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FreeHolder Combat System Revised

Posted by Chris Crooks on March 9, 2014 at 5:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Admittedly, probably not many people dove into the combat system available in the prototype, due to its glitchiness. I had become mildly obsessed with creating an elegant combat system that was mostly automated but still very tactical, but it was not particularly intuitive and the coding was a bit clumsy.


The Final-Fantasy-ness of my original conception of battles suggested a more traditional command-menu style but I thought I could innovate even in this dimension. However, it occurs to me now that even with the larger-scale battles achievable with mass hiring of mercenaries you probably won’t have to manage more than 16-20 units at a time, and if micro-management became tiresome one could still assign a tactic to the unit for the battle. Most people immediately get the concept of assigning commands to characters in battle - less so the indirect control of automated tactics. And I have to admit, direct commands ultimately do give the most precise tactical control, and as a strategy freak omitting this is painful on principle. Still, the Bushido Blade-like wound system and scaled D100 rolls keep it exciting, fast, and brutal. I wanted to keep as many of the worthwhile game innovations while scrapping the clumsy automation.


As such I’ve taken another whack at a standalone combat simulator that allows you to create pitched battles between a friendly group of mercenaries that you control and a group of some of the low-level enemies you encounter in FreeHolder. I’m nearly finished implementing all of the mercenary classes - everything else except morale is good to go and it’s much quicker, more elegant, and very nearly glitch-free. This seems a fairly good time to put down on record an overview of what is intended to be, after more trial and error, the actual system that will be implemented into the final version of FreeHolder.



 Of utmost importance to learn first is that the characters in your battle squad can be assigned to the front or back row. This has immense implications. Characters in the front row are your first line of defense. As long as there are any standing characters in the front row, all melee attacks made by enemies must be directed at the front row characters. Obviously, this means that weaker characters like farmers, mages, and those without strong combat skills should be positioned in the back row to protect them from fighters and the like, and tough defenders should be put in the front.


Ranged attacks, on the other hand, can hit either row, so enemy archers and skirmishers are still a threat to your back row. Many fighters have a “Cover” ability, which allows them to absorb ranged attacks intended for characters in the back row. However, they must sacrifice the ability to attack in order to do this.


Characters in the back row cannot ordinarily perform melee attacks, unless they are armed with a reach weapon like a spear or have some sort of special ability. Characters with ranged weapons, mages, and stealthy types are a natural choice for the back row. Incidentally, a reach weapon allows a character in the front row to attack the enemy rear, and since it is not a ranged attack, Cover is ineffective at redirecting it. This is useful for getting at entrenched snipers behind covering defenders.




1. Ranged Phase

2. Melee Phase

3. Delayed Phase

Once your characters have assigned attacks, all combatants execute their orders one-by-one in initiative order, determined semi-randomly. However, certain attacks are given priority over others. All Ranged Attacks occur before any melee attacks occur, and occur simultaneously, meaning that even a character that is downed by a ranged attack will still take their own shot (it was taken before he was killed). After all ranged attacks are executed, the combatants will execute melee attacks in initiative order. If a combatant is killed or incapacitated before they act, they lose their attack. Finally, any delayed actions take place in initiative order in the delayed phase - this usually includes the Snipe ability, spells, and Stealth attacks.


As you can see, ranged attacks give you an uninterruptible attack at the very start of the round, making them crucial for pre-wounding enemies your melee fighters will then finish off, or downing hurt enemies at the start of a round before they can attack you. Conversely, delayed actions take place only after ranged and melee phases are complete, meaning the character has to survive the round to take the action.


After all three phases are complete, character status ailments are rolled for, inflicted or cured, and everything starts from a new round.




Characters do not have hit points. Rather they simply are either fine, wounded, critical, or dead. It is easier to inflict wounded on a character than critical (technically, a major instead of a minor hit is required). When a character is reduced to critical status, they collapse and are of no further use in the battle unless healed. There is a chance they may yet live. Critical characters that bleed out or are finished off become dead. Living is no longer a possibility. Certain enemies like the Berserker or Gladiators with the Juggernaut ability can continue fighting even while Critical, and ignore the usual penalty to attack rolls for being Wounded.

 Combat Rolls


Attacking is done with a D100 roll that determines the severity of the hit, from miss -> glancing blow -> minor hit -> major hit -> critical hit. The glancing blow and critical hit inflict status ailments based on the type of weapon wielded. Minor hit will wound unwounded characters, but will not reduce wounded characters to critical.

 These rolls and your chance of a critical hit are modified by many different things, including the relative combat skills of you and your enemy, the armor worn by the enemy, and whether you are stealthed or not.




