In classic AL fashion I’m long overdue with another project update! That means there is sooo much to show off and talk about. So much in fact that I’m not even going to try. Instead, today I’ll focus on one of the flashier updates: An improved lighting system!
There is a lot of level-design and building going on at the moment. Company is doing good as well and I’ve been able to get a lot more professional art assets in the last year without having to worry about cost (see some of the gorgeous environments below).
The issue I was running into however, was that I wasn’t able to fully convey the mood of the the environments I was making with the tools I had at the start of 2023. For a game that aims to have a bit of a darker tone, this was actually kind of a big deal.
The dilemma I was wrestling with was that I had committed to a 16 color palette; Adding a more complex lighting system would result in more than 16 colors being shown on screen at any given time.
None the less, I was feeling pretty strongly that something had to change so I set aside two weeks in April, cracked my knuckles and went into a coding frenzy! Turns out there are some advantages to having such a large proprietary code-base. Since I know every in and out of my draw pipeline it was surprisingly easy to set up what I needed.
As for the result, I’ll let this image speak for itself:
The first thing to keep in mind is that Skald is built as an “engine inside an engine”. In other words, the Skald engine lives inside Unity but it is 99% self-contained. For instance, it draws its graphics by baking sprites at run-time, completely independently of Unity. Once all the drawing operations are done and the complete screen image is baked, it makes a Unity texture and lets the Unity camera “photograph” it.
The advantage here is that it’s very easy to perform very precise operations on individual pixels. In other words, we can do pretty cool stuff that is still 100% “authentic” pixel art.
We leverage this in the lighting system: A lighting value is calculated for each 16×16 tile and based on this, the sprite for that tile is shaded with a bluish tint (pixel per pixel). As you can see on the floor inside the cabin above, this means the lighting is overtly tiled but in my opinion, this works beautifully with the tile-based nature of the game.
That is not all however! Light-emitters also have pre-baked “auras. These can have different shapes and colors: Note how the ritual candles in the GIF above have a green and purple tint. It also allows me to do stuff like god-rays.
Anyways, I’m pretty proud of the system and the result. It’s changed how I make levels and my only regret is not making it sooner. If you have questions about the system or its implementation, feel free to DM me!
In Other News
As I said initially, I have so much to show off that I don’t know where to begin. However, the finish-line is coming into view so for what it’s worth, you’ll all be playing the game pretty soon. That also means, stay posted for a release-date announcement.
Many of you will have noticed that Unity has been going through dire straits the last weeks. The engine revealed a new pricing model a few weeks ago that was extremely controversial and caused a mass-exodus of players.
For a lot of companies, this had the potential to be catastrophic. Skald was however, never in any direct danger due to the game’s pricing model etc.
That being said, it also appears Unity has rolled back their updated policies in the recent days. In other words: Skald was and still is, 100% safe.
The Lost Sector
I did an interview with Chris Freeman last week for the Lost Sector Youtube channel! I love the Lost Sector and if you’re reading this, so will you!
We talk Skald, retro-gaming and Unity (if you want to understand more deeply why the pricing change was so controversial). Chris also has a loop of the updated game build running in the background so if you want to see the new lighting-system in action, here’s a chance for a sneak preview of a very rough production build (Chris twisted my arm)!
That’s it for now! I’ll do my best to keep you posted but I also need to make a game so if you don’t hear from me for a while, it’s because I’m making cool stuff.
As you all know, it’s more fun to adventure with a party than going alone! That’s what I’ve been doing since I went full time as a developer: I’ve encountered a new party-member (of the “publisher” class)! They’re very passionate about the quest we’re on (making Skald) and bring a ton of new feats (QA/testing) and magic items (a marketing budget) to the fight! Even better: They have high-level henchmen/henchwomen (awesome experts in fields ranging from brand management to development, marketing and testing).
Who is this overpowered new character you ask? Well, I’m going to keep you guessing a little bit longer but some of you will have heard of them and you’ve certainly played some of the games they’ve published. They’re also chaotic good and can rage 2 / day.
