Author Topic: The evolution of Cardinal Quest  (Read 4260 times)

ido

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The evolution of Cardinal Quest
« on: November 16, 2012, 08:15:07 AM »
There is no design sub-forum, so I'm posting this here instead. I’ve been doing some soul-searching about the design of Cardinal Quest, my first commercial indie game, released about a year ago.

As you may know there is a Cardinal Quest 2 in the works by my partner Ruari O'Sullivan, who worked with me on the later versions of CQ1. CQ was released early when I ran out of money, and we’ve worked to fix bugs and add unimplemented features in the first few updates during the first few months post-release. At some point (after the torch has been handed over to Ruari, and after the critical bugs have all been fixed), the planned changes became great enough that he has decided to make a sequel instead of incrementally adding to the original game. So many of the additions to CQ2 are actually features I’ve planned for 1 but didn’t have the time to implement in the original.

So far so good...Now lets go back a couple years to the original prototype that CQ eventually emerged from (you can play that old prototype here and the demo of the final game here). At the time I have written a fairly comprehensive design document for the prototype (http://goo.gl/5sYio). The main thing you’ll notice is that it has a lot less content than the final version. Another (more important) difference is that each character class only had a single “special ability” (this was later replaced with the spell system that gives each class a different starting spell and lets you find spells in the dungeon and equip up to 5 of them).

“Old Cardinal Quest” was more removed from RPGs than CQ1 and closer to arcade games like gauntlet or golden-axe (which is the source of the 1 special-ability per class inspiration). It was planned as a game I could complete in a couple of weeks and that would have more or less everything a “real” roguelike/rpg has - items, magic, class, xp, weapons, etc.  As I started taking that prototype into the direction of a commercial game I expanded on it and introduced more elements from traditional RPGs (like the aforementioned spell system). CQ2 then continued in this trajectory and went even further with talent trees that you advance through when leveling up, merchants you can buy stuff from, a lot more options to customize your build via equipment, and of course simply loads more content.

However, I have been thinking lately of a “Cardinal Quest 0” of sorts, that would go more in the direction the old prototype came from, and then maybe even further into arcade beat-em up territory. Starting from the current latest version of CQ1(not 2!) it would include:

• Removing the inventory screen completely and simply replacing your current gear with new items you find on the level. Instead of destroying the previously equipped items it will leave them on the floor to give you the chance to regret picking up a new item. This will further streamline the already streamlined inventory system of CQ1.
• Removing multiple spells - you only got 1 equipped spell and walking on a new one leaves the old one on the floor, same as items.
• Removing the meaningless leveling up - instead of healing you and increasing your HP, “leveling up” only heals you. This would also allow us to get rid of the vitality stat.
• After removing vitality might as well also merge attack & defense stats into a single “combat” stat
• Removing the fairly trivial randomized “enchanted” weapons, and probably significantly reducing the amount of stuff you find in the dungeons while we’re at it. Maybe going more in the direction of double dragon, where you don’t really find new weapons very often but it’s always cool & exciting to finally get a new one.
• Removing all consumables except healing potions. In practice they are rarely used and just add unneeded complexity to the game. While we’re at it lets also remove the lives and just give the player healing potions a bit more often.
• Some spells will probably be removed too...Some of them are really not that effective, better have few spells that really rock than lots of “OK” ones.
• This is more of an interface change - remove the “go to next level” key & just make sure the stairways are never placed in corridors & make stepping on them go to the next level immediately.
• Probably remove most items that aren't weapons
• make maps smaller & clearer (e.g. fixed start/end position so you'd know where to go to)
• recharge spells only for revealing map tiles for the first time? and probably permanently remove fog of war for those tiles.
• remove the wait key.
• use a variation of Ulf's IRDC idea: a rotating wheel of values determines the amount of damage the player causes when they attack, with the value stepping every turn (instead of every time the player attacks as in the original idea). Need to consider if & how to represent that for the monster attacks.
• introduce a simple & tight food-clock to prevent people from gaming the damage wheel system. This will simply be an integer value that decrements every turn and that can be replenished by picking up food in the dungeon (used automatically when picked up).
• add environmental buffs (trivial example - 1-use fountain of healing).

