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Building on previous posts in the same line: for example, this one on potential Races, this on potential Travel options, and this on Economic levels and options… rambling through some of the occasional thoughts I’ve had re: a mutation mechanism for a Gamma World type of setting.  As always, feedback is welcomed.

The Difficulty

As most probably already know, mutation in real life (in most known lifeforms) doesn’t really work the way it is presented within the Gamma World mythos: “expressed” mutation is a process which occurs over generations of offspring, not within a single individual.  Since the setting is at least implied to be a future version of our own world, this is a potentially significant issue: if it doesn’t work this way now, why would it in the future?  However, the concept of mutation occurring regularly to an individual is a central concept to the Gamma World paradigm (and a sizable factor in making it an interesting setting)… I want to retain it for the implementation.

There are two basic options for dealing with the apparent disconnect between “how things really work” and “how things work in this imaginary future”: 1) simply ignore it, or 2) come up with an explanation for why this changes.  My preference is to attempt the latter: nothing wrong with going the former route, I just believe that by developing a coherent (tho fanciful) story for why this change occurs, a foundation for further enhancement and future decision making is also created, making a consistent setting and plot more likely.

This is a long one… much more beneath the fold…

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If you’ve ever read any of my random musings on my “dream design”, you may recall running across references to “Awareness” scores in one form or another.  One of the challenges I was fighting with (prior to getting buried at the office) was how to effectively convey the needed information about Awareness to the player in order to make it a viable and interesting part of the design.

Fundamentals

In Voyages, the Awareness score is an objective mechanism meant to measure whether the character detects various potential events/stimuli, and in what level of detail.  Prevalent examples of situations in existing games/systems that would be analogous might be things like trap detection, secret door detection, listening at doors, detecting hidden/invisible opponents, etc.  In Voyages, the intent was to take the concept to a finer level of detail than is usually offered, and give increased control to the player.

In essence, the player is asked to monitor and control up to two related Awareness scores: a “general” score and a “focus” score.  The “focus” score applies to whatever specific stimuli the player indicates the character is focusing on: selecting a trap detection technique, for example, would tie the “focus” score to that endeavor, leaving all other stimuli to be compared to the (usually lower) general score instead.

On the other side of the coin, every stimuli is assigned two threshhold ratings: a “detection” rating and a higher “recognition” rating.  If the character’s current Awareness exceeds the “detection” rating, the player is notified of the stimuli in general terms (“You hear someone speaking quietly nearby.”)  If the “recognition” rating is exceeded, far greater detail is offered, potentially limited by other knowledge/skills (“You hear a guttural male voice whispering in Orcish, about 40 feet to your left.”)

The intent is to tie this system in to nearly all aspects of the game.  For example, attacks in combat include detection and recognition threshholds: an attack must be detected to defend against it, and recognition offers the additional detail of whether the attack will miss despite lack of defensive action.

Interface Issue

The question I’ve been worrying away at for a while is, how best to offer sufficient feedback to the player such that the Awareness mechanic is a viable part of the gameplay?

I wanted to try to avoid using simple status bars, if possible.  One idea I was playing around with briefly was the following:

combinedawarenesscircles.png

The larger golden circle representing general Awareness, the smaller overlapping golden circle representing focused Awareness.  The blue filled circles would represent current score, expanding and contracting based on the character’s actions.  Each stimuli would generate the two “open rings” demonstrated in each display (the inner ring being detection, outer ring being recognition), popping in as the stimuli occurred and fading away over a second or two.

In action, it kind of gives off a “radar/sonar” kind of vibe, which seems appropos.

However, plenty of problems as well.  Problems with the idea include:

  • There can be multiple nearly simultaneous stimuli; displaying 2 rings for each could easily lead to confusion with relatively few events;
  • Even with the overlap, this takes up a lot of real estate on the screen: the example is 100×100 pixels;
  • There is no obvious way to express changes of scale: a buff that increases potential Awareness significantly, for example, might be difficult to indicate to the player;
  • The number of “steps” in value that can be effectively indicated is small (relative to the screen real estate consumed, at least).  The larger circle is 80×80, and really only can express 40 discrete “steps” in value as proposed.

