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Merry Prankster Games: Temple of the Abyssal Winds

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Temple of the Abyssal Winds Chapter 3: Expedition into the Temple is now available, for Windows and iPad!

[quote]Before you, in a valley long forgotten, stand the ruins of the Temple of the Abyssal Winds. The depths of the Temple must contain the demoness Urgoroth, threat to your home and country, as well as secrets of your family past, and your kidnapped uncle. Now, into the Temple!

Continue your adventure into the classic-style role-playing game of Temple of the Abyssal Winds. Chapter 3: Expedition into the Temple is available for purchase now: on Windows, visit the website to purchase chapter 3, and on iPad, purchase chapter 3 as an in-app purchase.

If you are new to Temple of the Abyssal Winds, chapter 1 is free to download and play for both platforms. Start there, and then move through chapters 2 and 3, with chapter 4 through 6 scheduled for release in 2015. Merry Prankster Games invites you into the world of Temple of the Abyssal Winds!

You can find more information, or download Temple of the Abyssal Winds for Windows, on the website:


For iPad, Temple of the Abyssal Winds is available in the App Store:


Merry Prankster Games is a one-man band indie development studio, started in 1995 making the play-by-email game Atlantis. For more information about Merry Prankster Games visit: http://www.prankster.com or email Geoff Dunbar at [email="totaw@prankster.com"]totaw@prankster.com[/email].

Back into review

Ready to release 2.1 of TotAW, just waiting on iOS app store review. The main update in 2.1 is support for chapter 3 (and 4!) along with some bugfixes etc. As soon as it gets through review, I'll release this version, and chapter 3, for Windows and iPad.


Difficulty Level


One thing has come out of playtesting Temple of the Abyssal Winds (http://prankster.com/totaw). Especially in the higher chapters, some players find the game very difficult. However, I don't want to just make the game easier, as the difficulty is pretty appropriate for the core audience of the game: old school RPG power gamers. So, I think the only thing to do is to introduce player-controlled difficulty levels.

I plan to do the difficulty levels something like:

  • Core: Standard rules.
  • Normal: Player actors get +10 on saving throws, and only take 75% of Core damage.
  • Easy: Player actors get +20 on saving throws, and only take 50% of Core damage.

    The default difficulty level will be Core, but changeable through the settings any time. Also, when the party is wiped out (which seems to happen pretty often for the challenged players), there will be a single-click option to lower the difficulty level of play. I'm not sure yet whether to put in an option at "New Game" to set the difficulty level.

    Thoughts, opinions, questions?
Time to dip my toes back into the Infocom river. You can read the introduction to my attempt to play all of the Infocom games here: https://www.gamedev.net/blog/717/entry-2259971-the-infocom-project/

This time I played Trinity, a game held up by many Infocom aficionados as the best of their output; a great game that also stands up as a meaningful piece of literature. Jimmy Maher has a long series of posts here:
http://www.filfre.net/2015/01/trinity/, chock full of both informative atom bomb and Cold war history, and analysis of the game itself.

In my playthrough, I experienced:

The good:

  • The puzzles are generally very good in this game. Logical (within the constraints of the world), neither trivial nor too difficult/obscure, original... this late era Infocom game shows that Infocom had really mastered the craft of their puzzle-based gameplay.
  • Original and interesting theme; maybe it's because I was born in 1970, but I enjoy a Cold War story as much as the next guy. There is also an Alice-In-Wonderland sub-theme, which sounds strange, but works well enough in the context of the story-telling.
  • The areas were well-described and fleshed at, and synchronized with the documentation in such a way that I really got a good picture of the scenes, locations, and events that I was experiencing.

    The bad:

    • Perhaps the puzzle-based text adventure just doesn't work for me in exploring subjects of tough moral questions, but I didn't find the game profound in the least (directly in opposition to many other reviewers). Rather, it felt like the game took me through a bunch of light vignettes with a Cold War/atomic weapon theme, completely failing to draw me into any of the quandaries and philosophical morasses involved. There are many interesting questions that could be asked about the development and application of nuclear weapon technology, but I didn't feel like the game really asked me confront them at all, instead, confronting me with set of more standard text adventure puzzles ("How do I get the foo in order to baz the bar?"). That left the theme seeming somewhat superfluous to me, disconnected from the gameplay itself.
    • The game has a three act structure, with hard transitions between the three acts. I found this to be a little discordant, especially when transitioning from act two to three, where I felt a strong sense of satisfaction at "solving" the second act, only to still have a significant portion of the game to complete.

