To The World Tree Blog
Here is the placed for unfiltered information about To The World Tree, primarily design and development news from the source.
Even Newer Blog
email@example.com - August 12, 2008
OK, I'm trying another new system:
New Blog Software
firstname.lastname@example.org - July 14, 2008
I've updated my blogging system. Please visit:
For the new blog.
I've kept the old blog posts below in case there is still some interest.
email@example.com - February 29, 2008
Today: TTWT Postmortem #2, focusing on the SENG RPG system, and the changes and updates that I want to make to it going forward.
I've been really happy with the SENG RPG system; the "Rule of 5" has proven a really nice tool for getting balance in the system. From the manual:
That said, there are two areas I'd like to focus on in the SENG RPG system:
With those areas in mind, here's something of a brain dump on things I'd like to do:
A long list, to be sure, but I consider it more of incremental improvements based on my experiences with TTWT.
That's all for now; next, level design lessons and guidelines learned from TTWT.
Comments here: http://www.prankster.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=29
firstname.lastname@example.org - February 25, 2008
I likely will still release another version of TTWT, but for the most part it's served its purpose. I've got my RPG software up and running, I've made a game with it, and I understand the problem of making a RPG much better than I did before. Incidentally I've had quite a bit of fun fooling around with all the various pieces, tools, and designs going into making TTWT.
So, now that I've reached this point, over the next couple of days, I'm going to write some (hopefully coherent) thoughts on TTWT development. Today I'm going to focus my thoughts on TTWT as a game. In the next installment I'll consider what needs to be done to the SENG software itself, that is, the system and software that run TTWT. Next, I'll put together some thoughts on how to design levels in the SENG engine that both look good and play well. And last, I'll write on what needs to be done to create a full-featured, shareware-level game using the SENG engine.
As an aside, these notes are really meant for me; no guarantees how interesting they'll be to anyone else.
So, "To The World Tree", the game. As advertised, it's a short game, with not enough variety or content to be interesting for longer than the target game length, and not nearly enough to satisfy the hardcore RPG players that SENG is targeted towards. The gameplay itself is pretty fun, at least once you've completed the initial few levels and can add some additional members to the party. The graphics and interface range from "acceptable" (the interface is decent, anyways, and the player models are OK) to "amateurish" (the levels). The game runs quite smoothly and is relatively free of serious bugs.
Let me dive in with some more details on a number of good and bad points.
Good #1: SENG RPG system
The system that TTWT is built upon is called the "SENG RPG system". This defines what the numbers, levels, and statistics mean. I'm pleased both with the system itself and the code that runs it. The SENG system uses some math to balance various numbers and statistics, and I'm really happy with how it has worked. As an example, if you play the TTWT with just one character, or if you fill your party to the full complement of four, both work pretty well and are well-balanced against the enemies that you face. Similarly, if you play a spellcaster, or a fighter, both have similar power levels at the same character level. As a single developer, I don't have a ton of resources to acquire this sort of balance through playtesting; instead it needs to come from the underlying mathematics of the system. In the case of SENG and TTWT, I think this has worked really well.
Similarly, I have some pretty good code running underneath TTWT to implement this system, and I feel like this code is pretty solid. Part of this is because I coded the system first (I even had a text interface running for it, though this has since fallen into disrepair) before putting all of the graphics and UI on top of it. Thus I've only had to do some basic bugfixing in recent months, rather than doing hard-core code design of the RPG engine at the same time as creating the game.
Bad #1: Levels
The TTWT levels aren't great. Appearance is the number one culprit here. The tile and wall graphics are, at best, bland. There aren't enough objects and other features to make things interesting. The monsters are indistinct looking. The exits are unclear.
But it isn't just appearance; there are other problems too. The levels don't provide a good deal of variety in combat scenarios. Some of the levels don't have good "flow", meaning it's unclear to the player where to go next. The levels are a bit cramped; they were designed before the fast-move and "return to entry" options were coded.
Anyways, I'll spend another whole blog entry on lessons learned for level design.
Good #2: Animation System
The animation system used in SENG and TTWT proved pretty effective. Designing the character animations was not too difficult, and produced reasonable results; walking characters look like their walking, etc. Also, adding animated elements, like spinning gears or windmills was pretty easy. Figuring out good ways to utilize the system was a bit more difficult, but hopefully I have some more ideas now.
Bad #2: Starts Slowly
In theory, I know that a key element to game design is to start the game quickly, to engage the player right from the beginning. However, I don't seem to be so good at applying this theory to reality, as TTWT starts pretty poorly.
