April 2014 blog archive

This page contains all the blog posts from april 2014. To read the most recent blog posts, click here.

27/04 - Xyth Era

Last week i mentioned that i had begun working on the Xyth storyline again. The first part takes place in a medieval setting and focusses on two characters and how they got to meet eachother (Grey and Kara). The story already talks about the dangers of the Mith'ri'aeil, the involvement of Xyloxi, Rift demon and Technomancers, but it still needs to be linked to the original story. This first story will be called 'Xyth Era I' (and will receive a subtitle as well), the original story will be 'Xyth Era II' (and then Aeon would be 'Xyth Era III').

Era I's first draft has been written over the course of 2 months, mostly evenings, but also half of about each weekend in that time. Writing the draft (206.000 words) thus went really fast, but this is due to the fact that the story itself had already been detailed in my head for more than 3 years already, so it had time to mature and grow from a set of loose ideas into one, connected, whole. Basically all that i had to do, was write everything down - there was only minor planning and restructuring involved.
4th moon, on the other hand, currently exists in my head as a set of disconnected events and a ton of notes and sketches that have accumulated every since i started with the story (that's since 2000-2001). It's going to be an entirely different process to turn all of that stuff into one cohesive text. For a while i had considered using the NULLL games wiki for this, as a wiki format represents the current state of this story rather well (a bunch of articles linking to eachother). Now that Era I's story is as good as complete (even though it's still a draft), i'm already trying to set up links and making changes to the original story (Era II) so that these two can be tied together. The original story mostly focussed on the human race as a whole, as it arrives on a new planet. Eventually this evolved into a story that centers around one character (Greywing, aka Grey from Era I). The main events all remain intact, but they'll be told from slightly different perspectives than before (from the main character, instead of providing a global overview).
I started working on Aeon late 2007 on a whim and as a result, there never was much preparation and i just came up with things as i was writing. In essence, this story is still to be considered a draft. Lots of things will change here as the characters and events in it were based on older versions of the main story (which has since changed a bit, and will now change even more). The broad events will remain intact here as well, but there are plenty of details which aren't correct (such as character names : Aegis is actually supposed to be Kara from Era I, and so on).

I don't know yet when i'll be able to put some of this online. I have to figure out all the ways in which Era I and Era II are linked and see if Era I needs to be adjusted here and there, to make sure everything works out. Once that's done, i still need to turn this draft into a proper text and many of the dialogues need work as well. Right now, Era I has 72 chapters, which means i could release these relatively short sections one by one, as they are completed.
In any case, it'll be a while before i can show some of this stuff. The focus remains on HD3, and when there's free time, i'll start working on the broad lines of Era II and see from there.

20/04 - the Xyth storyline

Something different this time. During development of a game, there are occasionally periods of time where things move slower or where i end up spending less time each day on actual coding. This usually happens when completely new mechanics need to be added, as these require more preparation and i tend to work through these more carefully, testing every step of the way. It's easier to halt work in the middle of adding something when it concerns a mechanic that's not new or not complex. For instance, at the end of the day i can stop, and pick things up the next day. For complex mechanics that doesn't work out too well, so i rather stop a bit earlier in the day when i know the next part can't be added before the evening and will need to be split up.
On days where there's less coding to be done, i often work on other projects, usually this used to be the time where i started on another game. Since i don't have any small games prepared in such detail that i can start coding right away and i don't feel like possibly delaying the work on HD3 in favor of another game, i've been doing something else : i started working on the Xyth storyline again.

The Xyth story forms the background of all my games thus far. The ships and races in HD are all taken from this story. HDs and HDx even had a few small elements about the story itself put in the game. I've been working on Xyth for a long time now. I recently went through some old notes and sketches and found one of the earlier drawings i made for one of the tanyu class ships (not in HD, but similar in power and size to neyon'moru). As with so many sketches, this one was made during one or other class back in school, so i can date it to 2002-2003. The very first firewing sketch was also made during school time, around 2000-2001. The origins of the Xyth story also stem from that period of time.
I've tried to tell this story through various methods, starting with 3D modelling to create both comic and animated versions. 3D modelling took a lot of time, so i only have the actual 3D models for a few ships and a short teaser to show for it. The very first comic versions looked rather bad, so i doubt i still have those somewhere (it was only a dozen pages or so anyway).
Late 2007 i started work on what was to be an interactive 3D comic meets animation - it would be a regular comic, but the pages would occasionally have short bits of animated frames in them. It's around this time that i started having problems with RSI in my right arm, mainly a result of doing detailed graphical work on PC for both my job and for Xyth, often spending 14 hours a day, every day, for weeks, behind a PC. To this day, i still have to be careful, and long 3D modelling sessions are simply not possible anymore.
Parallel to the prep work for the interactive 3D comic, i started working on '4th Moon : Aeon', which was to be a novel. Aeon focussed on several of the characters from the original story, but is set a fair bit further into the future. I ended up writing 12 chapters, of which 11 had been put online, totalling about 73.000 words, or 164 pages in the format i had chosen for this. This is about 1/3rd of the stuff i had planned. I'm not much of a writer, and that's one of the reasons why i stopped working on this. I've been considering getting started on this again, since i enjoy writing very much, but i can't just pick up where i left off (last update is from february 2008), so ideally i just start over again.

For a good 3.5 years, i've been working on another story. None of this had ever been written down since i had no real idea what to do with it. It takes place in a late medieval setting (not necessarily on earth) and features humans, crystal dragons, shapeshifting demons, cat people and some mysterious technologically advanced race. It wasn't until about 6 months ago that i figured these can actually be the races from Xyth : humans, xyloxi, mith'ri'aeil, ca'anian and technomancers. At that point i decided to start writing this stuff down. I guessed it was going to be a short story, but after having finished the first draft a few weeks ago, i'm at 206.000 words (which would translate to 600+ pages in common print formats for books).

