Saturday, April 12, 2014

Choosing a wiki software

I am currently looking for a wiki software to use.

My should-requirements are:

  • Uses PHP
  • Simple to set up and administrate
  • Syntax similar to MediaWiki
  • Doesn't use databases besides MySQL and MongoDB

My can-requirements are:

  • Possible to hack in a way that it can share user accounts with my game

MediaWiki

My first idea was the popular MediaWiki, but the "What is MediaWiki" section on their homepage says: 

"MediaWiki is geared towards the needs of the Wikimedia Foundation. The program is primarily developed to run on a large server farm for Wikipedia and its sister projects. Features, performance, configurability, ease-of-use, etc are designed in this light; if your needs are radically different the software might not be appropriate for you." 

I just want a wiki for my small little game, not build a million-article encyclopedia running on a dedicated server-farm, so this doesn't really sound like the right software for me.

PmWiki

The second software which caught my eye was PmWiki, pretty much the Anti-MediaWiki.

It is extremely simple to set up, because it doesn't even require a database. It saves everything in flatfiles. This might look strange in this day and age, but they are making a convincing argument. I tried it and the installation was indeed a breeze - just copy the PHP-files and it runs out-of-the-box.

But what really surprised me is that PmWiki by default does not even know the concept of personalized user accounts. In the default configuration, everything can be edited anonymously. When you don't like that, you can set individual passwords, but they are not bound to accounts. Anyone who knows the password can read or edit specifically protected pages.

There are, however, lots of addons which enable mandatory logins with username and password. Many of them are designed to use the user databases of other systems. That likely means that I could write my own which uses the accounts in my MongoDB.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

MongoDB authentication

I used to run MongoDB authentication-less. I used to rely on a firewall to shield MongoDB against outside access and only allow access from within the server-network like early MongoDB guides suggested, but I know that my skills as a sysadmin are limited. So I decided to enabled user accounts and authentication for MongoDB and add support for authentication to the gameserver. Better safe than sorry.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Password changing


I replaced the "Logout" button in the control bar with a new button "Menu". This button opens a popup menu with lots of links. "Logout" does the same thing the old logout button did. "Settings" opens a new window which allows the user to change their password.

The other options are links which will lead to various web-applications I still need to set up.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Crafting interface implemented

I added support for crafting. NPCs can now display a crafting window. They can freely define how many slots to display and where to display them. The item script can also define a handler-function which receives the items the player dragged into the window. Each slot can define a "tag" which says which items can go there. Items can now have one or more such tags which define the crafting use they have.

The Java part of the engine does the ground-work of validating that the users input is legal (tags match the slots, user actually has the items).

The scripted function is then responsible for checking if the combination is a valid recipe, remove the items and give the player a new item. This function could also be implemented as a Java class. When I develop a more complex crafting system, I might opt to do so.

Java 8

I updated to Java8 and experimented with some of its new features. I coverted the admin command handlers to use the new lambda feature, and it really improves the code. The new Nashorn Javascript engine gave me some problems because some scripts no longer worked the way they used to, but I think I solved all the issues (wrote a Q&A on stackoverflow about it).

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Statistics

Last week I worked on ways to obtain some usage statistics.

The server now accumulates statistics about how much network traffic is sent and received for each message type. I added a command /traffic to access this information from within the game. This should tell me where I need to optimize my protocol. So far it seems like move-messages and map-layout messages are the traffic users number 1 and 2.

Both leave some room for optimization. The move-messages send the coordinates in ascii-encoded floating point numbers with a precision much higher than needed. Two decimal places should be more than enough. And the map information is basically the whole JSON data as it comes from Tiled. That's a lot information the user is not meant to see. It can and should be redacted.

But I need real usage data by real players to say for sure where optimization is needed most.

Another method to generate statistics are web-reports. I created a system to regularly export data as JSONP files and save them somewhere. A website can then use javascript to import this data and output it in a presentable way. Currently I have a list of current players and a list of active maps with player count. The JSONP technique makes the data available to anyone. This is intentional; I would like to see what the community can come up with to beautify my data.

I am thinking about archiving these reports in the database too. That would give me access to historical data.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Visible equipment

I made it possible for an object to consist of multiple sprites and to set these from the server. This in turn enabled me to implement visible equipment. When a player puts on and takes off equipment, this is now visible on their sprite.

Currently this only works with hats and staffs because I only have sprites for these yet. But that's just a matter of creating the content. The next step will be to allow differently colored equipment.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Password hashing updated

I improved the security of the password hashing system. As a side-effect all my old character-accounts are now invalid, so I had to delete them from the database. I could have done it in a backward-compatible way and retain the characters, but why bother when I don't have a production server yet.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Some new tiles and height levels

I created some new tiles. The rocks look OK, but the bushes need more work.

