Sunday, March 31, 2013

Napoleon Total War European Campaign Walkthrough

Now for one of the tougher campaigns: Europe.

Starting Advice:  Napoleon loves artillery, and so should you.  Artillery, set up in good positions will win this game time and time again.  Now, it needs support by infantry and cavalry, but artillery is powerful when used well.  Canister shot is a great defensive measure, and you should keep an eye on your guns.  If the enemy has guns, then move your cavalry around the flanks to take out their artillery.  Killing the enemy guns is worth your horsemen, sacrifice them if you must.  Once you have gun superiority, you will win the map.  Remember, infantry in buildings will be killed if you destroy the building.

When fighting cavalry with infantry, the square formation is your friend.  Some sides (Prussians) love cavalry formations....they love them so much you'd think they were playing Rome Total War.  Putting your infantry in squares will help break up the charges and massacre the enemy forces.  Square formation is a vital tactic in the fight against Prussia, so use forces that can utilize the formation and research it early.

Remember, good terrain is worth several units.  Place artillery on high, defensible positions.  Utilize river crossings and bridges on the campaign maps.   Make the enemy come to you during sieges.  It is always worth letting the enemy attack a defended position, rather than attacking a defended position yourself.

Setting up for success:  You get a mission from the start to take Vienna and dismantle the Austrian threat.  It might seem like a good idea to go for it immediately, but you have an Empire to consider first.  Take a moment and build up a solid base to operate from.  First, establish a college in Liege and a University in Orleans (be sure to staff them with gentlemen).  Economics is very important, so build up mines and roads throughout the empire.  Farms are also a good investment.  Build up naval vessels for trade, conduct diplomacy to get trade routes and any allies possible, and improve your position over the first few turns.

Austria:  You start with three armies in the north, the largest of which is Napoleon's.  You should move one to Paris, for defense and to buff it up with new units as they become available.  The other two should be sent towards Austria.  Its in your best interest to allow Austria to take Munich, so you can retake it and add it to the empire.  It is always a good idea to let your smaller allies be eaten, as it damages the enemy armies, and you can absorb the provinces they formerly had, boosting your production, economics, and overall power.  Send a spy to Vienna to see what the defensive situation is there, and use any information you gain to your advantage.

Once Munich is safely in French hands, send Napoleon to Innsbruck.  Use your second army to defend Munich.  You should bring up your southern army to support Napoleon's advances.  You should continue East, taking what you can from your enemies.  Russia will begin to resist you, and the War in Europe is going to get hotter.  You should capture Prague before taking Vienna, as it is a valuable reinforce and rebuilding point for your armies.  Siege Vienna, and let the Austrians counterattack.  Wear them down and take the city, spelling the end for Austria.

Prussia:  The Prussians will eventually attack Hannover, so you should try to defend it as best you can.  They like cavalry, so infantry in square formation is a good counter.  You should send the army you kept near Paris, which should be strong now, after the Prussians in Cleves.  Once Cleves is secured, Hannover is no longer an exposed position, but the end of a supply line from Paris.  Move your army up and attack Prussia properly.  (also build an army in Paris to defend against the inevitable British landings, and secure any ports you have in that part of the world).  After leaving a decent force in Vienna to prevent uprisings, send your experienced troops up to attack Berlin and put the Prussians in a world of hurt.

Counterintelligence:  The AI likes to try to assassinate leaders, especially Napoleon.  Napoleon is immortal at this point, and can only be wounded and sent to Paris to recover.  This removes him from the front, and his excellent leadership and bonuses.  You should find a spot to build a spy-producing building, like Regensburg in Bavaria, and keep a spy with Napoleon at all times to reduce his risk.  Having a secondary general in the army could help too, but the spy is usually enough.  (Note: don't waste time assassinating the enemy leaders, they are just as immortal as Napoleon.  It can be useful to remove them from the field and back to their capital, but they will be back soon enough).

More Austria:  The Austrians hunger for war, so you should give it to them.  Send your Napoleonic army to take Budapest and Zagreb.  Then swing down to take Olmutz, where Austria is strongest, and Klausenburg to finish the Austrians for good.  You may want to take the time to conquer Dresden and Kassel, minors that can help shore up your defenses.  Always look for the opportunity to add allied minors to your empire by letting the enemy capture their cities, before you "liberate" them.  With Austria gone, you have to worry about Russia.  Defend the front as best you can, and focus on eliminating the Prussians.

Finishing Prussia:  Prussia is an easy enemy at this point.  Cycle up your best troops, and start taking their cities.  Stettin is a good starting point, and just wrap them up as you go east, heading for Russia.  Breaking their back is quite easy, and you should focus more on setting up for a good attack against the Russians than worry about Prussia's resistance.  They will break easy and let you focus on more important things.

Russia:  With Austria and Prussia defeated, you only need Moscow to finish your dreams of world conquest.  A bitter winter and thousands of russian troops are all that stand in your way.  The actual waging of this war is just one of attrition, be sure its their soldiers dying and not yours.  Divide your mighty armies into two stacks, one led by Napoleon and another led by a good general.  Use your best troops, and have more forces ready to reinforce should anything go wrong.  Time your movements so that in winter you are safely in a city, and in summer you are marching to the next one.  The only real worry is the road to Moscow, where Russian forces will wait to attack you before you can siege the city.  Keep your attrition down and the victory is an easy one.

Other Concerns:  The Ottomans and the British are minor worries.  The Ottomans can be kept peaceful for a small fee of technologies or gold, and the British are only powerful at sea (and dropping the occasional army around Paris, which is why you have that army built up there throughout the game).  Nothing should stop you on your way to victory.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Napoleon Total War Egypt Campaign

Now the next campaign in Napoleon Total War: Egypt.  Here you will face off against the Ottomans and English in a battle to control one of the earliest civilizations in the world.

This map is an opportunist paradise.  You are facing large threats on land and sea, and at any moment the British could drop a force of troops anywhere along the coast.  Its a fun campaign that will require you to look for every opportunity to advance.

