City State Mechanics

Firstly, for people who aren’t crafty enough to follow along on Facebook/Twitter (hint!), here’s a screenshot of how things are currently looking in-game. Trees have been redone and shaded according to season and time of day. Here’s a taiga night-time scene, after you’ve been running for a little bit, with the new time/date system on the far left (it rotates, going from dark to light and back, and right now is near midnight, hence the sliver of blue on the left), a food meter, and trackers for your willpower, stamina, and exhaustion:

 …but today we’re talking about how the game’s going to play out for those who seek to rule. A major challenge in coming up with the Rule skill tree has been deciding exactly what ruling entails in terms of game mechanics, and therefore where boosts/upgrades can be logically inserted. Whilst I have some ideas down (I’ve been thinking a lot about how foreign relations are going to work), what has proven particularly tricky has been coming up with an interesting mechanic for cities/towns/villages/etc within your borders. To illustrate this, I think it’s worth saying how another game manages relations with cities – in this case, Civilization V – because I think it does some things very well, and some things very poorly.

Civ V has civilizations and City States. The latter are one-city ‘civs’ that play a special game role. It’s not worth going into detail about the specifics, but in one sentence, any city within your empire is very likely to remain friendly towards you (with a few exceptions, but those are high-level strategic choices) whilst you vie for City State influence with other civs. It’s this vying-for/reinforcing-of influence that I think is interesting. To give the player something to do to gain influence with them, City States routinely give out missions. These might go to any player, or to specific players. Missions of the former category might be “Who can discover the most technologies in the next few years?” or “Who will intimidate this other city state I have a grievance with?”. The latter category take the form of “We’d like to build a road between our cities” or “We’d like to trade some spices/ bananas/ iron/ whatever with you”. Completing these missions raises your standing with the city state significantly, as does other tasks like promising to protect them, helping them out in any wars they may be in, liberating them from an occupying force, giving them money, and the like. Meanwhile, your reputation with a given city state constantly decreases over time. A policy tree – “Patronage” – reduces the speed at which your reputation degrades, but it nevertheless does. If left unattended, even a city state you liberated from occupiers, defended against attackers, traded with, insulted the foes of, and built a road to, will eventually think no more kindly of you than the ex-aggressor on their borders, with whom their relationship has also “normalized” (negative city-state relations go upwards whilst positive ones go downwards).

Thus, keeping friends with a city state – a policy with benefit including mutual defence, financial income, trade, military units, and diplomatic support – means constantly renewing your ties with that city state. In my experience, this mechanic is one that sometimes works when a city state’s mission clearly links up with your own, but one that falls comparatively flat when the seemingly arbitrary demands from twenty different city states rack up on your diplomacy chart. City states are, I believe, supposed to give missions according to their type (e.g. city states concerned with faith, culture, science, whatever), but in practice I’ve rarely noticed a difference. I think a fundamental correction, and improvement, to the mechanic would not be doing what the states ask you to do (though a reduced number of quests might work), but in a way the opposite – your friendship with a city state is contingent on what you decide to do for them. If you want to build them a road, attack their foes, defend them, they’ll like you for it because you did it without asking. Even if they aren’t a city state that normally cares about trade, for instance, giving them a Great Merchant would still surely be worth some positive diplomatic effects. Equally, that will affect the city – a city might start off wanting X, but if you give them lots of Y for your own reasons (say, impending attack from that direction?) they’re going to, like any sensible city, try to align with the objectives of the benefactor paying them so much attention.