In any case, clearly some improvement is needed here.
Good #3: Game-Writing System
I'm pretty happy with the game-writing system. The interlocking system of scripts, talking, journal entries, and quests is pretty good. The syntax might still be a little prone to errors (particularly the script language), but overall it works pretty well.
Bad #3: More Variety Needed
A good SENG game (and further, a good single-player RPG) gets a lot of its fun from variety. TTWT, being something of a prototype, is really lacking in this area. There are a lot of instances where this applies:
A definite goal that TTWT doesn't address is to try to have open-ended gameplay... or at least, enough variety that the player gets the illusion of open-ended gameplay.
Bad #4: Polish
Lastly, definitely some more polish is needed. Everyone complains about the "Exit" button. Scrollbars need some work. Audio has been described as "jarring", whereas a lot of the game is silent.
Anyways, that's all for now. Next blog, the future of the SENG RPG system and software.
Comments here: http://www.prankster.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=28
email@example.com - February 22, 2008
I'm updating the software that I'm using for this website from FrontPage 2003 to Microsoft Expression Web. This shouldn't really change things too much (if at all), but if something goes haywire, that's probably why.
On another note, mention of TTWT in the "Indie RPG News Roundup":
Comments here: http://www.prankster.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=27
firstname.lastname@example.org - February 14, 2008
Well, I finished off enough stuff to release another version of To The World Tree. The gameplay is virtually identical to Version 4, but the user-interface is all new (and much nicer). From the readme, here's the new stuff:
You can get the release on the Download Page. As always, I'd really appreciate feedback. This time I've gone so far as to provide a form (feedback.txt); fill in and mail to email@example.com when you've finished playing (regardless of how far you've gotten).
I'm approaching the limit on how much more work I want to put into TTWT; the engine is pretty polished by now. I could certainly improve the game content some more but that would just be effort that doesn't translate into productive work for the "real" game I want to make. Most of the improvements I would make now involve tweaking the RPG system or experimenting with new types of levels and scenarios; those can't really be done without big changes to TTWT.
In any case, I'm due to start a contract in March, probably running through June, doing "real world" programming. So, this is probably a natural point to stop development on TTWT and start planning the next game. Assuming I don't like the job I get so much that I want to keep doing it. ("Real world" programming pays pretty nicely too). In the next few weeks I'll work on preliminary brainstorming on the "next game", and probably write up some post-mortem thoughts on TTWT.
As for TTWT, if I believe enough people have played it successfully, at some point I'll release a Version 6 (Final). Presumably that version won't be much different than Version 5, but will be the non-Beta release of TTWT.
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firstname.lastname@example.org - February 13, 2008
New download statistics:
December: 1 264 0.92% 667695 52.42% /ttwt/ttwt_2007_11_30.zip January: 1 40 0.16% 239819 37.05% /ttwt/ttwt_2007_11_30.zip
So, as you might expect, since I haven't released a new version or made any announcements, downloads have dropped off dramatically. I put the total downloads as 1477.
I've got the new version with the new UI just about ready to go, but I'm mulling over how best to get feedback on the game. Just putting it out there has generated a fairly limited amount of feedback, and I'd like to get some more.
Comments here: http://www.prankster.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=24
email@example.com - February 2, 2008
Whew. This UI project is taking a long time. At this point, I've completely removed the MFC dependency, moving all of the UI into Direct3D. For quite awhile the game wasn't playable (due to missing dialogs or whatever), but by now it is playable again; I haven't actually run through the whole game but I think you could now. It's a little dispiriting to work for so long on just making things work that used to work before, but at last I'm past that point.
The new UI is way more usable than the old one; various mouse-click and drag-and-drop features have been added. I particularly like the "drag-and-drop to set quick-actions" feature. I wouldn't call the new UI beautiful just yet, but now that it's working I can experiment with different colors, layouts, fonts, and backgrounds to make things prettier. Here's a screenshot of Freywelfa's spellbook:
For example, to set her "Action" spell, just drag the spell down to the action bar at the bottom.
Next up I'm working tying up the loose ends; things like adding keyboard support back in.
Comments here: http://www.prankster.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=23
firstname.lastname@example.org - January 5, 2008
Happy New Year everyone!
Here's a preview of the new UI:
I've moved the UI into Direct3D, away from MFC. I think the new look is a lot cleaner and less clunky; feel free to drop me an email with any thoughts.
