Role-Playing Games and Leveling Up – Day 2

It’s almost midnight.

Gotta get this post done before tomorrow.
So I can write one for tomorrow too.

 

Let’s pick up where we left off! Yesterday, I finished off by detailing some decisions the player could make regarding his character. He’s only five and hasn’t used a bow before. He knows how they work, of course, but it’s going to take some practice to get going. So, the player heads out to the back yard and starts looking from something to shoot. Maybe there’s a scare crow to serve as a target for them. We can make the young character’s learning experience a bit more novel, show him struggling to get the basics of using the bow the first few times.
Maybe he isn’t strong enough and can’t get the string drawn enough to propel the arrow to the target, or he’s unsteady and can’t aim well. Whatever the case, we can start the player’s understanding of their character here to give a broader contrast to how he will be after he has developed more. Use of a very heavy shift between two extremes in the game can give a sharp contrast and help to make the player feel more accomplished, like they actually did something.

So, the young boy is almost a mighty warrior, right? He’s getting there, for sure. Yesterday, I mentioned using events that are less-than-desirable to create a more memorable experience for the player. I demonstrated the smaller end of that spectrum, but I think we can touch on the very opposite of it today.

Let’s fast forward a bit. The player is a few hours into the game and his character has aged a few years, to represent the amount of learning and work the player has put in. One day, game-father asks the player’s character if he’d like to learn how to hunt. Heading out into the woods, game-dad starts talking about animal tracks and spoor, showing the player how to spot these things on the ground. To support this, animals would leave tracks and other markings behind. Supporting this character’s instruction with actual mechanics will go a long ways to tying the whole experience together.

While he’s showing you about the tracks, you hear a scream from the farm house! Game-dad takes off for the house, leaving the player alone. For the sake of my sleepiness, I’ll cover only the circumstance of following game-pa. He’s got a head-start, but as you come to the edge of the woods by the house, the player is given glimpses of the soldiers and has been able to see smoke overhead. As you get closer, you can hear the fire crackling and the soldiers talking. If the player breaks out into the yard, he’ll probably be killed. If the player doesn’t think so and tries it, they’ll find out quickly that the game isn’t going to hold back because of poor decision making.

So, they have a few options. They can evade the troops, try to sneak into the house. When they go inside, they find their game-dad and game-mom laying on the deck. Game-mother is already dead and game-daddy is bleeding out from a nasty looking stab wound. There’s a soldier at the opposite end of the room, watching out the window. The player can choose to kill him or to just lay low, with experience granted the respective skill sets, without notifying the player, just like before.

If they approach game-dad, he tries to talk, but only coughs up blood, rather loudly. The guard in the room, if not dead, turns around and sees the player, but hesitates. We can always tie him into later game events by giving him an identifying feature: a scar, an eye patch, something to that effect. But for now, we’ll just assume that he doesn’t really want to kill a little kid. He motions for you to run away. Game-dad’s larger-than-your bow is on the table and his knife. The player isn’t told to grab them, but they can if they think to.

The player isn’t explicitly told to run away, they can still draw their bow at him, which would force him to attack you. So, let’s assume the player runs out and heads for the little shelter the family horse is under, dozing off. Assuming the player had learned how to ride the horse in those couple of in-game years we so conveniently skipped over at the beginning of this post, they can take the horse and ride in the direction of town.

I’ll probably come back to this tomorrow and remember why I don’t write when I’m tired, but oh well.
Take it or leave it.
You’ll get something better after I sleep.

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Role-Playing Games and Leveling Up

With no motivation to work on Marpeg forthcoming, have a brainstorming/design post instead.

Playing Skyrim (And Games in General) to Learn
I was playing Skyrim yesterday, revisiting old mods and things. While playing I was once again struck by the feeling that the game suffers from the same issue as most any RPG. A character at “Level 1″ is pretty weak. For example, let’s assume I’ve made a Nord character. He’s male, nearly six feet tall and full of da mussels. His name is Grognak the Barbarian. Despite that fact that he is completely ripped, he can barely take care of himself in a fight without guzzling down one more magic potion. Now, there are mods that adjust the character’s weight based on how much combat he takes part in, effectively giving the player the ability to build muscle over time. He’s still weak in the beginning though. For me, it doesn’t stand to reason that someone as muscled as these characters, in his (or her) mid-twenties, living in a land as harsh as Skyrim hasn’t already learned the skills he (or she) needs to take care of business.

