Out for Revenge: Intrinsic Motivation in Open Worlds

The Last of Us Part 2 is out and it’s proving to be highly divisive. One of the main themes of the game is revenge and having seen the first 10 hours or so of the game I felt inspired to write an article exploring the issue of character vs player motivation in open world games.

This article is not a review of the The Last of Us Part 2 but it might contain SLIGHT SPOILERS.

The Last of Us 2 Wiki & Strategy Guide

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently working on narrative design for my own upcoming game: SKALD: Against the Black Priory. One of the questions I’ve been pondering is: How do you align the motivations of the player with the motivations of the player’s in-game character in open-world games?

SKALD’S main quest kicks off with the player being sent to find a missing childhood friend.

Using revenge stories as an example: They are dramatic, visceral and cathartic and often highly appealing. Their use in games, however, comes with some challenges that might not be evident from their use in other media. While the main-character might be out for blood, the player would much rather collect junk.

Melodramatic Motivation

For many types of games (but certainly not all), it is expected that the game’s in-game main character (the avatar) comes with their own motivation. For the narrative experience to be appealing, the player should:

  1. Understand the character’s motivation and goals
  2. Empathize with the character’s motivation and goals
  3. Actively share the character’s motivation and goals

Additionally, the player’s motivation should also not conflict with the
character’s motivation and goals.

From the list above you can see that the points are in increasing order of importance: It’s probably better if we could make a game where the player not only understands and empathizes with character’s motivation, but also feels like their own motivation overlaps with the character’s.

A revenge quest (or revenge story) is a common trope in fiction. From the Iliad to Kill Bill, these stories feature protagonists who are driven by an urge to get revenge (often violently) against the antagonist for some trauma that has been inflicted upon them.

Quentin Tarantino + Uma Thurman Are Considering 'Kill Bill 3'
Kill Bill

For these stories to be effective, the triggering (traumatic) event often comes with enough of an emotional impact that the player/viewer/reader shares in the protagonist’s desire for cathartic revenge.

Looking at our three points from above, it’s not difficult to see why it’s so popular to have characters with motivation born out of some trauma: It is highly universal and offers us (melo-) dramatic narratives where we understand, empathize with and share the motivation and goals of the protagonist.

Does this mean that revenge-quests and similar stories are ideal for games? As always the answers is not yes or no, but rather it comes down to understanding the consequences of our design choices.

A Simple Model of Motivation

A common and simple psychological model for describing motivation it that of intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation. It is commonly used in fields such as management, education and sports and, though it might seem a bit simplistic, it readily provides some interesting insights.

MICHAEL G. SCOTT - SOMEHOW I MANAGE | Spiral Notebook | Somehow i ...

Extrisinc Motivation

Simply put, when we perform tasks and actions to gain some external reward or avoid punishment we experience external motivation.

Going to work because you want to get payed is a classical example of this.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation on the other hand is what we experience when we perform a task because we find it personally rewarding. In other words: performing an activity for its own sake rather than the desire for some external reward.

Doing your job because you enjoy the work itself (as opposed to doing it just to get payed) is a typical example of intrinsic motivation.

The In-Game Context

Motivation is complex (as is all human behavior) and it’s not really possible to describe it in terms of absolutes. Within the framework of extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation it is rare that we are 100% on one end or another of the scale. For example, when we say that we are extrinsically motivated, what we really mean is probably that we are mostly extrinsically motivated.

Tasks such as playing games can be highly complex since they often consist of so many sub-tasks. This means that our motivation for each of those tasks may vary greatly; I’m intrinsically motivated to play most games since I enjoy the act of gaming for its own sake. However, within that context, I would say my motivation to collect 10 wolf-pelts is mostly extrinsic as this will get me rewards (gold and XP).

Video Games - fetch quest - video game memes, Pokémon GO - Cheezburger

The wolf-pelt example is not random: It’s safe to say that games with open worlds (such as roleplaying games and open-world shooters) often contain tasks where we might feel primarily extrinsically motivated. We might do “chores” because they rewards us in the long run. Compare this to a racing game where the reward loop is so compressed that we feel instant gratification throughout the entire play experience.

In occupational psychology, intrinsic motivation is often held up as being preferable. This comes from research that shows that individuals with a high degree of intrinsic motivation perform better than those with a high degree of extrinsic motivation.

For this discussion however, I think we should be careful to automatically place intrinsic motivation above extrinsic motivation. This is especially true for roleplaying- or open-world games where the reward-loops are wide enough that they contain tasks that might feel like chores but where the sum of the experience nonetheless is a fun play-experience.

To put it in another way: It’s certainly not a failure of design if your game contains sub-tasks that causes the player to experience both kinds of motivation within the context of the game. If that makes for a good game, players will feel intrinsically motivated to interact with it.


Player vs Character Motivation

Lets try to apply some of the theory we’ve discussed so far.

Character Motivation

In the kinds of games we are discussing today players are typically either:

a) provided with an establish character (Ellie, Geralt of Rivia, Super Mario etc) that comes fleshed out both in terms of appearance, personality and backstory.

or…

b) provided a blank character that has some backstory attached to it (such as in certain RPGs where we get to create fresh characters but with the baggage of being “the dragon born” or something in that vein).

In both cases, the game almost always provides a motivation for the character: a raison d’etre for the character’s adventuring career. In the kinds of narratives we are interested in today, this motivation is often highly intrinsic and triggered by some dramatic event.

Importantly: The more dramatic the triggering event – the more highly motivated it is implied that the game’s character will be.

Player Motivation

Consider the Last of Us Part 2. We play most of the game as Ellie. Motivated by a burning desire for revenge, she sets out on an epic quest across the gorgeous ruined landscapes of post-apocalyptic Seattle.

It is pretty clear that the character of Ellie is written to be heavily internally motivated. She is not interested in gold or getting new loot; she just has a burning desire for revenge.

And for anyone who plays the game, her motivation and goal easily checks all of our three boxes:

  1. We understand her motivation and goals
  2. We empathize with her motivation and goals
  3. We actively share her motivation and goals – we ALSO want the catharsis of revenge.
The Last of Us Part 2: What We Think After 2 Hours of Play

As the game moves past it’s intro, it’s hard not to partake in Ellie’s thirst for blood. The character’s motivation and the player’s motivation is alligned!

However, something happens a few hours into the game: The game world opens up. It turns out exploring the post-apocalypse is both fun and interesting. Roaming around whilst listening to the small-talk between Ellie and her travelling companion interspersed by bursts of intense action is fun. So fun in fact that it’s easy to forget why you are out there in the first place.