Cairo:  Your first priority should be Cairo.  To make your way to the city, you will have to fight your way through several other cities first.  Take the small army you start with and attack Damanhour.  Then use Napoleon to attack Mahalla al-Kubra.  Attack immediately with Napoleon because the city is poorly defended.  Recruit additional troops, and press on to Cairo.  You can start researching new technology once Cairo is captured.  You should use your army from Damanhour, after its replenished and supplied, to attack Mansoura and Damietta.  Damietta can build a university which will allow two technologies to be researched at a time.

The British:  You should begin building a navy from the beginning of the game, and should protect your dockyard in Alexandria with troops.  Alexandria should be protected with artillery and any units you can spare.  Build some sloops to be used in tracking the British fleet, but your primary fleet will be used to land troops later.

Southern Conquests:  Once Napoleon and his army are ready for battle again, you should focus your attention southward.  While he holds off any counterattacks, take your other army south to siege Beni Suef and Fayum.  Pause for a moment to repair and resupply your troops, and fend off any counterattacks.  Then press on to capture Minya.  The next challenge is the desert itself.  The easy way to beat this obstacle is to build a cavalry army that will spend fewer turns of attrition in the desert, and attack Awlad Ali, which is poorly defended.  Be careful of counterattacks before taking the city.  

While you are playing in the desert with your second army, take Napoleon to siege Zagazig, and then Suez.   Your southern army should be brought back to Cairo to support Napoleon as soon as its done with its operations above.  Build a camel cavalry army in Awlad Ali, and march across the desert to invade Ababda.  It will be a tough fight as it is a well defended city.  Anything but camel cavalry will be severely damaged in the desert crossing, so don't bother sending any other troops.  This city is considered optional, but if you don't take it, you will suffer raids almost constantly.  Its easier to eliminate the Bediun threat.

Consolidate your Napoleonic and other armies to build a strong force.  With this army, advance on Arish, and attack it swiftly.  Taking this city will mean the Ottomans decide to attack, and they will send raiding parties across your province.  Its best to prepare a counterattack for any incursions.  

Cyprus:  Cyprus is a difficult task, as the British fleet is still lurking.  You should build an expeditionary force to embark on the ships (Napoleon should stay on the mainland), and send them out as soon as you have a sizable force and can evade the British.  

The Ottomans:  Napoleon should press up through to Gaza.  The Ottomans are good fighters with large armies. Its best to focus on Artillery, building ordnance factories to eek out any advantage you can over the Ottomans.  After Gaza you should take Jaffa.  Jaffa will grant you another shipyard, which can be used to build further ships to destroy the British.  While your army is still in good shape, you should attack Acre (ignoring Jerusalem for now).  It will be a tough fight, but will leave you with a very good defensive position.  Once Acre is secure, you should swing around and take Jerusalem.  At this point you have the choice: either strike at Damascus directly, and win the campaign, or take Tyer and Beiruit first to weaken the enemy before the final push.  You can also attack the British, but it isn't necessary, you have held them off this long anyway.
Hope that helps some.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Napoleon Total War Italy Campaign

I've been playing a bit of Napoleon Total War lately, and out of all of the games in the series, I think it is my favorite, if not a close second to Empire (since Napoleon is an improvement on Empire, its hard to say).  I've also decided to do a few mini-guides to the campaign maps, just for fun.  Since I'm assuming you can get through the tutorial okay (if not, you have bigger problems), I will start with the Italian campaign.

Beginnings:  In the beginning, you have a few small armies, a couple cities, and the little mastermind himself.  You should take Napoleon and his army and deal with the nearby Austrian army (its a simple battle, especially with Napoleon.  Think of it as a warmup).  You should take your other army (on the left) and siege Coni.  When sieging it is always worth waiting to be counterattacked by the defenders as defending is easier than a direct attack (unless you have a good reason to need that city today).  The siege of Coni is easily won with the army you have.  Set up your artillery on the left, where there is a good hill (always look for a good hill for your artillery).  When defending, you should make your infantry into wedges (think inverse triangle) so that two units cover the same field of fire, creating a crossfire.  Defensively, this will chew up the enemy when they charge.

Once you capture the city, you should build a supply post in the town of Mondovi.  Supply posts are vital for the continued advancement of your army as it allows rapid replenishment of wounded units.  You should develop buildings as soon as possible, as there are so few.  Improving buildings are roads are important for the long-term viability of your empire.

Occupation:  With Napoleon Total War comes new occupy options for captured cities.  It is almost always in your best interests during the campaign to peacefully occupy cities to avoid unrest.  This campaign is ultimately a speed game, so you cannot afford to waste time and units occupying a city, and any time it is in unrest hurts you.  Your mileage may vary.

Battle of Turin:  Combine Napoleon's army and any healthy survivors from Coni, and advance towards Turin.  As mentioned, lay siege and wait for a counterattack.  The siege map has another excellent hill for your artillery.  Be sure to watch your flanks in this map, as it can be easy to get outflanked (splitting your army into two sides, one for each flank, can help but isn't completely necessary if you pay attention).  With the capture of Turin, you should build any available buildings, and reinforce if possible.  Let your troops rest if possible, you will need them soon.

There is a good chance that Piedmont-Sardinia will sue for peace and you should make them a protectorate. If they do not surrender. advance on Nuara, but they will be hurting after the losses you have inflicted.  You should take full advantage of the protectorate status, set up trade routes and try to get them to join you in your war with Austria.  Either way, build up your armies for the next battles.

Milan and Lodi:  Now its time for the tough battle: Milan.  Build up your army and head through Piedmont-Sardinia and to Milan.  Milan's battlefield is a horribly flat piece of land infested with Austrians.  Flat is not ideal for the artillery-loving Napoleon, but it will have to do.  The battle will be tough, but if you have brought enough reinforcements, and you destroy the enemy instead of letting them retreat to face them another day, you will succeed.

After Milan is taken care of (and your troops are ready), take Lodi for your trouble.  Austria can be fickle about defending it, and sometimes they will send a lot of troops, but more often it is left with a small force.  As always, build up any buildings you can, solidify your army and prepare for the next phase.

Mantua and Parma:  You've probably been given a mission for Mantua by now.  This will require you to split your army, and you should make two armies with good mixes of units.  To make things worse, the Papal States are waiting to join the fun, on the enemy's side.  Take the army that is not led by Napoleon to siege Parma, which should be a fairly straight-forward battle.  You should take your army led by Napoleon and take him north to take Mantua.  This will be a very tough fight, and you will be counterattacked, so ensure if you have any extra units to add them to this army.  Napoleon will have to hold his own for a little while.

