Tag Archives: magic system

New gameplay footage (music, telekinesis, invisibility, planets)

I just posted two new videos of gameplay footage from the most recent build of Arcana Manor (7-27-09).

The video has two parts.

The first part demonstrates several new features, including:
musical tones that correspond to colors and planets in the magic system,
mountable weapons based on the tarot suits,
elemental projectiles flung from melee weapons,
weapon cycling,

guard bots with basic AI,
an invisibility spell,
a demon model with flame effects from a procedural shader

The second part showcases these features:

a spell interface based on tarot cards
Moving platforms
A telekinesis spell
Collectible orbs whose colors and associated musical tones correspond to the seven planets of the ancients
A color-based and tonal magical interface corresponding to the orbs

first-person magical items and projectiles

I’ve been working on several features of Arcana Manor which are starting to add to the magic system.  The first is that I re-sized all of my tarot objects (the suits like cups and swords) and placed mount nodes on them so that they can be equipped as weapons in first-person view.   I worked for a couple of days to get weapon cycling operational so that players can switch between these weapons with a button press.  Then, I modified the melee scripts so that swinging the weapons would cast spells that fire projectiles in first-person mode, targeting with the crosshairs rather than selecting with selectrons.  Next, I made a set of geometrical projectiles fired by the various tarot suits, starting with a sphere textured in a wave image that emits water droplets through particle emitters.  Equipping the cup allows the player to fling this watery sphere, and each of the other tarot suits can hurl similar projectiles that correlate with their traditional ancient elemental attributions as well as the appropriate Platonic solids defined that the Greek philosopher Empedocles associated with the four elements.  The wand throws a flaming pyramid, the sword shoots an airy octahedron, and the pentacle fires a purple sphere (technically, this should be an earthy cube, but I like the glowing purple plasma texture better).  In fact, I like the plasma filter in Gimp 2.0 so much that I made seven plasma textures for each of the seven colors of the visible spectrum and then applied these textures to seven geometrical primitives that can also be projectiles (including the delightfully obscure rhombicosahedron).  When I export these, I think they can be 3d jewels as well as projectiles, so they may end up playing into a 3d magic interface of the kind that I described in

I need to implement a power-up system that strengthens spells according to what objects and cards have been collected.

In terms of level design, I also want to make a really twisted, surreal, evil sorcerous tower for the player to explore, inspired in part by Castlevania 64 and an obscure Elder Scrolls game called Battlespire, in which the developers made the ballsy move of including platforming elements in a first-person game with magic.  (I can’t turn these italics off, but they don’t mean anything.)  And also more directly inspired by the Alchemist’s Tower in The Holy Mountain, as well as the Dark Tower (Browning and King).  Because I like upward movement and vertiginous heights and the symbolism of ascent.

Moving Platforms

It’s been a few days since I’ve updated progress on Arcana Manor because I’ve been intently involved in implementing an important feature: moving platforms.  These are moving planes or scaled cubes that players can stand on top of, moving along with the platforms as on an elevator.  These moving platforms are important, by definition, to a game in which platforming a key part of gameplay.

Torque Game Engine Advanced doesn’t have out-of-the box support for moving platforms, which means that they have to be added as C++ code, preferably by the addition of one of the downloadable resources on Garagegames.com.  To integrate such a resource with a codebase that I’ve already heavily modified, I had to use WinDiff, a program for comparing files and isolating their differences.  Once I isolated these conflicting code fragments, I had to choose how to merge them by incorporating relevant new lines of code from the resource and discarding irrelevant lines of code.  This process was complicated by the porting of the resource from TGE 1.5.2 to TGEA 1.7.1, especially since the resource itself was actually for TGEA 1.8.1 but had been compiled from multiple TGE versions.  In practical terms, these multiple versions and resources meant that I had to spend several days reading through C++ source code, puzzling out its logic and structure until I could figure out which lines of code were needed and which were not.  I re-compiled the engine dozens of time, de-bugging code changes to preserve the resource’s functionality while updating it and slotting it in with ArcaneFX, melee, and other code changes I’ve already implemented.

I now have moving platforms.  The key is making the player object a child of the platform, which is a pathshape moving along the nodes of a path.

Unfortunately, I have to use a rectangular dts shape that came packaged with an early version of the resource, because the player falls through any dts that I make myself in Softimage.  I think this has to do with the way that collision meshes are set up in the process of exporting the model from Softimage to dts format, but after spending a day on collision meshes I haven’t been able to isolate the problem.