Let’s look at a classic RPG that I always found had a similar issue: Baldur’s Gate 2.

Buy Baldur's Gate II Enhanced Edition key cheaper! | ENEBA

The first part of the game has the following quest: Imoen, a recurring character from the first game and your step sister, is kidnapped and a large part of the first game is dedicated to you gathering enough gold to rescue her.

At face value, the trope of having to rescue a loved-one in danger is certainly dramatic and universal enough that we should ideally have no problem in sharing the character’s intrinsic motivation.

I hated Imoen in BG1, but I absolutely love her in BG2 : baldursgate
I didn’t make this so the typo isn’t mine!

Baldur’s Gate 2 is one of the best RPGs ever made. However, the first part of the game is often consider the best part of the game; with a huge and interesting game world full of cool quests and awesome characters. Many players will forget Imoen by the time they leave the city gates and they’ll put off rescuing her for as long as they can.

The Point

Using melodramatic core narratives might imbue the character with a lot of strong intrinsic motivation and the player should ideally have no problem sharing that motivation. However, the disconnect occurs once we supply the player with a game-world which is so large and appealing that the player will feel much more motivated to explore it rather resolve the games core conflict. In other words, on one hand the game is telling you to care about Ellie getting revenge (or rescuing Imoen or killing Alduin or finding a new waterchip). On the other hand it’s giving the player a world full of distractions.

Water chip | Fallout Wiki | Fandom

To put it in another way: The game design is causing our motivation for the trivial tasks of exploration to eclipse our motivation for resolving the main-character’s grand conflict.

This is an example of a disconnect between the game’s narrative and mechanics. In other words, what we call ludonarrative dissonance.

Potential Solutions

First of all, I’m not saying you should not use highly intrinsically motivated characters as avatars in open-world games. As I said in the beginning, I’m only trying to outline some potential challenges and solutions.

I’m certainly not claiming I cracked this nut with SKALD as the game is still in development. However, I have thought about it a lot, and I’ve chose to adopt a fairly defensive posture to the problem. Here are seven of the main takeaways that I’m currently using to inform SKALD’s narrative design:

1) Good Narrative design is important

This is a no-brainer and I’m not going to belabor it beyond saying: If you’re making a narrative-heavy game of any sort you need to respect the amount of work that goes into narrative design. Don’t let the narrative take a back-seat to mechanics. Ideally: Get a narrative designer!

2) Don’t fight human nature

I’ll repeat what I said in my last article on testing in RPGs: Don’t fight human nature. If you find yourself frustrated that people are playing your game “wrong”, you’ve probably designed your game wrong.

Don’t fall into the pit-trap of trying to sanction or punish unwanted behavior. Instead try figure out why players act the way they do. Players aren’t failing to connect with your narrative because they are simpletons!

3) BE careful with DIALing up the drama

At first glance, one way of dealing with a miss-match between player and character motivations could be to turn up the level of drama and increase the stakes. Surely that will make the player care?

The pit-fall here is that in open-world games there should be room for the player to keep ignoring the core conflict. No matter how high we make the stakes for the character, if we’re not willing to punish the player for ignoring the core conflict (and I don’t think you should), we risk a greater feeling of dissonance as we try to force the player to share the characters intrinsic motivation.

If we ARE willing to railroad the player we aren’t really making an open world anymore (and that might be fine?).

Increasing intrinsic motivation is not a question of telling someone to be more motivated. This is however an article in itself so I recommend you look elsewhere for more literature on this.

4) Don’t presume interest

Personally, this is the point that set me free: Accept that the player’s motivation might not equal the characters motivation.

That is to say: You should design your game and narrative towards this goal but it is dangerous to count on it.

You may very well try to communicate that the game really wants you to care about the character’s core conflict but what if the player simply chooses not to engage? Are they playing the game wrong?

Whenever I write out story-beats in my game I always ask myself “how can we advance the narrative at this point without breaking immersion if the character does not engage ?”

5) Try to identify what is motivating the player at each point in the game

A good way of looping the player in at each point in the game is to ask yourself (through analysis, experience and testing) what’s motivating the player at each point in the game? Is it collecting loot? Resolving sub-quests? Seeing if you can kill all NPCs in the game? Then, ask yourself what should ideally be motivating the character at that point?

You may find ways of aligning those motivations. Is you game-design causing players to become very interested in loot? Place some cool items along your main plot-line and overtly allow the player to express that they’re “in it for the money”.

But be careful: This might not work if your core premise is that the character is out for revenge against the dragon who ate their grandmother! How do you rationalize the player spending hours looting village homes instead of seeking revenge?

6) Don’t have the characters motivation compete with the players motivation

I try to make sure that the player does not need to choose between exploring the world and furthering the plot. Players are often very willing to suspend their disbelief and act “out of character” and then return to acting in-character. The problem arises if the game keeps reminding them that they are acting out of character.

This means that the core narrative should wait for the player and do so gracefully!

A typical failure to do this is when a game presents an urgent crisis and then asks the player to drop whatever they are doing and run off to resolve it. Comically the game will then wait indefinitely for the player who is free to ignore the whole deal.

Popeye wrecks train by svettzwo on DeviantArt

7) “Opt-In” Motivation

As I’ve said, you shouldn’t take your player’s interest in the main character’s core conflict for granted. However what you might find, is that as the game progresses and the players get to stretch their legs, the player and character motivation may begin to converge. Plan for this and try to make it as seamless as possible.

I honestly think Skyrim does a pretty good job of this – especially in the early part of the game. The game does not assume the player will be interested in the main quest-line. It feels just as natural to just wander of for hours to explore. But more importantly: Once you do choose to engage, it doesn’t really feel immersion-breaking that you “opted” back in.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' Main Quest Walkthrough

In Closing

This post became a bit longer than I planned. I hope it still makes sense at this point.

As a solo game-developer, it helps me a lot to write stuff like this out and have you guys give feedback. So if you have comments, ideas or differing perspectives I would love to hear them!

Feel free to look me up on Twitter or join the SKALD Discord “game development” sub-channel to discuss the subject in more depth!

Game Design: Tests in Roleplaying Games

“Roll for perception!”, “How much is your Reflex save?”, “#IF(Strength>15)#THEN(‘You successfully lift the gate!’)”

Attribute tests are a staple of the roleplaying game (RPG)
genre. As a narrative, text-heavy RPG, “SKALD: Against the Black Priory “is no exception.

An example of nesting an attribute test (Diplomacy) into dialogue. However, the implementation is a bit faulty. Read on to learn why!

