Plenty of work done on Ventura since the weekend, here’s a recap;
Last time I had the Tavern navigation and purchasing functionality implemented. The Store was lagging behind but now I’ve got purchasing items fully implemented too. I haven’t shared any screens of the Store so here’s a little sneak peak;
Unlike Mercenaries, there are more than 4 items in a City at a time, so there’s also a page turning function. However as I mentioned last time, non-Weapon equipment is possibly on the chopping board. Alas, the perils of game development!
The Task UI was the last major City UI menu that needed to be completed. In this category you can view and accept the Tasks that a City State will request of the players. Unlike the Mercenaries and Store, Tasks can’t just be ‘purchased’ for resources… Tasks are how a city creates dynamic content for players to engage with. Tasks need to be generated, unlike Mercenaries and Equipment which are randomized but static (a Mithril Hammer will always be a Mithril Hammer).
I’ll get into the details of Task creation next time, but for now I’ve taken the first major steps towards actually creating gameplay. When simple Tasks are in game, players can visit cities and then compete with each other to complete a Task first and receive the reward.
This is a little bit of a retroactive blog post, so next time I’ll go over what I did today (Day 10) and explain exactly how Ventura will create interesting content for the combatants!
Why do a day’s update when I can do a complete catch-up post, right?
Ventura’s GSD got longer, but greener… and that’s a good kind of growth. Many of the tasks that were originally placed inside were too large and high level. During this week I split many of them into smaller parts and then completed those parts.
The first major feature completion is the lion’s share of the City UI. Ventura has 3 primary places that the player will interact with; the City, the Overworld, and Combat. The City is where players will obtain and accept Tasks, browse and hire Mercenaries, and purchase Equipment. You can see the Merchant is also an option in the main UI, but I’m deciding whether that feature is needed at all.
This weeks work completed the design and functionality of browsing Tasks, browsing Equipment, and browsing & hiring Mercenaries. Tasks need to be acceptable, and Equipment purchasable, but that utilizes much of the same logic as hiring Mercenaries so they should be quick tasks.
The Squad UI is accessible from the Overworld and is the place to see your current recruits and interact with them; be it equipping items, learning their powers, or reading their lore. This is a pretty complex UI, particularly with Ventura‘s controller focus, so it was the longest task for my Sunday’s development time.
A difficult UI design challenge is the limitation I have with regards to full screen UI. As the game is in real time, and your goal is to spend your limited time wisely, players can’t have their main view blocked by a UI. They can’t be stationary spending precious seconds reading Lore, Ability information, or calculating attributes. The Squad UI has a large amount of information in it, but it must be accessible without preventing the player’s travels on the Overworld.
While I don’t have an ‘auto-run’ feature built yet, this Squad UI is designed with that in mind. It must be informative without preventing progress. Imagine riding from Venice to Milan, with one eye on the overworld map and the other spent analyzing how best to equip your team. This is a better situation than feeling awful for standing still while you tinker with your troops.
Each character in your squad can be opened up to view their detailed information, while also enabling the equipping of items.
One great thing about building this feature is that it involved a ton of database work and planning that will assist with many other parts in the game. Building UI is such a rewarding design task because it solidifies the ideas you have in your head and makes them tangible; from here you can really assess if it’s working or if they need a rethink.
For example, in the Squad UI I’m forced to use the Left-Stick to navigate through menus. I really didn’t want to have to do this. I wanted to use Face Buttons for everything, which you can see from my City UI screen. Alas that is not possible here, so now I’ve realized I need to go back to the City UI and convert the Face Button design to the Left Stick navigation. Consistency is crucial in UI design.
The other rewarding thing about UI is that it’s all about displaying information from your game. This sounds bloody obvious but here’s the lesson; In order to display the information, you need to access the information.
Creating UI often involves the same logical links and information management that will be needed when the game systems are built. For examples, because my Unit Details UI can display Basilio’s modified Attack value, I can call the same variables and use the same processes to modify his Attack value in the Combat System. Therefore building a comprehensive UI is also building important parts of the Combat System!
A game design is often like a block of marble that you need to chip away at until you’ve got the perfect product (if perfection is possible!). When Ventura sprung up in my head, it had a lot of features. While designing and building the game, I’ve realized that some features could probably be cut.
Leveling Up Units: What’s the point? Isn’t acquiring Equipment the same thing? There’s no point building a completely new UI and system for leveling up a character when it doesn’t add much to the game
The Merchant: Currently this is on the chopping block, but is not removed yet. It’s pending because it’s based on a more complex City system that involves reputation management. If the game is complicated enough without reputation management, then I don’t really need the Merchant. In fact, the Merchant feature (which would involve the trading of precious Goods to earn more money) feels a lot like a post-launch expansion feature.
Helm/Armor: As you can see from the UI above, Units can equip a Weapon, Helm, and Armor. But why have 3 categories? If I want players fighting to obtain items, why would I triple the pool of items that are available? This is an economy issue and something that might be needed or might not. If Units can just equip a single item, that may or may not be enough depth to bring the game’s ‘competitive shopping’ to life. This is another feature on the chopping block, and it would save me a lot of time on balance and content creation.
