Download

BLOG       DOWNLOAD/ABOUT         LINKS         CONTACT

6 March 2019

Say Yes to Drugs

Just say No
to family values,
and don't quit
your day job.

Drugs
are sacred
substances,
and some drugs
are very sacred substances
–John Giorno, Just Say No To Family Values
In development, certain features give instant gratification to implement. From getting "a @ walking on a map" and onward, it's thrilling to see your game take form. Other features require more extensive work before they start to become noticeable in the game. Seeing these grander plans gradually unfold carries a joy of its own, but for motivation's sake, it's good to sprinkle some short term design goals into the mix here and there.

After I announced the feature poll a few weeks ago, some votes have started to come in, and the option that currently seems to be getting ahead, is to add drinking and drugs to the game. Cheers. So, on the side of working on random sites and factions (which I'm starting to realize will be quite a big undertaking), I started to make sketches for intoxicants for Land of Strangers. It's something I can probably add without too much hassle, but with a lot of potential depth.

Starting to experiment with drugs
So, how to implement drugs in a Roguelike? I think it's a point to keep the presentation tight, as fluff-free as possible. Since this is a one player game, it was clear to me from the onset that the character needs a  mechanical incentive to ingest drugs. Another point that felt natural in LoSt, was to opt for random drugs.

Thinking about taxonomies and making plans for drug effects, it struck me that some of the substances that cropped up, would be "drugs" in the wider sense of actual medicines, but with possible side effects. It will be appropriate to add "druggist" saleskids who peddle anything from psycho serum injections and hallucinogenic meat, to painkillers and natural medicine. Additionally, substances that come from plants and animals can be linked to species in the random biomes.

When it comes to random content in LoSt, I sometimes imagine the templates as something akin to tarot readings or solitaires, with "cards" (kit plugins) laid out in patterns. If the reading is for a person, each node or card represents a strength, weakness, or other detail. If the reading is for an objective, the nodes represent obstacles, helpers, ulterior motives, etc. These nodes branch out and connect, and may spawn nodes of their own (as the random artifact gets an effect, the effect gets a random duration). A prop template for a random drug can probably be structured with nodes in about six different categories:

Form/source, method, dosage: Is it a powder, beverage, flower, etc? Some forms are available in nature (raw or prepared biotic/mineral parts), others are synthesized in a lab. Method and dosage indicate how to administer the drug. This data is at least used to generate the drug as an actual prop in the game world, and provide a skeletal "consume" event with pending effects.

Effect: Most drugs should have a (potentially) beneficial "main" effect. There is a subset of pure combat drugs, but also some effects for other stimulants, depressants, hallucinogenics and miscellaneous. Effects of drugs are typically not instant, but have an onset duration/curve, which can itself be randomized.

Side effect: Potential or guaranteed side effect, typically a penalty, like a hangover.

Overdose, extradose: In excessive doses, the substance can have extra potent (side) effects, including death. Overdose effects will need a probability of incurring depending on dosage and other factors. There can also be a possibility of other "extradoses" that could be outright positive, expanding on the normal effect.

Long term effects: Side effects which can be temporary (chronic as long as you keep using) or permanent (even after you quit). Again, I probably need to randomly set thresholds, timers, etc. for each separate effect. Addiction could be classed as a form of this, but may also merit its own category.

Addiction: Drugs are more or less addictive, with more or less severe withdrawal symptoms, etc.

There may be other systems I'm overlooking that should be proper to the drugs as actual props and related events in the game world. But I think that covers the basics. Other questions come on top of the actual prop design, however, including how to put drugs in the game world, and how to present them in the interface.

For intoxication itself, a simple interface may work well. Being influenced could tap one ♥ with a flag describing your feeling. The effects themselves need to be implemented, but a lot can be done with simple status flags. Finer points, like long term effects and poly drug use, will have to be ironed out along the way.

Setting the dials to max random in a prototype generator yields some pretty varied results, like "Murphy (PBUH)", a plant juice to be ingested in the rectum, causing hallucinations, but with the possible side effect of strong and fast on-coming diarrhea. Frankly, that's one of the less weird ones. Transitioning from the prototype generator to data modules will definitely incur some fine-tuning, although hopefully with room for the occasionally utterly absurd.

