It All Falls Down

I need to reprioritize. I’m trying to do too much at once.

So I’m taking a break from game development – even hobby development.

I have to do something about this weight; it needs to become priority one. So expect some Put That Freakin’ Sandwich Down posts in the near future.

I will say that I will be competing in Ludum Dare 19, which will occur from December 17 to 20. Until then, I will not be touching a compiler outside of work.

I’m sorry if this disappoints anyone who was looking forward to Inaria (hah!) But I’m being pulled in too many directions and I need to suspend at least one.

Inaria and Drops

So I bought Borderlands on Friday and then promptly lost my whole weekend to it.

It’s quite an addictive game. Take a first-person shooter, which I love, and glom RPG elements onto it, which I also love. As you defeat enemies and complete quests, you’ll gain XP and level up, giving you more hitpoints and making you more effective with any weapon you use.

But the thing that will really suck you in about Borderlands is the drops.

Borderlands uses the same drop system popularized by World of Warcraft – it even uses the same color-codes for drops, with weapons with white names being standard, green names being good, blue being superior and purple being epic. Every time you open a gun crate, there’s that palpable excitement – will I finally get that sniper rifle that sets people on fire I’ve been wanting? Or will I find a better shield that also heals me over time? Perhaps I’ll find a grenade modification that causes my grenades to simply teleport to their target.

And while I played it occurred to me that single-character RPGs tend to be very combat-heavy, because the single character needs to be able to fairly easily dispatch three, four, five or even more enemies at a time. The main character of Questron would gain a full hundred hitpoints on every level-up; within about ten levels he could walk into a town, kill all the townspeople, steal everything, kill the guards and walk out. JC Denton of Deus Ex routinely engaged multiple enemies, usually by turning invisble, shielding himself, or just popping their heads off with well-placed rifle shots. Your character in Oblivion gains power ridiculously quickly and becomes both the most skilled swordsman and the most skilled magic-user in the land. And don’t even get me started on Diablo.

If Inaria is going to be a single-character RPG (which it probably will be) then I’ll need to do something similar. That’s not the problem.

The problem is drops. Yes or no?

The pros: It’s a tried-and-true way to continually reward players as they play, instead of only rewarding them when they level. And even if they don’t get something they want, they can sell it for much-needed cash…and every once in a while something will pop up that will make the player really happy.

The cons: The drop system is basically tapping into the part of the brain that likes to gamble. That feels kind of weird to me, especially after working on casino games myself. Secondly, it’s…well, it feels too easy. A drop system would be almost trivial to implement. Take a weapon, put random stats on it. If the stats match what the player wants, the player is happy; if not, it’s vendor trash. Plus…it’s not very retro-RPG-ish.

So once again I’m polling the audience. Thoughts?

More on Inaria

Okay, the results were almost perfectly split – about half of the people I talked to or responded to my last post wanted me to keep Inaria a single-character game and the other half wanted me to convert it to a party-based game.  So that was helpful.

But in the end I think the thing that’s bugging me about Inaria is that overall, it isn’t deep enough.

From my experience, there are four things the player should be able to do in an RPG:

1.  Obtain items they’re not supposed to have,

2.  Find out information they’re not supposed to know,

3.  Get into places they aren’t supposed to be (usually so they can do either 1 or 2), and

4.  Kill anyone who gets in their way.

And in general, the more ways the game provides to do all four things, the better it is.  This is why Deus Ex is so revered – in general, when you came up against an obstacle, there were at least two ways around it.  Needless to say, Inaria is not nearly so deep.  It doesn’t just need better combat.  It needs more, period.  More weapons and armor, more enemies, more spells, more story.  And usable items.  It’s wrong of me to say, “Oh, well, it’s only going to be $4.99 so…”  Inaria needs to be the best game I can ship by December 1st.

Inaria Combat

Right now Inaria is a single-player, top-down, single-character RPG.

It’s that last feature that’s bugging me.  When was the last time you played a top-down RPG that only allowed you to control one character?

