Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Ten Computer RPGs You’ve Never Heard Of*

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 25, 2015

I struggle with the obscurity of my own indie RPG, Frayed Knights, every day. That’s a common problem with indie games, in spite of our best efforts. But compared to the average indie release, Frayed Knights is doing pretty well. It’s been in some bundles, made it onto Steam, gotten some good reviews and even won some awards that I’m very proud of. But it’s hard to even judge the “average” indie game because… shock… you’ve never heard of it. And what about the games that even more unknown than “average?”

The indie revolution has brought a whole new meaning to the concept of “obscure.” I love reading the CRPG Addict’s blog, and he relishes in discovering these old, obscure computer RPGs. And admittedly, even as a guy who thought he knew his stuff, I am astonished by some of his finds. But he’s still working in the pre-World Wide Web days right now. Things kinda exploded a few years ago, and keep exploding. About twice as many CRPGs released last year than in any year he’s covered so far, and he’s now knee-deep in the “golden age” of the game genre, circa 1990. However, the closer we get to the present day, the more opportunities also arise for… I dunno, call it “micro-publicity” or something. There’s always a tiny website that might mention or review a game (like this one), or some kind of bundle which might include your game.

Even so, a lot of these indie games release with nary a splash, sell little or bupkis, abandon the field, leave the website to be devoured by Asian vultures when the registration lapses, and are remembered by almost none. And… admittedly, these games are not usually the diamonds in the rough their creators probably believed. But in many cases, they weren’t bad, and even if they were, sometimes they contained some interesting seeds of good ideas.

I know a little bit about the challenge of making an RPG**, so I wanted to offer some celebration of the effort that went into making these titles, if nothing else. I fully admit that even as I try to pretend I’ve got my ear to the ground here, I’m unfocused enough to realize that if I’ve heard of it (let alone played it), it’s probably not really that obscure. But in celebration of these nearly-forgotten titles, I wanted to share ten of the most obscure CRPGs I have ever played. If you can still find them, they may be worth checking out – in fact, some of them I heartily recommend. But here’s a word of warning: Because these games are little-known outside of certain circles, there’s not often a lot of help or walkthroughs available online. If you play them, prepare to solve them the old-fashioned way, with very little assistance.


scan-dungeons-of-death#1 – Dungeons of Death / Dungeons of Magdarr (1983, Commodore 64): This title was only available as a mail-order from a regular multi-game ad in magazines like Compute! I remember digging through the BASIC code and discovering the dungeon maps defined as character strings, and thinking that was a pretty clever way to store it. It was a 3D first-person perspective title… and not a very good one. The odd thing is that I ordered it from this ad to the right. But I understand this game (Dungeons of Death) was a 2D, top-down game on the VIC-20 and other systems. Yet the game I received was a 3D, three-level dungeon (I remember it had 3 levels because, again, I spent about as much time looking through the code as I did playing it.)

I wish I still had the original packaging with the (Tape? Floppy? I can’t remember) and the manual (was it a single page?) Anyway, it was my very first computer RPG, and while it wasn’t the greatest experience evar, it was a taste of things to come.



vampyre1#2 – Vampyr: Talisman of Invocation (1989, DOS): One day in 1991, on a library computer at my university, I discovered Shareware. I had no money, so this was a wonderful thing. On that day, I copied a whole bunch of these shareware / public domain games onto a couple of floppy drives and took them home. Among them was an Ultima III-like CRPG called Vampyr: Talisman of Invocation. It wasn’t that great of an Ultima clone, to be honest, but it was really impressive that just a couple of guys managed to put this thing together. That was perhaps my first glimpse at to what would one day become the exciting world of indie CRPGs.


#3 – The Devil Whiskey (2003, DOS): This one is hard to label as “obscure.” If hardcore CRPG fans were hipsters, this would be one of the hipster games out there, that the “in” crowd all know about, but nobody else does. It came out in an era where very few indie RPGs were being released, so it gained some momentum by being unique. It is very strongly influenced by The Bard’s Tale, to a fault in my opinion (including an extremely hard first area – a town that is as hard as an old-school dungeon). It’s a first-person dungeon crawler with 3D graphics and quality artwork, now (finally) available via Gamersgate.



Parhedros#4 – Parhedros: Tunnels of Sethir (2007, Windows): An “old-school, dungeon-crawling, fantasy role-playing adventure, packed full of action, magic and mayhem” which

only erred on the side of authenticity when it came to determining whether certain humanoid creatures wore clothes. The answer was, “No,” although the effort was not (at least not in the demo that I played) an attempt to titillate – not that the low-poly 3D graphics could really do much of that if that had been their actual intention. As far as I could see, there was nothing more provocative than the illustrations in the old 1st edition AD&D manuals. The site is still available, though, and is still NSFW: Parhedros


os_screen3#5 – The Omega Syndrome (2005?, Windows): Inspired by the original Fallout games, this RPG was set in something of an alternate-history 1950s involving alien conspiracies. Yep, a non-fantasy indie RPG! Complete with comic-book style narratives and isometric, turn-based combat and pretty decent graphics, this was a sadly overlooked title. Eventually, in frustration, the developer removed the game entirely from sale, although you can still find various versions of the free demo out on the web.



#6 – The Three Musketeers – The Game (2009, Windows and Mac): An unusual title by Dingo Games based on the classic novel, The Three Musketeers. Again, non-fantasy! And with some very unusual opportunities (like playing Tennis – the sport of kings). And… hey, I am actually an affiliate for this relatively unknown game, and you can get it here. Okay, shameless plug over. It’s hard for me to gauge its relative obscurity, but it seemed like it fell off every radar almost immediately after release.



SSU_blackdragon#7 – Swords & Sorcery: Underworld (2010/2012, Windows): This game has been released a couple of times in progressively better quality, with a new version coming “soon” that promises to be even better. This is another game that I have trouble thinking of as being “obscure” because I’m personal friends of the developer, and it has received rave reviews from the little places on the Internet that I follow. And of course, *I* have played it, so how obscure can it be? But as a game that’s not on any major distribution sites, and has never (to my knowledge) been in any bundle, and rarely mentioned outside of a small circle of diehard western RPG-fans, I guess it qualifies. Swords & Sorcery: Underworld is heavily influenced by the early Might & Magic series, and offers considerable depth and length of gameplay, and lots and lots of dungeons and monsters, and not a small number of interesting puzzles to resolve. What it does borrow from the classics is put to good use, offering the same addictive properties. As the author has kept refining it (even while laboring on the sequel), it speaks highly of his dedication to the game long after its initial release. You can grab yourself a copy at the Olderbytes official website.



inariascreenshot5#8 – Inaria (2011, Windows): Created by another friend of mine, Anthony Salter, Inaria has finally been part of a (modest) bundle, so it’s no longer quite as obscure as it once was. Inaria is an old-school-esque game of the Ultima III-V style that started as a “game in 40 hours” project that gradually blossomed into a full-fledged (if relatively short), playable, entertaining game. The author updated the game since its original release, adding a major randomized dungeon (called “The Infinite”) and other features. You can help make this game less obscure by getting it here.



dde2#9 – Darklight Dungeon / Darklight Dungeon Eternity (2010 / 2012, Windows): This was actually the game that inspired this post. The website is gone, the game is no longer supported (and I’m not sure if it can even be purchased anymore), but you know… it was actually a pretty cool title that I had a bit of fun playing. The sequel – Darklight Dungeon Eternity – included FIFTY LEVELS of hand-built dungeon. The graphics were pretty programmer-art-y built from stock tools, and after a certain point the combat emphasis could get wearying, but it did seem like the game regularly provided some surprises. And… I have to ask… has ANYBODY other than Jesse Zoeller (the creator) actually played this bad boy to completion? Holy cow.