While I’m finishing my due notice from my (soon to be old) day-job, we’re taking the time to put together some promotional material, planning the development and release schedule and making our two organizations work together like a well-drilled adventuring party!
We’ll be announcing our cooperation and revealing our newest party-member December 15th so stay posted!
One of the subjects we’ve been working on a bit internally, is the original plan of going to early access (EA) with Skald.
This was originally predicated on the fact that as a solo-developer with no support, it would not be possible for me to make Skald as polished as I would like in time for a full launch. EA would provide proper testing and polish.
EA is great for this but there are also downsides:
The Steam community in general have begun expecting more polish from EA games than before. There is a tendency for EA games to get quite a lot of negative reviews for being “unfinished” which is ironic and sad.
Once you launch on EA, that’s it: You’ve had your launch. You don’t get a second launch day once you leave EA.
Though I’m sure the Skald community would have handled EA great, there is some risk involved and there is no doubt in my mind: Given the support and resources I now have access to (especially in terms of testing), I would much rather deliver a game that is polished and finished.
This means we’re aiming to launch the full game properly in 2022!
The Road Ahead
There will be a lot more info coming out just over the new year but here’s a rough outline:
THE PROLOGUE / DEMO
I’ve always strived to have development be transparent and inclusive. The prologue has been a hugely important tool towards achieving this and it will continue to be so. We’ll be “chonking” up the demo in 2022 as a kind of miniature Early Access to show off, and widely test, the game in its final form.
Testing for backers will continue as before and backers will be getting beta builds as they roll out. We will be looking into updating the testing infrastructure a bit and at some point we’ll also consider opening up beta-testing to a larger audience.
We’re not increasing the game’s scope or adding more features. What I am doing is spending more time polishing the tools for data-entry. Not only is this making the game (and any sequels) easier to build in the long term, it also means you’ll get better modding-tools (we’re releasing all our tools post launch).
Needless to say, our new partnership does not change anything in regards to the rewards we’ll be producing. All I can say is that there are exciting discussions being had about how we can make the most of the physical products we’re going to make. Stay posted!
As for those backers who get to contribute with portraits and game-content, it’s not too late at all. We’ll be sorting this as we go and the train will not leave without you.
There is a limit to how much I can say at this point but more info is coming. Just remember: Save December 15th for the reveal of our new party member and there may even be some Christmas shenanigans coming up!
The beta build (1.2.0) is up on itch.io for testers right now! SKALD has gotten a huge update to its combat system (as well as some new features) and I can’t wait for you to have a look at it!
The New Combat System
Combat is now resolved directly on the map itself. In other words, it no longer swaps to a separate combat map.
As I’ve been developing the game, one of the biggest shifts in my approach to designing SKALD, has been in level design: I originally saw exploration of the physical spaces of the game to be a distinct pillar of game-play alongside combat, character development and interaction.
However, as I’ve begun designing levels, it has occurred to me that interacting with the physicality of the world, could not be seen as a separate aspect of game-play: The physical layout of the game world is the canvas that encompasses all other aspects of the game and combat, dialogue and exploration is made more interesting by the fact that it takes place in a “physical” world with components that interact with, and affect each other.
Placing combat on the map itself was a natural consequence of this. This will make it possible to interact with terrain during combat, NPCs will join fights and destruction will linger after combat ends. You can approach enemies from different directions, become surrounded or attempt to use the terrain to your advantage.
Combat isn’t the only subsystem that is being adapted to this shift in design mentality. More on that down the line.
The combat system as it is in the coming update is still pretty bare-bones. It doesn’t really take advantage of it’s new form yet, but I need to get some play-testing done none the less: Both to weed out bugs and to get a basis for improving the system.
The main design principles for combat moving forward are:
Combat should feel fast and smooth
Combat should stay tactically interesting from early to late game
Combat should be narratively expressive (e.i. it should serve as a tool for storytelling)
There’s also a number of issues I need to explore:
How much information does the player need and how do I present it in the best way?
What are the best controls for combat and what is the optimal relationship between keyboard and mouse input?
How do I visualize all the different options players might have during combat in a good way?
