Taking Inventory

Category: Monsters' Den: Godfall Comments: 25 comments

At the moment I’m in the middle of a big re-design of the inventory system in Monsters’ Den. For better or worse, you spend a lot of time interacting with inventory in these games– so it’s a very important system.

If there’s anything you love / hate about the inventory in Monsters’ Den or other RPGs, now is the time to tell me.

 

VERY WIP. No new interface art yet.

VERY WIP. No new interface art yet.

 

You can see that I’ve abandoned the “sliding panels” approach from Chronicles as space-inefficient. Now it’s a single large box with tabs for bags. But the core of the new design is to combine the Inventory, Shop and Loot screens into one. The layout and method of interaction are now always the same. Any inventory interaction you can perform- whether it’s selling, equipping, moving or using an item- can be done from any of these screens.

This is very important to me, because the ideal I want to accomplish for this game is that you only have to look at an item once. In most RPGs, you find an item and a loot interface pops up. You look at the items and decide whether to take them. Then you go into your inventory and find them, compare them to your current equipment, and perhaps equip them. Then later you visit a shop and sell the unused items (after first looking at them again and making sure you don’t need them). It is so much cleaner, especially in a largely loot-driven game, to be able to do all of that at the moment of actually finding the item.

(Oh, and there’s no more concept of discarding items- an item that leaves your inventory is always sold.)

In previous games, the shop interfaces have always been different to the inventory interface. In Book of Dread the shop used a list inventory unlike the party’s grid inventory. This was just so that I could show the item’s name, instead of a wall of icons. Having got over my fear of the wall of icons, Chronicles had a shop that was controlled by clicking on icons, whereas inventory operations were all based on dragging items. My reasoning for this was straightforward- in the context of the shop, there is only one interaction you can have with each item. If you own it, you want to sell it. If it’s the shop’s item, you want to buy it. So I went ahead and boiled that down to a single click. These reasons seemed good at the time, but in both of the these cases the overall interface complexity was increased and the user was asked to understand a new set of behaviours. I don’t think this is desirable any more.

The loot screen has always needed to serve a couple of functions: you need to be able to choose which items to take and which to discard (sell), and (later, in Chronicles) you need to be able to choose where in your inventory the item goes. These are interactions already present in the inventory screen, so combining them makes so much sense I’m annoyed I didn’t think of it earlier. The loot is implemented as another (temporary) bag, with some additional features (like auto-loot) within it.

This approach also has obvious benefits in terms of the amount of work it requires from me- one interface instead of three. Or it would if I hadn’t already built all three before embarking on the redesign. Game development!

 

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Elegance vs. Simplicity

Category: Monsters Den ChroniclesMonsters' Den: Godfall Comments: 31 comments

When I was implementing the (new in Chronicles) “action clock”-driven battle system, I was faced with a problem. In the previous system every character took one turn per round, and so regeneration and skill effect durations were all tied to turns. But now having a higher Quickness stat meant that a character would actually have more turns. On top of the obvious benefits of acting more often, they would regenerate more quickly and effects on them would expire more quickly.

I spent a long time thinking about how to address this. Eventually, I settled on what seemed an elegant solution: since the action clocks filled up in real time, why not use that time to measure effect durations and space out regeneration ticks? It put all characters on a level playing field and helped tie all of those systems together. Unfortunately, what I’ve only come to realize lately is that while I was in love with the elegance of it, from a player’s perspective it is terrible.

Elegant it may have been, but it was also far too complex. To answer a simple question like “will my character get a turn before this effect expires” requires either an intuitive grasp of the timings that a player is not likely to attain, or a large amount of additional user interface. I did my best with the Chronicles interface, but it was already far too crowded and so this kind of vital information was not readily available. That’s bad. It cripples the strategic element of the game when a player doesn’t feel they have the information they need to make the correct decisions. I need to fix it.

So, with Godfall I have a couple of options:

  1. Improve the interface so that the system is more comprehensible to users
  2. Move back to using character turns

I am heavily leaning towards option 2. I’m less convinced now that the variation between characters is a huge problem, and there are ways to partially mitigate it. For instance, regeneration values can be higher on heavier equipment. I’m growing convinced that this is one of the missteps I made in the transition from Book of Dread to Chronicles.