Even though such systems might seem trivial, I find that they require quite a bit of consideration to design and implement successfully. The following are some of my musings on the subject and hopefully this might serve as a basis for a broader discussion of the subject.

There is also a little treat for old-school RPG and Ultima fans at the end of the article so stay with me!

What do I mean by “Attribute-Tests”?

Basically, an attribute-test is a test against one of the attributes an RPG character has. This could be a test against the characters “lock-picking” skill to try and open a locked door or a test of the characters “strength” score to try and lift a chest full of gold or even checking a non-numeric character attribute (such as seeing if the character is the right class to join a guild).

For the purpose of this article, I’d also like to divide attribute-tests into two rough categories: “systemic” and “scripted”.

Systemic attribute-tests are hard-coded into the game’s sub-systems. Rolling for initiative at the start of combat, or rolling to hit an opponent are examples of this.

Scripted attribute-tests are added at the content level of the game (as opposed to in the engine itself) – often through some form of scripting language and they are often non-combat related. An example of this might be testing the characters charisma score to try and persuade an NPC during a conversation.

Note that scripted attribute-tests do not have to be dialogue-related! They can just as well be short “gamebook” style segments where the player interacts with the environment. There is however, a lot of precedence for using the dialogue system to present these interactions in modern RPGs and this is also the approach I use in SKALD.

We’ll mostly be talking about scripted attribute-tests in the rest of this article.

How much is that bribe? : DivinityOriginalSin
Divinity: Original Sin 2

Why use Attribute-Tests?

Systemic attribute-tests are as old as RPGs themselves. This is because they are so closely tied to the wargame-esque style of resolving conflicts with dice that was the basis of early RPGs such as “Dungeons and Dragons”.

Scripted attribute tests are a bit less ubiquitous (especially in early CRPGs). Due to technical constraints, early CRPGs placed more emphasis on combat and less on roleplaying and dialogue-based problem solving. It wasn’t really until games like Fallout and the infinity engine games (the Baldur’s Gate series, Planescape: Torment etc) that developers really started exploring a wider use of attribute-tests to enrich the dialogue and storytelling.

In more modern CRPGs, scripted attribute-tests are less wide-spread than you would think. This is probably due to the fact that they often require more complex character development (you need non-combat skills), more storytelling using text (which might turn away certain demographics), and they are often associated with branching narratives (which are more expensive to make).

Planescape: Torment Part #86 - The Whisper-Mad Tome of The ...
Planescape: Torment

So this begs the question: Why do we include scripted attribute-tests in CRPGs at all?

  • They remind us of the genre’s tabletop roots by invoking the verbal interplay between the game-master and players.
  • They can add suspense by using random “dice-rolls” to resolve non-combat challenges.
  • They can add resource sinks by introducing a wider array of challenge-types for the players to overcome.
  • They show progression by having the players eventually finding themselves being able to do things they couldn’t before (beyond combat).
  • They allow for a wider range of player expression by giving the player more ways to interact with the world via their attributes (such as talking your way past enemies instead of fighting them).
  • They can gate content either by holding the players off until they reach a certain level of skill or by giving varying narrative experiences based on character build.

The point is that scripted attribute-tests add a bunch of interesting tools for CRPG designers. That brings us to the next point:

Design Considerations

The following might seem pedantic but there is a surprising number of variables to tune when implementing scripted attribute tests successfully. Here are a few considerations:

Overt vs hidden tests

In any CRPG, a lot of the script logic going on under the hood will be hidden. This is a good thing since it’s not necessary for the player to know that the script discreetly checked to see if the party was carrying such and such item when entering such and such area. Games like the early Fallout games or Baldur’s Gate does this extensively and you’ll have different dialogue choices based on things like your charisma or your intelligence etc.

Larian Denies Rumors That It's Developing Baldur's Gate 3
Baldur’s Gate

The advantage to this is that it hides a bit of the inner workings of the system and it makes it harder to “game” the system. Rather than worrying about how many ranks you have in a given skill, the emphasis might be placed more on having an immersive roleplaying experience.

This, however, is also the disadvantage of this approach: It robs the player of the ability to make informed decisions about how to build their character since they can never be sure about how the mechanics of the game work. Was the outcome of the conversation the result of poor dialogue choices or was it the result of a hidden charisma test?

Random vs Deterministic

When the character performs an attribute test, is it resolved through a random “dice roll” or will it always succeed or fail based on a threshold (such as in Fallout: New Vegas)?

New Vegas | Problem Machine
Fallout: New Vegas

If the test is deterministic, does the game show you (or even allow you to use) options with tests that it knows you cannot succeed?

On one hand, it does show players what they might work towards, whilst on the other hand it can look a lot like an invitation to try and “game” their character build towards certain solutions.

Randomized tests, on the other hand, might cause players to save before every test and reload until they succeed.

Hidden Difficulty?

Does the game explicitly show the difficulty of the test? If so, how is this expressed to the player? By a form of difficulty class (“DC 15” – what does that even mean?) or a percentage chance of success?

Do you need to foreshadow the consequences of failing the test?

PILLARS-OF-ETERNITY fantasy rpg party-based pillars eternity ...
Pillars of Eternity

Going back to the solution chosen in Fallout: New Vegas (showing you both “legal” and “illegal” choices AND their difficulty), this removes a lot of the uncertainty or risk associated with the test.

On the other hand, it also makes it 100% clear what is required of the player and allows them to make well informed choices both on how to deal with the situation at hand and as to how they should develop their character.

Some Advice

The following is a handful of principles I’ve arrived at when working on implementing attribute tests in SKALD. This is my subjective and semi-professional (at best) opinion so take it for what it is.

Game mechanics are a language

Game mechanics are saturated with meaning and when we use them, we are “talking” to the player. Presenting the player with a dialogue option to use their Athletics skill might mean that we are saying “Hey, there is a cool reward behind this option for players who invested in athletics!” or we might be saying “You better have a decent athletics stat or the game will punish you”.

The thing is, even if we don’t explicitly include a message, players will supply their own. So in other words: It’s a good idea to figure out what you’re trying to say with your tests and then keep that message consistent.

Looks like the Outer Worlds will have full dialogue trees and ...
The Outer Worlds

Don’t set traps for your players

Tying in with the point above, you should never create traps for your players with your tests. This doesn’t mean that tests can’t have severe consequences for failure. It does, however mean, that if they DO have severe consequences, this should be clearly communicated throughout the game.

For instance, say your game hasn’t punished the player for attempting tests in which they have low chance of success so far. Then, suddenly you including a test where failure causes automatic player death. This is usually poor design – not because the consequence was harsh, but because the player had no way of anticipating it.

