Monday, January 21, 2008

Locks and Backups

I got the stupid locks hooked up, by getting up at 3am this morning.

I'm working on a cross between Thief and Rogue. It seemed like it might be fun to try and implement stealth gameplay in a turn-based game.

Stealth gameplay is all about getting into places while avoiding detection. There are several challenges in making it fun.

The biggest challenge is that it has strong positive feedback: the worse you're doing, the harder it gets. Once you're detected, guards summon more guards, alarms go off, and so forth. As a designer you want your games to have softer failure modes, where the player doesn't have to die and reload from the last save.

One way to soften things is to make the player character much faster than the enemies, so they can run away. The guards will give up the chase after a short time and return to their patrols, effectively resetting the game.

In a turn-based game it's hard to give different characters different speeds. Some games have speed ratings for characters that determine their turn order. Faster characters will periodically get to make two moves in between slower characters' moves. This makes the interface more complicated, though; it's hard to know when each enemy will move.

I've opted to give enemies slightly reduced movement abilities, instead. Guards cannot cut diagonally around corners. By running around several corners, you can gain distance from guards, eventually losing them. They move to the last place they saw you, look around a bit, and then return to their patrols.


Of course, it wouldn't be a stealth game without locked doors. Locks are essentially a way to keep the player standing in a dangerous place for a period of time, hoping that a guard won't come by.

Lockpicking is usually pretty stupid in games. The Thief series' lockpicking boils down to a timer; when it expires, you've got the door open.

I've got a simple minigame for mine that has a small memory element. You are presented with the digits 1-N, where N increases for harder locks. You have to push all N digits in the correct order. As long as you are pushing them correctly, they light up. If you push an incorrect digit, the puzzle resets and you have to start at the beginning again. The ordering is determined for each lock in the game at startup and doesn't change, so if you need to pick a second lock of the same type, you can do it in N turns as long as you remember the order.


I was doing backups to a USB hard drive, but it was still too manual for me. I had to get the drive out, hook it up, and run the backup. Also, I only have one external hard drive so my backups were not offsite.

I'm trying out JungleDisk now. It's an online backup system that uses Amazon's S3 storage. This means the data storage part is generic and can be accessed independently of the JungleDisk software. JungleDisk is also fairly generic; it maps the Amazon storage to a drive letter, so you can use it just like another drive. I could probably use Windows Backup onto it if I wanted.

The pricing is $20 for the JungleDisk software, and then whatever it costs for the Amazon S3 space. Amazon charges for space and bandwidth, so you only pay for what you use. The rates seem pretty reasonable, especially compared to some of the flat-rate online backup services I looked at, like Mozy ($5/month). Amazon's rates are 15 cents per gigabyte per month for storage, and 10 cents per gigabyte of upload bandwidth. Download bandwidth costs at most 18 cents per gigabyte.

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