Back to work! Pre-Alpha Combat Skills

I am finally getting back to work on Project Gorgon, and after a few days of “Oh my god this is a full-sized MMO what the hell is wrong with me” terror, I got back into the swing of things. So what am I working on this week? The four combat skills in the pre-alpha. They are Fire Magic, Sword, Unarmed, and Werewolfing.

Now for pre-alpha I only really need one combat skill to prove you can kill things. But I went overboard and am doing four. The final game will also have a ton of auxiliary skills that add to the combat skills — for the pre-alpha, I’m just providing one auxiliary skill for each one.

I picked these because they help me flesh out the tech. (The werewolf system in particular is a huge special-case-fest that has helped me stretch the system’s boundaries dramatically.) But I want even the most mundane combat skill to be unique and flavorful… hopefully a bit of that flavor will seep through even in this early form.

Let me know how these sound. Fun? Terrible?

Unarmed

Every player starts with Unarmed skill and can Punch things. However, if you punch a tiger, that’ll go about as well as it would in real life. Unarmed represents martial-arts skill, and it’s hard to get good at martial arts. It’s easier to kill a tiger with a sword than with your bare hands. Unarmed is not really a starter skill — however, it can be useful as a second skill. Punching doesn’t require any energy, so you can keep punching right up until the bloody end. This makes it handy to mix with Fire Magic, which uses a lot of energy.

Unarmed gets more dangerous at higher levels, but it’s never as good at murdering as, say, Sword. But it has great special abilities, like stuns and knockback kicks.

All combat skills have non-combat synergies: skills that help make it more powerful. For the pre-alpha I’ll implement Meditation as the synergy for Unarmed. Meditation is very simple: you pick an item in your inventory and choose to meditate on it. This gives you a Combo that will work for the next 24 hours. The combo you learn will be based on the item you meditate on. So if you meditate on a piece of armor you might get the combo “Punch, Punch, Kick” to deal extra damage. If you meditate on a sandwich you might learn “Kick, Kick, Cobra Strike” instead. I’m not yet sure what the exact system will be, as I haven’t implemented it yet.

But here’s the important thing: you can never meditate on the same thing twice. You can meditate on a Starter Sword one day and an Apple Pie the next, but once you’ve meditated on something, it’s useless for further meditation: no Starter Swords or Apple Pies anywhere will work. However, ordinary items work just as well as rare items, so it’s not like you need to hoard special things to meditate on — you just have to constantly find new things to use. There’ll be thousands of items in the game so this shouldn’t ever be a severe limitation… but eventually it might be something you need to keep in mind.

Dhalsim knows how to optimize his Unarmed skill.

Meditation will have other uses (for instance, it boosts your Max Power for the Psionics combat skill), but for the pre-alpha I don’t think I’ll get any of the other uses implemented.

Sword

Sword skill is a good baseline combat skill. It does average damage against most enemies, and it can chop through armor just as quickly as it chops through flesh. Its special powers are centered around keeping an enemy from building up enough Rage to use their dangerous Rage Attacks, which makes the skill both offensive and defensive.

I’m still trying to get a handle on Rage Attacks — figuring out how often they should go off, how violent they should be, that sort of thing. So I’m not yet sure how important it is to be able to stop Rage attacks… but I’ll get things in the right ballpark eventually.

You learn new Sword abilities just by leveling up in the skill. There are also some secret techniques that can be purchased from trainers, but those are very rare for Sword.

For pre-alpha, Sword’s synergy skill is Calligraphy. (Historically, Chinese and Japanese martial arts are tied closely to the art of calligraphy.) I’m not sure how Calligraphy works yet, though. I was planning to do Blacksmithing, but that skill needs more tech than I have right now, so I grabbed Calligraphy from the list of skills. However, the design notes for Calligraphy make it seem extra-special dumb. So I’ll see if I can think of something else… I’ll let you know how that goes.