AxeAndFateRebirth#10 – Axe and Fate Rebirth (2013, Windows & Android): While the game doesn’t advertise itself as an Android port, it’s pretty obvious when you play it. While that in itself would be a recommendation against it (and it is), the game sports some pretty interesting features: It is a 3D free-moving turn-based tactical RPG with first-person perspective and up to two characters in the party. You can play with a solo character (with double the starting points) if you want, but it’s much harder that way. It’s available on Desura.



Now, as I said before, I doubt I even come close to being having played the most obscure computer RPGs ever (although I think Dungeons of Magdarr is up there). There are several more I could have listed, but these are my favorite (at least in terms of being unusual, really obscure, or really fun) I’m sure the community here knows plenty more. What CRPGs have you played that were theoretically publicly released (and may still be), yet very few people have ever heard of?

* Unless you read this blog, in which case you’ve probably heard of half of ’em.
** At least without something like RPG Maker, which makes it pretty dang easy to throw together a crappy RPG, and I know many of them were “released” by way of some forum post lost in antiquity.  There’s no bottom to how obscure those theoretically “public” distributions can become, so I left RPG Maker games off this list. HOWEVER – Putting together a high-quality title is still insanely difficult, regardless of tools, and so I do not want anybody to take this as some kind of knock against RPG Maker titles. Many of my favorite indie RPGs were made with that tool, and I know dang well how much sweat and blood went into ’em!

Filed Under: General - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

RPG Leveling Mechanics – The Fairy Tale Secret Sauce

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 22, 2015

men-and-magicEvery once in a while I’ll hear somebody complain about the leveling mechanics in RPGs, usually about how you start as a nobody with a wooden sword and progress to becoming one of the world’s ultimate superheroes. In particular, the complaints seem to stem from the idea that you always start from such lowly beginnings.

This complaint even affects the hardcore. One of the comments in the (sadly, canceled – for now) Seven Dragon Saga Kickstarter video was that (I’m paraphrasing here) your characters wouldn’t begin as lowly farmers pressed into adventure – they’d be already super-powered “chaos touched.” For many of us, that was actually more of a turn-off than a selling point, if that was what they intended.

But there are a lot of virtues built into the traditional start-as-a-nobody leveling mechanic that make it ideal for video games (and pretty awesome for tabletop games, too).


First of all – the great-grandpappy of roleplaying games (before we get into the neanderthal wargaming / sports gaming evolutionary origins) – Dungeons & Dragons. The original. Quite literally, your starting character was something of a nobody. If you played a spell-caster of some sort rather then maybe had the chance to cast a Cure Light Wounds a couple of times, or Magic Missile and Light (at a cost of some survivability). But based on the wargaming roots, your character began as a nothing grunt. A footsoldier. You may have rolled some pathetic stats, making your characters life expectancy even shorter.

Eventually, around level 6 or so, your character would be the equivalent of a small army (or at least a squad) of soldiers on the battlefield or in the dungeon. But until such time, characters had a pretty high mortality rate (and even at level 6 or above, a far higher mortality rate than expected in modern role-playing games). Achieving such lofty levels of heroism was something of an accomplishment, often with a trail of dead characters marking the path. (Although it didn’t hurt that it took less than five minutes to roll up a replacement character back then.)

Tradition gives this style of gameplay some feeling of legacy that inspired old-school players. But that alone isn’t enough to recommend sticking with it.


I once heard an explanation of the difference between fairy-tale heroes (and heroines, as is often the case), and mythological ones was that the mythological heroes were born into greatness, propelled by destiny, while fairy tale heroes were ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. This is perhaps too sweeping of a generalization, but the explanation was used to suggest why modern, western audiences gravitated more towards the fairy-tale heroes than the mythological ones.

Now, fantasy stories often draw upon mythological roots, so you get a lot of “chosen one” storylines, but even then the subject of such portents comes from extremely humble beginnings – even if they were born under special conditions (like they are secretly the King’s son), they’ve been toiling away in obscurity.

But audiences can identify better with the everyman of the fairy-tale hero. In mythology, if you weren’t of divine birth, you’d better not dare mess with the gods or the supernatural, because mythological stories rarely end well for the poor normal mortal with delusions of grandeur. They are very authoritarian that way. But the fairy tale hero might at best be of noble or royal birth, but still just a plain ol’ person who finds himself or herself in extraordinary circumstances. And, depending upon the nature of the fairy tale, has about a 50/50 chance of coming out on top, especially if they are clever, respectful, bold without being foolhardy, and avoid being a greedy douchebag to strangers.

Anyway, this is a much more powerful character for audience identification, which gives it some benefits as to being a stronger tale. Both approaches work, and variety is the spice of life. Maybe it’s more of an American culture thing, but starting from nothing and then achieving greatness is the quintessential success story and has a strong vibe.

Gameplay Mechanics

Games with the strongest mass appeal gradually unlock (or allow the player to discover) skills for the player to develop and master as they play. In the standard platformer, you may start out by learning to move left and right. Then on top of that, you learn jumping, maybe shooting. Then climbing. Then running / dashing. Then the double-jump. Then on top of this list of basic moves, you begin to learn all kinds of special moves or ways in which these moves can interact with the environment or with each other. Mastery is developed as the player learns to combine these skills with precision and cleverness.

Interestingly, Dungeons & Dragons worked exactly this way. Yes, potentially, a player’s choice of actions were nearly infinite. But on a practical level, especially when every move counted (in combat), things started out a lot like that. You learned to move, and to attack. As a player gained in skill, he learned how to move and attack wisely, maximizing the chance of success. Perhaps she learned to take advantage of the environment, doing things like tipping over a table to provide herself with cover from the hobgoblin crossbowmen, stuff like that.

But as the characters gained levels and gear, new options became “unlocked.” Casters had access to new spells. Everyone had more access to magic items, which allowed them to break the rules in big and small ways. New (useful) actions unlocked, and kept unlocking. Even something as simple as a healing potion made a big difference – do you make another attack, hoping to end the combat in this round but risking death if you fail?

