The next step in Icefall’s development was to decide whether to make the game realtime (like Diablo, Titan Quest, World of Warcraft…) or turn-based (Angband, Nethack, Ultima 1..5). This is probably the biggest decision for a role-playing game, as it dictates the entire gameplay, as well as the UI, multiplayer, everything.

Initially, I looked at real-time. This is the only choice for multiplayer (turn-based multiplayer just doesn’t flow) and all of the ‘modern’ games follow this formula. So I developed a playable prototype along these lines. While still using a tile-based world, this would allow freeform movement (characters were not tied to specific ’tile’ locations), and could have supported multiplayer quite naturally. Using placeholder graphics borrowed from games, I developed a prototype game that ran in real-time:

Prototype of Icefall in real-time

Prototype of Icefall in real-time

The prototype accomplished it’s goal, which was to determine whether real-time was feasible, and what the challenges would be. After getting the prototype running with some simple monsters, I had figured out the challenges I would be facing:

* Pathfinding dozens of monsters around a complex environment, in real time, is very hard.

* Real-time locks you into a specific travel speed, and can make ‘huge worlds’ time consuming to explore.

* It was very hard to find the right ‘game speed’. Too slow and players get frustrated and bored. Too fast and the monsters can kill the player too quickly. I wanted players to dictate the pace: in Angband, you can play it very quickly or very slowly. I couldn’t find how to do that with real-time (a “game-speed” slider would not accomplish this).

* It just didn’t feel like the game I wanted to make. (I have played too much Angband).

* It didn’t quite ‘fit’ with other concepts I had already thought about, as well. e.g. I already knew that I would be implementing a ‘monster memory’, which tracked monster kills for players and stored any weaknesses/vulnerabilities/etc the player observed. With a real-time game, I couldn’t figure out how the player would access the monster memory without pausing the game (which would be ugly for multiplayer) or just looking it up academically after the battle was already over (not very useful).

Making the decision to go turn-based was a big ‘constraint’ in itself, but with the decision made, it makes many many other features much easier, and seems to make the player’s overall experience more relaxing.

This final key decision having been made, I was ready to start some actual coding. Next time, I think I’ll mix it up a bit by looking at an actual code sample…