I’m currently in Bangkok, and will be back on Sunday. Internet connection’s horrible here, and fucking expensive. On the bright side, we have a surprise in store for all of you this sunday.
I’m currently in Bangkok, and will be back on Sunday. Internet connection’s horrible here, and fucking expensive. On the bright side, we have a surprise in store for all of you this sunday.
In my previous post about the Deadlanders, questions were raised on several fronts. In this post I’ll talk more about these people, and work out the finer points of their culture. What I would NOT do however is reveal their origins, because like all other cultures in the game, history hunting is a huge portion of the side quests so talking about it here would probably be counter productive to the player’s game experience.
First thing that I need to clarify is that the deadlanders are NOT savages or tribals. I’ve tried to stay away from such stereotypes because honestly, I don’t see a reason for their existence in the general theme of the game. What I want is a struggle between mutant races on one side of the spectrum, and then complete unity between the mutant races on the other end of the spectrum. That was the general theme of the game, and I don’t see how adding the tribal vs civilized world angle is going to add anything to it.
Allow me to explain in detail. The wildlands is geographically located in South East Asia, but this does not mean that it should retain all values and culture from this continent. Remember that when the plague hit, survivors worldwide flocked into this continent, triggering the Outsider Wars which later led to the Dark Age. This meant that whatever culture that survived, it’ll mostly be a mix between various existing cultures, and thus there is no point of defining a savage culture when technically that applies to all communities in the game world.
The Deadlanders are neither tribals nor are they savages. Their ancestors have roots in the military, which should explain the strict martial culture that exists in the community. They identify themselves as warriors, and take pride in that. Like I said, there is a healthy amount of Spartan inspiration thrown in when designing the Deadlanders. Like the Spartans, they consider martial training to be essential, leading to a community where even old ladies are to be feared in single combat.
So to recap, they are NOT savages. Yes, non-deadlanders consider their culture to be savage and uncivilized (especially on the issue of infanticide and sacrifice), but who are they to talk about morals when slavery,racial cleansing and mass murders are practiced freely in their own backyards? This is a question of perspective, where the deadlanders consider themselves to be enlightened for HAVING a moral system (however skewed it is), compared to non-deadlanders who seem to thrive in chaos.
Another point that came up in discussions were that a matriachal society is generally impossible in a post-apocalyptic world, especially in a culture where martial skills are honored above everything else. I would, however, beg to differ.
It is true that most primitive cultures, especially the more martial ones, largely run on patriarchal systems. The reason is simple – in a world where the strong survive, men would always win out in most areas when it comes to physical tasks. Biologically men can grow more muscles, and with that perform more strenuous physical tasks.
So where does the matriarcal society comes in? The reason lies in specialization. Without spoiling the origins for the player, the matriarcal system came about naturally. The men start off as warriors and raiders, while the women remained behind to maintain the household. Over time, this created a clear division amongst the genders, where the men focus their entire lives in the study of martial knowledge while the women dedicate themselves to ensuring the men have all they need to raid caravans and bring back supplies.
Therefore, women are counted on for almost everything non-martial: cleaning the house, washing the clothes, maintaining the guns, producing ammunition, treating wounds, and most importantly, performing rituals. In most primitive societies, where everybody has a healthy amount of superstition, the last job (performing rituals for those who fail in reading) is perhaps the most important, where the men depend on the women to grant blessings and appease the gods of the land. This forces men to depend on the women for a lot of things, which works wonders in a superstitious community where knowledge is strictly controlled by a small segment of elites. This also mean that the men dare not oppose the women because they are taught since birth that submission to Aladha and the womenfolk is something that cannot be questioned nor challenged.
Again I would like to emphasize – the deadlanders have a culture that has an extremely clear separation of duties. The men are pure warriors, nothing much. They prefer to spend their lives on a blade’s edge rather than dabble in “pointless” politics and management, and over time the matriarcal system developed.
Think about it. Dedicating your lives to a certain domain requires a certain level of submission. You have to admit that you need help in other areas in order to shift all your attention towards that specific domain. And this is where the women come in. Sometime along the way, somebody decided to leverage on this situation and plant the seeds for a matriarchal system. And to do that, they had to encourage the men to continue doing what they do best, and at the same time remind the men that they owe their success to those those who take time to sort out their logistics.
In effect, they created a chain of command where the men become the foot soldiers and the women became the generals. In a martial society, this wouldn’t be that hard to achieve. There are always soldiers who prefer to remain a soldier, preferring the adrenaline rush of fighting in the mud than the bland politics in the office and war rooms. All you gotta do is to turn these people into heroes, add some religion sprinkling on it, and soon everybody would want to be a “heroic” warrior than a “boring” general.
So here it is, how a matriarcal society works in the deadlands, and how it came about in the first place.
Beware of the scheming bitches.
There was a question on whether male characters can join and then lead the deadlanders. Yes, that’s possible. After all, it’s only 400 years of women-rule enforced with propaganda, genetic selection and deep religious brainwashing that the player has to overcome with a few lines of dialog, right? Not a big problem at all.
Not a fucking chance. This is the part where we wanted to give a far different angle in how genders play out in an RPG. Having flavor dialog and different paths to solving quests (why does it always have to be seduction for women?) is good, but barely enough. Our goal in creating Splintered Core was to present an RPG where decisions made in-game actually mattered. Not only will it determine the outcome of quests, it will also funnel the character to completely and mutually exclusive plot lines, delivering a very different playthrough experience for different character builds.
