Design and documentation journal for my interactive fiction (text games); also reviews and other miscellaneous stuff.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Google seems to have gotten into the spirit of my odd inquiries, and now it thinks I might want to know how to kill undead bears.  Which I don't, actually.  Just regular, old-fashioned grizzlies and black bears. 

I've got a pretty good map on the hunting action now, I think.  (Thanks for the suggestions on flow chart tools - they were all better than what I'd been trying, and Cmap was indeed just about perfect.)  For most of the FTA stuff, I feel like I have some sort of footing in real life.  I've gone fishing (years and years ago, but how different could it be?).  I garden.  I take walks.  I own animals.  But I've never gone hunting, nor have any interest in going hunting, and the only guy I know who hunts is not the sort of person one wants to talk to.  So I've been spending a lot of time in hunting forums, which is interesting, but is only marginally helpful.  (Also, my browser history now includes people who think the apocalypse is actually coming any minute *and* people who are extremely enthusiastic about guns.  Including a thread by someone who wondered whether you could kill a bear with an AK-47.  I can only hope that person was working on a game, too. 

I'm just about to get cracking on implementation.  I'm going to start with a barebones implementation of the functions/odds, with really basic debugging reports attached.  Once I get that ironed out, I can start on the text and the random variations of the text. 

There's a few basic checks that show up over and over that involve things that aren't implemented at all, or haven't been merged in yet, so there's going to be more loose ends than usual to tie up, but it'll be nice to have a general flow to work with.  Programming-wise, I expect it to be pretty straightforward.  The truly tricky bit is going to be balancing the thing. 

It's a challenge to decide what the odds should be for any one piece of the puzzle.  There's a couple issues going on:
- the actual quantity of huntable animals - the hard population.  Theoretically, this could fluctuate, but it's probably not noticeable except for larger predators, so right now it's stable.
- the PC's ability to find huntable animals, which boils down to knowledge of the land, knowledge of animal behavior, and knowledge of the clues left by the animal behavior.  (I'm not sure these will be separate skills at all; I suspect land knowledge will be some amalgam of rooms explored and time passed, and the rest will be either tracking alone, or tracking + some other factor.)
- the PC's ability to sneak close enough to an animal to do damage.  Part pure skill, part environmental.
- the PC's ability with a weapon, and the animal's . . . resistance to damage?  I mean, even you're *really* good at throwing rocks, there's a difference between nailing a rabbit and a grizzly bear with one.  This is especially tricky given the shoddy weapons available to the PC - I mean, it's certainly possible to kill a bear with a bow and arrow, but maybe not with the one you made from a random branch, old fishing line, and a sharpened stick. 
- the PC's self perception.  I'm not exactly thinking of implementing this in itself, but it plays a factor in the choices I make the PC make.  Because, honestly, unless I was really desperate, I would not go around shooting at dangerous things.  Moose are like the hippos of the north - they look all funny, but those things kill.  I would have to be really sure of myself, my weapon, and my escape route before I shot at a moose, and I think the PC should have some of the same sense, rather than "Look!  A deadly animal!  Let's kill it!"  This gets a little sticky, since the player may very well prefer the PC to be more aggressive, so I may experiment with asking the player what she thinks instead. And then have the moose attack the PC.  (Never let it be said that my games are not educational.)

I'm working on the theory that in Winnesogan, animal populations have grown and sort of balanced out in the years since large human populations.  Some of the extirpated species have moved back in, including the occasional bison herd or grizzly.  (Essentially I look at the population dispersal projections pre-1700's, and if the range includes a reasonable chunk of Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Michigan, it's in, as long as I can think of something interesting to do with it.  Sadly, this does not include rice rats.  RIP, rice rats.)

It should be totally possible to survive by hunting.  It should also be totally possible to starve by hunting, especially for the inexperienced.  One way to address this is to set up some measurement of weapon quality and weapon skill vs. animal size.   Difficulty scales pretty well to the weight range of the animal, but I may need modifiers for the extra quick or predatory, because by that measure, bobcats would be *way* easier to kill than deer, and that seems off to me.  Also, should bison be twice as hard to kill as bears?  Hmm. 

Basically, I'd like to see minimally skilled hunters with adequate weapons be able to bag something small an average of once every 1-2 days, with the major difficulties being tracking prey and killing it.  To alleviate the sting of the tracking prey issue, I'm planning on increasing encounters with wildlife, especially garden-variety wildlife (rabbits, squirrels, small birds when they're implemented), so that the PC can "hunt" animals that he just runs into.  The first jump or two in weaponry skill should get the PC to the point where he can regularly get small game - probably not enough to be his sole food source, but a significant contribution if the player chooses to go that way.  By my rough estimates, an average wild rabbit would provide the player with ~1500 calories, which is nothing to sneeze at.  This may be on the high side, since some number were for domestic rabbits, which are bred to have better meat characteristics.  By contrast, an average rainbow trout might provide ~1300 calories.  So a couple rabbits would be just over subsistence level living. 

Average hunters with adequate weapons - fire-hardened spears or crafted slings or average-quality bows - should be able to count on small game - a good catch might be 2-4 smaller animals, with the occasional deer or lone coyote.   

Expert hunters with good weapons will probably experience only a slight uptick in the amount of food brought in, but they can probably bring down most any animal, although very large prey (e.g. bison) and large predators (mountain lions) or those in packs (wolves) remain dangerous and may take some luck to bring down.    

I also need to look at the relation of seasons to availability of prey.  I strongly suspect that winter needs the odds scaled back, and autumn needs them scaled up, but I don't know that for sure, and I'm not sure if that should be tied to a particular thing or just the general season. 

So: today - get the basic functions in place, do some testing to see how things are shaking out.  Set up hooks for future features like injuries.  Test more. 

Fun fact of the day:  A moose bit my sister once.


  1. should bison be twice as hard to kill as bears?

    Maybe you want to include something for hide thickness (basically, Armor Class)? This extremely definitive reference (it was the third hit for a search on "who would win in a fight" that I recently did) suggests that that's a big factor in the difficulty of killing a bear.

    OTOH, Wikipedia suggests that bison are enormous monsters that can kill the boop out of you, and that the old way of hunting them was to gather big groups to stampede them off buffalo jumps, so maybe you're OK with size = difficulty there.

  2. Hee! I've just been watching wolves vs. buffalo and wolves vs. bears videos. (Verdict: all of these treat each other with a healthy dose of respect.)

    A good reminder on the "drive over cliffs" modality. None of the Native American tribes I'm aware of ever hunted buffalo individually, either. I mean, pretty much no one sent Joe and his rifle/bow/spear/shotgun off to go shoot a buffalo - it was a community-wide event, and serious business. (There's a famous painting or two of some guy on a horse shooting a buffalo with a bow and arrow, but I haven't found evidence that this was more than a frontier romanticism thing, or at best one of those things that happened *very* occasionally.)

    Armor class is a good way to think of it. It's hide, but also accessibility to vitals. Shots to the heart are often blocked by bear shoulder blades; at least according to one article, you need the bear to basically lie down (or maybe crouch) to get a lethal-ish hit in. (Or maybe just a humane lethal-ish hit?) I'm not sure if the same applies to bison - I've found accounts of hitting lungs, but it's not clear if the hunters are using different rules for acceptable targets, or if it's an anatomical thing. I'll probably start with size, and see how it goes, just because it means not having to deal with an extra variable at the moment.

    (The scary thing, of course, is considering what happens if you hit an animal like that, and don't kill it. Who wants an injured bear wandering around the thick underbrush of the local forest - or a wounded buffalo in a herd of animals whose name is synonymous with *stampeding*?)