Nov 222011

The next NEStalgia patch has grown into a bit of a monster. Spiff and I had a pretty decent sized list of goals for the post-skill tree patches, and somehow almost all of those ambitions have ended up coming to fruition simultaneously in this single massive update.

First and foremost, Gamepad Mode is finally here. Courtesy of Spiff, you’ll now be able to play NEStalgia using a gamepad/keyboard exclusively. This new option is a simple toggle from the expanded preferences menu in v1.55, and it comes along with its own interface setup specific crafted for mouse-less navigation:

You can click the toggle in the corner to disable Gamepad Mode anytime

Pressing the "A Button" brings up this navigation menu

Notice that the Main HUD itself looks a bit different as well, and most those changes aren’t relegated to Gamepad Mode exclusively. The old Party HUD and Invite/Attack buttons are completely gone, replaced with a much more intuitive setup. You can now see all of your fellow party members’ information on the Main HUD at all times:

…but the real treat is the new player interaction setup. I’ve created a short video meant to serve as a tutorial for new players in the future that also serves to show off these new features. In addition to demonstrating the new player inviting/attack interface, this video gives you a glimpse of the new Auto-Heal and Auto-Refill functions in action!

Last for today but certainly not least, Spiff has also prepared another highly-requested change: battle backgrounds. Those of you who read the forums might remember this topic in which the community helped us to explore the many possibilities for giving battles some sort of scenery. What we settled on are Lufia-style faded overworld backgrounds in battle, and they look great. If there are any NES purists out there, you’ll be able to disable these backgrounds and stick with the classic black void via a toggle in the preferences menu.

In this post I covered many of the new features and refinements that are coming, but it’s important to note that v1.55 will also include many balance changes for the skill trees. I’ll talk about those changes soon, but for now I hope that all of you enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday (or 4 straight days of Skyrim for those of you staying home this year). I’ll be back next week with a release date for v1.55 and perhaps even some juicy details on the forthcoming companion/content patch that is in the works.

Oct 172011

The new Guild Ranks HUD

I’ve talked a lot about the big stuff coming in v1.52, but there are loads of smaller changes included in this patch as well. Granted, “smaller” is relative here: in a typical patch almost all of the less touted features coming with v1.52 would be fairly significant news. Many of the items below have been documented in the patch notes for a few weeks, but I haven’t brought any attention to them.

Without further ado, here are the Top Ten Previously Unannounced v1.52 Changes (in no particular order):

1.) Frame rate and movement speed increases

NEStalgia’s current frame rate is about 10 FPS, but with recent upgrades to the BYOND system we’ve been able to bump it up to 16 FPS for v1.52. That doesn’t sound like much of a change, but it really does make a big difference in terms of the smoothness of the visuals and the responsiveness of the controls.

The new online players HUD

The big motivation behind the increased frame rate is that it allows us to actually bump up players’ overworld movement speed. The speed change is minor, but it makes a big difference. Characters no longer feel sluggish when moving around the map, and on the whole navigating the game just feels a lot better.

2.) Say goodbye to Soften, Harden and Speed Crystals

Spell Crystals were added to the game before any form of character customization existed (even before Milestone boosts!). With the advent of Skill Trees these crystals are no longer necessary, and their existence actually makes a lot of skill point investment decisions much less meaningful. Therefore, as part of the re-balance I’ve decided to ax Soften, Harden and Speed Crystals completely. Anyone who currently owns one of these crystals will be able to resell the now useless crystals for a full gold refund.

The Battle Spell Book

3.) Two new quests

Players can earn up to 38 Skill Points to spend. Most of those come from leveling up, but four can be purchased via the revamped Moon Blessings, and two can be earned by completing a couple new quests.

Found at the Colosseum, a new “bonus” quest giver rewards players a skill point for finding all of the treasure chests in the game. His second quest rewards a skill point for completing every other quest in the game. Now players ought to have a bit more motivation to shoot for 100% completion.

4.) Persistent battle status icons

This was a highly requested change: battle status indicators no longer disappear during the “action round” of battle. These indicators are now added and removed in real time.

Re-ordering Battle Spells

5.) Instant Kill abilities work on bosses and in PvP

Prior to v1.52 Instant Kill abilities such as CoinFlip and Judgement have been completely ineffective against bosses or other players. In the update all of that is changing, but instead of instantly killing a boss or player, Instant Kill abilities will do the spell damage equivalent of a critical hit.