This is good, structured “learning” the game mechanics as you play. I suspect this is why RPGs have been (with ups and downs) a pretty consistently popular genre in the field. The growth of a character’s abilities mirrors the growth of the player’s own skill. But this suggests a few things:

#1 – Character growth absolutely should provide additional abilities, not just passive improvements

#2 – For replayability, a player should be able to choose a radically different growth path with new skills for the player to master

#3 – Character skills should require active player participation and skill to deploy effectively (or efficiently). A great example of this in turn-based tactical RPGs is the area-effect spell – knowing when, how, and where to cast it for maximum efficiency.

As a side note, I suspect that this is the reason that so many games in other genres have appropriated “RPG elements” to improve on their designs. Those elements are a perfect fit for the medium!


So in the end… yeah, I don’t want my characters all souped up with tons of abilities when I start out. I don’t want them to be superhumans beyond the mundane pale before the first adventure begins. I want my characters to be tyros in the great big world, as endangered by a vengeful low-level threats like goblins as anybody else. And from those humble beginnings, THEN I want them to grow into the dragon-slaying badasses by the end of the game. That’s good story, and good gaming.

Filed Under: Design - Comments: Read the First Comment

Steamfest Presentation: Steampunk Video Games

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 21, 2015

WNTGDeeper1Nick Lives of Deli Interactive and I will be giving a presentation at Salt City Steamfest in July on steampunk video games. And… well, steampunk-adjacent (dieselpunk, etc.) We’ll be showing a few trailers, will have some video clips from game developers, and will be discussing mostly what’s out there and how they embrace the steampunk tropes, and a little tiny bit on how to get started making video games. And making sure folks leave with a nice, fat list of games they can check out if they want to get their steampunk on for the rest of the year… :)

So if you are going to be near Salt Lake City on the weekend of July 17th and wanna come hang out, contribute your $0.02, chat with Nick and myself, or whatever, come see us!

If you are a game developer working on a steampunk video game (or, even better, a game that will have been released by mid-July), PLEASE contact me and let me know so I can include it in the presentation. We’re trying to include as many as we can, and want to make sure people will leave the panel with a nice potential grocery list of steampunk games they can enjoy. Also, if you are a steampunk game dev who would be willing to do a really super-brief video talking about your game and steampunk (like a couple of sound-bite sized bits), also let us know.

I’ll also be participating in the Xchyler Booth and probably a panel or two on writing, a subject on which I know considerably less about than video games, but I’m having fun learning, and will be with a bunch of more knowledgeable people than myself.

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Visibility: Screaming at the Top of Your Lungs

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 20, 2015

I don’t like to rant. I don’t like to scream. I don’t like to shock. I like to stay positive. Maybe that’s why I have no future in this business, I don’t know.

It seems that as anything moves out of a niche to the point where the market gets saturated, anything that isn’t effectively screaming at the top of its lungs to get noticed is… well, often not noticed. I was talking to Charles Clerc about this the other day – about the whole “Ya Gotta Have a Gimmick” thing.  Which he was (understandably) a little resistant to. I am too. You think, quality ought to stand for itself. But quality is a curve where the cost quickly outpaces the appreciable gain, and becomes harder to judge unless you are chasing revolutionary technology. Back when graphics was improving by leaps and bounds every year, that was a profitable way to go, but it’s less so now unless you are chasing emerging technologies like VR.

Otherwise, once that curve flattens out, it seems to all be about making the biggest noise.

And sadly, sometimes it feels like it’s only about the noise. Without the gimmick, there’s nothing there. But in an overripe field with more than anyone could possibly keep track of, let alone sample more than a tiny percentage of, a product (yes, I’m saying product here, to be as generic as possible) needs something to stand out from the pack. Maybe lots of somethings. If a book is simply a “really good fantasy novel,” and there are a thousand really good fantasy novels out there, then the chance that a potential customer will pick the one novel out of the pack is about one in one thousand — the same as any other book that isn’t screaming at the top of it’s lungs “Pick me! Pick me!” and providing some interesting reasons.

Ditto for a puzzle-platform game for Android. Or a tower defense game. A roguelike on the PC? Sheesh. Yeah. Sure, maybe somehow one of them stood out enough or got lucky enough to snowball the recommendations, but there may be another just as good (or better) that sits unnoticed with two dozen downloads.

Maybe it’s because of where I am and some of the things that I am doing, but it seems that many of the games / comics / books / movies nominated for critics’ awards have a much heavier representation of shock / controversy / social hot-button aspects than the market as a whole. Maybe that’s how you appeal to a bunch of jaded critics acting as judges. They need bigger and bigger shocks to supply their entertainment high. I don’t know. But a lot of times, when I peel back the “gimmick,” what’s left doesn’t really stand out. Maybe it’s not all sizzle, but the steak isn’t anything to write home about. And when the “gimmick” is to shock my sensibilities… well, more often than not, it leaves me cold.

I know I have to work hard to make time even for the great stuff, so even a game or book in a favorite genre has to work extra hard to get me to play or read it. These are strange times indeed when it’s easier to get me to buy it than to play it… but considering my backlog… I guess that’s how it is. But yeah, something does have to have more going for it than being just a good genre product for me to make the time for it. But I still try, even when a game doesn’t have some kind of big “gimmick” to pull me in. I’ve enjoyed some really entertaining games that way.

Maybe some day I’ll be so jaded and tired that it requires some major shock value or special appeal to my vanity to get my attention. But I hope not.

And for a special bonus… this amusingly related comic comes from Ludeme Games:



Filed Under: Biz, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 9 Comments to Read

The Bard’s Tale IV Begins Its Spool-Up For Crowdfunding

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 19, 2015

inxile-reveals-the-bards-tale-4The. Bard’s. Tale.

Brian Fargo’s Vision for The Bard’s Tale

Originally, the series was supposed to be called “Tales of the Unknown,” and the first game was to be “The Bard’s Tale.” Maybe future editions would have been called “The Magician’s Tale” and “The Knight’s Tale.” But it was “The Bard’s Tale” that stuck.

It was a reasonably big deal for me. I was still waiting for a port of the Wizardry series for my Commodore 64, and instead here comes what was arguably its successor, sporting much better graphics, animated enemy portraits… wow! As a result, when Wizardry finally made it to the C-64, it was kind of a non-event for me. I was too busy playing Bard’s Tale 1 and 2, or Ultima IV.

Although – I never played The Bard’s Tale III. So jumping straight to IV? I guess I’ll risk it. I’m not positive I really want to play the third one. I did play The Bard’s Tale Construction Set (even made a complete dungeon!), and I remember reading a Bard’s Tale book written (or co-written) by Mercedes Lacky. Sorry, I couldn’t tell you if it was any good or not. It has been a long time.

All I can say is… this looks right up my alley. Speaking as a guy who is involved (on a MUCH lower budget) in this modern revival of classic old-time CRPG gameplay, as much as it intimidates the living hell outta me, I’m excited.

Fargo mentions some of the key ideas that they are using as the foundation for the design. “The things that made it work are it’s a party-based role-playing game; it’s not an action game – you’re using your brains not your reflexes; exploration is a big part of that, and being able to map dungeons out square by square. And those games were very difficult; in that particular case you couldn’t save your game anywhere but we were teleporting you and giving you no magic zones and magic mouths and there were puzzles and riddles, so to me, it’s got to be all of those things that made those great.