Every time a combatant is attacked by more than one enemy each round, each successive enemy receives a “flanking bonus” to hit, and this bonus increases with each enemy. Gang up on tough enemies for better results!



Thieves, Assassins, and others can use Stealth Mode. When Stealthed, their attack is delayed but they cannot be targeted by enemies during the round. They may also target any enemy in any row. When attempting to attack, a stealth check must be rolled to beat a spotting number generated by the number and type of alert enemies in the battle. If they are spotted, they lose their attack. If they are not, the stealthy character strikes with a substantial bonus to hit and critical hit. They will still be spotted after this attack unless they either down the enemy or perform a critical hit, which is an instantaneous “silent kill.” If spotted, the character will be unable to stealth in the next round. After that round, they can use stealth mode again as normal.


Sharpshooters and other ranged units with stealth can make stealth ranged attacks. With ranged weapons, if the attacker is spotted, they still complete the attack, but lose the stealth hit and critical bonus.


There is a lot of other information about equipment, armor types, armor piercing and so forth but it’s not essential to play with and enjoy the combat system. Everything has descriptive text when moused over to help. The fact that your characters might be going down on the very next hit most of the time keeps everything exciting and unpredictable, and when you have a great round it is very satisfying to see the damage you’ve done in a short amount of time. Of course, things can also go awry as enemies get the rolls that were intended for you. :)


As a design note, the mercenaries in this sim are supposed to be more or less the actual variety of mercs you can hire in the full game, and I’ve tried to represent a spectrum of roles so the player can fill in gaps in his own squad with the appropriately helpful mercenary. However, if there seems to be a blatantly obvious type missing, or some other consideration that you think hasn’t occurred to me, please let me know. I do intend, given the time and art budget, to have a couple of very powerful Mercenary Lords who will join you if you build your guild reputation up very high and complete a very difficult quest.


I will post an update with this simulator soon. I think you’ll find it a satisfying blend of old-school conventions and tactical wargame mechanics. It was always my dream to have some kind of battle system that LOOKS like Final Fantasy but PLAYS like Baldur’s Gate. This ain’t that by a long shot, but still is a taste of what some sort of “ideal” combat system would be like, in my opinion.


Thanks all! More updates forthcoming.



FreeHolder: From Prototype to Game

Posted by Chris Crooks on March 3, 2014 at 12:05 AM Comments comments (0)

Hello, my rogues! Ye may well approach with skepticism the news of significant tweakage to the game, and this may cause you to worry unduly that whatever magic ye had detected in FreeHolder may have ye vanished. But I assure you, this is not so. The vast majority of major changes have occurred to the somewhat underdeveloped town map screen, trying to centralize its function to significantly reduce confusion, speed gameplay, and provide clearer objectives. But let's back up a little and talk about changes to the central part of the game - assigning workers to tiles on the main screen.

1. Hexagonal Land Tiles w/ Randomized Characteristics and Bonuses

Partly for aesthetic and partly for mechanical reasons, we are changing the tile plots to be hexagonal rather than square. The square choice was originally one of convenience and we never really examined the tactical implications since surveying land was a gamble and claiming the land was automatic. Now, every tile borders on six more which will give the player many more choices of lands to survey and furthermore lands are no longer automatically claimed when surveyed, allowing you to spend time picking just the right tile to claim. Claiming itself will be an untyped minor action, meaning it can be done with any minor action type, so it can be a good way to use up that last extra Agricultural or Construction action. You must claim a tile that is adjacent to at least one non-Lake tile that you own, so even though you can scout as far as you like, the lands you claim must be contiguous with your own.

This has also brought the perfect opportunity to significantly upgrade this very basic component of the game with random bonuses, characteristics, or possible squatters. I'd been thinking about this for a long time and a while ago our member 12_Foot_Robot had commented on how significantly this would improve the excitement of one of the core aspects of the game. Now most tiles will be generated with one or more random bonuses - sometimes you get the bonus just for surveying the land, like discovering a patch of wild wheat as you move through a new meadow. Other bonuses only take effect when the land is actually claimed by you, and still others provide powerful ongoing benefits, like farmlands that water themselves with natural springs or a great lake with an extra gather point available each turn. This significantly increases the excitement and reward of surveying. Furthermore, there may be opportunities to interact with tiles that are not claimed by you, like the Ranger's Forage ability, and some tiles may be purchasable or have enemies that must be fought off in order to claim them. Plus hexagonal tiles evoke more of the board game aesthetic that I want to include in the feel of the interface, and we have instant appeal to Civilization players, Settlers of Catan players, and others simply because of the familiarity of presentation.

