Features In, Features Out

[This is a status update about an indie fantasy MMO in progress, code-named "Gorgon".]

Calligraphy Is Implemented

Yesterday I sat down to implement Calligraphy, a skill that is primarily intended to boost Sword combat damage during pre-alpha. I kept it real simple: you learn “calligraphy recipes”, which take costly inks and various random junk (such as salt or strawberries or whatever other junk I found laying around in the item table) which… get mixed into the ink, I guess? Sure! Then you get a buff that lasts one hour. Every time you level up the skill you discover a new recipe, but you can only have one recipe active at a time. Some recipes are potent but very expensive, some are cheap but weaker. Some don’t buff Sword skill at all, but some other thing, like Slashing Damage (which werewolves and axe users also do) or Max Health. So there’s some interesting but minor decisions to make, but mostly it follows the age old formula: Consume Resources -> Gain Temporary Power Boost.

I kept Calligraphy very simple so that I could see how efficiently I could implement it. I implemented the first 25 levels of content for it in one 8-hour day, which is slower than I thought it would take. I wanted to get 50 levels’ worth done. But that’s useful data! I should do the next 25 levels just to see if my pace speeds up. (But I really don’t need 50 levels’ worth of Calligraphy content for the pre-alpha, so it’s hard to convince myself to do that yet.)

Even with this very simple system, it feels kind of entertaining, so I’m pleased. Part of its charm is that you get a new recipe every level, and the recipes are unpredictable — not following any easily-detected pattern, and with enough variety to be surprising. So it’s fun to level up and see what you get. To top the system off, I created 5 extra calligraphy recipes for use in loot, so there’s a chance to find recipes when you kill boss monsters.

Meditation Is Out of Pre-Alpha

As originally explained, Meditation was going to give you buffs if you “meditate on an item”. Basically you select something in your inventory, click “meditate”, and you get a 24-hour buff (mostly pertaining to the Unarmed skill). The item you meditated on doesn’t go away, so there’s no cost. But the catch is that you can never reuse the same type of item again. If you meditate on a Strawberry one day, you can’t meditate on Strawberries ever again.

When I explained this idea, nobody on the blog thought that was sane, so I took a step back to look at it. I agree it isn’t inherently fun, but remember that I’m okay with implementing things that aren’t super fun on their own, if it increases the chances of emergent gameplay experiences. But that doesn’t mean I want downright unpleasant game systems, of course! Nobody would use them, so that’d be a waste.

The thing is that on paper, this skill is a pretty good deal. You won’t run out of items: there are hundreds of items in the MMO already and I have barely any content at all, so I’m sure the final MMO will have many thousands of items. And this skill doesn’t require expensive consumables. It just requires something unusual: attention.

All non-combat skills take something in exchange for something else. In most cases it boils down to consuming time. (For instance, Calligraphy consumes time because you need to use expensive inks with it, which requires you to farm money for ink, which takes time.) But this skill is less about time and more about remembering what you’ve used it with in the past. That’s pretty atypical for an MMO, so naturally it sounds scary and un-fun, but I really don’t think it’s all that bad.

But I’m definitely packaging this idea wrong, and the mechanics are a tad too punitive. With a different metaphor and tweaked mechanics, I think this idea becomes a lot more appealing.

So let’s call this skill… how about “Worldly Knowledge”, and it augments Staff attacks, not Unarmed attacks. (I’ve always imagined staff users as the sort of people that know a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff, kind of like the original version of Little John.) The skill works the same way: you find items in the world and examine them to get XP. You can examine a different item every 15 minutes, and if it’s of a type you’ve never examined before, you get the XP. If it’s already been examined, you get nothing, but you can try something else in 15 minutes, so not much is lost. The skill doesn’t have any active effect: instead, Worldly Knowledge just gives you a small passive boost to Staff damage.

This is much less stressful because you don’t need to constantly find new items to get buffs every day — once you’ve earned the XP, you keep the passive boost forever. And if you forget which items you’ve examined, it’s not a huge deal — just try something else every 15 minutes. Hopefully this will make it feel more like the collection-centric system I’d envisioned. (“Ooh is that a new item? Let me examine it real quick!”)

