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Overview

Design Diaries was a series of blogs written by Ed Del Castillo and posted on Gamespot during '00-'01, where he talked about his company, the state of Battle realms and numerous issues that would pop up during the development.

Battle Realms Designer Diary #1 -  [06/13/00]

Ed Del Castillo gives an overview of his new company and talks about the initial design process of Battle Realms.

Welcome to Liquid's first Designer Diary. We're just over a year into development, and it's really exciting to finally surface and show everyone what we're working on. Battle Realms is our first game, and we hope to make it a great one. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

What Is Liquid Entertainment?


In August 1998, I decided to form a company of people committed to one dream: to give the joy of gaming to as many people as possible. The summers I spent playing paper role-playing games and in front of my Atari 800XL and my Intellivision were some of the most joyous times in my life. It is our goal to bring that same joy to as many people as possible. Liquid Entertainment is about making games that have exceptional polish, craftsmanship, and attention to detail - games that you are proud to own.

To this end, we have signed a four-product deal with Crave Entertainment to market, sell, and distribute our games. Because Crave is privately owned, it faces no unreasonable quarterly pressures to "make revenue." Crave also has some incredible people working for the company. Holly Newman (Crave's executive VP of publishing) is the most competent game-industry mind that I have ever met. Her insights as to the future of the industry and her vision for the creation of great games are humbling.

The Liquid team is experienced and enthusiastic. Our employees have worked on Starcraft, Command & Conquer, Red Alert, Blade Runner, Beetle Adventure Racing, Tomb Raider 2, Legend of Kyrandia, Siege, and Bloodstone. Many of us took a pay cut to work for Liquid because we believe in the team and the company.

Enough about the company and publisher - let's take a look at the game.


Battle Realms


Battle Realms is a real-time strategy game set in a fantasy world with strong Asian influences. In the initial design phases, our setting was a world that drew its inspiration from countless hours of AD&D;, blended with countless hours of Black Belt Theatre and Kung-Fu Theater. After a year of development, the Battle Realms world has grown beyond its roots, taking on a life of its own. The game is still based on the core elements of martial arts culture but mixes in dashes of other fantasy settings to create a unique world. Flying monks and deadly ninja facing off against crazed ballista-carrying Wolf Clan barbarians - that's what you'll see in the Battle Realms universe.

"The World Is Alive"


Our project mantra from day one has been "the world is alive." Our goal is to retain the simple, addictive gameplay that made RTS games popular, but add a level of depth that you have never seen before.

Battle Realms has fire that grows and spreads, not fire that serves only to indicate damage. Horses are a resource - you can capture them and train mounted soldiers or let a peasant use the horse as a pack animal so he can carry more rice. Our line-of-sight system allows enemies to hide behind hills and in the forests (yes, you can sneak through the forests, but be careful - if you're too loud, you might disturb those birds in the trees). Peasants train to become warriors and then train again to become better or different warriors. If you leave a soldier idle long enough, he'll sharpen his sword and gain a temporary bonus in combat. An idle geisha might perform a dance for nearby onlookers, raising their morale. Water is used not only to train troops and build buildings but also to put out fires and make crops grow faster.

The world of Battle Realms has plenty of meat for the hungry gamer - four clans, Zen masters (unique special units), a living resource system, a unique yin/yang power-up system, building and unit upgrades, and more. It's a world full of options.


RTS vs. RTE


RTE?! What's an RTE? RTE stands for real-time economy, and it's what you usually play when you think you're playing an "RTS." Think about it - how many games have you played where the combat was relatively unimportant, and the game was won based on how quickly you built units, not on how well you used them? The formula is mindless: grab your units, throw them at the enemy, go back to your base, build more units, and repeat. You quickly learn that if you try to maneuver your soldiers, they'll just get slaughtered. The only important thing is outproducing the enemy. Battle Realms is real-time strategy - featuring line of sight, advantages for being mounted and for occupying high ground, battle plans that go beyond simple formations, and unit balance that allows a single well-positioned soldier to do grievous damage to many opponents. You will spend most of your time fighting, not managing your resources. Suddenly the battlefield matters.

What's Next?


So that's what we're about in a nutshell. Liquid wants to be the kind of company that you can depend on to give you great games. Our first offering will be Battle Realms, and we hope our commitment to quality is evident from the moment you begin your adventures in our universe.

