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Game Design

The Looming Development Cycle - Combat

Okay, so with this blog I'm going to dive a bit deep. The combat in The Looming Spire has been something that has plagued me as a developer in the time I have worked on this project, and I've wanted to -- for a long time -- break down the elements of its combat system in blog form. But to do that, I need to get into the history of this game a bit. So, here goes.

This game started out as a tech demo in 2009/2010. Rpg Maker VX was the hotness at the time, but I, as someone who had not yet learned how to write code, was incredible frustrated at the impotence of its event editor. Compared to an older tool (Rpg Maker 2003), the capability of the event system felt gutted and hollow. I think the rationale was (and still is!) that if scripting is introduced, events no longer need the technical power that 2003 provided. And to some degree, that's true. Scripting has been a very powerful and necessary component to introduce to the Rpg Maker series, but gutting the event editor left people like myself -- who really really enjoyed building crazy things with the event system -- in the lurch.

So I decided, for fun to go back and make something out of the old tool I loved and spent way too much time on growing up, RM2k3. The concept was simple -- you are a guy with a sword. You bump into a monster, battle starts right there on the map. You take turns attacking each other until one of you dies. The end. That was the entire conceit of the battle system.

Once I got a working prototype of that thing, I decided to try adding some more stuff. Obviously, items had to be included. Need to make potions. Magic seemed like a cool idea. How about multiple enemies? How do we learn magic, by the way? What other items should we add? Oh, maybe something to heal status effects... guess we should add status effects. On an on -- the evolution of the combat system, which was the entire game at the time, was pretty organic in this way. Eventually, there was this idea of making a dungeon crawler, with a UI where your HP was on screen at all times, and you could use magic to manipulate the environment and solve puzzles.

Eventually an event on RMN called "Release Something!" came around, which prompted me to release a small technical demo, and create this very gamepage. The demo wasn't much more than 6 small rooms and some monsters to beat up. But it was received pretty well and I thought, hey what the heck, why not try to make a full game like this? And thus, it began.

But, as you can imagine, the organic growth and design of this game was not sustainable. To make this idea last the entire length of a video game, it needed more substance. Decisions that were made early on in development no longer made sense and had to be re-designed. Lots of really insane implementation details needed to be addressed. I won't get into the technical details too deeply (the entire battle engine and more has been completely rewritten... at least twice) but I am going to try to explain what my design philosophy has been, where some of the pain lies, and the state of the game's combat as it exists today.

So first...

Design Philosophy

My design philosophy, in much of anything I create, has always been about constraints. Often, the constraints of the medium can lead to work that really branches out, explores and pushes the boundaries of those constraints as far as they'll go, whereas another medium with far less constraints might encourage someone (like myself) to feel more at home playing it safe, or worse, adopting a "kitchen sink" approach to your game design. Not too much or too little; with the right constraints, you are merely outlining what you desire to accomplish.

There are two kinds of constraints at play here: technical and self-imposed.

The technical constraints here are kind of obvious from the get-go: this is a game made in Rpg Maker 2003. And for all the love I have for this tool, the amount of effort required to produce meaningful results on this engine is a bit absurd. But this means the entire battle system is cobbled together using events only, using pictures to display UI elements and other things. This isn't the first time something like this has been built using this tool, and I don't think it'll be the last either. And perhaps I'm crazy for continuing with it after twelve years. But... well, yeah.

Secondly, self-imposed constraints. Here's where I get a bit philosophical. Despite having spent a helluva lot of time on the combat system, tweaking elements here and there, designing enemies & abilities, setting up battles, re-writing tons of things... I've never wanted the combat in this game to be the star of the show. I've always wanted the game to feel more like an adventure game, akin more to a Zelda, Metroid, Castlevania, etc, rather than your standard JRPG. I just thought, what if Link to the Past had a turn-based combat system? What would it need to be to evoke the same feeling as those games? I would later play a game called Vagrant Story, and realize my vision was closer to that game than anything else, albeit I'm aiming for much simpler and more strictly turn-based. I digress -- the point here is that I always wanted the Looming Spire to be a single-character RPG with turn-based combat, where combat is a meaningful element of the overall challenge, always fast-paced yet impactful, but never feeling too oppressive. As such, battles never have more than three enemies.

Alright, so with those ideas in mind.... Why is this blog post so long already?

Evolution of the Battle System

Let's take a look at how the battle system has evolved over time.



