June 23, 2021

[Progress Update] Combat Prototype

Last December I made a major change to the design of Daughter of Dreams as I pivoted from real-time combat to turn-based combat. Over the last few months, I worked to develop a prototype turn-based combat system. A little bit ago, I finished the entire system and produced a version that I shared with my internal alpha-testers. This post is a wrap-up on the turn-based prototype. I will document the progress I've made so far, and share what improvements I plan to make next.

For this progress update, I created a commentated video that showcases the entire combat system. If you are not familiar with the project thus far, I recommend skimming through it a bit. It is easiest to understand how the game works when it is shown in actual gameplay.

There are a few primary systems implemented in this version:

  • Performing actions and attacks on the turn-based grid-based battlefield.
  • Damage handling, modifiable combat stats, and status effects.
  • Simple enemy AI and a few basic enemies.

There are also two characters implemented, with a full set of unique combat abilities each. There are posts covering their abilities in detail here [Sonya] [Lydia]. Their abilities are not finalized (I have major changes already planned). However, what I have so far does showcase the overall idea I have for both of their characters, and how I plan to design abilities generally.

Conclusions

This is actually the second prototype I developed, the first one being a real-time combat engine that I developed last summer. That one ended up feeling stale, and unoriginal. I wanted to do something more interesting and within my skill set, so I pivoted to turn-based combat. I talked about this in-depth in a previous blog post.

Overall, I am extremely pleased with this new system. From the alpha-testers gameplay, I saw that they were all able to quickly understand the combat system (even without a tutorial). Furthermore, I was able to develop some mechanics that I have genuinely not seen in any other games. Fire Emblem (if you only had gambit attacks) and the upcoming Project Triangle Strategy are the closest direct comparisons, but I am also drawing inspiration from Chrono Trigger, Paper Mario, and traditional JRPGs. I really believe that what I have has the foundation to be something unique and incredible. I will be moving forward with this prototype to develop the full game, and I am excited to see what I can do with this game!

Future Development

My next update will be focusing on two things. (1) Polishing the combat system, and (2) adding the inventory and equipable charms, which will be a foundational mechanic for creating custom strategies. The specific changes I have planned address each of these points:
  • The combat system needs to be more readable and provide more information to the player. I will be adding context-sensitive UI and more information about attack types and enemy weaknesses. I will also be streamlining the controls, and updating the UI.
  • I will be adding charms that can be equipped to modify a character's combat stats. Along with this, I need a way to view the current stats for each player and show how different stats will affect their abilities during combat. This mechanic is similar to charms from Hollow Knight and badges from Paper Mario and I think it's really important to encourage strategic play.
  • I will be updating the enemy AI to be more nuanced and easier to understand. Due to the complex nature of attacks, it is currently hard to tell where on the battlefield is safe or in range of enemies. I will try to simplify the design of enemies and provide some telegraphed indicators of what the enemies will try to do.
  • The current abilities are not well balanced. Sonya in particular is unable to effectively synergize with her abilities. I have plans to refactor all of the combat abilities and damage values, including some significant adjustments to the AP system. I don't think this will be very hard fortunately since the foundational mechanics are already in place.

Stray Thoughts

It has been a long while since I wrote a blog post. This alpha-version was actually finished a while ago. At one point I wanted to write once per month, but other things took priority. Now I am into summer break, however, and I believe that development for Daughter of Dreams will be pretty consistent for the next few months. Stay tuned for more updates on this project, and some of the other things I am working on!

April 04, 2021

[Design] Lydia, Prophet of Ta'Reya

I have been making tons of progress on Daughter of Dreams. I have completely finished the abilities for both Sonya and Lydia, and I am close to having a fully functional combat prototype which will be sent to my alpha-testers to get early feedback. In the meantime, I am writing this post to showcase the combat abilities for Lydia Derden, the Prophet of Ta'Reya. She was sent by Ta'Reya to be a guide and friend for Sonya, and was trained to use magic.

Lydia is the primary spell-caster of the team, focusing on ice and healing magic. Her primary resource is Magic Points (MP). All characters use MP to perform magical attacks, but Lydia has the unique ability to spend extra MP to make her magical attacks more powerful.

The Silver Chakram

Lydia's primary weapon is her Silver Chakram. It allows her to strike enemies at a distance, as well as channel her magic (due to silver being a highly enchantable metal).

Lydia throws the Chakram to the right, hitting a row of Green Globbers.
Using Chakram Cast to damage a row of Green Globbers

Chakram Cast: This is Lydia's base attack. It casts the Chakram in a straight line from its current position, and will deal damage to all enemies in a line.

