On Loot

Lots of very boring work has been going on here in Squid Tower, but I’m closing in on a working Vertical Slice of game and the possibility of an Early Access release on Steam this year is looking good.

Loot

The number one thing I’ve been thinking about is loot. It turns out that Waves: Arena Tactics is all about loot and while that was never my intention at the beginning it’s how it’s ended up.

Loot can be bought from the shop, crafted (eventually) but mostly it is found during Dives. The reason you try to get deeper into a system is because that’s where the good stuff is kept. Deeper you go the better the loot and therefore the deeper you can go. It’s circular. Get deep enough and maybe you can crash the entire system and gain immense Notoriety (essentially experience points).

The idea I struggled with for a long time was that all loot should be fair and balanced; an ideology that was a hold-over from working on MMOGs for so long. This ideology is complete hogwash in a roguelike dungeon crawler like W:AT. Depending entirely on the players own skill level to improve over time is “pure” but results in most people just giving up out of frustration. There is also a physical upper limit on what a player can achieve meaning levels can never get more dangerous than that. Increasing quality of loot is what makes a Roguelike work and I am embracing it entirely.

Loot is digital in nature in W:AT. This is a world of bits and bytes not swords and treasure. When you pick something up it gets added to your download manager and queued up for download. Should your connection be terminated before the download completes then you’ll lose the loot (although leaving through the level exit will always complete all downloads instantly). Considering that the best loot is guarded heavily an unauthorized download attempt might cause a significant system response. Picking something up is only the start of your job collecting loot not the end of it.

I’ll go over all the types of Loot in the game and give some examples.

Equipment

All equipment is stuff that you can equip to your avatar. Fairly self explanatory. The majority of Loot is equipment and comes in 3 versions (V1.0 to V3.0) and each version is just flat out better than the previous one. Most V1.0 equipment can be bought from the shop as your Notoriety increases but the better versions need to be found by Diving deeper. V3.0 equipment tends to only be found in the most secure systems at the deepest levels guarded by the nastiest programs. Eventually crafting will allow you to create alpha and beta versions giving you an incremental increase towards the next full version by combining your spares (therefore v3.0b would be the best equipment you can get).

Your Avatar has several slots you can put Equipment into. There are 3 Program slots (Primary Weapon, Defence, and Super Weapon) and 5 Upgrade slots (3 Accessory slots, a Modification slot and a Booster slot). I did toy with the idea of borrowing Eve Onlines slot system but found it was quite cumbersome on a joypad, there are however similarities between the two.

Programs

Your Programs are the only way you can directly interact with the programs populating a system. They should be fairly self-explanatory but I’ll go over them anyway.

Primary Weapons are your basic attack (gun). Primary weapons use no energy and are always available. They are the bread and butter of the game and take one of 3 forms (I’m working on a fourth but I’m not committing to it yet) – Projectile, Beam and Thrower. Projectile weapons all launch a projectile that takes time to hit its target and often have an explosive element, high rate of fire and a large spread. Beam weapons all fire continuously and have zero travel time hitting instantaneously, they’re great at single target damage. Throwers are very short ranged but require very little aiming and often have a secondary effect like burning, stunning or knock back.

Defences are non-damaging programs that are intended to keep you alive a little longer. Defences always use up energy and may have a cool-down period after using them. Once a Defence is triggered it lasts for a fixed duration of time so knowing when to use them is critical. They can however save your life. Examples of Defences are the “Slow Field” which slows down everything around you, the Energy Shield which makes you temporarily invulnerable, self-heals, cloaking devices, teleporters, EMP blasts and sometimes they just give you massive buffs (for those that believe attack is the best form of defence).

Super Weapons (New better name suggestions welcomed) user up energy in order to kill things very efficiently. Smartbombs are the simplest example being great for removing all the chaff you may find yourself swarmed by. Some Super Weapons just do lots of damage or clear the screen while others are more about area denial such as lightning storms which last for a while striking enemies randomly inside their area of effect.

Upgrades

Upgrades are passive bonuses and can be used to tailor your Avatar to a particular play style.

