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Default The Darkness Below: a retro CRPG in the making

September 26th, 2017, 23:56
Hey guys,
i'm vlzvl and i'm creating a dungeon crawler game titled The Darkness Below. The game itself its on early stages of development and i am focusing at the moment into appropriate graphics and game mechanics, not stories, world or levels.

As you will find from the images, i am a serious fan of Might & Magic and Eye of the Beholder series, which i believe they're the most influential in RPG history. My goal is to make a game that plays like these series.

As you will see, graphics is not my main focus rather the gameplay, exploration, concept and sheer length and also keeping true to my influences. I still believe that RPG should focus primarily on characters and less on surroundings and eye candies.

Check some early imagery:

A house in the forest!



Inventory and equipment



Taking on a quest!



Venturing into a dungeonů



That's all for now.

PS. I'm using a custom cross-platform 3D game engine, a product of mine named Jolt3D! that i started long ago, and i am the sole person on this project. That requires extreme work amount from my side so be gentle, there's no Unity or a bazillion of assets or a team in this project to speed it up.

PS2. Check my Patreon as well for development updates.

Thank you for your time and being here.

EDIT:
This page has been updated with new links to older imagery, which it took me some time to gather it up.
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Last edited by vlzvl; August 1st, 2020 at 08:38.
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July 5th, 2020, 10:17
Ok, second post after some years but better late than never

I dealt mostly with my terrible UI & i think i managed to bring it to a playable state, since i am not a designer & have tons of other things to work on the game. More to say in the end of post, just check a handful of in-game images first:













Ok, lets describe some things out:

UI
the side on the right has been mainly the subject of my recent time. Since i am not a designer, i spent quite some time searching, assembling & putting things together. My main goal was initially to not make it look funny & amateurish. Making it fit with the big picture & provide one or three of classic RPG functionalities would be enough for me. Work is not complete on that department, but at least i think it looks more blobberish than ever.

NPCs
Also called companions in the game and they usually work supplementary to the party. They can be quest NPCs (they follow the party until you fullfil their needs or you kicked them out) or mercenaries NPCs, providing a specific set of skills as long they stick to the party, requiring some money in the end. Finally, there will be the masters NPCs, which trains some party members to their next level of expertise and it might actually take a while to do that and so there is a new NPC type for them. You might have noticed the background behind NPCs. Instead of setting a dull black or any abstract background for NPCs, i decided to compute a fitty 2D background, based on the current environment the party currently ventures. Neat! Personally, i think it makes the NPCs look more attached to the environment & therefore more lively & close to the group.

Horizons
Those horizons have a variable number of parallax layers & they're used whenever the party turns either left or right. They're blending nicely with the rest of pseudo-3D environment, providing the necessary level of depth & atmosphere. Most of horizons have a day/night variation so they can change based on current time of the day. Finally, the style i think it fits quite well with the style of game and current graphic assets in general.

Items
The itemization department went through an overhaul to provide a better experience to the user. Items can now possess base features, for example a Shield provides a static AC, a weapon provides a static damage etc., as well magical features or enchantments, for example an arrow from a Freezing bow (a base item) will cause an additional Cold damage etc. Items can also be magically enchanted by name, providing a fixed set of affections, for example a Ring of Protection will provides AC+ to its wearer, a Cloak +2 of Saint (check pre-last image) will make its wearer immune to Possessed condition etc. Goal is to make items memorable & easier to find out what they're providing by using simple conventions.

Map
The automapping has changed in style and is now more fitty to the game's style. I will try to keep it clean & only providing the necessary information. The maps of the game will all be 24x24 and they will fit on this map, without weird scrolling. Map is rendered in its entirety on the big map & the party is the one that moves on it, in contrast with the minimap (the party stays always in the center). I think it works best this way.