Fire Magic

Fire Magic is the easiest offensive magic to learn. (That’s true because the placeholder text on one of my NPCs says so. And hey, sounds canon to me.) For a while I was worried about “how can I make fire magic fun?” Then I hooked up the explosion for the Fire Burst spell, and realized: no worries. Exploding stuff is inherently satisfying.

Fire Magic does good damage and it has range. However, many things are resistant to fire, and fire magic is highly Rage-inducing, which means your opponents will get to use their Rage Attacks more often. (Of course, if it’s a melee monster that dies before it reaches you, it doesn’t get to use its Rage Attacks. But if you’re fighting an archer or a tough meleer, you’ll need to use some tactics.)

You learn new Fire Magic spells by researching them. This is just a crafting recipe: you plug in some raw components, click Research, and it tells you if you learned a new spell. There are quite a few Fire Magic spells to discover — I’ve already coded eight or nine varieties of Fireball alone. For instance, the Long Range Fireball is great for pulling. The Superdense Fireball makes enemies more vulnerable to fire, and the Agony Fireball does less direct damage but more slow-burning damage. You’ll have to figure out which ones work for you.

Fire Magic also has a few strategic spells like Fire Wall — a stationary fire pit that burns anything that gets close.

For the pre-alpha, I’m going to use the Lore skill as an auxiliary for Fire Magic. You increase your Lore by examining weird items and fixtures in the game, reading lore books, that sort of thing. It’s an exploration skill: the more you explore the world, the more Lore you’ll have. Lore boosts your mana pool so you can cast more spells. (That’s not what Lore is intended to do in the final game… it won’t even be directly related to Fire Magic. But since it’s already implemented, I’m hooking it to Fire Magic for the time being.)

Werewolf

In this game, a werewolf doesn’t have a convenient “manimal” form. They can only transform into a super-large, super-violent canine. Most NPCs are too afraid to talk to a werewolf in wolf form. Wolves also can’t wield weapons or tools. But one thing werewolves are good at is murder — preferably murder with friends.

During the full moon, you’re stuck in the wolf form for three straight real-world days. Outside of that time period, you can change back and forth voluntarily… well, you can become a wolf any time you want, anyway — changing back requires a skill check, as the wolf spirit doesn’t want to be repressed. At higher level this is only a mild hindrance, but at first you’ll get stuck being a wolf for hours at a time! (In the pre-alpha it’s always easy to change back, though, to make testing easier.)

Werewolf attacks do good damage, but are hampered by armor — it’s more difficult for them to kill heavily-armored foes. If two werewolves fight together, they can use Pack Attack to boost each others’ damage output — the more Pack Attack skills used in rapid succession, the more damaging they are.

Werewolves also have some techniques for sussing out enemy weaknesses, which they (or, more likely, their non-werewolf friends) can take advantage of — anything from Fire Vulnerability to Seafood Allergies. Some weaknesses are easy to take advantage of; others are quite difficult or even impossible. (The fiction is that the wolf is studying them to figure out what will kill them best… though this ends up being pretty surreal. How did the werewolf discover this kobold has a fear of snakes? I have no idea! And… I’m honestly not too worried about it, either.)

I plan to add two skills related to werewolves in the pre-alpha. First is less of a skill and more of an annoyance. Beast Talking is the skill that determines if you can speak. For each word you say, it does a skill check — if you fail, that word turns into a snarl or growl. Newbie werewolves will have to practice talking a while before they can even chat. (This is really just for flavor — it’s a shallow skill that’s easy to level up, so it’s just a … a thing. Verisimilitude… which is code for “me having fun” and making sure the chat system is versatile.)

The other skill — the useful combat augmentation skill — is Howling. This is as simple as it sounds: you Howl. You can do this anywhere outdoors, but the higher up you are, the more effective it is. It’s also more effective if more wolves howl with you. So you’ll want to find a tall outdoor spot, say at the top of a hill, and then start howling. If other werewolves hear it and want to join you, they can. The more wolves howling in the same area, the more effective the boost is.

After howling, for the next several hours (depending on your Howl skill, the altitude, and the number of wolves), you get access to special Combos. These are randomly picked, so some days your combo will be “Bite Bite Claw”, other days “Claw Bite Pounce”, etc. If you have enough werewolves in one spot, maybe you can even unlock multiple Combos… not sure yet.