There are probably more thing I can think of, and most of them would comprise of removing stuff from CQ1...And thereby pushing the game closer to a turn-based beat ‘em up and further from roguelikes and RPGs.

Thinking of arcade games I even considered the option of real-time but decided against it. The fact it's turn based is to allow me to crank up the difficulty all the way up without making it a dexterity challenge. Most of the time you play it like a real time game, only the game stops the moment you stop if you want to consider your current situation for a moment (while also allowing you to define your own rate of play).

I think my main worry at time was that the game will not be taken seriously by hardcore roguelike players due to not being “deep” and full of options like nethack and DCSS. In fact for a long time I made sure to never call it a roguelike (the word was never mentioned on the homepage) in hope that that will prevent such players from complaining that it doesn’t “measure up” as one compared to the old guard, since it was never meant to scratch the same itch (it didn’t, they still complained that “nethack is free & 100000 bigger than this game!!!”).

It took me awhile but I eventually accepted the game for what it is & today would have probably been able to embrace it better than I did at the time, when I was really trying to serve two masters - one being the arcade dungeon crawl and the other a roguelike.

What do you think?

-Ido.
« Last Edit: November 20, 2012, 08:33:39 PM by ido »

Jo

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Re: The evolution of Cardinal Quest
« Reply #1 on: November 16, 2012, 09:44:22 AM »
Well I know I really like a fast paced game. So your plan sounds pretty good. I don't know what else to say really. Ditching the inventory game will certainly speed things along.
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TeeEmCee

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Re: The evolution of Cardinal Quest
« Reply #2 on: November 16, 2012, 10:27:59 AM »
That could be an interesting experiment, and it all sounds like sensible design. But in addition to removing the RPG/roguelike elements of the game, shouldn't you also add more beat'em up elements as the focus? More terrain, combos, drops, or whatever else? Well, you did mention map exploration...

So you're not working on CQ2 at all?

ido

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Re: The evolution of Cardinal Quest
« Reply #3 on: November 16, 2012, 10:36:37 AM »
That could be an interesting experiment, and it all sounds like sensible design. But in addition to removing the RPG/roguelike elements of the game, shouldn't you also add more beat'em up elements as the focus? More terrain, combos, drops, or whatever else?

Yes, at that point I might continue to introduce new elements that support the newly-stated goal of the game. But first I want to trim down all the fat and remove all the cruft and vestigial elements that don't contribute. Once there I can start seeing if & where new elements might fit in.

This is pretty much working from the base assumption that CQ1 is already a pretty good game, but as an arcade dungeon crawl rather than an RPG or a traditional roguelike (like nethack or DCSS). And then seeing how we can focus on the best qualities and refine it further.

Well, you did mention map exploration...

Actually I was aiming at reducing the exploration part (by making the maps smaller and more predictable) as well as bringing them closer into supporting the main resource-management game (your resource being your hp and the very rare and precious opportunities to replenish it) by giving you xp for revealing unseen tiles (remember that "leveling up" here would simply heal you, everything revolves around either conserving your hp or replenishing it).

So you're not working on CQ2 at all?

No that is Ruari's project & 100% his labor for almost a year now.

spelk

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Re: The evolution of Cardinal Quest
« Reply #4 on: November 16, 2012, 12:10:16 PM »
I thought CQ1 was already a pretty streamlined fast paced accessible dungeon crawler, with aspirations towards being a gateway game into the world of roguelikes. I'm not sure, I can see the benefit of cutting it even further, unless it's a definitive statement to follow a different design. I suppose you're wanting to fork CQ at an earlier junction from it's current evolution. Perhaps when you've reached a basal distillation of the design, and then layered your beat-em-up mechanics on top, it might be a very entertaining arcade romp. I just can't help but feel that CQ was going in the right direction for "accessible roguelikes", and this feels like a step away from that. Having said that I am excited to see where Ruari takes CQ2, fleshing out and deepening the experience, but still retaining the accessibility.