It’s interesting (but unsurprising, especially for a first-person game) that they’ve switched from Unity to Unreal for this game.

The Kickstarter will launch in the next few weeks. But, as they’ve found, these days a Kickstarter campaign at this level requires a lot of pre-launch marketing. Which is… kinda weird, actually. So… the game won’t be seeing the light of day until at least 2017. But while I am not QUITE as excited as I was for the Underworld revival, I’ll be happy to see this one in development.


UPDATE: A preview of the (proposed) backer levels can be found here.


Filed Under: Game Announcements - Comments: 5 Comments to Read

Rocksmith 2014: 18 Month Report – Leveling Up

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 18, 2015

RS2_1024x768Eighteen months ago, I bought Rocksmith 2014 and committed to play it at least a few minutes every day for at least a year. They advertised it as the “fastest way to learn guitar,” and it proved to be a tremendous improvement over some similar attempts to use a video game to teach guitar. For the most part, I stuck with it, minus the occasional lapse due to schedule or trips (the longest was almost two weeks while I was in Japan). I wrote about my experiences and an evaluation of the game. I wrote about it after sixty days, six months, and one year. I also wrote what I thought were some useful tips for getting the most out of it, which I think mostly still stand.

My initial year-long commitment has long ended, but I’m still at it. Why? Because it’s still a lot of fun, I’m still getting better, and I still want to become competent on the guitar. Unsurprisingly, not much has changed (other than my skill level) over the last six months.

Changes to the Game

Rocksmith 2014 hasn’t changed much over the last six months, other than having releases on the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One, and of course the new songs. The former has brought some new blood to the game. The latter – well, hey, the new songs are the lifeblood of the game. At this point I think the majority of the players are the hardcore who are serious about learning the guitar, and every week there are arguments over why our favorite songs aren’t on Rocksmith yet.

Some of my favorite new DLC packs of the last six months (or so) have been the Jimi Hendrix mega-pack (12 songs!), Tom Petty, Bon Jovi, a second Foo Fighters pack, The Cars, Thin Lizzy (most for “The Boys are Back in Town”), The Killers, a “Power Ballad” pack for Valentine’s Day that included some awesome 80s songs about love and loss (Boston’s “Amanda,” Extreme’s “More Than Words,” etc.), a “Classic Riff Singles” collection of classic rock with unforgettable riffs (“Cherry Pie” by Warrant, “Renegade” by Styx, “Ace of Spades” by Motorhead, “Rainbow in the Dark” by Dio, and “Rock and Roll, Hootchie Koo” by Rick Derringer), and most recently a Blues Pack featuring classic blues songs by Eddie King, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Winter, and Bobby “Blue” Bland. Obviously, I have a bias towards classic rock (and blues).



I think after 18 months I’m still as aware of the game’s limitations as ever, but I work around it. It’s a pretty amazing tool, as a combination of digital songbook (with its own notation), automated exercises / practice sessions with some neat tools to evaluate yourself, a digital tone emulator for the electric guitar, and a virtual jam session ‘simulator’. And some training videos with exercises. But in the end – that’s all it is. It might help you recognize that you are doing something wrong (or it might not), but it may not be able to help you identify exactly what you are doing wrong. It makes practice a lot more fun, but practice is still practice, and there is some practicing that the game can’t help you with. Often it is  still best to seek out instruction, be it formal, a skilled friend, or a handy YouTube video.

One problem I’ve discovered is that it’s tough to bring new players into the game to play in multiplayer. I’ve tried it a few times, and it’s always an obstacle – especially with experienced guitarists. Getting used to Rocksmith‘s notation has its own learning curve, especially if they’ve never played something like Guitar Hero. We’ve been able to pull it off just by having them play a song they already know, which is usually pretty close to the theoretically note-perfect transcription on the screen, but it can get kind of frustrating. Session Mode doesn’t have that problem so much, but otherwise multiplayer is really only for other experienced Rocksmith players.

My Improvement

I heard once that it takes about 3000 hours of (decent) practice to get reasonably competent at the guitar. I think I’ve put in as much time the last 18 months as I previously did… oh, my entire life, or so. Which means I’m still only about a quarter of the way there. I still have a long way to go, especially averaging only about 45-ish minutes per day on the game (and maybe another hour or so per week outside of the game). At this rate… well, maybe by the end of the decade I can actually be pretty good at it. :) But in real life, it’s not like you wake up one morning and are rewarded with a “LEVEL UP!” sign over your head and instantly make a major improvement from your accumulated experience. These things come slowly, by degrees, and can be hard to measure.

BlackParadeN1_640One nice thing about Rocksmith is that you can measure it. In fact, as frustrated as I feel because I’ve been at a plateau forever, one way I can measure my improvement is to go back to a song that I haven’t practiced in a few weeks – particularly one I’d gotten “stuck” on – and on the first or second playthrough, raise my accuracy and mastery scores. Or my “Score Attack” score or leaderboard placement. And let me tell you, it’s really cool to actually place somewhere in the top ten on the leaderboards. Fortunately there are enough less-popular songs (and less-popular parts, like bass and rhythm) that there’s usually room somewhere once you’ve gotten pretty decent at a song.

Six months ago, I switched over from primarily practicing rhythm guitar to lead. Lead is by far the more popular choice, but I considered rhythm to be more essential in general practice and a solid foundation skill. But it was finally time to start learning how to bust out those blistering solos. There are still some songs that are far more fun or challenging in their rhythm parts than lead, and I still prefer to play rhythm. Some example: Hey, Ho (The Lumineers); Welcome to the Black Parade (My Chemical Romance); Crazy On You (Heart); Pinball Hero (The Who), and Blaze of Glory (Bon Jovi).

I also picked up a 5-string bass guitar and have been playing some bass. Not too much, because it’s requiring the development of some brand-new calluses on my right hand. Adjusting to bass (especially adapting to the five-string when the notation is only for four-string) is a little challenging, but on the average it’s easier than lead or rhythm guitar. Note that I say, “on the average.” In the case of something like Duran Duran’s music, the bass is more exciting than the regular guitar parts.

