Immortius' journal

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I think I saw something...

Immortius :: January 08, 2007

I've been working on a few things recently. I cleaned up a few GUI elements, such as the player list. Nothing really exciting there except that the health and status of doors and other objects is now displayed. For doors this means you can tell if they are locked or broken just by looking at them.

I also spent some time tweaking the stealth system. Initially this was to improve performance, but I also made some tweaks to the accuracy of the system. In particular I made it so thieves can't hide in the shadow of a 2" thick pole by checking multiple locations on the thief for light. (The Unreal Script Profiler is a great tool, by the way).

Finally I've been messing around with the AI code a bit. So far I've just been messing with how the AI detects players, and doing some experiments with AI rats looking for food and running away if they hear or see trouble.

-:-

From Thievery to Nightblade

Immortius :: December 16, 2006

Thievery is a game with two teams - the thieves who undertake objectives and/or eliminate guards, and the guards who stop them. There are a number of weaknesses with the way Thievery works however.

  1. Map Knowledge is essential. The objectives are different in each thievery map - in some you are after loot, others you have objective items, and some are a mixture of both. Some maps have lots of special features like spiders, gate switches and so on. This contributes a lot to Thievery's steep learning curve.
  2. Guard boredom. Due to the stealth nature of thieves, guards can spend a lot of time without seeing thieves. This is especially true if all the thief lives are lost quickly by one or two players, and the single remaining thief is a patient ghoster who cautiously moves through the map gathering loot. While some people don't mind this.
  3. Long round times with limited lives. It is quite possible to get knocked out in the first 5 minutes and spend the next 20 waiting for the next round.
  4. Guard objective "camping". Not innately bad, but on many maps there were particular objectives that could be made extremely difficult to achieve without a lot of equipment use or guard elimination. Guard elimination is a perfectly valid tactic, but it is perhaps a little disappointing to be forced to use it in a stealth based game.

The basic idea for Nightblade's three team gametype was to introduce an offensive team, which would keep the guards busy while allowing thieves to partake in pure stealth.

Next was determining the objectives for each team. The thief objective was to be to simply steal enough loot and escape, and the guards are simply interested in guarding all of their master's possessions until the timelimit.

The shade team needed an objective as well. This objective needed to conflict with the objectives of the other two teams, to encourage interaction between all the teams. We decided that Shades are after Nightblade pieces, which belong to the wealthy lords the guards work for. The Nightblade pieces also count as loot for thieves, providing and the loot requirements for each map are set so that thieves must steal at least one of the Nightblade pieces on a map to win. Shades require all of the Nightblade pieces.

To reduce the learning curve, the objectives will be the same on every map. Furthermore, the Nightblade piece spawn locations are displayed on the sketch map.

As both shades and thieves steal items we wanted to be especially careful to avoid the trap of shades becoming thieves with better offensive abilities. For this reason shades will have limited or no stealth abilities.

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Room of Doors

Immortius :: November 06, 2006

Recently I put together a testing map for Nightblade. This basically involves a collection of connected rooms, each of which allows the testing of a feature of Nightblade. For instance, the Room of Doors contains doors with various setting so that one can test smashing them, pick-locking them, unlocking them with a key, repairing them and so on. This has already uncovered a number of bugs which I have fixed. I imagine it will also be a useful reference for mappers in the future.

Of course, I have also been playing the new Guild Wars: Nightfall. I am very impressed with how ArenaNet have improved the game with this new release.

-:-

Class Selections GUI

Immortius :: October 24, 2006

I spent the last couple of weeks working on the GUI screens that appears after you join a team (one for each team, although they are very similar). These screens allow you to make selections regarding your abilities or equipment. It also includes a brief objective overview for your team and allows you to get a description for each piece of equipment you have. Once again, it features the map of the level in the background.

I've also been watching Good Game recently. This is a half-hour program on gaming produced by the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Not as indepth as I would perhaps like, but it is still an entertaining watch. Last week they even interviewed Jeremy from Pure Pwnage. It is also available for download, which is nice.

