Thursday, 31 May 2007

Low level lessons

I've got a confession to make: I've started playing Unangband.

This is a big step for me. Usually I last about 2-3 minutes, come up with an irritating bug / user interface issue that isn't quite right, and dive back into the code for hours at a time.

But this time its different: I'm enjoying playing, even if I have the feeling the game is a bit difficult at the moment. The initial reason why is that most of the obvious bugs are fixed, whilst I have enough scary and hard to debug ones to worry about. But I'm also really enjoying the variety and 'feel' of the game at the moment: its possible to quickly get into lots of interesting situations that force me (and hopefully you, the player) to have to think about what to do.

For instance, I've run into seemingly impossible odds, pushed my luck to get out and almost made it. All the monsters I've fought have been interesting and provided a challenge, particularly with the priest characters I've been playing. I've spent what would have been a dull time 'worm farming' Clear Mushroom Patches, which remained on a knife edge of difficulty, despite gaining 4 levels in the process, and then used the left behind spores to kill one of the uniques who proved my undoing in the screen shot earlier.

But at the same time, when the difficulty level is so finely balanced, you tend to look very hard at the decisions and lack of choice that you get in the early phase of the game. These low level lessons are all about making everything useful in some manner.

For instance, priests in Angband and variants don't get to choose their spells from a prayer book: the gods grant them randomly. So I've had to tweak the 1st level spells so that all the starting spells are good choices in some situation, regardless of which one is granted. Remove Fear is (mostly) a useless spell for an Unangband priest when few monsters cast fear so early: by boosting it to a Benediction, which combines removal of fear, some other light status effect reduction, and a one-turn massive AC boost, its now a viable spell to cast while cornered, even if its just to buy you one turn.

I'm going through the starting mage spells with a fine-tooth comb as well: at the moment, mages start with one spell book with almost 20 spells in it, most of which are offensive. While I really like the selection of spells, offensively, its too good, because a mage is quickly able to find the resistance hole in a monster and exploit it. I was hoping for more of a mage having to run from certain monsters because they haven't got the right attack counter.

In addition, some spells, like Wizard Lock or Infravision, which can help a starting mage defensively, are a waste of time compared to the wide variety of attack spells available, or other defensive equivalents, like Phase Door. So I'm considering breaking the mage starting spellbook into 4 different books, each with a more focused selection of spells in it. And I'm concentrating on adding alternatives to the defensive and miscellaneous spells this time round. There'll be Shadowstep, which works like Phase Door, but only in areas of darkness, Purify Self, Blood Binding, and Ignore Pain which are alternatives to Cure Light Wounds and others.

Hopefully the trade off in slots caused by the additional books will make casters focus a little more on magic in one area.


Mikolaj said...

Good luck with the spell tweaking. You probably already know, but Multiband has some interesting Illusionist spells, IIRC. (Of course they may have come from some other variants originally...)

Andrew Doull said...

I'm getting happier with how this is going: I've basically settled on 4 'schools' of magic - Wizard, Druidic, Thuamaturgy and Sorcery (+ Artisan and Ranger schools). I think school == starting spell book should be sufficient for the moment.

Wizards are the Angband bolt/ball/projection mages. Druids will specialise in effects based magic - unfortunately this will have to wait for the next full release (0.6.3) due to save file incompatibility. Thuamaturgy will be summoning based magic. Sorcery will be trap based magic.

Of course, there'll be a fair amount of cross over between these schools, but they're distinguished this way to define primary play styles: Wizards rely on hit and run, Druids try to 'lockdown' monsters to damage them over time, Thuamaturges need to keep their summons engaging the enemy (and as a result cannot use their own area effect spells against the enemy), Sorcerors rely on the enemy coming to them.

At least, that's what I hope to achieve...

Still coming up with all the spells: I've got a lot of extra books to fill all of a sudden.