Category Archives: Free Company

A more gentle introduction

I’m still hammering away at Free Company, even though the blog updates have been even more sporadic than usual. Mostly the reason for that is that nicely functioning UI menus, vital though they are, don’t particularly make for thrilling screenshots to blog around.

I’m still working principally on the campaign strategy layer of the tiered game cake that this thing is, though I have recently dipped back into the tactical layer a couple of times to fix a few bugs and keep myself appraised of roughly where it is at. I find in a large creative project like a game it is often easy to get lost down the rabbit hole of a small part and forget the whole. That rabbit hole for the past couple of weeks has been the Company creation screen, in which you put your initial stamp on your newly minted group of mercenary minions.  Formerly it was the most primitive of affairs, featuring a text box into which you could input the company name and another button to get-on-with-it-and-start-the-game-already. Now it has been ‘dramatically’ expanded with options to pick some company colours for use in the game UI, a company battle standard (coloured in your company colours) and a starting theme for your company that determines roughly what introductory, buildings, resources and mercenaries you’ll start out with.

The whole idea of this screen is to give the new player a better feeling of agency and creative control over their company and also set them more quickly on the path to their chosen style of imagined mercenary company. Hopefully it’ll do that a lot better now than before. I’ve been pondering other ways to ease new players into the game world on top of this screen, perhaps some general setting flavour text that gives more narrative to the largely free form strategic gameplay ahead. I’ve also been considering the other end of this spectrum, how to bring the game to an ending. Multiple types of objectives in the manner of civilization seem a certainty but what exactly those will be and how to give the player an overview on progress toward them are still problems to be solved.

What you can do right now is ‘level up’ your bunch of mercenaries through playing a series of randomly generated dungeon type tactical battles. and accumulate cash for doing so. Cash can be spent on building a bunch of buildings at your base which – right now – don’t do that much beyond allowing you to construct a few basic items. BUT, but it all just about works as an endless game loop without crashing (that often).

What’s next? There are a couple more broad ‘screen concepts’ I definitely want to work into the strategy layer; ‘lore’ (a tech tree type of thing), ‘finances’ (tracking your money), ‘trade’ ( a fancier version of the current shop), victory condition progress tracking & something, something with graphs. Plus  I want a simple popup notification type system to try and tie it all together, it will alerts you to happenings across the world and in the other screens as they occur from the main screen while the clock is running (switching from turn based to real time is another change that I want to make in here). Then there is the main map screen itself, its a visible thing now but I want to tie the abstract screens into the map now so that your base exists *there* and the contract is taking place over *there* and your iron ore mine is over *here* so that’s another job for the list.

Then there are the mostly missing systems that cut across both layers of the game cake; mercenary skills and mercenary injuries too big broad topics that will need a lot of work to feel right. And.. loads of other stuff, too much to list.

Anyway, as always feel free to ask any questions via email or the comments.

 


Holdings, production and stacks

A quickie update because I’m a bit short on time at the minute.

 

The last two weeks have been spent trying to further build up the sparse systems of the strategic layer, so the buildings from last time around are being given a new feature; item production and I’ve added another new system and screen to support that. The idea is that once you’ve built your blacksmiths workshop at your mercenary camp you can hire a blacksmith to go in it and set him to work turning raw materials into usable weapons and armour for your mercenaries to use in upcoming missions. At first it’ll just be a cheaper way to equip mercenaries over what you can buy from local traders but as your blacksmith gets better, your tech level increase, your workshop gets upgraded you’ll be able to craft better gear than you can buy.

To support this I also needed to add raw materials into the game so your blacksmith (and other craftsmen) would have something to work with. So there are now a range of raw material resource items that you’ll be able to find and trade like the normal items but the main way of obtaining them will be through the new ‘holdings’ system. Holdings represent the lands and properties your mercenary company has bought, seized or been granted through their activities, they come in different types from empty lands to gold mines and you can exert some control over what exactly they do but, what they do in the main, is pump out resources and ship them to your mercenary camp.

Getting this working required some adjustments to the item and inventory system as previously the grid was strictly a one item per square deal which works fine when you are dealing with small numbers of finished mercenary gear but becomes a little unwieldy when you are getting shipments of thirty charcoal every turn into your company stores. So I spent a bunch of time adding support for items stacks, splitting stacks and merging stacks. Only some items can be stacked at the minute I’ll just limit it to whatever makes most sense I think.

And that’s about it. I’m currently still working through the actual production of the items at the blacksmith as that’s all very bare-bones and I want a proper build queue so that you can queue up a whole set of gear if you have the materials.


Base camp

Base Camp screen

click to enlarge

 

One of the things Free Company had been missing from the classic X-Com design locker (that I have been so gleefully looting) is some kind of base building mechanic in the campaign layer. Well no longer, despite the lengthy pauses in keeping this blog up to date I have been steadily trundling away on new stuff for the game here and there in between some minor computer troubles and a new gym regime (designed to keep me alive long enough to finish this game).

Screenshots of menus are never that gripping but this particular one happens to capture almost everything I’ve been doing recently. First up was a code refactor of the campaign UI to support multiple potential screens worth of menus ( rather than having everything stupidly dumped in one rapidly filling up place). This was to support a couple of new screen ideas, the first of which is the base building one you see above in it’s first incarnation. To sell the base screen I decided to make a whole bunch of fancy images in a consistent style to represent the ideas I had for buildings. I think it came off reasonably and it is a lot more satisfying to gain that little icon of a tavern than it would be just building a bunch of text descriptions.  Though I also spent a bit of time revamping the text description displays by making the tool-tips used throughout the campaign (and in some areas of the tactical battles) more aesthetically pleasing. They now have slightly rounded corners, a carefully adjusted amount of alpha and the use of new text rendering options. The engine can now, with a little bit of text markup, render a bold version of a font (as long as you remembered to load one) and assign text colours with a much more dynamic system of css like id tags loaded from an xml so it is easy to add new colours and easy to adjust the colour of all the text that uses the same tag.

And finally you can actually use that menu now to start construction of the available buildings and as long as you have the cash and wait a few turns your company will be the proud owner of a new tavern/stockade or whatever. Of course at the moment all of the buildings are somewhat ceremonial as the other systems they are going to unlock , contribute to or  buff have either yet to be built or are yet to be decided upon. I have a few ideas of what they are going to do but nothing is set in stone yet.

I’m quite enjoying working on the campaign layer at the moment as I feel that every time it improves it’s helping to add the purpose and context that I feel has been a bit lacking in the tactical battles. However, there is still a chunk of necessary work that needs to go into the current tactical battles around mercenary special skills, path finding and play speed improvements and better enemy AI. At some point soon I want to muster the drive to finish off those areas to an ‘alpha-ready’ standard so I can start to think about some kind of release that will garner much needed player feedback.

In not-Free Company-news there is a new remake of X-Com due next month by Civilization developing titans Firaxis.  I have of course preordered it out of my ‘research’ budget mainly so that I can swipe all of its good ideas and twist them to my own dark ends.

 

As always any comments or encouragements are welcome in the handy box below, or you can follow me on twitter and bark commands to me via that instead.