Design Journal: Auro’s Fire and Ice Abilities
Not too many people know this, but I’ve actually been working on the game design for our upcoming game, Auro: The Golden Prince for almost two years. The first year was pretty much working out what the concept of the game would be. As I’ve mentioned before, I originally thought that the game would be a very normal roguelike. The original working title for Auro was “The Roguelike”, in fact. But, as time went on and the design progressed, I realized that there was simply way too much that’s fundamentally wrong with normal roguelikes, and I found more and more elements that simply needed to change. Eventually, I had something that barely even resembled what it originally was going to be.
I realized pretty early on that the most central part of Auro’s gameplay was going to be the Disciplines system. There have always been five discipline trees, with five abilities in each, although the amount of revisions, tweaks, and over-hauls I’ve done on this set of skills is staggering. What you’re going to be seeing today is the product of at least a full year of intense revisions. I have tested some of the abilities out in two separate digital prototypes. I’ve created two separate paper mockups which were also extremely helpful (one boardgame and one cardgame).
At this point, I think we’re very close to something that might launch with the game, and so I wanted to share it with you. Please note that these abilities are not final, and you will certainly see at least some changes in the release version (especially with regards to any numeric values you see). In particular, I wanted to go in-depth regarding the Ice and Fire disciplines. Some of these were illustrated in our early trailer, but I’ll be going into distinct detail here today.
Fire’s role is easy to explain, and rather predictable (which I see as an asset, as it means that the tree’s function is intuitive). It is all about a chaotic but powerful destruction: damaging your enemies, damaging yourself, destroying items and living on the verge of total annihilation. Using Fire abilities should mean that you have the least problem dispatching enemies, but you the problem tends to be “landing it”, if you will: not destroying yourself in the process. Let’s take a look at the five Fire skills and see how I attempted to achieve this.
- Set Flame– Select a direction, and place a flame on the adjacent tile in that direction. Flames deal 1 damage per turn to anything they touch. Lasts 6-12 turns. Also, each flame has a 12% chance per turn to create a flame on a nearby tile. COOLDOWN: ~6 TurnsSet Flame is the basic action of the fire user. It sets a simple fire trap which enemies will walk into (perhaps intelligent ones won’t, but in that case you can still use it as crowd-control). It also spreads in a random way, which can get out of hand if you don’t manage it (by using some other abilities which can put fires out) or simply leave the area. Walking through a fire yourself hurts you (which actually has a use for the third skill in the tree), and when you are hurt by fire any scrolls (one-time use spell items) you have may be destroyed.
- Blastwall– You select a direction. The farthest visible “line” of tiles all take 2 fire damage. Several fires are also created between you and the wall. Cooldown: ~8 TurnsThis is your first “direct attack” skill with the Fire tree, and it’s a very powerful one when used correctly. If there’s one thing I learned from 100 Rogues, it’s that direct-attack abilities tend to be very boring unless they have some kind of limitation which makes them difficult to maximize on. To use Blastwall effectively, you’ll have to somehow align monsters at the edge of the screen. This encourages backing up, which may be a problem for the fire user, as often times much of the map behind him will be engulfed in flames…
- Fire Soul(Passive)– Being damaged by fire resets all your ability cooldowns (Except for OncePerLevel abilities). Also, Set Flame now explodes when it places the flame, dealing an extra 2 damage.So Fire Soul does two things: firstly, it powers up your Set Flame ability, making it a strong touch-range attack. More interestingly, however, it sets a new rule: being damaged by fire means that you can now use all of your spent ability cooldowns. This can be used in combination with Fire skills, or skills from other trees (some of which have long cooldowns), to maximize your effectiveness… at the cost of health. And you have very little health in Auro, and very few ways of getting any back. So I think this should create some interesting decisions.
- Infernal– Select position for spawning an AI-controlled fire monster. His health is 4(+OnScreenFires) and his damage is 1(+OnScreenFires) and he stays alive as long as there is at least 1 flame on-screen. Also if he is hit by any fire damage, it increases his attack damage +1. Cooldown: OncePerLevel.Every turn-based game has to have at least one summon, right? Actually, I generally have a lot of problems with summons, familiars and the like in roguelikes or related games, so this one was a struggle to come up with. What’s interesting about the Infernal is that keeping him alive becomes a little mini-game. You can only create one Infernal, so to keep him alive, you have to make sure to keep flames on-screen at all times. This can be tough, but also has an aspect of risk-management to it, because of the fact that fires go out after a slightly random amount of time.
Another interesting thing about the Infernal is that you want to cast him as early as possible in the level, so that you’ll get the most out of him. However, he is more powerful depending on how many flames are on-screen at once. So there should be a kind of “push-your-luck” mechanism happening due to this dichotomy.
- Meteor– Launch a meteor in a direction. Each turn, it will move one tile in that direction. If it runs into a monster, it explodes, dealing (tilesmoved*2) damage to the tile and the surrounding tiles. Cooldown: ~12This is the Fire tree’s super-move, but even super-moves have to be interesting. 100 Rogues had a monster called the Robot, and the Robot could fire missiles at you. Now, what’s cool about these missiles was that they aren’t like normal projectiles. After being launched, they would move 1 tile towards their target every turn. After 3 turns, they would explode. I have never seen a mechanism like this in any roguelike, and I’ve played a few, so I’m pretty proud of that. So proud, that I’m stealing it from myself again for Auro’s Meteor ability. It’s essentially a high-impact nuke that you need to plan for in advance: it may be worth launching when no one is around, and then moving up with it until it hits something
So that’s Fire. I’m pretty happy with most of it; if anything I’m a little sketchy on Meteor (being that it’s a bit like Blastwall), so that is probably most likely to change. Feel free to leave a comment if you have any thoughts.
