I have taken everyone’s comments and thoughts into consideration and I have decided that I will give you a general overview over Thorvalla at a macro level to make sure everyone gets a better feel for what exactly it is we are trying to build.
The game is essentially a group of components that work together and I will tackle them one by one for you.
This is where it all begins. Even though the player begins with a single character, you will be able to adjust many elements. Additional party members are recruited as the game progresses, but more on that later.
Character stats will be quite detailed. Perhaps not the kind of super-micro-management we had in Realms of Arkania, but still detailed enough to allow for plenty of customized play.
The player can chose from eight classes.
- Shadow Dancer - a Thief-like class
- Monk - a tank with some basic magic abilities
- Druid - a tank mage with focus on magic based in nature
- Demonizer - a spell caster class that draw its powers from demons of all shapes and forms
Characters will also have the following, fairly standard set of attributes. I am not sure I am entirely happy with these yet, so I may tweak these a little as we go along.
Combat skills are calculated from these attributes and cover Attack, Damage, Defense and Armor. Note, that Armor is not an armor class rating but an actual point value. I’ve always found that much more intuitive and easier to read while playing games.
In addition, there will be calculated general magic skills, of course, such as Magic Attack and Magic Defense. On top of those come the elemental magic armors against Fire, Water, Ice, and so on, which are item, spell or effect driven during actual gameplay.
Then, to deepen characters, there will be the traits and skills. Look for things such as various weapon skills for Swords, Axes, Two-handed weapons, staffs, projectile weapons, etc. Unarmed fighting skills will also be included, particularly for the Monk class, which you will find have tremendous bonuses here because I like Martial Arts. :-)
Other, more general traits will include things such as Charming, Taunting, Temptation - which is important because there will be succubi in the game -, Dragon Taming, Lock-Picking, Stealth, Tracking, Languages, Cultures, Herbal Knowledge, Poison and pure Luck, to name a few. As we design the story and quests, etc. we will make sure to create proper challenges and plot branches that make the most of each of these attributes so that you will feel that they truly have purpose.
The game will feature a travel map that is very similar in its looks and feel to the one found in Blade of Destiny. I always loved that relief look with the jagged line crawling over it representing the traveling party, and in high resolution it will look even cooler.
Since we are traveling overland like this, Camping will also be an important part of the game, particularly to restore health and mana. Yes, the game features a mana-based magic system that will restore itself over time and with rest.
Camps also serve for additional random encounters. Not only with monsters, and bandits and such, but also with other travelers, who might then happen to share information with you - or perhaps, they’re just out to slit your throats, after all.
The travel map will contain countless events, encounters and plot points that will be unlocked during the game. Some of them driven through the story, your characters, others through certain skills, others yet by chance. If you’ve played Blade of Destiny, I think you know exactly what to expect.
Towns and Dungeons
When we leave the map and enter towns, dungeons or other locations of interest, the game will switch to a top-down view. My preference currently is an isometric view that will give you a good overview of your surroundings and offer us the ability to make it look really cool. The environments will be interactive, so you can click on things to activate them. The same goes for monsters and NPCs that will wander these areas, naturally.
We will have demo screens for this shortly to give you a good idea what this top-down view will look like in the actual game, but I am sure all of you have played an isometric game at one point in their life. The screens will also give you a good impression of the level of quality and the look we are aiming for.
For us currently, one point of discussion is whether we should make it isometric, which is the way Planescape: Torment looks, or whether we should go for a different view in which the elements farther away from the viewer are scaled down to create a proper perspective, while still keeping monsters etc. as 2D sprites. The third option is to create it as a 3D world entirely, in which case it would look more like, say Diablo 3 or Star Craft 2. Needless to say, though, Thorvalla will play entirely differently than Diablo.
None of these are bad choices, but considering that each have their own unique strengths and limitations we have to spend some time on determining what is most important to us and which of these approaches fits our needs the most. I personally prefer the 2D approach but there are very valid reasons to use the other alternatives. My experience has taught me that time invested here is time well spent down the line, because decisions like these cannot really be reverted easy further down the line. It is truly where 30 years of making games pays big dividends.
If we were to go 2D, we would use a framework called Voodoo that I have developed, maintained and used for the past 10+ years. I recently decided to port it from OpenGL to SDL to make sure it runs on as many platforms as possible, but the graphic engine is only a part of Voodoo. It also includes all other sorts of components necessary to write games. If we decide to go 2.5D or 3D, the choice will be the Unity engine, very clearly. That just for the tech-heads among you.
Now we get into an area that is probably the most difficult to describe. My basic idea revolves around the concept of creating attack formations. If you have ever played Might&Magic: Clash of Heroes, you may know what I am referring to. But before you dismiss it, please let me explain this in more detail, because what I am planning to do is quite a bit more elaborate as to infuse it with the elements of true RPG combat.
