Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Frayed Knights – Just Add Story!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 25, 2011

Time for another update on the development of Frayed Knights, the indie computer RPG series that is to the CRPG genre what Dogs Playing Poker was to the world of fine art.

When I realized that the size and scope of my “quick and dirty” RPG Frayed Knights was becoming bigger than the longest-winded Final Fantasy title, I decided to break it into three games (apparently a methodology with a long and notable history in both indie and mainstream RPGs, though it took me longer than most to throw in the towel).

The problem – but a good one – is that doing this meant that all three games had to have self-contained stories. It also exposed some significant weaknesses in the story as a whole – I’d been letting things get pretty drawn out. A lot of the work I’ve been doing over the last three weeks has been trying to make changes and give it a little more compelling narrative. It’s not going to be amazing anybody with its literary quality, particularly as I’m fairly insistent on allowing the player to do things out of dramatic order wherever possible, but I hope people will like it.

Now, some people have been puzzled by what this game is really trying to be, given the fact that it’s premise is light and funny, but the underlying game is a little on the hard-core side. To which I say – if hardcore RPG fans don’t have a sense of humor, something’s wrong. My approach to the humor of the game is quite a bit different from, say, Mark Leung’s game or some others. My goal is to achieve something a little closer to Knights of the Dinner Table, Order of the Stick, or the movie The Gamers: Dorkness Rising, and TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and even Friends.  It’s more character-driven, and focuses a little more on what should feel a little like four adventurers running through some guy’s home-brewed campaign world. Like most RPG game worlds, an awful lot of it doesn’t make total sense, and these adventurers find their own way of rolling with it.

Not all of the game is done up for comedy. While I hope there will be some laugh-out-loud moments, I’ve never really tried to make every single dialog contain humor. Some parts are actually a little (*gasp*) serious.

Some of the story / setting issues I’ve been facing recently:

1) The story has evolved over the course of a long time. During this time, details have changed. Characters have gravitated different directions than intended. Details of plots have changed. Names have changed. After a while, I really don’t read the dialog very much any more, and I fail to notice that certain things are no longer valid. Or that I’ve had to change the names of certain individuals and are still calling them by their old names.  The end-game, in particular, sounds a muddled mess, as I did it in a hurry a long time ago and pretty much everything about it has changed.

2) My choice of doing entire conversations for dialogs has bitten me in the butt. In retrospect – well, I’d probably do it the same way, but I’d be more aware of the problems.  Having full conversations based on current game state is AWESOME when it works. You can talk to an NPC, and the characters take note of the fact that you have done A, but not B, and that you are still in the middle of the C.  Well, if A, B, and C are all 3 stage states (Not Started, Incomplete, and Complete), that’s 3 x 3 x 3 = 18 variations that need to be accounted for! That is a LOT of friggin’ dialog to write… and to test! It would have been much easier to take a more traditional approach, where the dialog is one-sided and delivered piecemeal.

But it’s cool, it’s fun, and worth it, and I am taking shortcuts where I can (only 7 dialogs instead of 18, copying and pasting chunks of dialog, woot!). I really didn’t think that would be much of an “innovation” in this game, but it’s becoming something of a signature piece. So much so that, as my uber-tester DGM has pointed out, it gets disappointing when something interesting happens that doesn’t spawn a commentary from the characters.

3) Dead space is bad. No not the game (I haven’t played it) – I have something of an allergic reaction to walking too far without something interesting to do / check out.  There are still some fairly uninteresting stretches in the game that I need to fill in.  My vision of a proper RPG world is one in which there is adventure behind every bush and around every corner. There’s just not enough time to quite achieve that goal, but I’m trying to make it closer.

4) Quests, quests, and more quests – I’ve converting a new, *LONG* (second longest in the game) quest that was previously completely optional into a mandatory quest line, which has required some serious rejiggering of the principal quest line and the game ending.  And I’m having a lot of fun throwing in a lot of little optional side-quests too. The goal here is that players shouldn’t have to depend on “grinding” to get ready to face the final encounters in the game. Alas, some of these are simple “fetch” quests, sometimes involving finding something that has been hidden (requiring searching). In some cases, I’m allowing players to find the object both by performing a search in the right area (with the “hot / cold” messages indicating proximity), or by finding the spot with their mouse (displaying the name of the interactive area).

This weekend, I hope to be playing the entire game through, start-to-finish, with some significant combat rules tweaks and a bunch of the new quests, a new dungeon, and story changes. We’ll see how it hangs together, or if I can even make it to the end.



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

  • Der Kommissar said,

    Speaking of humour: I’m not a game developer, but if I was one, I’d make conversations sound closer to real life than a soap opera, which seems to be what most games are setting out to be lately. Actually for that matter, even soap operas are less wooden. There seems to be too much melodrama in conversations in recent games, whereas in real life, you’d probably react to that same event differently. Every single dialogue option seems to be pitched so perfectly, it’s difficult to empathize with. It doesn’t matter whether it’s for humour or to be taken seriously – I think the dialogue in games need to be more “human” and less “cybernetic”.