I also experimented with adding height levels. Those you see on this screenshot are entirely client-sided and randomly generated. I am unsure if I will keep it.

First, I am not sure if it is even going to add so much gameplay-wise for the amount of work it would mean (routefinding etc.). Then there is the problem that Tiled can't do isometric maps with height levels. So I would either have to patch Tiled, find another editor or write my own map editor after all.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Effect areas

I added a new feature: Status Effect areas.

These provide buffs (or debuffs) to anyone standing in them. This feature will make positioning in combat even more important and diversify the game experiences on different maps.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Got rid of multiple characters per account

I got rid of accounts. Each character now has its own password.

Why did I do this?

1. this simplifies lots of things in the code like banning, permission handling etc.
2. It makes it easier to do registration during the tutorial, because now there is only one name the player needs to make up.
3. I don't expect that many players will create more than one character, because there isn't much reason to do so in my game system.
4. There is no way to stop people from making more than one account anyway, so they are no appropriate method to tell natural persons apart.


The next thing will be to allow players to start the tutorial with an unregistred character. The player will choose a password when the tutorial is over.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Experimenting with JSP

Today I experimented a bit with Tomcat, Servlets and Java Server Pages. I made a char-viewer which gets a character from my MongoDB and exports some of its data as a website.

I really like the technology. I wonder if I should use it for some web-based components. But on the other hand, I would prefer to avoid mixing too many technologies. So I would prefer all of my non-game web applications to run in the same server application. I would, for example, like to have a forum and I don't want to program it myself. But while I was able to find plenty of free forum software in PHP, I couldn't find anything properly mature in JSP.

Seems like I need to brush up my PHP skills soon. I don't like it very much, but there is hardly a way around it.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

About the death of Glitch

About a week ago, I read that Glitch closed down due to lack of players. I must admint I never played that game. But the game had some striking similarities to mine. It too was an MMORPG, it was web-based and it was breaking conventions. I wondered if the same would happen to my game. Could it? Let's see what their reasons were for closing down.

Technology choice

One reason they mentioned was that the decision to use Flash turned out to be bad. I think they are overrating this factor. Sure, they couldn't port it to the iPad, but when people really wanted to play it, they could have played it on their PC. And seriously, who has an iPad but no PC? Sure, Microsoft and Apple have both decided that Flash needs to die, but so far their attempts at killing it didn't work out so well.

But I am not using Flash, I am using HTML5 which all the big tech companies support. I think I am pretty save in this regard.

Too complex infrastructure.

Their closing-faq mentions that "It takes a full-time team of competent engineers & technical operations personnel just to keep the game open. Even if there was a competent team that was willing to work on it full time for free, it would take months to train them. Even then, the cost of hosting the servers would be prohibitively expensive.". When that is true, they really have scaling issues. Less players should mean less work to do. But obviously that wasn't the case. Maybe their infrastructure was designed to scale up, but not down.

I am still taking this as a warning: I have to try to keep my infrastructure as low-maintainance as possible.

They didn't know what they were doing.

There is a really interesting article on Gamasutra which mentions that the people who made it didn't really had much of a clue about game development.

It seems to me like what they made wasn't so much of a game but rather some interactive community something which threw together gimicky game elements without having anything one could consider the "core gameplay mechanic". Sure, there seemed to be an amazing amount of creativity behind the project. But unfortunately they let that creativity run lose without any sense for coherent structure.

I hope I got this covered. Sure, I can't claim that I am a professional game developer yet, but game development is my hobby for about 20 years. I also collected plenty of experience with The Mana World. I believe that I know what I am doing when it comes to game design.

Not accessible enough

Another aspect the Gamasutra article mentions how hard it was to get into the game: "A lot of people were just like 'I don't know what the fuck I'm supposed to do.' Some people took 'I don't know what I'm supposed to do' as an invitation to explore and ended up loving it. Other people closed the browser. That's it."

The big strongpoint of browser-based games is that it is easy to start playing them. No gigabyte-sized download, just visit the website and you are good to go. But that's also their greatest weakness: It's too easy to close the browser window and forget that they exist. By making the game too hard to get into they fell prey to that weakness.

This showed to me that starting my games content development with the tutorial was definitely the right choice.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Status indicators

During playtesting I realized that when I died it was often because I wasn't aware of how low my HP were and that my barrier was already depleted.

