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Chronicles of Ethael: Oresian Tales

A topic by jonbonazza created Jan 02, 2018 Views: 101 Replies: 1
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About Me

Hey there! I'm Jon. By Day, I am a back end software engineer on PlayStation's Cloud Gaming Engineering and Infrastructure team; by night... well, I am into a lot of different things, but one of those things is game dev! Over the years, I have created a number of clones for learning purposes, such as basic pong->Mario->Zelda progression and have created my own engine (again, as a learning experience). Now, I am confident enough in my game and software development skills to approach a project that I have dreamed of making for years. I am hoping that in addition to my development skills, my experience working in the game industry (albeit not on games directly) will aid in this pursuit as well.

The Game

I am a massive tabletop RPG fan, and as someone who often fills the role of Game Master (or Dungeon Master, as it were), I have been curating a custom fantasy world for some time now. Over time, this world has become quite extensive, and I have recorded various campaigns and one-shots that occurred in this world. 

The Chronicles of Ethael series is my attempt at reimagining these campaigns in a more visual medium--as video games!

The Chronicles of Ethael: Oresian Tales is a 2D, single player action RPG  with a large focus on player agency as well as fast-paced and fluid action combat. As the subtitle suggests, this game takes place in Ores--the main continent in the world of Ethael, where elves, dwarves, humans, and various other species coexist in a high magic fantasy setting where magic technology is prevalent but wars are still very much waged with swords and boards in hand. CoE:OT is heavily inspired by games such as The Elder Scrolls, Final Fantasy, Divinity, and more.

The most difficult part of this project for me personally will be the art. I will come out and say it up front: I am not an artist! That being so, I do have a very specific aesthetic in mind, and I hope to eventually work with (whether as a partnership or paid contracts) a talented artist who is capable of bringing the visuals that I imagine to life. 

Primary Features

  • Massive, open, 2D world providing players with much to explore and many deadly secrets to discover
  • Top-down camera view not unlike those of popular retro RPGs such as early JRPGs and Legend of Zelda games.
  • A class-based system offering multiple combat options for players with many different play styles.
  • Fast-paced and flashy action combat, with different experiences based on the player's chosen class.
  • Heavy emphasis on player agency by including features like branching conversations that have a direct impact on the world and story, various methods of quest (both main scenario, and side quest) completion, and a non-linear progression path. I want to emphasize that the world of Ethael is a living and breathing one and life there goes on whether the player likes it or not.
  • A simplified character stat system that allows the average player to dive right in without too much math and nitty gritty details, but still provides a satisfying experience for those hardcore players that love the theory crafting and min-maxing side of things.
  • A powerful 2D character creator that allows players to customize their character to a significant degree. Things like skin colors, head shape, hair style, hair color, body shape, race, etc... Everything you would expect form a  modern 3D character creator, but deployed in a 2D world. Fancy!

The Tech

Over the years, I have used various game engines and frameworks, such as LibGDX, Unity, and my own custom 2D engine (as mentioned above). Recently, I had become intrigued by a new(er) engine on the block called Godot. With Godot3 on the horizon that would really put the engine on the map, I decided to check it out and see what all the hype was about. Boy, am I glad I did. Being entirely open source with extremely clean source code, the engine is also extremely lightweight--a fraction of the size Unity, for example. What's more, is that there is no sketchy "phone home" system in the engine, so you know exactly what it is doing at all times--a huge win for privacy! While all of this philosophy is great, the thing that turned me on the most about Godot is its architecture. Unlike engines like Unity that utilize a Component Entity System, Godot instead uses a more flexible (and conveniently also simpler) scene system that makes entity organization and reusability much greater and easier to accomplish than a typical CES. I won't go into the details on how all this works, but if you are interested, I strongly urge you to check out their website.

It should also be mentioned that as of right now, the game is only planned to release on Windows, Linux, and Mac.

CoE:OT is currently in the design and planning stage, with a small amount of prototyping occurring in tandem. As such, I don't really have much to discuss in terms of technical implementations and what-not at this time, but you can definitely expect much of this in future posts.

I am very excited to continue working on this game and I hope that you all will find my ramblings entertaining at the very least. 

If there are any specific questions you have about the game, feel free to post 'em and I will try to get to them as soon as possible.

I am going to be following this intro post up almost immediately with my first "update." This will include some discussion around stat/attribute systems in RPGs and what kind of system is being designed for this game in particular. You'll find that many of these initial posts will be very design-focused, as that is the current state of the game. As time goes on and more prototyping is promoted to actual implementation, I will have much more media (images, videos, etc..) for you all. I ask that you please bare with me until then!

(2 edits)

Update #1: Stats and Balances

Character statistics are a very important (and often neglected) facet of the design of a RPG. Even when video games were in their infancy, tabletop RPGs such as the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published in 1974, included stats in some form or another. Before we get into discussing what kind of stat system is being designed for CoE:OT, we first need to define exactly what character stats are, as well as provide some examples of how stats have been successfully used in games throughout history.

So what exactly are character statistics?

Honestly, “character statistics” is a rather ambiguous term. Depending on the game, a stat system could (and will) be implemented in wildly different ways. Ultimately, however, character statistics are numeric values that defined a character’s ability. The term “ability” is used very loosely here, because there isn’t really any rules saying what can and cannot be covered by character stats. Some games might only use stats to suggest a character’s physical abilities, where-as another game might extend stats to encompass some set of skills. I would probably define character statistics as “A numeric value representing a character’s ability to do a thing.” Super scientific, I know. =)

Stats throughout time

Now that we have defined what character stats are, it’s time to take a look at how character statistics have been used in games throughout history. By doing this, we can see what worked, what didn’t, and hopefully why the designers chose to use the stat system they did. All of this information can help better inform us in our own stat system’s design.

