March 14, 2012

Aeon of Sands - Developing the Viewport and Controls

The Graphics
The pure view of the dungeon in Dungeon Master is 224 wide and has a height of 164 pixels. This is not much, regarding that my preferred screen resolution is 1920x1080.




Pixel vs Render?
Thus we have some problems: First of all: We don't have an graphic artists in our team. So, drawing hi-res graphics is not an option. If you are an experienced artist with skill in doing dark fantasy 2D graphics (walls, monster animations, portraits, icons, gui elements) and want to be a part of our team, please send us a mail, im, twitter.
The current solution is to resize the old Dungeon Master graphics with an “hq3x” upscaler algorithm. This are only placeholders, until we have own graphics, because we want to have a playable game at any time.




We did some research how other dungeon crawlers and their approach to fill the screen.

The Classics

Eye of the Beholder,


Black Crypt


...and of course there are many others like Dungeon Hack, Lands of Lore, Wizardry, Phantasy Star, Shining in the Darkness, Might and Magic, Ultima and many, many more…
Most of the classic games had a similar interface. You have the cursor keys as buttons to move, spellbooks, a compass, four or six avatars with their primary and secondary weapon or shield. Next to the avatar is always the healthbar and sometimes there are additional bars like magic or endurance as well.
Besides the use of more graphics and less text, the interfaces didn’t improve over a period of about 10 years.

There are a few limitations and relicts this interface:
  • Clicking on the cursor keys is no longer the preferred movement control. Since the approach of 3d-shooter, moving by Keys: QWEASD is mandatory.
  • Attacking enemies in real-time RPG’s is done by fast clicking on the weapon with the left mouse button. The resulting damage is calculated in the background. You cannot do extra damage by attacking the head or slow down the enemy by attacking the feet.
  • Using magic is mostly tricky, because you can’t cast the spell directly with one or two mouseclicks. First, you have to open the spellbook and then go down the list and search the spell. "Dungeon Master" is even more complex because you have to arrange the runes in the right order, but during a fight it is almost impossible to search for a specific spell.
  • The Inventory: Well, to be honest, that annoys me for over 20 years… In most RPG’s every Character has its own inventory and you can often collect further bags or chests to put in stuff. Searching and organizing the inventory is one of the most  time consuming jobs as hero. Especially when the carriers have a weight limit or you simple haven’t enough slots for all your stuff.

New Developments

There are two directions… The first one is having an eye on remakes or new developments in the spirit of the old adventures and the other one is looking at new 3d-RPG’s and more action-orientated Games.

One of the recently most anticipated dungeon crawlers is "Legend of Grimrock".



The interface looks cleaner and not overloaded in comparison to the old games.The Dungeon is now fullscreen, the avatars and some buttons are overlays.

Other games like Prelude of the Chambered are only using one actionbar where everything is organized.



More complex games like World of Warcraft also have a tidy screen.



This interface is one of the best so far: Characters and their health status are well visible. The items are well grouped and can be accessed by shortcuts. You have a minimap and a small chat on the left side.

The primary goals to GUI and controls


  • Fighting and moving should be possible without a computer mouse.
  • It should be easy to learn and it should be orientated on other RPG’s and 3d-Shooter.
  • Items and Magic must be easily accessible when needed.
  • The Inventory must be grouped sensibly.
  • In one screen all the important information must be at hand.

The solution?


  • Forget the cursor keys (only optional) - Keys: QWEASD is for movement
  • Our first prototype has already a setup for 4 Players. As mentioned above – fullscreen with hi-res graphics would be awesome, but not realistic to achieve.
    So we use a bigger window for the local player and up to three smaller windows for remote players.
  • The avatar is not really necessary, but we where convinced that they are atmospheric and with a click a good overview of the character stats, the applied clothes and weapons and the map of the maze.
  • By attacking the monsters: We are unsure to use the old school fighting button by clicking on the weapon (or pressing “space or ctrl”) and let the computer calculate the damage or if it's better to directly click on the enemy and to hit specific parts of the body. Killing the enemy should not be too easy, so it could be realized with an automatically moving mouse cursor, which movement could be minimized by gaining up levels or using lighter weapons. It also would be possible to implement combo attacks by multiple clicking at the right timing on the enemy.
  • Using magic:  The rune system from "Dungeon Master" is awesome. We are again unsure how to implement it – perhaps by pressing a four-number-combo on the num-block? An alternative would to choose the spells from a spellbook and assign some of them to the numbers or the F-keys.
  • The inventory: As we mentioned before – a big and unsorted inventory is in my opinion no longer needed. Roughly the inventory can be divided in following classes: Weapons, Clothes and armor, Food, important items needed for the solutions of quests, Items without any specific function (just for trading), Magic scrolls and drinks, Items for the recreation of the character, i.e. first aid
  • Every item-class can be opened with a specific shortkey. Multiple items from the same type are stored in one slot and show the amount on the right corner of the slot.
  • A symbol for the status of the hero (poisoned, healthy) is also shown.

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