2010




Early in-game screenshots circa 2010 captured by Darken (featuring Windows XP, I think?)


Early on, the battles were exactly as described above. You bump into a slime, and a small menu pops up right next to the hero, allowing you to choose "Fight" "Skill" and "Item". If I recall, back then, "Skill" allowed you to use whatever runes you had equipped (the lightning bolt on the lower-left side of the screenshot is one of the equipped runes), each rune having a single corresponding ability. I'm going to be completely honest though, I don't remember the details of how it worked this early on. I do wish I had a copy of this first download, would be fun to look back on.




Another early screenshot, showing an iteration of the first boss


Things evolved a bit over the coming months. The HUD changed, for one. Magic was learned by "leveling up" your runes, and this is where the rune system was starting to take shape.

For each rune (Fire, Frost, Sky, Earth, Light, Void), there are base elemental spells, i.e. three fire spells, three frost spells, etc.
On top of that, there is one spell for each pair of runes: one fire+frost spell, one fire+sky spell, one frost+sky spell, etc. These are known as doublespells.
Finally, there are four triplespells that can be learned, which is a spell that combines the power of three different runes.

Each of these spells were learned naturally, as you levelled up your runes. Level 1 gives a spell, level 2 gives a spell, level 3 enables learning doublespells, level 4 learns a spell, and level 5 enables learning triplespells. Back then, there was still an MP system, and casting a spell cost MP.



2011


Yet another early screenshot


On the next iteration, timed hits were introduced. Well, in a limited capacity. You can perform a "timed hit", which is pressing the confirm button right as you land an attack with your sword. This was to spice up things a bit, to make the basic attack maneuver feel a little more involved. It's one of the few features that has gone relatively unchanged as the battle system has evolved.



2014


An old screenshot, but relatively recent compared to the earlier ones


At this point is where the game began to run into development hell, something I might write a blog about someday when I finish this damn game. But as you can see, the HUD has relatively gone unchanged -- an update to the character was made, but that's about it. Development slowed to a crawl, but even slower was development of the battle system -- there were some fundamental flaws in how I was building things that made changing anything extremely time-consuming and difficult, and sapped my motivation away. I didn't know enough about how to build and maintain a large project like this at the time!

And it was at this point that development of this game would lapse, on and off, for years at a time. I'd work on the game for a couple months, little bits here and there really, and then just drop it, feeling too overwhelmed with the idea that it is a waste of time. Perhaps, in a sense, that is true, but I think viewing it as an absolute like that came from a lack of perspective on my part. As I've gotten older, I find the only things worth spending your time on are the things that make you happy. Though I might gripe about it, making this game comes from a place of love, and I get excited making things work with it. I'm pretty much making it only for myself. Okay okay, I'm getting off track again.



2019


Fancy moving screenshot of the most recent iteration of the combat menu (2019)


This here is, I believe, the third time the battle engine was re-written. And I mean, fully re-written. At this point in development, the steam version of RPG Maker 2003 had been released, and I began taking advantage of its new features, and that meant tackling the behemoth of revisiting a lot of old code. Things were trucking along!

The rune system was reworked quite a bit. Rather than learning spells through levelling, things were altered to grant three base element spells with each rune, and learning double/triple spells comes about by "finding" them in the dungeon. At this point, you can still level up your runes, but all it does is increase the damage/effectiveness of spells, no new abilities are acquired.

Otherwise, things were mostly the same! Timed hits still exist, enemies are largely unchanged.



2021



Fairly recent video, showing off the first version of the "parry" system


Later on, the UI was changed QUITE a bit, and the "energy" system was introduced. No longer does your hero have MP. You start the battle with 0 energy, but at the start of each turn, you gain 2 energy. Attacking costs 1 energy, and each timed hit costs another energy, up to 3. Spells each have a fixed energy cost, and using an item or passing your turn costs zero energy.

Also, a "parry" system was added. The idea here was to allow for players to avoid more combat than they had to -- to avoid the need for the player to grind experience. If you can parry well, you can cruise through the game!

This worked... sorta OK. To parry, you could press SHIFT to lift up your sword in a defensive stance between your turns. If the enemy attacked you while holding up your sword, you got a chance to parry. While holding up your sword, your turn meter doesn't increase at all. When you parry, you gain an extra energy point!

