25 September 2015

Gravebound

Last Update: Sept 2015
Whats all this about? Assets and artwork I did for Gravebound, a RPG with gunslingers, swords and spells inspired by The Dark Tower
Developed by: Griffin Bryant


download gravebound





Gravebound is currently at a very playable state. You get everything working to play it from start to finish. The only fact is that it finishes real quick (assuming you can kill the end boss which is a mission all by itself.) However for those lucky enough to beat it, more content is on the talks for future releases with additional improvements.


Gravebound cover

Gravebound takes place in a grim world that resembles the 16th century of Solomon Kane mixed with a bit of the American Old West. Roads are filled with bandits, wild animals and darker beings, food and ammo are scarce and anyone mad enough to wander these lands needs to be skilled with swords or magic to survive.

Its more of an user friendly, action rpg sort of thing where the RP is handled in a basic manner so you dont find yourself in complicated situations where you would have to invest on game-changer skills or have to pick choices from endless dialogue options etc. The RP part is finding loot and increasing stats while the action bit is where you roam maps, meet new people and kill them. Ain't that all you need anyway?  :)

Gravebound cover title

The protagonist of Gravebound is a nameless sheriff who comes back from patrol to find his shelter burned and his friends killed by bandits. Interrogating them reveals that the bandits were not the ones responsible, they were only drawn to the fire of the camp and the one responsible seems to be some creepy guy dressed in black heading towards a cave. You pack up whatever rations you find and decide to do this dying world one last favour.    

gravebound layer test


Once the game starts you are dropped in the middle of a forest with no directions. It wont take long for you to figure the forest is pretty huge and the game leaves you to explore. When exploring you may notice the exits are scattered randomly in the forest. Meaning you don't have to play it stage by stage, you could jump into whichever stage you like (but of course its wiser to level up first before you dash to the exits if you want to survive.)

Currently there are only three stages, each with its own set of enemies and bosses. The forest where you deal with bandits and wild animals, the ruin where the undead and the cave populated by giant insects.  More content is planned for the future releases.

gravebound enemy concepts



On your travels you will come across various types of items, garments and weapons like any other rpg you may have played.

gravebound items

A type of item to look out for are the tonic bottles. These bottles will have a permanent positive or negative effect on the hero. The only way to learn what the tonic does is to chuck it down the gullet. Once a type of tonic is identified its effects will be shown in its description.

Another type of item would be the tattered books you find on your way. These books allow the hero to learn a new skill or spell. Skills are related to the stats you have and require a cooldown once activated while purple books provide you with psychic abilities (spells) These psychic abilities should be used wisely as using them drain your sanity (mana) and once your sanity is down to zero its game over. There are more ways to lose sanity compared to the ways to gain it so care should be given to the sanity bar.

gravebound spells and skills


 

There are also shops scattered around the maps the players can stumble upon. These shops will allow them to buy and sell items. Shops refill or change their stocks every once in a while so it may be worth to visit them again from time to time.

gravebound shop concept


On the way you may be lucky enough to find / rescue some survivors. Each one of these guys have a special skill and act as pack mules with extra inventory slots. They can be controlled the same way as the hero. By default the AI controls the allies but if nee be the player can switch to the ally giving the control of  the hero to the AI. The game doesn't end when an ally dies but it does when the player dies so its best to consider who controls who in combat heavy situations.

gravebound allies

Improvements and Suggestions

Most of the stuff mentioned here is already scheduled for development so it is highly possible to see these in a future release.
What I like
- fresh theme
- mix of spacious and cramped maps depending on stage, you dont have to play stages in a set order
- stats grow depending on the items and spells equipped. 
- most enemies have a special attack

What I dislike 
- not enough lore or story, wastes potential
- small number of stages
- low difference between item buffs makes them too similar
- lack of feedback to player (like it doesn't tell why I cant open a chest - no key warning etc.) 

What could be improved
- more lore and feedback
- more item drops and variation between items
- new combat system
- uncrackable stuff and a journal to log them.
- sound or music (I play sounds off but some people may want to here that flintlock go bang) 
- more stages, enemies items etc (duh)


More Lore, More Text
The story and setting of Gravebound is not your typical RPG with orcs to slay and maidens to rescue. Its something bit more fresh (hard to use fresh for anything these days) and the way it starts, it leaves things open for many possibilities. So I guess it would be madness not to expand on it.  Plus it only feels right to be buried under text if this game is inspired by The Dark Tower :)

More Lore can be given when;
Entering dungeons, maps, stages etc (what, why, how for each)
Exiting or completing dungeons (what, why, how for each)
Rescuing allies (each would have a different story and background info)
Before and after boss battles (who, why, how)


Alternative Combat System
Once the player starts grinding for better items and skills the generic enemies start to turn into one shot kills. Some people would probably enjoy this as its the main point of grinding or a good way to show how the player has improved. For me it seems to become slightly annoying as you get to find lots of enemies on the way that you can kill with a single hit and they start to slow down the game as you wait a turn for them to move towards you.

