29 December 2013

Making a Roguelike: Magic Systems

As our roguelike nears its grand reveal, let me talk about magic in the game.

Magic needs to be mysterious. Magic needs to be weird. Magic needs to be hard to grasp. Otherwise it's not magic. In our game, as with many traditional roguelikes, magic comes in the form of things with randomized effects. As the main character is an illiterate, mundane person, there are no scrolls or spells to be learned. The three categories of magical artifact are: Potions, shrines, and amulets. Each of these three has a different way of activating them (and none of them can be activated by accident), each may have positive, negative, or mixed effects, and each has a distinctive way of being identified beforehand.

As I wrote before, the main characters illiteracy means that there are no scrolls and thus no typical "scroll of identify" to find out what the item you have found does. As the game is somewhat short and it is unlikely to encounter the same magical artifact multiple times, trial-and-error is a bad idea with potions. Well, it would seem like it is a bad idea to drink unknown fluids you find in a cave anyways but here that is somewhat enforced. Amulets may be a very helpful thing, but they also might be cursed, putting a negative effect on you, preventing you from using another amulet, and being generally nasty (and the way to get rid of them is very rare to be found). Shrines may be the domain of demonic entities, which will make your life harder if you attempt to contact them as praying to them might constitute agreeing to contracts that are not beneficial to you and your survival.

17 December 2013

Pen & Paper: Sandbox or Railroad Campaign?

So, I've been GMing an RPG set in space recently. The group took the first part of the campaign to escape from an interstellar prison-planet (yes, it's Butcher Bay. I know). Some characters died during a prison-riot that the group had started in order to form a distraction, but most of the group succeeded in escaping, forming bonds in the process, being cool and all.

Playing a campaign in prison had some advantages for me as a game master. The environment was limited, so were the NPCs to interact with - I made an exhaustive list of them and how they were grouped and what they were like. I had no plan how the group would escape the prison. They would have to figure one out themselves. It was a small-scale sandbox for my group to play in. Now, for what we call our second season, we have some new characters, some old ones, and the whole thing is set on a small ship escaping from the law. We basically went from Butcher Bay to Firefly. Which is nice. But entirely different in structure.

26 November 2013

Another Dwarf Fortress part 6: Traps active

I am playing Dwarf Fortress again and here I am, writing about what befalls my fortress. Check out the first, second, third, fourth and fifth part, before reading this one.

Sure as winter, the next goblin attacks came. I had readied the fortress as well as I could, reinforcing the militia with immigrants arriving "despite the danger" and building a corridor of traps where my old kill-corridor had been before. When my dwarves spotted a goblin ambush, I told everyone to hide inside and got the militia in position. Let them come through the traps first, each of them loaded with five weapons of different size and making, each of them capable of cutting an intruder apart.

The first fight that included the traps sadly also included an elven caravan that was in the process of unloading their goods at the trade depot and also a rather ballsy speardwarf charging into the trap-tunnel to fight the goblins there. That was not a very smart move because, although the dwarves normally don't activate the traps, he got stabbed in his leg, fell over and into one of the traps, only to explode in gore and vomit. The goblins quickly gave up on their ambushing though, albeit only after I was even quicker to lower the alarm-status of the fortress, which cost me five more dwarves before the hitherto hidden other goblin strikeforces were fought off.

20 November 2013

Another Dwarf Fortress part 5: Breaking the Cycle

I am playing Dwarf Fortress again and here I am, writing about what befalls my fortress. Check out the first, second, third and fourth part, before reading this one.

A human caravan was camping out in my fortress entrance and I was desperately enlarging the tombs so all of the dead dwarves could  be buried. The question on whether I could manufacture coffins faster than the dwarves were dying was answered with the first ghosts appearing in front of the fortress gate. Bummer. I also noticed that the cistern was being haunted, as some dummy dwarf had managed to drown in it. Still, the dying was slowing down and the dead militiadwarves were replaced soon enough.