6.) Ability re-ordering in a new Spell Book HUD

Not only is this an oft requested change, but with the introduction of Skill Trees it has actually become a necessary one. Players will now be able to re-order their spell lists for both battle and the overworld. Furthermore, clicking on an ability in this new HUD will show a brief description of what it does, and in the case of a “random success” ability actually indicates its base success rate.

The new Preferences HUD

7.) New HUDs for Guild and Social management

Previously detached from the game window and housed in NEStalgia’s external interface, the Guild and Social management panels have been transferred over to new game HUDs. This makes things much more streamlined, and in many ways these HUDs are now actually easier to use.

8.) The Preferences HUD

This new HUD is fairly straight forward, and is also mostly just a transition of controls that previously lived in NEStalgia’s external interface into the game window itself. However, there is one new little toggle that many people have requested – the ability to disable full screen spell flashes in battle.

9.) Charge status indicator

“Charge” type abilities such as Charge, JumpKick and Malice’s “Glow” move will now show a status indicator when they’re charging up. This should make it much harder for players to miss the warning for when these abilities are about to be unleashed.

10.) New Monster Sprites

We’ve had a lot of great artwork contributions to the game, and I’ve finally got around to swapping out some of the remaining to-be-replaced sprites for the v1.52 update. Midgard and Efrain have never looked better!

Oct 142011

Merchants have always been a bit of an experimental class. My goal was to create a class that could fill the same party roles as Soldiers while simultaneously maintaining a unique play style. I think that the Merchant as it currently stands does meet those criteria and is a lot of fun to play, but there is a ton of room for improvement.

I love the fact that Merchants use gold to power their abilities, though I always expected that the biggest problem for players would be the fear of running out of gold in battle. Instead, the opposite problem has emerged: rich Merchants essentially have an infinite mana pool. Much like I did with the Soldier class for the v1.52 update, my goal was to give Merchants a more controlled system for powering their abilities so that I could in exchange make those abilities more useful and more powerful. Therefore, gold is out, and Credit is in.

The Merchant Credit system is similar to the Soldier’s Will system in that it’s essentially a stamina meter, although it functions quite differently. Instead of automatically gaining Credit points at the beginning of each round, Merchants earn Credit every time they inflict or receive damage. Furthermore, Credit is actually carried over to the overworld and doesn’t get reset after each battle. A Merchant starts out with a maximum of 600 Credit points which can eventually be upgraded to a max of 800. The amount of Credit that a Merchant receives when dealing or taking damage can also be upgraded in their Skill Trees.

This system is a very significant change, and as you might expect, the Merchant’s moveset has been tweaked to accommodate it. Many abilities have either been modified or completely replaced with new exciting moves. To name a few:

Inspect -Self-cast; applies the Empower and Harden status effects to the Merchant. Cost: 600 CR.

Dividends – Replaces the Merchant’s existing Profit ability. It heals the Merchant for 1% of his Max HP per 10 CR saved up.

Trade – The Merchant and a single target swap their current status buffs and debuffs. Cost: 250 CR.

Recharge – Refills the entire parties’ rechargeable items in the overworld. Cost: 600 CR.

Loan – Restores all of the Merchant’s Credit in the overworld at the cost of 1 Gold per 2 CR.

The Merchant’s two skill trees – Enforcer and Commerce – allow them to focus on either offensive or defensive skill sets. Some Merchants may build their character in a way in which they’re constantly earning and spending Credit, and others may choose to take advantage of skills such as Credit Check and Reserve Ratio which give big attack and defense boosts based upon the amount of Credit currently saved up.

As you can see, in v1.52 the Merchant is becoming a much more varied and unique class that really stands on its own. I feel like my original goal for the class is now fully realized: a Merchant can fill the same roles as a Soldier, but there is no longer any other class in the game even remotely like it. I think that existing Merchants are going to love the changes, and those of you looking for a new 1-32 experience come v1.52 definitely ought to consider giving this class a try.

Sep 052011

Soldiers are one of NEStalgia’s most popular classes, but the problem with Soldiers has always been the way they use their abilities. Because Soldier special moves haven’t had anything like an MP cost in the past, other design measures had to be taken to balance them out: Impale could miss, Headbutt would constantly fail and cause blow back damage, Reckless was a crapshoot, etc. When redesigning Soldiers I wanted to keep a bit of the random chance and blow back damage aspects of their abilities without making those penalties quite so harsh. In order to do that while still keeping things balanced, Soldiers needed a new way to power their abilities. My answer to the problem was the use of a very common modern RPG mechanic: a stamina meter.