Accessories manipulate the 8 base Stats in the game and define your Avatar: Health, Attack, Defence, Speed, Energy, Health Regen, Energy Regen, and Hacking. Health and Speed  are obvious, Attack  multiplies the damage of all your weapons while Defence absorbs some of the incoming damage your suffer. Energy is used to run Defences and Super Weapons and Hacking is used to crack open files and databases you find in the game (some files need a higher hacking stat to access at all). Health and Energy Regen just represent your avatars ability to passively regenerate those two stats.

Accessories come in many forms the most basic of which is just a single stat modifier like +10 Health. More complex forms might offer a larger single stat increase at the expense of another such as the Turtle which offers +15 Defence at the expense of 10 Speed. Others may offer small gains across many stats which is only useful when you have 3 of them stacked up. With 3 versions of every Accessory there are already over 100 Accessories in the game and the potential for even more in the future.

Modifications offer passive buffs that can be quite game changing but always come with a significant downside. A lot of the team buffing auras are modifications such as Healing Auras which increase the Health Regen of everybody within a certain range. Other modifications like the Vampire regenerate your health as you cause damage to enemies or they might just add a secondary effect to your attacks like a stun or burn effect. The downsides might just be sacrificed stats or debuffs (the Vampire Mod has a negative Health Regen so it might kill you).

Boosters only last a single level but provide a massive bonus during that level. The only way to gain extra-lives is by equipping an Emergency Backup Booster giving you a single life that lasts for one dungeon level. Other Boosters may give you a huge bonus to your stats or negate the Downside of a Modification. Boosters being consumable means that there are a lot of them out there and simple versions are readily available from the Shop.

Passkeys

Every level contains a number of Passkeys which are required to be able to unlock the level exit and in some cases well protected files. They aren’t very fancy but they are required to get deeper into the level. Passkeys are only ever contained in Databases which must be hacked (staying within proximity of the server until the security is broken down) which has a tendency to draw the attention of the system defences. Not all Databases contain Passkeys but they always contain something worth your time unlike Files which sometimes contain nothing at all or even worse Viruses.

Money

Yep Money. However we’re not talking gold coins as this is a digital universe. As a hacker sometimes you’ll find data that somebody might want to pay for (or will pay a ransom for). When this happens the offending files are converted into cash as soon as they finish downloading. These files might be a database of user names, payment details, credit card numbers, nude cell phone pictures or CCTV footage of illegal nuclear waste dumping. Whatever form it takes it’s worth money to the right (or wrong) people. Eventually I’ll add Bank systems that only ever contain large quantities of money but that’s for a different time.

Pickups

Pickups are temporary little boosts dropped by programs in the system as they get terminated. You can also find pickups inside files.  The most common pickup dropped by all programs is energy. All programs use energy to run so when you terminate a program you can steal the energy before the system reassigns it. Some pickups might boost your stats temporarily as well.

Characters, Voices and Weapons, Oh My!

Last Nights Livestream

First thanks to everybody who turned up to our Livestream last night. We all had loads of fun showing the game off and everybody was really nice so we’ll definitely be doing this again and trying to make it a semi-regular occurrence even after the Kickstarter.

Characters In W:AT

One of the problems I’ve always had with Waves was the lack of character for people to relate to. Believe it or not being an abstract sphere with a gun is not enough for a lot of people. During the Stream I suggested the idea of being able to  unlock Characters (which I think I will start calling Runners because I’m a hopeless Cyberpunk junky). Each Character has a different set of baseline stats and bonuses to certain playstyles in a similar way to Character cards in a Living Card Game like Android: Netrunner.

I Want Your Voice!

With the introduction of Runners it makes sense that each Runner gets a personality. The original Waves had a pair of Robotic announcers that told you about things like pickups and how little energy you had. These voices will return in the new game (indeed they are already implemented) but I’d like to add more voices with different accents and phrases for each Runner as well as localized versions different languages.

If you have a unique accent (or can affect one) and you would be interested in having your voice plastered all over the game then I want you to get in touch! Drop me a message on email and I’ll add you to the list. It won’t be hard stuff mostly things like “Quad Damage” and “Shields Full” not lengthy diatribes on the nature of transhumanism.

Anybody who gets their voice in the game will be credited as a voice actor and this invitation is open to everybody in all tiers.

We Need Guns. Lots of Guns.