Imagine you have two opposing sides. Like in a game of chess, both opponents have their “figurines.” This is where the card concept comes in that I mentioned before. Instead of having the player battle out his fight physically, he is using his powers to do so, represented by cards. It is an abstraction.
Here is an example. The player has a number of sword attack cards and they are dropped randomly on his side of the battlefield, along with some defensive cards, perhaps, traps, enhancements and spells - all coming from a deck of cards the player put together earlier. Now, the player has to combine these cards. He has a number of moves in each round to do so. He can, for example, combine three attack cards, turning them into an attack formation by lining them up accordingly. It is essentially the equivalent to selecting "Attack" in a traditional RPG.
From there he can then fine-tune the attack with a menu selection and decide whether he wants it to be strong, which takes time to charge, or fast, which results in a weaker attack but might be exactly what you need in order to destroy an opposing attack formation before it strikes you. While the attack is being charged, the player can then modify the attack formation with other cards to strengthen it, or to apply certain elemental damage modificators, such as adding fire to the attack, etc. Are you still with me?
Eventually, the attack unfolds and the player storms to the other side of the battlefield to attack the opponent. Now, the effects are determined in the traditional way RPGs are determining combat damage, etc. Your character’s stats determine the amount of damage you’re doing, your abilities will determine the chances to evade an incoming attack, and so forth. This, of course, is all shown visually on a hex-grid battlefield, again in an isometric view.
Magic attacks work essentially the same way, as do things such as traps, parries, blocks, etc. They will have to be activated by grouping them together and then unleashing them on the opponent. Of course, the opponent will do the same to you in return. So, round for round, each will work on a way to defeat the opponent, using their limited number of moves per round to maximize the impact of their actions.
Once cards have been used in a round they disappear from the battlefield and go back into the card deck. At any time the player can replenish the battlefield with cards from the deck - at a cost.
There is a certain randomness to the battle but most of it is decided by proper tactics. If you plan lines of attack carefully you can deal out devastating blows that can wipe out the opponent in a single attack.
I know that this kind of combat is highly unconventional and I also understand that it might be a bit tricky to envision right now. However, in my opinion it has tremendous strengths and can be a lot of fun, particularly because it feels much less repetitive than traditional combat. What’s more is that the player really has to get involved in the tactics of combat because the opponent’s AI can always counter your moves. In that respect it actually has a lot in common with chess.
It has enormous potential once you begin to think about the possibilities that present themselves here. Every new character in your party will bring new cards to the mix that you can draw upon and modify your combat strategies. To me it is a cool way to reinvigorate RPG combat in a way that is fresh but is still very much inspired and faithful to the capabilities of traditional RPG combat systems. I hope that now that I have explained it in a little more detail, you can also get excited about the concept. To me this is what Kickstarter is about. The ability to try something new, and I hope that you will support that notion. I cannot guarantee at this point that this combat system will be all that I think it is. Play testing will show that, but I also want you to rest assured in the knowledge that if I get the impression that it doesn’t play right and just doesn’t work out the way I had envisioned it, I will be the first to toss it out and replace it with a traditional turn-based system in the vein of the “Realms of Arkania” games. Just have a little faith in me and let us give this concept a fair shake. If it doesn’t work, at least we can collectively say that we tried, scrap it and go back to the roots.
Since we are using cards for combat, we will also need a way to properly arrange and build the card decks to maximize the impact. The player will be able to create predefined card sets that he can quickly draw upon at the start of combat. He can have a specialized set to fight non-magic users, for example, another one against spell casters, a third preset for combat that is highly offensive, another preset that is more defensive and focuses on blocking incoming attacks as good as possible because they would be so devastating that they would instantly defeat the player. (Think dragons…)
The game will feature plenty of dialogue and as a result a proper dialogue system is imperative. To that effect, I am thinking of a text parser with natural language input. You know, the kind Text Adventures had in the 80s.
No, I’m just kidding, of course, but now that I think of it…
No, seriously. We will use a multiple-choice system for dialogues in the game. Time has shown us that it is the best way to deal with dialogue in games such as this to properly manage flow and make it user-friendly for the player.
That pretty much wraps up the overview of the game's key components. There is nothing in there to be afraid of. It’s essentially all stuff we have done many times before and have proven in the past that we can do it better than most other developers, whether it's the stat management, travel maps or hard core RPG combat. It's the reason why many of you are such ardent fans of our previous games. Not to mention the involving, deep stories and character interaction that we will include to wrap it all up in.
Tomorrow I will tell you a little more about Party Building because it also has an interesting aspect to it that I believe you guys will love, so look forward to that.
For now, thank you all for supporting us and for hanging in there with us. We realize that this project has difficulties, of course, but we are putting every effort into getting the necessary information out to you.