Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Got paranormal? “Losers weepers” calls for your stories…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 26, 2015

Okay, calling all authors… or aspiring authors…

Xchyler Publishing’s fall paranormal anthology has a call for submissions that begins next week and runs through the month of April. The theme is “Losers weepers.” What that means is subject to your own imagination.

losersweepers650For the definition of “Paranormal,” I think you’ll have to look that one up. It’s a matter of some debate among authors and editors who work in the speculative fiction arena. It’s somewhere in that murky realm of fiction taking place in something that could pass for the “real world” (including the future and past) with supernatural / magical / unexplainable elements that don’t stray too far into the horror, fantasy, or science fiction genres.

You’ve got a month. Xchyler isn’t a big publisher, but I’ve really enjoyed working with them. When they say they are like a big family, they aren’t kidding. It’s a great, friendly community of authors and editors. For me, it was not only a kick in the pants to get moving on getting published and improving my writing chops. Once accepted, it’s been like taking an advanced college course on creative writing. Only instead of paying for the privilege, I receive royalties.

It’s a cool opportunity. You can read the details here on their anthology submission page.

And yes, I’m fully aware that by doing this, I’m fostering my own competition for this anthology, as I will be submitting a story. But the part of me that really wants to improve my craft and hone my “A” game says, “BRING IT!” I wanna support that part of me. It’s going places.

Besides, I figure someone – hopefully many someones – in this community here has some really cool stories in ‘em, and I’d enjoy reading them. So it’s totally a win/win on my end. :)

So if you are so inclined, go for it! It’s five to ten thousand words in the paranormal genre. A thousand words a day, and you’ll have your first draft done this time next week, with plenty of time for editing. (By comparison, this blog post is over a third of that length, so it’s very do-able!)

And, as always, have fun!



Filed Under: Writing - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

Utah Indie Night – March 2015

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 25, 2015

The latest indie night was held on Tuesday, March 24, at Neumont University in downtown Salt Lake City. I hadn’t been to the new Neumont building before (I’ve missed the last couple of times it was held there), and while I am sad that they’ve moved from basically down the street from where I work, it was kinda cool that their new building is actually just a few doors down from the original Singletrac offices, where I started my game development career *cough*twenty*cough* years ago.

Adam Ames of True PC Gaming was supposed to give the presentation, but came down with the flu. I was going to jump in with an abbreviated version of my little talk at BYU a few months ago, but we had problems with the A/V equipment, and by the time we gave up on it, we had already burned up good game dev meeting time, so we jumped right into the gathering and show-off stages.

As always, there was much cool stuff on display. I played way too much of Eric Wiggin’s little phone-focused shooter called Space Goer. In it, your ship (which you can upgrade with points earned in the game) can move between a handful of lanes dodging enemies and shooting. The trick is that the enemies have different behaviors, and your ship fires at fixed intervals (which can be sped up through grabbing power-ups). It’s a cool idea to marry the idea of a top-down shooter with and endless runner. In practice, it had a lot more endless-runner feel to it than old-school shooter, but it was still fun (and at times, frustrating).

Darius Ouderkirk was showing Flame Warrior, which has been vastly improved even since the last time I saw it. I understand it’s undergoing a name change, as the title doesn’t really match the gameplay or the humorous storyline.

I played an extremely early version of a game tentatively entitled “The Chosen One” which was a little bit like Lemmings or The Incredible Machine meets a jump-puzzle game. Clever idea if they can pull it off – the “runner” is autonomous, but by setting obstacles or tools in the way, he (or she) can use them to navigate the environment. So something like a trampoline getting set to avoid falling to the death.

Loose Cannons, a 2D 4-player competitive shoot-em-up in the style of games like Towerfall, was also on display. I didn’t play this time around, but it had a constant audience. It’s just as fun to watch as to play.

And of course, there was the networking and chatting with fellow indies, getting an idea of what’s going on in the area, offering suggestions or just an ear. Great stuff. I always have a great time.

As things were winding up, we had a special meeting to discuss a potential game development event that we could pull together here in Utah. We have a really great game development community in Utah, between the larger studios, the indies, and the students at all the schools around here. It would be nice to actually add more “community” to the community and take advantage of the wealth of experience around here. Nothing was firmed up during our meeting other than the decision that there’s enough of a need locally for some kind of event, that we should continue to develop the idea. I’m not deliberately being cryptic, the meeting was awesome and full of fantastic ideas, but there’s really nothing yet to talk about.

