Figuring out what Fellowship is…

Hey y’all, it’s been a while.

It’s been about 6 weeks since my last post and work on Fellowship has been slow but steady. Features are getting built and it’s shaping up to be a pretty robust foundation for the many, many different ways I could take the game. In fact, this is what I’m posting about today. But first, I’ll give you a quick explanation of what I think Fellowship is on a high level…

In a world beset by evil forces, a once great civilization is struggling to cope. Farmers are plagued by invading creatures, shrines & monuments have been consumed by darkness, and no-where outside town walls is safe. To top it all off, the evil forces are growing and there’s nothing humanity can do to prevent an inevitable doom. That is, until now…

As a backstory, it’s as generic as they come. Hell, it’s basically Lord of the Rings. Instead of Sauron, we’ve got ‘Generic Evil Power’, and instead of Rohan or Gondor, we’ve got ‘Generic Fantasy Towns’. The generic-ness is designed, don’t worry!

Behold my doom!
Behold my doom!

 

An ancient prophecy states that four humans will join forces to rid the world of this darkness. But who are they? What do they look like? How do they act? These factors are all unclear. All that is known is that when things seem darkest, four people will witness a vision that will bring them together and create the Fellowship.

Okay so we’ve got evil shit in the world, and we’ve got ‘Generic Heroes’ that are destined to save them. Four generic heroes.

Prophecies, with less boobs.
Prophecies, with less boobs.

 

Fellowship places you in charge of a randomly assembled group of disparate individuals who must do all they can to rid the world of evil. Spread out across the unknown world, they each must find their own path to each other… and then together take on whatever dark foes that threaten humanity’s very existence.

Right, onto some actual juicy stuff. The first is the ‘randomly assembled group’ part. Fellowship is a concept that wants to play around with differing intensities of ‘procedural generation’ across all of its features. The first is the Heroes themselves.

Heroes are fixed characters; with names, backstories, hometowns and various traits that make them what they are. On a basic mechanical level, they have personalities, combat stats, and a class. On a deeper level they have a number of hidden personal quests called ‘Destinies’, which give various rewards that make them stronger. What makes this interesting is the ‘randomly assembled’ part. Perhaps in one game the prophecy selects two Warrior heroes, a Rogue hero, and a Priest… nice! Perhaps in the next one, it selects two different Warrior heroes… one from Duskville and the other from Dawn City. Duskville and Dawn City hate each other. Oh dear.

The second important part is ‘unknown world’. Like Heroes, towns and places are fixed… but where they are and the history that preceded them will be generated.

  • In one version of the world, Dawn City was the beacon of human civilization… and Duskville hated their pompousness.
  • In another version of the world Dawn City was destroyed first by the forces of evil and Duskville sent the vanguard troops for the rescue mission, sealing the bond between these two towns.
  • In another version, Duskville wanted to help Dawn City… but there’s a great mountain between the two towns and Duskville’s troops were killed by an avalanche on the way to help!

All these modifications to the party composition and history/landscape of the world will ensure the game is fresh each time, and that there is always a level of nuance and understanding that you must discover as each game plays out.

Why can't we all just get along?
Why can’t we all just get along?

 

The immense forces of darkness will require the strongest of Heroes to defeat. You must decide how best to use your Heroes to ensure they’re strong enough for the task at hand.

Does Sonny the Young Barbarian get stronger by fighting off bandits around his hometown of Smallton? Or does he journey to the ancient mountain of Barbaron to learn the mystical ways of his forefathers? Or does he sit in a tavern getting drunk because he’s a horny young teenager who gets massively depressed if he works too hard?

I want all characters in Fellowship to feel human. Flawed. Crusader Kings II is a massive influence on me and I like that you can use eugenics to create some absolute beast character. It’s exciting gameplay. However, what I love is that there’s always the risk of them having a personality flaw which will be their undoing. Each individual Hero in Fellowship will have stats they want to improve, items they need to seek, and quests they need to fulfil. These are necessary to gain the power to defeat the forces of evil. But they will need to do these things in the context of their own personal limitations… and the limitations imposed on them by the world and other Heroes in the Fellowship.

