Godus Wars

Holy crap. Yesterday, Peter Molyneux announced Godus Wars. What’s Godus Wars?

Well, it’s a simple RTS with god powers. Watch the trailer:

Yeah.

So my immediate question was, if Godus Wars exists, is there any reason for me to complete Planitia?

In order to find out, I played Godus Wars for about three hours last night, about halfway through the first continent. The basic gameplay consists of flattening out the terrain (using the same sculpting tool from Godus) to allow your villagers to make new abodes, which give you mana. You use this mana to create fortresses from which you create warbands of archers. Your goal is to take over the enemy mana silo, and you can only do this with a warband. Upgrading your fortresses allows you to support more warbands, hopefully giving you the advantage over the enemy. You can use god powers to both help your own villagers and hinder your enemy.

Sounds great, right? Well, the game has a lot of problems.

The first is that sculpting is still done using the sculpting tool from Godus, meaning you have to pull around one layer at a time – and if you’re sculpting anywhere but on the beach near your village, sculpting requires a lot of mana. While sculpting in Populous was a bit tedious, it was nowhere near as bad as Godus/Godus Wars. Expanding a flattened area requires you to individually sculpt the layers below first. Flattening a mountain requires that you delete it, layer by layer. It’s tedious, it’s time-consuming, and half the time you end up sculpting in a way you didn’t intend, wasting time and mana.

Second, god powers almost don’t exist in this game. As you play through the lands you’ll unlock cards that represent benefits. You can pick up to four cards before starting a land. Some of the cards are passive benefits (warbands build faster, you start with more villagers, etc) but some require mana. These are your “god powers” and they mostly consist of buffs to your warbands or debuffs to your enemy’s. Only as I started level 7 was I presented with a real god power – Swamp, which makes a small patch of land uninhabitable. It wasn’t very effective or graphically appealing and I soon decided to save my mana for upgrading my fortresses. After all, warbands win the game.

Speaking of warbands, they have some problems that can make them frustrating to use. They require wide paths to move – odd in a game that so often connects areas with narrow sand bars. Giving warbands a command they can’t fulfill can cause them to become completely unresponsive. Ordering warbands to attack can also be risky. While all warbands have a flag above them, you cannot click the flag to attack an enemy warband. Sometimes your warband will interpret your attack command as a move order and will blindly march right into the enemy warband, ignoring all attempts by you to correct the problem and leading to free kills and XP for the enemy.

To make matters worse, one of the aspects of gameplay is that all units have to perform a little “stair climbing” animation while moving from one elevation to a higher one, and can perform no other action until they find secure footing. This means that if you order an attack on an enemy warband on higher ground, your warband will get cut to pieces while performing cute little animations and pathing around for solid ground.

And to top it all off, the AI cheats. Only a few levels in, the AI will start making two warbands at once even if they only have one fortress. A few more and it will start making warbands that already have veteran status on creation. This is the most blatant artificial difficulty and it completely breaks immersion. And there’s no multiplayer!

There are other problems as well. There’s no minimap and the camera speed is very slow, making it difficult to pop back and forth from your village to a battle. There also aren’t any hotkeys that could make this easier. A “make warband” button on the side of the screen for each of your fortresses would be all that is necessary to allow you to keep producing units while fighting, but Peter is still in “no interface” mode. And the game has performance problems – strange given the simple modelling and texturing of its units and structures. Perhaps that multi-tiered terrain is slowing it down?

Does the game do anything well? Yes. The basic premise is solid (and I should know). You create fortresses by circle-selecting a group of abodes; these then “bunch up” into the fortress in one of the most adorable things I’ve ever seen in a video game. The models and animations are simple but stylish, just like in the original Godus.

But Godus Wars just isn’t good enough.

Let me be clear – this isn’t sour grapes! I’m making Planitia because it’s a game I want to play! If Godus Wars was good enough to replace Planitia I’d be disappointed, yes – but I’d also be happy that someone had finally filled this hole I see in the market.

I’ll continue work on Planitia. Perhaps, if Peter puts enough work into improving Godus Wars, it’ll make nice competition.

Planitia Alpha 1, “The Gods’ Playground”, Coming April 4, 2014!

Okay! I’d like to announce that on April 4, 2014, my multiplayer god-game Planitia is about to have a public alpha I’m calling “The Gods’ Playground” and you can sign up now!

It’ll be a simple version designed to test my networking code. If you want in, you can comment on this post, email me at anthony.salter@gmail.com or sign up on the forums. Both Windows and Linux versions will be available. Sorry Mac users, you’ll have to wait until I can afford a darn Mac. I hope to see you all there!

