Battle Chemistry

Whoa, not getting enough blogging done! Lots of stuff is happening, let me try to catch up. Here’s a new combat skill: Battle Chemistry.

Advanced Combat Skills

Some combat skills are available right from the start. These are the bread-and-butter combat archetypes, and they keep working all throughout the game — they never get obsolete. If you want to be a swordsman, you can keep being a swordsman.

But as you keep improving skills you’ll gain access to additional combat skills. These are mostly advanced skills that aren’t quite as powerful as the main combat skills, but are much more versatile, or offer some other important advantage.

(Remember that you can have any two combat skills active at a time, so you can mix and match many of the skills. Some require you to be holding a certain item, though, and you can’t mix those: you can’t have a fire staff and a sword in your hand at the same time, so it would be dumb to pick those two skills at once.)

Battle Chemistry is an advanced combat skill that is unlocked by mastering alchemy. It’s underwhelming on its own, but great for groups of players.

The alchemist with his pet golem

 

Battle Chemistry Techniques

Battle chemistry abilities come in three flavors:

  • AoE blasts: the way battle chemists attack is by flinging toxic chemicals all around them. This does area-effect damage centered on the chemist. They aren’t the best AoE attacker, but they do have the largest number of damage types: the chemist can fling anything from liquid fire, to acid, to chopped up bits of fish gut (a very specialized potion indeed). They can also fling modest area-effect healing chemicals that heal themselves and all nearby allies.The chemist needs to be wielding a special flask to use these powers, so they can’t use these at the same time they’re wielding, say, a fire-magic wand. The two other types of abilities below don’t require any item, so they can be mixed with any other skill.
  • Mutation Injections: battle chemists can buff themselves and others by injecting chemicals that cause temporary mutations. There are lots of mutations for a chemist to learn, but it’s not easy to master them: each one is a cross-disciplinary technique. For instance, the Knee Spikes mutation makes kick attacks do more damage; to learn this one, the chemist must have skill in unarmed combat. The Extra Heart mutation speeds up your metabolism; to learn this one, the chemist needs lots of skill in Anatomy.The chemist can inject themselves and their friends with mutations before combat, and they last for 10 minutes or so. Each person can only have one mutation active at a given time, so it’s a matter of picking the right mutation for each person’s play style (or the particular dungeon you’re in).
  • Programmable Golems: Battle Chemists get a “pet” golem that follows their instructions. Unlike every other pet in the game, this one doesn’t do anything on its own: by default it will just follow you around and stare at you. To make it do things, the chemist gives it a “program” of instructions, in the form “if <this thing is happening>, then <use this ability>”. Every few seconds the golem runs down its list of rules until it finds one where the condition is happening, and then uses that ability. At first, battle chemists don’t know how to give them very many commands. The player has to hunt down scrolls for the various “conditionals” and “golem powers”. For instance, a vendor might sell a scroll labeled “Golem  Conditional: Golem is on fire”. If you read this scroll, you’ll be able to give your golem rules that happen when the golem is on fire. 

“Programming”?!

The “programming” of golems is really simple, but it can still be overwhelming. That’s one of the reasons it’s an advanced skill — I don’t want newbies to be presented with something this daunting. It’s also entirely optional; there’s plenty of other things to learn instead.

While I was coding this, I kept thinking, “didn’t some other game use this exact system?” And finally I realized what it was: Final Fantasy 12 used this system. That game is otherwise known as “the Final Fantasy everybody hated, but not as much as they hated Final Fantasy 13.” Which is not really a great pedigree for the game mechanic.

Prototype of the Golem Programming GUI

But for what it’s worth, I liked it in that game — I just felt like it didn’t go far enough! They seemed to be so scared that people couldn’t “get it” that they really dumbed down the conditionals, so there wasn’t a whole lot to do. There were very few “special” conditions. After a certain point early in the game, you pretty much had all the pieces you were ever going to get. I think the designers got scared. They backed down. They wanted to appeal to tens of millions of people, so they ended up with a mediocre mechanic.

In contrast, I want to let you really get into it if you want to. I have conditionals like “if golem is standing in water…” or “if golem has been hit by a poison attack…” or “if golem’s owner is a howling werewolf…” I also have unusual “actions” like “say a sentence” or “self-destruct” or “run away”. With clever use of these pieces, you can get a lot of cool effects. That’s the point, after all: if I’m going to make you do the work of “programming”, you should be able to get great results!