There are ten main weapons in the game right now and five “Super” weapons but I’d like to expand both of these lists. A big part of W:AT is customising your experience with different equipment loadouts. During the Stream last night we showed off lots of different builds that can be achieved and I plan on putting up some videos on the YouTube channel showing off different ways to play the same mode.

If you can think of any weapons or equipment you’d like to see in the game then you can send me your ideas over twitter or facebook or via email if you’re shy. I’m looking for things that will be tactically different from the existing weapons rather than just a re-skin or more powerful version.

For reference here are the weapons that are already implemented:

 

 

 

December – January Devblog

December was a slow month with the Holidays taking up the bulk of the time so I mostly focussed on bug fixes so there isn’t a video this time.

January was all about getting ready for the Waves: Arena Tactics Kickstarter which took far more time than I expected it to (turns out the Camera hates me). Hopefully the Kickstarter should be launching in the next week and will run till the end of Feb.

I’ve also lined up a Composer for the new game who I’ll announce when the Kickstarter goes live.

I’ve also been tidying up some loose ends such as getting the Waves Soundtrack up for sale on Steam at last. It’s available to buy now for just $2 here.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to put together a proper Press Kit for Waves: Arena Tactics and do a bunch of boring business things like talk to Accountants. Hopefully I can get back to actually making a game soon!

November Devblog

Taking a bit longer than normal to get the Devblog up for November as I was messing around with a new format for the video but it was taking so long I ditched it for the old format.

First up are 3 new Primary Weapons; the last of the Primary weapons to be implemented from my current ToDo list.

  • Sniper Rifle – High damage beam weapon. It will pass through anything it can kill instantly until it hits something it can’t like a wall or a Boomer. This weapon prompted the ability to zoom out with the camera that you can see in the video.
  • Grenade Launcher – Fires an explosive projectile on an arc that detonates on proximity with an enemy. It can bounce off walls and around corners.
  • Burst Cannon – Designed to be fired in bursts. Spews bullets in a cone but uses energy to do so. If you run out of energy the rate of fire is significantly reduced.

November saw the implementation of the majority of the new Support Items in Waves: Arena Tactics.

Support Items are equivilent to the Slomo feature in Waves and are bound to the same buttons. You can equip one such item before you start playing from the number you have unlocked.

  • Slow Field – The slomo feature redesigned for multiplayer. It now only affects an area around the player using it rather than globally.
  • Healing Aura – Converts energy into health for everybody inside the bubble.
  • Energy Shield – Instead of damage coming out of your health it comes out of your energy reserve. Affects nearby team mates with damage they take coming out of your energy.
  • Shockwave – Knocks nearby enemies away from you.
  • Cloak – Limited invisibility. Firing your weapon deactivates it early and it has a cooldown after it deactivates before it can be used again.
  • E.M.P – Huge blast that stuns enemies and empties the energy reserves of everybody inside it (including yourself).
  • Teleport – Tap to drop a beacon, hold to be teleported to the beacon. Uses all of your available energy in the process.

I also added two new Superweapons.

  • Gas Grenade – Like the Grenade Launcher but instead of an explosion it releases a cloud of gas that eats away at enemies within it as well as obscuring their vision and slowing them down.
  • Proximity Mines – Visible only to the player that dropped them these mines take a moment to arm but once armed they explode when an enemy gets close.

December will be pretty light on updates due to the Holidays and the fact that I’ll be mostly working on a Kickstarter for the game so I can actually afford to pay an artist and sound engineer in the new year.

For now if you want to support the game then feel free to buy a few copies of the original to gift to your friends and family on Steam!

DevBlog – Rezzed and The Slump

How do!

So Rezzed is in the past and I was there! I ate lots of over priced convention food from wet trays and saw lots of indie devs looking incredibly knackered.

I don’t normally go to games conventions as a punter so it was an odd experience for me. My prevailing thought at these things is normally “If I have to answer the same questions again I’m going to kill somebody!” so bear that in mind when you go to these things. That guy in the studio T-Shirt has been asked all of those questions a hundred times already – try and come up with something new or just engage them as a person not just a walking brochure.

So as a punter what did I think about Rezzed? Well let’s explore that with a bullet point list!

