Tuesday, 31 January 2017

imbroglio update 1.04

A bunch of little tweaks here. May take a few hours to show up in the appstore.

- Arcane Hourglass: now displays the number of turns until an enemy will reappear.

The previous update added a "telefrag" effect to Hourglass whereby the time-travelling enemy replaces other enemies in its space rather than waiting for them to leave. This made it a lot more important to keep track of when enemies will reappear so now the number of turns is displayed to make this less hassle to deal with. Should have had this all along really.

- Forged Sigil: extra rune per level, damage dropped to 11111.

Felt like the extra runes weren't significant enough, especially for heroes with a 2-cost power, so now there's heaps and it definitely makes a difference. Seemed pretty strong; dropped the damage to compensate. Now I've broken the rule that 1/4 of blue weapons get to 2 damage, might have to do something about that?

- Rusty Caltrops: damage profile to 11122, stun moved to IV.

The Caltrops/Rope/Wheel board turned out a bit too strong, I already dropped the Rope percentages to make it less reliable but it's still been dominating. Also I was noticing people often were surprised by Caltrops stun because it's a big effect that turned on at level 2, which is just somewhere in the middle of the progression, not a point people are keeping track of. It's more intuitive for a major effect to either be always on or to activate at level 4 when the weapon is fully leveled. Moving the stun to level 4 makes a Caltrops combo harder to get into play but doesn't change its strength once it is.

- Whetstone: now only affects adjacent weapons in the same row.

Whetstone has been showing up in almost every build; increasing damage is a very strong effect and its disadvantage of leaving a tile with 0 damage isn't significant enough to compensate for it. This nerf breaks a lot of existing boards, which is not ideal because they're still in the scoreboards and someone might get confused, but it leaves the weapon still very usable just hopefully a little less dominant.

- Brainspoon: controlled enemies may use Skeleton Key to move through walls.
- Brainspoon: fixed crash when controlled enemies attempt to attack through a wall.

Surprisingly many people reported the bug of Brainspoon-controlled enemies crashing the game when attempting an invalid move (towards a wall the other side of which is occupied). I didn't think it was a priority to fix because it's not preventing any actual moves in the game, but the reports just kept coming in. Why is everyone trying invalid moves?

- Dream Wheel: changed interaction with Simon Rainbow Jester's second gem; now neither gem will move further away.

Wheel is quite effective at dealing with Simon's disadvantage because it moves both gems. Because they can't move into the same spot there were some odd interactions; sometimes one would move into a chokepoint and then the other one would avoid that spot in its path-finding and start taking the long way around, or if there was only one route then both gems would refuse to move. This latter case seemed like a nice balancing effect to Wheel's extra effectiveness - the gems get stuck and you have to leave your Wheel more often to fetch them - but it didn't come up very often. Now that gems refuse to take a longer route it will occur more often.

- Jeska Nomad Witch: power changed to "curse a random enemy" (was "curse nearest enemy").

I oscillated between these in development but ended up feeling she needed the slightly stronger "nearest" - gives more control over the outcome and sometimes gives extra curses when multiple enemies are equidistant. But then she was the first hero to ascend, with a very reliable board. Being able to reliably curse attacking enemies combines very favourably with Confusion Cloud. So I no longer feel she needs the extra strength.

- Chaos Oracle Molly: enemies are now more likely to spawn at their usual gate.

I just kept feeling disappointed that board orientation didn't matter. Now it selects a random gate and there's a 50% chance it produces its usual enemy, 50% chance it'll be random. (So actually a 62.5% chance of the usual enemy, because that could be the random one too.) Feels okay to me; it gives you slightly more to work with but still throws plenty of surprises. I may end up tweaking these percentages later on.

- swapped unlock order of Dice of Omens and Arcane Hourglass.

Several people found the final set of weapons jarring because it added a lot of complexity all at once, so I've spread it out a bit more. Dice add variety to possible curse builds by giving an alternative source but that's a fairly subtle decision so it makes sense to reserve it for more advanced players; at the same time the text on the card is very simple. Hourglass has a lot of text but is a simple enough concept.

- Amulet of Immortals: with multiple instances, a random one is triggered (Chaos Oracle Molly can spend a rune to choose).
- Bonesnare: multiple instances trigger in random order (affects Masina Rebel Queen; Chaos Oracle Molly doesn't choose).
- Wicked Thorns, Ixxthl's Ring: percentages adjusted to 12/25/37/50 (were 10/20/30/50 and 15/25/35/50).
- Dominic Twice-Bitten: no longer stuns friendly ghosts or enemies controlled by the Brainspoon.
- Ossuary title image displayed sometimes on startup not just when purchased.
- arrows displayed for controlled ghosts's ability to move through walls.
- fixed a bug in scrolling weapons at bottom of screen.
- hit effects say "after" to clarify some interactions.

