Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 25, 2012
I wanted to run an idea off you. This kinda runs contrary to my talk about simplification, but not really. Technically, I’m already going down this path, but nothing is final. But now that it’s looking more and more feasible (and likely), I thought I’d solicit some input on the spell system – definitely one of the more challenging design aspects of the entire series.
Frayed Knights has a pretty frickin’ advanced spell system. So advanced and comprehensive that we barely scratched the surface of it even when we were pushing 200 base spells, not including their upgraded bretheren that the player could control.
I mean, there’s something like a couple dozen different effects, with tons of variations. I mean, even with the most basic effect – causing damage – you have several different kinds of damage, and then there’s instantaneous damage or damage over time. And then you can combine effects into combos within the same spell! I really did go overboard. In part, this was a reference to the extreme spell list from D&D and other games, but it was a little unwieldy. Players tended to stick with only a few spells for most of the time. The total spell list felt like an almost randomly assembled grab-bag assortment of spells, with only kinda vague notions of specializations within the four spellcasting categories.
So I sat down, and figured I’d have to cull things out and pare things down HARD for the new games. And do it without disrupting the legacy of the old game. Or changing the feel of it. This is a big challenge – I mean, how do I possibly parcel out the spells in a system that was designed to be so rich? Well, someone’s gotta do it. Someone has to make the hard calls – the designer. That’s why I get paid the big bucks.
Wait… no, no I do not!
Well, screw it then! Let’s let the computer do it instead, ‘k? And then the player can cull down the list to a usable subset! Hah! My work here is done!
And that’s where we’re sitting today. You know how Diablo-like games have random (procedural) generation of loot? How about procedural generation of spells?
Let’s provide a little more background here. Here’s where we’re going with Frayed Knights 2: The _____ of _____. Those of you who played the first one can nod sagaciously. The rest of you… well, you can just follow along, and watch me for the changes. Here goes:
#1 – Spellcasters (who can, as in the first game, be anybody, with the right feats) have two sets of spells: A spellbook, and an active spell list. You can only cast spells from the active spell list, and it can only be changed outside of combat. The size of the active spell list is TBD, but it’s small enough to be hotkeyed for that character. We’re not sure yet if there’ll be a limit to the number of spells a player can have in their spellbook, but there probably will be a (large) limit, with the ability to delete non-core spells to make room for more. Anyway – the upshot is this: You’ll need to be selective about spell choices, but you won’t have to wade through several layers of menus just to cast a common spell again.
#2 – The four spellcasting categories (Sorcerer, Nature, Divine, Profane) all have different specializations, strengths, and weaknesses. This was kinda-sorta present in FK1 as loose guidelines, but they are going to be more solidly coded in the sequels. Each spellcasting category has certain effects that are its specialties, which really define the category (like straight-up healing for Divine casters, or direct damage for sorcerers). Then there are spells effects which are secondary to the class, and weaker than the specialties by level. Then there’s the tertiary spell effects which are pretty weak, but can do in a pinch. Finally, there are spell effects that are simply not available for that spellcasting category – like healing for sorcerers.
#3 – There are a few “core” spells for a spellcasting category that are automatically available. The “common” spells of FK1 would be like this. These can’t be erased from spellbooks, and technically you COULD win the game with these spells and nothing else, but you’d be making things a lot harder on yourself. Unlike FK1, these will be few and far behind. Don’t expect a new spell every level.
#4 – Then there are some “signature” spells for Frayed Knights which are custom, hand-built spells with unique effects or amusing visuals. These are generally not “core,” but aren’t hard to find. They are either plot-critical / utility spells (not sure if we’ll have these in game 2), or they’ll be deliberately overpowered but expensive to cast. Power Word: Defenestrate belongs here, but it will be slightly beefed up. There will be others of similar amusing variations here. Some may even violate the usual specializations from point 1.
#5 – THIS IS THE BIG ONE – The game will provide lots of procedurally generated spells throughout the game. Some will be available in a shop, others can be found on scrolls throughout the game. Scrolls can be used to either scribe a spell in your spellbook, or cast directly. These will be random, so the exact spells available to you will be different with every game. Because of the fixed, custom spells from points 3 and 4, you won’t be left high-and-dry without any spells to fulfill a caster’s primary role, but you may have to make due with some interesting combinations you’ve found by chance.
So there you go: Prepare to drown in spells in Frayed Knights 2.
This isn’t a huge deviation from what I did in FK1, where I generated dozens and dozens of spells using a formula as a guide, and some rules-of-thumb for variation. Now, I just have to let the computer use the formula and rules-of-thumb to procedurally create the spells. And then there’s the naming. Spell names should be interesting… But anyway, the end result is that spells will act a little like weapons & armor in Diablo-style games. They’ll be more-or-less balanced, offer some occasionally weird mixes of combo-effects (a spell that does fire damage and puts you to sleep? I guess it could happen…), and may range from the broadly useful to the highly specific-use. Hopefully it flies.
This has lots of impact on development. Items, enemy AI were all built around a fixed spell list in the past game. This not a huge change going forward, but the ripple effect is why I’ve been facing something of a chicken-and-egg problem with the new system. I’ve also been a little concern about a problem that did rear its ugly head in initial release of Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon, well-explained by Shamus Young yesterday about trusting the system. When there are too many moving parts, it can be really hard to find or fix problems – or, just as bad, to notice a difference when you do something interesting. I’m trying to address this. In some cases, it means reducing the number of moving parts. In other cases, it’s simply a matter of making those parts a little more visible.
Regardless, at least from a developer perspective – whether the procedurally generated spells thing fly or not as we get to playtesting, the moving parts that make up the spell system will be a lot cleaner and more visible to me as a developer. Re-thinking about them in this way has given me ideas for opening up the system from a developer perspective and doing automated testing. This means cleaner code and better balance.
So, whaddaya think of this proposal? Like it? Hate it? Got suggestions for improvement? Lemme know.
Filed Under: Design, Frayed Knights - Comments: 15 Comments to Read