At first, if the enemy attacked while holding your sword up, you parry. This felt both busted and bad at the same time. Due to how the combat engine was built, the enemy's attack animation happens outside of the event loop in which you can lift up your sword, so parrying in a reflexive manner was not possible; you had to fully anticipate when the enemy would attack. But if you could do that (and it wasn't hard to do, honestly), then you could avoid almost all damage an enemy puts out, outside of spell damage.

So, to add a little more depth, this "parry meter" was added. When you perform a parry, a cursor will be sent careening down a bar passing by small red balls on its way. If you press the CONFIRM button while the cursor is on the balls, you will break them. Break them all, and you successfully perform a parry. This still had the issue of the player needing to fully anticipate the enemy's attack, which felt weird and bad, in my opinion. However, it was still kinda cool and worked fairly well, and created a skill window that could allow a skilled player to bend the game over their knee.

But now, finally...



Where things are now

2022



Most recent iteration of combat


This is where combat is today. The parry system was reworked -- now players will get a chance to parry EVERY attack, regardless of whether or not they held up their sword in anticipation. And the parry event was completely changed: now it depicts the player character facing down some projectiles.

The player can choose to
1) soak the projectile (taking full damage)
2) Block the projectile (hold the defend button and take half damage, and reducing the Guard meter -- if the guard meter "breaks", you can't defend until it recovers)
3) Parry the projectile (press the defend button right as the projectile lands to parry it)

Parrying all the projectiles for a given attack will net you one extra energy point. Every enemy has their own unique projectile pattern!





I think the combat is in a fairly good spot. There are a few more features that I've kinda glossed over that get shown in that last video:
  • Status effects! The player can be poisoned, disarmed, silenced, a whole slew of other things. The player can similarly receive buffs to their attack, speed, etc. They show up in the left-hand side.
  • Wards, a type of spell that when cast, places a "ward" on the battlefield (shows up on the left with a "crystal" icon). The player can have at most three wards in play, which trigger their effect at the start of each of the players' turns. Some spells have different effects based on the number of wards in play!
  • Equipment! Boy, a whole blog could probably be written about this alone, but the player has access to armor, helmets, and rings. Armor increases stats (like DEF, INT, etc), helmets provide effects that trigger when attacked, and rings provide effects that trigger when you land an attack. The player can also upgrade their sword using an item called Runic Ore, found throughout the Spire.
  • Enemy states! Enemies can respond to specific attacks, have a "final breath" attack when dying, and can change their behavior in response to specific conditions. For example, there's a robot enemy who, when attacked with an electric move, will go into a "charged" state and start slinging powerful electric abilities.
  • And more!



Alright, I think that's all I really have on this subject.
In the near future, I need to make updates to how Runes are "leveled", since a flat leveling curve no longer really makes sense, and introduces issues that come with how the progression of this game is laid out. But beyond that, this is the battle system!

Thanks, let me know your thoughts.

Announcement

2021 - An Announcement

In 2019, I declared "FINISH. THE. GAME.", a bold statement detailing how I would either finish this game by the end of 2019, or not at all.

Obviously the game didn't get finished in that timeframe. In a tale as old as time (or as old as this gamepage perhaps), real life took some turns and I couldn't prioritize this weird hobby game dev project. The following year+ was obviously tumultuous for reasons I'm sure everyone can relate to, but especially so for my family as I had to both find a new job and take care of a brand new baby! And thus, the Looming Spire as a project fell to the wayside for the better part of two years.

So why am I posting this blog? For most of my life at this point, I've had a dream of being a game developer -- that is to say, being someone who has made a video game -- and it has thus far been a dream I've failed to live up to. I've grown up, I'm actually a real-life programmer now. I've dabbled in gamedev projects as a way to learn things, and could feasibly begin using a real engine like Unity or Godot or something to create a brand new game.

However, despite my best efforts (well, "best") this project, this god damn RPG Maker 2003 adventure puzzle RPG video game that I aspired to make and created a gamepage over ten ELEVEN years ago for, STILL sits at the forefront of the game-making part of my brain. The Looming Spire, living up to its name, stands tall as an eternal paragon of incompleteness -- that poisonous mineral, ever-shedding its sickness: every time I try to start something new, I always see this project sitting on my hard drive, just screaming at me, begging to be released from its unfinished purgatory.

Well, I'm making very large strides in recent weeks. I'm really trying my hardest to make it to the finish line this time. Yes, that means...

The Looming Spire is officially in development once again.

