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4/17 - RogueSpeak #1

Posted by Matt Crooks on April 18, 2013 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)

Yesterday, Chris and I threw together an impromptu Podcast or whatever the hell the kids call it these days.  You might want to sit down, cause It's 38 minutes long. (Download it here:

We did get through quite a lot - Why we're making games, a previous prototype idea we scrapped called Space Panic, what Roguelikes are and how they influence us, FreeHolder's status, and our chances at Indiecade 2013.

If you're not sure who is who, I'm the one who speaks less eloquently and clearly isn't used a microphones.

4/8 - IndieCade, Demo Portal, Not Enough Hours in the Day

Posted by Matt Crooks on April 8, 2013 at 9:50 PM Comments comments (0)

In order to take our first major step into the industry, we've been looking for ways to get some substantial feedback on our first project, and hopefully some genuine excitement for a finished product.  It just so happens the Sundance of Indie Game Festivals is right here in Los Angeles. IndieCade 2013 is perfect, since they both encourage works in progress and whether or not our game wins any awards or makes the final cut we'll get a chance to meet lots of potential collaborators, talk to press, and maybe find new avenues of funding.  Now the success of all of those things depends squarely on the quality of the game we bring.  Even though we have to submit by May 31st (June 30th, if we late submit), we still get the opportunity to keep updating the game all the way up until show time in early October.  They want to see everyones latest and greatest afterall. 

Speaking of the latest and greatest, Rogues now have access to the FreeHolder prototype!  I spent the last weekend figuring out how to host our prototype on the site.  I finagled a solution using Google Drive, and created a public link.  Now if we ever end up having a whole lot of people trying to play it at the same time, we may need to find a bigger bandwidth solution, but I don't see that becoming a problem anytime soon, and if it does, well frankly that's a probably we'd love to have.  And so you may have noticed on the front page on the top right i've added a link to what i've dubbed the FreeHolder Prototype Demo Portal.

A few things to keep in mind:

-There is no tutorial mode yet.  I'm working on the script for it but it's a ways off.  We're hoping we can get to it by the end of the month.  A wiki wouldn't be a bad way to go, but I'm not certain we're at that stage yet.  There's a lot of balance work that can't be addressed until all the major systems are in place.  So for the time being you may be stumbling through the game.  I'll try to draft up a walk-through in the forums, hopefully this weekend.

-Speaking of systems, we're still missing Combat and Espionage.  We plan to have them finished by the end of the month so we can focus May exclusively on testing, bug squashing, and polishing.

-Feedback is really important.  We want to ecourage everyone to report bugs and feel free to bring up anything about the game in the forums - Questions, comments, complaints, whatever.  It should be useful for new Rogues to see questions they might have already answered.  Besides, I can't make an FAQ until I see what questions most people have about the game!

Chris is currently hard at work fine tuning animals and breeding.  Also adding in some new Rancher skills, like handfeeding, a new minor skill which brings up livestock from 'Normal' to 'Hefty Fine' status in exchange for some tasty grain.  Hefty Fine of course gives more nutrious (and valuable) meat.

We'll have that update for you tomorrow evening!  But there's still a ton of stuff to do in the meantime, so what are you waiting for?  Farm Free or Die!

3/8: Long Overdue Progress Report

Posted by Matt Crooks on March 8, 2013 at 11:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Sorry for falling off the radar, I had a particularly busy Februrary.  I'm currently in the process of finding new work - I've been working full time for nearly 3 years as a Marketing Specialist, with a 2-3 hour per day commute through downtown LA.  Needless to say this schedule hasn't left me with the wherewithal to aid my hard-working brother who's been doing the heavy lifting for the FreeHolder prototype since we first conceived it. So I'm on a personal quest to find more time for RogueWare and less time wasting gas parked on the 101.

Earlier this year I set out our Q1 goals.  They were ambitious to say the least, but nothing gets done without setting goals, right?  Chris churned through a whole slew of features in January and February, and we playtested the hell out of them as we went, squashing bugs every day.  But towards the end of February we hit a technical wall on the combat system and have lost some momentum.  

With that in mind, we're pushing back our Q1 goals to the end of April.  We're hoping to have a demo up on this website by then.  It's important to us that we work all the major features into the game before we let you guys give it a go.  Every time new major systems are integrated it takes time to playtest it out to squash bugs and see how it affects the other systems.  And at this point the only major systems we're lacking are Combat, Espionage, Morality, and Scoring.  All of the other systems we've listed are basically integrated and ready to be built up as we move horizontally along the game design.

