I’ve been putting off adding audio to Exon for, at this point, years. I didn’t want to tackle it until all my other systems were pretty solid — I didn’t want to shove in a load of work to manage audio sources and play effects if there was a risk that I’d be re-engineering half of it after the fact.
Well, things have now been stable enough for long enough and… Well, I got put on furlough by my employer. What else was I going to do with the extra time locked in the flat but suck up a major project?
Since long before I started work on Exon, I was gripped by one action-RPG ideal: that if your sword intersected an enemy, then it should damage them. I suspect this arose from the likes of Morrowind‘s secretly dice-roll-based combat, where visually hitting somebody was no guarantee of actually hitting them.
Exon is broadly a game of melee attacks, so obviously when I started building the game I immediately implemented a system that does exactly that: using physics colliders, sword blades deliver damage as soon as they intersect a viable target.
Objective achieved, job done. So why does this system cause me so much concern?
It’s a new decade, and Exon is officially six years old. That’s three times as old as my previous record holder, the WC3 total conversion Project Y4, which clocked in at two years. And it’s not even done yet! Not even close to done!
The Arena, however, is done. You can jump in, smash up some bots, and either win or lose. Which means it’s time to FEATURE CREEP YEAAAAAAAAAH! (It’s not feature creep if they were planned all along.)
I’ve been replaying The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I’ve been thinking about level scaling — the way the game adjusts the power of enemies to match your own, so no matter where in the world you go, you’ll get an appropriate level of challenge.
I don’t think it works.
I have some thoughts.
My favourite joke format at the moment is this: “It’s only X if it comes from the X region of France, otherwise it’s just sparkling Y.” In this case, “it’s only artificial intelligence if it’s from the AI region of France, otherwise it’s just sparkling if statements”. I can dunk on AI hype, you see, because I’m programming AI for my game again.
I’ve done quite a bit of AI programming already. The bots have fairly well-developed situational awareness — if they see an item they want they’ll move to pick it up; if they see an enemy they will attack; and if they are fighting they’ll use their abilities.
What they lack, however, is strategic awareness. Seeing as the Arena will have bonus objectives, and the same logic will power boss fights and full characters in the campaign, bots are going to need to that extra layer of intelligence.
So, a few months ago, I paused work on Exon’s main campaign to focus on building the Arena. This approach came with some risks but I decided to swallow them because this felt like it would be the fastest route to something genuinely playable.
I was right, because that was about three months ago and for the last few weeks I’ve had it out at local game dev events and being played by real human beings. It is by no means a finished game, but it is a fully-functioning, self-contained scenario that stresses the breadth of the game’s core combat mechanics. A vertical slice. Objective complete!
It’s funny because my mechs’ primary attacks are vertical slices.
I am constantly perplexed by villains.
As a fan of high-action fantasy and space opera, I demand villains that can operate on a grand scale — that can deliver conflict and challenge appropriate to my delusions of grandeur. However, as a slave to coherence and consistency, I demand villains whose motivations and actions can plausibly produce that level of challenge and conflict.
Now, I reject the notion that dumb action and plausible characters are mutually exclusive, as Hollywood and the AAA industry often seem to think. By all means, it’s a balance that’s hard to strike, but I think there’s rarely been as glorious a failure than the monstrous, enigmatic Reapers of the Mass Effect trilogy.
Earlier in the year, I decided that the wilderness areas of Baldur’s Gate were actually a good and enjoyable thing. I stand by that reasoning today, and look back fondly on that experience of replaying a game that really is a classic.
Except I’ve just been replaying Mass Effect, and it has areas that fulfil a similar function — “uncharted worlds”, optional planets you can land on which contain only side quests. The difference is that… they’re not particularly good or enjoyable.