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How to make AliensRL fun

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Game Hunter:
(I should preface this by saying this is what "I" think would make AliensRL more enjoyable than it is now. It includes tweaks as well as completely new ideas. More than saying what's good and bad about my own suggestions, replies to this should simply assert the poster's own ideas. Also, this will be pretty wall-of-text, and the title came from Kornel, so there you go.)


I've been playing AliensRL a fair bunch now, as I did in the past. While the game is fun, it tends to get tedious fairly quickly, especially since the combat mechanics aren't as fast-paced as in, say, DoomRL (and yet the need for its existence is just as prevalent). The causes of this tedium can be roughly summarized in the following:

* Relative aimlessness. Even if the game is set within a plethora of maps, you are still confined to it. Unlike many games that leave the story to your imagination (with only a vague understanding of the objectives), the plot in AliensRL clearly places you in a position to "do something", but nothing ever comes of it. The reasons for even expecting the current circumstances in the given setting aren't explored.
* Limited equipment. There are nine weapons in total, as well as six body armors (two of which are situational and the rest that follow an obvious upgrade progression), medpacks that are the only source of healing, and a few grenades of variable use. There are no utility items at all and no interaction with the environment (except for combat purposes) which forces the game to be all about combat, even though the atmosphere allows for much more than that.
* Lack of distinction between towers. From a gameplay perspective, the difference is quite clear: different enemy scaling, different rewards, different probability of a working elevator...and yet these aren't enough. Each tower has its own label, and it should be clear to any player, whether newbie or veteran, that they are definitely where they expected to be when they entered this location. Currently it is, more or less, a jumble of different-colored maps with a couple of defining features, and even those are only noticed when you are familiar with the tower.
* Lack of distinction between classes. The starting equipment and adjusted experience requirements are currently the only ways to distinguish between them, and in many cases these differences alter the game only marginally in the long run. In addition, some classes have clear advantages over others, although this stems from other problems.
* Predictable enemy movement. In a game where there tends to be plenty of open space, the fact that aliens ALWAYS charge at you makes the game's tactical mechanics quite limited. I have seen some cases where they don't (excluding the worker family of aliens) although it would seem to be either far too rare or altogether unintended.
With these things in mind, I present to this community a rather large number of wide-ranging suggestions that can alleviate or eliminate these concerns.

Tower Design

Perhaps the most important part of introducing any player to a game lies in the board on which the game is played. For AliensRL, this is the tower structure. As a whole, we have a layout like so:
Military Tower    ----- Storage Tower ------------
      |                    |                      \
      |                    |                       \
      |                    |                       |
Security Tower    ----- Main Tower   ------- Civilian Tower
      |                    |                       |
      \                    |                       |
       \                   |                       |
        ------------ Engineering Tower -----  Medical Tower

--- End code ---
The towers themselves are all of equal size and removing from one tower to the other takes no time at all. In addition, all corridors in the towers are built such that there are four equal partitions on each level of each tower, resulting in plenty of dead ends and some wasted space. We have a few possibilities for improvements here:

* Between-tower areas their own maps. It doesn't have to be big, not at all, but there should be a sense that you are actually moving between towers and that there is some threat involved here. Part of the difficulty of moving from place to place could stem from there being debris blockage between towers, requiring either some explosives or just some time spent removing it (and in both cases, the noise would attract some aliens to the scene, or release aliens from the other side).
* Between-towers take time to traverse. That is, if aliens have movement that they do on their own, and if some pop out of vents, or whatever they do, this is given a time-jump whenever you have to go between towers. (For this situation, a confirmation that you're about to go between towers should be used, just so players aren't accidentally losing "half an hour" of game time.)
* Change the tower connections. Right now it's based on the fact that it should be easy to go from one tower to the next, but it wouldn't be too surprising to have a different setup. Take this example:
          ---------- Storage Tower ------------
         /                 |                   \
        /                  |                    \
       /                   |                     \
Military Tower ----- Security Tower    ----- Main Tower ----- Civilian Tower
       \                   |                     |                   /
        \                  |                     |                  /
         \                 |                     |                 /
          ---------- Engineering Tower ----- Medical Tower --------