Just a bunch of things coming up between working on PC release and another expansion.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

self expectation

over the last few years i have worked at making some changes to my lifestyle. spending more time with other people. getting more exercise & generally having a better relationship with my body. spending less hours in front of a screen, remembering to take regular breaks when i'm working to stretch & avoid rsi. learning new things. i am just in a way better place now in terms of physical and mental health.

i make games more slowly than i did a few years ago. seriously like in 2012 i released Game Title, Lost Levels, Zaga-33, Kompendium, VESPER.5, O, Corrypt, various smaller jam games. in 2015-16 i released Imbroglio. sometimes i feel pretty bad about this, i miss being more productive and i feel inadequate for not making a dozen more games at the same time and also porting to more platforms. i feel confused about why i am less productive. plus i feel bad about not keeping up with other game makers, like i never played all the latest games everyone talked about (half of them are console exclusives anyway) but i used to at least follow all the work of people i know personally and now i don't.

i just put these trends together and went "ohhhhhhhh". it is obvious when i think about it but as these have been slow trends and changes of habits it is not always easy to see. i am spending less time sitting at a computer, so i am getting less done in that time. i think somehow i expected to be so magically productive that i could do a bunch of extra things without anything else diminishing. but i actually have limitations and i have to make choices about how to allocate my time. i have to recognise that while i enjoyed being so productive back then, part of what enabled that level of productivity was constantly overworking myself, lifestyle habits i've realised were unhealthy for me and that anyway were unsustainable. i could still just sit down and jam out a game in a few days i just can't expect to do that while also doing what's best for my body. i still am able to make things now, it's not like i am unproductive, i am just comparing myself to a standard that i feel like i can achieve but is not realistic over the long-term. & if game-making time is a more scarce resource than i thought then i guess it's reasonable that i am not spending it on the little jam games?

ok moving forward i try to have more realistic expectations for myself. keep working on all of life and also games. really important to keep learning and trying new things, i don't want to be stuck in a loop of only making the kind of art i was capable of making five years ago (but integrating new ideas takes time too, i shouldn't expect to be able to express them straight away). accept making games at a sensible pace. not sure what this means for the equation of "can i continue to make a living from this", but i try. next game when it's ready, no rush, ok.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016


so far sold 600 units of ossuary expansion which is around what i expected (~10% of people who bought the game in the first place), but it means this isn't a practical approach for me. but hey i'm going to do what i want you can't stop me, so i guess i'm still fiddling with imbroglio and trying ideas for more stuff. there's still a chance it might go bigger, selling things on the internet is just so volatile - 868-hack would probably have sold less than half as much if not for that one review by Leigh Alexander.

need to do a pc release too, it's a bit of faff because the current design is for a portrait-oriented screen and a lot of the ui is hard-coded and bad, planning to spend some of december sorting that out. not looking forward to it. has to be done so it's not stuck just in the apple forever but i don't have high hope for it because even more than 868-hack it is something "pc gamers" might assume is shallow because the map is small and maybe it could be played on a telephone.

started a new notebook of game designs. i hadn't been writing down new ideas for a while, kind of got stuck in a loop of thinking about "the next project" and projecting too much into it, feeling like it has to be a financial success and also a great work of art and also Do New Things With The Medium and als
and i'd sort of converged on maybe three basic concepts that i had to choose between and each of them would be a big commitment project and then each of them starts growing by accretion, like whenever i have a new idea it doesn't get to stand on its own because it has to be a big thing so it gets glommed onto one of the existing ideas and they get ever more impractical.
so it's quite freeing to just plan out some designs that aren't connected to the glommy things, and then not feel any particular pressure to make one of them. i keep thinking "wow this idea is actually great i should definitely make this" and then i remember i thought that about the previous three as well and i'm not going to make all of them and then that's okay, and hopefully now the gloms just fall back to being drops in ocean and. well i'll still have to pick something and make it but i think i'm recovering a mindset good for that. not jamming but it'll do.

also there's a strand here of a thing, i wrote before about not wanting to just make another roguelike and get typecast as The Man Who Makes Roguelikes, this is part of a broader attitude i have of aversion to conformity and repetition. it is not a bad attitude in principle but i am recognising that there are times when it makes me feel pressure to perform and that creates an unnecessary stress. maybe i don't need to push myself to do Different And New Thing, if i just go ahead and do a thing at all it probably will be its own thing anyway. thinking about folk songs and stories passed through generations, everyone's version ends up different even when clearly recognisable as same thing. things only look the same when you abstract them, look at them from a distance; go close up and there is all the detail and everything is unique; abstraction is powerful mental tool but risk missing everything important. thinking about dancing, always feel like i should do something different to keep it interesting but even if you try to do exactly the same thing again you can't even, hundreds of tiny forces shift balance somewhere slightly different, spine alone has 24 bones articulating - you think a step is simple because there are just two legs but transform it to spine domain and suddenly there is intricate detail and variation.

starting to feel properly settled in Lisbon. don't know if we'll get to stay here but i think i would if so? just got a stamp in my passport a few days ago saying i can keep being here for now and the people at the loja do cidadão were just really decent. like UK immigration officals ask with big frown "and once your contract is over you'll definitely leave right? you don't plan on staying? no more applying for jobs here?" and you have to be all obsequious, whereas here they're like "oh but after that you will still want to stay yes please?". it is surprisingly far from central europe but still we have been able to see europe friends a bit, even had one america friend visit. continues to be a good city for just going out and stumbling across something interesting. started learning forró, nice group of people, the dance has a bit much of flashy fast turns for my taste but it's a good challenge to follow. some people were a bit confused at first that i wanted to follow but they accepted it pretty quickly; it is far from the ideal of anyone can dance with anyone but it is at least not a hostile environment. (unfortunately the term they're using for following is "faço dama", hey at least it's not "princesa" like i heard in kizomba omg.) might start leading soon too but i'm kind of appreciating not knowing how to, usually i'm indifferent about roles and end up leading more because other people are not indifferent, now i can maybe balance that ratio out a little.

been sleeping on the floor a lot, shoulders are happier if i can manage to sleep on my back and the bed here sinks in a bit so i can't keep straight. but i'm used to sleeping on my side so sometimes i do that and then left subscapularis gets twisted again and tugs on my neck and i'm not quite sure what is going on, but i had a massage yesterday and while working on that something on the right of neck that had been compensating let go and now stuff in there is shifting around trying to find a new equilibrium. adventure!

