Archive for June, 2008

Vlad Tepes Diplomacy

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

So last bat time, last bat channel I described the two cardinal tools of the diplomatic trade in Hell: Demands and Insults. In a complimentary fashion they were a means to initiate a controlled form of conflict between players called Vendetta. They are also designed to offer players some interesting choices. A demand might simply be a probe to see what another will give up. It might be a gauge of how much another player fears you. It might also be a simple goading into Vendetta which the player making the demands thinks might work in his favor. Even repeated demands when met can allow the demander to be in a position to declare Vendetta which is something that I didn’t mention last time. Consent to too many demands and your groveling is so unseemly in Hell that Protocol almost requires the demanding party to smack you around with a Vendetta.

Sending Emissaries is another diplomatic order available to players and is meant to act as a compliment to Demands and Insults. If you send an emissary you are showing weakness. Sorry that’s just the way it is in Hell. The desire to talk to your rivals is something that’s just un-demonic even if you are intending to slip the dagger in their back. So you have to spend some prestige to send your emissary to the Infernal Conclave and have him accredited for “Parley” with a rival. The amount as always depends on your threat ranking of the player you want to receive the emissary as well as your own Infernal Rank.

Here is where it gets fun though. You can send the emissary with a bribe or an offer of non-aggression. The player who receives the emissary does not get to know what message the emissary bears. A decision must be made in front of the Infernal Conclave. Receive the emissary or reject it. If you receive the emissary you get any gifts (usually tribute cards) or the offer for a non-aggression pact (which is the lowest cooperative relationship possible). If you accepted and a gift is present then you have been “bought” off and the Protocol states that you may not insult or demand anything from the gift giver for a certain number of turns. I’ll talk about the non-aggression pact offer later. It’s basically a way for two players to formally pledge items of value (tribute cards, artifacts, relics etc.) that are held by the Conclave to enforce a NAP. You can break the pact but you will lose your pledge (but no Prestige).

If you reject the emissary you earn the Prestige that the player spent to send the emissary. And if you take it one step further and go Vlad Tepes on the emissary then you get a nice prestige bonus BUT the player sending the emissary can declare Vendetta on you the next turn. So you have to decide if nailing those hats down is worth the risk for the extra reward.

Vlad the Impaler

Demands and Insults

Saturday, June 21st, 2008

I’ve been working on the implementation of the diplomatic orders that players can make in Solium Infernum. The primary win condition of the game is built around the concept of “Prestige.” Prestige is a currency as well as an indicator of just how respected and feared you are among your fellow Archfiends. You will find opportunities to spend it and wager it throughout the game. You can also collect it secretly for that suprise victory when the Conclave convenes and all fell deeds are revealed. This of course isn’t as easy as collecting public Prestige which all players can monitor/observe… it is after all a representation of your public standing within the Conclave.

Most of your actions will naturally be devoted to increasing your own prestige or diminishing that of your rivals. The Diplomatic System in Solium Infernum is one key way to do that. Not only is it designed to formally channel and regulate player conflict but it also functions to redistribute prestige in interesting ways. “Interesting” of course is a code word for “agonizing decisions” or tough risk vs. reward calculations.

In SI you can’t just decide you like your neighbor’s land and march a legion in to take it. You have to observe the Protocols of Hell and claim Vendetta to accomplish such a thing. In order to get to Vendetta you usually have to bring a demand or insult before the Conclave directed at one of your opponents. You can choose anybody but you will get the best results if your target is a player you have ranked high up on your threat list. What’s a “Threat List?” It’s a top to bottom list that each player keeps ranking your enemies from most threatening to least threatening. Pursuing an action against a high threat opponent will be easier than one who is low on your list. Your Infernal Rank and that of your target opponent also comes into play but that’s something that I’ll discuss in the future. In general though the higher your rank versus that of your opponent the better for diplomatic orders.