One thing to make sure of, is that some sane default templates are more or less guaranteed to be generated. For balance' sake, there should probably be at least a few stimulants that increase healing or combat capabilities. We also can't have us a Western without booze, although the drink of choice across the Land may vary from banana wine to corn spirits. Some of the weirder drugs may come with factions and sites of their own, from Delphic cults who gather at natural gas sources to inhale the intoxicating fumes, to outcast colonies that willingly inflict themselves with a euphoria-inducing virus. Other encounters may include junkies/pharmacists paying for rare substances, ranches/pens with psychoactive herds, and other silliness. Sinister drug dealers may be a thing, but there will probably not be any legal sanctions against drugs as such, seeing as how the game plays in a land that hardly has had the time to get any laws at all. There may be abolitionists or a Temperance League, of course, possibly even zealots that sort rather in the general category of "homicidal maniac".

Morality studies in the Land
One funny thing that struck me in all of this, was that the question inevitably cropped up whether it could be alienating or inappropriate towards some audiences to add drugs in the game. I had the same thought about swearing at one point. And had to laugh at myself for questioning this in a game that's basically about killing vaguely defined "enemies". If anything, it shows I'm a product of cultural cliches.

On the other hand, I think the random generator will be spitting out some quite dangerous drugs, so I probably can't be accused of glorifying drug abuse. Regarding ethics as such, LoSt was never ever intended to be a showcase of goodness, and it's rather been a stated design goal to grey out "the alignment scale", aiming instead to focus on factors like reputation and social standing. If the game has an age rating, it's some Parental Guidance shit at least, although I can't imagine most kids would take any damage from messing around with my little game. I think the best I could hope for, would at least be to teach them some naughty words.

As always,
Minotauros

16 February 2019

LoSt Polls: Feature Feeler

First we had a couple of feelers down at Tom's place.
   –T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land

Which feature(s) do you want in LoSt?























pollcode.com free polls
It's pollin' time again, my bois and gyrls. This round of voting is all about feature requests. I've tried (not with great success) to keep the options at a sane-ish amount, but you're of course welcome to mention other wishes in the comments.

You can vote in the blog's sidebar for as long as the poll is open, or use the widget in this post. (People on phones may not see the sidebar.) So if you have an opinion – informed or not – go ahead and vote, already!

In the meantime, keep reading for my own comments regarding each option, after a word or two about the background for this poll :P

I was happy about the previous poll (results here), and wanted to chug out another one quickly.

What I'm really working on these days, is to add more world factions/influences, with assorted places and plots. Adding each faction is a big task. I've already put many hours into Arken Town, and it's far from finished. Influences like "religious faction", "toppled civilization" and "mafia network" will be even bigger. So it's a question of development strategy which groups to put in and in which order. Some ideas may be too similar to another be worth adding, others just similar enough to slip in with few modifications. Some will require entirely new systems to realize.

For inspiration's sake, then, I decided to ask which new gameplay features y'all would like to see in upcoming releases. I'll probably be consulting the results for the next few releases of LoSt, as always taking your advice to heart while keeping the privilege of the dictatorial vote ;) But if the crowd is shouting for animal handling and underground levels, there could be mining companies digging deep and ranches running cattle across the Land. Heck, maybe even underground cowboys herding cave beasts in that nadirian biome.

«Stetson!»

Rundown of the options

The options are hopefully rather self-explanatory, but I'll jump at the opportunity to continue ranting for a bit. I think the options can be roughly divided into five parts: Time, Activities, Physics, NPCs, and Miscellaneous.

☞ Passage of time


Aging: Experience as well as adverse effects of age and trauma. Start young and die old, or quit at the height of your fame, maybe to show up as an NPC in another game (see below: Retirement). Or something like that ;)
Calendar, weather and seasons: Keep track of months, with scenery/world changes for each season. Random seasons with special effects? There might be the option to stay at a location for months or years, and gameplay effects of that.
Camping, survivalism: Probably not a flat-out food clock. But maybe something like requiring to rest daily: It could spend 1♄ and carry a small chance of healing a wound. A simple resting interface might offer some welcome pacing, if done well. 
Changing world, news flashes: Events that change the world state. Anything from "bandits besiege monastery" to "you contract green fever". Mainly, these events should appear on the game board, as dialogue and action.