Classes/Skills - Though we only have levels 1-3 and only about half of the classes, the system is in place and easy to make additions to.

Events/Quests - Weather is in, Dynamic markets are in, quests are a work in progress.

Towns/Roads - We needed to get these in to allow for combat and espionage.  Towns are randomized every game (gotta keep it roguelike!), by their town type (gives the player some knowledge of a towns likely resources), and ownership (Roman, Belgae, Gaulic).  Keep those roads clear if you want to access those markets!

Customizable Villa - Use resources like wood and stone to build up your Villa.  Build new rooms to bring in new characters, a workshop to craft items (yes crafting is already in too!), and storage facilities for your crops and equipment.  I realize we use the word 'villa' generously, as the player technically starts in the equivilant of a thatched roof hut.  We'll likely change what we call the player's homestead, we just haven't settled on that yet.

I like to think of this as vertical game design.  We're building up the features which we can then expand horizontally to create the whole game (IE: turn it from it's current 15 min -1 hour game to what we hope will offer as much as 10-20 hours of play time for a single game, if the player has the skills to make it that far.)  

In other news we finally got our LLC registered with the state of California!  Further encouraging us to get our asses in gear and get our first title into production, as there's an annual $800 franchise tax and our coffers are empty! 

Also, our very own Rogue Club Sauce has offered to help us with the prototype art.  He doesn't boast any professional experience, but he wants to try his hand, and we want to let him!  If and when he gives us some new art to put in, we'll be sure to credit him on those updates and screenshots.

2/5: Systems, Meta-Systems, and Playing God

Posted by Chris Crooks on February 5, 2013 at 10:10 AM Comments comments (1)

As more and more of the (albeit incomplete) systems of our game slot into place, predicting precisely how they're going to interact is never easy, and I don't mean simply from a technical, programming perspective. it's a bit like playing God and trying to make a habitable planet by throwing meteors at it. Here you are with this great idea (Earth) and you can see the blue jewel proudly shining out in the inky blackness of your mind. In reality, it's a molten lump of rock right now, and somehow you have to create that beautiful planet from the bottom up when all you can visualize is the top down. So you can try a few meteors. Maybe a few bounce off harmlessly. Maybe one gets lodged in a particular place, and all of a sudden it's clear that that is where that particular meteor belongs. Sometimes, you have to rely on that intuitive sense of where your game is trying to take you. Sometimes, you try a meteor when a comet is what's required. You only learn when that promising planetoid is once again blasted into oblivion by your poorly aimed solar storm. It was just supposed to graze it.

Iterative design is an interesting phenomenon. I've experienced it before but not at such a rapid pace (thanks to Construct 2 for that). Matt and I turned a corner where we were able to see every piece of the puzzle before us - a new experience for me. Once enough of the game was tested and implemented, it immediately sort of "filtered" our vision and made a lot of previously completely unthought-of systems apparent to us. Suddenly I could see what had to be done to get us where we wanted to go.

The only problem is, although I know what has to be done, I'm not sure how it will all come together in the end. I sincererely doubt that this will be the roguelike perfectly balanced ballet of death that we want it to be right off the bat. At least, not without strong community support and playtesting. This will be a lot more exciting for y'all when you're digging into 2014 Strategy Game of the Year Freeholder in alpha form. :D We are looking forward to showing you a game that should get you excited about playing it. Repeatedly. To look for bugs. Ahem.

1/28: Stuff to Get Excited About

Posted by Matt Crooks on January 28, 2013 at 10:55 PM Comments comments (0)


Tonight?  We Feast.

I'm happy to report progress has been steady.   We recently put out some systems we want to have in place before the end of Q1 in the forum which I feel bear repeating on the blog.

Classes/Skills - Boy do we have lots in store for you here... A total of 9 classes, each with 15skills. Each class is centered around the use of a particular skill type, like Survival, Agriculture, or Combat. Initially, they receive a bonus action point towards skills of their type, meaning Rangers can perform extra Survival actions each turn or Witches can perfrom extra Magic actions. Later on, they will have the ability to choose from a small selection of special action types that give them something cool to do each round. The Agent can learn to take the Craft Poison espionage action, the Healer can learn to take the Tend Wounds action, etc.etc. Each time you level you can improve an existing skill or learn a new one from your class. Agronomists make farming a breeze; Ranchers make animal keeping a much more profitable affair. However you play, your characters will evolve in that direction and provide you with new jumping off points for strategies.