So to reiterate: keep the message consistent!

Don’t fight human nature

We don’t really get to decide how people play the game. If you include difficult tests with severe consequences, players will save-scum. If you gate cool content behind certain skill-tests, players will speculate in “gaming” that skill.

It’s usually a bad idea to try and sanction such behaviors. Instead, try to ask yourself why the players are acting the way they do.

KOTOR 1 v. KOTOR 2 Part 1 Redux - Star Wars: Knights of the Old ...
Knights of the Old Republic

In terms of attribute tests, the answer is often that players don’t like being punished and they HATE having things taken away or kept from them. You might need to…

Make Failure interesting

This is a big one! For narrative design in RPGs, I would say it’s a bit of a holy grail. As any tabletop RPG player will tell you, the most fun sessions are often the result of failed skill checks. How to pull this off is a big topic and I’m can only supply my personal take on it.

As a general rule, I would say that a good starting point is to avoid making failures feel like punishment. The players don’t control the roll of the dice and if a player ends up feeling like they are being punished for failing a 95% test they might (rightfully) feel unfairly treated.

One way of “improving” failures is to offer rewards whether the player succeeds or not but give a bigger reward for a success. Players love rewards and they especially hate missing out on stuff due to the roll of the dice.

Example:A player is using Diplomacy to try and get information on a subject from an informant. A failure might still yield the relevant information whereas a success will additionally have the informant give the player an interesting rumor that leads to a hidden reward.

Another approach is to consider a test as a narrative branching point where both branches (success or failure) are equally valid but play out differently.

Example: The players are trying to get into a castle and they attempt to either sneak or talk their way past the guards. If they succeed: Fine! But if they fail, instead of forcing the players to now kill their way through the whole castle, the guards might give the players an option to surrender and the players might find themselves in a cell they now need to escape from by inciting a prisoner revolt.

What techniques do you use for making failure interesting? I’d sure love to hear them!

Don’t mix tests and choices

Attribute tests are often presented in the same setting as choices (e.g. moral, tactical or thematic choices). Be careful if you overlay a moral choice onto a skill check.

Let’s say the player is interrogating a prisoner and the two choices are to either hurt the prisoner or use diplomacy to get what you need. So far so good.

The issue becomes when the writer phrases the diplomacy option as the player threatening to kill the prisoners family.

The player might have played their character as a charming witty bard up to this point but now you’re forcing the player to chose between using their favorite skill or acting out-of-character.

An example of this is occurring in the first image of this post. There we see a conflict where I’ve made it so that using diplomacy requires you to be kind of an asshole. Not good design at all.

You'll Be Surprised What Percent Of 'Mass Effect' Players Chose ...
Mass Effect

Don’t make dump-stats

Does your game have 8 skills that are all used in attribute tests? Make sure they all get enough screen time throughout the game or it might feel like a trap to invest in one of them. In general, I think it’s better to have a handful of well utilized attributes rather than a lot of underused attributes.

In Closing

I’m writing this article because it helps me to explore the subject for my own part. I certainly don’t have all the answers and if you have comments, ideas or differing perspectives I would love to hear them!

Feel free to look me up on Twitter or join the SKALD Discord “game development” sub-channel to discuss the subject in more depth!

But before you go…

Introducing: “Corven – Path of Redemption”

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re an Ultima fan! Well, I’ve got some great Kickstarter-news for you:

Corven – Path of Redemption is a story-driven, open world RPG inspired by the Ultima series. Richard Garriott contributed to the storyline and his alter ego “Lord British” appears in the game! Check out their Kickstarter page where you can find a trailer and a playable demo, and consider becoming a backer to make this spiritual Ultima successor happen!


That’s all for now! Have a fantastic day everyone!

Cheers!

Combat and Adventuring

With SKALD: Against the Black Priory entering the final days of a phenomenally successful Kickstarer, it’s time to squeeze in another article discussing game-play features and design.

Last time, we did some exploration into classes and stats. Today, the subject is the application of the classes and stats! In other words: “Combat and Adventuring”!

Design Pillars

Just like in the “Classes and Stats” article, let’s start with some design pillars for combat and adventuring:

Respect the players time: SKALD is developed for a modern audience and this means allowing players to pick up the game, play a short session and still have a fun experience. This includes reducing book-keeping by adding features such as a journal system and auto-mapping, avoiding grindy areas of pointless content padding, making combat fast and having a forgiving save system that allows the player to save anywhere.

Allow the player to make informed choices: The game should be mostly transparent in how the rules work and how the characters class, stats and roleplaying choices interact with the world. If information is kept from the player there should be a good reason to do so.

Provide multiple solutions to quests: Quests should be solvable by non-combat means and players should be able to play non combat-oriented characters.

Choices matter: The world should be interactive and react to players choices.

Adventuring

Adventuring in SKALD takes one of fours forms:

  • Combat (more on that later)
  • Exploring the environment through the tile-based map
  • Dialogue
  • “Choose your own adventure” sequences
Time to go adventuring! From the classic D&D module “Tomb of Horrors”.

You explore the game-world with a party of up to six characters. At the start of the game, you create a single main character and then recruit characters along the way. I’m considering allowing players to create characters at inns as well, to replace the recruitable characters if they wish.

At any given time, a single character leads the party (you can swap any time). It’s the leader’s skills and abilities that are used when interacting with the world so you should take care to have the right leader at any given time.

The SKALD scripting language is quite powerful in allowing me to reference player skills, abilities and previous player choices in the dialogue and the “choose-your-own-adventure” sequences.

Specifically, this gives me a lot of leeway in creating scenes with multiple solutions beyond combat (I’m taking a big leaf from the early Fallout games here). There should be room for all the different classes, and builds, to shine.

In the interest of transparency, I want as few hidden rolls as possible. If, for instance, a dialogue choice gives you the opportunity to use a skill, the game will tell the player so explicitly.

Combat

Combat is a staple of fantasy RPGs and SKALD is no exception. The basic combat draws upon inspiration from classics such as Wasteland 1 and Bard’s Tale, tabletop RPGs and other, more modern games.

As combat begins, the game switches from the tile-map to the tactical map. The tactical map consts of a background with the combatants animated upon it.

Combat is resolved in order of initiative until all the combatants on one side is either dead or somehow incapacitated.

Combatants do not move freely around the battlefield and combat is not tile-based. Instead the combatants occupy either the front, or rear rank of their formation. The player is of course, free to reorder the party formation during combat to move characters between the front and rear rank.