Building more burial space...

When summer came around, the human caravan was still there and the trading-post had somehow broken down. I quickly built an new one when a dwarven caravan came around. The traders did their thing and I bought a lot of alcohol for my populace to drown their sorrow on. The humans were still there with their pack-animals, not doing too much. I didn't mind, as I could use the extra swords. When my dumping-pit started fuming with miasma, I made the tragic decision to take off the roof above it, creating a hole in my central entrance to let the fumes out so dwarves would still be able to dump garbage in there. A lethal mistake for the outpost liaison, who decided to hang around on the spot that was being trenched away on top. I imagine that not much was left of the guy after falling for ten z-levels...

26 October 2013

Another Dwarf Fortress part 4: Siege Aftermath

I am playing Dwarf Fortress again and here I am, writing about what befalls my fortress. Check out the first and second part, before reading this one.

Back in the day, in my play with the Great Draught, I learned that the system of psychology and social interactions in Dwarf Fortress has a disheartening side effect when great disasters happen: After you think the situation is under control and the dying has stopped, repercussions to the disaster happen. Dwarfs who witnessed death are traumatized and forlorn, those who lost loved ones will interrupt their work in fits of rage and depression, some will refuse to eat and drink and die of that, babies of deceased dwarves may go unfed, some dwarves go insane and kill their fellow dwarves, leading to a second wave of death and grief. If you're lucky, that second wave is not as bad as the first one and the dying will, so to speak, die down again.

After the great massacre of my dwarves by the hands of the goblins and trolls whose bodies now litter my refuse-pile, the dwarves were very distraught. Many, too many of them had lost friends and family to the attack, resulting in a wave of grief and sorrow. Sobbing and mad screams of tantrums filled the tunnels and halls of the fortress, whilst the masons tried to focus on their grim work of carving more and more coffins and the miners were ceaselessly expanding the tombs to hold more and more dead.

23 October 2013

Another Dwarf Fortress part 3: The Second Siege

I am playing Dwarf Fortress again and here I am, writing about what befalls my fortress. Check out the first and second part, before reading this one.

After the attack, several of the dwarves became depressed, having lost friends and family in the fighting. The dwarven children on the other hand were more content, as the dead invaders had brought clothes for them to wear (producing clothes is something I still haven't quite figured out). The population was growing and I was preparing for the next attack whilst also working on the betterment of the fortress.

I thickened the walls to double stength, mostly for stilistic purposes as I have yet to encounter anything that can break walls in the game. I started enlarging the living quarters and built a large second meeting hall, as well as a statue-garden and more kitchens on the second level below ground. Furthering metal-production, I was dead-set on getting all my close-combat dwarves into a full set of metal armor before the next big attack came. Food production would be advanced by creating more farming-plots underground on the third floor below ground. I also set up a prison, even though i do not know how to use it.

18 October 2013

Another Dwarf Fortress part 2: The First Siege

I have started playing Dwarf Fortress again. Let me tell you about my exploits!

After year 2 of my new fortress, the population had grown. I had dug out spacious housing for the dwarves, the militia counted twenty dwarves, the first two of which were armored with chainmail shirts and -leggins and the wall surrounding the area above the fortress was done too. There was a channel of water, protected by a grate underneath the wall leading through the water-hole in the pasture and into the cistern below, which held ten by ten by seven squares of water and had a well connected to the bottom floor of it in a room beside it, separated by a wall so dwarves couldn't fall into the cistern itself.

Food production was going great. Animals were being butchered as well as hunted, honey and eggs were produced, plump helmets and wild strawberries grew and sometimes I would even get my dwarves specialties from the caravans, such as cheese or rum. The masons and stoneworkers were working on making a really nice new meeting hall and carving appartments and offices for the nobles of the fortress. The defenses included a path inside the wall that was overlooked by a ballista behind an arrow-slit and there was a central room for crossbowdwarves to fire out of without being endangered themselves. I was getting giddy for action. That is never good in Dwarf Fortress...