So no, there will not be a chance where the male character can ever dream to achieve anything in the deadlander society other than being a lowly (but HONORABLE! it’s PRESTIGIOUS!) warrior.
Time progression in RPGs have always been a dicey matter. In a game where you get the freedom to explore the world map at your own pace, the passage of time has to be handled in a proper way in order to preserve a sense of realism (and to a certain extent, immersion). It’s foolish to have the player wander around the world for half a century of game time when the game’s premise is about a big bad evil wrecking havoc and destruction upon the peaceful kingdoms (aka the premise of 99.9% CRPGs).
Take Oblivion for an example. Demon gates have opened around the world and you, as the protagonist, have to close them all before the world is overrun by demonic minions.
The problem is you, the heroic protagonist, can skip around and collect flowers for practically your entire game life without even touching one demon gate and the world would still be the same, patiently awaiting for your salvation. In my playthrough that salvation never came – I never did closed any of the gates, but THAT’S OKAY! Because the world will wait for you.
If only real life was like that!
No, Oblivion sucked at handling time. It was immersion breaking, and even screws with its own premise. At least Morrowind’s made more sense. Now let’s take a look at the other side of the spectrum: Fallout. Fallout had a time limit to find the waterchip, but latter patches extended the time to a point where it became insignificant. The reason was that the world was so fun to explore that the developers didn’t wanted to impose a time limit that would certainly restrict exploration.
Come to think of it, no game ever imposes a time limit on the player just so that the player can play the game at his own pace. And in this blog post, I am going to explain why this would not be suitable for Splintered Core.
While we are building Splintered Core as a one-off game, if it ever sells well we would be able to continue with the second game and eventually (with our fingers crossed) a complete trilogy, which was the original plan. We started out designing the game from a trilogy’s standpoint, with a plot that spans three titles, but structured it in a way that there are NO cliffhanger endings in any titles. Each title has its own story to tell, it’s own theme to explore, and that’s how we’re approaching the plot design.
However, this does impose a design limitation for us. Firstly, we wanted the capability to transfer a completed save game from a previous title to the next title. The reason was because we wanted to attempt to transfer all the player’s decisions and consequences in the first game into the second, and then into the third, creating a highly customized playthrough of the trilogy. The problem here is that what if the player spent 30 years wandering aimlessly in the first game? Would he start off an old man in the second game? Can he then spend another 30 years wandering the fields?
Say for example, the player DID spent 30 years of game time in the first game. This would mean that his greatest investment into the first game will botch his experience in the second game, if we ever implement an aging feature. If we *dont’t* implement an aging feature, you’d have characters at the age of 200 in the third game, which requires suspension of disbelief of epic proportions to maintain immersion.
Catch-22 situation eh?
So we decided to impose a game limit. First we calculate the total time to walk from north to south, the longest journey in the game. The distance is about 350 miles, and on average the player can only travel at a speed of 3 miles per hour for a maximum of 15 hours a day. This means that it will take approximately 7 to 8 days to travel that distance.
Therefore, over a span of 5 years, if the player kept the character on the move, he would have been able to traverse the north-south route 234 times. The speed of travel increases significantly if the player ever manages to buy a vehicle, or tag along on mechanized merchant caravans. So we can safely say that 5 years of in-game time would be a good indication of how much time a character would spend in a normal playthrough.
Now we increase that by 2 fold, to a maximum of 10 years, and set that as our time limit. But instead of making it a hard time limit (e.g. game ends when time is up), we instead choose to implement a countdown timer called the resolve meter, which is directly tied to the game’s plot.
Recall that the game’s premise is finding the legendary city of Gauntlet, in hopes of settling down there, away from all the chaos and lawlessness in Oasis. Spending 10 years on this task wouldn’t seem to be out of place. But like all far-fetched quests, taking into account that the protagonist is not even sure that Gauntlet exists at all, it won’t be hard to imagine one’s will of finding that place slipping over time.
So here’s how it would work: your resolve meter counts down slowly, initially giving you a maximum of 5 game years before it runs out and you’re forced to choose to settle down in one of the towns, with the ending explaining your fate in that town according to your reputation there (choices you make in the game will affect the ending in that town). However, if in your travels you piece together information about Gauntlet, like finding Lorekeep at the end of the first arch and securing a way to Severim in the second arch, will recharge your resolve meter, thus effectively giving you extra game time.
The afore mentioned events will completely recharge your resolve meter, while smaller events like finding an person who left the Combine army or finding Gauntlet’s satellite images would recharge the resolve meter at a smaller scale. Therefore, it is not impossible to stretch the first game’s time limit to a total of 15 years.
So this means we’re going to try something that not many CRPG designers have even dared entertain, for all sorts of reasons. The time limit would stay, and to spice it up we decided to allow the game world to change over time, tied to the player’s actions. The key here is to balance freedom of exploration with a time passage system, and this is something we intend to experiment in our first game.
In this post I am going to introduce one of the minor factions in the game: The Deadlanders.