Public Domain Jam
The deadline for PDJam occurred yesterday and there was no way Ventura was ready to be gamified. There isn’t even a combat system! Nonetheless, do check out the submissions and support this wonderful Jam idea.
While I’m actually on Day 5 of Ventura, for some reason I haven’t posted anything… so here’s Day 1!
Let’s start with the GSD…
Ventura is a game about riding around a fictional representation of Renaissance Italy, visiting City-States in order to receive Tasks, recruit Mercenaries, purchase Equipment, and buy Commodities. This week I’ve been focusing on UI, as much of the game is spent navigating menus.
The City Screen is where most of the magic happens. It is here that you receive Tasks which can be completed for Gold. That Gold is then spent on hiring new Mercenaries and equipping them, increasing your strength and allowing you to do more rewarding Tasks and combat other players.
Day 1 was mainly the layout design and very simple navigation from opening the City Screen to entering the Tavern.
If you’re wondering where Basilio’s beautiful art is from; it’s Fire Emblem: Awakening. While I haven’t settled on an art style yet, I do like this modern manga look and a similar style was also seen in Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes
There’s just something I really like about the vibrant colours and diverse manga style combined with the more realistic proportions and less fantastical theme of… you know… real life!
Art is a long way away from being produced, so back to the meat ‘n potatoes…
The Overworld is where you’ll spend another significant portion of your time. Here you will receive the latest news (on the top left), can browse the mini-map (on the bottom left), and adjust your combat formation and units (on the bottom right). Combat is the most non-designed portion of the game so far, so I’ll be leaving that for later.
As I’m actually on Day 5, I have a lot more to show you… but I’ll probably give you the week’s update on Monday.
I’m quite pleased with how accessible the coding is for a 4X game. As I’m not delving into AI, it’s all a lot of UI systems and its turn based nature makes bug fixing and general logic so much easier! Therefore it’s very buildable.
However the problem is with design, iteration, and a massively convoluted assessment status. Remember why I cancelled Uffizi and Bard Life? Those games took too long to find the fun. PA4X has the same problem. It will take me weeks and months of design before it’s at a stage where players can say they enjoy the game. On top of that, it’s also a lot trickier to balance and design systems for a competitive 4X than a city-builder or idle game, so it just doesn’t make much sense to continue with it at this stage of The Plan.
No greenlight for this game, I’m afraid!
So where am I now?
I’m 11 days before my deadline for The Plan. The Plan was created to help me find a candidate for IGF’s 2015 submission in October. June 1st is when I need to begin working on ‘The Game’. Here are the prototypes I have built during The Plan;
Project BR: A multiplayer survival deathmatch game where you’re given a procedurally generated character and must complete dramatic quests while attempting to survive. Status: Needs an iteration loop.
Grid Optimizer: A simple puzzle game based on optimizing grids. Status: Ready for initial playtests
Ludum Dare 32 Followup: I didn’t discuss this at all on the blog, but Ludum Dare 32 did give me a good candidate game that’s worth investigating. Status: Needs an iteration loop.
PA4X: See above. Status: Red Light
Candidate 3: See below!
As you can see, Project BR, Grid Optimizer and Ludum Dare 32 are all technically in the running.
I have very mixed personal opinions about all of them, which I’ll get into on June 1st. Nonetheless, I still want another candidate game as I’m not satisfied with this selection.
Public Domain Jam / Candidate 3
My final shot at a completely blue sky idea before The Plan ends is Public Domain Jam.
Candidate 3 is a game which I want to get barely playable for the Public Domain Jam deadline, but it is also much more than just a fire-and-forget Game Jam project. I’m aiming for two birds with one stone. A solid Game Jam entry as well as an IGF Candidate. Funnily enough, Public Domain Jam has brought me full circle. I’m back on Machiavelli for this one!
Ventura is the codename for this project, and it’s back to the Renaissance with me. Linking to Public Domain Jam’s goal of being inspired by publicly available written works, I’m using Machiavelli’s writings on the use of mercenaries in Renaissance Italy as the inspiration for this new game project.
Ventura is extremely exciting to me as it brings together so many things I find intensely interesting in the field of Game Design.
It is a medium-term session multiplayer contest, akin to a Dota or League of Legends. I want the game to last around 30-40 minutes.
It involves competing with others, but not just through combat. Economy and strategic development decisions play a massive part.
In Ventura you are one of 4 mercenary captains who is tasked with protecting the City-States of Italy from external threats. You compete with others to fulfil quests and contracts, in the same world.
It’s similar to an MMO RPG quest region, but the core game is built around the idea of making it competitive. You compete for fortune, you compete to find the greatest recruits, you compete to acquire the most powerful loot. Everything that spawns in the game is limited.
When PvE is done, towards the end of the match, PvP begins and you take all that preparation and strategy into a fight to prove who is the strongest Capitano di Ventura.
Like Dota, where you experience an entire RPG in a single session, Ventura gives you a similar experience; but as a distilled MMORPG.
