Classic Addict

A quick update on the CRPG…

Work on the final dungeons continues, inch by inch. I got maps drawn up and I now need to populate them with monsters, treasure, transactions, and so forth. It’s slow going because I’m trying not to hurry; I don’t want placeholders for something better to come along later. I got some good ideas for the Volcano Fortress! After that only the Dark Tower remains…

I also did several code changes to transactions to allow for linear sequences of mob updates. When you find yourself writing the same command over and over with one variance, that’s a clear sign you could probably collapse it into a single operation. Now I can just say “Change mobs 5-17 to a MobMonster” rather than each one individually. It saves a few bytes in the file and is more efficient to write as a command.

From a more “generic CRPG engine” standpoint, I would get better mileage if you could provide a list of mob numbers OR a range, and just store those individually in the architecture. But if I just structure my data in the necessary blocks, I don’t need to do this. My goal isn’t to create a CRPG engine, just an engine that drives my specific game. 🙂

Waiting for single mobs… because in Vanilla WoW, mobs are lethal

But in other news… World of Warcraft Classic came out this week… And yeah, I’m playing it. 🙂

I’m honestly amazed how much I missed the original game. I’ll cover the differences in broad points:

  • Money is scarce. Part of this is because the game just started, so there are no high level players dumping money into the lower-end of the economy yet.
  • Flights are expensive at low levels, you often find yourself going “A silver piece? Eh, I’ll walk.”
  • Walking everywhere, and not having mounts until much later, has the effect of making the entire game much slower-paced, both for leveling and for questing.
  • Flight points are relatively rare, there is typically only one per zone, and in the case of starting zones, none. A zone like Stranglethorn Vale becomes very difficult to quest in because there is literally only one flight point there, at the southern tip. (For Alliance, anyway.)
  • There is also only one graveyard for each zone. This is a pain in the neck, really; it must have been after the first expansion that they added additional graveyards per zone to speed up corpse-running.
  • The slower pace has the effect of making you pay closer attention to all the fun details in the game. I love going into the inns and just noticing the furniture and decor rather than racing through.
  • Mana runs out FAST. At some point in regular WoW, they just decided to disable the entire mana mechanic, and use spell cooldowns only as a control. Bah. I like the dependency. Spellcasters are typically DPS, so the cost of doing more damage is exhaustion of mana.
  • The point-based talent system is far more customizable. I missed having arcane spells with my fire mage. Granted, you can make a pretty broken or useless character, but isn’t that part of the fun?
  • Some spells require reagents, which aren’t always purchasable. I missed that! Now I remember why it was good to get tips to open portals…
  • Quest items are not always “quest items”, they are sellable. And EVERYTHING takes up bag space.
  • Many mobs of regular monsters are placed so that they will all aggro if one is attacked. This makes solo questing more difficult, and encourages party play. I hadn’t recognized this as a design decision in the old days.
  • I love the classic zones as they once were… Westfall, for example. I hated the revision post-Cataclysm, with the elemental damage everywhere and the hokey C.S.I. Miami references.

I love Classic WoW. It feels like an actual world, not a game. And probably the best part is that I’m gaming with my brother again. The two of us, with friends, played a lot of WoW back in the day, and it feels good to have that connection again. 😀

I figure at some point we’ll both get bored or frustrated and quit. We disliked the dungeons a lot, because it required teaming up and we were pretty bad at it to start. (We wiped dozens of times in the Deadmines.)

Also, the middle zones (level 30-50) aren’t as fun to play in. They are hard to get to and have far less quests. Some even have broken ones. (Dustwallow Marsh comes to mind, with it’s abruptly aborted narrative about the burned down inn.) So once I get to 30 I’ll have to see if it’s still fun to keep going or not.

What I’ll be interested in seeing is how popular Classic remains, after the initial surge dies down. Will players say they prefer the old over the new? Will that influence Blizzard’s design decisions? Will the schism in WoW’s cultural base create two fan bases both fighting for resources and attention? That would be a far more dire and interesting faction split than the Alliance and Horde ever were.

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Heating Up

Finally finished up the underwater city dungeon. Two more big dungeons to go!

