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TIGSource ForumsCommunityDevLogs7-part open-ended CRPG that’s also a musical!
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Author Topic: 7-part open-ended CRPG that’s also a musical!  (Read 14155 times)
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« on: May 09, 2014, 04:01:34 AM »

What the heck is this?

Please excuse this long-winded explanation, but it’s going to be a long game with a long, long development process...

First of all, it’s based on two obscure 8-bit games called Alternate Reality: The City (1983) and Alternate Reality: The Dungeon (1984). Though not many has heard of them, they were absolute trailblazers, with for example, smooth scrolling 3D texture mapped graphics years before Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. They also had a crazy amount of gameplay features and secrets, with people finding new stuff even 20 years after its release. I’d even argue that some features (like the shopkeeper personalities) amazingly still are more advanced than modern roleplaying games.

And then there’s the musical aspect. In the original games you could tell the alignment of the creatures you faced by their theme song and every special location you visited had not only it’s own song, but also Karaoke style highlighted lyrics:

So is this a remake?

No. Call it a spiritual sequel, if you will. Although I’ve been in contact with the original author(s) several times over the years, it’s very difficult to get in touch. This will be my version of what could have been, with a different story, different spin on things and a different name. Although I will continuously refer to the Alternate Reality games as the “originals”…

How is this going to happen?

Very. Very. Slowly.

I have one released title to my name, and that’s a very simple iPhone app (Watzon) which took me three months because I had to learn Objective-C and Xcode to do it. For this game series, I’m going to have to learn C# and Unity (and Blender). I’ll say it again: It’s going to be a slow, slow process.

What I do have is a huge, huge respect for the originals. I started the first fan website for the game series back in 1993 and wrote quite a comprehensive FAQ (remember those?) over quite a long period.

The plan is to release one of the games free (although it might not be the first one), and then have all the others as paid expansions, ultimately creating one huge, seamless world.

It will be PC/Mac/Linux first and iOS/Android second. It will also be built with VR support, because I don’t think many games can survive without it in a few years (and this will take years complete and I want it to live on for a long time...).
« Last Edit: December 05, 2021, 08:42:43 AM by eobet » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: May 09, 2014, 04:01:53 AM »

Ok, so... a musical?

Yes, err... so the music and Karaoke style lyrics were the most unique feature of the original games, which I don’t think a single game has replicated after... and right now, I’m actually unsure if this project will ever have it because currently, the budget for this project is zero cash dollars, and I won’t attempt, say a Kickstarter until I’m pretty close to the goal (which as I said, is probably years away).

If there ever is money for a musician, every location will again get its own song with lyrics and every creature its own theme song based on threat level, plus I will try to incorporate musical cues for gameplay in other ways.

What are some of the other features?

  • Retro inspired design, “low-poly” style and chiptune sounds
  • Semi real-time gameplay, including combat
  • Old school focus on stats and status effects (so many status effects!)
  • Open ended sandbox, play as good, neutral or evil
  • Hardcore mode, continuously saves to ensure perma-death (optional)
  • Lots of damage types, like slashing, piercing, blunt, fire, ice, etc. etc.
  • Realistic handling of item weights, hunger, fatigue, temperature, etc. etc.
  • Creatures with memories of you and who spreads rumours about you
  • Non-violent options in encounters, like bribery or smooth talking
  • Join guilds to gain unique abilities and allies but also foes
  • Live in lavish luxury or ascetic poverty
  • No max “level”, play infinitely if you wish

Why the retro chic?

Brace yourself: You will have to read in this game. Smiley

To me, the impact of words can be as strong, if not stronger than possibly very soon to be outdated graphics. Also, as I mentioned, the budget for this is zero, so the non-textured low-poly look was the cheapest to produce. Plus, if the graphics start out “outdated”, they’re in no danger of becoming so in the future. Wink

Finally, this game is grid based and has old school 90 degrees movement, which is slightly weird because it's a fully 3D world, but I hope that I'm going to make it work.

Wait, retro with optional VR support?

The way I plan to do VR actually both serves the story and will make the game just as fun on regular displays. Here is a quick mock-up of how I plan to do it:

That black sphere around you actually stays fixed in space. It's like a "capsule" (or cockpit) that moves around the world with you in it and the window cut in it is what you see of the world. If you turn your head, you will stare into the black walls of the sphere, but that might make room a compass and map and other things.

This might become more clear in a few months... Smiley

Did you forget the story?