  • Bloody hell this is a sausage fest.
  • Very little in the way of Merch.
  • Occulus Rift is the future! Assuming you don’t have a Lazy eye like me and my girlfriend then it’s a vomit simulator.
  • Sir, You are being hunted is going to be an amazing game that will sell incredibly well.
  • Revenge of the Sunfish made my brain go “What? Wait.. WHAT?!”
  • Where are the girls?
  • Hotline Miami 2 is basically Hotline Miami again. Kinda disappointed.
  • El Rancho!
  • Sunday was better than Saturday due to less people so I got to play more games particularly in Leftfield as I don’t like waiting.

Overall a lot of fun was had. I also got to handle a PS Vita for the first time and if anybody at Sony wants to talk to me about porting Waves to Vita then I’m sure I can work something out as I believe Unreal 3 works on Vita.

One thing that stood out was how many penniless indie devs had booths. I assumed that a booth at Rezzed cost several thousands of pounds to arrange but quite a few of the devs seemed to be on the very poor end of the scale (where I live) yet managed to pull together the cash. Either it cost a lot less than I thought or they are doing much better than they appear.

Lastly the most important thing to come out of Rezzed was some much needed inspiration. I’ve been in a slump for the last 3-4 months where each line of code comes grudgingly and slowly. This is largely because I’m at a point in development where I’ve done all the fun stuff (from a programmers point of view) like solving multi-player and procedural generation. All that remains is what is on my schedule and everything I have to do is pretty much known now and that tends to result in me grinding to a halt.

There are more interesting things I’d rather be doing than just working through a list of tasks and Rezzed has given me a bit of kick to work through that list and get something worth seeing out into the world. The first step of this was determining if my game was fun (it wasn’t) and then working out howto make it fun (more rewarding exploration as it turned out).

As always I am on the lookout for artists and sound designers particularly if you are in the UK so if you are interested drop me an email at rob@squidinabox.com.

Tara!

Developer Blog: The Infrequentness

I really should hire somebody to do all the non-game-making bits of this business for me as it seems I’m terrible at them. If you want the job you should be warned I can’t afford to pay you at all.

So here is a devblog post that is long overdue because I got distracted by basically everything on the way.

Studio Update:

I am still not homeless or starving! However the odds of me releasing a new game in 2013 are slim and as sales of Waves are no longer enough to support me through to 2014 I’m probably going to have to find an additional income source. I see there being two options that don’t take away from development time, Kickstarter and Steam Early Access. I’m investigating both of these at the moment.

The New Game is indeed a new instalment in the Waves universe. I say that instead of Sequel because the gameplay and focus of this new game is quite different. Where Waves was all about high scores the new game is all about exploration and co-operation. It will have an online co-op mode for 2 (maybe 3) players which is actually the focus of the game. I can say this with confidence now because online multiplayer is in and working and actually has been for about 6 months now.

My current task list has roughly 6 months of work in it just to reach beta and that’s not factoring in all the art and sound requirements for it. It’s a big complex game compared to waves and I really hope it pays off in the long run.

Currently Working On:

My current work is in creating the games “Ecosystem”.

Every level is procedurally generated and I wanted to find a way to populate them with entities in an organic way. This is an extension of an idea I had when I worked on the original Warhammer Online back before it went to Mythic. In that game the population of an area of forest would be determined by what was already there based on a dependence hierarchy. You wouldn’t get any Goblins until the Snotling population reached and you wouldn’t get Orcs until the Goblins reached etc etc. This meant that areas of the world that were constantly being farmed by players (such as those around the starting towns) would never spawn the really dangerous monsters but extremely remote areas would be more likely to build up.

It didn’t work in reality but that was because players would never leave the small monsters alone so that the nastier ones would spawn even if there was no benefit for them killing them. Players are a blood thirsty bunch.

This version takes entities that must exist in the world for the player to progress and uses them to create things that the player can fight. An example will help:

In order to move to the next level the player needs to get a complete key which is in several parts. They obtain a key part from an “input” node which is spawning entities that move “Data” from the input to the “Output” (Level exit). The entities that move the Data around sometimes drop some as they go.

Data if not picked up quickly will turn into “corruption” which can grown over time and turn into a “Bad Sector”. A Bad Sector will spawn enemies called “Errors” which are very similar to the enemies found in Waves. Some of these enemies will place traps, attack Data Carriers and generally increase the chances of more Bad Sectors forming.