What types of terrain layout make for the most fun combat whilst avoiding overly dominant strategies (such as defending doorways)?
What are some interesting combat-role archetypes for both enemies and PCs?
How can feats and spells take optimal advantage of the combat system?
Other New Features and Updates
There is months of work in this update so changes are too numerous to mention in a lot of cases.
One of the more notable updates, however, is the ability to customize the character model (hair, colors, clothing etc). This adds a bit of flair for players but more importantly, it reduces the need for me to create custom models for NPCs! This is going to be a huge time-saver down the line as I can now swap around outfits to make an infinite amount of variations. Needless to say, there will be A LOT more customization options down the line. It also opens the door for stuff like faction-based outfits.
I’ve polished the input system a bit and vastly improved the path-finding AI so movement and controls should also feel quite a bit more snappy. Try to keep an eye on this and be sure to report any bugs related to movement, path-finding and input.
The Next Steps
For the next weeks I’m going to keep polishing the combat system whilst working towards the press-, and content-creator demo (which will of course be available for backers as well). It will contain new, unseen narrative content as well so it’ll be fun to see you guys dig into it.
There will probably be a couple more beta updates before the press demo is ready to drop so stay posted for that as well. I REALLY appreciate it if you take even 5 minutes to test the game and reporting any bugs or impressions afterwards: It really helps to make this the game we all want it to be!
In regards to the game being ready for early access in late 2020 – we’ll see. I’m truly working as fast as I can but it’s hard to predict the flow of the project. Rest assured however, that all the time is being spent make SKALD awesome and I can guarantee you it’s paying off!
I’ll keep you posted on updates as I go so be sure to check in wherever you follow me from time to time (Twitter or the SKALD Discord). You guys have been beyond supportive so far and I love being on this journey with you. All I can do is offer up a big heart-felt “thank you”.
Hello everyone! Hope you all are enjoying your summer. July has been pretty sweet up here in Northern Norway for once, making it the perfect “stay at home” summer. But fear not: I’ve still gotten a ton done with SKALD, and it’s now time for a new (minor) demo update!
Beta 1.1.0 is up for Backers!
The demo is still pretty short and adds about 20 minutes of game-play to the first iteration. It’s still an important demo for me, since I’ve done a lot of work under the hood (as always) and now those features need play-testing.
I’ve also added some in-game features: Most notable is grid-based combat. That system is still pretty bare bones as I’m yet to add enemies, feats and spells that really take advantage of it, but you should non the less be able to get an idea and provide some feedback.
What do I need from play-testers?
Bugs first and foremost. This is by far the most important feedback you can provide for me at this point!
Typos are always welcome too. As are logical inconsistencies in dialogue and scene flows.
I also want to hear about game-play feature requests or feedback on existing features.
I’m not really super interested in stuff like “this was too easy” or “There needs to be more loot in the second area”. It goes without saying that a lot of this is unpolished at the time and pacing etc will get a second pass as the whole first chapter begins to come together 🙂
The demos, at this point, will usually break saves and force a restart with each demo iteration. This might seem like a chore BUT for play-testing this is essential. The scripting of the game can only be truly tested if the game is played from the start each time and this is super important to the final quality of the game.
So please be patient with me (I know you will)! Also, is play-testing feels like a hassle, it’s 100% fine for you to just hang back and wait for the finished product!
What Else is Going on?
Currently we (me and the writers) are doing a lot of work writing and implementing narrative content. This is the main priority besides polishing the engine at the moment. As we finish writing for chapter 1, the artists will then get to illustrate the content and we’ll start work on chapter 2.
At some point in the near future I’ll probably start working of feats and spells as well so stay tuned for that.
Have a great Summer!
That’s it for now! Have a great weekend and keep enjoying the summer (try to get out in sun a bit)!
For me writing posts like these is a nice way of fleshing out the setting for the upcoming game. Thus, everything I write is a work in progress and prone to change down the line. I’ll try to keep it spoiler free and I’ll keep the big plot twists to myself.