Unfortunately all of the dialogs remain in MFC. I'm working on pulling those into the main UI, with the additional goal of removing the dependency on MFC. This will take a bit, but I think the results will be worthwhile. I'll likely release a new version when I get that task done.
Comments here: http://www.prankster.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=22
email@example.com - December 22, 2007
Here are some download statistics for TTWT:
October: 1 259 1.08% 797729 57.84% /ttwt/ttwt.zip 2 66 0.28% 189119 13.71% /ttwt/ttwt_2007_10_19.zip 3 14 0.06% 72710 5.27% /ttwt/ttwt_2007_10_27.zip November: 1 834 4.16% 388601 58.20% /ttwt/ttwt_2007_10_27.zip
That puts the download count through November 2007 as 1173. Not bad! I've got some more in December but I'll wait until the month is over to avoid confusing myself when I go to make a tally in the future.
Comments here: http://www.prankster.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=20
firstname.lastname@example.org - December 17, 2007
As expected, I was not selected as a finalist for the IGF contest. Here's the news:
I'm not really surprised; TTWT is still unpolished in a lot of areas, and a lot of the games in the contest were really good. I had a fun time putting the game together for the contest, and may try again next year.
Here is some anonymous feedback from the judges:
Beyond that, right now I'm redoing the user interface. I'm pulling everything into the main screen, with transparent floating widgets, and removing all of the MFC code. This is a pretty big change, but I'm happy with what I've done so far. The result should come out a lot slicker than the clunky old MFC stuff.
Comments here: http://www.prankster.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=19
email@example.com - December 1, 2007
Well, I've made some many fixes as part of my coding cycle that I felt it was worth releasing a new version. Mostly small bugfixes, though the new 2D map is a big improvement over the old 3D map. From readme.txt:
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firstname.lastname@example.org - November 28, 2007
I updated the screenshots here: screens.htm
The screenshots that were there were still from version 1; the discerning eye will notice a number of improvements from the old ones. The undiscerning eye probably won't really care.
I've made about a bazillion fixes since version 3; I suppose I should release a version 4 soon. I wasn't really planning to, but what the heck.
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email@example.com - November 16, 2007
Here's a pic of the new 2D map:
I think this is way better than the old 3D style. Now, a 3D map _could_ be better, with lots of dynamic motion, animation, and so forth. But the effort to make a decent 2D map is a lot less than to make a decent 3D map. And the old 3D map wasn't even decent.
An added benefit is that I learned a bit about rendering 2D images with Direct3D, which should help a lot with moving the interface into Direct3D.
Other stuff that I put into place includes a new animation system, making it easier to author animations as well as eliminating a gimbal-lock issue that the old system had. The only noticeable effect thus far is that characters now have a recovery animation after an attack, instead of just "snapping back" into place. And a number of minor tweaks and bugfixes.
I'm starting to think about what "real" game I want to make with the SENG engine. The leading candidates are:
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firstname.lastname@example.org - November 5, 2007
Well, I've more or less accomplished what I wanted with "To The World Tree". So now I'm going back and doing a coding cycle, redoing stuff in the SENG engine that I didn't need to do for TTWT but should make the next game much better.
The first two things I've done are to code up a packed-module format, and make the world map display in 2D format instead of 3D. Regarding the packed-module, instead of the SENG installer installing several hundred files for the module to use, now it can install just one. This is nice in itself, but it also really makes it easier for me to package up an install of a SENG game, and makes it much less likely that I'll break the game with a bad install package.
As for the world map, I was never really happy with the 3D map. The TTWT world map was pretty basic looking, and making a good 3D map of a countryside seemed like it would be a lot of work. I think 2D maps will be much more aesthetically pleasing, although I haven't yet made a good one for TTWT (the code is done but the graphics are still rudimentary).
Moving forward, I plan to flesh out the RPG system a bit more, with things like shields and two handed weapons. Also I will move the whole main UI into Direct3D, instead of the current 4-pane MFC system. Lots of other stuff too. Stay tuned.
Also, I put the manual online here for anyone who wants to read it without installing TTWT.
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email@example.com - October 27, 2007
A new version is ready. This one has some nice fixes that I really wanted to get in for the IGF competition. From readme.txt:
The improved pathfinding and reworked Cellar are the important fixes.
With this release I'm going to relax a little about the IGF now; those are the last big, easy improvements that I can make for now. Hopefully the judges will play with this latest version. Next up I'm planning to step back and make bigger programming changes to the engine that I've wanted to make but weren't really important for the immediate goal.