One alternative I started to play with was using the same base concept, but using “barbell” lines to indicate stimuli, which would essentially radiate outward from near the center to near the edge, somewhat like hands on a clock.  That would increase the number of stimuli that could be displayed simultaneously… if the lines were separated by 22.5 degrees (out of 360, of course), that would give room to display 16 at once (12 if you cut out the overlapped area…)

Anyway, I’m kind of casting about for some original ideas here.  Anyone got anything?

For me, the one advantage to being tied up most of the weekend, running a long series of database queries, tying up multiple computers for sizable periods of time, is that you have plenty of downtime to write/type… although I find I can’t do any real development/writing of code (for that, I need to be able to concentrate more fully, I guess).  As such, this weekend offered me copious amounts of time to do more design brainstorming on my dream game/Gamma World implementation, and thus…

One of the more whimsical conceits of the Gamma World setting in most of its incarnations was the range of the different player character “races” (species, really) that were allowed in play.  I’d want to try to recapture as much of that same range of variants as possible, tho it would be extremely challenging with all but the most abstract of graphical presentations… for example, a 3-D implementation would require a significant scaling back of the number of options simply due to the number of different models and associated animation that would be required.

Anyway, some brief notes on the options…

Pure Strain Human

In this setting, these are humans that, for reasons to be explored as time goes by, simply do not mutate when exposed to “mutagenic” energies and substances (such things simply weaken and damage them as they accumulate instead)… outwardly, at least, they seem to be base human stock.  In comparison to pre-Cataclysm humans, they have changed significantly, with multiple advantages in terms of resilience, physical strength, etc.  They also have significant advantages in comparison to most others dealing with pre-Fall technology, especially technology that checks genetic information to unlock or activate.

Mutated Human

These are humans whose bodies, for reasons to be explored as time goes by, react to accumulations of “mutagenic influences” (radiation, weird chemical compounds, etc) by undergoing a kind of “cleansing metamorphosis” which can yield certain mental and physical changes as well.  The possible side effects of such metamorphoses can range from the merely cosmetic to devastatingly powerful (or detrimental), the one thing that is certain is that changes (in the form of new, muted, or utterly different mutations) will occur.

Mutated Humans can be somewhat limited in their ability to interact with Ancient technology: various types of security mechanisms (visual profile scans, biometrics, genetic testing) may or may not recognize them as actually human…

Ancient Human

These come in two basic sub-types: Sleepers and Starborn.  Sleepers were cryogenically preserved (for various reasons, from medical to punitive to mere boredom) prior to the Cataclysm, and were lucky enough to survive and be successfully re-awakened in one way or another.  Starborn, by contrast, were the small groups of the Ancients spread across the Solar System in various isolated scientific and industrial installations, that both avoided the impact of the Cataclysm and found ways of sucessfully adapting to the lack of resources from Earth. 

In both cases, these are basic humans with no special tolerances for most of the various deadly environments of Gamma World, but with a far better innate grasp of how to use (and potentially build/repair) Ancient technology than most other individuals.  Starborn Ancients, in particular, might work best as an “unlockable” race, opened as the original player-character base finds ways to travel to Lunar bases, asteroid mining stations, etc.

Mutated Animals

There are a plethora of potential subtypes under this general category: consider mutated penguins, buffalos, mosquitos, llamas, pigeons, manatees, cockroaches, jellyfish, equines, bovines, dogs, frogs, snails, whales, cats, bats, rats, gnats… and everything in between.

In all cases, the salient characteristic assumed as part of all player-controlled mutated animals is human-level intelligence (or at least close).  Characteristics which may prove helpful, but can be passed over if a more challenging experience in play was desired, could include ability to generate/mimic human speech, ability to breathe air (for fish and other aquatic lifeforms), and prehensile digits or limbs (ability to manipulate objects).

Speech would be the least challenging defect to deal with, since sign language and writing would both still be potentially available, or failing that, the ooc /tell channels… (more thoughts on communication adjustments and variants in a future post.)  Depending upon the design of the setting, lack of an ability to breathe air might simply be too limiting, and need to be made a required characteristic.  Lack of fine manipulation ability could be significantly devastating to a character’s potential as well, and lack of intellect is just right out… saving that for NPCs alone seems, um, prudent.

Limitations based on size need to be considered as well, and may need to be a hard limitation in terms of options for the player.  Both the mutated whale and the mutated gnat would have significant difficulty driving a pickup track due to sheer size, for example, but in very different ways… restricting the list of options such that the character would be between 1 and 3 meters in length/height may be best.