Thus, this is the kind of mechanic I propose to fix the problem of “What do you do as a ruler?” in URR. Cities within your empire will gradually become peeved from a lack of attention, harsh military policies, poor economics, poor welfare, etc. You can naturally adjust these by policy choices and internal choices, but this will only go so far. Only using these mechanics will merely delay the inevitable decay of friendship – and in turn revolution, or uprising, or secession – but other mechanics yield far larger benefits. If you want a city in the south to like you, travel there yourself and bring with you resources from the north of your empire. If one city is reluctant to join the war effort, go to them and give a stirring speech, or promise industrial business for the city in the weapons industry. And so on. Such events will, I think, raise the “bottom” level of how much a city respects its ruler, so that you can’t get the example that a city you’ve done everything for will eventually be unconcerned by your presence. As well as the objectives themselves giving you gameplay outside the civilization screen, they give ample chance for things to happen along the way. You make your way to a city, but a taskforce sent by your military foe ambushes you; someone tries to assassinate you in that city; or you’re half-way there and hear of a usurper attempting to seize the throne back in the capital! If you survive but lose your position, a Ruler player will have a potential battle to regain their empire, so even if you fail to keep your empire happy and are overthrown, the game – assuming you escape intact – will certainly not end there. Additionally, there will likely be some major bonus to leading a military force in war, but that shouldn’t overlap with any special abilities of the General class. Regardless, in this model you select the best ways to keep your empire ticking over from the (hopefully many) options, rather than waiting for your cities to make demands upon you. Not just should it improve the flexibility of rule, but it will also ‘get you out of your capital’, so to speak, and allow the Ruler player a greater diversity of gameplay.

In other news: I’ve also figured out languages are going to work. The specifics aren’t important just yet, but it’s very, very cool. In the mean time, development is going rapidly ahead (check the development plan for updates): it’s going to be the end of November, but we are definitely on for a November release. A lot of what’s left to do is user-friendly UI stuff; listing saving/loading progress, how many saves you have, details of your saves, etc etc…

Medieval Skill Trees 3/?

Three more skill trees! The “Subversion” skill tree is still in the planning stages, but we have the “Cavalry” tree, the “Navigation” tree and the “Gunpowder Weapons” tree.

Top-left is Gunpowder, top-right is Cavalry, bottom-left is Navigation. Key:

Green A – Gunpowder weapon accuracy on Gunpowder tree; skill with archery weapons when mounted on Riding tree
Lilac P – Chance to penetrate foes (i.e. pass through and hit another)
Yellow O – Chance to spot openings in combat
Lilac S – Upgrade a stat (Str/Wil/End/Int/Dex)
White ! – Unlock a special attack/ability
Magenta 1 – Skill with one-handed gunpowder weapons
Blue 2 – Skill with two-handed gunpowder weapons
Orange R – Reload speed
Blue + – Increase gunpowder weapon range
Silver S – Riding speed
Grey G – Skill with gunpowder weapons when riding in Riding tree; skill with ship-mounted guns in Navigation tree for you + crew under you
Red W – Accuracy with hand-held weapons when riding
Pale Red S – Accuracy with slashing weapons when riding
Brown H – Accuracy with heavy weapons when riding
Blue C – Skill at controlling your hose
Cyan T – Reduced turning circle when riding
Blue ~ – Skill at crossing rivers when mounted
Brown D – Reduced chance of being dismounted when riding
Light Green R – Increased archery weapon reload speed when mounted
Green M – Increased map vision range
Red ( – Increased ship-to-ship combat skill for you + crew under you
Light Grey L – Combat bonus vs legal vessels
Purple P – Combat bonus vs pirate vessels
Brown R – Efficiency of ship repair
Cyan S – Increased sailing speed
Yellow F – Reduced food consumption on vessels for you + crew under you
Blue % – Reduced damage from storms

Additionally, I’ve now implemented a rather nice little ‘key’ system that follows you around, and tells you what each skill does at the bottom of the screen. The top line of the skills screen will tell you what tree you’re on; I just haven’t implemented it yet. The key follows you around and gives you a brief description of the skill, whilst the lines below tell you your current EXP, how much you need to unlock that skill, and a more detailed description of the skill.

Now let’s say a little on special abilities. The ‘Rifleman’ class is currently down to gain a 25% boost to gunpowder weapon accuracy for 10 turns after each kill. I think this suits the rifleman’s ability as a front-line unit that has to cut through large numbers of foes, and should also (I hope) produce some emergent drama from last stands and the like! However, producing special abilities for the ‘Rider’ class and the ‘Sailor’ class are proving trickier, though I have some ideas.

For the Rider, I’d like it to be an ability focusing on routing and cavalry charges, but I’m pondering how to implement it. I considered something like a boost to damage the further from your commander you are; if you’re right at the back of the enemy force, you’ll actually be much more effective than if you were on the frontline. That’s one possibility. I also considered something involving a negative morale modifier for foes you attack – however, if I decide that other units should give negative modifiers to foes, maybe that shouldn’t be unique to the Rider. I’m currently undecided on which of these, if either, to go with.

