Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The first complex story arc: The King of the Orcs

Currently I am implementing the first complex story arc for JADE to show off what I am considering to be one of the hallmarks of future versions: complex, long-running stories that can influence your game in various ways depending on how you interact with them. Despite being spoilerish in many ways I would like to explain the basic setup based on the "King of the Orcs" story arc that will be introduced in JADE 0.2.3 and serve as an example for many more story arc types to come.
The basic idea is very simple: From minor things major changes can develop. And as Ancardia is a living and breathing world (well, the simulation of one) many minor things are going to be happening. Some might be without effect, some might be the catalyst for great changes. Which ones are what might vary from game to game.

JADE 0.2.3 will illustrate this will a small and still pretty straight-forward example which will be elaborated with twists and turns over time (and those won't be spoiled here ;-) ).

Imagine a young orc prince living in the mountains, Fnuk III by name. He is discontent with the rule of his aging and bumbling father and suffers when seeing how weak his tribe has become. He decides to lead his people to greatness and conquer Ancardia, himself vying for immortality and might.

As things go one night his father chokes on too much food (or something else?) and Fnuk III suddenly moves into the position of being the new king of his tribe. With iron hand and vicious guile he starts to subvert the neighboring orc tribes, slowly and rather stealthily laying the groundwork for a small orcish empire.

He proves himself to be a competent, ruthless and efficient leader, uniting more and more orcs, killing contenders and getting the support of less will-strong lackeys who understand that they can rise to more power in the shadow of Fnuk than they ever could on their own.

So Fnuk slowly (over months and years of game time) forges a hidden empire (you might find it if you know where to look) and slowly his marauders start to spread over Ancardia. (Yes, there will be bands of marauders moving around on the world map if this happens - searching for settlements to attack).

If nobody stops Fnuk his might will increase and bands of marauders will transform into stronger and stronger armies that finally will be able to besiege and destroy cities. Fnuk in the meantime will be already working on his next achievement.

And... barring unlucky meetings with some hero... he at some point will assume the position of Fnuk Longtooth III, emperor of the orcs. You may guess why he assumes this extended name. The title should be evident.

From that point onward immortality no longer seems to be his primary drive but he will start to mettle with the gods themselves... vying for a position among the immortal gods of Ancardia. Whether he will be successful in that endeavor, too, depends on many things and those I won't spoil.

Let's just put it like this: While this story is straight-forward so far there are more than enough places to alter it... Fnuk might fail to kill his father, quickly ending the whole thing (and leading to the fact that in some cave an ancient, decadent orc king is sitting until he meets his end at the hands of some hero or villain), Fnuks armies might find some other dungeon from another story arc, conquering it and allowing him to become Fnuk III, wearer of the crown of evil - who is quite different from Fnuk Longtooth (and would change the means by which the PC might get his hands on said crown which again would be usable for good or bad in some other story arc). And should Fnuk manage to raise to godhood he even might become a deity actively worshippable by the PC. But if the PC dared to face Fnuk in his less powerful days and had failed to defeat him (obviously in that story variant) the PC might have won a new personal enemy of previously unknown might.

And so on. One tiny story with so many options for interesting twists and variants. All this will only show its true depth over time as more and more of such story arcs evolve. The first ones still will be my testing ground to add features to JADE which later on allow me to build such stories a lot more easily but since the basic infrastructure for all that is already there I am currently having a blast implementing the first more complex story arc in JADE.

What do you think?

P.S.: Yes, you will be able to fight armies and might get involved in settlements being attacked by hordes of orcs. Naturally ;-)


  1. That sounds just awesome, something that will really take roquelikes to the next level!

  2. I worry that if quests can affect each other, you'll have too many quests that end in the background before they can even begin. Suppose the wearer of the crown of evil gets killed and someone else really does take it. What then? Your quest is "Slay Bob, who has the crown of evil." But Bob is nowhere to be found! How the heck are you going to know where to go? What's to stop the player from thinking it's just a bug and logging it?

    If this happens enough, you'll have dozens of uncompleteable quests, and that will just frustrate the player. You'll have to focus on balancing it so that there's a good chance that no one will ever take the crown of evil, and you'll ultimately decide that it's just easier to make him unkillable except by the player. There go your fancy, intertwining quests.

    Don't get me wrong; in a perfect world, this would be phenomenal. It would be wonderful and amazing and groundbreaking and everything else. If you can do it, more power to you. But we don't live in a perfect world, and it's going to take a ridiculous amount of effort to make this actually work the way you're saying, and work well.

  3. @Gamer_2k4: I see your point but I currently believe that two other design decisions (not mentioned above - forgot about that but that's why comments are so helpful ;-) ) will help with the problem you propose:

    1. There should be a highly limited set of interaction points between story arcs (e.g. each story arc should at most interconnect in one or two specific places with other story arcs). This on one hand keeps implementation complexity under control and additionally prevents too many interdependencies (which as you IMHO correct suspect would take away too much from the visible interaction).