Quests
The quests you see in the images are not part of the game's content & they just got entered to show stuff. The logic is to provide the party with some images & text & some choices. These choices may lead to another set of choices, either in current quest or to another quest after 20+ hours in the game. Those quests & the choices you make will be remembered for the rest of the game (they're saved in file). It's not of Baldur's Gate or Mass Effect caliber or other RPGs with massive text but it's better than having no interaction at all. Some quests will require some stat (the highest in the party) to make some options visible. This will increase the optional side quests in the game, which is much desired.

Monsters
There is a good number of monsters in the game already, although most of them don't have animation yet. This will take some time to be fully able to use them in-game. Monsters will share similar (if not, the very same) statistics with the party, in the way D&D is doing. My goal is to not make a statistic distinction to the things you kill. This will also increase the number of attacks, actions, magic etc. of each creature you deal with, which will, hopefully, require a different strategy. Creating strong evil characters & memorable unique monsters in the way D&D does is the goal.

UPDATE:

I've worked the last ~10 days on implementing, both graphically & mechanically, an appropriate world map to the game.
A good thing indeed, because it opens the way for content.
Check the images:

Here's the usual game window, without an opened map (just for comparison)



Here's the newly world map, which shows up when you click the globe symbol below.
In my mind, this will slowly opens diagonally like a scroll, along with the unfolding sound effect.
I decided to remove the other things the dungeon map has, like compass, legend and stuff, to make
way for more world stuff to show & i think it works the best this way.
I will follow the generation style from the excellent world generator of donjon to build the world map.
This is the first step before the actual content addition. Although, the one you see is only for testing.



And here how the dungeon map appears in the game. There's a little change here that doesn't show;
the completion percentage is now merged with title (like in globe map) and be conventionally correct.
This will also allows for more legend to add, later, which will make heavy use of Perception (niches, holes, traps, events etc.)



UPDATE:


I have worked mostly on NPC portraits & shaders to fix two (2) important issues of the game, realism & content/quests.
NPC Portraits will unlock the quest department & will spice up the world.
Those NPCs will play the role of skill trainers, as well as hired mercenaries, providing additional boosts and/or moves (probably) or whatever a NPC could offer.
I only had party portraits & decided it was not a good thing to use them as NPC portraits as well.
You can check all the following images for different combinations of male, female & monster NPCs.

Transparency by distance
I also worked on my OpenGL shader, providing model transparency by the distance.
The problem was mostly shown on outdoor areas, where the horizon merges with terrain.
The different ending colors of them caused a very sharp result, not really desirable as made horizon looking really 2D and not really attached to the world.
To understand the change, look those two (2) images; first one doesn't use transparency distance (old), the second one (new) use it:





Ignore the ugly ass low-res spiders
The horizon is simply a parallax 2D set of textures, but they're blending nicely with 3D geometry where the terrain & horizon ends, along with lighting, fog, night etc.
You can see that effect in the following images as well.

Compass
Another change was the replacement of compass graphic. You can check my previous posts to compare, but i find it more elegant & more fit for those graphics.

NPC Portraits
Before creating content, i wanted to complete a good list of NPC portraits & i think i did. There are currently 30 NPC portraits, including male, female & monsters! You can different combinations of all of them, for test purposes. All of them could be your henchmen, trainers or just troubled NPCs asking for help. Some images showing some NPC portraits follows:







Day & Night cycle
Most of the parallax horizons i am using, have two (2) versions of day & night. Based on current time of the day, they're toggling automatically (for example from 20:00 to 06:00 is considered night). When you walk or rest, time is updated appropriately.

Rulebook
Finally, i updated the rulebook that will be used for the game. I added many references in all of its content, explaining to the best of my abilities the current mechanics of the game. This is an ongoing work; expect many changes as the game develops. You can download the current state of rulebook here.

Any comment or three will be appreciated,
thanx.

NOTE:
the above text includes a number of games updates, packed all together.
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July 5th, 2020, 11:49
Thanks for the detailed update! Your game looks great.

I assume by the UI layout that this is real time combat? Or is it turn based? I play either quite happily to be honest, but would be interested to know.