In general a melee weapon (excluding spears and pole-arms) can only attack the adjacent enemy rank, whilst ranged weapons and exceptionally long weapons can attack more distant ranks.

Bard’s Tale inspired combat in SKALD

For each turn, each combatant can perform a single action (in general). This may be either a normal attack, casting a spell or using an ability. I intend for there to be interactions between different spells and abilities that reward clever planning and an attention to detail.

For now I’m hoping to make combat difficult but not unfair. Party-members are very rarely killed outright in combat. Instead they are knocked out and failure only comes if the entire part is somehow incapacitated. Knocked-out party members come around after combat (albeit at reduced total HP). I’m also playing around with having a sanity score in the game and taking a lot of beatings might impact sanity in the long run.

I’ve chosen to go with this decision because I don’t want combat to prompt constant save-scumming. I would rather you survive most combats but have to make decisions of how far into a dungeon you can push your luck and then having to plan how to get back to a safe port with an injured party. I feel it will make for more memorable gameplay in the end.

Finally, combat has an auto-resolve feature that can be used to resolve full rounds of combat allowing players to blow through easier encounters or finishing combats quickly once they have them “locked down”.

That’s it for now!

This is a work in progress and it might look very different a year from now.

As always, I would love to hear from you if you have questions or comments. Feel free to reach out on twitter or get in touch at (contact at skaldrpg dot com)! Most importantly: SKALD is on Kickstarter till July 3rd and we would love to have your support!

Have a great day!

Kickstarter: The Rewards

The Kickstarter goes live on June 3rd and crunch is upon me!  One of the coolest aspects of running a Kickstarter campaign is designing awesome rewards for passionate fans!

SKALD: Against the Black Priory will feature a range of rewards from the game itself, the sound-track, a printed hand-drawn map, manuals and perhaps even a collectible big-box edition!

The Anatomy of Rewards

My strategy for the Kickstarter is simple: Run a low risk – low rewards campaign with a low target number and an emphasis on digital rewards. There’s a couple of good reasons for this:

First of all, my primary motivation for running a Kickstarter is to put SKALD: Against the Black Priory in your hands as soon as possible whilst making it the best game it can be. For a one-man team, even whilst working with freelancers, this means prioritizing coding, writing and designing the game itself.

Second, I’m based in Norway. Most of my backers are not. Neither are most of the production facilities for physical rewards. Shipping costs and logistics add up.

Digital Rewards

One of the (many) advantages of Kickstarting a video-game is that the final product tends to be digital! This allows for easy distribution which in turn cuts down on logistics, cost and risk! I like this.

Samples from the lower “digital rewards” tiers. 1 Dollar = 8.7 NOK.

Shown above are three of the lower reward tiers (1 Dollar = 8.7 NOK). Up to 300 NOK (approx. $35) the rewards are all digital and include the game itself, a demo (due in July 2019), access to the BETA version, sound track and digital copies of the manual, campaign guide and map.

The manual and campaign guide will outline the SKALD system as well as describing Idra and it’s surroundings and the most prominent characters, items and monsters. All in a classic old-school RPG style!

Concept for the manual cover-art!

Whilst serving as a hint book for SKALD: Against the Black Priory, the campaign guide will also contain enough information to allow you to drop the setting into a tabletop RPG and create your own adventures in the SKALD universe!

Image result for ad&d 2 edition manuals
A page from the Monster Manual 2 for 1. edition AD&D . I want this!

As for the map, it will be hand-drawn and colored and available either as a digital file, a paper print or an exclusive cloth map depending on the reward tier.

Physical Rewards

There’s no doubt about it: Backers LOVE feelies! The printed manuals, cloth maps and trinkets that came in gorgeous boxes are a big part of the experience for a lot of players!

Image result for Ultima feelies
The feelies from Ultima IV.

At higher reward tiers (Approx. $55 and up) the Kickstarter will feature printed versions of the manual, campaign guide and map (paper and cloth prints). If all goes according to plan, I’ll even throw in an exclusive collectible “big-box” edition with extra feelies for hard-core backers.


That’s it for now (it’s back to work for me). Be sure to subscribe to this blog and follow on Twitter to stay posted!

See you on Kickstarter June 3rd!


Let slip the dogs of war

Beware, beware the horrid sleep,
That bring you dreams of ebb and flow,
The churning seas and dreadful deep,
And waves that lay the mountains low
.

But fear the mother most of all!
Awake before you hear her bell!
A thousand young will hear her call,
And that was how the giants fell.

(Children’s rhyme from Idra)


A splash screen by Marco Pedrana (Aeon of Sands)

Easter is fast approaching. For me this means 10 days of crunching to make “SKALD: Against the Black Priory” ready for Kickstarter! First and foremost this time will be spent preparing a short, playable “proof-of-concept” demo.

In general, I would say spending time making a demo is not a good use of resources. However, at the time there appears to be a slight crisis of confidence towards Kickstarting projects and a demo might go some way towards showing backers that SKALD is legit.

SKALD is a passion project and I love working on it. For me, publishing a less that awesome product is out of the question. At the same time, NOT publishing is also not an option! This means that I need to be highly disciplined in avoiding feature- and scope creep. Both in the game itself and in the Kickstarter campaign.

The latest iteration of the GUI. With a slight “retro” filter applied.

My primary goal is to have the Kickstarter make me break even with expenses and allow me to commission a handful of freelancers for a couple of tasks (music comes to mind).

A big upside with developing an RPG is that it’s pretty easy to scale the project up if I get more funding than expected: More professional art, more music, larger dungeons, more dialog and so forth.

For rewards I’m tending towards caution. I would love to use feelies for rewards: Maps, booklets, dice – you name it! However this would scale the complexity, and thus the risk, exponentially. SKALD is pretty much a one-man project and any task that takes me away from actually writing code delays the release of the game.

Most likely, the rewards will include access to the demo, the finished game and beta access, as well as in-game rewards (a thank you note, your portrait in the game etc). I’m currently setting up a discord server for backers.

SKALD will release for windows on Steam first. Other platforms will follow in short order.


SKALD lives and dies by the love and support of it’s fans! If you want to help out the two most important things you can do are to subscribe to this blog and follow SKALD on twitter! Don’t be afraid to reach out for questions or comments – I love talking about my project 🙂

Have a great day!

Introducing SKALD: Against the Black Priory

You awaken to the sound of seagulls. Their crying reminds you of your childhood. Have you gone to your ancestors?

The last thing you remember is chaos and the sea swallowing your vessel. Freezing water and then darkness. How could you possibly have survived?