This is going to become part of the Xyth storyline as well, even though it's in a medieval setting. Over the course of 2 months i wrote this 200.000+ word draft and it was a lot of fun, so i plan to continue working on this, and then i'll most likely start writing down the main story, and eventually i'll get started on Aeon again. Until now, i've mostly referred to the original story as '4th Moon of Xyth', then there's also '4th Moon : Aeon'. With the inclusion of this new part (which comes before the original story), i'll change this a bit and probably start using 'Xyth Era' as the title of the series. I haven't decided on a subtitle yet for the first book though, nor do i know when i'll have something ready that i can put on my website.

13/04 - flagship editor II

The preset panel and ability editor have been added to the flagship editor, these were the two last remaining mechanics of this screen.

Up to 4 presets can be saved, the panel that allows to do so is pretty simple : there are 4 entries, showing some basic info about the flagship configurations that are stored in them. It's possible to store flagship configurations that have too high scores, so players can create future flagships which they'll be able to use as they level up.


The ability editor took a bit more work, this mainly has to do with the way abilities work. Cards can have multiple abilities, but each ability is represented by only two values : one number determines the ability itself (each ability having a unique number) and the other determines the strength of this ability. In case of activatable abilities, there's also the activation cost, but this is stored seperately.
Even though each ability only has one number for it's strength, the game has abilities that display two numbers, example : the action 'star battery' gives you 2 racial energy and increase your base's racial energy generation rate by 1. How are these two values (2 and 1) stored, when each ability only has room for a single number? The value for this ability is 10 * 2 + 1 = 21. The energy gain gets stored in the first digit, the generation rate incrase in the second (which means that this ability can never provide a generation boost more than 9). Another example is the acti that generates 1 racial energy, owner's base loses 2 HP, here it's the energy gain that's the second digit and the HP loss that's the first, which allows for HP loss values of more than 10.
There are a few more abilities with similar setups as well yet to be added to the game. When editing such an ability, both values need to be made editable, so that means a slightly different screen (with two scrollers) compared to an ability with a simple single value (one scroller) compared to an ability that doesn't have a strength value at all.
Next to the way in which abilities can be edited, there also needs to be minimum and maximum values, not just to avoid problems such as the ability in the example above, but also to keep things balanced.



With the editor panel complete, i'll likely add in a number of cards before i start work on the next mechanic (which i don't know what it'll be yet). Adding cards, especially when they have abilities that aren't in the game yet has become a bit more complex now as a result of the flagship mechanic. Each ability needs a function and related values that allow to calculate its score (see this blogpost) to get an idea of its relative strength compared to other abilities. Next to this, each ability needs an indication of how it can be edited (does it have a strength value at all, does it have one value, or more, etc?) for each value, two sets of minimum/maximum numbers need to be added that determine the bounds of this value. In case of the example above, the bounds for the energy gain are currently set to 1 and 8, and for the energy generation boost they are set to 1 and 3. Both these values in turn affect the score of this ability.

06/04 - flagship editor

The flagship editor is the part of the game that allows players to change almost everything about their flagship. The editor is slowly being built up.

Attack/defense (screenshot 1)
The screenshot shows the default flagship. The editor itself permanently shows the card popup in the top-left corner of the screen. To the right, there's a status panel, which will provide feedback in case there are errors. Most, if not all, errors will allow you to continue editing. The only thing that won't work when there's an error, is saving the current flagship configuration to the actual flagship (you may still save it to a preset). This allows to keep trying out things, fiddling with values until the stronger flagship can be created with the available score total (which it displayed in the bottom bar).
Attack and defense editing itself is pretty straightforward. Each stat also shows how much it contributes to the total score of the current configuration.

Cost (screenshot 2)
In this screenshot, i've changed the flagship from AR to a HU/TM card. As explained in the previous blogpost (click here), the cost itself can't be changed by players, but the races can be altered. In case the card is dual color, the game will decide on how much the cost for each color will be. If the card is single color (but not AR) and the cost is high enough, the game will also decide how much of this cost will be turned into random energy.
The Cost modification is the range (positive and negative) of cost changes the player can apply. Lowering the cost of the flagship will increase it's score, increasing the cost will provide a (small) decrease to the score. In the first screenshot, the flagship has a score of 279 (281 - 2), in the second screenshot, the total cost of the ship has been increased by 1, and as a result the score has dropped to 271 (281 - 10). The score bonus or penalty as a result of changing the cost will be displayed on this panel as well.

Image (screenshot 3)
Eventually, players will be able to choose the image of any non-legend ship card that they've collected at least once for their flagship. The flagship subclass (fighter, cruiser, etc) will also be inherited from the chosen card. For now, the Browse button will pick a random card as i haven't decided yet what the browser will look like. In HDX there is a card album, which will likely be present in HD3 as well. Chances are good that i'll link the editor and the album so that the editor can display the album for players to choose cards from. Since the album is not planned to be added just yet, the random setup will have to do for now.
Hue allows to change the overal color of the image, while Flip allows to mirror the card horizontally.
Nothing on this panel will affect the score of the card and i'm considering adding custom ship images for donators or supporters.

Two large sections remain : the preset panel, where players can store a number of flagship configurations and the ability panel, where up to 8 abilities can be added or modified. In stead of trying to put all 8 abilities in one panel, each ability slot will have it's own panel, which allows for easier editing (bigger buttons) and more feedback to be provided in the form of detailed infotexts.