Sunday, November 20, 2011

Update...and swimsuits??

One of the stranger communications I received after releasing Dark Delve was a request to participate in a Video Game themed Swim Suit issue.  Not me personally, (and there was much rejoicing) but rather one of the characters from the game.  What the heck, I signed on up, you can see how it all turned out over at the Hairy Balls gaming site.

Progress on the Dark Delve update has been strong these last couple weeks.  The majority of the new content is completed, and mostly putting it through the paces to make sure nothing was broken as a result of all my tinkering.  With any luck I hope to submit the game back to peer review by the end of November.

The PC version is also nearly completed.  All that remains is fixing a few niggling issues here and there, and putting the game through its paces.  Finishing this up, as well as finding an online distribution channel will occupy my time once the update to the Xbox version has been submitted.  The PC version contains all the same updates.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Dark Delve, looking forward

As someone who has been making half finished games for most of my life as a hobby, Dark Delve is very special to me as the first game I actually finished and released.  It was always the type of game I wanted to play myself, and I was not sure how others would feel about my particular take on the RPG dungeon crawling genre.  I am stepping up to a table filled with the giants of some classic games.  And while I certainly do not feel entitled to an actual seat, I have gotten enough positive feedback to think I am getting a few table scraps.

Just today I learned that Dark Delve made it onto Kotaku's XBLIG recommended list.  This is unbelievably awesome to see.  Most of the other reviews have been positive as well.

There are some common complaints however, bad graphics, dislike of the endurance system, and too many misses in combat.  As a one man studio, I really cannot do much with the complaint about graphics.  I very much agree with it, my attempt at art is rather sad (though it did improve over time, some of the monsters on the final level I actually am rather happy with).  I hope that I earn enough with Dark Delve that I can hire a proper artist in future games.

Almost as soon as Dark Delve was released on the Xbox market place, I began working on a PC port.  Though I didn't think ahead to do so from the beginning, I am wrapping up the process already, much quicker than I had originally thought.  More information about that when I find a means of distributing the game.

In addition to making the input and screens compatible with the PC, I have also been making some updates to address the other two common complaints.  So here is a look ahead at what the first update to Dark Delve is looking like.  The Xbox version of the game will likely see this update in about a month, and it is a free update.

  • Hit chance of weapon attacks changed from 80% to 90%, this will result in half as many misses as there currently are.  To compensate, the status effects of Blind and Evade are boosted up to see about the same miss rate as current, and all skills and equipment that increase hit rate are also boosted up.  The True Strike ring for instance nearly negates the penalty for being Blind.
  • Endurance mechanics now only appear when the game is played in Hard mode.  This was a very tough decision, while the Endurance system generated a lot of negative comments, there were some positive comments about it.  I think (and hope) that moving it as an optional system keeps it as a challenge, but an optional one for those players that are looking for an increased challenge.  The ability to play the campaign with less than 4 characters provides a way for players who want an increased challenge to still do so without the Endurance system.
  • New challenges and deeds.  While I am still not sure on the exact number, there will be between 3-5 new challenges available to play.

If you know of any other balance or play issues with the game, please let me know, as there is still time to address them in the coming update, and thanks again for playing!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Dark Delve released

Today was a great day, Dark Delve was finally released on the Xbox Live indie marketplace.  After a year of development time and a lifetime of half finished projects, I rather feel like a child on christmas eve.  I have been spending a lot of time putting together a press kit, and then contacting sites for reviews.  I even sent a review code to the Japanese review site Famitsu just in case.  Though as I do not speak Japanese, it is quite a long shot.

Earlier tonight I was a guest speaker on the weekly Game Marx podcast that was a good time.  Speaking of Game Marx, they have the first review of the game and I think the reviewer understood the game well, saying:

"If you like old-school fantasy RPG, this is everything you love in a more modern package. If you’re not a fan of the genre, it probably won’t change your mind"

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Early look at the next game

Barely finished with Dark Delve and I found myself already at work on my next game.  For those that know me, this probably should have been my first game, but noooo, I thought an RPG would be easier...

Do not ask, I have no idea what I was thinking, aparently.  After only a week of work I already have the majority of the engine working.  So I started looking into the development of the game's AI, new territory for me.  So I coded up the most basic of AIs, scribbled some quick graphics, and here it is, the first look at Shattered Throne, a turn based strategy game in the vein of Advance Wars.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

In Peer Review

Dark Delve is now complete and in Peer Review.  For those unfamiliar to the process of getting an XBLIG published, this is the final required step.  During this time, fellow developers look over your game to make sure it conforms to content requirements and does not crash.  There is also the evil checklist which addresses common and often overlooked use cases that can cause games to crash.

I started this project July 2010, and it has consumed nearly every evening and weekend since.  "I will just make a simple dungeon crawler, how much trouble can that be?".  I am very proud of this game, but wow, if I had only known then exactly how much work would be involved. 

I hardly know what to do with the sudden appearance of free time.  Very strange to sit down at the computer without a huge task list waiting for my attention.  I have quite a back log of games I want to play, a book I want to read, should certainly catch up on the whole blogging thing.  Less than 2 days of that, and already started in on my next game...

