Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Development Log: The Vortex #22 - Emptiness

Blue Devotees represent Emptiness, a sect of peace and meekness, but conviction, pride, and honor.

Emptiness is the polar opposite of Solidity, and so their primary stat is the "Water" icon.  I really only made it look like water because it's the opposite of Fire.  Really, the Water icon stands for resolve and internal strength.  While Devotees of the Emptiness are peaceful and do not generally convert through force, they are able to withstand attacks against them in that way, making them a tough nut to crack when Solidity comes calling.  Think of them in an Inquisition setting as the victim who refuses to convert no matter how badly they are tortured.

The cards generally depict noble, strong-willed but physically weak adherents.

You can think of Steadfast Clan as Native American tribes who don't want trouble, but want to protect their home.  Walkers can be thought of as displaced Native Americans, searching for a new home.

Nightcaps was originally meant to look kind of like the fungus, but once I found that picture, I knew I had to use it.

Finally, I considered using a picture of starving people for the card Starving, but I figured that might be a little over-the-top to use such imagery in a card game.  If I get real artwork, a created image of starving people might not seem too offensive.

Also notice that Starving has green text.  Previously, red text indicated something to pay attention to while Crusading, and that all players needed to keep in mind.  With green text, the player who has the card must pay attention to it during the Refill phase.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Development Log: The Vortex #21 - Last of Solidity

Here are the last eight cards in the Yellow Devotee set:

Apparitions is similar to the Rogation Phantasmagoria, both of which use the same kind of technique for conversion: if you saw a ghost, you'd be scared into converting, but you'd also know you saw proof through the senses, so your Fearful Conversion makes you a True Convert.

Other cards here are similar in tone: Irregularity is similar to Thunderheads, and Cargo Vessel shows that Solidity controls ships, just like Medical Frigate.

I had to think hard about what Earthlings might do, and I decided, in a more cynical moment, that Earthlings are so volatile that if they are converted to another religion they become even more fervent in their beliefs than before.

If you check the stats on Ambassador, as well as on Green's Flesh, you will see that its stats are go against the grain of the color's theme.  I decided there would be one card per set that is the opposite of its theme.  (I don't know what that means... that we can all work in harmony?)

Next, we'll get into Blue Devotee cards.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Development Log: The Vortex #20 - More Solidity

Here are the next eight cards created for Solidity.  You can see another theme coming from this set: Solidity is the sect of the rulers of this universe.

Solidity is the religion of the King, and therefore controls things like Medical Frigates.  Back when I was talking about Locations, Yellow had the advantage in Capitalia.  You can see here that Solidity dominates the powers that be, and has its own power structure to boot (Bishop of Hatred represents that).

The consequence of Fevers is to suggest that when a Fever breaks, people come back to their senses.

Thunderheads is in red text, again to make sure that you pay attention to it, because it effects everything in play.

No offense intended to Catholicism, but the picture of Pope Palpatine there was pretty much what I was thinking of with that.

With The Collector, I think of it a little more like a collector of souls, which makes the special text make more sense.

The idea behind Medical Frigate is that if they kill you, they will save you and bring you back to life, and the resurrected card would then become a True Convert.

Devotees will not target King because they fear and respect him too much, but might be targeted by Zealots, because Zealots are crazy.

That's pretty much all of those cards.  Next log will be the last of Solidity.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Development Log: The Vortex #19 - Solidity

Yellow Devotees belong to the sect called Solidity.  They put their firepower behind threats and torture, represented in the stats as the Fire icon.  Think of them like both fire-and-brimstone preachers and torturers during Inquisitions.

The Infinite converts through reason and evidence, so they make True Converts, meaning people who know in their heart and their head that they are right.  Solidity creates Fear Converts, meaning people who convert because they are scared into it, whether they are scared of mortal or immortal tortures.

I think Abductors and Heaviest placeholders portray exactly what I want.  Abductors are literally supposed to be the classic aliens that abduct Earthlings.  Learning to Walk definitely doesn't show what I want, but then again I've completely forgotten what my intent was for that one.

Cavernous is meant to mean something more like "heartless", so I imagine a being that is something like Heaviest, but it has a gaping hole where its heart should be, making its body "cavernous".

You can see from this selection that the game is taking a darker turn.  While the Infinite might generally have unemotional cards (which is exactly what they're supposed to have), Solidity has a much creepier vibe, which will only get more pronounced as I show you more cards in the next log.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Development Log: January Engine - Week 6

O ho! Finally got back to coding, after significantly changing the design.