The story details are secret for now, but the general setting is the same as the original games: You are kidnapped from earth and transported to an alien world, and have to figure out what is going on and how to survive on your own.

There will be no explicit quests and no quest log, but plenty of special locations you can find where events happen which pushes the story forward.

And how does the 7-parts fit into this?

I'm going to handle it a bit differently than the original (note that the names I use are currently lifted from the originals, but as with everything, these will change for the final game):

  • 1. The Dungeon - Escape from the palace prison and ultimately the dungeon itself
  • 2. The City - Survive in a chaotic city on an unknown world
  • 3. The Wilderness - Explore the strange outdoors in search for a way home
  • 4. The Arena - Test your wits against other adventurers (possible PvP)
  • 5. The Palace - Become a noble and, own property and change the city itself
  • 6. Revelations - Find out the truth about the world you are on
  • 7. Destiny - MODS! Shape the world, build your own adventure and share it

So you got everything pretty much nailed down?

Absolutely not! For example, I’d love to update the combat mechanics, and figure out something which keeps it from becoming repetitive or a chore, and I will be posting gameplay thoughts and probably tests here. Also, each monster needs several non-violent options on how to deal with them, and I’d love forum contributions on that. Plus, when mapping different areas, I’d love to both solicit different themes and special locations, items, traps, events, etc from forum members.

Oh, and I also don’t have a name.

EDIT: 2020 update, the game has a name (secret for now), and VR support has been toned down.
« Last Edit: October 01, 2020, 11:32:59 PM by eobet » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: May 09, 2014, 04:02:16 AM »

Do you have anything to show?

Yes, and I need you to test it!

As I mentioned, I'm starting out with the underground part, because the city will be the "hub" from which you access all other parts, so for that I want some experience first so I can make it the best possible.

So here is a concept of one of the first areas in the game, the sewer system:

To make this I actually resorted in using SketchUp, which worked out fairly well. A positive thing about this going into VR is that one unit of length in both Unity and SketchUp is one meter, so I can build everything to scale. For this part of the game, I've chose a grid to be 3x3 meters.

That grid is what I want people to test, because the movement is not fixed step as with Legend of Grimrock and Might & Magic: Legacy. It's fluid going forward and back, but 90 degrees going left and right!

So please have a go and tell me what you think (yes, it's a bit dark... still figuring out the lighting... flat shading in Unity is tricky):


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« Reply #3 on: May 09, 2014, 04:26:21 AM »

Ooo interesting.

One thing about the web build that you have up, I press A or D and it'd sometimes turn twice, I know it's probably because I'm holding it down too long but it was just instinct, maybe give the button "tap" a longer delay. I explained that poorly but hopefully you know what I mean.

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« Reply #4 on: May 16, 2014, 02:57:41 AM »

Thank you for the feedback, I know exactly what you mean and I found a fix!

You can try it in an updated webpage demo here

Here's what I did this week:

  • Recreated the code that handles movement (three times, actually)
  • Rebuilt the corridors a bit... but still don't think I've nailed the style yet
  • Refined the lighting ever so slightly... Unity is giving me trouble here
  • Added a screen shake when you walk into a wall (check for secret doors)
  • Added doors (including nasty, secret one way doors)
  • Added area info check when you move around (for encounter frequency, etc)
  • Added special events and messages check when you move around (invisible as of yet)

So yes, I'm redoing a lot of things. This is a learning experience for me after all, and as I said, development will be sloooow!

Plus, half of the stuff I'm doing are things you can't see, like for example how I handle level data and player data and how those two things interact with each other. I also have to figure out how to handle and store all text.

Also, a call for help:

If anyone who is reading this knows any tricks when it comes to flat shading an Unity, I'd love to hear from you. Right now, I'm doing the very basic trick of calculating normals with a shading angle set to 0 to get my flat shading, which apparently means that I can only ever use directional lights, and that is very limiting! The darkness in the distance, for example, I now fake using black fog. I'd very much rather not jump to cel shading, so I'm looking for tips on how to use point lights while keeping the graphics flat. It would also be really nice to be able to cast colored shadows.

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« Reply #5 on: May 16, 2014, 05:56:10 AM »

Hmmm, the movement feels interesting. The forward movement being gradual and natural makes the experience feel more immersive, but then the 90 turns make me expect turn-based or RPG like action to take place rather than anything real time. It's a neat juxtaposition.

