History of Son of Nor – Part 3

In part 2 of this series we dramatically reduced the amount of story and thus production complexity and ported the game from our own engine to Unity 3D. In winter 2011, most of the team met in Innsbruck at Julian’s small student flat to shape the new gameplay from scratch. These are the things we wanted to have in the game.

The Ancient Magic System

Julian’s flat was not exactly huge and we had to cram ourselves into it and find a spot to work. Until then, the magic system looked as follows.

Point your mouse on the ground to pop out a ball of sand. Do that several times to pop out several balls of sand so you get a square, a triangle, or other geometrical shapes. If a geometrical shape was recognized, the spell’s symbol quickly lit up, showing you that a spell was ready to be cast. You could now walk somewhere and activate the spell to cast a shockwave for example. Then you needed to start again. See here how this worked:

As you can imagine from this video, it was made for slow gameplay. For exploring the world, trying out different things, completing quests. Now that we compressed the game’s scope and only wanted to create a limited arena PvP game, this felt awfully slow. The goal of that meeting subsequently was to change the whole concept of magic.

Spell Combinations And An Incredible Machine

After a few hours of brainstorming we came up with the idea of spell combinations. Combine two spells to create a new one. There were 6 classes of magic: fire magic, wind magic, life magic, death magic, split magic, force magic. Because in Son of Nor the magic system revolves around the goddess of the day (Lur) and the goddess of the night (Nor), each magical class always has its counterpart: fire has wind, life has death, split has force and vice versa.

We still didn’t want a GUI to cast spells (i.e. no “push fireball icon to cast fireball”). As I mentioned, we dropped the sand ball symbols shown in the video above. We added drawing lines in its place. You can think of them as gestures. First, select a magical class. Then, invoke one of 3 spells in that class by either pointing your magic on the ground (spell 1), drawing a horizontal line (spell 2) or drawing a vertical line (spell 3). There were other gestures but we quickly dropped them as it was impossible to draw them during a fight.

It looked like this:

We came up with a myriad of combinations for this system. Split beams should duplicate spells that took a long time to cast and combine, giving you a time advantage. Force spells could make things such as fireballs or stones rotate around a center to use it as a proximity shield in close combat. We soon thought it would be nice to use this mechanic to build magic machines!

Imagine a gravity field and a fireball rotating around it. Then put a splitter field in it’s orbital path. This would duplicate the fireball each time it crossed the splitter field. You could prepare such machines to guard entrances. This surely sounded like a lot of fun.

Here’s a screenshot of all the basic spells and their combinations we came up with for the 6 magic classes (fire, wind, life, death. split, force).

(click to enlarge)

Difficulty of Implementation

We thought a long time about this. But preparing all these machines took a long time in-game and placing fields and gravity orbs precisely was cumbersome. You were killed 10 times before you finished anything that came close to a machine. The PvP gameplay was just too quick for preparing any machines. We tried to think of another solution. And we came up with Spell Macros!

The idea behind Spell Macros was an editor outside the arena matches in which you had all spells at your disposal. You would then prepare your evil machines combining basic spells and their combinations in advance. Place the gravity orb, fireball and splitter field correctly, determine in what direction the duplicated fireball should fly away, and save this as a fireball producing machine, or Spell Macro.

Before every PvP game, you could assign these machines from your machine collection to a specific mouse gesture (horizontal or vertical lines). This meant to tactically prepare your battle in advance and try to anticipate what your enemy was going to use. We thought it would be fun to impress others with your crazy constructions and clever use of spells.

Unfortunately, the editor never saw the light of day. Only a few hours after we came up with this idea, we threw it away. It defeated the whole idea of combining spells during a game and cleverly react to your opponent’s tactics.

Back to Square One

We dumped the idea of machines. It did not benefit the gameplay. We kept spell combinations, though. Basically, we just went back to the previous system and adapted the spell combinations a bit. We must have gone through this list about 10 times, constantly changing things.

Read about how exactly the magic system worked that laid the foundation for today’s gameplay and how we went around in circles after we visited Deutsche Gamestage 2012 (dgt’12) in Germany, talking to many game developers that gave us well-intentioned but contradicting tips about how to proceed. It was a very confusing time!

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