This game, this project has a lot of heart poured into it. There's a lot I want to show you all, but I need to stop myself and hold out for now. There's a very real phenomenon where showing off your progress activates the same parts of your pleasure center as releasing a finished product, and I can't do that anymore. I don't need people to see screenshots, I need people to see the "new game" option when they start the game up for the first time. I don't need validation that this looks cool, I need actual players telling me they think it sucks. I don't NEED the comments, but I love getting them, so I need to hold out and use that desire to fuel development of this thing.

So, a big blog to say, I'm working on this again. And it's a lot closer than its ever been to being finished. I don't want to break down exactly whats needed, but lets just say I've hit some pretty significant milestones lately. Also with the help of the RPG2k3 "Maniac" Patch, development is going WAY faster than ever before. Kinda wild what something as simple as being able to draw text to the screen can do.

The end result will be an admittedly fairly light-on-story, puzzle/exploration-heavy game, featuring fast-paced turn-based combat with some positioning and timing elements thrown in.

I really appreciate the kind words of encouragement and people looking forward to this game, even after all these years. It really does mean a lot, so thank you. Please keep looking forward to it, I'll let you know when it gets close.


Also, uhhh if people would like to volunteer to test this thing, feel free to drop a line.

Game Design

Looming Spire Notes - Relics

Let's talk about Relics


In the Looming Spire, the hero will come across lots of unique and useful gear. Equipment for protection, rings and helmets for combat utility, and magic runes that allow the user to cast magic. The hero will also find what are known as Relics, which are unique tools that allow the hero to perform unique abilities outside of combat. Once equipped, the player can press SHIFT to use the Relic. Some relics can't be equipped, but will provide passive benefits.

Let's get into it, shall we?

Charge Boots
Take off at amazing speeds! With the Charge Boots equipped, hold down the SHIFT key to build power. Release the button to get sent flying! The Charge Boots allow you to fly past crumbling bridges, and break straight through certain barriers.

Cloner
Prepare to meet your match! Literally. With the Cloner, the Hero can magically fabricate a statue-like facsimilie of himself. The statue can be pushed and pulled, and used to weigh down switches or block enemies.

Truesight Stone
See what the eyes can't! With the Truesight Stone equipped, pressing the SHIFT key will reveal all hidden passages in the room.

Swim Gear
Get your sea legs moving! No need to equip this one. The Swim Gear allows the hero to enter into pools of water at designated swimming entrances (i.e. stairs) with a press of the Z key. Use this relic to access previously unreachable areas.

Climbing Gloves
Finally! With the Climbing Gloves at your disposal, climb any wall! Simply walk up to a wall and press the SHIFT key while the relic is equipped, and begin scaling the wall. Use this to climb up and down platforms, scale across into unreachable areas, and avoid traps and enemies!






In the game, there are twelve relics in all. We covered just under half of them here in this blog. Some of the other relics have various effects like making monsters ignore you, giving you a shield against environmental hazards, or teleporting you to the beginning of the room.

There are also ways to combine the functionality of certain relics. One notable such instance is using the climbing gloves to climb down into water, allowing the hero to swim in water inaccessible otherwise!

Thanks for reading!

Progress Report

The Looming Development Cycle - A Fresh Coat of Paint

Since I resolved towards the beginning of the year to finish this game, I've done a lot of fixing up on this project. Most of the work involved thus far has been re-building the custom battle engine, re-designing most of the game mechanics, squashing a crapload of bugs, revisiting the list of spells/items/etc... all of which has gone pretty damn great so far! But I'll get into that in another blog post.

Alongside all of this, I've spent quite a bit of effort redesigning the bulk of the custom game menus. How about some screenshots?

The Status Menu

I decided to throw in the portrait of the main hero, drawn by the great alterego (whom I cannot get a hold of for the life of me... looks like he was last active on RMN nearly three years ago, ah well). It looks good, I think!

Something worth noting, the previous status menu from before was cobbled together many years ago, back before the PicPointer patch was even in existence, or if it did exist, I sure as hell didn't know about it, because holy cow it was a massive massive event. With the official english translation of RM2k3, the PicPointer stuff is now baked right into the engine, as well as what might as well be no limit on the number of pictures that you can display on the screen (and lots of other insanely useful features to be sure, praise Cherry!). These limitations being lifted made making menus like this a breeze. Kinda insane to think about how much time I'd spent making the old menus comparatively.