The reason is that the players eyes need to focus on what is happening at the center of the screen during combat, but also to the status bars at the upper right edge of the screen. It's really hard to pay attention to both at the same time.

To solve this problem I decided that these markers need to get closer to the player-character. So I added some HUD elements right below it:





The arcs are, from inner to outer, the current percent-status of MP, HP and barriers. When the character would have multiple barriers, they would appear as additional concentric arcs around it. When the player wants to know the exact numbers, they can still look at the upper-right corner. But these arcs gives the player a constant awareness of the status of their player-character.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Barrier Tutorial

I added a barrier tutorial to the tutorial map.

The player has to walk through a course without taking any non-shield damage.

This required two new scripting abilities: Map areas which trigger scripts and attacks which trigger scripts. Both of these new abilities will likely come in handy in the future.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Balancing through testing

To test my formulas I created a little program to auto-generate mobs with average stats from level 5 to 100. I want to avoid this in the final version (or do I?), but for now it is a nice balancing tool.

This really helped me to file off some edges and balance my procedural barrier generation algorithm. Next one are healing spells.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Balancing through number-crunching


After the stressful summer with the election and my sailing hours I wanted to continue development right away, but instead of that I decided to use the distance I gained from the project to take a 2nd look on some of my code, so I was doing mostly minor cleanups and refactoring.

Then I decided that it is time to start with the content. But when I wanted to do so I realized that I had no idea what I was doing. What's a good experience yield for a Level 5 monster? How much is a spell supposed to cost? How much defense should a level 10 robe have? Just making up values on the spot would not have been wise, as I would have to balance it through trial and error. So I decided to buy some Magic Chart paper (cool stuff, by the way. It clings to any surface through electrostatics. You can easily move them around without leaving a trace. You can draw on it with dry-erase marker and just wipe it away just like on a whiteboard) and summarized all the level-dependent formulas I have.

While doing this I realized some balancing errors which would have been quite bad in practice (MP increases quadratic but MP regeneration just linear - ooops). These handy charts will make it much easier for me to make up content.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

ToDo until public alpha

Content:
  • Mapping for Wenibe and surrounding
  • Scripting for some quests
  • Create and balance content for 20 levels:
    • Equipment
    • Mobs
Bugs:
  • Instance freeze bug - find it and fix it or add an automatic monitor for instances and terminate those which seem to be caught in an infinite loop.

Technical:
  • Create a website
  • Find a server hoster and set up the gameserver

Target indicators

The players now see which combatants are currently targeted by spells of which element. This should make barrier-management more easy.


Speaking of barriers: These can now be cast by players and are now scroll-based like all other spells. Just as I planned, each player-character can have only one barrier active at a time, but this barrier doesn't need to be on itself. So a party can decide to stack all their barriers on one designated tank while leaving all other members unprotected.

Still missing on the barrier front: A tutorial, scroll icons and an NPC to sell them.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Barriers

This is a feature I first decided to take off my roadmap to alpha, but I realized that it's a too important part of my game concept, so I started implementing it.

A barrier is a buff which works like a HP buffer for a special element. When it is cast on another player, all damage with that element will eat away the HP value of the barrier before reducing the actual HP of the players. The HP buffer of the barrier decays naturally during the lifetime of the shield.

Currently there is only a provisorical implementation - every player starts out with a 100HP fire shield which loses 1 HP per second. But I am going to make barriers spells. Each player-character can have one barrier active at a time, but it doesn't need to be on oneself, so a player can make the tactical decision to protect another partymember instead of oneself.

There will be two kinds of barriers. Long-time wards which decay slowly but need a long time to cast, and quick counterspells which are cast very quickly but also decays rapidly. The first kind is used as a precaution when wandering dangerous areas, while the latter is cast when you notice someone attacks you to prevent the damage.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Private chatting

Yesterday I added private chatting. The "whisper" option on the character context menu is now functional. There are still two problems, though:

1. Although the protocol allows it, there is no way to open a chat with someone not on the screen
2. There is no way to close chat tabs, except for reloading the website

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Implemented parties



I implemented parties today.

This was quite a lot more work than I expected, because of all the edge cases which needed to be taken care of. Handling party requests of people who log out, handling parties disbanding while taking on new members, removing members who are online, offline or in char select... all sources of annoying bugs. The good news is that I will likely be able to re-use most of the code when it will come to guilds later.

Parties don't affect exp sharing because that's not needed in my current system - every attacker gets his full exp share anyway.

