(continued from above)
New Crafting System
We took a hard look at our crafting design and found it wasn't meeting our goals, so we came up with a new system that we think is much more compelling, and a streamlined interface we're pretty excited about. We'll be talking about this in detail in the next couple of weeks, but the resulting system is being polished up as I write this, and it's really very good.
The core ingredients are the raw gems and gem dust noted above, and each gem or bunch of dust has a tier. Regions level 1-5 tend to have Tier 1 gems/dust, level 6-10 have Tier 2 gems/dust, and so on. So you don't have to get all new inventory every time you level up, but you always have new stuff to look forward to as you progress. When you combine multiple tiered ingredients into a single recipe, the average tier is used for the finished product.
However, gems and gem dust aren't the only crafting materials: there are also "catalysts" that might range from anything like "iron" to "soft wood" to "plums" to "silk." These sorts of things can be found mostly above ground and inside, whereas the raw gem veins are mostly found underground. The most interesting and powerful spells, traps, and scrolls require catalysts that don't show up in the lower-level regions, so as you're playing the game you're finding both higher-tier raw gems, new kinds of raw gems (you start out with only red and white), and new kinds of catalysts. Of course, if you're an advanced player and don't want to go through the regular progression you can always jump into higher-level regions early.
But for average or new players, there's a progression of expanding options as you explore, and these form the backbone of how you outfit yourself for exploration, and how you are able to improve your settlements. There are actually other components to this as well, such as crafters needing a place to do their crafting in the settlements, and needing to be appropriately-skilled at crafting to make what you need. So you'll be finding things like memory crystals from which your civilization's crafters can learn to make new things or mix or catalyze them in new ways. We're also thinking about crafters needing certain improvements to their workshops and the player being able to help out with that, but we're still not sure if that would actually add fun to the system as it will be.
More on that in future diaries, but there's lots you can do with all this. It starts out slow and easy, and then gets more complex the higher the region levels go. Actually, that's a pretty good description of a lot of parts of the game: it eases you into things unless you skip to some higher region levels right at the start, so you can basically choose the sort of progression you want to have.
The New Magic Point System
This has been talked about in the forums some in past weeks, and it's only partly in place at the moment, but almost all spells will be requiring magic points for each use. This of course means that you can't just spam your best spell, but you have to use them a bit more tactically in terms of your long-term consumption.
There are a variety of ways that we're building RPG-style optimization tactics into this system. First is that enemies will often have small MP or HP drops that you can pick up and which increase either your health or your magic points immediately on contact. So if you can kill enemies while expending fewer MP than you gain in the drops, then you can adventure on indefinitely.
Another thing that provides tactical options for you the use of scrolls and traps, which do not require any MP at all, but of which you have limited quantities. So designing your loadout before an expedition (both at crafting-time and what-to-take-with-me time) takes on great importance, because you want to have enough of these to help offset your general MP use, but at the same time you want enough spellgems that are powerful that you can use for the bulk of your combat.
There are also some scrolls that actually give you more MP directly, kind of like an ether in Final Fantasy; but to get those scrolls requires the use of certain catalysts and gem dust that you could be using for other scrolls or traps... so it's always a tough economy of choice, and different players will have wildly different styles of play.
Lastly, there is also a whole category of "touch spells" that are basically the equivalent of melee weapons in other games. These spells don't require any MP, but they only work on enemies that are close enough for you to touch. With many enemies, that means you're going to take some health damage yourself if you're not skilled. But if you are
very skilled, it provides yet another way to play. And another way to keep yourself steeped in magic points on lengthy excursions without having to use MP-granting scrolls too heavily.
What Is Meant By The "Depth" We Keep Referring To
When I talk about gameplay depth, the magic point system and system of choices it creates is one part of what I'm referring to. The other parts generally revolve around the macrogame and how you choose to change the world. And the other part refers to the mechanics of actual combat itself, particularly at the higher levels, where spell choice and spell combos will matter. Suffice it to say, this is a game that requires some planning on multiple levels if you really get into it; most similar games just hand-hold you down a linear gameplay path, and your involvement consists of executing that gameplay with skill.
Twitch skill can matter here if you want to play above your civ level, but even more important in all cases is the ability to make good plans and execute them. If you want to defeat an overlord or build up a specific settlement, then that's a complex undertaking that requires planning, multiple intermediate expeditions, and then skillful execution. I guess it's the strategy game developer in us: we just can't get away from that sort of thinking even when we make an action-adventure game!
Fire Touch Spell, And Environmental Interaction
This is the first of the "melee" spells mentioned in the magic points section above. So you can use and reuse this one for zero magic points, but it only hits things right in front of you and isn't overly strong. It's not the first choice for combat in most cases, but at the same time its class of spell is instrumental to bring along for every expedition. However, it also has a great value aside from direct combat:
One thing that you probably noticed in the video is that you can just walk right past trees, buildings, etc, now. This of course makes sense in a side view game, but one of the coolest things that we have been showing so far was the environmental interaction, right? Fear not: that hasn't been lost, it's just been changed around some. Most spells don't hit the background trees and such because that would be incredibly annoying.
However, when you want to knock down some trees for whatever reason, this fire touch just causes a burst of flame directly in front of you, which also hits the background. This is the easiest way to get wood from trees, or plums from plum trees, and so on. Excellent catalysts for various purposes.
Seize Spell And Combat Tactics
If you look at 0:29 in the latest video
, you can see the new Seize spell in use. Basically what it does is grab a usually-non-colliding piece of destructible background or foreground (trees, plants, wire baskets, whatever) and makes it shining, spectral, and colliding. You can't get past it without destroying it, and neither can enemies. Enemies will start trying to hack their way past it if you trap them on the other side of it from you, buying you time to re-equip, heal, deal with a lone enemy that you've separated from the herd, or whatever else you need.