It may make sense for Gandalf to go running around talking to the eagles when he has such trusty companions as Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas to protect Frodo. But what if, in a different universe, Legolas was a petulant child who constantly undermined Gimli because of his racist hatred for dwarves. Now Gandalf has to spend the first 3 weeks of the story teaching Legolas how to grow up and make amends. Maybe you wouldn’t have the eagles to save everyone in the end!

In a nutshell, for Fellowship I want more Boromir and less Legolas.

mpttt06_04
Dude, just chillax.

Now we come to some design challenges. What’s the actual gameplay? What is the evil you face and how do you actually defeat it? What does training actually involve? How do Destinies manifest?

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’ve got a lot of foundation systems that could support any number of games within this theme. Working out the minute-by-minute interactions and thought processes of players is going to be the next step.

Current Action
The basic building block of Fellowship is the Current Action. Similarly to Civilization V, a Hero can only perform one action at a time. In Civ your city can build a Granary, or train a Warrior, or Boost Research. This is an interesting choice because of the time each takes to complete, and the opportunity cost of not doing the other actions. Fellowship also has this choice. One major point of balance, which will make or break the game experience, will be to ensure that opportunity cost is fair. If you get 100 HP for spending 10 turns going to a dungeon and killing monsters, you shouldn’t be able to get the same HP gains for just sitting in town lifting weights for 3 turns.

Building a Harbor costs 4 turns of production.
Building a Harbor costs 4 turns of production.

 

Hero Needs
A major component of making Heroes feel human is the Needs system. This is pretty much straight-up ripped from The Sims, and I’m surprised to have not seen it in many other games. Heroes in Fellowship have 4 Needs bars that they need to manage;

  • Hunger – This is the basic survival need. You gotta eat. Not eating is very bad for your Hero. This Need is the only one that physically damages a Hero.
  • Comfort – How is the environment effecting the Hero? Are they happy with where they are and what condition they are in?
  • Energy – How much gusto a Hero has. Energy is exhausted much like Stamina in other games, with many actions reducing it and making players consider resting every now and again. Low Energy will make your actions inefficient.
  • Fun – How much the Hero is enjoying life! Based heavily on the specific Hero’s personality and traits, Fun determines if they’re actually happy. Happiness is usually good. Usually.

These Needs are a great mechanic for allowing me to push back and add costs to particular actions. Needs can be used to lock out options, cause positive/negative Events (more on that later), and even shift your Hero’s entire base functionality via Moods. If I’m worried about players sitting in town and repeating the same action over and over again, I can start eroding Fun so that they perhaps enter the Bored Mood and that locks out all beneficial options apart from drinking at the Tavern.

Moods are the overall feeling a Hero has over a long period of time. If a Hero is constantly at high levels of Comfort, they might gain the Relaxed Mood. Relaxation is a great way to boost your gains in the Library, but it’s not going to have good effects on your combat ability (unless your Hero is Syrio Forel!). Management of Needs feeds into the Hero’s Mood, which therefore has a minor impact on every action you potentially take.

Let's hope this doesn't happen in combat...
Let’s hope this doesn’t happen in combat…

 

Traveling
Fellowship has an overworld hex map that has various terrain tiles all over it. These terrain tiles have a cost in turns to move through. If you want to travel 3 hexes across to Duskville and the path moves you through Plains, Forest, and Snow tiles… you will take 1 + 2 + 3 turns to get to Duskville. As mentioned above, travel has to be balanced around the options available in town. It needs to be worth it to travel.

Traveling’s link to Needs is another major consideration for players. The wilderness does not have the luxuries and comforts of a hustling and bustling town. Every trip your Hero takes will erode his/her Needs, resulting in many potential events occurring.

