Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Annual Update?!

Wow it's been nearly a year since my last blog update.  You can rest assured though that the CORPS team hasn't been slacking, well maybe a little, but honestly we've made some huge developments both in our tooling and monitoring of CORPS (which helps us with the design processes) as well as additional new content.  I mean last time I wrote we were on CORPS 4.1.5 and as of this writting we will probably be wrapping up 4.2.7 at the end of June.

We are almost finished testing on our 2nd to last spell sphere, the Necromancer sphere and once we've signed off on testing we'll begin development on the final spell sphere we have in the works which will be the Archmage sphere.  Once those two are complete perhaps the single biggest hurdle (character spell spheres) will be complete.  Assuming I am not spending too much time on actual development and testing I will make sure to add a post to go into a little more detail of what all is involved in the spell sphere.  Until then happy CORPSing.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

CORPS 4.1.5 and CORPS into the future

As with any game in development, especially when trying new concepts, certain things are going to fail and other things will work.  CORPS has certainly been no exception.  We've had a number of things work for us and a number of things that for one reason or another had to be scratched from the game.  One thing I can say for sure is that the progress in the game has certainly been going in the right direction.  I mean that both in terms of completeness of the game as well as the goals we set out for the game in the first place.  CORPS was meant to be above all else a fun table-top role playing game.  As we developed the game we pretty much agreed that the real heart of the role playing game would be the combat and thus we have the acronym Combat Oriented Role Playing System.

The more time and effort we've put into the game the more I amazed at how we've been able to tweak things to really increase the level of fun and excitement we get while testing it out.  I also feel like things within the game are much more cemented.  I can't say how good it feels to be moving forwards with new development rather than going back and changing things that have already been done because they didn't work as well as you hoped the first time around.  Sure there are still minor tweaks here and there, especially in light of testing but the bulk of the game as it is now is how it'll be when we eventually move towards releasing the game as a finished product.   That time is still a decent ways away but I am more of the mind that we'll know we'll be getting close as we wrap up the last of development and start working on a kick starter campaign to raise funds for hiring an artist who can turn our ideas in to bold images to describe things as we see it.  Of course that is as I said, a ways off.

One thing I did think of as I was going through our older and infrequent blog posts is that despite talking about CORPS so much, there is a lot of stuff that had been previously introduced in prior years that is totally irrelevant or just out right wrong now.  I had thought about putting together another list of blog entries that would reintroduce CORP to the readership of this blog but the time spent writing to the blog is time that I could be spending towards the actual development.  Since this is all a side project it pains me to manage time so closely but life comes before hobbies unfortunately. Still I think it would be a good idea to reintroduce the game with the changes that we'll most likely go live with. The game really has come a long way since we started and even more so through all the various major releases we've gone through.  I plan to in the near future to begin taking this game to comic bookshops to try to run people through an actual demo of the game just so I can start getting candid feedback on how the game plays out.  The thing is, and this is why I primarily am bringing it up here on this blog, up to this point nearly all of my testing of this game has been done online.  It stands to reason if someone actually reads this post and has some interest in the game, even if it's just mild curiosity, it's someone like that that I should be reaching out to in order to have them test out the game.  So I'll just keep this short and say that if you are interested in helping us test the game just reach out and let use know on my website: http://www.nortain.net/corps-contact-us.html.  If you're curious as to what we are using to test here is a list of the software we use.

Mumble (VoIP)
MapTools (Tabletop sim software - requires java)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Change log? WTF is that? CORPS 4.1.3

Sometimes I feel like the development process for CORPS is something like sticking one's head in the sand.  Why are you sticking your head in the sand?  To see more sand in more detail of course.  In this case sand in my metaphor for all those tiny details that come together to make the game great.  Of course in spending such a lengthy amount of time working on the details you can tend to lose focus of the big picture as well as the processes that help support the building of the big picture.
One thing we had always done was to give our builds version numbers so we'd know where we were in our development process as also when something might be out of date.  This was often the case with test characters we created.  You make a character, test them some, make some tweaks that affect a number of characters and suddenly you have characters whose builds are no longer valid.   We quickly found putting a version number on the document proved very helpful in letting us know what and who needed to be reviewed before testing after making a change.  But one painfully obvious omission we made was that we never documented exactly what these version numbers meant.  That is to say when we made a big game changing update, we'd simply give that a new version number without specifically writing down what it was we had changed and more importantly why.  When you're constantly working on something constantly it stays pretty fresh and the developers never really paid it much attention.  We did a good enough job of remember what was recently changed and whenever we took breaks from developing any big changes had been fully implemented so even if we didn't remember what we changed recently we could plainly see what the new rules were.