It does make me worry that I'm not always going to turn down the corridor that I expect to when I turn though, due to not being lined up just right or something. Also I sort of wonder what the gradual forward movement is going to end up meaning mechanically when I'm actually trying to interact with other things that move in the game, especially hostile things.

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« Reply #6 on: May 23, 2014, 01:48:12 AM »

Thank you for the feedback! The not being lined up for a turn problem is exaggerated by three things in the tech demo. First, that the walls are curved so it's more difficult to see when you passed a corner, second I'm still experimenting with camera positions and third, the tiles are so far "seamless" with no markings on where one begins or ends... I'm used to it now, but if it remains a problem in the future, as you see there are a lot of potential fixes to try for it.

I was hoping to have a hostile thing in the game by now so I could test the encounters, but Blender is just a pure nightmare when it comes to learning its user interface so that is going to have to wait another week. I do have two concept sketches I can show:

Yes, the good old giant rat is probably the first hostile thing you might come across, and it was pretty standard and boring in the first sketch. Making it nude and skinny in the second sketch helped to make him slightly more interesting, and also solved the problem on how to make low-poly fur. Smiley

So, the slow progress this week was:

  • Added the importing of CSV text data for all messages (continued from last week)
  • Added one-time messages, messages tied to conditionals and messages triggering scripts
  • Created a new font to display all text (still super early and ugly)

Which means the build is still completely uninteresting, unless you want to look at my horrible font attempt.

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« Reply #7 on: June 21, 2014, 10:14:26 AM »

Well, I promised that development would be slow, and it certainly has been. In fact, the project has been on a standstill while I'm trying to tailor my portfolio for various job applications (if anyone knows someone needing to fill a full time designer position, let me know)! Wink

Before the standstill, I did do the following:

  • Learned modeling in Blender, which was agonizing at first, but fun after I got the hang of it.
  • Learned rigging in Blender, which was very fun, and watching the creature move is just magical!
  • Learned animation in Blender, which was... no fun at all, actually. Sad

And that last point is a huge bummer, since I found animating to be the most time consuming, while at the same time producing the worst results. Case in point, I think I managed to do the concept art justice with my model, but the idle animation loop I managed to pull off is just sad:

This probably means that animations will be severely lacking, or even missing for a large part of the project, which doesn't really help my already plain looking graphics. On the up side, since I've learned Blender now, I can bring my previous SketchUp models into Blender and touch them up with vertex colors and such.

Although Unity 4.5 was recently released, I'm still waiting for 4.6 with the new GUI system, so the next update will probably be just as late, or just as small as this one...
« Last Edit: June 21, 2014, 10:49:22 AM by eobet » Logged

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« Reply #8 on: April 03, 2017, 11:27:29 AM »

Well, I promised that development would be slow, and it certainly has been.

Understatement of the year three years ago! Grin

Because of a separate VR project I recently did, I got back into this again while I had my Unity knowledge refreshed. Who knows when the next update will be, but for now, this weekend I did the following:

  • Converted all .obj models (which originated from SketchUp) into .fbx via Blender (and optimized them a bit).
  • Updated the project from Unity 4.x to Unity 5.6 which included...
  • ...recreating all prefabs.
  • ...recreating the test level.
  • ...updating scripts which no longer functioned like before.
  • ...re-checking basically everything (just in case).
  • Changed structure of all scripts concerning the 3D tiles (into something more logical and flexible).
  • Began restructuring the way light fades when transitioning between areas (tricker than it sounds).

Sadly, I've already run into two Unity bugs. The first one is that adding submeshes to models doesn't update their prefabs, and when you manually update the prefab (by dragging the updated model onto it), all scripts, colliders and values are wiped. Sad

That bug consumes a lot of time and requires you to constantly remember to re-check a prefab if you tinker with its model, but the second bug is even more severe. Any room in this game is an enclosed space, and that apparently makes Unity's built in occlusion culling go absolutely nuts. Plus, my tiles are 3 cubic Unity units large (3m2, triple checked and applied scaling via Blender), but 3 units in the culling options is gigantic. Luckily I'm not alone in this, so I'm hoping the Unity forums will provide a solution for me. The workaround is otherwise to toggle off all but the area/room you're currently in, which might be the optimal solution anyway.


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« Reply #9 on: March 07, 2018, 11:57:23 AM »

Ok, so time for a yearly post?