I've been spending a lot of time going over what I want to do with this, on paper, because I found that winging it was not as rewarding as I expected.  So now I've got some semblance of a design, and it is more than just making an RPG with cards.

The battle system will now work more like a combination board game and collectible card game.  You go through the overworld finding cool cards (just like before), but you use them in battle to capture hexes, upgrade buildings, and a ton of other stuff to get you points.  Whoever reaches a target number of points faster, wins.

Ultimately, it ends up sort of like a CCG/RTS Settlers of Catan hybrid.

Of course, little of that can be seen right now.  What is there is just a hex board, with black indicating placeholder hexes (which can't be clicked on), and other colors of hexes, which will represent resources and factions.

As you pass your mouse over hexes, a little box will pop up over each.  What I hope to do it have those boxes give you options of what you can do in that hex based on the cards in your hand (and sometimes you can't do anything).

You can also use the arrow keys to slide around the board, since it won't all fit on one screen.  I'll also add WASD controls next week, or make it move when the mouse reaches the edge of the screen, but that may be too annoying for both the player and myself.

There is also code for dealing a hand of cards and a player deck, but at the moment it won't display, so that'll probably be for next week.

In the meantime: You can "play" Week 6 here (though there's not much to play).

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Development Log: The Vortex #18 - Last Infinites

Here are the last eight Green Devotee cards.

Cards with red text indicate that you must always keep those rules in mind when engaged in a Crusade, and even if that card is not directly engaged, it has effects which are still in play.  It may effect all other cards, or, in the case of Flesh, prohibit certain moves.

I found that as I tested it, special rules like those were often looked over and forgotten, so I made the text red so players will catch the cards out of the corner of their eye and reread them as necessary.

The Architect is a card designed to indicate that it controls the fate of many things, hence its extra ability to determine the fate of an opposing card.

Prophet of Prophets, Dreamers, and Forgers all have penalties against Zealots, which is a way of indicating that The Infinite cares more about calm and rational discussion, and that they can get caught off-guard when faced with an irrational opponent.

Forgers is meant to have the double-meaning of a forged document (which the placeholder suggests) as well as the idea of a blacksmith's forge/the act of forging a weapon.

Flesh is meant to portray the idea of a human shield.  Unfortunately I couldn't find a picture any better than the South Park joke.  Looking at it, I suppose any sort of military picture would be apt for it; although in the end I want to make it less of the common usage of the term, and create a more literal picture for the term "flesh" while still capturing its meaning.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Development Log: The Vortex #17 - More Infinite

So here are the next eight cards of The Infinite's Devotees, and now we're getting into the more detailed cards.

Still not great placeholder art.  Maybe for "The Expired" if I had to pick one.
Creatures is meant to be a play on our conceptions of wild animals.  We think we are the most intelligent creatures, but this card is Green to show that even creatures which can't speak are far more intelligent than we give them credit for.  But they are wild and easily scared, so that is why their stats go down against Zealots.  They would rather run than fight when a some other crazy thing approaches.

The Expired is ghostly, so they can't be killed, but instead of not allowing death outright, I just say that against The Expired, the sword works just like Fire.  Mostly because there is a Frenzy that prevents death, so it would be unfair for it to basically always have a Frenzy active, and be able to add another.

To quarantine off the Quarantined card, it can only interact with other cards of its type.

I guess the Lidless placeholder is okay, although I imagine it more as a creature with huge, unblinking eyes.  But in any case, the text is a little confusing, but it essentially acts like it's got x-ray vision, able to see a Zealot's unrevealed Frenzy before making a decision about how to Convert (or Attack).

I think the idea behind Identity is that it knows who it is and won't give that up.  Like a person during the Inquisition who will not convert.

The rest are pretty self-explanatory, I think.  If you have any questions about cards, leave a comment, and I'll be sure to explain what I can.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Development Log: The Vortex #16 - The Infinite

Now we get into the meat of the game: the actual player's color cards, or Devotees. These are basically units or creatures in other games. Here is also where, surprisingly, the placeholder art is the most difficult to find. Despite being nouns (usually), the placeholder art rarely captures what I'm going for specifically, but I'll point them out when they do.

Anyway, each color represents a different sect trying to convert the other sects.

First, Green cards, which represent "The Infinite".