Reading it back now, it sounds crazily ambitious, but I believe I have a lot of very simple-to-build systems that become interesting based on the context of competitive play and a shared world. I’ve also got a combat system in my head that will be very entertaining. Then again, most of it is still in my head at this point… and that’s always too early of a stage to judge viability.
From now until June 1st I will be working on Ventura. Unlike with PA4X, I want to bring back the GSD and share the dev diary style posts I was doing previously.
Then, for better or for worse, I’m picking a game project that’s getting submitted to IGF 2015. Scary times, but unbelievably exciting too!
You’d never have thought my New Year’s Resolution was “stop making promises I can’t keep”… actually, you probably would because resolutions are made to be broken! This is a long-winded apology for not having a Ludum Dare post-mortem. But worry not, as plenty of stuff has been done.
Project Grid Optimizer is pretty much done from a core mechanic standpoint. There’s plenty of room for growth, adding more variations and mechanical tweaks that absolutely explode the content (for free!). The core mechanic is there though, so it’s ready for The Playtest whenever I get around to packaging all these prototypes I’ve been building.
Candidate 2 – Post-Apocalyptic 4X
Last week, before I started Grid Optimizer, I mentioned that I was delaying my original Candidate 2; Post-Apocalyptic 4X. Grid Optimizer gave me some easy work so I could rest up and get my head back in the game, so now PA4X is knee deep in development!
What is the game?
I’ve got 4 core tenets I want to design for with PA4X
The whole project spawned from the frustrating situation that arises from trying to play Civilization V online. 4X games are wonderful, they’re almost a perfect genre for me as a strategy game fan. I wish they had good multiplayer, but there are so many problems with traditional 4X design that create an abrasive experience. I want to try and fix that.
New Town Fun
One of my favourite parts of Civilization is finding a location for a new settlement. It’s such a perfect mix of all the 4Xs.
Explore: You have to find the location by traversing the map and uncovering the fog of war
Exploit: You know how big your city will grow and what you need, you’re trying to find that perfect mix of hexes to place your city on to exploit the most benefits.
Expand: Cities increase your production, as well as the land you control on the map
Exterminate: While exploring and settling, you need to exterminate any threats along the way. Your city’s position can also be aggressive or defensive, determining whether you plan to exterminate or prevent extermination versus another player.
The problem I find with Civilization is that this fun part of the game very quickly becomes redundant. The map fills up quickly, and every new city you found has less of a return than the last (ahh, the law of diminishing returns). It also majorly increases the turn time.
Stories Endless Legend did a wonderful job building lore and introducing ideas like Quests into the 4X genre. However, Crusader Kings II is more the sort of thing I’m looking for. Not many 4X games tell the tale of your daily struggles, the personal management of your people, and the importance of collaborative teams of characters and not the ‘One Great Man’ emphasis.
I want PA4X to be story-telling machine… developing on concepts like City States and Neutral Factions in Civ V/Endless Legend, using inspiration from Crusader Kings II to develop not only interesting stories but interesting characters that make every playthrough unique.
4X theming has been so focused on growing massive and crushing everything beneath your might, that I feel there’s room for a game in a more survival style. I want the world to feel brutal, not aspirational, I want the people to be struggling to rebuild what they once had, not aiming for the moon (literally). While PA4X is multiplayer focused, I want it to be a struggle just to survive the game, so that even if you’re left behind by your competition, you still have a sense of individual achievement if you can make it to the end.
What I’m going for in PA4X is a sort of Civilization for a Walking Dead world. No zombies, because I’m sick of them, but similar struggles to lead disparate groups of traumatized people and survive in the horrible new world that has been left to them. I want players to become a Rick Grimes… or The Governor, both powerful leaders who use their own style and resources to build their version of ‘civilization’.
So with all that said, how’s progress?
The non-GSD I won’t be GSDing PA4X because I’m trying to develop it in a 3 day burst and there’s no point in a day-to-day update.
Day 1 was spent hooking up Grids by Gamelogic which automates an absolute ton of work that I’d otherwise have to learn and implement for the Hex grid system. I’ve got an extremely loose generation system working and a tiny amount of content to prove that the functions work.
Scroll around a generated hex map
Click tiles to designate them for farming (this will eventually be restricted around your ‘city’)
End the turn to generate resources from tiles
Day 2 felt much bigger although I’m not sure if I actually got more stuff in or not. It’s just nice to see it look more like a game and less a Match-3 puzzle! On Day 2 I hooked up a temporary ‘do everything’ UI that handles the unlocking, buying, and management of everything in your ‘city’. UI is always a big pain to implement in every project I’ve ever worked on, so I’m glad to have got this core functionality in.
Open the ‘Do Everything’ tab
Highlight items available to see their information
Click items to start the build process
Finish the build process (although you don’t actually get the ‘building’ yet!)
Highlight resources in the top bar to see some info there too
I’m actually still on Day 2, so depending on how I feel this evening I might even be able to get some more done!
One thing I’ve been worried about is just general design work. 4X games are tough to design, despite looking very simple in terms of the logic. Economic balance and scaling the numbers and mechanics over hundreds of turns (while keeping the game competitive) is my biggest challenge. I believe I have some core mechanics that really shake up the formula, and that’s what this prototype is here to test