The Deadlands is a stretch of muddy barrens with its epicenter originating from the Bone Fortress somewhere in between Wrench and Severim, and stretches out to approximately a hundred miles in radius, effectively cutting off all forms of conventional travel routes from Wrench (and most of Oasis) to Severim. It was created in the dark ages when a weaponized version of the world-ending plague was deployed around the area. While there were many versions of what led to the weapon’s deployment, the general consensus in most oral histories were that it was an act of vengeance against villagers around the area who refused to pay the local bandits tribute.
The plague was released at a time where the atmosphere was filled with mutagens, and as a result, instead of just killing off human life as it was originally intended, the plague instead devoured every living thing be it plant, animal or human alike. And instead of staying airborne and then burning itself out, the plague burrowed deep into the ground and destroyed every last bit of foliage in the region. The effect was so horrific and long lasting that even after three hundred years nothing could grow in it.
Surviving in the deadlands is not impossible. There is no food, no clean water (most bodies of water are infected by the plague), and no solid ground on which to build a home upon, but several key species of animals and insects do manage to find a home here. Amongst them are the sazara foxes, the tarrahit waterborne insect, mosquitos, strains of bacterias and microbes that are immune to the plague, as well as the cantih hares that burrows at the edges of the deadlands.
Rumors had it that there’s a colony of large, mutated salamanders who live their entire lives burrowing underneath the deadlands, absorbing bio-organic materials through their slick skins. These lizards, commonly called the bone drakes (for the exposed top-part of their heads), are often sighted by caravaneers foolish enough to brave the harsh terrain just to cut down their travel costs to Severim.
Bandits who were driven out from the Oasis often met their end in the deadlands, but some of them seem to have survived against all odds. They are commonly resourceful, extremely cunning and ruthless – traits crucial to surviving in the deadlands. Calling the inhospitable region their home, they are notoriously untouchable by the Bloodstorm Alliance and the Awakened Archonites. Their usual modus operandi usually involves submerging themselves into the countless muddy sinkholes littered across the landscape, and then bursting out with bone and obsidian daggers coated with powerful neurotoxins and dirty mud to ambush passing caravans. One wound from these daggers are usually enough to cause terrible infected wounds that will almost certainly turn gangrenous if not amputated immediately.
At one point the caravaneers who chose to travel across the deadlands began hiring large numbers of elite escorts from the Bloodstorm Alliance (ironically, even with that the cost of travel is still far cheaper than the sea route through Barnacle), and was met with limited success. Armed with automatic weapons, mounted machine guns, flamethrowers, shock-grenades (small grenades that are dropped into sinkholes which when denoted, will cause a massive hydro-shockwave localized in the hole itself, killing any would-be ambushers in it.
The deadlanders learnt fast however. Instead of lying in wait in sinkholes, they began to utilize more advanced weaponry and coordinated tactics, leading to speculations that their organization is far more united that rumors and common perceptions would have one believed so.
One of the most illustrative example happened to the Caladan Brothers, who lost an entire caravan even when escorted by an entire division of elite bloodstorm mercenaries. Only one mercenary survived to tell the tale, albeit with half a face covered in third degree burns and both legs missing. She literally crawled the entire way to Wrench, before eventually succumbing to deadly infections.
According to her, the caravan was travelling in the late evenings at a steady pace southwards, and entered a shallow valley that forced the caravan vehicles to move in a single file. The caravan master foolishly ignored the escort captain’s recommendations to pitch camp and wait for daylight, and pushed on, hoping to save fuel and supplies. As the caravan entered deep into the valleys, they suddenly came under fire from all directions, all of them firing from camouflaged positions. Within seconds half a dozen of the guards were dead, including the caravan master. Before the guards could bring their flamers to bear, they were hit by pre-sighted mortars firing phosphorus rounds, burning most of them to death and laying down a thick layer of deadly smoke, effectively nullifying the guards’ abilities to locate the enemy and fight back.
The deadlanders then move in, armed with automatic rifles and gas masks, and finished off the survivors with alarming efficiency unheard of for a bandit group.
After a hundred years of living in the deadlands, the deadlanders have developed a culture that is frighteningly spartan and brutal. In the deadlander’s organization, the men far outnumber the women. Their women never venture out from their homes. Thus, it is almost impossible to find an adult female deadlander roaming the lands on her own free will.
That said, no deadlander, women or children alike, are to be trifled with in combat. Every deadlander is taught muasilat when young, which is a martial system combining deadly hand-to-hand combat with intricate, snake-like footwork. In fact, the training is so strict that every deadlander, male or female alike, are to proof their worthiness at the young tender age of 12 in a single combat against a full-grown bone drake. They are given one week to prepare, usually prior to their 12th birthday, and on the day itself they would be thrown into a makeshift arena and have to make do with whatever weapon they can find or improvise. This tests not only their martial capabilities but also their resourcefulness, which is one of the most important attributes in the deadlander society.
When a deadlander male reaches puberty, he is taught basic firearm skills as well as usage of primitive weapons like the bone dagger and the obsidian tipped spear, and unless he shows a high level of competence within a year of training, he will be expelled from the group with both arms tied to the back with wet leather, and hunted by a pair of starved sazara foxes. He will need to survive in the deadlands without provisions of any kind for a week before he is allowed to retake the exams. A second failure will result in immediate execution.