The Equipment Menu

I took the time to draw up a bunch of little icons for this one. Using the Picture Text Creator utility, getting all the icons in line with the names was a snap. In fact, that utility has been indispensable in making these menus. (Previously I was drawing all the wording and lettering by HAND, what was I thinking?)

In any case, it's functional and looks pretty neat! Also all the equipment have descriptions right there on the screen, so there's no doubt as to what things do anymore. I might touch up a few things here and there, but I'm pretty darn happy with the way it is now.


The Rune Menu

This time around, the Rune menu makes a whole lot better use of pointers. It moves blazingly fast, where before switching between runes (which in turn, changes the list of spells you can see) noticeably lagged quite a bit. Once again, you can see some straight up cute little icons denoting what runes are required to cast a given spell. Pressing Z opens up a little sub-menu so you can choose what slot to occupy with the highlighted rune.


That's enough blog for now. Still got a few more menus to tidy up, but after that it's on to implementing the status effects, and remaining spells & relics.

Cheers everyone!

Progress Report

2019: FINISH. THE. GAME.

Warning: this blog has no screenshots, because I don't have too much to show at the moment. If you want a TL;DR, scroll to the bottom.

Let me preface what I'm about to say with the fact that this project started in March of 2010. Add it up! That's nearly nine whole years ago. Lots of things in my life have changed since then, and the overall vision of this project has evolved and morphed into something a lot different than what I anticipated at the start.

Of course, with the project being old as it is, there were a LOT of questionable design decisions made way back when. Decisions that were mostly made on a whim, without a ton of thought behind them: Battle mechanics, menu design, overall narrative, etc. Furthermore, the event code that makes all these things run were, dare I say, completely unmaintainable. Way back when I started this thing, I maybe had the know-how to make things tick the right way, but I didn't have a clue about how to make things generic enough to be re-usable and/or extendable whatsoever. Small changes would be scoped to days worth of effort due to the nature of how things were cobbled together. Lots of copy and paste, everywhere. Lots of insider-knowledge stuff, things that were impossible to parse when trying to understand why things were made the way they were. As you can probably imagine, this made things extremely difficult when trying to make any meaningful headway in terms of development on this project.

It goes without saying: This project is old, and it's got a lot of cobwebs to clean out. But, it has so many neat ideas that I want to show everyone! I don't know if I could begin to quantify how many hours have been spent working on this thing. It hasn't been continuous over the last nine years (hell, not even the last one year) but it must be thousands of hours at this point. I was doing a lot of significant work on this game in 2017, but got sidetracked when some real-life stuff got in the way (including needing to find a new job... TWICE! frig), and so I let TLS fall to the wayside while I focused on getting my life in a good place. This has happened at least a few times over the last near-decade. But the thing is, when I'm not actively working in the editor, or drawing stupid little pixels, or making music, or whatever else, I'm just simply ruminating on The Looming Spire. I've scrawled out hundreds of tiny ideas in tons of little notebooks (many of which have been lost to the annals of time), storyboarded so many little story events, and constantly thought and re-thought so many details that are, at the moment, nothing but fragments of the ether in my crazy head. I have also, of course, given up on this project many many times. I just keep coming back to it. At this point, it's almost unhealthy. I can't keep it internal anymore.

So, that brings me to the purpose of this blog post. The Looming Spire will be finished this year.

There, I said it. It's going to be finished, come hell or high water. I can't keep dreaming of what this project could be, and I can't let all the work poured into this thing go to waste. Even if no one plays the damn thing, I want to see it completed. I'm doing this for me, to finally say I've finished something with pride. With that, my motto for this year is

2019: FINISH. THE. GAME.


Ok. So there's my announcement. But what about all that other stuff I was talking about? How the game is completely unmaintainable, impossible to work with, etc? Well, sometime in 2017 or so, well after RPG Maker 2003 was given an official english translation, Cherry made some incredibly significant updates to the engine that made development of this project SIGNIFICANTLY EASIER. (The primary change being that when referring to "This Event" in Common Events it refers to the last map event in the call stack, which, man, I cannot overstate how useful that is for what I'm doing specifically).

As a result, I spent a huge amount of time re-writing the battle engine for this game. Of course, while deep in the guts of this game's mechanics, I decided to re-think some initial design decisions made, and have since decided to re-tool almost the entire thing. The Rune system works well outside of combat for puzzle solving and stuff, but the way the mechanics were implemented within a combat setting were clunky and without a real purpose or intent in mind. Status effects were confusing and unintuitive. Battles overall were pretty brain-dead and didn't really try to do anything interesting. So I figure, if I'm going to make this thing work, I might as well make it the best it can be and really go for it.

