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Random Thoughts of a Game Developer

Archive for the category “Progress Report”

Essence 20 and me continuing to babble endlessly as usual

So, I’ve dropped something I’ve been calling “Essence 20” a few times in the last couple posts. For those relatively new to this blog, its original focus was on game design – specifically RPGs of my own design. I say it was about them, not actually about finishing them. I have one complete and one kinda-almost-but-not-really-complete game on this blog.

There’s a link up above tome called 16 Bit Heroes Alpha – Incomplete, and that’s more or less done. Well, sorta. Okay, not really. As far as I can tell, the math comes out about right, but I have yet to run a game using it, and I finished the blessed thing… oh, ages ago. Somewhere one this blog is also a game I put together on a rainy Saturday afternoon called Quick Play. It’s pretty good stuff, and is much more complete than 16 Bit Heroes. Of course, it’s also only about three pages long. It’s kinda hard to eff up the math in a three page long game. I’ve seen it done, but I think you almost have to try to do it.

Anyway, part of the problem I keep running into is that I want a moderately complicated game system – kinda like 3.5 before there were a bajillion splatbooks. I like tactical map-based combat (sue me). I like character options – the more free form character creation can be, the better, I say. It’s one of the reasons why GURPS is one of my favorite games of all time. Well, was until 4th edition, anyway. I also love 6e Hero, but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle o’ fish, as they say.

As I pointed out, I want a game with a system complexity level right around the d20 basic system – more specifically, right around the d20 Modern level, which, even with several additional books, never really became all that complicated. I also like the talent trees, and so on – nothing I haven’t raved about here before.

Alright, set that all aside for a minute. I have a homebrew game setting that spans multiple genre while remaining grounded in good old fashioned fantasy. I’ve been working on it since I was 9 or so, and it got a whole hell of a lot of definition when I was in High School during a very long campaign I ran (using GURPS) called the Essence Quest. Most of the people I played with in that game are still my best friends today; to date, I still think it’s the best game I’ve ever run, in no small part because of the just effin’ awesome collection of players.

One of them pointed out to me recently that I’ve tried many times to adapt my setting to game systems, and that I need to actually do the opposite: either design a game system around y setting from scratch, or adapt a game system to my setting. You know, not my setting to the system – the other way around. Devan, you were right. As with all things RPG related, you and the rest of the Crew are usually right. As if you didn’t know that already, ‘ya smug bastard ;-)

Essence 20 is me taking the d20 system – primarily, but not exclusively from the d20 Modern SRD – and beating it until it fits with my game setting. I’m not adapting the setting to it, I’m adapting it to the setting. Essence 20 will include free-form character creation and development in a classless environment, all based around the solid d20 system framework. I will eventually need help on this project, which is something I’ll get to in later posts.

Essence 20 doesn’t use the traditional d20 system stat set, instead focusing on Talent Trees to develop a character’s abilities (“stats” are based on what you can do instead of the other way around – although it is actually kinda recursive).  I’ve put together some pretty extensive talent trees, a la:

This was done using Blumind. I've since switched to XMind because it's got more features and is a hell of a lot more cross-platform, but I miss the simplicity of Blumind. If you want mind mapping software, and you'e on Windows, get it. It's beautiful in its simplicity, tiny, and uses little in the way of system resources.

Changes have been made since I made this, but mostly in the form of additions and name changes. Oh, and adding in how stuff actually works.

You’ll have to click on it to see it, sorry – it just won’t fit properly on the page here. Heck, you might need to open it in a new tab, or download the image and use a graphics viewer. Do what you have to if you’re curious. My friend Pat pointed out that this might be the first game book ever to need to be published in 11×17. I laughed, and then my laughter tapered off into silence when I realized that he had a point.