Sunday, 13 November 2016

imbroglio notes 12 - ossuary

Kept having more card ideas and throwing them in, ended up with a huge pool of cards and nobody could keep track of them all. I quite liked the feeling of it, the dungeon may be a tiny grid but the possibility space of board construction is a cavernous labyrinth rich with hidden treasures. But it was too much for me to test and tune. Also other people who tested it consistently reported that they found it overwhelming to explore but I wasn't bothered by that, someone wants my terrifying death maze to feel safe and comforting they can maybe go somewhere else. Still, to practically be able to finish the game I started shifting some of the ideas that weren't working well yet off into a separate list of "possible expansion items??". I wanted the initial game to be still be big enough to create a variety of possible boards, don't want people to just play a couple of different setups and feel like they've seen it all, but it was helpful to stop feeling like I had to fit in every cool idea I had now.

So as soon as I had the game out I was right back into testing the weapons that hadn't made it. At first I just had a random mish-mash of items, I preferred to have some kind of theme to tie them together so it could feel like "here is the dwarven erotica expansion pack" or something not just "here is some more of the same stuff as before". Thought about introducing a New Mechanic (magic-the-gathering-speak for a rule that appears on multiple cards) but the things I wanted to add were mostly about filling gaps and expanding possibilities of what was already there rather than having room for a separate new thing. Then Jonah suggested that since Skeleton Festival was coming up I could tie it into that, it's not something I personally celebrate but it's big in the USA which is my main market, plus it fit several of the items I already had and some others could easily be renamed to match it. It ends up maybe not very different from the fantasy rpg dungeon setting there was already but I think it's enough for expansion identity.

Things I wanted to add were: more ways of cursing and using curses to add more variety in possible curse boards, useful effects to help survival especially in the early-game, new combo endpoints to build around, more ways to hit multiple enemies, combos to encourage using the items that weren't seeing much play (especially ranged weapons and weapons with mana costs). With more items, everything is going to see proportionately less use so there's room for some rarer situational effects. Also some new heroes, that's like adding new levels because they're different challenges to build around.

Every roguelike now gets a bunch of people saying "PUT A DAILY CHALLENGE IN IT" whether it makes sense or not. I didn't want to do this with 868-HACK because the level generation isn't determined from the start, it depends on the position of enemies left over from the previous level - this is a subtle rule you don't notice while playing but it goes a long way to making it feel right; it's important that enemies are carried between levels (both for balance and atmosphere) and it feels bad if they get stacked on top of walls (you can move them on top of walls with .PUSH etc. but that's because you're hacking things, it's not the natural order). Point of a daily mode is that everyone competes at essentially the same challenge, so it doesn't make sense if it's going to chaotically diverge. Some effects in Imbroglio give similar problems - a new gem's position must be at least 4 steps away, so if you've moved the gem with Dream Wheel then maybe the position it would have been is no longer valid (maybe it's even right under your hero). But these problems are less central so I was prepared to work around them; probably wouldn't matter too much if a few times Wheel lets you score slightly cheaper, or else it probably wouldn't matter too much if gem positions diverge once you start driving a Wheel - level layouts aren't as critical as in 868-HACK anyway. And arguably Imbroglio doesn't do enough to stop you restarting a bunch of times to get good luck, means weapons with an early-game advantage are undervalued / weapons with an early-game penalty in exchange for late-game power are overvalued, so this kind of "you just get one try" challenge might be a good fit. 868-HACK has streak scores so doesn't need it.
I tried random boards, they tend to be really really bad. Not even entertaining challenge to play around, just bad. Tried having a limited set of items to build a board from, seemed potentially interesting: removes the option of just playing the best board anyone's found, to encourage you to play interesting sub-optimal boards. Needs enough room to still make different things, I estimated it would need about twice as many cards as a full board so you could possibly make two boards with no cards in common. So I generated sets of 32 random cards (with possible duplicates), this ended up feeling too overwhelming. Tara suggested just having 8 cards and you can put up to 4 copies as usual; doesn't work with Vesuvius Bob but otherwise plausible. I worried this would be too small a set but trying it out it felt okay.
Part of the process of constructing a board is playing it out and adjusting it, so in addition to playing once with the daily seed I needed there to be an option to test-play your board. If this option wasn't there you'd still be able to test boards by constructing them in the standard game mode, it would just be tedious going back and forth. But this was a lot of extra complication, more menus, more variables to keep track of, plus you might get a good score while testing but not replicate it when you play it for real and that feels bad. So why not just let you have as many tries as you want? (Bonus: avoids any problems with having a fixed seed.)
Daily challenges are too frequent for me, I don't have a reliable daily routine, usually I play them for like two days in a row and then have a few really busy days and miss them and then I never come back because I broke my streak. Also constructing a board takes time, you want to be able to test a few different possibilities. So maybe more like a weekly challenge? A week is quite long though, hey what's a number between 1 and 7? Okay so I wanted a name for a 4-day week, if it was a science-fiction kind of setting game then like "tetrad" or something would do but here it didn't feel right. I had a look for any existing calendars using a 4 day week, found the Igbo calendar, borrowed the name "izu" from there. (This could be seen as cultural appropriation; I've used a word from a culture that is not my own and that honestly I don't know enough about. My intention was to respectfully acknowledge prior use of the concept.)