Movement in Civilization V
Movement in Civilization V

 

Events
Crusader Kings II is possibly the 2nd biggest influence over Fellowship, and the Events system is based on CK2’s equivalent. Every turn that you take has the potential to trigger an Event. An Event is a description of something happening to your Hero that has multiple options to pick from for a resolution. Actions in-game have a list of Events that they can trigger. For example, drinking a Strength Potion in the Apothecary has a small chance to trigger the “I don’t feel so good…” Event. This Event gives you the option of forcibly ejecting the substance; puking it out and losing its effect, but not being poisoned, or you can brave the feeling. If you choose option 2, there’s a chance for you to become sick (reducing Comfort for 3 turns), nothing happening (gaining the regular Strength Potion effect), or overcoming the illness and improving your constitution (giving you +100 HP for 10 turns).

Events are surprising, fun to discover, and potentially very meaningful decisions. An Event can be a quick way to enter a new Mood without spending turns on manipulating a Hero’s Needs… for better or for worse. Events can also give you positive/negative buffs, reward you with items and gold, or even grant you new Hero Traits that affect your Hero’s behaviour for days, weeks, and years. Primarily, Events are a superb way to add emergent storytelling and give me tons of places to explain the type of world that your fellowship lives in.

Events in Crusader Kings II
Events in Crusader Kings II

 

Fighting Evil
This is a mix of two things; a combat system and ‘what does evil actually do?’. The former is completely and utterly non-designed. I have no idea what the combat system should do, and it’s a big concern to me. However it doesn’t really matter, which is the funny thing. This is why I’m leaving it to the end.

What evil actually does is something I’ve been tackling over the last few weeks. Originally my plan was for players to just find evil things they want to kill and then they just make their own way there. A sort of level selection, like in Heroes of Might & Magic; where you can see a threat level and choose whether you’re ready to kill them or not. The problem with this is that it’s not very dynamic at all. If the impetus is on the player to find the evil, why would they not just sit in town and buff themselves up to crazy levels before venturing outside?

A lot of this problem can be solved with by limiting what can be done in town, but I want evil to be more of a dynamic force that puts pressure on the player. Another inspiration I got from Civilization is the Barbarian system.

I hate Barbarians. We all hate Barbarians. Those bastards walk in and destroy your luxury resources and then that triggers you to lose happiness or trade deals. Then you’ve got to get a warrior to go deal with them, then you have to send a worker to go fix the resource tile. Argh! However, roaming squads of evil beings makes a lot of sense in my world, and it gave me the idea that towns can have Resources too. Unlike Civilization where you seek out resources and build towns near them, expanding your borders to get more and more resources… Fellowship’s towns will have pre-defined borders and resources generated within them. These Resources act as a supply for various Actions in town. If you want to receive a holy blessing then the current town needs to have a Church and a Wine resource.

What makes Resources so great for Fellowship is that they give you something to protect. Evildoers will roam around occasionally and start screwing with a town’s  resources. If you don’t deal with them, the town’s most valuable actions become locked. You may need those actions. Furthermore, neighboring towns will share their resources with each other… so if your Hero is in Duskville and notices that imported Gold is blocked from Dawn City, they have an incentive to go to Dawn City and unblock that Gold supply.

My goal with the ‘barbarian’ evildoers is to create this friction but not at a tremendous level of frustration for players. Barbarians won’t destroy Resources, they will just switch them off and sit in them. Once you kill them, the Resource is freed up on the next turn. Capitalism, yay! There is also the possibility of tying this dynamic into a Town Reputation system, which would add some more incentive to keeping a town barbarian-free.

Damn Barbarians...
Damn Barbarians…

This has been a long, long post… but it’s been hugely beneficial for me to actually write down holistically what Fellowship is! The title is very accurate. If you’ve read this far, thank you!

I’ve still got a ridiculous amount of work to do for the game before it’s even a game. Barbarians is the next thing and this is a big system that doesn’t really fit my morning hour, so I’ll probably look into some minor extras or content over the next couple of weeks.