16 October 2013

Another Dwarf Fortress part 1: Starting Out

I've recently been playing the great/complex/astonishing Dwarf Fortress again. My new fortress is using all I have learned to do in the game so far - and I'm still learning to use more features of the game, my ability to survive growing constantly. Let's see, how far this will get me this time...

The first year of the fortress was easy, as they always tend to be. Seven dwarves with hand-picked skill to get me trough my first winter and get a basic production and growth of the fortress going. A mason, two miners, a carpenter, a negotiator and a cook, I had the essential skills for all my dwarves. The group brought a small group of chickens and a rooster to get egg-production going too.

23 September 2013

Making a Roguelike: Thoughts on Combat

As our roguelike-project is starting to take the form of an actual, playable game (which I still won't publically reveal until we're at Beta-state), let me talk about the philosophy of encountering monsters in the game.

Monsters need to be scary. That is the very essence of the word. Monster. When I DM an pen & paper campaign, a fight that is not a threat to the player-characters' lives is not a fight worth rolling dice for. I dislike success-porn. When playing a video game, my opponents better be a threat to me too. If not, what's the point? For me as a player to feel good about myself? That's a bit like punching toddlers, isn't it? This is one of the main reasons I like difficult games for. Playing a game to overcome adversary (actual, effective adversary, not just pretend-one), not just to get a pad on the back.

26 August 2013

Gamescom 2013

So... I was at Gamescom 2013 - for work-purposes as I was there with the PR-department of a games-developer, rocking a stage in the consumer-area of the convention center. As I have just returned home last night after six days of hard work and slightly less hard parties, my thoughts on what I've seen and experienced are as of yet a bit unstructured but lest I start to forget, here come some snippets from my Gamescom-trip.

Please read on after the jump!

09 August 2013

Thoughts on Pen & Paper: Player Interactions

One of my players in our sci-fi pen & paper campaign complained that there wasn't enough player-interaction going on in the game. Being as he was the pilot, that was true. Being a fair GM, I thought I needed to change that. Being also a somewhat rough GM that I am, things went bad quickly. Well, the goal is for everyone at the table to have fun. Most things did work out. Read on to find out how things went!

Some people say that the pilot of a sci-fi campaign should better be an NPC, as all they have to do is fly everyone else from A to B and whenever they get action, everyone else is just strapped into their seats anyways. I usually try to levie that by having the others busy with quick-repairs and fending off boarders forming from the very walls of their own ship. Yeah, it's a rather high-tech setting. Now over the past few sessions, there really wasn't much dangerous piloting or space-combat to be done, just exploring an ancient tunnel system in a planet/optical computer/religious site. And they always left the pilot behind so yes, he got bored.

So I started with, when the rest of the crew returned to the ship and they started loading up loot into their cargo-bay, having the pilot see different stuff than everyone else. The implications were clear, as the pilot spent most of his time linked to the ships computer he would be the first target to any sort of cyber-attack. As the crew spend most of their free time in a VR simulation of whatever they like, the rest would fall too but they hadn't had a break for a while. So the pilot is going crazy, seeing an intruder who, after some testing by the chief of security, isn't there although she ship does react as if they were. The result is that the pilot gets knocked out with a phaser and restrained in the med-bay, where he spends the rest of the session, while the rest of the crew shuts down the computer core and fights the two escaped prisoners whom they had brought from another system.

I do agree that I kind of pushed my pilot into open rebellion against his comrades. He got phasered and forced to inactivity for most of the session, which was a bummer for him as a player but at least everyone else got to interact a lot with all the suspicion, threats, pulling of rank and discussion appropriate for the tense situation of being in a ship with a computer compromised by a vastly superior enemy.

I will have to find ways of doing this without the group restraining each other or going all-out PvP in the future. After all, we're all at the table to enjoy ourselves.

