Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Mulit-Level Long Play Test

 Blast monsters, grab loot, buy swag powerups, unlock nodes, beat boss, run to exit. Rinse and repeat for next level.

Finally I actually got around to blocking out some level design. Nothing fancy, just a plan of walls and obstacles for the player to manoeuvre around (apparently that's maneuver for Americans).

It didn't take long before I realized that the whole thing was way too big and needed to be smaller. But that wasn't the only issue. As the game time increases in a level, so does the difficulty. And as the levels increase, the game gets harder. Obviously this is a tried and tested gaming concept, but I was finding that the difficulty curve ramped up very sharply. A little rejigging later and ... it was far too easy. Minor adjustment and too difficult again. Balancing this difficulty curve has taken up the vast amount of time this month.

It turned out that a lot of this difficulty stemmed from the player's powerups not reinitiating in later levels. I had made various changes to the powerup system and how it gets stored for reference and not all of it carried across correctly, and in one case I found that the variable being stored had received a name change at the other end which was no longer being referenced.

Going through the various powerups I fixed all the broken paths and references, and generally tweaked the strengths and effects. Gradius style "option" followers, or weapon satellites which follow the player and increase firepower were toned down in the amount of damage they did. "Static Heal" powerup was scrapped because the player never has chance to stop long enough to increase healing without getting swarmed by enemies. Enemies and their spawning routines were tweaked to give a more gradual rise in challenge but also to watch out for the player wiping the floor with them over a longer period of gameplay.

Each level has an exit, and each exit requires unlocking via activating nodes with later levels having multiply nodes to unlock. To make sure that the player understands this concept there are visual hints in the bottom right of the screen and the in the first level the node is next to the exit. Once all nodes are unlocked the level boss spawns (currently just a large cube with an aggressive charge attack) and once the boss has been defeated the exit opens. To prevent the player from lingering in the level to "clean up" cash and remaining swag I decided to stop the enemy from dropping loot coins once the boss has been defeated. Difficulty also takes a temporary increase both whilst the boss is released and also when they have been defeated to encourage the player to head for the open exit and progress the game. 

In the end it all seems to work rather well, and I am pleased with the result. Here's nearly an hour of playtesting the system. I also found an error at the end of it, as not statistical information was being passed to the end of level screen when the player was killed and the game was over - now fixed.

So, next up is adding a few more statistics to the end of level screen such as percentage of kills, cash, swag, etc that the player has gained that level. After this it will time to get on to actually designing art for the level, and eventually even the characters with a greater variation of enemies, bosses and enemy attacks. But hey, one thing at a time! ;)

Friday, 29 September 2017

Loot Crates And Swag Parcels

Loot Crates and Swag Parcels ... are actually the same thing. Previously they were just placeholder grey cubes, but now they have a final form.
Top row Large crate (rare swag items), middle row Medium crate (uncommon items) and bottom row Small crate (common and useable items). Each crate type has three models which are placed with a randomized rotation.

When the server loads the level, Loot crates are randomized throughout the game world. Initially I added an impact decal with each crate but realized that previously spawned decals do not get passed to new clients when they join unless they are first saved into the level's decal file. This seemed a bit of a faff, so I simply modeled the impact texture into the actual loot crate mesh.

I also replaced the Level Exit Node (which up until now had been just another Activation Node) with it's own model and updated the on-screen prompts to reflect this.

The post-level status screen has also got (yet another) change, replacing the text with icons though text explanations will pop-up via using mouseover. I was hoping that the icons would be fairly self-explanatory but decided to include the pop-up text for safety's sake. Nothing worse than a player wondering what the hell they've got 30 somethings of.

And here's how it all looks in the demo level I use for testing when the Exit is unlocked and the boss fight against Placeholder Huge Cube Boss begins.

Next up, either start to flesh out the remaining models for powerup special attack events - which will lead onto creating characters and the like, or it will be time to start creating some actual game levels - all of which will no doubt start out as whiteboxing.

Decisions, decisions, the pressures of command ...

Monday, 28 August 2017

Level Exit, Boss Fights, HUD, Statistics, Chaos Engine Reference

Busy month - well they're all busy months, it's just that sometimes more stuff end up working than others.

I coded a level exit system which ends with a boss fight, which is currently a big placeholder cube with a charging attack. The exit itself is shielded and the player has to find and activate a seperate node ("NODE ON!" Chaos Engine was a great game back in the ... er ... early 90s?). This unleashes the level boss, and once defeated the exit's final shield fails, the exit opens and all hell breaks loose whilst the player runs to escape the level.

Deactivated nodes have a padlock item above them and a single shield of falling energy particles (which is an animated texture mesh), whilst the exit can have multiple shields (one for each node and an extra one for the level boss). Exits have a revolving exit sign above them. Currently both nodes nad exits are using the same model but that will change in the future. so that exits look unique. In the first level the node will be next to the exit to teach the player the clear relationship between them. In all future levels the node and exit will be randomly placed away from each other and there may be multiple nodes which require unlocking. Nodes are unlocked in the same way SWAG is bought, stand over them and press BUY button and spend that cash.

After successfully completing the level, the player is shown a progress screen which displays multiple statistics and a big scroll list of all the swag that they have picked up.

Testing the gameplay for an hour and then viewing the statistics it became clear that the scoring system needed some tweaking. Sixty minutes of blasting the hell out of everything and collecting nearly 90 power-ups made the score not seem particularly charitable. To this end, I decided that doing anything would increase the score. Kill enemy score++, pickup cash score++, take damage score++, spend cash score++, etc. I also decided to throw in a score multiplier system. This works like a rage system in fighting games (or at least I "think" it does because I've never been a fan of fighting games). I called it "Momento Mori" because dead enemies boost the bar and it can go through 3 levels of muliplication for kill scores before sticking at level x4 for 30 seconds and multiplies all points from all sources. Using heavy attack boosts Momento Mori the most, light attack less and item kills the least.

Which brings me to changes to the HUD and general player interface. I added icons to all the bars and other player display objects. Cash and Points are animated meshes embedded in the HUD which rotate. Cash is a silver coin  - gold for a king, silver for a gentleman ;), score is a gold star in a ring (cos it looked better than just a star), health is a heart whilst energy is a lightning flash and Player Status is still a placeholder banana. Experience and Leveling was a little more awkward. Initially it was just "XP" though I eventaully settled on a bar chart with a small arrow at the end.

When the player exits the level - or dies, whichever comes first - their remaining cash is transfered into points at a rate of x10. Originally there was a whole load of text explaining this but I replaced that with an icon which hopefully does the same. This now displays for a few seconds before the whole screen fades out and the statistics interface fades in. I may in the future replace the text in the statistics with symbols.

I also declared a major victory in the on-going struggle against console spam. When a trigger was deleted, it would list the objects in it for a final onExit callback - except it didn't have a list anymore because it was being deleted. A quick "if ( gEvalState.thisObject->isProperlyAdded() )" put paid to these needless warnings and lines of red highlighted text in the IDE and console. Hurray!