2022 Year in Review

Legend is now entering its fourth year of development. It took the first two years to build the foundation. Systems were stood up, then overhauled once, twice, or even three times in some cases. In 2022, rework dropped significantly (evidence that systems were stabilizing and meeting design needs), enabling me to focus on refinement and content in preparation for a public release. The release didn’t happen due to the unplanned Map Generation 2.0 work, but the game is much, much closer to this goal.

UI/UX Improvements

With the focus on getting a playable version out to the public, UI/UX received a lot of attention. 

  • Quick equipment switching. Melee weapons, ranged weapons, ranged weapon ammo, and light sources can be quickly changed using slots next to the hotbar.
  • New inventory screen with separate equipment slots, stats, and inventory items.
  • Visual indicators for the cell the mouse is hovering over and the default action that will be performed by clicking on the cell.
  • Improved inspect panel now displays each tile and entity in the cell and actions that can be performed on those.  
  • Status effect icons shown for player and enemies.
  • Improved Select Class screen.
  • Stamina and magic bars.
  • Added a loading screen.
  • Changed the main font to Merriweather. Not sure if I’ll keep it, but it’s preferable to the low resolution, fixed-width font I was previously using because it’s more compact and looks less retro.
Updated UI
Loading screen
Status effect icons
Select Class screen

Visibility

Using the Smart Lighting 2d Unity asset, dynamic lighting, shadows, ambient lighting, and entity light sources were added. In addition to giving dungeons more ambience, the new lighting creates some interesting gameplay. Players should proceed with caution because who knows what could be lurking in the shadows… Lighting example.

One of the trickier features implemented this year was partial wall hiding. This was needed because walls between rooms occupy a single cell. The player shouldn’t be able to see the wall in the other room. Partial wall hiding solves this problem by only drawing the portion of a wall cell that is visible to the player. Partial wall hiding example.

New Content

The slowdown in systems development, and maturation of those systems, made it possible to create a lot of new content. Dozens of new enemies, items, and objects were added. Abilities were finally added to the game as well.

Examples:

Crystals | Torches | Vampire | Eggs | Resurrect Ability | Mass Fear Ability | Summon Giant Rat Swarm Ability | Destroy Undead Ability | Warding Glyph Ability | Kill Touch and Charm Animals Abilities

Map Generation 2.0

At the beginning of November I realized that my map generator was too limited to achieve the game’s vision and that it needed to be replaced. Map Generation 2.0 had four objectives:

  1. New structuring methodology – layout of walls and floors in rooms, corridors, caverns, and other shapes
  2. Sections – map partitioned into separate areas with discrete structures, themes, and content 
  3. Data-driven stocking – replace the existing hardcoded dungeon stocking with a data-driven implementation
  4. Node pattern-based stocking – identify the best locations on the map to place specific types of content using node patterns on the map graph

All four objectives were completed. Much of the code from original map generation was still usable, but had to be repackaged. Some code, such as the BSP code, was scrapped. The new generator is much cleaner and, most importantly, is capable of producing the kinds of maps I originally envisioned (with some more fine-tuning).

New multi-section map structure and map graph visualization improvements

Unity Assets

I acquired some fantastic Unity assets in 2022:

  • Odin Inspector and Serializer – I can’t recommend this asset enough; it’s a must-have for Unity developers. It can greatly increase your productivity when using the Unity inspector. It’s very easy to learn and start using.
  • History Inspector – super handy. It lists recently viewed assets and allows you to go to those assets with a single mouse click. I was spending a lot of time going back and forth between assets and finding assets before I got this.
  • All in 1 Sprite Shader – I used this to make grayscale and frozen versions of sprites. 
  • 3552 RPG Icons Pixel Art – using for ability icons. I doubt I’ll keep these in the final version because I want all the art to be custom.
  • Pro Sound Collection and Ultimate Sound FX Bundle – added to my stock sound effects collection.

I didn’t end up using:

  • Recently Used Assets – this wasn’t useful because it just tracked assets that changed. History Inspector (see above) is what I was actually looking for.
  • Behavior Designer – this seems like a great tool, but after I bought it I realized I was trying to solve the wrong problem. Legend’s AI meets present requirements, and doesn’t require the sophistication of behavior trees. But, if more complex AI is required in the future I will reconsider this asset.

Ergonomics

I replaced my keyboard with a Logitech MX Keys Mini keyboard and mouse with a Logitech MX Vertical mouse after experiencing pain in my forearms, wrists, and hands. I haven’t had any pain since!

Time Tracking

I wanted to understand how many hours I was working on Legend and what that time was spent doing. In April, I started tracking my time using Clockify.me. Since Clockify integrates with Trello, the tool I use to track my work, the overhead added by time tracking was negligible. 

In 2022, I spent 538 hours working on Legend, averaging 10.3 hours per week. 

Hours per week from April – December

Over half of this time was spent on enhancements (new features, feature improvements). 25% of my time went to testing and bug fixing. While I didn’t track time in prior years, I suspect the refactoring time was much higher in those years compare to the 8.7% in 2022 because I was doing a lot more rework.

Time spent by category

2023 Outlook

I’m confident that more people than me and my kids will play this game in 2023. There’s some work to do to get a public release out, and it will be far from finished (and will very likely still contain the Oryx stock art rather than original art). That work includes:

Improved Dungeon Stocking 

Dungeon stocking using Map Elements is currently done on a per-room basis. I want to add multi-room and multi-level Map Elements to provide more cohesion across levels and the dungeon as a whole. An example is placing a locked door and key in different map locations.