Anyway – yeah. Plateaus. Plateaus suck. I imagine that without the game, right now I’d be having a really tough time staying motivated. I’m still learning a few new things here and there (both in the game and outside the game), but it’s still a point of just sticking with my established daily habit and the occasional sugar rush of new downloads to try out. But some things stand out:

  1. HungryLTWolf_FC100% Accuracy: This is really, really hard – especially when Rocksmith 2014 isn’t 100% dependable. It’s more likely to give you a false positive than a false negative, but due to various factors it still feels like every once in a while the game will register a “miss” when I’m pretty sure I nailed it. So with a longer song with a lot of notes, getting a flawless performance might take a measure of luck. That’s not my end-goal, but I generally figure if I can nail over 99%, I’m solid. But it really feels great to hit 100%.
  2. Memorizing songs: It’s funny how the end-goal of Rocksmith 2014 is to make you not play Rocksmith 2014, but that’s how it ought to be. But the point of maximum mastery (or playing on score attack on “Master”) is to play along with a song without any help from the game. I’ve been working towards that with a few songs, although it’s easy to forget if I don’t practice the song for a few days.
  3. Fret-Hand Muting: Over the last six months, I’ve worked on developing fret-hand muting (both for percussive “chucking” and to damp out unused strings to prevent accidental notes). Rocksmith isn’t very good at detecting when you’ve done it wrong, but it’s pretty clear to the ear. This is something I’ve had to go outside the game a bit more for help.
  4. Bend Accuracy: Over the last two months, I’ve started to get a better feel for bend accuracy. I’m still not very good at either, but I’ve been able to see some major progress. The game has some issues with this (possibly due to a slight lag that I hardly notice anymore, but it’s still there), but at least it has some good exercises to help you practice.

There are a lot of things where trying to do things the “Rocksmith way” can be an impediment. For one thing, playing along with songs can be noisy and hard to hear when you are making a mistake (especially if Rocksmith lets you get away with it). It can also encourage you to play sloppy but fast to keep up (even inside the riff repeater). Sometimes it’s best to unplug (or load up a “clean” tone and play in the main menu, or in session mode with just a metronome) and listen to yourself and practice a specific technique or just a part of the riff or transition without the game.

Once I’ve got that down, I go back to the game. It may not make a big difference to my overall score, but since my goal is to “play guitar” rather than “beat the game,” I’m happier about it.

At this point, I see no reason to stop what I’m doing. It’s fun, and it’s working, and I’m getting closer to a goal I’ve had for a long time. So why not?

Filed Under: Guitar Games - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

The “Big Indie” RPGs — Upgraded

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 15, 2015

A bunch of the “big indie” RPGs, all crowdfunded, are undergoing some major revisions. This means a lot of different things. Now, one could complain that they were all released too soon, due to the pressures of promised release dates and clearly limited budgets. That’d not be entirely wrong. But in all of these cases, the updates are completely free to backers. So… I guess fortune favors the people who are a little slow. :)

In some cases, they are accompanying a console port, and some of the enhancements may not be very useful for dedicated PC gamers. Even though I have come to appreciate the coolness of playing Frayed Knights 2 with an XBox 360 controller, that doesn’t mean it is my preferred mode of playing RPGs. Not even close.

I think a big part of it is simply fixing problems on such a level that it generates a newsworthy event, some buzz that will probably lead to more sales. Especially when there’s a console release — it makes perfect sense to release an updated PC version as well and ride the buzz for the console launch and generate a bumper crop of PC sales at the same time.

Whatever the case – these are pretty big deals for fans who haven’t played the games yet.

Divinity_OS_SS32Divinity: Original Sin – Enhanced Edition

Just announced, this update is actually going to be a stand-alone independent title, because it so fundamentally overhauls the quests and storyline of the original game and is not saved-game compatible. Coinciding with the console release, it will also include more professional voices, new build options, controller support, split-screen support, and lots of new content. This was just recently announced and is still many months away from release.

Swen Vincke commented on his blog, “Given how much we put in there, I suspect that what we call an Enhanced Edition goes a lot further than what others call an Enhanced Edition. Chances are of course that all those changes don’t make much economic sense but then again, maybe they will. We’ll find out soon enough and for what it’s worth, I’m quite happy about having been able to make all these changes so that we could craft what’s essentially a new and more complete experience.”

deadstateDead State – Reanimated

A MAJOR enhancement of the Zombie survival RPG Dead State, the “Reanimated” update includes serious combat rebalancing, several improvements to enemy AI, new locations, new sounds, new combat animations… basically a big “refresh” on the whole experience.

The update also includes some stability improvements (something that bit me a couple of times) and a whole mess of bug fixes… and it’s available now.  Yay!


WL2_dialogWasteland 2 – Game of the Year Edition

Announced several weeks ago, this is also an update that coincides with the console release, and should be a free update for backers sometime this summer. A lot of the updates are related to the upgrade to Unity 5 and some significant cosmetic changes, but they’ll be announcing the new game features and content as the release date gets closer. In an interview at Eurogamer.net, one area of discussion was on combat – how cover and enemy AI will be significantly larger factors than they were in the original release.

p_eternityPillars of Eternity – update

This latest update to v. 1.05 is a big one, and there’s already a new one planned. While this wasn’t quite as big of a facelift as its cousins, the game has made some substantial strides since its original release. A ton of the changes (lately) have been game-balance adjustments. I’m not sure how I feel about that, because (as I’m still playing) I’ve come to rely on some of those “imbalanced” abilities… it feels like the only way anything I do makes a difference in some fights. Ah, well…

So will these changes make the games worthy of a second playthrough?

I dunno – I’m kept so busy right now even getting a single full playthrough to the end is challenging. Although at least in the case of Divinity: Original Sin, which was already kinda replayable, it sounds a little like two distinct but similar games.

Your mileage may vary on whether all this sounds like good news or bad news  to you. But I’m calling it all a good thing. I like that the devs are willing to put in the time and effort to make good things better, even if it’s not a clear marketing win.

Filed Under: Game Announcements - Comments: 7 Comments to Read

Are Game Consoles in Decline?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 14, 2015

PSX-Console-wControllerThere was a bit of buzz last year about the decline of gaming consoles. The buzz itself has gone into decline. I think it was in part this conjecture (building up over years) that led to the creation of microconsoles. The logic was sound, if the premise was correct and the conditions had been unchanged: The console era blossomed at a time when “gaming PCs” were very expensive and became obsolete very quickly. Consoles were a significantly less expensive, significantly more convenient alternative.

However, things aren’t the same as the were in 1990.

For one thing, game-capable PCs are a lot cheaper today than they used to be. While many of the AAA games still demand top-of-the-line hardware to run well, the vast majority of games have far more lightweight requirements. These days, if you don’t need a new monitor, you can get a PC capable of a reasonable amount of gaming for not much more than the price of a new game console. And if you wait two or three years into the console generation, the new PC will probably be more powerful.

The bad ol’ DOS days were painful for gamers, and we had to do weird things like configure our sound drivers for every game. Nowadays, that’s not nearly as much of a problem. So while consoles are still more convenient, it’s not quite the gulf that it was in the heyday of the consoles.

But if you want to talk convenience, hand-held devices still pretty much take the cake, unless you are already sitting at your computer with your mouse hovering over a game icon. For short, quick gaming experiences, tablets and phones really are winning. And having pre-installed games really beats inserting a disk on a console.

While the microconsoles are really cheap, they don’t offer much beyond the capabilities of mobile devices aside from the controllers, and are still feel pretty underpowered. They aren’t quite as convenient as a mobile device. And there’s a chicken-and-egg problem that keeps them niche… they can’t escape the niche without some killer exclusive content, and they can’t get that killer exclusive content without breaking out of their niche (or pouring out tons of money that they don’t have).

