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Dungeons and Dragons – in search of Space Monsters

Looking for inspiration again with old fantasy games

The last couple of times I’ve tried to create an original game I’ve ended up taking the seeds of a game off the shelf and completing it. I’m determined this time to actually explore something new.

I’ve been digging around the web ( well, YouTube mainly ) for some of the games that I enjoyed playing on friends home computers back in the day. There are some classics ranging from Elite ( still an astonishingly complex game ) to Knight Lore to Boulderdash to countless platform games to… well just about everything.
Something that struck me was the way that games were named back then. There was a certain romance about the title and the image that it conjured in your mind. Even if the actual game didn’t quite live up to the dramatic title.
It wasn’t uncommon to be buying games called “The Castle of Terror” or “Haunted Citadel”. Proper fantasy titles with action that centered around the exploration of dungeons and the hurling of magic and such.
I loved those games and have done my best to honour them with my earlier games. e.g. Castle Adventure.


Atari Gauntlet


I’m quite intrigued by the notion of “buddy” games. Golden Axe, Gauntlet and other such titles. It’d be pretty cool to pick a character to control from a selection of, say, four characters. Then once you’re in the game the CPU controls the other three.
I’ve blogged about my love for Gauntlet before in some detail.
I like the idea of ridding randomly generated dungeons of all manner of hell beings and then counting up the gold at the end. Possibly with a shop or something to power your team up.


Atari Gauntlet

Atari's Gauntlet - screenshot

I’ll enjoy opening up Photoshop and doodling some character designs. Just to get a feel for what such a dungeon game might look like.

I’d also like to research putting the game on to Facebook and getting a multiplayer angle to it.

I can see the benefits of it. Imagine the following scenario.

You’re on Facebook and 3 of your friends are also online. You send them a quick message “Hey, let’s go play Dungeon Adventures” ( or some such title ). The game populates with 4 players and away you go !

Better still you could form a party that the game saves based on your Facebook login so next time it’s even easier.

All just ideas right now and quite exciting.

Quest – playing with the mechanics

Playing with the format of an RPG is rather fun. Once I put all the stats in place the actual format / presentation / challenge of the game is something that can be tweaked quite merrily.

The original format of the game as defined by my simple dozen word design document was something along the lines of “journey between locations encountering situations en route.” These situations naturally required gamer intervention and I’d send out an alert – email or SMS – to have the player step in and sort the mess out. e.g. Your party are being attacked by Orcs ! Click here to jump in to the fight and command your party.

The theory was that a background process would periodically process the game based on the data that it had and produce a scenario which I would then have to deal with. Which was great and ultimately quite a lot of fun since each scenario would then be relayed back to me as a kind of mini-story. I enjoyed it but felt that the fire-fighting element of it was in some way lacking. So I put my thinking cap on again.

I retained the idea of a background process (for now) and shifted all the emphasis away from breaking up the journey between waypoints to become more of a “here you go, I’ll configure the party now off you go and I’ll see you at the next quest location”.

So what happened was I reduced the amount of player interaction quite drastically to the point where I simply had one pop at empowering and configuring my party. The rest was up to them.

Here’s a rough idea of what may be presented:

Your party have arrived in the small harbour town of Katryl.
Party stats: GOLD (20,890)
Ranger HP 275 Mana 70 STR 14 INT 14 Armour 80(150) LVL 21
Warrior HP 292 Mana 40 STR 19 INT 12 Armour 140(190) LVL 20
Mage HP 200 Mana 220 STR 12 INT 18 Armour 74(130) LVL 18
Paladin HP 230 Mana 186 STR 15 INT 17 Armour 125(180) LVL 22
Rogue HP 244 Mana 84 STR 16 INT 15 Armour 130(175) LVL 21
Rogue Dagger STR 12 INT 12 DAM: 8 – 12
Short Sword STR 16 INT 14 DAM: 10 – 16
Simple Cloak STR 10 INT 18 ARM: +19
Knight’s Helm STR 14 INT 12 ARM: +60

++ Log ++
Combat: Swamps outside Katryl.
Raptor (4), Bog Slime (3)
GOLD: +3,420
Ranger: EXP +2,500
Warrior: EXP +1,890
Mage: EXP +850
Paladin: EXP +2,000
Rogue: EXP +1,950

I deliberately kept the stats on each character to a minimum. As you can see what I intend to do here is provide the player with an interface to divide up the loot. I only list 4 items, in reality this list could be several dozens. The upshot is that the player may well be spending a good half hour configuring his party before he sends them off again.

So each location now becomes a safe haven. Previously I had intended to place the party in to any number of location types – hostile, safe, mysterious.. – but I now rather like the idea that when I’m involved the party are free from combat and their next foray in to the wilds of my fantasy world will be a success or otherwise based on how I prepare them.