Chaos Oracle Molly
Control of random selection was originally an item effect, something like "Torch: 5/10/20/25% chance to select a target for any random effect". Nice for players who find the game too random, giving them an option to take more control. Disrupts the flow of the game so it's good to restrict it mainly to one character. Her disadvantage restores some primordial chaos to keep the cosmic balance. Matching enemy types to gates was the main breaker of board symmetry, but I figure it's okay for one character to have a more limited space of boards especially with new items expanding it anyway. (Technical detail: for Molly the "3-in-5" rule applies to both gates and enemy types.)

Simon Rainbow Jester
Changing weapon colours also started as an item. Something that changes itself, something that changes another weapon. Raised questions about whether Susannah/Ixxthl can use it, had some really strong interactions, in general was pretty wild, breaks down the careful work I've done to set the tone of red and blue weapons. Better as a character so all that weirdness is contained in one place. Super unfair that he gets the coolest disadvantage as well as the coolest rune effect, but they feel like they fit together even though they're mechanically unrelated.

More resource exchanges! Was almost in the original set but someone convinced me that an alternative way to spend runes was a special enough thing to save for later. Would be fine without the cursing, but I want more weapons that just curse a little bit even if you're not building around them, little pieces that can work together. I don't want a binary "this is curse board so it has all curse things" vs "this is not curse board so curses thing is useless", I want reasons to end up somewhere in between, maybe because you have a little bit of cursing you want something else that's stronger with curses, then maybe that makes you want something else that grants curses, enigma.

Forged Sigil
I was trying something that scored gems on levelup, very simple alternative scoring mechanism, but didn't feel right, I guess you get a lot of gems anyway so a static bonus isn't that great, something repeatable like the Wheel is more attractive. Plus the healing from the gems is often wasted; in general I moved away from giving effects on levelup because it's really hard to time them usefully, either you level up anyway and they get wasted or you're going to great lengths to avoid leveling and that ends up very inefficient. But runes we're getting already and the specific timing doesn't matter because you spend them when you choose, plus they're scarce enough that a few extra can be significant. Hopefully useful for heroes with a difficult opening.

A version of this was the second item I put in the game (after Whetstone), it attacked enemies that stepped on it. At that point when the game was mostly in my head this seemed really exciting, I could imagine all the ways it would interact with positioning, you could combine it with a Whetstone, you could block off a gate to eliminate one enemy type. But once in the game these interactions seem more obvious, fun to play out once but not so interactive. Spent a long time trying to find a version that wasn't ridiculously overpowered, didn't find one in time so it got pushed off to expansion file.
Thinking about how can I trigger a remote attack without it just always happening automatically, maybe there's a button I can press to trigger it, like maybe the button I already have right here. Nice with Runestaff and Sigil, we've got a rune sub-theme going. Really like this version, how it plays different for every character because their rune situations are different. Totally different from the old version, with that the challenge was to get a combo set up and then it would automatically deal with things, here there's a constant challenge to use it effectively during the game. Adds a lot of potential for skillful play, extra depth to decisions, you have to anticipate problems and deal with them early because the Bonesnare might not be where you need it on the turn you're about to die.
Usually I prefer every weapon to have a strict improvement at level IV but I was finding this just a little weak at 11112 and sufficiently complex that I didn't want to go for 11122 and a IV rule, but I figured that since it triggers off runes it's okay if IV just gives you another rune to activate it.

Festerfang Venom
Another early weapon, the first curse combo. Curse them with a wand, and then every turn after that the venom drains their life. That's too much, maybe just whenever they move, or whenever they attack. Still a lot given that you can stack up four copies of this. Eventually hit on the idea of triggering it when an enemy is stunned, turn a defensive effect into offensive. There were a lot more sources of stuns and curses back then so ordinary damage got too strong, I made it damage an enemy's highest life total to slow it down. This made it quite wordy, and it was still very powerful, plus building a curse+stun+venom combo is quite complex so I cut it from the base set.
Coming back to it for expansion, I found it could be simplified now there were fewer stuns. Letting the effect be "hit" is nice to allow combos with anything that interacts with hits. Making it only trigger once per turn removes a lot of the problems with stacking a bunch of them and instantly killing everything; I hadn't had the "once per turn" rule in the game when I'd worked on it before. Tried having it replace the stun rather than just trigger off it, so four copies will need four stuns, but went back to the simpler version. Power level might be a little low but I'd rather that than the omnipotent earlier versions; the combo still works. I haven't gotten 256 with this version but I can reliably break 200, fine by me.