Mutated animals of all species would work like mutated humans when exposed to “mutagenic influences”, going through a cleansing metamorphosis that has an impact on their specific mutations.  (The question of why a vast variety of different species would all react in precisely the same way to genetic damage is another one of those topics with “reasons to be explored as time goes by.”) 

Mutated animals would also have significant challenges in terms of using Ancient technology, especially anything with security mechanisms… although some species do have an edge (dogs and cats in particular, having been common pets with their own “toys”/”tools”)…

“Green Ones”/Mutated Plants

Similar in most ways to mutated animals, but even more weird.  Everything from pine trees to dandelions to mushrooms to colonies of algae might be potential options.

Like mutated animals, certain characteristics are assumed in a viable mutated plant player-character.  Human-level intelligence and some manner/form of mobility are the two most basic ones.  Capacity for mimicking human speech, ability to manipulate objects, and ability to utilize various common senses (sight, hearing, etc) would again be suggested (but not necessarily required) options.  In contrast, different methods of generating sustenance might apply naturally (photosynthesis vs. food consumption, oxygen-breather vs CO2) and be quite viable.

Mental abilities of various sorts (psionics of various origins and capabilities is assumed in my take on the setting) will require specialization to work as well on flora-based characters as they do on fauna-based ones (animals and humans), the assumption being that the mental “structures and frequencies” are _very_ different…

Mutagenic influences affect mutated plants in precisely the same way as mutated humans and animals… yep, you guessed it, “for reasons to be explored as time goes by”.  Manipulation of Ancient technology can be quite challenging for the mutated flora character: even the most common of houseplants didn’t get many tech toys to play with, pre-Cataclysm, oddly enough.

“Live Metal”/Self-Aware Robots

The most divergent and weird of all the player “races” would probably be this one… playing an intelligent machine, particularly in a setting where replacement parts aren’t necessarily easily obtained.  “Learning” mainly by finding new software to integrate into the AI-OS, tapping a variety of energy sources and supplies to keep basic functions operating, watching out for various types of EM jamming and manipulation… I would want playing an AI to be almost a different (or at least derivative) set of gameplay considerations entirely, just implemented within the same setting.

One question to be answered would be how attached the AI-entity should be to any one particular form.  The character might start play as a lawnmower/automated gardener (“Garden-Master 2100”), to pick an example, but if it came across a derelict traffic control bot, should it be able to “switch bodies” and capabilities, maybe at a cost in performance since it has less-than-optimal drivers and software to control its new systems?

That’s as far as I got… as always, any and all feedback is welcome.

…and no, not just for blog post topics.  (Not that I’d turn them down…)

Still putzing away on my little game, and I’m trying to figure out some way to allow the player to build up to a large number of options for actions (i.e. 50 or more after a while), yet not take up half the screen space or require the use of multi-key combinations reminiscent of Twister.  Anyone seen or remember anything that might fit the bill? 

I can just go with the typical array of icons, of course.  I just have this feeling that there should be a better way to do it… which probably means I’ve seen it in the past, but can’t consciously recall it.  (The old subconscious is going “knock, knock, anyone home up there?”)

Here’s a question for the day: in MMOs, how large and “active” would you like the cities to be?

In most of them, cities are actually pretty static and deserted places, more like an abandoned movie set than an active community.  However, that does make it easier to 1) maneuver through the streets and not become distracted/lost, 2) find what or who you are looking for, and 3) highlight “important” NPCs and other PCs, as opposed to those that have nothing to directly offer to the ongoing activity of the character.

For my part, I’d like more background activity in cities.  Perhaps CoH has spoiled me a little bit there, because it really stands out for me now when a more traditional MMO implementation of towns and cities is presented… they seem even more lifeless than they used to, to the point of being a little creepy. 

DDO is another example of a city that largely feels okay, in that case, because the town is small enough and so central to play that there are always PCs moving around bringing the scene to life.

I guess the basic question is, are most people happy with cities in MMOs as they are?  If not, what changes would you like to see?

I know I’ve been rather sparse in posting of late… lots going on, not much energy to spare.  As things calm down on various fronts with the approach of winter here in Minnesota, it should pick up again.  Having my annual tussle with seasonal affective disorder hasn’t helped much, either… that should disappear here shortly as the length of day starts to stabilize again.

