Expedition: April 27 update

Here comes a new update packed with awesomeness!

We made the ambient light much brighter (also during the night, but blueish) and did some work on the sun and moon’ lights to accommodate better to the scene, along with some tweaks on the terrain’ reflection.

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We also made the camera hover much closer to the player, in order to both create a better connection between the player and the characters, and to make exploration more interesting (less world visible at a time)

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Implemented a first version of the fatigue system, including modifiers. Environment changes will affect the rate at which your expedition gets tired. The hunger system was also simplified, made a bit more abstract and easier to understand and control.

You can now create a camp for your Expedition to recover the fatigue. It will take some time to create and then you can either rest on it or transform it into a town which you can name. The definitive town creation will likely be a bit different tho. You also now you see a title with the day of the Expedition every new day, which now last 3 minutes.

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We did further tests with low poly trees for forests, but definitively the texture alone looks better for now. Also switched the models used for Soldiers and Archers, for lighter equipped versions.

The UI was also remade for a higher base resolution (full HD), with placeholder buttons and icons replaced with better-looking placeholder buttons and icons.

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Created a new town, “Nueva Esperanza” located on an island near the mainland. Re-imagined the setting (still in progress) but basically, this island is a safe place where a city was established years ago but the mainland remains unexplored and savage, so your mission is to fix that.

Redesigned the town dialog based on a new model with actions and buildings with people inside, also implemented a new “interaction” dialog, to talk with people in towns and access the stores.

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Next steps are:

  • Replacing the placeholder graphics on the UI, our artist is already conceptualizing these.
  • Implement adventure targets in the mainland, temples, towns, and stuff to find.
  • Add different enemies in the mainland.
  • Implement unit selection and allow setting them to attack a given enemy.
  • Allow hiring units.
  • Allow equipping units.

Screenshot Saturday

This week we have progress in Expedition, OpenArthurianX6 and Age of Golf

News about Expedition

It’s been over a month since I last posted about Expedition; while we had to switch to client work for a little bit, that doesn’t mean the dev has stalled.

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As usual, you can discuss this update or the game in general at the community here.

Some of the things that have happened:

  • We went to GDC 2019, pitched the game to many people and got very useful feedback (and most people was pretty excited about the game). This will impact both the game design and the project to complete it since we are looking forward to having a better playable demo and gameplay video to send along the project deck.
  • I upgraded my computer, having future work on Expedition as one of the main motivations for the change.

We are currently working on making the game look better, especially on land, as well as being able to produce a build displaying a full gameplay cycle. We already went over a couple visual improvement cycles, trying different options especially for the vegetation. Since the game is meant to be portraying a “high scale” map, it was tricky. We tried using tree models but the varying zoom levels made it hard to settle on a polygon count and we hit performance issues when displaying big populated forests.

Another thing we tried was using TextureForest, which implements a technique that works pretty well for flight simulators, but for our case in which the camera zooms in pretty close, it didn’t look as good as we needed.

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What we are using now are flat textures for forests (obtained from the assets used by TextureForest). We are going to experiment a bit further by including normal maps and maybe very low poly models for the forests, but for now, I’m content on how it looks. It needs more variety, of course, but I like the style and I believe it successfully portraits the scale of the game, if maybe in a bit of a symbolic way.

Of course, in order for this to look half-decent, it should be rendered on a good heightmap. After trying to create the map manually it became evident that would be a lot of work and results were not very good so we had to find a way to generate the terrain with procedural tools. We experimented with the Gaia, but I found it cumbersome to use, and too intrusive in the project structure. Granted, I could have investigated more into it, but I didn’t feel it was going to be very helpful since it seemed aimed at a higher level of detail, first or third person scenes.

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In the end, I decided to use FractScape, a simple, effective, and pretty old tool that does the job very well. Basically, you start with a height map of the general shape you want, then it runs some displacement algorithms on it and applies textures to the heightmap based on the height, blending them nicely. It has a ton of other options to tweak the result but that’s the core of it. After you are done with it you can export the RAW heightmap as well as a TIFF splat map that can be loaded into Unity using a simple script to paint the terrains.

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Another big thing that was added since the last update was the first iteration of the combat mode. Right now your party can be ambushed, and if that happens you can command your expedition members to either attack or flee. There are melee and ranged units, and the combat is similar in some aspects to an RTS.

We are still working on the design of the second iteration of it where you can give more detailed commands to your units. But my idea, following the original version of Expedition, is having combat be almost automatically driven without any micromanagement on the player’s part. The role of the player is to keep the expedition members well fed, well equipped, rested and motivated.

