How Our Scenarios are Categorized

Hey everyone! Jorden, here. I've had time to get a lot more work done on the game's scenarios, which are my primary responsibility, and I thought I'd talk about how that works. Briefly, since I have to get back to it soon. We basically have three categories of events that can happen in game: static discoveries, random events, and dynamic scenarios. None of these are in the game right this second but we have started to lay the groundwork and planning for how they're going to be run.

In order:

Static discoveries will be placed at world generation; these are stories that you find as you explore the map looking for the enemy and for good territory to expand in to. They tend to be pretty short but they will alter the short term outcome of your exploration and you'll be finding them all throughout the game. The enemy can find them too and reap the benefits or pain associated with any given discovery (some of them are very dangerous).

Random events are fully controlled by the Storyteller AI and are triggered over time; these stories come to you. At the most basic the only determining factor for these events is a simple dice roll which would be run every few minutes to determine if you get an event and which one. That being said there will be a lot of other factors to try and ensure that random events do not trigger too freqeuntly or too rarely or that an empire does not experience so many challenging ones in a row that they get destroyed. Basically we want to protect you from the whims of the dice (or random number generator to be specific). AI empires can also experience these but generally random events will be somewhat localized and only affect one empire at a time.

Dynamic scenarios are the most intense and they have specific, individual triggers; these stories are never random and will usually have wide-reaching effects. The main campaign events are all going to be considered dynamic but there will also be many additional scenarios which a player will encounter. They don't really like to share the spotlight with one another but they can be triggered in all kinds of ways. Some of them will probably end up being placed at world gen like the static discoveries; never drop your guard while exploring. Dynamic scenarios will usually affect all or most of the empires currently in play and the results will have long term impact on the future of the game. Some dynamic scenarios may even result in permanent, solar system wide buffs or penalties that will force all empires in play to adopt new strategies in order to be successful.

That's just a quick look at what I'm working on, currently there are quite a few static discoveries written and a couple of really good random events. There's even an early dynamic scenario. I'm hopeful that all of these will be present in the game at Early Access but as always I cannot make any promises. Looking forward to seeing you encounter my stories!

UI/UX Artist: Curses! Cursors Again!

UI/UX Artist: Curses! Cursors Again!

Hi all. This is your UI/UX Artist Paul here. This week I have updates on the Flight Cursor!

Last time we saw the Selection Cursor which is used for navigating menus and other interactive in-game controls. The Flight Cursor is what appears in the Sim Screen or cockpit, when you are actually flying your ship. As such, the Flight Cursor has an interactive design based on the three-dimensional nature of space flight. Aesthetics are being kept minimalistic as, with any mouse cursor, the end design is going be very small in terms of screen real estate. The main function is going to be an indicator of how much one's ship's anti-inertial thrusters are firing (or in other words, how much one is turning.)

Below are a few concept sketches:

UI/UX Artist: Curses! Cursors Again!

UI/UX Artist: Curses! Cursors Again!

UI/UX Artist: Curses! Cursors Again!

 

The general idea being explored is of a segmented arrow that "fills" or "grows" as the ship turns. Aiming the mouse at the edge of the screen is how one turns hardest, and thus will fill the Flight Cursor to its fullest form. Conversely, keeping the mouse centered (or hitting the grave key to disable flight controls) will change the cursor to a null state and portray a circle. The arrow form will rotate like a compass needle as the pilot maneuvers their ship, always pointing in the direction of steerage.

Further evolutions are forthcoming!

Learning to Make AI as a Fiction Writer

Hello! Jorden, here. Quick update.

We had our group lesson about making IAUS AI using the Curvature program on Friday. Art is a very good teacher so it went pretty smoothly, albeit kind of long, but I wanted to share a bit of my perspective when it comes to working on this stuff as someone who just isn't a professional computer person. Now, to be clear, I've always been interested in computers and on a couple occaisions I've entertained the idea of learning to code but I am not and probably will not ever be a programmer. Nonetheless this AI creation process does involve a sort of "programmer thinking". Basically what I have the ability to do with the Curvature program is I can define the actions and considerations that I would like an AI to use and it will do it. For a brand new AI like the Storyteller even if I put a whole project together there's a lot of things that would need to be hooked up by Art before it would actually mean anything, but I could right now go into the AI for the ships and adjust how it behaves and it would have real effect on the game. My understanding is that the hooking up process is actually the easier part of the whole task, what we do with the curvature program is much more in depth and complex. It's definitely not something I've ever studied for when I was learning writing in school.

So, my perspective? It feels a bit like being required to build a printing press. Not to invent a printing press, mind you, but to build one in order to facilitate the spread of the stories I'm writing. Assembling this tool doesn't add content to the scenarios I'm writing, nor will it make implementing them go faster once they're written. But the Storyteller will be absolutely integral to those stories making their way to the audience in the way I inteded them. While being a writer has not prepared me for the process of building this tool being the main writer for this game means that I understand better than everyone else what features this tool will need to have to be the very best printing press for us. It's going to take me a little while to get it done, but I'm hoping it will be a really cool printing press soon and then I'm going to be able to run off a million copies of my little stories for all of you to read.