Called “Will”, a Soldier’s stamina meter consists of five hollow circles that fill up at the rate of one circle (a Will point) per round of battle. The Will meter is reset between battles, so Soldiers always start each fight with an empty meter. Regular attacks and certain basic abilities (Guard, Counter, etc) do not use any Will, allowing you to save up your points to use the Soldier’s new powered up special moves:

StopSpell – StopFire, StopIce and StopStorm have all been combined into one ability that reduces all incoming elemental damage by 30% for two rounds for the entire party. Cost: 3 Will points

Reckless – Pretty much the only thing that’s remained the same about this special move is the name. At 4 Will points, it now targets all enemies and does a full damage strike on each target, but also returns 50% of the damage back to the Soldier. With some investments in the skill tree, that damage can be reduced to 20%.

Impale, Gore, Headbutt – All of these abilities can be upgraded to have either a 100% Bleed success rate, or very close to it.

The Will meter is a cool new mechanic that should make playing a Soldier a lot more fun, but v1.52 has even more changes in store for the class. The Soldier’s two skill trees are Berserker and Guardian, and from the names you can probably guess that they’re geared towards offense and defense respectively. These trees will allow Soldiers to become a raging damage dealing beast, the ultimate defensive tank, or some mix of the two:

Hopefully this will be one of the last few blog posts that I write about v1.52 before all of you actually get to play it. Development is moving along well, albeit slower than I expected (I still don’t want to give out a hard release date). There is a lot of new stuff in store for the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

Aug 192011

Having covered all of the essential information about skill trees in Part 1, today I’m going to expound on some of the details and previously unannounced features coming in v1.52. Again, if you have any additional questions then please feel free to ask them in the comments section. Today’s Q&A:

Will the new spell animations be included in v1.52?

Yes. The current flashing boxes that represent different attacks and abilities in battle are getting replaced in this update with full blown animations and additional sound effects. Just writing about this change doesn’t do it justice, so I posted a short video on NEStalgia’s Facebook page and Twitter feed a couple days ago to demonstrate some of these new effects in action:

What changes are coming to Soldiers and Merchants?

I had planned to answer this question here, but I’ve instead decided that it will be better to devote an entire blog entry to this topic instead. Look for that post soon 😉

Are Stat Seeds staying the same?

Stat Seeds will still function the same way, with one major convenience change: you will now be able to remove individual seeds through your Status Menu instead of having to purchase and use a Seed Cleaner to remove all of them at the same time (removing a seed will still trash it). This change should make managing and swapping out your seeds much easier.

What does the big re-balancing entail?

As we’ve mentioned many times in the past few months, most of the game is going to be re-balanced to accommodate the new skill trees and to smooth out the rough edges that currently exist. The stats on many abilities, items, monsters, etc. may change, but the general “feel” of the balance throughout the existing content should remain the same.

Inflated burst damage is the biggest balance issue right now. Across the board you’ll be seeing attacks doing a bit less damage, particularly AoE (group) attacks. Damage done by AoE abilities like Wizards’ Blizzard spell will now be spread out across multiple targets. The more targets your attack hits, the less damage it will do to each individual target. This should help close the gap that currently exists between classes that have AoE attacks and those that don’t.

Although we’ll be testing all of this it may still take a couple weeks of tweaking on the live servers to get things just right, but balance will be a top priority for us with this update and the small patches that follow.

What are Fire/Ice/Storm Enchants?

Located within the Foundation Tree shared by all classes, the new Elemental Enchant skill branches will serve to make Plus Element, Piercing and Elemental Resist much more viable for melee classes. Each level of the enchants add 4% elemental damage to all physical attacks (that includes special moves), and also convert an additional 4% of the base damage to elemental. Therefore, if you max out an enchant branch you’ll be dealing and additional 20% elemental damage on physical attacks, and another 20% of the base damage will be counted as elemental.

It may sound confusing, but it’s actually pretty simple. If you’d normally do 100 damage to an enemy, then with a maxed out Storm Enchant you’d deal 120 damage, with 40 of that damage being counted as Storm. That means that any Plus Storm you have will increase those 40 points of damage, and any Storm Resist the enemy has will reduce them (Spell Piercing comes into play as well). In other words, these new enchants are a double-edged sword, but one that gives players another potential play style and also increases the value of many of the overlooked gear drops in the game. The next time you pick up a piece of Soldier gear with a bunch of Plus Fire on it, you might want to hold on to it.