Due to the relatively small numbers of women and at times, inbreeding, defective babies are wrapped in white cloth and thrown into sinkholes as sacrifice to the Aladha, their version of God. However, if the discarded baby were to survive for a full week on its own, the baby will be retrieved and drained of blood upon an altar. The baby’s blood would then be shared amongst the greatest warriors in the organization, as it is believed to impart immunity and uncanny luck to those who consume it.
The deadlanders worship Aladha, which they believed to have brought the plague to the world, and created the deadlands for them. According to their lore Aladha was the creator of mankind and disgusted by mankind’s compassion for the weak, he unleashed a plague to wipe out the unworthy and purge the human gene pool of “defective creations”. He then created the deadlands as a constant reminder of his greatness, and a lesson to all mankind that compassion towards the weak will only lead to the extinction of the human species.
They also believe that the bone drakes are their guardians, bestowed upon them by Aladha to protect them from the infidels. Due to this, killing bone drakes for its meat is a capital sin, punished by impaling the offender upon a stake driven through the anus, up through the body and out the mouth. The carcass would then be offered to wild bone drakes as sacrifice, and a form of apology. The only time a bone drake can be slain by a deadlander is during their muasilat test at the age of 12. Domesticated bone drakes are often used as guard pets, and are often brought along in raids and unleashed upon caravans to terrorize and disrupt enemy formations.
Bone drakes play a significant role in a deadlander’s life. Its front teeth are used to fashion their iconic 8″ curved bone daggers, and its spiky skull often worn over the shoulder or the jaw as decoration during rituals (never in combat though). The drake’s poison glands containing powerful neurotoxin cocktail which doubles as home for millions of bacterias are used to coat their weapons, which could paralyze a full grown adult man within minutes of drawing blood. Its burrowing claws and rib cage are grounded into fine powder and when mixed with coagulated blood from the drake’s liver makes an excellent antiseptic medicine which could be applied directly to wound to clean and stop the bleeding, or consumed in small amounts mixed with alcohol to boost one’s fertility, endurance and strength.
The deadlanders believe in offering sacrifices to Aladha, although these rituals are only done prior to significant events like changing of leadership, discovering an abandoned infant who is still alive after a week, or before the Forchan Grand Tournament that happens once every five years. Their religious codes are tightly integrated into their lives. They begin every meal with prayers of thanks to Aladha, and hold month long fasts every year to demonstrate their worthiness to their god.
They believe that all non-deadlanders are infidels, and that the only true path to heaven is to survive in god’s purgatory first. Therefore they are in general extremely distrustful towards non-deadlanders, and in most cases look down upon them as inferiors.
Fashion & Social Order
Deadlanders usually dress themselves in long robes, with a hood tied over their heads to protect themselves from the ever present mosquitos. Their houses (called Lumpors) are built of mud, and cleverly camouflaged into the landscape that it is virtually impossible to detect until one comes to point-blank range. Most deadlanders stay near the Bone Fortress, which is a series of ruins half buried into mud that is impenetrable for one single reason – it is surrounded by a ring of bone drake infested sinkholes.
When it comes to fashion, deadlanders prefer garments made of dried drake skin, lined with the saraza fox’s yellow fur. These simple garments are usually worn as a robe with a belt made of dried bone drake intestines, or sewn into more comfortable tight-fitting shirts and trousers. The latter is usually worn by warriors, who cake themselves with mud before going into battle as both a ritual and camouflage.
Women on the other hand, who never ventures beyond the doors of their Lumpors after they reach puberty, dress in simple underwear made of bone drake skin (specifically, the softer tail portions). They spend their entire day preparing meals, cleaning weapons, refilling ammunition casings, building and refining their homes as well as educating the young in religious matters. In the deadlander society, there are no marriages or families to speak of. In the deadlander society, women choose their partners, and one woman is allowed to have up to five male partners at a time which they can discard if they sense any weakness in the male partner.
In the deadlander’s religious code, men is forbidden from touching women unless allowed to by the woman. When speaking to women, they employ a highly formal form of their native language, often referring themselves as Padkas, literally translating to “your humble servant”.
DAMMIT for some reasons my previous post overrode my visual mockup post. So now I’ll need to post them again.
Anyway I just received a list of initial artwork from my contract artist, and I’ll be showcasing them here:
There are a whole lot of effects possible with fragment shaders, but the main goal in my first milestone is to create a seamless transition from day time to night time, going from normal to orange to dark blue and then back again.
Following the previous post about striking combat, in this post I’ll lay out the framework for grappling combat.
There’s some fundamental difference between striking and grappling in real life. Striking requires good judgement and control of distance, where each technique requires a certain minimum distance of travel to be able to impart an effective amount of kinetic energy upon impact. In grappling however, the key success factor is to get in close, disable the opponent’s range of responses, and then maneuver into a dominating position where one can deliver attacks without fear of retribution.
This is what I’ll be trying to model for grappling combat in Splintered Core. There are 3 phases: (1) closing the distance; (2) takedown; and (3) follow-up technique. Maneuver modes and stances determine the techniques used in the first phase, attack stances and
Like both ranged combat and striking, there’s not much changes to maneuvering modes. Like striking, walking would default to sneak mode; and both run and charge can have engagement mode turned on at the same time. Keybindings don’t change (they are “Q” for engagement mode toggle and “W” for maneuver mode cycle”).