For the Sailor, the Navigation tree and therefore its specialty is partly military, and partly exploratory. Which is to say, I think it will be a good class if you want to play a game focused on exploration (like the Quester class) but also if you want to play a particular kind of military game. Just like the Spy has full knowledge from intelligence, and the Quester full knowledge of artefacts, I’m debating giving the Sailor “full knowledge of maps”. This would potentially mean that maps might normally be poorly drawn, or difficult to navigate to, or have cities located in the wrong areas, but if the player is the Sailor class then maps are always fully accurate (or the player can always make sense of the map; one or the other). How useful this would be depends I suppose on the mechanics of maps in the game.

For all three of those special abilities (and, indeed, any of the others) I’d like all the feedback I can get. I want each to emphasize very different abilities, but still obviously be reasonably balanced. Naturally some classes will have bigger bonuses, and that’s fine – it’s not a competitive game so classes can be unbalanced a little to make some easier or harder. With that said, I want them all to be reasonably similar, but more importantly to all have interesting abilities.

Medieval Skill Trees 2/3

The fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth medieval skill trees. As ever, click to enlarge:

Top left, archery; top right, armor; bottom left, survival; bottom right, stealth.

KEY:

White @ – Start of the Tree
Red D – Increased damage (increased damage with Short Weapons in the Stealth Tree)
Green A – Increased accuracy (reduced accuracy loss from wearing armor in Armor Tree)
Pale Blue S – Stat Upgrade (Str/Dex/End/Int/Wil)
White ! – Unlock a Special Attack
Blue ‘+’ – Increased range
Brown B – Bow skill in Archery Tree, Blocking skill in Armor Tree
Orange R – Bow reload speed
Grey C – Crossbow skill
Light-grey C – Crossbow reload speed
Grey U – Increased damage to unaware opponents
Light-green S – Reduced stamina loss from wearing armor in Armor Tree, increased stamina in Survival Tree
Red # – Increased armor effectiveness
Pale orange R – Increased running ability
Blue ‘~’ – Increased swimming ability with armor in Armor Tree, increased swimming ability in Survival tree
Grey ^ – Climbing skill
Green club icon – Skill at climbing natural objects
Brown = – Skill at climbing man-made objects
Orange T – Tracking skill
White/Orange/Grey/Blue % = Skill at tracking in snow, desert, night, and in rain
Orange # – Reduced noise of armor
Blue G – Skill with grappling hooks
Cyan N – Unlocks non-lethal attacks
Light-green P – Skill with poisons
Dark-green V – Increased night vision

The last four skill trees – ‘Rule’, ‘Leadership’, ‘Trade’ and a fourth I haven’t yet settled on. Once the remaining trees have been done, I’ll then be moving onto programming each of the appropriate skills in (though naturally it will be mostly the combat skills that made it into 0.2.0), and adding a little key in-game that tells you both what each letter on a given tree means, and tells you what each specific unlock does. Additionally, I’ve changed the unlocked graphics a little:

I think this variant’s much better in that a) it’s even clearer what is/isn’t unlocked, and b) I think it’s rather more aesthetically pleasing. You will still be told what each skill is when you select it, and I don’t think the loss of the letter is going to make anyone forget about skills they’re already unlocked.

Also, as of today, blog entries are back to weekly! 

Medieval Skill Trees 1/3

Yes, I promised every medieval skill tree for this blog entry. Whilst early versions of all have been programmed, some of the non-combat ones I’m not quite happy with, and – given that I need to submit draft of half of my doctorate by the end of this week – I haven’t had QUITE enough spare time to finalize them just yet. However, here are the four close-combat skill trees for the medieval era, as they currently stand. Let me know what you think; the next blog entry will bring rather more description, and the next four medieval trees.

Click to enlarge:

Top left: slashing weapons (swords, katanas, scimitars, etc). Top right: long weapons (naginata, spears, etc). Bottom left: short weapons (knives, daggers, sais, etc). Bottom right: heavy weapons (axes, clubs, maces, etc).