Planitia Update 51: Slowly but Surely

I’ll be honest, the DirectX version of Planitia has some frame rate problems that I just. Can’t. Resolve. I’ve tried everything, including profilers like Very Sleepy (excellent, by the way) but after a few minutes, the frame rate drops in half and nothing I do seems to be able to change that. This is one reason I’m rewriting the game practically from scratch (the other being conversion to OpenGL and cross-platformy goodness).

Right now the new Planitia is using a nice frame rate counter that I stole shamelessly from Jari Komppa‘s 2D OpenGL basecode. Instead of just displaying the current FPS, it displays the last 50 FPS values in a graph so spikes are very easy to see.

Which came in really handy when I was reimplementing the Earthquake god power. Earthquake deforms the terrain, which means that the vertices of the terrain mesh must be changed. Changing vertices in the video card’s graphics memory is a slow process, and one that most games try to avoid. Unfortunately, Planitia is built around terrain manipulation and thus this is one of the big problems of the project that I’ll have to solve (or, more likely, manage).

My initial naive solution was to update each vertex individually. It worked and didn’t hit the FPS counter too badly for basic terrain manipulation using the Flatten power. But Earthquake constantly changes a bunch of verts every update for as long as it is active, which was putting a lot of stress on that system. Fortunately, this showed up quite clearly on the FPS counter and profiler. I quickly found a way to optimize the vertex update and now both Earthquake and Flatten hardly hit the frame rate at all.

I’m hoping that with these additional tools and everything I’ve learned over the course of the project that I can avoid the fate of DirectX Planitia. I don’t see a big problem reimplementing the god powers or adding new functionality as long as I’m not manipulating a lot of vertices at once. In fact, the only thing about the project that really concerns me right now is multiplayer.

Planitia Update 50: What’s With All The Magic Sparkles?!

Particles!

planitiaparticles

The blue blocks are supposed to be water droplets (and they do at least look like a fountain when the game is running). They look awful because they’re being textured with the blue roof texture but it works!

Plus, I’m really liking the circle of colored stars around the cursor that denotes the range of your spells. The current spell selected is Lightning Bolt, which has a small range but as you choose different spells the circle gets larger or smaller.

Oh, and bonus points to anyone who can name what movie the title of this post is referencing.

Money, Dear Boy

I’m seriously thinking about doing a Kickstarter (or something similar) for Planitia.

One of the best things I ever did when working on Inaria was to put the game up on 8-Bit Funding.

I’d provide a link to 8-Bit Funding but it’s gone now. Sad face.

Even though I only got about $500 in funding, knowing that people had paid me money in advance for the game was an incredible motivator and I don’t think Inaria would have ever been commercially available without it.

(The fact that it’s not really commercially successful is all on me, of course.)

I think I need something similar for Planitia.

But…

A successful Kickstarter needs at least one of the following things:

* Name Recognition: Tim Schafer, Brian Fargo, Keiji Inafune

* An incredible gameplay video (even if the gameplay is mockup): Planetary Annihilation, Star Command, Hyper Light Drifter

* “Spritual Successor” Recognition: Star Citizen, Satellite Reign, Godus

Having a video that’s funny or includes some biting satire on traditional game publishing helps too.

And I don’t really have any of that. (Neither did the Conquest 2 Kickstarter, unfortunately.)

I could have tried to get some “spiritual successor” recognition going (though I wouldn’t have been able to mention either of the games I’m successing) before Godus came out.

But I’m still trying to think of a way to get it done, and I might have an answer in that I actually have a working version of the game right now. If I could put together a clever trailer and couple that with a good demo and scream about the Kickstarter at the top of my lungs every second of every day (basically following Dan “Buy Gibbage!” Marshall‘s formula) then I might be able to make it succeed. People will be able to say, “Hey, the game is there. It works. He just wants to buff it up before it goes on sale, so I’m not as worried about being taken for a ride.”

Maybe.

Thoughts?

About Godus

Well…um…

Do you know why I’m making Planitia?

Because I want to play Planitia, and nobody else seems to want to make Planitia.

Several times over the course of Planitia’s development, I’ve been excited to hear about a different game that seemed like it would scratch my “play Planitia” itch. From Dust, Reprisal and now Godus all seemed like they might do that.

And every single one of them has let me down. From Dust turned out to be more of a puzzle game, with no multiplayer component. Reprisal has the basic Populous thing down but doesn’t have multiplayer.

And now Godus looks like it’s going in a different direction completely.