☞ Activities


Construct or buy a house/home base: 'Nuff said.
Dice games and betting on fights: Probably betting by dropping ♄ on the table. Races and fights can be played out on the game map. A simple dice game should also be doable like that. 
Disease: Probably randomized diseases. The basic formula would start at picking values for variables like effect, duration, incubation, contagiousness, and remedy.
Drinking and drugs: The motivation to use anything (including drugs) in the game, should be game related. So intoxicants need beneficial effects, as well as dangers of abuse.
Dynamite rigging, trap setting: Tactical: set up the perimeters before a fight, and lure enemies to your preset bombs and traps. Props and shticks related to TNT and trap engineering.

☞ Physics and world features


Fire and water: Wildfire, burning fuses, volatile matter, flowing water, etc. Swimming and diving probably also falls in this category.
Height maps, slopes and terraces: Maybe simplistic, with terraces as special obstacles. But an altitude system could shine if it allowed for stuff like climbing up on rooftops and speeding trains.
Light and darkness: Wouldn't have to be too deep, some touches to add tactical and aesthetic variation.
Mines, caverns, underworld: Underground levels and lore pertaining to them.
Mounts/riding, wagons, trains, boats…: Probably using a velocity/inertia system, with riding as "merging" the rider and the mount into one being temporarily. For moving platforms, brush up on Galilean relativity.

☞ NPC interactions


Non-lethal combat: When your last ♥ is greyed out, you get incapacitated but not necessarily dead. Depending on who defeated you, they may spare your life, rob you, leave you to bleed out, finish you off, etc. The player could get similar options when winning a non-lethal fight. Could also be put in as functions of the AI, making NPCs run away more often, and/or adding a gesture of surrendering (like dropping your weapon), that NPCs should also recognize if the player does it.
NPC companions: NPC means Non Player Critter (human or animal :) There could be ways to solicit help for single missions, or gain long-term allies. In some cases, enslaved or captive NPCs can be an option. And of course a possible shtick to start out with a dog or equivalent animal.
Retirement, ghosts, legacies of players past: It could be possible to retire characters, who may even show up as NPCs in later games. Actual ghosts is another option. Something like Shiren's mechanism of mailing items to your future selves could also be used.
Ropes'n'lassos: Really a utility feature, but ties in (sorry) with social interaction. From bringing hogtied criminals to the tribunal, to parking your horse, ropes can be an interface helper. Lassos would be non-lethal weapons, and rope physics could be used for tripwires, fuses, nets, etc.
Rumors, investigation, lore gathering: I loathe to put in dialogue trees or spamming the villagers for rumors, but may yet try my hand at this. Look for interesting ways to convey and connect in-game lore and info. From learning about the flora and fauna, to simple whodunnit puzzles. 

☞ Miscellaneous


Tinkering, farming, crafting: The nature of crafting would probably lean on existing content. The game works well without, but it might be interesting to add something here.
Visions and dream quests: Thrown in for good measure.

If you read through all of that, I salute you! If you did scroll down to the bottom, I don't blame you. Now go and tick off some options here or in the sidebar! And walk in peace, and all that.

As always,
Minotauros

11 January 2019

LoSt this month: Enemy of the state of the art

At the turn of a calendar year, it's customary to take stock of the year that went and the current state of affairs ;) Regarding Land of Strangers, 2018 was a relatively slow year, although I did manage to release version #13. And have been going at it (slowly) since then. 2018 actually marked the 5th anniversary of LoSt, and development, I guess, is going more or less according to plan.

Looking ahead, my current goal is to make the game more "presentable", a two-fold task. For one thing, the current interface is still a bit rough around the edges, though mostly complete now. Second, the game needs more encounters, places and things to do in general (and reasons to do them).

In December, I did some work on LoSt.

