I am overburdened, back among the living

Hi there, long time no see!

Last month was rather chaotic for me. After a lengthy Easter vacation a nasty flu forced me to spend almost a week in bed, and overall the progress on “I am overburdened” was dreadfully slow up until last week. That is why I had no energy and not much drive to write new posts or to create video log entries, but it is time to break the silence.

Really, no progress?

There was a lot actually, but the development entered its last stage where there are a zillion small tasks left to be done but no modifications are substantial. The notorious last 10% which takes 90% of the development time 😀 . I go through all the changes made during last month in a few sentences, than I’ll adumbrate when and how am I planning to push this game through its finish line.

Monsters

I completed all the monsters from the easiest pawns up until the final boss. Their attributes are not balanced yet, but all their names, sprites and basic settings are done. Now each and every one has its own corpse graphic and unique sound effect too. This last bit was originally flagged as a nice-to-have addition, but after trying out the game with a few monsters having its own sound and carcass, there was no turning back 🙂 .

2017_04_28_gif_combined

2017_04_29_gif_combined

Attack and skill effects

The battles and item skills were lacking visually, so I decided to apply some cosmetics. I Implemented a simple system to flash in and out various sprites at given coordinates in the dungeon on top of the entities. I was pleasantly surprised with the effectiveness of the initial results. Since than, I added configurable opacity easing- in and out and timings. Now item usage and battles are really shiny 😮 .

2017_04_30_gif_combined

Notifications

Another set of crucial visual queues missing from the game were notifications. Many pickups and events yield varying results in a roguelike and yes a player can figure out how much gold was picked up, but it is so much nicer if the game helps a little with these, especially when important changes occur. Clearly when it does not fit the style its not necessary, but I am overburdened is not a “super serious” game. Of course these can be overdone, but I tried making them not too obtrusive. Both the effect system and the notification system is accessible by the item skills, so various “spells” can trigger these too.

2017_05_04_gif_combined1

2017_05_05_gif_combined

Items, items, items

103 unique items, each and every one having a unique sprite. All the graphics are done with around 50% of the item lore finalized and it was a hell of a lot of work. Sadly something I underestimated again. Making the graphics was not difficult but coming up with unique, interesting or funny concepts, skills and short descriptions after having around 75 piece already, was tough. The last mile became a grueling, laborious crawl! When a lot of great content is already in place and almost every single archetype is taken, it becomes ridiculously hard to come up with new ideas hitting the same quality bar 😦 .

After all I think I achieved my goal in creating intriguing hand crafted loot what may serve as a strong hook for the game, so I’m proud of the end result. I don’t want to spoil too much so I’ll only show a small selection of sprites. Sorry, you have to play the game for more 🙂 .

2017_05_09_items

Localization

In Operation KREEP I hard-coded some strings, rendering the game impossible to be fully localized without code modification. Some buyers actually asked about how they could do translations. I felt really ashamed while answering those mails 😦 . For I am overburdened I’ve built a system which allows to bind assets for specific cultures and all the strings are read from asset files too. There are no major limiting factors now, so technically the game could be localized to any language without modifying the application. I know some languages are super hard to handle, e.g.: right-to-left ones or the ones with huge glyph sets, but the point is, that it is feasible now.

Since I don’t have the budget to pay for professional translations, only English and Hungarian will be done for release, but if the game does well, this is something, that is high on my list 😉 .

In-game UI

The user interface for the game is pretty much complete. Some finishing touches are missing here and there, but it is already pleasant looking and almost fully functional from the health-bar all the way to the item pickup pop-ups.

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The main menu

I dislike making menus because they are usually boring to design and program. For Operation KREEP I came up with the idea of creating a “screen in the screen” look, to make it more interesting and alleviate this feeling while working on it. You navigated the menus of a retro-looking computer and the whole frame of the machine was drawn. It blitted the maps on the level selection screen in awful 4 colors and all the cozy stuff like that 🙂 . It worked for me and for the game too.