Combat - Originally we hadn't conceived a combat system for this game, but it became clear combat would become a neccessary component of owning land out in the ancient boonies. (Rome's empire is only in its infancy as the Republic is falling.) Right now the combat itself should be automated but your strategic choices beforehand greatly influence your success. Wounded characters won't be able to work.

Events/Quests - Bad weather, market spikes, plagues and pests can befall you (and occasionally helpful weather or demand for your crops). You can also embark on month-long quests where your characters roll for success or failure based on the relevant skill and receive quest rewards, including experience. Quests will be offered by Residents as well as Visitors, and may also be contextual based on intelligence information you have received (for example, if you know Roman Legionary squad is coming to your farm in 2 months, you can undertake espionage quests to delay or prevent that attack).

Towns/Roads - Access to towns can be troublesome. You need to keep the roads clear of bandits if you want to maintain access to towns where you can take your product to market, learn new skills, or find day labor in a pinch. Each town will have a generic type which determines what can be sold and bought there by default. Each town may have one or more permanent Residents as well as a slew of rotating Visitors that travel from town to town throughout the year.


Espionage - The Agent class will allow you to accomplish your objectives with stealth, espionage, bribery, and even assassination. Espionage provides a low-visibility way to influence events without the Rome-enraging slaughter of Legionary soldiers. Trade on the black market, craft poisons, and even influence Roman Law!


Magic - A robust herbal medicine and magic system allows mystically-minded characters to branch into 1 of 3 different magic classes: Witch, Arcanist, or Healer. Each provides a huge variety of supplementary skills to plug holes in your overall strategy - the Witch has a great variety of helpful domestic spells, and is especially adept at gathering magic reagents and brewing potions from them. The Healer focuses on keeping your workers healthy and productive, as well as providing religious bonuses useful for feast and festival events. The Arcanist has a wide variety of abilities, from stunning enemies in combat to enchanting items, and has the best ability to see the future of any of the classes, providing s/he has the spell reagents.

Customizable Villa - Add rooms to support more workers, crafting workshops, ore smelters, storehouse space and more. Fortifcations, kitchen, and heating upgrades will also be available to make more efficient use of your food and wood. Your max Villa size and types of buildings will also expand as you get further in the game.


So far the experience of designing, implementing, playing, fixing, replaying, redesigning etc., has been nothing short of awesome.  I can't deny i'm having a blast working on this game and it's clear Chris is as well. 

We might be on to something here... And once we get an artist aboard to help us realize this vision we could be making games for a living in no time. :)

1/25: Morality In Games

Posted by Matt Crooks on January 24, 2013 at 10:15 PM Comments comments (2)

Chris has been busting his hump developing the prototype and we've been enjoying the playtesting so far.  I have to say Construct 2 has served us well. It might be a little clunky/inelegant at times, but for quickly putting your ideas to work, you can pretty much do anything without having to do any real coding.  Still takes a good logician though! 

As I said, i'm trying to be more forthcoming with Screenshots, so here you are:

FreeHolder Prototype (1/24/13) - Super-ultra-mega-pre-alpha - Note: Cursor not visible, but currently over 'Forest' tile, getting ready to hunt.

Everytime we bring another system into the game it changes the difficulty of the game, and we need to balance accordingly.   While we're still working on implementing the core mechanics of the game we've been discussing an idea for a long-term meta game within FreeHolder. 

We decided the players should be presented regularly with moral decisions in this game, and as such, the players actions will place them on a 2-dimensional scale of Good/Evil and Lawful/Chaotic (Using D&D terminology right now, these might change).  Where you fall on this scale would have a hand in your reputation, which may alter the events that befall you.

Some Examples:

Several years into a game we expect the player to get pretty sick of having to pay off the Roman Census to keep them from returning you and your fellow escapees to your previous Master.  But maybe you're just plain sick of the man and you're not going to take it anymore!  So the player is given a choice:

Continue to payoff the Roman Census (Lawful) or Attack the Corrupt Officials (Chaotic)

The ramifications as well as rewards will of course be significant.  Taking the chaotic path may require some extra effort training up combat for your characters to protect your land.  But with the extra money you save not having to bribe officials, you might find that you'll have the money to purchase your freedom sooner.  But don't expect the killing of corrupt census takers to go over well with Rome...