Like striking, character shifts between different preparation mentality with different stances. If a stance is set to offensive, the grappler will intend to shoot the opponent (shoot as in shoot wrestling) and forcefully perform a takedown; in the counter mindset however, the grappler will try to make the opponent over-commit and then use that opportunity to counter-attack.
Again, like striking, this sets the character to a specific attack vector. For example, in an offensive stance and a high weapon position, when the character engages an enemy he will attempt to takedown the opponent from a standing position. If however the weapon position is set to normal, the character will instead perform a shoot towards the opponent’s waist. Finally, if the weapon position is set to low, a tackle to the legs would be executed instead.
Like striking, attack stances are basically engagement range. This is to determine from what range would a character execute the grappling techniques. The general rule-of-thumb is that the closer the distance, the higher chances of successfully grappling the opponent but at the same time the higher the chances that the opponent can resist (or even reverse) the takedown.
Again, like striking, attack mode mainly determines the attack type. For example, on a high weapon position, close range, and with the attack mode: “joints”, the grappler would close the distance and attempt to perform a neck snap maneuver. On the same position and range but with attack mode at “limbs”, the grappler would instead execute a arm bar or arm lock maneuver. Each of the attack mode will provide different status ailments if executed successfully: joints mode will cause sustained pain and temporary loss of mobility; limbs mode will cause paralysis or disability; while circulatory system will cause blackouts and even death.
Primitive weapons, which comes in two categories – light and heavy, defines a character’s skills in using melee weapons like batons, sledgehammers, knives, axes, maces and so on. To break it down:
Knives, Batons, Switchblades, Knuckles, Maces, Machetes and Hammers. They are generally fast but do not have a long reach.
Shovels, Staffs, Spears, Sledgehammers, Axes, and Flails. They generally have a longer reach and more damage but are slow to wield.
The only difference in combat model for primitive weapons is the Attack Stances and Attack Modes:
This is pretty much self explanatory. The shorter the range, the easier it is to hit an enemy, but the lesser the damage.
Mainly this is the speed of the attack used, or the level of commitment. The faster it is, the more attacks per round at the cost of damage, while the slower it is the more damage it deals.
I’ve pretty much covered all possible aspects of the combat model, and I’m quite happy at this model. While things might change in the future (as always), I don’t think it’ll stray too far apart from this.
One concern is that it might be too complex. Which is true. It IS a little too much to manage all these parameters in the heat of combat, especially in a tactical-heavy environment like what I envisioned. So in my next post I’ll talk about streamlining the game mechanics into pre-packaged techniques.
Until next time!
Continuing from the previous post about ranged combat, I’ll be splitting melee combat into two distinct sections: Unarmed (Hand-to-hand) and Melee Weapons (Primitive Weapons).
To recap from the STEN Character System, there are two distinct schools in melee: striking and grappling, both of which attempts to accomplish vastly different goals. But before we begin, I should take some time to explain the reason of expanded melee combat in a modern setting with firearms.
Conventional wisdom would question the effectiveness of melee combat in a setting where firearms are lethal. How do you play a martial artist when a bullet or two could seriously cripple your character? The answer lies in the general economics of the setting.
Good quality firearms are rare, and match ammunitions are even rarer. I’ve made it a point to have make decent military grade firearms extremely rare (the current estimate is about 100 of them of various make scattered in the game world, all owned by important NPCs). This way, players have to rely on sub-par firearms in ranged combat, if they choose to specialize in it. They are equally deadly, but leaves much to be desired in terms of accuracy and reliability. Weapon jams will not be an uncommon thing in combat.
This is not done to open avenues for martial artists to shine. Rather, this design decision was made during the world creation process, where we decided to go for a low-economy post-apocalyptic world where high-tech stuff are extremely precious just because they are rare.
To add to the woes of a ranged character, every gun has a minimum range. If an opponent gets too close, you suffer massive penalties to your accuracy. This is where a melee character can shine: melee characters need to focus on stealth and speed, while ranged characters need to focus on reaction and perception.
Now having said that, let’s rip apart the mechanics of Hand-to-hand Combat.
For those not familiar with martial art jargons, the term striking arts refer to techniques that have you on your feet, at a comfortable distance, using your elbow, forehead, fists, knees, legs, etc to land hits on your opponent. The goal is to cause enough damage through striking impact.
Taking a cue from our unified combat model discussed earlier, we have 5 major categories of actions: Maneuver Modes, Stances, Weapon Positions, Attack Modes, and Attack Stances. The same applies to striking too.
There’s some difference between maneuver modes between ranged and melee mode. In melee, walk always triggers sneak mode. In addition, the engagement option can be turned on for charge. The same key binding of “W” and “Q” applies here too.
Stances are completely different from ranged combat. Here, offensive stance prepares a character to launch attacks (increase in accuracy and speed at the cost of defense and evasion), defensive stance prepares a character to parry or block attacks (increase in defense and evasion at the cost of accuracy and speed), while counter stance prepares a character to launch a counter attack following a successful parry (increase in evasion and speed at the cost of accuracy and defense).
Like ranged combat, the key SHIFT works the same here too, shifting from offensive to defensive to counter.
It should be called preparation vector rather than weapon position, because the effect depends on the stance. If a high position is set on an offensive stance, the character will launch a high attack (kick to the head, uppercut, etc) which has high damage but slow in execution. High position on a defensive stance however, allows the character to focus his guard on his head, increasing his chances of stopping attacks launched towards him in that direction/vector. Finally, high position on a counter stance works the same as a high defense, except that a high attack is thrown right after parrying.