2016 Update

Hello one and all!

It’s been a long time since the last post and I felt it would be a great opportunity to update you all on myself, DevPact, and Virtu’s current project.

Me
Recently I moved to Berlin and I have been working at YAGER since January. It’s my first ever AAA gig, and it’s been wonderful. The different styles of almost everything based on the size of the project is really surprising.

yager_logo

Our major project at the moment is Dreadnought, a class-based space arena shooter. My responsibilities revolve around everything ‘Live Design’. Balancing, feedback collection and response, tweaking, analyzing, and designing existing and new features for a game that’s going to be running 24/7 for many, many years.

dreadnought-3

Much of my previous experience at Substantial Games and EA Playfish revolved around this style of game, and I’m looking forward to being involved with our community and encouraging a more ‘open dev’ approach to AAA F2P PC services. Exciting stuff!

An interesting side-note is that every game company I’ve worked at has been completely different… Facebook games, Casual Mobile games, Hardcore Mobile games, and Hardcore PC games. I’m looking forward to entering this extremely different sector and deciding which type of company I prefer and which type of games I want to design.

 

DevPact
Myself and Chris left China at a similar time and while we are still in touch, there’s definitely a lot less peer-pressure to keep up with DevPact’s original posting and content frequency. As of now I’m assuming it will linger around untouched til the end of time. All content I would be producing there I will now just be doing on here, my original site!

igf_pact_white_on_black

 

Virtu
Having such an extended break between pausing Ventura, starting a new project, leaving Berlin, then starting another new project has changed things drastically for Virtu and my own personal independent development.

Ventura is near and dear to my heart, but multiplayer is something I’ll have a very hard time sorting out and the game itself becomes extremely complicated from a coding standpoint when you take into account that every Hero has 4 unique abilities. Before it went on hiatus, I was somewhat building an engine to enable me to bust out loads of possible Ventura heroes… but as I came back to look at the project a couple of months later, it dawned on me that the work needed to make Ventura a mildly exciting game was humongous. Like most multiplayer strategy games, it’s designed holistically and building a vertical slice of content in order to get feedback would take a very, very long time.

Welcome back to Haft
Ventura

Since arriving in Berlin I’ve started a new project with a new mentality and new set of goals. Before I was setting up Development Pacts with my friends to force me to work hard. I was hoping to enter IGF 2016 and ensure that every second of my part-time indie dev was working towards a greater goal. I hated it. I was beginning to detest the whole idea of indie game development so I’ve taken a step back and calmed down.

My latest project is being built very casually. I’m not super stressed about whether the scope is too large or not. I don’t care if it’s commercially viable. I’m not aiming to blow peoples’ minds with an intense multiplayer combat experience.

I’ve got a simple question that I want to answer… how would a Turn-Based RPG work in a Civilization style 4X feature set?

It may not work at all. It may be amazingly innovative… all I care about right now is answering that question. I’m not going to get stressed about it, I’m not going to beat myself up, I’m not going to hype up the idea that I’m fighting for awards or all that crap that’s way too far out of my reach at this point.

It’s liberating!

This project is being called ‘Fellowship’ at this point. When I feel like sitting down and explaining what the hell it is, I’ll make another post on here and set up the Fellowship category.

the-lord-of-the-rings-the-fellowship-of-the-ring-wallpapers-5
The only hint I’m giving about Project Fellowship

For now I’m just enjoying life, enjoying work, and enjoying tinkering around in Game Maker.

Since last posting, I also entered Ludum Dare 34 with the best game I’ve ever built myself; Slum Runner. In a way it saved my indie-dev life.

logo

I’m insanely proud of it so please give it a spin if you see this and let me know what you think.

Brief Hiatus + Update Pending!

Hey guys,

I’ve not posted here for a while as I’ve been working on a non-Ventura prototype for a little bit and posting on DevPact. I am also in the process of moving to Berlin so there’s a lot of admin, preparation, and settling I need to do before I can get back to blogging.