Modena:  Now, advance with your second army and take Modena.  Modena is one of the few cities that you can siege without much reprisal, and its in your best interests to wait.  The Papal states have a trigger that fires when Modena is taken, and they will declare war on you.  It can happen before, but why rush things when you can have a couple of turns to rebuild and reinforce?  You will need those reinforcements, because you are fighting against three foes: Venice, The Papal States, and Austria.  Modena will be a stronghold against the Papal States, so fight defensively there (use trenches if possible, Napoleon Total War means death to armies that use buildings to hide in).

On to Venice:  Once the Papal States are engaged with you in war, Napoleon should strive to eliminate one of his enemies.  You should march as swiftly as possible to Verona.  Once Verona is taken, leave some troops to defend it (or move some up from other cities) and push on swiftly to Padua.  Verona will be attacked, so play smart and try not to loose the city.  Once Padua falls march on to Venice itself.  The fall of Venice means the fall of the Venetians.  Reinforce Napoleon's army, and head for Trient.

The Papal States:  Since Austria is a big monster, the next target in the unholy trinity is the Papal States.  The first target should be Bologna (with your second army, Napoleon is heading for Austria).  Once that is taken, take Ancona.  If you keep up your momentum, minimum garrisons are fine for cities you take, you have your enemy on the defensive and they do not have units to spare to retake these cities.  With the fall of Ancona, the Papal States are dead, and all that is left is Austria.  Move all available forces to the area around Klagenfurt for the final fight.

Klagenfurt:  The Mountains near Trient will be bristling with Austrians.  Mountains, however, are good places for artillery emplacements, use them to your advantage.  Be cautious and you will win these battles and route the filthy Austrian menace.  Once Trient is taken, you should consolidate forces near Klagenfurt.  You will need a sizable army for the battle, but it is the last battle of the campaign, so use all available resources.  Once you take the city, the campaign is won.

Hope that helps

Monday, March 25, 2013

Game Dev Story

I came across a game called game dev story for android (also available on ios), and I am absolutely in love with this game.  Game Dev Story follows an independent game studio and its attempts to make blockbuster games in a changing game world.  It has spoofs of major gaming companies and consoles, like Intendo and the NeonGeon.  It is a game that will keep you playing long after you should have stopped, and that, in my opinion, is a great thing in terms of immersion.

The game starts you in a small office with $500,000, two employees (three if you count your tutorial secretary), and access to a very limited amount of development types.  Your goal is to make your gaming company into a successful gaming giant, but in the beginning you will be making a lot of simple games and doing contract work to keep the lights on.  As your crew works, they earn research credit, which can be used to level them up (unlocking new things as they do, and improving their stats), or used in boosts to improve your games.  You earn money through selling copies of your games or by doing contracts.  Money is used to pay staff, for initial development, advertising, or to train your staff (training certain staff in certain ways unlocks new stuff).

What really draws me is the way that a game is created in this app.  You select a console, a genre, and a type of game (so you could make a pirate racing game, or a RPG about trains), then select a writer or an outside contractor to come up with a proposal.  They will bang away at a keyboard for a while, and provide some basic stats for your game.  Every game has fun, creativity, graphics, and sound stats.  These base numbers are the start of the process (usually heavily fun and creativity based).  For a short time, then your whole staff will mess with their computers, randomly adding stats to the game in 1s or 2s (or much higher numbers if they hit a hot streak, represented by them lighting on fire).  They can also add bugs (including a hot streak of bugs which can be awful) that have to be fixed later.  Anyway, after a short development cycle, its time to improve the graphics, and you have another worker or contractor bang away at the computer, greatly improving the graphics (sometimes adding fun and creativity).  After another development cycle, its time for a third worker to bang away and create some music (heavily sound based, with some fun and creativity).  Another short development cycle, and then your workers try to kill all the bugs.  Then the game is released with its current stats, gets reviewed and sales start piling in.

What I like is the progressive development cycle.  Each of your workers is adding points to the game, even though the only large boosts of points come from being on fire, boosts, or from the stops in development for proposals, graphics, and soundtracks.  This adds the sense of randomness to the game, and its fun and frustrating at the same time.

The selection of theme and genre is very important as well.  Matching theme and genre well will give you a bonus to development and sales, while making a poor match will be more difficult to make and sell your game.  Making good matches levels up your skill with those genres and themes, which improves your ability to make games in general.

In all, its a fun and addicting game.  The only downside I can see is the massive battery drain.  Playing for even a short time kills the battery on my galaxy 2, and I'd rather not have to have it hooked up to a power source just to play.  The game is well worth that inconvenience.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Computer Cheats...

Anyone who grew up gaming like I did expects the computer to cheat (or at least suspects it).  Game development was a little different back then, and complex AI was impractical.  To make up for this lack of sophistication, game developers gave the computer more resources and better "luck."  I don't recall the exact numbers, but in warcraft the computer received almost twice as many resources as you did on hard difficulty (and still outstripped you on easy).  Card games, like YuGiOh, were even worse.  The NPCs seemed to always get the perfect combinations right when they needed them the most.  Sure, some of it is paranoia, but that's healthy...but the majority of it is compensation for a poorly programmed AI.

Now, AI itself isn't exactly easy to program.  Let me rephrase that, AI that is competitive and cannot be easily predicted (and therefore exploited) isn't easy to program.  A great (if fictional) example comes from Star Trek, when Data tries to beat a strategy master at a strategy game.  His first attempt is an utter failure, as Data tries to win an advantage immediately, and this is exploited by the strategy master bringing the game to a quick end.  Data's second attempt involved him trying to keep even with the strategy master, and ultimately exhausting him until he quits.

This seems to be a good analogy for AI.  The typical AI seems to approach a problem by brute force, overwhelming the player as swiftly as possible.  The AI can only accomplish this by gaining an advantage over the player by tweaked resource production or a higher unit count (otherwise a player would be able to trick the AI and overwhelm it).  A better AI would be able to implement complex strategies to try and outwit and outfox the player.  If anything, it would just provide some more fun and variety to a game.  At best, AIs in current games will randomly assign a "personality" and play that way.