I think the combat in Inaria is its greatest weakness and I need to do something about it.  There are really only two options:

Option 1:  Expand the current single-character combat.  Make ranged combat more effective and add more spells and abilities.

Pros:  Pretty easy to do.

Cons:  Still only have one character to control, which means there just aren’t that many tactical options.  Players will probably just build up a single ability and use that.

Option 2:  Add more characters for the character to control.  In non-combat mode, the other characters just follow the lead character.  In combat mode, each character is controlled individually.

Pros:  Tactical options!  Different characters can have different abilities and be individually controlled.

Cons:  A huge change to the design of the game, and an invitation to feature creep.

My personal deadline for this project is December 1.  On that date, Inaria should go on sale.  In order for that to happen I must first:

1.  Finish the new main plotline of the game.  Right now the game has a beginning, but not a real end.  This really just involves doing a little custom coding on the final boss.

2.  Fix all the bugs that have popped up as I’ve moved the game from the iPhone back to the PC.

3.  Add more sound effects.  This is dirt simple, DrPetter’s SFXR is stupendous in this regard.

4.  Add music.  Which I guess I’ll have to compose myself.  I’ve no idea if I can do it or not.

5.  Create a new website for ViridianGames.com that serves as a web store.  The layout I want is a header, a left sidebar with buttons and a right pane that changes based on what button you press.  Not sure how to do this without creating a full page for each button; there’s probably something I can do with php or css or xyz to make the right pane dynamic; if anyone knows how to, a quick clue would be helpful.

6.  Set up the actual purchasing system.  Dreamhost has one that’s free with my webspace; I’ll start with that one.

Can I do all this and effectively do a complete redesign on the game?  I don’t know.  Would it be worth it?  That’s what I’m asking.

Extrapolating StarCraft II

Okay.  Saw an article on Rock Paper Shotgun about an application called Evolution Chamber.  It’s making huge waves in the StarCraft II community because it uses genetic algorithms to optimize build orders…and it works.  It came up with a build order for the fairly standard Zerg seven-roach rush that can have you attacking your enemy with an overwhelming force in under five minutes if you execute it perfectly.  It currently only works for Zerg, but Terran and Protoss versions are in the works.

If you don’t play StarCraft II, allow me to explain the above.  A “build order” is basically a recipe, a series of instructions on how to build your base and make your units that you follow exactly in order to produce the desired result – in this case, seven roach units that you can then use to rush an unprepared enemy.

Or even a prepared enemy.  There’s been a lot of debate on whether a Protoss player could survive against such a rush at all.  The answer turns out to be just barely yes, but only if the Protoss player knows exactly what’s coming.

A lot of people are saying things like “Oh, this is no big deal; games like Chess and Go have standard openings.”  Yes, but in Chess and Go you see the open happen, you know right away what your opponent is up to, and you get to counter as your opponent opens.  Chess and Go also have actual gameplay beyond the standard opening.  The combination of extremely fast real-time gameplay, fog of war and the ability to choose a random race means that you could conceivably have no idea where your opponent is on the map or what race he’s playing until those seven roaches come bashing down your front door.  At which point, the game is over.  The opening was the game.

Which means you didn’t play StarCraft II.  You played rock-paper-scissors.  You only get to play StarCraft II if one player’s opener doesn’t automatically destroy the other’s (to continue the rock-paper-scissors metaphor, you both pick rock).  Evolution Chamber is only going to make that worse.  The meta-game is quickly overtaking the game-game.  Which is why I don’t play StarCraft II online.

That and I suck.

Okay, folks, this is it.

My website is now permanently here at GameDevDad.  ViridianGames.com will now be used exclusively for my online store.

I’ve been advised on multiple occasions to either keep two websites or to be very careful what I say on my “professional” site, since it could damage my career.

But you know what?  I’m sick of it.  I recently posted several heartbreaking posts about Elemental and all that, and while I got flak for it, it made me feel a lot better.

So this site will be as professional or as personal as my mood strikes me – though I will still warn you if I intend to break PSRD (for those who haven’t been here long, I do not normally talk about Politics, Sex, Religion or Drugs).

I am Viridian, the GameDevDad.  This is my story.