How will magic work? Will it be rune based (eg, "find the correct shape for the spell") or something more D&Dish?

Good luck with the project.
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July 5th, 2020, 12:58
Originally Posted by Pongo View Post
Thanks for the detailed update! Your game looks great.

I assume by the UI layout that this is real time combat? Or is it turn based? I play either quite happily to be honest, but would be interested to know.

How will magic work? Will it be rune based (eg, "find the correct shape for the spell") or something more D&Dish?

Good luck with the project.
hey, thanx for kind words!

Turn-based
The whole system is turn-based, both in movement & combat. For each movement the party makes (no turns), the monsters movement follow. It's based on Might & Magic 3-5 movement. In combat, the order is computed by the stat Quickness (each character & monster has a value for it), then each combatant makes his action when its his/her turn. Character can act 2 times on their turn because each has 2 hands.

Magic
The magic system is based on spell slots (i believe D&D?) & not on mana points (not M&M). The system is more straightforward than a rune based system i.e. it just requires frequent use, not real memorization by users. However, The spell allocation is not the easiest thing to describe, perhaps a mix of systems. The magic (at the moment) sorts spells by the element they mostly deal with (a spell can use 1 or more elements), for example Jetfire belongs to the Fire magic craft. A Craft have 5 skill levels, from Initiate to Grandmaster. The caster (as any other profession on a craft) gains experience on such crafts by simply using magic, items etc. After a while, he gains a level on a craft, the same way he gains character levels. After a while, he's eligible to progress on the next expertise level i.e. Initiate -> Apprentice and so on. So, magic is heavily experience based (you're also on your own learning your own magic, not just picking spells on a level screen).
I hope it's clear now
Thanx for the interest
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July 5th, 2020, 13:37
I think it has a very clean look to the interface and very nice. I would love to see turn based combat but it looks like Eye of the Beholder combat which is fine for a game like this.
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July 5th, 2020, 14:47
Originally Posted by Hastar View Post
I think it has a very clean look to the interface and very nice. I would love to see turn based combat but it looks like Eye of the Beholder combat which is fine for a game like this.
Thanks!
As you might have read, the game is 100% turn-based, combat & movement. There was a thought to make it real time but i never understood the combination of grid movement & real time combat i.e. EOB or Grimrock.
The game is trying to be a mix of Eye of the Beholder and Might and Magic 3-5. However, the combat can be very fast to resolve or slow, depending on players. Not faster than MM3-5 battle, but fast enough.
I don't like phase systems (Grimoire i believe?) where one has to prepare many actions before the action, as i find it slow. It could be possible to cache actions, but are not implemented yet.
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July 5th, 2020, 18:41
Originally Posted by vlzvl View Post
In combat, the order is computed by the stat Quickness (each character & monster has a value for it), then each combatant makes his action when its his/her turn. Character can act 2 times on their turn because each has 2 hands.
Looks very promising! The description above does sound more like fully turn-based combat than EoB style, but either would be ok.
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July 5th, 2020, 20:55
Originally Posted by JaakkoPeltonen View Post
Looks very promising! The description above does sound more like fully turn-based combat than EoB style, but either would be ok.
hey, thanx for kind words!
Actually, the turn-based look & feel is inspired directly from Might & Magic 3-5 games. The Eye of the Beholder inspiration comes when the player enters a dungeon, as well as in graphic style of portrait blocks, inventory and such. Inside the dungeon, the party can handle ground items about the same way as in EOB & the puzzle department will be a lot more inspired from EOB. A quick description for the game would be that it plays like EOB on internal areas and like M&M3-5 on external areas.
This is the premise however
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July 9th, 2020, 23:14
Thanks for the answers, sounds great. Look forward to your next update!
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July 10th, 2020, 02:58
Pretty cool, and with turn based combat I am intrigued.