Slaves were an essential part of ancient economies, and as deplorable as enslavement is, it can be difficult to argue with free labor from management's point of view.  Considering the player's initial legal status as an escaped slave they may be more inclined to free any slaves they come in contact with.  Or on the other hand, maybe now that the tables have finally turned you want a chance to reap that sweet sweet free labor on your newly held land.  Well we're considering this as an option.  A slaver caravan approaches your land.  You're presented with a choice (providing you have the money).

Purchase slave and Grant his/her Freedom (Good) or Purchase slave and Force Servitude. (Evil)

Bringing in legal status for all characters won't be too difficult, since its the players mission to buy their own freedom from the get go, but we'll have to make a distinction between slave labor and freeman labor.  I'm thinking freepeople who work on the farm take some form of pay along side their food, whereas slaves need only be housed and fed.

These are just a few ideas we have in the works.  And these sorts of things are a long way off from being implmented, but I'm curious what people think about  having these sorts of decisions in a game.  Feel free to comment and offer your thoughts.

1/21: Constant Reinvention

Posted by Matt Crooks on January 21, 2013 at 2:00 PM Comments comments (0)

FreeHolder: New Main Screen - Construct 2 Prototype - Pre-Alpha 

The thing about making a game, is that you must constantly be willing to throw away old ideas for new ones.  Iterative design requires constant reinvention, because any game more complex than pong will have all sorts of unexpected results as new rules are introduced.  The numerous interal systems are constantly at odds, and a designer's goal is to make sure that every rule manages to enhance the fun of a game, without messing up all of the other finely tuned systems already in place.

On that note, Chris and I essentially reinvented FreeHolder over the weekend.  Where we once had an 'LP' system (Labor Points) to give players control over the entire workforce at once, we're now introducing a whole new system of characters, classes, skillsets and items.  So instead of farmers actions being pooled into LP, now each character will be selected and commanded individually.  With this change we've had to rework the feeding system as well as I wrote about a bit in the forums.

Much more to come as we rework these changes into the protoype.  I'm going to try and be more forthcoming with screenshots and hopefully offer some sort of time-window on a playable release.  Once we have all of these new ideas in place, we'll want to see what you think!

Stay tuned.

1/18: Developer Bio: Chris Crooks

Posted by Chris Crooks on January 20, 2013 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Hello, my name is Christopher Crooks, and I love video games. I mean really love them. I feel like I'm at some sort of AA meeting here. I mean I love them so much that I want to focus all my effort towards reaching a state where I'm actually paid to design video games. After performing a bevy of low-level administrator jobs, a healthcare job, and even a sales job, I've come to the conclusion that I'd rather make almost no money doing something I'm passionate about then plenty of money doing something that I'm not excited about. This realization, obvious to some, took me a good amount of time but the advances in game creation technology, marketing, and publishing methods has made the time particularly right to launch a venture of this sort. I believe now that it was some sort of hubris that was preventing me from seeing my true destiny: creating awesome games for true gamers who appreciate games as the wonderful synthesis of storytelling, aesthetics, design philosophy, and creativity that they are. What a privelege to be able to make something like that for a living! "Oh, the industry is so hard to get in to, it's so impractical, etc, etc." Doubts! Doubts are what prevent people from doing stuff they're capable of. Hope, on the other hand, may be a drug but at least it's free and appears to have a positive effect on your psychology. I have doubts, true. I hope for the best, yes. But frankly it doesn't matter whether I hope or I doubt because vision, focus, and effort are going to take us there.

What is the most important experience in a game? Two words: meaningful choices. In modern society, we are surrounded by pointless and needless varieties of items to buy. You are bombarded by ads for two identical products sold by two different companies, and company A is trying to win you over because they have a team of sky-diving agents shooting lightning into the clouds to give birth to the new Omega Point, the final singularity at the end of time, the eschaton: VERIZON 4G. ALL HAIL! ALL HAIL! Sorry, I really, really hate commercials. To clarify: I'm claiming that one makes a lot of non-meaningful choices in real life, but ironically one experiences a choice as meaningful in a game because it's something you've invested yourself in. I might even go so far to say that all of us, LoL-junkies, WoW-addicts, Dungeons and Dragoners are all craving an experience that we can regard as meaningful specifically BECAUSE reality has failed so hard compared to the possible worlds we've all been experiencing, and imagining, and dreaming of since we were children and were introduced to this way of experimenting in the style of God.