At this point, I've got all the initial design documentation in place. I've already refactored the entire battle engine to be much much much easier to work with, with all the enemy and battle mechanics in one place instead of scattered amongst hundreds of maps. I've also added in some new features and mechanics that I will introduce in a later blog post. Lastly, I'm currently working on re-designing the menus so they are more intuitive and much more informative (which, again, thanks to Cherry's updates, this is a hell of a lot easier to accomplish).

TL;DR: It's been nine years, but the game will be finished this year even if it kills me. Much of the core gameplay event programming in this game had to be re-worked, but it is now a lot easier to work with. Lots of big changes coming. Expect updates by the end of February.

Thanks for reading. Cheers.

Game Design

Looming Spire Notes - Runes

Let's talk about Runes


In the Looming Spire, Runes are magic emblems hidden throughout the Spire. Each Rune hearkens back to ancient times, a link to the elemental governing force that ruled a kingdom. Finding each one will be imperative to unlocking the mystery of the Spire and breaking the curse that plagues the hero's homeland.

In the Looming Spire, the hero will find many items that will assist on his journey, including various equipment to help in combat, and ancient relics which will allow him to overcome obstacles. Runes, however, will cover both areas, granting powers that can be used both in AND out of combat.

These stones attach to the hero's sword, the Rune Blade. While initially only one Rune can be attached to the sword, the hero will eventually find upgrades that will allow for multiple runes to be attached at once.

Six Runes exist in all. Let's talk about each one individually!



Fire.

When using the Fire rune, the hero creates a small burst of flame directly in front of him that ignites flammable objects, like boxes and spider webs. It can also be used to light torches and melt blocks of ice.

In combat, Fire magic is the most devastating of all forms of magic, dealing high damage and increasing attack power.




Frost.

The Frost Rune unlocks the power of ice elemental magic. When used, a blast of ice is created in a small circle in front of the hero, freezing enemies in their tracks. It's also used to activate magic orbs within the Spire that amplifies the Frost magic, which can for example freeze all the water within a room, creating ice that can be walked upon!
Frost magic may not be the most powerful, but it can slow enemies down, which affords a huge upper-hand in combat. It can also grant buffs to intelligence and spell damage, making it one of the most useful Runes to take along in combat!




Sky.

The Sky Rune allows the hero to command the thunderous power of the sky, allowing him to control lightning bolts and strong winds. Using this power, the hero can create a discharge that forces back all enemies within a small radius around the hero, allowing safe passage through areas where mindless monsters block the way through.

This same power can also be used to create an electric charge that powers up old machinery, which is very useful in certain areas of the Spire!
Sky magic in a combat setting is extremely volatile, and as such can deal great amounts of damage. Using Sky magic can reducing cast times and increase agility, allowing the hero to act much faster than the enemy!




Earth.

The Earth rune grants its user the strength and massive force derived from the deep echoes of the earth itself. With this, our hero is granted immense strength, and can use this power to crush boulders that lay in his path.

In combat, the hero is granted the power to cause earthquakes, and to launch massive rocks at enemies, dealing devastating damage and increasing defensive stats.




Void.

The Void Rune itself is extremely dark and enigmatic. Gazing upon it, the stone itself seems to have a depth that goes on infinitely. The bearer of this Rune is granted the ability to use Void magic, which alters the fabric of space itself. Using the Void Rune will create a gravity well centered around the hero, which will draw moveable objects towards the hero from a distance. With this, the hero can overcome obstacles that require a block out of reach.

Void magic in combat utilizes the same principle, creating gravity wells that deal damage to enemies based on their maximum HP.




Light.

The Light Rune is mysterious in many ways. While all other forms of magic have been documented in various scholarly texts and tomes, there is nothing written about Light magic, nor its corresponding Rune. Our hero discovers that using it outside of combat allows him to restore some health, which comes in handy as the Spire is riddled with traps and hazards. The Light Rune offers a similar benefit within combat, granting the hero the ability to heal wounds instantly, over time, or even use it to prevent death itself.

Given the mysterious nature of this Rune, t's possible it may have other uses as well...