I know some players won’t understand it. But that seems to happen in every MMO, no matter how simple. (How many people understand WoW’s armor system without help from outside the game?) Obviously I want to avoid confusing game mechanics, but I also don’t need to dumb it down. I don’t want the game to have bland appeal to ten million people. It needs to have really deep appeal to ten thousand, say.

I guess the worst-case scenario is if I completely fail to explain how it works, only a few people figure it out, and everybody just goes to the forums and finds “the best program to use” and calls it quits. If that happens, eh. Okay. Hopefully I can get feedback during beta to give it the broadest possible appeal without watering it down, but you know what? If it ultimately just flops, I’m okay with that.

The thing is, it can be hard to tell what’s going to be popular during development — what’s fun to me isn’t necessarily fun to other people, or fun in the context of the rest of the game. But I’d rather go out on a limb and try something weird than play it safe and get bland results. I can’t afford to be bland.

In a similar vein, the Animal Husbandry skill might blow some peoples’ minds. In order to breed the best animals, you’ll need to understand that some traits are dominant and some are recessive.

Okay, maybe that’s going too far. Hmm… yeah, probably so.

Well, you can take anything too far… the trick is finding the sweet spot where it’s most entertaining! The golems seem to have a pretty high entertainment factor to me, and hopefully other people will agree.

Mini Golem Art

I’m really happy with the little golem. This really helped make the whole thing possible. I tried to find a low-poly-count golem that has a bottle-throwing animation, but there just wasn’t anything like that out there. Zsolnay Gergely created this model for me — thanks so much!

He’s “Kalamona” online and in the Unity store. If you’ve searched in there, you’ve probably already seen his dynamic effects pack. He also has cool monsters, and he sent me a sneak peek of his upcoming effects pack — with crazy things like hands reaching up from the ground and explosions in the shape of skulls. He even added a few at my request, like an effect for “being encased in a block of ice”.

It’s hard to overstate how big an improvement good effects make. I hope I can find a way to do him a favor in return at some point — in the mean time, check out his stuff if you’re making things in Unity.

(PS – Oh crap, I haven’t shown you guys the praying mantis yet, have I? I’ll do that next time!)

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11 Responses to Battle Chemistry

  1. Ephemeron says:

    Another game that used a similar programming system was Dragon Age II.

  2. Eric says:

    Oh, that’s interesting, I didn’t get too far into the first one. Was it easy to understand in Dragon Age II?

  3. omeg says:

    Yeah, both Dragon Age games used such conditionals for party AI “programming”. I didn’t play the second much, but in the first there was a skill that allowed for more conditions. It was pretty easy to grasp and allowed for nice flexibility, although it didn’t always work as expected ;)

    http://dragonage.wikia.com/wiki/Tactics

  4. Stabs says:

    Very nice. I think it’s absolutely the right path to go for, making the game more complex than a typical “casual-friendly” game would be.

  5. Kdansky says:

    FF12 suffered from quite a few issues:

    - It was annoying to collect the correct programming pieces. There is nothing worse than not being able to put a “use heal spell” anywhere because you just don’t have any “if ally has less than X% health” condition.
    - Huge redundant list of trivial conditions. I don’t want the same condition for 10%, 15%, 20% and so on. 25%, 50%, 75%, 100% usually suffice.
    - There was no way to “quaff an expensive potion if shit hits the fan” without allowing the NPC to burn through your stash of potions all the time. Most conditions were just not clever enough.
    - You could not chain stuff.
    - Combat was too simple anyway.

  6. Timulus says:

    A highly programmable helper seems like a really fun game mechanic. I think the programming interface is going to be pretty crucial here to keep it from being too tedious though. Especially the ability to save programs instead of reselecting everything all the time.

    One of my favorite things about this game is how much interaction there is with what in most games is a passive environment like taking into account what terrain you’re standing on/in.

    Also, I hate to be that guy but for the sake of polish, *Invigorating Mist

  7. mooklepticon says:

    I *loved* the conditional mechanic in FF12. (Sidenote: I didn’t think it was a bad game, just that the uber attacks defeated the whole point of fighting anything.)