The town map, or overworld view, I still am not sure what to call it, will also be hexagonal and simplified. I'll save that for a separate section. The villa building screen will still be built out of square rooms - it's simply a convention for tracking and using land - there aren't any issues of spacing or adjacency.

2. Reduction/Simplification of Goods/Currency

Having played a number of resource-oriented board games recently, I had some thoughts about this, I feel like it is inherently simpler for people to work with small amounts of resources and less types of them. To that end, we're going to scrap the modius measurement for bulk goods and the difference of scale between "single" goods and bulk goods. Now everything is simply an abstract unit, i.e. 2 Wheat, 3 Lumber, 4 Leather and it is either "heavy," which mean it requires shipping to move it, or it is not. Heavy resource tokens (for now) are square whereas others are circular. The third type of item, equipment, will have a different token shape or no token. This change brought a number of implications and suggestions to work through.

A. Players will be harvesting fewer crops per field (say 8 tokens as opposed to 60 modii or some such) so those crops must be worth more, both in terms of sell price and nutritional value.

B. Perish rates may have to be adjusted since the effect of perishing is worse with higher NP food.

C. Wheat should probably be completely inedible. This is the objective good so you should be able to eat it only by processing it into bread, and the rate of food return should be pretty good as a result. Right now, mass growing of wheat is a viable strategy although the wastefulness of it does hurt the player in the long run. This will encourage diversification of crops grown, which ultimately will help the player make more money with the new market system. More on that presently. But you will have to invest in a Bakery (or possibly add an Oven to your Kitchen) in order to make use of Wheat as food.

D. I'm axing the arbitrary shipping can only be used one-way rule that really never made any sense. I thought it might make shipping decisions more interesting, but it defies common sense. Now each mule will provide room for 5 outbound and 5 inbound heavy goods, and as many regular goods as you like. However, now the market can only be visited once per month in a single run, so you must make execute everything in one trade order. This is because the market has been centralized, which I'm getting to momentarily.

E. Less coinage follows from this so less money overall will be needed - silver denari are now 10 sens, whereas a gold cent is 100 silver denari. That means you'll be working mostly in silver and bronze and a gold coin represents a truly significant amount of wealth.

Obviously reduction in scale creates other changes that have to be worked through, but I think people will understand everything a bit easier if everything is smaller and simpler, and the needless complication was due to insufficient abstraction of the original idea, I think.

3. Centralization of Town Functions: The Market, Black Market, and Tavern

Once again inspired by outrageously great board games, I wanted to capture the feeling of everything being "in reach" on a board game and simplify the map screen and town interactions.

We've merged towns and roads into a single tile. Tiles can be occupied by enemies and hence access to that tile (and all tiles behind it) will be blocked. You can now not visit towns directly (except to visit the resident) but they have significant effects on the centralized market and you depending on your reputation at the town. Town reputation is now a central part of the early game - you'll be filling market orders (essentially demand quests) for towns in order to build reputation with that town, unlocking extra goods to be sent to the market, getting free goods shipped to you monthly, and ultimately the town resident, the local person of note, will offer their special skills to you if you help their town enough. Town reputation can also be gained by Patrolling the tile, using the Influence Espionage action (Espionage had to be greatly altered to fit the new town map, vastly for the better in my opinion), and assisting the militia in town defense. Town reputation gives a much more focused feel to the early game, as players work to win over the towns they think will benefit them most.

You'll note that in addition to the ring of starting towns, there is a market, black market and tavern tile. These each represent a centralized area for legal trade, illegal trade, and information gathering/recruitment. These tiles can be occupied by hostiles (except for the Black Market, which operates differently) and, except for the tavern, can only be visited once per month; essentially, you have to take a discrete Market action (although it does not cost actions, similar to attacking). I could write a separate article about each of these "new" systems but they are mostly a much-needed abstraction and centralization of game concepts that were a bit unwieldy and confusing in their past incarnation. I will summarize as briefly as possible.

The Market

The Market is essentially a storehouse for goods that the player can buy. Each season, all open towns will send a certain amount of different goods to the market based on their town type and size. The player can freely buy these as they become available, and the market will store goods up to a maximum number based on the town sizes of all non-blocked towns in the market. These goods will also be subject to a perish rate, as other interested parties snatch up the goods. Market events are represented by goods suddenly becoming depleted, or abundant, and the price changing. During a wood crash, the market might suddenly have a stack of 10 cheap wood to buy, or during a stone spike all stone might suddenly disappear from the storehouse. Market events will be fairly common, and predictable in a number of different ways.