AI is highly complex topic, and one I look forward to eventually designing myself.  Hopefully, I'd be able to make one that didn't rely solely on cheating to win.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Webcomic Review: My Life at War

Its time for another Webcomic Review.  (At some point I really should standardize an update time for this, but today is not that day).

Today I'm looking at a comic I've recently discovered called My Life At War

(Image is property of the comic's creators, Click banner to link to their website)

MLAT is a comic about a group of mercenaries who fight war for profit using giant mechs called Arms (probably named for the fact they have one arm).  In this world, rank is determined by how much stock you have, not by merit or your superior liking you.  Normally, I'd go into great detail about the plot of this story, but the comic does a much better job of that itself, so I thoroughly recommend reading it.

The art style of this comic is absolutely wonderful.  Each page is beautifully laid out and the details are absolutely stunning.  A post by the writer mentioned that the artist takes between 8 and 10 hours on each page, and that effort and time shows through.  Particular detail is given to the mechs and weapon effects (there are a few visceral scenes of death and destruction as well that are very well done). 

The writing on this work is also very solid.  The world created behind the scenes is amazing and fleshed out. Knowing more than a few ex-soldiers and one ex-military contractor, the characters seem very organic and real (if not flavored by the world they grew up in).  The additional materials and occasional references in update posts show the amount of work that went in to creating this world.

I will rate comics in four categories: Major Plot, that is how the comics connect to one another in a complete sense, Minor Plot, that is how the individual comics stand up on their own (this is a serial work), Artistry (that is the overall beauty of the artwork), and Comic Art (how the artwork works with the comic).

Major Plot 7 of 10:  The overall plot of this comic is very intricate and interesting.  The creators have made a very interesting world, even if it has similarities to our own world.  I would say that the plot of this webcomic is its primary focus, with the excellent artistry as a secondary concern.  That said, it looses points for its very slow update cycle (its updated once weekly).

Minor Plot 4 of 10:  Each individual strip of this comic is not able to stand on its own.  There are several examples of well laid out strips that are full of excitement and action, but there are just as many that don't make any sense out of context, and shouldn't be viewed alone.  Add this to the slow update cycle, and you could be left with a page up that makes little sense when viewed on its own.  There have been times when the author has had to explain some things about the world.  

Artistry 8 of 10:  The art of this strip is very well constructed, and the time effort is readily apparent.  Each panel is quite beautiful and the level of detail is very high.  The comic itself shows the 8 to 10 hour creation time.

Comic Art 10 of 10:  This comic has big mechs and is techporn at its finest.  The art style is very appropriate for this, and the panels are always well laid out and full of action.  There are no improvements I can think of for the art of this comic.

Total Score 29 of 40:  This is a very solid webcomic that is worth reading.  I only wish that it updated more frequently.  The art style is a pleasure to behold, and the overall plot of the comic is interesting.  


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mega Crafting Game - Development Journal 8

This journal will be dedicated to the worker section of the Mega Crafting Game.  Workers are based on the DOFF system of Star Trek Online, modified by some additions that I would have liked to see in that game.

Basics:  The worker section is a basic addition to the rest of the game.  Workers perform tasks that are similar to the ones the character can perform (gathering resources, refining them, building basic components, etc).  As they complete tasks, they gain skills and traits that make them better at certain tasks.  A competent worker force is necessary for a productive crafter or strong warrior.

Tasks: There are a variety of tasks that a worker can perform, but they fall into one of the three spheres: crafting, gathering or combat.  Crafting tasks involve making either components, or addons for items.  Bonuses (that can be bought through the cash shop) can be crafted through the worker section.  Gathering tasks take some of the monotony away from gathering resources "by hand."  Gathering tasks also include refining, which sacrifices some quantity of a resource to purify it into a higher quality.  Finally, combat tasks provide bonuses to your combat skills, and can even level them up.

Workers:  Each worker is a unique unit that is hired or recruited by a specialized task.  They come with some traits, specializations, and skills.  As they perform tasks, they have a chance to gain traits, specializations, and skill xp.  The more tasks you put a worker on, the better they will become.  However, tasks also have a risk of injuring the worker.  Sometimes these injuries are permanent, resulting in negative traits.

Differences between this and Doff system:  The big difference is that your workers will get better as they perform more tasks.  By performing tasks they gain xp, specializations and traits.  The downside to this is that they have a chance to be injured, and have a chance to gain injuries that persist for some time.  I've decided injuries should be curable, but they will take time, resources, and a task slot to do so (unlike how injuries in the Doff system are temporary, and curing them does not take up a task slot, and is done automatically).  I want people to choose carefully how they use their workers, and not just assign the best one to every task (i.e. you might have a great miner, but there's a dangerous task available.  Instead of sending him, you send a lesser worker, which results in a lesser yield, but an easier loss if you have a mishap in the task).


On DRM and Internet-required games

With the recent controversy over Sim City (5), I thought I'd discuss DRM and other means that developers have been using to limit the availability of games.  First, I want to point out that I'm a fan of offline versions of games that have online components, and ideally even MMOs and the like would have *something* you could do in offline mode.   Nothing is more frustrating than having time to play a game and having your internet or the server down.

Now, in an age when pirating is very easy, I can understand companies wanting to protect their intellectual property.  Nobody wants to spend millions of dollars developing a game, only to have almost no sales and everyone playing a bootleg copy of it.  This is why DRM and the like make sense from a corporate standpoint.  Sure, its an annoyance to the customer, but it ensures that anyone wanting to play your game has bought it (in the beginning at least).  Add in a server-side requirement like Sim City, and its all but guaranteed.  The added benefit is that you can kill the servers whenever you'd like.  This removes the abandonware problem, and gives ultimate control over the lifetime of the product.  It also lets you pull the plug to push sales to the next generation of the same game.

Where this idea falls apart, and where companies like EA and Activision seem to miss the bus, is in the PR department.  The internet has spoken, and very loudly at that, that what EA has done with Sim City is a horrible thing.  There are many frustrated customers, and scathing reviews online.  It is clear that there is a disconnect between EA and its fanbase, which is a sad fact, but not really a development.  Both Activision and EA have had problems with PR and giving customers what they actually want.  After all, knowing that the game you thought you just bought is really an intellectual property you are renting until an unspecified time when the servers shut down is a disconcerting thing.  I felt a strange sense of loss when Star Wars Galaxies shut down finally, and that was a game that had mutated and changed beyond the original fun memories I had, and one I did not intend to play seriously again.  Still, when I think of all the money I had put into that game for game time and expansions, its sad to think its all gone.