And so we’re back to the big consoles that once ruled the world. After some serious launch disappointments, the new-gen consoles are at least mustering what seems to be acceptable sales. While a lack of a stellar launch can be considered a decline… and I think I probably do… it sounds like more of a “correction.” It seems reasonable.

So I don’t think the big consoles are going anywhere. I think they may have hit a soft ceiling in terms of AAA budgets and perceived quality of the experience, but that’s more a limit on future growth, which may lead to a contraction but not a major decline. Sadly, I don’t think the microconsoles are going anywhere good, for now, although I would love to see it differently. And PC… well, PC seems to be doing what it keeps on doing. I keep hearing rumors of the death of the PC and PC gaming, which always seems to precede a banner year for PC games for a year or two. Long live PC gaming!

What do you think? Are we experiencing the beginning of the end of the classic gaming console, or are things just reverting to a more even distribution of popularity after a period of console dominance? Or something else? Or will VR goggles eat everybody else’s lunch?

Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 8 Comments to Read

Insight into the mind of a programmer

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 13, 2015

Einstein_AsciiEver try to count a large number of things, and have someone walk up to you, see what you are doing, and then say random numbers at you to make you screw up?

After three decades of computer programming (two of ’em professionally), I finally realized that this is a great analogy for the mind of a programmer dealing with interruptions.

Or at least my mind as a programmer dealing with interruptions, when I’m in “the zone” or at least a neighboring zip code to “the zone.” When I’m on a roll, I’ve got a half-dozen connections all in my head. To implement something and to make sure it all works, I need to make multiple changes and additions in three or four different places that all have to work together in coordination for stuff to, you know, work. As long as I can hold it all in my mind – and I usually can – I hit all my marks, make all the changes, and sometimes things will even work more-or-less correctly on the first try.

But if I lose it, I’m going to miss steps, forget what I was doing, and have to backtrack – sometimes a good distance – to remember where I was, what I was doing, and to get the correct picture in my head and the process of everything as it was supposed to connect.

For simple, minor interruptions, it’s no biggie. If people don’t mind me being a little distracted and seeming to be only half-paying attention, it’s all good. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I can keep all the little pieces of thread from getting tangled up for a couple of minutes. But for bigger, deeper conversations… well, there’s a good chance I’m gonna lose my last half-hour if I’m not careful. Please forgive me for being a little terse.

Of course, given the role that I currently hold, I’m about as likely to be the one causing the interruptions as receiving them. So I am my own worst enemy. But when a programmer is kind of terse and distracted with me, I know better than to take it personally.

Filed Under: Programming - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

The Void – a Virtual Reality Theme Park?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 12, 2015

Dream-ParkWhen I was a kid, I read the science fiction novel “Dream Park” by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes. This was after Dungeons & Dragons had become something of a cult hit. The story followed sort of a live-action role-playing experience inside a virtual reality amusement park.

As life imitates art (which imitated life…), people started trying to make their own live-action role-playing (LARP) experiences to imitate the possibilities of the book (amusingly riffed on by Phil Foglio at the time in a What’s New comic in Dragon Magazine – Page 1 and Page 2).  LARPing existed prior to the book, but I think the novel helped the idea catch on. I believe that was, in part, the inspiration for True Dungeon, a popular event at Gen Con.

Amusingly, as the series continued, the technology grew more realistic. In the first book, it was all wild holograms and stuff, more like the Holodeck from Star Trek. By the third book (the last one I read – I only recently learned there’d been a new addition to the series a few years ago), the players were wearing stuff similar to Microsoft’s prototype Hololens which provided them with a kind of “augmented reality.”

And now… well, it looks like it might finally become reality, here in Utah. It’s called The Void.” They use a combination of Virtual Reality gear with real props, sets, and actors to create a fully immersive, interactive experience. When I first heard about it, it was because it was a (temporary?) replacement for the adventure / theme park Evermore. But from what I have heard, the technology works, and so if they can get everything else behaving properly for a commercial audience… well, it may be the closest thing we’ll see to a Star Trek holodeck or Dream Park.

Or it could go the way of the old Battletech Centers and virtual reality centers of the 1990s. I don’t know.

Now, Tracy Hickman’s son is one the developers, so expect some proud fatherly praise here, but in a recent blog post he said:

I reached out and in a perfectly natural motion, grasped the two handles of the gun. It was solid in my hands and I naturally slipped my finger through the trigger guard.

The gun moved in front of me in perfect synchronization with my every move.

“Step through the door,” said the ghostly voice of my son.

To my right a door slid open and I stepped into a room that looked for all the world like I was standing on the ‘Nostromo’ in ‘Alien.’ I sat down on the bench in awe.

And realized that I was actually SITTING on a bench in a virtual room.

I’ve stood before the alien containment tube, felt it break in front of me as the alien escaped. I pulled the trigger on my gun, felt it jump in my hands and watched the bolts fly outward, pocking the glass between me and a HUGE landing bay beyond. I’ve walked down that corridor in the video. More than that, I’ve stood at the top of a cliff, blasting away with that same gun and, despite the urging of my ghostly son behind me, could not bring myself to step to the edge of the platform. Even though I knew this was a virtual reality, my mind would not accept that what I was experiencing was NOT real.

Assuming this really happens and is within at least some reasonable fraction of coolness as it’s being billed… I think this could be a lot of fun. I’m just glad it’ll be only a 15 minute drive away when it (hopefully) opens in about a year. If it really takes off, though, these places may be found all over someday. We’ll see.  And hey, they are using Unity!

For now, though… we can all just watch the video and imagine what it could be like…. someday…

(And hey, guys… if you are looking for some local game developer-types to help test or provide feedback… CALL ME!!!!  :) )


Filed Under: Books, Geek Life - Comments: Be the First to Comment

Cyberpunk Now! Upcoming and Recent Cyberpunk Computer RPGs

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 11, 2015

cyberpunk2013contemplationBack in the early 90s, I got into the science fiction subgenre called “Cyberpunk.” My gateway drug was primarily a tabletop role-playing game by the same name, by Mike Pondsmith through his label R. Talsorian Games. The rulebooks were full of drawings in a style reminiscent of Patrick Nagel, but with critical differences – particularly with cybernetics. For some reason, I was attracted to the genre particularly for this vision of the setting – casual high-tech consumerism turned into a distopia.

To grok the setting and idea better, I started reading. Naturally, I started with the book that started it all – William Gibson’s Neuromancer. From there, I read plenty more – Pat Cadigan, Walter Jon Williams (who actually had a supplement for the game for his world), George Alec Effinger, Bruce Sterling, and others. Great stuff.

But for me, the roots were still in the RPG. I played a couple others (though, ironically, not the most popular one… the hybrid Cyberpunk / Fantasy system Shadowrun), but I really loved the way Cyberpunk (and its sequel, Cyberpunk dealt with rules and the setting. And since that time, there have been a number of Cyberpunk-themed games – from Interplay’s Neuromancer, the not-too-serious adventure game with RPG elements based on the novel, through the excellent Deus Ex series.