The market demand mechanics have been replaced with market orders. Rather than simply receiving a boost on sale prices from demands, each town will put an order for a specific number of needed goods directly to the player. The player can choose to fill any, all, or none of these, and when filling the order receives extra money for each good shipped (same as greater demand). If the player completes the market order before the end of the year, they receive a completion bonus, usually a chunk of money and a small reputation boost at the town. This system combines an economic model with quests to focus the player towards building town reputation and producing certain goods. Really it's a hundred times more elegant than the clunkfest I had originally cobbled together.

Last but not least on this note is that the player can only sell up to 4 of any one type of good each month, and receives less money for each successive same good sold. That means the player only gets full money for the first type of the good sold each month, then about 3/4, then half, and then 1/4. This immediately encourages diversity, and letting goods trickle out slowly, since you will make more than 3 times as much money letting 1 wool go to the market each month for 4 months then selling them all at once - but if it's the end of the year, or you can't spare the shipping, or you have way too much anyway, you have the option. This makes shipping much more precious because you want to be able to ship a little of everything as much as possible. This elegantly mimics reducing demand in a predictable way that player can strategize for. So much better than messing around with market saturation calculations and price decay rates. :P

Black Market

The Black Market is a specialized market that can only be successfully reached if it is both active and the character traveling succeeds on a smuggling roll. Let me tell you immediately that gone is the two-separate-rolls overly complicated smuggling thing from before. Now you simply make a single roll ahead of time, and either fail and reap the consequences, or succeed and can take your time to ship as much as you like without fear. Assuming you succeed, you now have access to a smaller market that offers Black Market Contracts - smaller quests that are like market orders but change rapidly and have greater rewards. Some Black Market contracts may also require an Espionage roll to complete. In addition, the Black Market sells a small selection of discounted rare goods. These contracts and goods can be cycled by the player with the Influence action, and skilled Agents may even be able to choose the next from two or three possibilities. The Black Market has no interest in buying goods generally, so you may only sell goods directly by Black Market Contracts, and buy what is on offer.

The Black Market starts the game active, and is occasionally raided by Roman authorities, temporarily inactivating it. Under ordinary circumstances, the Black Market is unavailable while inactive, and randomly reactivates a certain amount of time after a crackdown - this can be influenced by both Agent abilities and special events. It can never be occupied, except perhaps under very unusual conditions...


The Tavern is a centralized place to gather information, receive quests and hire workers and mercenaries. You can also interact with visitors by buying them a drink, or buy a round for the workers or mercenaries in the hopes of increasing your guild reputation or getting a hiring discount. You may also buy a drink and have a private chat with the Tavern Keeper, an information broker who can help his friends find the right people in the right places. The Tavern can be visited any number of times per month. Visitors and mercenaries are constantly changing and cycling through. The Tavern is a place of activity every player will want to keep an eye on for opportunities. It is also rumored that the Thieves' Guild works through the tavern and those with enough clout with the Guild can even hire thieves and assassins here.

That sums up my intentions on this town map redesign fairly well. Some stuff probably looks brand spanking new but honestly most of these ideas were in the game design in some way but didn't make it into the prototype explicitly.

We're also taking another crack at the combat system, simplifying and en-safening it for main characters, with the addition of robust mercenaries and town militias taking some of the absurd risk out of early combat.. We definitely want it to be decisive, and have a rogue-like feel, but we're removing a lot of the complications and automation in favor a command driven interface with some hidden depth. We've got so many facets, you don't even know what facets are. :) And that's not even talking about the faction towns, which you can see on the graphic there but I won't get into here, not least because they were a non-factor in the prototype and hence are unknown to the vast majority of you. We've come up with much more of the endgame than ever before (which is good, considering we're a week away from starting this build!) so stay tuned for more dev blogs, podcasts, and other fun stuff as we live the dream of creating impossible worlds. Thanks everyone for your support!

Breaking News: Partial Funding Secured!

Posted by Chris Crooks on February 24, 2014 at 11:10 AM Comments comments (0)

Hello to one and all! Sorry about the lack of updates to the site but it has been in service of the cause: Matt and I have been engaged this new year in scaring up investment capital, and we have landed some of what we need, and we are anticipating an additional dose of funding in the future. As such, we are gearing up to go into full production mode on FreeHolder, digging in with Unity and building a truly slick game engine. Since we have funding for approximately 3 months of production at this point, our goal is to have the entire prototype rebuilt, minus some art assets, by the end of this time, and we should have an alpha or near-alpha to get any additional funding we might need, since it should be mostly a question of getting the media assets incorporated into the game at that point, plus scads of playtesting, debugging and tweaking.

