Upgraded Combat Interface and New Video

Alongside a bundle of miscellaneous GUI polishing, the combat GUI has been almost completely redesigned. The overhaul is so complete that I made a new video playthrough that explains the whole thing here on the ToL youtube channel.

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New Game Modes: Exhibition, Escape

The past week has been spent implementing two additional game modes.

“Exhibition” mode allows the player to create a character like normal, then select an enemy to fight on the next screen. You can select any enemy that you’ve unlocked for the mode, currently they are all unlocked for testing purposes. You can also decide to let the enemy use their normal attack pattern, or pick another one for them to use from a list that has every attack pattern used by the monsters you’ve unlocked.

This mode serves two purposes, it allows the player to practice against enemies that they’ve unlocked with different items and classes and since the selection of character and enemy occur on a separate screen it allows for a local multiplayer mode where one player picks a character and fights an enemy chosen by a friend.

In “Escape” mode, the player chooses a monster from the same list of unlocked monsters as in exhibition mode and then tries to beat the 100 floors of the Tower in reverse, trying to go from floor 100 to floor 1 and then escape the Tower and go free into the world. The ability to play as the monster adds a novel experience, and while it can be easier than the normal mode in some ways it can also be harder if you pick a weak monster or run into a lot of enemies that are difficult for your monster to deal with since monsters can’t gain new equipment the way the standard classes can.

Escape mode plays just like normal mode aside from the going in reverse and playing as a monster aspect, even having a hardcore option. It works off of the same lives system as normal mode, and will in fact overwrite your normal game run if you already had one going. Choosing to play ‘Escape’ mode when you already have a normal game going is the equivalent of selecting ‘new game’ but with a slight twist on the rules.

The currently planned method for unlocking monsters for play in Exhibition and Escape is to defeat that monster a certain amount of times while playing in a normal or Escape game on hardcore mode.

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Game System Refinements and New Enemies

Quite a bit has been done since the last post. The most obvious change is that all the old enemies are gone, replaced with new enemies sporting my own art. It isn’t much, but it will do for now. There are now four enemy packs featuring Japanese spirits, shadows, ninjas, and terrors of the deep. The days of skeletons everywhere with the occasional dragon are gone, and won’t be coming back.

Mechanically, some additions to the combat system have rounded things out into a rock-paper-scissors style. Attacks are blocked by guard, guard breaks do full damage through a guard, and an attack against a guard break becomes a counter, doing bonus damage while the guard break does none. This also counts for the mega versions of those attacks. With the addition of a ticker that displays the attack history of the current battle, a player can get a feel for an enemies attack pattern and skillfully smack down enemies using strategy rather than raw stats.

With that in mind, another drastic change has been made. Now, leveling up still restores health but doesn’t increase stats for either the player or the enemies. This puts significant emphasis on using a strategy to defeat each enemy, rather than just trying to grind up the power to mindlessly blow through any opposition. In fact, grinding doesn’t give you anything at all right now aside from a pathetic amount of materials. This gives incentive for the player to head for the boss asap, only making detours for event spaces if they’re along the way or very worthwhile. You’re supposed to be heading for the top of the tower, not mindlessly visiting every single square in a floor in a long winding S shape in an attempt to circumvent any difficulty in the game by grinding enough to one shot the boss with a basic attack.

Numbers are all small now to exaggerate the importance of every little tactical advantage. Weapons do 2 damage on average, with 1 for small fast weapons and 3 for large slow weapons. A yellow armor has no effect on incoming damage, while a green armor reduces damage by 1 and a red armor increases damage by 1. If you have more power than the enemy has vitality, you do 1 extra damage. Mega attacks use up all your focus, and add 1 damage per focus used up. With class and enemy health ranging from 5-15, each point of damage becomes very important, with many battles ending with one side at less than  health. Bosses and rare monsters have a habit of throwing out a full power mega attack in the first few turns than WILL kill you in one shot if you don’t anticipate it and react with a block for a mega attack or a normal attack against a megabreak.

When players an enemies do generally do 2-4 damage per hit, and have a max of 15 hp, having the speed advantage suddenly becomes even more important than before.

The overall effect of these changes has been that a player who fights the same enemies a few times finds themselves skillfully turning aside powerful 1 hit ko attacks and smacking down bosses and powerful monsters unscathed and feeling like a total badass. Now, you might think at first glance that this is the same kind of boring feeling of overwhelming power that I made these changes to avoid but there are key differences.

