Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Frayed Knights: The State of Alpha

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 6, 2011

I figured I’d provide a li’l ol’ update on the development of Frayed Knights, that piece of RPG vaporware that’s getting way too serious & deep for something that’s supposed to be all tongue-in-cheek & stuff. It was also supposed to be released by now, if I recall way back when as I was designing it to be a “quick & dirty” project. Heh.

Are you guys tired of hearing about it yet? I always feel a little weird discussing the game here every week or two, after such a long time. I feel  like some annoying kid who won’t quit saying, “Hey, I’m gonna write this game one day, and it’s gonna be so awesome! Better than Halo!” Release your freakin’ game, and then we’ll talk, kid.

Well, Frayed Knights is not ready for release. Yet. Though the light at the end of the tunnel is getting a little brighter. It occurred to me the other day that that Frayed Knights is literally the most complex, detailed game I’ve ever worked on in my entire career. There’s one indie MMO I worked on that came close, but I only worked on pieces of that. But Twisted Metal? Jet Moto? Warhawk? Those were simple arcade-ish games designed to run inside of 2 megs of RAM (not including texture memory and level changes).  Plus, they had a team of several developers, and a budget about 400x more than mine.

Making things worse, I’d developed some of the systems back in the early days of FK development to be WAY too complex and flexible. I’m not using half the capabilities I designed for it, and it has made things harder to develop (complexity = more work).  Silly me. As much as I rail against “kitchen sink design” (throwing in everything but the kitchen sink), I have fallen into that trap myself. And now I have to figure out how to balance all that crap. Brilliant work, Jay.

(Have I mentioned that besides having 75 76 77 unique “feats” characters can take in the game, that the spell list is GIGANTIC – probably something like around 500 spells if you include the “upgraded” versions? Yeah. I’m an idiot. Nobody’s gonna use all those.  They are gonna stick with a tiny subset…)

I suppose my rambling right now is probably indicative of my thoughts on the game. I’m jumping around from system to system, fixing things here, replacing things there, and tweaking things somewhere else. The game has been “playable,” start-to-finish, for a few weeks now. So now my efforts have been focused on making it complete, making it polished, and most importantly making it fun. Here’s kind of a breakdown of what I mean:

Making It Complete

  • Many sound effects & music are missing.
  • Most areas still don’t have in-game mini-maps.
  • New spells topped out at only 5th level or so – I’ve been relying on upgraded lower-level spells for testing.
  • The equipment list was also woefully inadequate for higher-level play.
  • Monsters were missing their special abilities.
  • Feats were barely present.
  • Several dungeons were missing anything but their primary quest line – side paths were merely some lame combat encounters and low-level stand-in treasure.
  • We’re still using stand-in graphics in many spots.
  • The player’s party goes from being loquacious to taciturn in a lot of areas. Much more dialog is still needed, especially to help clue the player in to what’s going on. Right now players still need to read my mind too much to know what to do next.
  • Many quests still don’t have journal entries yet.
  • Many rooms / buildings are bereft of any but plot-critical details. Need more interior-decorating passes.
  • There have been some small (or medium-sized) features people have requested (or I requested of myself) that sounded like they’d be REALLY COOL and a great addition to the game, and so I had to stick them in. Because I’m a sucker for feature creep.
  • And so forth…

Many of these have been remedied over the last couple of months, maybe more than half, but there’s still a lot left to do. I don’t feel comfortable going to “beta” until that is all done. At least many of these are among the more “fun” things to work on.

Making it Polished

This is mostly bug-fixing. We’re still working on high-priority bugs (or a few small “must have” features).  The game is never going to be Blizzard-level of polish. But for me, polishing is basically going through and fixing the things that suck most. As those get refined, things that used to be acceptable now suck by contrast, so you fix them. The game still holds too much suck for me feel super-comfortable with releasing it to many external alpha testers yet, so it’s mainly been a team-based alpha testing thing so far (or “friends and family” testing, but they are loathe to criticize…)

Making it Fun

This basically comes down to three things:

  • Providing more feedback for the player, so they can better tell what’s going on, and understand how their actions are impacting the world.
  • Providing more interactivity – making sure there’s always plenty to do and explore. As always, provide “interesting decisions.”
  • Making sure the activities (especially combat) are balanced, challenging, and interesting.