I don’t allow the use of the SKALD universe and setting in other commercial products. However, I would love it if anyone used it in their own homebrew tabletop RPG campaigns! If you want to discuss the setting with me directly, join us on the SKALD Discord!
The following is a macro-level overview of the greater region in which “SKALD: Against the Black Priory” is set. I also recommend having a look at this post about the Gallian Empire before reading on.
The Freymark and the Outer Isles
The northernmost province of the Gallian Empire. Independent and rich in natural resources, the region is now being torn apart by conflict as the land-owning Thanes attempt to secede from Imperial dominion. All the while, at the fringes of the region, a terrifying corruption is slowly creeping into the land.
History of the Freymark
Legends say that when the first pre-imperial tribes wandered into the Freymark from the south they found the land free of other humans. Only the ancient and menacing stone ruins found deep in the forests hinted that they might not be the first people to set foot in this land.
As the Gallian Empire arose in the south, the Freymark with it’s grand wilderness and unlimited natural resources quickly became a target for Imperial expansion. Countless unsuccessful attempts to subjugate the people of the north followed over the ensuing centuries, with the result that the Empire adopted a stance of relative self-rule for the region. The Thanes (heads of the local nobility) were formally recognized as kings in their respective territories – answerable only to the Emperor himself in exchange for providing taxes and soldiers for the Imperial armies.
Perhaps the reason for the regions relative independence is that the Imperials were terrified of the deep darkness of the wilderness at the edge of civilization.
Unlike many other parts of the Empire, the Freymark was never the site of the so called Imperial “miracles”: Large scale magical terraforming efforts that turned deserts into gardens and barren wastes into wineries. This also means that as the miracle throughout the Empire collapse, the Freymark remains largely unaffected.
The result is a significant rise in relative wealth as the Freymark is fast sailing up to become the breadbasket of the Empire and a haven for refugees fleeing from the failing ecological “miracles” of the south.
This new-found strategic importance is not lost on the Thanes and their “Freythen” followers (northern nationalists). The people of Freymark see this as an opportunity to establish themselves as a sovreign nation free of the Imperial yoke.
And as the Thanes and the Imperials squabble, something dark is creeping into the lands of the Freymark. Wild magic users are on the rise despite the Empires fervent attempts at purging them and even the ritualized arts of the chartered Imperial mages has grown terrifyingly unpredictable.
Worse still, those who rove deep into the wilds whisper stories of unnatural lights in the sky, strange stone structures and grotesque creatures roaming the land. There are even rumors of unborn children being stolen from their sleeping mothers, and farmers or even whole villages, disappearing without a trace.
It is as if a something is clawing at the sanity of the people of the Freymark. Some would say it’s the threat of war that is taking its toll. Others might suggest that it is in fact this latent, low-grade terror that is causing the surge in political violence in the region.
Geography and Climate
The Freymark is a rugged land where deep fjords give way to wooded hills and steep alpine mountains. The winters are long and dark, and the summers are all too brief. It’s forest teem with bandits, wolves and worse dangers still. Many a fortune-seeker or frontiersman has lost their mind, or life, in the vast wilderness of the Freymark.
The Freymark can be roughly divided into five regions:
A grand bastion of stone and steel, Alder’s Helm is the center of Imperial power in the Freymark. The city is home to roughly 100.000 souls and lies strategically placed between the Mark and the Hinterlands. It’s marvelous, all-year ice-free port, makes it the hub through which all trade in the region flows. It is also the seat of the Imperial ruler of the Freymark: The High Wizard, Othonaric.
Stretching from Adler’s Helm in the north, to the frontier of the Imperial heartlands in the south, the Mark is a series of interconnected dales transversed by the Great Northern Road. The rough hills are dotted with farmsteads raising crops of barley and herds of goats and sheep. The Mark answers directly to the High Wizard of Adler’s Helm himself.
Maintaining control of the Mark is critical to Imperial power in the region since the Great Northern Road provides one of only two lines of communication between Adler’s Helm and the Imperial heartland (the other being by sea).
As a result, the Mark is kept relatively safe by Imperial knights patrolling the highway and the Imperial garrison of Adler’s Helm keeps a watchful eye towards the north and the lands of the Thanes.