I also like the graphics and the interface for the most part. The enemies however look too comical and low detail (if you compare that to the portraits) while the picture of the forest which seems to be a real photo is too realistic in the other way. I think the portraits, and the surroundings look just right (well, maybe besides of the desert horizon background).

Definitely looking forward to this one.
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July 10th, 2020, 19:20
Originally Posted by Kordanor View Post
Pretty cool, and with turn based combat I am intrigued.

I also like the graphics and the interface for the most part. The enemies however look too comical and low detail (if you compare that to the portraits) while the picture of the forest which seems to be a real photo is too realistic in the other way. I think the portraits, and the surroundings look just right (well, maybe besides of the desert horizon background).

Definitely looking forward to this one.
Hey, thanks for your good words & the feedback
Yes, there's a slight difference in graphics styles in graphics. Party portraits is one of the paid resources allowing a commercial usage but i cannot do that for all needed resources, not at this time anyway & not with intended quality. Since i am the only guy on this project & not an artist, i also have to find a balance between graphics, animation & quantity. My intention is to have lots of those resources & keep the best in the end, the ones meeting the style of the two (2) games used as inspiration. Some/most? of them wont be in the final release. I just try to gather what "works" now, given the massive work i have ahead of me. Improving a little bit of everything is the goal.

The tree is actually pixel-art, perhaps the angle doesn't show that, check that sprite:



I constantly try to find/match appropriate graphics to the game, having made numerous changes to reach the current state. Portraits were one such change, perhaps not the best set, but one that currently "works" & certainly one that worked a lot better than previous set.
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July 17th, 2020, 16:49
I love the looks of this one, reminds me of some great games from not too long ago. Please keep us updated and consider me a future player!
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July 18th, 2020, 09:45
Originally Posted by Carnifex View Post
I love the looks of this one, reminds me of some great games from not too long ago. Please keep us updated and consider me a future player!
Hey, thank you for your inspiring words
My game tries to be faithful to old legends such as EOB/MM3-5. I originally played those games back then & still remember the huge impact they have had on me. The music, the effects, the presentation, the surprises, the ingenious conventions, the sheer amount of time & character someone have had to invest on them. They were no joke. Genious people worked on these games.
I am just trying to infuse that feeling to my game.
I will keep updating with new content as fast as i can & i deeply appreciate the enthusiasm Thank you.
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July 26th, 2020, 18:44
Ok, after some ~3 weeks of rigorous work, here's the update.

Stairs
The game is labeled as a first person dungeon crawler but it was seriously missing a good set of stairs, as well the mechanism behind that.
Work is not done on that department as more models and/or textures may come. However, i can now happily connect my dreamy sewer dungeon through a series of stairs, allowing numerous interconnected levels to an interior area! Not really 100% satisfied with the result but it "passes" for now, work will be continued. Check some pics.​








Crafts
I've implemented the "training" mechanism for crafts. I decided that providing points after a gained level is not a realistic mechanism of improving one's abilities. A character is trained on his/her crafts by using them, in the appropriate way. That is, a character gains experience in Long blade craft when he strikes with a Long blade weapon on a target & causes damage! A wizard gains experience on Fire magic by causing damage to a target with a Fire-based spell! Thus, A character has additional levels & experiences for his/her crafts and he gains craft levels by reaching the next craft level, the same way he would in her character levels. After a while, characters are eligible to advance in their expertise, providing a new set of bonuses/features. More information on Rulebook, but for now check how a character's crafts page would look like (a ridiculously buffed-out character, that is).




Event backgrounds
I assembled some newer event backgrounds & decided to make 1 or 2 events to show how a quest/discussion would look like. Quests shown are just for showing, working on content has not started yet. Those scenes were literally made up in 5 minutes.





Ok, that was itů
Nothing too excessive, just improving the game day by day.
I hope you like itů I will be happy to get some feedback.
Thanx!
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July 26th, 2020, 18:59
Very cool. Loos great!