A lot of this is going to be addressed in Beta, but I need to make sure we’re at least in the ballpark now. We’re not, yet.

But somehow this crazy thing is actually getting close. I know I have done a lot of things “wrong” and could have done a lot of things better, but hey… that’s what sequels are for, right?

Filed Under: Frayed Knights - Comments: 13 Comments to Read

  • Robyrt said,

    I do enjoy these updates – it’s a great little survey of exactly how much work needs to be done even after the game is “playable.”

  • Tom said,

    I always find your Frayed Knights updates interesting. It’ll be cool to eventually see how the game has evolved since the pilot.

    Has writing about the whole process publicly been of help to you?

  • brog said,

    I’m close to finishing a game I’ve been working on on-and-off for close to four years now. Really really close! It’ll be finished soon! Really!
    And I keep telling people it’s close, and then a couple of months later when they ask if it’s done yet, I have to say “not yet, but it’s really actually close this time, honest!”.
    So it’s kind of comforting to see someone else saying the same kind of things.. I understand where you’re at. The old adage about the last 10% being 90% of the work – it’s so so true. Good luck with it, sounds like you’ve a lot of complexity to deal with – my game has 8 units and 28 spells and that’s bad enough.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Tom – in some ways, yes. If this was a more mainstream crowd that would hold everything I say against me, it would be a problem, but that doesn’t *seem* to be the case here. Yeah, I know I have ranted against some of the very sins I’ve committed in making this game, and I’ve talked about features and things I was working on that never actually panned out, or I just ran out of time to do correctly. Nobody’s really seemed ready to crucify me over those things, yet, though we’ll see in a few months how unharmed I’ll be…

    But otherwise, it’s helped me in several ways:

    #1 – It’s been a case of “throwing my hat over the fence.” This was how a friend (Steve Taylor of NinjaBee) described this. If you throw your hat over the fence, then you have to climb over the fence to pick it back up. Maintaining these posts has been a motivating factor for me, because I know I have to “report back” to the community over what I’ve been doing. It’s hard though, when most of what I’ve been doing has been “fixing yet more bugs.”

    #2 – It’s allowed me to bounce ideas off of like-minded gamers. One of the problems with being an indie is that you don’t get the day-to-day interaction with other game developers you do at a full-time, larger studio. Having people willing to act as sounding boards is invaluable.

    #3 – The community has provided some invaluable feedback. Not all of it found its way back into the game, but there have been some significant features or changes that went in as a result of talking through things here or in the forums. That’s been nice.

    So yeah – we’ll see how things go between now & release, but I’d say this was a positive experience overall. I just feel weird because I’ve been talking about this thing for so long, now, without actually having released the game.

  • Steve said,

    I enjoy these posts. They are what brings me back to the site once a week to check for updates 🙂

  • McTeddy said,

    You oughta be ashamed having taking this long for a quick and dirty project. 500 spells? That’s nothing! You should have had 700 and had it all done in two weeks!

    Okay… so I don’t actually feel that way but I get uncomfortable when I agree with the majority.

    The big difference between you and the halo kid with an idea is that you’ve continued to work on it. Besides, I don’t think I ever remember you telling us that your game is going to be uber-amazing and that it will revolutionize gaming as a whole. You told us your vision and you told us of your struggles. You let us see inside the life and mind of a game developer.

    Even better, I’m sure that you’ve learned a boatload from this project. Whether it’s better ways to organize your spells or better interface design… the next game will go easier. You’ve gained a few levels during this time and that is something to be darn proud of.