It wasn't until this most recent round of changes that we ran into the problem of, "wait what version did this change belong it?"  With a lot of changes flying around going back and forth and length of the development cycle we started becoming slowly aware that we couldn't keep all this crap together.  Some documents had notes in the documents some didn't, some had documentation about a version number with no mention of what that number actually represented.  Needless to say it started to get pretty messy.  Luckily the fix was simple.  We were able to create a central record keep for all the changes that went in under each version and what those changes were and why.  It's really kind of sad cause we've overhauled the game essentially 3 times now, and have had numerious tiny and sizeable changes in between those and all this time we never had anything to clearly state what these changes were.  Sure we had them written down.... somewhere.  But the central record keep is really what we've been needing for quite some time.  Welcome to what programmers refer to the changelog.  The concept is simple.  It's a log of everything that changed since the last released version. Being programmers ourselves we had to laugh at the fact that we'd hadn't thought of putting this together sooner.

Another interesting aspect of having a changelog, even though it's still pretty immature, it's neat to be able to see what we actually have been working on for the past... well year now.  Shit I really need to update this blog more.  Well anyway I figured I'd give a short list of the most recent set of changes we've made to give a glimpse into some of the stuff we've been tweaking as of late.

4.1.30 - Racial Review, 2m/2w updates

Racial Review - The stat bonuses are made more consistent, Burman are Br/Re, Gryx are Br/Pr,  Feydra are Agi then Pr Or Re, Primentals are Br then Pr Or Re.  This gives more flexibility for races to be casters, because making a Re based class without Re is just rough.  Melee has more flexibility, because you can go balanced weapons and use the bonus to Re or Agi.  Agile weapon user and Heavy weapon user still will need the isolated stat.

Oh the Humanity changes again.  This time it is +4 to hit, but gives advantage to any critical rolls.  It is difficult to balance as it is currently the only racial which has a decent chance of doing nothing by using it unless you are attacking 2 or more targets.  The swift version was strong, but for the wrong reason -- the game was hypernova back then.

Caster Core Powers Review - A more detailed breakdown of the 3w is leading to an overhaul of the kits.  1g’s apparent were way OP - but we have no test data to support the numbers.  In theory 2w/2m were underpowered because they were “equal” to a 3m or 3w (using three theme points).  2m/2w gain an encounter ability to cast a std/delib action spell and perform a snap attack.

2w/2m stat sharing - Updated so that 2w/2m will usually be marital stat primary -- All 2w/2m now get +1 to spell damage per point in Agi or Br.  This allows a 3 offence stat to have a +3 bonus to spell damage, and a +6 if they have an “off stat” racial bonus.  The old way was allowing 3 offence with off stat to have a +8 to melee, +6 to spells, and the epic stat PP bonus.  This is vastly stronger than any other setup, so it was highhandedly nerfed.

Overcast Magic Spell  - Duh.  Math is hard.  As an overcast reg spell is +18%, an overcast magic should be +18% -- which is a +2 to hit, not +1.

Core Caster Static Bonus:  The bonus for non-scaling effects has been increased from 25% to 40%.  This is for consistency with Juggernaut PP, which is valued at 9 (as a PP) and it gives 6 THP (non-scaling).

HP Increase:  SD, Vitality, and stealth now give slightly more HP.  All HP fractions are now X/3.  SD went from 1/4 to 1/3 per rank,  Vit is now 4/3, 8/3, 10/3. 12/3, [from 1,2, 5/2, 7/2] and stealth increases from 1/2 per rank to 2/3 per rank.