Improved Performance

Playing the game doesn’t feel great currently. It’s clunky and unresponsive at times, especially when there are multiple enemies on the screen. A big issue is the way turns are handled. Actor actions are animated sequentially, so the player has to wait for every other visible actor to move before moving again.

Content Creation

Much more content is needed, primarily objects, Map Elements, and map section types, to ensure that maps are varied enough. Some more enemies and items are needed too.

Balancing

Balancing improved in 2022 but still has a ways to go.

Once these tasks are completed, I’ll distribute the game to a small group of people who are interested in trying out Legend and providing feedback. After incorporating that feedback, I’ll create a Steam page and publish an early access version.

Thanks for reading and Happy New Year everyone!.

Weekly Update – December 17, 2022

  • Map generation refinements. Map sections now connect to each other (most of the time; smarter connecting corridors are still needed). The starting section locations are better spread out across the map. This helps balance the section sizes, but doesn’t eliminate a frequent issue I’m seeing in which a particular section grows disproportionately and blocks other sections from growing. The solution I’m considering is to check the size of each section as the map is being generated and dynamically adjust the growth of sections that are too large or small relative to the other sections.
  • Catacombs and Crypt themes. Map sections can now be themed as catacombs or crypts, in addition to the existing bastion and cavern themes. It’s just a tile swap at the moment, but future updates will alter structure and content.
  • Refactoring. Some enums have been converted to classes that inherit from ScriptableObject so that they can be referenced in the Unity inspector. MapElements, which are responsible for stocking the dungeon, are also in the process of being converted to ScriptableObjects. This will accelerate creating new MapElements, which will soon be needed because the upcoming section-based stocking requires a wide variety of room types.
  • Started using Odin Inspector. On multiple occasions I’ve run into the limitations of the out-of-the-box functionality of the Unity inspector. While it is possible to customize the inspector, a relatively high level of effort is required to do so (coding). I originally heard about Odin from a Jason Weimann video. In the video, Jason said that if you can only get one Unity asset, make it Odin. That set my expectations pretty high, but so far Odin is living up to those expectations. It’s extremely easy to use and is very well documented. In a nutshell, I’m using it to make the Unity inspector more useful, refining the controls and presentation.

I’m on vacation for the rest of December and looking forward to making huge progress with all that time. Map generation refinement will be the main focus. If time allows I will also tackle speeding up game turns by enabling all actors to move at the same time.

Weekly Update – August 12, 2022

Adding a new ability to summon a swarm of giant rats nearly derailed my plans for this week (and potentially the next few months) when I tried out the ability and, to my surprise, the rats started attacking each other. I realized that there was no way of indicating that the rats were both allies of the player and each other; I needed to be able to specify relationships between actors. Factions were the first thing that came to my mind. They’re overkill for this single use case, but I’ve always intended to have factions in the game and reasoned that I could use them to solve the rat problem. As I’ve done with other aspects of the game design, I start with a flurry of research and brainstorming. I read up on factions in game design and roguelikes specifically, including a FAQ Friday on the topic, and wrote down all of the ideas and details I could think of. And, as I always do in this situation, I got lost in the subject and created a conceptual design that far exceeded what I likely needed and what I had time to build. That’s not a bad thing, as long as you can quickly pull yourself back into reality and reduce a grandiose design to something practical. I was able to do that in this case. My solution was to add an actor attribute indicating whether the actor is friendly, neutral, or hostile to the player. It’s a compromise, and there’s a good chance it will be thrown away in the future when I add a true faction system, but it’s the right solution right now, because it was extremely simple to implement and I don’t have a clear vision for how factions will work.

Mass Fear spell
  • New Ability: Summon Giant Rat Swarm. Summons a swarm of giant rats to fight on the player’s behalf. 
  • New Item: Fire Sword. Sets enemies and objects it strikes on fire. It’s overpowered at the moment, but I haven’t decided how to nerf it.
  • Chests and corpse item access. The items contained in chests and corpses can now be viewed and taken from the Inspect Panel. A “Take All” button lets all items in the container be taken at once.
  • Inventory Panel is automatically displayed when inspecting a container. When viewing a container, such as a chest, the player inventory is now displayed automatically. This allows items to be dragged from the container into inventory and vice versa.
  • Weighted observation selection. One of the configurable AI components is the ObservationDecider. This component examines the actor’s observations since the last turn and chooses an observation to react to. There are two implementations of this component, one that selects the first observation involving a tracked actor, and another that randomly selects an observation (used by the Fear status effect). These implementations are primitive. They don’t work well when there’s more than one suitable observation to respond to. To address this, I modified the ObservationDeciders to weight each observation and select the highest weighted observation. 
  • New automated tests: Eggs. I’ve repeatedly broken the functionality of eggs, so this was a great automated test to add. The unique behavior of eggs (turning into a cracked egg upon detecting the player, waiting 10 turns to hatch, hatching a creature at the end of waiting) tests a number of systems.
  • Installed History Inspector from the Unity Asset store. My project asset list has gotten enormous. ScriptableObjects are used extensively, and many of these ScriptableObjects reference other ScriptableObjects. I often have to follow a trail of ScriptableObject references to fully understand how something is working, or go back to the previous asset I was viewing. The time spent scrolling through the asset tree, and the effect of navigating the structure on cognitive load, is impacting my productivity. I looked for a built-in Inspector history viewer in Unity but couldn’t find one. So, I turned to the Unity Asset Store and found the History Inspector asset. It’s already become an indispensable tool that’s saving me a lot of time.

Next week, I’m play-testing combat and overall level difficulty. I’ll adjust and fix based on what I find. The overarching goal for the year remains getting to a version of the game that I can distribute to others.