North of Adlers Helm, the land grows wild and grand. This is the land ruled over by the Thanes and it is the true northern frontier of the Empire. Fraught with both peril and great opportunity, this is a land that forges strong men and women.
The Thanes keep their holds in the deep mountain valleys, fjords and forests of the Hinterlands, from Adler’s Helm and all the way to the icy glaciers of the northern Skywall.
The Outer Isles
Off the northern mainland lies an archipelago of windswept, gray islands. Though they are far from the rest of the Freymark, the port of Horryn on the isle of Idra is strategically situated between Adler’s Helm and outlying Imperial holdings. Serving as a hub for shipping and trade, the port connects the Freymark to a greater network of trade routes.
The islands are therefore considered part of the domain of the High Wizard in Adler’s Helms and is ruled in his stead by an Imperial governor.
At one point the islands were home to several prosperous fishing villages and ports. As of late, these have been reduced to a scant handful and the islanders grow poor and desperate.
The Skywall and beyond
To the north of the Hinterlands, a near impassable wall of glacial ice marks the far northern end of the Freymark. Known as the Skywall, the icy ramparts conceal a platau upon which, no citizens of the Empire has set foot.
Many are the fabeled tales of what lies beyond the Skywall: From peaks that reach impossible heights to giant ice-covered cities. What is certain however, is that the changing climate is causing the Skywall to melt. Each year new rivers form as ice and water is carried towards the sea from the crumbling glaciers.
Politics and Economy
Though it may seem a harsh and unforgiving place, the Freymark is also a land of plenty: fjords teem with fish, the hills are full of ore and the forests are full of timber and game. It’s said that northern ore and coal fuel the Imperial forges.
In fact, the unlimited natural resources and endless tracts of land were always a prime motivator for Imperial encroachment into the Freymark.
Despite being an early addition to the Empire, the central Imperial court has never held much direct control over the Freymark.
Particularly in the vast Hinterlands, the Thanes have a long tradition of relative autonomy with relatively little interference from the High Wizard of Adler’s Helm. Imperial influence has instead been maintained by political manipulation, strict trade monopolies and frequent penal expeditions rather that an established military presence far beyond the walls of Adler’s Helm.
Now, as the Empire begins to crumble, the rich natural resources of the north are finding their way to new ports and providing an influx of wealth and political power to the holds of the Thanes.
Combining a newfound internal unity with their rich holds and well-equipped armies, the Thanes now stand poised to challenge the Empire itself for control of their ancestral lands and untethering the Freymark from the dying Empire.
Fearing that the secession of Freymark would be disastrous for the Empire, the Emperors fist tightens around the province as armies are mustered to march north and suppress the fledgling uprising. Taxes are collected even more fiercely and any sign of rebellion in loyalist areas are met with swift Imperial justice.
The vast expanse of the Freymark has always been a land of opportunity, fresh starts and potential wealth. Citizens from all corners of the Empire have heard it’s siren song and as a result the people of the Freymark are a diverse lot.
What they have in common however, is a spirit of industriousness, self-reliance and independence forged by the harsh environment of the north. Be they soldiers, farmers, woodsmen, merchants or sailors the people of Freymark are hard-working and no-nonsense.
As the Thane uprising escalates, the people of the Freymark are increasingly forced to pick sides between the Imperial loyalists and the rebellious “Freythen”.
Factions of the Freymark
The Gallian EMpire
The Imperial ruler of the Freymark is the High Wizard, Othonaric. He rules from the Imperial Citadel in Adler’s Helm and answers only to the Emperor himself.
Though he has lived an unnaturally long life, the high Wizard is secretive in the extreme and little is know about him. His total disappearance from public life lately, has even led to rumors that he is in fact dead and has been so for years.
The Imperial garrison in Alder’s Helm is well trained and equipped but relatively small. If it comes to war it will not be able to hold the city for long against the armies of the Thanes. The city also has a contingent of the “Order of the Silver Knights”: An elite knightly order tasked with exterminating wild and unchartered magic-user.