I tried a non-traditional approach again, but menus are still boring 😀 . Since it is a classic trope to have a city in action RPG-s and roguelikes where you return to from time-to-time, I thought about including one in I am overburdened. The idea did not align well with its mechanics, so I decided to make it the main menu! You move around in an inn, interacting with people and objects there to enter specific parts of the game. Talking with the inn-keeper lands you on a help screen, poking a bookshelf shows the settings, leaving the inn exits the game and the trap-door starts the actual dungeon crawling… If a player gets lost, escape will bring-up an ordinary focus driven menu. It is far from complete, but the skeleton is there and some parts already work.

2017_04_05_inn

2017_05_09_menu1

Open beta, plans

I’ve been talking about this open version thingy for ages and I still haven’t released it. In my original plans I wanted to have the full game completed by now 😦 . For the most part it is, but some planned content and finalization (+polish) is missing. There comes a time when I have to say stop and I think it is here, so from now on I will only focus on wrapping the whole thing up and this starts with putting out a beta version. Will prepare some marketing materials beforehand, like store page graphics and texts, maybe even a teaser trailer, so it may take a few days, but will share a download link for it in the next post 🙂 😉 !

Stay tuned.

I am overburdened, miles of tiles

Hi there!

Short entry, a bit tutorial-ish, about the tile graphics of the game.

Art direction, ideas

I really liked the style of the open art assets I used for prototyping. Pixel art, huge value differences between the wall and the floor tiles and a little noise to make it a little grimy & wrecked.

2017_02_04_screenshot_1

Though I liked it’s looks and simplicity, I wanted to try some other ideas before settling on anything so I went ahead and made mockups.

False positive

The most interesting and furthest developed one was a tile-set and look with an oblique top-down view effect. I think this looks really good in many games, but sometimes it can get too exaggerated covering too much of the entity sprites.

2017_03_26_mockup

I came up with this, but I decided to scrap the idea. I liked it sort-of, but making multiple varied sets for the 30 to 60 minute long campaign and fully fleshing them out in this style would require and immense amount of work. I choose the original simple style with a decent amount of variation instead.

Goals, final looks

So I returned to the looks of the prototype. Easily distinguishable wall and floor tiles, noisy and grimy places (it is an old dungeon after all) and good variations (many sets and small randomization within each set too) so it does not become boring during a full play-through. I needed a cool palette. Something murky. While picking colors I naturally deviated towards the looks of a game I always cherished for its atmosphere 🙂 .

2017_03_26_quake

Colors were picked carefully for supporting the look of the entity sprites, as they will use a marginally different palette full of contrasting colors instead of saturated ones to make them pop from the terrain (again just like in the prototype).

Here goes some shots about the results:

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2017_03_26_screenshot_1

2017_03_26_screenshot_2

I have 10 different tile sets ready which I suspect will provide a good variety 🙂 . With 30-ish level deep dungeons a set change will happen after every 3 levels.

How-to?

For creating a lot of pixel art tiles, like the ones I made, you are going to need a frame so to say. Some rules and patterns how you start pixeling each tile and afterwards patience for experimentation. That is all to it actually. I walk through the creation of one.

I use GIMP, a free and cross-platform image editor, but pixel art can be done just as well in a lot of paint programs (even in paint, but I advise you to choose a better one which supports layers). A graphics tool which can work with tiles or a hot-reload engine feature (because GIMP as an example does not support tile graphics) also helps, since you can check while you are drawing, whether your graphics work well when tiled instantly.

2017_03_26_gimp

First I usually start with selecting values for the whole set. This is a handy technique for defining an overall lightness/darkness balance for each tile.

2017_03_26_tile_values

Than I “sketch” a simple pattern for a tile using the values, usually with a light-source residing in a North-West direction.

2017_03_26_tile_pattern

I add a little variation, like cracks, missing bricks, mixing up the pattern etc… Detail like wines or stains can be added after coloring is done but this step alone makes enough differences between tiles.

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I know simply selecting the same hue for the given values feels easy, but it makes the outcome look kind-of boring. Try to make colors interesting by selecting at least two different hues and by playing with saturation a little. It will make a huge difference!

2017_03_26_tile_colors

Now you have a nice looking tile. The next step is optional. Adding noise was a deliberate style choice in my case. You simply add an extra set of values with only slight changes relative to the originally used ones. Select the noise colors the same way as the “normal” colors. Generate a noise pattern and overlay the noise colors on top of the tile using it as a mask.