Basically how it works is that you get a certain number of points to stick in Talents when making your character. Each point in the Talen also gives you access to a Power on the talent tree. Experience allows you to add in new Powers, and the total number of Powers you have in a particular Talent Tree is the score for that particular Talent. For every so many EP spent improving the character, you gain a Feat. Racial abilities come by building up a race-specific talent tree. The value for Talents is used for things like skill rolls and so on. If it sounds complicated, that’s just because I’ve done a shit job of describing it here. It all comes together pretty smoothly when I’m describing it in person.

There are finer details to work out, but the basics are already done. I hope to start a playtest/dev game this Friday. We’ll have to see how schedules work out. As I come up with more, I’ll post it here, of course (it’s kinda what I do), but the fact that I’m hammering an extant system instead of developing one from scratch means that a lot of the work is already done. If I do this right, you’ll even be able to use other d20 type books (specifically d20 Modern and/or D&D books).

I’m doing an “all rights reserved” thing on this for right now. The final game system will be OGLed, while most setting specific stuff will probablyn be held back as “product identity”.

I know it’s not much to go on, but I welcome feedback and questions in the comments as always. Oh – and tell your friends about me!

next post: back to D&D Next, and a discussion about Non Disclosure Agreements

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No review, but plenty of other stuff to talk about…

Well, that fell through disastrously. The promised review isn’t done. I simply haven’t had the time. I apologize, but it has since occurred to me that maybe my brother’s review blog isn’t the right format for an indy RPG review in any case. I mean, it’s a great format; I wish more in-depth reviews used it, but going over some of his stuff I have come to the conclusion that maybe… just maybe… it’s a format that works better for visual media. More specifically, I could see using it for TV and Movies… but less so for books or video games. Maybe I should try to find a format of my own to use…

In development news, I got more work done last night on my Essence system than in the preceding week all together, and it looks like I may pull off much the same thing tonight, which is fantastic. I have the basic task resolution mechanic in place, and have begun constructing character creation rules, along with everything that will appear on a character. Which brings me to a question.

I’m looking at dividing the combat mechanic up, essentially making two different combat systems for the game. The idea runs like this:

  1. Standard Combat: This combat system eschews battle maps and the related tactical side of combat. The idea is to have a simple, quick to run system for folks who don’t want to spend a lot of time on combat, or who like their combat map-free.
  2. Art of War: This is the map combat system for Essence, with a focus on tactical movement. Art of War requires players to make a sort of sub-character, derived from the main character sheet, that has information specific to Art of War combat. The eventual idea would be to make it so you could just make the Art of War sheet, allowing groups to have fun little skirmish battles and run pvp tournies if that’s what they’re into without getting into a full-on game.
So yeah, in a way, the Art of War combat system is a game within a game. It’s all very complicated, tautological, and Hamlet-esque.
At any rate, keeping in mind the two modes of running combat above, I’m wondering if things like defense (i.e. what a character does to avoid getting tagged in combat) should be separate derived abilities, or if they should be based directly on Skills (the Essence system is a Skill based one – did I forget to mention that?). That is to say, should characters have a separate sub-stat  that works sort of like a Challenge rating for how hard they are to hit, or should Characters be expected to buy up skills for use in defense or default to an Agility stat for a defense check?

I’m not really asking anyone in particular this question, you understand. I mean, I welcome any and all opinions on the matter – and would be more than happy to clarify the conundrum if you need me to… but mostly I’m talking about it here so that I can get my brain wrapped around the problem. I guess it comes down to this: how much complexity do I want in the Standard Combat system? The whole purpose of dividing the combat systems into two different methods is so that a game group can choose between a simple, streamlined, relatively quick combat system (if their game is combat light, or they don’t want to deal with the complexity of battle-map based tactical combat) and a more in-depth tactical skirmish system that uses minis and so on (if the game has a lot of combat, or the group enjoys full tactical combat similar to what’s found in the more recent editions of Dungeons & Dragons).

I want groups to have that choice. Of course, groups always have that choice – nothing stops you from ignoring tactical map-based combat rules in any game you play. I want the choice up-front and supported either way by the system. Is that too much to hope for?

