Thursday, 27 January 2011

Mini Game Puzzles

Do you enjoy mini-game puzzles? When playing D&D, back in the days when everything was done with a pencil and paper (and almost too far back to remember now) I used to enjoy creating puzzles for my players to try to solve. It was all part of the great gaming experience that made D&D what it was (in my opinion) and while some players might baulk at the idea of finding one, the majority would approach the puzzle with enthusiasm for the challenge. From the poll I took in August last year, it would seem about 55% of players (who read my blog) also enjoy puzzles.

When it comes to designing puzzles in a CRPG, however, a builder is limited to their knowledge of the scripting language, and XML if they want to design new interfaces for puzzle interaction. Furthermore, designing a puzzle to be included in such a way as to not appear orchestrated can be difficult to achieve. This last point, however, is also true for classic D&D. Yet, these obstacles aside, I believe there is room for a little "poetic licence" to allow the builder to be creative with their ideas and include puzzles as a minor distraction to the normal flow of events. If a player can accept the game with this premise in mind, then it can be fun all around.

Not Everyone's Idea of Fun

I do recognise, however, that some players do not like puzzles at all, or find some puzzles a frustration rather than an enjoyable distraction. With this in mind, I have tried to ensure the player does have an alternative means to bypass a puzzle and to move the game forward. Such bypassing does come at a cost (gold or Life Essence), but this should not be seen as being penalised, but as the minimum cost that would have been asked if the puzzle did not exist in the first place. E.g. I posted about my Coded Mechanism Puzzle in an earlier blog. In this puzzle, the player can choose to try to solve the puzzle to move the plot forward at no cost or use Decipher Tools to bypass it instead. If the puzzle had not existed, the same obstacle would have cost the player an amount of gold equalling the cost of the Decipher Tools that were used to bypass this puzzle. In other words, a DM or builder provides a puzzle to allow the player to get something for nothing if they take the time and effort to try to solve it.

A Little More Help?

The other problem with designing puzzles for a CRPG is that there is no immediate contact with a DM to offer hints and clues to solve the puzzle (unless playing with a DM). For the games where no DM is present (SP gaming), I have designed a new feat for the player to take for their PC, called Expert Decoder. This feat is geared towards players who enjoy puzzles, but feel they need just a little more guidance or more time to solve them where a time limit is involved. If this type of player takes the new feat during character build or when levelling, then the extra hints and time come as a reward for their PC learning choice.

The Puzzles

I have already mentioned the Coded Mechanism and have also mentioned my Combination Chest puzzle in an earlier post. There are also a few others that I touched upon, like the Chameleon Puzzle. I will now mention a few others I have been working on, with their differences relating to being bypassed or if the Expert Decoder gives any benefit:

RUNE WARD PUZZLE: Some locks are protected by dwarf rune magik. No normal lock is presented, but a magikal lock that only an agile mind and a good dexterity can overcome. Basically, the player is presented with a grid that represents the locking mechanism and its components. Once activated, the player must match the number of runes required to deactivate the mechanism within a time limit. Some locks are harder to bypass than others, but all allow the PC to sacrifice Life Essence to bypass the lock if need be. Furthermore, a PC with the Expert Decoder feat is allowed a time bonus when trying to deactivate the lock.

Player Starts A Rune Ward Puzzle (This one has four parts to solve.)


Time Ticks Away! (Found one half of a pair, but also drawn a blank!)


One Pair Found! Only Three More To Go! (And only 45 seconds left!)

CYPHER PUZZLE: Sometimes the PC will be up against an intelligent foe. Knowing their plans may be foiled by interfering adventurers, they ensure their communications with their troops are kept encoded so that only those that know the code can translate the message. However, if any of these messages do fall into the hands of the PCs, then they may spend some time looking at the text to see if they can crack the code and understand the message. There is no time limit involved when trying to decipher a text and there is currently no way to bypass this puzzle. However, the PC who has the Expert Decoder feat does get a clue if they are proceeding correctly.