UI/UX Artist: Cursor Progress

Hello everyone! This is your UI/UX Artist Paul. Today I've got more updates on the Game Cursors.

 

The Selection Cursors are what appear when navigating menus and clicking on icons. They are designed to be simple yet interactive and visually pleasing. For this week's blog post, let's take a look at the "Disabled Cursor" that appears when the mouse is hovering something that has been explicitly turned off or otherwise made unavailable.

UI/UX Artist: Cursor Progress

Here's the cursor, and its accompanying texture in the 2D vector graphics application. The artboard is sized to the texture file specifications, in this case 256x256 pixels. The black is the vector object that will be converted into geometry, and hence its coloration here is moot.

UI/UX Artist: Cursor Progress

To ensure crystal clarity, the cursor is being built as an actual 3D geometric object. Here is a preview of the cursor in the 3D modeling environment. 

UI/UX Artist: Cursor Progress

The cursors will have overlaying / underlying effects applied to them, so their associated textures were made with transparency in mind. Though the color image looks solid, here's the alpha channel of the same texture file. The white parts are 100% solid. The black areas are completely see-through. The gray is where we will have some color (in this case green) but also the ability to see past it, and this is where flowing textures will appear to give the cursor some life.

With this implementation, we will be able to have multi-colored, high graphical-fidelity mouse icons that change color and selectively show special effects applied to them. Further work is under way to achieve this goal.

 

More Past Writing Experiences I Didn't Expect to Be so Useful (But Which I really Should Have)

Hello! It's Jorden, again. I'm just gonna dive right into it today.

Those who know me know that I absolutely love tabletop role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons, Chronicles of Darkness, Shadowrun, and Stars Without Number to name a few favorites. I played those games all through high school and college, usually in the Dungeon Master or Storyteller role, and when we went into quarantine and could no longer physically visit our friends and family I began running a game for my family as a way for us to keep in touch and make sure everyone was ok. As I have worked on writing scenarios for Rank: Warmaster I found myself drawing upon those collaborative writing skills I had sharpened in my teens and early twenties. Once again I find myself in the Storyteller role, setting the scenes and deciding on the behaviors and personalities of the people that are encountered in those scenes, but just like in those tabletop games the other half of the story is provided by the players. I find myself making decisions about the challenges each scenario should present in exactly the same way that I would plan an adventure for a group of players; asking myself about the skill level of the players in quesiton and the tools and abilities they have available and even about how bad I'm willing to make the consequences for failure. On top of that, Art recently suggested that we probably want to put another AI in the game using the IAUS style that I mentioned a few posts back. This AI would be the Storyteller and it would serve to make decisions about when scenarios should trigger and which ones. I'll likely be doing a lot of the work to determine how this particular AI makes decisions and what it considers to be a fair or unfair challenge, which would of course be based on how I would run things personally. We're basically planning to put a stand-in for me into the game to try and give everyone a better experience.

What this all means is that, in a way, everyone who plays Rank: Warmaster is going to get a decent idea of what it would be like to play a tabletop role-playing game run by me. I hope I can be a good Storyteller for you.

UI/UX Artist: Cursor Development

UI/UX Artist: Cursor Development

Hi all. This is your UI/UX Artist Paul with more bit-by-bit developments on the new upcoming mouse cursors. 

The mouse cursors in-game are going to be (like all cursors really) context sensitive and therefore change appearance depending on the situation. For now, the main contexts are basic, over-clickable, and over-disabled. This is once again an exploration into minimalism, as the cursor will never be too large. Below are some examples of the "default" cursor in its "inactive" state (just existing), when it's hovering over a clickable item in-game, and when it's over an item that has specifically been grayed out or made non-available. The latter has two conceptual forms to get a feel for how to convey a button has been disabled. An "X" is universal, but making the cursor implode or "shrink away" might be another visual element to consider.

Further work on this is to come out with feedback from development team members.

Funny Goofs with Tutorial Testing

Hello! Jorden, here! I have a quick and funny story.

Last week at the conclusion of our bi-weekly livestreams (next one is tomorrow April 6 at 3:30pm EST on twitch.tv/rankwarmaster ) after going offliine Arthur mentioned that he had gotten one of our friends to playtest both of our tutorials as they were at the time. There were more than a couple things that needed fixing but the one that really stuck out to me was this friend's response to a joke I had written almost a year ago now which you see right at the start of the flight tutorial. At the beginning Ares addresses the player with the line "Welcome candidate [error, list not found]". I had thought this a somewhat funny way to show the lightly buggy nature of Ares right at the top and I figured my lack of any kind of code experience would mean that the error was obviously fake to anyone with computer experience. Both of our coders, Matt and Arthur, paid the joke no mind but our friend, who also works with computers, became very confused with the error he was seeing. I had apparently convinced him that there was somewhere for him to enter his name into our game for the purpose of the tutorial narrative (there isn't) and that he had missed this place. He spent some time trying to find it, too. Matt and Art probably ignored it because they know that there's no such system in the game to enter your name for narrative purposes (only for the multiplayer which is different) but it turns out that if you don't know the game inside and out and you do know computers that my error string was plenty convincing. So I was requested to change the error to something less convincing or remove the joke entirely.