What parties do instead:
  • Party members share private instances
  • Party members can chat with each other
  • Party members can see each others location

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Base and real stats

Stat increases by equipment and temporary effects are now reported to the client and show up in the GUI:

In other news: I finally fixed the "shortcut over unwalkable tiles" bug.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

There is no such thing as NoSQL

You might have heard about that new NoSQL thing. You wonder

  • Is NoSQL faster than SQL?
  • Can NoSQL replace my existing SQL database?
  • Will NoSQL fix my problem with my SQL database?
  • Is NoSQL an option for my next project?

Unfortunately this article can't give you an answer, because these questions are wrong. What's wrong about them? You see, the problem is this:

There is no such thing as NoSQL!

NoSQL is a buzzword.

For decades, when people were talking about databases, they meant relational databases. And when people were talking about relational databases, they meant those you control with Edgar F. Codd's Structured Query Language. Storing data in some other way? Madness! Anything else is just flatfiles.

But in the past few years, people started to question this dogma.  People wondered if tables with rows and columns are really the only way to represent data. People started thinking and coding, and came up with many new concepts how data could be organized. And they started to create new database systems designed for these new ways of working with data.

The philosophies of all these databases were different. But one thing all these databases had in common, was that the Structured Query Language was no longer a good fit for using them. So each database replaced SQL with their own query languages. And so the term NoSQL was born, as a label for all database technologies which defy the classic relational database model.

So what do NoSQL databases have in common?

Actually, not much.

You often hear phrases like:
  • NoSQL is scalable!
  • NoSQL is for BigData!
  • NoSQL violates ACID!
  • NoSQL is a glorified key/value store!
Is that true? Well, some of these statements might be true for some databases commonly called NoSQL, but every single one is also false for at least one other. Actually, the only thing NoSQL databases have in common, is that they are databases which do not use SQL. That's it. The only thing that defines them is what sets them apart from each other.

So what sets NoSQL databases apart?

So we made clear that all those databases commonly referred to as NoSQL are too different to evaluate them together. Each of them needs to be evaluated separately to decide if they are a good fit to solve a specific problem. But where do we begin? Thankfully, NoSQL databases can be grouped into certain categories, which are suitable for different use-cases:

Document-oriented


Examples: MongoDB, CouchDB
Strengths: Heterogenous data, working object-oriented, agile development

Their advantage is that they do not require a consistent data structure. They are useful when your requirements and thus your database layout changes constantly, or when you are dealing with datasets which belong together but still look very differently. When you have a lot of tables with two columns called "key" and "value", then these might be worth looking into.

Graph databases


Examples: Neo4j, GiraffeDB.
Strengths: Data Mining

Their focus is at defining data by its relation to other data. When you have a lot of tables with primary keys which are the primary keys of two other tables (and maybe some data describing the relation between them), then these might be something for you.

Key-Value Stores


Examples: Redis, Cassandra, MemcacheDB
Strengths: Fast lookup of values by known keys

They are very simplistic, but that makes them fast and easy to use. When you have no need for stored procedures, constraints, triggers and all those advanced database features and you just want fast storage and retrieval of your data, then those are for you.

Unfortunately they assume that you know exactly what you are looking for. You need the profile of User157641? No problem, will only take microseconds. But what when you want the names of all users who are aged between 16 and 24, have "waffles" as their favorite food and logged in in the last 24 hours? Tough luck. When you don't have a definite and unique key for a specific result, you can't get it out of your K-V store that easily.

Is SQL obsolete?

Some NoSQL proponents claim that their favorite NoSQL database is the new way of doing things, and SQL is a thing of the past.

Are they right?

No, of course they aren't. While there are problems SQL isn't suitable for, it still got its strengths. Lots of data models are simply best represented as a collection of tables which reference each other. Especially because most database programmers were trained for decades to think of data in a relational way, and trying to press this mindset onto a new technology which wasn't made for it rarely ends well.

NoSQL databases aren't a replacement for SQL - they are an alternative.

Most software ecosystems around the different NoSQL databases aren't as mature yet. While there are advances, you still haven't got supplemental tools which are as mature and powerful as those available for popular SQL databases.

Also, there is much more know-how for SQL around. Generations of computer scientists have spent decades of their careers into research focusing on relational databases, and it shows: The literature written about SQL databases and relational data modelling, both practical and theoretical, could fill multiple libraries full of books. How to build a relational database for your data is a topic so well-researched it's hard to find a corner case where there isn't a generally accepted by-the-book best practice.

Most NoSQL databases, on the other hand, are still in their infancy. We are still figuring out the best way to use them.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Yay, vacation!

I got two weeks of vacation, so I finally got some time and energy for my programming project.

In the past days I fixed some small bugs (the bad news: while I did that I discovered lots of new bugs). I also made some more particle effects.

