DevBlog—Mar 28, 2017

After last week’s slump, I really kicked it into high gear.

That said, there’ll be no new version for this week; not enough stuff connected to what’s already published to warrant a re-publish.

PROLOGUE

  • I’d been having a problem with Jae-Soon (the decker) turning to face the character for the dialogue, when, being jacked in, he should probably remain still. Turns out, after a bunch of fretting, there’s a check box that says “Turn to face character” when you set a character to have a dialogue interaction. I knew it was there. I thought it was unchecked. Now it is unchecked. So that’s fixed.

VITACORP

  • Added Matrix nodes with respective triggers for Vitacorp. This is a test-run of a larger concept I want to use throughout SR:New Orleans. The concept is largely translated from the game Hacknet_. Of course, being in SR:R’s system means the full concept can’t be ported over (plz don’t sue me, Surprise Attack). The short version is that the player chooses to unlock different Ports through various means (using HK’s Matrix rather than a straight interface as in Hacknet_), and when the threshold of Ports unlocked has been met, they gain admin access and all of the things that normally go with it.

After seeing a lot of feedback on HK Matrix design, I wanted to go with something that would let Deckers be able to specialize in different areas and choose how they break into the respective system. With SR:NOLA, if a player never wants to dodge Watcher IC, for example, they don’t have to.

  • As the PC and crew are on the heels of another shadowrunner team, Vitacorp’s Matrix defenses have already been compromised, meaning there’s an in-game reason for this run’s challenge to be easier than later ones, giving players a sort of “trial run” to see how it’ll go. In fact, in the current build, with ESP Control 1 (which their NPC Decker has), they don’t even have to do any Matrix combat.
  • The ability to vary available ports and corresponding nodes that comes with it actually allows me or other designers to create sub-puzzles for the Matrix, which means this concept actually serves as a framework for myself or others in later runs. This initial setup is a ton of work, but the payoff will be that a lot of these triggers/functions can be copy-pasted over for later runs.
  • Added a 4-drone combat encounter in the turbine room, and scattered/fixed props in the room for cover. It’s a relatively easy encounter, and necessary to point out that Kate has the Stunbolt spell for an optional vignette later. Pop Kate on a ley line and watch her go to town.
  • Added a 4-NPC merc encounter at the lab elevator. This one’s a bit more difficult, and may need some tweaking depending on what my playtesters find. I might at least add a dragon line or summoning point because right now my mage-y folks aren’t seeing a lot of love in that room.
  • Finished up the scene’s opening dialogue between Kate, Ben (see below), and the PC, adding a boolean option for some dialogue shifts throughout the scene depending on how warmly the player receives the tagalongs.
  • Added a confrontation scene between the crew and a pair of unfortunate businessmen, one of whom being a jumpy elf with a gun. This is one rat’s nest of a conversation tree with several different variations on outcome, including getting the gun, not getting the gun, knocking out the elf, killing both the businessmen, talking them down, and so on. Some of the animations still need work.
  • General prop additions to existing rooms. Too many to effectively list.
  • Added some payroll-security in a side lounge. And man do they have some fun dialogue.
  • Added a wounded NPC for interrogation purposes. She has the alternative method to grabbing the Manager’s ID for folks who have an allergic reaction to all things Matrix, though she is placed such that actually getting the item before it’s necessary is kind of difficult.

Vitacorp now looks like an actual scene. And it ain’t even done yet. I always kind of dreaded looking at my scenes and comparing them to HBS scenes because they feel so bare-bones; so many fewer interactable props, so many fewer regions, but now I’m looking at my first actual run and it feels right. I’ve got Matrix, I’ve got vignettes, I’ve got dialogue (and it flows!). It’s just a real confidence booster to look at this stuff and think, “Hell yeah. Now we’re cookin’ with gas.”

Meet Ben Jameson, aka “Boot”

Ben’s the crew decker for SR: New Orleans. Personality-wise, he’s Kate’s foil: where she is an impulsive spitfire, he’s the guy who just wants to go home (or rather, to the bar) and “wait for this all to blow over.” He’s Kate’s Matrix/camera tech for her online journalism, and also her friend.

In combat, Ben’s a crack shot with the pistol, a weapon he favors because of its concealability, and a decent medic, which places him in a funky middle ground between Monika, Glory, and Blitz. A PC decker will likely outshine him in damage, but if lacking their own Decking ability, Ben’s a fine addition for mid-range DPS and utility. Likely, when I get into building crew advancement, Ben’s tracks may go down either boosting his Decking on one track and healing/ranged abilities on the other.

I’m considering switching Boot over Assault Rifle, because that’s a very plain way to have him as hybrid-DPS. That way, if the player’s a Decker, they might still bring him along, or at least not feel bad for doing so, because AR’s are great even in the HK engine. It doesn’t feel as good story-wise, but hey, Monika was AR/decker, so it’s not like it’s out of the question. But she was an actual cyberpunk, whereas Ben is…not.