Next time, we'll look in detail at the living resource system and explain the interconnections that make the resources in Battle Realms more than just "money." See you soon!



Battle Realms Designer Diary #2 -  [07/27/00]

Ed Del Castillo at last dives into Battle Realms' game design and reveals many juicy tidbits about the game's unique living resource system, hardy peasants, and the very important role of yin and yang.



It's a busy summer at Liquid. Battle Realms has been getting enthusiastic advance word of mouth, which is great, but we've still got a lot of work to do before the game is on the shelves. Fortunately, things are coming together nicely, and every day brings us closer to realizing our original vision.

This month, we'll take you inside the guts of one of the most exciting features of Battle Realms: the living resource system.



Two Cups Water, One Cup Rice

Look at almost any other RTS (real-time strategy), and you'll see a very simplistic production component. Some games add complexity with multiple resource types, but in the end, it all amounts to the same thing - gather "lots of everything" to build new units. Once in a while, an RTS game allows multiple ways of collecting a resource or even implements some sort of "converter" that allows one resource to be used to generate another.

For Battle Realms, we wanted to take the next logical step and create resources that could be spent in radically different ways. Our economy runs on basic human needs: food (rice) and water. Rice and water are necessary for training new soldiers and feeding the peasants who construct new buildings. Rice is more important, but wild rice fields will be difficult to defend, since they tend to grow in swampy lowlands rather than on tactically beneficial hills or in woodlands. Water is easier to obtain; any river or pond can supply fresh water.

What makes rice and water more than just standard resources is how essential they are to each other and to the world. Players can plant their own rice fields, but rice cultivation requires water. Water is also necessary to put out fires, and the longer a fire burns, the more water it needs. Build your dojo too far from a river, and you leave it vulnerable to raids.

Since we wanted to keep the focus of the game on the fighting, one of our biggest challenges was making sure the resource-collection component of the design would be conveyed clearly and easily to a novice player. Accordingly, we spent a lot of time working on ways to automate the production chain for players who don't want to micromanage the "home front." We wanted players to worry about how to spend their resources, not how to gather them.



Peasant Power

Who's doing all this watering, harvesting, building, and fire extinguishing? The humble peasant, of course! Not only are peasants tasked with harvesting and toting water, but they also serve as the foundation for all of the game's military units. Players will have to balance "guns" and "butter" in a truly meaningful way - for every soldier in battle, there is one who isn't harvesting rice, and for every peasant on fire-fighting duty, there is one who isn't battling against the enemy.

Peasants are free of charge once the first peasant hut is built, but the player has very limited control over the rate at which new peasants become available. This dynamic, while providing us with an excellent balancing tool to control the pace of the game, was not without its challenges. If we made our free peasants too tough, we opened the door to the possibility of a "peasant rush." If we made them too weak, we would create a serious vulnerability in a player's production chain, which could be exploited by devious enemies. The solution was to make peasants difficult to kill, but very bad at killing.


Yin and Yang

Battle Realms keeps a close eye on each player's actions in both single- and multiplayer games. Players can earn yang points by performing good acts such as training healers or building peasant huts. Players earn yin points by turning to evil like using the more-dishonorable soldiers such as werewolves and torch-throwing raiders, or constructing bathhouses.

As with all the resources, yin and yang have multiple uses. Both yin and yang can be spent on upgrades or saved to make Zen Master heroes more powerful. Each clan uses either yin, or yang, but not both, so "role-playing" your chosen clan is strongly encouraged by the resource system. Since combat plays a major role in increasing yin and yang stockpiles, players who run from battle and "camp" will find themselves much further down the tech tree than the survivors of the first clash.

Deciding what was "good" and what was "evil" on the battlefield became a tricky balancing act. At first glance, killing peasants seemed like an "evil" action. But if we awarded "evil" points for killing peasants, we would end up penalizing "good" players who were simply defending their town against a peasant rush. Every action that resulted in a yin or yang award had to be carefully analyzed for its effect on the rest of the game.


Opportunity Costs

The design philosophy behind the Battle Realms living resource system is to create opportunity costs for every action. Every choice you make means giving up something, be it rice, water, a soldier, or that most valuable of all resources - time.

What will you have that new peasant do first? Train to become a spearman or an archer? Harvest rice? Bring water back from the river and put out that fire? Water the rice fields so that the rice will grow quickly? Dig a well, because it's a long walk to the river? So many decisions, so little time... and that's before you even get into a fight!