In the old system you felt strong because you boringly grinded enough monsters to have so much power that the boss stood no chance against you. There was no payoff from killing the boss this way other than completing the level. Like being a bully, there’s no real satisfaction from squashing an enemy who has no chance against you regardless of skill level because of a difference in stats. Now, sure you may be able to take down the boss every time and feel strong because of it but… the difference is that the boss stood a chance. The boss could have killed you several times, you had no numerical advantage, all you had was your wits at optimizing your gear, experience in anticipating what strategy the enemy will use, and skill in using that experience to your advantage when attacking and defending.

Every single action in a battle counts. Your health pool is a very small, very finite resource. You will be trading attacks with your enemy and that means falling low enough that a mega attack can 1 shot you, so you better be parrying those as they come and managing your focus enough to use guards, guard breaks, and potions when you really need them.

Oh and, you won’t be having a lot of potions. They use to cost 50 each and after a few levels you’d have enough potions to spam 12 of them in a tough fight if you had to, now they cost 25 more each time you buy one so that cost escalates fast. Potions are very valuable now, you don’t want to waste them.

It feels really smooth. Once you’ve got a little bit of experience under your belt, just enough to understand how the turn action rock-paper-scissers works and to be able to learn the enemy action pattern by watching the action history ticker, you’ll be kicking ass all the way through floors without breaking a sweat and casually dropping eldritch horrors, not because they stood no chance against your stats but because you had a strategy that allowed you to win with 2 hp left without wasting potions and were confident enough to adapt it on the fly when the enemy got a few luck blocks evades in without panicking. The feeling when you have 2 hp and you block the ‘Great Old One’s 12 damage mega attack only to turn around and guard break him 2 turns later for the finish is pretty sweet.

Recognizing that many people may not enjoy the traditional roguelike permadeath that some do (like me), especially with a system that forces you to continuously face new enemies who can easily kill you at any time if you don’t know their patterns (in a manner reminiscent of Dark Souls), I added an option to character creation to enable Hardcore mode. It’s disabled by default, when enabled you die and the game autosaved after death like normal, and when disabled the game doesn’t save after death so you can continue from the place you were right before you moved into the square you died in. This should allow people to explore the content without having to restart the tower every time they fight a new enemy or get careless.

I will however be adding all kinds of special unlocks and achievements for players who play the game on Hardcore mode. An idea that comes to mind is to allow players who have defeated an enemy a certain amount of times (say 10) on hardcore mode to play that enemy in a separate mode where you are a monster at the top of the tower, trying to fight you way out. It will play the same as the normal game, except traveling the tower in reverse and of course with the player using an enemy as the class. Defeat Cthulu 10 times on hardcore and get to play as him? What else do you need for motivation? That there will be achievements and unlocks for escaping the tower goes without saying.

For escaping the tower as Cthulu, how about: “Achievement Unlocked: The End is Neigh”

Yeah, that sounds nice.

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Floors, Enemy Packs, and Encounter Rates

Up until now the monsters you encounter in ToL have been drawn completely at random from the library of all enemies. This has worked so far for the basic needs of testing combat and progression, but a more refined implementation has been design and is being tested right now. A playable version with the new system will be uploaded soon after the initial bugs are worked out, but here are the basics:

When you first enter a floor, that floor ‘type’ will be picked at random from a list of floor types. Each floor type has:

* an “Enemy Pack” which lists the four enemies (Common, Uncommon, Rare, and Boss) that will appear on that floor.

* a “Setting” which will change the background of the interface and the background in the combat panels on that floor, the previous grey stone backgrounds now count as one possible background with another pitch black set called “dark” that’s been added for testing purposes.

* a list of the Events that can occur on that floor, providing for some variety and rareness between events.

So, the key thing to note here is the “Enemy Pack”. Each floor has only one and each pack has 4 monsters sorted by rarities. 60% of the time when you encounter a monster you will fight the Common enemy, 30% of the time you will face the Uncommon enemy, and 10% of the time you will fight the Rare enemy. The rarer enemies will be more powerful and the Boss of the floor will only show you when you enter the Boss room, but it will always be the boss when you get there now as opposed to being just any random monster with some boosted stats.

