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.

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.