Summer break has come to an end and it’s back to school for both myself and my kids!
This time of year always comes with a change in routine and that always gets me anxious about whether there will be time to do things. But there always is, so I’m going to try not to worry.
Onto the update!
Current total of Backgrounds that are “basically finished” 68 of an estimated 100. Originally the plan was to have around 56 or so, the same as Book 1, but that estimate was clearly way off, most likely due to the fact that there are two playable characters, and each must have a reasonably sized chunk of forest to explore.
You might notice a couple things in some of the screenshots as well – creatures! Actual things! This last few months a friend of mine from Twitter and Discord volunteered his talent with some creatures designs. His name? Karl Dupéré-Richer. He’s also the sole artist on Amazing Fix, a hidden object game.
Here’s a few of his designs for Betrayed Alliance:
These lovely monstrosities will feature as battle opponents, environmental barriers, and perhaps even helpers on your quest. Karl is an extremely talented guy and a great follow on Twitter, as you can see from these images and I’m indebted to him for his cooperation.
Things come alive when you start integrating new characters, but even more so when animations get put in and the characters can actually do things, besides getting the “You can’t do that.” response from the text parser.
Also, have I not mentioned that I put together a proper game image for Betrayed Alliance Book 2?
I haven’t talked about it much, if at all. I’ve written a little bit of music for the game, and I scored most of Book 1, with the addition of free-to-use music to supplement what I had. While I have some talent for music, I’m not feeling at peace with what I’m producing for Book 2. If the Kickstarter I have planned for November goes well, I will be hiring someone to compose for the game using the MT-32, something I know nothing about.
At this time, there’s not much more to share, but it’s on the horizon.
The game is still mostly a pile of artwork assets, scattered story notes, and puzzle scribbles, but with each new background, animation, and implementation of code, it is moving closer from project phase to game. There’s still a TON to do before it makes that shift, but the feel of it has already shifted.
Here are the past development updates if you want to see more:
Action elements in the adventure genre tend to be the exception not the rule in modern adventure games, but the early Sierra titles, especially the hybrid Adventure/RPG series Quest for Glory and the space adventure series Space Quest used them frequently.
Also, I like them!
There’s no hiding that my Adventure saga Betrayed Alliance is heavily influenced by Quest for Glory (particularly the EGA ones) series and as such I’d always planned on having a battle system.
Today I want to look at the combat system in Quest for Glory 1 and determine what it did well and what, if anything, can be improved on.
Difficulty feels challenging, but not insurmountable
Except for the Fighter class, battling was a somewhat optional gameplay element
HUD is unobtrusive and easy to read
Combat is simple
Enemy attacks have almost no telegraphing making blocking/dodging nearly useless
Can be hard to tell why attacks aren’t landing.
From the responses I think we see that the combat was generally liked, but that they just ended up spamming the attack button as dodging/blocking was not really responsive or intuitive. The stats upgraded fast enough that the “attack-all-the-time” strategy worked and while there were perhaps better examples of combat, this one was good enough for the game it was in.
Since Quest for Glory is a stats based game, this design may be intended. The game doesn’t require any real twitch-type skill, but rather the stats do the heavy lifting, which at least one of my responders remarked as a positive quality as they don’t generally like arcade-style combat. That said, having stats for “dodge” and “parry” make it seem like these skills were designed for use, but from the responses I got most people end up ignoring them.
Takeaway for Betrayed Alliance
Combat in Betrayed Alliance Book 2 will emphasize a strategic block / attack rhythm where the player must read the opponent’s intentions visually. While there will be a few stats that can be upgraded, the game will not reward a reckless “attack at all costs” strategy. As mentioned by some commenters, better signposting of attacks as well as more frames of animation could be helpful.
“But I don’t like combat”
That said, for the many people who dislike arcade style aspects in adventure games, I am including a way to overcome enemies without always entering the combat arena. I want to give the player the freedom to dispose of their enemy obstacles in different ways.
This is not a concession by any means, but an intended gameplay element. There are two playable characters in book 2 and they have different gameplay styles. In Quest for Glory terms, one is the fighter class and the other is more like the thief. I’m building the game-world to allow the player to influence which of the two will be more likely to encounter the various enemies of the game (and how to dispatch them).
Combat in Betrayed Alliance Book 1
It’s a mess! Visually and game-design-wise. Just a mess.
The rhythm of battle in Book 1 is not bad. Enemies telegraph attacks (but also fake-outs) with enough time to respond. There is a cool down period on both blocking and attacking which forces the player to be more strategic. Successful blocking not only rewards the player with not getting hit, but also gives a chance at a counterattack which doesn’t affect the attack cooldown (and is always a guaranteed hit).