When will v1.52 be released?

The size and scope of this update has grown exponentially in the past few weeks, which is partially why it’s taking longer than I anticipated. Almost all of the new features would be big updates on their own, and combining all of them into one massive patch is much more time consuming than the “skill trees only” update that I had originally planned.

When we’re nearly finished testing and I can set a solid release date, all of you will be the first to know about it!

Aug 082011

For the past few months I’ve been intentionally vague about Skill Tree specifics. The information filter is partially due to the fact that with an update as big as this many of the specifics don’t get worked out until it’s actually close to completion, but also because some players tend to take tidbits of information about sweeping changes and freak out unless they have the whole picture.

Today I’d like to show you the whole picture. Or most of it. This is part one of a two part blog series that should give you a much better idea of what to expect from the forthcoming v1.52 update. The best way to present all of this information is in Q&A form, and if you have additional questions after reading this post then feel free to ask them in the comments section.

All screenshots of class skill trees displayed in this post are subject to change during testing. Without further ado:

What are NEStalgia skill trees?

Skill Trees are just NEStalgia’s take on the way that most modern MMOs and RPGs handle character talent customization. The best way to sum up our approach is to skill trees is to think of the system as the 8-bit child of Mass Effect (or KOTOR) and Diablo 2. Progression through the skill trees is very simple and easy to understand, yet offers each class a wide variety of new customization options.

All of you are familiar with NEStalgia’s current talent system: Moon Blessings and Milestone Boosts. The new skill trees will simply take the amount of customization to the next level, and add a heck of a lot more variety to the classes and the gameplay itself.

Why implement skill trees?

As time has progressed, we’ve come to realize that the greater a player’s ability to customize their character, the more enjoyable and re-playable the game is. There is a tipping point, however, and many games cross the line into being overly complex and too intimidating for first time players. If you haven’t noticed by now, I have an almost Steve Jobs-like obsession with keeping things simple… but I’m always open to adding new layers of complexity when necessary.

My objective with the skill tree system was to make it easy to use while simultaneously giving it a lot of depth… and I feel that I’ve accomplished that. The answer to the question “Do skill trees make sense in an 8-bit inspired game” is a resounding yes.

How do skill trees work?

Players earn Skill Points by leveling up, which are then spent to purchase individual skills within their Skill Tree  HUD. Each classes’ skill tree set is spread out across three pages. The Foundation Tree is basically the same for each class, but the first two pages vary wildly between classes. You progress through the trees by investing points from left to right. The down arrows allow you to move a step lower and begin spending points in connected branches, although certain branches also have a minimum level requirement.

In addition to passive bonus skills and stats, you can also learn new abilities (spells and special moves) in the skill trees. It’s important to note that each class still learns a limited set of abilities automatically as they level up. Clerics will always learn basic healing spells, and classes like Soldiers will always learn special moves such as Guard.

Can I reset my skill trees?

Yes, and you don’t have to be a subscriber either. There is a new Master at Arms NPC in both Balzackia and Ardan who will reset your skill trees and refund all of your skill points anytime… for a 40,000 gold fee.

This also comes packaged with a new subscribers only feature: the Master at Arms can store a second skill tree set, or Dual Spec for subscribers which can be accessed anytime. This means that you can fully invest your skill points two entirely different ways and swap between your specs with a quick visit to the Master at Arms.

So what about Sacred Scrolls of Invocation/Revision?

All existing Scrolls of Invocation and Revision obtained from Metal Slimes will automatically be converted into Sacred Scrolls of Conversion. These level 20 items allow players to switch to their stored Dual Spec anywhere in the world, instead of just by talking to the Master at Arms. Metal Slimes will continue to drop this new type of scroll.

What’s happening to Greater Moon Blessings?

Moon Blessings as you know them are out. They are no longer selected during character creation, and they no longer bestow stat bonuses. Instead, players can visit the existing Altar of the Moon to receive a one-time Moon Blessing, much like they do now with Greater Moon Blessings. A Moon Blessing still costs 100,000 gold, and now gives the player 4 additional skill points. Players who have already purchased Greater Moon Blessings will be credited as having purchase the new type of Moon Blessing.

Coming soon in Part 2:

What does the big rebalancing entail?

Will spell animations be included in v1.52?

What are Fire/Ice/Storm Enchants?

What changes are coming to Soldiers and Merchants?

When will v1.52 be released?

…So did this blog post provide you with the answers you’ve been craving, or did I pull a LOST on you and just raise more questions? Let me know!