We are doing a revamping of some core FreeHolder gameplay conventions. Having had some time to step away from FreeHolder the game and focus on the business side of things, I've come back rejuvenated and devised a myriad of tweaks that should increase ease of learning and play, including a centralized market, black market and tavern instead of each town having their own, using a hex-based tile system (and changing the way that Survey works as a result, more on that later), and a simplifying of the resource system - we're doing away with modius in favor of simply abstract units, which will be represented as tokens, like 1 Wheat or 2 Stone. Bulk resources still require shipping (and will probably have a different shape to the token to indicate this), but other than that there are now simply "goods" and "items" (equippable that is). Isn't that difference so perfectly clear? Isn't English grand?

I've been obsessively playing board games on iPad and these digital adaptations have given me more or less the basic interface scheme for FreeHolder, which will seem more like a board game, albeit an animated one, with you dragging and dropping tokens onto tiles and so forth, also making adapting the game to tablet a much smoother affair. No more clunky lists of menus, and we'll also try to iconize everything as clearly as possible, but have in-depth information available just under the surface.

Stay tuned - now that we're in full production mode our community-building project must be ressurected and sustained so expect updates and extra content as part of this effort. Thank you all for your support and ideas, o my rogues. We may be only a few short months from something truly remarkable crystalizing out of this two-year journey. And remember....

Live Carefully. Game Recklessly.

Year-End Aims and Goals

Posted by Chris Crooks on December 1, 2013 at 7:20 PM Comments comments (0)

The final month of the year is upon us, and a flurry of development is in progress, with an overall goal to make the game pitchable to publishers by January. As many of you have correctly observed, dropping expectant gamers into the middle of an experience with no tutorial and little instruction is a significant barrier to entry, and so I'm currently developing four in-game tutorials that will slowly introduce the myriad concepts of this game in small, easy-to-digest sections, peppered throughout with essential advice from Gaius and Lydia. It was always our aim to do this, but getting the prototype to actually run at all had been our primary concern. Now we are trying to add the accessibility this game needs to reach a wider audience. As always, your ideas, suggestions, complaints, and feedback are appreciated and solicited. I will be posting the update with the first tutorial soon, which I have already finished.

Furthermore, there is going to be intense playtesting and debugging as we try to polish this thing up to respectability. I'm going to revamp and spruce up the battle system, as well as iron out the many obnoxious glitches that seem to plague the visitor/quest system and market. If we have time for additional content, some more narrative elements will be added as well as a random element to surveyed land, with a possibility of finding supply caches, magical sites, or even squatters who must be driven off. I also want to add the ability to collect firewood directly from forests as opposed to the time-consuming chopping of timber which is fine but hardly the only realistic option. The amount of firewood gathered will be randomized based on a Survival roll, but the time-saving aspect of not having to spend more actions chopping it up should be handy during those hard winters. As a little more icing on the cake I'm going to attempt to add a bit of music here and there if I find time to actually write it. I will likely be posting some of my prototypes on piano regardless, so you can get a flavor of what I'm going for musically.

As a final noteworthy goal for all you patient rogues who are alarmed at the lack of site activity, it is our mission to publish two updates a week - one related to the FreeHolder prototype and how it is progressing, including a possible update of the prototype itself, and a second, content-based update that will vary but should give you more information on how our mind-gears are turning. It may be game reviews, or a podcast, or a piece of music, but whatever it is, you should weekly have a little something to get your fix. I've written two game reviews already and will most likely be publishing them today or tomorrow.

Thank you all who keep an eye on this site and who wish us well in our journey of game development. It's an exciting time in an exciting field and I feel priveleged just to be able to participate. Talk to you soon!

Post-IndieCade Update

Posted by Chris Crooks on October 8, 2013 at 6:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Well gang, IndieCade came and went in a pixelated blur, and there is much to report. Good news as far as our primary goal was concerned: we found a likely artist plus a few others, and we secondarily we do have an Ouya and hence a dev kit, but as far as funding goes, IndieCade does not appear to be a good place to find investors. Gaming press, fellow devs, artists, sound designers, yes, but I guess it's too low-notoriety to attract much in the way of big money. No worries, we got a lot of advice about how to get the game ready to pitch to publishers, and a lot of advice on building a community for crowd-sourcing. We plan to have FreeHolder "pitch-ready" by the end of the year, so we can hit the ground running, providing I can suss out any potential publishers and make the all-important contacts. Failing that, we are going to triple our efforts in building a community so as to have some sort of leg to stand on if we go the KickStarter route.

Overall, Matt and I came away immensely energized. Having an actual working demo merely in need of a great deal of polish instead of months of grunt work put us ahead of the game compared to at least 75% of the devs there, who "want to make games" but have no product. Most people seemed astonished that we hadn't already starting pitching it or what have you because we're quite near to the point where that is usually the case, our somewhat niche target market aside. I maintain we just have to find the right set of eyes.