I’m not going quite as fast as I wanted to, for a couple reasons. One, summer is now in full force and the house gets warm enough that working on the computer is not always fun. Two, I was distracted for a bit with new content in World of Warcraft; finally able to get flight in the new zones! Ironic that one of the newest zones is an exposed “underwater” zone…

I was able to get a bunch of fixes into code, including updates to tile data and battlemaps. A lot of my graphic sets didn’t have tile particulars defined like “opaque” or “Makes this noise when you cross it”, so it was good to get that data filled in.

The next dungeon is a volcano fortress. This has particular meaning in the TI community because the very first 3rd party developed Tunnels of Doom game is “The Volcano Fortress”.

The Manual Cover

In 1985, John Behnke reverse-engineered the original Tunnels of Doom game’s format and wrote an editor so that anyone could make Tunnels of Doom games. This allowed you to create entirely new classes, graphics, monsters, items, and so forth.

It had some limitations; the basic fetch quest was not alterable except in the number of items you had to acquire (up to eight.) You also couldn’t change monster special attack effects, only their names and assignments. Classes can be renamed but otherwise function as the same four. But overall the effort was worth it; Asgard Software turned out several “Doom game” collections over the next few years. A few of the fan favorites were:

“Adventures in K-Mart” where you sought the blue light special and fought other shoppers with attacks like ‘bad breath’. I like this one because ALL the graphics were updated, which makes it a very different feeling game from the baseline.

“Doctor Who” where you took the role of the Doctor’s companions (or the Doctor himself if you played a solo game) fighting daleks, cybermen, and whatnot. Clearly there were some Whovians among the 99’er crowd back in the 80’s! K-9 was the Rogue class equivalent.

I actually was able to buy a copy of Volcano Fortress on original 5 1/4″ disk with manual on eBay a few months ago. Sadly, the disk was toast; not an uncommon issue these days as the old magnetic formatting dies. But a fellow 99’er was able to send me the binary file for the game.

Volcano Fortress itself was clearly more of a proof of concept in design; none of the graphics were changed, which is a bit disappointing. But the monsters, classes and weapons were all updated, and I quickly discovered that the game is actually MUCH more difficult than Quest of the King, when my party was nearly wiped out in the first encounter.

My goal is still to get content done and get some beta testing started, preferably before the Retro Gaming Expo in October. Fingers crossed!

Posted in CRPG, Design, Gaming, TI-99/4a | 2 Comments

Happy Birthday to Me

So yesterday was my birthday… I’m now level 44. Still saving up for my epic mount though. 😉

Other than aches and pains (my knee still is bugging me) and having to diet to lose some weight (which at least IS happening, I’m down 35 points from where I was in late May), I feel pretty good. Working in computer software and being around computers most of my life has already made me feel like an old man many times over, so I’m never bothered that I have computer magazines older than my co-workers.

The funny thing is, computer software changes but it also comes back around. In the early 80’s there were “RAMdisks”, a peripheral that mimicked a floppy disk drive but used static RAM chips. They were expensive but fast, so a lot of users had them. But when CD-ROM technology finally got out into mainstream, they were largely forgotten.

And what do we have today? Solid state drives, which are incredibly fast, all RAM, with no moving parts which makes them ideal for laptops and tablets. It’s the RAMdisk of old, re-packaged! Things like that help me feel like I’m not so much old as I can see the cycles of things that just come around again. It’s no wonder time is often viewed as a wheel in many cultures.

On the CRPG front, I slowed down a bit while I did some research of sorts for my underwater dungeon by playing some Bioshock. I’d never played the second or third one, and it was a nice way to recharge the creative batteries. I found Bioshock Infinite to be very good, although the ending was a little anti-climactic. Bioshock 2 was good but mostly derivative of the first one; you could just skip playing it entirely and never have missed anything. I have two maps left to populate with encounters and transactions, then I can move on to the 2nd of the final three dungeons.

Also, during my birthday my dad and I rebuilt the back patio deck on my house. I’d noticed the boards were looking rather ratty in places, and then in one corner, I felt a distinct crunch when I stepped on it. My dad, being a super handy guy (roofs, decks, house extensions, he’s done it all) came over and honestly did most of the work with me as an assistant. The new deck is twice as thick, covered in weather stain/sealant for maximum protection, and the lower struts have even been reinforced for sturdiness. Thanks, dad!

