Eisenstern design notes
Base gameplay ideas: this is a very rough list, each area needs to be worked out in detail, but its a good starting point.


it is a SP game exclusively.

  • FPS oriented base game mechanics, i.e. FPS style controls, camera, movement, physics, and attacking, where appropriate unlike an FPS however, your weaponry is much more focused on close range/melee. Long range weaponry tends to have very expensive/rare ammo, thus making it less useful.
  • fighting a group of enemies might feel almost like an FPS sub game inside the RPG
  • in theory you can "win" by just killing every entity on the map, like an FPS... except that it will take you quite a while to become powerful/rich enough to have a chance of doing so.

no level loading. the game is one huge world accessible/visible all at once. One sauer map that contains 5-50 hrs of gameplay.

highly non-linear.

  • you can go anywhere and do anything in the game world / there are often multiple paths to a destination
  • there are no artificial limits to where you can go, you will be limited only by the fact that you are initially not very powerful or don't posses the right items, meaning going into certain areas just gets you killed (npcs will warn you).
  • As you become more powerful, more areas will therefore naturally open up to you.
  • "quests" will be weaved into npc dialogue to give you some guidance as to what is appropriate for you to do next with your current level of power, but they are by no means required to be done in sequence or at all.

Base items go along "diablo" lines, in the sense that the variety of them is to some extend algorithmically generated (also can reduce art requirement), and there's a lot of it, giving you that addiction to collecting it. Many of them have special properties such as extra defense they grant etc.

There is only one kind of damage.

UI / Interaction

context sensitive firebutton. Every object in the game has a range of actions associated with it, in order of priority. Hovering the cursor over any object shows what that the highest priority action is, and pressing fire executes that action. The scrollwheel changes the default action to any of the other ones available. The default action for enemy character is of course "attack" but there may be others. NPCs may have default actions "talk to" / "trade", but if you want to kill them anyway you can just scroll to "attack" (every object will remember the last action you set as default on it, so you can just keep attacking it if that is what you want). This system is not only very quick to use, it also allows many specialized actions to be thought of on all sorts of objects. We can have "unlock", "burn", "dig", "throw", "tease", "poke", "plant" allowing limitless gameplay ideas all through the same simple interface.

dialogue / NPCs

  • it would be nice to have a dialogue system that does dialogue based on a little "database" of things the NPC cares about, as opposed to canned dialogue, but after considering the possibilities, and the fact that it is very hard to create atmospheric dialogue this way, I think I am against it for now. It is simply too lofty a goal. So dialogue will be canned, but very simple to add/manage, so we can have plenty of it.
  • dialogue is non-modal, in the sense that the game doesn't freeze when a dialogue is happening, you can keep on walking around etc.
  • Dialogue is displayed in a text box above the NPC, in 3d (i.e. its size is distance dependent!)
  • NPCs may have certain lines of text which they utter uninvited, either because you are near, or even just when other NPCs are near. So while walking around you may see bits of dialogue, even of NPCs in the distance, which you can either look at or ignore.
  • if you want to provoke a line of text from an NPC, you can use the default "talk" action on them.
  • if an NPC has said something to you because you talked to them which requires an answer from you, your default actions will change into "talk (yes)" and "talk (no)" (and maybe other words, if required) which you can easily use to steer the conversation, accept quests, allow them to receive items from you / give to you, change their perception of you, etc.
  • Every NPC will be in a certain "state" as far as its dialogue is concerned, and talking to them or other events may change that state. If an NPC is in a state where it has a fresh line of dialogue for you that you haven't seen yet and is not an "uninvited" line, he will have an icon above his head indicating that. If you talk to NPCs without such an icon they will simply say what is appropriate for the current state, which is either what they already said to you or an alternative phrase.
  • There is both a local state (for the NPC) and a global state (for all of them), both of which can influence which dialogue is current. The global state is primary way for *FIXME* need a more programmable system easy script commands allow you to specify lines of dialogue, along with possible answers from the player, special conditions (items etc) and states to transfer to all with a minimum of syntax.
  • EVERY npc has the "trade" action, as all have an inventory. NPCs that are merchants will have it as the default action (they have way more items), and others as an optional one... it may happen some random NPC happens to have a cool item.. though they tend to be more expensive then merchants if they don't want to part with them. Items sold to NPCs will stay in their inventory, and items bought from them may never reappear, inventories are not magically refreshed. Killing an NPC will randomly drop items from their inventory, but not all (otherwise killing merchants would become the prime objective of the game).
  • The dialogue style for this initial RPG often borders on the surreal/absurd. NPCs have their own desires and things they do, and are not always relevant to your quests. This makes the world more alive and gives it its own atmosphere.
  • you are evil, and so are most NPCs. Everyone is out for their own good, no matter what it takes.
  • NPCs can have a preset number that says how much they like you. Doing stuff for them, or just plain giving them items may raise this number, other actions may lower it. Certain actions (such as "follow") may only be available from a certain number upwards.
  • NPCs are hostile to monsters. A viable tactic can be to lure one to the other to make them kill eachother.
  • most NPCs tend to be very powerful compared to monsters.
  • NPCs/Monster have a certain vision range, relatively low. They won't attack you if you stay outside that range.
  • You generally run slightly faster than monsters/NPCs. If they try to attack you and follow you for a certain amount of time without being able to get close to you, they will automatically back off and go back to their base area.