The simple cards.  Every sect has seven no-nonsense cards that are just stats.  Cards #8 and up have special text.
In general, The Infinite is a sect based on intellect, converting through reason, a solid backing in scripture, and even science. Think of The Infinite as the intellectuals, who think that the true path can be found through use of the brain. You might think of them like Enlightenment philosophers like Pascal or Descartes who argue their way to their conclusions.

They would agree with Galileo who said "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use".

So most of the time, the first stat (the Book icon) is the most powerful stat on Green cards.

However, if they are too intellectual, they can sometimes go way over the heads of the other sects' Devotees they're trying to convert, and find themselves unable to convert less intelligent cards.

Their hated enemy is Red, who prefers bloody murder to pleasant discussions, but we'll get to them later.  This means, however, that in general the Attack stat (the swords icon) is their weakest stat.

To begin with the cards above:

The first card, Servants of the Infinite, is a standard card.  Every color has one "Servants of..." card that is an even 2 in every stat.  I use a pawn picture to suggest they are the simplest cards.

After that, you can see the theme of this set emerging with the Star Trek placeholders, suggesting they use technology to advance their cause.  Also, Returned is Green because it suggests someone who has died and knows what the afterlife is like, and therefore has proof on his side, which The Infinite cares about deeply.  Trailblazers suggests that they are always advancing, always going through the deepest reaches of space to discover new things, and are never satisfied with their current understanding of the universe.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Review: Dragon Nest

Since Dragon Nest recently came out with a huge update (a new class), I think now is a good time to give a review of the game.

Dragon Nest is a Korean (but localized) free-to-play MMORPG featuring an action-based combat system, anime-style 3D graphics, and a witty, sarcastic sense of humor.  If you want a distinct change from the grind of other MMORPGS, give this a chance.

I first discovered Dragon Nest a quite a while ago (around the time of the WoW review), and found it to be a breath of fresh air from all the other MMORPGs I tried out.

The Great

The action-based combat is smooth and feels like you're playing a console game.  While your magic spells require a cooldown time like other MMORPGs, you never feel like it's a hindrance, because you can dodge or perform combo attacks with the mouse, which require little to no Mana or cooldown.

When you level up, you can add either spells or extra combat moves to your repertoire, allowing you to customize your character to your preference.  And while the upgrades are supposedly permanent, you are occasionally given Scrolls of Unlearning that can allow you to re-upgrade your character from scratch.  This comes is very useful if you find some skills just aren't as fun or as useful as you thought and you'd like to reapply your skill points to something more deserving.

Speaking of leveling up, you are often given pleasant level-up surprises in a special mailbox (really it's a screen that tries to sell you stuff, but the mail is free), such as extra inventory slots, Resurrection Scrolls (extra lives for you or a teammate), or quick Health and Mana potions.

The art direction is wonderful, with cutesy, anime-style graphics that sets it apart from the fantasy-based settings common to too many competitors.  Level art is varied, providing snowy landscapes, dungeons, swamps, ruins, grassy hills, rocky mountain passes, and plenty more; the colors are vibrant and distinct, giving each palette a unique feel.

Usually vibrant; sometimes dark and dreary.  But on purpose!
Cutscenes are perfectly placed, providing a reward for a vicious battle well-fought. The voice acting is extremely well-done, giving the anime-epic feel for the major characters, while having adorable catchphrases for shopkeepers and townsfolk.

Don't let the artistic direction fool you, however, because the humor of the game is delightfully sarcastic.  When given a few dialogue options, the correct answer is generally the one that is a back-handed compliment, that the NPC doesn't recognize as such.  The player character tends to be along for the ride, dreading each new confrontation or trying to avoid it altogether (consider, for instance, the hilarity that ensues when you meet your "nemesis", Landslide Krag, and he doesn't know the difference between a nemesis and a lover).

There are also funny asides and pop culture references, such as a cute 300 parody involving goblins.

The achievement system serves its purpose well, by giving the player stat bonuses for achieving Titles, which are given through achievements or groups of achievements.

There are tons of options for solo and party play here, but you are almost never forced to do either (to advance the story, some quests require solo runs, but mostly it's just some side-quests). If you prefer to play in a party, you can always join a group, or participate in Arena battles (better known as Raids in other MMORPGs).

The level select screens are nice enough to offer a suggested group size and level for the party.  Generally, Easy and Normal are for soloers, Hard is for groups of two, and Master and Abyss levels are for parties of four.

Player death is handled very well, by giving a player five lives a day, and if you do die, you start exactly where you died (gasp!) instead of fleeing for some safe spot, and you are given a few seconds of invincibility.  It tends to feel like and old-school action game in that regard.