I actually did this work several months ago, but didn't think it was enough to warrant a post, but I had a moment of spare time this evening and needed to unwind... unfortunately, turns out I've forgotten much of what I did. This thread was supposed to be a document of that, so ooops.

Anyway, let's start with some work I actually did years ago:

This is an actual scalable OpenType font I made. It is based heavily on the 8-bit font from The Dungeon, though when zoomed in, instead of looking medieval, it looks futuristic and angled, echoing what is going on in the game which I at the time thought was very clever. Today, I loathe the way it looks, so it will most likely be updated at one point.

That, in turn, led to this:

It's funny that when I started out, the "new" UI system for Unity wasn't even out yet. As for the data behind the scenes, I'm keeping as much as possible in CSV files, because I don't want to rely too heavily on Unity, strange as that may sound. I haven't gone to the lenghts of starting to use LUA or something like that, but it might happen in the future.

So we have:

  • Strength
  • Endurance
  • Agility
  • Speed
  • Intelligence
  • Charm

Note how it spells out "seasic"?  Well, hello there! Yeah, I also thought that was incredibly clever in the moment. That moment has passed now, but I think I'll keep it anyway. As with the original games, there's more stats in the background, like alignment and appearance, and unlike the original, I think I'll expose those in a detailed character view (but just like the original, the stats will lie to you; what you think they are may not be what they truly are).

I don't think the "survival" genre of games were a thing when I started out, and certainly they weren't back in the 8-bit era, and I'm a bit scared that people may place this game in that compartment now. That is not the focus, however, and with any luck, by the time this game is released, those games will be long gone. Wink

EDIT: Speaking of labels, the topic originally said "sandbox", which I now changed to "open-ended" instead, again to not raise any expectations of genre conventions it might not have.
« Last Edit: March 07, 2018, 01:14:51 PM by eobet » Logged

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« Reply #10 on: August 05, 2019, 08:05:23 AM »

Right... so... time flies when you have a day job, it turns out.

Speaking of that, in this day job we recently switched from Unity to Unreal, so to avoid my brain from imploding, I did the same at home (where I'm now experimenting with four different game projects, which doesn't help my brain or my time).

This means that this project is now.... pretty much right back to where it was in 2014! Yay.

But since I never got very far implementation wise (the design still stays), there wasn't much to lose:

  • Re-implemented the movement code in Unreal's Blueprints (I'm never missing a semicolon or curly bracket again in this lifetime).
  • The camera shake, animation easing and animated water, all things I used Unity assets for previously, I've now managed to do myself in Unreal (partially because the engine provides more things, and partially because Blueprints are so easy to work with).
  • Re-imported all objects using a brand new Blender Datasmith plugin, which is going to be extremely nice!
  • There's not many assets on the Unreal Marketplace compared to Unity, but I got my hands on a nice animated fog one.
  • Tried a different graphics style...

I don't know, it's easy to get carried away with the graphics in Unreal, and the video above no longer feels "8-bit" in any way, nor does it leave much up to the imagination. While the flat shaded thing I started out with still triggers that part of my brain, in the last five years that style has been used so much (and continues to be used) that I wonder if people are getting tired of it.

Anyway, I probably have five more years to go, so we'll see...
« Last Edit: August 05, 2019, 08:11:42 AM by eobet » Logged

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« Reply #11 on: October 01, 2020, 02:23:40 PM »

Another year (and what a year), another update.

Development has been slow, as usual, but this year I officially paid my first freelancer for the first in-game asset not made by me! The person I managed to get a hold of is very unexpected and exciting and because of that, it's going to have to remain secret until very close to release of the game. Another exciting thing is that I also now have written permission by the composer of The City and The Dungeon, Gary Gilbertson, to use the music from the original games! Kiss

Oh, and the game finally has a name now... although I'm keeping that one secret too, because I can't afford to register more domain names currently.

  • Re-implemented the UI in Unreal using UMG.
  • Implemented resolution selection and a frame rate limiter.
  • Set up a lot of data tables... another quite nice feature of Unreal.
  • Created an auto-generated information tracking system for map areas.
  • The first in-game system is in place: The monster spawner!
  • Created a horribly hacky way of getting color variation in my tiles using 3D noise.
  • Created scripts for baking and "un-baking" levels, because I already tanked performance...
  • Attempted the first proof of concept for a rather unique (optional) combat system...

