[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.