Archive for the ‘Ideas and Lore’ Category

Skill Paths

Friday, September 16th, 2016

On top of working on some new campaign art I’ve been tackling some of the many features that have until now only existed in rough conceptual form. One of these is character progression, which has taken several forms during the design of Iron Tides. About six months ago I came up with a card-based system that presented the player with a choice between two fates when they leveled up. Each of these fates granted a different set of new attribute boosts and traits. If you didn’t like either fate you could sacrifice to the gods and redraw another set of two to choose from.

This was a pretty interesting take on progression, but eventually I figured it was a bit too cumbersome, given that characters in Iron Tides are relatively expendable. So I distilled the concept down into a simpler and more familiar form: a procedurally generated skill path. As in the fate system, there is a sequence of upgrades with most of them hidden. But you’re always shown what the next skill on the path is, and by assigning skill points you have more control over how to build a character. If you’re not a huge fan of the currently revealed skills, you can race ahead on the skill path, spending only a single point at each step. Then when you find a skill you really like you can invest into it.

Another interesting outcome of this system is that higher level characters are more defined in their characteristics. A level 1 character only has 2 points to work with, so at most can only have the first three skills revealed. Their potential is still largely unknown, and is up to you to uncover. By comparison a veteran of many raids will have nearly all their skills, and will have diverged a great deal from what’s usually expected of their class.

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– Peace and progress

 

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Encounters on the High Seas

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

I’ve been putting some additional content into our encounter event system. For the time being these events are rather simple one-step affairs, with a situation presented and the choice involving some sort of exchange of resources. Eventually I want to work a little more narrative into these, as well as some element of risk. Do you trust this wanderer who says he needs your help carrying treasure? Or is he looking to lead you into an ambush?

I also want to use this system to trigger battles in different ways. Whether you choose to hold your ground or rush headlong into the enemy encampment will result in distinctly different combat scenarios. Whichever proves better will depend on your available resources and appetite for risk taking.

– Peace and rewarding encounters

 

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A New Plan

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

Oh wow, it’s been longer than I thought. But not to worry, I’m not abandoning the blog by any means. These three-month breaks just build up the all-important anticipation for the next nugget of wisdom.

So, the you-know-what game is finally done in both its versions. In another display of utter predictability, this thing has taken much longer than I anticipated. Also, it hasn’t been the kind of success I was hoping for. But past is past, and it’s finally time to move on to some new ideas. No more lane combat or tower defense. And most importantly, no more five month projects! I’ve got half a dozen promising ideas packed away in the old vault, and something of a new business plan. These new ideas are pretty diverse and relatively simple. The plan is to aim for 3-4 weeks development time per project, with joint launches through Mochi and iOS. The first game in this plan is Age of Inventors, which already has a preview up on the site. This one should be done early next month, but given my track record you shouldn’t believe a word I say about release dates.

Other ideas on the list include a really simple space 4X game with customizable alien aces, a robo combat game (distant descendant of Scrap Metal Heroes), an exploration-focused trading company game, a wilderness survival game, and a defense game featuring airships (but definitely no towers).

But don’t worry, I haven’t quite sold my soul yet. Had I done that, I’d be coding virtual carrot purchasing on Facebook by now. Despite the number of games in this agenda, I’m not planning to produce mindless shovelware. If anything, I’m looking to improve on quality and originality, but still keep the scope down to something a bit more manageable. From a business perspective this rapid development plan makes a lot of sense to me, and it also lets me explore a lot more ideas and themes. With a five-month project I pretty much end up hating my own game by the end; such is the nature of over-exposure.

Another thing I’d like to avoid in the future is lump sum sponsorship deals, even though that’s been my best revenue source to date. But the thing is, it doesn’t really build up anything. It’s just one lump of cash and then it’s off to the next thing. I’d rather work on something to continuously build up my own brand and revenue stream. I mean, passive income is the holy grail, right? And it actually seems perfectly doable in this line of work. For a solo dev like myself, a revenue stream of $200 per day would be great. That adds up to more than 70k per year after all. And with 20 games in a portfolio, each one would only need to make 10 bucks a day. Thirty thousand ad impressions plus seven sales on iOS would do it. With even a half-decent business model, it sure doesn’t seem like much.

But enough of the boring biz talk for now. The inventions are waiting!