Like ranged combat, CTRL + mouse move cycles through the three stances.
Like weapon position, it should be called attack range instead, because this determines what kind of attack (or defense against) the character will throw. Attacks in the clinching range involve headbutts, knees, elbows, etc; attacks in the short range involve punches, low kicks, etc; while attacks in the long range involve roundhouse kicks, side kicks, flying punches, and so on. The shorter the range the faster the execution, higher the accuracy, but lesser damage and knock out capability.
Like ranged combat, the button “A” cycles through the three modes.
Unlike ranged combat, attack mode determines the exact body part used in the striking, defending or counter technique. Body attacks include headbutts, shoulder bashes, and so on. Arms include elbows, fists, palms and backhands, while legs include knees, heel strikes, kicks and front kicks.
Like ranged combat too, the button “S” cycles through the three modes.
So as you can see, the UI remains the same for striking. It’s just the definitions that have changed. In my next post I will talk about Grappling.
A while ago I briefly dipped into ranged combat and over time the concept kind of matured after long hours of discussions and debates. Right now our combat system is more unified, so I’ll take some time to talk about how ranged combat works in Splintered Core.
In the past, melee and ranged pretty much operated differently, making it difficult to memorize the details of each without going back to long winded design documents. So we decided to turn it into something more intuitive and easy to understand.
Firstly, we have ditched turn-based combat for tic-based combat. In tic-based combat, a round is defined in a number of tics. Let’s say for now 1 tic = 100 milliseconds. This means that there are 10 tics in a second, and assuming a round is 10 seconds long, you’d have 100 tics per round.
Each action costs a number of tics. Readying a weapon for instance takes 70 tics, which is equivalent to 0.7 seconds. Moving from one tile to another in run mode takes 50 tics per tile, translating to 0.5 seconds to traverse a tile, etc.
Tics are represented as a segmented bar on the top of the window, looking a little like this:
Splintered Core UI prototype
Notice the white dots along the bar. Those are committed actions for the currently selected character. The first dot might be a command to pull out his rifle; the second dot is where he readies the weapon; the third dot is where he runs towards a cover; the fourth dot is where he goes into a kneeling position; the fifth is where he readies a claymore; the sixth is where he plants it on the ground; the seventh is where he sneaks to another cover and the eight is where he readies the rifle again.
Each dot corresponds to an action, and as every action costs a certain amount of tics, the distance between the dots on the timeline varies too. How does the player set this sequence of events up? Well first he clicks on a character to select it; click on a rifle to ready it; press “W” twice to cycle from the walk action to the run action and then to the charge action, then right-click on the map to note the destination; press “SHIFT” and move the mouse down to select the kneeling position; click on a claymore to ready the weapon; right-click on the ground to plant the weapon; right-click on the map to move to a new location; and finally click on the rifle again to ready it.
This is call a commit chain, which is basically the planned tactical movement for that particular character. If a commit chain successfully completes and fulfills a certain criteria (e.g. successfully score hits on the enemy), the character’s rush meter fills up, reducing the tic-cost for his actions. Note that the player can click on the dots and drag them to the right to lengthen the duration of the action, which is similar to the action of having a character wait in between actions. This can be used to coordinate maneuvers between party members.
Once the player completes the commitment, he presses the “GO” button and the game is unpaused. A time marker begins to move from left to right, and all characters in the world performs the actions according to the timeline. Once the marker reaches the end, a new round begins.
The commit chain can be broken if the character is intercepted successfully. This usually happens when a character runs into another’s field-of-fire or attack range, and the other character rolls an intercept check successfully (whether the character is hit or not doesn’t matter – as long as the intercept check is successful, the commit chain is broken). This is called a stumble, which causes the rest of the planned action to be discarded.
When a stumble happens for any player-controlled character, the time marker is stopped, and the player is given the chance for course correction. Note that during this intercept period, only the intercepted character can be chosen and ordered around.
Let’s say the character suffers a stumble when planting the claymore. So happens that when he reached the first destination, and halfway through the act of planting the claymore an enemy steps into view and snapshoots at him, scoring no hits but successfully breaking the chain of action. All further actions are dropped and the game is paused, while control returns to the player, with the intercepted character selected. Now the player can click on the rifle to ready it, and then right-click on the enemy to shoot back.
Note that the player can press the SPACEBAR key anytime when the game is unpaused to pause it, and from there the player can change the commitments of each party character at the cost of breaking the command chain and abandoning previously earned rush points for that round.
As as you can see, the combat model in Splintered Core is pretty much a paused real-time system, with much emphasis placed on streamlining the controls to make it easier to plan tactical maneuvers.
There are 3 kinds of movements that a character can perform, cycled using the “W” key. They are:
On each mode, there’s an engagement option to fire at targets of opportunities along the way. To toggle this, press the “Q” button. If engagement is turned on, the character will open fire along the way if an enemy presents itself as a target of opportunity. This is disabled in the charge mode however.
The difference between the three options is speed, and resistance against stumbles. Walking is the slowest and the most dangerous, as you get virtually zero defenses against intercepts. The advantage however is that in engagement mode you don’t get penalized in accuracy as much as the other maneuver modes.