LoSt with a mouse (but as you see,
sprite rendering is still buggy)
The game now has a mouse interface. It's click to walk towards a tile or bump into an adjacent being (open a door, attack a target). Right clicking will bring up a menu next to the cursor, where you can choose an action or prop. The new action menu, that hovers over the map, is now also bound to the keyboard's "action hotkey" (Space/C). The keyboard bindings were thus switched around, since the "inventory hotkey" became obsolete. Instead, I added a pure utility command to toggle through your inventory. This made sense now that inventory handling doesn't cost any game time.

I'm still testing out the default configurations, but think the details will iron themselves out naturally as development and testing continue. For instance, I still want the game to register a mouse grab/long click (default to the same as right click, for anyone with a one-button mouse?), as well as double clicking (autowalk to a visible hex on the map).

Regarding content, I've been hacking away at some of my "sites", as I call them. They're just glorified place templates/blueprints with moving parts and various variables. I have some sites to play around with now, and plan on adding to them as I go along. At the moment, I'm working out basic patterns for placing them in relation to each other. The sites themselves are currently quite insular, in that there is little direct interaction between them, although this is going to change.

The long term plans are quite grandiose, of course (and I easily see another half-dozen years before the game is feature complete). There might be something like pseudo-random factions, each with their influence in the form of sites and encounters across the map. Random quests should reflect faction enmities, alliances and goals, and provide the player with a means to influence the story. While some factions will mostly be guaranteed, like robbers and law kids, some should be optional or highly random, such as ranches and trading companies, a traveling circus, or the ruins of a toppled civilization scattered across the Land.

In the short term, I'm concentrating on adding some plot hooks and bounties that might later work as side quests, or as segments of longer quest lines.

Also on the short term todo list is to make a few last fixes to the interface, to improve graphics rendering a bit. This shouldn't be too big of an undertaking, and needn't happen asap, but I probably want that in before the next release, at least, in the name of "presentability".

Meanwhile, in the future

yet another
punt gun pic
Going onward, I'll continue fleshing out sites and factions, and making interactions more detailed in general. Regarding long-term plans and feature ideas, I've glossed over some old notes and todo lists, and might at least give a rough outline of some of the ideas that have persisted over the years and may perhaps come into fruition one day…

Non-lethal combat: There should be the option of running away, also on the NPCs' part. I might add a "neutralized" state, when a critter doesn't have any untapped grit (red hearts) left. At this point, the critter is immobile and at the mercy of the environment. Defeated NPCs can be dealt with as the players wants (leave them, rob them, kill them, etc). Likewise, NPCs might opt to spare a defeated player character's life, typically incurring some other loss. Ending up in prison, or tarred and feathered in the middle of the desert, can work as an appropriately harsh, but not final, defeat in a game that on the one hand features permadeath, but on the other doesn't offer to advance the player character to godlike abilities.

Posses: I'm thinking of a more detailed system for defining units of NPCs, from a flock of birds to a band of robbers. There is also no reason why the player shouldn't be able to join or gather up posses of their own. In fact, I intend the game to encourage it. There should be shticks and props to recruit NPCs, depending on factors like your reputation. Again, adding NPC allies might be a way for the player to increase survivability. More importantly, perhaps, I imagine it fun with scenarios where the player has to cooperate with computer-controlled units.

Expanded usage of Grit ♥ and Lead ♄: I might to try to make small changes to how these traits work. I think ♥, aside from being a health bar, could be used to measure fatigue and other ailments, and maybe even as slots you can fill with status effects (for instance, being hasted from mercury bubblegum might tap a single ♥, or sprinting makes you accumulate fatigue markers). ♄ (lead) is also a stat that might be expanded a bit, perhaps to represent resources on a more general level. Some actions could cost a few ♄ to use, like tinkering shticks.

Ropes and miscellaneous: Rope could be an option to deal with prisoners, like hog-tying a neutralized foe and bringing them alive before their perpetrator. There could also be props like fuses and trip wire, or shticks to set traps. On the topic of "tinkering and utility" shticks and props, I can currently only say that all of that might or might not make it into the game. There will certainly be some rules for harvesting/building in the Land. I've set this up with destructible terrain and all that – but it remains to be seen which directions these ideas will take.