Regarding the crafts - I am not against it, and I think other Crawlers are using this learning by Doing Approach as well. I think Stonkeep for example, and Lands of Lore as well.
Just a word of warning here, that there is also multiple ways of screwing character systems up if they are entangled in the wrong way.
Like Oblivion, where the best way to level up your character was to set primary skills which you don't use, so you don't accidently level up without getting the maximum out of it.
Or Neocron comes to mind as well, though they didnt have learning by doing. They mixed up skillpoints in a bad way with classes and category budgets, so that a heavy tank was usually much more agile than a spy (or whatever the class was called) as the spys attack skill was in the DEX category, so he needed to focus on that while the Tanks main attack skill was STR based, and so all his points in DEX could be put into speed, leading to a speedy tank with bazookas and a slow Spy with a sniper rifle…
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July 26th, 2020, 19:02
A learning by doing system can also make character development extremely unflexible as you cannot switch easily or at all. Especially bad when your level 1 and 2 skills are kinda bad, but it becomes better at level 3.

It can also lead to exploitation and grind. E.g. if you gain XP by hitting targets. You might want to fight with weak weapons to hit more often. Or fight against a selfhealing enemy, to max out the skill faster and so on.
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July 26th, 2020, 22:06
Originally Posted by Kordanor View Post
Very cool. Loos great!

Regarding the crafts - I am not against it, and I think other Crawlers are using this learning by Doing Approach as well. I think Stonkeep for example, and Lands of Lore as well.
Just a word of warning here, that there is also multiple ways of screwing character systems up if they are entangled in the wrong way.
Like Oblivion, where the best way to level up your character was to set primary skills which you don't use, so you don't accidently level up without getting the maximum out of it.
Or Neocron comes to mind as well, though they didnt have learning by doing. They mixed up skillpoints in a bad way with classes and category budgets, so that a heavy tank was usually much more agile than a spy (or whatever the class was called) as the spys attack skill was in the DEX category, so he needed to focus on that while the Tanks main attack skill was STR based, and so all his points in DEX could be put into speed, leading to a speedy tank with bazookas and a slow Spy with a sniper rifleů
A learning by doing system can also make character development extremely unflexible as you cannot switch easily or at all. Especially bad when your level 1 and 2 skills are kinda bad, but it becomes better at level 3.

It can also lead to exploitation and grind. E.g. if you gain XP by hitting targets. You might want to fight with weak weapons to hit more often. Or fight against a selfhealing enemy, to max out the skill faster and so on.
Hey, thanx man!
Yes, i understand your points completely. I remember the Daggerfall system, providing me a level whenever i developed a number of main statistics, out of numerous & had a complex system of minor, major & primary stats & a level cap of 32 levels, if i remember correctly. Lands of Lore is a lot simpler.

My main point of using such a system is to immerse the player better into putting more work in his/her crafts. A Wizard which have mastered the Fire magic should be worthy of that title. I expect all the characters to work on their crafts, not merely clicking away available points to craft slots, doing whatever until then. I expect a Master of some weapon craft to have killed literally hundreds or thousands with his favored weapon before getting worthy of that title.
Grinding should not be a problem as the game world will be large enough to eliminate that problem. Game is inspired by M&M3-5 so endless killing is certainly one of its features. I agree there will be dangers on a new system. I will try to keep it simple & go from there.
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August 17th, 2020, 23:13
Another update, worthy of some ~20 days of work.