2017_03_26_tile_noise

A screenshot with the final tiles:

2017_03_26_screenshot_3

Thanks for reading.

Stay tuned!

I am overburdened, nobody make a sound!

Hi everyone!

This post is going to be more like a tutorial, than a journal entry. I highly recommend checking out the video version, as it is heavily audio oriented + it contains some recent game-play footage 😉 .

I missed out creating an entry last week. I juggled between projects and tasks a lot, which led to me feeling a bit weary + no significant progress was visible on any front due to working just a tiny little on many aspects, so I decided to postpone it a little. Nevertheless, I’ve spent the last few days on finalizing the audio and sounding of I am overburdened.

Chip tune or not?!

My two completed games used pixel graphics and as a natural fit they were armed with 8-bit style sound effects. This is a really economical approach since making matching effects with a tool like sfxr takes only a few hours tops. From the get-go I wanted to try something different for I am overburdened, both for personal development and because some pixel games with realistic sounds (Canabalt) made me want to experiment with this style. I’m even less qualified as a sound engineer than as an artist 😀 so take my words with a grain of salt! All my mumblings here are based solely on tutorials scattered around the INTERNETZ + some fiddling with tools…

Recording

I decided to record and process as many effects of the game as I can. Last week almost a day was spent clowning with common household items to create noises 🙂 . If you are thinking about a similar approach, start by throwing together a DIY “recording studio” (sponge box). Even if you have a decent microphone it will help immensely with canceling noise and reverberation. Some sponge (check the boxes of your PC parts 😉 ) or a curtain can do the job. Otherwise you may end up with really echoing results (noise can be helped with software!).

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Audacity to the rescue

First things first, download Audacity. It’s GIMP for sounds so to speak. Its interface is relatively straight forward (all what you would expect: select, copy, cut, paste, new track, the ‘z’ key ?! for clean cut selection etc…), but Youtube is filled with video tutorials (even with advanced tips and tricks) if you get stuck.

2017_03_02_audacity

The following is a good repertoire to familiarize yourself with from the “Effect” menu:

  • “Noise Removal”: for sampling noise profiles (noisy but otherwise silent segments of a track) and noise canceling.
  • “Change Speed/Tempo/Pitch” and “Bass and Treble”: for mixing and changing effects (e.g.: making them play slower/faster or higher/lower etc…).
  • “Echo” and “Reverb”: for making sounds feel more spatial, and for creating some fancy voice effects (e.g.: making yourself sound like a ghost, demon or a robot etc…).
  • “Fade-In/Out” for correctly starting and cutting off sounds, especially alongside cuts.

My approach, which helped me out learning the ins and outs of effects, is to change back sliders to default positions (0Db, 0% +/-0) and experiment a lot, gradually trying out various modifiers, to see how something affects a sound.

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2017_03_02_effects_2

Here is a short reel of what I was able to record and mix for the game:

Public domain

For I am overburdened approximately 50% of the final audio were recorded (some stuff is just hard to record in your room 😦 ), the other half came from OpenGameArt.org and Freesound.org. Both of them are wonderful sites full of really good content, many even final production quality. After listening to an hour worth of sound effects I selected the best matching ones based on my list of requirements and remixed many of them using Audacity for even better results.

2017_03_02_opengameart

2017_03_02_freesound

One thing to be aware of before browsing around these sites is licensing. Keep in mind, just like code, various assets like pictures and sound effects can only be used under strict terms. Some only require author attribution, but some permit fully free modification or commercial use. If you don’t really want to dig into the topic, simply make sure you search for and use assets under CC0. This means the asset is essentially public domain, you can do what ever you want with it, even for commercial purposes!

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Runtime tricks

You should be applying effects runtime too, to make the sounding of your game more dynamic. I constantly need to remind myself of this practice, I tend to forget about it. Few simple examples are: dynamic pitch, panning and volume control. If a sound effect is played a lot (e.g.: footstep, attack, shoot, hit) and your API of choice allows to set the pitch value (e.g.: XNA SoundEffectInstance) throw in some minor, but random changes! This will make it feel more varying. If your API does not allow this, have no fear! Pre-generate some good sounding variations for the often played effects and randomly select between them.

