Improving The Basics - Roadwarden Devlog


(Roadwarden is an illustrated text-based RPG in which you explore and change a hostile, grim realm. It combines game mechanics of RPGs, adventure games, and Visual Novels, and you can add it to your wishlist on Steam!)

The European autumn is my favorite season and its brownish, muted colors are vibing with Roadwarden’s sepia palette. The advancements I made during the last 3 months are huge, even without taking into consideration the new areas, interactions, NPCs, quests, encounters, text editing - things I don’t want to showcase too much before the game’s release. 

I found ways to improve or completely redesign things that used to bother me for more than a year. Suddenly, it all just clicked. It’s been a productive season, but I’ll try to keep this summary short.


New title screen

No more a single, static picture. It’s not a video, either - the clouds are spread between a few moving layers, and the flying creatures move in their own patterns.


Redesigned magic system

Only a mage, which is one of the three classes you can choose from during the character creation phase, has an access to magic, so it took some time before I fully realized how broken their spellcasting abilities turned out to be. The original system was simple - from time to time, you are able to cast a spell that helped you bypass an obstacle. No strings attached. But if you use a magic attack, you can’t use more spells for the rest of the day.

But the longer the game gets, the more clear it becomes that a mage can use their special ability more often than other classes (fighters and scholars), and the results can get a bit repetitive. The healing spell and the offensive spell usually feel the same in most situations. There just wasn’t much decision making involved in the process. You got hurt and the game allows you to heal your wound? You just do so.


With the new energy-based spells there’s more risk to take into consideration, and more strategy and judgment involved. The spells are even more common than before, but ideally it won’t be possible to use them at every available opportunity. Also, restoring one’s energy gives another reason to spend more time and coins on resting, sleeping, or purchasing unique items.

Updated visuals

Minor tweaks and changes happen all the time among the game’s illustrations, but there also have been some more significant reworks to highlight.


The first one is the camp from the game’s opening section - the second picture ever finished for the project. Some of the mistakes I just fixed are a bit embarrassing, and I think that together with the new title screen, it builds a much stronger first impression.

This one used to be a generic mountain road, just a background displayed as the player rides through the highlands. Now it’s not only adapted to the new visual style, it’s also an actual in-game area, a place which can be explored and interacted with.

A year ago I wouldn’t be able to handle this gap with a bridge. It’s a big step for me.

Similarly, I used to struggle a lot with some of the icons. Some items are fairly detailed, while others - especially the older ones - are very simple. I need to bring them to the same level of complexity and make them feel like a part of the same game.


The original version of attitude icons used to be a mixture of emojis and more “symbolic” images. I tried to make an all-emoji version, but it’s safe to say it was a failure.


I’ve decided to add a traveling description to almost every area in the game, but I had only a dozen of “generic” roads to accompany them, and most of them weren’t very convincing, or worked only when an area was approached from one side, but not from another one. The constant need to recycle some of them was also spoiling the effect.

Now these backgrounds are gone, and the game uses resized images from the world map instead. Thanks to this solution, I can give every area their unique road and a highly specific description, escaping the previous issues.

Reworked world map

The world map in general has went through significant changes. Just a reminder - previously, a player was jumping between specific icons, knowing how far they are even before they got there:

The new approach was meant to turn traveling into an exploration. You follow a road instead of selecting a new destination. It additionally benefits from the illustrations I just mentioned, and which display the new, just revealed part of the world:

Previously, the unvisited areas would have been revealed right away if the player had met specific conditions to learn about them (usually by gathering knowledge from NPCs). Now it’s necessary to pay more attention to the dialogues and the directions they provide you with.

The irrelevant dialogue loops are now grayed out

A small, but a relevant change. Sometimes, an NPC refuses to answer a player’s question, but only because a specific condition (such as a friendship level, or a reputation level) hasn’t been met. However, up to this point the related dialogue option remained available even after the refusal. My assumption was that a player would ask about the same thing later on - what resulted in an awkward loop. Some players were even assuming it’s a bug, and that the option was locked-but-not-hidden and should be ignored.

It took some work, but from now on, NPCs who are involved in this type of situations may be asked about a condition-locked thing only once. Then, the dialogue option gets rephrased and turns gray, and remains this way until the player actually unlocks it by meeting the required conditions.

It may be not very immersive, but makes the rules easier to follow, so at least it’s not as jarring whenever it occurs. I also hope that having a previously locked question suddenly available to you is going to result in its own, satisfying moment.

The new notifications. The new coin icon

These little, light boxes used to show up at the top of the screen. They are difficult to spot, and many people struggled to notice them or read them in time:

My first attempt at fixing them resulted in introducing an icon responsible for money. The old phrases such as “you received 10 dragon bones” were replaced by something easier to follow, and the same icon could be used in other parts of the game as well:


However, I still tried to change it a bit. The new notification box is much easier to spot, as it resembles a pop-up window, is easier to read because of the background, and distorts a part of the illustration, drawing one’s attention, instead of being pressed to the very edge of the screen:


Also, pressing the displayed text will now hide the box, so there’s no need to wait for the timer to hide it.

It may still be changed or receive some adjustments, but I think I’m on the right path.

The updated trading interface

With the new coin icons, I was able to reshape the trading menu a bit. Stores are now displayed like this:


Then I made an extra step. The old way of selling items to traders involved jumping through a bunch of dialogue options, where an NPC was commenting on every specific item in the player’s possession they were interested in - even if the player refused to sell it 10 times already. Now it offers a completely new menu, with convenient buttons just nearby the core text. Pressing them leads to a related offer from a trader.