Though Imperial support is vaning in the Freymark, there are still large groups of loyalists in Adler’s Helm, and to a degree, in the Mark. The loyalists believe that the Freymark must remain part of the Empire and that the Thanes’ uprising is an act of high treason.
THANES and The Freythen
The Thanes of the Freymark have united under the banner of Queen Erryan of Hawkwind. She rose to become first among the Thanes following a short but bloddy internal power struggle and has begun using the title “Queen of the Freymark”
What internal animosity may have existed between the Thanes, has put aside (for now) as their holds in the Hinterland have begun preparing for the coming war of independence.
The Thanes have broad support among the population of the north from the political movement known as the “Freythen”. Freythen are nationalists who see the Empire as an oppressive, occupying force who must be driven out so Freymark can gain sovereignty.
“Rovers” is a term used for the increasingly large group of people who shun society to live deep in the wilderness in an attempt to escape the harsh taxation and brewing war.
Whole communities exist, either in small hidden farmsteads or as nomadic groups, subsiding on what nature has to offer whilst waiting for the coming storm to pass. Rovers are considered bandits and outlaws by the Empire and disloyal cowards by the Thanes and perhaps not without good reason: As hunger sets in, some groups of rovers may certainly turn to highway-robbery and theft to survive.
The Tradewind Mercantile League
The Tradewind Mercantile League is a powerful, private merchant league that has taken root in the Empire. Renown for it’s cadre of magically enhanced navigators, excellent ships and private army, the league is said to be powerful enough to rival entire kingdoms, and perhaps, even the Empire itself.
In general the league is distrusted and despised, but the factions of the Freymark are both fully dependent on them: The Empire for shipping supplies into Adler’s Helm and the Thanes for giving their goods a rout onto the greater trade market.
Adventuring in the Freymark
Be it exploring the wilderness and the back-streets of Adler’s Helm, smuggling arms in the Outer Isles or siding with either faction of the Thane uprising, there’s plenty of opportunities for adventure in the Freymark.
The feel of the region should be an area in which the status quo stands on a knifes edge as political tension rises. The players should have a feeling of events unfolding around them and yet they should also feel that interacting with events will have an impact on the conflict.
All the while, there should be a distinct feeling of terror as something dark and terrible is slowly enveloping the region. It should remain mostly unseen and intangible for now and yet be a distinct presence.
I’ll include some adventure hooks to get you started:
The king of foxes
After the power struggle that put Erryan of Hawkwind in charge of the Thane uprising, several of her opponents fled the Hinterlands. One of them is currently hiding in the Mark and has taken up the moniker “the King of Foxes”. He currently leads a band of rovers that has turned to preying on Imperial convoys as highway men.
The Imperials will not tolerate any threat to their overland supplyroutes and the Thanes see that the King of Foxes could be a strategic ally with his guerilla army in potential conflict. Either way, the characters are tasked with tracking him down.
They must not only find the band’s secret hideout, but also get close enough to the King of Foxes that they can either assassinate him or convince him to join in the Thane uprising.
Against the Rocks
A smuggler vessel is lost as it runs aground on a barren rock island in the outer Isles. The ship was carrying cargo essential to the Thane uprising and the heroes must mount a rescue operation. The problem is that even navigating this stretch of ocean is a challenge and the Imperial navy is also out to recover the cargo.
Perhaps the heroes must attempt to bargain with (or burglarize) the Tradewind League to gain access to sea-charts that can help them reach the wreckage before their Imperial counterparts?
No doubt this ends in a showdown at the site of the wreck. As a final twist, the island might not even be completely deserted!
In the ice
Two hundred years ago an Imperial expedition attempted to traverse the Skywall. Two weeks ago a man wanders into a Thane hold and claims to be the last survivor of that expedition. Though he refuses to reveal what they found there, he is convinced he has spent no more than two months in the ice.
Then heavy snow begins to fall, the hold becomes isolated and people start turning up dead.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more of the SKALD universe, please let me know on twitter or join the SKALD Discord!