This of course brings up the ugly question of how to handle death. Well I’ve given this much thought and continue to give it much thought. I figure as long as there’s a healer in the party there’s a chance of revival. If the healer gets hit then the party is pretty much going to fall apart. So the enforced tactic of protecting the healer comes to the fore.
There’s a fair bit to think about but I think the idea is fairly sound just now.

Telling a story / relaying the log is a fun part and something I will expand upon in due course.


Quest – defining a rich fantasy world that tells ME the story

Questing party from DragonlanceQuest is a project.
I always wanted to create a game that was essentially something to dip in and out of at will and the content would be different. Since it’s a game I also wanted to be able to present varying challenges and puzzles.
All of my games to date have been arcade games with the kind of action and pace that I was so fond of as a kid. Indeed the 3 recent games were very much an exercise in rewriting my favourite type of games from my youth.
But with Quest I wanted something different. Something a lot less hands on and a good deal more, well, thought provoking.

In essence I wanted to create a game in which I was very much a spectator. I wanted a level of interaction naturally but above all I wanted to feel as though every time I “played” the game I was being told a story.

In order to make this happen I knew that I needed a good deal of depth. Each character, location and inventory item needed to be represented by a wealth of numbers and flags in the background. So I set about crafting a database to store it all.
My research for all of this took me off to AD&D headquarters at Wizards of the Coast. Well, in that I studied their web site and trawled forums to get a feel for what was important to genuine pencil, paper and dice RPG enthusiasts. What struck me most was just how much detail these gamers rely on. It’s quite overwhelming.

So finally after about 6 weeks of assembling, testing, tweaking and administering I have a database and fully functional editor such that I can create and administer everything from Monsters and Characters to Locations, Inventory Items, Combat Situations and Treasure Chances. I even go to the trouble of weighting each entity such that I can calculate the probability of having such items reappearing or indeed their abundance within their environment. There are relationships throughout the system to allow me to create a realistic world with logical inhabitants based on class, temperament, religion and a whole host of things. Even though I say it myself my world editor is beautiful.
I’m that sad I’ve spent the past week just tinkering with the base class of a few monsters to see how it affects the world around them and the behaviour of potential nearby NPCs. To have this level of control over a world is my dream. And it’s all text. I’ve deliberately steered clear of creating graphics since it’s just not necessary right now.

So I moved on a step in the last couple of days and actually put the world to test. I created a party of 6 members (all of whom are my friends with suitably appropriate statistics, e.g. the big guy is the muscle man, the athletic guy is the thief etc) and placed them in to a logical starting point – a town. The system is set to take what I refer to as snapshots over a set period – currently 15 minutes but most likely 1 hour in live. With every snapshot I assess the situation of the party based on a set of instructions handed to them by the player.
For example: if the last instruction was to travel to a given location I assess how far they have traveled based on the world they’re traveling through. Fairly basic stuff. If at any point en route they encounter hostilities or anything for that matter that requires intervention, I alert the player (me) via email and send a link to the controlling web page.

What’s so satisfying about this is that it hooks in to something that I enjoy in web browsing – the potential for someone to have contacted me or responded to a post or query on a forum. The Facebook phenomenon epitomises this. How thrilling to receive a number in a red circle. Who or what is after me ?
I wanted this in Quest. The potential for something different with every visit. But I also wanted something that prodded me. Something that said “hang on, something’s changed in this virtual world and you really need to come and address it”. Better still I wanted to regress and enjoy the same kind of adventuring thrills that I had as a child with my hopelessly overactive imagination. Quest is allowing me to do this. It is allowing me to not only be Dungeon Master and adventurer but also, and I hesitate in saying this, God.

Once I’ve adapted the front end a little I will talk in more detail about the design of the game system and where I think the real thrills (for me) of Role Playing lie.


Looking forward to Dungeon Siege III

Dungeon Siege screenshot

As an arcade gamer and arcade game designer I tend to shy away from games where I spend all my time managing stuff. I rather like the concept of managing stuff in games but in reality I have very little patience for it.
I must have downloaded a multitude of games for iPad alone where I’m required to manage an individual, a party, a city or a football team and I always have the best of intentions in seeing it through.

Sadly I never get past the tutorials phase and instead of seeing my football team through from the lowest division in to the top flight of the Premier League I always just cut to the chase and fire up FIFA. Worst still these days I have found rather a lot of comfort in the painfully addictive Flick Kick Football (high score 547 in arcade mode if your’re interested)

But there was always one game that I had a tremendous amount of time for in that it blended beautifully the arcade elements of my favourite games with the RPG style management of a party of adventurers and that game was Dungeon Siege.

10 years ago I cranked this game up and expected Diablo. Diablo of course had set a high standard in fantasy RPG and I rather liked the mood and style of the game. But I never finished it. When I found that Dungeon Siege was actually more of a hack and slash that nodded toward RPG in its most basic form I was very pleased indeed. I’d found not only a worthy follow up (for me, not the industry) to the Diablo experience but a game in which I could feel at home.

