18 August 2013

Art Constraints

We always like hearing player suggestions. Several of them will be in the upcoming 2.2.1 release, and we encourage you to send them in via our bugz email. (Not only does this go into our tracking system, but we can ask for clarification if necessary.)

One suggestion came in an App Store review: “Illustrations depicting the existing special combat events where certain nobles receive the favor/ire of the gods.” This would be cool, but it really isn’t practical.

When we created King of Dragon Pass, we wanted to make a game with a lot of replay, and also a game that a small team could create. One approach to the former was to randomize player personalities. Each game, the woman with the hat will be a different person. One time she may be extremely pious but stingy. The next, a xenophobic poet. We figured part of the game’s charm would be learning about your playing pieces through their advice and actions.

So when your book-loving ring member makes an extravagant purchase, it won’t always be the same person doing it. It could be any of the 70+ faces. And of course, people age during the game. To keep that manageable, there are three ages for each face. We didn’t want to draw 210 versions of the scene (or have 210 overlays, especially since this wasn’t the best fit for the ink and watercolor art style). So the art direction was to avoid showing any of the clan ring. (There are a small number of exceptions, and if you’ve won the long game, you’ll know how we typically resolved this.)

Back to the suggestion: combat interactions are focused as much on the potential hero as the situation. It’s true that many of these would not require 210 versions (most of the women would not suddenly be blessed by Orlanth), it would still be impractical to do dozens of versions of an illustration.

Could we come up with art direction that would allow for the various situations to be illustrated, but not show the principal character? Possibly. But the situations weren’t designed to work under this constraint, and many would be hard to portray. Here is the prose from just one battle situation:
[x = 1] text: The <otherClan> warriors see their chance and prepare to rush <ourHero.null><him/her> in a group.
[x = 2] text: Several formidable enemy warriors converge on <him/her>.
[x = 3] text: The enemy warriors nearest to <ourHero> step out of sword-range for a moment and laugh at their chance to take <him/her> down with superior numbers.
That’s really three different images.

In some cases, there’s an obvious illustration (e.g. an enemy flying over the battlefield), but because we wanted to enhance replay, this is often not possible.

It’s certainly possible that with enough effort, we could come up with the right illustrations (or simply do more of them). But I think the word pictures that Rob Heinsoo and I came up with do a reasonable job. We varied the text to give a different feel than the typical interactive scene (which allows for reflection and discussion by the ring members rather than a snap decision).

So the good idea of illustrating battle situations is at odds with the goals of maximum flexibility and reasonable cost. Perhaps some day we’ll have a way to implement it, but for now, we’re going to apply our resources to adding new story content instead of enhancing existing content. More on that in a future post.

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