Lydia throws the Chakram around in a rectangle pattern.
Throwing the Chakram around in a loop

The Chakram does not always have to return directly to Lydia. Instead, it operates independently, and it will stay floating in place until the next time it is moved. If it returns to Lydia's position, she will catch it and the Chakram is removed from the battlefield until the next time it is used.

Special Attacks

Lydia's special attacks rely on using the Silver Chakram to channel magical attacks, and these abilities can be charged with extra MP to make them far more powerful.

Lydia throws the Chakram damaging and freezing a row of Green Globbers.
Using Freezing Cast to damage and freeze two Green Globbers

Freezing Cast: This attack performs a regular Chakram Cast with an additionally freezing effect. When it is charged, the effect will last one turn longer for each MP spent, up to a maximum of six turns. Frozen enemies cannot act until the effect wears off. If they are hit, they will take extra damage and the freeze effect will cancel.

Lydia throws the Chakram, then charges an AOE Radial Cast to damage several Green Globbers.
Using Radial Cast to damage several Green Globbers

Radial Cast: The Radial Cast is a powerful area of effect ability (AOE). It deals damage in a radius around the Chakram. Extra MP will increase the radius and damage of the attack. This ability also shows the importance of positioning the Chakram, especially as these attacks deal damage to allies.

Ordered Magic

Hallowed Frost: This is one of Lydia's most powerful attacks. It is a huge meteor of enchanted ice that damages and freezes enemies, while simultaneously healing allies. However, once it is cast, it will not strike until the next turn, so you will need to plan ahead to use it properly. This spell can operate both as a high damage attack, and a way for Lydia to support her melee allies from a distance.

Lydia uses Hallowed Frost to strike several enemies and heal Sonya.
Using Hallowed Frost to damage enemies and heal Sonya

There will be many attacks that operate with a delay like this. It is one way I hope to encourage strategic play as well as make it possible to use avoid damage from enemy attacks.

Lydia casts Sanctified Aura to restore MP and grant Immunity to the entire party.
Using Sanctified Aura to restore MP and grant Immunity

Sanctified Aura: Sanctified Aura is a support spell which restores MP to allies in radius. It also grants the Immunity status effect, preventing allies from being inflicted by harmful status effects. This is one of the only abilities that can passively recover MP, but it costs a lot of Action Points (AP) so it is most effective when Lydia can grant MP to the full party at once.

Chaotic Magic

In Daughter of Dreams most magic is classified as either Ordered or Chaotic. As a mechanic, this simply allows me to split the spell abilities into more than one tab because there will eventually be a lot of them. There are lore implications, but I will not get into them too much here. I should note though, that Chaotic in this case does not mean evil, it is only a classification of how the spell operates.

Lydia uses Unstable Transference to move a Green Globber to the left and herself to the right.
Using Unstable Transference to move an enemy and Lydia to new locations

Unstable Transference: This is a utility spell that allows Lydia to teleport any entity anywhere on the battlefield to another location. This includes herself, allies, and enemies. Unstable Transference may also be charged with MP to increase the distance of the teleport (but the target itself may be at any range).

Stray Thoughts

Overall, I am extremely pleased with Lydia's design. Both the movement of the Silver Chakram and her unique use of MP make her feel very different than Sonya and I can see a lot of potential for strategic depth as her abilities synergize with her allies. Hopefully it will translate well to real gameplay (and I will find out soon, as the alpha-testers get their hands on the combat prototype).

Also I'd like to mention a few adjustments to Sonya's design since the last time I wrote. Primarily, her bonus AP ability was changed to a Charge status effect instead of a custom ability. Charge grants extra AP to entities at the start of their turn, as well as increasing the damage done by Light Elemental attacks. This means Sonya can not only grant extra AP to her allies as well, but she also gains increased damage for all her Light Elemental primary attacks when she has Charge. This approach felt more consistent with the rest of the game and enabled extra synergies.

January 26, 2021

[Design] Sonya, Chosen Luminary

As I move forward with the Daughter of Dreams combat prototype, I am working to develop each characters' combat abilities to be unique and synergistic. I wrote previously about the story and personality of each character, and their combat abilities will reflect this design as well. I want every character to have an entirely different approach to combat, using a unique style of weapon attacks as well as magic. Additionally, each character will have powerful synergies both with their own set of abilities, and in tandem with their allies to allow for elaborate strategies, setups, and awesome powerful attacks.

In this post, I will do a deeper analysis of Sonya, the Chosen Luminary. I will show each of her combat abilities, and explain how they are intended to synergize with the design of the character. I will also cover more details about Sonya's story specifically, and some of the ideas I have for the combat system overall. In the future I hope to write a similar post for each of the characters as well.

