28 August

Dreams and Nightmares...

By Caspian

Hey All,

Welcome to another weekly update for Chronicles of Elyria! This is another light week as the team and I spent a metric crap-ton of time this week in interviews. That isn't a bad thing, mind you. We've had the fortunate opportunity to talk to half a dozen extremely qualified applicants, and we're super impressed with the caliber of candidates that have been applying. I'll admit, seeing industry veterans and professionals come and talk to us about positions is extremely uplifting. And with any luck, we'll have 3-4 new employees starting in September.

That all said, interviewing is expensive and time-consuming. As many of the candidates have been interviewing for our Producer role, it's taken a good deal of time away from development this week. But, it's a cost I'm willing to pay. I firmly believe the Producer, more than anyone else, needs to fit well with the team. And the only way to ensure that they do is to let them spend plenty of time together before we hire them.

That out of the way, there's one other thing I want to talk about before we jump into our usual roll call.

Paper Prototyping

Have you ever had one of those moments where you go 'aha!' and either remember something you'd previously forgotten, or realized something so blatantly obvious you can't figure out why you didn't think of it before? Yeah, well, that happened to me yesterday.

I was lying in bed in the morning, half awake, half asleep, in that dream-like state when a few different conversations I'd had over the week started blending together. Before I realized it, I was prototyping a version of Chronicles of Elyria in my head as a table-top game (Note: that doesn’t mean I’m going to create a table-top CoE game. It just means I was thinking about CoE in terms of a table-top game).

I began looking at the different mechanics in CoE and thinking about the best way to represent them if CoE were a table-top game. What would I use to represent a soul? What about a character? How would they interact?

One idea I had was to have two sheets of paper. One, which would represent the character, would be randomly generated and printed off for easy use. It would be like the character sheets of most pen and paper role-playing games. It would be used to keep track of things like health, movement, skills, Talents, etc. The main difference would be that a lot of it would be pre-generated, like mechs in a mech warrior game, leaving room for additional write-ins.

Part of the character sheet would be a blank square with no content, aside from the word "Soul".

The second sheet of paper would be for the soul. This too would have some pre-generated information, with room for additional write-ins. The soul sheet would be smaller, and designed to lay over top of the first sheet of paper, inside the blank space. The neat thing is the calculations for skills, etc. would require adding values contained on both sheets of paper together.

As you played the game, your character would eventually die. When that happened you'd take a look at your first, second, and third highest skills on your character sheet, and do something like filling in a few extra bubbles for those skills on your soul sheet. That would represent the skill ramp from previous play. When your character died you'd simply take the soul sheet and separate it from the character sheet, making it immediately ready to be played again on a new character sheet.

After thinking about the soul I moved on to the destiny system. How would I represent a system of objectives generated based on your character? One possible solution would be to have cards, separated into different categories. The categories would be things like time, discovery, combat, resources, etc. Each category would represent activities you could perform in the game. When creating your character, you would randomly roll some dice, and then look up a table to see how many of each card type to draw, up to 10. Each of those ten cards would be kept face down, for only you to see. What's on those cards are triggers. Things that either you or other players could do which would activate the card. When activated, you'd flip it over, and read both a quest/objective, as well as the possible rewards.

That would mean that throughout the game, the ten event cards would dictate your play to one degree or another.

I thought about several other mechanics and how they'd tie together. Some required flipping tiles over for exploration; some required having a shared tile for you and the other players on the table. For example, you could have a grid tile which represented the settlement of the players at the table. As you gathered resources, you could build new buildings and populate your settlement. That could lead to party buffs, etc.

That also sets the tone for the overall game. Is it a collaborative game, with each person trying to 'win,' or is it more of a team game? I, of course, prefer it to be a more collaborative game, with no real individual win conditions. That fits the spirit of CoE much better. So I thought about a mechanic along the lines of our 10-year story. Each play session the players would pick their family/characters, set up their settlement card, and then read from a 'scenario sheet.' The scenario sheet would be like an adventure and describe the real objective of the players for the current session.

With that scenario in mind, the players would set off and begin exploring the map, gathering/processing resources, building, adventuring, etc. Every couple rounds you'd uncover/read the next part of the scenario sheet which described a change in play.