I’m now trying to trigger the moving platforms with a spell so that I can incorporate telekinesis into my magic system.  Since the magic system is the focus of the game and the surreal mansion is the secondary focus, it would be best if these two aspects of gameplay could be tied together.  I have a telekinesis spell that can move an interior instance with the settransform() function, but the interior leaps all at once rather than animating smoothly and carrying the player with it.  If I can trigger a pathshape with a spell, the player could raise and lower bridges with the alterative school of magic, corresponding to the wands.

new Arcana Manor feature: mounted particle emitter

Finally, after six months, succeeded in attaching a particle emitter to the cursor.

This is the beginning of a gestural magic system, since the player can now trace sigils in the air because the cursor leaves behind a trail of glowing particles (in this case, fire) which look like a will o’ the wisp.

Here’s a video of the feature out of context

And here’s a longer video of the complete build, with the particle emitter feature in context

Interested readers might want to watch these videos in conjunction with this previous video of a recent build, which lacks the sigil drawing feature but also showcases the game’s spellcasting interfaces as they’re evolving.

Video: New Arcana Manor build

As promised, here is a short video of the newest build of Arcana Manor.

This build features some experiments with a new spell interface, including a rotating 3d tarot deck and a hexagram gui with jewel buttons that summon magical sigils with spellcasting powers. The player can also shift between first person shooter mode for melee and third-person mode for cursor-based spell-casting in the interfaces. I’m using Jeff Faust’s ArcaneFX in conjunction with these interfaces to implement spell-casting effects, including a custom attack spell with my own zodiacs and rune rings and a modified levitation spell using physical zones. The build also features some custom items representing the minor arcana of the tarot deck, including an ankh wand, a glowing black sword, a cup, and a pentacle.

today’s short-term goals for Arcana Manor

Model the demon using Ron’s orthogonals

Write and/or implement new AI scripts to spawn more monsters

Download and apply new textures from cg textures (wood especially)

Script a telekinesis spell (raise one platform using a transform and/or apply impulse function)

Make the hexagram gui connect its points through pressing buttons that switch out bitmaps, preferably with an outer glow applied to each line segment

customizing spells

Have been working on customizing spells in ArcaneFX, a special effects program for Torque. The process of making spells is essentially advanced scripting, and I’ve managed to modify one existing spell (Light My Fire) to produce a larger and differently colored fire on the ground and the caster’s hands. I’ve also been working on modifying the Great Ball of Fire spell to be an Iceball, but I keep getting a connection error. Jeff Faust (the designer of ArcaneFX, whose Faustian name is delightfully appropriate) offers the following help in a forum: “It’s not unusual to have to do some debugging when writing advanced scripts like this.” No doubt. I’m keeping at it.

Magic System, Part III: Implementing specific features


Each tarot card is a spell.

The minor arcana (the suit cards with varying numbers of wands, cups, pentacles, and swords) are low-level alterative, restorative, protective/illusionary, and aggressive spells. Players cast these spells very frequently, and the process of casting them should be quick and addictive.

The major arcana (the 22 pictorial cards with Magician, High Priestess, Tower, etc.) are ultra-powerful spells used to resolve especially tough situations (e.g. apparently undefeatable bosses, seemingly impossible puzzles, totally blocked or inaccessible areas in the manor)


The minor arcana spells are relatively easy to execute.

The minor arcana are less powerful (but still effective) spells, requiring only the collection of items and the tracing of a simple sigil in the air.

To cast a minor arcana spell, the player must have at least one of the objects associated with it (e.g. at least one sword)

The player must trace the correct (simple) sigil in the air with the respective item (e.g. hexagram, pentagram, Saturn astrological symbol, Mercury astrological symbol).

Tracing a hexagram with a sword equipped has a different effect than tracing one with a cup equipped, i.e. the sword hexagram attacks and the cup hexagram heals.

Swords are charged with aggressive magic, representing the power of the analytical mind to destroy demons of illogic and delusion. Collecting a sword object allows the player to fling one flying sword as a projectile at an enemy. Collecting multiple sword objects powers up the spell, allowing the player to fling as many flying swords as he has collected sword objects.

Two options for how the powering up of spells works (I haven’t decided which)

Spells remain powered up (i.e. the player doesn’t lose spell levels when he throws swords). For this reason, power ups should be rare rewards, distributed and hidden sparingly throughout the level.

[OR: Spell levels deplete in power every time the spell is cast, so items must be collected constantly and are distributed plentifully.]

Wands are alterative, representing the power of the will. The player can use the wand to telekinetically raise platforms to form staircases and launching pads. Wands can also form bridges out of pure light and energy so that the player can pass over otherwise impassable chasms.

Pentacles are protective: they can produce a glowing transparent shield that is as powerful as the number of swords or cups that one has currently collected

Cups are restorative: they release a healing flood of soft-colored blue or purple light that raises mana or health.

In traditional occultist thought (Levi, Crowley, Jodorowsky), each of these arcana stands for one virtue of a magician: cups = knowing, swords = daring, wands = willing, and pentacles = keeping silent.

