Title screen

Last Will of the Emtar

Last Will of the Emtar

In the far reaches of space, an amazing discovery is made: a space station constructed by the Emtar, a powerful and legendary race of aliens. It was thought that all their technology was mysteriously destroyed after the War Between the Stars 500,000 years ago. This discovery could shift the balance of power in the galaxy.

But the station is not yet operational. Go there, learn to harness the technology of the Emtar, and perhaps learn what happened to the Emtar themselves.

This is an online multiplayer tile placement tower defense game. If you have trouble, please read README.txt.

"Where's the nemesis?" you ask. I interpreted the theme abstractly: the game is about opposing forces. The fundamental mechanic of color mismatching was directly inspired by the theme. Check out my diary for more.


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Ratings (show detail)

Overall: 3.7
Fun: 3
Production: 3.9
Innovation: 4.2

Respondents: 17


File Uploader Date
First final version.
Cosmologicon 2013/04/20 23:50
Title screen
Cosmologicon 2013/04/20 22:19
Screenshot day 6
Cosmologicon 2013/04/19 13:33
Screenshot day 1
Cosmologicon 2013/04/14 23:53

Diary Entries

Cultural context of the theme candidates

Here's my take on the cultural context of the theme candidates. The common theme is superhero fiction.

Secret identities are occasionally used in real life to avoid discrimination or for artistic purposes, but in adventure fiction they're extremely common. Alter egos serve many purposes, such as evading authorities, protecting loved ones, and blending in to keep a job or associate with people. They're often maintained using extremely transparent pseudonyms or terrible disguises. A secret is something hidden, private, or mysterious. Your identity is your sense of self, how you see yourself, including your characteristics and personality.

A nemesis is an opponent or obstacle. Classically, the nemesis would cause the hero's downfall, but modern fiction prefers nemeses to be evenly matched arch-enemies, leading to frequent encounters and a longstanding, personal rivalry. Nemeses commonly complement each other: they're either very similar or completely opposite in certain important ways. The Greek goddess Nemesis was responsible for inflicting divine retribution on guilty mortals, and was seen as a force of justice and balance. The debunked Nemesis Theory involved a dwarf star named Nemesis orbiting the Sun and causing mass extinctions on Earth.

A sidekick is a companion in a secondary role. Sidekicks serve many functions with respect to their primary character: protégéeassistant, accomplice, comic relief. They may embody the audience point of view, have their own unique skill set, highlight the primary character's eccentricities by virtue of their own normality, or cause conflict through their own incompetenceThe side kick and flying side kick are martial arts moves involving sideways kicks. Sidekick is the brand name of a series of mobile phones.

A bat cave is a cave where bats live. They exist all over the world. Bats are winged mouse-like animals, the only mammals that can fly freely. Culturally, bats are often seen as frightening. They're known for clinging upside-down to cave ceilings, being active at night, and using sound to navigate via echolocation. They're associated with vampires and witches. The Batcave is the secret headquarters of the comic book superhero Batman. It's a literal cave containing high-tech equipment, including a supercomputer, a crime lab, and vehicles.

Kryptonite is a fictional material in the DC comics universe. There are many kinds of kryptonite with different properties, depending on the needs of the plot, but most famously it removes Superman's superpowers, and poisons and weakens him. It was formed when Superman's planet Krypton was destroyed, and pieces of it fell to Earth. It's often used by Superman's enemies (or allies) against him. Metaphorically, your kryptonite is your weakness, your Achilles' heel. Kryptonite is also the name of a brand of bicycle locks, and a 2000 song by American band 3 Doors Down.


Warm-up game: Hatchery

Download Hatchery

I've never made a game with online multiplayer before, so I did one as warm-up. It was a really good learning experience. I hope I'm ready to pull it off for PyWeek now. Feel free to test it out at the link above. Instructions are in the README. Python 2 + pygame required. Please let me know if you encounter any bugs, such as being unable to connect to the server or being unexpectedly booted.

What did I learn from this?
  • Suggestions I read online said to make the game work locally first and then add the networking. I wish I had gone the other way, though, starting with the networking. It was hard to add in after I'd already gotten started.
  • Lag is higher than I expected for using web sockets. I was hoping for ~300ms but I typically get ~1000ms. That's fine, I'll just choose my mechanics appropriately.
  • Sound logic is unexpectedly hard. For instance, making sure when you jump you play the jump sound once and only once. I usually throw sound in an the end, but this time I'll be sure to incorporate it earlier.


Locking in my game ideas

I now have a rough core mechanic in mind for each of the five theme candidates. I'm posting a vague description of each so that, when the theme is announced, I can't use a different theme's idea after a slight modification. I hate that.

