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Making comparisons.

After several weeks I've finally got back on the project. I spent some time on another game which may help supply some graphical effects later, as well as perhaps speeding up loading time, if I can work out the bugs.

Anyway, I also spent some time playing some classic D&D games to get a feel for what's good and bad about the genre.

Temple of Elemental evil. Short and sweet, one of my all time favorites, it has its flaws but I really enjoyed it. It still looks really nice too, but I could wish for more kinds of weapons and armor.

Baldur's gate. Perhaps it's because the original was designed for a low res monitor, but I couldn't really like this one visually. The backgrounds are nicely rendered, but the big glowing circles surrounding the players were too intrusive, and the method of showing player damage was horrible.

Some things I want:

Characters who are easy to differentiate on screen and have personality.
That means having some items which are purely aesthetic. Temple of elemental evil does this very well with cloaks, hats, boots, gloves as well as robes that can be worn over your armor. Baldurs gate pretty much fails here, as when I was playing I often couldn't tell who was who without clicking on them. If all items are functional, everyone will be wearing the best version of whatever they can get. Seeing three people all wearing chainmail and carrying a longsword +1 looks very boring.

No instant death. 
You spawn right next to a troll and he attacks your wizard scoring three hits and killing them instantly. Bad TOEE! Characters will get a chunk of health right from level 1. However, as I've said before, they will quickly lose functionality as this is reduced. I don't want a character to die in a way which is totally unavoidable from full health, but if you take said character in to an encounter when they are already low on HPs that's another thing all together.

A simple UI.
Baldur's gate uses a lot of icons but they are very similar to each other, spells in particular are very difficult to differentiate. TOEE uses mostly text, which is good and bad. The radial action menu works well because of it, but there's lots of times when there's just so much text on screen, but not much explanation. The makers seem to have thought that the text is self explanatory, but often it's not. As I said above, Baldur's gate is visually horrible in some ways, and probably the worst offense is the health bar which is indicated by the portrait turning red. Several times I couldn't see how wounded someone was because their portrait used dark colors which hid the redness.

There are some good examples of using icons to show spells or skills, but they need to be quite large and really represent the thing they are supposed to be as I don't want to memorize 30 different abstract spell icons. Full color is also a must. Can you guess all the spells above?

The small and simple TOEE UI, you can probably guess what each bit does and it takes up only a very small part of the screen instead of forming a massive border like in BG.

Quick macro navigation.
Lots of people complained about:
"You must gather your party before you venture forth."
And with good reason too. If you're not actually in combat is there any reason why you shouldn't be able to instantly travel to a safe place to rest or sell your loot? I spent a lot of time with BG simply watching the map while my characters backtracked across the dungeon. Sure it's interesting to slowly explore an unknown dungeon, but treking halfway across the map in real time is just plain dull. TOEE on the other hand allowed me to quickly go anywhere on the world map if I'm outside without having to go to an "exit point first". Also the dungeons had lots of secret exits which would let you reach the surface quickly so you can return to town to rest or sell items. There was a good chance of random encounters while navigating the world map, so it's not risk free, but I really don't think I want players to have to walk around in real time.

Turn based combat.
BG has a pause button so you can stop the action to give orders, but the characters are not very smart and if you don't keep pausing every few seconds they will kill their enemy and then just stand there doing nothing. Why bother? Without a robust character AI real time play is pointless, and BG combat is already boring without automating even more of it. TOEE isn't perfect either as it was very easy to exploit flaws in the enemy's AI so you can win any battle pretty easily (if you don't get instakilled in the first turn). However, it was nice to get real time feedback about my moves and see where I could go and where I couldn't, who I could attack and who would get attacks of opportunity against me if I moved. The game wasn't just paused, it's active, ready to give feedback as you decide your moves.

Like-able characters.
Where do I start here? The party members in BG were memorable and well fleshed out, but I couldn't do much with them to set them up how I wanted. Too many multiclassing characters who were a little bit good at several different thinks but not stand out good at any one. There was also the fact that someone might join your party then quit later, or betray you or be kidnapped by an evil sorcerer or something and then all the time and GPs you invested in them was wasted. TOEE evil has a lot of recruit-able NPCs who are fun and interesting for about 5 seconds, then you just want to kill them when they start looting your hard earned stuff and sucking up your xp. After a while I just didn't bother with the NPCs and it felt like a waste.

Theres going to be something here, but it's not fully formed in my mind yet. In both games the rolplaying seemed like a side show that got in the way of the main action. In BGs there was just so much text and most of it meaningless drivel! And you just click randomly until you get a hook which leads to a quest or some usable info. I think I want to stay away from a narrative form of roleplaying, with lots of exposition and description. I'm not writing a book, it's an interactive game, I don't need to know that someone is sad unless that has some kind of effect on our interactions. I think I'm going to go more towards the diplomacy model, where there are moods and levels of relationship between NPCs, and you'll be able to influence them by giving gifts or completing quests or helping them gather information or whatever. But you'll also be able to offend them, or end up getting in to a fight because you helped their enemy. I think fewer, deeper characters is better than lots of shallow 2d characters who just send you running back and forth;

"OK, I got the letter from the mayor, but you say it has to be signed by the miller, and he hasn't got any ink, so I have to go find some... perhaps the wizard has some you say? Why don't I just kill you now and wear your face? Will I get more XP for that than this stupid quest?". 

It'll also need to be simple because it's going to be procedurally generated. There might be a woodcutter/carpenter who is part of the outlaw faction. He'll sell you wood related goods like shields and longbows and give forest themed quests and reveal outdoor "dungeons". If you start killing other outlaws, or work too closely with the law abiding citizens of a nearby town, he's going to stop selling to you, and you may not be able to pick up any more new locations or quests until you do something to make amends. He might give you a riddle, if you solve it you might get some useful nature related reward, or he might ask for your help in defeating one of the more major NPCs in the area, or he may pass you on to a higher level outlaw NPC later when you've used up his quests. These are the kind of things which can be coded procedurally and result in quite a characterful NPC, someone who you might be sad to have to kill.

I think this could result in an interesting game because there will be different types of NPCs of different factions in the game each time you play. Imagine playing through twice, the first time you meet a priest of the sun god, who is very helpful and gives you lots of quests, next time you play with new characters and you can only find a priest who belongs to the necromancy faction. You need the services of a priest, so you'll have to either befriend the necromancer, or bully him in to giving you what you need. What if you have a character in your party who refuses to deal with evil NPCs? Then you'd have to do without priestly services, or send the NPC on his way and recruit someone else. In this way you can have very different experiences each time you play, greatly increasing re-playability.

Anyway, that's it for now. I did some coding work today which should make it easier to finally get the bugs out of the movement system. I'll probably be working on inventories next.


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