Like I said above, I think this will be for Staff combat eventually, but in the short term I’ll make it boost Unarmed instead. I’m mothballing Meditation until I think of a new mechanic for it.

Laptop Support Is Out

I’ve been doing “real world tests” to see how quickly I can implement things. How fast can I build a dungeon? Make an NPC? Create skill content? Etc. The point of this is planning: I need to be able to realistically plan a schedule. I still have many more tests to go, but I’m already learning some things. One is that I need to drop support for laptop graphics cards.

I hate this decision, actually, because I always loved how you could play WoW on mid-range laptops when it first launched. But it takes me three times longer to make content for 2009 laptops versus content for 2008 desktop PCs! I guess it’s true what they say: you have to pay for quality. In this case, I pay with my time. To optimize a scene, I have to compile it, get it onto each laptop, see how it runs, then tweak, compile, and re-test, over and over and over. Each of the low-end laptop cards are different, too, so in one case I need to cut down the number of splat-maps used in terrain, but in another I need to cut down the number of polygons, and in another it’s draw-calls.

It just eats up time like you wouldn’t believe. And it’s dumb to spend my time on that, especially while the game is full of placeholder graphics! But even when it has real graphics, I’d rather have 3x the content instead of laptop support.

So I’m giving up on laptops. New high-end laptops from 2011 will be fine, and older laptops will probably work in ass-graphics mode, but I’m going to stop testing on laptops entirely.

Combat Psychology Is In

It turns out I have the tech — and the icons — for Combat Psychology already, so I’ll implement a bare-bones version of this combat skill. This gives Werewolves in wolf form at least one other combat skill they can use. In the big picture, Werewolf+Combat Psychology isn’t a great combo, versatility-wise, because there’s too much overlap in the skills (both can suss out vulnerabilities, for instance). And it’s pretty damned surreal to imagine entire packs of roving psychologist-werewolves… but it’s good enough for pre-alpha. There will be lots more choices in the final game.

Up next time: lessons from SWTOR, my own thoughts on non-invasive storytelling, and an introduction to some of my monster races.

This entry was posted in Project Gorgon. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Features In, Features Out

  1. Kierbuu says:

    I like this version of meditation, or Worldly Knowledge, much better.

  2. David says:

    Suppose meditating gives you a bonus dependent upon how much you’ve levelled meditation up (starts with a very small bonus, levels up to a smal bonus)… so usually you meditate on new things to get better at meditating but after a while when you have nothing new to meditate on, you decide to sort of default to, say, strawberry, because it seems to usually give a type of buff that you like. Just an idea.

  3. Expert Novice says:

    I’m thinking that ditching on Meditation is a bad idea. I liked the system that you had much better – a skill dedicated merely to a passive bonus is pretty bland.

    The problem I see is the possibility of leveling a skill up only to lose content as you go. Why don’t you just let players capitalize on a favorite bonus any time they want?

    I would do something like:
    + one time exp gain
    + one time large bonus
    + every time small bonus
    + one time minuscule permanent bonus (?)

    See, the stats here are just multiplied versions of whatever – like 0.01 strength permanently, 1 strength every time, 2 strength this time. You don’t have to make any more content than the normal 1 strength gain, then just multiply and divide it out.

    A permanent bonus is probably going to be too powerful, no matter how small. The idea though is a trade off between the permanent and one time so that they aren’t ultimately losing that content after using it.

    Also I know you didn’t want to give players a bonus every time because it wasn’t as exciting, but I think it might be best. Let them discover it then utilize it. If you want to limit internet and give random meditation effects to items then provide a seed based on user name. But then let them have it indefinitely, if only not as strong. The content here should never truly go away. Collecting a few cool things to stare at is super lame, however.

    I really liked the concept over all, however, and I seriously want you to reconsider having it implemented. Staff users being worldly sounds like a great thematic idea, but I don’t feel like the mechanic jives with the theme right there. Now a monk staring at mundane objects until he it enlightened – pure gold.

    Also, it seems to me that you’re heading toward a class based system after all… Swordsmen + Calligraphy, Monks + Meditation, etc. A cool one, with mixed combat and non combat, but none the less.