You can even, of course, create a whole line of seized objects for enemies to slam through, buying yourself even more time at the expense of the background objects and the MP required for the seize spell. In essence, this works kind of like a cover mechanic in an FPS game, but with destructible cover. It's actually a lot easier to use than just hiding behind stuff in the old top-down view was. And you can combine this with other abilities, such as using environmental objects to slow down enemies and then hitting them with area damage from the safety of the other side. Or it can buy you some time to lay down a line of traps.
When I talk about the depth of combat that we are going for, this is one example of what I mean: you use spells and environmental objects in various combinations, rather than just button-mashing the fireball spell into every enemy you meet. Developing out more ideas like this is something that we'll be doing over the next few months, and I'm sure players will also have many interesting ideas to contribute if AI War is any indication. We also have a cache of other ideas for tactical combat options, but since they haven't been playtested yet I'm reluctant to talk about them in case some of them don't work out.
Vertical Terrain Traversal, and the Ride The Lightning spell
The latest video shows a lot of walking around on the surface, but probably only a third of your playtime would take place there. The other two thirds take place either underground or in the interiors of buildings (more on interiors and undergrounds below).
Moving around underground or inside now has both a horizontal and a vertical component to it, of course. Gravity is your constant enemy, even though this isn't a platformer game in the sense that Mario games are platformers (aka, no precision jumps needed). To that end, you will have a variety of tools at your disposal for getting around.
The first is shown at numerous places in the latest video, and it's a spell called Ride The Lighting. It can be used at any time, even when you're falling or already having jumped into the air, and it boosts you up about 4x higher than you can normally jump on your own. Each time you do costs magic points and requires a recharge of 1.5s afterward. Higher-tier Ride The Lightning spellgems let you jump progressively higher.
The second method for traversing terrain, and the one that will be more commonly used by most players, is wooden platforms. These aren't implemented yet, but basically you'll be able to place wooden platforms from your inventory into the game world. This is in no way a construction game like Minecraft or Terraria, but you will be using wood for things like building platforms and so on. These platforms can be arranged like bridges or like ladders, so you can get through most of the game without having to have any particular skill at jumping if you want to really stock up on a lot of wood instead. Or you can get by with very little wood if you prefer the jumping.
These sorts of things also have combat benefits: you can use these sorts of spells and consumables to avoid enemies (thus carrying forward the minor stealth component we've been talking about in the top-down view), or to get a better tactical position that you can then attack from. We haven't done a whole lot with that yet, but as a longtime RTS developer it's the sort of thing I've always wanted to be able to do. In a top-down game every direction is functionally the same as the last -- if you attack from the north, south, east, or west, it doesn't matter
. But from a side view, suddenly attacking from the side, bottom, and top of an enemy all have really
different meanings. This is quite exciting to me to get to work with.
The wooden platforms are another way in which the game emphasizes expdition planning, too -- if you go into a really deep cave without enough wooden platforms to get back out, then you are going to die down in that cave! Unlike Minecraft and Terraria you can't just dig yourself a way out through the rock. This game is about exploring and traversing the hostile environments that you find, rather than being able bending every part of the world to your will -- this world is way too hostile for that. And in a lot of respects this makes the underground sections feel a lot more like real spelunking, even if it is still highly fantastical.
One thing that has really changed in how we're handling the game is how we're handling enemy generation and monster nests. Initially in the top down view we just had enemies seeded into each chunk, and you ran into them when you ran into them. They would respawn over a long period of time after you left the chunk. Then we added the concept of monster nests, which spawn monsters more rapidly, and which you could seek out and kill. That's when you started seeing incredibly huge swarms of bats in our tests builds (that was only ever a testing thing).
Now what we are doing is scrapping the directly-seeded monsters, and just having nests that are seeded around, but not letting those nests be touchable by players. They are essentially just visible spawn points for enemies. They also now spawn fewer enemies than the monster generators in preview #11 did.
The net effect is that there are now always monsters present (it gets pretty boring when there aren't), but they don't clump up too much, and you can enact strategies around where you can see them visibly spawning. Such as laying traps or whatever else to suppress them for a while. It offers a lot of future tactical options for us as game designers that simply wasn't there with something that is easily destructible.
You'll probably notice from the video how much better balanced the number of enemies is throughout compared to last time; you're never getting swarmed by 50 enemies, but there also aren't large periods of time where there's literally nothing going on.
One of the new things in the game is the ability to fall into water. When you do, you move more slowly and can't jump as high, but otherwise keep moving as normal (in other words, similar system as Cave Story and Metroid). While in water there is no air gauge, because the bigger threat comes from the toxins that are in all pools of water -- if you just stand there in the water, and are at full health, you'll be dead in 60 seconds.
That's actually not a very stiff penalty, which is great because this game has permadeath. Death in this game should not generally be because your finger slipped or because you missed a jump, but rather because you made a series of bad choices. In that way, it's much more Metroidvania than Zelda, even.
Anyway, so being in water for long is a bad idea, but falling briefly in isn't going to kill you unless you're already on the point of death. But for most enemies, being in water is much more quickly fatal: when they fall into water, they die within about 5 seconds instead of 60. This makes it so that the enemy nests can keep spawning more enemies as the older ones reach the lower limits of the level and die off in the water, which makes for constantly shifting "patrols" of enemies in many cases, which is pretty neat.
I should also go ahead and mention that you can't use water to farm enemy drops: when an enemy dies in water, they don't drop anything. While I'm at it, I'll also mention that when a loot drop or player item bag falls into water, it floats at the top instead of sinking. Thus you can build some wooden platforms to skim across the top of the water and get your stuff back without having to step in the water. This is also true for lava (see below), which is even more important).