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Embrace the night. Live the nightmare. Climb from rags to riches as a modern Vampire in a city where your secret has been revealed.
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Sunrise, Sunset And The Mechanical Jigsaw

Posted by Richard Cobbett (Collaborator)

Hail, people of the night. Richard here, with your regular dev-blog.

So, here's the thing about RPGs. They're complicated beasts. This has been the theme of this month, in which I've been focusing on sorting out all the major parts that the game will need, and making them work together. This is the first part of my current task, greyboxing the first district of the game and the life-simulation mechanics.

"Greyboxing" in this context is slapping down various parts and making sure they work, before going back and replacing concise, elegant prose like 'some vampire shit happens here' with something more florid and descriptive, like 'verily, here lies the excrescences of one akin to Nosferatu, coiled and fragrant in the night.' It's also about making sure that, for instance, you go to sleep and the next day happens, or that you can be mugged while trying to cross the map (you're welcome) and that not drinking blood for a few days will lead to more consequence than just having an empty, red-tinted mana bar. 

That kind of thing. Multiplied by a hundred.

Needless to say, everything quickly turns out to be more complicated than it initially seems, which is why it's important to do this stage. Game development is essentially like building a jigsaw, while making it, while blindfolded, only the jigsaw is made of a thousand cogs. Take, for instance, sunlight. You're a vampire. Being out in sunlight is a bad thing, unless you're competing in the City's first Who Can Smell Most Like Bacon contest, in which case you're probably in with a pretty good shot.

But how do you implement that? Initially, it seems pretty easy. Some variant of 'if time > 6AM, kill player'. Bish-bash-bosh, as they say. Except. What happens if the player is inside? Kick them out? Okay, but most businesses aren't realistically going to be cruel enough to throw their customers out to a literal burning death. What if they're in the sewers underneath the city? Have the player character randomly climb out and fry? What if you're in the middle of a conversation, which would lead to, essentially, "That's a fascinating question, but you seem to be on fire." 

As with most design decisions, each problem then splits into lots of smaller ones, which might seem logical enough, but are easy to overlook when breezily deciding 'okay, no sunlight.' For example, let's say that you're in the sewers when it's daylight. Safe! No problem! Except that to get to a point where it is okay to emerge would necessitate wandering around for hours of game-time. Say that's eight hours, with each 'turn' being one minute, and continuing the game would be 480 completely pointless clicks. Fun? Not really. And yet at the same time, saying something like "Okay, well, we'll just offer a way to head back to your sanctuary, no problem" and similar shortcuts have their own issues, primarily rendering the threat of sunlight entirely moot. Which kinda defeats the point.

I should add at this point that I think I have these things under control now. But figuring out a zillion of these has made for quite a long month, and I'm sure there's more that will need tweaking and edge cases that will spring into notice while writing the actual game. The good part is that with all the systems in place, I can turn my attention more towards that - the fun bit - and hopefully turning the mechanical jigsaw into a pretty picture of a decaying town full of corruption, conspiracy, and of course, lots of vampires.

After, I think, a quick nap...

Nightbook Profiles: Monika Vail

"You're in my universe, blocking my sun."
"You're in my universe, blocking my sun."

Monika Vail is the self-appointed editor of reality. She's vampire society's first crisis PR agent, tasked with making problems Go Away. Sometimes those problems are people, and when people murmur that Vail knows where the bodies are buried, it is not a metaphor. Perhaps her veins don't really run with acid instead of blood, but there's no arguing that a few taps on her smartphone can make the city dance to her tune.

The curious part is that those who deal with her never seem to have strong memories of what was discussed, or what deals might have been brokered for their cooperation... merely that something was Decided, and so must have been a splendid idea.


It's Wednesday 30th of January, which means that tomorrow, it's the 31st. And that's when Failbetter Games is finally launching Sunless Skies to the world. I wrote a fair chunk of this one, so I've got my fingers tightly crossed for them, and if you're interested in steampunk Victorians exploring the ether in a world of repentant devils, inconvenient aunts and controversial scone-buttering action, I think you'll like it too. 

I'm very proud to have been involved with it, and looking forward to seeing people explore it in all its delicious wonder. Without Failbetter's moral support and guidance over the last few years, Nighthawks would never have become A Thing - it was in writing for those games that I developed the confidence to think I could do something from scratch, and where the first inklings of a 'Bloodlines meets Sunless Sea' concept came to mind. They're very different games, but still branches on the same gnarled family tree. Even though this year is going to be too busy for me do much on whatever comes next - some silly vampire RPG taking up my time - I really can't wait to see what it is.

Red L, Matthew Salsbury, and 63 more people like this update.


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    1. Raphael S. Neto on

      As mentioned, thanks for the details about the problems into making the game fun to play, this kind of insight is very much appreciated ;)
      Figuring out now the problem with the sun is great, because it will be solved for the rest of the game. leaving space open for the new problems you'll find along the way hehehe... which I hope will also appear on these updates in the future ;)

    2. Richard Cobbett Collaborator on

      Aw, thanks :-)

    3. Edward Drummond

      Definitely have to say these updates set a standard that other devs should follow. The combo of wit and easy to digest info is quite excellent!

    4. Richard Cobbett Collaborator on

      Glad you're liking it! I'm aiming to make these more of a (spoiler free!) insider look into the making of the game rather than just "Still working on it, thanks for your patience" :-)

    5. Red L

      Awesome post—thank you for the insight into how tricky it is to make a game come together in a thematically and mechanically satisfying way!