Filed Under: Utah Indie Game Night - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

Making Games – Towards More Productive Iteration

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 24, 2015

I’m a firm believer in iterative design. I don’t practice it as well as I should, but I strongly believe in it. In games, it’s the ‘right thing.’

In my world, I usually start with a “paper prototype” – forcing myself to think about a concept methodically enough to describe it in a paragraph or ten, maybe with some added charts and whatnot. This helps me in lots of ways to focus on how I’d build my first playable prototype. I don’t always do this, but it’s useful.

The next step is the actual gameplay prototype, and from there until “alpha” is usually where I trip up. The idea is to create a minimal game that is playable – but certainly nowhere near “done” – and use that to hone in on the core of your game. You “find the fun” early and make sure it’s solid. You now have a simple but probably ugly and un-user-friendly version of your game.

Once you have that nailed down, you iterate on the design to add content and new ideas to what should be a solid core, turning it into what eventually looks like a game.

Sonny Bone illustrates this process extremely well in his article, “Bringing Your Game to Life in 10 Simple Steps.” His process and the exact steps may vary from project to project (an RTS or an RPG will be vastly different from a simple action game, but the basic idea remains sound), a point which he makes in the article. Seriously, he does such a good job I’d say that if I were running a school for indie game developers, I’d make this article required reading.

The best part is how he includes all 10 stages of the iterative development in a web-based playable game at the beginning of the article. Excellent stuff!

Bringing Your Game to Life in 10 Simple Steps, by Sonny Bone


Have fun!

Filed Under: Game Development, Production - Comments: Be the First to Comment

Sometimes I like it a little rough…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 23, 2015

Total_Annihilation_Coverart… I’m talking about game polish, of course.

What did you think I was talking about?

By way of explanation – polish is important. Polish is something that removes the barriers to a player’s enjoyment of the game.  It’s a good thing. But there’s also something to be said for a little bit of rawness, a few rough edges that give the game some character.

My favorite go-to example of this is probably not the most popular, and it goes back to some ancient titles – Total Annihilation vs. Starcraft. Both are known as classics, but Starcraft was by far the most popular. It was also clearly the more carefully polished and balanced of the two games. Blizzard took everything they learned from the Warcraft series to that point and honed it into a tightly-tuned machine.

By contrast, Total Annihilation was designed to be something in the vein of Command and Conquer, by experienced game developers who didn’t have experience in the still somewhat new RTS genre. It was more raw, clumsy, and a little bit of a victim of “kitchen sink syndrome” with too many ideas thrown in. In fact, developer Cavedog released a new unit on a weekly (?) basis for a while to expand the game… and often the new unit was designed specifically to counter a “cheap” tactic that players had discovered in the course of regular play that had been missed by the designers. By the time the units and game changes were compiled together in the expansions, the worst of the “cheap” tactics had been removed, but the game was still a maze of wild, squirrely approaches to victory.

And the fans loved it.  Those rough edges and tons of units led to a very organic feel of gameplay. It was “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Spock, Lizard” to the “Rock, Paper, Scissors” of most RTS games. Whether intentional or not, there were tons of weird, ‘exploity’ kinds of opportunities for players to turn the tide in what could sometimes be a protracted slugfest. There were all kinds of clever, weird things that you could do. Some – like using your own air transport to pick up an enemy commander – were extremely clever but also considered cheating by most players. Others were often clever ‘spoilers’ for the common, straightforward tactics of other games.

It’s hardly alone. My attraction to the ARMA series partly stems from the same idea. And indies – well, indies sometimes fall into the realm of too little polish, of course. Bugs and unwinnable game states and crap like that never belong. But for me, finding the little imbalances and the quirks of gameplay can be half the fun. For that matter, I often enjoy some weird, experimental gameplay elements that may not always pan out. I want just enough bumps and flaws to let me feel the person or people behind tha game.

I want games with personality.

Filed Under: Design - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

Funding: A Successor to the Gold Box D&D Games?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 20, 2015

My usual disclaimer about Kickstarter applies here – I’m only drawing attention to it, so don’t consider this a recommendation. There are never any guarantees on these.