So as you may expect, Fire and Ice abilities do not go well together. My initial thinking was that they would simply counter each other out, but then that meant something that I specifically wanted to avoid: that there was a “wrong way” to choose your disciplines. My next step was to consider that perhaps Ice and Fire do counter each other out, but a skilled player can use them both together to do something extremely powerful.
So Ice is very much unlike Fire. Ice is all about carefully manipulating the environment: debuffing monsters, creating obstacles, creating long ice-slicks that you can travel along, etc. Where Fire is about chaos, Ice is about planning.
Then something even more interesting occurred to me: what if Fire sort of “beat” Ice, and not the other way around at all? Like Fire skills would just destroy that framework you had been setting up with your Ice skills, but not the other way around? This suddenly made the relationship that much more interesting. Allow me to show you the abilities, and then I’ll get back into some more Fire-Ice synergies.
- Floe– Create a 5-tile-long ice-slick in one direction. Anyone who walks on Floe will slide to the other end of the Floe, if possible. Also walking onto a floe gives a unit a COLD buff (or turns them to Ice if they were already COLD). Lasts forever. Fire will melt it instantly. Cooldown: ~ 5 TurnsSo Floe is like Set Flame in that it’s an attempt to express this “wizard-ness”, in that it isn’t a direct-damage skill. You have to use it in combination with simple movement and your basic attacks to survive the first level or so. Its usefulness increases as you get more skills, as it synergizes with many of them due to its basic-movement nature. Note that the COLD buff slows ability cooldown recharge by 3x (perhaps – or it may do something else like slow an enemy. Still considering…).
- Ice Wall– Select a direction. Will create 4 blocks of ice along that edge. If any monsters are in the spots, they will be made COLD. If they were already cold, they turn into ice blocks.This affects a similar pattern as BLAST WALL, except it creates blocks of ice. Now, one of the new inherent innate abilities Auro has is that his attacks knock enemies back. Further, if the enemy cannot be knocked back, due to, say, a wall of ice behind him, your attack deals double damage instead (a critical attack). Further, the ice blocks that you create with this can be attacked to move them around. The best is creating a floe underneath an ice-block and then attacking the ice block to send it careening across the screen into an enemy. It can also be used for cover, of course.
- Cold Blooded(Passive)– Killing three monsters while COLD heals you for 1 Hit point. Also, you moving on a Floe doesn’t end your turn.The fact that you can now move freely on Floe without ending your turn is incredibly useful. It’s essentially a re-usable Teleport ability. However, unlike the 100 Rogues Fairy’s teleport, it’s strictly limited by the on-screen patterns of Floe, and so it doesn’t suffer the same inherent design problems that the limitless Fairy’s teleport did. Also, this provides a way for the ICE player to heal himself, assuming he can kill three monsters while remaining cold the entire time (once you walk off of a Floe, you are only cold for 1 more turn).
- Gale– Select a direction. A cold wind blows in and COLDs and pushes all monsters and ice blocks one tile in that direction, without passing a turn. Cooldown: 8This one sounds pretty benign, but it’s actually extremely useful. Firstly, it usually pushes stuff one tile of distance, but if there’s a FLOE facing the right way (or more than one), it could launch an onslaught of ice blocks at your opponents. It’s also very useful for moving enemies away from you to help you manage your infrastructure, which you’ll need to do for…
- Abomination– You turn into a horrible snow monster. When you do, all monsters will become AFRAID of you, and you can’t use any skills. However, you can kill any monster instantly by stepping on top of him. Lasts for 8 turns. Cooldown: OncePerLevel.So this is pretty obviously the super-ability for the Ice tree, and it’s what everything has been leading up to. Create this elaborate network of iceflows and ice blocks on screen, get a bunch of monsters right where you want them, and then BAM – Abomination. You can even use your Cold Bloodedness to travel along a floe network to kill several monsters in one turn. One’s trying to escape, but oh, I’m sorry, that way is blocked off by ice blocks! Ha ha ha ha haaa! Then again, the fact that you can’t use any abilities and the monsters will be running from you can make it difficult to use if you don’t have a good network set up.
So that’s the ICE tree. Now for some quick Ice-Fire relationships:
– Fire always melts ice. If fire happens on a tile that has floe or ice blocks, the ice is destroyed and the fire replaces it.
– Units that are cold (this includes you) will resist Fire damage on their first turn of taking fire damage. This can be used to the player’s advantage by colding himself right before walking into a flame to reset his cooldowns, resisting the damage but still triggering his abilities.
– Melting ice yields a healing mist. If you melt an ice block, it creates a single cloud of mist on that tile. This mist will stay for 3 turns or until the player enters it. If you walk onto the tile, you are healed for 1 HP. This is probably the most intensely useful of the Fire-Ice combinations.
Another thing to notice is that the FIRE and ICE skill trees sort of mirror each other: Set Flame is a bit like Floe (they both lay something stationary down on a tile). Ice Wall is quite like Blastwall in that they both affect the tiles at the farthest edge of your view. They both have a passive, which increases the usefulness of their first ability. They both have a “huge creature” ability towards the end of the tree.
This mirror-effect is there to do two things: One, it is thematically supporting the idea that each discipline in the game has its “equal opposite”, the yin to its yang. But two, and this is the more important of the two, it means that there are less explicit, arbitrary rules for players to learn. If you know the Ice tree, you already kind of can get the basic functionality of most of the Fire tree, and vice versa. This should allow players to learn the game much faster than if the abilities were all totally unique.
Thanks for reading, and please do feel free to leave your thoughts on our disciplines. We’re moving into a closed alpha in the next few days, which means that an open alpha may be just a few weeks away.