Ananias introspection: Content Creation and Balance

This new series of blog posts will be based on /r/roguelikedev FAQ Fridays, a long standing series of discussions where roguelike developers share their techniques and experiences around a single topic.

FAQ Fridays Revisited # 6 Content Creation and Balance (original)

How do you decide what mobs/items/abilities/terrain/etc to add to your game? In any good roguelike content creation is inseparable from the concept of balance, so your methods of balancing content are certainly within the scope of this discussion.

Ananias has a fairly static collections of monster races. They were first added based on the original rogue monsters and with a single criteria on mind: each race should have an unique feature or ability.

Sometimes implementing an ability is costly and there’s the temptation of parameterizing it so it can be reused with slight variations, but I think it gives more character to the monsters having their distinctive skills. This means Ananias doesn’t have Ice, Fire, Water, Earth and Thunder dragons whose only distinction is the “type” of their attacks, I’d rather have a single Dragon monster distinguished by a strong ranged attack.

The uniqueness of an enemy race is not defined only by their active skills, their stats are also put in consideration. In this case they are assigned relative values first (i.e. orcs have high attack and medium hp, Lizardmen have extreme high attack and low hp). This is balanced so that races without cool active skills get some advantage stats-wise.

The dungeon is then split into 5 areas with increasing difficulty. Mob races are grouped thematically on these areas and then assigned final values for their stats by scaling their relative values to the difficulty level of the group they are in. In order to do this, I do a projection of the average stats for the player on each one of these areas and then I apply some simple general rules (for example, a strong monster may kill the player in 5 hits, a monster with low HP should be killed by the player in a single attack). These define ranges within which the stats of the final monster will be placed.

Items follow a similar model. For weapons and armor I started with a list of preexisting graphics (the artist made them on advance for a different game using his own creative criteria) then based on they appearance I assigned them relative values (high/mid/low) for damage and integrity (how likely they are to break), and then I grouped them on power tiers to define their final stats. They also get assigned a generation weight representing how likely they are to be added to the levels, this value is used in level generation along with the power tier to select the items to be added.

Player abilities are guided by the same principles of uniqueness. Ananias is strongly classed, and each class has unique passive skills that guide players into adapting different playstyles for each one. The process for player classes is similar as with the monster races, they are balanced based on their skills and relative values for their stats. (Except for the shepherd ;)).

On a final note, I’d like to say that while seeking to balance the different stats is worthwhile (to prevent your game from being utterly broken), it’s also to some point a futile exercise, since the variability of the game and the player’s choices create a lot of unpredictability, specially as journeys progress in games which provide long and open experiences. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and a little bit of unbalance is not always harmless since it allows the players to find strategies and challenges within the game.

 

End of the century

End of the century… misery! can it be?
Chaos… who’s the boss? Suffering, great loss..
Man, woman, child, no longer exist…
Only the good ones will be missed.
 
Life, love, cherish it all.
Who will be left to conquer all?
The end is coming, don’t start running,
there’s nowhere to run… don’t grab a gun!
 
All over the land hear this roar.
No one knows what’s to store.
Look for the star, he’s on his way
No one knows when or what day.
 
Love yourself and all around,
in a blink of an eye you won’t hear a sound.
Your heart is pounding at rapid speed.
Man will always feel the need for greed.
 
Let’s go for it! For now you can’t miss!
Although this was the beginning,
Beware because the end is here
 
The sky is falling, eyes are balling.
You had your chance to make your stance.
Love is a must, life don’t lust.
No time to fuss, people start to cuss.
 
Cry out.. who’s going to care?
Have no doubt, have no fear.
Believe in me… I’ll show you the way!
 
Some people think the year 2K
is so scary, let wait and see.
The world will shut down, bots will quit,
People’ll go crazy, people can’t fit.
 
Fire breaks out, there’s one way to stop,
Play hip hop non-stop-stop!
Remember these words and what I said,
you just might wake up brain dead!
 
Some just say the world is changing,
many people will agree…
Many changes we are seeing,
I just say it’s the end of the century.

Leonardo: The Inventor

Back on 1996, “multimedia” computers appeared in my city. It was the SoundBlaster craze, and it was not easy to have one at home (specially if your family was not particularly rich). An aunt of mine used to take me to the local library, were they had set up a room with these amazing machines.

Comfama_San_Ignacio_El_Palpitar

They had a bunch of software, mostly interactive children stories, but one of them was of special importance to me… it made me realise these machines could be used to transport people into virtual worlds for them to explore.

It was a multimedia package about Leonardo DaVinci. I remember it had a lot of neat content (and probably made me become even more interested on engineering), but what I remembered the most was two games that came bundled with it.