In all cases, I want a massively multiplayer open world with cooperative gameplay. For instance, once one player unlocks an area, all players can access it. But beyond that, the ideas are fairly different:
  • Bat cave: construction Metroidvania
  • Secret identity: top-down or isometric dungeon crawler
  • Nemesis: tile puzzle + strategy
  • Kryptonite: space exploration
  • Sidekick: pinball

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Day 1 screenshot

I decided to go with a very abstract interpretation of the theme. It's not much to look at yet, but there's a lot going on behind the scenes. Networking is implemented and works great, so there's that.

1 comment

Day 6 screenshot

This game is causing me some trouble. Have you ever had a game idea and then spent days implementing it and when you finally get it done you realize it's way too hard? And the mechanics don't lend themselves to easy simplification, like tweaking the speed or gravity or anything. That's what happening here.

I made a couple last-minute changes to the fundamental mechanics that make the gameplay much less overwhelming. It's still too hard, but hopefully it's within range now that I can balance it just by adjusting some numbers.

I'll have to write a post about my thoughts on the fundamental mechanics of this game. Suffice to say, this is why you make prototypes, because not every idea actually makes for a good game.

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playing Last Will of the Emtar

Last Will of the Emtar

I have noticed an occasional bug where a tile appears activated when it shouldn't be or vice versa. I believe this is due to server/client async. It doesn't affect the gameplay that much: just rotate the tile back and forth to fix it. Please let me know about any bugs you find.

Online multiplayer games are always a lot of work to balance, and this was no exception. The way I finally settled on is, players can unlock nodes that other players have already unlocked. Since these nodes will tend to already be well defended, it should be pretty easy. You can probably beat the game by just choosing a few well-defended nodes and watching the action.

But for people who want more of a challenge, find some nodes without defenses, build the defenses yourself, and give it a try. If I'd had more time I probably would have added a "decay" mechanism whereby defenses disappear after a time. Anyway, I don't think the game is that hard even if you do this.

The final boss, however, is pretty much impossible to beat alone. (EDIT: no it's not, you can probably beat it alone.) Once you unlock the final boss, you can have any other players join you, even if they haven't unlocked it.

I hope the final cutscene is worth it. :)

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Last Will of the Emtar - mechanics postmortem

Typically I'm pleased with how game ideas turn out. They're fun either immediately or after a little work. This is the first time I was ever really disappointed in an idea. The final game contains significant compromises to the original idea. Many of the game's imbalances are the result of gameplay elements being affected by changes near the end of development, in order to salvage the overall experience.

It's a tile puzzle tower defense game. Tiles are active or inactive based on their orientation relative to adjacent tiles: all the contacts must touch contacts of the opposing color. This is where "nemesis" came in. Defensive towers only operate when their tile is active.

Quite early in the development I realized this is way harder to play than I expected. First of all, if you change one tile you affect all four tiles around it, like a huge Rubik's cube. Also, that sea of red and blue is disorienting. Just look at it. If they weren't highlighted, how quickly could you pick out the active tiles? I considered changing the rules so that you had to match colors rather than mismatch them. This is far more common in puzzle games, and it was slightly easier. However, since this was my main link to the theme, I decided to stick with the mismatching mechanic, come what may.

(I did, however, get a story out of it. The disorientation of mismatched colors became the central plot point. If you like stories like this, I think the payoff at the end of the game is well worth it. Among my games, this has one of my favorite stories.)

And that's only half the mechanics. Then you have the tower defense elements on top of it all. I originally conceived TD mechanics that made extensive use of the tile layout. eg, traps that would swap the tile the enemy was on with a farther back tile. Before I even implemented them, though, I knew it would greatly exacerbate the playability nightmare. So I quickly replaced those devices with more traditional guns and traps.

Still, in the middle of a wave, it was nearly impossible to recover if one of your towers became disabled. There was no point doing anything during a wave except sit back and hope your defenses hold. Obviously not that fun. I finally made several large changes to make it possible to recover from a few disabled towers.
  1. Added a device that changes the colors of any tile so as to activate it in one click.
  2. Enemies originally attacked by randomly changing the colors of a tile. I changed it so that they rotate the tile left or right (much easier to undo).
  3. Enemies used to remove any tower on tiles they attacked, now they leave the tower but disable it.
  4. Enemies used to attack (and rotate) tiles adjacent to towers. This would disable the tower without making it immediately clear which tile was attacked. Now enemies only attack towers directly.
With these changes in place, the game is playable, but about half the tools in your arsenal are worthless or close to it. You never need a different strategy than put a bunch of lasers, which is what players seem to be doing. So, the gameplay variety was hurt, but at least the game is playable.

In retrospect, I probably could have guessed early on that this would have happened. I think in the future I'll be more critical of complex game ideas. Thanks for reading!

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