It seems that as we’re finding the world changing beneath our feet along the very lines conjectured in cyberpunk, with social networks, our lives on our personal phones, drones, spying and surveillance, 3D printing, and so much more, maybe the genre is getting a bit of resurgence. It’s certainly looking that way with a bunch of recent and upcoming computer role-playing games making their way through development right now.

I thought I’d take a look at a few of them:

Cyberpunk 2077 (CD Projekt Red): This is the game based on the tabletop RPG that got me started. It’s by the makers of The Witcher series, which to me suggests high quality and no shying away from adult content. But if that wasn’t enough to convince me, their teaser video from a couple of years back remains an indicator that they get it. This little video nails it for me in terms of maintaining the look and feel of the R. Talsorian dice-and-paper game. They’ve also enlisted the original author, Mike Pondsmith, as a consultant, which should help. The details have been minimal, but once The Witcher 3 has been out a few months and is no longer dominating their PR, I expect information to start trickling in.


Rain of Reflections (Lion Bite): This game, from Indie Studio Lion Bite, should be coming in 2016. It sounds like they are doing some very interesting, experimental stuff to mix gameplay and mechanics, and tell the story through three different protagonists.


Technomancer (Spiders): A Semi-Sequel to Mars: War Logs, this is advertised as a cyberpunk RPG set in a post-apocalyptic world (huh, sounds familiar). It will be available on PC as well as major consoles.



Shadowrun: Dragonfall Director’s Cut (Harebrained Schemes): Recently released as a stand-alone title, this was a major improvement over the original Shadowrun Returns (which I found enjoyable but kinda empty).


Shadowrun: Hong Kong (Harebrained Schemes): Recently successful in Kickstarter fundraising (to the tune of $1.2 million), Shadowrun: Hong Kong promises more of what made the other two games a success. This time, the game takes place in – surprise – Hong Kong, with a different culture, style, and enemies.



Ama’s LullibyA Survival CRPG set in a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk world.


Transistor (Supergiant): Another semi-recent release. This is a nice, weird, futuristic action-RPG (which I felt was more RPG-esque than their previous hit, Bastion).


Dex (Dreadlocks): This is a 2D RPG currently in early access.


Satellite Reign (5 Lives Studios): By one of the creators of Syndicate Wars, this is a real-time strategy / RPG set in an open-world Cyberpunk city. The big emphasis is on a living, dynamic simulated city going on behind the scenes. Could be pretty cool.



Reborn (Elemental-Labs): This was a failed Kickstarter project. But there are signs that it might be getting…. um…. reborn?



Deus Ex – The Fall (Eidos Montreal): Well, let’s not make too many jokes about the appropriateness of the subtitle. A somewhat recent action-RPG release to the PC ported from iOS.



Honorable Mention: System Crash. It’s not an RPG, but it’s by a friend. A digital CCG (Collectable Card Game) set in a very cyberpunk setting.



Filed Under: Game Announcements - Comments: 6 Comments to Read

Game Dev Quote of the Week: Story vs. Gameplay Edition

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 8, 2015

Wizardry_8_boxStory vs. Gameplay – the never-ending debate. This interview with Brenda Romero circa 1998 (with a different surname) regarding the “balance” in RPGs… specifically, at the time, Wizardry 8… reveals an interesting approach that probably makes more sense in hindsight:

“This is weird because I’ve never really thought of it that way. With Wizardry, it’s known for its story, and a good one is vital to the game, so it’s never been a question of one or the other for us. They are so intricately tied to each other. For instance, if you take five different groups of people, races, with very strong traditions and beliefs, inevitably, something will conflict. That conflict will lead to others. Then, it might lead to sabotage. Get that whole ball of wax going, and you show up as a group of six characters. Of course, you want to win. So do others. People hide things. Keep secrets to themselves. You have to be smarter and faster. In a nutshell, that’s how a story gets solid, starts conflict and gives rise to game play. Game play without a story, well, I guess that’s something like solitaire or on the really fun end, DOOM or Quake. If you want complete immersion like you get in a role-playing game, you have to make the player care about something, his characters, and keep him caring enough to believe the goals you set. A story is the only thing that can do that. Like I said, I don’t think we ever think in terms of story vs. game play or of achieving a balance between the two. Around our design table, the two are so intricately tied that they’re hard to separate. Everything else, combat, magic and the like, they are almost separate games in their own right. I still remember great role-playing battles both on and off the computer [traditional pencil & paper games], but I don’t remember exactly what the circumstances were that surrounded it. They’re all so tied together, though. The reason that combat is so great, so intense, is because you care about your characters and you want them to live because you have things to do. What you have to do, of course, is the story.”

I say in hindsight because of course I apply this to myself. I can’t say I’ve got the kind of faction system and details found in Wizardry 7 and 8, but you do end up thinking of things pretty differently as a developer than as a gamer. And – even more interestingly – developers don’t all think of it alike.

We’ll leave off, for the moment, that this was a promotional interview for Wizardry 8 which may have colored the comments a little.

I personally do think about gameplay / story balance, but not in those terms, or the kinds of terms I would use as a gamer. It’s probably worth a whole ‘nother post that would detract from what she’s saying here, but I agree that the point is you don’t want actions to feel meaningless.  You need that context, those goals, or even the best fights and all other tasks get repetitive and boring. (Or, as in a roguelike, they just kill you dead, a lot). A good story can keep me in a mediocre RPG.


Filed Under: Quote of the Week - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

Impressions: Ready Player One

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 7, 2015

ReadyPlayerOneSomehow, the book Ready Player One by Earnest Cline never quite made it onto my radar, though I’d heard it mentioned in passing a couple of times. A friend recommended it to me this weekend, so I had to check it out.

And then I had trouble putting it down.

Is it a masterwork of storytelling? Maybe not. But it is a confluence of 1980s pop culture, Massively Multiplayer Gaming, Cyberpunk, and classic arcade games, all meshed into one wild science fiction storyline. The skill of the storytelling comes in making that incredibly delicious set of ingredients all work together in a coherent plot and setting. It does work, so if you are into all or most of these things, the book is a rollercoaster ride of fun.

So here’s the gist of the setup: A whole bunch of doomsday scenarios have come to pass about thirty years from right now. Climate change, peak oil, overpopulation – it’s all there. Living in the real world sucks. So most people escape into the world of OASIS – a virtual reality MMO that has in many ways replaced the more general Internet and other forms of entertainment. To deal with overcrowded schools, even some public education now takes place online for better students.

The original creator of OASIS was a  child of the 80s, and became the richest guy in the world – and has majority stakeholdings in the company behind OASIS, which is by far the biggest and most successful company in the world. When he dies, he offers the ultimate challenge: everything he has is willed to whomever can find his hidden “Easter Egg” buried inside this virtual universe.  Some clues are given, and they are all related to his love of the 1980s and video games. And so, for a few years, there’s a massive resurgence of 80s pop-culture, and everyone dreams of being the winner of the contest and inheritor of the largest fortune in human history.

