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Haunts: Pen & Paper Prototype Edition

I started out my professional making-things-up for a living life working on pen and paper role-playing games. Before that I’d been playing RPGs and board games for years and years. I still play board games every week, and seem to buy new ones almost as often. Haunts is, at its core, kind of a board game. You’ve got a map, you’ve got turns, you’ve got units you move around squares. It also does things that are hard or impossible for a board game, like keeping your opponent’s moves secret and doing all the math and dice rolls for you as it keeps track of stats.

What’s great is that it makes it perfect for pen and paper prototyping. Right now, Jonathan is working on building the map editor. The room editor is all done, but it won’t be until next week that we can both string those rooms together into a whole house and move our Explorers and Haunts around. And then we have to implement all the specific combat and terror rules for Haunts, which is going to take some more weeks.

In the meantime though, I have made a cool grid map out of dry-erase poster-board glued to foam-core sheets. I have this huge grid that covers my dining room table and which I can draw floor-plans on. Then, using print outs of the units stats and ten-sided dice, I can play test that new combat system. I’ve played matches on my own, and also had Austin and his wife Sherri over and my brother, Matt, to play Haunts.

So far we’ve just been playing run-the-gantlet style combat scenarios, because I want to make sure the combat system is actually as balanced as I think it is. I’m pleased to say that, so far, it seems to be. At least the core of it is working. That shouldn’t be surprised since the math is pretty straight-forward, but somehow I’m always just a little bit surprised when statistics play out according to plan in real life.

The big adjustments have come in tweaking the Action Point costs of various attacks and what the right ratio of Explorers to Haunts is. I think we’re closing in on a pretty good basis for how the Action Points will work. The ratio also seems about right, but I’m still unsure about it over the course of a while game. The next step is to play-test a scenario with goals instead of just pure combat, because I think that will change the play dynamic quite a bit.

It would be fun to think about someday releasing a board game version of Haunts. It would play significantly different in some ways, but I still think it would be a ton of fun. Plus, little plastic pieces!



2012 Preview of Haunts to Come

After our little Holiday Break, we’re back. 2012 is Our Year of Making and Relasing a Game That is Awesome. Around the office we call it OYMRGA. No we don’t. We don’t even have an office. But looking at it, it’s kind of close to OMEGA, which we don’t call it either both because this is the beginning not the end, and because it would be super-cheesy. The point is, 2012 is when everything happens. Here, then, is our basic plan for the year:

February 15, 2012: Milestone A - First Playable Version
  This will be for internal and limited external consumption. It will be a version of Haunts that has the core combat, map editor, animations, and dirt-simple AI. It will have three Explorers and a representative Haunt roster - leader, servitors, minions.
This is also our first milestone for The Lewis Charitable Foundation/Open Game Labs. Upon acceptance, we’ll get some more money and can thus do this....

April 2, 2012: Milestone B - Public Prototype Release
This will be a prototype version of the game for public release. It will have all the core features - multiple Explorers and Haunt Rosters, levelling up, different game types, and better AI. It won’t have online multi-player, but it will have pass and play/hot seat multi-player. We’ll release it to our members/supporters and start pre-selling the game.

June/July 2012: Public Beta
Not sure exactly when, but here we’ll start a public beta for the online multi-player, with more units and rooms than in the public prototype. I imagine we’ll sort of ease into this, adding more and more people.

September 1 2012: Release!
So that date is very aspirational - it could totally change. We think it’s realistic. Actually, it’s a month later than what we think we can do, but these things always run long, so we’re trying to be extra-super-realistic in our estimates.
This might just be the PC/Mac/Linux release. The whole Ipad App Store approval process is unknown territory to us right now, an approval might take longer than we think it will.

That’s the plan! There’s a lot of details in there that need to be filled in, along with a few surprises that are in the works and that I don’t want to announce because the reality of them remains quite speculative at this point. But it’s a plan, a good one we think. Let us know what you think!



Haunts Dev Diary 02 - Rough Refinements

Yesterday’s meeting ended with Austin saying, “We’ve answered so many questions, we should
find more to answer!” That sums up the last week pretty well. We’re still in the process of refining exactly how we’re going to specifically implement all the general concepts we have for Haunts, and we’ve now answered a lot of those questions.

The big challenge for the last week was deciding how we’ll generate the floor plans and room layouts for our many and varied haunted houses. We want the ability to both hand-craft maps for scenarios and generate random but still playable and coherent maps for normal games. I spent the early part of my week puzzling through the issues and a surprising amount of time honing the right terminology for modeling them. For example, Room Spaces became Room Shells became Shells, while Room Types became just Rooms. So we’ve got floor plans consisting of Shells that are then populated with specific Rooms.

Jonathan is still at work on the editor - first for Rooms and then for Maps, so we don’t have much of this implemented yet. He’s been doing back-end stuff, like a system for loading files and things like that. We also had to figure out how we’re going to do stairs, secret passages, and trap doors. The plan right now is for these to work like portals that warp you from one space to another. That was always the plan for the latter two, but we wen back and forth on stairs before deciding this is the way to go. It gives us a lot more flexibility for making maps that are interesting and fun to play on. We think.

