Just a quick update: the tile engine for Space Mercs is coming along, but it not completely working yet. I have kind of an ambitious number of terrain pieces and possible layouts, so the amount of coding that it requires is significant.
I understand that I could simply go and change my map tiles to contain image information, but that wouldn’t account for new doors or corridors that it generates, etc. Plus, I think it would be a lot more trouble in the long run than teaching the program to determine sprite image for itself.
I am as partial to graphics in my video games as the next guy, although the ability to draw escapes me. I have mentioned before that I was considering (still am) commissioning some good, high-quality art for the UI, menus, etc. for Space Mercs. Earlier, I was planning on using ASCII art (as seen in previous screens) as the main means of displaying the game, however.
After spending today goofing around in GIMP, I have started serious thinking about drawing some very retro art, instead. I don’t have the skills to produce really high-quality stuff, but what do you think about this? It might be a little bit more fun, right?
Space Mercs now has more complex, DnD-like melee combat. The prototype game has been featuring a simple, no-hit roll melee system that simply did damage between 1 and whatever your character’s strength happened to be. Now, characters make a d20 roll whenever a character attempts to melee attack. The d20 roll is modified by your character’s BattleLevel, which is a facet of the game’s unique character-level system.
Here is the code for melee:
An entity calls this method whenever it tries to move into a square occupied by an entity of another team (the teams are currently only Players and Mobs). Initially I was going to have multiple enemy factions that would battle with each other, but I found that monsters would end up killing each other if the PCs waited long enough. Believable, but not fun. Unless I can figure out a way around that, it’s out for now.
Because of the real-time nature of combat in Space Mercs, I had to make sure that missing in melee is implemented in the game, although I was originally planning on having no-miss combat. Without it, the game runs simply too dangerously.
The thing that I am most proud of when it comes to the map maker that I have developed for Space Mercs is the way that the computer is able to create and adapt the tiles that are made in a way that makes them connect in new and exciting ways each time. Unlike in a game like Carcassonne, the “tiles” that the computer uses are flexible. What is an out-of-the-way cupboard in one map might be the crossroads that connects a series of dungeon branches in another.
Here is an example of what I mean. This map tile is really just a few rooms and a connecting (albeit not perfectly straight) corridor that lies between them. When taken into consideration with the rest of the map, however, we can see how the room in the lower left, which might otherwise be taken as an out-of-the-way corner of the map, becomes a dangerous thoroughfare with a doorless hole in its south side, allowing enemies passing by to see into your hiding place. The north-western room, however, was generated with a door in its west wall, providing blocking cover and making the room much safer.
By combining even a relatively small tile set, the way my generator creates connections means that no two maps will ever be the same. Even the strategic and tactical significance of a particular tile can change depending on how and where it is connected to the rest of the map!
I’ve only recently discovered Atlus’s outstanding NDS dungeon crawl, The Dark Spire, which surprises me since I’m such a huge fan of their Etrian Odyssey series, which I hope to cover in a later post. Both games are classic dungeon crawls in the vein of Wizardry, Bard’s Tale, and the early Ultima games. Both games are also exceedingly difficult, although the difficulty of Spire stems from a different place than the Odyssey games.
There has been some talk lately about the difference between strategic and tactical gameplay, and how the newer DnD games have been shifting toward a focus on tactics (round-to-round decision makings) rather than strategy (choosing when and where to fight, rather than how). The Dark Spire is a game that perfectly recreates the strategic nature of classic DnD and other crawls due to the purely deadly nature of combat in the game.
Newly created characters have between 1 and 8 hit points, depending on class. Each time you level up, all hit dice are rerolled. This means that a sixth level warrior will usually have somewhere between 28 and 38 hit points, with outliers on both sides. Enemies deal from 1-6 points of damage on a strike, meaning that your first level characters will die from a single unlucky hit. Your warriors are stronger, but not by much. Choosing the balance between fighting for experience and gold and avoiding combat is the challenge that anchors the game.
The game features an automap, but unlike the map in the Odyssey series, your own position does not appear on the map. This isn’t an issue while you are exploring new territory, since you can measure your progress by the map as it is revealed, but it does mean that the narrow corridors can become a maze if you are retracing your steps. Fortunately, the mage class has an ability to find your own position, but are you willing to expend a spell-slot to find your way?
My one gripe with the game is that its difficulty comes from the obscure nature of the game. Weapons do not indicate their damage potential. Skills are not always explicit about their own use. Although the level up system is understandable to a veteran of DnD, a player who has not played 0e and 1e DnD would be entirely in the dark about the way the game works under the hood at all (it even uses descending AC!). At the same time, its combat is nearly as punishing as Etrian Odyssey‘s, but it permits you to save any time, rather than just in town, as Etrian Odyssey does. I think that the nod here goes to Odyssey, but The Dark Spire has enough charm to win over fans nonetheless.
Plus, it includes a “retro” mode that almost perfectly recreates the look of games like Wizardry!
Space Mercs is currently working up to toe the line between tactics and strategy, with items that can contribute to both aspects of proper gameplay. Thumper beacons, for example, will allow you to choose the location of a battle so that it occurs in a long, narrow corridor that will allow your guns to go to work against fast, melee-range xenos.
My next project, which I am plotting but not yet working on, will much more closely hew to the strategic nature of old-school role playing. I am not ready to announce any more information about it yet, but I am very excited by the possibilities it will present to me both as a game maker and a player.
Stay tuned for information on Etrian Odyssey, hopefully coming sometime this week!
(Note: the beacon is the silver-grey ‘:’ two squares north of the player’s ‘@’.)
The thumper beacon is now working in Space Mercs. Success at Mercs is heavily dependent upon tactical, cautious play, and players will find that use of strategic tools such as the beacon will be essential to success. In the picture above, you can see how the thumper draws wandering monsters toward its location, allowing you to plan ambushes or buy time for a strategic “advance to the rear” (retreat).
What was difficult was finding the balance of how strongly beacons like the thumper and several others would influence unit AI. I think that the effect is currently well-balanced, but it will take a bit more work before I can say that conclusively.