Now that I’ve got this blog all set up and running (along with a plethora of screenshots below), it’s about time I start writing about the current progress of the game development. :3 And to clarify, since some folks have asked: yes, there are going to be alpha builds available to play when I feel the game is ready for public testing, but it may be a while. I’m currently developing the game for 64-bit Windows, but my build environment is set up to easily handle building 32-bit Windows binaries, as well as 64/32-bit Linux binaries. If there’s demand for it in future, I may look into OS X builds too. The alpha builds (and, eventually, beta and release builds) are going to be entirely free to download and play — I’ll gladly accept donations to help development (see the ‘buy me a coffee’ link on the left sidebar), but my dream is to have a game I can continually improve and expand over time, without having to worry about marketing and without feeling like I have to make certain gameplay decisions for the sake of mass-market appeal.

The last couple of weeks of development have been focused around a fairly major change in the game mechanics, and refactoring all the existing game items as part of the process. One of the key aspects of gamedev for me, personally, is trial and error — I’ll try almost any new system to see how it works, but I’m not afraid to remove work entirely if it just doesn’t fit well into the game. For example, I spent a couple of days working on plans for a magic system at one point, only to ditch it entirely when I decided that magic just didn’t fit well into this game. The current big change is the removal of the level system, and I’ll explain my reasoning for this.

Originally, the game was entirely based around a skill progression system — almost every aspect of progression was governed by skills (for example, your character’s hit points would increase based on their Toughness skill, which increased by taking damage). The game would determine the player’s overall progression via a “tier” system, where an average of the important combat skills calculated an overall tier value from 1 to 20 — this would affect the strength of enemies, the items available in stores, loot drops, and so on. It was a clumsy attempt to mimic the kind of “game levels with you” style of Skyrim, though it proved incredibly difficult to balance. I can’t remember exactly at what point, but fairly early on, there was also an item rarity system — ranging from normal (white) and inferior (gray) to several tiers of improvements (green, blue, purple, yellow, red) based on random chance.

On a whim, I added a level system on top of this a few months ago, meaning that not only was there a skill-based progression system, but also a level system on top of that, affecting the mechanics more directly. The tier system was reshuffled somewhat so that, now, each tier represented a block of 5 levels, and progression was made through gaining XP to level up, thus reaching higher tiers, with skills just a thing on the side. This also proved difficult to balance.

Skill advancement and caps vary by class

The new system I’ve been working towards recently — and am extremely happy with, to boot — removes the level system entirely, but also ditches and reworks the tier and rarity system and drops the idea of enemies ‘leveling up with the player’. Progression is once again based entirely on skills, however there’s no fixed progression tiers — instead, enemies (and other NPCs) have fixed stats and skills, and it’s up to the player to decide when they’re well-geared/skilled enough to tackle tougher foes. The biggest change is in the item system, however — now, every item type (for example, an assault rifle) has around seven variants (though some item have more or fewer): the basic-level item (white) which — whether used as enemy equipment, a loot drop or an item on sale in a shop, now has a chance of varied stats:

There’s a 1 in 10 chance that the white (tier 1) item will become either gray (tier 0), an inferior version, or green (tier 2) with slightly improved stats. There’s a 1 in 100 chance it could become blue (tier 3), 1 in 1000 chance of purple (tier 4), and so on. The game is balanced around this item tier system, so that even in full tier 1 gear, a character with appropriately high skills will be able to take on even the strongest enemies in the game — but you’ll need to come prepared. Higher-tier equipment will obviously provide a nice boost (though not a ridiculous amount — the difference between a white and green item might only be an extra 5% critical hit chance), but the real key of survival in Krasten is to anticipate what other items you might need to bring. Antibiotics, water purification pills, chemical flares, grenades, lockpicks…

The removal of levels has changed the gameplay to be less about mechanical advancement (though character skill level still plays a huge part in success) and more about playing smart, being prepared, and having your character’s individual skills and equipment — all of it, not just your weapons and armour — make the biggest difference, rather than simply, “is this enemy higher level than me?” Of course, you still won’t be able to take on the strongest enemies in the game right after rolling a new character, but now the odds in your favour will be weighed more by how smart you play, rather than purely by making numbers on your character sheet go bigger.

Does this new random-tier item system mean you’ll need to grind for hours upon hours to get the best gear? No! Well… technically, yes, but you don’t need the best gear. Sure, a tier 6 rifle will be better than a tier 3, but not by an inordinate amount — the game will be balanced around white/green level gear, and anything above that is just a nice, helpful bonus. I want it to be a special and exciting event when you loot a high-tier piece of gear, not something rote and expected.