Eight months later, and here's another state of the studio. tinydark hasn't slept a wink! You can always stay apprised on our Discord server. The past eight months have been spent refactoring our game engine and adding many new features to it, all housed under a prototype game called Elevator. In this post I will detail our future outlook, along with a juicy feature-teaser for the next game.
First Thing's First
We're having a little girl! Her name will be Violet and she should arrive late December. I'll be taking about six weeks off from game development to just chill, play games, take care of the baby, rebuild my portfolio website, contribute to open source, and organize myself. When things return to a relative normal, I'll hit the ground running. I've been grinding very hard since the pandemic started, and it is time for a well-deserved break.
Teaser: Untitled Roleplaying Game
Please be aware that any of this is subject to change.
I am next building a persistent multiplayer open-world fantasy roleplaying game. ("URPG" for now) It draws inspiration primarily from Dungeons and Dragons and a few other PBBGs. It is a game in which you create a character from a list of potential races, and you spawn with your own kind in a home city. You will age and have a lifespan dependent on your race: right now ranging from 5-7 months, with the option to boost life expectancy through diet, religion, and adventuring. The world progresses by one tick every hour, decrementing cooldowns and progressing any projects. (explained later) You'll build your character's skills and relationships over the course of their life, contributing to the world around them.
Gameplay is defined by one reigning dichotomy: Society and Adventure.
Behind every adventure, there is the world it takes place in. Society provides services critical to the adventure, such as food, lodging, equipment, and other items. These require skills like
farming, fishing, cooking, butchering, and smithing. Players are able to produce their own items via some of these skills, which use the skill and reagents to determine item quality. For example, an experienced cook (6) using below-average ingredients (4) may routinely produce Quality 5 items on a scale of 1-10. These items are able to be named and described as however the player sees fit: the cook can say they baked an apple pie if the ingredients are apples, eggs, and sugar, or the player can simply choose to default to 'baked food' or choose name and description from what others have made. This applies to any crafted item, such as smithed armor or tailored clothing, allowing players to produce customized items for themselves and others.
It is perfectly acceptable - and fun - to live a mundane life of farming and social engagement. While there are limits to how fun a mechanic like Mining or Fishing can be, thought has been put into keeping these skills interesting through Feats that you earn at certain levels. A society-focused character is a good low-pressure, low-risk character to play. Players who are inclined to writing item descriptions may enjoy crafting customized clothing and armor.
A society could survive the years just farming, fishing, and cooking, but they aren't going to get too far technologically. That is where the Adventurer comes in! Adventuring is wholly comprised of two activities: exploring the open world, and delving into dungeons and mines.
The open world is whatever is outside your city walls. This is the territory of roaming beasts, magic fountains, and special resources. It is also the means of travel in the wide world: though the (soft) plan is that players spawn in their race's home city, much excitement and adventure is to be had traveling the world. Players can meet other races and benefit from their unique racial perks. They can barter and exchange valuable resources that may otherwise not be available to their locale.
The open world is also host to authored, static content such as a giant tree you can climb. That would be accomplished through the Climbing skill check, which would factor in your strength and weight of carried items. If you fail the skill check, you can simply try again on the next world tick. If you succeed, you will physically enter a new location which could have anything in it.
Dungeons and mines are dug into the earth. The design isn't finalized on these, but the general idea is that you can manually dig mines either deeper or in any of the eight directions (NESW, diagonal). Each room dug will offer new resources to gather and metal to mine, and present danger in the form of monsters. The deeper you go, the better the materials will be, the harder it will be to dig, and the more dangerous the monsters become. An example of a skill check here is a spot that only tiny races or shrunken characters can fit through, to obtain a bonus resource. Dungeons are authored, static content and will not likely be available on day 1 release.
Adventurers are critical to a society's development because they will return from their adventure with otherwise unobtainable loot. They may have dragged the corpse of a monster back to the surface; they may have butchered it down below. They may have escorted the town's highly efficient miner into the depths, risking the miner's life so that the town can make high-tier weapons. Alchemists undoubtedly require the extinguished core of a fire elemental for their Fire Resistance potion!
How It Plays
This sounds good, but how does the game actually play? Progress is made primarily through projects, and secondarily through active skill checks and action banks.
A project is something your character passively works on. A farmer may be improving/attending their field, or harvesting food from it. That happens every world tick, which is every hour on the hour. The results of said farming would be available in a project log or if they had an especially good harvest, a message emitted to the town. Another example would be the time it takes a tailor to weave clothing, which goes quicker the more skilled they are: it may take a novice tailor 30 ticks (hours) to create a dress, while an experienced tailor could do it better and in half the time. Adventurers are mostly an active sort, who spend their available Hunts on monsters, but may run projects to heal their wounds or butcher monsters down below.
Active skill checks are similar to dice rolls in Dungeons and Dragons. We can run simple or complex calculations to determine your ability to do something; if you fail, the action isn't completed and you may have to wait some time to do it again. You may also suffer from wounds or other menaces. Examples of these are climbing, jumping across a chasm, calming a beast before you tame it, resisting poison; and combat is absolutely filled with them.
Action banks (the reader inhales sharply) are not going to be like those other games, no. (they exhale in relief) At their heart, actions provide a framework for modeling activity: you cannot write ten notes in the matter of the minutes, but you also shouldn't have to spend a full tick creating a fifty-word note item reminding a character about a promise they made. Action banks are still being designed, but a good example of them is Hunts. Successful hunts summon animals to your tile (your x,y coordinates) and then allow for further engagement (the hunt) with them. From the start, you will have few animal Hunts available and they may regenerate slower. As you grow older and improve your hunting ability, your max hunts will grow larger and regenerate quicker.
