All posts tagged with "gameplay design"

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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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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The Nefarious Devices of Dredmor’s Dungeon

Or: Mortality & Happenstance via Mechanical Means

Traps are a bit of a conundrum because it’s not generally good game design to aggravate the player by having them randomly die. Aye, The Grand Tradition of dungeon crawlers demands traps in some form, but they pose the problem of being hidden surprise! damage-dealers. If a player is walking along and gets offed by a Dwarven land mine, hilarious though it may be to randomly explode, their agency has been taken away and this is frustrating to a player.

What is one to do with traps? Read on!

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Design Dialog

I’ve long since learned that it’s far better to present Nicholas with a fait accompli which he finds amusing to implement rather than a rational argument for a feature. Allow me to demonstrate.

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Game Design Dialectic: Dwarf Fortress and Goblin Camp

This is only the beginning of a story, but it could prove to be a very interesting story if it bears out. I think it already contains instructive lessons for game development and design.

On the left, Dwarf Fortress. On the right, Goblin Camp.

I hope you know about Dwarf Fortress, the very complex roguelike-lookinglike fantasy world sim / citybuilder. From a development perspective, DF is a very long-running obsessive project coded by one guy, Tarn Adams, who makes more money than I do (not difficult) entirely by donations from his fans. I admire Tarn’s goals and his creative freedom which lets him indulge his whims – I wish I could do that. I even had fun playing some Dwarf Fortress until I explored most of what there was to explore. It was sweet while it lasted, but I grew tired with the tedium of a very rough user interface and tedious gameplay.

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Nitpicking Lockpicking

As part of the Dredmor beta crunchening process we’ve been making executive decisions about various pieces of game content. Among these are the various abilities granted by the seven starting skills a player selects when beginning a game of Dredmor. These skills are roughly classified by the three traditional RPG archetypes: Warrior, Rogue, and Wizard.

Let us then enter the shadowy world of the Rogue.

The Rogue is a strange one in Dredmor and possibly my favorite for being a bit of an underdog. It’s ended up as the class that’s received all the skills that were not explicitly spell-casting (Wizard) or direct-combat related (Warrior) and therefore range from the obvious (“Stealth”) to utility (“Alchemy”) to the rather random (“Archaeology”). A player who chooses pure Rogue skills will be in for a session of Dredmor that shall often revolve around manipulating the more periphery systems at work in the game.

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Iconoclasm & Nomenclature

I’ve been drawing icons for skill abilities in Dungeons of Dredmor. When creating your character at the start of the game, you choose seven skills for yourself. As you advance these skills through use, you gain new special abilities. Today I’ve drawn up some abilities for the axe skill and will discuss icon images and giving the skills their names.

To quickly take up a tangent on the design decision to have these skill abilities: In RPGs mages have traditionally had the most diverse abilities which translates to having more  enjoyable game-choices to make. Do you cast fireball? Teleport? Ice shield? Do you “paralyze nerves, shatter bones, set fires, suffocate an enemy or burst his organs”? Meanwhile, a warrior can choose to either attack or not attack. And why would you ever not attack? Yes, the warrior is ideally more of an item-driven class, but why deny certain character archetypes whole swaths of gameplay, be it special abilities/spells or item management? Compare Diablo 1 with Diablo 2 and you see the solution Blizzard took: Give every class spell-like abilities. (And give every class useful item progression.) New editions of D&D, even, have taken up the spell-like ability for non-magic classes. The lesson is clear: It is important to give the player important decisions to make in the course of playing the game.

And now for the icons:

These are the sub-abilities of the axe skill. Each gives a unique combat effect or shaped area-attack. As originally planned, these icons are displayed at 32×32 pixels in-game, the smaller size in the above sheet, but it does the painted icons some harm to shrink them so much. It might be more appropriate to draw these as native pixel-art at the target resolution (as I did with the spell icons), but I feel it loses some character — and takes a lot longer. Time is money, friend.

As for naming, everything in Dredmor is rightly a bit silly. If a name can contain a pun or a joke, I’m all for it. If it sounds awesomely overblown, it’s good. If it just sounds like it belongs in a cheesy fantasy game, it’ll do. At some point a name feels right, it’s like writing a gag in a comic strip or coming up with a good zinger. This is not to say that everything in Dredmor is really all that good, I’m just trying to do my best with what I can deliver in a reasonable timeline. To borrow a line from Hemmingway, “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit.” … And that goes for the art, too.

Let me take you on a tour of my thoughts about each ability icon.

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