My goal is to be done with all my maps and working on getting the engine changes done for full support of all graphics by end of this month.

Me and my dad
The back deck, new and improved!
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Underwater Dreams

I’ve been making excellent progress with the final world disk. One thing that helps with this is that a LOT of the map content is dungeons, which go a little faster to create than towns, where you have to write up dialogue, decide item prices, etc.

I’m on the first of three large final dungeons in the game, which is a sunken underwater city. This requires me to create some new fresh graphics, which has slowed me down a little. I also added a couple new monsters to keep things interesting.

Not quite THIS awesome…

A few engine updates made their way in as well. I changed how ranged weapons worked with ammunition so that I could more easily add new items to the game. A big update is coming to change the tile graphics for combat to match up again with my compression changes to add a new character set.

I’ve also devoted some attention to my documentation. Part of the beta testing will be having a complete and useful set of manuals. This requires me to have the engine mostly complete so the manual is up to date.

I also decided to expand the character level range from 1 to 16, instead of 10. I haven’t decided on experience progression quite yet, but my goal is to make it so you level up pretty quickly at the start, slow up at the middle, and getting the last few levels takes a LOT of time.

This also requires monsters to have a bell curve of strength as well. I realized when working on one of the dungeons that the party wouldn’t be getting there until late in the game. I had to make sure the monsters there were strong enough to be a challenge to the party.

Monsters don’t have “levels” per se, but I use an abstracted level value to help determine their statistics. Most of them should be in the middle level range of 6-10; presently I have 116 out of 206 there. Adjustments here will definitely be ongoing.

I got a big convention this upcoming weekend, so my tentative hope and plan is that by the end of July I can start some internal beta testing. If you’re interested in assisting in testing, please comment here and let me know!

Posted in CRPG, Design, TI-99/4a | 7 Comments

Third Base

The third world disk is done at last! After over three months, ugh…

Yeah, that took longer than I thought. I did a lot of new tile graphics which slowed things down. I also completed all monster graphics as I went along; that was one of those tasks that was easy to switch over to when I wasn’t in the mood to write dialogue. Monster statistics are another story, but I’ve found the best way to do those is in beta-testing.

Out in real life, a lot of other things interrupted as well. Lots of stuff to get done around the house, a convention to attend, hurt my knee, finally am on a diet and trying to lose weight, etc.

The good news is, I just have one world disk left to go! I’ve already plotted out the dungeons and content pretty well, so there will be less to do, I think. I got some new graphics to do but not nearly as much.

One aspect of the 3rd disk was that I combined doing both mobs and transactions at the same time. This helped to move things along better, it’s also why the percentage complete remained identical between the two.

I did notice that drawing up all maps ahead of time created issues where I forgot what I was thinking with particular maps. I need a more integrated approach to ensure things get done, so I’ll be trying to do that with the 4th disk.

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Rogues Gallery

Sorry for the long time between posts… I’ve been working hard at the 3rd disk’s contents. The Progress tab will tell you where I’m at!

In the meanwhile, I decided to write up a “monster graphics extractor” tool so I could generate a quick PNG file of all my monsters. It’s colorful and cool! The gaps you can see in various areas are where I have monsters planned that aren’t drawn yet

Posted in CRPG, Graphics, Screenshots, TI-99/4a | 4 Comments

Green Times

Interesting times right now…

First we had St. Patrick’s Day. And Emerald City Comic Con, which naturally uses the color green rather heavily with the brand. And things are definitely greening up, Seattle hit a temperature high for the month of March the other day.

So to further celebrate, a green dragon I’ve been working on! I was aiming for a look closer to Singe from Dragon’s Lair (inspired by the most excellent cartridge version of this game recently released by Tursi for the TI-99/4a, a marvel of technological accomplishment!) but I think he came out looking pretty good.

May still need some tweaking… Or twerking.

Maps are basically done for 75% of the game now, time to turn my attention to scripting and mobs for a bit and get that part caught up.