There are several variations on this theme throughout the game that I hope will create interesting levels organically that I can’t fully predict. They are all designed so that in small levels where the player may encounter them very quickly the volume and size of enemy will be lower thus easier to deal with while in large levels the areas the player discovers later will have had a longer gestation period so have more bigger enemies to worry the player.

This is all fairly experimental at the moment and I’m still not sure if it will pan out how I hope but it’s something I really want to try out.

Rezzed:

I will be at Rezzed on the 22nd and 23rd of June. I won’t be exhibiting anything unless people ask if they can setup some Waves machines because they just had some space and machines going spare (which is unlikely) but if you want to meet up and have a chat just get in touch with me in Twitter, Facebook or Email.

Untitled Game

Blue Fire Dawn is on the backburner because making human shaped art is bloody expensive and I can’t afford it.

Fortunately all the work that went into BFD has not gone to waste and it has formed the basis for my new currently Untitled Game (OK it has a title but it’s awful and I don’t want to use it).

Untitled Game is another top-down shmup using a similar art style to Waves (because money) but with a totally different focus. While Waves is all about high scores this game is all about Power Ups and exploration.

It’s a blend of top-down shooting and tweaking your loadout played out in procedurally generated levels.

Currently the game is what I call Pre-Alpha as I’m still building all of the various systems needed to be able to populate the game with stuff but it is playable.

Here is a montage of the 4 types of weapon currently available:

From top left to bottom right: Beam Laser, Shotgun, Flamethrower, Rocket Launcher.

These are just test weapons that I made to test the weapon framework. It’s quite robust and flexible now allowing me to do a lot of different things and chain effects together.

As an example:

A Weapon can fire a random number of exploding projectiles in an arc between 0 and 360 degrees. An exploding projectile can create any number of new actors when it hits something including more exploding projectiles, enemies, explosions etc.

Any source of damage (bullets, explosions etc) can apply status effects to their target that can buff or debuff the target (setting it on fire with the flamethrower for example). These effects can be refreshed by applying them again and can even do things like periodically explode, spawn enemies etc.

So I could create a weapon that fires a projectile that does no direct damage but causes any enemy it hits to explode after a short countdown which damages nearby enemies and covers them in a goo that slows them down and slowly eats away at their health.

I’ve already done a weapon whose bullets create 8 new copies of themselves when they hit something. It crashed the game in just a few seconds.

One problem that I’ve got now is the system is so flexible that while I could create almost anything I am overwhelmed by the potential. I don’t know where to start!

If you have any ideas for weapon types then I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Waves – Ambient Mode

This is something silly I put together quickly which I initially called “Pretentious mode” because of all the “Art” games that think having a substandard shooter is OK if all your sound effects are musical (It’s not. Do some work and make a good shooter as well).

It’s an audio setting not a new game mode where all the existing game sounds get replaced by a musical instrument playing a random note in the pentatonic scale. Depending on the length of the original sound it either plays a Glockenspiel, a piano or an ambient Lustmord-like drone.

It really highlights the 64 voice limit in Unreal which you can hit just by firing the gun at the arena wall so you should be getting about twice as many sounds playing when you get a big explosion but sadly the engine it says no.

Once I remember how to do Steam updates (it being over 7 months since the last one) I’ll probably throw this up as a free update for Waves which you’ll be able to access in the audio settings.

Shaders Are Awesome

If you read this blog regularly then you should know that my next game will involve procedurally generated levels.

Well I’ve been working on that a fair bit recently with a specific focus on finding easy ways to add variation to the level art without adding to the generation algorithm.

This means I’ve spent the last week messing about with shaders. Hurrah!

Shaders are awesome because they are really good at procedural content – adding things like dirt, blood, damage etc over the entire level can be done in the shader without it accentuating the square tiles or seeing a repeat in the textures.

It also generates some pretty awesome wallpapers.

Here is a basic floor shader (Click for bigger):

Now here is that same shader but with some procedurally generated dirt:

Some areas of the dungeon are dirtier than others. This is the dirtiest spot I could find but in other areas you just get some scuffing or the cracks between the tiles have just a small amount of dirt accumulated.

So there we go. Shaders are awesome.