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There were also big changes on the clouds, for now, we have discarded the plugin we were using, and we are instead showing a very simple mist effect that looks much, much better. From the gameplay perspective, we have completely disabled the effects that the clouds had on the player, removing both the storm mode and some effects we added afterward when transversing them. The reason is I could find a good justification to keep them as an interesting gameplay element.

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Sailing also had another big change, and now the sailing speed remains constant from the player’s perspective, regardless of the difference between wind direction and ship’s heading. However, time will pass quicker if you are sailing slowly, and this will affect your Expedition’s supplies. This makes sailing less tedious while still keeping the component of optimizing your voyages using prevailing winds currents.

We replaced the painting in the Title screen with a 3D scene. This is still early progress but I believe it works much better.

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One of the things about the game that I haven’t detailed a lot is the procedural stories aspect, the idea being that the game will be able to create histories around your characters and unveil them as you progress in your adventure. We included some initial components for that, but it’s still underdeveloped.

The foundations for this, or at least some inspiration, come from my latest 7DRL (Heroes of Noresskia), in which I toyed with the idea of an automated DM.

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And that’s it for now! Hopefully we’ll have a gameplay video up soon, showing how this all works together 🙂

GDC 2019 – Parties

Here’s a summary of some GDC 2019 parties and events based on my experience, hope it’s useful for someone planning their next GDC journey! You can also see my summary from last year.

For each one, I tried to categorize it under a type and rated how nice it was for me. This year I didn’t hit as many parties like last year, but still had great fun.

Polish GameDev Party

  • Type: Game Showcase, Networking
  • Sponsors: Lots of Polish GameDev studios, Polish Game Industry Conference, Indie Games Poland Foundation.
  • Venue: Alloy Collective (Coworking)
  • Access: Free, Requires Invitation
  • Free Food: Yes
  • Free Drinks: Yes
  • Rating: 5/5

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Check out cool games made by Polish companies, eat amazing Polish food, drink lots of Polish Vodka and beer. What could go wrong?

Oh, snap, it’s just Monday. 😛

IGDA @ GDC Networking Event

  • Type: Game Showcase, Networking
  • Organizers / Sponsors: IGDA, Dell
  • Venue: Children’s Creativity Museum
  • Access: Free
  • Requires Invitation: No
  • Free Food: Yes
  • Free Drinks: Yes
  • Rating: 5/5

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Great venue with lots of fun activities, good food and drinks, and lots of networking opportunities in a talk-friendly space.

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Indiepocalypse

  • Type: Game Showcase
  • Organizers / Sponsors: Game Jolt, Devolver Digital, Good Shepherd and DreamHack
  • Venue: 715 Harrison (Club)
  • Access: Free
  • Free Food: No
  • Free Drinks: No
  • Rating: 2/5

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Some good games there, but not as many as last year? and definitively too packed and loud, so it was hard to actually check out the game, let alone talk with someone.

PowX8

  • Type: Dance Party – Chiptune
  • Organizers: 8bitSF and Monobomb Records
  • Venue: DNA Lounge
  • Access: $19
  • Free Food: No
  • Free Drinks: No
  • Rating: 5/5

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If you like chiptune music you cannot miss Pow. Great DJs and a cool atmosphere, nice merch from underground DJs. Awesome performances. I missed the separate “chill room” from last year where you could relax for a bit while listening videogame OSTs, but the main stage was definitively better and full of energy.

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Celebrating Latinx in Gaming 2019

  • Type: Networking
  • Organizers / Sponsors: XBOX
  • Venue: Minna Gallery
  • Access: Free
  • Free Food: Yes
  • Free Drinks: Yes
  • Rating: 4/5

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Good for networking, nothing really mind-blowing. There were some cool activities tho (like a photobooth?) and some swag from XBox. Always a good chance to meet fellow Latin american developers.

Roguelike Developers @ GDC 2019

  • Type: Networking
  • Organizers: Temple of The Roguelike
  • Venue: Yerbabuena Gardens
  • Access: Free
  • Free Food: No
  • Free Drinks: No
  • Rating: 5/5

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Amazing meetup of the roguelike developers community with devs of influential roguelikes freely available to talk, and many roguelike enthusiasts talking about their projects. Hope the organizers can keep the meeting happening in upcoming GDCs!