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Sand Slogging

Been awhile since I’ve posted, so here’s where we are…

Work has slowed down as I’ve entered the second half of the game’s content. It was bound to happen, unfortunately.

Part of this is due to the necessity of creating new graphics for maps that only existed as concepts. I also decided, as the maps I was working on had a distinctly “Arabian Nights” feel, that I wanted some more graphics to make the maps more interesting. (low tables, cushions for seats, rugs, etc.)

This had me thinking at one point, why not just dynamically load patterns for maps? Each map would have a tile set and then run-length-encoded map data, possibly followed by elevation in one huge block. There would be a slight delay as it built the character set out but then I could literally have any tile I wanted on any map.

I decided not to do it, at least for now. Creating maps in such a system would be a major pain in the ass.

A Palace in Progress…
  • You would have to designate what tiles you wanted before you started even drawing it.
  • The map editor would be a major pain to write; I may have to resort to writing an external C# tool to do it instead of on the TI itself
  • Animated tiles becomes messy and potentially a problem. Right now it’s hard-coded for speed and efficiency
  • Compression of maps is nice but not strictly necessary, I got plenty of disk space

Maybe for a sequel I could do something like this but for now I think I can get by without it.

The other slow going work is the quests and story-line, which were broadly written but lacked detail. (Rather like how George Lucas had a rough idea of what was going to happen in the prequels early on but no concrete story.) Now I have to actually sit down and think and fill things in.

Part of this also requires some research on my part. My favorite resources for historical and mythological information are, not surprisingly, RPG game books! Steve Jackson Games produced a huge number of world books for their GURPS system in the 1990’s, and all of them are invaluable sources of information on not just gaming but cultural aspects of the settings.

I try and keep my Progress page updated with the latest numbers, so stay tuned!

Posted in Assembly, CRPG, Design, TI-99/4a | 3 Comments

Two Nearly Down, Two to Go

I’m now in the process of wrapping up the second world disk… There’s a few transactions to write up, I need to finish populating the map headers with character and monster data, and I need to add the tile set data to the program file, so it knows this blocks sight, this makes that sound when you step on it, and so forth.

I’m glad I took the time to create a map extractor tool. Seeing the finished maps just auto-generated and including a black and white version is just neat! I’m considering adding a monochrome option to the game, just for fun.

Color map
Black and White map

As I was working, I realized I needed to make an infrastructure change. I’m going to have the game store all mobs for the current world disk in memory. That increases load time for loading and saving games, but it will give me the ability to allow the game to be restored to points before events that significantly altered the game. The more I’ve worked on this the more I’ve realized that modern gamers expect the equivalent of an “undo” button, and with the SAMS card I do have the memory to make this happen.

I live in western Washington so it looks very likely I’ll be snowed in most of the week… Hopefully that means I can make some great progress with this!

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Snowed In

So during yesterday’s Super Bore, er, Bowl, and overnight, I got 8+ inches of snow. Needless to say I was working from home today. 🙂

I spent a good part of my time during the football game working on a couple of new C# utilities, one that would extract and create a graphics PNG from my game file, and the other which would auto-generate maps from my map data using that PNG file. I’ve been spending far too much time saving screenshots in the emulator and pasting them together in MS Paint to create map images. So now I got an automatic tool which generates them, both in color and black and white. 😀

In case you’re wondering WHY I need map images, my editors on the TI are limited to the 32 column screen, and really limited with slanted maps. As a result, I often can’t see the entire map and get a feel for if it’s large enough, or TOO large, and where things are. Having map images helps me with my planning. Plus BW images will come in handy when I get around to writing up a hint book, I’m sure. 🙂

I’ve completed all the maps for the 2nd World part now, I’m now working on finishing mobs and transactions. This is where I often find I need to add or remove things, because I realize I need something to spruce things up somewhere. I was working on a cavern that was just for transition from one point to another, and I had a great idea for adding some specific monsters to it to make it a “special” location with a bit of a story to it.

The slowest part are the mobs, because I have to constantly look at the map to get coordinates, and I often decide treasure at that moment as well. I do placeholders as much as possible just to get data in place, but I want to limit that if I can. Many times with the first set of world content I found things I had forgotten to populate and now I had to do the work to make it look right.

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