Natural disaster? A boss spawns? Your settlement is suddenly surrounded by an invading army? Anything would be possible. But the idea would be the players win and lose as a team. If they don't survive ten rounds, or they haven't achieved their scenario-objective by the end of the ten rounds, they'd lose. If they do, they'd win.

Of course, players always want to feel like they've contributed. So each character would have something that describes their objectives. Gatherers, Producers, Explorers, and Champions would each have a different set of goals. Whenever you contribute to your goal, you'd earn Story Points. These would carry over from game to game and could be used by the player in interesting ways.

Ok, enough of the monologue. You get the idea. The reason I'm sharing all this with you is that I realized (or remembered) that when it comes to art assets we have concept art, when it comes to UI/UX we have wire frames, and when it comes to programming we have algorithms and pseudo-code. But what do we have from a design perspective to truly validate the integrity of our work? One solution, as you might have guessed, are paper prototypes.

In case it isn't clear thus far, paper prototypes are a way of describing complex designs with the simplicity of a table-top game. The algorithms have to be easier to describe and understand, and RNGs become a function of dice rolls. Please note, that doesn’t mean we’re actually creating a full pen and paper role-playing game of CoE, nor a table-top board/card game. Paper prototypes are simply a way to test and experiment with mechanics as early as possible in a game-like fashion.

But why spend the time doing all this? Why would I actually spend the time building a paper-prototype of CoE? Because building CoE as I've done above, in a way that doesn't take more than a few hours, gives us a way to very quickly validate the ideas of our game. It answers questions such as: Is it fun to play in a medium other than an MMO? Which mechanics are necessary for the prototype to be enjoyable? Which mechanics complicate the game without adding any real value? etc.

While the designers and I haven't begun (and may not) creating a paper prototype for CoE, it's a compelling idea with the potential to add real value to the design process.

It may just be something I do in my own time as we move forward with the game, mentally determining how I'd design something if it were indeed a table-top game. Or maybe, it'll become a part of our design process. If it does become a part of our workflow, and we do end up making a paper prototype of CoE, you can bet we'll stream ourselves playing it.

Ok, with my musing about paper-prototypes aside, let's move on to the roll call.

Concept & Design

The concept and design team continue to work their way through the Tundra and Taiga, creating creatures in the food chain and gaining a better understanding of the unique play elements of those biomes. This week, they introduced a new creature. It's yet to be determined whether it's an apex predator, or whether something hunts it, but what we do know is that it hunts larger mammals and other animals on the plains of the Tundra. One such animal is the Domino Fox. But what kind of creature would hunt an animal as fast as a Fox? Especially one with 'armor' on its face? A creature that doesn't attack from the front. A creature that attacks from above...

Meet the Pteroguin. The Pteroguin, or 'Terrorguin' as it's called around the office, is a thing of nightmares. It's a Pterodactyl-Penguin. It lives in dens, not nests, along the cliffs in the Tundra. Adventurers dumb enough to get caught out in the open will first hear their shrill cries and then see their shadow looming beneath them. Like Eagles hunting rabbits, anything spotted by the Pteroguin is in a dire place.

They do not land and fight, creating an easy target for would-be champions and explorers. They dive down and strike and snap at their prey until they render it unconscious, and then land near it to rip pieces of flesh away with its serrated, saw-like teeth. Make no mistake, the Pteroguin hunts to kill. If you face one of these baddies, recognize that if you don't get to shelter quickly enough, you'll be following a silver chord back to your body.

Concept of the Pteroguin Figure 1 - Concept of the Pteroguin


As mentioned above, the primary focus of Production this week has been on hiring. However, on Friday we deployed the 2.0.10 version of the website, which brought with it significantly more mobile support. At this point, aside from iPad and a few other weird form factors, the site should be fully usable on mobile devices.

As to the question I know you're going to ask next, 2.1 is our next update, which includes advanced admin and moderation tools, as well as reCaptcha support on registration to minimize the number of spammer accounts created. The following release, 2.2, is the Online Store.


That's all we've got for this week. Animation, Engineering, and Character art are all in-progress on some things and weren't able to get anything showable this week. But next week is a new week. With a few more in-office interviews coming up, the team will be growing quickly, and so too will the rate of new content.