Category Archives: Free Company

Warhammer, Mafia and endless winter


Somehow it’s mid-April already and this blog has been growing a little neglected. The past month has been filled up with a pile of things other than working on Free Company, so that I can barely recall what I was doing on it last time I worked on it. Such is the chaos of life, we’ve had Ofsted inspections, blocked exterior drains, a mini Warhammer tournament and most recently I’ve been distracted by working on a helper utility for people who want to run variants of the party/forum trust game Mafia.

Last time I was talking about building a notification system for Free Company which is something I went ahead and did, you now get popup messages when you’ve finished researching lores and that kind of thing which helps keep you informed about what’s going on in the strategy layer. Some of the notifications are pretty elaborate; like the one you get after fighting a tactical battle  but most of them are fairly simple affairs and it’s easy to add more of them should the need arise.

Then I worked on the path-finding code again so that it could properly take account of the ‘zones of control’ around players and not try to navigate through them midway along a path as was happening before. Zones of control also became a much more interesting part of the combat system in that, now, if you try to leave one the owning player will get a free out of sequence attack against you. In practice this gives players a strong incentive to leave their mercenaries that are in close combat, in the fight and not run them out of it.

The lore system became ‘structurally’ complete in that you can now properly research every one of the planned technologies and they properly unlock when you obtain the correct prerequisite technologies and items. None of the technologies actually have any other game mechanical effects yet but we’re halfway there.

So that’s Free Company. I then spent an inordinate amount of time assembling, gluing & painting miniatures for a planned Warhammer mini-tournament against my brother. Warhammer is a game of fantasy table-top battles, there are hundreds of miniatures per side and they fight in large ranked units through a mixture of dice rolling luck and strategic calls made during the game over unit positioning and so on. I had a goal to try and make two completely painted armies this year after our tournament last year with two ‘fresh from the box’ unpainted sets that come with the Warhammer starter set. Unfortunately I didn’t quite manage to make it because damn, there are a lot of Skaven in a functional army, but I was definitely over halfway there with almost every unit having some painted stuff.

I won’t reveal the results of the tournament here because that will be the subject of a couple of lengthy battle reports with maps when I get the chance to make them.

Then we get to Mafia Helper. This is a utility I started tinkering with back in February after participating in particularly elaborate version of the game and getting a sense of how hard it is to balance games of this type due in part to the large quantity of variables but also due to the psychological variables of a trust game. So I decided to build a simulator that could attempt to run thousands of test games of Mafia with a given setup of players, teams and special powers and produce some odds on how likely each team in the game was to win. The idea is then to expose the ‘psychology’ variables so that each game runner can adjust them in line with his or her feelings about how players interact and gain or lose each other’s trust. So far I’m about halfway through the initial planned feature set from working on it here and there in between everything else.

The tool is also serving as a way to make a series of improvements to the cross program UI Library I created for Free Company. Mafia Helper is entirely UI so it serves as a great test bed for the kind of more complicated UI elements I use in Free Company without the chaos of Free Company’s other code getting in the way of debugging. I’ve already managed to make a couple of big improvements to the UI system that finally squashed an annoying bug with flickering  in UI elements that’s been in the code for possibly years, and there has been a host of smaller improvements to the functionality of the generic elements like buttons, text boxes, tool-tips and scrollable lists that help make the UI feel a lot more solid.

Finally, a word on the endless UK winter which has finally broken this week. Good riddance.

Real Time and Technology trees

Is what I’ve been working on recently.

January is an exam heavy month so a lot of time was spent outside of the office working for cold, hard immediate cash but I did find some time to keep the Free Company fires burning. The grand strategy layer has now been moved over completely to a controllable real time based system (though the amount of time that each thing takes to do still requires much careful balancing). Instead of having to hit ‘end turn’ to advance progress you can just unpause and watch events play out at whatever time speed you like. This system will be further upgraded (probably soon) with a system of notifications that pause the game and automatically present you with some information when some important event occurs (lore research complete, building constructed etc).

Parallel to that I’ve also been building up the lore research sub-system gradually working out new technologies and what buildings, skills, items and further technologies they unlock. The tech tree helps provides a kind of narrative to the strategy layer and some interesting prioritisation choices when multiple projects are available simultaneously. As in X-com I plan to gate some lore/technology based on the discovery or ‘recovery’ of certain items from the tactical battle component. It is just one way that helps tie your actions in the two layers together in a deeper way than just a win/loss dynamic.

My todo list informs me that I also have tasks coming up to work on a proper injury system for mercenaries, the aforementioned notification system and some more work on buildings.

Inspiration wise I’ve been drawing on a few new games recently that I’ve finally gotten round to playing in the post x-mas period.They are  Eador: Genesis (a HOMM-alike with excellent AI) and Dark Souls (a properly rewarding and challenging action RPG with a classic D&D inspired melancholic mythos). I heartily recommend either.

Christmassy Update

I thought I better make another progress update before the holiday season sends everything into chaos for a few weeks. The strategy layer is progressing nicely with new screens produced for assessing your company accounts and researching lore and the early stages of switching the layer over to pauseable real-time has begun. I’ve made a few more of the buildings have actual effects beyond just item production and even spent some time thinking up thematic overall victory conditions.

Right now I’m thinking there will be two initial victory conditions; winning a ‘lore victory’ which will be similar to the science victory in civilization in that you progress to near the end of the technology tree which allows you to unlock some kind of final hard tactical battle which inn turn leads you to the end of the game and the secret of monkey island/why magic has returned to the world. The second type of victory will involve clambering the feudal ranks by attaining or claiming titles and eventually dominating all opposition on the map by declaring yourself ‘king’. Claiming the king rank will require a certain amount of the respect resource, some favours accumulated through contracts, an impressive central castle and of course controlling around 60% of the map through the territory control mechanics (a combination of economic power, and military/political influence).

Perhaps more interesting will be the mechanics of losing. You will also lose the game if a state of secure peace persists between all the main political factions on the map for longer than x months. A mercenary company lives by the sword and peace is death. Hopefully you will be able to use intrigue, assassinations and other manipulations to  keep political tensions in a continuously heightened state and thus protect your income stream. At some point in the future I may provide a ‘holy warrior’ path of mercenary company that subverts this failure condition by striving continually for peace  but for now there will be only war. The second less pressing failure condition concerns the ‘ruin’ spread by the chaotic magical monsters if you fail to fulfil enough contracts related to suppressing the monstrous threat then it may eventually grow too large and overwhelm the entire realm.

None of that is implemented yet but hopefully when it is it will provide a couple of varying paths through the game, add some all important mercenary flavour and just give the players something to aim for beyond just growing their company’s power.

Have a lovely Christmas, I’ll be back in the new year with more steady progress updates I’m sure. Hopefully some screenshots should resume too once I get back to the more camera friendly tactical portion of the game.