Riding, velocity: I've pretty much worked out in my head how I'll try to design this. When a being is moving fast, the game will assign it a certain velocity/inertia. Sprinting humans will be moving 2 hexes/turn, with some animals going faster. The next logical step would be to add mounts – probably some kind of hossies, broncos or other equines ;) That entails rules for animal taming and more, and while I'm at it, I'll probably want to add a system for pets in general :) The velocity system can be expanded to some pseudo-Galilean rules for moving platforms (boats, carriages, trains). I think riding as fast traveling can work well with the game's "reasonably big" overworld. Walking from town to town might be a bit of a chore, but it should be bearable on horseback and outright luxurious to ride a train.

Fire and flooding: I'm gonna want at least some rules for the elements, including wildfire setting off dynamite and other slapstick situations.

Landscape elevation and such: This is another feature I hope to somehow kludge through. There will probably not be a proper z-axis in the world's coordinate grid, but some tiles may serve as terraces or slopes, almost like the old Zelda-games, with unclimbable cliff sides segmenting mountain areas, balconies that can only be reached by a staircase, etc. I do also have ideas for something similar to Rogue-stairs, which lead to a separate map, for places like mines and cellars. It would be quite cool if I could implement standing on the roof of a house, or even atop of a moving wagon or train. In general, I can think of a lot more landscape features that could be added, like quicksand, ravines, landslides, dust devils, swarms, etc.

Gatling guns: At that point, you should be able to get scenarios like going down a dangerous river arm on a boat with a mounted machine gun.

Gambling: Current ideas include a simple dice game, as well as betting on fights between animals and/or humans (or even becoming a professional pit fighter). I want the interface to be pretty simple, most likely betting by bumping or dropping some ♄ on the bookie/table. By striving for a seamless interface, I hope to include ways to influence the outcome and proper responses. You might get away unnoticed with feeding some Kraft-Futter® to give "your" bird the edge in a cock fight, but maybe not shooting one of the contestants in a dog race.

Drinking and drugs: I'm still not quite sure how to bring this into the game, but it certainly deserves a place in the setting. Since it's a one player computer game, I want some technical incentive for using intoxicants, as well as punishments for abuse and addiction. It seems hard to balance. I guess you can have "speedy" combat drugs, or effects like sipping whisky to shake off negative mental effects, or even eating a weird root to go on a spirit quest. For adverse effects of abuse, that topic is probably tied in with the next …

Passage of time: The current public release features the very bare bones of a "passage of time"-system, used to heal long term wounds and "cash in" on your achievements, getting new shticks and reputations. There is certainly room for expansion and improvement. In the long run, I imagine a several systems coming together here. With each passing week, there may be a chance of "newsflash" events which affect the current state of various sites and factions. For instance, if there is a conflict (quest/drama) with a village being plagued by a group of bandits, and the player just passes time, something might happen, like the robbers besieging the village, or the villagers organizing a militia to strike back. There may also be changes occurring in the longer run, including aging and other effects of wounds, abuse, trauma and karma.

In-game hall of fame: Surprised that not more games feature this, I'll definitely add an in-game graveyard/high score in LoSt. Boot Hill should be an actual place you can visit, with gravestones for some of your former top characters. There are some more far-flung ideas for features that could let a player character influence future playthroughs, from a postal service à la Shiren, to options for retiring a character, to actual vengeful spirits of characters past.

LoSt this year

Rounding off 2018's installment of monthly status updates with yet another week-late post, I don't think I'll extend the series into the coming year. Whilst writing "LoSt this month" has helped me keep my eyes on the road, I hope to use the blog for some other ramblings in 2019. Stay tuned, of course, and in the meantime, cheers to an auspicious future, and to all of you, players, developers, dabblers and lurkers.

As always,
Minotauros

14 December 2018

The LoSt Polls: Interface poll results

The results are in, as LoSt's UI poll closes at the respectable number of 42 voters (I can think of no number more respectable than 42). A heart-felt thanks goes out to all who participated.

Participants were allowed to pick multiple options, which is why there are slightly more ballots cast than people who cast them.