--- End code ---
This would require a heavy change in the storage tower's general structure and size, but it makes a lot of sense from a more plot-based perspective: civilian tower is mostly isolated from the rest of the complex, and the storage tower contains practically all of the supplies and is reachable by the highest-priority locations (separated by clearance, but we'll get to that later). Security Tower has access to many places at once, as does the Main Tower, because of their importance to the base as a whole. This is but one example, and there are a number of possibilities we can use if we don't limit ourselves to the circular format.
* Remove the corridor-quadrants requirement in most of the towers. In many cases they restrict the possibility of using tower space for other means, and it doesn't necessarily make sense to have it the same across all levels of all towers. The first floors of each tower I can understand (you need easy-flowing traffic on the base level) but the higher floors are probably less accessed, so a single, linear hallway would suffice. Maybe a change in where the hallways are placed is all that is necessary: for instance, placed along the boundary of the tower, where the rooms of the floor are based about the center of the tower.
* Vary the size and shape of the towers. To some extent, the lower levels can actually be bigger than the higher ones, though this isn't necessary. However, some locations will naturally be much bigger than others (storage tower comes to mind), and all should be presented in different ways. As some examples:

* Medical tower should have lower levels that appear a lot like hospitals. TBH this would end up fairly close to the current setup, the big difference being a great number of hallways and a lot of small rooms with a few big 'waiting areas'. The higher levels can be more of a laboratory setting.
* Engineering tower's rooms should be pretty dang big, since they're probably working with large equipment and it has to be moved to and from the tower.
* Storage tower should be one gigantic area, filled to the brim with crates and other containers (and pillars that hold up the tower, of course). For each tower that has access to it, the tower can be separated into that many "rooms", but the basic principle of "huge room, have to navigate through debris" is the theme. (Very small, secure rooms can also be there too.)
* Main tower should be closest to the current setup, although this would be the most ideal setup in my opinion:
Spoiler (click to show/hide)     ||
    /  \
   /    \
--/      \--
--\      /--
   \    /
    \  /

--- End code ---
This gives a real "hub" feeling, and the elevators here can always be in the center (but guarded VERY thoroughly by aliens).Missions and Clearance

Missions are, currently, non-existent, save the overarching objective of killing the queen (and then escaping). All locations in the game, on the other hand, are pretty much fully accessible, and you are limited by the requirement of two keys, security and military, although it is obvious that other possibilities are expected (given that there are actual placeholders for other keys).

To start, I would change the access-restricting mechanics from needing keys for every door to requiring clearance to a particular level of a particular tower. Depending on the tower, this will greatly change what you can actually explore, but personnel rooms will always require some kind of clearance (but tend to have pretty good stuff in them). There will be a number of possible ways to get past clearance (having someone else's clearance by means of their card, hacking/accessing the tower's data to give yourself clearance, brute-forcing doors open) so that all classes have some means to do so without relying on dumb luck to get what you need.

Some clearance will be more useful than others. Military and security clearance, for instance, will allow you to get into restricted civilian and main tower areas on roughly the same level, and sometimes you'll need engineering clearance to access, say, the boiler room (or whatever heating system is used), regardless of where that is located. There will be no storage clearance: instead, whatever tower is responsible for a particular section of the tower will have its own clearance.

