November 20, 2012 - Alpha details and a matter of originality
The client now connects to the server, downloads a list of games and then can connect to any individual game and begin interacting with the server, sending moves and updating the clients as the game progresses.
From a technical standpoint, the ‘netcode’ is fairly simple; when a client connects to a game, a snapshot of the game with all of the relevant data (position and status of units, players, whose turn it is etc etc) is delivered to the client which then sets the board up accordingly. The client then starts either polling via HTTP or listening via TCP (how this is chosen I have yet to decide) for new ‘actions’.
Actions represent every possible individual step which influences the game state in some way; a player joining or leaving during pregame, a unit moving, a new turn, a player being defeated or the game ending. Each action has both a timestamp and a consecutive action number. This means that all the client has to do is keep a record of which action number it’s up to, and wait for new actions. When new actions come through, the client processes these new actions in turn until it’s up to date with everyone else.
Because of the added complexity of creating a game which works over the Internet, some slight changes have crept into the gameplay, though these will be mitigated to keep the game as pure as possible. One such change is the way that individual units’ moves are processed.
In original Chaos, when you move a unit, after it has moved, it may then perform an attack (if it moves adjacent to a combat-capable enemy unit) or a ranged attack (if appropriate). These potentially up to three components of each unit’s ‘move’ are all typically linked together. With Archaos, a player may move their unit, and then lose connection, their PC may crash, the boss may come in – whatever – the point is they may be interrupted. In this case, with the traditional system there’d be two choices – either to automatically ‘end’ that unit’s move completely (which seems a tad unfair) or invalidate the unit’s move (not really practical).
The solution therefore is for the client and the server to track the move/attack/ranged attack phases as just that, distinct phases of the move. That way, if a unit moves but doesn’t get to perform its attack or ranged attack, clicking on it later in the same turn would allow you to continue its remaining phases.
Of course, this differs from Chaos and I’m always acutely aware of things which differ from what is both in my mind and the minds of most of its fans a well balanced and perfectly fine game. With that in mind, what I can do to ensure the gameplay remains (mostly) original is to automatically call the attack/ranged attack routine in the client after each unit’s movement phase. If the player then actively cancels one or both of these phases, they are marked as ‘complete’ and the unit’s move ends completely. Action or cancellation will be made mandatory on the client, so that the only time when the option to ‘revisit’ a unit will be available is if the move is cut short in some way. This does mean that players could potentially quit out of the game in order to bypass cancellation, but as there are no benefits I can see to doing so, it means that this feature can do its job without interrupting gameplay.
The game is now quite close to the alpha stage – that is it will be in some way playable very soon. The alpha will almost certainly begin by the end of this week, or the weekend at the latest (unless I run into some catastrophic game-breaking bug) and will feature a comparatively small subset of gameplay to begin with:
- Users will be creatable
- Games will be creatable (with the ability to set a width and height of the board – wizards will be spaced around the board as in the original game dependant on number of players)
- Games can have up to 8 players and can be limited to fewer players if the player wishes
- Players will be able to move units around the board, attack one another and cast basic creature units
- Players will be able to defeat other wizards and win the game
- Players will not be able to cast non-creature spells
- Wizards will not be able to mount creatures such as horses etc
- Animations for things such as spell casting, attacking, ranged attacking and wizard deaths will not be implemented at this stage
- There will be bugs, crashes and weirdness – this is an alpha remember!
I will make further announcements about the alpha during the week on Twitter. I will be looking for volunteers to help me test the game and iron out any issues with what is essentially the core gameplay mechanic. It won’t be a particularly amazing experience at this stage (not compared to the original game or the final product, or even the subsequent beta) but it will be essential to test it on a range of hardware, and in a range of conditions.
As Archaos is already multi-platform ready, I will be able to create iOS and Android builds for those alpha testers who would like to try it on their iPhones and iPads. If this is the case, I’ll provide further instructions on what you need to do to get Archaos running on those devices. I’ve not yet tested Archaos on Android but I will at some point this week before I start alpha.
If you’d like to be part of the alpha phase, and have read all of the above and realise that you’ll be testing a limited and unfinished product, leave a comment below or drop me a line on Twitter.