The enemies in each pack will be related thematically. For example, the skeleton monsters are now in their own pack, and the creepy monsters are as well. Since packs of 4 thematic monsters are needed, extra monsters not filling out a pack will not begin appearing from now on until they are added into one. The setting of the floor will match the theme of the enemy pack, so will the events that appear on that floor. This should lead to a more cohesive experience than before, and allow the player to prepare for the floor now and get into a rythm instead of losing that rythm of fighting skeletons for example by running into a demented clown or jellyfish or something.

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Some Art and Stat Changes

A few classes (Ninja, Fencer, Hunter) have been made available. They and the original 3 classes (Knight, Scholar (was Mage previously), and Striker) have gained their own art. Player art now changes on the map and in combat based on selected class.

Also, players no longer gain stat points to spend each level. Instead, player stats are recalculated based on the level and their selected class. All numbers in the game have also been increased in both starting value and value at lvl. 300. The increased numbers come from feedback that it would feel more satisfying to have larger numbers in the game.

A few bugs were created an resolved in the transition to the new stat growth system. The new numbers have been given a cursory rebalance but will require significant long term playtesting and fine tuning.

Weapons no longer give a flat range of damage added to the power of a character for damage calculation. Instead, each weapon gives a different % base increase to a players Power, Speed, and Skill for the purposes of calculation when equipped. In addition to the base % boost, the weapons will in the future get a small per level % boost to one of the three stats.

Each piece of armor now gives a % boost to either Vitality or Spirit for the purpose of calculating damage mitigation later in development when those are factored in. Like with weapons, armor will also have a per level scaling % boost to either Vitality or Spirit.

Each class now has its own list of weapons and armors, and will no longer find items for other classes. The player will only ‘notice’ and pick up equipment that they have the training to use, or that makes sense to bring with them. Weapons are based on what kind of weapons that class can use, armors are now more along the line of small additions to a players wardrobe that can be added to what they walked in with. This way, you don’t have a player swapping between full suits of armor and leather clothes or whatever every other turn in combat, instead changing out shields or metal bracers for example. The question of ‘where are they storing all this stuff” still exists, but at least you’re only slapping on a pair of gloves instead of putting on full chainmail mid fight.

An annoying bug has popped up that allows someone to continuously walk balk and forth over a previously used event space and constantly trigger events. This will be addressed asap in a future patch, just be aware of it and try not to exploit it for the sake of balance testing.

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Sound and Art Upgrades

A few of the sound effect in ToL have turned out to be far more common than  expected, and thus far more annoying. They have been changed or toned down in order to make the game hurt the ears of other people less. Additionally, I have been experimenting with a simple and clean art style that should give ToL a somewhat uncommon look and feel while keeping art asset creation time down since I’m doing it myself and am not exactly an artist.

The new style is reminiscent of the ‘Madness’ flash series of games or ‘Rayman’ in that the limbs themselves are not drawn. The implication in my game is that the limbs exist but only as invisible energy connections between extremities. This leaves the Head, hands, and feet floating around the torso in generally the correct positions and allows for leeway in posing characters. Characters and enemies drawn in this style should be significantly easier to create and edit than in many other styles. Once a significant amount of art has been made, there will be a patch to the alpha site so everyone can take a look and provide feedback.

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GameFest Post Mortum

So, GameFest came and went and I got a lot of valuable playtesting, exposure, and feedback about Tower of London that I’ve used to inform my future design goals and ideas.

A short snippet of the kind of feedback I received:

  • “pretty addictive, I wish there was a little more to the combat though”
  • “I love how simple it is, it’s like a true bite sized rpg”
  • “the interface needs work, it’s not very newb friendly and it takes a few plays to figure out”
  • “the events are hilarious and fun, I wish there were more of them”
  • “I wouldn’t like there to be a durability mechanic… it’s the opposite of casual fun”
  • “Maybe you could make the enemies have more options, but I don’t think giving the player skill trees and move lists would be a move in the right direction”
  • “cool, its like a combat rhythm game!”
  • “its satisfying to pick out the right armor and weapon, but then it feels like you’ve ‘solved’ that monster and you’re just waiting to kill this enemy before you can fight the next one”
  • “bosses aren’t very impressive when they’re just stat upgraded normal enemies”
  • “balance could use a lot of work”
  • “heres a glitch.. theres a glitch…”
  • “i keep forgetting to spend my stat points lol….”
  • “love the backstory, love the bite sized cutscenes.. not a fan of walls of text though”
  • “how do you buy stuff?”
  • “i leveled up? I had stat points to spend?”
  • etc.