To test everything, I did leave a vote myself, ticking "Other". It bears noting, perhaps, that I put up the poll in part to gauge interest in the project, and I feel like I'm coming out on the other side with increased motivation, as this shows that LoSt does indeed have a little base of interested players.

Now, to get to the meat of the matter – the results, in order of popularity:

More gameplay (24 votes): Not surprisingly, this option got the most votes. The current interface is certainly acceptable, but the game absolutely lacks content. In the time ahead, I'll try to concentrate on this, adding more encounters, bounties, critters and props, and things to do in general.

Mouse support (13 votes): I'm partial to the keyboard, myself, which is probably why the mouse has gotten so little love up until now – but I am also aware of the fact that a pretty big chunk of computer gamers prefer a workable mouse interface, so had anticipated this option to get a fair amount of votes. The good news is that I've started, and the current testing version on my own laptop is already 100% playable with the mouse. I just need to polish off some rough edges before I can call it officially done, which shouldn't take more than a coding session or two. Expect to read more about the details in the monthly update for December.

Sound and music (7 votes): Moving on, we get to the less obvious options, perhaps. Among these features, audio came out on top. I tend to mute Roguelike games, myself, playing either in silence or with my own preferred soundtrack (The Residents' Mole Trilogy is a personal fave in that department, for that good ol'e chthonian feeling). Also, while I do possess a modicum of musical ability, I really don't have the know-how, or the equipment, to make decent recordings. But I aim to please, and have taken note that music and sound would be a welcome addition to the game, although it may still have to wait for a while. Sound effects I can probably rip from various free sources. Regarding music, I could try to solicit outside help – although being a one-person shit storm does have its benefits. Conversely, I may find the time and motivation to learn some music making on the computer, or make recordings using the equipment I have available (a crappy microphone, some string instruments, plus my kids' electric pianos and various bits of percussion). Surely, I'd have a lot of fun hacking together a grainy sounding, psychedelic honky tonk soundtrack befitting my overall vision of The Land.

Smoother graphics (6 votes): This one would entail an improved gaming experience without demanding too much work, and is something I do hope to sink my teeth into in the not too distant future. First of all, a lot of the choppy graphics in the current release will be fixed by defining dedicated layers for drawing backdrops, sprites, speech bubbles, menu popups, etc. Currently, everything is painted to a single pygame surface – a horrible design decision dating back to earlier releases, when there was much less happening on the screen. At some point, I'll have to retrace my steps and implement a more robust engine. Fixing it shouldn't prove too challenging, but will take some manual work, so it may or may not be something I get around to before the next release. Secondly, some graphical problems (like unevenly tessellating wall tiles) stem from the fact that LoSt uses dynamic scaling. While it's cool that the player can set the tile size to any value their heart desires, the result will look better if I set some predefined sizes, and then go over the sprite sheets by hand. But this may still be a while – it's going to entail a pretty big overhaul, as I'd probably take the opportunity to repaint some sprites I'm not quite satisfied with, fine-tune the walking animations for each critter type, etc.

Gamepad support (3 votes): I don't own a gamepad myself, but I've had this option in the back of my mind since quite early in development. Getting it in the game should probably not be too hard. The Pygame framework, which LoSt is built with, includes support for various joystick peripherals, so it's probably just a question of adding some lines to the code here and there to let the game register gamepad input in the same way as it does keyboard events and the like.

Other (3 votes): As noted, one of these votes was my own, to test that the poll was working. The second vote was cast without any comment, so what that player had in mind remains an open question. The third vote for "Other" came with a comment, namely to add an Android version of LoSt… I have to say, it's a pretty compelling thought, and I do believe the interface itself could bear being ported to a smaller touchscreen. The biggest hurdle, however, would be that LoSt is written in Python, and to my knowledge, there isn't any easy way to get Python applications working under Android. I'll certainly look into whether or not it's feasible at all. Barring that, I would have to port the game to a language or engine with native Android support, but that's not something I've planned at the moment. If I were to start using Godot, for instance, it would probably either be something like LoSt 2, or more likely a different game altogether (maybe a Roguelike with superheroes, or a more puzzle/story heavy game in a world inspired by Carl Barks and Tove Jansson). So while I'm sympathetic to the idea of LoSt running on mobile devices, I wouldn't hold my breath to see it happen.

