Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 25, 2011
As I’m about to take a few days off from both the day job and Frayed Knights development, I figured it was time for another update on this tongue-in-cheek indie RPG which I at one point imagined would be a “quick and dirty” project capable of being completed in “only a few months.”
If all goes well, we should be out of alpha and into beta around February 1st. Oh, wait, we missed that one: I meant March 1st. April 1st? May 1st. Er, let’s call it early May, then. I’m building what I hope will be the final alpha build tonight, assuming it actually, you know, works. Always a little iffy. We’ve STILL got some stand-in art that needs to be replaced, and I expect there will still be a few additional details getting added even through early beta. The big question is how long beta will take – which really comes down to how well we nailed the bugs in alpha.
So what does “beta” mean, really? It is really kinda fuzzy throughout the industry. In the old hardware days, alpha was used for component testing, and beta for integration testing. However, in software, best practices suggest constant integration and testing on both the component and integration level. So for some studios, it’s become kind of a big ball of wibbley-wobbley, buggy-wuggy … stuff.
It’s not particularly exciting, except that there’s a certain feel to it as things change. One day it’s still a mess of broken code, stand-in content, and tediously un-fun horribly imbalanced “gameplay.” And then one day – many weeks later – it’s suddenly starting to feel like a game. Still buggy, still unbalanced, still missing bits and pieces, but… you can see something cool in there. Things start to click, work, and feel right. It’s not ready for prime-time, but it’s now a game.
That’s about where we are.
The other milestone I use is when – to the best of my knowledge – there’s no more changes that I forsee that will impact the core of the game. Not that all changes from here on out will be strictly cosmetic or bug-fixes, but I don’t see anything getting added or changed anymore that will invalidate the balance testing that has been done before.
While I can’t see how anybody would be interested, I thought I’d list some of the changes that have happened since we went alpha a little over six months ago:
* Changed spell-casting feats significantly, to make it less complicated and arbitrary, yet also make it so non-caster classes can’t be in the same “league” as the caster classes.
* Overhaul on spell endurance costs. Actually, lots of tweaks to endurance rules in general, as endurance is the key to combat.
* Added two new dungeons. Yeah, totally new dungeons – smaller, optional dungeons with some nice rewards for players to make surviving the latter part of the game easier.
* Added “quick heal” option for non-combat resting… those who can cast healing spells or who have the Bind Wounds or Battle Dressing skill will use their abilities to heal the party. Doing it manually will probably be more efficient, but for those times you don’t care so much, it’s a time-saver.
* Added about a dozen new quests, and another dozen “quest-like” activities to fill put the game. There’s no real distinction in Frayed Knights about what constitutes a “quest” – it’s kind of a big ball of wibbley-wobbley, puzzley-wuzzley stuff. Some activities are more like adventure game puzzle things, and others are like standard RPG quests, and some fall in the realm between.
* Serious overhaul to the end-game story flow and quest line.
* About a dozen new monsters. Many are variants on existing creatures, so it’s not THAT big of a deal.
* Added a “monster journal” to automatically track and fill-in information on monsters encountered in the game.
* Added lots and lots of new items and spells. Like quadrupling the count of each.
* Modified the storyline a bit. As the game grew into three games, I had to modify the first ‘act’ into something that could stand completely on its own.
* Lots of fleshing out of all the locations in the game. I hate walking too far without running into something interesting to do or to click on. It should NOT be all combat. This is an ongoing job for me, but things are getting better.
* Overhaul on how weapon and spell attacks and damages take effect, especially with respect to defenses.
* Actually filling in information in the “quest journal.” While it was technically functional before, there were only about a half-dozen quest updates that would appear there automatically (everything else had to be player-supplied). It’s far, far more verbose now.
* Overhauled trap disarming mechanics. Made it simpler and more interesting. Added lots of equipment that can be used to help.
* Completely changed the spell-casting interface. Added “Quick spell” buttons to simplify spell-casting navigation for the player’s favorite spells (including enhancements)
* Lots of tweaks to how level-up progression works.
* So much additional dialog I can’t even think straight about it anymore. And still more to do…
* Changed initiative / haste rules (a pretty fundamental rules change)
* Auto-Save / Continue: The game automatically saves a special version of the game state when you exit, allowing you the option to continue where you left off. Unlike regular saves, this preserves drama star stages.
* Added ability to flee from non-location-based encounters.
* Adding new special effects / feedback for game events. Like when you get a drama star or level up. It really helps to call attention to the kinds of things that are going on in the game, because there’s usually a lot going on. I’m still not doing half as good a job as I’d like, but it’s better.
* Added the planned differences with how different weapon damage types are affected by armor.
* Major AI overhauls for enemy combat tactics – especially with respect to spellcasting, target selection, and feat usage.
* Added icons for indicating status effects, beneficial spells, and debilitating spells for both AI and player characters.
* Added key customizations
* Added the ability to click on monsters directly (or their combat stat bar) to select them as the active target in combat.
* Implemented a bunch of feats that weren’t working when I declared alpha (oops!)
* Added “spellstones” for casting certain spells that are more powerful than their equally-leveled kin.
* Tons and tons of bug-fixing and balancing and replacing stand-in artwork with… less stand-in artwork.
There’s a lot more I’m forgetting, no doubt. And a lot of these items involved a ton of sub-tasks pieces.
There’s also still a lot to do, though mostly now it is getting into the “progressive refinement” stage – I’m fixing problems, replacing stand-in content with final versions, constantly rebalancing the gameplay.
How soon will we get there? We’ll see. With each release lately, I’ve tried to add at least one new tester, to get a fresh pair of eyes on it. While not everyone has played it to completion (especially without using cheat-codes), it’s been handy getting a different perspective on what works and what doesn’t.
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