 

 

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Faction Preview: Renouncers

Category: Monsters' Den: Godfall Comments: 8 comments

I’ve been sick for the past three weeks, so nothing has gotten done. Let’s try to get back on track.

Renouncers are one of several new factions in Godfall. They are humans who reject the rule of the Clerics and the dominion of Aristei, and choose to flee the safety and security of the cities. They are an uneasy mix of free spirits, criminals, heretics and madmen. They band together only in the interests of survival.

 

 

As you might expect, individual Renouncer bands govern themselves, submitting to no higher authority. Some act as simple bandits, taking what they need from the unwary. Other bands seek to avoid any further contact with other humans. In either case they are fugitives, and it sometimes falls to the Companies to track them down. Once captured or killed, they are delivered to the great prison work-camp known as the Hive.

Humanity is too precious to waste.

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Brief Note: Movement

Category: Monsters' Den: Godfall Comments: 15 comments

In the previous Monsters’ Den games, I’ve resisted adding a movement skill to combat. My feeling was that party positioning was one of the key tactical considerations, and finding the right balance and living with the tradeoffs of a given configuration was important. Being able to change it at the start of every battle seemed like enough flexibility.

The Minotaur in Book of Dread could shuffle the party formation, but that was just part of the challenge of dealing with that particular monster. However, in Chronicles these types of abilities became more prevalent. Additionally, some player classes got the ability to change their position– but not all. As I move to push these position-changing abilities further in Godfall, this disparity starts to seem like a bad idea. So I’ve changed my mind.

 

move_skill

 

This is a standard skill like Pass Turn and Retreat. All characters will have access to it (including monsters). It costs no power but it’s a full action and has no other effects, which leaves room for class-specific movement powers to still be  useful. I don’t think it will end up devaluing the initial formation too much, because using a whole turn on simply moving is not something done lightly.

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Creature Feature II

Category: Monstrum Comments: 5 comments

Here’s some more new creature art, originally posted over on the Facebook page.

You’ve probably also noticed that the site has a new look. An overhaul was long overdue, and I’m not completely happy with this one yet– but it’s better. I still need to go through and refresh the actual content on the pages.

 

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Putting the Pieces in Place

Category: Monsters' Den: GodfallMonstrum Comments: 10 comments

Things have been quiet again, at least publicly. As well as working on development, I’ve been trying to figure out everything I need to have in place to formally “announce” (or re-announce) the game.

For an indie developer targeting the PC, the importance of getting on Steam really cannot be overstated. In almost all cases, not being on Steam will doom your game to obscurity and failure. To test the waters, I created a Greenlight Concept page for Godfall. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the response so far, and it’s settled into a decent chart position in Concepts, without any promotion from me at all (I haven’t previously posted the link here or to social media).

That’s great, as far as it goes. But Concepts is not “real” Greenlight, and votes there don’t ultimately count towards getting your game listed on Steam. The success of the final Greenlight campaign is so important that I’m terrified of screwing it up. I need to be ready, and so I need to:

  • Get the game into an attractive state. At the very least I need to be able to generate screenshots and videos that I’m proud of, but a playable demo would be ideal.
  • Have good promo material. This overlaps with the previous one.
  • Continue to grow the game’s social media presence. This is something I can do now, to ensure I can get back in touch with people when their attention will really count.
  • Improve press contacts. This is a problem because working in Flash for so long made me complacent. In Flash you don’t have to hustle to get eyes on your game, the portal’s do it for you. I’ve had years of good opportunities to work on this and I’ve squandered them.
  • Get a better web presence. If I start getting publicity and more eyes on the game, I need to be able to make a good impression. Redesigning this website will be a priority. I would also love to be able to get a couple of URLs related to the game, but I’m not willing to pay what the squatters are asking. Even negotiating with them makes me furious.

If I managed to accomplish all of that, the time will definitely be right to throw everything I have behind a Greenlight campaign.

However, there’s also the real possibility that my money won’t stretch far enough to do what I need to, and I may have to consider crowdfunding. That’s a scary prospect for me. I’d really prefer to avoid it if I can, and thankfully I still have a while before I have to decide one way or the other. It can be a great generator of publicity, though, and that might end up even more pivotal than the money. If I do have to seek crowdfunding, it would probably be worth starting Greenlight early to run in parallel.

This was a bit of a boring business-y update, but that’s my life at the moment. Here’s a picture to make up for it– the kind of heartwarming, truly emotionally affecting moment that you can only get from Monsters’ Den.