Example walking cycle in I am overburdened:

If you are not really into the video series but want to hear the difference between the placeholder sounds and the final sounds of the game, here is a timed link: Sound effects comparison

That is all for this post. I already cranked-out tiles and some sprites for the game, so I’m guessing the next entry will be kind of similar, but focusing on the art side.

Take care!

I am overburdened, loot is forever.

Hello everyone!

This entry turned out to be lengthy and pretty technical. Sorry about that, but last week was spent only on “under the hood” stuff. I did my best to make it interesting though 😉 ! So the agenda is the item system which became really sophisticated, especially compared to the size of the game + the difficulty and pacing management.

I settled on the video format of the last entry, because EP 3 was the most pleasant recording experience and in my eyes it was the most enjoyable video so far. So from now on, I’m going for condensed and “scripted” logs focusing on the features and development of the game.

Items, loot

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The plan for the game is to have a wast and diverse set of unique items (approx 100). Since no leveling will take place, the player will have to risk collecting as much loot as possible during the journey and focus on customizing the play-style by carefully picking which items to wear. So the technology behind the game has to support a great number of skills and excessive customization of the items, but also has to allow lightning fast iteration times, since I will be spending a significant amount of time during the upcoming 2 to 4 weeks with designing and balancing the possible loot.

Attribute bonuses

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The easiest development was attribute bonuses on items. Adding the following piece to the descriptor of an item in the loot configuration file will provide the given bonus attributes to the player while equipped:

<Attributes>
  <Attack>1</Attack>
  <Defense>2</Defense>
  <Vitality>3</Vitality>
  <Speed>4</Speed>
  <Luck>5</Luck>
</Attributes>

I highly recommend calculating most of the final modifiers and attributes of a character in RPGs every time one is needed. The more caching you introduce into these systems, the more groundwork you lay for pesky bugs to occur, so keep it low! Usually these calculations are pretty simple (will never be a performance hit) and the hard-coded constant formulas will be really straight-forward to follow.

public class Attributes
{
    public int Attack;
    public int Defense;
    public int Vitality;
    public int Speed;
    public int Luck;

    // events ...
}

public class Player
{
    public Attributes Attributes;

    // handle pick-ups and other logic related to permanent attributes...
}

public class Inventory
{
    public Attributes Attributes;

    // handle item pick-ups and other logic related to item attribute bonuses...
}

The player data holds the permanent attributes of the character (starting attributes + permanent power-ups) and the inventory holds the sum of the attribute bonuses from the equipped items (only a tiny bit of caching) recalculated every time it is changed (e.g.: item pick-up, item swap etc…). The final value of an attribute is the sum from these two structures and the modifiers queried from the extra skills of the equipped items applied to it.

Skills, event system

For a high level of flexibility and to have a varied set of special skills I implemented an event system. I followed a similar but a bit more dynamic approach as the built-in event language feature of C#. Essentially an event is a string (the name of the occurred event) and a context holding additional data related to it and a skill is an event handler implementation.

Event systems can be implemented a number of ways each having their strengths and weaknesses, but all-in-all the following is pretty close to the my solution:
WARNING pseudo code incoming!

// Actual skills need implement this class:
public abstract class Skill
{
    public void HandleEvent(string name, EventContext context)
    {
        if (this.EventsHandled.Contains(name))
        {
            // Additional checks related to the context...

            TakeEffect(name, context);
        }
    }

    protected abstract void TakeEffect(string name, EventContext context);

    // Some helper methods...

    public HashSet<string> HandledEvents;

    // Additional requirements for the event & context...
}

// Special events extend this structure to "add" extra data to the event context:
public class EventContext
{
    // The creature whose action lead to the event:
    public Entity Creature;
}

The execution of the “TakeEffect” method can also be chance based (luck of event firing creature is taken into account). so a skill may only take effect with a given chance (e.g.: 10% chance to “XYZ” types).