Based on this, we can tweak a lot of things:

* Accessing the final level of the Main tower will require two levels of clearance: maximum Main clearance and one maximum of the non-Civilian towers. This means that you may have to ascend twice if you don't plan things out.
* Elevators will also require clearance. In general you'll be able to go higher on an elevator than you would have clearance for in a given tower level (say, elevator access up to level 5 but only room access to level 3), although these two numbers could be completely independent as well. As a result, fewer elevators will actually be broken (though Civilian should probably have pretty decent breakage chances anyway, since there will be almost no clearance for ascending on them).
* Keys can still exist for the purpose of accessing lockers and crates, as well as particularly-restricted rooms, but they will be far and few between. Might be best to keep them as items that are often surrounded by aliens, maybe even held by a smarter one.
This changes the pace of the game, of course, but so long as clearance for the level above is guaranteed SOMEWHERE on the current one, it shouldn't affect things too much. (As I said before, the options to get through restrictions should be fairly numerous anyway.)

So there are probably a ton of ideas for missions. But let's generalize a bit to building plot devices for the player by scattering pieces of information about the base through typographical information: Bulletin boards, bloody words scrawled on walls, letters, terminals (active or need to be started up somehow). This will provide three awesome additions to the game:

* It gives the player some background as to the past and current situations of the base, maybe even information about the aliens
* It warns the player of what's ahead (for instance, news about a radiation leak or power outage)
* It can give the player some clear goals (for instance, fixing said leak or outage), which will automatically appear in the mission tab when read
At the start of the game, the player should have a clear thing-to-do when they get here, something that was ordered by their superior(s). This should be class-dependent and semi-random (so that a player isn't always trying to do the very same thing every time they pick a particular class). Details on possible missions will go into the class section of the post. However, the player will NOT know anything about the alien queen or that they need to kill it: to this extent, there could even be some soft barriers (e.g., emergency-activated turrets guarding special areas) to prevent the player from accidentally stumbling into something they probably shouldn't yet try to accomplish. For all the player knows, they were sent for some routine maintenance and/or debriefing.

As the game progresses, missions should revolve mostly on go-to quests, although they will most often be one-way (that is, your mission is to go somewhere to do something, not go somewhere to find something for something else). Depending on the direction of the game, we can have some NPCs that have managed to stay safe and want you to take care of some things (at which point you will probably be told of the infestation and its source), as well as some NPCs that are barely alive and are able to tell you what should be done before they die. Obviously none of the missions are "mission-critical", so to speak: failing to complete a mission won't ever screw you over completely. For this reason, missions won't actually give the player experience, although what you do during the mission may be worth extra experience here and there (manipulating objects successfully, fixing various problems in the base, maybe even finding an object of particular importance to the player).

Alternatively (or in addition to) the missions will come from what remains of the base's electronic system of data. Most of the computers will be separate from the server but should have information useful to the player (maps that show where high-clearance rooms are (nice equipment) or contain excess heat signatures (aliens)), while the few that are able to access the main server will give the player the majority of objects that they can do (finding ways to deactivate parts of the tower to avoid clearance, accessing storage for powerful gear, ultimately defeating the queen).

This is just a rough outline because a lot depends on the ability of the plot writers and the desired direction of development. The end result should be good regardless and making actual missions should come fairly easily once the background is determined.

Player Inventory and Environmental Utilization

Right now the current inventory is very, very limited. This mostly has to do with a lack of items in general but, even then, the restrictions on the player are forced in some areas. First and foremost, I suggest that the player's limit to three weapons is expanded so that lighter weapons can occupy the heavier slots. This would mean that a player could wield three pistols, or two pistols and an SMG, or a pistol and two SMGs, or a pistol, an SMG, and a smartgun. The fact that the player can't occupy these slots currently with obviously-smaller equipment is arbitrary: if there are problems with a player being able to use, for instance, all three sidearms, this should be addressed as a balance issue instead of a fundamental one. (The switching between weapons can still be the same, at least roughly, if that is the concern.)