KEY:

White @ – Start of the Tree
Red D – Increased damage
Green A – Increased accuracy
Yellow O – Ability to spot openings in combat
Magenta 1 – Increased One-Handed Skill
Blue 2 – Increased Two-Handed Skill
Pale Blue S – Stat Upgrade (Str/Dex/End/Int/Wil)
White ! – Unlock a Special Attack
Grey P – Increased chance of parrying
Pale Red S – Increased chance of severing limbs
Cyan S – Increased chance of doing a sweeping attack
Brown D – Increased chance of dismounting foes
Cyan D – Increased accuracy when dual-wielding
Grey U – Increased damage against unaware foes
Purple S – Increased chance to stun foes
Brown K – Increased chance to knock foes back

These four skill trees appear on one screen; each era has three screens’ worth of skill trees. I soon intend to implement different shades of grey to show which skill tree you are currently browsing, and some other system to show which skill trees are “active” and which are “dormant” (a game mechanic still in the works). In redoing the trees a little I’ve tried to balance four directions, make sure each is worth going down, and also try to make each of the trees unique in some way (even though these four obviously have the same basic structure). Any thoughts, please leave them in the comments…

Skill Trees, Part I

All the concept work has paid off, and we have here a skill tree. This is the one for the ‘Slashing Weapons’ skill (swords, scimitars, etc) which is a skill (and a type of weapon) found in the Medieval Era.

Each colour/letter combo denotes something different:

Red ‘D’ = Damage Upgrade.
Green ‘A’ = Accuracy Upgrade.
Pale ‘X’ = Unlock a Special Attack.
Yellow ‘O’ = Increased chance to spot openings in combat.
Blue ‘S’ = Increase a stat (Str/End/Dex/Int/Wil).
Light Blue ‘U’ = Upgrade weapon abilities (e.g. ability to sever limbs, for slashing weapons).
White ‘+’ = Start of the skill tree.
Orange ‘T’, Brown ‘P’, Purple ‘F’, Silver ‘C’, Olive ‘V’ (not shown) = ??

The double-lines around the D on the right denote that the cursor is currently resting on that skill. Soon there will be a little box which will follow your cursor around and tell you what each skill would do if you unlocked it. The blank squares have a cost like any other (see below), but do not give you anything; they are a larger investment for the significant upgrades like raising a stat or unlocking a special attack. Each skill tree will look totally different, though there is some commonality between some skill trees in some eras (for instance, the Medieval weapon trees – Slashing, Long, Short and Heavy Weapons, are roughly comparable).

As for progressing through this thing – you can unlock all of a skill tree. The challenge of choosing your path comes from prioritizing certain areas of the skill tree to collect early before the price goes up, but if committed to a particular skill tree, you can unlock the entire thing. The cost of each section of each skill tree goes up rapidly, but the overall skill cost does not. That is to say, if you have 100 XP to spend, you could either unlock ten starting points on ten skill trees, or – on a skill tree you’ve already purchased nine parts of – make a single purchase for the full 100 XP (these are not actual values, obviously). I think  the rising costs for each skill tree offer an interesting way to make you choose decisions whilst still allowing for specialization.

A few other conceptual decisions have also been made.

1) I’m going to remove the quotes from the loading screens: I will leave them on screens about political/social/cultural choices and the ‘strategy’ element, but for the normal gameplay segments, they will be removed and replaced with more detail instead.

2) World Generation and player generation will be split. A lot of people have said this, and I’ll make it happen. This might be 0.2.0, but will definitely be 0.3.0 if not.

3) As has been hinted above, URR is no longer just medieval. I have three eras planned, but I intend to keep #2 and #3 closely guarded until there is a reasonable amount of content for them. We’re looking at 1.0.0, or more likely, 1.1.0 for that (so the first half of next year).

Lastly, I hope this entry was worth the fortnight wait and lays out much of the planning for 0.2.0 in terms of skills. The next entry will focus on the changes to combat, some of which – openings and special attacks – have been hinted at here. That will also likely be in a fortnight. I’ve not entirely switched to fortnightly entries, but fortnightly entries are generally going to be a lot larger. After that entry, I’ll probably switch back to weekly as development on 0.2.0 really gets moving. So, let me know what you think about the skill trees, and the options for how you advance along them

Unrelated final note. Some people commented on the description of the ‘Swimming’ skill before I removed the old skills, and seemed to think it was a reflection of me as a developer (i.e. apparently a colossal anorak). So, allow me to set the record straight for those of you who read it: it was a joke.