Experience / stats

There will be no experience in the game. Instead, everything is regulated through items. Everything you do in the game that would normally result in experience, now results in raw resource items that can be combined in many ways (see items, below) to make you more powerfull, and effectively have a
similar effect on gameplay that experience used to. Except now you can find/steal/sell/buy these items, and in generally you will have more flexibility in how they affect you becoming stronger. Less treadmill, more variety & tangible influence on your power. For example, monsters may drop different kinds of "souls" and other items, that can be combined into artifacts that when carried in your inventory, make you stronger etc. Certain resources can are mostly good for upgrading a particular stat, so that what you become good at can be coupled to what you do in the game, but loosely. Generally, your stats are a function purely of what is in your inventory, if you empty your inventory, you will have the same base stats, no matter if you just start the game or have been playing for weeks. Some of the usual stats that can enhanced using items:

  • melee attack power
  • non-melee attack power
  • magic usage/attack power
  • attack rate
  • defense (damage absorbed)
  • max HP
  • running speed
  • evilness (modifies the level at which point people will obey your orders)
  • trade effectiveness
  • strength (max weight of inventory)
  • stealth (reduces FOV of NPCs when you are stealing something)


Items either lay around in the world or sit in inventories of NPCs/monsters/the player. Items are persistent, if you drop them somewhere, they will generally be there when you get back.

  • items outside of inventories have an owner, which is either a certain NPC or noone. You can pick up items owned by noone as much as you like, but if you are in the FOV of the owning NPC or an NPC representing the law while picking it up, they become hostile towards you. Trying to steal stuff is part of the fun of the game.
  • there is no "mana". There are "cast many" spells which you can equip as weapon, and "cast once" which you use as item. "cast many" items have a certain potion casting cost. Potions come in red, green and blue, and are more rare/expensive in that order. Simple spells tend to use mostly red, where as more powerful spells use up more yellow and blue proportionally. Certain NPCs can generate "use once" spells for you at certain
    potion cost.
  • you won't actually wear armours etc to give you better defense (too problematic art-wise). Instead, you will simply carry items around in your inventory that happen to give you +whatever defense bonus.
  • Weapons are the only items that are visible when used, though there will only be one sword graphic for many different actual swords
  • there's no need to ever "equip" anything. Your entire inventory is ready for use at all times, and affects your play. To switch weapons, you will automatically scroll through all available weapons in your inventory, + the fist. If you sell your currently selected weapon, it will automatically switch to the fist. Ammo automatically gets used out of your inventory, when applicable.
  • There will be a generic item box model with a picture of the actual item on it, as we may want hundreds of items and are only able to produce models for a fraction of that.
  • the game specified a list of item rules such as: milk + wheat = bread. This means that if you have a bottle of milk selected in your inventory, and the inventory also contains a bag of wheat, a "bread" button will show up, pressing it takes the two items and makes bread. Combined items tend to be worth more and have better stats than the sum of their components. You can "split" most items in the same way to get its components back, but it will reduce the value of the components. I.e. 2 value 10 items may combine into a value 40 item, but when split they become 2 value 7 items. This is to make splitting possible (in the case of say de-attaching an artifact from a weapon), but it won't be a popular action.
  • inventory display works much like dialogue, in the sense that NPC showing its inventory pops up an inventory "window" above their head (much like the text balloon), from which you can select items, in 3d. Much like the text it is non-modal, meaning you can keep walking around/doing other stuff while an inventory window is open. It will automatically close if you are a certain distance away from it for N seconds, much like dialogue, so you can ignore it and just walk away. You can do the same with your own inventory, you have a way to open it where you are currently at, and it will just stay there until you either get too far away or open it somewhere else. You can have it open in battle so you can conveniently & very quickly grab items from it while you are fighting without a "mode switch".
  • items have a much larger role in the game than in most rpgs, as many stats and quests are repesented by items.
  • There will be a set price for each item, which is its 100% price and real value. Generally, merchants will do any item, and sell for close to 100%, and but for close to 50%. Individual NPCs that are not merchants may have a desire for particular items, and will give you 120% for those item, and won't want to sell em again (200%). Any other items they don't want, so they'll buy them from you for very low (say 30%), and sell em for low as well (say 60%).