The lesson here, if you're interested in such things, is that the value of outside judgement can never be overstated. Nonetheless I found the entire incident just hilarious and I had to share it with you all.

UI/UX Artist: New Mouse Cursor!

UI/UX Artist: New Mouse Cursor!

Hi all. This is your UI/UX Artist Paul. This week I have some new content! The game has been without a mouse cursor design of its own for too long. This is a new project so at this time all I have are preliminary concept sketches as explorations of what kind of mouse cursor might look nice on the screen.

UI/UX Artist: New Mouse Cursor!

There are going to be more than one type of cursor. The general one will likely be minimalistic, and another one, a flight screen mouse cursor, will have more decorative consideration and interactivity in mind. The teaser image shows more modified potential versions.

UI/UX Artist: New Mouse Cursor!

One theme that will be consistent is a gradient that will be symmetrical bilaterally with the cursor body. For this reason, the cursor is being built in half, and will be mirrored in-game via code. The tip of the cursor will always be visible (as in opaque) however a flow effect for the rest of its body is a potential avenue of interactivity for the player.

UI/UX Artist: New Mouse Cursor!

The texture of the cursor will be 256x256 so there won't be a lot of room for intricate detail. The variant on the left will not likely see use. Nonetheless throwing together random, complicated concept art is a useful exercise and a way to stumble upon future aesthetic motiffs.

 Further design concepts will be explored!

More on the Progress of the Tutorials

Hey everyone! You saw the title so you know it's me, Jorden. I'm here with another quick update on how those tutorials are coming along. The good news is, we're almost done with the first draft! The bad news is, the word "draft". To explain more, we're pushing to try and get the tutorials completely finished as soon as possible so that we can show off the game publicly more. To that end, I've very nearly completed writing the city building tutorial. What has slowed me down in the past has been the lack of certain mechanics which are necessary to the basic game and therefore need to be taught in the tutorial, but which weren't actually in the game yet. Most of these mechanics are now a part of the game and those that aren't have been fully defined such that I can write them as though they are in the game. So I expect to have the city building tutorial, the second of our main tutorials, completely written by the end of this week at the latest and by the end of today at the abolute earliest. Once that's done Matt needs to code it into the game and squash any bugs that arise (I've often joked that everything I do is fanfiction until Matt actually brings it to life). I will probably be playtesting the tutorial the whole time that he does that. Then it should be playtested by the rest of the team and any of our friends outside the project that we can blackmail into helping out.

Our primary slowdown at that stage is best described as a lack of infrastructure. I've mentioned before that my job also (mostly) entails writing scenarios and events for the player to encounter over the course of the game. The tutorial is basically just our earliest scenario which is focused on teaching the player the game while also establishing our basic narrative. Right now we're also trying to develop some tools that can allow our scenario creators to work together more efficiently as opposed to the current system where, frankly, Matt does almost all of the hard/tedious work. We're still a new team working with a custom engine so infrastructure has to be designed as we think of it rather than being in place in advance.

When the tutorial is fully written and coded it will have to be edited based on the feedback we get from playtesting. Additionally I need to go back to the flight tutorial (our first tutorial) and make adjustments based on mechanics that have been added in since it was created as well as things I didn't understand when I was first starting with the project. The flight tutorial will need playtesting and feedback-based adjustments as well. Then the tutorials will be truly complete.

Unfortunately, this is why I say we're only nearly done with the first draft. All that being said, I sincerely expect that the draft of the city build tutorial will be completed very soon and once that's done editing is much easier to accomplish. Then we're hoping to present our build with completed tutorials (which we're thinking about labeling as "Prologue") to interested parties who can play our build and review it and tell us and their followers what they think. It looks like a lot of work when I lay it out like this, and it is, but we've got a lot of skilled people working together on it. Keep your eyes peeled, public demonstrations of Rank: Warmaster are closer than you think.

UI/UX Artist: Screen Finalizations

UI/UX Artist: Screen Finalizations

This is the UI/UX Artist Paul. As artistic refinement of existing graphical elements converges to a singular vision, I find I have less unique milestones to present, at least until new content comes up demanding visuals. For now, I've been focusing on the tedium of ensuring all graphics meet a standard of transparency values, line thickness, glow intensity, color consistency, gradient angle, and so forth.

One useful trick I've found was the idea of doubling the thin white outline, increasing its thickness, and using that as an "erasure" layer in the vector art program to erase part of the inner colored glass window. This allowed me to set the gap between the glass and the outline (previously a source of constant frustration) as an exact numerical measurement using the erase layer's stroke thickness as an improv smart tool. The result: I can make an in-game window with any proportion and guarantee its body and border have the same detailing as all others without eyeballing it.

A minor little accomplishment, but time-saving and human error-removing life hacks like this are worth noting (and being self-contented with.) All the windows shown here have received this "smart line" treatment. I am still unifying the glass gradient angle and direction, but that won't take long either.

 

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