One of the nicer results of this is that the player now have three "inventory" slots, rather than a slot for each weapon category specifically, which means that we can start to include some items that would go in one of these slots without actually being a weapon. Some obvious possibilities:

* Crowbar: Forces open doors, lockers, etc. In general, this will only work when the object is specifically jammed but openable or has a relatively low clearance: high-clearance will be too well-sealed. It'll have a chance to break, but there should be quite a few lying around (most notably in engineering). CAN be used as a weapon but will always deal minimal damage, because aliens are tough like that, so it's really not worth it.
* Flashlight: Better vision in lowlight areas when equipped. Considering that you may actually want to force an area into lowlight yourself (because it'll turn off the locks on the doors) this could actually be quite useful.
* (some kind of) Sensor: Gives you some limited information in the surrounding area. There can be a few kinds of sensors, like those that detect heat (find aliens), detect radiation (ala Geiger counter), detect magnetic...stuff (find certain weapons, computers, etc). Maybe an all-around tracker that's connected to the server and is really good about a lot of things but is pretty rare and way later in the game.

* Light Clip: Like flashlight but goes on a weapon and not as good. When picked up, it automatically fits onto the weapon currently equipped (obviously won't happen with non-weapons), and when the weapon is dropped the clip is dropped with it. More late-game (or at least found in harder areas like Military Tower).
* In addition there should be some kind of device that carries with it a variety of tools that can be used to fix stuff as necessary.
While we're on the subject of inventory-like changes, I think grenades should have a "total" count, so you could hold 9 frag grenades but none of the others if you wanted to. This lets the player stock up on more useful grenades later on.

The player should be able to interact with their environment a lot more than they can now. At the moment it's pretty much limited to opening and closing doors, destroying barrels, and collecting items from stuff that holds items. We can do a little better:

* Jamming doors. This would also allow for more aliens to open doors, but still give you a way to close them if need be. Doors with clearance will automatically lock when closed: this works both ways when you manage to get into a room without clearance.
* Moving barrels. This is done in DoomRL and I don't know why we couldn't do it here too, although they should probably be more limited in where they can exist. (I think this is partially true now, but they should probably only be in Storage, Engineering, and Medical Towers, given the waste that can accumulate in those areas.)
* Fixing or manipulating various objects. Power outage? Find the break and switch out the bad plug (make it so there are spares at the circuit breaker). Broken elevator? Depending on the cause it may be a matter of getting the necessary materials (probably from engineering).  These sorts of things tend to write themselves as the mission possibilities pile up. However, these sorts of interactions should take a good amount of uninterrupted time.
The terminals mentioned earlier should have ways to turn them on, accessed (either by clearance or "hacking"), and possibly used to control parts of the tower depending on their function. Having turrets controlled by the terminal is a good way to include them into the game, allowing the player to activate or deactivate them depending on their needs.

Class Development

As mentioned previously, the classes are pretty bland in terms of how they're different from one other. Based on the above suggestions, we can include distinctions such as:

* Each class has a particular clearance at the lower levels. Some are pretty obvious: Medic gets Medical, Technician gets Engineering. Marine/HW Specialist can go to either Security or Military, and Scout can pick up Main Tower (at a couple higher levels to compensate).
* Inventory can be changed a little bit: Scouts automatically get a light clip, Technicians come with a crowbar and fixing device, Medics pick up a heat sensor (looking for survivors).
* The starting mission is unique to each class. For the most part, they'll be ordered to report to the particular tower for which they have clearance, and do something like:

* Technicians will have something to fix. Maybe it's a heating problem or a leak or whatever, but they were brought along to deal with any particular maintenance issues (maybe there was a sudden shortage of engineers).
* Marines and HW Specialists will know that there are enemies to take care of and that they need to do what they do best: get rid of enemies. HW Specialist in particular might be given a key to a locker with a guaranteed heavy weapon from the get-go, though it'll probably be sort of high up.
* Medics will want to find people hurting and fix them up. Medical Tower will probably have the highest chance of someone being alive, and it's a good segway into the meat of the game.
* Scouts, being a lot like gatherers and reporters of information, will have been tasked with getting a hold of the situation. They'll want to report to the Main tower and get as much information as possible (either from people or from computers).
* Some sort of special ability or trait is in order. Scouts can sprint, Medics can fire an aimed shot (surgical precision!), Technicians are fast fixers and quick switchers of their inventory, Marines can 'zerk into ignoring pain, and HW Specialists can hold two heavy weapons (with armored support, of course) and aren't slowed down by inventory unless they're doing just that.
This is the easy stuff. Naturally the plot can be pretty different for each class as well, as well as the kinds of missions that show up.