As a final note: as of this writing, in about two hours, the sixth series of the new Doctor Who (or the thirty-sixth season of Doctor Who, if you prefer to think of it that way) will air in England. Here in the States, of course, we have to wait another 12 hours or so to see it, but I just wanted to let everyone know how excited I am that it’s finally here (YAY!!). Everyone got their scarfs, sonic screwdrivers, and TARDIS keys ready? Fantastic. Hopefully, I’ll be able to post a few thoughts on the episode tonight. If not, look forward to a post about the episode tomorrow.
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An Apology

Sorry for the lack of updates in the last two weeks. I’ve never been especially consistent with this blog, but I was going for a post a week this year, and I have failed. Sorry about that.

Not much has been going on in game development in the last two weeks. My girlfriend fell down our apartment stairs, our daughter got sick (just a cold, but in a three year old that’s less than the most fun ever), my girlfriend and I got engaged, and then I caught our little girl’s cold, but worse. So, I’ve been busy. But I thought I’d go over some news and such, some of it personal, some of it game dev related. Ready?

Engaged

The biggest news over the last two weeks is that I’m engaged. My girlfriend and I have a friend who has gotten us a room in Vegas over the weekend of the first of April. I’m not much for April Fool’s Day jokes, since April 1 is also my Mom’s birthday, but I mentioned that it would be funny if we claimed to have gotten married while we were in Vegas. We started making a plan about finding a Little Person Elvis Impersonator to stage wedding photos with, and everyone had a good laugh. The conversation moved on to how we really ought to get engaged… and then we were. We started making real wedding plans for that weekend, then thought San Diego Comicon would be better, and then moved the date to next year’s Comicon…

There was no real proposal involved – no one got down on one knee, and no rings were exchanged. And yet, I can’t help but think that, for us, this was the best possible way for things to go down. It was very… us. The engagement was born out of laughter and having a good time. It was a mutual decision reached through discussion. Our immediate ideas involved geeking out the wedding as much as possible. We’re engaged not because one person asked and the other accepted, but because we both, at about the same time, realized it was right.

I personally think that’s romantic, but your mileage may vary.

Elements Development

I’ve more or less finished Part 1 (of about 6, I think) of the new Elements Beta. I haven’t been able to work on it much over the laast two weeks, not just because of the impressive list of events going on in my life, but also because I’ve come across a new form of Writer’s Block that I was heretofore unfamiliar with. I know what I want to say, I have everything planned, and once I get started, I figure Part 2 will take a week or two at most… but I can’t figure out, for the life of me, how to get started. Which brings me to my process and why most of the usual suggestions (move on to something else, start in the middle, et al) won’t work.

I tend to write from beginning to end. I use earlier concepts to build up to later ones, thereby occasionally requiring me to go back and make edits to earlier content. This resulted in a bit of a debacle for 16 Bit Heroes, in case anyone cares to recall (or even noticed – I got it fixed fairly quickly, and I’m not exactly the most read site on the net). Still, it’s how I seem to be able to do things, and it’s always worked well for me in the past. Less so now, apparently.

I may try the skipping ahead technique – Part 2 contains the Elements list, which might be a good place to start. But until I figure out how to get past this roadblock, actually writing down any Elements stuff has slowed to a crawl. My brain is still fairly buzzing with dev stuff, of course, but that’s not doing me much good right now.

In any case, that’s about all for now. I’ll try to get back to an (at a minimum) update-per-week schedule. Who knows – maybe it will stick this time.

So, the words Character Sheet are what people are looking for?

So I was looking through the statistics of my site – views per day and such like – and I made what I thought to be an interesting discovery. My last post got 100 views in a single day. Now, I’ve been thinking about that, and I’ve come to the conclusion that people searching online for Character Sheets came to the site by accident. Or on purpose. Either way, the words Character Sheet appear to drive people to the blog.