We saw some great talks: the writer for Bastion talked about making that game and transitioning to their next target, one of the creators of Myst mused about that phenomenal franchise, Jonathan Blow dropped some wisdom re: puzzle game design, and a slew of other useful seminars ranging from getting onto the Nintento e-Shop to managing public relations. It is an ideal starting point for newb developers, but only a starting point. The low cost of entry is a major plus, but the buzz was that the Independent Games Festival is a better bet as far as investment is concerned. We shall see.

More thoughts forthcoming, but during the Game Slam when I pitched the three concepts behind roguelike games that I found most compelling, another developer named Tyriq Plummer, owner of FourBitFriday, showed off his 2-year roguelike platforming project called Catacomb Kids, which blew my mind something fierce. I'd been toying with the idea of a procedurally generated platformer, and what do you know this guy has been working away at this very thing for a long time! He coded and drew everything himself, it looks great, and I'm excited as all hell about it. Check out his site:, and show him some support! Talk to you all soon.

Pre-Cade Build Upgrade

Posted by Chris Crooks on October 2, 2013 at 10:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Hi everyone. We just posted a new build we will be using at IndieCade to wow various persons. It contains a number of bugfixes and a much fancier looking battle system that is functional if a bit wonky at the moment. It's mostly just a better proof-of-concept for the whole thing, with some flow and nifty icons and character art. Enjoy. Feedback is very encouraged. Wish us luck!

Click this link to play the latest build!

The Cade of Cades: The Game of Games

Posted by Chris Crooks on September 30, 2013 at 4:00 PM Comments comments (2)

The day fast approacheth, oh my Rogues, wherein your two humble representatives to the game-mind-space will sally forth on that first step of a hundred-mile journey to wedge our soft leather sneak-shoes into the door of industry. Yea, verily, though the path be fraught with difficulty, we are confident that the people we meet will be astonished and stupified by our knowledge, enthusiasm, and bevy of awesome game ideas of which FreeHolder is only the tip of the iceberg. Indiecade is but 3 sun-cycles into the future, and we will be passing out our business cards as if they were manna for the hungry. And hungry they are, o my brethren, for new ideas and new perspectives. Amidst the furious accolades, however, we are seeking to accomplish a number of specific goals, which I will throw out to the universe right now. 

1) Artists. Ideally, we will find some ultra-talented but relatively unknown person who will be so excited by the idea of making art for as many of our games as possible that we can get a true full-time art director on the payroll (which consists purely of sweat-equity at this early stage). Barring that, however, we will hopefully have a stack of art contractor business cards a mile high from which to choose to fulfill our art needs on a case-by-case basis. Without great art, our vision will remain somewhat incomplete, or less than what it could (should!) be.

2) Investors. The investors that are likely to dig on our game are investors that are also gamers, and possibly veterans of the industry itself. Pure-capital type investors are probably not going to see huge profit in a game like this because they don't have the fine understanding of game mechanics that will get real gamers totally excited about this kind of project. I contend, however, that many terrible games are made, and many terrible games make money. None of our games will be terrible. Therefore, I see getting investment money as a matter of time and effort, a question of when rather than if. Our current lack of notoriety makes a kickstarter campaign DOA at this point, so we need to sell our vision to one or two people with money in their pockets and a song in their hearts, preferably the victory music from Final Fantasy. :)

3) Get every possible scrap of info and possible contacts for the Ouya indie console. It is almost the ideal platform for most of our early old-school looking projects and the idea of releasing a game onto a truly new type of console has so much resonance for Matt and I that we cannot resist it. Furthermore, developing on the Ouya requires merely that one purchase it, and that one provide a demo and keep the price to $20 or under. In other words, the Ouya is using our own model as theirs. Synchronicity!

There are a number of other, slightly less critical things that we would like to do, but the number one thing is: we must keep our eyes and ears wide, wide open, absorb absolutely everything we can, pay the most attention we've ever paid to anything in our lives. We must live in the zone. It is in the zone that things will happen.

Wish us luck! Many thanks for the support of the community of awesome people that have helped us get this far, and will help us get even further. We'll be updating after the event with information aplenty, so fingers crossed and eyes peeled. And remember, folks:

Game Recklessly.

Submitted to Indiecade! Aftermath and new goals

Posted by Chris Crooks on July 2, 2013 at 1:45 PM Comments comments (2)

Well gang, my brother and I submitted the prototype/proof of concept/work in progress that is FreeHolder to Indiecade 2013. The game is certainly not bug-free, and probably not even game-ending crash-free, but it goes smoothly enough and has enough variety and concepts implemented to give them a clear idea of what we're going for with this game. Considering that they encourage works in progress, I suspect our game has as much of a chance as any such submission can have, if lack of polish or buginess will count heavily against an unfinished game. Considering that the inception of this was really only about 8 months ago, and I had to learn many things as I went, I'm pleased with the progress on the game.

