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RPG – in search of Space Monsters

Some more thoughts on an HTML5 mobile adventure game

I’m determined to make an HTML5 adventure game so here goes with some more thoughts on the potential design of such a game.

The games that work best for me are the ones that are instantly accesible. Load assets (acceptable delay) > splash screen (acceptable and expected delay as long as it’s short) > title screen / menu > straight in to the action.
I employ this with all my games and simply offer a link on more recent titles to study a “how to play” screen.
For my adventure game I want to offer something similar that allows the player to simply pick up from where they left off with just a tap of the menu.

The game itself I would want to centre around the pursuit of experience (XP) and therefore higher levels.
Combat would be a huge feature in the game as would the collection of loot. All fairly standard for an adventure game so far.

Where I want the game to stand out is in its “randomness”.
I enjoy crafting structure to arcade games such that the player’s expectations for what he will see in each level are always met. Consistency is key in games where the player is chasing a high score.
But with my adventure game I want the experience to persist across multiple game sessions with the player finding himself in a new location / situation every time he comes to play.
In some circumstances that situation may be a confrontation and the player’s options will be FIGHT or ATTEMPT TO FLEE.
In other circumstances the situation may be designed to progress the story, say an in-game character attempts to talk or barter with you. The player’s options in such a scenario are varied.

In any scenario I would aim to present two buttons on the screen at any one time – the player’s actions being limited to simple A, B decisions.

Example 1 – interaction

The Inn-Keeper wants to talk with you.
TALK selected.

The Inn-Keeper tells you a story about the fabled treasures buried within the dark castle’s dungeons and guarded by the spirits of the King’s fallen soldiers. -more-

Example 2 – confrontation

A GRUE stands before you and demands that you surrender your weapons and gold.
[ FIGHT ] [ FLEE ]
FIGHT selected.
The combat screen appears and the player must fight the GRUE to the death.
All adversaries drop loot.

I call each of these scenarios STAGES.
Stitching each stage together in a way that captures the player’s imagination and moves the story along is vital to the game’s success.
After each stage I would save out to localStorage all of the game’s data. Asking the player to save progress seems terribly out-dated to me.

Clearly this sort of a game experience works best when the player has limited time available to play.
Pick up the phone, launch the game, complete a stage, close the phone. Next time the player comes to play he finds himself that bit further on.
Indeed changing the location is very important to allow the player to feel that he is progressing through an adventure story.

What I haven’t completely thought out is how to present these stages when the player has perhaps half an hour to kill.
Although half an hour is an extraordinary amount of time to play a mobile web game it must be considered.
My initial thoughts are to use a map and have the player attempt to move between locations to unravel the story.
Another variation on that theme would see the player progressing through a randomly generated map with towns, villages, citadels and places of interest all popping up at loosly defined intervals to give the impression of a realistic world.

In a town or village the options system would change. The player would be in a safe zone so there would be no need for combat decisions.
In a “place of interest” the player would have a different challenge. Perhaps a stealth mission where the player controls his character around a maze whilst trying to avoid monsters.
If successful the player is rewarded with treasure.
In places of interest there would always be the threat of combat regardless of the underlying challenge to the player.

Another slightly more radical idea I have had is to make the game completely open-ended. No fixed goals. Simply let the player explore the world and discover new things whilst advancing his XP and level.

Still very much at the “brain-storming” stage but I’m getting closer to actually laying some code down and fleshing out the game.
I have that many concepts on the shelf just now it’s ridiculous. Hopefully one of these will see the light of day soon!

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.

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