An item can have a list of skills listening for events when equipped by a creature. Some events pass in an extension of the “EventContext” class with extra information, like the damage dealt, or the target creature attacked etc…

Few of the most common events in the game:

  • NextDungeonReached: the player reached the next level.
  • Attacking: a creature starts attacking.
  • OpenChest: the player just opened a chest.
  • Pickup: the player picks up a bonus item (e.g.: health potion, gold sack etc…)

Some of the existing skill implementations:

  • Attribute: grants a “bonus” for the upcoming trial (e.g.: +10 luck for the next luck trial).
  • Cripple: interrupts the next attack of the target.
  • Thorns: reflects a “bonus” amount of damage to the attacker.
  • Vampiric: a “bonus” amount of the damage dealt is healed to the attacker.

“bonus” == modifier applied to an integer value. Can be an integer like +/- 5 or a percentage like +/- 5%. The integer bonuses are applied first and the percentage modifiers afterwards.

Most of these events and skills took only a few lines of code to integrate and I have several more ready and working. Combing and configuring them to take effect on specific events with various chances is already an immensely versatile system to build items 🙂 !

Tags

String tags can be added to a creature when describing it in a configuration file, like: undead, deamon, boss etc… The event system allows to define tag requirements for targets before a skill can take effect. A creature meets a given a requirement if it does not have any tags from its “can not have” set of tags and has all the tags from its “must have” set of tags. It is as simple as that.

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This tiny addition allows skills which have real “character” to be made. Some cool examples would be monsters tagged as “undead” and a life-steal granting sword which does not work on them (pictured in the GIF), or a holy shield which grants enormous extra defense, but only when attacked by monsters tagged as “deamon”. This also allows to disable certain skills against bosses which could make them too overpowered otherwise.

I’m still at the beginning when it comes to designing the concrete items, but with these systems in place I hope I’ll have a pleasant experience while implementing the actual artifacts. As closing words for the loot topic, here is a rather complicated item description just to show how this is all put together in configuration files:

<!--
  Forearm armor:
    +1 Defense
    20% chance to cripple non "Boneless" enemies
-->
<ItemDescriptor>
  <Type>Forearms</Type>
  <Name>Vambraces</Name>
  <Sprite>Item22</Sprite>
  <Level>1</Level>
  <Attributes>
    <Defense>1</Defense>
  </Attributes>
  <Skills>
    <Skill>
      <Cripple>
        <EventHandled>InflictDamage</EventHandled>
        <ChanceBased>true</ChanceBased>
        <Chance>20</Chance>
        <TargetTags>
          <CantHave>
            <string>Boneless</string>
          </CantHave>
        </TargetTags>
      </Cripple>
    </Skill>
  </Skills>
</ItemDescriptor>

Difficulty, pacing

It’s important to constantly introduce new content and to increase the difficulty curve so the player always finds a challenge while progressing deeper into the depths of the dungeon. I achieve this with a construct called “dungeon profile”. For each level of the story (currently planning to have around 30) a profile will specify which tile-set to use, what kind of monsters can be spawned and what type of pick-ups, treasures and chests can be placed. Of course this data is read from asset files and it is fed into the dungeon generator after constructing the layout for a level. This gives fine control over the length, the pacing and the minute to minute difficulty changes of the whole game without modifying a single line of code.

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Yep, last week was rather busy, though I’m behind my schedules once again 😦 . A little more than a week ago I was confident I will have some (even if not many) art assets done for the game by now. Sadly slipped a little. This is the next step though, so the following entry will have pretty sprites and screenshots 😉 !

Stay tuned!

I am overburdened, monsters and mods.

Hi there!

Small update this time. Been working on wrapping up all the remaining core features, but got a bit sidetracked so I’m going to write a little about level editing too besides monsters + I’m trying out yet another video setup.

This video is the most condensed so far, focusing exclusively on last week’s development and showcasing gameplay features. I thought making a third video using this form will result in a diverse and easily comparable set and will help to draw my final conclusions about the series.

So it is short (3 minutes), maximally to the point and heavily “scripted” 🙂 :

Monsters

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During this week, I pretty much completed all the logic related to the monsters of the game. From their type description (sprites, attributes, inventory?! 😮 🙂 😛 , database of monster types etc…), all the way to battling with them. Also filled the game with a bunch of placeholder monster sprites/types to test it out, and now it feels like a real rogue-like with character advancement, treasures and risk of death 🙂 .

