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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

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