6 March 2019

Say Yes to Drugs

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

are sacred
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,

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?

 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.


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,

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,