Player starts a Cypher Puzzle (Instructions given.)


This was a test for my wife. (In case you interpret it.)


The yellow letters represent a correct letter if you have the Expert Decoder feat.

RIPPED SCROLL PUZZLE: A page with some useful information has been torn and thrown away. The PCs manage to gather these parts and want to see what was on the page: an important letter, a picture containing a clue, or just an old shopping invoice? This is a simple 25 piece block puzzle. The player is presented with a jumbled image comprised of 25 scrambled parts of an image. As it currently stands, there is no time limit to this puzzle, but neither is there any way to bypass it or gain an advantage with the Expert Decoder feat.

Player Is Presented With The Ripped Scroll Puzzle Instructions.


No Spoiler Text Here - But An Example of A Part Being Swapped

OTHERS (IN PLANNING STAGE)

SINGING GEMS PUZZLE: Maybe an important magikal lock or a simple tavern game, I am yet to decide. Maybe both? The player is presented with a number of gems (4 - 8) that begin to play their strange tuneful chime when the player interacts with them. The gems play a note in turn and the player has to repeat the tune; the number of notes gradually increasing. (Think of the game called "Simon".)

LOCK SPRING PUZZLE: The PCs have come across another magikal lock. This one, however, looks as though it can be overcome by careful examination of the mechanism and some luck. The player is presented with a grid that represents the hidden mechanism. The player then has to start clicking on the different pieces of the lock in an effort to understand its mechanism and work out where each lock part is. (Think of the game called "Minesweeper".)

Means To An End

With all these puzzles, however, I want the player to realise while playing them that they are more than simple games, but a means to overcome an obstacle that will move the plot forward, with the exception of the potential tavern game, which can have its own interesting twist.

Final Word & Request

In every puzzle, I have tried to give extra thought and attention as to how it will work in a MP environment as well as a SP game. For instance, I have decided that while all players may have the Cypher Puzzle open to see, only one player (the one who first discovers the puzzle) can operate the buttons. Note, however, there is nothing to stop this player from leaving the puzzle and allowing another player to act as the main player instead, leaving the first as an observer instead.

I have asked this before, but will ask it again: In the light of the current puzzles explained, do you have any thoughts or suggestions to add? Most of all, is there a puzzle or mini game concept that you would like to see if possible? I have tried to take on board comments in the past, and have greatly appreciated feedback to date. If, however, you believe I have missed an important point, then please let me know.

Of course, any general feedback is very much appreciate as well :)

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Making The Area Map Unavailable

Have you ever wanted to prevent the player from having access to the maps available? Maybe, as designer, you deem an area would be too complex for the PC to map. Or, maybe, you do not want to allow a map to be available unless they have mapping equipment? Whatever the reason, I believe there are times when disabling the in-game map can have a dramatic effect and potentially change the pace of the game. In the past, however, the methods I have seen to do this appear cumbersome to employ: needing to add blocking tiles at build time. I hope the system I now propose and am using in my own module, Better The Demon, will be more flexible and appealing to builders.

Altering The GUI

I have found that it is possible to use a very simple method of obscuring the current map with another image when the area (or mini) map displays. In the images below, I have simply overlaid a plain black image with the wording "MAP UNAVAILABLE", but there is nothing to stop the builder being more imaginative with the image to place as a map instead. For instance, some builders may like to force hand drawn maps as images rather than allow the automated ones that come with the game. Note, such images still allow Map Pins to work with them, so the builder can allow information updates with such as normal. My own Map Pin system also still works fine with this.

The beauty of this system, is that the ability to obscure or reveal the map is handled by a variable, which means the map can very easily be made available or unavailable by code. Furthermore, there is nothing to stop a builder from updating/changing the same map image with a little more script. E.g. The first map image may only be a rough sketch of the area. When the PCs find a more updated map, then the image can be swapped to represent the more accurate map they have found. I also currently have it set up so that either just the area map is made unavailable (leaving the mini-map available) or that both are made unavailable by adjusting a single variable.