Players enact each of these arcana through a core mechanic, which is a spell power: keeping silent = stealth through invisibility, daring = leaping perilous chasms, knowing = destroying the enemies of delusion and solving puzzles, willing = bending the environment to one’s will by telekinetically moving platforms or causing


The major arcana are powerful spells that can only be unleashed through tracing the right sequence of sigils and pressing the right buttons, registered through color and sound.

They take time and deliberation to cast: the equivalent of a ritual.

They have less time pressure on them than the minor arcana spells, i.e. they are more like puzzle-solving, albeit complex puzzles with multiple solutions.

They are usually not cast while enemies are attacking, unless it is a very slow enemy or a horde of minor enemies banging at the gates.

The Death card can destroy whole levels of enemies (e.g. the enemies banging at the gates above), the Devil card can summon powerful demonic bosses to defeat or powerful demonic allies to aid you, the strength card can conjure into existence powerful magical protection (like a whole suit of armor)


Saturn Symbol + x + Aries Symbol + pentagram + y = the Devil, which summons a powerful demonic ally

A set of colored boxes at the bottom of the screen that light up as sigils and buttons are successfully or unsuccessfully executed

Maybe a musical tone plays also, à la Loom.

Magic System, Part II: Goals and Features

The problem: Too many MMO and single-player RPG’s have a repetitive and simplistic magic system in which players press buttons on a tray of icons, watch a series of animations to play throughout casting time, and then wait through the cool-down period before they press the mouse button again. Systems like this are repetitive and dull: automated to the point that players are almost uninvolved.

The goal: Magic, by its very definition, should feel out of the ordinary, a complex mixture of arcane art and science practiced by highly trained adepts who revel in the skill and the rules they have mastered, much as programmers or gamers do. Magic is a metaphor for the power of the human imagination to shape reality and perhaps, taking a cue from Clive Barker, for the creative activity of play itself. Hence, we need to look back at the history of the most innovative RPG’s, action-adventure, and survival horror games to re-enchant and re-activate the process of casting spells in games. It could also be helpful to consider human beliefs and practices surrounding magic in myth and ritual. Articles about magic systems in games often argue that because magic is a “fantasy construct” that no system is inherently better than another, since there is no way to judge the accuracy of a system that simulates a fiction. This attitude can result in the approach of “do whatever will be easiest for players” or, worse, “do whatever everyone else is currently doing,” resulting in the current problem of dull and repetitive systems.

But magic systems in games haven’t always been so homogenous, in human belief or in game practice. As Matt Barton has demonstrated in Dungeons and Desktops (and team member Kris Maxwell has confirmed in conversations)¸ CRPG’s like Dungeon Master and Betrayal at Krondor involved innovative and experimental magic systems. Tabletop RPG’s like Mage: The Ascension and survival horror games like Eternal Darkness have explored the philosophical dimensions of magic in innovative gameplay mechanics (not to mention card games like Magic: The Gathering). Adventure game Loom had a magic system

I would like to implement 5 features in order to make the magic system of this game exciting, fun, sophisticated, and engaging.

    1. A magic system based on a system of symbolic correspondences
    2. Magic that alters the physical environment to help overcome physical obstacles (e.g. raising platforms, building bridges)

(This is part of a more general aim to produce spells with gameplay effects that are more varied and psychedelic than the standard damage/buff/heal effects. For example, spells that cause solid stone to warp and liquefy or spells that grant visionary passage into other dimensions of pure sound and light (or demonic realms of the dead).
3. Spells are powered up by collecting minor arcana of the tarot (wands, cups, swords, & pentacles), which can be combined to produce spell effects.
4. Players cast spells by tracing sigils, such as flaming runes and pentagrams, possibly making use of the Nintendo Wiimote (since TGEA is cross-platform and I’m especially interested in aiming this game at consoles).
5. The magic system might take full advantage of 3d space by having players mold, weave, and sculpt spells, creating varying spells effects by modeling 3d shapes and directing the vectors of these shapes towards different 3d directions.

1. The magic system is based on a system of symbolic correspondences in which symbols stand for other symbols in an array or “grid,” i.e. colors stand for virtues which stand for objects which stand for gods which stand for schools of magic, or colors = notes of a scale = tarot cards = runes and so on.
1a. Players combine symbols pictorially or semantically to produce spell effects. To cast spells, players must master a language of symbols.
The system should be both meaningful and action-packed. The best example I’ve seen so far is the magic system in Eternal Darkness, where casting spells involves the combination of many different runes of three different colors, which stand for the three demonic deities of the world as well as human powers of body, mind and sanity. Spells become more powerful the more the player learns the language and symbol system of the game: which runes stand for enchantment, which stand for objects, which stand for self. In learning this language, the player also has to internalize the game’s mythology: which of the deities has power over which realm, and how these realms trump each other in rock-paper-scissors fashion.