The other option is to give him Glory’s machine-pistol so he can pump out burst fire attacks, and later get some better abilities in that field. I like that idea better, but the AR is still on the table.

FUTURE PLANS

My goal (short term) is to finish up the Vitacorp run and the player home and make those available for playtesters by next Tuesday; after that, the rest goes into the hub before and after the Vitacorp run, and I should be happy with the amount of content enough to release Episode 1. I’ll just throw in some cheat options for playtesters to be able to move from scene to scene and at least get the framework established in the absence of a hub for now.

In order to get Vitacorp finished, mostly I need to design the final floor and decide how I actually want to end the scene, where I’ll introduce the final essential crew members. Other than that, the standoff vignette needs a bit of work with its animations, I spotted a few typos on my last test that I’ll want to correct, and I want to add one or two more conversation options for the player where right now there’s only a single track. With regard to the confrontation, I suspect what I’m going to have to do is assign a few variables and end the conversation mid-way to let some physical acting happen and re-pick the conversation up with variables to direct the flow. That’s just a bit larger a project and, I mean, if you look at all the stuff I did up there, you can see why I put it off for later. I’m very much a “get something down, fix/smooth it in later passes later” kind of worker now. And I like the results.

As far as the ending goes, I’m in a bit of a creative bind.

Right now, I’m trying to avoid a rescue situation. I hate the idea of the plucky heroes swooping in right on time. These are Shadowrunners we’re talking about, not damsels. I also don’t want to do the exact opposite, which would be something closer to Megaman X where you walk up to the room outside Vile, hear a bunch of combat in the next room over, and pop in…only in this case it’d be the Shadowrunners around a bunch of corpses, because that overshadows the PC with NPC coolness.

I need to make a creative decision, and I don’t know which way to go.

Devblog—Mar 21, 2017

I took a little more time off of working on this than I’d intended, and so I wound up coming close to Tuesday with very little to show for it. In all honesty, I’ve gotten to a point where I have to start making a bit more difficult decisions—storytelling events I hadn’t considered or planned for, or said “I’ll figure it out when I get there.” Well, now I’m “there”.

So, I set some more realistic short-term goals shoring up a few of the maps currently in-design. When the big distance looks too great to cross, best to measure progress in steps one can achieve.

General

  • Made character sheet templates for Lv 1 crewmates Kate (Salem) and her videographer/decker, Ben (Boot). More on Boot later. They’ll be joining the player on the Vitacorp run, so for testing purposes, it’s important that they have sheets.

Playerhome

  • Several variations of the garage now exist, and I’m happy with how they look. I haven’t gone through the tedium of tagging everything and then seeing if the tags work; once they do, I’m going to do very little further changes because of the pain that’ll come with that, so I want to be as done as possible before actually testing the prop spawns for different classes.

As you can see, the Adept-based room is the least-developed of all of them. And I might just leave it that way; sort of a monastic, spartan dealio perhaps. But it still needs lights, and maybe a few of the rooms need some grunge, then it’s just a matter of tagging the props in each room, overlaying them over the main garage room, setting the trigger so only the right props appear, and we should have a totally variable garage built around the player’s archetype (or dominant stat). Same trigger pattern that decides starting equipment, basically.

  • I resized a few of the other rooms and added some inspection interactions for various items.

I’m now pretty well confident that the abode itself is almost work-ready, meaning it can be added into another map or serve as the base for a larger map of its own when the time arrives. It doesn’t have any dialogues, and if it winds up being where I place the mission computer (like I want), then that’s a whole ugly mess of dialogue and functionality that hasn’t been written yet.

Vitacorp

  • I put some stuff in the two side rooms I’d ignored and actually connected a farther hallway to an earlier side room. They’re now a sort of lounge, and a storage area, respectively.

This next week is going to be largely focused on Vitacorp and finishing up the Player’s abode. If I can make Vitacorp a testable run and get it functioning start to finish, all it’ll take then is connecting what I’ve finished so far to the hub and the hub to Vitacorp and I’ll have Episode 1 ready to go. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, the hub is an immense project that’s going to take a great deal of time and effort, and I’m still not sure what of what I’ve designed I’m actually going to use.

The Vitacorp scene itself has a similar problem in that, now I have this map and I don’t know what to do with it. I mentioned last week that I’m starting to figure out what parts of the design aspect I enjoy, and what still feels like work. Right now, architecture feels fun to me; when I get bored or overwhelmed on my current focus, I’ll open up a new map and just start building for funsies. Actual level/gameplay design is a new thing for me, and in lacking experience, I sometimes stare at the screen for minutes on end just trying to figure out what I should do, or what I even can do.

Since this is a small update, I’ll write a bit about design tricks!