I think our overall chances of being finalists is fairly strong. I have great faith in the appeal of both the core concepts and narrative of the game as well as the style of play, the huge level of replayability the game already has. and its potential for becoming something truly remarkable. It's an odd but appealing mash-up of board game mechanics, JRPG graphics and leveling, farmsim/survival plus a roguelilke environment that can't help but be attractive to people that are looking for something different, and deep, and adaptable to many styles of play. If you like to fight you can focus on the combat aspects of the game to accomplish your goals, whereas if you prefer stealth and subterfuge there is a system in place for that. If you like to raise animals you can focus on breeding and sell scads of wool, extra cheese, and prime grade meat. Money can accomplish most things in FreeHolder, and people that want to focus more on the farming/production side of the game can still succeed mightily with a bit of shrewd marketeering. Mercenaries and the like will also be available if you want to keep your vital non-combat characters out of the fray entirely. People like me, inclined to the mystical, have a highly customizable magic skill and enchantment system that lets your Initiates fill in the gaps in your lineup. And what we have planned for the final game, a second two-choice class advancement that further specializes your character, unlocks an extra equipment slot, typed minor action, and eventually gives access to an Epic skill, well, you can see how obsessed I am with class changes. Way back in high school, one of the absurdly huge rpgs I exhaustively designed out with my friend Mike had 3 class changes inherent in the game design. My favorite Super Nintendo game, Secret of Mana 3 had 2 class changes, each one going either in the light or dark direction, meaning each character had a total of 2 mid and 4 end-game classes, and since you can only choose 1 per game, the replay value of each character is higher than any other SNES RPG I've played. The character often receive massively different skills and special attacks depending on what you class them to.

"So what?" you may reasonably ask. "Who cares about classes?" Well, they are (or should be, in my mind) a game design method with which to allow the player to experience a couple of things.

1) Open up new and more complex play options as they play through and become more used to the simpler earlier game. In FreeHolder, once a Ranger learns Forester, you can now completely hack down a forest for a large quantity of wood, but of course it becomes a meadow and you lose the ability to get wood from it ever again. This is a consideration that would probably be lost on a beginning player who still doesn't understand how much lumber and firewood they'll generally need. In the hands of a more experienced player, though, Clear Cut can be used with some discrimination to deal with emergencies and respond more flexibly to the situation.

2) The more complex and powerful play options that are unlocked are tailored in some fashion to the style of the player playing the game. People that play a certain way will be given high-level options in the very areas that they focus on, encouraging them to explore more fully aspects of the game that they enjoy, or they think will be useful. In FreeHolder, when you level you are given the choice to learn any skill from the class that you don't know, or upgrade an existing one. There are three in the demo but there will probably be four or five in the final game. That way the leveling itself can also be a response to in-game challenges. You might level a character into a Ranger specifically to learn Forester as you have a lumber crunch, or you need to plant some saplings because there aren't any additional forests in your immediate starting area.

Ideally, classing up should bring players to a new level of gameplay, where they have more powerful skills but they will require more experience and discrimination to use them properly, as well as having more difficult challenges that will require such skills. Being an all-powerful god is fun for a little while, but challenges are what make games rewarding, and the player should feel a proportionately greater reward for beating more difficult challenges because they've evolved as a player, not just because their character has become insanely strong.

However, I'm not denying the pure awesomeness when you send your gladiator to deal with a few bandits and he just carves through them and scatters them to the winds. I liked the movie 300, after all. This game would not entirely be mine without some type of combat. Lots of fightin' happenin' back in them Roman times. Plus Matt is a mild fanatic vis-a-vis ancient Rome, and the dice rolling mechanics of the combat system are an adaptation of a MUSH based on ancient Rome called the The Eternal City. The combat system still needs a great deal of work, but my original goal, to make it quick, exciting, and strategic without being overly ponderous, seems possible when I see it working at its most bug-free.

So I have high hopes for Indiecade, but irregardless our current goal remains the same: to have the most polished, delicious demo of this game ready to go by Indiecade, whether that's due to the fact that we are finalists or not. Then we gonna go and network like it's the Matrix all up in there. One way or another, be it venture capital, kickstarter, or some other method, this game will be realized in full. And then, my friends, people will be able to play it on their Ouya. That will be one surreal day. :)

The Indiecade submitted version, v.630 in honor of the submission date and my birthday, has a plethora of visual upgrades, bug-fixes and tweaks plus a host of dandy new mousover infotext features that will make the game approximately 72% less confusing for new FreeHolders. You'll be treated to "hand-drawn" (on the computer) plot tiles, characters that are specifically designed to activate every part of your brain involved in playing Squaresoft games, and icons for every item and good in the game, Now if only I could squash that damnable icon display bug. :D Check it out and play, friends. Plenty of tweaks and updates are coming down the pipeline, and your involvement in testing is critical. Give us some feedback, and we'd much appreciate it.

