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.

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…


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


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.


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!

Holidays & The Future

Sorry for the silence, have been on holidays. Had a wonderful wedding to attend in Poland before a delicious and boozy stay in Prague. Mmm-mmm!

Something you might actually care about is that I’ve just built a new PC. It’s powerful… very very powerful. My plan is to start working on some Game Design focused Let’s Plays, although I’m sure I’ll be pretty bad at the start. Let’s Plays, Design Articles, as well as solid work on Ventura… this is my plan until the end of the year.

It’s a very exciting time and hopefully it will help build my ‘brand’ and spread my network, while improving my own skills and design abilities!

I’ll probably be starting properly next week, with a couple of days this week to reacquaint myself with Ventura and let you all know if I’ve finally fixed the damned clashing!


The Ember Conflict is live!

A little break from Redlight today, as The Ember Conflict has been released worldwide. I’ve been working at Substantial Games on TEC for about 10 months, so I’m proud to link it here on my blog

The Ember Conflict

Give it a spin and let me know what you think!

Redlight will continue from Monday, have a great weekend


GSD – Update 1

Good day!

A very productive weekend on Bard Life has resulted in some major Shit getting Done for the GSD.

GSD Update 1
GSD Update 1

Phwoar! Look at all that green!

This weekend I had my first experience with particle effects, which was a blast (literally and figuratively). It’s a lot of fun to create particle effects and they have such a massive impact on my game, which was distinctly static until that point. I’ve still got a long way until I reach Cube Clicker levels, but it’s definitely helped a lot… I can see why people like clicking a lot more now.

On top of that, I added the basics of the inventory system… so now every item you buy can be equipped for cosmetic customization. A small feature but I think players will love it.

Finally I fixed some bugs and a bunch of usability improvements were added. The map is now completely done from a functionality standpoint, so that’s a good milestone.


Global Game Jam – Jammed Out!

Good day!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was planning to take part in Global Game Jam… and I did! I didn’t submit a game but I totally participated.

The theme was What do we do now? and I was a big fan. It immediately filled my imagination with post-disaster scenarios (of all shapes and sizes) as well as rule changes and cooperation/competition in a multiplayer environment. Love it.

My game was basically Tenya Wanya Teens on a regular controller, for 4 people.


It differed from TWT in that your un-needed actions could generally affect the arena helping you to perform the necessary actions. The actions themselves were supposed to be a little more complex than those in TWT. My ‘Fart’ action involved you farting outside the radius of other players to avoid being discovered, it would also leave a little gas cloud that would disable other players that ran into it. The ‘Collect’ action involved picking up Gold from Mines that spawned in the arena and depositing them in the bank. The ‘Destroy’ action involves using dynamite to blow up Aliens in Nodes that spawned in the arena. As you can see, the interaction between actions even when the arena is not explicitly asking for them is the dynamic play in my game.





Unfortunately the game became massive very quickly. I rapidly built all the interactions, which were working great, but hit a large snag when it came to integrating animations and art assets. I’ve never used animation in Game Maker before, so it took a lot of effort and hitting my head against a wall to figure out.

I could have done it. But I didn’t.

After three Ludum Dares, Asylum Jam, and my own development over the last 6-8 months… I’m just jammed out! I definitely didn’t come into the GGJ with the right mentality, choosing to work alone so I could make something wanted to make, rather than work with others in a more collaborative way. It’s the pain of being a Game Designer at a Game Jam. Your usual role on teams is to make work for others, which is ok if you’re solo or in a company. At a Game Jam though, no-one is there to be a tool that a designer can use… everyone is a designer in a Game Jam.

Combining the massive workload, lack of motivation, and a general preference for Ludum Dare’s more underground, peer reviewed, and less flashy format, I just decided “You know what? I don’t want to kill myself to finish this game”. So I didn’t.

Above is basically the only thing worth sharing from the jam, apart from the idea itself which I think was fun. I made my first ever Pixel Art! It’s an awkward little dude who is supposed to run around punching people, farting, dancing, dying, being caught in a net, being farted on etc. I only got 3 of them done.