You are also not just limited to the five lives allotment, since you can also obtain Resurrection Scrolls, or, if you're in a party, have a friend resurrect you.

However, you shouldn't have too much trouble in that department, since I typically find that even soloing on Hard is not quite the challenge they think it is.  You can certainly up the challenge by playing on Master or Abyss difficulties solo or in very small groups, if that's to your liking.

The Meh

It is rather unfortunate that the game is not open-world, but rather has you entering portals to take you to various levels, where you choose your difficulty before entering.  Although the designers made great levels, it would have benefited the game greatly to allow the player to actually slide into each new area with a smooth transition, rather than an abrupt load screen.

I did mention that the cutscenes were well-placed, but there also tends to be a five-second cutscene introducing bosses each time you come to one.  Having it once is fine (and thrilling), but to be forced to watch the same scene every time you fight the same boss can get grating.

Like a lot of other MMORPGs, it suffers from the annoying habit of making your equipment lose durability over time, and you have to constantly repair it.  Other aspects of other MMORPGs creep in, such as upgrading your gear, storing items in town, trading in the marketplace, picking up items that have no value other than to sell for a few coppers, and many other staples that I simply don't find necessary.  It seems they're there because they've always been there, and removing them is blasphemous.

The start-game character customization is severely lacking, only allowing for three or four options for each body attribute (hair, face/skin, eyes, shirt, gloves, pants, boots).  It is also quite surprising that the character classes define your gender, where the Warrior and Cleric are male, and the other three classes are female.  It is also rather odd that every class is human except the Archer, which is an elf.  This tends to show a fair amount of cloning in-game, and detracts from the idea that you are a unique hero in the story.

Lastly, depending on your religious affiliation, you may find some aspects of the art and story to be insulting or even offensive. The Sorceress' faction maintains a strange cross between the occult and Jewish symbolism. I'm not sure what that's trying to imply. The Cleric has crosses, of course, indicating Christianity, but also, one of the primary weapons a Cleric can use is a flail and other whip-like torture devices, so make of that what you will.

The Sorceress and Cleric factions also have a Red Sox/Yankees rivalry to them, and the on-screen Cleric leader in the capital is referred to as a "frog-faced Bishop", and looks like Pizza the Hutt.  The Bishop also references "the Pontiff", so you can see pretty clearly after a while just how derogatory the game is to Judaism and Catholicism.

But, I put this complaint under "The Meh" rather than "The Awful" mostly because I found it more funny than offensive.  Despite running through some pretty risky territory in the religious department, it still maintains its sarcastic wit to keep the jokes in perspective.  So, depending on your skin thickness, the religious content may be too much for you.

Okay, I'm pretty sure they were going for offensive on this one, but I can never tell.

The Awful

I have some of the same complaints with this game as I do with every single other MMORPG I've ever played.  It seems that no matter how fun, new, and creative a game is, it is trapped and bound by terrible MMORPG conventions (some I've already mentioned above).

For one:  You have to cross through the same level upwards of half a dozen times before all the side quests are complete for that area.  I simply despise games that feel it necessary to give me a new quest for the same level I just beat, that only becomes available after beating the level once; AND I'm doing something I've already done.

For another: each of the five classes starts off with their own storyline (that's a great thing), but at around level 10, all the stories converge and you start playing the same levels over and over, skipping through dialogue you've read before, and you start to really feel the grind.  Maybe it is too much to ask developers to create separate game paths for different classes or characters (however they choose to split that up), but the current method of slapping threads together is a sore detriment and severely diminishes replayability.

One problem that seems to apply only to this game is that there is a very specific order to what characters you should play as.  The way the story progresses, you should make your first character be either the Warrior or Archer, then your second character should be the Sorceress or Cleric, and your third character should be the Tinkerer.  The reason this is necessary is because the Tinkerer is a character from the future and spoils the storyline a fair bit, anticipating each plot point before it happens.  Also, I split the other characters apart because the delivery of the Sorceress' and Cleric's stories implies that you already know what happened on the Warrior/Archer side.

This is basically only necessary until your characters reach level 10, when the stories converge (although the Tinkerer still has an annoying habit of knowing what lies ahead), but it can still throw a new player off-guard and confuse them.

Overall, the game's originality, action-combat mechanics, and humor far outweigh any of its problems, and make it well worth a playthrough.  However, I can't speak for end-game content, since it's a forty level game, and the highest my characters have yet to go is Level 31.

Dragon Nest can be found here.