Thursday, November 17, 2011

Development Update

It has been too long since my last post.  The problem with bootstrapping is that the day job gets in the way of development.  In the last month and a half, I've written less code than I would have liked but at least I've still made some progress.

The gladiator school code is nearly complete although I missed my end of October target.  Fine tuning and additional testing is all that is left.  After this is wrapped up, I plan on going back to the defect list and tackling a few of the issues with the combat code.  Most of the defects are extremely insignificant but I do have one that is a bit nasty that will require some serious walk-through to fix.  Ah, the joys of debugging code.  At least it's mine.

Writing this much code can be tiresome but there are times when it is quite rewarding.  Last month, I had written a portion of the gladiator school code that ended up to be around 900 lines when finished.  It was not pretty and was definitely over-engineered for the problem it was solving.  After a few days of thinking and trying ideas, I was able to make the code run faster with less lines - 75 to be exact.  That's when I enjoy coding.  Of course, there's always the 4 hour debugging session for a typo that puts it all in perspective.

If I haven't discussed gladiator school yet, I'll dedicate my next post to that topic.  There are actually a few different school options for both servant and citizen.  I'll go over those next time.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Colosseum Cycle - What is it?

The 'cycle' is a very important part of Colosseum. The day in Colosseum is broken in to a minimum of 6 four hour chunks of time. Each of these four hour chunks is called a cycle. Generally, the first cycle of each day starts one second after midnight local time. The six cycles per day are known as cycles A - F (although each cycle has a unique number that increments sequentially). Some activities in the city are only available for certain cycles. For example, an arena may only allow combat during cycles C, D and E (8:00:01am-12:00pm, 12:00:01pm - 4:00pm, 4:00:01pm - 8:00pm). Players should pay close attention to allowable actions by cycle.

All previously set actions occur as planned in this time frame, regardless of player connectivity. For example, a player can set up future actions for his or her servants in upcoming cycles. This allows the player to make action deadlines while off line or busy with other actions (e.g. navigating the library, searching for a document, chatting with other owners, etc.).

Each city has it's own sequence of cycles. In some cases, they may match other cities but in most, they'll be different. All city cycles do match up to empire cycles (as well as the master cycle, hidden from players).

When the game was initially developed, there was only the master cycle. This was always a problem during code development but we managed to make it work. While completing the combat code, we realized that it was getting too painful to work around the bad design. Cycles needed to be more granular - at the city and arena levels. We halted coding on any new work and went back to fix this issue. It required numerous changes in the data model and code but they are nearly complete now. We'll be heading back to the work plan for the next sets of new code this week.

For players playing in multiple cities, paying attention to multiple cycles is key to success.

An important note here. Cycles are predetermined slices of time for servant based actions. The player (acting as a citizen in the game world) operates at real time and can perform most actions as needed.

[Note: It is possible to have smaller and more plentiful cycles in a day. Tournaments and other special activities may change the cycle lengths as necessary.]

A Deeper Look into Colosseum Combat

Hi again! I've gotten a few emails on the combat portion of the game so I thought I'd put a few things here for discussion.

While combat is important in CR4, we never want it to be the only thing people want to focus on. Remember, as a player, you will play a citizen of one of the cities in this world. The focus is on your citizen. Your prestige and virtue are very important to your success in the game. You have servants (also, gladiators) that compete in the games. They win, lose and die according to their skills and your strategies with them.

There are 21 weapons to choose from (in three classes); some may be used together and some are large and heavy enough to be used by themselves. Gladiators can gain proficiencies in each weapon or focus on just a few... master levels decide overall skill with the weapon.

There are a number of armor options that cover various body part areas (a major shift from CR2 and CR3). We've tried to align armor to historical information so there are some interesting combinations.

Gladiators can have a fighting style but it's not required. There are pros and cons for having a style of course. You'll have to decide what works for you.

There will be four divisions of gladiators: Plebian, Veterans, Elite and Freedmen. Each gladiator will have to meet certain criteria before making the move to the next level.

Matchups come in different forms. You can challenge another owner's gladiator to a matchup some time in to the future (challenges have rules and must be approved), your gladiator may fall in to the 'random' category (i.e. you've indicated that your gladiator will fight on a particular turn with any available opponent), or he may randomly matchup with a soldier or beast!

Tournaments will occur somewhat frequently with varying prize levels (depends on the tournament). These could be anything from simple one turn mini-tournaments to all-out, full-day, empire-wide matches that have massive prizes. Tournaments will be open (any weapon, armor or level) or restricted to certain armors, weapons and/or levels. Some may be in certain cities only. Special events like 'to the death' or 'single-man standing' matches will not be frequent but will deliver excellent prizes.