It’s both more convenient and quicker in the long term.

Loitering around - a new health-restoring tool

If the PC is at one of the three inns in the early morning, they can choose to spend the rest of the day on chilling. It restores some HP and, if you play a mage, energy points, in amounts comparable to a full-night sleep,

However, since the game is meant to have a time limit (most likely - 30 in-game days), I believe it’s going to be a useful option for desperate situations, but not something most people are going to look forward to.

The “wait” button

This quality-of-life addition makes it easier for players to take control in the rare scenarios where an interaction can take place only during the later hours of the day, or during the not-so-rare scenarios where the player wants to finish the day early and send their PC to sleep. You just press two buttons and skip forward. Nice and easy.


More tutorials, notifications

As the game grows, some of its rules are getting a bit more complex. Thanks to the testers, I had a chance to explain them more clearly.

Here, for example, you can see the “item selling” tutorial.

And here is the idle-resting tutorial.

Tutorials are one thing, but I also try to convey more information on-screen. For example, you can see if your character still needs to eat before sleep by pointing at the HP counter. Previously, it was a somewhat cryptic information hidden in the inventory menu.

In general, the game explains its rules more clearly, and also provides more notifications marking specific actions that used to be presented only as a part of the narration. For example, the player is now informed whenever their character eats a meal.

The greatest change from this category involves the “d6 icon”. It marks the choices which involve a random chance, allowing the players to save scam if they want to, or to accept that the result of their action was partially outside of their control.

Since this change occured, I was able to alter a bunch of in-game events, adding to them and balancing new ways of interaction. The vast majority of the game doesn’t involve any sort of dice rolls, but I sometimes desperately needed them and couldn’t use them since it wasn’t clear if the action was meant to end with a failure / success, or is there something weird happening behind the curtain.

Adding this information allowed me to improve a couple of scenes, and that’s just great.

Bonus: Text parsers now accept capitals

This little detail doesn’t fit anywhere else, but I think it’s worth mentioning. The game was not allowing the player to input capital letters while writing things in interactions involving text parsers (simple commands you write with a keyboard). From now on, if you really care about writing down names “properly,” you can do so.

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Thank you for taking a look at this devlog, for your support and kindness. For now, I expect to release the game release sometime around September of 2021. It’s quite a ride, but I’m proud of the progress I’ve made so far. The game is bigger and better than I ever expected.

You can also find me on Twitter and Facebook, and the game has a Steam page on which you can add it to your wishlist. Have a great day!

Get Roadwarden (Demo)

Comments

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I very much enjoyed the demo, and I am really looking forward to the game and more devlog entries. You are doing great work!

Thanks a lot! I keep delaying the next devlog since I try to focus on the development alone (and it's going pretty well!), but I have a lot of new stuff to show, so maybe it's time to get to it. : )

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This is so cool!!! It's really obvious you really care about this game! I always though the artstyle was pretty, and the color palette fit the tone of the game very well, and it's incredible to see you keep improving it. I don't know a lot about game mechanics, but everything you said sounds nice, and you put a lot of thought into it. Really excited to see how it turns out!!

Haha, thanks a lot! : D I sometimes feel like the mechanics are still a bit flat, but I already have some ideas how to spice them up. : )

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wow that's a great post. I like all the changes you've talked about. Sounds like the iterative design process is working well for you. Can't wait to play the full version.

I'm glad you liked it, I think it may be the best devlog I released so far. : )

I think that thanks to the game's very simple engine (no physics, no actual character movement in a rendered space) it's much easier to fix some issues with the core systems even on the late stages of the development.  I don't have to pour tens of thousands of dollars into the trash bin.

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I remember that feeling well back when I ran my own indie videogames studio. It could get stressful at times. One of the reasons I'm happier being back writing tabletop roleplaying games. Always enjoyed the game development and writing, didn't enjoy the business development and 'suit' stuff :D

Keep on going - it sounds like you are moving in the right direction, and for what it's worth I will be encouraging many of my friends to get the game as I think they will enjoy it.

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yessssssss!

I am so excited for this! I believe in you, absolutely loved the demo and the premise, vision, essence of this game <3

Thank you so much for your support! <3

On the contrary, I think the grayed out option is immersive in the fact that any person would understand that asking again would be fruitless without some form of trust or understanding. To continuously loop over the question makes less sense to me. I think it's a perfect addition, as are the rest of this update bravo.

I'm glad you think so! It's a new concept for me which I've been thinking about for a couple of months now - that, sometimes, being more transparent when it comes to explaining the rules (systems) may actually build the mood better than keeping these rules hidden for the sake of what I perceive as immersion-through-illusion. 

Really looking forward to this being released when it is ready. I notice the demo had some updates too, which version is the demo compared to the current build of the full game in progress? I don't expect the demo to be brought up to date because that would be a waste of dev time on the game, but curious to know the current comparison.

Hello there! You're correct, the demo is not up to date, and is about nine months old, if I remember well.  Considering how much the game changes every other month, it'd just get extra confusing after releasing the 6th, 8th, 10th version of the first few areas. Nevertheless, the current version of the demo is getting a bit obsolete, so I may need to post a new version sometime in February. 

Thank you for your support and please let me know if you have any more questions.

This is sounding absolutely fantastic. Super happy it will have Linux support, loved the demo!

Thank you for your support! : ))