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firstname.lastname@example.org - October 19, 2007
Well, I decided to crank out V2 before finishing everything I had planned, because there were so many fixes in, I didn't want to wait any longer before getting it out. From readme.txt, here's the list:
The game feels a lot more "usable" to me now.
The biggies that I punted (temporarily) are:
I'll proceed to work on those next. TTWT is still at Beta quality but it's coming along nicely.
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email@example.com - October 16, 2007
Just got an email from the IGF people:
So, I'm in! Which thus far only proves that I can fill out a web form and pay the entry fee.
A quick browse reveals a number of very slick looking games among the entries, so I don't have huge expectations of being a Finalist. But I don't think TTWT looks horribly out of place in the contest or anything.
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firstname.lastname@example.org - October 15, 2007
So, I'm trying to get a version 2 of TTWT out in the next week or two, mainly to make a set of pretty easy fixes for the most annoying issues in V1. An example is the transparency issue with "objects" in TTWT, like the fireplace in the Inn at the End of the World:
Notice how you can see right through the walls behind the fire. Not good. So, stuff like that is what I want to fix.
An incomplete list:
I want to get it done soon, so the IGF judges can see the improvements.
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email@example.com - October 4, 2007
Well, in the last week, I managed to:
Now, I can relax. And run the Victoria Half-Marathon in 3 days.
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Old: Independent Games Festival
firstname.lastname@example.org - June 23, 2007 (I pulled this post over from my old, unwanted blogspot blog.)
Well, it's been awhile since I last posted; lots of progress to report.
I've been working on a demo game using the SENG engine, tentatively titled "To the World Tree" (henceforth referred to as TTWT in the honorable goal of preventing carpal tunnel syndrome). The goals of this demo are:
As an aside, goal (1) has been quite successful so far. For example, my level creation process was initially to edit the level file by hand in a text editor, and then view the results in a level viewer. After some tug-of-war with this process, I realized that adding rudimentary level editing functionality to the level editor would be a significant time-saver. Mind you, it's not a polished, professional tool by any means, but I can achieve results much faster with the new process.
In the meantime, a new goal has emerged. I saw that the Independent Games Festival (http://www.igf.com/) is having their 10th annual game contest, entries due October 1st. I'd like to get this demo done in time for this competition. I don't honestly know how TTWT will fare; I haven't really scoped out the previous years entries, but getting some sort of recognition would be nice. I suppose the real point is that this gives me a fixed time goal to work towards.
And finally, here is a screenshot of the first level of TTWT:
Old: Who is Merry Prankster Games?
email@example.com - May 20, 2007 (I pulled this post over from my old, unwanted blogspot blog.)
Merry Prankster Games is my personal independent games company. I started it in something like 1994, allowing me to get the desirable domain prankster.com back in the days when you could actually get domains easily. As an aside, every couple of months I get an inquiry from someone who wants to buy it; one guy offered $2000 in his mail. I've never pursued any of these opportunities, so I don't know how legitimate that offer was, nor do I have any idea of the fair market value. I suppose I've just become attached to the domain.
In any case, the initial purpose of prankster.com was to run the game of Atlantis, a play-by-email game which people paid $1 per week to play. At its height there were a couple of hundred people playing. However, Atlantis was always just a hobby, designed, programmed, and administrated by myself while I was working for "the man", Oracle and later Microsoft. I didn't see a big future in text-based play-by-email games, so eventually I abandoned this effort. Atlantis is now an open-source project, which despite an occasional flurry of activity hasn't made significant progress since I opened the code up.
More recently I've been writing an independent role-playing game with the intention of self-publishing under the umbrella of Merry Prankster Games. The game's name is TBD, while the nearly-completed engine is called the SENG engine; but more to come about this game in future posts. Again, this remains a hobby project, with no resources or employees beyond myself, worked on in my spare time.
That's about all I have on MPG, so here's another screenshot; this time from the SENG animation viewer, of an untextured actor attacking thin air:
firstname.lastname@example.org - May 13, 2007 (I pulled this post over from my old, unwanted blogspot blog.)
Well, I've been meaning to start this blog for some time, but I've just been too lazy, and haven't had anything to show. So, welcome!
At some future date, I'll get more into what Merry Prankster Games is, what we're developing, and what this blog is for. But for now, here's a scrumptious screenshot:
I call it "Enticing shot of man walking through test room, featuring developer art." I hope you like it!
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Last Modified: December 15, 2011