I actually coded the whole “turn into a wolf during the real-world days of the full moon” system before realizing how useless that is for pre-alpha. Pre-alpha will only last for a month! So I’m going to speed up the process so the moon goes through a new phase every day, making every eighth day a full moon.

Whew!

There’s some other skills in the pre-alpha (such as Mycology and Gardening), but these are the combat skills. I wanted to add a few more, but then I realized “what the hell am I doing? Four is already three more than the minimum requirement.” In fact, one of the reasons I’m posting this is to help put a stop to feature creep. No matter how cool they might end up being, the Psionics and Taming skills can wait!

Let me know how these sound. Everything is fluid so I’m sure they’ll all change over time. What I’d most like an answer to is this question: ”when you think of <skill X>, what is the most fun thing you can imagine doing with it?” And if you have suggestions for other synergy skills, I still need more of those, too.

Art Diary

The werewolf combat icons are wonderful. I love ‘em. Here’s a few:

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30 Responses to Back to work! Pre-Alpha Combat Skills

  1. Kirk says:

    On Calligraphy… without recalling your game system, the real world and rw-legendary uses of calligraphy include: a form of meditation; a morale boost (and penalty to enemies) when combined with poetry; temporary inscriptions of power; communications to other persons/places (requests for assistance and supply). The manipulation of the brush was alleged to develop finer control of the sword, helping to develop the firm but flexible grip.

    Just fwiw, of course.

  2. Void says:

    When I think about werewolves I I actually don’t think about combat. As an explorer I immediately think about running free through the wilderness in search of something. Be it prey or some other unique werewolf item/encounter. I think just exploring uncharted wilderness would be so much fun as a wolf. It’s something that’s completely unrelated to combat that I would enjoy.

  3. Chris E. says:

    Setting yourself on fire with fire magic. When something melee attacks you it takes damage.

  4. Stefan A. says:

    Seeing how my enemy runs around burning and screams (yes i am that sick ^^)

  5. Aaron says:

    Maybe gardening could synergize with fire magic in some way. Grow a tree, get some branches, set them on fire as some sort of magical trap.

    Also, maybe Psionics and Mycology? Find some magic mushrooms to boost your psionic power or create a daily combo.

  6. Aaron says:

    When I think of unarmed combat, the most fun thing I can imagine doing with it is throwing enemies into eachother. Coincidentally, this would also be one of my favorite things about Psionics, assuming telekinesis is a power under that skill.

  7. Ahtchu says:

    Let me know how these sound. Fun? Terrible?
    I’m particularly intrigued and drawn to this ‘werewolfing’ you speak of. The pre-alpha concepts you’ve listed seem to be a fresh breeze for simultaneous gameplay and roleplay.

    Also, to echo another poster in the previous thread, the icons are absolute AAA quality. Chapeau!

  8. Anthony says:

    Well unarmed affect your attacks in wolf form?

  9. Kierbuu says:

    Hmmm, I have a question about meditating on objects. If I meditate on [Wire Ring] today and then vendor that item, but [Wire Ring] drops for me again 3 weeks from now can I meditate on it again or am I banned from ever meditating on [Wire Ring] again? I wouldn’t be using the same [Wire Ring], however, I imagine it would still be the same item number n the database. I’m worried this would be very unfun if I could never use any [Wire Ring] again.

    I’ld have to keep an ever increasing list of things I’ve meditated on so I never tried to use the same thing twice. Even with thousands of items in the game I’ld be concerned that I would have nothing I could meditate on when I needed it. I would probably build a special sack of things I knew I’ld never used before just so I could have an ‘in case of emergency’ set of items.

    Maybe a one week cooldown on meditation items would work better. It wouldn’t encouraged you to have a single item for this purpose, or even a group of items, but to keep trying new things without fear of getting locked out of the system.

  10. Michael Kujawa says:

    Having to keep track of everything you’ve meditated on is a pretty scary idea, both for the server and the player. I guess that would show up in a tooltip or something?