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Some Like to Watch

Immortius :: October 09, 2006

Over the weekend I added spectator mode to Nightblade. Just the usual affair - free cam, follow cam and rat cam. The rat cam is probably unnecessary though, as we're trying to avoid the 15 minute wait until the next round issue that made running around as a rat so attractive in Thievery. That leaves ratty spectators as a bit of an exploit waiting to happen, as they could be used to lead shades or guards to thieves. So at some stage I think I'll make rat cam a server option that defaults to being off.

I like reading web comics. I read humorous ones, serious ones, artistic ones, even the really weird ones. The best are a combination of all four though.

-:-

These teams are stacked!

Immortius :: October 02, 2006

Since last time I've mostly been implementing the code to handle the balancing of teams at the beginning of a game - allowing everyone to select a team and then after a time limit is reached moving people so the teams are about equal. Most of this was already implemented, but the algorithm for balancing the teams only supported two teams. In order to work out who to move when it is necessary, there is a scoring system in place that takes into account which team a person picked in the last two games.

The only other thing that might be worth mentioning is that I added the ability for thieves to drop loot - but this isn't really important as they could already just hand it to another thief. Although I guess it gives thieves a way of distracting guards while they flee.

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Determining Oneself

Immortius :: September 25, 2006

Over the last week I've been working on the multiplayer team selection screen, following GUI concept images created by oRGy. One particular feature of the team selection screen is that it has the map of the level in the background - so the new or absent minded player will be able to know the map layout as soon as they enter the level. GUI stuff is always a little fiddly, especially making sure that everything still looks right on any sane resolution. So I always make sure to test them in window mode, and change the window shape to get a good feel for how it will react.

Of course, I have also spent a little bit of time playing the Guild Wars: Nightfall preview event. I like what they're doing - the new NPC henchmen that you can configure in the same way as your main character are very nice. They have a new story writer for this chapter, so it will be interesting to see how that affects the game. They also seem to be listening to the complaints of the PvP community with regards to skill unlocking grind, because I have heard that they are working on PvP editions of the Guild Wars games that offer complete skill unlocks.

-:-

Death and Rebirth

Immortius :: September 18, 2006

Recently I've been working on a few different things. To start with I've put Illuminus' rat model ingame, although it needs some tweaking still. More generally I have been focusing on adding and refining the special abilities of the thieves and shades. For instance, I have been experimenting with giving shades the ability to create and possess a rat with which they can scout.

We also have been having some discussions regarding the handling of death in Nightblade, with a particular focus on preventing suicide being exploited. In Thievery it can be an advantage to die as it allows you to come back with a new loadout. There are three broad strategies we are looking at to counter this:

On to other things... I purchased the anime series Boogiepop Phantom a short while ago. Despite a silly sounding name, Boogiepop Phantom is a serious and thoroughly involving series. Of particular note is the way its story is told - each episode follows the story of a single character over roughly the same period of time, give or take a couple of months. This means that as the series progresses you can see the events from many different perspectives, and slowly piece the story together.

-:-

All that glitters is loot

Immortius :: January 26, 2006

I hope you all enjoyed your respective religious/capitalist festivals. Time for some more news. :)

So what have I been working on lately? Well, in addition to the usual smattering of bugs and tweaks, I have added some new equipment. Firstly guards have flares once more. They have a number of differences between flares in thievery, most noticeably the bright purple light they produce.

Another piece of equipment that has made a comeback is the crack arrow, or more correctly the Crack Bolt. This debilitating item causes the players view to zoom in and out, rock clockwise and anticlockwise, and pulse green. I've had a little trouble testing it though, because it makes me feel ill. Especially when the world ends up upside-down. Urgh.

Finally I've been working on adding a visible glimmer effect for loot, to make it stand out more (especially for new players). This takes the form of a little lens-flare like shine that brightens and dims on the item. We haven't yet decided on whether it should be part of a Thief perk or a permanent effect however.

Meanwhile I've been spending some time learning DirectX 9 and Windows programming in general (something that isn't taught at my university). Nothing worth showing yet, but I'll make sure to mention when I do.

