnate, and a high-priority one at that. Not only was the game’s Spirit roster a little light on the Sun Element in general, but there had long been player desire for a Spirit of the sun itself. The main challenge of development was finding good ways to represent the themes of relentlessness, focus, and constancy. Across the early versions of this Spirit, we tried three mechanics; while none of them worked out as originally presented, fixed versions of all three found their way into the final version.

The first mechanic was reusing Power Cards on back-to-back turns. This turned out to be terrible for gameplay; players would reuse their favorite defensive card to stall out the first 4-ish Turns, only getting to the earth-scorching in the second half of the game. The improved version of this is Repeating Power Cards instead of re-playing them. With Repeats, players feel focused within a turn, but still have a lot of variety from turn to turn.

The second mechanic was adding about 1 Badlands per turn. This … was totally busted. Oh, Gaze could be balanced by itself, but if another Spirit came along with lots of ways to do 1 Damage, like A Spread of Rampant Green or a yet-to-be-previewed Spirit from this set, they’d trivialize the game. This swing in strength was so dramatic that it caused us to reevaluate the relative value of Badlands vs 1 Damage in general! The correction here was giving Gaze only one Unique Power that Adds Badlands and one Unique Power that repositions them once they’ve served their original purpose.

The final mechanic was Powers that scaled with Gaze’s Presence in origin or target land. This turned out to be a bit more skill-testing than we liked. While experienced players realized that only 3-4 Presence were needed in a land to get most of the useful bonuses, newer players would make one giant Presence stack and get frustrated by their targeting difficulties. Since 3 Presence in one land was distinctive compared to other Spirits and usually good enough to get relevant bonuses, we just made 3 Presence the amount that represents Gaze’s focus. This 3 Presence theme rippled throughout the design, becoming a “3” theme in general. See how many 3’s you can find on the panel -- and don’t forget to check the Spirit art!

Blight Card: Slow Dissolution of Will

The final preview today is a Blight Card that causes Spirits to lose Presence every turn, yet only has 3 Blight per player on it!



Even though the Spirits get weaker, what they shed helps the island itself repel the Invaders. This is one of the few Blight Cards to put pressure on both Presence and Blight, challenging the Spirits to hold themselves and the island’s ecosystem together, even as the island gets dangerous to a degree rarely seen in Spirit Island.


Thank you to both Eric and Nick for telling us all about this burning spirit and Slow Dissolution of Will. A unique take on a sun spirit and yet familiar sentiment for anyone who’s suffered through a tough summer!  We’ll be back on Wednesday, November 2nd for a special interview with the whole development team on the development and playtesting process, what they’re looking forward to in Nature Incarnate, and more! Stick around and we’ll see you then!
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