BUT… some of the old developers from SSI – makers of the “Gold Box” Advanced Dungeons & Dragons games back in the day… have put together a new company called TSI (Tactical Simulations Interactive) for the express purpose of making a new-generation RPG in the style of the old Gold Box games. Could this be a worthy successor to the legendary series that included Pool of Radiance, Curse of the Azure Bonds, etc.?


This ought to be enough to inspire any old-school CRPG fan to at least perk up and take notice. So… I direct your attention to the campaign:

Kickstarter: Seven Dragon Saga by Tactical Simulations Interactive

I was a little bit blindsided by this one myself, so I guess maybe their marketing could have used some work. Or maybe I’m just buried too deep in my own stuff to crawl out from under my rock and pay attention. But they have a pedigree. And seriously, I would love a new game in that old style, if only it was clearer to me (beyond turn-based tactical combat) how they’d recapture that flavor.

Ah, well. I opened my wallet to give ‘em a vote of confidence. Here’s hoping this thing becomes a thing.

Filed Under: Game Announcements - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

What does a Castlevania game have to do with RPGs?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 19, 2015

castlevania-symphony-of-the-night2I can’t say I’m a giant fan of “Metroidvania” games, personally, although I’ve played a decent amount of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (never got *that* good at it, but it was enjoyable). I think my younger self would have enjoyed them a lot more – to the point of near-obsession. As it is… I can appreciate it, but not to that level. But I did like the incorporation of a few RPG-like elements into the platform-game when that sort of thing was still on the unusual side.

Long-time veteran game designer (and Symphony of the Night creator) Koji “IGA” Igarashi recently spoke to Christian Nutt of Gamasutra about what makes those games tick, in his (obviously expert) opinion:

Castlevania‘s Koji Igarashi offers advice to today’s Metroidvania devs

The fascinating part of it for me, as I’m not a huge fan, was getting that perspective to help me wrap my brain around the genre. But there’s another point that he made that expands well beyond that particular niche:

“With games, even if you create an interesting and fun concept, that’s not going to come across if the controls make it impossible for others to realize it. Thus, I think it’s important to remember that the core of any game lies on top of how it’s controlled by gamers.”

This has been a piece I’ve been beating myself up over since the release of Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon. Or maybe even before. One of the big reasons I’ve loved tabletop RPGs is how it is such a free-form activity. At least that’s how I prefer to play. You can try literally anything, and a human moderator (the DM) tries to make sense of them and convert them into actions that impact the world via rules and judgment.

In a computer RPG – well, we try. But ultimately we’re constrained by the controls. And if we try to ignore that, the game becomes frustrating, confusing, too complicated, etc. Distilling a gazillion possible actions into something humanly navigable is not easy. And for someone trying to draw upon the old tabletop experiences for inspiration as much as classic computer games, it can be downright painful.

I guess that’s why they pay us the big bucks. Oh, wait, no, they don’t…

Filed Under: Design - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

Indie Games: do we need to go big or go home?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 18, 2015

A friend pointed me to this post by Joost van Dongen called “What Many Indies are Doing Wrong.” I liked the article even though I disagree on a few points. But … Joost is a more successful indie than I am, so I’d weight our respective opinions appropriately.

On many points, I completely agree. Now that we are in the “post-indie revolution,” or whatnot… now that indies are now as much the rule as the exception… things haven’t turned out exactly as I envisioned. Yes, the floodgates are open. Yes, there are some amazing gems of games that are making it out to market that never would have during the bad-ol’ days when the big publishers ruled the industry with an iron hand. Yes, we’re experiencing a resurgence of game genres and styles once thought to be on death’s door. Old-school dungeon crawlers. Roguelikes. Point-and-click adventure games. Platformers. Space combat games. It’s all happening, and it’s awesome.

And… we’re deluged with crap product. Or… not even crap. Mediocre. Derivative. Boring. Sad but true.

The thing is… there’s a whole lot of amazing stuff hidden within those mounds of … uninteresting. I know, I’ve seen them. And the point I’d like to make is that they were NOT all made by larger teams with much bigger budgets and higher production qualities, as Joost suggests. Sometimes they stand out enough and get lucky enough to get noticed all by themselves, and they become hits. Sometimes, not so much.

