Tuesday, 7 October 2014

MERPG's specification as of October '14

I seem to have a malfunctioning Razer keyboard reading keypresses twice, like thiis. Just to let you know I haven't lost my ability to write mostly OK english

Bloody hell, yesterday I was complaining about not having time to complain of the stagnation of the 2D-MERPG, and know I seem to have a team of few designers determined to hone the sharp edges of the spec away and to implement it in or after the Cambridge Venture Camp. I'm not entirely certain anymore what's happening, but the finishing words of the last text are more true than ever in their small lives: these future weeks will be interesting.

But! If we are going to hone the sharp edges of the spec, I have to write one beforehand. There is a spec-of-a-sort in the game's website, but it's in finnish, it's huge (although it has to be, for it contains most of the game's story. Story is however inessential in a pitchable spec), and it's old. Please let me fix the situation here:

MERPG

The title is a working-title, I'm open to better titles, but nobody has yet come up with one. The game is played in 2D, camera looking down on the world in the same angle as the on in Pokemon games. Like in the hotlinked Pokemon Blue Rescue Team or PC-title Dragon Age, the team consists of multiple of playable characters. In the manuscript this multiple is defined to be 3, but there's no reason for the team's count of characcters to be an even number like 4, with the last slot being filled with visiting characters. The game could contain some kind of waystation system, where the game could replenish their HP & PP, buy & sell items and wiggle the members of the party.

Anyway, the main idea of the game is to be an interactive movie get the player to explore the epic storyline. Seriously, I've never been fond of John Carmack's quote [1] about stories in games. Gameplay can be shit, which I could almost say it is in Witcher 1, but the writing can redeem the game. Other way around it doesn't work, in every other finnish mobile game (for example Angry Birds & Clash of clans) the gameplay works rather nice, but I lost interest in them in a day. Why? Because I can't be attached to only pawing the touch screen without a story. I either need a complex system to paw, like Age of Empires on the PC, or a bloody story that makes me feel like reading something in between a comic and a book.

Battle and stuff

But back to the game. Player can control any character of the party. Swapping the controlled one is done like in Dragon Age: just click their face on the HUD-area. Battling is done in real time too, like in DA and unlike in Pokemon Blue Rescue Team. Characters have moves, but I'm not sure whether to allow using them infinite times per battle, implement a stamina pool that's drawn by all the moves, or to give every move a discrete set of PP. Moves have either a target, and if one can draw a straight line from the caster to that target (and that line can be limited to be infinitely small in case of non-ranged attacks) without overlapping anything else the move hasn't missed, or they have a target coordinates on the map and area-of-effect, and everyone within this area is cast some damage.

Battling can be paused, and while done so, it's possible to give commands to AI-controlled characters. When unpaused, they fulfil their commands and continue thinking for themselves afterwards. So, to summarise: the battling system is Dragon Ageish, but in 2D, with stamina pool possibly replaced by Pokemon's PP-system or a big void. The moves and the type-system will draw inspiration from Pokemon rather than DA, but it seems only fair for this project began as a Blue Rescue Team inspired clone. Moves have to be detailed soon, but the type-system should probably be a straight clone from the Pokemon games, with the same type-weakness matrix.

One can use the mouse to choose targets, just as in DA. If one doesn't want to, the game autolocks on the nearest interactable NPC.

However, why is the fighting done in real time? Unless I'm seriously misrecalling, the moving- and fighting system of the Pokemon Mystery Dungeons was turn-based. Why not do it that way? Because moving in this game is continuous (to a pixel level at least). MD did have these N squarepixels sized tiles that could be inhabited by only one character at a time, which made turn-basedness sane by providing a clear limit on how much one could do in a turn, but with the continuous movement there's no such limit anymore. That's why.

Maps

Maps are built of square tiles, and are thoroughly specsed in the blog and the github. If a lower-than-here level question of them arises, I will gladly answer. The largest maps are supposed to fill a 1920x1080 screen on the editor (=> decrease a little of both dimensions for the sidebar and the tileset-view), and maps make up a graph. In current implementation one can define functions to be called when the player moves out of the map in any cardinal direction, but I have to change it to be possible to set triggers to any tile, or otherwise we can't implement enterable houses. And if I haven't said it clearly, these functions called in triggers are free to reset character coordinates and change the current map.

I think routes are static maps inhabited by enemies. I don't know if they should form waves like in DA or just pop out of thin air alone, in pairs, triplets or quartets. If it serves the storyline, I could possibly implement a dungeon generator, but that'd need some time on pure experimentation and learning the theory. Cities are inhabited by friendly NPC:s, selling & buying stuff, managing your quests. It is possible to meet friendly NPC:s outside cities, but vice versa (unfriendly NPCs inside cities) is not.

Dialogue and sounds

Discussions are done in a dialog box in a way shown in the Pokemon MDs. That means player's own character speaks too, unlike in other Nintendo games I've played (the not-spinoff pokemons of NDS & Gameboy and Zelda Twilight Princess). There's no voice acting, because this is a low-budget game, and even if someone invests on us with a large bag of pure gold, there still won't be, as this game is supposed to feel like a garage production. An epic soundtrack, (think of something like 8-bit Nightwish), would be a must at some point but not until we have a playable prototype

Token economy

Reading this is recommended, although even I haven't yet read it to the end, as I haven't played the Borderlands. Mr. Yegge speaks of an important thing in it: people love collecting stuff. This, I think, is what made the Pokemon games as popular and timeless as they are. The newer revisions of them are still the same game: people (me included) are buying them just for the sake of new things to collect, and honed collect experience. This is so powerful force that it invalidates most of my rant against the Carmack's quote. Story may be shit, gameplay might also be (which it isn't in the pokemon), but if people get addicted to collecting (where collecting includes the improving-through-training in Pokemon), the game is saved!

So, it would be foolish to overlook the token economy on a game pokemon clone such as this one. Unfortunately I have done so for years spent developing and not-developing this. I have however a theory, that we could improve on the MD's concept of collecting playable characters. Making them both more diverse and differentiated than pokemons in the aforementioned. We could let the player customise their outlook, and of course we could make all the characters have DAish experience system. Instead of XP granting levels, which grant predefined amounts of stats, we could grant the player predefined amount of stat-points to distribute among the stats the way they see fit.

Of course a good token economy requires a way to show off the collection. A character trading system as in original Pokemon, a send-character-to-help system as in MD, and of course the voluntary public profiles in the internet. The profileservice could also used to distribute mods and backup saves.

The rest

I dream of multiple platforms, and a striving modding community, but they aren't essential in a pitch and for the prototype.

Have I forgotten anything essential (for the pitch, I mean)


Footnotes

[1] Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It's expected to be there, but it's not that important. (http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_D._Carmack)

I get that this is supposed to apply to FPS-games like stuff by Id, not wnb-RPGs, but it's still a wonderful inspiration on a rant of the current game scene.

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