But when some egg hunters (or “gunters”) finally obtain the first piece of the multi-stage puzzle, they learn that there are those who will stop at nothing – including real-world murder – to obtain that kind of fortune and control over the world’s most successful corporation. And so the race begins in earnest, requiring creative gamesmanship in the virtual world and desperate cunning in the real world to win – or even to survive.

If you have absolutely no love for the 1980s or old-school video games, this might not be the book for you. But if you grow nostalgic at the names Atari 2600, John Hughes, Zork, Duran Duran, and Pac-Man, or if you’ve ever spent a bunch of time in an MMORPG and imagined what it would be like “living” there with serious virtual reality technology, then you may geek out on this book.

Or you can wait for the movie… I understand Steven Spielberg has signed on to direct it. But… maybe read the book first. There’s no way they can fit all that nostalgic goodness into one film… :)

Filed Under: Books, Impressions - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

SnarfQuest Tales on Greenlight

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 6, 2015

In spite of the voice acting… I’m so there. It’s frickin’ –==SnarfQuest==– !

SnarfQuest Tales on Steam Greenlight


Okay, now I get that some of you MAY be wondering, “What the heck is SnarfQuest?” You may even wonder, “Who is Larry Elmore?” For this, I shall have to leave you with your own Google-Fu skills. But for us old-school tabletop D&D fans, Snarf is the main character from an amusing, genre-bending comic strip from the pages of Dragon Magazine.

The game isn’t done, but a demo is available at their website if you are willing to sign up for their mailing list. Yes, they are planning on a crowdfunding campaign in a couple of months. No, I am not sure who they are (beyond association with Larry Elmore). But I’m interested, and it looks like they’ve made some decent progress.

That is all.

Filed Under: Game Announcements - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

How to Deal With The Game Backlog

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 5, 2015

In a very good year, I’d get maybe 12 – 13 new games. That was back in the 1990s, and I’d end up paying full price or maybe a 25% or 50% discount for something older. Every once in a while I’d score a major bargain and pick up an old title like The Magic Candle games or V for Victory: Velikiya Luki for less than $10, or even closer to $5. But on a tight budget, a new game once a month was pretty much my limit. That was about as fast as I could play them.

Now I get nearly that many games in a single bundle.

Last week I commented to a friend that I “paid for” a full game, but bought about 20. Between bundles and sales, I think I spent about $60. And I got what would have been two years’ worth of games.

I’ve talked about surviving the game glut as a developer. I’m mostly speculating and referencing people who know more than me about that. But what about as a gamer? What do I do when I have 600 games and nothing to play?

Taking a page from Tish Tosh Tesh, I periodically purge my system. I have a 2 TB drive devoted to games. That can’t hold half of my library. So I’ve tried to take the attitude of trying to nuke any game that’s taking up over 1 GB in space. So… if it’s over a gig, and I don’t expect to play it more in the next 12 months, I want to delete it off the drive. Maybe even if it’s less than a gig, but I have more tolerance for little tiny indie games taking up 0.003% of my hard drive space.

I have to fight this completionist programming I have in my head (not to mention a scarcity mindset), where I have to play a game to completion to “finish” it. Sometimes, sure – if it’s good. But I’m trying to cultivate an attitude of “play to nuke.” Realizing how many frickin’ games I have, combined with how little time I honestly have to play games, I try to consider just how worthwhile it is to really pursue completion (or playing past completion). Have I played it “enough,” considering how much more I have yet to play? Last night, I finally pulled the plug on Dead Island. I’d been keeping it on my hard drive for two years, periodically playing it for 15 more minutes, under the belief that maybe, someday, it’ll finally become fun and engaging.

I try to devote 30 minutes a night to just *playing* a game. Sometimes this becomes an hour every couple of nights (not including Rocksmith 2014, which I consider practice time rather than gaming time). It’s weird trying to devote time to gaming where I used to just play all night – but between writing, game development, and all the other activities of life, I really do need to carve out the time sometimes. (The trick of it is – just like writing and game development – that once I get into the “zone” I follow Newton’s Law of Inertia and tend to stick with the same activity far longer than expected). As a game developer, I feel strongly that I should be *playing* games, not just making them.

Another thing I want to do more of is leaving reviews at the distribution sites (Steam, Desura, etc.) for other players. It doesn’t help my backlog much, but maybe it can help others navigate the glut of games out there. I’m not a harsh critic. Not even of AAA games. But if something rises above the average, or descends significantly below the average for some reason, I figure it’s helpful to let other people know it. Especially for indies. It’s hard to get noticed, so I like giving a solid, fun game an extra thumbs-up so it can get a smidgen more attention.


Filed Under: Geek Life - Comments: 5 Comments to Read

“More Is Better” Game Jam – and More (is better?) at Itch.io

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 4, 2015

Okay – first things first, there’s a game jam this week hosted by Sophie Houlden, the “More is Better” jam. It’s basically about cranking out as many games as possible, quality be damned. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that, but if the goal is to work on your rapid prototyping skills, maybe this is the jam for you. Emphasis on the rapid basic development skills rather than the iteration / refinement stuff. It’s all about quantity.

But this throws some of itch.io‘s changes lately. And I’m impressed. It is no secret that I’ve been a fan of underdog Desura for a long time. For the longest time, that was my go-to site for discovering weird, off-beat, and often rough indie games. Now that the massive backlog in Steam’s greenlight process is finally cleared, a lot of decent indie games are now available just as easily on Steam, making Desura a little less relevant.

Itch.io is doing some really interesting things, however, to take aim at not just being an alternative distribution source for indie games, but actually a major node of indie activity. They started as more of a “pay what you want” site, but continue to expand. Whether or not it succeeds remains to be seen, but they have some interesting opportunities available, besides handling payment processing and distribution.

First of all – as mentioned above – they now facilitate game jam hosting. There’s a calendar of game jams and everything. Just looking at this month, it looks like there are about a half-dozen jams happening at any time during the month of May.

They’ve got more standard and pay-what-you-want models available (that’s been true for a while), and support multiple platforms. What’s really interesting is that they’ve got a “pay what you want” model for revenue sharing with the site. So not only is “pay what you want” supported for customers, but sellers can set their own terms for how much itch.io takes in as a percentage of sales revenue.

A big recent development is bundling options – developers can band together to offer their games as part of a lower-priced bundle with a revenue split. That’s a pretty cool possibility right there.

I’m curious if they’ll support things like microtransactions or DLC. It’s not super-important because you can always do that in-game with your own payment processing, and you can work within what they’ve got for DLC (kinda), but it’d be interesting if they do go more in that direction. (Handling DLC for games is historically a weakness in Desura as well).

So while itch.io is still a tiny player in the big scheme of things (then again, in the indie game world, even Amazon is a tiny player), it may be worth keeping an eye on them.


Filed Under: Game Development, Indie Evangelism - Comments: Read the First Comment

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