I’m not sure there really is a “right way” or a “wrong way” to be indie. In fact, indie is almost by definition the “wrong way” of doing things – outside the established process and players. It’s really all about being an outsider. The point is being independent of all those voices telling you what you can and cannot do. And I hate to keep bringing up Minecraft, as it was an exception in many ways (you ain’t gonna be the next Minecraft no matter what you do…), but it broke almost all the established indie rules-of-thumb for marketing and selling a game. Java? No Steam distribution? Paypal? An ultra-early (free?!?!) release? Blocky programmer graphics in 3D? Sheesh. Nobody’s gonna buy that.

But just because you whipped up your first game, a mostly functional clone of your favorite Genesis game, don’t expect the world to beat a path to your door. Remember that your game is floating in an ever-growing sea of indie games, many of them indistinguishable at first glance from your own.

My current view on long-term indie success is this:

#1 – You need to achieve a minimum standard of quality. Period.

And yes, the quality bar keeps rising, but it’s not a full-on arms race. But assume that your customer is actively trying to find any excuse to disregard as many games as possible so they can zero in on a few that are worth paying careful attention to. You must not provide them with any of those easy “outs.” Bugs, lack of polish or attention to detail, clunky interfaces, or boring presentation are all great excuses for a potential customer to ignore your game and never give it a second look.

#2 – You need to stand out from the pack

We are overwhelmed with “me, too” games.  Every game might be a “special snowflake,” but from the perspective of a guy shoveling his walk, it’s all just mounds of snow. Your game needs to really be special, and able to draw positive attention to itself. There are lots of ways of doing that, and there’s no need to limit your game to just one axis of “special.”

Really blowing the curve on quality or production values is one way. If people look at your game and say, “Wow, is that really an indie game?” then you’ve nailed it. Ditto for making a game with a larger scope. But that was how we got into the whole arms race of production values and mega-hits that led to the giant publishers ruling the industry in the first place, so I reject that as the “one true way” of standing out. It’s just the way where money can make a big difference. Serious originality  – at least as far as your customer is concerned (we all stand on the shoulders of giants, after all) – is another way. And yeah, a solid gimmick or hook is another… but there has to be more to your game than that. A unique style or visual approach is another. While it’s more subtle, a unique voice or “personality” is another. Maybe a game should stand out by choosing a totally different way of standing out. The bottom line is that a potential player shouldn’t be able to dismiss it as “just another… <fill in the blank> game.”

#3 – You need to achieve a brand

You could create the ideal, perfect game – the One Game to Rule Them All – and it would still more than likely fail utterly in the marketplace, even with decent marketing in place. Or at least Not Succeed Very Well. Success builds on itself. It’s all about being prolific, consistent, and representing quality – as well as forming a long-term relationship with your audience. And a bunch of games out there all drawing attention to themselves as a group will likely be far more successful in the long run than a lone (non-monster) hit.

Maybe it’s my involvement in the world of indie books now that is influencing my opinion, but I’m seeing an indie career a lot more like a baseball game these days. Sure, the home runs are awesome, but you can’t rely on one or two of those to win the game for you. Winning the game means consistent play, mastering the fundamentals, and scoring consistent base hits.

#4 – Focus on providing a quality experience for the customer first, monetizing second

This is really something that goes into all three of the previous objectives,  but it’s worth noting. A big chunk of the sea of indie flotsam out there consists of pretty but vapid attempts to cash in on whatever perceived trends are out there. Many appear to have high production values, but it’s all on the up-front eye candy. This seems especially true in the mobile markets. I’m sure it works in the short-term. But it’s choking the industry in the longer term.

I think for long-term success, indies need to focus less on how they can rake in the cash from the customers, and more on how they can provide quality experiences for the customers. Yes, you can’t ignore the financial aspects, but I’ve played too many games where it’s clear that the latter came first in the design. It shows, and it’s irritating enough once. But three or four games down the line, I begin to feel as if it’s all a carefully orchestrated attempt to empty my wallet with little more to offer me, and I’m ready to swear off an entire genre of games. And – in the long term – I want to avoid that particular developer / publisher.

Focusing on the value you provide to the audience will help you make a better, quality game. It’ll help make your game stand out from the sea of carnival barkers masquerading as games. And they’ll help you establish a better long-term relationship with fans. So it’s all good.

Filed Under: Game Development, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

Bundles of Trouble

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 17, 2015

fktitle636x358I’m in a bundle right now – the Indie Royale Mixer 16 Bundle. And it’s ridiculous. I mean… ten games for chump change. The kind of money you find under seat cushions. Like I said earlier, at this point it’s really just marketing for the next Frayed Knights. Get the first game practically free, so you’ll buy the sequel!

