A Long Overdue Update

It’s been some time since my last update, but have no fear: The SKALD project is doing great!  I’ve just had to prioritized using what spare time I have writing code and doing game-design.

Old School Roots

I grew up knowing and loving games like the Ultima, Bard’s Tale, Gold-Box and Magic Candle series. The more I worked on the SKALD engine, the more I realized that I wanted to use it to make an old school retro RPG.

The SKALD engine now features:

  • Overland exploration
  • Tactical menu-based combat
  • A full party of characters
  • Deep class-based character creation and progression
  • Tons of items to find, buy and sell
  • Magic
  • A solid branching dialog system
SKALD is about telling stories!

In other words, SKALD is now very well suited for making old school RPGs. This leads me to my announcement:

SKALD: Against the Black Priory

“Against the Black Priory” is the first game under development using the SKALD engine. It features 8-bit graphics and the glorious 16 color Commodore 64 palette.

Keep posted for more info on “Against the Black Priory”.

Support SKALD today!

If you love old school RPGs SKALD needs your support now!

All you have to do is subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on twitter!

Done! That’s it (for now)!

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!

Welcome to the SKALD Roleplaying System

Welcome to the devlog of the SKALD Roleplaying System!

What is the SKALD Roleplaying System you ask? Well, it’s essentially three things:

  • 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 system is being developed by Scape-IT and is a passion project born out of a long standing love for all things roleplaying.

So what is a skald?

The skald was a norse warrior poet during the scandinavian viking- and middle ages. Skalds would serve at the courts of viking chieftains where they composed and performed epic poems retelleing the heroic deeds of their patron.

A Skald

In other words, a skald tells epic stories about heroic deeds. Not a bad name for a RPG system if you ask me!

The Current State of the Project

At this stage, the first order of business is to complete the SKALD game engine. Currently the engine is is in pre-alpha but I hope to have a beta of the engine and a playable gamebook ready during the spring of 2018. The SKALD engine is being developed in Unity-3d.

Code sample
Pretty much the state of SKALD at the moment.

This website will serve as the devlog for the SKALD project and I’ll try to post once a week on subjects related to the delopment process of the game engine, the rules system, world building and gamebooks themselves.

Be sure to check back as more content gets added to the devlog. In the meantime, follow Scape-IT and SKALD on Twitter for all things RPG!

Have any questions or comments? Get in touch!

See you around!