Next time, we'll shift the focus back to the core of the game - the battlefield. We'll introduce you to some of our units, including the powerful Zen Master heroes that live and fight in the world of Battle Realms.


Battle Realms Designer Diary #3 -  [09/11/00]

In the third installment of our Battle Realms Designer Diaries, producer Ed Del Castillo talks about adding some character to the game's clans and units.


When we began work on Battle Realms, we knew we were starting down a long and difficult road. The first game from Liquid had to stand out in the overcrowded real-time strategy market. If we ended up with a generic clone, no one would be happy - least of all us. We had to push the genre in a new direction while we kept enough core RTS game elements to please the hard-core fans. To create a memorable experience, we had to create innovative game dynamics. But this was only half the battle. We wanted the world of Battle Realms to feel real and alive. This meant building story content into the fabric of our world - not just in the single-player cinematics, but in the very units themselves.



Clanning Ahead

If the game were going to be interesting, our four clans - Dragon, Serpent, Lotus, and Wolf - had to be mortal enemies. Battle Realms is about battle, after all! But we wanted to do more than create an artificial rivalry just for the time period when gameplay occurs. So our first task was to design a long and bloody history in which each of the clans played a vital role.

Another goal was to keep the scope of our world focused. By setting Battle Realms on an island - something similar in size to historical Japan - we could create a wealth of detail and history in a limited geographical area while we still maintained the feeling that a larger world lurked out there, just beyond the stormy seas.

So we had our setting - now we needed people to populate it. We roughed out the basic ideas for the four clans and made each one as special and distinct as possible. Next, because our clans were so different from each other, we had to figure out how they all came to the island in the first place.

Once our clans were well defined, we built the island's history and focused on clan conflict and war. Which clan was first on the island? Who were the masters, and who were the servants? Were there slave revolts and civil wars? Who built the great cities, and who tore them down?

Creating a detailed back story is one of the best and most fulfilling parts of the design process. It is also one of the most important. While little of the back story would be directly conveyed during the course of the game itself, having a solid understanding of the history of our clans before we made a single unit allowed us to build the rest of the game's story on a solid foundation.



A Little Character

Our next task was to define the game's units and write a storyline. While the artists developed a unique visual style for each clan, the designers worked on unit functionality. We had two goals in mind: first, give each clan a unique play style, and second, make sure all the units contributed to the clan's back story.

For example, the Wolf clan was a curious mixture of barbarism and playfulness. They were once miners and laborers, and their soldiers were fierce warriors equally fond of war and team sports. With the clan's basic feel firmly established, the abilities of individual units were easy to create. From the spiked balls hurled from the Slinger's pitching glove to the Mauler's stone ball and chain, the Wolf clan's weapons are all about delivering face-to-face pain (and lots of it).

By contrast, the Serpent clan is a fallen star. They were once lords of the land, and they lost power years ago. They have resorted to raiding and thievery to survive but have retained the arrogance of a clan that once ruled. Fast, cunning, and brutal, Serpent clan soldiers are perfect for sneaky players. Quick strikes against enemy towns by Serpent raiders will leave nothing but burned rubble in their wake. Starting with a robust back story allowed us to more easily create the Zen Masters, who would add personality and bring the world to life. Some of the older heroes had fought in the earlier wars that raged across the Battle Realms world - Otomo, the faithful ex-Serpent retainer hoping for a quiet retirement; Grayback, scarred and aged leader of the Wolf clan slave revolt; and Zymeth, the evil Master of Storms and former advisor to the lord of the land. The "next generation" of Zen Masters were also steeped in the lore of our setting - the hero Kenji, exiled heir to the Serpent Throne; Tao, the mysterious balanced man on a personal quest for enlightenment; and Issyl, a dangerous Lotus wizard who ages backward. In the end, almost all our Zen Masters evolved naturally from the work we had already done.


Everything in Its Place

One of the most difficult tasks a designer has is making sure all game concepts "fit" with what has gone before. The more complex the game becomes, the more difficult it is to make sure that a new subsystem works correctly. Sometimes it's even necessary to tear it all down and start over, but by planning ahead, a good design team can create a solid foundation on which to build a polished game. This is true not only for core game dynamics, but also for story content and characters. Creating characters for a game is just like creating characters for a novel or screenplay. When designers start with a fully realized world - one that they understand from the inside out - the characters will find their own place in it.

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