Shadowhand Dev Diary #26: Quest to Avalon

October 10th, 2017

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The isle of Avalon is the legendary and magical place where King Arthur’s sword Excalibur was forged, and where he retreated, wounded after battle. Many believe that Glastonbury in Somerset is the Avalon of legend: archaeologists have found Dark Ages artefacts and burials here, and 12th century monks dug up what they claimed to be Arthur’s remains, adding weight to the theory.

Glastonbury Tor is a small, steep hill jutting out above the flat and once marshy fenland of the Somerset Levels, its landmark tower visible for miles around is all that remains of a mediaeval church toppled by an earthquake. The entire landscape is steeped in mysterious legends and fascinating archaeology. It is obviously the ideal setting for a quest…

Shadowhand’s Avalon
As part of her story arc, Lady Cornelia Darkmoor, aka Shadowhand, is sent on a mission to gather information from a knowledgeable ostler at the coaching inn on the far side of the marsh.

Willow has been grown and harvested on the Levels for centuries. The willow trees in our image have been pollarded, perhaps by someone like our character, Guin, using a billhook:

These days the Somerset Levels are mostly dry, but winter flooding has always been an issue in this low-lying landscape, which was once underwater. In the late 18th century when Shadowhand passed through, efforts had been made to drain some parts of the Levels. But it is safe to say that much of it would have been damp and boggy, and so hazards for passing travellers include bloodsucking leeches and toxic marsh gas:


Agricultural tools
There’s always been a tradition of people who work the land using their agricultural tools to defend themselves. Gwen is an Avalon character who is using her axes to gather firewood…but she won’t hesitate to use them on her enemies, either!

These characters are part of the second wave of enemies that we are currently adding to the later levels in the game. We’ll show you some more in our next post.

Shadowhand Dev Diary #25: New Levels and particle effects

October 3rd, 2017

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New Levels

Helen has been editing lots of levels to get them ship-shape for the final game. This means running the automated AI test system to make sure they aren’t too easy or too hard, and it also involves making them look nice and be interesting to play.

After she has a bunch of them ready we review them and pick out the most suitable ones for duels and puzzle hands and then make further edits to add in the new locks types I recently coded, and to add in hidden crates of goodies or goal items.

The screenshot above is from a new level on chapter 6. Notice how there are are groups of blue “dark cards” that you must clear by unlocking the top one with a lantern. It’s a cool new mechanic I came up with at about 2am recently. I was so excited to tell Helen about it but she was asleep, then I couldn’t sleep because I was all hyped :-)


(click to enlarge)

Level Editor

I’ve also made lots of improvements to the built-in level editor so that Helen can manipulate groups of cards easier and in more interesting ways. This has already paid off with some great new layouts.

I love making level editors and would like to make a bunch of levels now instead of coding, but that’s Helen’s job!

Improved Suit Lock Graphics

I added suit locks to the game a while ago (they are like Regal Locks from Regency Solitaire but you unlock them by playing cards of the correct suit instead).

However, when editing levels recently I realised that the inside of the frame needed a shadow to help separate it from the underlying card. I also put a shadow on the lower and right edges of the suit lock so it appears more bulky. These are the kind of little details that help the readability and beauty of a game that I probably shouldn’t be spending time on right now, but I can’t help it.

New Lock Particle Effects

I coded particle effects for the new locks including: gunpowder barrel, goal bars, grave, hedge, and thorns. The screenshot above is what you see when you dig up a grave with a shovel!

Magistrate’s Gavel

I also finished off the code for the Magistrates Gavel which can be used to smash off a selected card and two more random nearby cards. It’s pretty cool.

Misc Stuff

Some mores stuff I got done:
- Coded gunpowder barrel to make face up cards fall off within a certain radius.
- Sent final art list to artists. This is for crate items, large locks, gunpowder barrel, new keys and some other minor bits and bobs.
- Plugged in a grave digging sound from Powerup Audio.
- Tooltips for new keys/locks.
- Edited found item messages.
- Fixed a bug with Branding Iron ability. It didn’t count down the suit lock when changing to a wildcard.
- Added support for crates to not just be on the bottom layer so that they can be mixed in with cards now.

Next up: MOAR LEVELS!

Shadowhand Dev Diary #24: Balancing and new locks & keys

September 25th, 2017

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Since the last post we’ve mostly been designing and implementing some new lock and key types for the game. That’s gone well and they are nearly done – more on that below. But we’ve also done a bunch of other things.

Balancing Ability Card Charges

The image above shows all the active and passive abilities available in Shadowhand. The active ones require charging by removing playing cards from the tableau before they can be used.

The required charge varies from 40 to 70 which basically means somewhere between one and two hands of cards. I spent a while working out their relative strengths before setting these values. If you boost your willpower chracter stat you can make them charge faster, which can definitely come in handy.

Character Stats

Speaking of character stats (see image above), I also spent some time evaluating the relative effectiveness of our game’s unusual list of character stats and then balancing them. These stats don’t directly affect combat like most RPGs, they affect the cards instead.

I’ll still need to run some tests on the active/passive abilities and the character stats later on to check that my balancing guesstimates are OK.

Gold crate

A recent small addition to the game is to have a gold crate which is hidden under cards. It won’t occur very often but will be a nice treat when it’s found.

New story/goal items

The main bulk of last week’s work was designing story/goal items to uncover under cards, and some new locks and keys to add flavour to the game (more on locks and keys below). The wanted posted above is an example of a story/goal item. The story/goal items occur on specific chapters and are mostly related to the plot except for a special bonus item…


The image above contains placeholder art

New keys and Locks

Some of the new locks and keys are related to the plot and only occur on specific chapters, but others have been designed to be resued on several chapters such as the lantern and dark card, and the torch and gunpowder barrel.

Notice that we’ve also added some large locks to the mix. These will cover lots of cards and so will force the player to complete one half of the tableau first before they can proceed. Also we can hide cool things under them like crates of gold, potions, bombs and story/goal items.

Misc stuff

Here’s all the other stuff we got done:
- Reviewed the story to make sure it all makes sense.
- Added support to game and level editor for new lock/key types.
- Plugged all the new story/goal items into the game and coded goals for them.
- Wrote found item messages for the new story/goal items.
- Set placeholder goals for all the chapters in the game. I’ll balance these later.
- Plugged all the new lock/key types into the game and made them work except for particle effects.
- Added in placeholder sounds for new lock/key types. Probably most of them will be final.
- Coded lantern with overlay glow under mouse pointer when carrying lantern.
- Added particle effect for using lantern on dark card.
- Changed Prosperity stat to a chance to double gold award from under card piles.
- Made sure retrying or quitting a training chapter removes the training.
- Fixed a rare bug with using Charging Stallion on last card in a duel layout. Found by a beta tester!
- Changed the way “new” stars work on inventory tabs. They now clear as soon as the tab is viewed even if you haven’t checked out all the new items on that tab.
- Made new weapon base cards with “damage” label on them to make it clearer.
- Added page up/down to level editor to cycle through levels linearly.