25 July 2013

Making a Roguelike: More Design Ideas

Let's talk about some more things we're implementing in our roguelike. Once again, I won't talk about the interface system yet but the mechanics of a good roguelike don't need much of that anyway, do they?

A lot of roguelikes require you to eat in order to survive. The classics, like Nethack do that, Rogue Survivor always puts you against the clock by having starvation threaten and force you out of hiding, one could even argue that a space-shooter roguelike like Transcendence does the same by having your ship consume fuel. The threat of starvation is a good gameplay mechanic to prevent the player from standing still too much if food is a limited resource. In our game, you die of dehydration, which is another name for the mechanic that I though was a little more realistic about what kills you first. If the game was more survival-based I'd probably have planned a hypothermia-feature as well but as it stands, the only two things in the game that kill you are lack of water and monsters.

You find sources of water in the cave. Statistically there should be some on every floor although statistics can lie and in our monster-less test-build there have been cases of death by dehydration. All the better, in a roguelike, sometimes the dice are just against you. Now on a somewhat lucky run, the finished game should take about 20 to 30 minutes to play through if everything goes well and you know what you're doing. If there are sources of water though, you could in theory just camp there. What do I as the designer do against that?

22 July 2013

Making a Roguelike: Some General Ideas

A friend and I are in the process of making a roguelike (or rogue-like or roguealike or rogue-lite or whatever. Screw the Berlin interpretation!). I won't tell too much about the greater concept yet but let's talk about some general ideas and design decisions regarding the game.

Our game, which is barely playable right now (it does generate a cave and one can wander around in it and even pick stuff up but there is little to no adversity as of yet - dehydration is currently the only true enemy), has a simple premise: You are a person, assumedly in some medieval time, walking through the forrest/mountain at night when you fall into a hole that is the entrance to a cave-system. You need to find a way out. When you think about it, this can be a rather terrifying thought and I had the idea when visiting a cave on vacation over New Year's 2011/2012. That particular cave was discovered by a man named Baumann (after whom the cave was susequently named) who was a miner in the olden days and got lost in it after his light went out. After three days he managed to find an exit (and tell his tale) only to die of being half-starved and being lost in a cold cave for days. This, I thought, could be made into quite the game. And then I decided to add monsters and some low-key magic. So what about those monsters?

20 July 2013

Adventures in KSP: Coming Home

So let's finish this adventure in KSP so we can get to new horizons with new parts and all that. I had recently returned from the surface of Duna and docked with the mother craft, the Troy. Now the last two hurdles would be to get back to a Kerbin orbit and then get the crew down to the surface. Alive, if possible. Here's how things went.

I had done the necessary math. Or rather, a website had done it for me. All that was left was to hope that the ship would have enough fuel to get into a stable orbit around Kerbin, if necessary with the help of atmo-breaking. My trio of Kerbals could now only look back to Duna and hope that future generations of Kerbals would keep on exploring that strange desert planet.

Looking ba-hack over my shoulder...
The weeks of interplanetary flight passed. Then the Kerbin encounter happened...

29 April 2013

Adventures in KSP: The Duna flight

Let's finish up this adventure so we can get to the updated version of KSP. Having gone to Duna with the Troy, my interplanetary spacecraft, I was in the process of getting my lander down to the planet. Let's see how things went...

So, we are going down to Duna. I had chosen the flat mare where I had set down my first probe before and aimed the lander at the place. The low terrain would help me estimate when I was actually approaching the ground and would give the parachutes more time to work.

Down there!

16 April 2013

This blog ain't dead!

Just to make it clear: This blog is not dead. True, I have let it go for a while, being in a new job and having less free time and all... That's about to change again. Not the job. The letting the blog rot. Here's what's going to come up over the next days and weeks:

-I have entered my One Page Dungeon in the contest of the same name. I'll explain my thoughts and design-decisions on it here soon.