Keep your fingers crossed for Indiecade 2013 - we'll know at the end of August. In the meantime, enjoy FreeHolder and the fancy gameplay guide section on the website which Matt has assembled with astonishing speed and vigor. Plenty more sections of that are also going to be released soon, so hopefully people who feel a bit intimidated by the complete lack of information on or in the game can find some help. Unless they want to e-mail us directly, of course. Or use the forums. Yes, we have forums. 

Thanks to all our supporters, and good harvest to you!


5/5: Save & Quit, Combat Preview, All Classes Available

Posted by Matt Crooks on May 5, 2013 at 7:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Howdy Rogues and Roguettes,

We didn't quite hit our goal for the end of April, but boy are we close.  Every starting class is now available at the start of the game including the Gladiator, you can now save and quit then continue a game later and a preview of the combat system is available.

Now I say combat preview because it's not yet hooked into the main game.  What you do in this test battle won't open up any roads, reward you with loot, or affect your reputation with a faction yet.  But we've left the player with an array of weapons and armour that they can try out and then by pressing the middle mouse button, you can open up a test round of combat with three bandits.  

Club Sauce also provided us with a better background for the HUD, a nice dark cobblestone texture.

More to come this month as our deadline for Indiecade 2013 approaches. Give us a like, stalk us on Twitter. Tell a buddy.  Play the demo.

Oh, and Happy Cinco de Mayo.

4/21: New Build, New Systems

Posted by Chris Crooks on April 21, 2013 at 6:15 PM Comments comments (2)

Hey everyone,

Wanted to announce a new developer's build going up today, with a number of key new systems somewhat implemented. Of particular note is the much-improved magic class, the Initiate. Rather than simply being a useful gatherer of medicines, the new Initiate-only action called Enchantment is now available. For a cost of one rare, uncommon, and common reagent you can attempt to enchant a plot with a myriad of useful but temporary effects, Currently available are:

Dreamscape - Adds an extra gather point to a plot. 

Secret Upwelling - Farmland or Sapling plots will be automatically watered each turn.

Familiar Spirit - Enchant a plot to provide a small amount of basic resources automatically each turn.

Wintersun - Ward your villa against cold, negating the need for wood during the winter.

Remember you can only gather rare reagents from the appropriate terrain type during its favored season. Also, you can start your main as an Initiate and choose your starting skill from a small randomized list. 

Additionally,  the basic espionage actions, Gather Info and Smuggle Goods, are up and functioning. although there are some button toggling issues when smuggling goods at the market. Gather Info lets you examine the Market and Forum at a blocked town, as well as revealing if any day labor quests are available, and your knowledge of the town will decay over time rather than last one turn. Critical rolls double the length your information network lasts.

Smuggling goods allows you to sell goods at a blocked town market,hopefully at a substantial black market bonus. There is a risk of getting wounded if it fails, though, and wounds prevent you from working at all until you're healed. The ability to add mules to smuggle more is not functioning yet, although I doubt anyone has made much use of mules yet. 

Also the Forums at each town are enabled and have a bit of functionality. There are some visibility toggle issues but a town will spawn with permanent residents based on its size, and those residents can be talked to to get a variety of tips about the game. Resident quests and trading are still non-functional. Visitors will also appear and leave various towns from time to time, and similarly they can be talked to but that's about it at the moment.

There's a new resource list that shows what you have as icons, only spawning new icons when you collect that resource type. There are a huge number of icons that still need to be created, and what we have so far is mostly to the credit of Club Sauce, a Rogue who has stepped up to contribute some sorely needed initial artwork to our demo. We our much in his debt,  as we are to Thundercliese, who has more or less been our head playtester for the last several weeks, contributing detailed notes on a number of bugs that we need to squash. Props to him as well.

There's plenty more features, but you'll just have to take a look for yourself, or wait for an official release. I just want to remind everyone that this is a development build, and there are no guarantees about the level of playability of this is more or even the same as the previous build. I mean, I can guarantee it with this build, but dev builds are code snapshots that are generally unplaytested, so player beware. Next on the dock, hopefully tomorrow - I'll let you start saving the game. :) I will upload build with saving as soon as I have it, and it works.

Thanks to everyone for your support, enthusiasm, and contributions. We are making something truly amazing here. Enjoy the build!