OS X version (2 votes): Most likely, LoSt is coming soon to a Mac near you. It's not a big deal to "compile" Python applications for personal computers (I'm using pyinstaller, myself) – if you have access to the appropriate hardware. Since my partner just got a new computer, and it's a Mac, I'll try to put my filthy hands on that, and start shipping native binaries for OS X in the near future.

Terminal support (2 votes): I was rooting a bit for this option myself, but the community didn't give it a lot of loving. It means I'll be postponing a terminal version for now, since it'll definitely entail quite a lot of work, and not just of the brainless sort, either. But further down the road, I do hope to get a proper terminal version. It would bring some sweet bonuses, like being able to play LoSt over a ssh/telnet connection, and adding features to support playing with a screen reader.

Integrated content editor (2 votes): This is also an idea I've been kicking around for a while, including a dynamic editor for game data, and the option to enable various mods. Even if it didn't garner many votes, it's still something that might make it into the engine soon. The game's content is kept in human readable text files, which I'm writing by hand. However, I have done some experiments with an automated editor, and found that the process of adding game data became easier and less bug-prone. So while I'll still be relying on my trusty text editor to meet the demand for more content, I would probably be able to chug out more stuff if I put a bit of work into making the editor more streamlined. If and when the editor reaches a certain point of polish, it might as well be included with the public release. I don't see a huge modding community for LoSt emerging, but it certainly won't be a problem if the game at some point supports custom extensions.

That's all, folks. I hope to be able to shoulder the immense responsibility given to me by the poll results ;) Also, since I felt like the poll was a success experiment in and of itself, I'll be broiling my head to come up with another one soon. In the meantime, feel free to drop me a line with comments of any kind, regardless. I'm all ears.

As always,
Minotauros


9 December 2018

LoSt this month: Persistence of sloth

No shadow
No stars
there's no moon and
No cars
November
 
   —Tom Waits, «November»

I'm sorry to report that this was another slow month in LoSt. For once, I'll try also to keep the blog post short to reflect this. Besides, November's update is way overdue. I did add a few shticks, in particular making way with some plans I have for unarmed combat. The idea is for players who start climbing the martial arts skill tree to tailor their natural attack into something unique for each playthrough, by combining shticks that each determine different aspects of their fighting style. The skill tree will have several tiers, each with a handful of mutually exclusive shticks, so that a given character can only acquire one "critical" effect, for instance. Hopefully, this will turn into a system with some interesting synergies and strategic choices to be made.

I also started to add a new site of interest, a hunting lodge where you can collect bounties on animals, much like how you're currently able to visit judges to collect on the heads of criminals. I'm starting to get to the point where there are enough random sites that it'll make sense to begin ironing out the system for placing those sites on the world map, and determining their internal relations. I do anticipate this to be quite a big undertaking, but hopefully worth it in the long run, and probably something that can take shape over the course of several releases.

Finally, I put in some work to improve the mouse interface, which should probably be prioritized in the next release, judging by the preliminary results of the current poll. By the end of the month, I do hope to have mouse support properly implemented, so that I can concentrate on sites and other content in the time ahead. With a bit of luck and self-discipline, I'll wrap up the year with a meatier blog post outlining some plans for upcoming releases.

In the meantime, I wish y'all a happy and prosperous conclusion to 2018.

As always,
Minotauros

Sloth will prevail!

3 November 2018

LoSt this month: Counting words

Bison skulls at a refinery (1892)
Michigan Carbon Works, Rogueville, Detroit


I've been stretching these semi-monthly updates to the point that there will probably only be 11 entries by the end of 2018, but hope to pull a Phileas Fogg-like and deliver December's post in such a fashion that year's updates will feel well-rounded overall ;)

October was a busy month, albeit not on the gamedev front.

