All posts tagged with "game mechanics"

A Little Something For The Pipe Fanciers Out There

From just about the beginning we’ve been into the idea that Clockwork Empires should involve running giant assemblies of pipes and cog-laden axles across settlements to transmit energy and water and completely harmless high-pressure superheated steam between various machines and factories. The basis for this came early: if we’re to embrace the aesthetic we desire we need to fully embrace the visuals of mechanization, of machines and factories and the wonders of technology of this Age of Progress & so forth. If we hide the machines inside the factories then you won’t be able to see any of the Fun gears and pipes. So, the breakthrough: put the machines, the pipes, the gears on the outside of the factory.

For the sake of simplicity we’ve rolled pipes, axles, and anything else that falls into this category of things-that-connect-to-machines into a category we call “dynamics lines” (whereas “dynamics” are water, mechanical force, steam, voltaic energies, nourishing goo, etc).

Very, very old concept art playing around with the idea of exposed pipes & axles.

This has not been without controversy in the Gaslamp Games Design Discussion And Knife Fighting Arena because this is both intrinsically insane and poses some really difficult problems with being able to clearly express what is actually going on in the game.

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Storytelling as Game Design

You’ve all read Boatmurdered, right?

A “Let’s Play” (or LP) is a narrative write-up of a game playing experience, preferably entertaining. Fans of Dwarf Fortress do this a lot – they’ll either play a game themselves and write up the events that occur into story form, or they’ll pass it between forums members with each writing a chapter for their part of the game.

This is not a recent phenomenon or one limited to the DF community. Or the Something Awful community, for that matter. Over in Paradox land, players of their historical strategy games have written up “After Action Reports”, aka AARs, in a tradition that goes back to tabletop wargaming. These probably started out as purely functional reports of the course of a game, but over time they’ve grown into elaborate alternate histories with characters and drama that don’t exist in the mechanics of the game ending up somewhere between a walk-through and fan fiction.

These stories give a look into gamers’ experience of the games they play – it’s not just what happens on screen; there’s all kinds of imagination at work especially in games that leave room for speculation, implication, and creativity. So sandbox games, building games, simulations, and even especially open-ended RPGs are perfect environment for this sort of thing. (I’ve even seen some Quake fanfic that … wasn’t terrible.) Well, it’s only natural for people to write down the stories they make & experience.

With Clockwork Empires we want to make a game that gives players just that kind of creative space and experience. And of course as game-players and creative people ourselves, these stories are just the sort of thing we love to enjoy & create.

So: could not the principle be applied in reverse? Sure, any game designer does this to some degree eg. “I want to make a game where you’re a hero and go on adventures and find a magic sword and fight monsters!” can be turned into a game simply enough; from story/theme to mechanics. Dwarf Fortress does this quite explicitly as a conscious practice; Zach Adams writes short stories that take place in a fantasy world then he and Tarn sit down and work out what game mechanics might support that story taking place.

We’ve done this too, in a few forms. On at least one occasion we sat down with a grid-mat and some dry erase pens and played out what amounted to a free-form tabletop roleplaying game of Clockwork Empires: It started with an expedition meaning to build a bridge, some wood getting chopped down, then spiraled directly out of control as a Mysterious Statue was discovered, found to spread Madness, dumped in a lake to contain it, then water from the lake used to create ale, then everyone was driven Quite Mad.

There’s a proper write-up of that one somewhere, but for now I’d like to share with you all a story of imagined Clockwork Empires gameplay I wrote while in a powerless cheap hotel in the middle of British Columbia. Join me, friends, for:

The Tale Of The Founding of New Sogwood On The Sour Coast

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Conquest of the Wizardlands: Pocket Dimensions & Banksters

What with all this talk of pocket dimensions and wizards and somesuch, we thought it would be helpful to give a little tour of the sorts of things you’ll see in the upcoming Dungeons of Dredmor expansion pack Conquest of the Wizardlands.

Daniel and I talked about how to approach writing this post and we’ve agreed to do something a little different that we haven’t done in quite some time. Instead of just listing the features, we’re going to dig a bit into the game design process and discuss the thoughts behind the decisions we made in coming up with these features and their functionality.

