Thursday, August 18, 2011

EitB Dev Journal 3: Where we are and where we're headed

I'm going to publish my 5th build of EitB later today as soon as it finishes uploading to dropbox.

There are always competing pressures on release dates.  I always feel that there's more that I can do, and I want the project to be perfect.  At a certain point however, I need to just publish and let the feedback roll in.  That feedback is critical for further improvements.

Particular rough spots that I feel need to be looked at:

  1. Nox Noctis
  2. Invisibility in General
  3. Council of Esus spells
  4. Religions unit pricing and strength
Then of course, there are the usual rough spots that need to be ironed out as we go along:
  1. Interface quirks
  2. Documentation
  3. How does the AI handle it?
There's another point that I need to address in the near future.  How do I describe all the changes that have been made to the mod concisely and in such a way that players are not lost at sea in an ocean of changes?  I think that will be the hardest thing for me.

For now though, I wait with a bit of nervousness to see what people think of it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

EitB Dev Journal 2: Eras

Fall From Heaven was originally split into three eras: Ancient, Classical, and Medieval.  Eras are used to set the starting techs for non-ancient starts and also delineate the technology tree into distinct sections. These eras, however, are too broad.  

EitB then, will have 5 eras, tentatively named:
  1. Thaw (Worker Techs including Bronze Working and Archery)
  2. Discovery (All techs that enable T2 units and Smelting)
  3. Expansion (All between T2 and T3)
  4. Innovation (All techs that enable T3 units and Arcane Lore)
  5. Mastery (Everything else)
Start Era Options; System Use Eras are used for state religions.
I plan to use these new eras to modify the coloring on the tech tree to make a visible distinction between the technology tiers, building on the Heat Map mod I did last year (that colored techs in the tree based on their cost to research).

Friday, August 5, 2011

EitB Dev Journal 1: The Council of Esus

The council of Esus presents something of a conundrum to the player and designer in the original Fall from Heaven (FfH).  It function as a religion, but has no temples nor religious heroes.  The council is concepted as the religion of the shadows, of what is hidden.  So how do we represent that in game?

When you follow a state religion, you gain certain benefits from the religion's base attributes, and from your civics.  If you're not following any state religion, you gain all the base attribute bonuses, but none of the civic bonuses.  When you're running the council of Esus in EitB, you'll be able to get the best of both worlds.  All religions will continue to contribute their base bonus, and your civics bonuses will be tied to the Council of Esus.

The Order, like all the other religions, turns off the base bonuses from having CoE in all of your cities.

The Council of Esus, however, can gain the benefits of having the order in your cities!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Theme in Fall From Heaven 2

As part of the design work for EitB, I found myself asking the question: what is FfH about?

If you had asked me that question originally, before I had started working on the tech tree, I would have told you that Fall From Heaven was about specialization; that there are many different paths to victory, but they each require a commitment from the player to a particular path.  Additionally, I would have told you that the areas in which you could specialize were:
  • Infantry
  • Archers
  • Cavalry
  • Recon Units
  • Wizards
  • Priests and Disciple Units
I was wrong.

I would say that FfH is about Magic and Religion.  A large portion of the technologies on the tech tree are about either Magic or Religion.  The economic and mundane part of the tech tree feels scatterbrained and somewhat unfocused, but the Magic and Religion parts feel well designed and thoughtful.  Each technology in those areas feels like it fits.

This observation has played out again and again in the FfH PBEMs that I've spectated.  Conflicts between players have never been decided by whether or not a player decided to go archers or axemen, but rather by spell choice and usage, priests, and summons.  All but the very best mundane units are ignored, and most units do not ever have a reasonable opportunity to see play in any particular game.

What does this mean for design in EitB?

I was running into a lot of difficulty trying to differentiate the various Mundane specializations from each other.  Now I realize that what will probably be best, is if I redesign the mundane parts of the tree to emphasize the religious and magic lines.  Mundane units in EitB will be the supporting units behind your religious and magic specializations, as they are in FfH, but they won't be tied to a tech tree that pretends that the Mundanes are the main show.

Focus in Strategy Games

Let's talk about the idea of a player's focus, and how I apply it to strategy games and game design.

A player has a limited amount of concentration or focus when they play a game.  If the game takes more focus to play than the player has, they percieve your game as being monolithic or impenetrable. Paradox grand strategy games are known in the community for this: having so many moving parts that beginners have difficulty keeping track of everything.  When I initially began playing Paradox grand strategy games (Europa Universalis, Victoria), I had trouble keeping track of everything.  With practice I was able to manage more things, but in the end the games require more focus of me than I have.  So I end up leaving certain areas of the game completely alone.

Players also define a game based on where they spend most of their focus.  If I spend the majority of my time in a game maneuvering units and managing conquests, I consider the game a wargame, no matter its stated genre.  Civilization 5, for instance, is much more a wargame than an empire-building game to me.  When I play, practically all of my time is spent managing units and warfare.  Conversely, in Civilization 4 I spend more time planning my tech priorities, managing city production, and planning worker actions.  Wars are short and to the point, and even during long wars the main focus is on training new units and bringing them to the front.  Civilization 4 then, to me, is an Empire building game.

The places in your game where a player spends his focus then, will shape what the game is about in that player's mind.  At a certain point, the Magic system in Fall From Heaven grabs more mindshare from the player and focuses it on units.  This isn't necessarily bad, but it's important to recognize what happens as we drive the player's focus towards units and away from empire management.

Formalizing EitB

I've been working off and on again on a mod for Fall From Heaven 2 (FfH), which is itself a mod for Civilization IV: BTS.  How did this happen?

The idea for the mod sprang out of a question that I posed to Realms Beyond one day: given everything that is in FfH, what would you cut? The responses were interesting, and what I took away from that particular discussion was that I was not alone in feeling that the base game could definitely be improved by a method other than adding a ton of new assets.  This particularly appealed to me since it meant that I would not need to create my own art assets, but instead make use of the absolute wealth of art already created for FfH.  I know that my own talents are mostly concerned with code and design, not modeling or drawing.

This was back in February of this year, about 6 months ago.

I've had a general direction to my work this past half year and good characters on the forum to keep me ontask and bring various areas of the mod to my attention.  Hopefully they've been enjoying the experience as much as I have.  I do want to continue working on the mod, but I think now would be a good time to formally establish the scope of the mod.

EitB in a Paragraph:

Erebus in the Balance (EitB) is a modmod for FfH2 which focuses primarily on balancing the game for a multiplayer audience while trying to maintain FfH2's crazy feeling of imbalance at the same time.  Along with the balancing act, the mod applies more polish to the UI and in-game documentation; so that new players find it easier to pick up the Mod and just play without needing to search out tutorials or more information from external sources.  It is built off of the hard work of all who have come before it, and also includes the work of Tholal and his Better Naval AI mod.

Primary Objectives:
  1. Balance, so that no one strategy or approach to the game is completely dominant.
  2. Polish, so that players can get all the information they need to play well from the basic interface.
Secondary Objectives:
  1. Redesign the technology tree to focus on FfH2's main features, Magic and Religions.
  2. Redesign the Spell system and it's underlying architecture so that all spell spheres are useful, situational spells and new-player traps are avoided, and choices and their consequences are clear.
  3. Revisit each Civilization's unique mechanics and tweak and balance as necessary so that there are no "dud" civilizations.