Friday, August 5, 2011

New Gameplay Video with Commentary

<a href="">LinkedTube</a>

Been real busy lately wrapping things up. Hoping to submit Dark Delve for peer review this weekend. Here is a video showing some of the gameplay of the game, along with some commentary by yours truely.

Do not forget to vote for Dark Delve for the Indie Games Summer Uprising!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Cover Image Complete

I finally finished up the cover image for Dark Delve this evening. This is the first time I have tried to actually paint an image in Photoshop, but as the cover piece to my game, I wanted it to stand out and be special. I also had a specific image in my head I was hoping I could capture. Though I am far from being a real artist, I am happy with the way it came out.

Here is the completed image (sans title text):

I also captured the various steps of the process for myself in case changes were necessary, so I thought I would share the process (for better or worse).

The picture began life as 4 separate pieces, which I scanned in and arranged:

Then I blocked out the main colors in a separate layer:

The toughest step was the actual painting portion, which took several days to come together, and was an entirely new process for me:

Then came the background:

The torch and a simple lighting effect was added:

And the last touch was to add in the monsters lurking in the foreground.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In Pursuit of a Trial mode

As I work towards tying up all the loose ends and applying a layer of polish to Dark Delve, I have started looking seriously at its Trial experience. To be blunt, it sucks. After starting a new game, the player is asked to make the characters that will be part of their group. There are not too many choices (Class, Portrait, Name) but for someone just starting, this is going to take a bit of time.

Then the player is shown a small story intro and placed into town, where they must absorb the different town locations, figure out how to apply each character's starting skill points, purchase a few supplies, and head to the dungeon. Once in the adventure proper (assuming they make it that far), the random dungeon stocking nature of the game could mean the first initial rooms are empty by chance, and it is also entirely possible to run into a mini boss who would be difficult or impossible for a new party and player to defeat as one of the first encounters experienced.

I must swallow the tough pill and admit that the above sucks as an intro to a game I am very proud of. I have 8 minutes to show what my game is all about and show what makes it fun. What I have is not going to cut it, so I started brain storming.

First off, having a new player sit through building a character, assigning skill points and equipment is not really a good use of the trial player's time. So providing a default party to use for trying out the game is a must. I would also like to show off several different aspects of the game. A bit later I came up with the concept of adding a Challenge mode to the game.

This is still a work in progress, but my current thought is to include 3 different challenges that are unlocked in sequence. Trial mode players can only select this mode, keeping the more involved and newly renamed "Campaign mode" for those that are not restricted by time. The first challenge is my chance to show what the game is about, and I want to allow it to be beaten within the 8 minute time frame of the trial. Though perhaps not on the first attempt, as there is a certain amount of absorbing required with a new RPG that is tough to predict.

Currently the second challenge puts the player in charge of 2 powerful characters who attempt to uncover as many hidden keys (or rescue as many slaves as possible) and make it out alive, all the while assaulted by hordes of enemies, that while weak, are numerous enough that it is a game of resource management. This challenge I am aiming at taking 20-30 minutes to complete.
I am currently basing the final challenge off the most excellent Desktop Dungeons game (you really should click that link if you have not already heard of it). Consider it a tribute, the player chooses a single character who begins at level 1, and must navigate a dangerous level teaming with enemies of all levels, picking their fights and leveling up to enough power to defeat a boss enemy. Trying to have a lot of randomness in this challenge to allow a lot of replay. This challenge is being aimed to take 40-50 minutes to complete.

Each challenge is scored, and the best scores kept in a local leader board, so players can attempt to beat their best time as a continuing challenge. I am very pleased with how this is shaping up, though it will likely add 1-2 weeks of extra development time, despite the tools I have already developed. In the long run I cannot think of a better use of time, the first couple minutes of a game are its most important parts, and I am rather ashamed to have taken so long to see this glaring problem.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dark Delve Character Classes

In Dark Delve, the player can create between 1-4 characters to tackle the adventure with. The game challenge is increased by using less than the full 4, but the player's end game score is increased greatly should they succeed. Each character is defined primarily through their assigned class, of which there are 3 options. Each class also has 3 different skill paths available to customize the character into their preferred role.


Masters of combat, Warriors complement their natural skill at arms with well timed strikes that can turn the tide of any battle. Their unmatched endurance and ability to wear the heaviest armor allow a warrior survive where others would fall.

Base Skills:

Cleave A sweeping attack that affects a group of enemies

Power Strike <BREAK>The warrior puts everything behind a single
powerful and accurate attack.

Skill Paths:

Barbarian An offensive specialization strong in self sufficiency

Knight This defensive specialization allows the warrior to shrug off even the mightiest of attacks and stay in control of the battlefield

Paladin A welcome addition to any adventuring party, a Paladin supplements the base abilities of the warrior with magical attacks and healing power


Steeped in Arcane traditions, Mages bring powerful magic to bear. Because of their intense study, Mages are able to use powerful skills more consistently and to greater effect than the other classes. This power does not come without a cost, as the Mage is unable to wear anything but the flimsiest cloth armor.