So if I rail against bundles a tiny bit here, realize that I’m happy to admit I’m officially part of the problem. But I’m not really railing against them. I’m actually working to get my brain around them and understand the Brave New World in which we as game producers and consumers live.

Last night, I went a little nuts on a few available bundles, and I picked up what I’d once have considered almost a two-year supply of games. 23 titles, in total. Plus DLC. 23 games. Back in the day, I considered myself lucky if I picked up one game a month, on the average.

But I’d play the crap out of that one game.

Not so much nowadays. When I’m getting games in bulk, I may install less than half of them, and might only get around to playing half of those within the next 12 months. I mean, it’s great – I end up trying games in these bundles that I’d have never taken a chance on otherwise. Sometimes I find some gems. Indies get a pittance from me even if I never play their game.

JillOfTheJungleThe point of these bundles – what it SHOULD be – is marketing. Just like the old days of PC shareware games, where you could get the first episode of Doom or Duke Nukem or Jill of the Jungle for free, and it acted as an extended advertisement for the other games in the series – which usually cost between $15 and $30 a pop. Buy the whole series, and save $10…

In the Real World of marketing, that’s how it’s done (to my knowledge). You do those big discounts to get people in the door. Get people to know who you are, what your product is, and used to you coming around. You get involved in coupon books or whatnot. But unless your product is way overpriced (and no matter what a tiny but vocal group of complainers on the Internet whine about, video games are nowhere near overpriced), you don’t depend on that as your primary source of income. That’s what you do to prime the pump.

I don’t know about all the indie developers out there (not by a longshot — there’s way too many of us now), but it feels like the bundle idea is turning into something else. It’s a quick hit for cash and something of a dumping ground for games. And… is that it?

One of the challenges of the shareware thing in the 90s was that there were soon “too many” shareware titles (dozens and dozens to choose from – kind of adorable by today’s standards). Another, IMHO, was that they really gave too much away. I mean, if you played to the end, sure, you’d hit a cliffhanger and want to play more. But even then, when players like me played the crap out of our much more meager offerings, that was relatively uncommon.

Of course, as a gamer, I really appreciated that. I mean, I played the shareware version of Doom to death long before I forked over the cash for the whole series. More games, more free stuff to play! PC gamers on a limited budget could be pretty satisfied with the wide assortment of shareware episodes available.

I find that pretty analogous to our situation today. As game developers, we need to find a way to leverage the steep-discount mentality that’s taking over these days and use them for more than just a dumping ground to squeeze a few hundred dollars out of our titles. I guess the “freemium” marketplace is exactly that mentality – going back to giving away the game for free as an attempt to up-sell paid content to the user.

We indie developers just need to get smarter about it.

Filed Under: Game Development, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 6 Comments to Read

Buncha Interesting Stuff Going On…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 16, 2015

I’m back home in Salt Lake City after a mercifully uneventful business trip for The Day Job. And there’s stuff happening!

First of all, RPGWatch has published an interview with my friend and fellow indie RPG developer, Charles Clerc of Olderbytes.com:

Olderbytes Interview at RPGWatch

I’m really looking forward to the new version of S&S:Underworld. Charles gave me a peek at it when we got together during his visit to the U.S. last year, and even in its earlier state, it was impressive. Still awesome old-school flavor, but enhanced with improved technology and a ton of refinements borne of the lessons he’s learned since the original release.

Also, Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon is part of the Indie Royale Mixer 16 Bundle. Ten games with steam keys for … well, practically nothing. It’s all part of my cunning marketing plan (hah!) for the sequel. Not that you need to play the first game to enjoy the sequel (in fact, that’s far less of a thing now than I’d originally planned – the second game will stand on its own pretty well… to the point that I’m thinking of dropping the “2” in the title). But if you were waiting for a chance to get it at ridiculously discounted price, it’s unlikely to ever get better than this. Honestly, this is really to get it out to people who hadn’t heard of it yet, but I just want to make sure regular readers here get informed of the best deals.