Constitutionally, we are poorly suited perhaps to be ultra-productive members of society because we spend so much time of dreaming about what could be, what "should" be, rather than focusing on what simply "is." But I submit to you, fellow dreamers, that nothing whatsoever of good can ever be accomplished without a dream. The only way to bring about a world is to first IMAGINE it. Those that defend the status quo are doomed to be pulled along on the tides of history, kicking and screaming. Yes, bold action must follow bold ideas, the synthesis of thought and will is the essence of any great work. But remember, to create a world, possible or not, you must first imagine it.

Now, if we're talking about video games here, we're not really being metaphorical any more. Imagine a world. Then create it. Then let people run around in it and experience it. Bit like playing God isn't it? Honestly more than a little bit. It's like the ultimate philosophical experiment. Life on the Isle of the Blessed. My job, ladies and gentlemen, my trade, my craft, is to imagine and create impossible worlds.

Now THAT is exciting. :P

1/14: FreeHolder

Posted by Chris Crooks on January 14, 2013 at 9:05 PM Comments comments (0)

So it's about time we unveiled the seeds of our first project to you. It was inspired partly by Agricola, the farming strategy board game. Some of our basic mechanics are the basic mechanics of such a game, known as a "worker-placement" game. It is played in a series of rounds - each round you can assign an action to one farmer, they all take the action, then it cycles to a new round. Such is also the base mechanic of Freeholder, although it's a little more abstract.

Freeholder is our first attempt to synthesize an already-popular genre with a bevy of roguelike twists to bring back the challenge and fun. We all know the massive influx of so-called "farming games" for smartphones and what have you. There's not really any challenge - you plant some crops and wait for them to grow - then you sell them and buy more crops with the money. Do it enough and you level and can buy more stuff, new seeds, etc. There's no challenge as such - and if you want to hurry you can of course buy some sort of currency that lets you do so. That's about it.

I would call that a virtual customizable world, not a game. But a game is what we want.

So let's condense that farming experience down to a series of one-off turns. Assign your labor, take a turn. Assign your labor, take a turn. But rather than some vague goal of making your farm "better" than the other people that started playing before you (impossible without money or scads of time) let;s make the very survival of your farm based on the efficacy of your farming - you farm smart, you use proper agricultural skills, strategy, and planning, and you might make it from one year to the next. The source of this mechanic is two (or three) fold.

One, you must feed your farmers every month. Every turn, your farmers will consume some of your food - whether you get it by growing it, hunting for it, or some other source, just to survive you must feed your workforce. Fail to do this, and it's unlikely you will even begin to accomplish -

Two, you must hit a wheat quota every year. I'll go into the backstory presently but suffice to say you must hit this wheat quota and it goes up each year. Fail to hit this quota, and it's game over (generally, although with great planning and luck you might be able to circumvent this, more later). Three, you must supply a bribe to some people who would put a halt to your farming.

So, each year you must feed your workforce, as well as come up with enough wheat to hit the quota and make enough money from selling (and other sources) to pay for a bribe. Now, your farming ability has real implications for your game, and the end of the game is always just one year away.

Sounds a bit more exciting than your average farming game, eh?

Of course, roguelike elements demand a high degree of randomness. Good weather may propel you far into the game, or a drought may tank your chances just when you thought you had everything under control. A great visitor may stop on your farm to give you aid, or the barbarian hordes may overrun your farm if the situation becomes dire enough. All you have from game to game is what you learned from the last one. This is a roguelike. This is a game of games. A meta-game.

It doesn't stop there, though. Conquer that mechanic and the game opens up to a world where anything is possible - political influence, espionage, magic, and more. The ultimate aim of the game? That's up to you. There are several paths to "victory" all of them attainable with enough practice and just a touch of luck.

I'm excited to share more details of this project in the coming days, weeks, and months. We've been assembling a rough prototype in Construct 2 and we may soon be willing to share it, once a few more basic mechanics are implemented more fully.

1/13: Flu... :-\

Posted by Matt Crooks on January 13, 2013 at 6:45 PM Comments comments (0)

I managed to contract that new fangled influenza everyone's been raving about!  I'm sure that has nothing to do with my putting off the flu shot again this year... As a result I did very little this weekend other than sleep and play Bastion, which needless to say this will slow things down a bit. But my brother will be swinging by tomorrow after work and we'll try to post a more substantive update - i.e. finally introduce our first major project to you. 

In the meantime, please feel free to comment on the blog or introduce a new topic in the forums, while I take my Nyquil and sleep another 8 hours before work.