Legs shaking, you stand up and survey the shores upon which you have landed. There is no mistaking it: Idra. By some miracle, the Emperor has delivered you to this cold, forsaken island. Now, you must find the strength to do his work!

A sickness has taken hold here: Carroleth. Carroleth the heretic! Master of the Black Priory. That foul order of enlightened men, which has strayed so far from orthodoxy. It is to them that you must deliver the Emperors justice – by steel and by fire!

You shudder in the cold breeze.

It feels as though the very land sets itself against you. You will find few allies on Idra and even less hope. Pray your sanity holds…


Hi everbody! It’s time for another update on the SKALD engine and the upcoming title: “Against the Black Priory” (AtBP)!

AtBP sees you in the role of an imperial agent dispatched to the island of Idra to uproot a mystical religious order, turned apocalyptic cult. The expedition is off to a disastrous start however, and surviving Idra will take all your wits and skill.

For AtBP I have chosen to go with a strong retro look and feel. The game draws heavily on inspiration from classic “Golden Age” RPGs like the early Ultima games, the Gold Box Series and the Magic Candle series. In other words: Games we love!  

The game will (hopefully) feature a good mix of each of the four basic RPG pillars:

  1. Explore the enviroments and plot – overland, underground and on the high seas!
  2. Interact via dialogue and “choose-your-own-adventure” style sequences
  3. Fight using a menu-based, fast-paced, tactical combat system.
  4. Develop your party of up to 6 characters.

Visually, I have chosen to work with 16 colors on AtBP. To get the proper retro-feel, I went with the classic C64 color palette:

The basic tile size is 16 x 16 and, for the desktop version, the game runs at 640 x 480 resolution. Note that the SKALD engine is built in Unity3D and is flexible enough to handle any number of graphical settings. However, working within some self-imposed constraints has really helped focus the design of AtBP.

Thematically, the SKALD universe is dark, grounded and unforgiving and I really want AtBP to dip its toes into the cold and dark waters of eldritch horror. I try to stay clear of binary good/bad characters and enjoy writing difficult choices that have real (often painful) consequences.

The Current State

At the time of writing, the SKALD game-engine (and thus AtBP) is 90% feature-complete. There are a couple of important systems that still need implementing as well as a bunch a smaller “nice-to-have” systems I would like to have down the line (but that can wait for now).

The big task ahead however, is adding content. This means designing, writing and drawing stuff. The flexibility of the SKALD engine and its tools makes adding new content a breeze. However, actually creating stuff will take time nonetheless. Fortunately, this is also a lot of fun and it will allow me to start engaging more and more with the community as the focus shifts more from the technical development to actually crafting a roleplaying experience.

The SKALD engine can publish to any platform that Unity supports. AtBP will release first on Steam. Mobile will follow.

The Road Ahead

It’s no secret that SKALD and AtBP is a one-man project that, whilst immensely enjoyable, is taking up a lot of my spare time. Now there are also expenses on the horizon in the form of software licenses, new hardware and, potentially, freelance content-creators (for some of the art and music). This means that I need to find funding somewhere.

After a lot of consideration, it’s starting to look like Kickstarter might be a good way to getting some funding whilst building a stronger community around the game. If everything goes according to plan, May 2019 might be a good time for a Kickstarter campaing (but more on that down the line).


For now, if you want to support SKALD: “Against the Black Priory” the two most important things you can do are to subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on twitter! Don’t be afraid to reach out for questions or comments!

Have a great day!

Book Review: Procedural Generation in Game Design

From the first line of code I wrote, I have always been fascinated by procedural content generation (PCG) and the near-limitless potential it seems to hold for game development. Like so many other new developers, my first project was (of course) a wildly ambitious rogue-like. Needless to say, it didn’t quite pan out.

However, despite its challenges and limitations, I did keep my fascination for PCG and consider it a wonderful tool when applied correctly. Recently, I have been trying to read up on PCG while working on SKALD and a major gripe for me has been the lack of good literature regarding the subject. No wonder then, that I was very pleased to pick up a copy of Procedural Generation in Game Design.

Cover for the book Procedural Generation in Game Design

Procedural Generation in Game Design is a book consisting of 27 chapters (who read like essays) from different industry professionals. The book is edited by Tanya X. Short (creative director of Kitfox Games ) and Tarn Adams (co-creator of Dwarf Fortress) with a preface by Derek Yu (creator of Spelunky) .

On its back cover, the book lists the following four features:

  • Introduces the differences between static/traditional game design and procedural game design
  • Demonstrates how to solve or avoid common problems with procedural game design in a variety of concrete ways
  • Includes industry leaders’ experiences and lessons from award-winning games
  • World’s finest guide for how to begin thinking about procedural design

The book is divided into four sections: “Procedural Generation”, “Procedural Content”, “Procedural Narrative” and “The Procedural Future”.  Each section contains a collection of chapters that, more or less, share a common thread.

The topics covered in the different chapters is quite varied and include (among others): “When and Why to Use Procedural Generation”,  several procedural level design case studies, “Ethical Procedural Generation”, puzzle design, “Audio and Composition”, “Story and Plot Generation” and “Algorithms and Approaches”.

Though varying in both length and depth, all the individual chapters are quite good  with some even being excellent.

Mentioning a few, Mark R. Johnson’s (creator of Ultima Ratio Regnum) short chapter on meaning in PCG is great. So is Brian Bucklew’s (Freehold Games) chapter on “Algorithms and Approaches” (though I wish it had been longer). The entire section on procedural narrative is excellent as well, with the chapters by Ben Kybartas (Delft University of Technology) and Emily Short (check out her excellent blog) standing out in particular.

My major criticism of this book, however, is that it struggles in creating a coherent presentation and progression of content.

In several cases there seems to be a mismatch between chapter- and section topics. For instance: “Algorithms and Approaches” is oddly placed in the section called “Procedural Futures” even though the subject of the chapter is to give an overview of classical techniques used in PCG. In fact, I find that only the section called “Procedural Narrative” manages to maintain a strong coherency between the topics of its chapters.

As I have mentioned, I also find that the chapters vary somewhat in how deeply they explore their chosen topics. While a few read like abbreviated academic papers, others (the majority) feel more like blog posts. This is not to say that the quality of the content is poor: The chapters are written by highly talented game developers and provide inspiring insights into several well-known PCG-heavy indie game titles.

However, each chapter appears to have been written in isolation with only minimal direction concerning content. I find that the progression of content and relative amount of space given to each subject is also such that the book seems a bit underwhelming despite its 300+ pages. This is perhaps somewhat compounded by each author spending a few paragraphs talking about themselves and their project. Not that this is wrong, but it does dilute the PCG-specific content of the book.

