Monday, September 26, 2011

Post Apocalyptic Loot and Cholera

It's been another busy couple weeks (sorry for not posting last week!). A lot of the recent work has been adding post apocalyptic loot and design iteration. And frankly, it's been a blast.

Loot in the Apocalypse
I'm especially enjoying the loot. I caught myself playing my game instead of testing it on several occasions, and I think much of it has to do with loot being more fun now.

Phat lootz!
As seen above, now you can find any of the following enticing loot:

  • Plastic shopping bags
  • Empty plastic water bottles
  • Full(!) plastic water bottles
  • Packets of stale saltine crackers
  • Soup cans (some with condensed soup inside!)
  • A handful of twigs (used in making fires)
  • A yellow disposable lighter
  • Binoculars
  • A fashionable S.T.A.L.K.E.R.-like hoodie
  • Hikers
  • Water purification pill bottle

Combining the lighter, twigs, and a stick in the crafting screen will create a campfire now (which provides warmth in the current tile). Dragging any of the food or water items to the "Use" button in the lower right makes the player consume that item. In the case of food and water, they affect the hunger and thirst bars on the left. And combining the water purification pills with "contaminated" water produces "purified" water.

"Contaminated water?" you ask? That's right! Water comes in two flavors: purified and contaminated. The former can be consumed with no ill effects. The latter gives you...cholera!

Oregon Trail's lasting impact on our generation.

One thing I wanted to include was the Oregon Trail style afflictions. After all, when wandering the wastelands of post apocalyptic North America, it's not all fun and games. Cholera is the first of several diseases I plan to add.

Diseases like cholera cause two things to happen. First, they have in-game symptoms. Cholera causes things like diarrhea in humans, which translates into increased dehydration per turn. It also means wandering monsters are more likely to track you down (though why they would choose to seek you out based on that scent is an exercise left to the reader's imagination).

Secondly, cholera progresses over time to worse stages. There's a chance each disease will progress after some time has passed to a new stage. Each stage has progressively worse symptoms, some fatal.

The counter to diseases in the game will likely be in the form of medical supplies. Antibiotics might prevent the disease from progressing, as will certain more unique loot. However, it is still up to the player to mitigate other symptoms, such as dehydration.

Art and UI Iteration
You might also notice that the art style evolved slightly. Now the 3-tone pixel art has been replaced with 16-ish color pixel art. I found that I was making nicer loot pics with Photoshop's pencil tool at 1x1 pixel size with opaqueness linked to stylus pressure. It meant breaking with old-school sprite technique a bit, but I think the result looks nicer while still maintaining a bit of the retro flavor.

The UI has also undergone a facelift. The inventory screens no longer obscure the player status bars on the left, nor the message box at the bottom. It was annoying to equip items and have to leave the inventory screen to see if they changed anything in the player status. So now, the player can just see in real-time.

The inventory buttons (first image, on the right) also moved around a bit, so that they reside in places that make sense for how and when they are used.

I also upgraded the hex highlighter to turn orange when you have an inaccessible hex selected. Previously, there was no feedback when moving the cursor over an invalid hex.

"Can't get there from here."

Game Structure
The overall game structure got some love as well. For one, I finished the critical path encounters. It is now possible to navigate the entire game's storyline. It's rough and skeletal, just the basics to step through the clues and such. But it helped solidify the game in my mind. It also led to an unusual discovery.

After playing around with the gigantic, to-scale hex map of Michigan, I started second-guessing my design. The way the player was finding loot, there was really no game to it at all. They just walk from hex to hex, and click the scavenge button. The frequency of suburban and urban ruin tiles meant they never had to go far to find food and supplies.

The more I thought it over, the more I realized that maybe my simulation wasn't going to be fun. Maybe I needed to sacrifice some realism to make room for fun?

As an experiment, I replaced the scale map of Michigan with a much smaller one. I took out all water tiles and rivers. And I made the entire map wilderness. Then, I added a ruins tile at about 5-10% frequency. Finally, I added 20 randomly wandering monsters to the map.

It was a huge improvement. I enjoyed the more sparse city placement, being more selective with my scavenging time, and dodging the monsters. Does this mean I scrap the storyline? Maybe. Does this mean scrapping the scale map of Michigan? Very likely.

For now, I'd like to make the wandering monsters more interactive, and add a few more item and obstacles. And I really need to find something more compelling as a scavenging mechanic than clicking the "Scavenge" button. It's serviceable, but I bet it could be more fun.

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