Alien Patterns

More of a list of potentials than anything else.

* Above all, aliens need to know how to run away. The drones, scavengers and juveniles should retreat (increased movespeed when doing so) when their brethren are dying. In the case of the stronger aliens, if they are aware of nearby friendlies then they should retreat into a group.
* Hunter-class aliens should try to hide in blind spots if it's appropriate.
* Currently aliens can't figure out how to move if you're in vision and there are no adjacent squares that can reach you. This ought to be fixed given how frequent this sort of situation can pop up with beds and tables (maybe just let them crawl over them at a reduced movespeed).
* Non-workers should be able to react to sound (this usually happens as the result of an explosion). Non-workers should also be able to follow their own movement patterns.
* Vary the vision of non-workers. Stalkers and hunters might actually have a BETTER vision than you, while warrior types could have it slightly worse.
That's all of it, at least for now. Like I said, please add your own stuff, but I highly recommend keeping to simple and effective solutions (not ones that require huge changes to the mechanics, for instance).

[*]Note-taking system: the levels are much bigger than DoomRL, and it is easy to forget about a locked door or a smartgun when you don't have a gyro stabilizer. I can do this in notepad or pen and paper, but I would certainly use it in-game.
[*]Right now the map displays purple and green dots for barrels/corpses. Expand that to include dots for ammo, weapons, medical packs.
[*]When looking around, let us scroll the view. The levels are slightly too big to navigate sometimes.
[*]A backpack slot. This slot will be slow to access, perhaps not even directly swappable. It can be used to hold one item, be it a radiation suit, scoped rifle, or a RPG launcher before you can use it. The current system discourages experimentation with heavy weapons and alternate primaries, especially with the lack of documentation (which I'm actually okay with the partial weapon info).  Unfortunately, I could see this disrupting the ammo scarcity mechanic, but well, brainstorming.

P.S. A failed attempt to speedrun 0.8 was pretty exciting. Made it to medical 7, eng6, security6 before dying. Despite often having less than 20 pistol rounds and spawning elites. No military key to face the queen, sadly. It may be an interesting source of inspiration or an alternate game mode rather than the more current, deliberative pace, perhaps. http://pastebin.com/WHB985F6

What can I say, I agree with every word, comma and period GH wrote in his awesome post, like to the last one. He perfectly portrayed my own vision of the game, so I even cannot add anything meaningful apart from crying "MORE PLOT!" again and again.

Awesome ideas, awesome write-up.

As for the story itself:

It should be discovered via numerous apocalyptic logs (video logs, journals - the classics) spread around the complex. However, not all of the available story information should be generated for each game: only a fraction. This way, to discover entire story and all datapads and such, it would take a number of games. Each "completed" set of the logs could unlock a little something in-game: a special mission, an access to a restricted area and such. But more importantly, a special ending should be created for those diligent enough to over a span of many games would discover all logs written.

Great post, although lots of those changes have been already mentioned :P .
Main problem is that the game is meant to be simple (coffee-break & fast). Adding more complexity may make it even longer.

Additionally, I see the following problems:

--- Quote ---Lack of distinction between classes.

--- End quote ---
There is, believe it or not ;) . But should be more visible, yep.

--- Quote ---aliens ALWAYS charge

--- End quote ---
Nope. They will not if they don't see you. Also, some of aliens move even if they do not see the player.