 

art_skeletons

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Monsters’ Den Chronicles v1.5 Changelog

Category: Monsters Den Chronicles Comments: 14 comments

I’m uploading the new version to Kongregate and Newgrounds now, Armor may take longer. So, what’s changed?

  • New infinite campaign- Act VI: The Limits of Evil. If you have already unlocked the other bonus campaigns this will be available. This campaign gives an experience more similar to the older Monsters’ Den games. You can no longer return to previous floors. Returning to the entrance stairs will allow you to leave the dungeon, and you’ll earn gold and item rewards based on how many floors you completed.
  • Ability to reduce campaign level. On the campaign select screen, click on the new campaign level label to open the settings page. If you’ve been wanting to use your godlike party to beat up some level 1’s, now is your chance.
  • ‘True Hit’ option for accuracy calculations is now available to everyone, and is on by default. You can turn it off and return to the original (accurate!) accuracy method in the options screen. I caved on this one.
  • Replacement premium modifier: ‘Level Range’. When this setting is on, each individual enemy has a chance to be one level higher or lower than normal. This helps mix things up a bit.
  • Customize Character icon now appears in the party camp. This should make it more obvious that the option exists.
  • Consumable tooltips in the Emporium now tell you how many of that item you already have in inventory.
  • You can unlock a couple of bonus items by visiting the Facebook page. Check the options screen.
  • Gold reward for completing Act V reduced a bit.

With this update I’ve tried to address a lot of the most common complaints about the game. Better late than never.

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Creature Feature

Category: Monsters' Den: Godfall Comments: 10 comments

Here’s a look at some new Godfall monster art I’ve been posting on the Facebook page over the past few weeks. Two old monsters returning after a sad absence from Chronicles, and a brand new one.

I’m doing a lot of design work at the moment, trying to really nail down the scope of the game. I was getting ready to submit to Steam’s Greenlight service but I’ve decided I should wait for now. I will submit it to the ‘Concepts’ section instead, probably this week. I’m interested in gauging the reaction there. It could really go either way.

I have some longer blog posts in mind about different aspects of the new design, but I just need to set aside time to finish them up.

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Recent Events

Category: Monstrum Comments: 6 comments

I’m trying to breathe a little more life into the Facebook page, so I’ve been posting some new artwork there. Check it out if you haven’t already.

So what’s happened lately? I went to GDC, got sick, had a birthday.

Nobody cares, what’s happening with Godfall? Well, for the past month or so I’ve actually been working on something else– a mobile version of Monsters’ Den.

People have often asked me when it’s coming to mobile. What you may not know is that over the years there have actually been three different attempts to outsource it, which have all fizzled out or failed for various reasons. What I’ve realized is that if I want it done properly, I’ll have to do it myself– and before now I haven’t been prepared to take that on.

Last month I finally decided to have a play around, and experiment with what was possible using AIR. And after a few false starts and confusing dead ends, it worked surprisingly well. There’s still a significant amount of work needed to optimize the performance and redo the UI to properly support the screen size(s) and touch interface, but I’m more excited by the prospect than I’ve been before.

I now have to decide whether to push on with the mobile work (which realistically will take at least a couple of months to get right) or get back to working on the next game.

Addendum: The mobile game has been put on the back-burner, and I’m back to Godfall full time. More news soon.

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Godfall: Let’s Talk

Category: Monsters' Den: Godfall Comments: 35 comments

At least one old feature that was absent in Chronicles will be making a return in Godfall: party conversations!

In the original Monsters’ Den and Book of Dread, these appeared on the loading screens between dungeon levels. Their main purpose was to give the player an idea of what enemy types would appear on the next floor, but they were also an opportunity to impart a bit of flavour (and sometimes humour). The first reason is less relevant now, but I think they are still a very useful way to non-intrusively convey snippets of background imformation and help set the tone of the game. I’m not a great writer, but it’s also an opportunity for me to exercise that muscle.

The old conversations were randomized, with responses written vaguely enough that they could be mixed and matched. This time I am leaning towards having the conversations more tightly scripted, but their occurrence controlled by whether you have the right kind of characters in your current party to fill the speaking roles. This feature is potentially a lot of work, but at least it’s a different kind of work.

Are there topics you’d like to see covered in conversations? Any favourites from Book of Dread?

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