    Your posts are more than you bragging about your game. You give us readers a chance to enjoy the journey and learn from your experiences. For that, Jay, I am truly grateful.

  • Tom said,

    I figured #1 would be the case. Motivation by mortification 🙂

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    The updates to Frayed Knights are a big reason why I keep swinging by as well. Maybe it is just the fellow developer in me who loves to read post-mortems and watch “Making of” videos, but I love getting peeks into the “candy factory”.

    But Jay, 500 spells?! Does Dungeons and Dragons even have that many?! 2 or 3 dozen spells are all that get used in D&D anyway, aside from an odd one or two for roleplaying purposes in a PnP session. You can’t possibly balance that many can you? It’s insane! If asked whether I wanted a game with 36 spells or 500, I would pick 500 of course . . . but I would inevitably only end up using a dozen or so.

    I know, I know, creating new spells is incredibly fun and creative. Sigh. It probably stems from the same drive that caused me to spend all last night meticulously research vintage packs of Lucky Strike cigarettes so my in-game model would be 100% accurate right down to the tax stamp – and all for a piece of set dressing 99% of players are going to run by in 2 seconds.


    We are cursed, driven men, enslaved to our craft.

    And no TACITURN party members, Jay! The pilot didn’t sell me on combat, on exploration, on interface, on graphics, on story, but I’ll be darned if the party banter and genre savvy quips didn’t make me get my wallet ready. Loquacious equals money. Loquacious equals money. ;P

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Well, there are a heck of a lot of base spells, plus upgrades. Most spells can be upgraded. So for a single spell – say, Incendiary Crackleball – you also have Beefy Incendiary Crackleball, Massive Incendiary Crackleball, Awesome Incendiary Crackleball, Hellacious Incendiary Crackleball, and Uber Incendiary Crackleball.

    It’s not REALLY six spells total, but they can be saved individually under their given enhancement level, and of course have unique names (not just Level 1, level 2, etc.) and different costs / level requirements / effects. But the rest follow a formula.

    Will it be balanced? Dang if I know. I’m gonna try. If it was a multiplayer game, I’d probably be a lot more worried than I am. But as a single-player game, if some things are a little out of whack, I’m not gonna lose too much sleep over it.

    And yeah, we’re working on Loquacious. (Amusingly enough, I had just finished working on the Silence spell when I saw your comment. I dunno what I’m gonna do when their turn at dialog comes up and they are silenced…)

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    Ah, I see. So it’s really more like 500/6 = 83 spells. I see. That sounds sane. (And I love your example spell names.)

    By balanced I didn’t really mean fair, just balanced in the sense that players will see reason to make use of most of the spells and not just a select few.

    I guffawed at the thought of the mouthy and pithy party under the effects of a Silence spell. Perhaps you could have them pass notes that get misread due to horrible handwriting, or have them try and “cheat” the system by talking “out of character” like PnP roleplayers might try and do under similar circumstances. Or simply create a humorous situation by allowing us to see what each character is THINKING, perhaps totally at odds with the rest of the group, but everyone assuming they are on the same page.

  • Tormod Haugen said,

    Love these posts!

    1) I want to play FK when it is out

    2) Keeps me from starting “yet-another-project-I-never-can -get-done-and-no-I-haven’t-made-anything-yet”. 🙂

    Oh, and just to throw you off the game again. Webpage in Chrome? 😛

  • fluffyamoeba said,

    Of course DnD has more than 500 spells, they have books to sell ;). But they are all slight variations of each other after the first 100 or so…

    The “it’s nearly done, all I have to do is [add 10x the existing content]” suggests you might want to resist the feature creep though. For your sanity. Especially as increasing the content increases the combinations to bug test.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Heh – well, I cranked out about eight spells last night, which – with the upgrades – multiplies to about 35ish spells. But “in” isn’t the same as “balanced.” And there’s no way I’m balancing the upgraded spells individually.