The start of the road

Starting this here is hard and awkward so I’ll just leave this sentence in here to set the mood. My name is Maxime VallĂ©e, though online I’m known as “Khundes”. I intend this blog to be largely about game design, but specifically about one project I’ll develop and iterate through and discuss here.

Why I’m doing it like this? I have many reasons. The first, and most important, is that I’ve been wanting to make this project ever since I thought it up all those months ago in the context of my game design classes, and developed in a feature list that acted as a loose game design document for the project in the context of my final stage. Why haven’t I started it? I have many reasons, but all of them are lame excuses really, because I have the time. This remains true until I find a full time job. By doing this blog like this, I’ll be constantly reminding myself to work on it, to use free time towards it, and to make this project a reality. In the process, I also look forward to discussions about game design. In fact, I keep reminding myself of a few of Ben “Yahtzee” Crosshaw’s Extra Punctuation articles where he’d discuss his though process in the development on his game projects. Those were interesting in their own way, with him providing insight into his decision-making process, and my own game design decision process is something I’d enjoy sharing and discussing with others.

But what is the project, really? Well, a turn-based strategy game, for starters. My primary inspiration for the basic mechanics is the old PSX jRPG “Vandal Hearts II”. In that game, when you move one of your units, so, too, does one of the opponent’s unit. That movement happens simultaneously. This remains true until one side runs out of units. And it has interesting applications. The biggest, for me, is that if you can guess where an enemy unit would move, you can move in its back and attack it there for large damage. But what I want to do is a step further. What if one “turn” consisted of entering all of your units’ orders and then the execution happened simultaneously?

As an avid player of turn-based strategy games, one is inevitably faced with many lacking areas of the genre. And I believe it is good to be aware of those, to hopefully do something about them. For starters, a subtle but important one that is true in Advance Wars, Chess, Go, and anything in-between, is that the player who goes first either has an advantage or a disadvantage, the game is never fair with that. Another, in my eyes, is that turn-based strategy games play wildly differently depending on whether you’re facing a computer or a human. That is because computer opponents are not made to plan and apply strategy at our level, instead being given unfair advantages to make up for the lacking strategies. Games against AI, such as Advance Wars or any Japanese turn-based strategy RPG, such as Final Fantasy Tactics, tend to have you pitted against overwhelming odds and only superior strategy sees you to victory. Whether that’s intentional or accidental doesn’t change that feeling of overcoming those terrible odds in games like those. Games against humans, however, will purposefully go for an ideally balanced starting situation where the player with the better strategy wins. Advance Wars: Days of Ruin went against this principle in a few of its online multiplayer maps and paid for it in the reviews, with maps such as Crater Isle and Swan Cove being almost universally shunned by the AW community, to my knowledge.

I brought up these two points as a starting point for discussing how I envision my project. The first-turn advantage is something to care about if I intend to allow player vs player battle, and indeed I very much do, but the interesting thing about the basic idea is that both players would get to take their turn simultaneously. There would be no one going first or second. However, that means map balance is that much more important, and mirror maps are probably going to be the standard for the game project. Will I include an AI? For now, I’m not making it a priority. I have prototyped the concept as a tabletop game and the type of strategy involved is, to say the least, well, STRANGE. But in a good way. Making an AI requires at least understanding what makes some strategies work, and at least until players start mastering the concept, it’ll be pretty hard to make an AI that even understands what’s important in the game. For starters, the game will focus on player vs player interactions.

With that said, practically speaking, I’ll be programming the thing, and probably making the art and music myself, which means lots of learning. The project will be programmed in C#, using Microsoft’s XNA framework as the base. My current work will involve making classes for the battle map, the units, the orders and the actions, and basically build a skeleton for the whole project. My first goal will be to be able to see a unit on a map, give it an order, and end my turn to have the order executed. Ideally do that for more than one unit.

What I will need to learn about and apply early in there is simple client/server applications in the practical sense. If I am to do testing with many people, and maybe even allow public testing, it will have to be through a client/server application, so I have to build that in as early as possible.

The name of the project, tentatively? Remnants of Fabled Legions, abbreviated RoFL. Just because I want to make a nudge towards League of Legends(LoL).