    “Sword can chop through armor just as quickly as it chops through flesh” That strikes me as pretty odd. Some swords are designed for effectively bypassing armor, but by and large armor was designed for deterring swords. I could see “Thrust” as being particularly good at getting past armor, and some swords can only Thrust (rapier) and some swords can’t thrust at all (scimitar.)

    “There are also some secret techniques that can be purchased from trainers, but those are very rare for Sword.” That has echoes of spawn camping to me. I hope your acquisition technique is cooler than just happening to be the next guy to talk to the trainer after the timer expired.

    “It’s an exploration skill: the more you explore the world, the more Lore you’ll have.” I like this a lot. Very magey, too. “Hey Fyrbohls, what are you doing?! Keep up with the group!” “But this is a fascinating inscription over here…”

    “Newbie werewolves will have to practice talking a while before they can even chat” Like chatting with the dead in UO! OoooOO oOoO

    Aside from scaring NPCs, will lycanthropy have any “evil” downsides? Like having to eat human flesh once a week to stay at full power or something?

  11. Carl says:

    An idea for a Fire skill that also serves as an escape mecanism (which every mage needs since they are usually squishy): a short forward dash, which makes you move quickly over a short distance leaving a fire blazing trail behind you.

    Turning “things” into “fire things” is also widely popular for Fire magic: be it the sword you’re fighting with for fire damage, your armor for fire resistance or your helmet just for the coolness of it.

    I also foresee lots of interaction with Fire magic (combat skill) and Cooking (non combat skill). :)

    Hope it helps you…love following your progress.

  12. Eric says:

    Great stuff here, thanks!

    - Kirk: hmm, that’s a thought, I’ll see about a debuffing system with Calligraphy. Something like you write the word for “undead” and then your sword skill becomes honed to do more damage to undead. You can change it whenever, but it costs resources to make new calligraphies… that might work.

    - Void: a wolf travel power is definitely in the works. Will have to think about what you might be hunting, in terms of werewolf-like objectives.

    - Chris E.: ah yes, forgot that one, thanks! Will add it in.

    - Stefan: I already have that one :) Well, for some creatures. (Skeletons just stand their ground while shouting “I’m experiencing discomfort!” but animal-like creatures will run away…)

    - Aaron: hmm, throwing things into other things… tricky, but not impossible. Will poke at that. I agree that it sounds fun.

    - Ahtchu: thanks!

    - Anthony: hmm, I don’t actually know how Unarmed and Werewolf interact. I should have figured that out by now… I don’t think werewolves can use martial arts attacks. But if they can’t, that means my list doesn’t have any skills werewolves can use as a secondary combat skill. (That was going to be psionics until it fell off the pre-alpha list.) Maybe I should drop Unarmed and go with Psionics instead.

  13. Eric says:

    - Kierbuu: yeah, I meant that Meditation works on item types, not individual items. Since you only need to meditate once a day to get its effect, I figure it won’t ever be too huge a list, just a few thousand even if the game goes on for years. But yeah, that may not be very fun. The goal of the system was to create some sort of mindfulness about what you’re meditating on: I don’t want you to just grab an item (because you don’t care, so you use the same random thing each day), or even a week’s worth — which you would do over time when you found ones you really liked.

    But maybe I can get that effect more simply. Maybe the rule should just be that you can’t reuse any of the last 50 item-types you’ve meditated on. That way you can’t ever get locked out of the system (there’s way more than 50 types of items already, and I haven’t even gotten started making content yet), but you’ll still need to be a little attentive to what you’re using.

  14. Eric says:

    Michael Kujawa: for sword, I just meant to convey that it’s the most neutral weapon. Armor is represented as a separate meter, like Health. That value provides both an armor mitigation and a kind of “second health bar”. Sword attacks can chop through that second health bar as readily as they can chop through regular health. So they don’t ignore armor; they’re just the baseline behavior for how armor works, and other skills diverge. (Werewolves have a harder time removing the armor points, but once the armor is gone, they kill the Health bar very quickly; other attacks, like archery, can bypass most of the Armor bar entirely; etc.) Sword will probably eventually have a skill like Thrust that bypasses armor, but it’s just a special attack, not the core “identity” of the weapon.

