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In every project I take on, there are certain transitional points that I always seem to have a hard time getting past. One of these transitional points usually comes when I've got the map or level stuff finished, and I move on to objects--all the 'stuff' that makes the project more of a game and less of a tech demo. I hit that point with Golem3D quite a long time ago, which is a part of the explanation for why I haven't done anything with that project since then until recently, and the recent stuff involved even more hacking on the fundamentals of the level structure, rather than tackling the issue at hand.

I always have a problem with these gear switches. It requires a pretty profound switch in thinking; all of a sudden, I'm no longer concerned with the basics of 3D math, rendering, getting a level to draw as quickly as possible, etc... Now, it's all pretty much glorified data-base management and complex object interactions. A whole 'nuther ball of wax entirely. While I find this aspect of the project more interesting than the stuff that came before, I have more practice with the stuff that came before (as a direct result of so many failed projects that didn't make it past this barrier). I was almost over the hump with Golem3D (had a rudimentary player structure in place, with movement and actions and even a little physics code to handle stuff such as pushing barrels and crates around, sliding down hills, flying, etc...) but didn't quite make it, and Golem3D stagnated for several months until I started fiddling with it again recently.

I need discipline. [grin]

Anyway, I'm hoping to get over that hump in the next week, and really start moving forward with the 'guts' of the game. It's basically going to be what I had in mind for the initial Golem project that started it all, but with a few refinements--ideas that I've had kicking around in my head for several years now.

The first thing that I'm thinking about with this is something that has subtly bothered me since I first played Diablo the First and got hooked on this sort of game. It has to do with the ways skills are managed and used. In Diablo (and D2, and the initial Golem, and a bunch of other games of this nature) you have a list of various skills and abilities which you can assign to be performed by a click of a mouse button. You can further assign these skills to various hotkeys to quickly change the selected skill.

In D2, I edited the hotkeys from the F keys, and changed them to the keys QWERASDF instead. I could rest my hand on the QWER keys, where they were close to the 1234 keys for the potion belt slots. My most-often used skills were assigned to QWER keys for very rapid switching, while support or buff skills (chilling armor, etc...) were relegated to ASDF keys. All in all, it worked very well. But what bothers me about the whole setup is the redundancy of it all. I press a hotkey in order to assign a skill to another hotkey (the mouse button). Why not tie the execution of the skill directly to the first hotkey instead?

In this scheme, you could assign, for instance, your basic Attack to Q. Pressing Q executes the attack immediately. W could be assigned to a special Whirlwind attack; again, it would be executed immediately. It's a subtle difference, but it could be profound and in a fast-paced, intense-action situation it could be fun. As soon as Golem3D is sufficiently advanced, I'd like to prototype it out and see how it feels.

That might leave the right mouse button dangling. However, currently I use it as a 'run' toggle, to switch between running and walking. This might work, or I could simply use it as just another hotkey, or maybe for item pickup or something to that effect. That's something I'll have to figure out in the prototype. (And, of course, key bindings should be configurable by the user).

Now, moving on to the next idea. A long time ago, I played a game called Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals for the SNES. It was nothing special, just a typical Japanese tile-based RPG like so many others, but one part of the game really stood out in my mind. In one part of the game, somewhat advanced through the adventure, you come to a place called the Ancient Cave, which is not critical to the adventure but which presents IMHO the most entertaining part of the game. The cave is a side-adventure, a deep sequence of somewhat random dungeon (the randomizer was awful) that progressively gets more and more difficult as you go. A pale imitation of some of the classier random dungeon games. What I liked about it, though, was how when you enter the cave you get busted down to Level 1 and all your equipment removed. (You get your stuff and levels back when you leave).

The first time you go into the cave, you probably aren't going to make it very far before getting your ass handed to you. You go through, gain a few levels, find a few treasures and equipment, but eventually you get beat. It's pretty difficult with no equipment. However, there are certain pieces of equipment that you can find which is not taken away from you when you leave the dungeon and which is not taken away from you when you enter again. So if you find one of these (swords or whatever) then it gives you a little bit of an edge the next time you enter, and hopefully it helps you get a little farther down.

I thought about building Golem3D based around this gameplay style. Each time you go back to 'town' you are stripped of all the equipment you have found except for any of these 'special' items. I'd like to make it possible to save out in the wilderness, so that you don't have to start anew each time you start the game up. However, if you go back to Sanctuary (to stock up on healing potions, for instance, or for whatever other reason) you are stripped and must start from scratch when you return.

Golem3D is developing into a fully equipment-based power progression scheme. I've eliminated any trace of XP levels, skill grinding, etc... You advance in power solely by finding stronger golem 'pieces' (arms, legs, fists, weapons, shells, etc...). Stronger shells to increase armor, stronger legs to increase movement speed, stronger arms to increase the power of your axe swing, and so on. You piece your golem together like some kind of weird Frankenstein monster. Some of this equipment you find may be marked as permanent, and as you collect permanent equipment, the baseline power at which you enter the dungeon increases. Consequently, waypoints will be provided to enable you to skip past lower powered areas once you have garnered sufficient permanent equipment to make those areas easy.

This scheme could have some interesting gameplay value. Finding uber-powered equipment will frequently come with the caveat that it can only be used as long as you don't return to town, thus giving the player an incentive to try to 'ironman' as far as he can go before returning to heal up and stock up on potions and buffs. Uber-powered equipment marked as permanent would be highly sought after.

Of course, such a scheme would require far more interesting level randomization than Lufia provided; sometimes, the repetition of the Ancient Cave could get dreadfully dull, since the only thing that ever changed about the dungeon each time was slight differences in the level layout. Monster varieties were constant, the number of rooms were fairly constant, and dungeons were just generally boring. I would, of course, spice my dungeons up with random sidequests (trivial, mostly, since I am keeping storyline to an absolute minimum; nothing pollutes a good hack-n-slash faster than a bunch of boring story), more interesting random objects and artifacts, more interesting level layouts, and all the other good stuff I have spent so much time and energy in the last several years on researching and developing.

There would be serious potential for vastly different gameplay each time you go to town and return. Since the build of your character is so dependent upon randomized equipment that may vanish each time you go to town, you won't end up with a character that is devoted only to one field of warfare or another. No dedicated spellcasters, for instance, or dedicated warriors. In the long run, of course, there would be some of this customization going on, as you gather permanent equipment and grow a personal attachment to certain pieces, but in the short run how you build (and re-build) your character is fully dependent on the kind of equipment the randomizer drops. It's all the luck of the draw. One foray, you might end up with a lot of good warrior-oriented equipment, while on another you might end up with a lot of good spellcaster equipment. Or you could get a run of bad luck and find a lot of mediocre equipment spread across all the various fields. But it wouldn't be possible to 'ruin' your character (as you can in D2, by wasting skill points in underpowered skills), since the character is always reset basically to 0.

It'll be interesting to see how this all develops further. Just gotta get over that hump. [grin]
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I am looking forward to seeing you traverse from engine programmer mode, to game programmer mode =D

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