Skeleton Key
Started as Ghost Sword, Blue 11222, 0: Attacks through walls, IV: Can move through walls from here. Attacking through walls turned out to be not great unless you kill them in one hit because they can't hit back so they move as usual so now they're an even number of steps away and you have to take a hit to move back next to them. But moving through walls was cool. Plus blue items stopped being explicit martial weapons and got less damage so it wasn't a sword anymore. Then I was looking for more things to stick mana costs on and this one made sense, it was a bit strong for free anyway.
Ended up killing it because it had bad interactions with Bob and Masina. With Bob it's ambiguous whether you're swiping towards a wall to break it or to move through it, there were situations where you'd definitely prefer one or the other; it might seem like moving is better than breaking (because you break it to move through it anyway) but sometimes you want to break just for the wait to get in phase with enemies. Plus things can be triggered by spending mana or runes and you want to know which one you're going to get. (Eventually I made it trigger both effects because that's logical and nobody can complain they didn't get the effect they were asking for, even if it's not really the outcome they wanted.) With Masina there's the question of whether you can get into the inaccessible square; obviously it's not a desirable place to be because then you're stuck, but it feels bad to not be able to use your key anyway. And there was a high chance you'd include it when building a board for either character; Masina because she gets level layouts with more walls and it might seem like a way to deal with that, and Bob simply because he includes so many weapons. These interactions are still not great but i figure it's safer to put in an expansion because with more weapons and more characters you're just less likely to meet them, and people have more experience with the game so they can maybe deal.
Spent a while fumbling for an IV effect. Had 11112 damage for a while which was okay but an ability would be cooler. There's not a very clear rule behind which blue weapons get 2 damage, it's basically if they need a bit more strength or if they need an IV upgrade and I couldn't find a good one, but also based on what just feels right. I had a weird effect where it opens up portals in the edge walls (hey if we have bad interactions with some heroes why not bother Johnny too) but stacking all this extra mobility got too strong. Leon is constantly pressuring for more "telefrag" effects (he's responsible for the update to Hourglass) so I gave in and went with that. It's very situational so probably you won't prioritise leveling it.

X-Ray Gun
Red version of "Ghost Sword"; adding range fixes the parity problems when attacking through walls. Was almost in the original set but I realised I wasn't going to be able to design many different ranged weapons so I held it back. Fits here in keeping with the "skeleton" theme.

Gravestone & Bog Hands
See Ixxthl's Ring; I wrote about finding that triggered effects tended to be preferable to rewriting weapons. I had a few weapons that attached extra rules to other weapons, like "Barrel of Tar: when this levels up, a random weapon gets 'when this hits an enemy, 50% chance to stun them'", and I wanted to find simpler versions. Here's a solution: effects that trigger when an enemy is there. Analogous to grafting an effect onto adjacent weapons. These also give a bit of a boost to ranged weapons, more things that can reach the target tile.

Necromancer's Mask
Used to be "ghosts are your friends". Back then I had more ways of creating lots of ghosts so this was even stronger, had to balance it with stuff like 0 damage at IV, maybe feeding restrictions. I didn't mind that it wasn't stackable (you could still use a second copy to convert a few waves) but actually it is nice that the current version does stack; more masks means more friends. There were problems with having too many ghosts, maybe you could get 15 of them and then the screen is full and no new enemies can enter, limiting the number of ghost friends deals with that while keeping the fun situations. Also moving into a friendly ghost used to swap places with them, now they're still treated as an enemy in most respects so you can still attack them (or sometimes, must still attack them), sort of a disadvantage but it lets you still use them to feed your weapons, in keeping with sinister BLACK SWORD BLACK SWORD.

Basic utility item to avoid being stuck in bad corners. I like the efficiency of getting a move and attack in one action. Maybe a little close to Blink Dagger but it has the stun and more predictability.

Repercussion Drum
Problem with Ixxthl's Ring in enabling a mana-spending board is that it's blue and all the things that spend mana are also blue, so you're pretty limited in how many you can have given that you want some red weapons too. Here's a red mana-spender to take some of that pressure off. It compares closely to Rimeclaws; has more damage at IV but that's in keeping with red weapons generally having more damage. Possibility of combination with on-hit effects. This might not be very clear in the picture but I tried to make it a little bit SPOOKY by the drum being made from a PUMPKIN and the drumsticks being BONES.

Oracular Oxbone
It made sense to me to call Molly an oracle but she doesn't actually predict anything, her power is about manipulating the outcomes which is kind of like predicting them only better. But how about a tool to predict things as well, something that ties in with her rules. Unconstrained enemy spawns can actually be pretty hard to deal with, getting some information about them helps. Then a random effect to tie in with the other half of the hero. Still useful for other heroes. Quite close in strength to Cleaver, it's like 11123 except the 3rd damage at IV is sent somewhere else (sometimes better, sometimes worse).

Jagged Saw
Really interested in what else I could make as a vanilla weapon. Cleaver doesn't leave much room for anything else to reach 3 damage, Brazier is canonical for diminishing damage, what about fluctuating damage? It's good because it starts at 2, the only other thing that does that is Broadsword and that has an xp penalty. It's good because it gets to 3, hardly anything else gets to 3. Maybe you want to stop there, and for that 3 is better than 4 because you can get Minotaurs and Cubes down to 1 and then finish them with something else.

Dragon Skull
I thought I wasn't going to do a "blue shield" after Dragons got that effect. But when I was testing Wheel versions, percentage chance of extra damage was working really well and I wanted to use it for something, spent a while trying to find a nice simple effect that would go nicely with it without feeling out of place but without synergising too directly with the damage (which was already strong). Came back to this, decided it was fine as long as I acknowledged the connection with Dragons. More mana is good anyway to encourage using the weapons that spend it.
My early versions of a "blue shield" tried to distinguish themselves more from red shield by having stun/curse effects rather than just damage. But still the method of damage is different and that creates some asymmetry between them. They have similar average damage at IV but Skull's unreliability makes it slightly worse, in keeping with the principle of red weapons having more damage. Also with less enemies targeting mana it's probably less significant overall.