In this way the design of combat in Book 1 is pretty good and has a bit more to it that Quest for Glory 1’s combat, but there are a ton of problems with it too:
The HUD is atrocious and confusing
It’s quite hard for the player to heal after battle, discouraging it completely
There’s *almost* no reason to battle in the game at all
The ability to target 3 different areas was underdeveloped and clunky
From a design point-of-view combat in Book 1 is competent in an of itself, but as a mechanic in the overall game itself, it’s completely underdeveloped and useless. This is mainly due to the strange development of the game where the first 1/3 of the game was released as “Book 1,” a division that was not originally intended. The area in which combat was to feature more prominently is not available in Book 1 as it is the sole environment for Book 2. But due to this separation, combat in Book 1 rightly feels unimportant, because it is!
Combat in Book 2
The Combat system is being updated for Book 2, as combat will feature more prominantly. Both the aesthetic and mechanics of combat will change.
The targeting system is being scrapped as it’s too clunky and unintuitive.
The emphasis on blocking will still be operative as it was in Book 1, along with a cooldown counter for both attacking and blocking to avoid spamming either attacking or blocking.
With only two major actions (attacking and blocking) buttons could be freed up for different actions. I’m currently looking at using one for a short-term block that will also render the opponent more vulnerable, similar to the “perfect guard” in Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Just as in that game, this parry offers a reward at the cost of taking a risk: miss the parry and get hit unguarded, but if you parry it just right right, you get an open window for attack (and probably a 100% hit rate and likely a higher critical hit multiplier).
I’m also interested in having both a sword swing and a sword stab, each having greater applicability in different circumstances. We’ll have to see how these develop as I test things out.
What do you think can be done to make combat more enjoyable/challenging/fun?
I heaped myself a bunch of praise when I looked at the Overworld Structure for BA: Book 1. As much as I enjoy patting my own back, today I’ll be moving my hand to my forehead as we look at some puzzle choices.
The Squirrel Puzzle
This puzzle has three steps:
1. Activate the puzzle by giving the squirrel the acorn
2. Say “copy cat” to the squirrel and it will position itself to mirror your actions
3. Make the correct sequence of steps.
As a puzzle, it’s fine. Not earth-shatteringly good, not rip-out-your-hair-bad. The signposting to say “copy cat” is clear once you’ve heard the dialog from the soldiers watching the Whispering Caverns. The signposting for the correct sequence of steps is carved into the puzzle structure itself, which is also told to the player if they happen to “look at” the puzzle board itself.
What’s wrong with it?
The design feels arbitrary. Simply put, why is it there, other than just another obstacle for the player? And what reason is there for a squirrel?
It breaks the immersion when it’s just some random puzzle.
What’s worse is that it was designed with a story purpose, but very little made it into the game.
The puzzle leads to a hidden grove, meant to be a “special place” for the main villain (Gyre) and his wife, who had died before the events of the game. The spirit of the wife “haunts” the place playing music, which has led to the spread of the legend of the “Muse of the Mountain.”
The puzzle needing two participants was originally set up for Gyre and his wife to gain access to their secluded sanctuary. With her passing, Gyre had trained an animal to replicate the pattern so he could still gain access. I never devised a way to get this information into the game, sadly. About all that made it into the game were the rumors about the “Muse of the Mountain” which you find in an optional library book.
Why do the tiles make sounds?
From its inception it was designed to be a music-puzzle, where the player (along with the squirrel) would repeat the four chords of a song that could be heard playing if one listened near the entrance.
The woman/spirit the player finds is seen to play music and sings all of her dialog. The lore is that people can hear her singing, but Gyre cannot due to his heart being clouded with thoughts of revenge.
So what happened? I hadn’t considered the limitations of sound in SCI, particularly the ability to only play back one sound at a time. The idea was each block played a tone, but when the player and squirrel would step on two different blocks, it would play two sounds making a small chord. That didn’t work at all because it couldn’t!
A concession was made to add arrows onto the puzzle board itself and remove any correspondence to the notes and the solution. The puzzle became more of a dexterity challenge than a music puzzle in the end.
I have regrets…
While the puzzle is generally fine in a vacuum, I do regret how I poorly I translated the puzzle from design to execution. I feel it lost almost all of its story meaning, and most of its original puzzle design as well.
It wasn’t until about the last month or two before release I had (for other reasons) decided to use “SCI Audio” which would open a parallel program that plays music separately from the game program. This program did allow for multiple tones at once, but at that point, the puzzle was already in place and the release was coming too soon to go back and change things.
Yes, I have regrets, but this puzzle still has some things going for it.