That’s always been the thing about RPGs that has bothered me. The level scale ranges from “Weak and just scraping by” to “Legendary motherfucker”, without any real reason to have the scale starting so low. Part of the issue arises from the fact that if your “Sword Swinging Number” isn’t high enough, a three foot razor-sharp piece of iron doesn’t hurt your enemies. The way damage is calculated and applied in Skyrim is pretty esoteric. We haven’t seen too many major innovations in the combat in RPGs for a long time.

Now, for PC players, mods are a fantastic way to tailor your experience and for me they’ve been my avenue of approach for correcting these issues. I got so fed up with Skyrim’s lack luster mechanics, I even tried my hand at learning in-depth modding for it, but didn’t get very far. There were so many issues I had with Skyrim, ranging from large mechanic ones to small, but important details, that I found it best to just start planning my own games instead.

A Word on The Value and Sharing of Ideas
Many young developers are pretty loath to share their game ideas and concepts, for fear that someone will steal them. David Rosen makes a pretty good point over on the Wolfire blog, I’d really recommend giving it a look. Little bit of detour here, but reading is good for you anyways. Onward to idea sharing!

Ideas!
So, how can we maybe fix these problems? There are as many possibilities as developers can dream up, but here are my thoughts for what they’re worth.

First off, let’s address the largest problem I’ve seen in the leveling imbalance. My initial thought is that everyone can relate to the trials, joys and experiences of growing up. We all know how it feels to be young, naive and an open book, searching for knowledge and skill. Or something like that. My initial solution to the imbalance would be to start the game out with the player taking the role of a young child, around five or six years old. The player is presented with choices, situations and challenges that will build their character’s knowledge and skill base. For example, the player begins the game and his father takes the family cart to the market to sell some extra crop. When he comes back, he’s brought home a small bow for you! You can decide to accept it or ask for something else. Maybe your father can’t provide a toy sword for you, but he leaves the bow in your room, just in case. Either way, should the player take the bow out and try to use it, he’ll find that he has no arrows. This brings us to the next idea.

Let’s address the disconnect between the player’s desires and making a strong impact when it comes to story and situations. Most players want to be an epic badass who kills everyone and shit generally goes to their favour. We’ve seen it. A lot. Bethesda tends to pander to this, allowing the player to freely disregard consequences in many cases.
When things don’t go quite as planned, we’re able to revert the game to a checkpoint of quicksave to try again until we get what we want. But why not present the player with less-than-desireable circumstances? These tend to make the most memorable scenes in games, usually leading to inclusion in “Top 10 Saddest Moments in Gaming” videos on Youtube. But they don’t all have to be massive, traumatic things.
Let’s get back to our example, to demonstrate the small things that aren’t perfect. So, the player has a small bow their father brought back, whether they actually wanted it or not. Their father can’t get them something else, so they’ll have to make due. They go outside to play, but realize they have no arrows. Damn. They can go to father for help, or try to be independent.

So, let’s assume the player doesn’t know what to do and goes to ask Dad for help. Dad says he can’t buy any, but his father, your ole grandpappy, taught him how to make them. He’d be proud to pass the knowledge on to you. So, the player gets a little experience in the speech skill. In order to keep the game immersive and fluid, we won’t show the player this skill’s proficiency. They’ll just have to find out how well their character can interact with others by trying stuff out. So, game-father grabs his knife and takes you outside. He grabs some feathers from the coop and some wood. He shows you how to carve the shaft straight, tie the feathers to it and how to sharpen the tip.

In this process, the player has learned a new game mechanic: Crafting! The option was never truly locked to them. If they’d figured out that they needed a knife, some wood and feathers, they could have done this on their own, but we can still reward them for asking for their father’s help. Another, unquantifiable factor, is that they’ve been taught something by this character, which is going to help in building an emotional attachment to him. You can’t put a number on moral choices or emotional attachment and these factors have to be left up to the feel of them.

The flip side to this is that they already know what it takes to make an arrow, whether from real life experience or from having played the game before. So, they bypass father and just take his knife outside to make some arrows. Let’s give them a little experience in stealth or theft, since they didn’t even ask to borrow the knife. They’ve made some arrows and are well on their way to becoming a mighty archer.
What do you guys think? Does this sound like something you’d enjoy playing? Anything you can think of that might improve these ideas?