-I shall finish the Duna-flight of my KSP-diary. Then, if I decide to keep writing about KSP, I'll start over from scratch as I have downloaded a newer version of the game (with electric rover-wheels! Multi-part Munbase, I am coming!)

-I'll give a review of a new RPG we're currently playing with a group of co-workers.

-I'll talk about the roguelike a friend and I are making.



29 January 2013

Randomizing a Location: Some Thoughts

A friend and I are working on a sort-of roguelike and I've made a randomization-system for creating a procedurally generated cave-system that's different every time one plays. This can be applied to both pen & paper RPGs and games of the video-variety.

Making an easy-to-use randomizer for a dungeon (or any other location that is separated into different rooms/sub-areas) is easy enough. Designing the whole thing so that it creates a certain type of shape or pattern that you wish to have for the game-area to have is the next step: Do you want a maze-like pattern with lots of dead-ends and crossings? Do you want a winding corridor? A sprawling necropolis of repeating chambers?

I wanted to simulate a cave-system that is somewhat natural in its genesis. Most caves are either carved by water (or lava, I guess) or fissures resulting from movements within the earth. While there are labyrinthine caves in nature, most of them are somewhat linear affairs branching off into side-caves every once. I limited my randomization-effort to four directions, as three dimensions and all that make things a bit to complicated. Then I thought up four different types of passage a player may encounter.

22 January 2013

Adventures in KSP: Going for Duna!

I've been playing Kerbal Space Program for a while now, recording my progress in this blog. Let's head for the second big milestone in my space-program: The flight to Duna...

Creating a spacecraft able to fly to Duna, land there, and get back was going to be a big step for my space program. I decided that the month-long trip would need a crew of multiple Kerbals and a crew container to house them so they wouldn't go mad in a cramped capsule. It was going to be a multi-part spacecraft to be assembled in orbit. I decided to go for a three-section approach: A central command module with the habitat, avionics and power-supplies, a thruster-section with fuel and nuclear engines, and a lander that could parachute-land on Duna and then return back to orbit with a Kerbal on board. Getting the former and the latter into a stable orbit for assembly around Kerbin was easy, getting the heavy engine-section up there was a bit harder: It took me six attempts to get the thing up there, and that only worked because I re-routed the fuel from the thruster-section to go into the starting-stages. So the whole thing ended in orbit drained of fuel. Two Kerbals came up with the habitat/command-module and one came up in the lander. The crew was on board, all I needed to do now was to actually fuel the whole thing up...
I present: The KSC Troy. Kerbonaut spacewalking for scale.

07 January 2013

Free Release! One Page Dungeon! 100th Post! 1 Year Blogiversary!

Well well well, it's been one year with this blog now, coinciding with my 100th post. Putting out something that's been in the works for quite a while this is a good point to get back a bit to role-playing, which has come a little short during the current Kerbal-streak I'm on.

So here (a bit more info after the jump) it is, intended to be entered into this years One Page Dungeon Contest: Midnight at Halcyons Coven:

06 January 2013

Adventures in KSP: Probing Duna

In this series of posts I'll tell my progression (and my throwbacks) at the brilliant Kerbal Space Program. I have currently set my sights to the neighboring planets, Eve and Duna. Join me in my quest for exploratory glory!

So, it was finally time to hit the first big point of interplanetary exploration. You see, Eve, interesting as the place is, was just a test. Or something like that. Anyways, Duna is the more interesting planet. Why? Well for one it has anomalies on it that can be discovered. Also, it's much more possible to do a manned shot with a return-option to Duna than to Eve. So, starting out unmanned, I launched an orbital Deliverator with extra fuel-tanks and a landing-probe attached to it in the general direction of Duna. Not only would this allow me to land an automated probe on the planet, it would also give me something with which to help a future mission retrieve their lander from a low orbit.

The mission started with a standard heavy-duty asparagus engine, in the middle of the night so that I'd get away from the sun and more towards the orbit of our target, Duna.

I'm missing something, aren't I?