Archive for September, 2008

Thematically Evolved Design

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

I’m coming up for air after a very intense coding run over the last few weeks. Solium Infernum is in that phase of development where the flesh has to be grown on the bones and the little details have to be carved into the fancy woodwork. One of those little details is the special abilities.

I love special abilities. Just the name indicates that they are interesting and unique (special) and full of action (ability). Special Abilities are often all about breaking the rules that have been set up…the game’s mechanics. They are also the ornaments on the tree. So how did the tree get built. My approach to the whole design process is probably a bit unconventional. I start with the Theme. For Solium Infernum first there was the idea based on a simple thematic sentence:

“To reign is worth ambition though in Hell, better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

From that starting point I sat down with a bunch of cannibalized board games and started tinkering. I built the major mechanics systems and integrated them… map, player avatar, agents, rituals (super powers), bazaar for bidding, event system, and victory system. These were bare bones systems though. All the fleshy detail had to wait for the computer implementation.

Once I got the major systems coded and functioning the basic game ideas were set in place. But I didn’t have a list at this point describing all the details (special abilities, perks, bonuses, events). These all needed to be brainstormed, implemented and tested and would flow from the theme.

The Legion power up system is a great example. Legions are the fundamental agent of the game. They are hired by the players in the Infernal Bazaar via a blind bid system. They are placed on the board and move across it to claim/control territory and key locations called Places of Power. I started with a list of legion names. The list was divided into archetypes such as Melee Bruiser, Ranged with mobility, Infernal Power focused (magic), hybrids, devil’s bargains (cost Prestige/Resources to keep in your service) etc. At this point the art was commissioned and then shortly after I commissioned background text descriptions for each agent. Only then did I sit down and start creating special abilities for select Legions. I had a good idea what they would be since they focus on bending and breaking rules but each special ability often requires that I go into the code base and hand craft special functions, data structures or exemptions. In general I tried to match special abilities to the flavor of the legions’ stats, image, and flavor text.

The same process was followed for the Power Up system that permeates the game’s mechanics. Legions are the sole agents on the game board but you have a lot of room to customize them to your strategy goals or compensate for any built in weaknesses. Legions get one attachment slot for every two levels with a maximum of four slots. You can attach Praetors (a Demon Hero, but only one per Legion), Artifacts or Combat Cards (which you create yourself).

Places of Power also allow for attachments but in this case only Praetors (max 1), Relics or Combat Cards. Since places of power almost always generate some type of Prestige bonus per turn (through a special ability), Relics are a great way of powering them up to increase their Prestige generation. Here is an example of an Unholy Relic that you might purchase in the Infernal Bazaar and place in one of your conquered Places of Power.

Bowl of Abject Darkness

The Bowl of Abject Darkness
What was once part of you is now part of me. Look into the liquid and see what squirms beneath its surface. In my body swims the little creatures that was made from your flesh. You put them inside of me, and now I must let them grow. Do not look at me with disgust when you have finished. It is because of you that I take this shape.

–Etched into the side of the Bowl of Abject Darkness

Limited Actions in an (near?) Infinite Universe

Saturday, September 6th, 2008

Limited actions is an important part of the Armageddon Empires design and it’s fundamental to Solium Infernum as well. The basic idea is that it forces you to prioritize your strategy goals and that mental process is supposed to be both challenging and fun. As a design choice it has some nice side benefits as well. It’s a great way to speed up gameplay. It also minimizes micromanagement in that you don’t have to adjust the position/state of 100 agents on the game board. The game simply won’t let you micromanage. From an AI standpoint it helps to focus the decision space within which the AI must operate and that’s a big plus.

The limited actions mechanic is a common feature of Eurostyle games. On any given turn you can pick from some finite action menu a limited number of times. Or you can claim a “role” card for a given turn and get its benefits. This is opposed to a classic hex based wargame where you can move almost any counter on the board unless it lacks supply or some such other action limiting state is involved. AE was a nice mix of both of these styles. For Solium Infernum I wanted first and foremost a Grand Strategy type feeling and I felt the limited actions mechanic fit perfectly with this.

All players start the game with 2 Order Slots. The maximum number of order slots available is 6. You can gain additional slots by powering up your avatar attributes. You can also claim places of power that might occasionally give you +1 Order Slot. Some rare events can give you more (or less) order slots as well. In general an additional order slot is a precious commodity. +1 is a big deal and players running around with all 6 slots available is designed to be a rare thing. The advantage of having 4 slots versus 2 is also huge. Since ordering your minions to bring you “tribute” requires an order slot you will have to plan carefully. You can try the feast or famine approach or some type of hybrid but you will need to balance your need for gathering resources with your need for more direct actions that earn you prestige and interfere with your opponents’ prestige activities.

Here is a screenshot of what the Orders Tab looks like on the Main Interface Viewer. The orders tab shows you what orders you have queued up. When each turn is processed all orders are processed in sequence of their phase number starting with the player who is currently Regent and proceeding clockwise. This can have a big impact on whether your orders are successful. If your opponent moves a legion first that blocks the path that you had plotted out for one of your own legions then a collision will take place that you had not forseen. The results could be combat if you are in Vendetta or Blood Feud or it could mean that your legion must halt its movement unexpectedly. Early in the game when the great land grab phase is in full swing this can be a big deal and you can be faced with a lot of “game theory” type mutual interaction situations when deciding where to move your legions and which territory you should try and grab first.

OrdersTab

Each order is represented by an icon specific to the order. In this case you see that phase I has a specific ritual called “Lies and Rumors” being performed. This will create decoy icons of a designated legion in a series of hexes chosen by the player performing the ritual. How long the decoys stay on the board and how many are placed depends on what level the player has achieved in the “Deceit” power. The second phase slot has a diplomatic order as you can see the two demons arguing across the table. You can also click on the “eye” buttons next to each icon and get an exact text description of what the order entails.