Finishing the Kickstarter with 450 backers and at 262% it’s safe to say that “Skald: Against the Black Priory” is a hit. The campaign has been a lot of fun, but also a lot of work, and I’m looking forward to spending more time working on the game again.
The scheduled release for SKALD is June 2020 with physical rewards coming in August 2020. Up to that point there is a lot of work to be done in developing the game and feelies and honestly, I can’t wait!
For backers who payed to get access to the alpha-build, that will be made available in July. I’ll still take a few weeks to polish it a bit so be patient! The alpha-build is in no way representative of the finished product. It serves as a short proof-of-concept and a way to start developing some shared language for discussing the project.
In particular, complex features like character development and advancement will be placeholder systems in this demo.
We already have a pretty good community on Discord and I would like for it to become much larger! Join us on Discord today!
We’re having some pretty great discussions regarding SKALD and game development in general. So if you want a say in how this game turns out, Discord is the place!
Late to the Party?
Didn’t get to back the game? Well, first of all, the actual game and digital assets (manual etc), will be available for sale on Steam and a select few other stores.
As for the feelies, we will do a limited run of big-boxes and zip-lock bags. More information on that will follow.
That’s it for now! Thanks again for all your support and be sure to subscribe to this devlog to stay up to date!
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”!
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 in SKALD takes one of fours forms:
Combat (more on that later)
Exploring the environment through the tile-based map
“Choose your own adventure” sequences
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 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.
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.
In SKALD: Against the Black Priory you create a single character and then recruit the rest of the party as you go. The game uses classes, numerical stats and feats combined with level based advancement to flesh out its characters. Creating a robust and balanced system for character development is challenging (and immensely rewarding) and I’m going to take my time getting it right.
As with any design task, it’s always a good idea to set down a few basic pillars and goals to guide the work ahead.
The primary goal for the character system might be something like:
“Character creation and development allows players to express themselves creatively whilst making interesting mechanical choices concerning their character.”
In other words: A player should be able to envision a character (within the games setting) and then create and play that character in-game.
For design-pillars I’ve chosen these for now:
Balance: Each class should be equally playable. There should be no “dump-stats” or skills. The game should accommodate a wide range of builds and each ability should have something to offer each class.
Transparency: The player should have access (preferably in-game) to all the information required to make meaningful decisions when making, and developing, a character.
Narrative Impact: The choices the players make in character creation should matter in-game. There must be plenty of opportunities to use skills and abilities, and your class should matter in the narrative.
Scalability: The level system should have no “hard” upper level cap. That is, no upper level limit beyond which the system breaks. That’s not to say that the system won’t have a “sweet spot” level-range, within which play is particularly enjoyable. It just means that the system is not mechanically upward limited.
At the moment I’m working with five ability scores:
Strength: Physical strength and brawn. Affects your ability to do melee damage and your skill in athletics (jumping, climbing, swimming etc.).
Agility: Speed, reflexes and finesse is determined by agility. Affects dodging, initiative, hit-chance and fine-motor skills like thievery.
Fortitude: Physical and mental toughness. Affects willpower, hit points and resistances.
Intellect: Mental faculties. Affects several skills as well as spell-casting. Might also affect how many skill-points you get and perhaps an XP-bonus.
Presence: A measure of your attention to your surroundings and your place within them. Affects your ability to interact with people and animals as well as your perception and attention to detail. Also affects leadership.
There is a tendency for “physical” abilities to become overly powerful (especially at lower levels) in RPGs due to combat being prevalent, with the mental abilities becoming dump-stats for many character builds.
As a result I chose to go with five abilities as opposed to the more typical six. I find that three physical and two “mental” abilities seem more balanced whilst still allowing for a range of expression. Furthermore it’s a easier to make each ability relevant to every class with fewer abilities.
Post character creation, ability scores advance very slowly.
I want SKALD: Against the Black Priory to feature basic classes that are recognizable enough to provide a foundation upon which to build the character you want.
Beyond that I want a lot of flexibility as the game progresses with few (if any) class-exclusive skills or feats. Classes should encourage certain builds, but I like the idea of not imposing too many limitations.
