This continues from my original post.
Ilkor: Dark Rising is going to have a mixed turnaround. It isn't going to follow the typical PBM's of old where a turn is processed every 1 or 2 weeks. Since it is going to be a web-based browser game and people today generally expect immediate results we have decided to try and mix turn-based with real-time.
We're still in the development phase so we haven't ironed out all the potential concerns and issues, but currently our line of thinking is to run the game with three timelines:
Turn: This is the typical PBM turn as it is known. It will be a weekly turn-around. The turn number will be incremented at midnight every Friday. A turn will represent about 2 weeks in the game world.
Phase: A turn is broken up into 3 phases. Each phase has a deadline date, midnight on Monday (phase 1), Wednesday (phase 2) and Friday (phase 3). The phase 3 deadline of midnight Friday coincides with the end of the Turn. Orders are processed in a 'batch run' at midnight of each phase.
Real-time: During a phase various Actions are permitted. They will be processed immediately and the player will receive the result of the chosen action there and then within the website. Some real-time actions will spawn off emails to players in the form of a notification.
A player is expected to log on at least once per phase. That equates to a minimum of 3 times a week. The various instructions that a player can issue per turn are expected to be spread out over the 3 phases. This is done for a number of reasons:
- Reduces the risk of a list of instructions (orders) failing due to a knock-on effect from a failed instruction;
- Reduces time required to 'submit' a turn; each phase submission could be completed in less than 10 minutes. Breaking it up into 3 smaller chunks (phases) will help new and experienced players understand what they can do, how to issue the instruction and by when;
- More in-line with current expectations of 'browser gamers', but still retaining a large degree of the PBM turn-based strengths;
- Increases traffic & on-line activity (important for player retention and possible revenue streams);
There are 3 possible ways a player will be able to interact with the game during a turn:
Actions: These are performed in real-time. The player will be able to issue these actions immediately and receive the result. Such actions will not give the player an adverse advantage should he issue them before another player. We don't want to get ourselves into a situation where players that issue such actions early on in a phase get advantages over another player who isn't on-line or chooses to only issue actions at another time. The only time an action cannot be issued will be when the phase is processing it's batch of orders (at midnight of the Mon, Tue & Fri). A player has the choice to stay on-line the entire week and issue actions as and when he pleases, or he can log on once a phase and issue actions, or even once a turn (not advisable). A player will have 'x' number of actions he can perform in a turn. Lets call that number 20 for illustration reasons. This number may increase over time as his character advances through the game. Any un-used actions within a turn do not carry over to the next turn. The player may perform all 20 actions in the first phase or spread them out over all 3 phases etc. Each action type can only be performed 'x' number of times within a single turn. For example, a player might be restricted to only 3 Buy Actions per turn. We think there is enough combinations here to really make the player think long and hard regarding which actions he is going to perform, in what order and in which phase.
Orders: These are submitted and only processed at the next phase deadline. Orders can be added, edited and deleted between the start of a phase and the end of the phase (midnight). The duration of a phase is about 48 hours (phase 1 is 72 hours due to taking place over the weekend) so the player is able to alter his set of orders as many times as he wants within this time period. All orders will be processed on the deadline of the phase. All player orders will be processed at the same time, ordered in a logical manner (to be revealed later). Examples of orders could be movement. Potentially the player's character has say 45 movement points in any given turn. He could instruct his character to move north in phase 1 until all the 45 points are exhausted. Or he could just use up 20 points by moving north 2 locations. He may issue this move morning early on in the phase or right at the end. It doesn't really matter when he does this, just so long as it is done before the phase deadline. He could even recall the move order or change it. When the phase deadline kicks in, all move orders for all characters will be processed. Combat will also be dealt with in a similar fashion. This batch approach gives a nice twist to the dynamics, is more in line with traditional PBM (turn-based) and gives every player a chance to prepare themselves, rather than being at a disadvantage to those that are either on-line continuously or early on in the phase.
Tasks: These are very similar to actions in the sense they are processed in real-time. Tasks however are instructions that can be performed as many times as you wish. Tasks also do not really have a major effect on either your character, another player or the world in general. These instructions can be seen as house-keeping instructions, such as changing player preferences, sending a message to a player or the GM, equipping your character with an item from his backpack, etc.