Plague Totem
Used to be a rule-grafting item, giving other weapons the ability to hit multiple cursed enemies. When cutting back on those and needing more basic curse sources I rebranded it as obligatory walking curse box. Weird. Tried a bunch of different curse punishments to go with it (when cursed enemies are hit here, when this kills a cursed enemy), ended up going back to the idea of hitting multiple cursed enemies at once.

Thinking through alternative ways to deal with boss enemies, also more tools for Ixxthl to survive, okay the mind control thing is a fairly standard game effect for turning an enemy's strength against them. Already had the Mask converting ghosts, it'd be simple to just reuse that effect, switch their team. But what if you actually directly control them? Can't lose the roguelike single-character controls so it has to be controlling them instead, that's pretty interesting because it leaves your hero vulnerable. So I was walking an enemy around, I moved them onto the gem, it felt weird that it didn't pick it up, well maybe it should pick it up - otherwise you're stuck not scoring for a while, it might be efficient for killing enemies but it's going to leave you behind in score. Suddenly it's an alt-scoring tool. But then that was kind of bad because the enemy you're controlling would keep getting healed up by the gems you're collecting while your hero withers away in the corner. So I switch the gem healing to still target the hero even though the enemy picks it up, now there's a decent time limit on controlling any one enemy. When the controlled enemy kills other enemies, that should count as the Spoon indirectly killing them, so it levels up. When the controlled enemy dies, that probably shouldn't count as a kill for the Spoon because it was the enemies hits that did it. Needs an IV effect, how can we make controlling an enemy better, +damage ok.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

imbroglio notes 11 - spoiler warning

Okay I saved the stuff that you unlock later for a separate post so nobody gets worried about spoil-o. If you believe in spoilers, don't read this unless you've unlocked all characters and maybe gotten a couple hundred points.

Ixxthl, fairly obvious counterpart to Susannah. I thought for a while this was too much of a restriction, written in my working notes is "only-blue hero is not viable, find replacement". But I realised the heroes didn't need to be balanced against each other, plus I got better at the game and learnt to play her. Rune effect needed to be huge and damaging enemies was too close to Susannah. Was playing with polymorph effects (because 868-HACK's .POLY was top), had a wand that randomly transformed whatever it hit and it wasn't going great, I realised this might be better as a hero power so you have more control when to use it. It wasn't quite enough as a hero power, too often you would cast it and get stuck with bad enemies - this works differently to 868.POLY because casting it takes a turn so you can't repeatedly reroll, runes are a more limited resource than credits/energy were, and there's more variance in how bad specific enemy types can situationally be - in Imbroglio even one enemy can kill you if you're fighting it with the wrong colour. So I made it transform everything into a new enemy type that's vulnerable to all attacks (and then came Scythe etc.).

I've seen people commenting that Ixxthl's weapons are pretty different from everything else. I don't feel that way because I had everything as one complete set before I arranged it to unlock, but I can see why they feel it. I put the unlocks in order of complexity, the cards with longer text and more advanced combos come later so beginners aren't thrown by them, but this means the four most complex weapons all come at once in the last block; it would maybe have been smarter to spread the complexity around more.

Ixxthl's Ring I wrote about this already but there's a few more things to say in context of the character. I was interested in foreshadowing unlocks, so since Ixxthl was probably wearing Magic Ring I renamed it after her, thinking you might be able to guess her rules from this and from noticing which weapon slots aren't filled yet. I tried various ghost-based effects with it so it would connect with both halves of the character but the main effect is complex enough that it ended up better to keep a simple version. For a while it had "when this kills an enemy, a random cursed enemy becomes a ghost" but when gems got the basic rule of curse-ghosting it seemed superfluous to have other effects replicating it. (Plus it wasn't such a good connection with Ixxthl because she makes ghosts already, would have been better to have something that triggered off ghosts.)

Entangling Rope
The stun multiplier effect started on a red weapon: "Echo Hammer, II: when this hits an enemy, hit a random enemy, IV: when an enemy is stunned, stun them again". Was going with a general theme of doubling things but apart from that the effects didn't make much sense together and both were very strong on their own. At the time there were a lot more cheap stuns - Blink Dagger stunning all enemies when it teleports, for example - so multiplying stuns got very broken very quickly. I really wanted some kind of stun combo though so I made it only have a 50% chance. Later I realised all those mass stun sources were a problem even before any combo so I cut them down a lot and I thought I could let Rope go to 100%, but now because of the dominance of Wheel/Caltrops/Rope combos I've dropped it back to 50% in an update.

Geomantic Orb
An alternate rune-source seemed like something the game should logically have, to enable builds that rely on character powers to survive further into late-game. Tried several possibilities. This used to have something like "I: when this kills a cursed enemy, gain a rune, IV: when this kills any enemy, gain a rune"; like Vampiric Spear, giving extra for curses while still having something to offer without them. This ended up far too efficient; getting extra runes early made surviving to late-game a lot easier, and then getting double runes late meant you could not just slow the inevitable dwindling of your resources but actually turn it around to get more back than you were spending, and possibly survive forever. Went with just a late rune effect and tied it to an unrelated but useful early effect that I'd been struggling to find a good home for.