Run is the middle-ground, where you suffer a moderate amount of accuracy penalty to reach your destination faster and gain a little resistance against intercept, while charge disables engagement mode but gets you to your destination in the shortest time, and has the highest resistance against intercepts.
In ranged combat, stances are extremely important. There are 3 stances available:
The higher the stance the faster one can maneuver as well as the farther one can see, at the cost of a larger target profile. Note that when in prone, the charge maneuver mode is disabled. Pressing and holding down the SHIFT key while moving the mouse up and down changes the stance.
Weapon position refers to how the weapon is used. There are 3 positions available for most ranged weapons:
Having the weapon at hip level allows a fast target acquisition rate, at the cost of lousy accuracy. This is good when you want to fire on the move with the intention of suppressing the enemy. For instance, you have a M240 equipped, and want to pin down an enemy behind a cover so that you can move safely from one location to another. Firing from the shoulder gives a larger accuracy boost, at the cost of slower target acquisition in the sense that your character takes a slightly longer time to shift fire from one target to another. Free position on the other hand, offers the fastest target acquisition at the cost of horrific accuracy. One thing to note about the free position is that you can shoot around corners or cover using this position.
Pressing and holding CTRL while moving the mouse up and down changes the weapon position.
Attack mode determines the kind of attack that you will perform with a weapon, and comes in three flavors for ranged weapons:
Snap shots are less accurate, but has the shortest target acquisition rate. Aimed shot take longer to acquire a target, but has a significant accuracy bonus. Suppressive fire has zero target acquisition rate because you will be firing at a location regardless of the existence of targets or not, but suffers from having the worst accuracy. Pressing “A” cycles through the modes.
In each mode, if the character is carrying an automatic weapon, he can cycle through three fire modes:
Single-shots does not incur an accuracy penalty, but provides a low volume of fire too. Long bursts offers a high volume of fire (more bullets flying down the range) at the cost of a high accuracy penalty. Short bursts is the in-between. Pressing “S” cycles through the fire modes.
So in summary, this is how the toolbar might look like:
I think this would be a great framework to work from. The nice thing about this model is that you can apply the same things for melee combat as well, which I will cover in detail in a future post. In melee you too have maneuver modes, stances, weapon positions (high, medium and low), attack stances (fast, normal and cautious), and attack types (parry, riposte, all-out). This is what I meant by a unified combat model.
Phew, this is a long post. I hope I haven’t been too long winded lately!
This is partly an Avernum post, and partly a post on the lessons I learnt from playing the demo. First off, I must say that Jeff Vogel is somewhat of a role model to me. I enjoyed Geneforge, but not enough for me to buy it. I tried Avernum 6, and decided that the setting and story was well worth the money, but the interface leaves much to be desired.
In fact, the only thing holding me back seemed to be the extremely clunky interface.
I’ll explain. Avernum 6 is a primarily mouse-driven game, with keyboard helpers to give you quick access to various UI panels. But this is where it all falls apart, at least from my point of view. First off, item management.
I might be mistaken, but in order to bring up the inventory screen, you either click on the bag icon on a character, or press 1-4 to select a character and then press “i” to bring up the inventory screen. All is well, until you want to close it. Pressing “i” again does nothing at all. You have to press the ESC key, or click on the close button to get rid of the screen.
Click on the bag to open the inventory panel
In my opinion, I find this counter-intuitive. I would expect the “i” key to be a toggle key in this case, and to be honest I don’t think this is a technical issue because the difference between a toggle key and an activate key are trivial to say the least.
Next, is the way items are picked up from the ground. First you have to press the “g” key, which brings up the loot menu. Thing is, the loot menu is exactly the same as the inventory panel, so I don’t understand the need for a redundant key binding. Secondly, like the inventory key, it should have been a toggle key instead.
Also, the looting mechanism isn’t really well laid out. Picking items from chests are done correctly, in my opinion. Click on a chest, and a window pops up with with the loot in the top right corner. It even reuses the inventory/loot panel, which is fine, but the problem crops up when trying to pick up items from the ground. You just don’t know if there are items on the ground or not – the world tiles doesn’t show. If I understand it correctly, you are supposed to pull up the inventory panel from time to time to find out what’s on the ground.
I think if Jeff managed to implement a clickable chest, why not implement clickable tiles as well when there are some loot-able items on the tile? I suspect that Jeff chose this way to reduce clutter on the screen, because as far as I understand there are a lot of loot-able items scattered around the world.
Finally, I need to whine about Equipment Management. There are 12 equipment slots on the paper doll, and the only hint you get as to which item type belongs to which slot is the tiny icon on it. There’s no tooltips, no quickhelp, not even a visual indication of which slot the item belongs to when you click on it. Below is a mockup that shows what I would have expected in the screen when I click on an item that I can equip:
Clicking on a sword would show the correct slot
I’ll stop here and reflect a little on what I learnt from this. There are many people who are turned away from indie games because of the sub-par graphics and old-school gameplay, but I think in general indie products should put more thought into UI and user experience design. For me a UI should simplify the tasks that I would perform frequently in the game and not get in my way instead. For Avernum 6, the rooms for improvements are obvious.
So what should I do with Splintered Core?
Good UI should be designed from a user’s standpoint, instead of being built as an afterthought. Not that I’m saying Jeff did not put enough effort into UI and UX design though.