The result is that the book does not live up to its full potential and promise of providing  the “World’s finest guide for how to begin thinking about procedural design”. Furthermore I find that this makes it hard to see who the books intended audience is: New developers may find the coverage of subjects incomplete while experienced developers may find it somewhat superficial.

Though the execution is far from perfect, the book (arguably) does mostly deliver on its promised features. And for all my criticisms, I did enjoy reading the individual chapters (or essays if you will). Therefore, I do recommend picking up this book if you’re looking for an interesting collection of individual essays concerning PCG by leading indie game developers. However, if you are looking for a comprehensive guide and introduction to PCG I doubt that this book alone will suffice.

You can pick up Procedural Generation in Game Design at Amazon for $49.77 (320 pages paperback, with grey-scale illustrations).

I was tipped off about this book by the very talented Filip Hráček.

Did you find this book review helpful? If you have any questions or comments, please get in touch. Also, follow Scape-IT and SKALD on Twitter for all things RPG and geeky!

 

 

 

World Building: Magic

Spanning the entire breadth of the fantasy genre, from literature to movies and games, magic is nearly ubiquitous. Magic adds mystery, convenient plot devices and the fantastic and, is such a staple of the genre that it can be hard to imagine fantasy without it. That being said, magic is also exactly that: Magic! Used carelessly, it becomes an endless “deus ex machina” and unravels any internal consistency in the setting at the speed of a “magic missile”.

So, how can you write magic into your fantasy world in an awesome way?

I have no idea, but I have been pondering this for some time and I would like to share the reflections I have made thus far for my own world building project.

First of all, when I say “magic” I’m not just thinking about magic in the narrow sense of “what a wizard does”. Instead, I’m considering it in a broader sense that contains most (or all) of the supernatural tropes found in fantasy.

So why even start with magic this early in the world building process? Magic (in the extended sense of “all supernatural phenomena”) is where so much of the “fantasy” in a fantasy setting comes from. In other words, magic should influence every part of the game world and is a great way to lay the foundation for your fantasy world building.

In general, I find that there are different challenges for different fantasy mediums. Specifically between literature and movies on one side and games on the other.

The first category is much more vulnerable to having its internal consistency broken by poorly written magic with no suspension of disbelief as a result. How many times have you heard “why didn’t just Gandalf use more magic” or “why couldn’t just the eagles take Frodo all the way”? Don’t get me wrong – I love Lord of the Rings, but they do kind of have a point.

For games, on the other hand, there seems to be a tendency for magic to be much more prevalent and nearly always accessible to the player(s). I assume this stems from the notion that it is very poor game design to have players see cool things without being able to DO cool things. In other words, the need for player agency very quickly outweighs the need to have the game world be internally consistent.

The result is often a world that is so saturated with magic, that the game world simply stops making sense. How does the Forgotten Realms still look like late medieval Europe despite magic being so prevalent?

So, what does it even mean to have the game world be internally consistent in regards to magic? Well for me, this means that the world-builder addresses the socio-economic-political implications of magic’s existence.

Consider something as simple as a “create water” spell. In an early agrarian civilization the consequences of this would be monumental. Consider how much effort has been spent (even to this day) to provide water for crops in the form of irrigation systems. The result would be dramatically more effective agriculture, which in turn, means that more citizens can perform specialized labor, become soldiers, scientists, artists etc. This would accelerate the development of the civilization by centuries. Just from a “create water” spell.

Game Master meme

Currently I am doing world building for a fantasy setting in which I intend to set several gamebooks (using the SKALD game engine). I’m basing the setting partially on an old pen-and-paper RPG campaign I ran years ago and one important characteristic of this setting is that it’s a human-centric world where magic exists, but is rare, poorly understood and powerful but unprecdictable.

As a starting point I’m picking some of the following fundamental design tenets of magic:

  • Magic is rare but powerful and is recognized as such in in the world.
  • Magic is poorly understood, esoteric and shrouded in mystery.
  • Because of its perceived power, magic attracts either political power OR paranoid persecution.
  • Therefore, magic is a fundamental force in shaping history. Think the role of religion in medieval Europe. Now imagine in the Catholic Church had fireballs.
  • Magic comes at a personal cost to the user. It corrupts both the mind and the body.
  • The use of magic in the world is restricted and reserved only for the very rich and powerful.

So far, I can see myself building a setting around this somewhat restrictive view of magic. I especially feel the “magic corrupts” part adds some checks and balances. Also, I find the view of magic being restricted and unsanctioned magic being persecuted to be interesting. I feel I’m beginning to see the outline of a central political entity in my campaign setting: Perhaps somewhat like a magic-infused, late period Roman Empire.

This starting point might be somewhat on the path of magic being so esoteric that it’s effectively inaccessible to the player characters. Thus falling in the trap of letting the player see, but not do, cool things. However: Since I intend to use this setting primarily within the scope of gamebook-style RPGs, I suspect that the tolerance for inconsistent magic is lower than in most games (more akin to books and movies). This means that at this point I would prefer to err on the side of making magic a bit too scarce whilst maintaining an internally consistent game world.

I’ll start scribbling away and try to translate this into a workable setting of sorts. We’ll see how it goes, and I’ll be posting the result here shortly! Stay tuned and feel free to get in touch (with Scape-IT and SKALD on Twitter) if you have questions or comments!

 

The SKALD Markup Language

The Basics

SKALD is a game engine specifically written for digital gamebooks and interactive novels. The design vision for SKALD has been to create an engine that allows for a strong narrative to be built upon a foundation of classic RPG features (character development, tactical combat, loot etc.) as well as certain rouge-like features (procedural generation). The game engine is designed with a strong separation between data and logic in mind. The reasoning being that it must be possible for a designer with minimal technical expertise to add content. Also keeping all data separate from the logic will allow multiple gamebooks to be published using SKALD without making changes to the engine itself.

A mage
The mark-up language is where the magic happens

The SKALD markup language has three main components:

  • The XML that encases all the data
  • A simple string markup used to create procedural content and to set the order of resolution for any embedded dynamic code.
  • The formatting for embedding dynamic code.

The XML

SKALD uses ordinary XML to store data about all its game objects (scenes, items, NPCs). I briefly considered using JSON. However, after doing some research I arrived at the conclusion that the advantages of using JSON over XML were nil for this application. JSON would perhaps have been more relevant if I had a stronger emphasis on developing for a web-based service (as JavaScript loves JSON).