Now, I’m grateful for the views. I hope people saw something they thought was worth coming back to check on again. I doubt it, though, since that post seems to have been the only one any of these folks looked at. That’s a little sad to me; if you’ve come that far, and saw the character sheet, but didn’t look further, I figure I must be doing something wrong. So I got to thinking…

Where do my brother’s highest view counts come from? Now, I haven’t consulted him or anything, but I do know this: head on over to Google and type in “Power Girls Boobs”. Check out the very top listing. Go ahead – I’ll still be here when you get back…

See that? Now, considering the volume of poetry, prose, and well though out commentary that appears on my brother’s blog, not to mention original art and fantastic essays, I can’t help but wonder if maybe he’s a little disappointed that Power Girl‘s Boobs seem to be such a significant source of traffic to his site. Still, I think I’ve learned something. Despite that learning, I’m still not proud of what I’m about to do:

Power Girl as depicted in Superman/Batman: Pub...

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Galatea from Justice League Unlimited
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Power Girl, from JSA Classified #1 (2005). Art...
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JSA Classified #3 (2005), a
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There… And may all the women of the world one day forgive me for what I have done.
For the interested, I’ve also finished the alpha equipment chapter for 16 Bit Heroes, including a Potion/Poultice creation system that may or may not be something that resembles balanced. There are weapons, armor, ans so on – everything you could need for a level 1 character. I hope to start on the magic system later today, although the “where the hell do I start” problem is giving me an almighty headache. I’m personally hoping to have the whole thing ready for playtest by the end of the month, maybe sooner. Here’s hoping.

Closer to Playtest than I Thought

So, a friend of mine took a look at what I have of 16 Bit Heroes a few days ago, and pointed something out to me that I had missed. I have been under the assumption that I needed to finish the system book before I could start playtesting. That would mean a few more months of steady work. He told me I was wrong. The system is about two chapters away from complete readiness, and could probably be played with only a small part of each of those chapters complete.

In other words, my friend Pat let me in on a secret that I should’ve guessed at myself: it’s idiotic to wait until you’re completely done designing to start playtesting.

He’s right, of course. For instance, how can I possibly guess at how to properly put monsters together without seeing the characters in action at various levels? How can I find the balance between overpowered and underpowered with magic items unless I try a few out? How can I know where to set values at for the spell creation system until I know how that system will impact the rest of combat?

So, now I have a revised list of things to do before 16 Bit Heroes playtesting begins. If you want to know what it is, read the following list. If you don’t care, skip it – you won’t hurt my feelings. Although, it is a pretty short list

  1. Complete the ALPHA Spell and Technique Creation System. This is needed so that magic and combat techniques can be used during playtest. Part of this will include the creation of a few simple monsters for Summon magic.
  2. Complete a simple outline version of the Combat System
    Dragon Quest (1986), also known as Dragon Warrior.

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    . It doesn’t need a lot of details yet – basically a simple flowchart or numbered list. The details can be forged through playtest.

  3. Complete a basic equipment list – basic weapons and armor, basic adventuring equipment. This is all done in my head and needs only to be written.
  4. Create a couple basic monsters. As mentioned above, this is needed for Summon magic. It’s also needed for combat encounters.

That’s about it. Experience can be hashed out during playtest, as can most everything else that needs doing. By providing only the magic creation framework for the start of playtest, I can leave the creation of an initial spell list to the playtesters (which is cool, since it’s how several spells in the world’s most popular role playing game came into being oh so long ago).

So… instead of looking to start playtesting near the end of the year, I’m thinking a couple weeks, maybe a month. Once I have everything that I think is needed for playtest, by the way, I will find a way to post it here, along with a new license for use for when people  want it.

I’m excited about this. It was an eye-opener to say the least, and I just want to say “thanks” to Pat for pointing it out to me. In any case, I’ve got some writing to do.

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