Zynga

  • Type: Networking
  • Organizers: Zynga
  • Venue: Zynga San Francisco
  • Access: Free
  • Free Food: Yes
  • Free Drinks: Yes
  • Rating: 4/5

I somehow missed taking some pics this year. It was more packed than last year extending into Zynga’s arcade basement. Nice food and drinks, music a bit too loud to talk so actual networking was hard, there were fun games around too.

Marioke @ GDC19

  • Type: Karaoke Party
  • Organizers: Sing Marioke
  • Venue: Encore Karaoke Lounge
  • Access: $20
  • Free Food: No
  • Free Drinks: No
  • Rating: 2/5

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The venue was not very good this year, it was too narrow and small, and didn’t have a properly elevated stage. The hosts were not very fun, or maybe I was just not in the mood. Plus, there was no additional fun stuff being displayed (like in 2018). So it really felt like a setback.

AltCtrl Party

  • Type: Game Showcase + Networking
  • Organizers: GitHub, Particle, Oculus, SuperHot, Gametheory.co
  • Venue: Minna Gallery
  • Access: Free
  • Free Food: No
  • Free Drinks: No
  • Rating: 5/5

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Although the venue was a bit packed thru the night, the game selection was great and the music had just a good volume to be able to talk with people while still getting in a videogame mood.

Closing Party at The Foundry

  • Type: Videogame Party
  • Organizers: Showdown Entertainment
  • Venue: Folsom Street Foundry
  • Access: 18$
  • Free Food: No
  • Free Drinks: No
  • Rating: 4/5

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Great space to play videogames (modern and retro) with your friends, in giant and tiny screens. Sadly I don’t have friends that do this kind of thing, so I was mostly checking other people play.

Some parties I missed because of conflicting schedules:

  • Pocket Gamer Party
  • Kongregate Party
  • Github Party
  • Latin American Gathering at GDC

Also, that.party was cancelled, seemingly because of conflicts between the organizers.

Roguelike Developers and Fans at GDC19 San Francisco

We met together again and talked about our games and projects. 173 people signed up for the event and I think at least 70 roguelike developers and fans showed up including:

  • Glenn Wichman – Developer of… erm… Rogue.
  • Tarn Adams – Developer of Dwarf Fortress
  • Brian Bucklew and Jason Grinblat – Developers of Caves of Qud
  • Kornel Kisielewicz and Olgierd Humeńczuk – Developers of Jupiter Hell
  • Noah Swartz – Organizer of the Roguelike Celebration

And lots of other awesome roguelike lovers!

Planning to do something cooler for next year (hope I can gather enough people again!)

Heroes of Noresskia – 2019 7DRL Finished!

Managed to complete my 15th 7DRL Challenge Entry, PLAY IT NOW!

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Heroes of Noresskia is a setting for AutoDM 0.1, both things were produced during the 7 days time window (although I actually missed 3 days of dev due to the happenings of real life and work). This year I used Phaser again, with a somewhat modified version of the ES6 webpack template. The complete source code is here.

I will start with AutoDM since that’s the justification for my entry. I wanted to create a program that simulated the work of a Game Master / Dungeon Master on a pen and paper RPG session (and no, that’s not what all computer RPGs do). It all came from the research I made for my talk at Roguelike Celebration 2018 and the short article I published afterward. I knew in advance the 7 days timeframe was a bit short, but I believed I could at least do a proof of concept.

The rationale behind it was: Rogue’s intent was to simulate a Dungeon Master able to create Dungeon Dive campaigns, what if I try to create a program that can generate and run Epic Quest campaigns? these two are known as the “simplest” types of campaigns/adventures since the objective is pretty straightforward, and players know what to expect, they are the easier for the Game Master to run.

Of course, there is a lot of terminology on RPGs and none of it could be considered official. I did some research on Day 1 (including this pretty good post) and was really starting to despair since the solution to this seemed too complex and hard to scale down into a first iteration. Seriously, just taking a look at that website and reading two articles is enough for you to want to give up any pretensions of making a program able to do a tiny bit of what a good GM can do.

In any case, for the context of this, an Epic Quest type of campaign is that where the party has to travel the land finding clues to incrementally work towards an epic goal such as saving the world by destroying an arch-villain or finding/destroying an artifact, or a similar cool sounding task. All while surviving battles on the road, and becoming stronger to fight stronger monsters. Check this nicely worded article for more info on Epic Quests.

I have had a very shallow RPG playing experience, and I have never done GM’ing, so I just took what I knew from these sessions along with my research, and used that as a foundation.