Maybe a stone paper scissors mechanic similar to fire emblem's (or most other squad based tactical jrpg games) weapon triangle can be implemented to keep things bit more challenging. The player could miss more often when facing an enemy with an advantageous weapon. This way even if you have the best sword you could still miss more often turning the game to hell and giving a good reason to carry an alternative weapon even if its less stronger than the super sword you had.
Hopefully something more original than the sword, axe, spear triangle can be implemented.

Special Events
These can be special tiles that appear randomly in dungeons to be used as "collectibles" with positive or negative outcomes. With each new game couple of random events will be picked from the event pool and placed in different maps / dungeons. They will be visible on the map and once the player steps on it a pop up will ask if he would like to engage the event.


Each event will have different requirements. It can be anything from the amount of food the player has or a stat check and depending on this check the player will receive an outcome. Each event will have 3 outcomes. (good, bad and worst) The player will not know the events exact requirements but will be hinted during the outcome text.

For example the player encounters a wounded wolf. This event will do a food check on the player;

Good: (lose food gain ally)
If player food > 3 then the player gives some food (-1 food) to the wolf and the wolf becomes an ally

Bad: (lose food)
If player food < 3 > 1  then the player gives some food (-1 food) to the wolf but the wolf dies

Worst: (spawn enemy)
If player food  is 1 or less  then the wolf smells the food and attacks the player (spawn enemy wolf)

These events will be logged in the players journal.


Journal or Encyclopaedia
The hero uses a book to show is inventory and character stats. Why not expand the book into a journal where he takes notes of the things he encounters. This way the player would have some place to read the story so far, track kills, see a check-list of uncrackable stuff and figure the percentage he has seen of the game's total.

Allies - general info about the allies he has rescued. (story, kill / death counts, artwork etc)

Enemies - info on enemies he has encountered. each kill of the same enemy will unlock more info (lore, stats, artwork, itemdrops, skills or even buffs against them)

Story / Dungeon - What has happened and where the player has been so far.

Events - Special events encountered on the way (each event can be used 3 times depending on the outcome the player has seen - good, bad, worst)

Items - Consumables and weapons found.

gravebound journal concept

  
Quick Fixes
 
 
Few more things, mostly subjective stuff that is open to debate,
Movement system
Normally the hero has a limited walk range per turn. When you click on the hero a grid pops up to show how far he can walk. But if you try to click towards the edge of the screen (as most people will do) the hero wont move because the spot is out of his movement range. The move system feels normal once you figure out how things work but it could be made more user friendly. So when you click on an "out of range" spot you can have the grid pop up to show the players they were clicking at a wrong tile. Same could be done for ranged weapons, spells & skills etc.



Floating icons and text
It feels a little bit awkward and unresponsive when you move over a chest only to see the chest wasn't opened. (or was it not opened because there was nothing inside?) Well, the reason was because you had no keys the hero couldn't open it. Giving a floating text that says "no key to open chest" would make things much easier.

Same goes for using spells and skills. There isint any visual representation of what skill was used if any. You just see the damage counter above the enemies head as if you have done a regular attack.




Minor UI tweaks
Gravebound's UI does a clean job, everything you need to play right away is given on screen. Every other thing is reached with a press of a button and menus aren't complicated to get lost among. By default the bottom of the screen shows how much consumables you have. adding keys and coins next to them would make things bit more easier. (specially the keys as players may not prefer to open the inventory every time before they attempt to loot a chest.

Also a semi transparent border behind each UI button would make it easier for the player to see buttons when they are floating over trees and other colourful stuff

gravebound ui concept


Drop Rate and Item Variation
This is most of an subjective thing and to do with design choice but I guess there needs to be more difference between items. There are lots of items in the game but the drop rate seems a little low. There are games you die with a single type of hat or coat. There are also instances where you find 3 of the same hat and die before you can find something else. I guess its a design choice and probably a good way to show its a gritty, dying world, not a shopping mall but the fact that rpg players thrive on loot should also be considered.

Item variation seems to be another issue. I felt the buffs were too similar to each other for most of the items. like the difference between a generic sword and a slightly better sword was just +1 damage. Of course there are better swords that give a much larger number but when the item drop rate so low you may have to spend most of the game with a +1 sword which doesn't really satisfy

Levelling Up
For some reason levelling up feels a little bland. Not to say it doesnt feel satisfactory but it doesn't feel like something changes. You get to kill few guys and a pop-up shows what stats have improved but you never get to feel the power of increasing any stat. Eventually stats do change many things from to-hit to damage per hit or to how much damage your skills would do like any other RPG and if you are careful you get to see numbers roll at the character sheet but it never really feels that different. I guess these stats should be clearly explained somewhere, at least the players should know what  Not sure, it could just be me who feels that way.

Floating Tutorial Text
Floating text that shows help. These would be only visible first time you open the forest map, inventory and shop each game. Tap anywhere to close them.

Examples of tutorial text should be;

First time player enters forest - Click here to open inventory, click here to use pistol, heal, wait. Click here to use your spells and skills

First time player levels up / level up window - You have gained a new level and your stats have increased, this is what all these stats effect.
First time  player opens inventory - Drag items here to equip, drag tonics here to drink, drag books to learn new spells and skills.

First time player enters shop - Drag items here to buy or sell

Death / End Game Screen
Stats and other info regarding the players run could be given at the end of the game.