    I can’t wait to try this one out. You’ve added two character types that I love. This one and the one with short-term pets. The name escapes me at the moment. Basically, my favorite MMO class *ever* was DAOC’s Theurgist. No game that I’ve played has come close to that. I’m much more of a strategy gamer, so turning my MMO into an first/third person RTS was freaking awesome.

    I love controllable creatures but I hate the typical window dressing: Necromancers. Normally, in games I’ve played there are two types of pet classes, hunters and necromancers. Hunters get rather unimaginative beasts that just attack and defend in a rather uninteresting manner. Necromancers are more interesting, but I feel uncomfortable with the aesthetics.

    Diablo 2′s necro was an awesome class. You could go so many different ways with the skeleton army or the golems, especially the Iron Golem, but I felt weird playing an evil class. Diablo 3′s witch doctor has some similar attributes with dogs and spiders, but, again, window dressing makes me uncomfortable.

    The best solution for me has always been inanimate automatons. In sci fi games, it’s usually turrets or mini robots. In fantasy games, it’s usually golems. I am so excited to see that you’ve put golems like this into the game. I’m also an engineer (in work and at heart) so the programming aspect makes me even more excited!

  8. Marvin says:

    Keep up the good work. This looks brilliant. This says it all ” I don’t want the game to have bland appeal to ten million people. It needs to have really deep appeal to ten thousand, say.”

    You spoke about this in your blog post http://www.eldergame.com/2008/05/define-your-target-audience/.

    What are you thought on involving your audience and how to filter the input properly to build a community to guide the direction of a game? Is it possible to keep true to the vision and direction and not fall victim to vocal minority judgement?

  9. Eric says:

    Timulus: thanks :)

    Marvin: that’s a very hard one, the difference between “catering to your user base” and “making a product that can attract more users”. I have some rules of thumb like “realism is not a goal”, meaning that I don’t pick pseudo-realistic behavior by default, I pick the most fun behavior. And because this is a game I personally want to play, I’ll use myself to figure out some things, like if travel is too restrictive or if looting is too tedious or whatnot. So in that sense, I am my own vision holder.

    For other things I’ll just have to wing it; I’m hoping to find people I trust who can help tell me if I’ve made something fun for them — for instance the upcoming pet-breeding system is a very tricky one for me to tell. I’m not quite the target audience for this sub-system.

    And other things I’ll just have to have lots of discussions about. For instance, on the pre-alpha forums, someone posted about how he hates mountains in MMOs, and I ultimately had to agree with him — though I’m still struggling to figure out how to not have them in my game and still get directed world patterns. Knowing what’s wrong isn’t always the same as knowing how to fix it, or being able to fix it… hmm I think I’ve wandered off topic.

  10. Mav says:

    FF12 was easily one of my fav FF games with the Active Dimension Battle system combined with the programed Gambit scripts and of course the License Board.
    I do however agree with Kdansky, that it wasn’t easy to acquire the gambits you needed (beyond the gambit stores) and there were a lot of them that would go unused. Simply having more of them didn’t make it more deep. I really like that you want to expand on that and include more unique conditions but I do hope they actually become useful instead of just more stuff to sift through. I think it is very important to make sure it is fun to play regardless of having them.
    For a more intuitive solution you could, instead of having a condition list, have many “packages” of conditions and events that give the golem different behaviors. There would be only enough of them for as many play styles for them.
    Just a thought.

  11. silver price says:

    The numeration of Final Fantasy also brings up another point. If almost every game in the series tells a new tale, why have spin-offs? Is The 4 Heroes of Light really a spin-off if it does what the main series has been doing all along, which is telling a different story? If Square Enix was able to give this “side story” a title of its own, why not do that for the rest of the series? I’m sure a lot of fans won’t miss the numbering of Final Fantasy games, because it’s nothing really special to begin with. It’s just a damn number–one that adds to the stale state of the series. I really want to care about Final Fantasy, but I can’t. I don’t know how anyone can care about the series at this point. Final Fantasy XIII-2 may be a good game, but the declining quality of the series over the past several years really diminished any interest I may have had in playing it. I’d much rather revisit The 4 Heroes of Light, because that game was original, and it was awesome. Whether you agree with me or not, Final Fantasy needs some sort of reboot or revamp, and it needs it badly. But first, it needs a good 10-year break. Final Fantasy just needs to stop for now.