A good UI should simplify tasks, and the best UIs are usually those that look familiar and understandable at one glance. Granted, most games have their own UI and interaction method, but I think there must be common denominators amongst them.
Tooltips for one. Yes, Avernum 6 is an old-school game. Doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t include tooltips though. They are non-intrusive and goes a long way to helping the player understand the UI without the need of reading through long winded manuals or playing boring tutorials, so I don’t see any reason to exclude them from my UI design.
Next up, toggle keys. I play Avernum 6 with my index finger on the “g” key and my pinky on the “ESC” key. Try holding that for an hour and you’ll understand how tiring and unnecessary that is.
Starcraft 2 is a good example in this case. In Starcraft 1, hotkeys were spread all over the keyboard. Now, all hotkeys are binded to keys around the WASD area, making them easy to access without needing the left hand to traverse all over the keyboard. While some might argue that such arrangement wa primarily meant for speed, which is a critical factor in a real-time strategy game where there is a metric called actions-per-minute, I don’t see why the same philosophy shouldn’t be adopted to CRPGs too. It is convenient, keeps the left hand in one area, and keeps the players’ eyes on the screen instead of having him shift his sight from screen to keyboard and back again.
Therefore in Splintered Core, here are the default keybindings:
TAB = Next party member
SHIFT + TAB = Previous party member
1-6 = Select individual party member
A = Action menu toggle (lockpick, examine, disarm trap, steal, etc)
S or C = Stats panel (character stat sheet, game statistics) toggle (press to cycle)
D or I = Equipment panel (inventory) toggle
X or J = Journal toggle
Z or M = World Map/Local Map toggle (press to cycle)
As you can see, there are bindings for convenience (S, D, Z and X) and conventional bindings too (C, I, J and M). This means that for new players, the keys would exist where they expect it to be (conventional bindings), and when they finally take time to read the manual (or play the tutorial), they will be introduced to the convenience keys and hopefully would use them for the rest of the game.
I know, I know, I’m just theorizing and making a hell lot of assumptions about the user’s expected behavior. What I’m saying right now is that this would be my guiding philosophy when it comes to key binding placement and UI design, which would be supported by blind tests during the alpha and beta stage. It’s still a long way to go, but I think by defining what I want to achieve with my UI system, it’ll go a long way towards building an easy and convenient to use interface.
Character creation is half the fun in playing an RPG. At least, that is for me. Before we begin, let me do a quick rundown of some of my favorite character creations.
Darklands Character Generation Screen
I have not played this game, but watching the let’s play videos on youtube I fell in love with the character generation sequence. Here’s how it works: First you choose a background, which modifies your base stats, and then distribute your stat points. After that, you choose a profession, which further modifies your stats and skill points, and then you get to distribute those points into your skills. This is interesting because it wouldn’t be hard to imagine players spending hours just min/maxing the values. I’m not sure how the background affects the game however. It’d be nice if there are specific plot branches that caters to different backgrounds or professions.
Darksun Character Generation
While the character creation sequence is pretty typical, where you choose a race, sex, and a few other attributes, it stood out at that time due to the wide variety of interesting races and unique classes to choose from. Gladiators? Psionics? Elemental Clerics? Half-giants? Thri-Kreens?
The system itself is not outstanding, but the theme itself was.
Fallout character generation
The first two Fallouts had outstanding character creation mainly due to the SPECIAL system. Since your seven attributes do not improve naturally through the course of the game, you had to make hard decisions even before the game begins. It’s pretty hard to power-game the attributes. Well, that’s until Fallout 2 was released, and then Fallout 3 had to take it to the “next level” where anybody can become a master of every fucking thing.
But back to character creation. After setting your attributes, you get to choose traits. Most traits provided gave both benefits and penalties, which is a brilliant touch. Then you get to tag skills, which doubles their rate of improvement.
So many things to do, so many different kinds of characters to choose from!
As we can see, character creation could be fun in various ways. Darklands was fun because the backgrounds and classes that you chose were not just thematic flavors but had a real impact to your actual stats. Darksun was fun because of the fresh races and classes introduced. And finally, Fallout was amazing because there was so much to do, and none of them confusing at all.
Time to take cues from past masterpieces. Taking into account that our plot revolves around one single character (like Fallout and Baldur’s Gate) and that said character has a surprising background which is gradually revealed to the player (like Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment) through the plot, we couldn’t really use Darkland’s backgrounds and professions. And since our stat system has been streamlined to only feature stats where attributes and skills are grouped together in one single term, we had to think out of the box to inject more fun into the character creation process.
This is what we came up with:
First you enter the character’s bios. Name, sex, body, and portrait. The body selection are not just aesthetic options; they have an impact in the game world. Choose to be a fat chick and you won’t expect to charm those who likes skinny girls.
Then you are given a bunch of stat points to distribute amongst the 30 general and specialized stats. Here, you can tag a few of the stats to reduce their stat point cost, which effectively means it can be improved at a much faster rate compared to the rest.
Finally, you get to choose traits, which are divided into two categories: positive and negatives. For every positive trait you choose, you will need to choose a negative trait too to balance it out. Also, traits directly modify your stats. Positive traits will raise certain stats while negative traits will reduce them.
How about that? A combination of Darklands and Fallout.