    2. The probability of an interaction occurring should be very low. If only every 10th or 20th game such a thing happens (for a given set of interactions) this will be a great foundation for those famous "oooh, that was sooo cool... I never saw that happening" moments. Interactions IMHO should be a rare suprise and not a standard event.

    Since most of the actual dynamic events (e.g. armies moving around) will be more or less random and Ancardia is a pretty big world I believe that the amount of interactions won't be much of a problem. As always this will be a matter of fine-tuning ;-)

  4. sounds pretty damn awesome, keep up the updates.

    Have to say, nowadays i usually look for games with bass & graphics, but still this game manages to keep me interested. No one else's productions manage to do that.

    Keep it up!

  5. @TB: so each interaction will be rare, but there will eventually be enough of these large, complex, intertwined story arcs to make each game (reasonably) unique? Sounds amazing to me.

  6. This is... possibly the BEST update I've ever read!

    Really looking forward to this, and I also like how it's only a 5-10% chance that this storyline will happen at all, so it doesn't happen every game! Nevermind the fact that even if the storyline does get generated, Fnuk could do anything from get killed off right at the start up to take over the world!

    A couple of things I'd like to mention -
    - As you get closer to Fnuk's stronghold or army, the number of orc random encounters should also increase
    - don't forget to let Fnuk recruit Trolls, goblins, and other similar enemies!
    - I'm guessing an orc or troll PC would have a much different experience to a human or elf PC with this quest?
    - While taking on Fnuk's army by yourself would be pretty cool, I also want to see situations where I attack Fnuk's army at the same time, or alongside other allied forces, like the king's swordsmen or an elven ranger squad

    But this was a great update, Thomas. Keep doing what you are doing!

  7. Sounds just awesome! And to go along with Lyle what about the ability for an orcish PC to defeat Fnuk and take his place. Keep this up and I might start anticipating JADE more than Skyrim!

  8. @ Gamer 24k: the problem with bob and his crown of evil shouldn't be too big of a problem with the rumor system thomas has been working on. If you are at least somewhat in the general vicinity of bob townspeople and other adventurers will know whether he is alive or not, whether he is still in the area and how to find him. I don't mind the idea of not completing quests, as long as there are plenty of other quests to do.

    @ whoever i guess: This sounds pretty great, the amount of variables that could potentially affect gameplay is mind boggling. What if Fnuk's home region becomes unreachable due to an avalanche? What if the PC could cut him off from supplies by causing an avalanche, effectively starving him and ending his campaign. in my opinion, the key to agreat and replayable game is novelty, if there is always the possibilty of something new and unseen happening, i will always play. :)

  9. Thomos, if you can pull this off in the way you envision you just may create the best CRPG to date.

    Just for your information, I rate ADOM in the top 5 best CRPG's;

    1. Fallout 1 & 2
    2. Skyrim
    3. ADOM
    4. Baldures Gate 1 & 2
    5. Dwarf Fortress (kind of rpgish)

    ADOM was my number 2, but Skyrim is pretty darned good, not terribly in depth like ADOM but so many other things go for it.
    It would take a mammoth achievement to surpass Fallout 1&2 though, JADE may do it.

  10. I think that, with careful quest design, it won't matter. "Slay Bob, who wears the Crown of Evil" can cause problems if Fnuk slays Bob first; however, a slight rephrasing of the quest goal solves that. Either "Kill the wearer of the Crown of Evil" - in which case you have to kill Fnuk to finish the quest. Alternatively, the quest goal could be "Bring back proof of the demise of Bob, who wears the grown of evil" - in which case, you could bring back Bob's skull, even after Fnuk had killed him and taken the Crown.

  11. Very good idea. However, with more than three or four such "complex story arcs", I imagine it would become very complicated to control the interaction.
    When JADE races a point with more than a few story arcs, I would suggest the following:
    When a character is generated, a number of story arcs is generated, maybe two?

    "On the night of your tenth birthday, something that would influence you destiny greatly, happened in the mountains far away: An Orc child slew his father."
    "Long before even your grandfather was born, a great elven king decreed: One day my daughter will defeat Amrog the foul demon of the dungeon of spiteful despair. The significance of this statement only be discovered much, much later."

    Maybe two "arcs" could be generated at character generation, with another generated when level X is reached, Dungeon Y is cleared or item Z is found or when another Arc is finished:
    "The following night you dream vividly of a great dragon waking from his slumber, hungry with the hunger of centuries spend hibernating - is he an ally or your greatest foe? Only time will tell".

  12. If you choose the Orc race, you should be able to take Fnuk's crown ... or join his army, do his quests, and become his most trusted general ;)