Rune Mechanics


Runes grow stronger over time by using them in battle. After each battle, the hero will gain EXP, Gold, and RP. RP stands for 'Runic Points', and collecting enough Runic Points will eventually cause your Runes to level up, to a max level of 5. The lower the level of the Rune, the more RP they will gain, so Runes acquired later in the game will level up much quicker.

Leveling your Runes is the way you learn new spells. Each Rune starts at level 1 with one spell, and a new spell is learned at level 2 and level 4.

I mentioned briefly above, eventually the hero finds a way to equip multiple Runes simultaneously. With this, the hero will soon realize new ways to utilize Rune magic. Once two Runes hit level 3, the hero will learn a Doublespell that combines the powers of those two runes. Likewise, leveling three runes up to level 5 will unlock a Triplespell.

The different combinations have a variety of effects, and will emphasize Rune selection as you prepare for battle!

More GIFs!


Not much else left to say on the subject of Runes, other than some will be much more hidden than others! It's up to you, the player, to figure all this stuff out.

Here are a bunch of gifs of Runes being used in combat!




Game Design

Looming Spire Notes - Map Design

Map Design
Hey, let's talk about it!


Here I'd like to talk a bit about the philosophy behind the map design in The Looming Spire. Designing the layout of the dungeons, puzzles, etc. is easily where the most development time has been spent so far, and I feel it's the most important aspect of the game design overall. It's also the aspect of this game I feel most confident in, and I'd say it's the main good thing this project has going for it! But as you read this blog, try to keep in mind your own thoughts and opinions about map design, and let me know your thoughts against my thoughts in the comments.


A Singular Massive Dungeon


When starting this project in earnest, one of the primary design principles I adopted for this game was the concept of a singular massive dungeon as the setting. This hardly an original concept, of course. In a Castlevania game, this would be the titular castle. In Super Metroid, this is the planet Zebes. So the result is the Spire, an ancient and gigantic tower inhabited by beasts and monsters.

Without getting into too much lore and background, let's explore what exactly I mean by a "singular massive dungeon"

  • The Spire is composed of several self-contained "Areas".

  • Entry from one Area into another is accomplished via an obvious staircase/ladder, elevator, or a warp.

  • Each Area is connected and consistent with itself. I'll explain what I mean below.




Areas


Knowing where you are is important.


An "Area" in the Spire is a bounded, thematically consistent location within the Spire. This may seem very obvious, but lets dig in and figure out what this means. Having the segmented areas is very important to the gameplay, the narrative, and the overall experience of the game.

In the Looming Spire, there are currently nine planned areas. The game starts out in an area called the Spider Caves. This is the "ground floor" of the Spire (as far as the player knows), and the rest of the game is spent climbing "up" the Spire to reach the very top, which is where the end game lies.

Based on the name, you can probably guess what kind of area the Spider Caves is. It's a big cave full of spider webs, spider enemies, and eventually a spider boss. There is of course much more to it, but those are the primary and thematically unique elements of this area. The next area the player finds themselves in is the Waterworks, which as the name might suggest, has a lot of water-based puzzles, aquatic enemies, a sewer-like aesthetic, etc.

So, the player will know when they've entered a new area, because there will be new aesthetics, and new gameplay mechanics. Of course, there are still several common elements between areas as well.




Transitions


The climb is all there is.


The manner in which a player transitions to a new area can make that progress feel more satisfying. In Super Metroid, this was usually a long elevator descent/ascent. In the Looming Spire, there are several different points of transition. To enter the Catacombs, the player will find themselves climbing down a very long ladder. To enter the Apothecary, the player will climb a very long staircase. Often the case is the play will find themselves moving into a new area after a boss fight, to make the completion of the area feel more definitive before moving on.

And because this game is not fully linear, there will be transition points that lead back to older areas, too. Often this is accomplished using some sort of elevator or warp. But before I get too far into warps...




Spatial Consistency


Horizontal AND vertical consistency!


So perhaps the biggest and most personally obsessive portion of map design for this game has been maintaining spatial consistency. So, each map within this RPG Maker project represents a single "room" within a given area. Each room ranges from small (20x15 tiles) to large (80x60 ish tiles). More often than not, progressing through an area will inevitably loop back in on itself, so I need to make sure that the rooms in each area align in the number floor tiles that exist vertically/horizontally. Mind you, these are floor tiles we are counting, not tiles overall. When you step into another room, it's as if you moved exactly one tile, so exits need to line up perfectly as well.

