The natural counterpart to the inventory screen is the shop. It’s one thing to be able to pick up, equip and drop loot, but that is only half of the ecosystem. The other half is offloading that loot so you can
hoard your wealth and never spend it because the best items are actually always in the world buy better things.
This week, I have been building shops… and quests, so you’ll have some money to spend in them (without me having to litter the train station with gold ingots).
Much as I decry the trend in games of giving the player objective markers and leading them around by the nose, they can’t be expected to remember everything — especially in a complex RPG with many moving parts. Since I am intending to build a complex RPG with many moving parts, I need a place to store information about your current objectives.
Enter the Journal.
The inventory won’t be particularly useful in the Arena, so I don’t really know why I’m doing it now. It may not an essential feature for the initial demo version of Exon, but it is an important feature for the long run — after all, you’ll find lots of equipment in your travels, not all of which you’ll want to use immediately.
So here I am, doing the inventory screen anyway because my mind did that thing where it started to fixate on the feature for no particular reason, and who am I to deny my subconscious whims?
All of life is about compromise. I started off making my mechs use the CharacterController, but shied away from it as that meant I had to reimplement lots of physics. I replaced it with a Rigidbody-based system, but that started randomly bouncing off the floor and jumping was dangerously unpredictable. In movement system rewrite number three, I seem to have ended up with… a mix of both.
It took me far too long to understand why this third approach works, but I think I’ve got it now. Since movement controllers seem to be a perennial topic in the commUnity, it’s time for me to add some words to the mix!
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?
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 was at a game dev meet-up about a month ago now, where my pals sassed me silly for not having shipped a game yet. They’re right to do so — although I vigorously resist accusations of feature creep (it’s not creep if it’s all part of the original plan), it’s true that I’m making something rather large that isn’t going to be releasable until it’s “done” (this is the true curse of building narrative-driven things).
About a year ago, I set down my plan for the first release: a self-contained prologue to a bigger campaign, which would be short enough to manufacture in a sensible time-frame, but broad enough to stress out most of my features. “Sensible time-frame” is, of course, relative and it’s still got a long way to go.
So I asked myself: what’s the minimum viable game? What is the purest, simplest expression of top-down mech action that I can build and put in front of people?