In between life, I've been making some notes and plans related to Lost. More locations and encounters remain the over-arching todo task. In addition to "random roving reavers" (that I mentioned before), I've been elaborating some sketches for something like a hunting lodge. The current template is a house with stuffed heads on the wall, where you can gain favor and experience by handing in rare specimens. As the game world grows, hunting will likely become a topic that interests and connects various factions, from lone trappers to colonial trading houses. Further on lies the theme of strategically destroying nature to gain geopolitical dominance, which would sadly be one of the few situations directly inspired by history, ie. the mass slaughter of American bison. Of course I'd have to connect it to other themes in the game, and turn the dials up to 11, to get workable content. Unless the player outright seeks employment with the exploiters, running errands clearing out dangerous biomes and the like, they might become adversaries in ongoing plots and shoot'em-up sequences. I already have sketches for an encounter akin to a death squad, currently as a template for my "random reavers", that could surely be used and fleshed out along with story lines on speciecide and terror.

Markov the mole 

One "little" thing I did start to kick around in October, was a prototype for a loosely Markov-based dialogue generator :P Just dabbling, toying with ideas for later implementations.

Text goes here
I went and got some source text (screenplays mostly, lifted in all Freundschaftlichkeit), and made a very basic Markov generator. It doesn't give anything I can use straight off, but gives a feeling for possible ways of randomizing text. There would have to be an organizing system, to make the text (seem to) recognize certain topics and follow some syntactic principles. Such an engine can be hand-tuned over time, with the "puzzle pieces" themselves, the snippets of words to string together, stripped from the text source and stored in some kind of database or (more likely, a convoluted) python dictionary. I can't say how fine grained it's plausible to make something like that. Or if the ideas I'm currently experimenting with will turn out useful at all. Surely, it won't be easy to make the output actually reflect the state of the game world. Ideally, NPCs should talk about other people, places and phenomena, so such a system would have to be purdy clever. I'll report back in a few years, hopefully, or who knows, maybe even before that?

Anyway, still with the Markov chains, you typically want as large a text source as possible, to offset the effect that words which rarely occur, also link to fewer other words. They become less dynamic, tending to crop up in the same context over and over.

Comparing word counts with/without thesaurus
While repetition has its uses, a well written text can often benefit from a larger vocabulary. But in Markov chain source texts, you want the ratio of word count to vocabulary to be as high as possible; because that gives each word/sequence a greater number of possible follow-ups. Hapaxes are the worst in this sense.

I considered a thesaurus to bypass the problem somewhat. I tested by running the input/output of my basic generator through a custom dictionary, that was premade with an actual thesaurus (moby dict). The basic idea was to find clusters of words with similar meanings, like "robbers", "rogues" etc., and substituting all of them for one vanilla synonym like "villains", but with the rule that when the generator comes across "villains", another randomizer substitutes that word for one of the synonyms. 

moby-thesaurus, while a great asset, didn't yield fantastic results with my primitive algorithms. Some coupled phrases are quite wonky, like "good piece of desert" equaling "honorable master of mare". Stuff like that can possibly be pruned away, and there's the occasional stroke of random coherence, like this generated insult: "You wretched, double-crossing natural! Nincompoop, futile bluff." So there may be an idea hidden in here somewhere. As of yet, it mostly sounds like someone is definitely speaking about something, but it's not very clear what
Cut me free! Now why are you got opposite it. As a united in the British I destroy it! 'Cause I've got to break the activities destroy. And my performer normal our guns are what are you how. We hit the province. That don't you? You had a bleeding … High, huh? – No … tight.
As always,
Minotauros

27 September 2018

LoSt Polls: an Interface Inquiry

Land of Strangers has gotten an official poll, located on the right hand side of this page. It's intended as a simple way for anyone who might have tried the game to offer their opinion. I have my own plans and hunches going ahead, of course, but am glad for any outside influence. The plan is to use this informal poll to inform further development. The result will be made public when I close the poll. If the process feels like a success, there will probably come follow-ups.

So if you have tried the game and have any opinions either way (you can also pick multiple options), please take the chance to exert a little influence on the developer. There are a few options I anticipate will get the most votes, but I'm also interested to see what may be the most popular fringe choices. And hope I haven't missed any options :P

As always,
Minotauros