To help demonstrate my point, look at this picture (which is a portion of one of the areas in The Looming Spire):



The arrows trace a route through these five particular rooms. As you can see, the number of tiles that exist from room to room is spatially consistent, in both the X/Y plane. There is also a height discrepancy between where the arrow starts and ends. This is accounted for by a small staircase along the path of the first red arrow, creating a height difference of two tiles.

Creating these areas in a spatially consistent manner hasn't been easy, because I haven't designed things on any form of grid. That would be a lot easier, now that I think of it. But my map design has often always been very free form, kind of allowing myself to finger-paint, if you will, until I need to actually connect two areas back together. Then it becomes a matter of counting the difference of tiles between entrances/exits between rooms, until I can say for sure where the connection should be, and how much real estate I need to cover.

Now, Areas within themselves are spatially consistent. But when you transition between areas, then the rules kinda go out the window. Because the player moves such a great deal of distance between areas, the consistency rules get fudged a bit. This is the only way to keep me sane throughout all of this.

And furthermore, the game includes things such as Warps, which completely throw the consistency rulebook out the window.



Unlock warps to cheat past the consistency issue!


A warp doesn't follow any spatial reasoning. You warp from one point to another, easy peasy. In this way, I'm able to skirt around the tedious consistency rules by allowing a player to transition from one area to another from any place I desire.

There are also "Swim Warps", which work very similar to regular warps, except they happen in a body of water. So the warp will always end up in another body of water somewhere, which I feel is helpful for the player.



Swim into the foamy bit to be transported ~somewhere else~



Conclusion


Boy I hope you weren't expecting a jerry springer-style "final thoughts" segment on this blog. Because I don't really got any. But hopefully you have a better idea of what goes through my mind when designing the maps for this game. The biggest sticking point is trying to maintain consistency within a particular area. The next biggest sticking point is that areas kind exist in the amorphous shape known as the Spire.

Next time I'll try to talk about the actual content of these areas within the Spire. Thanks for reading.

Announcement

The Looming Development Cycle - It's Back, Baby.

The Looming Spire is back in development. It has been for about the past month or so. Before this, the last time I worked on this project in earnest was some time in 2014. Before that, it was easily 2012. There have been very long gaps in the development of this game, but within those multi-year gaps, this project has never strayed too far from my mind. I always hearken back to the design and the layout of the Spire and the many plans I had.

A lot of time has passed since I started work on this thing. It originally started out as just a technical demo way back in 2010, just a simple custom battle system. Very stripped down, very simplistic. The demo was released as part of a "release something!" event here on RMN, and it got a pretty nice response. I mean, not much, as it really wasn't much of anything at the time.

I kept tinkering with things. The systems grew, the maps grew, and soon a story started developing around this whole idea. Soon more and more was being added on to this small little technical demonstration. I began to visualize it, and really feel it come to life as I built more and more. I remember how satisfying it all felt when each piece was finished, but also how frustrating it could get.

Before long, the fatigue set in. The scope of things seemed too great. I could not feasibly realize my vision without putting in more work than I could muster. At some point I kinda accepted it would never be finished, and figured maybe one day I'd return to game-making in some other form or endeavor. Perhaps I wasn't at the right place in my life to handle things.

But here I am now. I've grown up quite a bit. I got my college degree, and am a professional programmer now. I still aspire to make games, but this project... this project still haunts me. I feel like I need to get it done, for me.


I've gone and removed all the old screenshots from RMN and taken several new ones to take their place. I will probably update those as well, eventually. I will be posting more blogs with game details and other stuff, too.

Cheers

Progress Report

HELLO

Alright, it's been too long. I really do love this project I've had sitting on my backburner forever. Every once in a while I open it up and just play through the two or three dungeons I have made up for this game.

So I've decided to bring it back. I'm working on it again. I don't know if that means I'll finish it this time, but I'm working on it.

Here's some character art Alterego did for me way back.


It's pretty cool shite. The characters you see are Duro, the 3 "wise-men" (name pending), and Velsa, who is the big bad villain lady.

The short of it is, it'd be a damn shame for me to waste all the hours I've already put into this project. So expect more progress to be made in the coming weeks.

Also, RMN seems to have gotten way cooler since I've been gone. So big ups to the powers that be.

Miscellaneous

Moar video

Added another gameplay video, this time of the first boss battle in action. Gameplay mechanics are pretty much finalized... meaning, anyone who plays this game should have access to all the items/abilities used here in this video.



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