So you have a rival you share a border with and you want some of his land or you want some Prestige. If you make a demand of him before the Conclave you might end up getting either. Most demands are for tribute cards but land, evil artifacts and unholy relics can also be on the menu. Accompanying the demand is a Prestige Cost. The player making the demand pays this and waits for a response. If the responding player decides to concede the demand then the demander gets the Prestige Cost back as well as whatever was being demanded. If the responding player refuses the demand then the Prestige is lost by the demander and gained by the responding player. But the lost prestige buys the demanding player the opportunity to claim Vendetta on the next turn. I’ll talk more about Vendetta later but the short of it is that the player claiming Vendetta states what he is going to do to punish his rival…. capture X hexes, destroy Y legions, etc. and then wagers Prestige on it. If he accomplishes this before the specified turn limit then the wagered Prestige is returned with a multiplier bonus. If not then the Prestige is lost and some of it might be given to the spoiler. Even if you lose the wager you might find you didn’t come up completely short. Many of the actions that you can undertake in the course of attacking your opponent can earn you prestige….legions harmed and destroyed, rituals cast, etc.

The other major diplomatic tool is the art of the insult. You hurl an insult at an opponent in front of the Conclave and await a response. If the opponent accepts the insult then you gain a certain amount of Prestige and your opponent loses an identical amount. If the opponent refuses then no prestige is lost but he must respond with a Vendetta against you.

All demands, insults and Vendettas are public knowledge so one insult can cause a chain reaction of demands and insults from other players that make the WW I alliance doomsday machine look like childs play. Your neighbor just couldn’t tolerate that insult and now is in Vendetta with another player? … time to make some demands/insults of your own.

Demonic Diplomacy

Tip of the Spear Art

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Well, almost all the art for Tip of the Spear is in and it’s really something special. The biggest challenge so far on the programming side has been modifying the “Card Creation Challenge” dialogues so that you can tab back and forth between the two pages of Advanced Tactics cards when selecting which one you want to try and create. There are twelve cards and each page displays six cards just like you would see if your Technologist or Geneticist was deciding on a lab project. You thought you could just get them for free without rolling any dice? Well, like Blondie says “200,000 is a lot of money. We’re going to have to earn it.” Don’t worry though the top cards won’t be quite as hard as creating a City Killer nuke but 6 successes isn’t trivial either.

Here is a sneak peak at one of the Advanced Training cards:

AT Defense

Of Avatars and Archfiends

Monday, June 9th, 2008

One of my main design goals for Solium Infernum was to offer multiple paths to victory. In Milton’s Paradise Lost after the fallen angels have stirred themselves from their torment on the burning lake of fire they raise the mighty capital of hell Pandemonium and then call a council of infernal peers to determine their best course of action. Book II begins:

High on a Throne of Royal State, which far
Outshon the wealth of Ormus and of Ind,
Or where the gorgeous East with richest hand
Showrs on her Kings Barbaric Pearl & Gold,
Satan exalted sat, by merit rais’d
To that bad eminence; and from despair
Thus high uplifted beyond hope, aspires
Beyond thus high, insatiate to pursue
Vain Warr with Heav’n, and by success untaught
His proud imaginations thus displaid.

Powers and Dominions, Deities of Heav’n,
For since no deep within her gulf can hold
Immortal vigor, though opprest and fall’n,
I give not Heav’n for lost. From this descent
Celestial vertues rising, will appear
More glorious and more dread then from no fall,
And trust themselves to fear no second fate:
Mee though just right, and the fixt Laws of Heav’n
Did first create your Leader, next, free choice,

With what besides, in Counsel or in Fight,
Hath bin achievd of merit, yet this loss
Thus farr at least recover’d, hath much more
Establisht in a safe unenvied Throne
Yeilded with full consent. The happier state
In Heav’n, which follows dignity, might draw
Envy from each inferior; but who here
Will envy whom the highest place exposes
Formost to stand against the Thunderers aime
Your bulwark, and condemns to greatest share

Of endless pain? where there is then no good
For which to strive, no strife can grow up there
From Faction; for none sure will claim in hell
Precedence, none, whose portion is so small
Of present pain, that with ambitious mind
Will covet more. With this advantage then
To union, and firm Faith, and firm accord,
More then can be in Heav’n, we now return
To claim our just inheritance of old,
Surer to prosper then prosperity

Could have assur’d us; and by what best way,
Whether of open Warr or covert guile,
We now debate; who can advise, may speak.