I'm not sure if this article has explained what we are trying to achieve. Hopefully it makes some sense. I would be very interested to hear anyone's comments.
This question had been on my mind for many years. Prior to getting stuck into development of Ilkor, I had known for a long time that when the time was right I wanted to get back into Play-by-Mail (PBM) and design, develop and run a single character fantasy RPG. To keep up with the times I knew it would have to be 'online' and most likely free. I also wanted to stay true to the strengths of traditional classic RPG and PBM. For me, that meant it had to be turn-based. This in itself is going to be a huge challenge to get right.
Although Ilkor's roots are in PBM, it is going to be thrown head first into the ocean of 'text-based browser games'. In all honesty it is going to be compared to such games as 'Dark Throne' and 'Torn'. While these games lack the depth I am hoping to capture they do have a lot of features that I am after...if I am honest with myself. I think we need to learn from these games if we truly wish to succeed in the online market.
If we ignore the potential 'depth' issue of such games, they can be seen as 'modern PBM' games. I know a lot of PBM purists will disagree but they are offering a game with orders and instructions that are issued usually by the use of clicking on buttons, radio buttons, check boxes, etc. There are a few that use a turn-based approach; the majority are 'real-time'. In other words the results of the player's actions are immediate. I can buy why they are designed like this, users online today expect immediate results, that is the key advantage of being online - not so?
So turn-based PBM goes completely against the grain. What is the point of going online, issuing a handful of orders and then having to wait several days (maybe even a week or more) for the results? If you are from the PBM days you know the answer to that...anticipation.
So, what is it going to be 'turn-based' or 'real-time'? This is the question and something I have been toying with for many years. Turn-based is without a doubt the hardest to achieve successfully online. However it is core to the PBM experience.
So despite the difficulty, Ilkor is going turn-based.
But that is not the end of the problem. There are a number of different turn-based systems. In the PBM world, games either have a 'fixed turnaround' or a 'varied turnaround'. I have always wanted Ilkor to be fixed turnaround.
However this also has caused many headaches. Fixed turn-based single character RPG!! It had always been a challenged even back in the glory days of PBM. For those reading this that might not quite understand, let me explain. Turn-based PBM generally fell into 1 of 2 categories. It was either fixed or it was varied.
Varied allowed the player to submit his orders at his own speed. Maybe he played weekly, every 2 weeks or even longer. The varied turnaround meant that the company responsible for processing the orders would process orders as and when they came in. Player 'A' and player 'B' might post their orders in on the same day but the postal system delivered them 2 days apart. They would therefore be processed in the order that they arrived. It generally gives the players who play more frequently and who submit their orders quickly the advantage. Companies did attempt to put rules in place to reduce the advantage, however only to a certain degree.
Fixed turnaround on the other hand means just the opposite. A game might have a 2 weekly turnaround with deadline dates set to every second Friday. The game would process all the orders from all the players simultaneously on every second Friday and then post out the results. The players would receive their results maybe on the Saturday or Monday and then have almost 2 weeks to study their results and ponder over their next set of orders before submitting them.
Varied turnaround generally suited single character games, like RPG (just about all the hand-moderated games ran like this and even the computer moderated games like Quest, Dungeon World, etc.). Fixed turnaround was used mostly with games that involved conquest, discovery and sport management games.
I personally really enjoyed the 'fairness', structure and simplistic nature of fixed turnaround games. It enhanced diplomacy, emphasized the importance of planning, tactics & teamwork and heightened the anticipation of receiving the turn results.
Having said that, I actually preferred RPG to wargaming. I was forever searching for a decent RPG that used fixed turnaround.
Having been both a player and a GameMaster I can see the reasons why fixed worked well with wargames and varied worked with RPG, however I never really bought the story that this is the only way it can be done.
So is that the end of the story? Is Ilkor going to be a fixed turn-based single character fantasy RPG that is played online through the browser?
Well not quite.