Indie Royale Mixer 16 Bundle

And the 7-Day Roguelike Challenge ended yesterday. If I hadn’t been out of town, I’d have been sorely tempted to participate. But… the entries are coming in now, and there are a lot of cool games to check out. I’m intrigued by several of the entries…


And… well, that’s all good stuff for now. It’s good to be home and to catch up on stuff!


Filed Under: General - Comments: Read the First Comment

How the first console adventure game came to be

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 13, 2015

Warren Robinett was the guy who brought forth the first (?) console-based adventure game… still something of a rarity… as well as the first known “Easter Egg” in a video game.

I wish I could have attended this long-overdue post-mortem on Atari’s “Adventure,” but this article’s highlights of the session fill me with warm fuzzies:

Warren Robinett reflects on his ‘signature’ game: Adventure

While game developers were given an amazing amount of autonomy at Atari back then, two things stood out: they weren’t given credit for their creations, and… well, as has often happened ever since with this kind of game, his superiors were less than supportive.

Yet it became a hit and a classic. Go figure. :)

Filed Under: Adventure Games, Retro - Comments: Be the First to Comment

How Do You Make Video Games?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 12, 2015

The first video games I played did not “hook” me. I mean, I liked ‘em, sure. But they didn’t create the passion in me about the medium. That came later. A year or so later. There are a lot of circumstances that could be blamed, but somehow I caught the vision: Imaginary worlds in a computer. Anything was possible. WOW.

Somehow, that translated almost immediately to the idea of making these games. I dunno, I guess the fun of games always came down to a creative desire in me. But I couldn’t comprehend the process that would go into making a game. Computers still sounded alien and futuristic to me. I imagined describing the look and the behavior of this ships to a computer a la Star Trek, with me correcting miraculous assumptions the computer would make when I tried to explain what the triangular space ship from Asteroids would look like.

The funny thing was, I knew my idea was far-fetched, but even funnier was how on some levels, I wasn’t as far off as I thought.

Back then, the Internet was not an easily accessible place overflowing with good and bad information. Back then, even programmable computers were something of a rarity. The information was out there, but you had to physically hunt for it. Hit bookstores and libraries. Pay some money. Take some missteps.

Today – well, today it’s almost ludicrously easy. Thus the overflowing quantity of video games, actually. Finding the information is easy – and free. The tools you need are likewise cheap to free. The only thing that’s really hard is making the game (and it’s a lot easier than it used to be).

And how do you learn how to make a video game? It sounds like circular logic, but it’s by making video games. It’s a lot like learning to play a musical instrument – you need some basic instruction to get started, and can definitely use help and feedback as you go, but you learn by doing. You start simple, you start rough, and you practice. Plain and simple.

So where do you start? How do you get that initial instruction?

Pick a cheap tool that takes you in the direction you want to go that comes with decent documentation, support, and tutorials, and then follow the tutorials. Seriously. Yeah, this may require some homework on your part to find the game engine / system / API that’s “right” for you. That’s easier than what we had to deal with back then.

Back in the day, we’d just type in the code from our books and magazines and hope everything ran in the end. Nowadays, this is done by following the tutorials. But it’s the same kind of process, and we all went through it. Yeah, all you are doing is repeating someone’s steps to make a game. But that’s how you learn.

From there – you make small changes. Tweaks. Change a few small things, maybe a few big things, and see how it’s done. Then you follow another tutorial. Or you try something different, following the pattern you just learned. Rinse, repeat, until you are finally doing all your own stuff.

That’s how we learn. And yeah, it sounds boring. And yeah, there’s nothing revelatory here. What, did you think my advice would be some bolt of lightning that contracted human nature and learning in all fell swoop? No, it’s boringly traditional, but it’s how things have always worked, even before “high tech” was about making fire.

If you find that the tool you chose isn’t doing what you thought it would — choose another one. Nobody’s chaining you to it. I mean, these days, you can get Game Maker Studio, Unity 3D, Unreal, and a dozen other game engines for frickin’ free, and you can make decent, even commercial games out of any of ‘em. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, but if you start down the “wrong” path, you’ve really lost nothing. Not even your time… you are still learning, remember? And the knowledge you’ve gained learning to make games far outweighs the no-longer useful knowledge of the specifics of a particular tool / language / SDK / engine / platform.

Trust me. My brain still has a bunch of information about how to code for the original Sony Playstation, the Commodore 64, the Sega Dreamcast, and DirectX 7. While I doubt those particular skillsets will ever be of direct value again, what I learned making games for those obsolete technologies is a much bigger deal, and is with me still. The principles persist – and improve / grow deeper – even if the details keep shifting around.