    Example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QT9UrkbMok&feature=related (1:20 onwards till the end. Notice how the awkwardness is conveyed – now that’s humour done right)

  • DGM said,

    >> “So much so that, as my uber-tester DGM has pointed out, it gets disappointing when something interesting happens that doesn’t spawn a commentary from the characters.”

    Not just “disappointing.” I’ve caught myself wanting to reach into the screen, smack the Knights around and yell at them to wake up and pay attention. A big part of what makes the world interesting is the perspective the Knights bring to it.

  • Braindead said,

    ^^ that is what every game dev needs, a brutally honest play tester / sounding board

  • DGM said,

    I’m sure I’ve tried Jay’s patience once or twice, although if so he’s been professional about it. 🙂

    But yeah, the Knights giving their views is subtle but important, and I’m definitely rooting for more of it. I didn’t even think about it until I explored an incomplete part of the game where they didn’t have dialogue yet, but then it hit me how wrong it felt that they weren’t saying anything. The character of the characters most definitely sets the character of the game.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    I’ve got to agree with your lead tester Jay. DGM is telling you exactly what I want him too.

    Even playing the pilot, I would rush over to interesting things in the distance just to get the party to comment on them. When they didn’t, I would slump my shoulders, let a long, sad, “Awwww…..” and then go back to playing the game – you know, so I could find more funny conversations.

    The party conversations and comments are definitely Frayed Knight’s “signature feature” and selling point in my book. The game play in the pilot was okay, and the RPG mechanics fine, but what is the reason I’m anticipating your game and pressing my face against the metaphorical shop glass with a wad of cash in my hand? The conversations and comments! I love the snarkiness, the delicious parody of fantasy gaming conventions that can only come from a long time gamer and fan and be appreciated by the same.

    So . . . um, I guess what I’m saying is the hundreds of spells and drama star system and skills aren’t a huge selling point for me . . . . but snarky commentary from the characters sure is!

    Be brutal, DGM! Catalog every interesting thing met with silence and submit it at the top of every bug report!


  • Califer said,

    I am definitely glad that you’re putting all this work into the dialogue. I really like what you’ve done so far with it and it’s the main pull for me. I’m not too interested in playing a hardcore RPG, but I really want to read more of what the characters have to say!

  • skavenhorde said,

    I only played the pilot, but I loved the humor in the game and the way they interacted with each other. There were only a few places like that in the pilot, but they were great.

    It’s also a good way to give background info on the characters/NPCs that doesn’t include reading a ton of books. The temple and the one town you visited were made more real by what the characters were saying about it. Without that the temple would have been your run of the mill temple dedicated to some “pus” god 😀

    Can’t wait to see what they have to say about the Temple of the Rat-God.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    Haha. I can just see Rampant reading all these comments and going – “Crap! That’s what every one is paying admission to see?! We planned a totally different stage show!”

    Are you getting this, Jay? We’re expecting Chloe and Benjamin to comment on each one of those hundreds of spells! That oddly shaped rock on the path? Conversation time!

    Ha ha. Only joking.




  • DGM said,


    And to think, there are days when I feel guilty over how much stuff I hit Jay with just by myself in e-mail. Now I’ve managed to get his readership in on the act.

    This is how I know I must be a great playtester. It’s not the praise, it’s the fact that he’s still putting up with my crap. 😛

  • adorna said,

    quick idea for the stretches of time when nothing happens – take a simple encounter (like bandits robbing the characters or something) and turn it into some sort of running gag by repeating it (novice bandit accidentally robbing the same people twice and more, or maybe he secretly likes one of the characters or something) or maybe have one or two “idle” quests that can only be triggered when nothing else happened for a certain amount of time?

    just thinking

  • Maklak said,

    I played the pilot too, and dialogues were the best part of it. Especially metagaming with woman in a prison cell. Graphics is not an eysore, but nothing great either, even compared to games from 5 years ago. Game mechanics? Traps are cool, but hundreds of feets and spell are going to be a burden to munchkinize.

    Here are two imaginary ones I came up with:
    Dirk: Hey, Benj, what was that spell you casted last combat?
    Benjamin: Purple Haze.
    Dirk: What does it do?
    Benjamin: Well, it causes mild halucinations, and…
    Dirk: Can I have a go?
    Arianna: Guys, we don’t really want to go that way, OKAY?
    [A moment of awkward silence when they look at player]

    – So, what did you do, before you became a shopkeeper?
    – I was adventurer, like you.
    – Why did you quit, you don’t look too old for a dungeon crawl?
    – I was pissed off by greedy shopkeepers?
    – What?
    – Do you know, what crap they pay you for your hard earned loot, while overcharging you for everthing.
    – …
    – So I decided to sell it myself, to loosers, like you. What shal it be?
    A trade window pops up, and he still charges you the same prices

  • Xenovore said,

    @ adorna: Great idea, I like it.

  • Indie RPG News Roundup, April 2011 said,

    […] in development.  But there’s been updates on how (and why) Endurance works in the game, changes to how the story and setting are presented, and the amusing pain in the neck that has been the Frayed Knights conversation […]