I can say one thing for sure, if gaming companies go the way of DRM and requiring a connection to their servers to play a game, it will just drive me to console gaming, where I don't have to worry about such things.  They get their money from me either way, but at least I don't have to deal with that frustration.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mega Crafting Game - Development Journal 7

This journal will detail the Stronghold system of the Mega Crafting Game.

Stronghold:  The Stronghold is the player's base of operations.  Depending on how they specialize it, it could be a simple crafter's hut, or a mighty fortress.  It will give bonuses to operations both in the world and in the crafting part of the game, depending on what is improved.

Guild Stronghold:  I'm considering expanding this idea to include a group effort, requiring many times the resources, but providing bonuses across the spectrum for all members of the guild or group.  I want this balanced so that people don't feel they need to be in a high level guild, but that it helps and gives a reason to donate to the projects.

Upgrade Projects:  The way upgrade projects work is quite simple.  A player selects an upgrade project (they are limited to one or maybe two upgrades at a time), and a list is given of required resources, items, and other materials.  Once all materials are gathered and donated to the project, a timer starts.  Once the timer is done, the upgrade is complete, the upgrade slot is freed, and whatever bonus provided comes into effect.

Types of Projects:  Projects should be focused on one of three areas: combat, resource gathering and crafting.  In each of those areas, there should be a variety of bonuses available for players.  These bonuses should be large enough that players find the project worth pursuing, but small enough that they aren't required to be competitive.  This will be a tricky balancing act.

Crafting Projects:  I think crafting bonuses will be the simplest to implement.  The best bonuses I can think of are a bonus to resource quality (can be specialized to individual projects per resource type), a bonus to the skill used to create items (this can be specialized to individual projects per crafting skill), a bonus to experimentation, and a bonus to assembly quality of items (can be specialized).  This would encourage specialization into a few kinds of crafting (but ultimately, a crafter could make all of the upgrades, it would just be expensive to do so).  I'm considering making additional upgrades of the same kind more expensive, so that there is a soft cap of how many you can have before it becomes unreasonable to add another.

Gathering Projects:  Gathering bonuses are a little harder.  Bonuses I can think of are a bonus to resource quality (specialized by item type), bonus to resource quantity (specialized by item type), and bonuses to finding resources (not sure how to do this with resources like leather that don't have gather points).  I'll need to figure out a few more bonuses for this.

Combat Projects:   Bonuses to combat would include a bonus to weapon skills (specialized), bonuses to defenses, bonuses to the anatomy and enemy knowledge skills.  I would like to avoid having guards or mercenaries actually accompany the player.  These bonuses should all be percentage based, to be a benefit to all players, high level and low.

Worker Projects:  A special subset of each of these project types are worker projects.  These projects improve the NPC workers you have access to, adding additional worker job slots, adding the opportunity for additional workers, recruiting additional workers, and the like. You can also build unique buildings like medical facilities to help recovery times when there are injuries, libraries to improve experience gains, and the like.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Webcomic Review: Will Save World for Gold

In our second ever webcomic review, we will be looking at one of my personal favorites, Will Save World for Gold.

(Image is property of the creators of Will Save World for Gold; click to link to the comic)

WSWfG is a webcomic about 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons characters as they adventure in their campaign setting.  While it does not break the fourth wall, the characters are very aware of their place as Player Characters in a largely NPC world.  The party consists of Ardon, a psychopathic Eladrin Warlord and the party's leader by fact his class is a leader class, Odivallus, the primitive sorcerer whose down to earth ways conflict with Ardon's in every way, Ell, the golden-hearted paladin who, with Odivallus, tries to limit the damage Ardon does, Peanut, the psychologically damaged kobold rogue who, despite being unable to move or make any noises except a raspberry, can pick locks in an instant and deals deadly damage, and finally FortyFive, the barbarian warforged who travels with the party to recover Peanut and return him to the bar they came from, and who's only real desire seems to be watching Ardon meet a gruesome death.

The artwork on this comic is amazing for its medium.  It is made in a pixelated state, reminiscent of an older version of video games (and a style that touches my heart as I grew up on those kinds of games).  Even with this medium, the expressions in word bubbles are very well done, and there is clear mastery over creating a world within this medium.  Many panels have hidden bonuses, such as the murder that occurs in the upper rooms of the house that Ardon and Odivallus have their first quest in.

The plot and writing for this comic are of a very high caliber.  Each story arc is well thought out and concise. The creator even has published the stats of several of the unique enemies that he has created.  Each character's backstory is interesting, and has popped up in some ways (an arc of the story has explored both Ardon and Odivallus's past in detail, and the others are mentioned in ways that show their characters have been well developed).  Character interactions are deep and believable, especially in the case of Ardon, who, despite being a psychopath, still is in some ways a lovable character and a trustworthy leader.

Now for the arbitrary rating system:

I will rate comics in four categories: Major Plot, that is how the comics connect to one another in a complete sense, Minor Plot, that is how the individual comics stand up on their own (this is a serial work), Artistry (that is the overall beauty of the artwork), and Comic Art (how the artwork works with the comic).

Major Plot  8 out of 10:  The story arcs in this work are wonderfully constructed.  Transitions between pages are wonderful and use of suspense is masterfully done.  In terms of improvement, I would like further exploration of character backgrounds and motivations, particularly where fortyfive is involved.

Minor Plot 7 out of 10:  Each comic on its own is very well constructed, but not all can stand on their own without their place in the larger context.  For a story-driven work such as this, that is not a bad thing, but there are better examples of this out there (OOTS, for example, has a very strong Minor plot as well as a strong major plot).  That said, each page makes sense on its own, but some added strength can be a good thing.

Artistry 7 out of 10:  This comic looses out on artistry because of its format.  Pixel-based art is not very appealing to the eyes under any circumstances.  That said, this is masterfully done pixel art.  Out of many comics that utilize this art style (including 8 bit theater, which is a personal favorite) this is probably the best pixel art I have seen.