    On secret techniques for swords, the plan was just to have hidden NPCs that sell static recipes, so you have to quest to the bottom of a dungeon to get them or whatever. They aren’t “rare spawns”, they’re just rarely used as a mechanic! I only have one for pre-alpha.

    RE: werewolves and evil: my NaNoWriMo novel is set in this game world and ended up having a major werewolf character, so I had to figure lots of that out. These werewolves are more old-school (pre-”Wolf Man” movie). They represent uncontrollable violence and a fear of the natural world, more than an evil gypsy curse type thing. They need to eat lots — and don’t mind eating human flesh, but it’s not a requirement per se. (Later game mechanics will make the “eat lots” thing come into play — they can consume corpses to boost their metabolism.)

    NPCs are afraid of werewolves because 90% of werewolves can’t control their violent natures and are simply nightmare hunting machines with no humanity left. However, as it happens, every PC werewolf is in the 10% that can mostly control their animal nature. How convenient! :)

  15. Eric says:

    Carl: a defensive trick is a good idea — will think about how to implement that. And yeah, I see Fire Magic being useful in cooking too. And in Blacksmithing!

  16. Ephemeron says:

    … though this ends up being pretty surreal. How did the werewolf discover this kobold has a fear of snakes? I have no idea!

    The werewolf can smell the kobold’s fear, and every kind of fear smells differently.

  17. Mavis says:

    I like the ‘smell of fear’ idea above….

    The most fun for unarmed combat would to be the idea of beating to death with my bare fists things I’m not supposed to…. Like a tiger….. The idea of having one always avallible light slap sounds oddly non-fun to me…..

    The howl mechanic I could see becoming player abused very early on – right everybody howls at 8 at this point…… Que 300 howling players and rendering all other classes useless. On the other hand – howling with your pack – now that needs to happen. Maybe link howling and pack attack? So you can only pack attack with those you’ve howled with?

    Sword – sounds currently pretty standard – however combining sword and calligraphy makes me thing of zoro….. Carving your name into foes as a debuff could be very amusing…..

    Fire magic – well that’s about making things go boom – so bigger and bigger and bigger numbers….. Some sort of auto combo effect? Things start off fire resistant but you slowly blast that away so the numbers are getting bigger and bigger…..

  18. Rauxis says:

    Howling sounds like a lot of fun – but I see a big potential for abusing it. You might want to include a “pack” mechanic – maybe even one a little bit more complicated including reputation with your pack members. Only after working together as pack for some time you can reap the benefits. And if 2 competing packs howl in the same area at the same time their effects might influence each other (not necessarily positive) ….

    On meditation – if you can only do it once per day – why not make the exact bonus a something random? The direction might derive from item class, but every time you meditate your are supposed to find something new – even if you meditate on the same object. Speaking as a (not fully professional) programmer – keeping an ever growing list for all characters on a server would give me nightmares, even if the list is comparatively short.

  19. Kdansky says:

    I would really like the idea that the skills have more interactions than just “A supports B”. Calligraphy could increase your Swordfighting, but also buff your lore (you can read more obscure books), buff the skill that creates words of power, and allow you to write pretty chat messages.

  20. Crito says:

    Sounds great!

    I don’t think anything would be more distracting than being set on fire. I wonder if it would be too much to have an unseen “distraction bar” that temp. disables a character. Meditation and stuff can resist it but particularly uncomfortable attacks (kick in the nuts) can set it off.

    While it’s one more thing to keep track of, this might be a fun way to integrate some non combat skills into combat.

  21. Razak says:

    For Meditation… How about some sort of trigger like you can meditate on any item that you have on you, but you can’t meditate on it again until the type has been off your person for a day, three days, a week. Something like that. That way, you can’t just always carry around the same bag, or have the meditator just meditating on the equipment he uses on a rotation. But this would also allow you to not worry about a list of what you’ve meditated on as much.

