Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Frayed Knights: Cheating Luck

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 12, 2010

Time for another update on Frayed Knights, the indie computer role-playing game in development that all the cool kids would be playing right now if only it were released already. I’m sure of it.

Torqued Off

Okay – first order of business: The closure of TorquePowered. Yes, Frayed Knights runs on a highly modified version of the Torque Game Engine. Someone asked on Twitter if that was going to stop Frayed Knights development. Absolutely not. In theory, their closure should have zero effect on the game’s development. First of all, the engine I am using was already sunset and dropped official support while I was already in development many moons ago. If there was a time for me to freak out and change engines, it would have been then.

However, I have been relying upon the still-active community and the enormous wealth of searchable documentation and years of related questions-and-answers on the forums on their website from time to time, and it’s been kind of a safety net for me. If I am forced to operate without a net… well, so be it. It’s a little hairier, but I’m a grown-up programmer with source code and a valid license.  I remain dangerous.

Fool’s Luck

So onto some game design ruminations. Fool’s Luck.

During the pilot episode of Frayed Knights, released oh-so-long-ago, I really didn’t put the Drama Stars very front-and-center. Part of this was presentation (and incomplete code), but part of it was deliberate.  I wanted to make sure the rest of the game worked. I haven’t focused on them too much during development, because in theory all drama stars really do is act like a substitute for reloading a saved game.  There should be very little impact on game balance.


Okay, for those new to the discussion, here’s what drama stars are about: Whenever you do something interesting (make a decision, fight a monster, etc.), you get one or more drama points.  These gradually fill in some stars at the top of the screen. The stars begin by getting filled in with bronze points, then they gradually become silver, and then gold. You can then “spend” these points on an effect that changes the game, even up to restoring the entire party to life (well, non-disabled condition) with almost full health and stamina.

The trick is that any time you reload the game, the drama stars are reset back to empty. The idea is that you can play Frayed Knights like many people (including me) normally do – reloading when things go poorly (and you remembered to save at the right place), or you can stick with it and get similar results through spending drama stars. Was a character was incapacitated in the boss battle? If you have enough drama points, you can bring ’em back immediately. Even in the middle of the fight.  Or you can reload and fight the battle again and try to not lose anybody. Your call.

It’s basically legalizing cheating.

One of the most basic powers of the drama stars is called “Fool’s Luck.” In testing, it’s been bugging me, but it really shouldn’t. But it causes me to fight some psychological barriers that are probably based on years of playing pen-and-paper RPGs.

I try to provide interesting choices in Frayed Knights, and allow players to brute-force their way into things if that’s just how they roll. While Frayed Knights does have its share of locked doors constructed out of indestructible plotonium, I try to have at least equal number where I am merely encouraging – not forcing – the user to perform a designer-approved activity to get it open.  But I make them very difficult. It’s an old Dungeon Master’s trick. You want all my work I put into having you find the key, and just pick the lock instead. Fine. Get ready to fail a lot and fight some wandering monsters and guards! Hah! That ought to show you!

Okay. The problem with that is that, if it’s left to chance, there’s always a chance the player will succeed on the first or second try, anyway.  And if you are in a CRPG, the player may just keep reloading until he gets it right without incident. D’oh!

And then there’s the Fool’s Luck ability. Fool’s Luck gives the player a huge bonus to tasks for a brief time, not quite guaranteeing success, but close enough. It’s the equivalent of reloading the game several times to re-try a task. In practice, it means that those challenging locks I throw into the game to encourage the player to do things my way are easily bypassed with the drama points earned from a mere handful of encounters.

The old Dungeon Master in me balks at this idea. But I try and look at it this way: I’ve now given the player some potential for interesting choices. Locked plotonium doors provide none. Which makes for a better, more satisfying game?

Filed Under: Frayed Knights - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    Okay, the Drama Stars still bother me. I get what you are going for and why, but it just really bothered me when I played the pilot and saved up all my Drama Points for when “I might really need them”, only to stop for dinner, or work, or whatever I did, and suddenly they were all missing. Maybe I missed the explanation of them in the pilot or maybe there wasn’t one – I can’t remember. I actually thought it was a bug.

    Anyway, that was simply player error on my part. However, like you said, Drama Stars really do give some great perks to use. You are on the right track with rewarding players who don’t employ “save scumming” rather than penalizing those who do.

    It really seems unfair though if I build up a lot of Drama Stars while exploring a dungeon but never find myself needing to use them because I haven’t hit a bad trap or encountered the dungeon boss yet, but end up having to stop playing – for work, sleep, life, etc. Then the next day when I start again, I find out I was two rooms away from the boss and suddenly I have no more Drama Stars.

    Couldn’t you build in some kind of check for the date and time on the save files, so that reloading a save from the last six hours (or whatever short time frame you decide on) erases Drama Stars like normal to prevent save scumming, but lets you keep your Drama Stars if the time on the save file sees it has been 6 or 8 hours or more between the save and the load? Once the file is loaded, have it reset the time stamp on the save file, so the Stars get erased if the player turns around and reloads it again 10 minutes later.

    Otherwise teens and the unemployed are the only ones who are going to see the higher level benefits of your Drama Star system! Give us working adults a chance! ;P

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    The problem – and I’m not saying its insurmountable – is that any arbitrary rule I put in place above what I’ve already got is likely to be:

    #1 – Gamed
    #2 – Resented
    #3 – More Confusing

    or some combination of the three.

    I’m still considering one option, suggested by testers on the pilot, but I’d like to see how things shake out during alpha & beta testing before I commit to it.

  • Irien said,

    Surely the solution to LateWhiteRabbit is a “Suspend” feature so that you can save where you’re at, but the savegame vanishes on reload. Many handheld RPGs do this so that you can safely quit playing at any point, but you only perma-save at save points.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Yep, that’s the option I said I was considering, just didn’t want to commit to it yet. 🙂