October 17, 2012

Telepath Tactics October 2012 update

Another month, another update on Telepath Tactics! Much of this past month was spent wrangling: wrangling artists, wrangling with weird security-based behaviors in Windows, wrangling interface issues, and wrangling livestock. (Okay, just the first three.)

First, on the art front: the fantastically talented Benn Marion is working on some proper title screen art (finally!) for Telepath Tactics. It’s not done yet, but we do have some truly exciting concept sketches to show: one for the pyrokineticist, and one for the lizardman. Check it out!

Lorne Whiting has finally completed the character walk animations! The remainder of the character animations await. Meanwhile, Nick Perrin is hard at work on the Telepath Tactics main theme music. I can’t release it to you just yet, but rest assured that it sounds frickin’ epic! (I say this both as someone who writes music, and as someone who thinks that the word “epic” is grossly overused.)

Now, about those security behaviors: I made an unpleasant discovery a few weeks ago. It seems that Windows won’t let people save edits to files contained in an install directory (i.e. Program Files > The Folder You Install Telepath Tactics Into). Without any changes to the game, this would render mod support for Telepath Tactics dead-on-arrival. Cue a week-long ordeal of rewriting all the level loading code so that the game looks for custom multiplayer maps and custom single player campaigns in an outside directory, then doing the same for the map editor. Thankfully, that’s all done now, and the bugs that cropped up when I rewrote it seem to have all been squished, so we’re in pretty good shape.

I also spent some time improving the game’s interface. I was at Indiecade between October 3 and October 8, where I got to watch quite a few developers play Telepath Tactics. The responses were very positive, but I was on the hunt for ways to improve the game, not just to bask in compliments. As such, I mostly spent these sessions watching, hawk-like, for any moment where the player stumbled while trying to make the characters do what they wanted them to.

This led to a few changes to the interface. I increased the size of the GUI buttons to make them easier to see/click in battle; removed behavior that caused you to deselect a selected character if you clicked the character a second time; made a few things more reactive (e.g. the game now announces it whenever there’s a backstab attack); and made a couple of other small tweaks to the interface.

The biggest change, however, was in the removal of the individual character “Done” button. Basically, it was vestigial–I had put in mostly because it appears in pretty much every other tactical RPG, and therefore it had to be useful. Right?

As it turns out: no. Unlike most other tactical RPGs (and I include previous Telepath games in that statement), Telepath Tactics lets you swap back and forth between characters as much as you want, revisiting characters you’ve moved previously and moving them again/attacking/rotating/etc. There’s rarely any reason to ever hit “Done,” and thereby permanently foreclose your ability to return to a character later in the turn. It could theoretically be useful for keeping track of the characters you could no longer do anything useful with, but from what I’ve seen of people actually playing the game, mostly all the “Done” button did was massively screw players who clicked on it by accident. So it’s gone–simple as that.

Removing the Done button also forces players to learn the End Turn function in the right-click menu (or else, the “E” key) for ending the turn. More than once, I’ve seen players waste their time manually setting each individual character in their army to “Done” in order to end the turn. I blame my own tutorial for this, as well as the fact that the Done button was always easily visible while the right-click menu had to be consciously accessed. I don’t want anyone to go through the game not knowing that the End Turn function exists: removing Done forces the player to find it.

Relatedly, I made a change not to the UI itself, but rather to the process of teaching the player how to use it. In certain in-game tutorials, I had been throwing players up against advanced concepts without adequately covering the basics. Watching players struggle with simple issues like map panning convinced me that I needed to rewrite these tutorials with a focus on teaching basic systems. So I did.

While I was at it, I also took the time to update the game manual with a section that spells out the game’s controls clearly and in great detail. I also made some useability improvements to the game’s map editor, added an accuracy modifier as an attribute of the game’s attacks, made it possible to create multiple objects / summon multiple characters at once. Oh, and–what else?–I fixed some bugs.

About the attack accuracy modifier: this is a modifier that directly affects a character’s chance to hit using a particular attack. As with character accuracy, this is something I decided to support mostly for the benefit of modders, who might want to provide trade-offs with normal attacks and less accurate “heavy” attacks. I doubt that I will be using this much in either multiplayer or the main campaign, as I personally find accuracy a less satisfying way of imposing costs for a more powerful attack than imposing an actual resource cost like Energy, but the possibility is there.

Finally: by popular request, I am now in the process of coding team multiplayer into the game (2-v-2 and 3-v-3). That should be in and working soon. More to come!

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