Austin did a full battery of animations on a test sprite of a cute little ghost that I’m not going to share with you because, well, he’s too cute. But it gave him a solid sense of how much time it will take to animate our sprites, which in turn gives us a good idea of how many different explorers and monsters we’ll have in the game. Right now, we’re looking at 36 unique people/ghosts/monsters. There might or might not be some color/texture swapping in there to up the variety a little, but I don’t want to do much of that. Our current plan is for 6 different Explorers and 30 different monsters. The schedule is generous on time, so if things go faster than expected, we might end up with even more.

This week I’m also working on revamping the combat system. As it currently exists, it was geared more towards Guerrilla Gorilla and The Last Second, which had a simpler combat. GG was going to be a lot about terrain and position and special attacks, with the units’ stats being within a relatively short range. We had a 2d6-based random element that was indexed to a table that tightened the randomness even more. I thought I could use it for Haunts as well, but as I started making and trying to balance units using it, I found it way too restrictive. We need a wider spectrum of options for Haunts, since one side has just three units for the whole game, while the other might end up with dozens at a time. So we’re switching to something either d20 or percentage based. That’s my job this week to sort it out.

And that’s where things stand. By Christmas we should have the map editor done, the new combat system’s basics set up, and some rooms and sprites in place to play in them. I know what I’ll be doing for the Holidays - making ghosts and ghost hunters fight for my amusement. How about you?



Haunts Development Diary 1 - Work Has Already Begun on your Nightmares

We are in business! The business of turn-based spookiness! As announced last week, Haunts is the big winner, although only by a vote or two. That means all three of us have been celebrating by watching haunted house movies and telling scary stories around the campfire. Also, working on the game.

On the programming front, Jonathan already has us in a pretty great place. We have a turn-based game system where you can move units around a grid-based map. They animate, terrain effects how fast they move, and they can only see enemy units that are withing line of sight. They can melee or ranged attack on another, and we can give them different kinds of attacks, including area of effect explosions, buffs and de-buffs, and even “overwatch” style stances that interrupt the other player’s turn when an enemy unit steps into the line of fire. Plus, there’s a (right now simple) AI system so they can do most of those things on their own. So yeah, we totally have a basic game there. Right now Jonathan’s working on documenting all those systems so I can start mocking up a test version, then he’s moving on to audio.

Austin spent a lot of art time last month doing promotional pieces for each of the three games. We needed to do that to drum up interest, plus it let us refine some things about the various games, including the general look and feel of Haunts. This week he’s putting together a test room in that Edwardian, black and white style we’re using. To go with it will be some simple sprites that have all the core animations. I’ll use these to assign stats and test out the different possible power combinations and begin the long process of creating and then balancing the units.

I’ve been working up the full Design Doc for Haunts. I had the feature outline already of course, but now I’m integrating all the features we have and doing a very comprehensive and systematic plan for what goes in the game. At some point we’ll post that on the site, I’m sure. As I dove into it yesterday, I was surprised at how long it took to go through documenting all the front end stuff like creating and setting up games and how multi-player will work and things like that. Here’s one of many times where the fact that I’ve played so many, many games really helps - I have a good idea what needs to be there. I think.

Today I’m going to continue to work on that, starting with our light, dark, and sound systems. What you can and can’t see is a big part of Haunts, so the system has to be both simple for the players to understand and robust enough to offer lots of interesting choices and strategy. The basics are already in the engine, but there’s lots of refinements. Just before I started this blog post, I was thinking through how flares will work. We also came up with a fun thing for invisibility, which should be kind of creepy in the game.

We also want sound to play a big role - the idea that you hear something strange “over there” is a big part of any haunted house story. The basic premise is that there will some sort of way to indicate that you’ve heard a sound, along with a way to listen to it. The turn-based thing makes this kind of an interesting problem, and there’s still a lot of work to be done on it.

There’s still a lot of work to be done on everything, actually. But we’re excited to be doing it, and confident (here in week one) that we’ll have our prototype by the end of March.



We Have a Winner!

 It could not have been any closer, but we have a winner! Starting just about this very second, Mob Rules is working on its first game: Haunts. Congratulations to all the ghosts and hunters who will soon be prowling screens around the world!

We had votes from 111 people over the past week, which has given us a really interesting sample size. I for one was surprised at how the voting went. The sort of “conventional wisdom” within my friends and family was that Guerrilla Gorilla would be the front-runner. I mean, come on, it’s got gorillas! But no, GG was in a distant third. The heated contest was between The Last Second and Haunts, which ran neck and neck right up to the closing of polls. In the end, it came down to just a couple votes. We’re definitely looking forward to make The Last Second next!

Thanks to everyone who took the time and interest to vote. We’re really pleased with the result and excited to focus 100% on Haunts, which is going to be a cool, creepy, and innovative horror game. That’s the plan anyway. We will be holding more votes in the coming months to help guide that game’s path, but we’ll have more information (and a much slicker voting interface) when the time comes. Until then, be sure to check back with for our weekly designer diary and other Haunts-related features as well as information about how to pre-order the game.


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