I’ll be back in a couple of weeks and can then update y’all on the situation!

Ventura Mechanics: Attacking

In this series of articles, I’ll be spotlighting individual mechanics in Ventura; explaining why and how I’ve made them. I’m hoping this will not only give you guys insight into the design process, but also help me clarify and distill my own mechanics!

Part I: The Best Offense is a Good Defense

From my experience, most TBT games have completely open attacking. As long as your target is within attack range, you can attack them. It does not matter if there are 5 units between your current unit and his/her target, you can magically hit them.

I don’t like this, and a lot of it comes down to my love of Tanking and what the implications of open attacking are for defensive plays. When I’m thinking of the sort of experience I want to provide in Ventura, I am always pushing the interaction between units and the importance of positioning.

World of Warcraft
World of Warcraft

Tanking was first introduced to me in World of Warcraft. As my first MMORPG it was incredibly refreshing to play a character whose sole role was to protect allies by putting themself in danger. World of Warcraft uses the classic Aggro system of tanking; using a semi-transparent resource that the Tank can build up against enemies. These enemies then attack whoever has the most Aggro on their list. Allies using Heals will generate a lot of Aggro, so the Tank needs to have the ability to build up plenty of counter-aggro to make sure they stay on top of the Aggro List for each enemy.

Naturally this only works in PvE situations. Human opponents do not have an Aggro List that can be manipulated by another player. Skilled human opponents know the natural threat level of each enemy and choose who to put on their personal aggro list. No amount of bluster will make a human attack a super defensive target… it’s madness to do so!

Axe from Dota 2 - Calling enemies to fight
Axe from Dota 2 – Calling enemies to fight

Dota-likes (or MOBAs) also attempted to create tanks that work in PvP situations. As a tank cannot force humans to attack him, they must incentivize humans to attack them. This is done in a few ways…

  • Crowd Control: Being stunned and silenced is usually a major pain in the ass. PvP Tanks tend to have abilities that mess up enemy formations and combos. This makes them a high priority target in many situations, as they shut down your team’s strategy.

  • Sustained Damage: This is the classic “Deal with me now or you’re going to regret it!” technique. Tanks are horrible to attack because every 100 damage you do to a tank is reduced heavily compared to a squishy mage. You need a reason to attack the tank before the mage, so what if the tank eventually does more damage than a mage? Sustained Damage or ramping up damage is a really nice way to create interesting decisions for dealing with a Tank. Do you ignore them and deal with more high priority threats? Or do you take them down before they become a problem?

  • Taunts: Lazy design, but literally forcing enemies to attack a Tank does technically work. In most cases this is just a thematic skin of Crowd Control. Hearthstone utilizes Taunt in a much more interesting way, but with multiple throwaway units it’s hard for me to draw much inspiration from it.

These techniques have varying degrees of success. League of Legends is a game that heavily promotes tanking and bruiser-type characters. Dota, on the other hand, has some fat dudes but typically the game is not balanced around having many of them.

Part II: Attacking in Ventura

In Ventura, I will be using Crowd Control and Sustained Damage for that PvP ‘threat’ to incentivize attacking a tank. These are smart and strategically interesting ways to create a dynamic battlefield.

As Ventura is on a grid though, I can use another way to tank. Standing in front of an ally.

example_01

In this example, Axe (the big red dude) wants to attack Lina (the ginger) but there’s another of Lina’s allies standing in front of her. In Ventura, Axe therefore cannot attack Lina from this position.

The way the game currently works is that any unit will block line of sight to the target, meaning that allies will block your current hero from attacking. I will probably remove ally blocking, but for now let’s see some more examples.

example_02

Zeus can attack Axe in this example, using diagonal positioning to get clear line of sight. Diagonals are always a real pain in Turn Based Tactical games, but I feel that having diagonals allow line of sight gives them an interesting tactical usage and doesn’t feel too weird.