Even putting aside the myriad annoyances listed in that video (most of which will certainly shake out before launch), it looks like the basic design of Godus is that of a real-time empire-building game rather than a strategy game. Finding resources, using them to unlock technologies and advancing through ages make Godus more complex than Populous by at least one order of magnitude. And makes it sound like Age of Empires. Wait, wasn’t there already a simplified version of Age of Empires with guys dressed in little blue tunics? That’s right, there was!

And right now, the multiplayer looks horribly deficient – it’s not played on the main map, terrain alteration (a big part of Populous multiplayer) doesn’t appear to be a factor any more and the fastest way to finish off an enemy is to just send your units over to kill his before he can get anything going. Yes, it was an early multiplayer battle but even then you should at least be using earthquakes to slow down their villages.

It reminds me of Black & White 2, which was absolutely schizophrenic about how it wanted you to play the game. Your goal – conquer all cities on a map. But if you raised an army and did it directly, you were evil. If you spent hours and hours and hours slowly building up your influence until they decided to join you, then you were good. This means that, if you want to play as good, the RTS element of Black & White (which is sorely needed) was useless to you.

So once again, I am happy and sad. I’m very, very sad that unless Godus undergoes a complete redesign it’s not going to scratch my Planitia itch. But I’m happy that I’ll still get to bring Planitia to the masses instead of giving up on it because something better came along.

I’m Just Going To Drop This Here…

Oh…look what I found.

I'm likin' that frame rate.

This has been my Secret Project – a complete reworking of Planitia, the game I Just Can’t Let Go. I learned a lot from the DirectX version but basically that’s the one I’m throwing away (and coming to grips with that was a big part of moving forward with the project).

The first thing I had to do was completely rewrite my framework to use OpenGL and SDL only – I knew I had it right when it cleanly compiled on Linux (that’s right, my framework is now cross-platform).

Notice that with my new graphical skills, your villagers can have shirts of any color! Madness! I’ve also got scaling in on the GUI elements so as you resize the screen they grow and shrink to stay at a certain percentage of the screen. There have also been a ton of other improvements to the framework.

So now it’s time to remake the game. Right now I’ve got the terrain generating (obviously), units walking and drawing (obviously) and one god power – Flatten, which does nothing of the sort, instead it make huge spikes of land shoot into the air, which is amusing.

And last night I fixed what I feel was the last major problem with my framework – it wasn’t running on Intel graphical hardware. This was why people were complaining during the Inaria beta that it wasn’t running properly on their computers, which was the downfall of that beta. Sigh.

My ultimate goal is a cross-platform release (on Steam, maybe?) for PC, Linux and (sigh) Mac, although putting together a Mac version means having to deal with XCode again (shudder). I want all clients to be able to multiplay with each other so that Linux users (for instance) will have plenty of people to play against.

Expect to see regular updates in the future.

Godus

Well, I guess this was inevitable. Peter Molyneux is attempting to remake Populous. Which means that Planitia could easily become superfluous.

Now, I don’t resent Peter one bit for this. In fact, I kind of knew it was coming. A few months ago I watched a presentation Peter gave about the development of the original Populous, and at the end, he showed off a multiplayer version he’d been working on with massive islands. That drew a great deal of applause, so it was fairly natural that Peter would try to go forward with that project.

What I don’t like is what is happening to the project. Godus, at this rate, will not get funded.

There are a lot of people who feel that Peter has broken past promises and thus can’t be trusted with this project. And Peter isn’t helping anything by making similar promises for Godus; he swore there would be a tech demo out on Friday, for instance…it has not seen daylight yet. And if it doesn’t come out within the next couple of days, it will be too late for that tech demo to sway people into supporting the Kickstarter.

But the general consensus I’m getting is that people are effectively punishing Peter, in a sort of inverse to how they rewarded Tim Schafer. That makes me…uncomfortable. It seems a little unfair to punish everyone at Peter’s company – as well as the many people who would love to see a Populous remake – because of Peter himself. In this case, I think Peter can be trusted. It’s a small company making a small game for a relatively small amount of money. I’d like to see more people take the risk and fund Godus.

I Knew It…

One of the reasons I was kind of avoiding porting Planitia to Unity is because I knew how long it would take.

Or rather, how short it would take.

This represents about a week’s worth of work total, and that includes spending a lot of time learning the system. You can use the WASD cluster to move around. It’s got terrain picking, animated units (one hundred of them, in fact), the basic GUI and the procedurally-generated minimap going. At this rate it’ll take about a month to do what it took me five years to do the first time.