Why Shelve a Game?

The Concept

Wolves of the Dull Moon (WotDM) was intended to be a real-time horror/comedy roguelike. You would be dumped in a procedurally generated forest a few minutes before the sun set. No instructions, no direction or indication of what to do. You could wander around, harvest berries, and pick up rocks or sticks. Curiously you can also urinate and defecate. You also have a fear meter.

Then your time was up. Night comes and werewolves start spawning. You can’t fight; you can only flee. Werewolves would track you by scent, sound, and sight. Cross streams to cover your scent. Piss on a rock then throw it away from you to lead them astray. Eat berries that make you less stinky. Eat berries that make your piss more stinky.

Werewolves coming too close to you would cause your fear meter to rise. Full fear meter would cause full blown panic and almost certainly cause nearby werewolves to rip you to shreds.

Try to survive till sun up.

 

Itchy Feelings

I made a prototype in Unity 3D and liked it – mostly. It was fun to sneak around increasingly large packs of werewolves all sniffing around, trying to suss out your location. You could cover yourself in mud and swim through streams. In one build full panic would cause you to piss yourself, allowing werewolves in a wide radius to track you via scent for quite some time.

WotDM AI Detection
WotDM AI Detection

Maybe it was good enough to pursue, but I ran into three big problems I couldn’t resolve to my satisfaction:

  1. Displaying scent and sound propagation clearly and succinctly to the player.
  2. Having close sight range be powerful (werewolf will sprint toward the player and melee) but still maintain close range tension (werewolf walks right by the player who is hiding in a bush.)
  3. Map design and balancing evasion tactics and resources so the player can’t just run around collecting a bunch of stuff and sit in a bush using them throughout the night.

So of course I prototyped some more.

 

Play it again!

People pretty much told me the same thing – make visual marker trails. Of course this was the first solution I tried. It’s really the most obvious:

WotDM Scent Trail
WotDM Scent Trail

But the problem is that the tension in WotDM comes from not knowing what the werewolves are doing. Is there a werewolf just behind that hill sniffing your footprints? Should you have swam just a little bit farther upstream before coming out?

The scent trail visual is okay. What’s not okay is that the player has no information about how werewolves are using that information. You might want them to pick up that trail and other times not. How would the player know and react accordingly?

It’s all an information problem. You want to give the player enough information to go on, so he/she can make smart decisions. You don’t want to give the player complete information because that sucks the tension from the gameplay.

It’s even worse for sound. If the player throws a rock or splashes in the water or trips over a tree stump, what information should the player get regarding werewolves hearing the noise?

You would think that sight would be the easiest. Just hide in a bush or dark shadows and it counts as being effectively hidden. I’ve found that this is a pretty bad solution for WotDM because the goal is to survive for X time, not to accomplish some other Y objective.

 Aside: I find many stealth games to be poorly designed in this aspect. Sitting in the dark for a minute while a guard with an arrow in his back thinks it’s all clear is a terrible system. It’s just a mini-instance of wait for X time within another Y objective. Not that I have a good alternate, game-balanced solution.

This dovetails with werewolf melee and permadeath. Werewolves should basically be able to instakill the player in melee, and that’s how I made it. Health bars have no place in WotDM. And yet this exacerbates the “sit in the dark and wait” issue. No means of direct confrontation means the player must evade, evade, evade.

Werewolves of a necessity must move faster than the player. It is possible to have them move slower and just ramp up the number of werewolves on the map, but this is an inelegant solution that simply drags out a foregone game if the player is forced to constantly run from a poor mistake, a trail of werewolves all sprinting slowly after their quarry.

So they move faster. This in turn means that in melee if the werewolf spots the player it’s game over. This means that situations where a player can sit in full cover is almost a necessity because distance and distraction is the player’s game – melee and tracking is the werewolves’.

Aside: I say almost a necessity because it could be that the player just has to maintain a farther distance from all werewolves in line-of-sight. “Melee” is a rather arbitrary term when describing distance between the intended objects. But melee meaning “very close” is a better descriptor than “sort of close” since players will more intrinsically understand being too close rather than “slightly too close to some arbitrary circle in the sand.”

The two general solutions are unfortunately the most complicated – competing human AI units and game changing milestones.

 

Shadows and Shouts

WotDM wasn’t really intended to be a stealth game. Sure you hide and evade, but the shadows aren’t intended as the primary method of evasion. Actively casting false trails and erasing true ones are supposed to be the primary tools of the trade.

Other human AI units can be a really good, or really bad, monkey wrench. Is there cooperative interaction? You help me and I help you? Maybe there needs to be two humans to perform a task? What about antagonistic AI that flings poo at you? Can they yell to attract other werewolves to your location?