monster spells play a big role in combat. As you progress you can find more and more ONE-USE monster spells. These are monsters you can summon, that will automatically attack your enemies. The only difference between them and enemies is who they are hostile to, otherwise they behave exactly the same as monsters, i.e. they don't follow you around. They are NOT party members, they are expendable. Almost like autonomous weapons. The reason for their existance is to give you more flexibility and strategy in hard battles vs many monsters. Using monster spells allows you distract/block other monsters etc.
Since they are one-use, you have to be careful where to use them. Maybe a way to turn the monster back into a spell can be available, only the next time the spell is cast it will have the same health it was "collected" with. This opens up the door for converting enemy monsters to your side as well (which should not be easy).

Load / Save / Progress / Difficulty

For saving the game we will avoid the normal quicksave/quickload model, as it defies the point of having to make interesting choices in dialogue, makes stealing too easy if you can try 10x, etc. Instead, we use the diablo style: you can only save & quit. You never truely die, if you "die" you get carried off to the main starting point, where you wake up with just little health, and a certain % gold or equivalent items lost (a low percentage depending on your current wealth, there will be a set order in which items get forfeited, where gold is first, other very common items are second, and special items like weapons, quests, artifacts are last and will probably never be lost). The problem is that is still possible to do save/reload, except that it becomes very tedious: if you want to reverse something you have done, you would have kill the game from the task manager and restart it to avoid saving. You would hope that like in Diablo dying is annoying, but not so problematic that it is worth going through that procedure for.

normally this rpg style system means that it takes worse players longer to complete the game, even though you want the opposite, fan players should be able to spend more time than casual players. To this end, the game mixes the above with traditional easy/normal/hard (or maybe asual/normal/fanatic) difficulty settings, implemented as different starting style characters (characters will still be blank though) that specify the speed of gaining resources. Combine that with the auto balancing effect of rpg style gameplay and it means that both the casual and fan player can play their own game. Even a pro player on "casual" mode doesn't necessarily have an easy game, he just has less monsters to fight, unlike FPS games where good players can never choose "easy" if they want a short game.

Development / Scripting

Every object, be it a character or an item, is treated generically, and is fully defined by script code, that can define things like:

  • Special actions associated with the object
  • Dialogue (if its a character)
  • Quest state changes
  • Inventory (every object can contain other objects generically)
  • Combination rules (the bread example above)
  • Stat effects this object causes if it is carried
  • Visual representation
  • Owner
  • ...

This is such that pretty much the entire gameplay is define with simple script commands. It will be very easy for even non-programmers to add additional snippets of gameplay, new items, dialogue/quests etc. which then a level designer only has to place in the map.