So don’t get bogged down in analysis paralysis. Don’t agonize for months over which engine you should go with (in that time, you could have written one game in each of them!). And don’t go out on the game dev forums asking incredibly general “how do I make my game?” questions that really come down to requests for someone else to make your game for you. Nobody else really could even if they wanted to.

It’s all down to you, and you knuckling down and getting to work.

If you really are a game developer at heart, it’ll be some of the most fun you’ll have ‘working’ in your life.

Filed Under: Game Development - Comments: Read the First Comment

Just Playin’ a Game

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 11, 2015

Being a game developer – or, I’m sure, a game journalist – can spoil you. Bad. I remember noticing this waaaay back when, after I’d been a professional game programmer for a year or so, how hard it was for me to just sit back and enjoy a game for pleasure like I used to. I always had some level of critiquing or analysis going on in my head. “How did they do this? Why did they make it work this way? What were they trying to accomplish here?”

Those little voices don’t silence easily.

But I think, over the years, I’ve managed to quiet them down a little bit. Either that, or I’ve been able to get more comfortable around them so that I can tune them out somewhat. It depends.

I recently (at the Christmas Steam sale) picked up an RPG that I’d once anticipated, but it released on consoles long before it came out for the PC, and the reviews were not wonderful. Not wonderful at all. So I skipped it on the PC release, and only grabbed it out of curiosity when the price was under $10. For less than $10, I can play a poor quality game and chalk it up to learning What Not to Do.

I intended to play it for only a half-hour. Ninety minutes later, I reluctantly exited the game, still enjoying myself. I could go through a laundry list of the things that are wrong with it (and many reviewers have…), but instead I just played the game – without spoilers – and really enjoyed myself. The voices might have been telling me that it was a sign of weakness to enjoy the game that had so many things wrong with it, but I was able to ignore them.

And I had fun.

As children, nobody had to instruct us how to have fun. And we did. Our games were incredibly simple and may not have made much sense, from something like just throwing a ball around, to imagining that certain color tiles or the cracks between them were made of lava and shouldn’t be touched. Our tastes may be a bit more sophisticated these days, but that basic joy and sense of fun is still there, no matter how hard the ‘adult life’ tries to beat it out of us.

These days, with so many games coming out each week (each day, for that matter), we depend heavily on reviews and word-of-mouth to try and navigate past all the crap. And we’re still going to hit our share of less-than-stellar games… at least, if we’re doing it right. Sometimes we just have to ignore the voices telling us what we should and shouldn’t like, and just get back to the simple joy of playing.

Sure – not all the games are worth it, and I’m definitely not saying to waste your time on junk. But sometimes, it’s worth giving it a little bit more of a try. Even the sub-par games may have been the labor of love for some developer, and while it may not be perfect, there may still be something to enjoy there. Just have fun, with whatever fun can be had. Get back to our childhood concept of fun, and enjoy it for what it’s worth – whether that’s for five minute, ninety minutes, or hours and hours.

Just have fun. That’s what it’s supposed to all be about, and we ought not forget it.

Have fun.

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The “Totally True” Story of Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 10, 2015

Mega64 did their traditional roast of this year’s winner of the lifetime achievement award at GDC. This time, it was Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of the Final Fantasy series. He gamely played along.

I guess if you are totally unfamiliar with the Final Fantasy games (and their big-screen movie… um, attempt), then this won’t make any sense.


Filed Under: Geek Life, Retro - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

On the Road Again

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 9, 2015

I’m off on another exciting adventure as a lead software engineer for crane simulation systems. This week, my journeys take me back to the land of my teen years, the weird-but-lovable state of Maryland.

Unfortunately, I don’t yet know what my accommodations or my Internet access is going to look like yet. Since I don’t have the entire week pre-posted and ready to go, don’t fret if I miss a day or two. All is well. Or at least, all is probably well and doesn’t suck too horribly. But I may not be able to answer messages too quickly. Or maybe it’ll be just fine. We’ll see.

As another “unfortunately” – I’m not going to be anywhere near the Washington DC area where I grew up. :(  I was hoping to hit the ol’ stomping grounds, but unless I feel like staying an extra day at my own expense (and I don’t), it ain’t happening. Closest I’ll be is near Baltimore one night.