Dream Wheel
Definitely wanted some kind of alt-scoring, it's a classic part of constructed-deck games, give an unusual goal to build towards and the value of everything else shifts around it. Usually you score by taking steps towards the gem, the wheel scores by making the gem step towards you; a simple inversion.
First version I tried was based on 868-HACK's .PULL, the gem was dragged directly towards the player even through walls. This was simpler to implement and I thought it wasn't going to make too much difference. It turned out very powerful, I tried adding extra costs, they weren't enough, gave up on it, deleted it from the source code and swore never to use it. Later when testing Ixxthl boards I felt a need for another way to deal with wasps so I was testing a blue weapon with extra damage - percentage chance of doing a red hit as well, red damage against cursed enemies, chance of just doing more blue damage, etc. I wanted an IV effect to go with it, eventually came back to thinking about the gem pulling effect and wondered "what if I use the really ridiculously much weaker version that doesn't go through walls? i know it seems really bad but the other one was too strong so maybe..". Tried it and it worked great, much fairer than the earlier one because it was always an incremental movement of the gem, rather than instantly making the path much shorter (or longer), now pulling the gem to you always takes the same amount of time as to walk to it. But when I tried building a board specifically around it, it revealed itself to still be very strong so I started cutting back on the extra damage, maybe it's only like a percentage chance of doing 1 blue damage to a cursed enemy or something, stack on the limitations. Messy and complicated so I simplified it out by just letting the IV effect stand alone - seemed okay. Was a bit sad to lose extra interactions that might make you want to include it even when you're not specifically using it for scoring but that's turned out okay because there's still different ways to build around the scoring effect.
I'm really happy with how Zugzwang comes into play when you're running a Wheel engine. If you could just stand on the Wheel and hit everything coming at you you're happy, especially if you have its damage upgraded and some nice protective effects to keep you alive. But parity sometimes forces you to spend runes (limited) or move off it and maybe take hits, and that's what keeps the combo non-trivial. Sometimes you must collect a gem off-wheel and then if the wall generation is unkind you can find yourself with a long journey back home. Everything has to have holes in it and Zugzwang/parity creates some good ones.
I like to think of it as giving out fractional points, it's as though it says "when this kills an enemy, get a quarter of a gem".

Arcane Hourglass
This was the other ranged blue weapon. Same structure as Malign Wand; costs mana so you don't get blue range for free, gets something extra at IV just because. Delaying enemies kind of made sense at range because it's not like you're hitting them a bunch of times anyway. Just turned out really strong with Ring, you could stand there and timewarp through a whole string of enemies; slow and frustrating but very safe (similar bad feelings to heavy stuns). IV effect was something complicated like "when this kills an enemy, curse all enemies currently being sent to the future" but that was weird and too much work to set up. It's very hard to level anyway because most hits send the enemy away and then probably you kill them with a different weapon, so there was no reason for the IV to be so minor and fiddly. I was mostly avoiding the simple "when this hits an enemy, curse them" because reliable free cursing tended to throw off the balance, but it's okay here because it's so costly to level. I tried the "16 turns" effect scaling with level, "4 turns per level" or whatever, but it didn't make much sense because it often wasn't clear whether more turns was better or worse.
I felt it was being a little underused (actually most weapons with mana costs are - since I weakened Ring very late in development maybe everything that depended on it ended up a little low - though of course I wanted them to work without Ring too) so for the update Leon suggested Johnny-style telefrags as a way it could sometimes eliminate threats rather than just postponing them. I think it adds a lot more nuance.

Minotaurs started at 8/8 but that was too much, it demanded either having a 3- or 4- damage weapon or being able to get the first hit with a 2-damage one. Especially tricky for a hero like Ixxthl without access to the high-damage red weapons. You could build a combo that deals with them but depending on the luck of what you'd been able to level up maybe it wouldn't be active yet, I didn't want the rule to be "you lose if your combo isn't up by turn 100" or whatever, obviously you want a combo running as soon as possible but putting a hard limit on it removes any interesting play around dealing with things going less than ideally, it would mean you might as well simply resign if you don't hit a certain milestone. So I dropped them to 4/4, anyone can kill them but they provide a little extra mid-game challenge.

Then when I started working out what happens in the super-late-game, once you've had time to almost certainly level everything you want to, I came back to the idea of an 8/8 enemy. I had combos that could deal effectively with any number of small enemies, and weren't too bothered by minotaurs either, so how was I going to manage to end the game? I didn't want it to run forever. So I threw in the 8/8 monolith and tried my combo on it and quite easily killed that too. I've toned down some of the weapons I was using there, it wasn't always clear in development whether to make the enemies stronger or the player weaker, but still it's not hard to deal 8 damage if you need to, that's just two hits from a Broadsword or Brazier. So I took it to 16.

The 16/16 endboss worked pretty well, there was a good chance you'd die to it in a satisfactorily glorious manner and get a nice score, and if you killed it you were often weakened enough for the now-vast hordes of standard enemies to take you down. It was hard to decide whether it was red or blue so I picked both; split it into two versions each with a weakness: 16/12 and 12/16. I wanted there to be ways of killing them, just "ok this spawned so now you die" feels bad. One of the ways of dealing with them indirectly was to use a Scythe or something to transform them into a ghost, but when I gave curses the extra effect of ghosting this became much too easy to bypass the bosses rather than feeling like a feat of cunning trickery; now it could happen without you even trying and it felt very anticlimactic so I reluctantly added a rule preventing them from ghosting.