I have to say that I'm a big fan of how CQ is today, and I'm always keen to see where you take your game design in the future, Ido.

ido

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Re: The evolution of Cardinal Quest
« Reply #5 on: November 16, 2012, 12:35:15 PM »
I thought CQ1 was already a pretty streamlined fast paced accessible dungeon crawler

So far so good.

, with aspirations towards being a gateway game into the world of roguelikes.

That's where our paths diverge. I don't really have any "Roguelike Revival" agenda to push, I just want to make games that are good on their own volition.

I'm not sure, I can see the benefit of cutting it even further, unless it's a definitive statement to follow a different design. I suppose you're wanting to fork CQ at an earlier junction from it's current evolution. Perhaps when you've reached a basal distillation of the design, and then layered your beat-em-up mechanics on top, it might be a very entertaining arcade romp.

Exactly, that is the intention as stated in my reply to TeeEmCee.

I just can't help but feel that CQ was going in the right direction for "accessible roguelikes", and this feels like a step away from that. Having said that I am excited to see where Ruari takes CQ2, fleshing out and deepening the experience, but still retaining the accessibility.

Yep, that's pretty much what CQ2 is for - to give pretty much "more of the same" to the many people who asked for it. You can play the demo right now on http://cardinalquest2.com/ and see where it's headed on that trajectory.

-Ido.

getter77

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Re: The evolution of Cardinal Quest
« Reply #6 on: November 16, 2012, 12:40:09 PM »
To be perfectly honest, I'd long suspected that eventually somebody would try something along these lines in terms of approach----though in my head it had a more specific arcade focus of being a more modern take on the old D&D arcade brawlers and that one other whose name escapes me that was somewhat similar but from a top down 3/4 perspective that have been left to rot all these years.

Still, sounds like it is worth a shot so long as there's meat to come on the minimalistic bones after excising all the fat.
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ido

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Re: The evolution of Cardinal Quest
« Reply #7 on: November 16, 2012, 12:45:08 PM »
Maybe you're thinking of Gauntlet? Although not really d&d it's fantasy-themed.

getter77

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Re: The evolution of Cardinal Quest
« Reply #8 on: November 16, 2012, 12:50:30 PM »
Nope this was a latter one out of Japan....starts with the party ambushed at an inn, some puzzle platforming mechanics with crates and such, totally blanking on the name despite I'm pretty sure I even mentioned it around here at one point.
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ido

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Re: The evolution of Cardinal Quest
« Reply #9 on: November 16, 2012, 03:57:43 PM »
After further discussion and deliberation here are a few more changes, these time additions rather than subtractions:

• Use a variation of Ulf's IRDC idea: a rotating wheel of values determines the amount of damage the player causes when they attack, with the value stepping every turn (instead of every time the player attacks as in the original idea). Attacks always hit. Need to consider if & how to represent that for the monster attacks.
• introduce a simple & tight food-clock to prevent people from gaming the damage wheel system. This will simply be an integer value that decrements every turn and that can be replenished by picking up food in the dungeon (used automatically when picked up)

Quendus

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Re: The evolution of Cardinal Quest
« Reply #10 on: November 17, 2012, 01:37:11 AM »
After further discussion and deliberation here are a few more changes, these time additions rather than subtractions:

• Use a variation of Ulf's IRDC idea: a rotating wheel of values determines the amount of damage the player causes when they attack, with the value stepping every turn (instead of every time the player attacks as in the original idea). Attacks always hit. Need to consider if & how to represent that for the monster attacks.
• introduce a simple & tight food-clock to prevent people from gaming the damage wheel system. This will simply be an integer value that decrements every turn and that can be replenished by picking up food in the dungeon (used automatically when picked up)

I was sceptical up to this post - with so many features going out of the window it sounded like what would be left would be kings on a chess board with numbers on them.

However, adding a temporal component combat system detrivialises tactics, and the food clock (which probably wouldn't suffer from being merged with health, Gauntlet-style) makes obtaining optimal damage ratios in that system non-trivial. In all, sounds like there's enough for a player to think about to justify making the game turn-based.

My only concern now is whether the food clock would interact badly with the mechanic that tells you to backtrack across the level if you want your old weapon back.

Jo

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