      Puzzle frustration: Moderate/Low. The origami puzzle didn't make sense to me at all, and I basically had to Invisiclue the whole thing. Otherwise, my impatience led me to use the Invisiclues a couple of other times to find avenues that I had missed, but given patience, I likely would have gotten through these without the light hinting I used.

      In sum, I am of two minds. This is an excellently crafted Infocom game, a fine example of a puzzle-driven text adventure game, with an original and imaginative theme. But, I just don't feel like the gameplay suits the theme. Maybe I'm a shallow person, but I'd rather just hunt for treasure in a big dungeon. I deciding where to rank this game, I decided that the story of Floyd in Planetfall, while not nearly as audacious or ambitious in intent, worked better within the confines of the game, so I put Trinity just below that one.

      Played Games, Best to Worst:

      1. Enchanter
      2. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
      3. Sorceror
      4. Zork III
      5. Zork II
      6. Zork I
      7. Planetfall
      8. Trinity
      9. Wishbringer
      10. Stationfall
      11. Spellbreaker
      12. Plundered Hearts
      13. The Leather Goddesses of Phobos
      14. Infidel
      15. Starcross
      16. Seastalker

Some of my most valuable playtesters are my kids, because I can watch them play, and see things that they do that they might not report if I wasn't sitting there. I was watching my daughter (age 11) play today, and she is _terrible_!

I mean, she isn't actually terrible. She can move around, and attack the right enemies, and so forth. But she is not a power-gamer by any means, and misses a lot of the subtleties that, in designing the game, I assume the player will take advantage. For example, she keeps getting ambushed by assassins, who sneak around and kill her spellcaster. This very spellcaster has a spell "See Invisible", that lasts for an hour, and would be very effective against these enemies. But, I don't think she even knows that the spell exists. And I despair, if she didn't have the spellcaster, that she would figure out that she needs to go and buy a scroll and read it to learn the spell, etc, etc.

This leads to a couple of problems. She ends up with her party getting wiped out pretty often, but TotAW is pretty forgiving of that. The party gets resurrected, and she goes back and tries again, and hasn't really gotten stuck yet. Still I can definitely see the potential for frustration here.

There is a more subtle problem, too. She also ends up buying a bazillion healing potions. Not all at once, but she ends up relying on consumables (specifically healing potions) a lot more than I expect. This uses up most of the gold she gets, and then she can't afford to upgrade her equipment. Which in turn makes the game a bit harder.

I've got thoughts on what to do about this, but I'll leave that for a future entry. For now, I will just say that the experience of live playtesting has proven illuminating.

Status Update

Just back from vacation, and thought I'd give a status update for all of the adoring TotAW players out there.


Chapter 3 is going through the final stages of testing. I plan to release it, along with a slightly updated TotAW version, in the next few weeks.

Chapter 4 is nearly complete. I should wrap up writing in the next 2 weeks, and then start testing.

Meanwhile I need to commission my art for the last two chapters, so I have that ready to go.

So, things are keeping busy around here!

Junky Treasure

Thinking about treasure lately. When I set out with the SENG engine (the game engine behind Temple of the Abyssal Winds), I was just going to make up any treasure you found by hand. So, in the quest where you defeat the orcs, something like a 10000 gold reward is needed. I would look through the available items, think quizzically for a moment, and say, "Ah yes, how about a Greataxe +10, 2 healing potions, and 800 gold. Sounds about right!"

Well, this turned out to be tremendously boring once I had done it twice. So I introduced an algorithm. In the game file, chest X has 10000 gold worth of treasure, and the game would generate the treasure automatically. Much less boring.

My current algorithm is to generate items randomly (less than the amount of treasure), until we get somewhere between 50% and 75% of the desired total amount, and give the rest as coins. Here's an example:


In this case, 10000 gold was desired, and we ended up with:

  • A Greatsword +5, worth 2350.
  • A Masterwork Greatsword, worth 350.
  • A Quarterstaff +5, worth 2300.
  • A scroll of Ice Storm, with 800.
  • And 4200 in gold.