Action banks and skill checks are the "active" counterpart to projects.
The Power of Roleplay
Many would agree that Dungeons and Dragons benefits greatly from its injunction to roleplay their characters as living beings in the game world. Similarly, URPG expects your character to be roleplayed whenever they are communicating with others. It extends no further than that: the game does not require great writing skill, nor does it even require that you actively communicate; though that'd be a strange choice to make in a collaborative multiplayer environment. All the game requires is that your in-game communication is always in-character, and your character's actions are justifiable with their in-game knowledge, not yours.
Out of Character collaboration and communication is encouraged, especially for players who aren't yet comfortable with roleplaying. I am currently designing a way to sensibly have OOC communication available in the game, alongside the story and community feed.
You may set your character as either High or Low RP. High RP will embrace roleplay, they will write detailed descriptions for their characters and push forward their story and the stories around them. They will read through the community feed to stay current on affairs. Low RP may be more interested in simply playing the mechanics of the game, if not only on that character. These designations are shown to other players so they know who to invest in and not, and are able to be changed at any time. Consider, too, that even if someone isn't an active roleplayer, they can still provide rich object descriptions to the world.
There can be a lot of text to read when coming back to any multiplayer PBBG, but "roleplay games" have the potential to drown you in text depending on how active your community is. Care is being given to ease this burden: the game will launch with an Inbox that contains information that may be relevant to you, which it mostly knows by who addresses you. (think @mentions on social media) We also have feed filters and a few other things that may ease the reading burden, like a prominent town board that leaders can write on to inform citizens about state of the community.
Roleplay is a pillar of the game's design. It is what interests me most about this project. From a design perspective, the game would exist just fine without it, but context is hugely important in games: everything in a game could arguably be represented as the data behind them, but who wants to attack Enemy ID 385 with their Melee Weapon 3? It is context and imagination that provide meaning, and that is what the game will strive to achieve. It also has a secondary goal of encouraging people to write and roleplay, hopefully easing the stigma around roleplay itself.
This is running a bit long, so I'll splatter some ideas onto the page.
- I am very interested in animal husbandry. (in videogames) There will be a nice system for taming, taking care of your animals, and breeding them. Any animal under your control is also a "character" you can play, so you will also be able to roleplay as them and, from their perspective, choose to breed. Animals are important primarily because they can be slaughtered and their materials used for crafting, but they may also be attached to vehicles for locomotion.
- Magic will be in-depth and characters will roll for magic every birthday. (7 days) It will also be possible to learn through religion/story events. Planned branches of magic: dream, healing, water, ice, fire, animal, shapeshifting, travel, death.
- There will be some modest item decay. The goal is to keep the world from saturating with objects, not give the player repair chores. Monsters hitting your armor should rightfully damage it and require simple (non-project) repairs after an adventure.
- A magical equivalent to electricity is planned for the game. It is to be considered the highest tier of technology, and somewhat replaces dependence on living beings, from animal to player.
- PvP will be possible but isn't a huge concern right now. It will likely be skewed toward the defender because tinydark does not like to make games that kill you while you're offline.
When is it coming?
2021. It's hard to say when the Version 1 release will be, but it's at least August 2021. If you're interested, come to our Discord and you can hop into Playtest 2 and 3 in 2021, which should be the equivalent of 'beta' for the game. Playtest 1 is full.
The Engine: GAM3
The refactoring has gone well, if slower than I expected. Modern web development offers a very suitable environment for a game: no other type of application is more concerned with application state than a game, and building in Svelte has very pleasant experience. Feature by feature, the engine grows stronger, and the refactoring has made it stable and performant. Memory and CPU usage is looking great, which means your phone consumes less battery. I'm proud of the work I've done.
To externalize where I'm going and why the engine's tech is so important, here are some games I'd like to make this decade.
- Multiplayer open-world fantasy RPG
- Post-apocalyptic survival game which scales per-player
- Finish Bean Grower
- Fireburner (half-written; a quarter designed)
- Elevator may function as an avant-garde chatroom [it was never intended to be a real game]
- Comedy RPG
- Daiele, maybe!
- MurCity-inspired game
- MonBre 2, with ghosts this time, and a true MMORPG in which you see other players on the map.
- Narrative singleplayer utopian horror game about school, children, designer babies, bodies, feelings, player agency, and space. I am deeply passionate about this project.
- The Black Crown Project waits in rest, pregnant with possibility
- I'd like to open the engine up to external developers at some point!
A few of these games could be made already, but the grander designs of MonBre 2 and URPG require tech that will keep me busy all throughout 2021. Given the state of the world and next year's outlook, I think I feel more comfortable with the mountain of tech that will be required going forward. Especially when I know I'll be releasing URPG in 2021, and tinydark will enter what I call "prime time."
Is getting rebranded. The Orbium was inspired by Twinoid, and some decisions I made about it were made with the hope that I'd get other developers using GAM3. These developers would join "the Orbium network." I can't aspire to that for a long time, if ever; in truth, I believe my time spent tweaking out Orbium and hoping to pitch GAM3 stemmed from a lack of confidence in my own design ability. It is easy to sit and add features to a product ad aeternum; it is hard to get people using the product.
Alas, throughout it all I've made myself a pretty badass Single-Sign On Service and I learned a lot while making it. The new URL will be https://tinydark.games and rather than an Orbium account, you'll simply have a "tinydark account." I think this is a lot less confusing for new players, and helps enforce the tinydark brand.
I suppose I will just say I am excited to be building a game I believe in. I have a small group of interested players and I think I can do something good for the "roleplaying genre", whatever that is. If it works out, I would love to champion and advocate for developers to consider the power and potential of roleplay.
I plan to register tinydark as a real company and become active in 2021. I think I will finally be ready.