Weekly Update – August 26, 2022

After literally years of research, brainstorming, analysis, and procrastination, the types of resources consumed by abilities have been determined. This decision has been drawn out by many dependent questions regarding Legend’s underlying resource management design: are resources finite or infinite? Is there a hunger clock? Do health, magic, etc. regenerate? Not all of the questions have been answered. I aspired to find the perfect solution, but the model is too complex to assemble, and I no longer believe a perfect solution exists anyway. I increasingly aim for solutions that are good enough, solutions that don’t offer complete flexibility, but are flexible enough. I embrace the resulting constraints, for they shrink the answer space, and foster creativity. And thus, at the end of the ability resource design journey, I arrived not at revelation but convention, with the health/stamina/magic trinity, a staple of the PC RPG.

  • Ability resource consumption design. Abilities may consume stamina, magic, health, and/or items. Magic fuels spells, stamina powers physical feats, and items are needed for specific skills such as picking locks. Like health, stamina and magic are represented in points. The quantities of resources consumed by each ability will be fine-tuned during balancing.
  • Player magic and stamina meters. Stamina and magic meters now join the Health meter. I reduced the dimensions of the meters so that they cover up a smaller screen area.
Redesigned health/stamina/magic meters
  • New Action Step: Consume Resources. Luckily, I didn’t have to implement a new system to handle resource consumption; it fits nicely into the Action Step framework, becoming another building block for constructing actions. This was the most logical solution, since abilities essentially just invoke actions.    
  • Added Action Source to Actions. Actions are defined using the following structure: [Actor] do [Action Type] with [Item(s)] on [Target] in [Context]. For the Consume Resources Action Step to work, it needs the source of the action (the ability that invoked the action), so that it knows which resources, and how much of each resource, to consume. The action source has been added to the actor structure, making the structure now: [Actor] do [Action Type] from [Source] with [Items] on [Target] in [Context]. This required a lot of changes in the code, but was done quickly using global search and replace (which is surely an architecture smell).
  • New items
    • Magic and Stamina Potions. Self explanatory.
  • New abilities
    • Health to Magic. Recover magic at the cost of health. No class with healing abilities will be able to use this, since it would be possible to have unlimited health and magic.
    • Magic to Stamina. Recover stamina at the cost of magic.
  • Visual effects. While looking for a way to modify sprite colors at runtime (I need to display grayscale versions of sprites and make sprites appear frozen when they are hit with an Ice spell), I came across a Unity Asset, All in 1 Sprite Shader. It does far more than I need (at least currently), but it was very popular and highly rated (and on sale) so I bought it. Of all the Unity assets I’ve installed, this asset is probably the easiest to learn; simply add the component to a gameobject and, using the component’s UI, select the visual effects you want to apply. However, I don’t think I’m using it in the intended way. I didn’t want to add the component to the dozens of actor and item prefabs because I didn’t want the visual effect to be always on, and I didn’t want to maintain an extra component for actors and items. So, I just used it to make materials, and I’m applying the effects at runtime by changing the sprite material.
  • Improved random Map Element selection. Previously, all Map Elements were assigned a rarity level, which served as the weight in a weighted randomizer. The problem with this is that the rarity distribution changes depending on the number of Map Elements of each rarity level. I’ve now split the selection into two steps. The first step selects the rarity level using a fixed set of probabilities. The second step selects a Map Element from the list of Map Elements of the selected rarity level. This ensures that Map Elements are correctly chosen based on the rarity distribution.
  • Bug fixes
    • Quick Switch and Hotbar slots still interactive after the player dies
    • The action indicator cursor still appears after the player dies
    • Enemies stop moving when the player moves out of sight
  • Minor improvements
    • The Escape key now cancels the Select Cell prompt. My goal is for the game to be completely playable using a keyboard and/or mouse.
    • Ability resource consumption support
      • Preventing abilities from being used if there are insufficient resources
      • Dimming slots containing abilities that can’t be used due to lack of resources
      • Tooltips indicate why ability slots are dimmed

Next week, the major task is reassigning sound effects. I’ve purchased several collections from the Unity asset store, but I recently pulled the files out of the Unity project because they were making project snapshots huge. Now, I need to bring only the sound effects that the game is using back into the project. Beyond that, there will be more play-testing and tightening things up. 

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.

Weekly Update – April 22, 2022

This week, I started on the next milestone, abilities. Abilities include special attacks, spells, utility skills, and passive effects. I have a list of around 90 abilities currently and expect the final count to be between 120 and 150. Each actor (player classes, NPC’s, enemies) will start with zero or more abilities. Players can gain more abilities over the course of the game. I haven’t worked out all the details, but the ability acquisition will be integrated into gameplay (i.e. they can be found like items, or learned from an NPC) as opposed to a skill tree. Like items, the abilities placed on the map get stronger the deeper the player goes. The abilities available to the player depend on the player’s class. Each class has a set of attributes and a maximum proficiency level for each attribute (basic, intermediate, advanced). Each attribute proficiency level is associated with a set of abilities. A class is able to use the abilities defined for each of its attributes, at or below the proficiency level defined for that attribute. For example, a Ranger has a Weapons (Intermediate) attribute that allows use of the abilities associated with the basic and intermediate proficiency levels of the Weapons attribute.

  • Reworked abilities and attribute classes. Basic ability and attribute functionality was already in place to display attributes on the class selection screen and display abilities available to the player. To fully support the ability system, the underlying code had to be extensively reworked. Most of this week’s time went into this rework. Active and passive abilities were split into separate classes inheriting from a common base class. Relationships between attributes, attribute proficiency levels, and abilities were rewired. Attribute ScriptableObject assets were condensed from one asset per combination of attribute and proficiency level to one asset per attribute to directly group abilities for each proficiency level (this is useful because classes have access to abilities for a maximum proficiency level and all proficiency levels below the maximum).
  • Improved Abilities Panel. The Abilities Panel previously displayed all available abilities in a single grid. Now the panel has a tab for each Actor Attribute and the abilities for the selected attribute are grouped by proficiency level.
  • Miscellaneous ability-related enhancements
    • Starting abilities automatically added to the hotbar.
    • Abilities can be inspected like entities and cells.
  • Contemplated replacing abilities with items. This is more of a side note than an update, but midweek I stopped development and seriously considered implementing abilities as items. The origin of the thought was my struggle to determine how resource consumption will work with abilities (I still haven’t figured this out, by the way). One option was to simplify and consolidate resource management to inventory. Players would find items that did the same things that abilities would do – a scroll to cast a spell, lockpicks to pick a lock, etc. This idea appealed to me because clever use of what you find is key to success in the game, and it avoids using time as a resource (waiting to regenerate mana/stamina). But, there are drawbacks: 1) the desired player behavior is to frequently use abilities, but having a finite number of uses and uncertainty about how many future uses the player will have encourages hoarding 2) it’s difficult to allot uses of large quantities of items over the course of the game. Because of the drawbacks, I rejected the idea and resumed work on abilities as planned.

Next week, now that the abilities system is complete, work will begin on the abilities themselves. The big challenge here is implementing many abilities in a scalable manner. I want to avoid creating a separate class for every ability, and I want to leverage existing objects like actions and effects as much as possible.