The six classes in “Against the Black Priory” are as follows:
Warrior: Soldiers, sell-swords and mercenaries. They excel at combat, dealing large amounts of damage (often to multiple targets).
Rogue: Thieves, assassins and swashbucklers. Rogues are stealthy and excel at using skills to perform tasks. In combat, rogues are more based on maneuvers than soldiers are: backstabbing, flanking, ham-stringing, disarming and all round fighting dirty.
Cleric: The holy men and women of the Empire draw upon their devotion to channel the divine power of their deity. From ascetic monks to armored battle-priests, clerics play different roles on the battlefield: Healers, support-casters or front line fighters.
Wizard: Chartered Imperial Wizards or rogue hedge-mages. Wizards harness the corrupting arcane energies of magic. A wizards magic is powerful and devastating (sometimes to friend and foe alike).
Skald: Part of an ancient, dying tradition, skalds are the wandering bards and storytellers that preserve the lore of the myriad cultures assimilated by the Empire. A life spent roaming the breath of the Empire and beyond, makes the skalds jacks of all trades. They excel at inspiring their allies in combat and bolster their party with both magic and a strong sword arm.
Captain: In “Against the Black Priory”, captains are the smugglers, pirates, merchants and officers of the Northern Isles. As expert sailors, leaders and skilled fighters, they make an invaluable addition to any group adventuring in the north!
Skills are learned and improve over time (whereas abilities are more innate).
The trick with skills is including many enough to provide granularity and range of expression whilst still having few enough that each skill gets screen time!
I’m currently considering the following six skills:
The total score of a skill is calculated by adding up ranks in the skill with the score of one or two ability scores. Ranks are purchased as you gain levels.
Note that the game also contains secondary abilities as well. These include stats like “Base Attack”, “Dodge” and initiative. They may look a bit like skills but they cannot be improved by spending skill points. In stead, they must be improved by using feats.
Feats are selected at certain intervals as you gain levels and allow you to customize you character by adding special talents. Think perks in Fallout. Whilst skills and abilities add numerical values to you character, feats allow you to break rules (in a sense).
Many feats are combat related but there are also other types like adventuring feats (consume less food, ability to swim, more carry capacity) or narrative feats (guild memberships, special allies, access to more equipment etc).
Races and Backgrounds
At this point in development, the SKALD universe is human-centric. Demi-human do exist, but they are few and far between. As such humans will likely be the only race available in “Against the Black Priory”.
As a way of adding more definition to your character however, I intend to offer a selection of backgrounds. The backgrounds offer a small mechanical bonus and will, hopefully, tie in to the narrative as well.
More on that down the line.
That’s it for now!
It’s worth repeating that this is a work in progress and it might look very different a year from now.
With the Kickstarter in June fast approaching it’s time for another update! As always I wish I had more time to spend on this devlog. Time however, is currently my most precious asset on this project. What time I have is still being put into actual development and I think that’s a good idea.
So far everything is on track for Kickstarter in June. There is still a lot of work to be done to get the campaign ready but work is progressing at a steady pace.
During Easter-crunch I spent a lot of time repaying technical debt as I plugged memory leaks and optimized the draw pipeline. The payoff is that the game now consistently runs at 60 FPS+ and has a much smaller memory footprint with no leakage. Oh, and I also added animation for characters and the environment!
Another big reason I keep making steady progress is that I’ve had the opportunity to work with some more amazing freelance artists for music and some of the graphics. The result is some pretty cool assets I can’t wait to feature in the game:
It’s incredibly fun and rewarding to work with people that go the extra mile to help realize your vision.
Finally I really want to shout out the “Nox Archaist” project by 6502 Workshop. This little gem of an indie-game is currently on Kickstarter where it has had amazing success so far! As a modern 8-bit game for the Apple 2, this game is a love-letter to all the games that inspired SKALD!
The project looks really solid with a large chunk of the game being complete already. More importantly, Mark and the other members of 6502 Workshop seem like great people who deserves all the support the retro-gaming family has to offer.
I support and endorse “Nox Archaist” 100% and so should you!