I want my 7drl game Scroll to have lots of interesting spells. So, as I'm designing its spell system, I've been looking at the types, and considering the whole universe of possible spells that fit within the constraints of the types.

My first throught was that a spell would be a function from World -> World. That allows any kind of spell that manipulates the game map. Like, for instance a "whiteout" that projects a stream of whitespace from the player's mouth.

Since Scroll has a state monad, I quickly generalized that; making spell actions a state monad M (), which lets spells reuse other monadic actions, and affect the whole game state, including the player. Now I could write a spell like "teleport", or "grow".

But it quickly became apparent this was too limiting: While spells could change the World map, the player, and even change the list of supported spells, they had no way to prompting for input.

I tried a few types of the Event -> M () variety, but they were all too limiting. Finally, I settled on this type for spell actions: M NextStep -> M NextStep.

And then I spent 3 hours exploring the universe of spells that type allows! To understand them, it helps to see what a NextStep is:

type Step = Event -> M NextStep
data NextStep = NextStep View (Maybe Step)

Since NextStep is a continuation, spells take the original continuation, and can not only modify the game state, but can return an altered continuation. Such as one that prompts for input before performing the spell, and then calls the original continuation to get on with the game.

That let me write "new", a most interesting spell, that lets the player add a new way to cast an existing spell. Spells are cast using ingredients, and so this prompts for a new ingredient to cast a spell. (I hope that "new farming" will be one mode of play to possibly win Scroll.)

And, it lets me write spells that fail in game-ending ways. (Ie, "genocide @"). A spell can cause the game to end by returning a continuation that has Nothing as its next step.

Even better, I could write spells that return a continuation that contains a forked background task, using the 66 line contiuation based threading system I built in day 3. This allows writing lots of fun spells that have an effect that lasts for a while. Things like letting the player quickly digest letters they eat, or slow down the speed of events.

And then I thought of "dream". This spell stores the input continuation and game state, and returns a modified continuation that lets the game continue until it ends, and then restores from the point it saved. So, the player dreams they're playing, and wakes back up where they cast the spell. A wild spell, which can have different variants, like precognitive dreams where the same random numbers are used as will be used upon awaking, or dreams where knowledge carries back over to the real world in different ways. (Supports Inception too..)

Look how easy it was to implement dreaming, in this game that didn't have any notion of "save" or "restore"!

runDream :: M NextStep -> M NextStep -> (S -> S) -> M NextStep
runDream sleepcont wakecont wakeupstate = go =<< sleepcont
   where
         go (NextStep v ms) = return $ NextStep v $ Just $
        maybe wake (go <=<) ms
         wake _evt = do
                 modify wakeupstate
                 wakecont

I imagine that, if I were not using Haskell, I'd have just made the spell be an action, that can do IO in arbitrary ways. Such a spell system can of course do everything I described above and more. But, I think that using a general IO action is so broad that it hides the interesting possibilities like "dream".

By starting with a limited type for spells, and exploring toward more featureful types, I was able to think about the range of possibilities of spells that each type allowed, be inspired with interesting ideas, and implement them quickly.

Just what I need when writing a roguelike in just 7 days!


Fun comment thread on reddit