Next time I’ll have an update for you on Bard Life, as I’ve got 2 whole days to work on it coming up!


The ‘not crazy but pretty wild’ Weekend – Asylum Jam 2014

Hey guys,

It’s been ages since I last posted, so I’ll quickly explain that. Firstly myself, Chris McMath & Daniel Arnold-Mist (my partners on Shanghai for Ludum Dare 29) and Tobias Baumann took part in the 2014 Asylum Jam. That was one weekend of work lost. Then I’ve been searching for a new apartment, taking out the last 2 weeks too. And while I actually had a semi-free Sunday yesterday… I couldn’t get myself motivated so I just checked out Vain Glory (I’ll probably post about that another day) and a little Endless Legend (ditto with the post).

In fact, Eternal Struggle will be going through somewhat of a hiatus until January 2015 as production on The Ember Conflict picks up, Ludum Dare 31 takes place, and then I go back to Europe for a much overdue holiday over the Christmas period. Instead of feeling guilty all the time about doing no work, I’m going to just forget about it until the new year and perhaps do a few blogs along the way. Don’t worry though, the game is still coming along nicely… in my head 😉

Onto the Weekend

Over the last few weeks, something pretty magical happened for me and the Asylum Jam guys. For some unknown reason, our gamejam game went viral! I’d usually say semi-viral as I’m well aware of how massive everything can get on the Internet these days, but our game has had at least 1.6 million views on various YouTube Let’s Plays. To us that’s pretty amazing and the reception to Lullaby has been downright staggering. Multiple Let’s Plays, a Kill Screen article, featured on the PC Gamer website, and just a ton of overwhelmingly positive feedback.


Screen Grab of the Lullaby page on Gamejolt
Screen Grab of the Lullaby page on Gamejolt


Click the image above if you want to check out the game yourself. If you’re too busy, watch a Let’s Play! I’ll link some below.

After all the horrid (and quite frankly tedious) GamerGate drama over the last couple of months, these few weeks of wonderful people playing our game and having a great time (and the millions of viewers enjoying it too) has really given us a new perspective on ‘gamers’ and the community. We didn’t do any marketing. We just posted on the Gamejolt website and the Internet did it all for us. From the first Let’s Play by CDawg (with 2 subscribers at the time) all the way up to Squeezie’s massive 3 million subscriber base, we saw people genuinely having fun and creating entertainment using our game and honestly it was the most satisfying experience I’ve ever had in my short game design career… even compared to when our team at Playfish hit massive revenue targets and engagement metrics for SimCity Social.

It’s definitely my first taste of ’15 minutes of fame’ and I’m hoping that one day I can release something with just as much, if not more, support from the gaming community.


There are a lot of things to be discussed about this whole crazy 3 weeks (although the first weekend was particularly wild).

  • Gamejolt
    What a great website. I’m sure the featuring of the Asylum Jam and our very late submission helped a lot (we were on the front page for almost 2 weeks), but it seems that most of the early Let’s Players discovered Lullaby through Gamejolt. It seems that the website, which I’d never heard of until Asylum Jam, is a first-stop sort of place for anyone looking for free games. I can imagine that the writers of the Kill Screen and PC Gamer articles check Gamejolt regularly to see if there’s anything interesting to play.Honestly I’ve read in lots of places that websites like Indie DB are essential to have a presence on, but I kind of dismissed it. How big is the indie game community? Apparently it’s massive, as Gamejolt has proven. Without any marketing we have 3.4k plays for 8.5k views for our tiny 48 hour Gamejam submission… and as you can tell, some of those views spawned Let’s Plays in the millions of viewers.Game discoverability is the most painful part of the industry these days (unless you’re being sent death threats, I suppose) and the experience with Gamejolt has really relieved me a little.