More Crafting Improvements

Over the last week, I have been working on another crafting idea, which I cannot reveal at the moment, as it would be a spoiler. However, while working on this, I recognised a few changes I could make to the existing code to improve some of the things I had already done:

1) I have further reduced the costs of upgrading a scroll, potion or wand to a higher spell casting level. The same minimum cost has been kept, but I felt the player was more likely to consider upgrading an item if the cost to do so was not too great. E.g. The basic cost to create a potion of cure light wounds is 9gp for 1st level. If the caster is capable of casting higher level, the cost examples of this level potion are now 10gp for 3rd level, 12gp for 5th level, 14gp for 7th level and so on. Note, in this particular case, creating a cure light wounds of a level higher than 5th does not produce any further benefits as the spell only gives HP bonus up to 5th level. In this example, the player may prefer to pay the extra 3gp to create a 5th level potion as opposed to a 1st level one to gain the extra guaranteed 4 HPs when taken. As the cost of an empty potion bottle is 1gp, then the player can create their own cure light wound potion for a minimum of 10gp, which is cheaper than the normal cost (11gp). For the small extra cost at time of crafting (3gp), the PC will acquire a potion of cure light wounds set to cast at 5th level.

2) I have added the Spirit Shaman and Favored Soul classes to the Craft Wand creation checks to ensure they can use any wands they create. From what I could see in the official code, it looked as though these classes could craft wands, but not be able to use them. I felt this was a major hindrance to these classes ever wanting to craft wands and so made the changes necessary to allow them to use their own wands. Please note, I recognise that there may be other classes that fit this category, but they will have not been added as they will not be allowed in the campaign as they are anachronistic classes to Althéa. Furthermore, I have only included classes that cast the normal divine or arcane spells, which means warlock spells still cannot be used to craft items.

Will You Be Crafting?

First, I would like to thank the handful of people who added their vote to the current poll last week. Again, however, I am asking for your vote to help give me a bigger picture of the player's interest in this topic, based upon their current thinking, or if they have had any change of interest since following the blog and read about the alterations I have made.

Shatiel left a great post last week, which helped me to confirm some of my own observations. However, the more feedback I receive, the more I can understand other player's interests and concerns in these matters. Any and all constructive feedback is welcome. E.g. I discovered the problem with Spirit Shaman's and Favored Souls being unable to use any wands they craft. That would have frustrated my play when it came to crafting such items. However, did you already know this? Or, are there other current implementations around crafting that annoy you or simply prevent you from bothering with it. If you are a keen crafter already and/or have no reservations anyway, simply answer "Yes! Everything! I always do!" If not, however, then your feedback is valuable. More can be read about this poll from here.

Preventing Exploitation

I have also continued to ensure certain aspects of the game cannot be exploited. Some may say "why bother?", but as a number of the systems I have used work on chance or careful deduction at a cost, then there is always the temptation for a player to simply reload a game to "have another go until they succeed" or "get the answer without paying for it". When this happens, it quickly devalues the achievement and discourages the player. I know there is also the argument that "if that is the way they want to play it, then let them, as they only spoil it for themselves". However, I personally believe I would be doing them an injustice if I was not trying to make the challenge as challenging as possible. I want there to be a point to the process of solving a puzzle or making that lucky roll. Please note, I am not going berserk here and watching every move, but simply preventing potential exploitation of my own designed puzzles and games of chance. In other words, reloading won't stop a player from having another go at an enemy who defeated them last time, but will prevent a player from paying to learn of some information and then reloading prior to that knowledge to get their gold back. Also note that these type of exploitation checks are only required where variables are not set during gameplay and so are kept to a minimum. They do include, however, some puzzles that a friend who has also played the game can give the answer to and so avoid paying the gold. I do not mind this kind of co-operation between players though, as it means they are discussing the module. :)

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

RWS Tilesets (All In One)

I think many will agree that The Robinson Workshop has created some great custom content for us builders to enhance the gaming experience for our players: from creatures, placeables and scripts, right through to great tilesets. Check out their Vault submissions if you have not done so already. I have already incorporated many of their creatures and had the opportunity to start work on including some of their tilesets last week. To this end, I downloaded and installed their All In One pack.