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Back on the Block, Block

Just flew back home from 29 Palms a few days ago and boy are my arms tired.

Anyways, finally got out of there. Should have a lot more time to work on Marpeg and <._FLANK/> now, as well as not being depressed all of the time and getting some motivation back. Not much of an update here, beyond having made a teensy bit of progress on loading characters from a text file. Still not completely working, but it’s getting there. Should be done before long, now.
Since this post is so empty, have some pone.

such friendship wow

such adorable

 

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Point Blank Flank and Prototyping

I’m a step closer to branching into <._FLANK/>, with external data loading almost ready.
While I’m pretty beat from horseback riding yesterday, I do have enough energy to put some recent ideas down and continue brainstorming. So, this post is going to be about prototyping and the role <._FLANK/> is going to play in the larger development of Marpeg as a game and Colivien as an engine.
A Word On Protoyping
Prototyping in game development is a bit different than in engineering terms. When we talk about prototyping in games, it’s more of a trial-and-error method of seeing what works well and what doesn’t. Alpha and Beta development is more analogous to engineering prototypes. Onward!
Brainstorming
I’ve come up with a couple small ideas during downtime that I’d like to play with. I know a lot of young, budding developers will keep their ideas to themselves because they’re worried someone will steal them. There’s an article on this that I encourage everyone to read, but for now suffice to say that I don’t care to share because these ideas can only improve text-based games anyways. If someone ‘steals’ the idea or feature, then so be it. Spreading it around can only make the genre better-equipped to tell stories in an interesting way.

Non-Hero Player
The first is to put the player in a non-hero role or to take that hero role somewhere it doesn’t usually tread. Companions and followers in most games are often watered down, underwhelming and boring to interact with. Instances of even half-decent buddy AI are few and far between, but there are examples to draw from.

One half of the buddy AI issue is the sole reason that <._FLANK/> has four characters, but only three of them are playable. The fourth character is the main character. He’s the best overall of the team and is calling the shots. If the player tries to push against his orders too much, he’ll question their loyalty and will become hesitant to assign them more important tasks. This may be an unorthodox arrangement for the player, but I feel like it could lead to some very cool experiences. For <._FLANK/>, this isn’t an optional set up. However, Marpeg will not often force the player to be stuck where they don’t want to be. For roleplayers, this could be a fun exciting feature though.

The other half of this dichotomy is to put the player into a lead position, but to do a better job than is standard. Similar to Last of Us, the player may come into the position of having to watch over a weaker or less capable character as well. There are plenty of instances in which this has gone horribly wrong.

One scene in Sniper Elite V2 comes to mind in which the player is presented with a character he must save from execution, which alone was a new challenge in the game. Once freed, the character even remembers to grab a gun before taking cover. As the character moves through the buildings and down the street to safety, the player is presented with a line of fire that the ally rarely, if at all, obstructs accidentally. At one point, while I was reloading, a couple of enemy troops rushed into a room the buddy AI was moving through. I thought the AI would crap out on me, but he actually killed them both pretty effectively and without it looking stilted in the way a scripted kill would have.

I also played with a mod for Skyrim that added a lot of interest to the followers. Of course, having 5 buddies along meant I’d crank the difficulty up to Master to keep it challenging, but it was one of the coolest things to have a few projectiles whiz by and kill an enemy as I was rushing ahead or to be volleying at larger enemies. The mod even rewarded the player for having effective allies by dealing out ‘Synergy Points’ when an ally fought, allowing my character to progress even when his buddies were snagging a lot of the kills.

Real Time Decision Making
One of my biggest pet peeves in text-based games is how everything comes to a stand still when you aren’t doing anything. Now, not everyone types at sixty words per minute zero errors, so I’d have to make a way for the game to calibrate to each player’s typing skill. Regardless, the method is to have characters act upon environment stimuli in real time. If the player moves into a room and then stops doing anything, an enemy in the room might get the drop on them.

Because the game messages are already very concise and relay only the necessary details to the player up front, that shouldn’t cause issues. However, typing is another thing. The commands may be short, but I still planned tweaks in case a bit more time was needed, such as halving the speed at which the other actors make decisions while the player is typing, along with considerations for any exploits in that system.