Sandwiched between other tasks and distractions, I’ve been continuing to plug away at that XNA project I’ve mentioned a few times in the past.  It’s something I can work on for as little as a half-hour or so and achieve something, and yet drop at a moment’s notice without even a tinge of guilt.

A brief list of my latest and current tasks/goals, since there might be someone out there vaguely interested…

  • As I mentioned briefly a couple weeks ago, I added “seamless zoning” to the application.  Currently, it works as follows…
  • The application can track up to 16 “zones”, which are simply square regions of a uniform size (currently trying it with grids of 50 tilesx50 tiles).  Nine of those zones will always be active, the other seven are for managing transitioning and data loading more smoothly.
    When the character first enters the world, the basic layout of the 9 zones immediately surrounding the character is loaded from the server, rudiments like walls, doors, etc.  State information (whether a door is open or closed) and transitory objects (other players, NPCs, items laying on the ground) are sent later, based on more specific location and line of sight information.

    As the character moves from one zone to another, new zones are loaded into “open” slots to keep an active 1 zone “buffer” around the character’s location in play.  Zones which were loaded but moved outside the buffer area are just marked as “stale”, so that if the character moves back in that direction in a short time frame, a request to “refresh” the zone based on actions which took place in the interim can be sent instead of having to reload the entire zone.  Once all 16 slots are in use, the oldest “stale” slots start to be re-used.

    For example, if a character is in zone (10,10), the following zones would be in memory:

    (9,9) (9,10) (9,11) (10,9) [10,10] (10,11) (11,9) (11,10) (11,11)

    If he then moves to a tile that is located in zone (11,10), three new zones are loaded, and three old zones are marked as potentially “stale”, denoted by {}:

    {9,9} {9,10} {9,11} (10,9) (10,10) (10,11) (11,9) [11,10] (11,11) (12,9) (12,10) (12,11)

    If for some reason he turned around and moved back into zone (10,10), the basic data for the (9,x) zones is still fairly readily available… the only potential issue should be any events in those zones that changed the core structure of the zone (explosions?)

    Pretty rudimentary, like I said earlier, but it seems to work okay so far, within the other limitations of the app at least.  I doubt it scales all that well, but for a hobby/test application it should be adequate.

  • Switched over to more of a web-based network paradigm.  While the socket class was working, it was becoming somewhat of a pain to be going back and forth writing code in two separate apps.  What I’m currently trying is simple calls to web pages (php pages, actually), sending and returning whatever data I happen to be working with at that moment.
  • Now, why I’m finding it easier to write standalone php pages to perform discrete tasks, than I did to write discrete C classes/functions as part of a server app to perform those very same tasks, I really don’t know… I just know that it has proven more workable for me, and therefore, that’s the route I’m going to pursue for the moment.  It won’t be all that hard to go back to the other code, when it proves necessary.

    The code to implement this on a rudimentary basis is so dirt simple, it’s almost criminal… I don’t even bother doing anything in the constructor at present, and it’s working fine…

    using System;
    using System.Collections.Generic;
    using System.Text;
    using System.IO;
    using System.Net;
    using System.Web;
    namespace TestEngine
    {
      class WebAccess
      {
      public WebAccess()
      {
      }

    public string PageLoad(string reqURL)
      {
      string strURL;
      string strResult;
      string strResultTemp;
      HttpWebRequest wbrq;
      HttpWebResponse wbrs;
      StreamReader sr;
      int xx;

    wbrq = (HttpWebRequest) WebRequest.Create(reqURL);
      wbrq.Method = “GET”;

    wbrs = (HttpWebResponse) wbrq.GetResponse();
      sr = new StreamReader(wbrs.GetResponseStream());
      strResult = sr.ReadToEnd().Trim();
      sr.Close();

    // strip off excess http/html in response
      xx = strResult.IndexOf(“[START]”);
      if (xx > 0)
      {
      strResultTemp = strResult.Substring(xx+7);
      xx = strResultTemp.IndexOf(“[END]”);
      strResult = strResultTemp.Substring(0, xx-1);
      }

    return (strResult);
      }
      }
    }

    Again, not exceptionally robust, but adequate for the present and fairly easy to expand…