Comic Art 10 out of 10:  While pixel-based art has its flaws, the way it is used in this comic is spot on.  The use of this medium is perfect for this comic, and I think something would be lost if it was created in any other way.  Each panel is solid, with the perfect amount of details and very little extra filler.  The views of the towns and ports look full of life.  This is a very well drawn comic.

Total Score: 32 of 40.    A very good comic, well above average.  I encourage everyone to read this comic in its entirety.  It is a solid body of work that deserves the support of the community.


Mega Crafting Game - Development Journal 6

Time to talk about skills for the combat part of the world.  Some of these overlap into the crafting area, and I suppose I should explain that first.

Overlapping Skills:  Ideally, the three worlds of crafting, gathering, and combat would be separate, with skills assigned for each.  This would keep people from gaining skills useless to them.  However, I don't think that is very organic, and it keeps the player rigidly in their current role.  If you are a player like I am who likes to experience the whole game (and has dozens of alts to prove it) then overlapping is good.  Overlapping allows you to switch to a different mode of gameplay with less downtime.  Ultimately, people who do not want the skills they gain from outside their desired sphere can sell those skills (as described in the skill transfer section of the last development journal).

Weapon Skills:  Weapon skills will come in two flavors.  The first is a direct skill in that kind of weapon (two handed swords, bows, slings, etc).  This skill will increase relatively quickly, and primarily has an impact on whether or not your attack hits.  (Note; this skill has a chance to level up whenever used against an appropriate enemy, whether the attack hits or not.  Most other skills related to combat require hitting the target or being hit).  Each weapon type will have its own weapon skill associated with it, but the increased speed that this skill levels will make up for having to level multiple skills (and will also provide a good reason to stick with a weapon type you have used a lot in the past, and request that crafters make weapons of that type for you).

The second kind of weapon skill is the weapon family skill, or familiarity.  Each weapon group will have a familiarity skill, and this is the carryover knowledge from working with a similar weapon.  So, if you spend all day swinging a two handed sword, you can pick up a one handed sword without stabbing yourself, but you aren't as good with it as you would be with a two handed sword.  However, this skill doesn't help you at all when you pick up an axe.   The weapon family skill gives slight increases across the board for to hit, critical chance, and damage.

Defense Skills:  Defense skills are the opposite partner to weapon skills.  These skills are used when a monster attacks you.  These skills all have a chance to level whether the monster hits you or not.    This group of skills is broken down into the general defense skills (parry, dodge, and block) and the armor skills (unarmored, light armor, medium armor, heavy armor).  The general defense skills do as they would seem to (parry parries removing all damage and counterattacking, dodge dodges avoiding all damage and block blocks absorbing some of the damage), while the armor skills determine how effective your armor is at mitigating damage.

Enemy Knowledge Skills:  Each group of enemy mobs has two knowledge types associated with it.  The first is [enemy group] knowledge and the second is [enemy group] anatomy.  These skills determine your damage and critical hit chance/critical damage towards those enemies.  These skills are gained primarily by attacking (knowledge) and hitting (anatomy) enemies of that enemy group.  This is designed to represent how you should be getting better at killing dragonlings after fighting them for two months non-stop.

Overlap:  As I mentioned, there will be some skill overlap.  Examples of this inlcude the weapon skills improving crafting of those weapons.  The full interactivity of all the skills (not to mention the specific skills and their primary attributes) have not been decided upon yet.  Balancing a good number of skills with the attributes will be a long and difficult process, but ultimately a rewarding one.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Thoughts on Player Advancement

I've played many games with many different forms of player advancement.  I think each has its merits, but I am not wholly certain which is the best.  I certainly have my favorites, but I think each should be looked into.

1. Traditional Leveling:  This is the most common and basic form of player advancement.  You kill so many mobs and you gain a level, eventually reaching a level cap.  Each level makes you more powerful, and unlocks access to new skills, talents, and gear selections.  This kind of advancement has permeated every facet of the gaming community, including FPSs, like Call of Duty.  This game style is great at hitting the rewards center of the brain, and keeping players playing for just a little longer to get one more level.  This style must do something right as it is literally everywhere.

2. Item-based levelling:  This style is rarer, and is entirely dependent on what kind of gear or items you have. Your character is nothing without his equipped magica or sword of world-breaking.  This kind of levelling is usually used in addition to another form, to add on an extra layer of advancement (such as in WoW, where you can be max level but not maxed out in item levels).

3. Skill-based leveling:  This is rarer, but your character has a variety of skills that increase as he progresses in the game.  This can be as simple as Eve online's timed training or as complicated as Entropia Universe's skill increases from use.  The former is merely a count of how long the player has been subscribed and how well his attributes are optimized and the latter is a tribute to how much the player has played.

So what is the best form?  Well, it has to fit the game mechanics.  I personally like the skill based leveling approach.  I feel it awards long-term commitments to a game, albeit at the cost of alienating new players in many cases.  I like the feeling I get from playing a character who has gotten better at mining because I've been mining, and better at shooting a gun because I've shot a gun.  I don't like arbitrarily having my character be more powerful because I've killed enough bears to earn a new level.  I also feel that skill-based leveling is more of a gradual approach to increasing in power.

More Development Journals will be coming, as I finish fleshing out the skills system for it.  I am working on a very simple demo of the crafting interface and how the crafting methodology will work.  It will not be quite the same as the finished product, but I want something for people to tinker with if they want to provide feedback.  Since crafting will be a core mechanic, I want it tested thoroughly during the design process.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mega Crafting Game - Development Journal 5

This post is about Attributes, a subsection of skills

Skill Advancement:  Skills are increased as they are used.  Using a skill has a chance to increase it by a small amount, and when a certain amount of this "skill xp" has been gained, you gain a skill level.  The skill xp requirements are semi-exponential, meaning that eventually you will reach a soft cap on skill increases, but that there is no firm hard cap (or if there is one, it is so far beyond normal playtime that it isn't practical to reach).