I watched Adam Savage’s One Day Nerf Sniper build recently. In it, he talks about the beauty of weathering—how, essentially, the thing he’s working on becomes “real” when it’s given weathering effects. I’ve had a bit of similar experience with this in the shadowrun editor insomuch as some props are just glaringly bad when placed in a sterile room. The one that really gets me is the basic secretlab crate—a nondescript cubic blue-grey box that’s literally just there to provide cover and fill space.

I’d used a lot of different crate assets in the Rig, which was my first ever real editor build, and each time I put one down on a clean floor, it bugged me. It looked out of place, like the lighting on it was wonky somehow. After multiple builds now, it occurred to me that the magic of the editor comes in its weathering effects. By typing the word “grunge” into the asset library filter, you get a host of ground and wall effects that are just…shit. Dirt, rust, general funk…weathering. By placing some of these effects on a floor, all of a sudden the tile-repeat texture effect vanishes. It’s like fuckin’ magic. Spaces suddenly feel real, lived in. Even more than debris and trash piles, somehow the “grunge” effect just really puts the finishing touches on any room that feels like it’s “lacking character.” As Adam would say, it’s not finished until it’s weathered, and it’s good to know that I found something in the editor that can help create that effect.

Devblog—March 14, 2017

 It’s starting to feel like work now

With Version 0.1 now actually being played by people outside of a test scene setting, I’ve begun to get feedback, and feedback means tweaks and adjustments. This is good, but I’m discovering what parts of the process I really enjoy, and what parts of the process feel like work.

Version 0.11—Changelog

  • I tweaked the final combat sequence in the prologue. As it was, I was using copy&paste fire spirits, which have 242 spent karma. That’s obviously far too powerful for a chargen player; even though the combat is meant to be avoided, there are better ways of conveying this, and the risk of the player getting one-shot was simply too high. So I made a new character sheet for the fire spirits closer to 100 spent karma, and a bunch of it is in useless stats for them like Intelligence (holdovers from the C&P sheet), so realistically they’re probably closer to 60-70 spent karma. This, along with some AI tweaks, should keep players from getting nuked down in a single turn. If it’s still too tough, I already know what further tweaks I’ll make, so it’s just a matter of getting fresh players on it.
  • Moved Penny the secretary in the hightower map a bit over and switched her to a seated stance. Took a few tries to get the chair to line up beneath her just right but I think I got it. May have to change the chair, though. It’s kinda ugly.
  • Added 5+ rooms on what I’m calling the “Vitacorp” map (see details below) and am now assuming it to be the shadowrun for episode 1.
  • Built two new vendor hovels. One is a gun shop designed for ye olde generic street samurai armaments. I f***ing love this room. The stairs lead to an upstairs attic area where an elf monk named Kanon Kai resides. She’ll sell adept wares.
  • I built another bar room, mostly out of idle boredom, but also in the case that my current bar design proves too large to integrate into the hub. This one’s supposed to at least maintain the appearance of some swank (hardwood floors!). The upstairs, where the real fun happens, hasn’t been designed yet.
  • Began work on what may become the player’s abode (see below). As of now, it’s 4-5 rooms, mostly done. It’s a pretty small map. If I’m going to do a NOLA LTG hub like in Mercurial, I should have the space and memory to attach it to here, so that’s what I’m gonna do.

Vitacorp

A few weeks back, I mentioned getting bored/burned out with doing things to get 0.1 ready and started making a new map. I based it largely off the few rooms we get to see of the Jita Corp office in the game Dreamfall: the Longest Journey.

Originally, I’d planned for this to be an Act 2 shadowrun to be released with Episode 2, the plot revolving around a sort of opposite experience to the Ares run in Hong Kong: Team Shadowrunner arrives on the scene after another group of Shadowrunners and has to catch up to them while fighting off the quick-response teams arriving elsewhere in response to the first shadowrunners being there. I might still utilize that plot at some point, but with some minor tweaks, this could easily be how the player encounters the shadowrunners they are pursuing in the meta-story, making this akin to the Drogenkippe run from Dragonfall.

The “point” is to fill the hallways with a bunch of corpses, bulletholes, burn marks, and blood stains, and let the player see the “wake” of a shadowrun.

I still have some rooms I don’t know what I’m going to put in them, but I ripped a bit from some other games and am kind of hashing together a frankenrun off of a hodgepodge of stuff from Final Fantasy, Mass Effect, and elsewhere.

Eventually, I’ll hope to have some kind of cohesive narrative, as well as a better name for this corp than “Vitacorp” and at least some idea as to what they actually do, though if this equipment is any indication, it can’t be good. The double-edged sword that comes with a light-content setting is that I can make up stuff as I go, but like with all fiction, it has to make sense. So, I’m taking applications for A-rated “megacorp” or conglomerate names!