– Peace and new ideas

 

 

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World Building

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the world of Arkeia. The ‘Empires of Arkeia’ game itself takes place in only a small part of it, but I’ll probably use more of this world in future titles. The original, paper version of the map goes way back, perhaps as far back as high school. I rediscovered it about a year ago and proceeded to expand on it. The basic concept is a low magic fantasy world with a concrete foundation in real history. The dominant landmass here is effectively a distorted version of Europe. Lyonia is kinda like Spain, Kelden is Gaul (modern France), Eyren is Celtic Ireland, Strazza is Germany, Hestia is Italy, Helian Isles are Greece, Kemet is Egypt, etc. The fictional cultures within are by no means exact analogues, of course, but their key traits and names are very similar. It could be argued that this way of creating fantasy is terribly unoriginal. Just grabbing a bunch of historical archetypes and slapping on a veneer of magic, instead of coming up with something really unique. And yes, that’s essentially true. But here’s the thing: true originality is effectively impossible. Although you can get pretty close to it. You could invent a culture where people wear colorful hoops around their shoulders and sleep upside down in tree houses. Perhaps they have names like Dkartubbii and Gkirbboo. That sounds pretty original to me. But developing all that out in consistent detail is really hard work. And then your audience will have to work equally hard to learn all that crap, because it’s so different from everything they already know. Even when all that work is done, the audience will probably still find your world strange, implausible and difficult to relate to.

In my own experience, the novels I’ve found to be the most plausible and memorable have always rested on strong historical tropes. The Game of Thrones (aka ASoIaF) series is a prime example. Westeros is basically medieval England, with a touch of mediterranean culture in southern Dorne. In fact, you could safely place the series in the 14th century, judging by their armor and castle building skills. Arguably, that makes it all a touch too familiar, but it does make it easy to get a feel for how the world works. Interestingly, the eastern region in GoT has a much weaker historical basis. It’s more of a mish mash of oriental influences, with some further bits of entirely fictional exotica. There’s definitely touches of Arabia, Persia, India and Babylon in there. Of course the ancient Valyrians are somewhat like the Romans. And the Ghiscari have a bit of a Carthaginian ring to them. But because it’s all such a mish mash, you can’t effectively use pre-existing knowledge to infer unsaid details. Just because they have pyramids doesn’t necessarily mean they have a powerful priesthood and really like mummies. As a result, I’ve heard from a lot of people that they find the eastern cultures shallow and implausible.

The novels of Guy Gavriel Kay are another good example. I’m reading one now called Tigana, which takes place on a peninsula quite similar to renaissance Italy. Except this time its being fought over by two greedy sorcerers from beyond the sea. From what I’ve heard, many of his other books take it even further, going to the point where specific characters are clearly based on historical figures. There’s drawbacks to this approach for sure, but it works especially well for a non-visual medium. If it seems like 16th century Italy, you immediately have a good idea of what clothes, buildings and furniture should look like. Even if you only know because you’ve played Assassin’s Creed 2.

You don’t see this done very often in games, really. Fantasy-set games tend strongly towards some very well worn high fantasy tropes. Some shallow, Arthurian version of medieval Europe with a bit of random geographic and cultural bits thrown in from elsewhere. All of it mythified and mysticalized up the wall, always with an ancient, newly woken evil spreading through the land. It all blurs together for me, honestly. The lore between many of these games is just so interchangeable. Aside from the predictable, medievalish foundation, a major culprit for me is the overuse of magic. What you might call the ‘dragon-out-the-ass-effect.’ Things might start out with a perfectly understandable sequence of events in the lore, with a bunch of kings, armies, betrayals, etc. Then out of the blue a wizard pulls a dragon out of his rear and takes over the land. The rules of the world seem to go right out the window. And you start to wonder, can anyone yank out these dragons? What are the exact limits of anal dragon magic? Rarely are these questions ever answered, with a coherent set of rules provided by which the world is supposed to function. Magic just happens, doing whatever the hell the writer feels like it should.

Skyrim is one of the few examples that does use a specific historical setting to create a more plausible sense of place. It should be commended for it, although the game’s backstory is still little different from the usual gibberish. Really, there needs to be more of this (the setting, not the gibberish). Why is there so much Tolkien-derived, shallow Arthurianism? Why so many orcs, elves and lich kings? Where are the fantasy epics inspired by Aztec society? By the wild west? By ancient Tibet? By the Mali Empire? By bronze age India? History is so full of colorful variations on the human experience, and we seem to be stuck peering at the same narrow slice of it.

There’s a simple answer of course. You may have noticed that I’ve got my own orcs and skeletons too. Why would I do that, if I’ve got such a problem with the old cliches? Because they work. Empires of Arkeia is a small, rather simple game aimed at a casual audience. It needs easily recognizable bad guys. While it does have some Greekness to it, and I’ve written out plenty of history-inspired complexity to the rest of the world, there’s really no room in the game to show it. There are some Greek-inspired names and helmets but that’s about it. Eventually, I’ll get to the epic Tibetan fantasy world we’ve all been waiting for, but I’ve got to start somewhere.

– Peace and well-built worlds

 

 

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