2. Because Arcana Manor is a platformer, many of its challenges are environmental. One original feature of the magic could be its ability to help players overcome these environmental challenges by altering the environment physically. An example of effective use of magic that physically alters the environment is Soul Reaver 2 and the Legacy of Kain series generally, in which elemental magic can create gusts of wind that the player can glide on with his wings, disable the trap of a cyclopean eye with darkness, light up jewels that lower ice bridges, and summon earth platforms.

    1. The magic system will be, in part, based on the minor arcana of the tarot (which refers to the suits of wands, cups, swords, and disks/coins/pentacles). Players collect these items as power-ups that make spells more potent. There are an obvious set of elemental correspondences to these four suits (fire, water, air, earth) and also traditional schools of magic (alterative, restorative, damaging, and protective). It would be cool if these magical functions were more action-packed, cognitively challenging, and dexterity-oriented. Castlevania is addictive because the repetitive activity of whipping enemies is inherently enjoyable and requires timing to execute correctly. Throwing four swords that fly through the air or jumping on a pentacle/disk summoned from below would be comparable examples of quick an engaging magical gameplay.

4. The magic system involves tracing flaming runes and pentagrams in the air to create various magical effects. I think that the add-on ArcaneFX could help to build these features, but they might also require substantial engine modification in order allow the player to draw sigils using particle emitters and to correlate these drawn symbols with gameplay effects. Shaun Walsh already has some really excellent ideas for the conceptual design of this code. Shaun writes, “Castlevania for the DS had the same concept, but they had built in functionality for that. How it would work is you would have to have a file that stored 2d coordinates of the first mouse click on the screen (where he starts drawing) and then does a match function to determine the roundabout next point he would have to draw to, something like a direction map. Heres an example
User starts drawing at 25,25
So, the computer would figures the next point is 25 points lower, and 30 points to the right so the next cord would be 50,55. Then it would go onto the next point. The file would look like this
0: +25,+30 (this is actually the second point)
1: +25, -30
2: -25, -30
3: -25, +30

This would make a pyramid drawing. You would obviously have to make a buffing system that would make use of extreme math cause the user wouldn’t be able to click EXACT coordinates. I would think the closer he is to exact, the more critical the spell is. Obviously, some of the marks he would be drawing would be more complicated, but that’s just a basic concept.”

    1. Tracing glyphs and sigils in the way outlined in the previous point takes place in 2d, i.e. the hexagrams are a 2d overlay on a 3d environment.

We could make the system more interesting if we figured out how to take full advantage of 3d graphic capabilities in creating a magic system.
Kris Maxwell’s suggestion:
A system in which players could change the powers of a spell by directing parts of its sign toward specific 3 dimensional-vectors.
Imagine the casting space to be a north-east-south-west cube.
For example, tracing a fire rune with its tip toward the north quadrant might mean “ignite,” but directing the tip toward the south would be “extinguish.” Whereas rune-tracing would be based on two-dimensional coordinates and implemented through a drawing engine, a three-dimensional method would feel more like a very rudimentary 3d modeling application, and its coordinates would be stored in a 3d matrix rather than a 2d array.
The player would be using two virtual hands for weaving, shaping, molding patterns out of pure light and energy, like a sculptor shaping clay or a weaver making a cat’s cradle.


Maybe shaping a cube would be one spell, shaping a dodecahedron would be another (or twelve others, depending on how it were turned), and shaping a sphere would entail yet another spell.
This would almost be a very simplified 3d modeling engine within the game, combined with a semantic-based system projected onto three-dimensional space.

See cube of space from neo-masonic organization BOTA


6. Magic is a metaphor (power of human imagination to shape reality)
The four weapons of a magician (knowing, daring, willing, and keeping silent) traditionally correspond to the four tarot suits.
Our magic system will express these ideas through gameplay,.
I’m look for ways to express these abstract human powers, abilities, virtues, activities as spells with concrete effects.

7. Other features that could be incorporated into a magic system:

Summoning circles to protect the caster from the spirits she calls up, and triangles to contain the spirit.
Draw the circle or triangle incorrectly, or step outside of it during the conjuring, and the spirit attacks you.


Planetary alignments (via the Torque ability to create celestial bodies that move cyclically), including phases of the moon
Certain variations on a spell, such as which planetary point of the hexagram to start tracing first, are more effective during certain alignments (cf. the phases of the three moons and their relationship to black, white, and red magic in the Dragonlance Chronicles)
Combinations of alchemical ingredients (e.g. sulphur, salt, mercury) to produce spells
Burning certain forms of incense (with appropriate smoke/fire animations)