Archive for December, 2011

Rogue Character

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

There are a lot of things that give rogue likes their special character…turn based structure, random maps and loot, options galore in play styles, permadeath, etc.  and one of those key design aspects is how you create and develop your character.  The character that you “play” gives rogue likes an ancestral tether to the CRPG genre.  The idea that you have stats, skills, hit points etc. that define your ability to interact with the game environment comes directly from the CRPG lineage.  I’m not a video game historian so maybe my idea about rogue likes place on the family tree is a bit off…and I don’t want to get into a philosophical debate about any of this because I’m honestly not well informed enough to start discussing the history and development of rogue likes.  I’m a fan and not an expert.  I’m also pretty sure that this is the type of fertile ground in which sophists would thrive.  How many ascii characters can dance on the head of a pin?  But what I enjoy in rogue likes is that they generally require you to have some type of strategy in mind as you develop your character.  So with that thought in mind I set about trying to create a character system to serve as the foundation of my game’s mechanics.  Switch that.  I had the games mechanics in mind when I went to try and design the way a character would work.

What’s the ideal number of stats for a character to possess?  Too many and you start to get complexity problems.  Too little and the simplicity entices boredom. You can see the debt owed to D&D and Gary Gygax in the approach taken by a lot of rogue likes.  I remembered this article by John Harris at Game Set Watch on Incursion and was really surprised to see an explanation of how Vance’s Most Excellent Prismatic Spray ended up in D & D.  I’m a Vance fiend.  I was also doing a lot of reading on the genre at places like Ascii Dreams and Temple of the Roguelike.  Basically I had a challenge resolution mechanic (CRM)  that used a Tarot deck.  The 4 suites of Swords, Wands, Cups and Pentacles offered a perfect array of stats to give the characters who would be exploring my haunted mansions.  The stats would directly affect how the characters performed in the CRM.  The natural way to break these stats down seemed to me to as follows:

The Swords attribute corresponds to physical combat of any kind i.e. guns, swords, knives, hand to hand and even explosives.

The Wands attribute corresponds to any mental challenge i.e. deciphering an arcane text, figuring out the inner workings of some ancient artifice, negotiating with a demon, etc. Psychic abilities fall into this category as well.

The Cups attribute corresponds to any physical challenges that the character’s body might need to overcome i.e. quickness in evading a trap, running away from a problem, resisting the poison coursing through his veins etc.

The Pentacles attribute corresponds to any Arcane challenges i.e. the ability to cast spells, use sorcery, channel occult energies.

The final two attributes are entirely non-original but completely necessary to the genre.  Health is kept track via points as is Sanity.  I contemplated coming up with a more elaborate system of physical and mental states but after much hand wringing opted for the more conventional approach. My main concern is that since going to zero health or sanity is a game over state for the perma-death variant (what I am calling “Reaper” mode), you really need to be clear on these stats so that the correct risk levels can be gauged by the player.  I did abandon the whole concept of fixed health and sanity though.  You can accumulate as much as you are able with no “capping” attribute determining what your max level is in either category.  I liked this because in many instances during your game you need to decide on weather you want to spend health or sanity to use an ability, item, spell etc.

Here is what the character info pad looks like in the game.  You can see the display areas for the six main attributes.  Take special note of the six orange boxes below the attributes.  This is where the character stores any Talismans that he might acquire during the game.  As you can infer from the word, the Talismans are amulets and wards that protect your player when the punishment is being dished out.  I’ll describe them in a lot more detail later but like everything else in my design they are meant to provide the player with agonizing choices at various points in the game.

Occult Chronicles Update – Main Foyer Deja Vu

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

I’m really at a loss at where to start in trying to describe the game that I am currently working on.  As far as development goes, I’m actually stuck in the main entry creating encounters testing out all the different ways they can unfold.  The main entry room is just a convenience because it’s where your O.D.D. agent/investigator starts the game.  So I hand edit the map with the encounter id and the part of the room that I want it to trigger and then proceed to move my character into the space and follow the rabbit down the hole.  I often end up at this point stuck somewhere with a “script error” message that many of you have encountered in my games….that’s the way Director let’s  you know something isn’t working like Davis tried to divide some number by zero !!!??!!

But let’s take a step back.  A room tile is the basic map element in the game.  I showed you a rather nondescript version a couple of weeks ago.  It’s the one I’m stuck in right now where I test out all the encounters.  But each room is divided into sub locations that are represented by small circles.  Here is a mock up of what they will look like in the game.  I don’t have the final circle art icons yet so I have just placed small white circles on the tile to give you an idea.  In the final game they will look a lot nicer and there are different symbol types to indicate whether you have explored the sub location yet or there is an encounter still there that you somehow had to leave…i.e. you fled, got knocked away, got a quest from it and need to come back etc.

So that’s the servant’s meeting room/kitchen.  You would open a door from an adjacent room and immediately be presented with the room tile and your adjacent sub locations.  If you haven’t been to the room before  you will need to enter the first sub location to reveal where you can move to next from there. The above image with all the location circles visible would only be like that if you had completely explored the room. Not all sub locations are accessible from every adjacent location. In this room you won’t be able to walk across the tables going from one of the middle locations to the one across from it for example.

So as you can see most of the stuff in this game is going to sneak up on you…or more precisely you are going to bump into it.  This is a lot different from your typical rogue-like.  You won’t ever see monster icons moving around from location to location as you “run away.”  The feel is much more like a board game.  You enter a location and draw a card, although the “Nothing of Interest” card is never shown to you.  You just keep moving instead. Let’s say you moved into the space next to the butcher’s table. If an encounter is triggered you would get a dialogue box that pops up that shows you an image of what you see and a text description.  Maybe it’s some severed fingers scattered across the table or an odd blood stained dagger lying between the cleavers.  You will also get some options that you can choose from…i.e. inspect the dagger or fingers, leave it alone, etc.  I’ll go into the whole options mechanic in much more detail later on because it’s really the heart of the game along with how you resolve the choice you make  from the presented options.  The resolution of any “challenge” as I like to call them is through a trick taking Tarot card game that I made up.  More on that later.

That’s the central idea behind exploring the game locations and encountering the “scary” things that you will need to overcome to accomplish your mission.  In addition to the fixed encounters you will also have random encounters.  Some locations have a chance of generating an encounter when you move into it.  I’ll describe that system later as well.

What does the non-tile artwork look like?  I’ve been very hesitant to display that because it feels like a spoiler for so many of them.  I have over 150 illustrations for fixed encounters and I hate to give any of them away.  I’ve gone with a comic book type look. Errrrr, I mean graphic novel look.  I’m a big B.P.R.D. and Hellboy fan so I wanted to lean in that direction a bit visually. So since  you know you will be bumping into ghosts at some point I will reveal this one without any text spoilers as to what might happen when you are walking down a corridor and turn around to see this.