At least I have craploads of games and books to read while I’m out there. I have a monstrous backlog of both. So boredom shouldn’t be an issue in the evenings. I even have a thumb drive with the latest code for FK2, although doing game dev on the road with my laptop can be a little challenging.

Have fun!


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Frayed Knights: I love it when a plan comes together

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 6, 2015

FK2_Vault1_ss6I never watched “The A Team” when I was a kid. Okay, almost never. I think I saw maybe two full episodes, and bits and pieces. But Hannibal Smith had a catchphrase (80s television characters were full of catchphrases) that I still use to this day – “I love it when a plan comes together.

I spent way too much time with Frayed Knights 2 laying groundwork to avoid some of the problems we experienced with building content in the first game. Maybe too much – I may have spent more time up-front as I’d hoped to save. Especially considering how many steps backwards I found myself taking, realizing I’d gone too far in the wrong direction. I think the first year of development was largely wasted, but at least I learned a lot about Unity in the process.

But as I’m trying to divide my time equally now between code and content (particularly because I can get help on the content side, if I don’t leave them hanging), it’s extremely nice to have all that up-front work done and working. For a lot of the basics of putting together the interactivity of a level, it feels like I’m working with a higher-level toolkit. Where something as simple as a basic door used to take me 2-5 minutes to set up and place in FK1 even when I got the process down pat and in a rhythm, it’s now a matter of about fifteen seconds or so. More complex behaviors take a little longer, but still less than they used to.

This really makes designing environments much less of a chore. In theory (and, so far, in practice as well) what it comes down to is that I get to spend my time focused on more interesting stuff. Complex interactions or unique one-off behaviors. That’s what I love. And hopefully there’ll be more payoffs when we’re getting to the balancing / testing / fixing stage.

I love it when a plan comes together.

I love it when a game comes together. I should have been far better about this from the get-go, because rapid iteration from a playable prototype is really important. But it’s really cool seeing a whole bunch of these pieces finally coming together, working well together (mostly), and although we’re still dealing with a lot of stand-in visuals and stuff… being able to see a game there. This is different from September’s demo, because there were a lot of things we simply had to turn off because we ran out of time and they weren’t working right, or because it would have caused a lot of player confusion.

While the light at the end of the tunnel is still quite a ways off, being able to see it makes all the difference in the world.

Filed Under: Frayed Knights - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

More Troops Deployed for the Upcoming VR War

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 5, 2015

Valve_ViveValve produced a prototype of their upcoming “full-room” VR system this week at GDC.  Sort of like the Microsoft’s Kinect answer to the Wii controls, the prototype is winning raves from those who have tried it. The Dev Kits are supposed to become available in a few weeks, and they are suggesting a launch by years’ end.

Oculus VR is preparing to launch their Gear VR in coordination with Samsung. Finally, a launch, of sorts…!  And Sony’s got its Project Morpheus stuff planned for the first half of next year. Microsoft recently unveiled its “Hololens”  for something of an “augmented reality” thing.

It seems like the battle lines are being drawn with the expectation that this will be the new killer platform. But then, a couple of years ago, it was all about microconsoles, and that hasn’t really hit the big time yet, either. (I still like my Ouya, though…)

Part of me is imagining some kind of terrible dystopia in the not-too-distant future where everyone’s even more wired into their mobile devices than they are now, only with goggles and gloves to isolate themselves even more from the “real world.”

But part of me imagines playing a dungeon crawler with VR gear for maximum immersion, and I think, “Wow, how cool would that be?”

And there’s a realistic part of me that remembers how sick I felt after 10 minutes using an early Oculus Rift dev kit. Although the “Lighthouse” motion tracking technology Valve promises (and is giving away freely for other companies to take advantage of) supposedly solves that problem.

I don’t know if this is going to be the “it” technology of the future.  It sounds like the kinds of games the companies want to see produced for VR are NOT the kind of games you’d expect – high-octane, fast-action first-person stuff. Instead, it sounds like using the VR to control a third-person camera to play around with a lower-intensity 3D experience might be the winning concept with current technology. I guess we’ll see.

I can guarantee that I’ll be there, at least as a customer, but I don’t know how long I’ll stay. Hopefully longer than 10 minutes at a time.

Filed Under: Tech - Comments: Read the First Comment

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