Why can't it be a hybrid? Why can't it be a mixture of both fixed turn-based and real-time? The strength of PBM is in the turn-based system and the strength of online is 'real-time'. The question is how can this be achieved to produce a modern online PBM?
I think I've got the answer to that, but this article is already long enough, so I think I'll leave the details to our solution to another time.
Sorry, its been a while since our last update on Ilkor, however you'll be pleased to hear work is going full-steam ahead. Development is going very well indeed and we've made quite a bit of progress. We've still a mountain of work to climb, but the roadmap has been drawn and the journey has certainly begun.
This article is going to be reasonable technical and therefore it won't really reveal too much about the game features (sorry guys, you'll have to wait a while longer for that).
Right now the development team is 5 strong; 3 programmers and 2 artists.
Logo & Motif: Simon has completed numerous concept designs and we've settled on a style that we really like and believe it sets a great tone and theme for the game.
We've a number of different variations (mono, colour, light on dark, dark on light and so on). Simon has also put together a nice motif that will be used throughout the game. He is now busy working on a large collection of character portraits (race and class combinations).
We'll report more on these as and when they become available. For the moment however, check out the logo and motif below:
World Map: I (Sean) spent the better part of Jan & Feb actually coming up with the design for the world map. This proved to be an interesting task which took far longer than I expected. The world map is going to be huge, massive!!!!
It consists of five regions (continents). Each continent is plenty large and interesting enough to keep any fearless adventurer content for many years. I designed each continent down to low level detail, setting out the various terrain types, places of interest, roads, rivers, settlements and then labelling everything. When I say labelling everything I mean everything!!!
Anyway, now with the draft map completed, this has been handed over to Jon who is busy re-drawing the maps to an extremely high quality. The maps will be drawn in a typical 'Tolkien' style. Jon has indicated that the map (maps) will be ready around the end of March. I really can't wait.
The finished maps will be used by the mapping engine. The world map will just be used for reference purposes only. The game will start with just one of the continents 'open' for play. The detailed illustrated map of the continent will be fully available for the player to study and explore. The map size will be somewhere in the region of A3 to A2. Remember that is just one continent, there will be another 4 to explore eventually!
Players will move their characters around the map using a grid map. The scale will be even greater on the grid map. The grid map will reveal much more detail about the continent and will only display the areas that you have previously explored. The rest will be 'clouded out'.
What is really exciting about this approach is that we hope to have the grid map 'look and feel' much like the detailed illustrated map. The tilesets will be created by Jon and we're using some rather smart ways to handle the transitions between terrain types thus it will not look like a grid map, each terrain type will seamlessly blend into one another.
One of the reasons for choosing a 'Tolkien' style map is the lack of colour and it's simplicity in terrain types. Not only does it look cool (well we think so), but it won't detract from the various tokens and symbols we plan on programmatically displaying on locations.
Chris is now starting work on the Editor itself. The editor is a GameMaster toolkit that will enable use to build the grid map up from the illustrated map. We'll have tools available to change terrain types, to create roads, rivers, settlements etc. Anyway, more on the map editor at a later date. I'll try and get Chris to write up an article.
Metadata: This article is proving to be lengthy already so I won't talk too much about metadata. Basically metadata refers to all the 'playing pieces' of the game. I've gone through an exercise of putting together very rough screenshots of all the various metadata pages where the GM will use to pre-populate the game at the beginning with data. The type of data is:
- Classes (Fighter, Wizard, Rogue, Priest, etc)
- Races (Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling, etc)
- Maagic Items
- and so on
It isn't simply a list but a whole host of properties for each specific metadata type. For example, each class will require to have a ClassId, a Name, Brief Description, Detailed Description, Icon, Image, and other game related stat values. These are all configurable so that the start of the game the GM can customise the game to his liking.
We've gone with this 'generic' approach so that the game engine could one day be re-used for another type of game. Also it makes it alot easier to manage the game and correct and tweet it here and there. As I mentioned, Ilkor will start with just one continent open. The other 4 will open when they are required. The majority of a continent's data and 'playing pieces' can be configured through these screens prior to opening it up to players.
Hope you find this type of article interesting, I'll try and write more often.