Makes absolutely no sense?  Yeah well I guess you'd either need to know the game some first before decoding what all of that slang means.  What you can take away from it though is that we're hard at work progressing CORPS towards general release and look forward to when we can start playing the game with regular people rather than those in our tight knit beta groups.  Until then... keep on gaming

Friday, March 20, 2015

CORPS 4.0 is coming along

If CORPS 3.0 was about bringing simplification to the CORPS system CORPS 4.0 has been about normalizing the simplification process.  In particular the spell system being utilized by CORPS has seen a dramatic shift in how things work.  Previously the type of spell was very important to it's assumed action.  This grouping followed along the line of thought that certain spells were considered attack spells while other spells were considered utility spells.  At the highest level of spell abstraction these were the two categories of spells which seemed simple enough.  But a byproduct of the balancing and simplification that was introduced in 3.0 was that some spells such as creature summoning spells needed to be standard action spells instead of move action spells even though they were technically categorized as a utility spell.  This realization came about after extensive testing and it was clear to see just what kind of an impact summoning spells could have on a combat.   Of course in 3.0 we then had this arbitrary bit of complexity embedded in spells which just didn't feel right.   In 4.0 we've sought to address this by removing the age old assumption between attack spells being standard action casts and utility spells being move action casts. Since a move action was less costly than a standard action spell we inherently made utility spells weaker than standard action spells.  However before I go forward with explaining the new changes perhaps I should take a step back and better explain how things used to be and why the change.

As I mentioned, spells used to have an associated cast action with them.  This used to work because all spell casters were allowed 1 spell per turn and so could choose use their move action to cast a utility spell or a standard action to cast an attack spell.  The actions of a character within a single turn are normally limited to a standard, move and minor action.  With standard encompassing complex actions like attacking, disengaging or total defense, move actions being responsible for general movement and shifting and minor actions covering mundane tasks like loading a bow, opening a door, drawing/sheathing a weapon etc.  So as a caster when casting the spell the player had a decision to make which usually boiled down to one of two options.  The caster could choose to cast an attack spell and use the move for movement or overcasting the attack spell. (Overcasting is a method to slightly increase the strength of a spell at the cost of the casters move action) or the caster could choose to cast a utility spell and then use their standard for something like an implement attack which is basically like a weak version of a normal weapon attack for casters.

While this sounds good and fine there were actually quite a few issues with the system as a whole.  The most offensive was probably perhaps how pigeon holed certain spell spheres felt based on their roles.  For example, the elemental sphere is a high damage sphere that should be able to dish out a high level of burst damage.  But if the elementalist every wanted/needed to cast a utility spell their damage would tank because everything that made their spells strong was lost when they attempted to use an implement attack.   On the flip side the priest sphere which focused on powerful utility spells, could continually make use of those spells while making use of their implement attack and when their allies were under pressure the priest could simply switch over to attack spells and essentially lose nothing in the process.  This is only one example and there were plenty others but ultimately it seemed by limited casters to only 1 spell per turn was really constraining how they played out in practice.

One thing 4.0 sought to remove was the 1 spell per turn restriction.  Instead casters were restricted only in action.  This meant that so long as the caster had the action to cast a spell they could cast it.  This idea while fairly simple and straight forward immediately broke a lot of assumptions surrounding existing spells.  Casters were suddenly incredibly powerful compared to their martial counter parts.  The problem was inherit in the design of our spells and ultimately that high level categorization of attack spells being standard action cast and utility spells being move action.  The solution was to make cast action independent of spell type.  The way we did this was that rather than assigning spell strength based on attack or utility we now assigned spell strength based off of cast action.  We normalized the strength of spells such that if a standard action spell were considered 100% spell strength then a move action spell would be considered 40% spell strength.  Using this system we also realized that there was an interesting new category of spell actions for deliberate spells whose strength would naturally be 140%.  With this idea we were able to build around a set of assumptions for each type of spell and then started converting our existing spell system to this new more modular and elegant spell system.

So far we have performed extensive testing across nearly all types of martial and magic characters and our results are looking very good.  The multitudes of different builds along with their viability is simply astounding.  Players are free to mix and match a wide variety of pieces in their characters that allow they to cobble together nearly any kind of archetype they can imagine.  It really speaks to our goal of being able to create a tactically balanced, classless combat system that is fun and engaging.  The success we've found in our 4.0 revision has been so great in fact we are looking at expanding our normalization process that we applied to spells and are now looking to incorporate it into the martial class's knack system.  While this is still in the works it should ultimately yield a normalized set of combat knacks among all the various types of combat fighting styles.  Our goal with this, much like what we planned for spells, is to have a simple system that accurately defines all powers available to a particular character that provides multiple viable options that are both balanced and among other available options as well as other character types as a whole.  I'd be lying if I were to say it was an easy process but it certainly is a fun an exciting one.  Hopefully these milestones will put us one step closer towards an end product or perhaps a future kick starter project to get CORPS off the ground and into the hands of table top players.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

So you want to build a character?! Better download that character generator

You may have heard this a few times when playing a new RPG that involves a lengthy character creation process.  There are a few RPGs out there that making a character more or less means you need to get some software to do it.  Sure character builders are nice and helpful, but for some games it's just absolutely a must have.  Off the top of my head rolemasters comes to mind.  Creating a character in that by hand is roughly equivalent to slicing open your right eye with a jagged piece of glass then sewing it shut with a rusty needle.  Needless to say I can think of other things I'd rather be doing with my time.