--- Quote ---excess heat signatures (aliens)
detect heat (find aliens)

--- End quote ---
Killing excessive heat sources is funny, as long as you do not realize that you are killing human beings :D . Good thriller idea, though.

--- Quote ---though Civilian should probably have pretty decent breakage chances anyway, since there will be almost no clearance for ascending on them

--- End quote ---
Restricting it does not feel good. Civilian should be a walk in the park, not grind.

--- Quote ---Medics can fire an aimed shot (surgical precision!)

--- End quote ---
Now, that is wrong. More healing, less killing.

--- Quote ---Flashlight
Light Clip

--- End quote ---
"I will lit an area around / next to me and those stupid animals won't see me, for sure."

--- Quote --- Technicians come with a crowbar and fixing device

--- End quote ---
Better make it 2 tools: all-around electronic devices' repairing tool; mini welding torch for all around fixes of mechanical equipment.

--- Quote ---Medics will want to find people hurting and fix them up.

--- End quote ---
"I will fix you ...with my hands alone!"

--- Quote ---Some sort of special ability or trait is in order

--- End quote ---
There are already ...but more won't hurt.

LAst, but not the least: imho it would be good to leave AliensRL as a simple, fast-paced game, and create AliensRL 2 with all those ideas and complexity in mind.

Game Hunter:
Oh...erm...I was under the impression that AliensRL was going to head into the direction of being a longer game rather than a shorter one, especially with the advent of missions. Since the game is intended to be more surprise and horror than shock and react (ala DoomRL) I always figured that the game would place you into situations where you would really have to think about your options, rather than jumping from one room to the next. Something like a redistribution of enemies and items (denser packets but farther and fewer between) would change the dynamic significantly, which is something I would prefer. Ideally it shouldn't feel and play "like DoomRL but with the Aliens theme", and evolve into something very different.

Regarding your comments (because, for some reason, quote pyramids are impossible without being done manually):

* A lack of something does not imply that it isn't there at all. There is a distinction between classes, but this distinction is lacking, which is why it's a problem. Were there legitimate reasons to play at a combat-based disadvantage with the Medic or Technician, as opposed to the Scout or Marine, I would consider the distinction far more adequate.
* Aliens don't hunt the player, that's true, but they always try to reach a player in their sight. This is horribly predictable, in my opinion, which is why we need to consider some AI revamping.
* Indeed, using heat sources as a method of location can be unreliable if we include sources like other humans (assuming there are any) and maybe large computers (as they produce higher heat levels than a human, even if it's on a smaller surface area). Making it 100% effective would be less of a risk, which should be a part of using such a device.
* Whether or not there should be restrictions is a matter of pace, so this is plenty up for discussion. I was just trying to make it roughly the same pace as other towers, so that a player couldn't simply run through Civilian tower to grind up before heading to another tower, making the game substantially easier for them.
* Yeah I couldn't really think of anything at the time. We could move the medic master bonus to such a slot and come up with something else for Medicine (possibly change up the skill's bonuses entirely).
* Given the current lighting dynamic of the game, this is pretty unrealistic, yes. Although limiting field of vision to a cone might be really hard, especially to include it as a part of gameplay. One of the options is to switch vision from being-based sources to cell-based sources, such that rooms have to have lighting in them, which provides a certain amount of light, and that aliens and humans can see better or worse in them. In this way, flashlights and the light clip would help aliens as much as the player, although I think I'd prefer keeping my distance from enemies whenever possible.

* I don't mind separating the fixer-type equipment, I'm just worried about the player carrying these things around. Perhaps some of them can be considered small enough that they fit onto the player without any trouble (such that you only need to find one and you're good for the rest of the game, excluding possible problems of breaking or fuel supply).
Deciding whether or not the game's pace should be slower or faster (and the consequences of such a change) is the very reason we need more discussion here, so keep your replies coming!


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