Ambiance
To enhance the feel of the game worlds and experiences made with Colivien, I wanted to experiment with subtle, background ambiance as well. Just because a game lacks visual interface doesn’t mean it shouldn’t include some ambient sound or subtle background music. Use of sound like this with no visuals can have a more powerful impact alone, given the correct sounds are used with good judgement on the situation.

Better Tracking of Character Relationships
In order to fulfill the goal of having deep, rich character interaction, I’ll need a method of tracking each character in the game and how they feel about every other character they meet. My initial instinct was to organize it similarly to how a physics simulation is modeled.

I’ll use the image below to extrapolate. Each dot is a single character, containing data on personality, strengths, weaknesses and such. Each line is a stored relationship. It contains more detailed information on how each character feels about another. Each character stores a different map of lines than the other. So, one Farmer Erin might be rather unhappy with Farmer Fran right now, but Fran might not even know that something is amiss between the two.

The filled polygon represents of group of characters who are associated with one-another.
The brighter lines in the center show the leader of each groups’ relationships with each other, giving a baseline representation of each groups’ feelings.

This can become as detailed and complex as I want to go with it, depending on how in-depth it needs to be to deliver the desired experience. I’m not going to map every characters’ secret crush if it won’t effect gameplay, but I’d rather go too far now than not far enough.

Relationship Model

For example, I could keep track of each and every character’s relationship with each and every other character, but that feels almost too much for now. I could drop characters into an ‘Ungrouped’ pool that does do just that and then move them into the smaller groups as needed, to keep things tidy.

That’s all for now. What do you think? Should I experiment with these unorthodox features in a text-based game or just stick with what’s already proven?

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Tightened Schedule Incoming

PT, PT erry day.
Build a text-based pony game the Marine Corps way.

Work on games and just anything in general is going to crawl to dang near a standstill for the next couple of weeks. Due to a motivated schedule change and me tacking on more PT, I’ll have very limited time for working on Colivien, <._FLANK/> or any other fun stuff.

Should be switching to a far more flexible and open schedule in less than a month, which is going to facilitate a lot of work on games.

On an awesome note, going back to a local rescue ranch to ride horses again, on Saturday.
Motivate.

Just Another Government Shutdown Post

I’m sure everyone is posting on their blogs about this, but there’s two cents burning a whole in my pocket.

For civilians, the shutdown doesn’t seem to have really done much. They see that government employees are being furloughed or having hours cut and that the military is still being paid. It’s ok, those government employees are only half of a percent of the entire US population, so it’s not that big of a deal.

They don’t see all of the facilities that are shutting down, like the commissary, SMP, Learning Resource Center and the family pool. The bowling alley is shutdown, the MCX employee hours are being shaved away, I don’t think the library is open and this is all on top of recent changes that are going to be making life for junior Marines generally less pleasant.

It’s not all super important stuff, but it’s those little things. Married Marines, who don’t receive chow hall services, no longer have anywhere on base to buy produce. They have to drive to Walmart, off base, just to buy groceries. Not so bad, at other bases, but 29 Palms is in the middle of absolutely nowhere.

Yeah, we’re being paid. However, that was only decided in the very last hours of negotiation. It’s pretty clear that service members are not a priority for Congress and I wouldn’t be surprised to see our pay checks cut or completely dry up soon. Marines who have Navy Federal checking accounts are going to be payed still, do to some sort of government pay check insurance sort of thing, but that’s going to dry up quickly as well. I have Pacific Marine still, from bootcamp, and they don’t do that whole pay thing. The chow hall and barracks have been guaranteed to us, but I don’t know how stable that’s going to stay.

Hopefully, this clears up in a couple days and doesn’t blow up into more than it needs to be.

Marpeg Video Demo

Bit of video on the progress I’ve made on Marpeg, the sexiest piece of text-based RPG this side of Y2K. Features character creation, punching babies and picking up swords!

One Game a Month – August

Hey all, been a long time, hasn’t it? I’ve been inactive on the site, for the most part, but I haven’t been idle. I started doing One Game A Month in mid July, just to warm up, and have a fun little project in the works this month which I’d like to carry over into September as well.