  1. Retro JRPGs -- JRPGs, such as the early Final Fantasy games, Star Ocean, Legends/Secret of Mana, etc… took perhaps the most simplistic approach to character stats. While characters in these games certainly had stats as defined above, and these stats certainly increased in some manner as the character “grew,” the player was never given the ability to directly influence these statistics beyond whatever gear the player gave a character. Even then, there was rarely ever more than one or two pieces of gear that made sense for a character at a given point in time. While this most certainly seems like a nightmare from a theorycrafter/min-maxer’s perspective, it really did work in these games. The reason for this is that retro JRPGs were typically heavily story driven, the worlds were usually not very “open” (though sometimes, they would attempt to present an illusion suggesting otherwise), characters were pregenerated, and the story was fairly linear (again, despite the illusions suggesting otherwise). In short, the player’s agency was almost non-existent. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does provide a great example as to how a game’s stat system should be designed around the game’s style.

  2. Simple yet powerful -- Another approach that is becoming more and more popular is a stat system that is simple enough to get out of the way of the average player and not require them to think too much about a character’s build, but also be powerful enough that a more hardcore gamer that might enjoy optimizing character builds and theorycrafting to also sink his/her teeth into and enjoy the game their way. This style of stat system is notably employed by the more recent TES games, such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and The Elder Scrolls Online. In the latter, as an example, you have three primary “attributes” that play into the calculation of everything you do, from dealing damage, to survivability, to stealthiness, etc.. These aren’t the only variable used in these calculations, of course, but they are the only ones that the players need to maintain as they level up. For instance, if a player wants to be a sneaky rogue that specializes in ganking the unsuspecting monster with a massive amount of spike damage, while the rest of the party man the front lines, then he/she would probably just dump all of his/her stat points into stamina and call it a day. If that same player wishes to play a more solo style, then he/she might instead choose to spend some points in Health to increase his/her survivability. In the end, however, it is extremely clear what each of these attributes do and choosing which ones you care about becomes trivial. This kind of stat system lends itself well to action RPGs, especially those that are class-based. A given class usually has a specific playstyle that makes in depth character building less useful. There is usually only a handful of viable “builds” for a given class, so having all of the choices of a more complex system only becomes a nuisance in the end.

  3. Detailed and Complex -- These are the stat systems that are often employed by tabletop RPGs. In these systems, a character’s stats are the core of the character. They typically not only define a character’s combat prowess, but also every other facet of their “lives.” For instance, this system might calculate the amount of gold a player can sell an item for based on the character’s Charisma score. These systems work really well for heavy role-play focused games were out-of-combat “encounters” are very common and thus require a bit of depth to make them more fun.

As you likely realized while reading through the above styles, no one of these styles is appropriate for all games and more often than not, a sort of hybrid system becomes ideal. I’m sure you see now why choosing the right stat system for the style of game being developed is extremely important.

CoE:OT’s stat system

So what kind of stat system did we choose to go with for CoE:OT? After weighing the options and considering ease of implementation, we decided to role with a more simplified approach akin to those of more recent TES games. Given that our game is class-based, however, we found that the stat system in Skyrim really didn’t lend itself well to CoE. Similarly, we couldn’t really use the ESO version as-is either, because many of the design choices for that system relied on the multiplayer aspect of the game, and since we are effectively a single player game, we have some different considerations.

Ultimately, we chose to go with a sort of hybrid approach. Similar to ESO, characters will have three primary “resources”: Health, Magic, and Stamina. However the way that these resources influence various abilities will be somewhat different and players will likely find focusing all of their points in one stat will rarely make sense. Also similar to TES games in general, gear will play a large role in a character’s abilities. Given the intended depth of the crafting system, we expect that these two facets alone will provide more than enough flexibility to satisfy the more hardcore games, while the still being simple enough for the new or casual gamer to ease into as they wish. Another aspect that we had to consider was how we can make these stats relevant outside of just combat. This dips into a bit of the beneifts of the “complex” systems mentioned above, but given the focus on roleplay that is intended for this game, at least some degree of out of combat influence is required. Admittedly, this is a facet of the system that we are still experimenting with, and haven’t quite nailed down yet. As time goes on, I am sure you will see more updates in this regard.

A Balancing Act

The final piece to consider when devising a stat system (and probably the most important) is combat balance. This is a facet of game design that has been on designers’ minds from the very beginning, and ends up being extremely game dependant. How do you make a system that is designed for both casual and hardcore gamers alike still be fun for both audiences? If you only design the game for the casual audience, then once the more hardcore players finish optimizing their builds, they will essentially steam roll everything. That’s not very fun. =( On the other hand, if you design the game for the hardcore gamer then no matter how good your stat system is, casual players are going to get stomped and probably give up in frustration. Again, this is not good. What is needed is a way to balance the game for both audiences and as it turns out, this is no easy task.

Currently, we are experimenting with the concept of dynamic difficulty. Essentially scaling the game’s difficulty based on the player themselves. This might not turn out to be the final approach, but it’s an interesting concept that we see as having potential, so we want to experiment with it a bit more while we are still in the design phase and don’t get too far into development.