    On the reverse side, you could make benefits for those who meditate on new things every time. Sure you can meditate on the same apple every week, but if you meditate on something you’ve never meditated on before maybe you get a slightly better combo, or even just more xp in meditation (you seem to have that tech already in there with death).

  22. kleer says:

    Calligraphy might also let you inscribe items and make signs/posters that other people could examine?

    Unarmed makes me think of sneaking up on weak enemies and executing them bare-handed or humiliating them in some way which might make them mad with rage yet leaving them vulnerable.

  23. hugo says:

    Sword, Fire Magic and Werewolf sound all good. UA is a bit underwhelming.
    It depends how things balance out I guess, but it would be cool to make combat skills viable for actual combat independently from each other. If an UA warrior can survive with stuns and CC to balance dps then it s good. Also, UA could be use to do projections and throw down enemies. Foes lying on the floor would then be vulnerable to finishing moves or especially easy to hit.

    Calligraphy has lots of potential uses, like being a requirement to send letters.
    Could be used in crafting, or to write down spells on parchment and all.

    Also Fire Magic could be a good survival skill: light up a torch or light up a dark dungeon, start a fire camp in the dire, spook enemies with big flames.

  24. Glenn says:

    I’ve really enjoyed reading this developer blog.

    At this stage I’d pay money for a pre-alpha invite. And I’m sure I can convince a few guildies to do the same. Every teenager wants to play in a construction site. I’m sure pre-alpha would have much the same vibe.

    Have you thought about monetising this project early as Notch did with Minecraft? If so, you’ll have my shekels.

  25. Ancaritha says:

    This is why I love this blog:
    “Then I hooked up the explosion for the Fire Burst spell, and realized: no worries. Exploding stuff is inherently satisfying.”

    I like Kdasky’s idea of skills buffing more than one skill, especially if the non-combat skills buff other non-combat skills to increase your, uhhh, combat skills. However, it does make the back end programming increasingly more complex, so maybe for a first pass it’s a one-to one correlation.

    UA by itself sounds pretty unexciting, but I like the idea of mixing it in with other combat skills. For instance you swipe high with your sword to draw your opponents defenses and eyes high and immediately drop and do a leg swipe to knock them over.

  26. hugo says:

    I know it might sound very lame, but what about that ?
    UA + fire magic = hadoken
    UA + wind magic = hurricane kick
    UA + water magic = dragon punch

  27. Cat says:

    I understand that this is all still in development, so I’m just going to comment freely and you can take it or leave it. I may not even be the intended audience.

    When I think of how you’ve described Meditation, I think of how City of Heroes gave you a never-ending stream of little power-ups that were fun. You never worried about hoarding any because the effect was small, and you got tons of them so why wait? Just use it now and kick a little extra butt. That was fun!

    Why is it bad for a player to have a single item they like to meditate upon? What if they enjoy having a signature combat move? I don’t like the idea that I would constantly have to worry about whether I can meditate on a specific thing or if I have to go find another thing. The items themselves are like the power-ups in CoH. How fun would it have been if you were only allowed to use one kind of power-up every 24 hours (that lasted 24 hours) and you got locked out of using that power-up again for a few weeks? It sounds like that could be fun (forced variety) but also frustrating (forced variety). Some people are total variety whores and would carry around twenty objects, and some people like to take one thing and run with it because they like it best.

    I assume you’re worried about balancing, so you want to prevent a certain item from being “the best” and everyone having one and playing exactly the same way. I guess if that’s your issue, perhaps meditating should suck all the magic out of something and turn it into vendor trash. Then you’d need a constant stream of cool things, and if you wanted the same thing all the time you’d have to go hunt for it.

  28. Expert Novice says:

    Maybe rename warewolfing to lychanthropy? not sure how to spell that ha!

  29. Expert Novice says:

    Someone said hello to you and sandra (@ 9:00). Thought you guys might get a kick out of that.

    http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/beginner/bb308765.aspx

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