    So, that works OK. And I'm definitely not going back to the "by hand" method! But, this method has a tendency to generate a bunch of mediocre to poor items. It would certainly be more exciting if one good item were to turn up more often (at the expense of all the blah items). It would be super-exciting if, once in awhile, a great item (worth more than 10000 gold, even) showed up.

    Anyone have any experience with RPG treasure generation that they liked? Other thoughts?
I saw an interesting article:


The main point being that magic systems in RPGs are too "scientific". In my mind, this means logical and reproducible. To some extent, I agree... in fiction, I really appreciate when magic comes across as something not wholly explainable and mysterious. "A Game of Thrones" by George. R. R. Martin, and "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell" by Susanna Clarke are two examples that spring immediately to mind.

However, to make this actionable in a CRPG (the author is primarily talking about pencil-and-paper RPGs) is difficult, and not really addressed by the article. By definition, a computer game is running a set of logical rules to define the magic system. The implementer can add randomness to make things non-deterministic, but to fool the player into believing that this randomness is synergistic and mysterious, rather than just random, is a tall order.

Anyways, food for thought, but I can't think of much to actually do about it. Anyone else?

I saw this cool (and extensive!) article about where to point the camera, in games:


The article is specific to side-scrollers (all the way back to the arcade "classic" Rally X from 1980), but I found the material to be pretty applicable to any game where the game controls the camera (instead of the player having full camera control).

I'm heads down on Chapter 4 right now, but when I get a chance, I definitely want to explore some of these techniques in TotAW. Currently, the camera is fixed on the selected character. Immediate ideas:

  1. When you switch between characters, the camera instantly focusses on the new character. Having it scroll to the new character (probably pretty quickly) would be less jarring.
  2. Having the camera focus out a little in front of the character would also be a nice touch, giving a little more vision of the current area.

Anyways, there are lots of techniques and refinements listed and explained in the article. I'm confident that I can improve things in TotAW with just some small adjustments.


Back in Action

Back from vacation. Had some stuff to take care of, maybe a little bit of motivation issues, but this game isn't going to finish itself. Here's a screenshot (from my level editor) of a rooftop level from TotAW chapter 4:



Gone Baby Gone

On vacation for the next week. I was hoping to have chapter 3 of Temple of the Abyssal Winds out before going, but it was not to be. Should be by the end of April, though.


Let's Get Offensive

So, in the RPG engine behind Temple of the Abyssal Winds (http://prankster.com/totaw), there are 6 different types of weapons:

  • Light Blades
  • Heavy Blades
  • Staves
  • Bludgeons
  • Axes
  • Bows

    Part of building up your character, especially a combat-focused character, is choosing which weapons your character is proficient with. Thus, there should be distinctions between the different types of weapons, with benefits and penalties for different types.

    Currently, there are a couple of ways in which this is implemented. First, different weapons have different weights, damages, and two handed versions. However, those distinctions are currently not very well done; heavy blades are generally the best, staves the worst, with a fairly clear progression. This system is lackluster.

    There are a couple of meaningful distictions. Bows are the only ranged weapon, very different than the other weapons. Light blades do less damage than other weapons, but are more effective when dual-wielding (using two weapons at once). Those are both well done, making these weapon types unique and each serving their own purpose.

    Lastly, at high levels, weapon powers become available, which do give a meaningful distinction. When using "Heavy Blade Precision", the attacker gets a bonus to-hit, whereas "Whirling Staff" gives a bonus to defense. These powers do give a different flavor to the different weapons, and makes for a good system. The big drawback is that these powers are only for high level characters, minimizing the impact.

    So, what can be done about this?

    One easy possibility is to make weapon powers, of weaker magnitude, available at lower levels. This would move down the level at which these powers distinguish between the weapon types. I am hesitant to move the powers to too low levels, though, as the player should be more experienced with the system before needing to muck around with enabling/disabling powers; there is some micro-management involved.