It adheres to the “find the lock before the key” rule, while also allowing you to play around a bit with it (if you give the Squirrel the acorn).
While the notes no longer matter, it is generally fun to play with them.
The player will typically go through a series of trial and error efforts like “pressing down all the tiles” before leaving the puzzle or solving it. It’s generally good if the puzzle’s not so easy the player gets it straight away.
Who cares what I think?
It’s your opinion that matters, not mine. I just made the puzzle, you got to play it. So what are your impressions?
It’s a bold statement given the great frustration that dying can cause in the old Sierra games, but let me lay out why they were great and how to make them even better.
My thesis on Adventure Games is that the Experience of Exploration is the highest goal the developer should aim for instilling in the player. A large part of that is an interesting world, but not just interesting – Interactive. If something “sticks out” in the art, the player better be able to interact with it, and hopefully in clever and interesting ways.
What’s that got to do with dying?
Deaths add interactivity, even if “negative.” If the world is too static, it’s boring. If there’s a man-eating plant, it’d be a shame if it didn’t eat you when you get too close. Even though a hazard like this isn’t “positive” in the sense that it helps you progress, it adds another element of immersion, and one that adds a little apprehension and tension.
Bonus points awarded if you can use a death-hazard for positive uses too. Space Quest 3 does just this with these little alien pods that suck you up and eat you if you wander to close. But, if you’re clever, you can lure your enemy into the same trap, adding even another layer to the interactivity resulting in the elusive feeling you’re looking to instill in the player: delight. That feeling when your Experience of Exploration meets with your cleverness.
Hints: Death sequences also yield a great opportunity to distribute a hint. If a death is the result of some “less-than-perfect” line of play from the player, it could mean that the player could use a bit of assistance. Hence the death text is often humorous (to soothe the player’s negative feelings toward dying) and insightful. Sometimes the hint is veiled and sometimes it is more direct, depending on the situation.
Speaking of bad feelings.
The Bad side of Sierra Deaths
Loss of Progress – This is usually the worst part of dying in Sierra games and has led to the mantra, “save early, save often,” which seems a bit of cop-out on the side of the designers. The ability to save anytime is really a fantastic feature that I’ve always enjoyed, but it puts a lot of responsibility on the player, and when many players were young when they played these games, the idea of saving the game each room wasn’t second nature. I wonder how many people quit these games after losing progress…
The Fix: For Betrayed Alliance 2 I’ve implemented a simple solution to this problem. Each screen autosaves the game. If you die and haven’t saved lately, you can just start the room over fresh all while allowing the player to make use of the “save anytime” feature.
Unfair or unforeseeable Death: Frustration can also come from lazy or incompetent (or just plain sadistic) design. King’s Quest 4 had a dark cave. No problem! You have a torch – but the problem is the torch doesn’t illuminate much, least of all a surprise chasm that claims your life through no fault of your own. Deaths of this nature must be avoided if you wish to keep the trust of your player.
The Fix: Be careful how you design deaths – make them fair and avoidable.
Random Chance of Death: Unlike real life, death should be predictable, not based on random number generators. Walking in front of a knife being thrown in Quest for Glory 1? That death’s on me! Running into a randomly generated shark in the water in King’s Quest 4, that’s just frustrating.
The Fix: Avoid randomness is death events. If randomness is necessary, make sure the player has some way to manipulate the variables. Perhaps King’s Quest 4 could’ve featured an item that warded off sharks?
It Just Feels Bad to Die: Dying sucks not only because you may have lost progress, but because it means you failed. Where’s the fun in that? This feeling is often subverted with a fun animation, funny dialog, and hopefully a well-placed hint for the player to understand where the mistake came into play. All of these things were present in the classic Sierra games, but a friend of mine developed an idea which I think transforms death’s “feeling bad” experience to something positive.
The Fix: His idea was to tally the amount of deaths and their unique causes in a list.
WHAT!? A list of failures for the player to be disappointed by? That’s your fix?
Yes! But what it really does is turn deaths into a collectible! If you tell the player how many unique deaths there are, don’t you think they’ll shoot to find them all? I’m even thinking of adding some “hidden” deaths for the more intrepid players!
Dying is mechanic that early Sierra games were known for. Some franchises used them with greater success than others. The designer’s goal is to maximize the feeling of playing in a living (albeit dangerous) world, while at the same time minimizing the frustration that can come from the mechanic. If the dangers can be used for immersion and creative puzzle-solving, that’s even better.
Sierra’s death design could have benefitted from a “nicer” approach to game-saving. An non-intrusive autosave is my solution. I’m also eager to see if the “death as collectible” idea is as popular with others as it is with me.