But the greatest achievement was that I completed the tutorial (although I will likely expand it later when I got some more features) and started building the newbie area. I got an outdoor map:
And a small instanced dungeon with a new water-born mob:


What I really need now are more and better map tiles so that the environment doesn't look that blocky anymore. Blocky might be en-vogue after the success of Minecraft and Terraria, but I want to do better.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Particle Engine

I didn't find much time for programming lately, because I have too many other hobbies right now. First I joined a political party and the election in Germany isn't far away, so I spend much time on supporting our campaign. And then I decided to get a sailing license this summer. So I haven't got much time left.

Nevertheless I had nothing to do this Sunday afternoon and got around implementing a particle engine.

I like programming particle engines. A particle engine was my first and most major contribution to The Mana World. My first thought was porting the TMW particle engine to Javascript as-is (just using JSON instead of XML for particle definitions), but then I decided that a different architecture is much more suitable for JS. Instead of defining the physical properties of each particle type in an XML file (or rather JSON), I decided to implement the physical behavior of each type with a function.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Banning and Kicking

I implemented banning and kicking. This was a must-have feature.

I cut some corners here by making offline banning an operation which blocks until the database has finished doing it. That means that the map the admin is on hangs until the database did the change, but considering that banning isn't something which happens every minute (at least I hope it won't)  this shouldn't be a problem.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Tutorial

I started with the tutorial. The tutorial is the first thing the user sees of a game, so it's very important to do it well. It has to get the player hyped for the game while still conveying all information the user needs.

It is also a baptism of fire for the scripting engine, because tutorials are always heavily scripted. And bugs will not be forgiven, because a buggy tutorial will alienate many players before they even took a look at the real game.

I created the NPC Firyafoni as a framing device for the tutorial . Her name is an anagram for "Info Fairy" which is a pretty accurate description of her. I plan to use this character whenever I need to give some meta-gaming information to the player.

Fairies are creatures which are capable of existing in many places at the same time by creating clones of them self in remote places. When the fairy doesn't concentrate on a clone, it disappears, but most fairies are capable of handling dozens of clones at the same time. All clones of them form a hive-mind - everything one clone of them sees or feels is also noticed by all others. The individual clones are capable of interacting with other creatures normally. It is, however, impossible for the clones to interact with each other. When two clones of a fairy perceive each other, it's a very unsettling experience for the fairy, which leads to one of the clones disappearing. For that reason, fairies are also afraid of mirrors.



Monday, April 8, 2013

Equip defense

I haven't done any development for a while (curse you, Kerbal Space Program), but today I again did something: I implemented equipment defense. Each piece of equipment can now have a defense value. Optionally, it can also have a different defense value against specific elements. When it hasn't got a specific value against an attack, the general defense value is used.

When an attack hits a player, each piece of equipment removes a random amount of damage which is between 0 and the applicable defense value.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Healing works again

Today I fixed lot of minor problems on both client and server. But I also did something major: I re-implemented healing as procedurally generated spells.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Equipment revamp

While creating the buyable equipment for Wenibe, I noticed that there isn't much equipment can do. It can modify the players stats, but I would expect it to have more fundamental properties. Clothes should reduce damage and wands increase it. They should also be geared for specific situations.

Clothes

Clothes always have a general defense value, and can have special defense values for specific elements which are higher or lower. When the equipment has a special value for the element which is used by the attacker, that value is used, otherwise the general defense value is used.

When an attack hits the character, for each piece of equipment a random number is generated between 0 and the applicable defense value. Each of these numbers is subtracted from the attack. No total immunity is possible that way - even weak attacks have a low chance to break through high-end equipment. But considering that a player character usually wears 4 defense items (hat, robe, belt, shoes), the resistance is still pretty reliable when all of them give about equal defense.

Weapons

Weapons could have these effects:
  • Increase damage
  • Increase range
  • Decrease casting time
Staff Rod Wand Stave Scepter Cane
Damage X X X
Range X X X
Cast Time X X X

I think I should make these percentile boni.

Just like with clothes, a weapon has a general value and specific different values for specific elements.

Each of these effects could only apply to a specific element. That way you have to choose between a general-purpose weapon which boosts all elements or a specialized weapon which only boosts your favorite one while giving a malus to the opposite element.

I could also imagine rare weapons which give all spells a special property, like making all spells vampiric.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The town of Wenibe

I started building a small town map as a test-bed for NPC scripting and to force myself to start doing some tiles. It already showed me some features which were missing on the server to allow effective script-writing.


Some new spell icons

I created the thunder family of spell icons: