November 2015 blog archive

This page contains all the blog posts from november 2015. To read the most recent blog posts, click here.

29/11 - HD3 alpha wrap up

Content-wise, everything that was supposed to go into the alpha has been added. There might still be a few additional updates before the game goes into beta however, and i'm actually working on such an update.
The upcoming update will contain a number of AI improvements, as well as some balance changes and a few minor bug fixes. I'm also looking into various minor code improvements that don't really have a noticable impact on the game, but reduce the complexity of some existing mechanics. These improvements should also make it easier to add in new mechanics in the future. As i work on a block of code, it tends to get gradually more complex, especially if it's something that needs to be updated to support new features. Eventually this can result in code that's just too complex to understand at a glance, it has to be broken up in multiple smaller pieces, or cleaned up.

HD3 is not going into beta the exact moment this update is released. For staters, there are a number of alpha-specific elements in the game that need to be turned off, such as showing the seed numbers used to generate combat boosts or custom cards. There's also the 'cheat' that, for testing purposes, temporarily gives access to all cards. The beta phase definately won't start until early next year, and the exact date is still unknown. There's not much point in starting the beta process if no new players can be attracted, so i need to look into ways of promoting the game.

22/11 - site updates

Increasing issues with the previous host of the nulll games site prompted me to change hosts. I decided to perform planned site updates at the same time. Basically, the old site was left behind instead of copying it over to the new host, and a new one was created.
Though this was planned, it was supposed to happen until the HD3 alpha phase was complete. In the end, the work on the site resulted in about a week of delay on HD3 updates, but it means that once the alpha phase is complete, the amount of work needed before i can move to beta, will take one week less.

The nulll games forum has been updated to the latest version of the forum software, which resulted in the old forum skin and customizations no longer working, so the forum received a new skin, and for the time being, most of the customizations haven't been added in yet.
The wiki software has been updated to the latest version as well, but this didn't bring about any noticable changes in how the wiki looks and operates.
The nulll games site itself has more or less the same layout but many features have been removed. The biggest change is probably the removal of player profiles and on-site tracking of in-game achievements. This system only worked with flash games, so it wasn't going to be compatible with HD3 anyway. For future games, the chances would be slim that the system would be compatible with the for the same reason. The entire setup was in need of upgrading, but since it wouldn't see much future use, if any at all, i figure it best to remove it for now.
The arcade has been removed as well. It had always been an experiment to allow me to trade my own games with other flash game sites, but i ended up getting swamped with request for almost exclusively extremely low quality games. Sorting through dozens of game submissions every month and not finding even one game worth playing resulted in me deciding to stop update the arcade (quite a while ago already). I eventually came up with the idea to just remove it from the site complete as the whole thing took up a lot of room, and the recent site update gave me that opportunity.

Overall, the site has become much simpler, which makes it less prone to errors. On the previous host, i also encountered many (automated) attempts at hacking, which i guess is something most database-driven sites deal with, but this should be much less of a worry now.

15/11 - effects

Sound and visual effects are in. These are the same effects as were present in previous HD games, and the long-term plan is that new ones will be made where needed. For the time being, it's more important to have systems in place that can play back sound effects or show visual ones on the combat screen.

The HD3 alpha update with effects should have been out already, but i ran into some site hosting problems, resulting in the nulll games website being offline for most of last friday. Since then i've been preparing to move the site over to a new host (the issue last friday hasn't been the only problem with the current host in recent times). I was planning to make some large changes to the nulll site, but that was supposed to happen after having completed all HD3 alpha updates (the effects one, and one more upcoming AI improvements patch). Short-term it will delay the completion of the alpha phase a bit, but long-term it shouldn't affect my planning that much.

I can't tell how much time it will take to perform the site move - the new nulll games site itself is already active, but it's still missing the forum and wiki, which are two complex pieces of code that will have to be reinstalled before i can move over the content. Once that's done, everything needs to be tested, and then i'll disable the current nulll games forum so that no new posts can be made there while the domain name changes take effect. So, with some luck, by the next time i update this blog, the site might already be on the new host.

08/11 - tutorial

The tutorial and help screens are in. The help screen itself will likely get more entries in the future, as more game modes and content gets added.

The tutorial focusses on a single duel, explaining how the combat screen is built up, and which phases are in each turn. The duel itself is rather short, but it explains ability classes, how to bring cards into play and how to activate them.
The screen where all this happens is not the combat screen, though it looks very much like it. The combat screen itself is already the most complex screen in the game both when it comes to the logic that drives it, and the graphical complexity. Adding another layer of stuff on top of that just for the tutorial could make things messy. There's also a few things that simply aren't possible on the combat screen, such as pausing in the middle of a combat phase, or rewinding to a previous turn. The tutorial screen also has no AI to control the opponent, there's code that forces the opponent to play specific cards in specific locations - leaving things to the AI would make the tutorial hard to predict. Another advantage of having a seperate screen for the tutorial is that i could leave out more advanced features that are not talked about in the tutorial, so the screen is much simpler than the combat screen, even though it's capable of pausing in the middle of a combat phase, or rewinding.

The original plan was that the patch with the help and tutorial screens would be the last alpha content patch, and that i would take a break from HD3 coding (except for urgent bug fixes or balance updates) to focus on preparing the game for beta and release. But, i'll be adding in visual and sound effects first, even though the actual effects themselves are going to be placeholders. It's more important to have the code that controls both effect types in the game, than the quality or variation in the effect themselves (i'll be using existing sounds and images from previous HD games for the time being).
What needs to happen after the game is ready for beta (except all the planned content that's yet to come), is still unknown. I have some rough ideas of what steps i can take to promote HD3, i know what content is still going to get added, but not yet in what order. All of this needs to be worked out, and put in some form of shedule. Taking a proper break is going to be needed as well. At this point, i've been working on HD3 for almost 2.5 years, and with only a few weekends off here and there, i've worked on it almost every day.

01/11 - Battle screen simple/pro modes

As part of making the game more friendly towards new players, the battle setup screen has received a simple mode variant. This mode will be active by default for new players, and once they unlock the first non-default game mode (which is currently Unpredictable mode, unlocked at level 9), players can switch to pro mode.
Simple mode basically removes a number of options. Players can choose between their own decks, or computer generated ones. The opponent's level will be automatically set to the a multiple of 5 just above the player's current level, so the difficulty slider is not needed. Environments can't be added and game modes can't be changed, so those things are simply not present on the screen.

The patch containing the simple mode of the battle setup screen also changed a few things regarding when various content is unlocked. I've also added a test in this patch : for single duels, the structure play count is limited to one per turn. The idea was to slow down the early game a bit so that it would be easier to recover from a bad start, but beyond that this change doesn't seem to have any benefits. Compared to older versions of HD, the minimum decksize has been increased, so it's on average more likely to have a bad opening hand, but at the same time, the opening had is now capped at minimum 3 cards, so players have more options to turn a bad hand into a better one. There's a good chance that this one-structure limit will be removed again in the next patch as it doesn't feel that impactful.

For about a week, i've been working on a tutorial which will explain the basics of combat in Hidden Dimensions. It's a relatively complex setup, but i'm already about 1/3rd through the little scenario that the tutorial will put players in. The plan was that the tutorial and help screens would be the last additions to the alpha, and that the next patch after it would put the game into beta. I'm considering changing this and first putting in the sounds and visual effects before going into beta.