  • Modifying my tiling code to more fully incorporate wall/edge data.  I’ve decided I want to allow “thin” walls… I already have a tile structure that tracks which edges face onto a “filled” tile as opposed to which do not, which was added to make the lighting code a little easier.  However, as things stand, while I can draw a thin edge wall, it’s utterly transparent to the other processes… neither light nor movement gets blocked at present, as you can tell from the “shell” of wall segments near the NPC in the upper part of this screenshot.
  • Voyages client 2007-10-13 view A

    In particular, I want to be able to have different textures on each side of a wall segment, which should be simple, and I want to keep wall segments from being lit that face away from the light source, but are attached to floor segments that should have some lighting… two examples near the “doorways” in the screenshot below.  (I should try adding a slight yellow tinge to the outdoor light… that white is supposed to be “sunlight”, but it looks more like fluorescent cafeteria lighting to me right now…)

    Voyages display 2007-10-13 part B

    Shouldn’t be hugely difficult, but since I haven’t looked at that code for a while now… ah well, worst case, I just go back a rev…

  • I want to add some “paper-doll” capability to the code.  Probably just start with my poor overused “generic fighter” sprite,Fighter sprite and make it so the weapon, cloak, and some off-hand items like a torch and/or shield can be added and removed.  Start simple, within the (very) limited boundaries of my artistic ability to create new pieces/parts, and accrete from there.

I know, simple stuff, but it’s fun to be able to just putz away when the mood takes me.  (And it fills the occasional blog post, tho I try to avoid doing that too often, since I imagine it’s rather boring to read.)  But, if you want to kibbitz, feel free…

Been playing with my little XNA-based MMO test-of-concept project over the past few days, and have another question for the wide wide world… which inventory interface paradigms have really stood out for you in past MMOs as useful or superior?

I’m trying to create multiple interface objects that can just be plugged in at will, you see, and I want to be sure to have at least the major basic styles covered.  As I see it, you’ve got…

Old Style UO:

Probably not the most user-friendly of the lot, but basically adequate, and with a significant “nostalgia factor” for some.  Allows a fair amount of personalization in terms of organizing the inventory.

Diablo Style:

Has the advantage of being able to express a rudimentary “bulkiness” factor in addition to the more common weight/encumbrance value.  Can really eat up the screen space with even a moderate sized inventory, however…

Prototypical MMO “slot-based”:

EQ and WoW style slots.  Conservative in terms of screen space and user-friendly, but fairly poor at expressing/handling all but the most rudimentary concept of bulk or weight (i.e. 4 halberds in a belt pouch?  Why not?)

Obsidian-style:

Verbose, lots of screen real-estate, but has the advantage of being able to compare similar objects/weapons/tools at a glance (as long as there aren’t dozens of them).

What am I forgetting?  Anyone have a new idea that I should try to accommodate while I’m at it?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, as I was scanning my shelves looking for my original 5 choices, I came across a bunch of other settings and concepts that also sparked my interest, such that I had trouble sticking to my original 5.  I figured I’d just post a brief blurb about each, give them a small bit of exposure, and explain in each case why it didn’t make my original list.

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Sorry about the brief hiatus: RL got busy there for a bit.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, as I was scanning my shelves looking for my original 5 choices, I came across a bunch of other settings and concepts that also sparked my interest, such that I had trouble sticking to my original 5.  I figured I’d just post a brief blurb about each, give them a small bit of exposure, and explain in each case why it didn’t make my original list.

Read the rest of this entry »

“If you could make any game you wanted, and were guaranteed not only enough money to build it to your precise specs, but even guaranteed that it would be a success (in other words, setting aside all financial considerations), what would you make?”

This is final entry of a 5 part series exploring some of the pen-and-paper settings which have come to my mind as a result of contemplating that question.  Note that, unlike most of my other posts where I refer to PnP RPGs, in this series of posts I’m talking about setting, not system.  I’m not presenting in any particular order, either… just posting them as they come to hand while I scan across my bookshelves.

Thieves World

 Thieves World Cover

In a previous post in this series, I mentioned I was shying away from including settings that others have done or are working toward doing.  Given that, you may well be wondering, what is this doing here?

For those who are unfamiliar with it, Thieves World was/is a setting developed by the author Robert Asprin for a rather successful series of heroic fantasy anthologies.  The idea was to create a common, consistent backdrop, then invite a wide variety of authors to write stories using that setting, but exploring their own characters and interests within it.  The City of Sanctuary, and the Vulgar Unicorn, inn and tavern in the heart of the Maze, are some of the results of that effort.

Read the rest of this entry »

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