Title Screen
Perhaps its a bit early to deal with that but a demo still needs a title screen & a nice, spooky background music. After many revisions, here's how The Darkness Below title screen would look like:



Experience bars in Crafts
As said in previous posts, crafts (or skills) are based on experience points. An appropriate use of a craft through, say, an item will provide experience points in that craft. The craft level is increased automatically with an appropriate message & the player understands which craft was increased and by whom. Here's how those experience bars will look like in the crafts tab:



Torch, keys & keylocks
A long awaited update was keys & keylocks. Work is not done, due to lots of required work on that department, both in game, editor, graphics etc. Keys unlocks doors but can also trigger events which may have any consequence to any part of the dungeon. This adds another weapon in the puzzle department & content creation in general. Finally, a torch item has been implemented (check it just below the sword). Torches provide some light for a specific period of time & are extremely useful if your party doesn't have a wizard (what?).
Check some images, mostly the keys & some keylocks. Not all keylocks are implemented:









That's all for now, hope you like it.
I think i am getting close to some alpha release with just the basic stuff (not a demo or anything), plus a ton of fixes till then.
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September 13th, 2020, 06:36
Ok, this took a bit longer but things are getting more interesting from now on.
Check below for more.

Improved keylocks
I invested time into improving the visuals of keylocks & i believe they now look more concrete with added shadows, which adds points when you're looking them from some angle. Check some images:










Mobile Adventures
Played a lot with Android NDK & my engine to make the game run and managed to build some binaries. Frame rate is ugly ass for now, mainly because of my old ass devices, as well as the dread tiled rendering architecture they work on which doesn't play well with rendering to texture. Since my engine renders everything to texture, its a problem that needs to be solved. Check some pics:










World Map!
I'm happy to announce the world map has been completed in whole. Well, not yet as content is still awaiting, which will certainly cause map updates (cities, roads and such). There are some villages, towns, ruins & castles in the map already, more will be added. I managed to convert a gigantic map from Donjon into my own editor, which took me many days, lots of coffee & lots of clicking. Check the map & estimate how long to beat the game..



Ok, that was itů A demo can't get released without a proper world map.
Hope you like it.
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Last edited by vlzvl; September 13th, 2020 at 19:33.
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October 4th, 2020, 17:38
Ok, this was a hard one to make.
I tried to do a little bit of everything, from improving graphics to fix the spell system to animate monsters to improve the editor and about a hundred more.
It seems there's always something more to do, so i instead focused on weaknesses & what's missed from the game. So, here's the visual log:

New monsters & indoor environemt
I invested in a goodly amount of new resources to cover the glaring weakness of indoor environment. Now it should start looking more & more like a game. Check the following images for the first monsters & new indoor environment, to get a taste of the (final) graphic direction. I also changed some portraits & items, because i was tired of the previous ones:






Tile editor
Perhaps not interesting enough like the game, but the editor itself was improved as well, especially in rendering window. Not many things to say, as you see its an editor for developers only and super unfriendly. I'm wondering if i get it to a point to be usable by others, i hope so:




Spell system
The system was undergone a mini-overhaul to be able to support more abilities. One of such ability / requirement was, for example, for a spell to dictate a target to cast i.e. think about a Cure spell. Another requirement was to allow a monster to take such decisions as well, like using Cure on his fellow undead as well. My longterm goal is to have a good amount of interesting, as well complex, spells that could rival those of pen & paper spells. All previous spells were removed in favor of new spells, which at the moment are eight (8) in number, properly balanced between Cleric & Wizard. Not wanting to say anything about that at the moment, since this update is on the graphics / usage side. Here's how a (reworked) spellbook will look like when a caster uses a spellbook-like item, such as staff:



In the game, the spell levels are sorted into expertise levels (Initiate, Apprentice etc.) which are interpreted above in numbers 1, 2 etc. There's also an icon to show the element the spell is using i.e. draw power from. There are no components like in pen & paper systems to cast a spell.


Doors
This one took me quite some time, given the graphical & internal changes i had to make. The previous door system feels so awkward now compared to this one. Obviously, its about the same way EOB & DM render their doors & that was exactly my intention. At the moment i only have two (2) doors but no button to open them, so this will be the next step. Check some images:





Ok, that was itů This update feels like some kind of a milestone.
In the end, i kinda like what i'm seeing, i hope you too as well.
In any case, leave a feedback or three
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Join Date: Sep 2017
Location: Thessaloniki, Greece
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early development, indie rpg, retro, rpg
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