Battle system

Once you try to move to a tile occupied by a monster a “battle” starts. Both entities will take their turns to attack, the faster one (speed attribute) will start or it will be decided with luck trials if there is a match. If both contestants survive the first attack the slower/unlucky entity strikes back, and shortly after the player gets back input control.

Levels and modding

Official mod support is sadly out of the scope of this project, but I still managed to come up with a clean solution for a “half-offical” way 🙂 . Since all the configuration files (monster/pickup/chest types, starting attributes, spawn profiles, item skills) will be shipped as plain XML files, huge part of the game can be tweaked with a plain old text editor, but for a pleasant level editing experience that will not suffice…

Tiled

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I decided to ship the game with built-in support for the the Tiled editor. Now the game can read plain tmx files. Never made a run-time parser for it before, but I used this editor multiple times so it was a natural choice. The final package will also feature a pre-built tile set for Tiled map files (placeholder one pictured) and a written guide on specific map properties related to the game.

2017_02_11_screenshot_1

By the next entry I will have all the missing bits and pieces of the game-play loop implemented (difficulty management and item skills) and the game will be pretty much fully playable albeit lacking content or balance. As always, open for questions, comments and critique.

Take care!

I am overburdened, prototyping.

Hello everyone!

I worked on a lot of stuff since my last post:

  • Thought a lot about the content/format of my blog and my freshly started video series, and made some decisions about their future.
  • Worked on the linux/mac port of KREEP, but still no announcements yet (but not far).
  • Lot of progress on the development of “I am overburdened”, although not as much as I hoped 😐 …

Blog

Both the last video and blog entry were huge in length and quite empty (video was okay? I guess as the first one). My goal with the series is to have a little introspection of the development process and to showcase the games I’m working on + to gather some interest for them. Of course with dreadfully uninteresting videos this is not going to happen 😀 . Cooked up these rules and goals to try to fix this:

  • Cut short the videos or fill them with more “action” (50+% game/feature showcase sounds about right).
  • From now on measure word-count and aim for 500 to 600 word long written entries.
  • Made an introduction video. This allows omitting the silly “greeting and explanation” section from the upcoming entries.
  • Embrace “freestyle” recording to act more naturally (+ to cut down the time it takes to prepare an entry).
  • Increase recording quality.

So here it is, in it’s full glory, episode two:

As always, open for critique and comments both for the video and the blog entry. Please leave them here or below the video, so I can make better follow-ups.

Progress

Steady, but a tad bit slow. I hoped I could complete all the core features by now, but failed to implement monsters. It is starting to become a real game though, but I’m still in the “prototyping” phase, hence the title. Here goes last weeks progress in GIFs:

RPG layer

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The RPG design and its implementation is mostly complete. Our hero has health points (damage, healing and death when reaching 0 works), and the main attributes are done (most of it is integrated and takes effect on certain events).

  • Attack: damage output.
  • Defense: damage reduction.
  • Vitality: maximum health points.
  • Speed: who attacks first.
  • Luck: luck trial influence (item find chance, potion efficiency etc…)

Pickups

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Treasures scattered around the dungeon floor are fully functional. There are various types (e.g.: gold sacks, health potions, permanent attribute bonuses, random artifacts), with varying probabilities to be spawn. The system is data driven, so without modifying the game a lot of pickups (and types) can be added to the mix easily.

Chests

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Chests, the most valuable targets, are working. Again large part of the system is data driven (sprites, cost to open, probabilities etc…) and I have some “okay” default chest settings added to the game already.

Items and inventory

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The inventory system and the basic item logic is in place. Items don’t have their bonuses and skills implemented yet, but I’m already working on it 🙂 . The plan is to have an event system “fueling” the skills, so the bonuses can be configured in tiny “scripts” (e.g.: [+X] [“Attack”] when [attacking “undead”] or [+Z permanent] [“Health points”] when [reaching “stairs”]). It has to carry the weight of 100+ unique items, so I hope this approach will be adequate.

2017_02_04_screenshot_1

As the next step, I have to complete the monster and battle logic. I put down the skeleton code for this too but it is going to take a few days to finish. Once that is done, the game will be pretty much playable, but lacking content and original assets. So the next post will focus on the monsters, finalization of the RPG layer and the item system. Maybe it will have plans for an open alpha release too 🙂 ?!

Stay tuned!