Moloch, a sceptered king of Hell steps forward and argues for the way of brute force counseling:

My sentence is for open Warr: Of Wiles,
More unexpert, I boast not: them let those
Contrive who need, or when they need, not now.
For while they sit contriving, shall the rest,
Millions that stand in Arms, and longing wait
The Signal to ascend, sit lingring here
Heav’ns fugitives, and for thir dwelling place
Accept this dark opprobrious Den of shame,
The Prison of his Tyranny who Reigns

By our delay? no, let us rather choose
Arm’d with Hell flames and fury all at once
O’re Heav’ns high Towrs to force resistless way,
Turning our Tortures into horrid Arms
Against the Torturer; when to meet the noise
Of his Almighty Engin he shall hear
Infernal Thunder, and for Lightning see
Black fire and horror shot with equal rage
Among his Angels; and his Throne it self
Mixt with Tartarean Sulphur, and strange fire,

His own invented Torments. But perhaps
The way seems difficult and steep to scale
With upright wing against a higher foe.

Next spoke Belial, “To vice industrious, but to nobler deeds timorous and slothful” advocating a slothful repose in Hell to make the best of things. He argued that things could be much worse and it would be better to just do nothing

I should be much for open Warr, O Peers,
As not behind in hate; if what was urg’d
Main reason to perswade immediate Warr,
Did not disswade me most, and seem to cast
Ominous conjecture on the whole success:
When he who most excels in fact of Arms,
In what he counsels and in what excels
Mistrustful, grounds his courage on despair
And utter dissolution, as the scope
Of all his aim, after some dire revenge.
First, what Revenge? the Towrs of Heav’n are fill’d

With Armed watch, that render all access
Impregnable; oft on the bordering Deep
Encamp thir Legions, or with obscure wing
Scout farr and wide into the Realm of night,
Scorning surprize. Or could we break our way
By force, and at our heels all Hell should rise
With blackest Insurrection, to confound
Heav’ns purest Light, yet our great Enemie
All incorruptible would on his Throne
Sit unpolluted, and th’ Ethereal mould

Incapable of stain would soon expel
Her mischief, and purge off the baser fire
Victorious.

Next Mammon’s counsel is heard. He proposes they build an empire in hell to rival the Tyrant of Heaven’s….all the better for being free of his oppresive yoke. This is a middle way between Moloch’s open war and Belial’s slothful moping.

Let us not then pursue
By force impossible, by leave obtain’d
Unacceptable, though in Heav’n, our state
Of splendid vassalage, but rather seek
Our own good from our selves, and from our own
Live to our selves, though in this vast recess,
Free, and to none accountable, preferring
Hard liberty before the easie yoke
Of servile Pomp. Our greatness will appear
Then most conspicuous, when great things of small,
Useful of hurtful, prosperous of adverse

We can create, and in what place so e’re
Thrive under evil, and work ease out of pain
Through labour and endurance. This deep world
Of darkness do we dread? How oft amidst
Thick clouds and dark doth Heav’ns all-ruling Sire
Choose to reside, his Glory unobscur’d,
And with the Majesty of darkness round
Covers his Throne; from whence deep thunders roar
Must’ring thir rage, and Heav’n resembles Hell?
As he our Darkness, cannot we his Light

Imitate when we please? This Desart soile
Wants not her hidden lustre, Gemms and Gold;
Nor want we skill or art, from whence to raise
Magnificence; and what can Heav’n shew more?
Our torments also may in length of time
Become our Elements, these piercing Fires
As soft as now severe, our temper chang’d
Into their temper; which must needs remove
The sensible of pain.

Finally, Beelzebub, Satan’s second in command, steps forward and most likely speaking on Satan’s behalf offers another approach. The chance to stike at their implacable foe through guile and seduction:

Warr hath determin’d us, and foild with loss
Irreparable; tearms of peace yet none
Voutsaf’t or sought; for what peace will be giv’n
To us enslav’d, but custody severe,
And stripes, and arbitrary punishment
Inflicted? and what peace can we return,
But to our power hostility and hate,
Untam’d reluctance, and revenge though slow,
Yet ever plotting how the Conquerour least
May reap his conquest, and may least rejoyce

In doing what we most in suffering feel?
Nor will occasion want, nor shall we need
With dangerous expedition to invade
Heav’n, whose high walls fear no assault or Siege,
Or ambush from the Deep. What if we find
Some easier enterprize? There is a place
(If ancient and prophetic fame in Heav’n
Err not) another World, the happy seat
Of som new Race call’d Man, about this time
To be created like to us, though less