Some of the feedback I was expecting, due to not having had enough time to deal with those issues before the exhibition, but a lot of it was new and eye opening. Some even came completely out of left field, until I thought about it.

One person said that they normally don’t like rpgs but because this one felt like a rhythm game he was enjoying it. I hadn’t ever thought of ToL as a rhythm game but after taking a step back I realized that there is some potential there and that when I added the planned attack/guard/guard break/mega attack/attack pattern interactions I had planned ToL would become even MORE like a rhythm game. I decided to go with it as one of the games unique selling points, and try to play it up in future releases.

People also found a few embarrassing bugs that have since been mostly fixed. I didn’t have wifi to cloud compile hotfix the live build though, so I had to start warning people ahead of time when they were about to break the game. Something to plan for in the future I suppose.

After reviewing the feedback and taking a look back at my original design principles again, I’ve made a few decisions about the design that are going to alter the future of the game. I’m dropping the item degradation / repair mechanic, as well as the planned class/monster skill sets I was going to add.

I originally was going to add the skills as just a side upgrade when I went to add the guard/break/etc. feature set, but it quickly got out of hand in scope and all the feedback about loving the simplicity of the game as it is was the final straw in deciding to drop it. The guard/break/etc. system (I really need to think of a better name for that) itself adds a great deal of nuance and strategy to the previously very basic combat, and the minor addition of the enemies occasionally switching up their weapon and armor mid fight should be more than enough variety to satisfy those looking for a little more depth in the combat.

On the whole, I’ve decided to refocus on the  core design principles of simplicity in play and controlled scope that I had let get out of whack in my over-zealousness to make ToL ‘feature rich’ and ‘different’. As it turns out, adding cookie cutter features like skill trees and ability lists and wear and tear systems actually won’t do those things well anyway. ToL will be ‘unique’ for the things it already has going for it, like the ‘dungeon in your pocket’, story, ‘simple yet addicting combat’, and ‘rhythm’ aspects, among others.

Anyways, a newly updated build featuring several new features but most notably the guard/break/mega/etc. combat system is now up at the usual place. For those who forgot or are new, that’s the link at the top or you can just click here.

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GameFest Showcase

While ‘Tower of London’ is still a few months of from the projected release date, it will be getting some public exposure for the first time at an organized event this Saturday at the 10th annual GameFest event hosted by RPI. While it won’t be part of the normal competition because I am an alumni rather than a student, it will still be a good opportunity to get some feedback mid development and if I’m extra super lucky I might find an artist interested in working with me.

The version to be featured at GameFest will be a super experimental new prototype with many changes to the build currently playable here. If you want to see the newest version in the super near future… you’ll just have to go to GameFest and see it there!


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Cutscenes and Music

The cutscene feature is now functional. A cutscene consists of a series of text paragraphs accompanied by an image and a title. Currently, when you start a new game and upon the completion of each floor you are awarded with a short cutscene that explains some of the backstory of the game and the world it is set in.

Additionally, there are many more musical scores in the game then before, providing variety and tone to the different parts of the game. Some previous music was replaced to make room for more fitting scores. The title, cutscene, dungeon, boss, floor clear, and death screens all feature their own distinct background music.

The additional ambiance added by the musical changes seems to go a long way for improving the atmosphere of the game, and with the new cutscenes players can finally start to experience the dungeon as ‘The Tower of London’ instead of a generic monster killing simulator.

Yay for world building!

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Saves, Character Creation, and Fog of War

The newest build of Tower of London features auto save. You may leave any game playthrough where you are still alive and come back to it later by selecting ‘Continue’ from the title screen, or start over by selecting ‘New Game’. Additionally, after starting a new game you will be prompted to choose a name for your character and select a class from a drop down menu. Class’s are very limited in implementation at the moment, and for now will just change the name of your skill option to reflect which class you chose (ie: ninjas will have a ‘Ninjutsu’ command).

Somewhat more importantly, I’m experimenting with fog of war in the new build. Now, the player cannot see anything in the dungeon other than their own location, the location of the floor boss, and the empty tiles which show where you’ve already been. This change reduces visual clutter as per some feedback from testers, and also adds more mystery to the dungeon run throughs.

Work has also been done on an ‘event’ system, that will eventually enfold everything other than battles that you encounter in a dungeon such as traps and treasure, amoung other things.

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