So I bring this topic up because not too long ago I brought in a small group of co-workers and decided I'd try walking them through building a character in the CORPS much like a DM would in any RPG where the players have tabletop gaming experience but have never heard of the title of the game they are playing.  Since this was done during lunch breaks at my day job I've found it actually difficult to cut it all up into hour long character building sessions.  Although an hour may sound like a long time, if you factor in people are eating their lunch, arriving 5 to 10 minutes late and then getting side tracked with talks of Star Wars and comparing the merits of D&D 3.5 vs D&D 4e time flies by with very little actually being accomplished.

In the first session I had I don't think the players did more than select their theme points.  So much time was used describing the game and overall how things worked that the players were almost at a loss to decide the route they wanted to go.  Luckily one of the players has a 'de facto' build he always used when playing a new RPG so he knew what he wanted and I was able to easily guide him into the kind of path he'd want to take to make that character happen.  But still, selecting theme points, once you're familiar with the game, is only slightly more difficult than selecting your character's class in most other RPGs.  Ironically the choices that really decide the outcome of the character are usually simple and quick, and the choices that tend to be more trivial (e.g. what talents should I get or what skills do I want to know?) take a lot more time and generally have a lot less impact in the game.

Anyway getting back to it, once the theme was out of the way and the players had a better idea of what they wanted to make I was able to layout the resources used to build the them and what kind of decisions the players had to make.  From it I ended up creating a new document called 'How to make a character in CORPS' which is our first attempt at a user friendly guide that lists all the steps for making a character.  Prior to this we'd just gone through making them from memory and previous characters we'd made since we were able to turn a concept archetype into a character on paper in 30 to 45 minutes.  Going through with people unfamiliar with the game was a totally different ball game hell maybe even a game with no ball like hockey or bobsledding.  However with it, came a new outlook on things and great suggestions to help make the process easier in the future.

At the end of a couple sessions it was clear one character was making 3 combat / 1 general fighter type. Well in actuality he was a shirtless (yes he insisted his character would be shirtless) cowboy who was a bare knuckle boxer.  This was actually a great test for the limits of our system as quite a bit of debate among developers had arose from the decision on supporting a character who willing chose to fight unarmed.  One developer had at one point insisted that wielding weapons is ALWAYS better than not and that to accurately reflect fighting throughout history it should be considered inferior to be unarmed and therefore no one would want to do it in the game.  Of course I felt the view was a little narrow. People play tabletop games for a variety of reasons.  Some people like the combats, some like the social interaction and role playing, others enjoy living a life as an extraordinary character in extraordinary places.  Min-Maxing, while something I do enjoy in RPGs, isn't a must for everyone, and certainly didn't seem to be so for the player making his bare knuckled boxer.  This actually ended up leading to a few simple design changes which let us better support unarmed combat and make it fairly viable in the game.  I don't know if I'd go so far as to say it's optimal, but it's definitely viable.  Needless to say I wouldn't want to step into a ring with that guy even if I did have a sword or an ax.

It's really hard to say how such a character will pan out down the road.  To date, all testing in the game has revolved solely around level 1 characters while the other 9 levels are all theorycraft at this point.  We have it planned out, in great detail even, but how things will actually play out remain to be seen.  So thanks to that player's choice for creating a unique character type, we got to slightly tweak the CORPS system to better handle and easily allow the creation of such a character while still allowing them to contribute as much as a more common mainstream character.

The other player who had made good progress in making his character was going the magic route with a 3m / 1 Stealth caster.  His choice in spell spheres were a bit limited since we only have a little over half the spheres finished at this point, but still there are plenty of options in my opinion.  At the end of the day the player decided upon the warlock sphere.  This sphere deals primarily with crippling enemies with magic attack spells and/or killing them over time through corrosive and demonic curses.  I really felt the spell spheres had come together thus far as they had been streamlined over a series of iterations to essentially reveal two primary builds in each spell sphere.  In the case of the warlock sphere you had the warlock who focused on debilitating attacks and the other who focused on damage over time attacks.  Granted there are a lot more options within the sphere than just choice A or choice B.  In fact there are 42 spells in each spell sphere for a 3m caster and since you start out being able to only pick 6 of them and 1 armor type spell I think there is room for plenty of variation within any given spell sphere.