One of them, the one that dug into my soul, was about exploring a fortress, solving some puzzles in order to escape. This one defined many things on my game development life: computers could simulate a lone adventurer, exploring closed quarters on his own. I am a single player games kind of guy, I like the intimacy between the game world and the player.

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Exploring Leonardo’s Fortress

The other one was about flying around the world with mechanical wings, dodging stuff in your way. The music was forever burned in my head… I could remember it perfectly, even after so many years of not playing the game. This game was hard, I could never win it when I was younger.

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God wants to strike me down 😦

So, last month, over one of these nights where I cannot sleep, I decided to look for it. It was not easy… I didn’t remember the name! I just remembered it was about Leonardo DaVinci, and that it was a multimedia thing…

After lots of websurfing, I found some videos on youtube: they were the encyclopaedic part about some of Leonardo’s discoveries.. I never found videos with gameplay from the games, but I was sure this was it!

Some more digging around, and I was able to find it on Amazon. Instaorder.

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Since I was unable to find any interesting information about it on Internet, I decided to do a video including the unboxing as well some gameplay of it. I hope you enjoy it!!!

It was not easy to get it running… It’s a 16bits Windows program, which means it cannot run on 64bit OS (like my noisy windows 7 box). After trying my luck with Wine (unsuccessfully), I went for a full Windows XP VM using VirtualBox. It took some tweaking but I was finally able to get it going!

At long last, after 20 years, I was able to beat the Icarus game! It took a lot of learning, but in the end I managed to do it…  It’s not in the video, since it took me about 1 hour (or more?) of trying, but after dodging cannonballs, planes, more Eiffel towers and even tornados, I found a dragon (!) which I swiftly dodged to get to the finish line 🙂

Now I’m curious… this is version 2.0. May be I should also get version 1, and play around with it… I wonder if it also includes the games…

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Here are some more pics for the curious

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WinXP going crazy!
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Gallery of Leonardo’s inventions
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The main menu, there’s a LOT of great quality content!
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Walking around the fortress
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Finally! I did it after 20 years!! THERE WAS A DRAGON THERE :O
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One of the Fortress rooms
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Walking from the central tower to the middle ring

 

Behind the scenes… the suboptimal process I followed to record this video. I am fully aware iMovie is not meant for this, but that’s the tool I have at hand 🙂

Intro and unboxing (on my macbook)

  • Record myself for the intro using Quicktime Player, using a handsfree earbuds microphone to reduce noise.
  • Put a checkered tablecloth over my glass desk.
  • Put the macbook in an awkward position so that the built-in camera looks almost down.
  • Record myself opening the box.

On the Windows box (running Win7 64bits + Virtualbox with a WinXP 32bits VM)

  • Record videoclips from VirtualBox (stored in webm format)
  • Record audio from Audacity (using Windows WASAPI loopback thing)

Back on my macbook

  • Convert videoclips from webm to m4v using VLC
  • Sync each videoclip with its audio using iMovie
    • It was as fun as it sounds…. the format conversion messed the framerates and I had to split the audio tracks and try to match as best as possible
  • Exporting each videoclip (now with audio)
  • Create the full vid joining all exported videoclips

I could have saved myself a LOT of time if I had set up VirtualBox on my Macbook… I was just lazy to get an external CD drive or fetch the ISOs from some place and take my time to set it up. Then I could have recorded directly with Quicktime Player + Sound Flower, probably to a much better quality. :/

Age of Storms – Finished!

After doing lots of tweaks and reviewing, I managed to finish my short story: Age of Storms, which is based on the events of the Hearth of Britannia: Lifeblood of the Hearth event.

I also removed the images since I didn’t feel they didn’t fit well (I think the only thing that would fit there would be illustrations by Denis Loubet 😛 )

Some major changes were introduced from the first edition, so take a look 🙂

Page: The Age of Storms

The Age of Storms – A short story

Last week I was at the Hearth of Britannia: Lifeblood of the Hearth ]|[ event which was awesome. I got to make countless new friends, as well as meet very interesting people including Lord British, Denis Loubet, Manda, Iolo, Warren Spector and many others.

And, since I couldn’t get this out of my head, I decided to write a short story based loosely on some of the events that happened there, put together in a single timeline. I hope you enjoy reading about The Age of Storms!!

tournament

Articles from the past

I was digging thru my old server content today and found the following

Cartagena, the fantastic

Benkos Biohó
Manuel Zapata once taught me
Domingo Benkos Biohó,
broke his chains in Cartagena,
and in “La Matuna” founded

“Palenque” – hoping to live a new morrow
and get his people together,
to let them to sing out their sorrow,
he told me so…

Lemaitre also did teach me,
the spaniards never gave up…
Against privateers from England
their patience almost ran out…

And they raised the most sturdy stone rampart,
to save the lives of their people,
and to protect their escutcheon,
he told me so…

Walls of Cartagena