Skill Transfer:  I am debating whether or not to allow a player to imprint their skill xp onto an item that would allow it to be transfered to another player.  This would be a 1 for 1 trade of skill xp (so imprinting lvl 10-1 of your skill drops you to lvl 1, but it may not be enough to give even a single level to someone who has lvl 50), so I don't think it can be abused much, but would allow players to pay others in order to skip a hard part of levelling their skill.  It would also allow players to sell the skills they are not using if they wish.  This idea comes from Entropia Universe, where it works very well.  The difference would be that the imprint device would be player made, instead of sold by the game itself.  I think I would limit this so attributes could not be imprinted.

Attributes:  Attributes are the vital statistics of your character.  They are used as modifiers towards your skills, and act like skills themselves in many regards.  Any time you utilize a skill with an associate attribute, there is a chance for it to increase (as if you had used it as a skill).  Attribute increases will seem fewer and further between than skill increases, but they should increase fairly quickly, as they cover a lot of skills.

[Skills mentioned are just examples, not a complete list of what those attributes effect]

Strength:  Your physical force.  Used in skills that require brute force, like attacks with blunt weapons, and increases damage with physical attacks.

Dexterity: Your agility and fine motor skills.  Used in skills that require finesse, like ranged attacks, attacks with some slashing  or piercing weapons (like a rapier).  Determines your critical hit chance with physical attacks.

Stamina: Your health and physical resilience.  Used to determine your health, damage resistance, and skill in using heavy armors.  Increases your chance to resist bonus damage from critical hits.

Intelligence:  Your mental power.  Used in skills that require smarts or brainpower, like many forms of magic.  Increases effects with magical attacks.

Insight: How well you understand things and your "gut" feeling.  Used in crafting experimentation, and in critical hit chance (finding a weak spot) for magical attacks.  Increases accuracy with magical attacks

Charisma: How well you relate to others and your force of personality.  Primary attribute in the charm school of magic, increases your magical defenses including magical critical hit resistance.  Determines many interactions with workers.

Ideally these attributes will be fairly evenly split through the skills so that no one attribute is more useful than the others.  That said, Stamina will be a preferred stat for many adventurers and Charisma for many crafters simply because they determine health and worker interaction, two of the primary resources of those two worlds.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Mega Crafting Game - Development Journal 4

This post is an in-depth detailing of the crafting process.

Step 1: Blueprint selection 

The crafter will have access to a wide variety of blueprints to make items.  These blueprints have many differences between them, requiring different resources and ending in different items.  Examples of blueprints would be a two-handed sword blueprint, a longsword blueprint, a bow blueprint, etc.  As blueprints are used, they increase in level (representing how well you know the design specifications).

Step 2: Resource Selection

Your blueprint will have slots for resources, and some restrictions on them.  For example, a longsword may have resources needed for the handle, the crossguard, the core, and the edge.  The handle can be made of almost any material, while the crossguard needs to be of metal, and the core and edge also need to be of metal.  I would like it to be possible to combine several different kinds of resources to fill the slots, to give the crafter all the versatility to make just about everything.

Note about slots ->  You can pre-make some slot components for items, made with their own blueprint.  This will be required to add crafted enchantments to an item, as the component blueprints will have a slot for the enhancement but the stock blueprint will not.

Step 3: Initial Combine and Experimentation

When you hit submit, the game calculates the qualities of the resources, adds in your skill and some random chance, and creates an item with stats generated from your resources (it is impossible to get your resources back at this point).  Once you have these stats, you can experiment with them to move some stats around, and make your final item.

Step 4: Naming and Colorization

Once the item is finalized, you can name it, and adjust the color scheme.  Depending on the resources used, the item will have a stock look representing the colors of the resources used (i.e. copper will have a copper look, iron will have a silver look).

More on resource stats and ideas on that later.

Mega Crafting Game - Development Journal 3

This post is about the world section of gameplay.

The World: The world will consist of a variety of zones containing monsters, NPCs and other challenges.  Each zone will allow gathering of resources, marking of claims, and other activities.  Higher level zones will allow for higher level crafting materials.  Zones will also contain bosses that can be fought, each boss having specific crafting drops.

Loot:  Loot will not drop in the traditional sense.  Everything that drops will be a crafting component of some sort or in-game currency.  I do not want anything that is useless in this game, so vendor trash isn't going to be in it (it serves no purpose but filling bag space).  Bosses will drop special crafting addons that will enhance weapons or armor to make that boss or later bosses easier to fight.  Bosses can also drop "fun" items, like non-combat pets, appearance changing items, or quest items.

Rewards: Since I want all of the equipment used by players to be player made, there's the problem of quest rewards.  I think these should be rare or even unique components or cosmetic changes to the character.  For example, a high level quest may reward you with an attachment that makes your weapon glow or adds fire damage to an already existing weapon.  Quest rewards should be useful, and worth finishing a quest, but also not unique crafting items (which would just be ground out and sold) or items (as everything should be crafted).

Skills:  World skills are an interesting concept, and I think I will go into some detail about them.  Skills in this game only increase if you use them.  Example: If you dodge an attack, your dodge skill has a chance to increase slightly.  If you gain enough skill increases to level your dodge skill, your dodge chance increases.  If you hit someone with your sword, your sword skill increases.  In addition to direct skills, like dodge, swords, armor use, etc, there are subsidiary skills that work with a variety of items.  For example, accuracy would work with all aimed weapons, critical proficiency would work with all weapons, defensiveness would work with all armors (and even unarmored).  The chance to increase these skills is less likely than a direct skill, but overall, they will level up and cushion the blow between changing weapons from one you use a lot to one you've never used.  This skill type extends to gathering and crafting skills as well, so you may be great at mining, and that has built up your stamina or strength, which comes in handy when you start chopping wood. (your workers will have a similar, but simplified, system).  As explained earlier, making longswords all day makes you good at metalworking, so when you want to start making axes, you have some skill at it.

Limitation on Activities: Most facebook games impose some limit on activities by limited energy or health or something....I do not want to impose any artificial limits on people.  If they want to play 24 hours a day, I should let them, as it drives more ad revenue and encourages them to buy addons.  I do think that there should be limits on fast travel, to help casual gamers keep up with more extreme ones.  I don't think its a hindrance to the extreme gamers, but rather a boon to the casual ones.

Why have a world in a crafting game:  In truth, its because there has to be something to do with all the items that are crafted.  You make the items so that you can use them in the world (or so you can sell them to others who play in the world).  The other reason is to expand the game's audience to a non-crafting player group as well.