Here's some proof of actual systems now running under the hood, using good old fashioned debug prints:

(If you're wondering why it says leaving and then entering the area, it's because I spawn the player inside the area, but since that doesn't cause any initial collisions, I have to jump the player super quickly a few meters up and down in order to trigger a tile collision, which will then be counted as the first one...)

And here's an animation courtesy of horrible Twitter compression:

« Last Edit: October 01, 2020, 02:29:34 PM by eobet » Logged

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« Reply #12 on: December 05, 2021, 08:41:46 AM »

This year, it feels as if I got a lot of things done, and nothing done.

I discovered that a corporate entity that owns my source of inspiration's IP (disputed as though it may be) has made moves to use it to "establish a trademark". I'm in the clear since I don't use anything from those original games, but it would be nice to be able to. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to re-establish contact with the original creator, Philip Price, and see if he still has any documents that can verify his ownership claims.

I also briefly joined, and quickly parted ways with "The Game Incubator" from Sweden. Turns out, they weren't a good fit for me, as they except you to work very fast (and I have a day job) and were very focused on pitching to investors, which I'm not very interested in.

The name can finally be revealed, since I got the website, thought I've only had time to make a placeholder so far:

  • Added the first establishment to the game.
  • Modeled the first human in the game.
  • Allowed for switching between input methods on the fly.
  • Separated the UI system into full screen and footer menus.
  • Implemented semi-automated level streaming.
  • Created more helper scripts to set up levels.
  • Got tech art assistance for nicely fading out torch light.
  • Began to implement items (you can pick up things from the ground now).
  • Fixed so many bugs pretty much everywhere and re-wrote so many things.
  • Fleshed out my design document and actually reduced the scope of the game.

Also, Unreal Engine 5 came out, which made it once again tempting to explore what can be done, because creating retro in Unreal is extremely difficult since it wasn't built for it (it's much easier in Unity, but I won't go back).

« Last Edit: December 05, 2021, 01:44:27 PM by eobet » Logged

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« Reply #13 on: December 17, 2021, 02:44:31 PM »

This sounds really cool. Makes me want to check out the games that inspired it.

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« Reply #14 on: December 31, 2022, 06:44:50 AM »

Nearly forgot about this year's post. Luckily I came prepared this time and can just paste my notes:

  • Moved from ue4 to ue5 (didn't make any difference)
  • Got more tech art assistance for faking 100% flat shaded graphics
  • Dynamically distorted environment so no two tiles look the same
  • Dynamically colored environment to make palette swaps easy
  • Fake flat lighting system (very simple, only one light per area)
  • Re-worked the level streaming
  • New UI features like dials for entering numbers (which required stupidly large rework)
  • Fixed so many issues with the UI (so, so many issues...)
  • Initial implementation for a new location with a place to sleep
  • Initial implementation for a new location with a place to eat
  • Initial implementation for a new location with a place to buy and sell gear
  • Initial implementation for a reputation and consequence system related to the above locations
  • New monster (roach)
  • New monster WIPs
  • New environment (inn)

All of the above was done in the first half of the year, and the rest of the year was basically spent (wasted) wrestling with the new plug-ins "CommonUI" which turned out to not be that common or generalized despite touted as a replacement for all of Unreal's UMG, and "Enhanced Input" which isn't compatible at all with the former... so I don't know what Epic is doing, but they're not making it easy for smaller developers, that's for sure.

I don't have time to do the technical breakdown of the low-poly graphics now, so I'll just leave you with this cozy fire to warm yourself and wish anyone reading this a happy new year:


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« Reply #15 on: December 31, 2023, 02:26:16 AM »

2023 was indeed a bad year for game development. Seeing the crappy things that Unity and Unreal pulled was really demotivating. As can be seen in this thread, I'd already switched away from Unity years ago, but now I'd also like to switch away from Unreal. Unfortunately, Godot got rid of the visual scripting, so currently I'm stuck.

Progress this year was extremely slow, even though I actually hired a tech artist to solve some of my problems.

So no bullet points this year, but I can show some behind the scenes sketching of issues I was trying to solve...

First, data management design for the recording and accessing of player events:

Second, an automated menu builder so I don't have to design each and every menu manually anymore:

And finally, the result from the generalized input switching I began on last year:


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« Reply #16 on: December 31, 2023, 06:26:38 AM »

I love the art style, and I'm really curious about this quirky music-based features. Please keep going!

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« Reply #17 on: January 03, 2024, 08:26:11 AM »

Love to see that the project is still going! Best of luck with your game engine migrations. Things sure are tough out there.

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