I was worried that this would be too hard to understand, but as the grid is made of squares and the line is drawn from the center… there shouldn’t be many cases where weird angles allow attacks that shouldn’t be possible. A direct Bishop-like angle should provide a means of attack.

example_03

This angle, clearly shouldn’t allow attacking. Remember, at the moment allies block each other. This is likely to change.

What I absolutely love about unit blocking is that positioning becomes extremely important. Each tile not only acts as a position from where to launch attacks, but it also acts as a defensive position from which a unit can block attacks and defend allies. This makes positioning abilities a very useful tool for tanking and therefore gives me another technique for creating high priority tank targets.

Ventura Mechanics: The ATB

In this series of articles, I’ll be spotlighting individual mechanics in Ventura; explaining why and how I’ve made them. I’m hoping this will not only give you guys insight into the design process, but also help me clarify and distill my own mechanics!

Part I: Turn-Based Tactics Systems

The Active Time Bar is a natural starting point for me because it’s one of the primary reasons I started Haft (the precursor to Ventura). I want to like TBT games, but I never do.

These are the following reasons I dislike them…

  • Turns take too long

  • One mistake is extremely punishing

  • There’s too large of a possibility space

These 3 poignant detractors are all symptoms of the traditional Turn Based Tactics turn-system; Team A, then Team B.

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Team Turns

With Team Turns, you move all your units in one turn. XCOM, Heroes of Might & Magic, and Hearthstone (to some extent) are all examples of this system.

You can focus fire enemies before they can react, but you can also get focus fired before you can react. When making moves and choosing targets, you need to judge exactly what the enemy can do within their turn with all their units before you can be ascertain whether a unit is safe or not.

What this results in is possibility paralysis. I have to play so carefully that every decision I make takes 10x as long. Combine that with having to move 4-5 units at once? Turns are going to take forever! No human opponent is going to sit around waiting for me to make my moves.

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XCOM - Enemy Unknown
XCOM – Enemy Unknown
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Hero Academy uses this format, but it’s designed around ‘play-by-mail’ so there isn’t so much of a problem with it. Ventura is a ‘real-time’ PvP game, where you and your opponent are both in the room (be it virtual or real) at the same time.

The benefit of this system is that it’s obviously really easy to understand, and that you can create combos very easily. As you cannot be interrupted while you make multiple moves, you can combine the powers of units and abilities together to do really cool stuff. These combos are the strategy of the game.

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Alternating Turns

Another approach to Turn-Based Tactics games is the Chess approach. Each player moves one unit, then it’s the next player’s turn.

I dislike this approach more than Team Turns, because it’s almost impossible to perform those strategic combos. I find that these games severely lack in strategic depth and excitement because it’s so hard for you to really do anything interesting. Your units rarely interact. Isn’t the point of having multiple units the interaction between them?

The Banner Saga
The Banner Saga

It also really sucks when there is a disparity in the number of units on each team; The Banner Saga being the major culprit here. If I’m fighting 3v1… my opponent can move his single guy 3 times while my 2-man advantage is basically nullified. Not only does it not make sense logically, it feels very arbitrary.

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Active Time Bars or Initiative

Initiative is my favourite approach to turns. Each unit has an initiative value that determines who has the next turn. When they take their turn, actions add initiative and push them down the turn queue.

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Final Fantasy X: Skip to 1.51 for the actual battle
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It is the best of both worlds as it allows fast turns by moving singular units at once, but it also allows combos as you can have periods where you can move uninterrupted by the enemy.

Initiative becomes a non-transparent statistic that you can manipulate to get what you want. Let’s say you have two Heroes who synergize extremely well together; Claude and Mathilda.

  • Claude has an ability that does two attacks in one turn.

  • Mathilda has an ability that increases attack damage of an ally.

  • You obviously want Mathilda to use her ability on Claude; increasing the power of his double attack.