Aside: Can you tell I like the scat mechanics?

WotDM Pants Pissing
WotDM Pants Pissing

It does add a lot more dimensionality to gameplay, enough to make up for information shortcomings regarding werewolves. And humans can’t attack, so maybe the player gets so involved dodging an antagonistic human AI unit that a werewolf gets them both.

Game changing milestones are the other solution. For example the moon could cast shadows and the player might be forced to move, at least a little bit, to stay within an object’s shadow which might in turn cause nearby werewolves to hear him. Werewolves could spawn faster or slower. Werewolves without a scent trail might start congregating on a random position, or others would call them to hunt a human AI unit that was more exposed and actively being tracked.

You get the idea – mix up the gameplay by adjusting werewolf and human AI behaviors. And yet when I started adding all this the gameplay got more complex. It wasn’t just you in the woods being hunted. It was this torrent of information about other units that couldn’t directly hurt you, werewolves with unpredictable and non-deterministic behavior – I felt it lost the essence of tension, even comedy, and turned into a slog.

 

What now?

Well, I shelved it. I’ve repurposed the name for my next game but essentially I’m not touching WotDM again until I come up with a better solution set to the problems I’ve described.

There are, of course, other solutions. And other problems. Multiplayer is a two-for-one sale. But for now I’ll probably just focus on wrapping up development of Steam Marines and designing its sequel.

 

Thanks for reading,
Mister Bums

You can contact me at [email protected]Twitter, or leave a comment below!

 

  • Mikołaj Witkowski

    That is a very bold and hence problematic concept for a game. The beauty of it is that it is self-explanatory, something is hunting you, and they can hear, smell and see. At first it seems no game system to learn. but then marking all that and questions like what about the wind and smell? Personally I’d prefer a game like that without a smell trail, that would simply make it more interesting, player should now when he/she is leaving a strong smell (so a meter maybe) but shouldn’t see the trail, that kills the suspense. Instead the werewolves could make sounds upon finding the trail and when losing it, so the player would know when to run. Anyhow, hope you will come back to this very interesting concept one day 🙂

    • James Seow

      I think I have to agree that the mechanics need to be stripped down to their core. I went the wrong way and tried to patch the game with additional mechanics, but if the core doesn’t work it won’t no matter what you cover it with.

      I toyed with stuff like certain berries allowed the player to temporarily see scent trails, but again I think that’s complicating the game. Possibly I should move to a turn based system with a grid to enforce positional play and ways to block pathing, et cetera. I would like to return to the prototype one day!

      • Mikołaj Witkowski

        I’m obsessed with Turn based games, would play anything this way, but I must say this is one of the very few games that seem to be more suited for real time. Hiding and watching werewolves pass you by is just not the same in turn based fashion 🙂

  • Kactus: Kamil Czajko

    Hmm potential solutions, you have a hunger bar so you need to go out and get food, a couple of berries isn’t going to keep you sated for very long. Also eating nothing but berries while in a stressful environment -> diarrhea when you sit still for a few seconds. Just adding a couple of bars (they don’t have to be BARS if you go for a UI-less design but you know what I mean) would pretty much fix the hide in shadows until danger is gone.

    As for speed, possible solution is sprint/stamina/leap system so that it is possible to outrun them at certain times but isn’t just a case of train mobs behind you. An alternative would be if they ran with a large degree of momentum but were faster than you, so that you could keep changing direction (and maybe run into more of them) much like gazelle can get away from a cheetah http://youtu.be/kUw9RBR0x4o (sorry about the low quality) though you would have to have a system for them to then disengage, eg they either get tired or can’t cross running water/fear water etc (but would howl and leap at you if you just stood there trying to be gammy)

    Just a couple of thoughts

    • James Seow

      Hunger bar overnight when the risk is death seems weird! A similar mechanic cloaked in some other rationale might be the ticket, though.

      The sprint/momentum idea is interesting, although it pretty much assures the player can always get away if there’s only one werewolf, unless you run into another. It seems like a resource/ability that would need strict limitations. Maybe sprinting makes a lot of noise that will attract more werewolves… xD

      • Krymsonkyng

        When sitting still for an extended period of time why not have the fear meter creep up? Gives negative incentive for not staying on the move. Also, why not add in an objective system like finding a radio or cell phone? To use it makes noise, but will also cause a police car to go to a nearby road… attracting all the werewolves. After a bit of time they’ll wander disperse (or the player can pregame the location with a trail of piss!) allowing the player to “escape” and end the night early. Boom positive incentive to wander.

        This sounds like a more badass/fun version of Slender. I like it and hope you pick it back up someday.