XML

 

The String Markup

All the data in the XML files are parsed to strings. Those strings are then run through a processString() function that performs any action prescribed by the string markup, resolves any embedded code and returns a copy of the processed string.

One of the first things I found that I wanted was a short-hand for returning random strings from the XML. My solution was simply to use the ‘/’ character. Adding ‘/’ to any string will cause the processString() function to return the result on either the left or right side of the ‘/’. For example:

processString(“I like hamburgers/I like sushi/I like ramen”)

returns either “I like hamburgers”, “I like ramen” or “I like sushi”.

Right of the bat you can see that this can get verbose. The solution was to add parenthesis. Now the previous string can be shortened like so:

processString(“I like (hamburgers/sushi/ramen)”).

By nesting parenthesis (resolves from inner, to outer) you can make complex string such as:

processString(“I like ((cheese-burgers/bacon-burgers/BBQburgers)/sushi/ramen)”)

The applications for this is to create variety in the text (especially for scenes that the player keeps returning to) or to provide randomized output from certain XML tags.

For instance, each scene has one or more exits that lead to the next scene. That exit contains a tag called <tar> (target) which is basically the id of the next scene to load. Since the value of <tar> is stored as a string and ran through the processString() function, you can write an exit with a target like this:

<tar>2/3/4</tar>

The result is an exit that randomly sends you to scene 2, 3 or 4. Pretty neat for making things like random encounters.

Dynamic Code

So far, the system is completely stateless. Processing the string

processString(“I like (hamburgers/sushi/ramen)”)

will return a random output every time. The next logical step was to add a system for storing and modifying variables at run-time. The solution is for implemented by using “Reflection” in C# to access functions in the code via strings passed from the XML. For instance I have a function addVariable(key, value) that creates a variable (named key) and sets it to value. So

addVariable(“food”,”hamburgers”)

will set the variable “food” to “hamburgers” and

getVariable(“food”)

now returns “hamburgers”. Using my own notation to embed functions in the xml datafiles the functions must be wrapped in curly braces like this:

{addVariable|food;hamburgers}

It is now possible to write:

processString(“I like {addVariable|food;(hamburgers/sushi/ramen)}”)

This line of code will return for instance, “I like sushi”. And then

processString(“My favorite food is still {getVariable|food}”)

Will utilize the value stored above and return “My favorite food is still sushi”. Note that the “processString” function will substitute everything wrapped in curly brackets for the return value of the function wrapped in the curly brackets. 

The SKALD system contains about a dozen functions that can be called dynamically. In large part these are used to manipulate and perform logical operations on variables (allowing for conditional branching etc.). The result is that the number of scenes that need to be written can be reduced drastically. It also allows procedural content to be added by the designer, working only through the XML file.

Overall, I’m pleased with the functionality of the SKALD markup language, as it exists today. It’s expressive enough tell any kind of story and to give a direct binding between the story elements and the underlying RPG mechanics. It also supports the concept of separating data and logic and it greatly reduces duplication of data by cutting down on the number of scenes that need to be written. At the same time, it’s still possible to write an entire module by using only XML and entirely forgoing the use of the string markup and dynamic.

Now, off to write some adventures!

Design Goals for the SKALD Engine

The SKALD Roleplaying System consists of three components:

  • A set of RPG rules usable for pen-and-paper as well computer RPGs.
  • A game engine for making gamebooks, interactive fiction and text-heavy roleplaying games.
  • The games published using the SKALD engine.

The current focus of the project is to finish the game engine. This post will attempt to summarize the design goals for the engine. For more information about the project in general, see the welcome post.

NOTE: I’m writing this post as much for myself as anyone else. As such, this post will be highly prone to edits as i update and change the design goals.

SKALD is a Storytelling Tool

First and foremost, I want to create something that will allow me to tell stories. I was a pen-and-paper RPG game master for years but as I grew older, holding together a gaming group became near impossible. I began to miss the creative outlet that GMing represented. This was been a big driving force in deciding to develop a game engine for text based roleplaying games and gamebooks.

Specifically, I chose text-heavy games because I feel comfortable with using text as a narrative device. Text is easy to add (if you don’t consider the hardships of writing prose) and very flexible. Flexibility was another important point as it gives me the option of choosing between an infinite variety of settings: From sci-fi and fantasy to historical and educational. This was an important rational for beginning this project by creating a setting-agnostic game engine.

SKALD is a roleplaying game

In addition to creating a system for writing choose-your-own-adventure style gamebooks I also want SKALD to be rooted in a proper RPG system. At a minimum the SKALD game engine must allow for the following game mechanics:

  • a character creation and advancement system complete with skills and feats
  • skill checks
  • tactical combat (in one way or another)
  • looting, buying and selling items
  • magic and / or psionics

An important part of implementing the RPG features is that the system must be modular enough that it should be fully possible to choose away any and all parts of the RPG system at the design level and without changing the source code. In other words: Using the same game engine, it must be possible to make a vanilla gamebook with no features beyond one paragraph leading to the next, as well as gamebooks with full RPG game mechanics.

SKALD has rogue-like features

In addition to the rpg game-mechanics it’s also important for me that the SKALD game engine allows for certain rogue-like features. In particular I want to have the ability to add procedurally generated content to the game. This, combined with an underlying RPG system will make it possible to essentially write a text based rogue-like. At the same time, just as with the RPG system, it must be fully possible to write a gamebook without using a single rogue-like feature.

Why add rogue-like features? Well, my reasoning thus far is that this will make it a lot easier to add to the runtime of the game. I have a vision of the narrative of the gamebooks being superimposed on relatively open worlds and thus adding a lot more replay value to the game beyond just going through the main plot over and over.

Again: This is an optional feature I’ll add to give myself the full breadth tools to tell the kinds of stories I would like.

Engineered with Sustainability in Mind

Not only is SKALD a labor of love, but it will also serve as a tool I could potentially be relying on for years to come. In the long term, it might even be adopted by other game developers interested in working within the gamebook genre.

As with all code that sees long-term use, there’s a lot to be gained by “measuring twice and cutting once“. In other words I intend to take my time and keep the source code architecturally sound, compact and well documented.

The notion of strictly separating the logic from the data and making all aspects of the game itself modifiable via the data is the prime tenet I’m currently building the engine around.

SKALD as a Brand

Lastly, it would be pretty neat if the SKALD system and the game engine in particular becomes a recognizable brand. It would be awesome to see “Powered by the SKALD engine” and “SKALD Roleplaying System presents:”  on games!

 

That’s it so far. Thanks for reading and be sure to keep following the SKALD devlog! In the meantime, follow Scape-IT and SKALD on Twitter for all things RPG!