Let’s start with the big feature that may do the most to change how Dredmor is played.

Pocket Dimensions & You: A Room Without a View

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… and there’s a tutorial, ya’know.

(We’re close to the end/the beginning and Gaslamp is antsy to announce a ship date. But we can’t do that just yet. Yes: working hard. Especially Nicholas with his pile of hatred incarnate, see: bugtracker todo list.)

Beta testers: We’ve finally added a tutorial! Unfortunately you’ve probably all learned everything in it through an education of pain & countless deaths.

Other people: Although we’ve made a game that’s found most people dying to drinking acid or being savaged by a horde of small bird-like animals in the first minute or so of play, we’ve been good enough to have scripted up a fun little set of tutorials to teach a bit of how to play Dredmor – using items, skills, UI interaction, and such.

As a game built on roguelike foundations the key to Dredmor is the core concept of each action taking a single “turn”. Yes, it’s a turn-based game. But there are many turns and they are taken quickly each time you do anything — take a step, execute an attack, cast a spell, drink a potion, open a door, and so on — so the flow of the game has a fluidity to it while allowing you to effectively pause the action and take your time to consider your tactical options whenever you so desire. And you will certainly need to.

Here are some shots, 1. of the tutorial list and 2. of a poor diggle that’s about to get a final education in bomb-throwing.

Now I know that you hardcore players are not about to get excited about a set of tutorials, but consider what happens when we open up the scripting that made them possible. It could allow for some very interesting possibilities both in official expanded content (which I’ll probably have a heavy hand in) and for modders who want to push the game past what we at Gaslamp ever imagined possible.

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Dredmor Beta v0.93.2 : Crafting & Traps

0.93.2 is now out. The big piles of Fun here are crafting and traps. Shall I? Yes I shall: Let’s start with a screenshot.

Click to view full size.

I’ve got just about the full array of crafting skills here and am in the process of making some gold ingots to sell to Brax, whose potion shop I am standing in. The distilling widget has an outline of an apple in the ingredients box because I’ve selected the “Hard Cider” recipe.

You can also drag the inventory bag around to keep it in less-annoying spots on the screen. Yes, Dredmor is on the bleeding edge of  UI design!

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Working hard on Dredmor beta 0.92

Let the Black Blood of the Earth flow, for Gaslamp is in crunch mode! (And I really ought to be polishing up the spells and some tilesets right now.)

This beta release is all about the spells. For example, from the school of “Mathemagic”:

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Gameplay as a Hierarchy of Cycles

I’m going to quote a post in whole that covered most of what I was meaning to write on this subject but far more succinctly than I imagined possible. Brenda Braithwaite’s post “Design Truth 1″:

Focus on second-to-second play first. Nail it. Move on to minute-to-minute, then session-to-session, then day-to-day, then month-to-month (and so on). If your second-to-second play doesn’t work, nothing else matters. Along these lines, if your day-to-day fails, no one will care about month-to-month, either.

This  seems like an excellent imperative to good game design – especially a mechanics-based game. In counterpoint, (though I could quibble about “good” vs “successful” design) whole games are built on hooking players with long-term investment, be it emotional, social, or time (read: sunk cost fallacy), rather than refined short-term, low-level gameplay (see: grindy MMOs, Zynga), or some kind of story that players get invested in despite the gameplay (see: Final Fantasy games). I think an argument can be made for classifying games according to higher-level design philosophy. But yes, Dredmor’s core is certainly in the mechanics. Well; the mechanics and the insanity, which might count as “story” content though ours is decidedly nonlinear. But I digress. I’ll be doing a lot of that.

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Commitment Anxiety in Skill Selection

In the current revision pass on Dungeons of Dredmor we’ve finally had to make some hard choices about what skills mean to a player’s character. Thus far, all skills have been more or less freely available to select from any point for testing purposes. But if every skill is always available then by the time a player earns a few levels they shall have had the chance to buy a completely new set of skills which would render the importance of their initial choices mostly meaningless. We want every playthrough of Dredmor to be about an experience which is meaningfully different from a playthrough with different starting selections — so far as we are able to make it so.

Dungeons of Dredmor hero choosing skills

Which will you choose?

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