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The One Man MMO Project
The story of a lone developer's quest to build an online world :: MMO programming, design, and industry commentary
Progression Progression
By Robert Basler on 2016-09-12 01:59:38
Homepage: email:one at onemanmmo dot com

Work on player progression is still progressing - for four weeks now. There's probably another week and a half more work then I'll make a video of the new screens (cuz they're whizzy.)

You Got Your RPG in My RTS(*)

Traditional RTS games unlock units as the player progresses through the campaign (or based on rules selected by the person who sets up the multiplayer game.) Miranda doesn't have a campaign, so I needed a way for the game to unlock abilities for the player as they play through the game. Something that would give players time to use each new tool and learn how it can be most effectively applied. Prior to this work, every unit in the game was unlocked right from the start which was pretty overwhelming and not very fun.

The solution I've adopted mashes together ideas from Skyrim, Fallout 3 & Dragon Age Origins as well as Dungeons and Dragons. Miranda now lets the player choose their optimal blend of light or heavy weapons, attack power, defense, stealth, economic, or even high or low technology approaches to the conflict. It also limits each commander to about a third of the total set of abilities for each faction. This makes for interesting choices, and encourages play with other players who may have complementary strengths.

Attributes Screen

There are 9 attributes for commanders which vary in value from 1 to 9.

[The new Attributes Screen]

Each player gets 27 points initially, the allocation of those points varies by faction. Players earn one additional point for each of their first 9 levels, and can gain 9 more by finding crates (coming soon) for a total of 45 points.

Attributes have two functions in the game. First, they give boosts to players' level in the 21 Skills. Second, they affect unit statistics (which is one of the things I'll be working on this week.)

Skills & new Perks Screen

There are 21 Skills in the game.

InfantryHeavy TankMedium Tank
Light TankAir SuperiorityHeavy Armour
Medium ArmourLight ArmourShields
KineticBeamLong Range

[Perks Screen - Still a Work in Progress]

Players can earn up to 100 levels in each skill by gaining skill XP by using that skill. So the more you use light tanks, the more light tank perks you can select from that Skill. Players need at least level 10 in a Skill to unlock the first Perk. The first Perk generally unlocks the construction facility and lowest level unit for that Skill. Once a player has assigned all of her attribute points, if a Skill is still below level 10, that Skill will remain locked out.

There will be approximately 210 faction-specific Perks that players can choose from as they progress through the game. Each Perk has a Skill level prerequisite, and/or an Attribute point prerequisite and/or a Perk prerequisite. Perks are arranged in trees - the trees in the image above are all identical placeholders - the final trees will vary and putting the mouse over a perk will show its name and a description. Perks can unlock an in-game unit or family of units, a game feature like the unit design screen, or adjust unit component statistics such as health or shield points. I'll be adding most of those perks over time, but the initial set will at least unlock all current units. Players can expect Stat boost perks to be relatively modest so that more experienced players don't become overpowered. New players may have different units than experienced players, but on a combat-power-per-dollar basis, their levels will be comparible.

The player's overall Level (shown at the top of the Perks screen) is based on the total of the XP for all the Skills combined. Players can choose one perk for each Level they progress in the game up to a total of 80 perks. Every 5 Levels the player is allowed to refund one Attribute point and assign it to another Attribute. I realized while writing this that my plan for refunds will violate one of my other design goals so I need to think about that a bit more before sharing the details on refunds.

HUD Change

The third icon from the left is new, the Commander icon leads to the Attributes and Perks screens. This addition prompted a minor change to the HUD: The icons for the major game features have been separated from the map and build controls. There are just too many to fit well anymore and I expect there to be more in the near future.

[HUD Icons closeup]

One of the problems of developing a game with one person is that you can end up with inconsistencies. Most of the existing UI screens allow the player to see the game in the background. My idea was that players would want to be able to see an attack coming. What I have discovered is that the game in the background makes the screens confusing so the Attributes and Perks screens are fullscreen and all existing screens will eventually be changed to fullscreen as well. Regardless, players will be able to hear when things start to go wrong. I'm still trying to decide if I'll give all the game buttons rounded corners like the new screens. Decisions, decisions.

False Start

I had a bit of a false start with the new screens for player progression. I wanted them to be a bit "whizzy" with nice transitions and sliding backgrounds, and I didn't initially see a way to do that with the HTML/CSS/Javascript tech Miranda's UI is built on. I spent two days building a new UI system based on the Immediate Mode GUI concept until I realized that it had one huge problem: the new screens were written in C++ and weren't end-user customizable. I really like the idea that players can customize the UI if they want to (eventually I hope people will make add-ons for Miranda.) I didn't want to do the huge amount of work that would have been required to make the screens user-customizable so I did some additional research and found a way to build the screens using the existing framework - although that was a giant pain and it took nearly two more days to work out the details.

It's nice to be back to my normal routine. I really enjoy having my family home in the Summer, but I also miss the distraction-free hours.

By Robert Basler on 2016-09-12 14:27:50
Homepage: email:one at onemanmmo dot com

A Few Additional Details

Level Up Bonus

After you level up the Commander icon will glow. If you select the Commander Icon when it is glowing, as a bonus for levelling up, all of your units will be restored to full health and shields. This can be very helpful if you are in a bad situation. If you have levelled up multiple times without selecting the Commander icon, after you leave the Attributes screen it will continue to glow until you have selected it to gain full health again once for each level. Players continue to level up and gain this benefit even once they have all 80 Perks and all 45 Attributes.

Refunding Attributes

If a player decides to Refund an Attribute point the game will check if the refund will reduce any of the Skills' initial level below 10 (the cutoff point where a Skill becomes unavailable.) If it does, Miranda will prompt the player to warn them that Refunding that Attribute will lock them out of the specified Skill(s), refund all the Perks spent so far in those Skill(s) (or that no longer meet their prerequisites) and reset the XP for those Skill(s) to zero. The XP reset for Skill(s) will not affect the player's overall Level. Any existing in-game units that have that skill as a prerequisite will remain, but will be unable to be replaced.

On Balance

My design goal is for players to be approximately equally powerful for each in-game dollar spent regardless of their experience level.

There are stat boosts you can choose as perks, but those stat boosts are relatively small, and each stat boost perk you choose may mean you can't choose a unit perk you might also like.

While higher Level players may have a small numeric advantage over lower Level players, it shouldn't be a crushing advantage. Lower Level players also get a loot advantage which may encourage them to take on more experienced players with cooler toys so that they can get some cool toys themselves.

Attributes are a zero sum game. Spending a point on one attribute means that you aren't spending it on something else that may also be very important. Players should get the first 9 attribute points in the first couple hours of play. The additional 9 points from crates are purely a matter of luck. Some players may gain them quickly and have a small advantage, others will not, but they will still be gaining the equivalent Skill Levels via gameplay.

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