Because of long class days and other Marine Corps-tastic happenings, I don’t really have time to work on graphics or animation, the two things that have locked up all of my recent development efforts. So, I did what I’ve been wanting to try and ditched any visuals beyond what the console output gives me.
My project for August is a text-based, command line interface (CLI) role-playing game. Plans for now are to make character creation very expedient in the beginning, limiting the amount of details the player must procure for their character in the early stages of his or her life. As the game starts, the player takes control of their character, now a young adult who is out to start their life. The player doesn’t fill a pre-built role or class, but instead writes a new story for their character by interacting with the world, meeting other characters and by learning and advancing through a trade.

The combat is going to be mostly based on knowing how different armors and weapons act against each other. Riveted mail will stop most weapons, even arrows. However, a gambeson or non-riveted mail will often let a thrust or arrow through easily. Layering cloth, mail and plates or armor will greatly improve the characters defenses. Some ideas for how magic works and designs for the different methods of deploying that are in the works, as well as discovering that writing a fair, interesting and balanced algorithm for character damage is pretty tough. A lot of hours just poring over revision upon revision of a single algorithm.

I’ve already got some fun stuff going with custom string parsing and the ability for different menus to be displayed is functional. As is, you can only progress through the title screen and the ‘NEW’ menu option, going through the entire character creation process in all of its minimalist glory. The point at which you confirm your character is where I am in writing. Got a document that will allow me to write a scene featuring the basic functions of gameplay including interacting with items and props, NPCs that can be talked to or fought and doors to go through, as well as other features to tack on to this basic scene later.

Some other ideas I have in my pocket are such things as allowing saved characters to be handled as NPCs when playing a different file. So, if a player has characters named John and Marshall and saves the John file in one city and then visits that city in the Marshall file, he can encounter and interact with his other character like any other, including convincing him to follow the player.
As well as having comrades who will travel with the player, the player can become a follower them self, under the command of an NPC. The whole idea of this setup is to allow the game to feel less lonely, even if it is only single player. I always hated that so many RPGs glorify the lone warrior who saves the world. I’d played with some mods for Skyrim that allowed me to have up to 5 companions, and it really changes the feel of the game, as well as allowing me to ramp up the difficulty without it becoming unbalanced. Your companions would make a lot of kills alongside your own and the mod was designed so that even your companion’s kills would count towards your own progression, which I’d like to play with in my own project. There were a lot of cool moments where my little group would volley crossbow bolts or be teaming up on a tough enemy that really redefined the play experience.

Time’s up, back to school for me!

A Desert, OpenGL and Appendicitis

Been a while. A really long while.

Got moved out to this desert for some motivated training. Just some technical schooling stuff, nothing really field related. Still have access to my PC and other stuff. Beside classes, I end up with a bit of free time here in the evenings and on weekends, which is awesome.

So, I was down by the Library here on base and decided to pop in and look at the Rosetta Stone disks they had. Been meaning to start learning a second language for a bit, ended up grabbing a Russian one. However, before I made it to the Rosetta Stones, I happened to spot this guy. Awwww, yeah. Git some.
Started reading away at it. I’m pretty far in with the reading. As for following along with the programing, I’m about at the point of learning about some of the less basic texture methods and writing shaders from scratch, which I’m super excited for. This has pretty much been what any programming I’ve been doing has revolved around recently. I’d love to work on TIGS or Cockpit or some other ideas I had pop into my head, but this is pretty important to me right now. I kinda feel like I need to finally learn how to write some shaders and use OpenGL. Blender’s game engine is awesome, but it isn’t going to keep me satisfied for long. I want some more freedom and control and there’s only one way I know how to get that.

And then my appendix decided to bitch out. Had a couple of days with some pretty bad abdominal pain, difficulty walking blah blah blah. My squadleader prompted me to go to the little naval clinic and they eventually had me get a CAT scan or whatever that thing is. The doc came in and was like “Hey, looks like you have acute appendicitis.”
Well, shit.

I’m all fixed up now, but I was later told that if I’d tried to walk down to the PX, about a half mile away, I’d have died. Go figure. Road to recovery is littered with constipation, dizziness, unwarranted exhaustion and laziness, but I’ll be ok I guess. Mostly making it hard to get anything really done. It’s been hard to focus on much.

Other than all that, not much really going on. Just getting by, doing what I can. Oh, and I updated a few pages on the site :D
I miss my cat though.

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