How to keep the non-crafter's playing:  This is a challenging point.  The game's focus is crafting, and that is its primary concern.  However, there needs to be a market for crafted items, and that market will be in the hands of those gamers who adventure into the world and use up the items that are crafted.  The problem is, that if everything is crafted in the world, then there are no real reasons to kill bosses.  The proposed loot I have thought of includes crafting components to make bigger and better weapons (krayt dragons in star wars galaxies dropped scales, pearls, and armor parts that made bigger and better weapons and armor).  I also think that non-combat pets and cosmetic awards (or some sort of scoring mechanism) would keep people playing.

What if I included loot:  I also think that including some looted items, that would be rarer and comparable to high end crafted items.  Since all items will have a durability rating and be destroyed after consistent use, some loot drops would not harm the overall crafting market.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Mega Crafting Game - Development Journal 2

This post is about the crafting section of gameplay for the Mega Crafting Game.  There is another section of gameplay that will be referred to as the world or adventure part of gameplay (which includes resource gathering)

Crafting Gameplay:  Crafting is creating useful items from raw materials and resources.  The quality of a crafted item should be dependent on 1. the input resources, 2. the skill of the person doing the crafting and 3. some random chance.  Balancing these three parts is what will make crafting fun and challenging.

Input Resources:  While the gathering of resources falls under world/adventure gameplay, they are used during crafting gameplay.  Because of this, we need to understand some things about resources.  First, resources all have qualities to them that are mathematically calculated during crafting to determine the quality of the final product.  I like the Star Wars Galaxies model of resources, where all resources have a set of qualities, like malleability and conductivity, ranging from 0 to 1000.  Resources that wouldn't normally have a value for these qualities have a quality of 0 for them (i.e. rubber has a conductivity of 0, while copper has a conductivity of 900).  Different items that are crafted require different combinations of qualities.  For example, a bundle of wire needs a high conductivity, but an insulating handle needs very low conductivity.  Each blueprint will have slots for different materials that require different qualities, using well matched resources to the blueprints will mean better final products.

Bonus Resources: Whenever a resource is mined, it should have a chance to spawn bonus resources.  These act like normal resources, except when used their purity or other attributes give them a bonus of some sort.

Character Skill: Character skill should be broken into two subcategories: Crafting Skill and Blueprint Knowledge.  Crafting skill is an overarching concept that covers and entire branch of items, while blueprint knowledge is earned by using a particular blueprint over and over again.  Say you make swords, and you specialize in two handed swords.  Whenever you make a two-handed sword, your expert knowledge of the particular nature of that sword comes in handy, as does your skill with making swords in general.  One day, you decide to make a short sword.  You still know everything you knew about sword making, but the nuances of making a short sword are not as well known to you as a two-handed sword.  Neither skill helps you, though, when making a bow.

Experimentation and Random Chance: When combining the materials, there is some random chance.  When the combine is done, it is the unpolished version of the final form.  The player can expend experimentation points to make changes to the item (increasing durability at the cost of attack power, or increasing speed at the cost of critical hit chance).  Random chance again determines how good of a change it is, and there is a limit to how many changes that can be made.

More coming later

Mega Crafting Game - Development Journal 1

This is the first development post and the beginning of design documentation for what I am dubbing Project Mega Crafting Game.  Long-time readers will know that I long for a game where I can make stuff and have that stuff be unique and different, according to how I want to make it.  Readers will also know that there are currently *NO* games where crafting is a significant gameplay mechanic, and where the best gear comes from crafting.  This project is designed to remedy that, and show the world exactly how popular this game type is.

Now to make some considerations plain:

This will be a social game/MMO.

Platform:  I've thought long and hard about this, and I know where my strengths lie.  This will be a PC game, either as a browser-based game, a separate client, or a facebook/android/ios app.  The latter is most likely, as I have very limited graphics design ability, but am getting better at app programming.  Facebook is a necessary evil, as I want this game to be free to play, but if it it multiplayer, I will need some means of supporting a server to run it on (with ad income and cash shop purchases)

Cash Shop/Freemium:  Yes, I said cash shop purchases, but it isn't what you might think.  I have an approach to the cash shop design that I think will bring an interesting take to game development.  The first rule of this cash shop is that anything that can be bought can also be crafted or obtained through reasonable quests.  Second is that no equipment can be bought in the cash shop, just things to make or improve equipment.  Example: You can buy a perfectly balanced handle to improve the speed of swords you make, or you can make a perfectly balanced handle through a process that takes some time and resources.  I want people with money to be able to spend it, and get a reward that is worth their money (i.e. takes some of the grind away) but people without extra cash should be on an equal footing.  An exception to this rule will be anything that doesn't effect core gameplay (pets, mounts, disabling ads, etc).  I also want all cash shop items to be salable for in-game currency, so even if a mohawk is only available for your character through cash shop, you can buy one from the exchange from someone who bought it with real money.

Gameplay: Gameplay will have two modes.  The first, is the crafting mode.  This is essentially your workshop, where you make the items you will sell.  It also has access to an exchange, where goods can be bought and sold.  The second area is the resource/questing area.  This area is where you can adventure, find resources, and use the equipment made in your workshop.  

Workers: A sub-method of gameplay will involve workers.  Workers are NPCs that you "own" that operate similarly to DOFFs from STO or crew from SWTOR.  You assign them to missions to gather materials for you, refine those materials, make components....everything you can do by hand except make the final product.  You have a limited amount of workers you can have (this might be an area for cash shop improvement), and limited amount of work that can be done.  When workers are doing something you can do yourself, they are not as efficient, and will do a worse job than you would yourself.  Workers also gain stats, experience, and become better the more you assign them to specific tasks.  They can also be injured or  killed with dangerous tasks (Not just "go to sickbay for 2 days" injured, injuries can last for a long time, some can be permanent, and even your best trained workers can die).

Claims: One thing I do want to be able to do is stake claims in the adventuring world.  Claims are areas you have found resources, but do not have the time or inventory space to gather.  You get a claim voucher, which allows you to return within a certain period to mine the resources (or send your Workers to do it for you).

That's about all I'm going to spout off for now.  I appreciate comments on these ideas, and will continue to post design ideas in the near future.  I have no idea for a release date on this, as I am only formalizing the design outlook now.