If you throw all the variables in to the mix: race, attributes, weapon and armor proficiencies, style, combat strategy, weather, location and of course, our favorite, luck... it makes for interesting outcomes.

Strategy plays a huge part. What to train and when. Which arenas to fight in. Who to challenge. Who to avoid. How often to fight. Alternating combat percentages. All these things make a big difference if planned correctly.

Well, there's a little bit of insight to the combat part of CR4. We'll start some threads on other game elements in the next few weeks.


Important Difference Between Colosseum and Other 'Video' Games

Here is an important difference between Colosseum and other multi-player online games... It's a 'graphics driven text-based game.' We use graphical content (maps, images, etc.) to speed up the navigation of the game but at some point, you'll drop to a level that requires reading and analysis. That's where the text takes over.

If you don't like to read stories or you just want to click a few buttons and walk away, this game is not for you. We know that the market for text games is small - we don't care about having millions of players. What we want is to develop a solid, content rich game for the small amount of people who understand what strategy really is.

Hope that adds some context.

What Are Some of the Things You Can Do in Colosseum?

Here is a short list for CR4.0 (note, we have functionality planned for 10 point releases after the base release):

- Gladiator Combat
   --- random matches, challenges, specialized matches
- Gladiator School Training
- Servant School Training (for non-combat skills)
- University (for citizen and some servants)
- Buy and Trade Goods
- Send / Receive City Post (mail between citizens)
- Portal travel (between cities, citizens can reside in 1-3 cities)
- Puzzle / Dilemma Solving (many tasks/investigations into the city and empire)
- Dive into Rich Content (history, reports, political articles, etc.)
- Combat Analytics (detailed stats by gladiator, arena, citizen, etc.)

Planned Functionality After Base Release (timing tbd):

- Gladiator Tournaments (by city, by weapon, by division, etc.)
- Chariot Racing
- Olympics
- Political Involvement (running for Jr. Senator, Senator, etc.)
   --- citizens shape laws in the city and/or empire!
- Military Involvement (citizens can buy posts in the military and command legions!)
- Group Combat (beyond the typical pairing, e.g. 2 vs 1 or 5 vs. 5)
- Professional Sporting Leagues (more on this at a later date)

Technology Advancements:
- Results Push to Player's Devices (phones, email, etc.)
- Phone Apps for Submitting Strategies

Who is Behind Colosseum?

Thom - Owner and software developer. I developed the first release of Colosseum back in 1994 as a play by mail game. Since then I've rewritten or restructured the game a few times.

Colby - Main content developer. He writes the majority of the content outside the combat system (e.g. history, stories and plots, languages, university texts). Tough job. Loads of writing and staying organized - there are thousands of NPC personalities to manage. He has been involved as a player and contributor since the first cycle of the first release.

Jeff - Project manager. Hardest job of all - keeping us all on track. He's involved in every aspect of the game development. My right hand man.

Paul - Technical Architect. He's engaged in designing and testing the deployment of our 100% internet based game. He worries about security of the platform.

Chris - Technical Architect and Jack-of-all-Trades. He's working w/ Paul on the architecture, security and design of the infrastructure of the game system but he also has an art background. The marriage of technology and artistry is a bonus.

A small group but an experienced team. We all come from IT and gaming backgrounds so we work well together.


What is Colosseum?

The answer is too long for this board but I'll try to sum it up as best as I can: Colosseum is a strategy game based on a Rome-like world. It focuses on the arena (gladitorial combat) but is much more than just that. Citizens (players) get involved in the world, effecting politics, history and plot lines. It's a content system which means it's more text than graphics... players will need to read to be successful. Our tag line is 'Bringing Your Brain Back to the Game' and we mean exactly that. To do well, the player must learn as much as they can from the rich background and story lines. Reviewing the end of the combat matches, searching only for what the gladiator learned or achieved will not get a player far. Reading the deep text within the match may reveal things that could beneficially impact strategy the next time around.

What we really like about the game system is the stuff outside the combat. The university, senate, political intrigue, mystery and puzzle solving as well as the rich content supported by fantastic art will be what keeps players in the game. Sure, having the undefeated gladiator in the last round of a weapon tournament is awesome but a player becoming Senator and shaping the laws of the city and empire can be even more rewarding... Did we mention some Senators have to be elected too?

I'd like to hear what you think on the above thread.

-Thom, Owner and Developer of CR4