In power and excellence, but favour’d more
Of him who rules above; so was his will
Pronounc’d among the Gods, and by an Oath,
That shook Heav’ns whol circumference, confirm’d.
Thither let us bend all our thoughts, to learn
What creatures there inhabit, of what mould,
Or substance, how endu’d, and what thir Power,
And where thir weakness, how attempted best,
By force or suttlety: Though Heav’n be shut,
And Heav’ns high Arbitrator sit secure

In his own strength, this place may lye expos’d
The utmost border of his Kingdom, left
To their defence who hold it: here perhaps
Som advantagious act may be achiev’d
By sudden onset, either with Hell fire
To waste his whole Creation, or possess
All as our own, and drive as we were driven,
The punie habitants, or if not drive,
Seduce them to our Party, that thir God
May prove thir foe, and with repenting hand

Abolish his own works. This would surpass
Common revenge, and interrupt his joy
In our Confusion, and our Joy upraise
In his disturbance; when his darling Sons
Hurl’d headlong to partake with us, shall curse
Thir frail Originals, and faded bliss,
Faded so soon. Advise if this be worth
Attempting, or to sit in darkness here
Hatching vain Empires.

The goal of Solium Infernum is to earn enough prestige so that when the Infernal Conclave is convened you are chosen ruler. Just as each of the Archfiends advocated a different strategic approach I wanted to allow the players to be able to do so as well. One way to accomplish this in addition to the core mechanics was to allow each player to hand craft his starting position. Like deck building in Armageddon Empires this can be a seperate strategy game itself. The Create Avatar screen below shows you the choices you have for creating your starting position in the game.

Create Avatar Screen

You are given 30 Archfiend Points to spend. In addition to buying points in the 5 basic attributes you can also purchase a higher infernal rank, different public objectives and perks. The perks are special abilities for your Archfiend that are valid throughout the game. Many are just basic bonuses, i.e. +1 to your Tribute Roll when you order your minions to bring you tribute. Others can be much more powerful but also more expensive. The mechanics of SI are designed to allow for a variety of styles from agressive bloody bullying to guileful deception to slothful accumulation to some hybrid. The basic attributes correspond to the 5 spheres of power that your Archfiend can operate in: Wrath, Deceit, Prophecy, Destruction and Diabolism. Your level in a particular power determines what abilities and rituals are available to your Archfiend. The goal was to offer tough tradeoffs to players when crafting their strategy and play style. Spend some extra points on a higher infernal rank and have an advantage bidding in the infernal bazaar or pump up your Wrath power and start blitzing right away?

To Design Is Worth Ambition

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

It’s funny but now that I have put up the web pages and gone public with my next game project, rather than feeling a sense of relief I seem to have only increased my apprehension. I’ve been looking forward to laying out the design process here on the blog but now I find myself uncertain as to where I should start. So I think I’ll begin by just listing what it is.

Solium Infernum:

Is a simultaneous turn based game

Has an adjustable limit on what you can do each turn (2-6 major orders can be issued)

Is played on a hex map that wraps i.e. there are no borders or “safe” edges

Has a simplified movement and terrain system (passable or unpassable hexes)

Has a resource system based on choosing cards with icons that are offered to you from some group

Has assets that you deploy to a game board called legions

Has you bidding in an “Infernal Bazaar” each turn with resources to win the services of these legions

Usually lets you see all agents on the board

Lets you control key locations called Places of Power

Lets you customize your starting position by designing your own Archfiend

Lets you level up your Archfiend in 5 Attributes and their corresponding Powers by spending resource cards

Has a diplomatic system that channels conflict in a controlled manner

Allows you to covertly stab somebody in the back

Has a single currency called Prestige that usually determines the game’s winner after a set number of turns

Has Public and Secret Objectives that players can attempt to accomplish which often result in a Prestige bonus being applied at the game’s conclusion

Allows for multiple ways to win the game

Can be played with other humans via PBEM or hotseat

Can be played by yourself against AI’s

Is supposed to resemble a board game

Well, that’s a pretty good bullet point summary. And while it all makes sense to me the designer, don’t worry if it seems a little jumbled and confusing to you. I’m going start doing features on various elements on this list here on the blog to try and bring some clarity and give you a better feel for how the game plays. It is an electronic version of a board game prototype that I made by primarily cannibalizing some old games that were falling apart. Until next time.