There were many things about DS that hit home for me. I loved the initial sense of something far greater taking place in the kingdom of Ehb. The fact that I was a lowly farmer’s boy and the world around me was in turmoil was intriguing. A kind of Luke Skywalker type kick start to a magical adventure battling hideous mythical beasts, Dragons and all manner of hell on Earth.
What unfolded over the next hour or two was exciting not least for it’s presentation of hostile environments and seemingly desperate lost causes (it wasn’t uncommon to find yourself straying from the beaten path and in to a cave where you quite feasibly figured you’d find a way out ! Only to discover that the way out was the way in) all of which brought you to a safe zone in the shape of a village, trader’s post or fortress.

I particularly liked the villages. I loved the fact that my growing party (whom I considered personal friends in my cosy little make-believe imagination) could all enter a village, seek the nearest tavern and relax and get to know each other. Of course none of this happened in the game itself. It was all in my head but hey, that’s all part of the adventure :)


Dungeon Siege was crying out for an update and when the Legends of Aranna DVD came out I devoured it. Dungeon Siege II was a different experience altogether and I pretty much skipped it but now we have Dungeon Siege III on the horizon.
Being the proud new owner of an XBox360 I am practically p*ssing my pants at the prospect of regressing 10 years in to a game world that I adored.
When the kids are in bed and the wife is reading I shall be assembling my party and venturing further forth in to the hostile but visually stunning Kingdom of Ehb for another chapter of hack and slash wonderfulness.

Go take a look at the official site for the game.

The art of Dungeons & Dragons


© Larry Elmore

I have always adored the paintings that accompany Dungeons & Dragons books, games and adventures. They’re beautiful depiction of such rich and fascinating fantasy worlds is the most inspirational thing for somebody with a wild imagination like mine.

For a long time I had no clue who was responsible for these masterpieces and then a conversation with a D&D enthusiast led me to a list of artists to explore.

Of all those artists it was Larry Elmore who really stood out. His compositions were and are just beautiful. His characters are full of expression and warmth and yet at the same time suitably mystifying or hostile in their appearance. His ability to draw stunning mountain vistas or rich woodland is second to none. But what I love the most is his use of colour. Every piece is so rich with colour. There’s no hiding behind the light and shade with Elmore’s work, it simply doesn’t warrant it. Yet it must be so tempting to paint in that way given the fanastical subject matter. How can any artist resist painting a Dragon lurking in the darkness his eyes glimmering like diamonds and his scaley skin glistening by torch or moonlight.

This is not Elmore’s style and I admire him for it. With his style of painting you get a full canvas worth of art. You can see for miles.
This in itself is inspirational. To be able to focus on the characters in the foreground and imagine their story is one thing but to see the valleys and mountains far in the distance from which those characters must have come is another wonderful layer of imagination.

I aim now to try and collect a few prints of Larry Elmore’s work and frame them for my office. Wonderful work from an outstanding artist.


Becoming a Dungeon Master

As a kid I could never see the fascination with Dungeons and Dragons. I’d much rather be outside playing football or riding my bike. In the rough weather I’d be quite happy sat reading a book or blasting my way through some Atari arcade game. The whole D&D thing pretty much bored me.
Perhaps as a young 12 year old boy I had even less patience than I have today ! That in itself is pretty scary since I have precisely zero patience these days :)

The one thing I can be certain of is that I didn’t lack the imagination to play the game as a boy. I was positively overflowing with it. Strange then that I didn’t at least give it a go.

This weekend I sat with a bunch of old school mates and as always we reminisced and sank several beers. A thoroughly enjoyable night and something we try to do as frequently as possible.
Advanced Dungeons and Dragons book imageSomething that came up was the topic of D&D. Now the guys I was sat with all loved playing the game as kids and talked at some length about their campaigns of old. Lovingly reciting their finest battles with Dragons, Orcs and Knights of the Underworld I listened with fascination at just how much detail there was to be found in the whole experience.
It probably goes without saying that I now wished I’d been a part of it. It sounded right up my street. So I suggested we do it again. 30 years later let’s have a stab at playing it all again. I saw myself comfortably fitting the role of Dungeon Master in that I could weave a good yarn and present countless fantastical challenges and scenarios for the party. I of course knew nothing about D&D but I’ve played Neverwinter Nights so how hard could it be :) To help things along I bought a book. Admittedly outdated but considering I know nothing about it anyway I figured anything would help !

Since leaving the guys on Saturday night I’ve been somewhat preoccupied with all things D&D. The whole concept of a pen and paper RPG experience is thrilling me. I’ve started my first Google Doc on the subject and am adding to it hourly with tons of ideas for plots, quests, setups, characters and challenges in beautiful and dangerous environments.
Whether we all agree to sit down and play or not I don’t know but I will be a Dungeon Master some day come hell or high water :) Even if I have to go adventuring on my own. I just need to somehow convince my good old buddies that it’s a good idea.

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