In a Team Turn system, this is easy peasy. You’ll do this every single time. It’s a great combo! In an Alternating Turn system, you can rarely do this combo. Too much can interrupt the interaction between Claude and Mathilda. What if Claude moves before Mathilda? What if Mathilda buffs Claude and then the enemy moves the only viable Claude target out of his range? If Claude is in range, then obviously you’ll silence Mathilda every time.

Initiative systems allow you to create circumstances where you can perform combos, much more reliably than Alternating Turns. It becomes a strategic option in and of itself. Above is a pretty bad example, but watch the bar with all the faces on the right and you’ll see what I mean about initiative.

Part II: Ventura’s ATB

Initiative felt like the best solution overall. For a game that wants to “Recreate a Dota Battle in a Turn Based Format”, it’s all about combos and synergy between units but it also means interrupting combos and outwitting someone is crucial.

Welcome back to Haft
In Ventura the white number is the Hero’s Initiative value

 

Team turns are too easy for combos, and would rely on excessive mana management or cooldowns to prevent combos being unleashed every single turn. Alternating turns are too hard, removing much of the strategy that I want to capture in Ventura.

Ventura’s turn system is pretty much the most basic form of initiative;

  • Heroes have an initiative score from 0-1000, no Hero has the same score.

  • When players have picked their Heroes, each of the 10 units is sorted in order from the lowest to the highest initiative score

  • The game picks the Hero with the lowest initiative score to have their turn

  • Once the current turn’s hero has taken their move, 1000 initiative is added to their score and -100 initiative is removed from the score of the 9 other Heroes.

Many abilities can affect a Hero’s initiative value, pushing them down the queue or pulling them up. However, there is no initiative value for casting moves or performing actions. If someone doesn’t want to move, that’s their perogative but they won’t gain initiative boosts for it.

Manipulating the Initative bar is a type of strategy in itself, and giving everyone the ability to do it (through inaction) would take away a lot of the flavour of the heroes.

For example, I have Hero designs based around initiative manipulation while other heroes are designed around being naturally slow or vulnerable to initiative changes. Furthermore, remember that paralysis by possibilities? If the initiative bar wasn’t remotely predictable, it wouldn’t solve one of the 3 major issues I have.

The Final Fantasy X example above has initiative values for actions… meaning that every single action has some degree of time to perform; represented on the initiative bar. I don’t want to do this, although it is easy for me to implement if I feel my current system is lacking.

Quick Update

I’ve been working hard on Ventura this week and last, implementing plenty of features. I thought I should give y’all a little GSD update to let you know what I’m working on. Full regular Ventura updates will be posted every Monday on DevPact.com, so check it out.

gsd_second_virtu

Lots of green, as you can see. Ventura‘s systems are very integrated and very simple, so it’s been a joy to work on so far. As mentioned in my latest Monday Update, I’ve been thinking a lot more about ‘Good Code’ and the way I’m programming features. It is a little messy as I add more and more on top of existing systems, but it’s good to keep my eye out for any godawful sinful code practices. I’ve been a slave to copy-pasting code, which would make any seasoned programmer cry!

Most work on Ventura is now based on the Ability System. Not just the coding of it, but also the content. I’m hoping to finish a robust and powerful backend so that the content just creates itself, although I’m sure a lot of the more adventurous abilities will require some custom solutions.

Once the backend is done, I have to create 10 Heroes worth of content before the game is playable. Then it’s technically ready for public eyes, at least in a capacity where I can witness the combat in action and then learn where to take the game before October arrives.

Reducing the scope of Ventura

Hey all,

As you may know already, I’ve been working on a game called Ventura which is a competitive online multiplayer strategy + tactics hybrid. Players start as lone wolf mercenary captains and have to perform tasks for the various city-states around the map to build up their strength, reputation, and gold reserves. Having a powerful mercenary gang give you strength in combat, which is a unique simultaneous turn-based tactical system inspired by the likes of XCOM and Frozen Synapse.