    Another easy possibility is not to mess with the basic weapons themselves, but to tweak the properties of magic versions of the weapons. For instance, a magic staff might give a defensive bonus, a magic longsword would give a to-hit bonus, and a magic axe would give a damage bonus. This is just an OK fix, as the weapon differences wouldn't be obvious at character creation time, only later when the player has seen the magic weapons, at which time he has already made his skill choices about which weapons to specialize in.

    D&D has a damage resistance scheme; for instance, skeletons are resistant to damage, but blunt weapons are not affected by this resistance. Adding some form of weapon resistance and/or vulnerability would be a good way of creating unique uses for staves and bludgeons. This might involve a fair amount of updates to monsters though, unless applied with a broad brush ("All undead are vulnerable to blunt weapons" for instance).

    Another possible change would be to add a critical hit scheme. For instance, 10% of every hits is a critical hit, and does double damage. Then, perhaps axes would do triple damage on criticals, offsetting the lower damage they do in general.

    One last idea is for the light weapons (light blades and staves) to allow agility to be used for the attack bonus instead of strength. This would make an agility-based swashbuckler a more viable character option, while giving the light weapons more usefulness, despite their lesser damage stats.

    Anyways, those are just some of the ideas I'm thinking about implementing in the RPG system moving forward. First I need to finish up the remaining chapters of TotAW. Back to work!

Stay Classy, RPGers!


So, reading various forum posts on Temple of the Abyssal Winds, people just trying out the game, I see that one of the first things they talk about is the character creation. No surprise, in an RPG with a fairly deep system, like TotAW, character creation is moderately involved, and pretty fun. Tweaking your character in just the right way, getting just the type of avatar that you have in mind. Let's be honest, a lot of us will take part in a little min-maxing, as well, trying to get an optimally powerful character.

The character creation posts mention, "You have the choice of three classes, fighter, adventurer, and spellcaster, and a number of skills to select." Now, this is a very deliberate decision on my part. The balance between class and skills (or feats, abilities, or whatever a particular system calls them) is of vital importance. My goal is to find the right balance between flexibility in creating a character, and maintaining the relative power levels of characters.

The RPG system that TotAW takes the most from is Dungeons and Dragons, specifically 3rd edition (or possibly its spiritual successor Pathfinder). However, while Dungeons and Dragons has about 10 basic classes, I trimmed the list to 3. I find the long list of D&D classes to be somewhat limiting and contradictory. Deciding whether a character is a sorceror or wizard, for instance. Or maybe my version of a spellcaster has a little of each... then what?

D&D corrects this with multi-classing rules and prestige classes, which allow a myriad of options. The cynic in me thinks that maybe some of this is to be able to sell supplements with lots of new prestige classes (and even basic classes), but I can't complain too much about the result... the player is given a vast array of options for his character. Even if it is hard to say whether my character should be a paladin, or a fighter with a few levels of cleric thrown in.

However, in designing the RPG behind TotAW, I needed to trim this down. I don't have the resources to add dozens of classes. Allowing multi-classing opens up a vast array of combinations that need to be tested together, balanced against each other, et al. My design was to simplify down to 3 classes for the 3 archetypes of characters, and then use skills to fill in the details. Want your priest to be feeble but strong in magic? Make his class spellcaster, and pour all of his skills into magic skills. Want him to be more of a battle-priest? Maybe his class should be adventurer, and split the skills between combat and magic.

I'm pretty happy with how the system works. I don't think any particular character type is overpowered. It is possible to make a gimped character, but if the player is careful in putting his class, skills, and attributes in order, most character types should be reasonably useful. I'm sure I still have some work to do, and fully intend to keep updating the system as I discover more how it works in practice.

TotAW Community

Thinking about community interaction for Temple of the Abyssal Winds. Now, my ideal would be to have a rich, vibrant forum full of fresh and interesting discussion on TotAW. However, my suspicions are that the forum would mostly just sit empty. Also, previous efforts at running a forum have had a low signal to effort ratio, with a ton of effort to keep the board free of spam.

Thus, a simpler set of places where I'd like to see discussion, as on the TotAW community page: http://www.prankster.com/totaw/community.html

TotAW PR Tour

Of interest only to me? Maybe, but this post tracks the places I've announced Temple of the Abyssal Winds. I'll update as I continue announcing.