-:-

Of first steps and footsteps

Immortius :: December 02, 2005

It has been a while, but with uni out of the way I finally have time to start doing journal entries again. So what I've been working on...

A while ago I was experimenting with different equipment selection systems. While the Thievery loadout system had some good features (choice and the ability to save loadouts), it had flaws too. The prime problem was too much choice and not enough guidance for new players - let's face it, a new player is likely to grab a sword and some health potions, only to discover the importance of lockpicks upon reaching the first locked door. The other problem is more of a developer concern. With a store system it is difficult to balance the selection of equipment, especially because different equipment is useful on different maps. The same system that allows a player to make a balanced selection with a sword, a couple of tag bolts, a fire bolt and maybe a health potion too, also allows a player to buy 7 fire bolts.

The overall aim will be for each team to have an selection system that fits their theme, provides a decent level of customisability, is not a menacing trap for new players and allows an experienced player to use saved loadouts.

More recently I've been working on creating some mapper controls for the tutorial maps. Some examples of these include the ability to prevent the player moving temporarily, and methods to add and later remove items from the player's inventory.

I have also been doing a little work on adding support for custom surface types to Nightblade. In UT2003, every texture was assigned one of 11 surface types, from rock to glass. Unfortunately this selection lacked a number of surface types which are essential to Nightblade, such as carpet. Luckily in UT2004 Epic added an extra 32 custom surface types which can be used however a mod likes. However, the existing UT2004 systems for footsteps, damage effects and sounds didn't have support for these extra surface types so I've been adding this.

-:-

Beware the Dunkelheit

Immortius :: November 25, 2004

Susan and Sam liked to play at night,
To hide and seek where there is no light;
One night they went to explore the caves,
Soon they were sleeping in matching graves.
-- "Children's Skipping Rhyme"

Now that Uni is finally over for the year, I've been able to get back to work on Nightblade. I've been working on a few different things such as getting various dynamics of the shade team implemented and fixing bugs.

One of things that have been implemented are special Holy Items, such as statues. These create a barrier which is impassabe to shades, to the point of damaging them when they get too close. However, these items are vulnerable to destruction by non-shades. I'll leave the implications of that up to your imagination...

-:-

The Numbers! They Speak to Me!

Immortius :: July 06, 2004

Work on Nightblade has resumed. There was a period of time there, between the release of UT2004 and Alien Swarm, in which not much was happening. This is partly because a lot of effort was being put into Alien Swarm. During this break a lot of consideration was put into issues we were having with Nightblade. In particular, with the gametypes: Quest was a massive undertaking that would probably be finished just as the next UT came out, Thief vs Guard has been done before and Guildwars was proving to be uninspiring (unlike Guild Wars). And then Orgy came up with an idea. Something new. Something... interesting. Hopefully you will be hearing more about this... soon.

-:-

No lock shall stop us.

Immortius :: February 23, 2004

Relch waited a few seconds after the guard had rounded the corner before darting out from the shadows and over to the door to the outer vault. Having watched the patrols for the last twenty minutes he reckoned he had about a minute and a half to pick the door's lock, and thus nearly had a heart attack when he heard a voice and sets of footsteps approaching. "My Lord, I assure you that security is impenetrable. Over two dozen guards are constantly on patrol, with a further dozen ready to provide backup as necessary.". Guards are useless if they never see anyone, Relch thought to himself as he hurriedly continued to pick the lock. " The inner vault lock itself cannot be unlocked by any means save the combination of the key and the code number, neither of which is kept here. And to even get to the inner vault door they would have get past the special suprise we had installed.". The lock finally gave way to Relch's intense probing, and he quickly opened the door, swung inside and closed it behind him. Moments later a second voice spoke right outside the door. "Very well, but if anything goes wrong I will have your head over this. I went to great lengths to secure this item." Relch waited until the footsteps had receeded into the distance and then let out a sigh. Well, at least he had gained some information. Luckily he already had the key and the code, one from an insider and the other from a job last night. Now there was just that surprise...

