Millions of people around the world love playing strategy games. If you’re wondering why, think about gamers who enjoy playing god with unlimited powers over their own territory, developing it, expanding it and conquering new territories. Strategy games often provide just this possibility to run away from real life and focus on one’s own little world.
Dungeoncraft: Real and Strategic
Among the different kinds of strategies, wargames and real-time-strategy (RTS) games seem to be among the most popular. In a RTS game the participants position and move controlled units and structures on the map securing their territories and invading or destroying their opponent’s assets. This type of game also features resource gathering, base building, in-game development and indirect control of units. That's where similarities end, with every game offering its own twists and features.
A recent addition to this RTS genre is called Dungeoncraft, and it’s a very ambitious one at that. We spoke with Andreas Gritzan aka Zinnusl, the game developer behind Dungeoncraft, about his story of creating this game.
Dungeoncraft is a fantasy real time strategy game with multiplayer survival type of gameplay, dynamic world expansion and 3D grid based digging and building. The game allows players to control units directly, however, units can perform indirect orders as well. The game is now available in early access due to a couple features that need to be carried out, such as interface graphics, sound and interface feedback.
How Dungeoncraft Got Started
The game has been in development for 3 years and is in an alpha-version as of the end of 2015. Zinnusl has implemented all the necessary features already, but more is yet to be done: new ores, talents, spells, alchemy recipes, terrain features, etc.
Creative process is always a challenge for developers, so game creators often face difficulties at every point of development, tempting them to quit. Andreas told us that he never seriously considered dumping the game. “I did, however, start sweating back when Towns and Empire were being released, since they're so close thematically”. He even played the game himself to experience the game from the point of view of a player. However, that game was not good enough and received really bad reviews, which wasn’t terrible news for Zinnusl.
Dungeoncraft was the second game for Andreas, being also the second more than trivial program, which led to no specific approach to game development. It all started as a “let’s see where it takes me” kind of work. What is more, Andreas was the one and only developer of the game.
Creating Dungeoncraft was inspired by good old strategies like Dwarf Fortress, Neverwinter Nights, Dungeons & Dragons and Minecraft. Generally, these games are quite similar, although each has its own easily recognizable features, like blocky characters, infinite terrain, etc. “I basically took the elements I enjoyed from games I liked playing and mixed them together.”
Not Just Another Dungeon Game
All the games similar to Dungeoncraft have pretty much the same graphics using true 3D units and terrain. However, there is always your own game vision, which makes you different.
Surely, the game underwent various changes throughout the process of development and mostly they were in graphics and design. The one thing that hasn’t changed a bit is the basic concept – mining and surviving.
Andreas agreed that there is a conflict between artistic vision and scope and it yet remains unsolved. “I'm not sure it will ever be done, similar to how Dwarf Fortress is getting developed endlessly with no real end in sight”. As we said before, the game is now in early access, though it is not going to last in the current state forever. “The key difference is that I'll eventually have to call it done, cut off all additional development plans and just release the game as a finished product, rather than have it being stuck in early access.”
So, we’re all looking forward to the final release of the game. Obviously there will still be updates, which will present new features and improve the gameplay.
Talking about physics, Dungeoncraft has two main difficulties at the end of 2015: water simulation and the way blocks need to be supported by other, possibly stronger blocks. However, this doesn’t make a big part of the game, so there isn’t much to be resolved.
Andreas created a game engine from scratch, so it is absolutely self-made, he never even thought of using some other already existing game engine. “At the time I started around 2011, there was no engine that could do the whole infinite terrain thing, which was a feature I really wanted to implement, since it is unique in the dwarf fortress-y game genre”. Moreover, writing his own engine was great practice for Andreas as a developer as well, since this was one of the main reasons why he initially started developing the game.
While creating Dungeoncraft there was no lack of resources and Andreas is trying to use multithreading for updating terrain, visibility and other specific tasks. This allows to improve the already existing features without searching for resources for a long time. Some game developers like using game development libraries that simplify the process, but this wasn’t the case with Dungeoncraft. “The only thing I am using that I would consider a game development library is recast navigation, an excellent open source path finding library”. One of those was recently adopted by DayZ standalone as well.
The documentation process wasn’t the key point in game development, mostly because it was all created by Andreas himself. Subversioning and saving sketches – these were the only tools that could be related to documenting.
Further Plans for Dungeoncraft - and Beyond
Unlike for other game releases, there was no marketing strategy for Dungeoncraft. “I think regularly updating a game creates awareness on its own”.
Nevertheless, the game comes forward compared to a number of similar strategies. Firstly, because of the unique mechanics, which combines in an infinity large procedurally generated world, similar to a coop dwarf-fortress-like game strategy, where the units become stronger and you need to distribute their attribute and talent points as in good old western RPGs. “I use a unique blend of gameplay mechanics to try and make the game stand out. They weren't put in for the sake of marketing but rather because it seemed like a fun combination to play.”
Surely there are always more things to try and to use. “As an example, the Minecraft creator “Notch” was going to release his (then) new creation 0x10c. That game's idea of roaming space using an ancient computer using the assembly instruction set (or an abstraction thereof) seems like a cute idea, especially combined with something like FTL (Faster Than Light speed) gameplay and an in-game, in-character manual and coop”.
On the balance, Andreas doesn’t think he could have done something better or worse. He did it his way and quite successfully, I must admit. Practice makes perfect: the more a game developer works on the game, the better it becomes. So, now it is all about “polishing”, adding content and features to it.
As a summary, Dungeoncraft is a great alternative to well-known real time strategies and, who knows, once it may become the best strategy ever within its unique niche.
Zinnusl is a game studio from Bonn, Germany, currently working on a real-time-strategy game Dungeoncraft. It is owned by Andreas Gritzan, who is the developer as well. You can contact him at [email protected].
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