The Sorrite Spear

The first distinction between each character will be their primary weapon. Most characters will have basic attacks they can always perform using their signature weapons. Lydia fights with a chakram, Duran has a knife, Angela has a bow. Sonya carries her legendary Sorrite Spear, a glowing spear of light elemental magic, made of Sorrite, a magically enchanted metal.

Sorrite Strike and Sorrite Slash Attacks
In combat, her spear functions as a primary melee (close-ranged) attack, though with a bit more range than other characters due to its length. Sonya herself is a warrior, so her melee attacks are powerful, and she will usually serve a role at the forefront of combat, taking damage so that other characters may act from a distance. Her basic attacks are a melee strike (which hits in a straight line) and a slash, which does more area damage around her.

Action Points

The actions that the player can take during their turn of combat is limited primarily by their Action Points (AP). Different abilities take different amounts of AP, and when the player has used all of their AP for that turn, the phase ends and the enemies get a chance to attack. Action points are shared across the entire party, so the player can choose how to spend their AP. The total AP refreshes at the start of each player phase. Magic Points (MP) is also used for magical attacks, and are refilled in other ways.

Using Charged Slash consumes 2 AP and 1 MP

All the characters use AP to perform their abilities, but it is different for Sonya. One approach I am taking to make each character unique is to give them a different resource to manage. For Sonya, this resource is AP. Sonya's actions not only use AP, but they manipulate total AP, grant bonus AP, and consume extra AP to perform more powerful attacks and spells. Eventually, Lydia's abilities will depend on magic, while Duran will use abilities that consume his own health.

Special Attacks

Special attacks are generally more powerful variants of the character's primary weapon attack. For Sonya, her special attacks are designed to help her gain extra AP, and use that extra AP to deal extra damage.

Using Dynamic Strike to gain +1 AP

Dynamic Strike: This attack is both a more powerful spear strike, and a method to gain extra AP to synergize with Sonya's AP based attacks. The attack deals more damage, and if it kills an enemy, the party will gain +1 AP at the start of the next turn. It is a high-damage finishing move that can chain into more powerful attacks the next turn.

Using Charged Slash with 3 AP

Charged Slash: This attack is a wider slash attack that deals damage proportional to the party's total AP when it is used. In this case, the AP is three, so Charged Slash deals (x2) and does six damage. With this attack, Sonya might increase her AP with other abilities, then follow up with a Charged Slash to deal massive damage.

I debated for a while about how to implement the bonus AP ability for Sonya's attacks. I decided on a delay like this, so that the bonus AP applies on the next turn. This was for a few reasons. First, this method means that no single turn will be able to last forever, since Sonya can only increase AP for the next turn. Additionally, by delaying the bonus AP usage, the player must think further ahead to effectively use their AP, which encourages planning and cool strategy.

Ordered Magic

Somnar is a potently magical world. There is no isolated mage class in Daughter of Dreams, rather everyone has their own assortment of magic abilities to take advantage of. Sonya's magic plays into her strength as a warrior, enabling her to power her attacks with bonus AP, and reduce the damage she takes from physical attacks.

Using Dynamic Deference and following up with Charged Slash

Dynamic Deference: This spell consumes a large amount of AP initially, in exchange for deferring all of it to the next turn instead. This is a more simple ability, but I hope it will lead to interesting decision making. It allows Sonya to effectively sacrifice her turn in exchange for much more power in the next turn. In this case she idles so the Green Globber will move within range, then follows up with a massive twelve damage Charged Slash.

Also, since AP is shared for the entire party, any bonus AP abilities, such as Dynamic Deference, will complement the other characters' abilities also, by giving them an opportunity to perform their own extra powerful sequence of attacks.

Using Stalwart Focus to avoid the second Green Globber attack

Stalwart Focus: Finally, Sonya can resist physical damage using Stalwart Focus. This spell applies a Shield effect proportional to the party's total AP. The next attack that would deal physical damage to Sonya will be reduced by the value of the Shield effect. In this example, Sonya gains +3 Shield, completely negating the second attack by the Green Globber which deals only two damage.

Part of the philosophy behind this ability is the idea that combat should always be possible without taking damage. In addition to the ability for characters to move to safe positions to avoid attacks, abilities like Stalwart Focus will allow for alternative strategies to reduce or avoid damage. A new player may still take damage, and heal with items, but I want an experienced player to be able to strategize to complete fights without losing health at all.

Stray Thoughts

I hope this gives a good representation of my ideas behind Sonya's character and combat design, as well as more information about the combat system generally. I look forward to sharing more about the other characters as well. Duran in particular will be very interesting to design. Also, bear in mind as always that this is only showing the initial prototype of Daughter of Dreams and things are subject to change and grow over time.