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Seven Spells of... wha? What's all this rammel?

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Hi everyone!

This post earmarks the start of my new journal here on gamedev,net. I tend to start multiple projects at once, so that once i start feeling burnout bite on one, i can change to another and keep up some form of momentum without completely burning out trying to finish just the one project.

To this end, i have decided to rewrite one of my earlier projects, The Seven Spells Of Destruction. This is a role playing game with a very long history which was born in book form when i was thirteen (for reference this is now 21 years ago!).

The first version of this game started out simply as a 'choose your own adventure' style novel, inspired heavily by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone's Fighting Fantasy novels. I have always had the urge to create bigger, and better than what is available (otherwise, really, what is the point in doing it?) so to this end i set out to create an adventure with 1480 locations, the books published and available in the shops having usually around 400 locations including the endings.

Creation of this work took approximately a year and a half, and somewhere i still have the handwritten copy of this book, which was written in fountain pen during break time and lunch hours at school and is now barely legible as the ink has started to fade after two decades.

Luckily, long before this was lost forever I purchased my first computer, a BBC Master 128k, and proceeded to type this entire novel into Inter-Word, the only word processor available to me at the time.

Throughout the years, as i got newer more powerful PCs this document was ported and enhanced as it followed me across systems, from Inter-Word to Word 2.0 for Windows 3.1, and then to Office 2000. By the time i was running Office 2000, i was now at university and was 20.

It was at this point i sat down and looked at the document, now able to program for quite some years, and decided that this would be better if it was a game. At the time, web based games were in their infancy and all the rage, so i set out to make the book web-based.

Spending the next year, i created a simple web based engine, which could 'execute' a game-book. To allow this, i split the novel into 1480 files, replacing descriptions of combat/monsters, treasure pickups, paragraph links with an XML-like language. Any tags in the markup were interpeted, updating the character details as required, and anything that was not a tag was simply displayed on the screen. Simple anti-cheat mechanisms were added to prevent teleporting, and i .... promptly shelved this project and got on with others, forgetting all about it until i left uni a couple of years later. sad.png


A couple more years rolled by, by this time i was around 25, and decided to bring this project out of mothballs with the intention of making it publically accessible (the version i had written before had only ever ran on my personal Linux machine) and adding lots of extra content.
To achieve this i heavily promoted the game on my IRC network and before long had amassed a small team of about 15 GMs, who busied themselves adding text content, new weapons, encounters, areas, and testing the game.

At its peak, the game had approximately 1500 users and at any time 200-300 of them could be logged in. This was short-lived however as I quickly found that the support time required to support 200-300 active users 24/7 was more than i could offer whilst holding down a paid job, and more than my free volounteer GMs were willing to put in. Basically, i was slowly moving out of the "small game" range and into more "MMO" style territory, without the finances to back it up.

Due to this, again the project stagnated, although again it was programattically complete, playable from start to finish with around 60 hours of gameplay.

Fast-forwarding to the present day, and I often look back at this project through rose-tinted glasses and analyse my mistakes and my successes and have decided to resurrect this project for a third incarnation.

Using unreal engine 4, i intend to re-create this project with a modern engine, and a much more modern look and feel.

The aim of the project is to get all the game's locations and NPCs and plot playable in as short a time as possible, sacrificing graphics and sound at the moment. To compensate for this i intend to use only creative commons and public domain 3D and sound assets from sites such as opengameart for the time being, which so far has allowed me to sclupt the landscape with quite some ease. Compared to writing my code from scratch in C++ and DirectX 11 as i have for Firework Factory, the rate (and graphical quality) of development is nothing short of impressive.

I am intending to keep the game pretty much 100% blueprint based, purely for simple portability reasons. If there is no C++ code to be comped to native code, there should be less issues with portability.

So far, there have been two iterations of the design, as I have left some aspects (such as graphical presentation) rather open ended and fluid. Having an open-ended design has worked quite well at actually producing a finished game in the past two iterations, and having a completed game with a fleshed out world and characters will allow me to quickly create the world in less time.

The game world is rather large, as shown on the (very badly drawn) map from the web based game, below;


I have compressed this map significantly in the UE4 version to fit into a sensible timescale and make it easily navigable by the player. Currently it takes approximately eight minutes to walk end to end of the map, without accounting for any obstacles in the way. I intend to make clecver use of obstacles to make the map harder to navigate in a straight line, hopefully making the map seem much larger than it is. Later in the game fast travel might become a possibility via teleportation spells.

The first screenshot used the Unreal Engine 4 above view template, with point and click to navigate;

I quickly found however that the models available to me did not look as good from this viewpoint, and not having the resources to draw my own, i looked into alternative viewing angles, settling finally on third person view from behind the character;

This version of the game now has the rough outline of the world added to it, which can be navigated by the player character, and has several types of environment including a forest, mountains, rivers, a desert, and a swamp. This video demonstrates travel across my somewhat empty world between the rough centre of the map above, above the mountains but below the swamp, across the north bank of the western river Larret then north into the desert, taking a grand total of 4 minutes 37 seconds in straight lines.

Several things available in the web based version will be dropped from the graphical version for sake of development time and my sanity;

  • The web based version had several races and professions of character, each affecting the entire game and ending. This will add years to the development time, so will be dropped.
  • The web based version had simple multi player capaibilities such as chat, P2P combat and P2P pickpocketing. This is going to be dropped as the game will once again be single player only.
  • Several plot arcs have the ability to re-shape the world (similar to how blowing up Megaton in Fallout 3 levels a town and changes its occupants, the same can happen to a city in the game if you let a certain high level NPC raze it...) This might stay and might not. I am undecided.

    Each of these areas has their own ambient sound effects triggered by an ambient audio object. There are a few issues still which i intend to fix, notably:

    • The dynamic lighting setup is broken horribly, causing the character to have no shadow cast. I think i set the brightness of the skylight too bright and set the wrong colours, washing out the shadows.
    • The scale of some of the instanced foliage is way out, causing the massive flowers you see in the video.

      Once these are fixed i am moving on to adding villages, towns and cities in the correct places, which i have already found creative commons artwork and models for.

      I am very aware of the ambitiousness of this project - I have completed this project in several forms and each time it took me over a year. I have no doubt that this third iteration might take even longer still, but the reward and achievement would be more than worth the effort.

      Feedback and questions are as always more than welcome!
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Considering your experience with previous iterations, I think you have reasonable goals and expectations. Good luck man. 

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