Unfortunately, I have not done much at the moment, as I discovered that some of the tiles and metatiles that I wanted to use, did not work in the toolset. At first, I thought I may have messed up the 2da's, but after reloading a toolset with the additions from scratch, I was still unable to access them. After some investigative work, I managed to track down the problem to 23 missing files and a different setting in the tiles.2da. Now, at this stage I have made the assumption that this is an error, but it may be that RWS have updated their Deep Sewers tileset to disable these particular tiles and metatiles on purpose, but I doubt it. I have contacted them already to let them know and am now posting the solution here for others who may be interested. (Although, by the time you read this, RWS will have probably already sorted the problem.)

UPDATE: RWS Response : "To be honest I'm not sure our All-in-one is really up to date, I stopped supporting it and rather we just put up links to our master 2da files here - then people can just download the various packs from their individual inks. Occasionally we do not include a tile into a set even if it appears in the hak, sometimes this is because we find the tile to not always work as intended or for whatever reason we never just finished the tile in time for release. In your case you are quite correct and it appears that the sewer set was updated after the release of the all-in one and it never got carried over for some reason - most likely laziness on my part :)"

After comparing an older ds.hak (from the Deep Environment hak) and the hak that comes with the All In One, I was able to determine that the following 23 files were absent from the newer hak. (See screenshot.) As far as being able to access the narrower passageways that were also available from the older hak and absent in the new, I was able to increase the variation count for the hallway tile from 3 to 8 in the tiles.2da, which then allowed me to access the other variants of the passageway. (See screenshot.)


In the process of my checking, I did not notice any other files missing from the other Deep Environments, and in quick testing these appeared to work as described. (I will report back if I find anything to the contrary.)

What About This Crafting?

The latest poll has not had much feedback and I am left wondering why? After all, there are options to say a person won't craft, so it's not as if a person cannot say they won't be crafting at all. Is it because I ask for suggestions in the same poll? Or have I not made myself clear in the alterations I have made that will (hopefully) enhance the experience? Maybe it's just too soon after the winter break? Whatever the reason, please let me know ... or just vote and don't give any feedback. I know there has been traffic (stats feedback), so it's not due to lack of readers.

Latest

I feel like the first module is finally coming together and that an end is in sight. Or, to put it another way: I feel like I have found all the borders of a jigsaw puzzle and have constructed the outer frame, and that now I am left with just filling in the middle bits. There are still a number of conversations to write, and some quests to put together, but these remaining ones should ... I repeat, should, be easier to do. However, having just spent some time working out a problem with a tileset, it is easy to find oneself having to resolve other issues along the way.

Islander

After an annoying incident where I lost my NWN saved games, I decided to start a new adventure rather than walk the path of those I had played again. (I will try playing them at a later time when they feel fresh again.) As I had been in touch with Eguintir Eligard (who is also in the process of designing some areas for my module), and who has just released his Islander - The Dagger Forged module, I decided to take a look. I don't get the time to play much, but this module does seem to hold up reasonably well from the amount I have played to date. There were one or two things that suggested it was not "polished" (I have already spoken with Eguintir about them), but, overall, the module leaves me with a feeling of wanting to continue to play to learn more about the story, which is a good thing! Furthermore, I was especially impressed with the music in Merchant Island (composed by Hoegbo of Demon Melody), which reminded me of the music from Monkey Island.

That's all for now .... please vote on the crafting poll. (Left pane.) Original poll post.