    To remedy that, if it need be remedied, I would combine each skill with two skills – like you do but with two supports instead of one, each then supporting two instead of one. Then you limit players to choosing three somehow (IE like gear limitations).

    So you could say that calligraphy goes with swords and… uh… some form of rune magic? And maybe you could say swords goes with calligraphy and shields. Then for a sword + calligraphy player, the choice would be either a shield spec or rune magic spec. Alternatively, players could do sword + shield + uh… shield’s other skill.

    In this above example watch out to make sure this isn’t a melee weapon, or if it is that isn’t useless. Like, you only have two hands and one is holding a shield so what’s the plan there? Maybe more than two skills should sync up with everything so that you don’t run into this problem, but it gets harder and harder after the cool combos get taken.

    I don’t expect you’ll inspire from any of this directly, but I figured you’re at least liable to contemplation. I like to think I have an eye for these things.

    And forget laptop support! You simply don’t have enough time already. Easy way to cut time, so roll with it. Consider it a blessing that you can increase productivity – even if your only maintaining the planned rate.

    Finally, great article Eric. Please keep the updates coming, you’ve become my favorite MMO blog with gorgon!

  4. Ahtchu says:

    I like how Calligraphy ties in with Swords… a sort of art of the hand?
    Regarding the graphics card testing- surely in this day and age there’s a plugin somewhere to outsource the need for manual testing and tweeting?
    Keep up the great work, Eric!

  5. I wouldn’t pay too much attention to the vociferous few who cry out in the name of the status quo with regards to something different and quirky as was the Meditation skill. I actually rather liked the mythos around the skill: a monk experiencing the world and improving his martial arts through meditating on newfound objects. The same stands with the current Worldly Knowledge/Staves iteration, though the 15-minute-limit feels less elegant than the “daily item” route.

    With regards to testing on old hardware, the last game I released (albeit not commercial), required that the user have at least 700px of vertical resolution. I could’ve put in the few hours of work that it would’ve taken to lessen this requirement, but such would’ve been at the expense of polishing, completing, not losing interest in, and releasing the game. In short: good call, forget laptops (at least for now).

    Best of continued luck with Project Gorgon. Can’t wait.

    Ebyan “Nolithius” Alvarez-Buylla
    http://www.nolithius.com

  6. nevin says:

    Could you have objects fall into broad categories and depending on that category, meditation would give you a specific buff with size scaled to level? Maybe the tier and level of the object would also effect the buff size.
    Certain tiers of items could provide group buffs while lower quality are only self buffs.
    You could just make the buff from meditation random for that object (the same every time you meditate on that same item but you never know what the buff will be before you try it).

    I think with that you would have to consume the object otherwise everyone would keep 1 of each category in their inv or maybe that’s just a decision a meditator would have to reconcile with themselves: Keep the item taking up a slot because it provides a great buff or sell it for the money.
    Imagine holding onto an epic sword in your inv rather than selling it as it gives you a massive buff? The agony of choice!

    Of course, if you meditate on an item it’s then bound to you..ie you can’t hold onto it for ages until you replace it with something better and then auction it off etc. It could get expensive for a meditator however if they don’t know up front what the random buff would be before they meditated on it so the random element to it might not work.

  7. Alex says:

    I liked the original meditation idea better. It’s an interesting explorer mechanic. I think the main problem with one time buffs, is that it’s interesting to discover which items give which buffs, but then you can’t use that information for anything. Maybe consider reusable buffs, but the first time you discover a new buff you gain a one time benefit. Maybe xp or an increase to the meditation skill. That incentives people to try meditating on lots of things, but allows them to make use of the discoveries they make.

  8. Pingback: True to Design: What I’m Reading « Managing the Game

  9. Eric says:

    I’ll definitely find a way to use the “different items give different buffs” mechanic somewhere else, because I think that’s fun. The more things you can discover, the better.

    And yeah, the current benefit of Meditation (a passive bonus) is pretty bland. But mostly that’s just because I cut combo-attacks out of the pre-alpha due to time. I can add the same complexity to this version of Meditation — for instance, if you meditate atop Mt. Punchy you get access to the punching combo for the day, but if you meditate near Lake Kicking you get the kicking combo… that sort of thing!