The initial idea was to simulate the GM process by generating some key points of the campaign and then reacting to the player actions to build the intermediate steps or tweak the outstanding milestones. However, I ran into issues to implement that as an algorithm and had to settle in the end with generating the complete plotline from the onset.

The first thing the player does is setting up his character; since we are emulating a role-playing session, you don’t really have a lot of control over the other members of your party, but for yours, you can set the name, gender, picture, and re-roll for stats.

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After this, you will be greeted with an introduction giving you some context of what is going on. As I mentioned, the campaigns that the program can generate have a certain structure that is hard to miss, but it can still generate some variation and get the player in the mood provided he wants to put some effort into it.

noreskia1 The world is modeled as a collection of nodes, one for each location, connected by roads. The party moves by selecting the location to travel to, based on the available connections. In the main game screen, you see the game map centered in your location, the status of your party and the locations you can travel to.

I initially intended to provide towns view using Watabou’s Toy Town, but had to cut that part.

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The campaigns are generated as a linear sequence divided into episodes, the player has to travel the land looking for clues to get the artifacts that are needed to defeat the boss of each episode.

These clues are obtained from people in the different locations of the world, where the engine generates some dialog including an anecdote and the clue itself. Once you’ve gathered all the required items you will face the episode boss (or the final boss if you are in the last episode).

I think part of the charm of the game is these dialogs. The generative space is pretty limited now, and although they work well enough for a proof of concept, using something like Tracery (and a very good design) would probably yield more believable results.

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Of course, moving around the map has dangers, there is a chance that you might be ambushed by monsters and have to fight your way thru. The combat system is pretty simple, with each character having attack and defense stats, and damage is calculated as a 2 * roll of ATK – roll of DEF. If damage is > 0 it is deduced from the HP. I didn’t manage to implement any magic system or special skills, time was just not enough.

What monsters appear and what their level is, is however based on your party’s experience level. You level up as a party by getting XP, and all your stats increase.

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But seriously, the combat system was not the focus of my entry. I had to put it there to add some friction to the exploration aspect, but my intent was to have it get on the way of the player as less as possible. (In the end, the original 7DRL version has an issue where the players never recover their HP unless they level up, thus making it extremely hard to win).

I actually envisioned other dangers for the exploration, such as running out of supplies, but since I didn’t manage to implement an inventory and stores system, it didn’t make it.

So, the structure of the project had the AutoDM program simulating the GM, but in order to be able to create a campaign, a GM needs a setting to work with. Heroes of Noresskia is a classic Medieval Fantasy setting, I still haven’t delved into the details of it, since that was not necessary for this project. It’s basically what you would expect for a classic Dungeons an Dragons world: medieval cities connected by roads and ships, people with swords and bows, monsters roaming the countryside.

I should, however, note the tools and assets I used to build it even if it was not the development focus of the project, since it’s what it’s more visible and also it served as a proof of what the AutoDM engine can do (and could potentially do if expanded).

First off is the actual world map, after searching around for a bit for map generators, I stuck with Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator. It can create worlds that are big enough, detailed and more importantly, it generates towns and the connections between them.

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While there are generators out there that do a better job at the physical terrain and others that go in-deep into generating town descriptions and population, this one provided the level of detail I needed to make something similar to a Pen and Paper RPG campaign. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to map all the locations (Actually Kram helped me map a portion of the map, and that’s what ended up being released in the 7DRL), and the zoom level used in the game was a bit too low, would have been better to zoom in closer and show more detail.

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Then, of course, another critical aspect of the setting were the illustrations for the characters and the monsters. I went thru both Unity and Unreal’s asset stores looking for what I needed but wasn’t really happy with the sets I found (see 1, 2, 3). The main problem I had was, well, these are icons, so even if they were presented on a high resolution, it was hard to incorporate them into the layout I had in mind.

I finally went back to OpenGameArt.org and checked back into some assets I had dismissed initially because I thought they were too photorealistic, but on closer inspection, they were perfect for what I needed. They ended up having some interesting backstory, they were created as part of a Kickstarter campaign for the FLARE project  (Free/Libre Action Roleplaying Engine) but with the intent of them being useable “[…] in a great many free/libre media projects, from other video and computer games of different varieties, to print board games and rpgs, to modules and adventure scenarios or for use in other media.“. Well, I’m glad I found a good use for them! you can also back the artist’s Patreon to support this great work.

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Some other open assets that were used:

 

And that’s it! please play the game and let me know what you think 🙂