Player’s Abode

Rather than use the normal safehouse option, one idea I’ve been tossing around is that the player has their own abode. In the current writing of the script, it gets taken from them as a security precaution when they go deep undercover, but I don’t really see a reason for this. Instead, what I may do is design an abode that serves as the safehouse where they can go to the hub or to the New Orleans Matrix LTG. In other words, their abode is where the player will accept contracts, diddle on Shadowlands, and do all of the normal safehouse-y things except for interact with the rest of the crew, and there’s a reason for that.

I don’t normally make a habit of talking about things I intend to do, but one thing I’m hoping to try out with this map is to give the player a “personal” room; one tied to their history before becoming a shadowrunner, as decided by the archetype they choose at character generation (or skills, in the case of “none”; same way initial gear is given to the player in Hong Kong). By tagging sets of props and attaching them to the player’s archetype, I can hide or reveal a “series” of props along a theme. Say the player is a mage, this “personal room” will be full of arcane accoutrement. Say they’re a rigger, maybe there’s a vehicle and some drone bodies off to the side instead. This gives the player a sense of agency, that not only do their choices matter, but their identity matters. And this is a story about identities; masks. So I think, if it works, it’ll be really fun.

Devblog—Mar 7, 2017

Scenes 1 and 2 now function start to finish

Okay, so what does that mean? It means a player can go from curtain up in scene 1 through scene 1 and get to the end of scene 2, click on the final door and be transported somewhere. The triggers work, the dialogue all…works, or at least doesn’t result in an infinite loop anywhere (at least, so far as I can see…yet).

What it doesn’t mean is that everything is pretty, or that maps are populated and full of props that make things look nice and/or realistic. It means that maybe combat doesn’t function exactly like I want it to. Maybe the player’s able to do things I don’t want them to do or can’t possibly predict they’ll even try to do. So, I’m about a day or two off of playtesting at the time of writing up this devblog.

  • As predicted, I spent most of this week in the Hightower map, which is essentially “Scene 2” fixing dialogue from the tangled mess of spaghetti code I’d originally written for it. Dialogue now flows much more nicely under the hood, allowing it to be added to/taken away from/edited much more efficiently than what I’d had it as before.
  • I added Kate to the Hightower map and gave her dialogue.
  • I added an exterior and small interior lobby section to the Hightower map; originally the player was just spawning up on the high level; with these added interactions, I needed a place for them to be and adding to the Hightower scene is the option that made the most sense. This is what took the most of the week, as building exteriors is not my specialty.

Introducing: Kate Burnside, aka “Salem”

As of right now, Kate will be the first crewmate to make an appearance in Shadowrun: New Orleans. She’s descended from some of the original witches to land in the American colonies, which is where her street name “Salem” comes from; an honorific for the traditions passed down in hers and others’ family lines since well before the Awakening.

When you first meet Kate, she tries to read your fortune, only to reveal that she’s aware of the swamp raid due to her main interest: independent journalism. She’ll wind up joining the character later as camera fodder for her next big story. While she might at first seem like the type to wind up as a damsel in distress, Kate is more than capable of handling herself in combat, and as a thrill-chaser, she’s eager to rush face-first into danger.

I haven’t yet figured out how I’m going to build crew advancement, but likely Kate’s paths are going to put her down an either direct damage role or support caster role.

So where do we go from here?

Speaking chronologically, the next scene will be the hub. But, like Hong Kong, it’ll be a hub unfriendly to the player, as they have not yet thrust themselves completely into the world of shadowrunning. This of course means I have to build the hub, and the hub is one of the most intense builds in the editor.

In other words, this next chunk is going to be as time-consuming as it is critically important, and it’s very realistic that I may take a break from “chronological order” development (especially after putting such heavy focus on the goal of a functioning Scene 1 and 2) and focus either on a shadowrun development (as in, an actual shadowrun).

I originally said I wanted “Episode 1” to be done by the end of March.

That gives me 3 and a half weeks. If my design for the hub holds true with no kinks, I do believe that being in playtesting for “Episode 1” by end of March is a perfectly achievable goal. If the hub proves too large to do in one load, meaning I have to break it up, I’ll have to start making critical decisions about its development, and that takes time, testing; and it’s looking like that could very well be the case here depending on what all I want to be a part of the hub.

It also depends on how I want to end “Episode 1”. As of right now, there are only three combat sequences, and that just doesn’t make much of a “game” now, does it? If I want to add a run that’s roughly synonymous with the Drogenkippe in Dragonfall or the first Walled City run in Hong Kong, I have to actually start designing it, and that could take two weeks just by itself, maybe three. If that turns out to be the case, then we might be looking at an April playtest/QA phase for May public release. But, hey, if it comes down to having an actual Shadowrun in this Shadowrun game, I think I’m willing to push back a date I’d entirely arbitrarily set up with 0 experience in the first place.