Base Skills:

Arcane Bolts The mage fires a pair of magical bolts at their target

Heal <BREAK>With the aid of healing energy, the mage repairs damage to a hurt ally

Skill Paths:

Druid Specializing in powers of Nature, the Druid is a powerful healer with great strength in both physical and magical realms

Warlock Those that choose the path of the Warlock gain the ability to sap the strength from their enemies while increasing their own

Sorcerer Mastery of the elements unlocks access to the most powerful magical attacks available


Dwelling in shadow and mystery, Rogues strike the balance between magical prowess and strength in arms. While lacking the raw strength and endurance of the warrior and focused spellpower of the mage, a rogue is equally skilled in both realms. Rogues are able to equip light
armor and have an uncanny knack for finding hidden traps and items.

Base Skills:

Hide By moving into the nearby shadows, the rogue becomes more difficult to hit and regains some lost strength and 2

Dirty Trick <BREAK>The rogue dazes their target with an unexpected maneuver

Skill Paths:

Assassin This specialization is the study of raw brutal power that can quickly punish and overcome the toughest of foes

Thief An opportunist, the Thief specializes in harassment and turning the enemy’s strength against them

Bard A support specialization that increases the survivability and confidence of allies while hindering their opponents

More detail on the different Skill Paths to come...

Friday, May 13, 2011


In my first post, I mentioned several classic games that were my inspiration and model. In this post, I want to talk about two areas in which Dark Delve deviates from its source inspirations.

Many computer RPGs, especially early games, combat encounters are frequent and randomly generated as a chance to occur with each step, or after a certain semi random number of steps. I wanted Dark Delve to feel closer to the most classic of RPG inspirations, Dungeons and Dragons. When a DM puts together an adventure, they typically build both a map and encounter key. Dark Delve is built the same way, when an encounter is defeated, it stays defeated. In fact you can even listen at doors to get hints to what might be found on the other side. This is a tactic that really becomes important on the more difficult game modes where the player is advised to seek out treasure to boost their strength with minimal exposure to encounters.

Dark Delve still features some random combats, but these are much more akin to the wandering monsters also seen in those early DnD adventures, and serve to keep the player tension up even in large cleared out sections. These encounters are much less frequent though, and typically not as dangerous as those found in the set encounters.

As far as the population of levels themselves, the encounter and treasure locations and specifics are randomized at the start of each game, allowing the game to retain higher replayability. What was the site of a desperate battle the last game might be a simple empty room in the next game.

Another area I wanted to address in Dark Delve was the mentality some Computer RPGs foster that you save all your SPs/Mana and consumables for the boss fight, and just auto attack your way through the rest. Encouragement to do otherwise comes in several forms.

Performance Awards
Your performance in each battle is graded based on your speed in defeating it, amount of damage taken, efficiency, and the encounter’s relative challenge for your characters. To receive high marks, you are going to have to use your spells and items. The amount of experience, gold, and quality of items found are all tied to the combat grade. The highest ranking is a rare accomplishment, and comes with the best rewards such as scrolls of teleportation or the ability to change the allocation of a character’s skill points.

Renewable Resources
A small amount of HP and SP are regenerated after each battle, the exact amount also tied to the combat grade. Also there is a renewable resource in the form of Chain Breaks. Each attack that lands in combat generates a chain point and Breaks are special abilities which spend a character’s accumulated chains (with increasing effects per point) and cost no SP to use. Each character can have up to 5 points, and as they reset with each battle, there is no reason not to use them. In fact, for the best combat grades you are going to want to pay close attention to your chains, as your combat grade improves if you can end the battle with as few unspent chains as possible.

Saved Progress
Running out of resources in Dark Delve is also more forgiving due to the nature of using set encounters rather than relying on random battles. Player progress is maintained, even if they retreat back to town to rest and restock.

One philosophy I tried to keep in mind while building Dark Delve, was to have less frequent, but more interesting combat encounters relative to most RPGs. As such I hope you will feel engaged and interested throughout your exploration of these dangerous halls.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Announcing Dark Delve

Welcome to Checkmark Games. It has been nearly a year since I started working on Dark Delve, and I can finally see the end in sight. Dark Delve is a throwback game of the likes of Wizardry, Bards Tale, and Might and Magic, games I loved as a kid, and continue to enjoy as an adult.

Create a party of adventurers and explore the lost halls of the cursed queen. Along the way you will find traps, secret doors, treasures, and all manner of foul beasts that stand in your way. Encounters and treasure are placed randomly when a new game is begun, such that no two games will be the same. Multiple difficulty options allow for a challenge for veterans, while staying fun for kids of all ages (my 8 year old son has been my enthusiastic tester to ensure the later).

I will be sharing more details regarding character customization, the various game systems, and perhaps one of the unique boss fight challenges that await you over the coming weeks on this blog.

Until then, sharpen your sword, study your spellbook, Dark Delve will be making its way onto XBLIG this summer!