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Introducing: Alakaram

I know I’ve said a few different things about what the direction will be for Dinofarm Games going forward over the last few months. The truth is, we really haven’t been sure what we were going to do, until just recently.

Our new game plan (literally a game plan) is to make a spiritual sequel to Auro. Auro is a game system that we feel really strongly about. Even after six years of working on it, I’m still really excited to work on it more, because I feel like, even with Auro 2.0, it still hasn’t reached its potential.

It would be nice if we could just continue to update Auro, but firstly, there are some really serious technical limitations keeping us from doing so. Second, we think we can do everything better if we just start over.

When we started on Auro back in late 2010, it was originally going to be a somewhat standard-issue Rogue-like game, so we started with a fantasy dungeon theme. This was way before we came up with the core “bumping” mechanism. Starting over means we can start with a new theme that really expresses bumping.

In this short article, I’ll lay out some of the stuff we want to do with this spiritual sequel. By the way: our Patreon patrons have known about some of this stuff for about a week already, so please consider becoming a Patron to be one of the first to know about what we’re up to.

 

Theme

We’re in a unique position here of having a mostly finished game design (although, maybe not quite; more on that in the next section) and applying a theme to that. That’s pretty unusual; usually, you are sort of guessing early on at what the game will eventually be like and you start building a theme as you go. This model is really not ideal, but you usually can’t afford to wait until the game is finished being designed to start making assets.

In our case, we do, at least basically, know what our game is all about: bumping. A little prince moving around with a wand doesn’t really communicate that too well. Further, we suspect that part of the reason Auro failed to connect with people the way we wanted was that its theme was seen by people as “kiddie”. The theme probably appealed to casual gamers, who were then baffled when the game told them to learn complex rules, and also probably alienated the serious strategy gamers who would otherwise be our main audience.

So we need a theme that is both a little less kiddie-looking, and also communicates “bumping” somehow. What “bumps”? Bumper cars, maybe? We also need the thing, whatever it is, to have some explanation for how it’s casting our “spells”, even if we don’t theme it as such.

Ultimately, we landed on “ram people”. A race of ram people, who are maybe wizardy, who use bumping magic to bump the enemies away. We’ve actually been developing this theme for awhile and have a lot of other cool details to share with you. If you haven’t already, make sure to subscribe to our Twitch channel to catch us streaming (every Sun/Mon 7PM EST, plus other random times), because we’ll be talking about it a lot there.

Oh, and the current working title is “Alakaram” (as in “Alakazam”), or possibly “AlakaRam”. We think that expresses “ramming” (bumping) and magic, while also being a fun little pun name (highly Google-able!)

A rough character sketch by Blake showing what our characters could be like for this game

Oh, and if you’re wondering: it’s a complete coincedence that we’re going with a “ram” theme after Sheepshifter. We had been planning on this theme for awhile “if we ever re-did Auro“, and if you recall, Sheepshifter won a voting process (by one vote over NecroManager!)

 

Gameplay

It’s been almost a full year since I was last knee-deep in the design and balance changes for Auro, and since that time I’ve had dozens upon dozens of conversations with fans and other game designers about the game. I’ve also learned a lot about design since then which is informing these changes. Anyway, let me just dive right into them. It should be said that if you don’t know the rules to Auro now, you’re not going to understand these changes. You should go and play the game right now, then come back and read these changes. Think of this as a big, fat, patch note list, with less detail.

  • 3 Spells per match, down from 4
  • Twice as many Runes per stage
  • “Ultimate” spell classification removed.
  • New “Chaff” spell classification. This classification will allow us to easily make dozens of new spells, which may or may not be balanced. Chaff spells wouldn’t appear in Ranked mode.
  • Vision range decreased from 3 tiles to 2 tiles, but you can actually see much further through the fog to see level geometry. This will reduce the amount of calculation needed on the part of the player in tactical battles, as well as other benefits.
  • Monsters are generated as they appear, rather than being placed throughout the level. This will give us way more control in terms of increasing game difficulty. This fixes an inherent problem with “actor removal”: that situations become less complex and less interesting throughout a match.
  • Better spells, better monsters. Current monsters like Lord Vargas don’t really do anything. Ideally each monster would be as tactically interesting as the Jellies.
  • A good, modern, baked-in “story mode”, as well as more modes (eventually), such as Quest Mode, Puzzle Mode, etc.
  • We’ll finally include a timer (probably only in Ranked play)
  • Social features, like having “daily challenges” or random generation seed numbers that will allow friends to play missions that you’ve played
  • Massive improvements to how the game teaches itself to players. We’ve learned a lot about this after three different attempts with Auro.
  • Massive improvements to the Ranked single player Elo system (more details on this later)

I’ll also say a little bit about long arcs. Auro, as it is right now, is a very tactical game. It’s very much just a long sequence of “short-term decisions”. The only things which are arguably long arcs are health (which is kind of flat) and where to move on the level (which is also kind of flat). Some bad ways to involve longer arcs would be to have “character growth”, where Auro levels up every few levels or something. We want to find some good ways to implement long arcs; ways that embrace the tactical nature of the game, still. A couple ideas I have for this:

  • Special tiles that are uniformly patterned around the level. Placing a terrain (vortex, floe, etc) on one of these tiles places it on all of these tiles.
  • “Fairies” or something similar that hovers above a nearby tile and maintains a relative position to the player. Monsters can occupy their tile, and when they do, the fairy bumps it in a fixed direction. You can imagine a situation where, through a mission, the player is building up a network of these kinds of things on-screen which increase their tactical options.

 

Other Thoughts

In general, we’re going to make sure that this game feels really modern. It won’t have pixel art, and we’re doing it in Unity (instead of the totally backward and defunct HaxeNME framework, which is what Auro was made in), which will help the game be really easy to port and support.

If you have any thoughts/wishes for this project, please let us know. By the way: we’re making this project completely on our own time and money. If you want to support game developers like us – developers who are fueled by passion and a vision for really great original games, please consider supporting our work over at our Patreon page. While everyone will be able to watch most of our dev-streams, Patrons will get early access to builds, as well as exclusive access to polls, our Dinofarm Podcast (now on its second episode already) and lots of other content.

Thanks so much for reading. See you on Twitch!

alakaramaurogamedevindiedev

keithburgun • 02/02/2017


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Comments

  1. Jeremy 02/12/2017 - 3:38 pm Reply

    Really excited for this — I’m a big fan of Auro, but I think it had a lot of major flaws. Most of what you wrote I completely agree with, but I have a few concerns:

    Two tiles of sight is probably too little. From both playing the game at rank 10 or so, and watching ToadRacer and high ranks, I think that the level of calculation is fine — except that you can sometimes see monsters poking out from 4 tiles away. And with a timer for ranked mode, there’s even less reason to reduce it. Plus I think it’ll look strange to most gamers.

    I’m assuming that without Ultimate spells, there are now a large number of spells, with a variety of cool-down times. I like this, but I think that you will need to add some type of categorization (probably by cool-down amount or “element” like before) to keep this from being overwhelming.

    This has probably been discussed before, but one good way to have long arcs would be to have a type of rune that replaces a spell for the remainder of the match. This would create a lot of strategic decisions (like leaving a rune because you like your current spells, then coming back later), and would add that feel of personalization that RPGs thrive on, and would actually decreasing luck, because if you start with a crappy spell loadout you can get a better one. The only downside I see is that one or two combinations would probably be the strongest, and everyone might always try to get those. Also, this would also keep the spells from getting too repetitive, now that there are only 3 at a time.

  2. Alakaram! – BrainGoodBlog

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