  • Let’s Plays
    I knew Let’s Plays were good. I’ve read in a lot of places that they’re growing in importance. What these few weeks have told us is that they’re incredibly powerful. I’m not sure how much information sharing happens in the Let’s Play community but it appears that from CDawg’s first Let’s Play we received bigger and bigger personalities playing our game. Did they all just stumble upon Gamejolt independently or did they see their rivals playing our game and decide to do one themselves? I’m pretty sure it was the former, but in the case of huge games and personalities like PewDiePie I think there is probably a lot of cross-pollination.Game journalism has had a hell of a lot of issues recently and it feels like Let’s Plays are really the natural format for evaluating whether a game is worth purchasing or not. Unfortunately for Lullaby, we have a very short and linear puzzle game that gets completely spoiled if someone watches a Let’s Play.Obviously Horror helps with Let’s Plays. LPs are not really about the game, they’re about the personality playing them. The game needs to give the personality enough tools to create entertainment for their followers.
  • Game Design X Let’s Play
    Linked to the last point, Lullaby is great for letting personalities shine through…

    • The Baby
      This is number one. The baby itself is incredibly unique (I never would have thought it, but looking after a baby really hasn’t been done that much). Looking after a child, protecting it from something weird that you can’t explain or stop was the core design for Lullaby. For Let’s Players, this is great because they have a unique game that allows them to show their caring side. No-one wants to see a baby in trouble, so it created a sort of mothering/fathering instinct in everyone that played. In fact, only one person who completed the game in the Let’s Plays left the baby in the house when they escaped… even though there was nothing forcing them to take her.
    • The Horror
      When Chris McMath and myself were concepting out ideas for Asylum Jam, our key idea was having something to protect… something vulnerable, and that you had to put it in harm’s way to be able to progress. I hate jump scare games, I don’t think it’s intelligent horror and I can’t play something like that (physically I can’t do it!). Moving the danger from the player agent onto an NPC helped a lot with that and the tension and release of Lullaby is in the time pressure and environmental ‘obstacles’ as you try to find the next part of the puzzle and get back to the baby in time. In fact, we even referred to the baby as just a ‘timer’ because mechanically that’s what she was.The Kill Screen article is definitely the result of this different type of horror. It tapped into real fears that parents experience and that non-parents think parents experience (honestly though it wasn’t our intention to design the game like that). It felt very different to other games. Seriously though, I think that the vagueness of the whole experience (no raison d’etre) really helped with the interpretations of the game as an artistic piece. We weren’t 100% trying to be completely vague 😉
    • The Twist
      People loved the twist. As a dev team, we kind of added it as a joke. The earliest version of the game was just a regular “you’re the good guy” experience. Then someone joked about a tongue-in-cheek M.Night Shylaman style twist where “YOU’RE THE MONSTER ALL ALONG”. Even though it was a little jokey, we thought it would be a very unexpected twist and a great ending to the game (which would be very anti-climactic without it). It worked. Really well. The Twist is what’s mentioned in almost every positive comment and what changed Lullaby from a good gamejam game into a great gamejam game. The reason why I think it worked so well, and what made it so successful, is that it managed to use a video game narrative in a way that no other media form could do. When you realized you were kidnapping the baby, after spending 10-20 minutes trying to keep it safe… the emotional shock is pretty huge! You thought you were doing good…. you thought you were getting better at saving the child, but you were actually getting better at kidnapping a child. It was nice.

Overall these 3 points created a game that really worked well with Let’s Plays. It was unique, it allowed unique emotional reactions, and everyone likes seeing a ‘mind blown’ incident live on camera.


What next?
While we’ve discussed doing more with Lullaby, I’m not sure if any of us really have the time or motivation to work more on it. Turning it into a full game would be a pretty gruelling experience. We’d need to create a new environment that has more than just ‘find a key, unlock a door’ mechanics. The design of the Darkness and how difficult the game is would have to be much better. We made the darkness just come from the parents’ bedroom at the end of the hall, but that made the game way too easy when the baby was placed downstairs in the kitchen. Just one small example of major systems changes.

Don’t get me started on how much work it would be to animate the baby, the darkness, and overall polish of the entire environment!

Perhaps we’ll do something with babies again, or horror placed on an NPC instead of the player character… but I don’t see Lullaby 2 happening any time soon.