That’s a lot of stuff. In fact it’s probably taken me about 2-3 months to even figure out the best way to explain what Ventura is, since so much is going on. During this time I’ve been working on the prototype, on and off. I built the overworld map, I built dungeon generation, I built the city-screens and the purchasing and equipping of unique mercenaries and gear for them. I built the start of the combat system.

But only the start.

The fact is, I’m struggling right now with it. As it became more advanced and the pieces started to fall into place, a lot of red flags have cropped up. Some are design based, which I feel confident enough to solve, but most are related to programming. I’m not that confident when it comes to code. Progress has stunted drastically and my motivation has dropped along with it. Spending over 60% of the entire dev time just trying to get two characters to not walk into the same tile will have that effect on you!

With 9 weeks to go until the IGF submission closes, I need to pull my finger out and get something playable and awesome as quickly as possible. Which is why…

  • I’ve cut online multiplayer. Network code was always a red flag but the main reason is that I want a same-screen game I can get people to playtest easily for instant feedback
  • I’ve cut all the overworld map and out-of-combat systems. There were plenty of design red flags, but I am still confident it would work. Alas, it required network code and therefore this is a result of the online multiplayer snip.
  • Combat is no longer simultaneous turn-based. While I was very excited about the innovation I was seeking, the coding for it was unbelievably tough and for me to iterate and try out different systems it would take months and not days. It needs to be days at this point.

With these cuts, it’s hard to really say Ventura is the same game… but I’m sticking with the name and going back to an old prototype I gave up on a long time ago, back when even using an array in Game Maker would cause me to wince!

Welcome back to Haft
Welcome back to Haft

Haft was a concept I was building about 2 years ago. My goal was to create a combat system that could provide the thrills and spills of a battle in Dota 2 or League of Legends, but with turn-based and strategic mechanics. Much of the enjoyment I find from Dota is theorycrafting; imagining devastating team compositions, and then pulling off incredible inter-hero combos to crush my foes. You can’t actually do that in Dota unless you’re a cyber-athlete!

Haft was simple.

  • XCOM-style grid-based combat, with less randomness and faster turns
  • Final Fantasy-style ‘Active Time Bar’ initiative system so that turns alternate regularly and are quick and exciting. No sitting around and waiting, please!
  • Dota-style Heroes that are drafted by each player. They have unique abilities and strategies available to them and because they’re drafted there are no clones.

Back then though, I wasn’t capable of building it. Frankly I just sucked! Furthermore, Duelyst was announced and I was petrified that Haft had basically been crushed before it began.

Nowadays I don’t suck as much, and Duelyst went in a completely different direction than what I was expecting. I should never have stopped. There’s a game industry lesson for ya, stick with it… it will be unique just because you’re not the same as them.

So we’re back to Haft. Ventura is becoming Haft. What this means is that I definitely have the capability to finish the game by end-of October, at least from a systems perspective. It should be fun, it should have all content inside, and therefore it’s the best thing I can show the judges before taking the next step and actually hiring people.

It’s sad to lose so much of what made Ventura innovative. I love the medium-term session based gameplay of Dota, and want to see more multiplayer games take that approach. Ventura was my multiplayer-focused Heroes of Might and Magic, and I still really want to play that game!

Nonetheless, there’s still a lot I can do with the ‘New’ Ventura. The initiative system has so many amazing strategic possibilities that I’m relishing the idea of playing games with it. Designing Heroes was pretty much the first thing I ever did that was Game Design related, so this game is just me designing heroes for a living. Fun, fun, fun! On top of that, it’s local multiplayer and therefore it’s technically already playable. Once I have 10 Heroes integrated, I can put it in front of people and assess.

The most important thing to me about this New Ventura though is the fresh lease of life it gives me. It was very difficult banging my head against a wall for 3-4 weeks. I’ve personally not been in a brilliant mental state as well, dealing with a mild depression, so you can imagine how relieved I am to cut out so much of the impossible work and focus on the thing that truly matters… Game Design. This is as pure a game design project as there has ever been, what a great first game to test myself on.