It seemed good to get some kind of reward for killing a boss, a damage increase to the weapon used felt reasonable - opened up some strategic options letting you still improve a weapon even once everything is fully leveled. Both bosses had this effect for a while but it seemed more interesting for them to be different. Damage increase is a red effect so I needed something for the Dragon. Something that also applied to the weapon used would have been nice for symmetry but there were no simple options; you could level it up but at this point of the game it's probably already there, making it ranged isn't strictly advantageous because it restricts your movement (increasing damage isn't /strictly/ advantageous either because occasionally you want to hit again so as to wait in place but this is rare enough to overlook) plus it would have broken Harry's disdvantage, modifying the weapon's rules is possible but overly complex. Tried having it give out treasure; runes and gems; nice to get some extra runes at this point of the game when they're running short (unless you're Orbing). Four runes and one gem seemed okay, except the time that I slew a dragon from a nice safe position with walls on 3 sides and the gem took all those walls away leaving me to die (my Whetstone'd Spear would have happily dealt with everything one by one). Then someone suggested the max-blue increase and it just seemed right. It's simple, succinct, makes sense in terms of existing effects. It has symmetry with the Unicorn - upgrading the weapon, upgrading the hero. I had been thinking a "blue shield" would be an obvious item for an expansion set but it seemed nicer to have the blue version exist in a very different form and avoid the straightforward symmetry.

Favourite thing about these is people's reactions when they first see them.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

ossuary preview

expansion for Imbroglio is out tomorrow! 4 days before skeleton festival. i realised i should probably try to build hype by making available small amounts of information about it beforehand, because that is what people do when they make expansions for deck-buildery-style games and it's generally safest to conform.

Imbroglio: Ossuary, even the name strikes terror into your heart!! an extremely confused, complicated, or embarrassing situation: a container or room in which the bones of dead people are placed. what will you find in the very scary bone pits??
(probably enemies and gems)

today for our EXCLUSIVE PREVIEW CONTENT you get to meet one of the two new heroes who live among the bones!


/any random effect/
that means anything that uses the word "random" in its rule text. like obviously the map generation and stuff is random too but she can't predict that. but stuff like an Echo Harp hitting a random enemy? she can pick which one. the mechanism is the same as selecting a target with a Blink Dagger, it highlights two targets, the one it was going to pick naturally, or an alternative that you can pay a rune to pick instead. (Blink Dagger itself is also affected - so at IV you're selecting from 5 teleport targets, 1 of which costs a rune to choose.)
but in exchange for all this extra control over random outcomes, the base level of chaos is much higher - enemy types are no longer tied to their characteristic corners. better throw a scapula in the fire to get at least some idea what's coming!

there's more! there's also sixteen new weapons, all spooky and bonesome.


Friday, 21 October 2016


i've been working on adding more stuff to Imbroglio, because i had more ideas for it and i wanted to use them. i was hoping this could be something i could easily do on the side while working on a new game too but my multitasking capacity doesn't seem to be up to scratch right now, it's taken me a few months to get an expansion set ready and i've made no substantial progress on any new game in that time. it's not just a matter of throwing the ideas in there, i have to test them in many combinations and try many different versions to find something that seems right.

Imbroglio: Ossuary is new expansion set, will be released on the 28th, just in time for the spooky bone festival. it is very spooky expansion with skulls and ghosts and the like. but not too spooky! i put a fun jester in there too to lighten it up. i think that's how bone festival works? anyway it has a couple of new heroes and a bunch of new cards and also a new mode that's like the "daily challenge" people always ask for (daily seemed too short and weekly seemed too long so of course it is every 4 days).

practically i don't know if adding to Imbroglio makes a whole lot of sense. it has sold 7000 copies which is like totally fine but not amazing for something i spent well over a year on. honestly i was hoping it would do better than 868-HACK because it's closely related but more polished and accessible, plus for a while every game i released was just getting more attention than the previous. since it didn't probably the correct business decision would be to move on and make new games faster in hope of another "hit" but i just wanted to. but hey maybe there's a chance that releasing expansion will draw some new attention to the original game too?

Glitch Tank has sold 31 copies on android. yeah ok obviously it was a bit of a late port but it's not like the game has aged badly? (i haven't even gotten paid for this yet because it's not verifying my bank account and google has no customer support but hey at least it's not much money that i'm missing out on right!)

tried to run Imbroglio on android and it's just crashing on launch. previous two points make me unmotivated to spend extra time working on this.

really hard to decide what is next game to work on. kind of miss jamming, having all the ideas and making all different things, but i'm finding it hard to get back into that mindset. maybe i'm getting old or something. i have a bunch of designs i have been working out but all of them turn out to be quite long projects, big commitments. sort of want to do something multiplayer again at some point but i suspect i still don't have the audience to make that work, bit demoralising. i can always just make another little roguelike but right now i don't think that would add all that much, i need to do something else to make some distance. i have some very strange ideas but they will take too much time to do anything with, i don't think i can spend a few years on experimental research for something that might not even work, i need to make discrete things that i can release and get paid for (which doesn't mean i abandon the wild ideas but they have to stay in the background, maybe they will reach a clearer form eventually).

anyway! i have more Imbroglio ideas so i'm interested to see if people like having expansion, and either way i will make new thing and probably something will work out.