Game Development

Blog 875: Welcome to the Waystation

I think it may have been something of a mistake to design a campaign where the second level — the gateway to the rest of the game — front-loads six or seven brand new, fully-fledged systems. But I am nothing if not stubborn; once I’ve committed to a goal, I will reach it, regardless of how long it takes.

So after months and months and months of work, the Friendly Arm Waystation and its attendant subsystems are almost ready for play. Phew.

Welcome to the Waystation

Exon waystations are your hub levels. They’re the home bases you visit to find missions and to trade in the loot from previous escapades. The places to rest and recuperate and repair, to get your bearings. Safe places. Each chapter will have one, though many waystation facilities will crop up in isolation as you explore.

Some of those features I’ve had for a long time now. The Exon Academy has a repair station — where you can get your mech repainted — and a shop. Those, at least, went straight into the Waystation untouched. The rest, though? God damn.

The vending machines are actually an ancient relic from that time I was making a procedural dungeon crawler. Figured it would be rude to let them go to waste.

The Stormbolt Smithy is also a shop. However, I realised that it’s not quite the same kind of shop as a travelling peddler. A blacksmith may have a finite supply of special items, but otherwise, they should have crates and crates and crates of basic supplies. Yep, that was a new subsystem that had to go in — the ability for a shop to “manufacture” an infinite number of some item types. (This is also necessary because of item degradation — there needs to be an endless supply of equipment in play, just in case you manage to lose every single pre-placed weapon.)

The smithy also offers the ability to repair items, but I’ve actually had that in and working for ages too. I just left it out of the Exon Academy level because it didn’t really make sense for a peddler to have a full repair station stuffed into his cargo hold.

Why can a Repairbot repair your mech but not your items? … Shhhh!

The Stormbolt Smithy’s final service is crafting. The fun part about crafting is that it takes time. You place a commission and the blacksmith has to go off and make it; cheaper items are quick to make, while expensive items require longer in the forge. That requires a way for you to pass the time — while you can pass time by travelling between areas, that’s a bit awkward when all you want to do is wait for a new sword. This calls for the Hotel, a place where you can stay the night at… not unreasonble rates.

The Hotel is fun because it requires a new “time skip” system. The passage of time doesn’t affect much (yet), but in a zone full of wandering civilians, it does affect who should be standing around. Luckily, the same logic that resets the wandering civilians after you return to the level through travel can be applied behind a fade-to-black for the same result. (One day there may be time-sensitive quests, which will elevate this sort of mechanic beyond mere window dressing.)

The Hotel is also an attempt to improve the sense of scale, by being a prominent human-size structure in a mech-size world.

The remaining shop function is the Identification mechanic. Ripped straight out of Baldur’s Gate, some items first appear with a blue tint and can only be sold for £1. If you go to the waystation’s Shrine, you’ll find a Priest there who can identify strange items. Mind you, there is only one unidentified item in the game right now — you may not have found it, but there is a “metallic crystal” item hidden in the wilderness around the Exon Academy.

I’m still swithering over whether I want unidentified equipment to be simply unusable, or if I should go all the way and also add “cursed” items that can be used but come with disadvantages and become undroppable when equipped. Or should an “enchanted” item only be usable as a generic form, with identification unlocking the bonuses? Something to consider, but since there are no enchanted equipment items yet, that’s a problem for another day.

Is this the Phat Lewt for a new generation?

After all that comes the Stow Pit stash, another mechanic that is currently useless.

The Stow Pit allows you to store items without having to carry them around, which is utterly unnecessary because you can also just leave items lying around anywhere in a level and the save/load system will happily persist them. As usual, my fundamental systems are designed for perfect recall rather than the messy passage of time. (I should probably extend that time-skip logic to clean up dropped items, shouldn’t I… But then I have to make sure quest items don’t get binned… Ugh.)

The main advantage of the Stow Pit is that it will carry items over into future chapters. As you begin to travel the world and can no longer return to previous haunts, branches of the Stow Pit will maintain access to whatever junk you think might be important much later in the game.

Are you saying that when I stow my items here, they just get dumped in a pit…?

The final centrepiece of an exon waystation is supposed to be the Bounty Board, a place to find work… but honestly, I cheaped out on this one and it simply says “there are no contracts available right now”.

I’m not sure how I want to approach this because it feels better to get quests for actual characters rather than a faceless contract listing even if, thematically, it makes perfect sense for people to post jobs on a public board. Maybe this’ll be a place for some small, procedurally generated side dungeons? Hrmm. Anyway, this one isn’t vital for this point in the plot, so I’m going to leave it off for a bit.

All of which means the waystation is ready for some actual god damn narrative colour. A side quest? Some items hidden in crates? I don’t want to overload the map too much because it is meant to be a place you’ll revisit often — meaning it has to load fast, and not be too spread out — but I also want to give it a little bit of spice, at least for the first visit. I think I will enable access to it for the next version of Fragment, so I guess I want to make a good first impression.

But that green and black mech with the shiny equipment there looks like he might have a job…

And you tell me...

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