It has been a while since my last journal entry, but I have been busy! I spent some time eliminating bugs, always an essential and never-ending task. Just recently I coded the new lockpicking GUI, which will hopefully provide just enough challenge to keep lockpicking interesting without adding undue annoyance. The interface is simple - just move the pins up until the become green and stick, but not so far that they become red and all fall down.

Anyway, back to Uni for me now. :D

-:-

The darkness rises...

Immortius :: January 06, 2004

Eh, what's that recruit? What should you do if you spot a thief? Well, the first thing you ought do is firebolt the taffer. That'll learn that sly bugger for trying to sneak his way past ya. Once ya thief is all lit up he'll prob'ly start running about like a chook with his 'ead right off. Now, back in the good old days, this is when I'ld 'ave run up to the gutter rat and brained 'im with my mace. I'm a bit older now, so these days I'ld chop him up with me axe instead.
- Major Crunx, speaking to a new recruit of the Sun Guard.

Well, I've been doing some more work, and have managed to code keys to open locked containers and doors, as well as books. Books in Nightblade are better than ever, with every page being a seperate texture so mappers can make their books look however they like. Furthermore, Nightblade books now support more pages than you could possibly ever want! I'm not sure what the upper limit is, but somewhere in the tens of thousands at least. :D

-:-

Moment by moment it approaches...

Immortius :: December 19, 2003

The Betrayal occured on Mid-winters dusk. Without warning Auros, god of day was attacked by his brother, he who's name shall be unspoken. Their battle lasted for 3 days and its effects were felt throughout the land. The stars shone like daggers in the night sky, while the sun burned dimly during the day. In the end, Auros sundered his brother's unholy blade and fought him off, but not before his was gravely injured. It is our task to guard the blade, so that it never falls into the hands of the Dusk-bringers. We shall stand firm to our duty.
- The forth Patriach of the Sun Guards, Book of the Sun

Firstly: what have I been up to? Well, this and that. I've made the necessary changes so that Thieves and Guards select from different lists of perks. Perks are special abilities which allow you to specialise in different fields. Needless to say, thieves and guards should have access to different sets of perks - a stealth perk is of little use to a warrior like a memeber of the Sun Guards.

I also added a little 'Trap Disarmer' perk for thieves wanting a little bit of an edge when disarming mines and caltrops.

Finally I have a working script for the whistler, just sitting around waiting for a model (or at least a model which is a little more unique than a crate).

Other than this, I did a little work on improving the inventory system, a bit of bug fixing, and re-downloaded the entire 400MBs of Nightblade with my 56k modem in order to use the new SVN. I should be getting Broadband in the next few days though, so I'm happy.

Now for a little feedback for my fellow journal writers:

Cythe said: "Is it just me, or does it seem as though no one else in the dev team is doing anything note worthy? "

This is hardly worth a reply, but I do point out that your beautiful mines and caltrops would be useless if somebody hadn't written scripts for them, or if somebody hadn't written the entire inventory system to support them. :P

Dalai said: "So, how does this relate to the Quest gametype? How do you work a story into it while still giving mappers freedom to create their own ideas? How do you make it high quality but end up with more than a couple of hours worth of play?"

Have an enthralling enough backstory that mappers can't help but work within it and get ideas from it? I can't wait to see what you have in mind.

- Immortius

-:-

And thus it begins...

Immortius :: November 29, 2003

"We created a blade unlike any other. A blade forged in the fires of our worship. A blade quenched in the blood of our enemies, the worshippers of light. A blade powerful enough to destroy a god... The Nightblade.
- Unknown, Libra Nocturnalis

Heya! I'm currently working on creating the Thieves vs Guards (TvG) gametype for Nightblade. I've completed work on a number of things, including the objective system, loot respawning, guard possession, and an inventory system.

At the moment I'm working on coding a variety of inventory items for both thieves and guards. I've so far implemented a couple of varieties of mines, caltrops and a few different types of potions. I guess I better get started on the whistler for Cythe's (without a doubt) awesome upcoming whistler model.

- Immortius

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