Getting back to the player, and one of the things that myself as a developer had failed to notice was the horrible format that the spells were being display in.  Primarily it was that each spell that did damage used a formula for determining what those damage values were based on level.  To me this made perfect sense but to player he said the looked like quadratic equations.  Shifting gears and trying to view things as a new player I could see what he meant.  Here is an example of one of the old spells.

Lifesteal (PE)
Keyword: Shadow, Fortify
Spell Type: Physical Effect
Area of Effect: Ranged 1 in 10
Duration: Immediate
Static Modifier:  Full
Crit Die: 2d8+1
Spell Effect:
          On hit target takes Xd10+Y+ Pr bonus shadow damage and the caster gains Z temporary hit points.  
          X = 1 + 1/3 * level  
            Y = 3 + 3/5 * level
            Z = 3 + 9/10 * level

Overcast: Add d10 extra damage for 2 PP.  At level 6 add 2d10 extra damage and increase the THP gained by one for 4 PP.

I had to laugh a little because it really did look intimidating, especially with a list of 42 and a few other perks and bonuses lying about all listing formulas that needed to be 'solved' in order to write it down on your character sheet.  We had originally done this because the developers were fearful of having too many charts.  Having seen how games like rolemasters and dare I say, the infamous F.A.T.A.L. went so overboard with charts as to make even the most experienced players groan in frustration and agony.  Still after stepping back from the problem another developer decided that having lots of small charts, namely for each spell, would be vastly better than having cryptic formula laid out detailing the correct values per level.  After the edit this is what spells look like now.

Lifesteal (PE)
Keyword: Shadow, Fortify
Spell Type: Physical Effect
Area of Effect: Ranged 1 in 10
Duration: Immediate
Static Modifier:  Full
Crit Die: 2d8+1
Spell Effect:
          On hit target takes shadow damage equal to the level chart below + Pr bonus.  The caster also gains a number of temporary hit points equal the level chart below.  

Level 1-5
Shadow Damage
Level 1-5
Temporary HP
Level 6-10
Shadow Damage
Level 6-10
Temporary HP

Overcast: Add d10 extra damage for 2 PP.  At level 6 add 2d10 extra damage and increase the THP gained by one for 4 PP.

Now the spell is much easier to read for a character when trying to figure out how much damage they'll do with a spell.  Got a level 1 character who knows lifesteal?  Damage is 1d10+3 + Pr bonus and you gain 3 temporary hit points.  No figuring out or rounding down fractions.  Another little improvement we made is we reduced the overall number of dice you'd be rolling when casting spells at higher levels.  It can still be a lot with certain powerful spells, but overall we reduced the absolute maximum number of dice you'd roll for a damage value from 10 to 8.  I know that probably doesn't sound impressive but across the boards the number of dice being rolled has been reduced by about 2.  The actual number of spells that will have you rolling 8 or even 6+ dice at level 10 are fairly limited.  By increase the static + damage to dice roll we're were trying to make it so that each level saw some gain in power.  Previously you'd have spells that didn't change for 2 or 3 levels and then jumped up by a d10 or d12 nearly doubling the damage of the spell the level before.  We wanted to avoid the drastic increases and opted for slower but more steady gains in spell power as the characters increased in level.  Overall I think it's a good change because people will still be able to feel some weight to their damage rolls (any gamer of dice will tell you this is a fun feeling) while not needing to make 12 different rolls for a single attack.  (that number is assuming a worst case along with a player only having 1 of a certain die size.  And I mean com'on honestly who only has 1 of each die size at a table top RPG???  An experience DM should easily be able to lend players 2 or 3 of any kind of die if needed.  Of course this is all in theory so I'm going to stop rambling now, especially in parentheses no less...)

In any case, while it's been fun finally taking some people not familiar with the CORPS system through the process of building characters it has also been a good learning exercise for the developers.  We've had a chance to further improve our system and hopefully make it more enjoyable for players who decide to tempt fate and roll the dice in the CORPS.