Engine thoughts
Wednesday, 30 May 2018

At the beginning of every game I take a step back and consider if I should switch engines or if I should just enhance our current engine. Note: we are almost to alpha with our latest game, Din's Legacy, so the last time I did this was several months ago.

When I started working on our first game, Depths of Peril, in late 2004 the decision was fairly easy. The choices were mostly license an engine like Unreal or Quake ($100,000+ per game), use an open source engine (usually graphics only and open source can cause lots of issues), or write my own engine. Given the options available at the time, I felt writing our own engine was the only realistic choice for us.

Fourteen years later, things have changed greatly. There are now several powerful engines that provide an entire game framework and don't cost too much, the big two being Unreal and Unity. If you are just starting out, these are great choices (so are probably many other engines), but Soldak isn't just starting out so it's much more complicated.

Some pros of other engines: better graphics (this is the big one), better physics, mobile versions, console versions, and probably many other small things.

Some cons of other engines: dynamic world problematic (need to be able to load huge parts, if not all, of a world in the background), random levels problematic (works against things like packaging, light maps, and pathfinding - basically everything that happens when you build/compile a level), might have to redo or rework many of our current assets, licensing costs (not nearly is bad as it used to be), learning curve, start over with game code or lots of porting work, no source code (some have it and some don't), and probably various other things.

The pros and cons list is where I get stuck every time. The pro of having better graphics would be very, very nice, but the cons list is basically everything that makes a Soldak game unique. Potentially losing dynamic and random worlds is basically a non-starter for us. Add on top of that all of the ramp up time to learn how everything works, rework/redo old art work, and port or rewrite all of our needed game code, it really just isn't feasible (we would go out of business before finishing the game). This is essentially why every game, I stick with our engine. Our engine has drastically changed over the years though, as I add new features. If I was from the marketing department, I would probably just say it is a new engine each time there is a major graphics change or brand it in some way. :)

Now if we ever decide to make a more linear RPG that will be a different story since a lot of the cons would go away. Anyway, these are some of my thoughts when I have to make a decision about an engine for each game.

As always comments are welcome and encouraged!

Thursday, 22 March 2018

In our next game, you play as one of the Mutated. They are closely related to the elves and a little to the dark orcs, but one of the main traits is that they mutate slowly over time. There are 3 main ways that this happens: randomly, mutation levels, and mutating with another character.

In rare cases, they can just mutate randomly. This is usually a direct consequence of things happening in the game. For example, if you are killed by a Scree, you might gain a fear of demons. If you kill a bunch of Orcs, you might gain an Orc killing bonus.

The player has a mutation level that goes up as they gain experience. This works similar to normal experience, except it has a high randomness component to it. When the player goes up a mutation level, they mutate in some way. This can give them a free skill level in any skill they have access to, give them a completely new random skill, add a new mutation, or mutate one of their skills.

A new mutation could be something good like Acid Blood where melee enemies take damage when they hit you. It could be something bad like Hemophilia where you receive deep wounds more often than normal. It could even be something in-between like Horns which increases your physical damage, but doesn't allow you to wear helmets.

Skill mutations affect a specific skill. There is a huge variety of ways that skills can mutate. Let's look at the fireball skill as an example (other skills work in a similar manner). Some possible mutations: splitting (extra projectiles), efficient (less mana used), quick (faster casting), blasting (larger blast radius), forking (splits into 2 when it hits an enemy), icy (adds cold damage), of lightning swarms (chance of adding balls of lightning when a fireball kills something), or armor melt (chance of adding an armor melt debuff on each enemy hit by a fireball), and many, many more.

For all of these mutations, you can go with the flow and accept them or you can fight against them. Essentially you can can spend skill points to remove the unwanted mutations. This is only a short term cost though, since you will regain these skill points when you go through a full mutation. Every time you gain a mutation level, you also get a mutation point.

For every mutation point, you can go through a full mutation with another character or a class specialty. During a full mutation, any skill that is not currently being used in some manner has a 45% chance of staying as it is, a 45% chance of being replaced by a random skill from the target character or specialty, and a 10% chance of being replaced by any random skill from ANY specialty. You will also regain any skill points used to remove unwanted mutations and your mutation level will readjust to how many mutations you still have.

Overall, while your character mutates randomly, you have a lot of control over the process.

Thoughts? Questions?

Opening up my development process
Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Some of you have suggested I open up my process more and in general want more details. Trello has been mentioned as a way to do this. I think Trello specifically would interrupt my process too much and would segment our audience even more than it already is. However, I do like the idea in general. So I'm going to try an experiment.

I already keep a todo list for each game and an overall done list. These are just simple text files, but they help me keep track of what tasks still need to be done, outstanding bugs/issues, gamer suggestions, and what I've finished. I don't think it would take much effort to basically make these public.

At least at the beginning, I'm going to do this through our forums with 2 pinned threads for each game, a todo thread and a done thread. This way people can easily comment on things as they happen, can subscribe to the threads so they get emails when there are new posts, gives everyone some insight into what is going on, and I can get a better idea of what might be interesting to tweet or blog about.

I think for the done thread, I will update the first post and make a new post each day that I work on that specific game. I also might need to start a new thread for each version to keep it relevant to what is currently going on. For the todo thread, I might really only be able to update the first post, since it changes so often, but we'll see.

What do you think?

Big changes in next game
Thursday, 01 March 2018

I mentioned this a little the other day with a tweet, but I thought it was important enough to get its own post.

During playtesting, I have found that the mutation between characters is really cool, but happening after death was really inconvenient. Adding something inconvenient right when someone might be frustrated isn't a good plan. :) It also gets in the way of pacing. It introduced a thoughtful, planning process right in the middle of a lot of action. So I've changed how this works.

Now you can mutate between characters whenever you want (limited by mutation points). With this change, the player has much more control over the process, it simplifies a bunch of things especially multiplayer, it will scare off less players because semi-permadeath sounds scary, it works better with pacing, and it even makes it easier to explain the game.

The mutation between characters and permadeath have always been tied together. Changing the mutation to whenever the player wants does make permadeath unnecessary, so that is going away also. I think these changes will make the game much better, but it is a little strange that my working name for the game is hardcore and that's the part I'm removing. :) This is one of the nice things about being an indie. I can explore a design and change anything I need to to make it the best game possible.

BTW, for those that do like hardcore, there is still a hardcore option similar to our previous games.

Comments as always are welcome and encouraged!

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

So I have been thinking of setting up a Patreon account for a long time now. The main point would be to steady our finances a bit if that is possible and we have been asked many times over the years if there was a way to donate money to us to ensure we keep making games.

The problem I keep running into is what could we offer in return (other than keeping us in business)? There are lots of things that we could do like exclusive videos, Q&As, exclusive posts, design input, etc. However most of these I feel like I really should release to the public to get more marketing presence, I already do and don't want to put behind a paywall, or I feel like it would fragment our already small community even more.

I have two ideas that I keep coming back to. The first is to have a Backer/Donation page on our website and possibly on the credits page in the latest game. This would list everyone (probably highest to lowest donation) that has ever donated or during the development period of the game in question. But would this interest anyone?

The other is to allow backers at a certain level to design a unique item, level, or monster every once in a while for our game that is in development at the time. Basically they would suggest the name, level, and modifiers. It would have to be approved of course (no Boaty McBoatFace). This might interest people and is not something we've really ever offered that I remember. Any interest?

Update: I decided to go ahead and set up a Patreon page and offer unique items, levels, monsters, NPCs, renegades, minor clans, chests, and gravestones.

Thoughts? Ideas of better rewards?

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