Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Games as Services: Will you never be allowed to own a game again?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 31, 2014

Ben Kuchura at Polygon ventures the opinion that – in light of a very obvious trend in the industry right now from certain major publishers / platform holders (particularly EA) – in the future, nobody will own video games anymore. It’ll all be a rental. Or at best, owning a license for indefinite access to a game which is treated as a service, rather than a product. But – like canceled MMOs – the lights will eventually go off and the game will disappear into the mists of time.

We saw hints of it with Diablo III and Sim City. Even playing a game solo, with no intention of interacting with anybody, required logging into a server which might not be there in a few years (and often wasn’t functioning very well at launch). EA Access on the XBox One is a major step in that direction.

It sounds like s a big publisher’s paradise. You lock customers into your particular service pretty much forever. You can force people to play your new, hot games by phasing our their predecessors, without needing to make any major improvements to encourage the migration. You insulate yourself from hit-driven economics… you need the hits to attract new customers and increase retention, but it’s no longer a live-or-die affair. Without having any actual sales, there’s no such thing as royalty rates, which means they are allowed to structure bonuses to hit-making dev teams and studios in a far less open-ended fashion… basically screwing over dev teams without resorting to creative accounting practices or obviously lousy contract points. And, of course, it finally allows them to combat piracy in an effective way.

As a player – or potentially as a third-party developer – there is nothing but depending upon the publishers to be “nice guys” about i. Meanwhile, the publishers can just keep ratcheting down the bar on what constitutes being a “nice guy” to earn that good will.

Furthermore, Kuchura argues that most gamers won’t care. We’re already being programmed that way now, smoothly sliding down that slippery slope. The entirely predictable losses and frustrations won’t happen until we’re too far down the path to turn back. That’s how these things are done. Always.

I want him to be wrong. As a gamer, I desperately want him to be wrong.

But he’s probably not. This depresses me.

Now, as a developer, I admit there are some kinds of games – even primarily single-player games – for which this kind of model makes sense and the ol’ Idea Fairy keeps hitting me with things I’d love to try. So it’s not like I reject the entire concept. Just the idea that there’s a push to stuff all games in that particular box.

After all, I’m a retro-gamer, and I’m still playing games from companies that have long since disappeared. I’ve still got frickin’ floppy discs in my closet (and a drive on my computer to read them!).

All I can say is…  the free market can work wonders, sometimes.

Don’t like it? Vote with your wallet. Support the indie games and publishers that don’t treat you like a wallet with an email account. Buy games direct and download them. If given a choice to buy a game either directly or from a place like GOG.COM that allows you to own and download the product, do that instead of a service that controls your access to the game (*cough*Steam*cough*). Maybe it won’t reverse the trend, but it will help make sure that there will always be alternatives.

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Frayed Knights: Free Strategy Guide, and the Adventurer’s Guild

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 30, 2014

fk_kneecapsThere are still 24 hours left to pick up Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon on Steam at the launch discount.

If you have already played the game and now own the Steam version, if you feel so inclined, please post a review on the Steam page.

Additionally, if you haven’t done so yet, I offer the strategy guide for the game for free. You can grab it here. The page encourages you to register for the (sadly, rare) email newsletter, but that’s entirely optional. Meaning: Please don’t put in a bogus address just to get the strategy guide. It’s yours if you want it, with or without your email.

The strategy guide is not just a walkthrough. I wanted it to really be an accessory to Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon (in addition to the 69-page manual) with some information on the world itself, peeks under the  hood at the game system and content, hints for those who just need a nudge, and a walkthrough for people who really need the help. Which would probably be me, if I was playing, rather than get frustrated by a part of the game.

So if you have the game, grab the strategy guide! Or, hey, grab the strategy guide even if you don’t have the game!

On to a little game-world related topic – the Adventurer’s Guild.

The ‘quest’ of The Skull of S’makh-Daon is to gain entry into the Adventurer’s Guild. The party fails in their first attempt, by getting beaten to the punch by a rival adventuring group. And then the fun really starts. But what is the Adventurer’s Guild?

The guild is sort of a weird idea I came up with long before Frayed Knights. It was me playing with the idea that you could have a world where – like in an MMORPG (or, at the time, a MUD) where you have lots of adventurers running around. In the old-school D&D modules, you were always finding the remains of these guys in dungeons – the group that tried to tackle the dungeon before you. I thought – if there’s enough of these guys running around the world, and the successful ones tend to come back loaded down with cash, wouldn’t a service industry evolve to help them and help relieve them of some of that hard-earned cash?

Thus, the adventurer’s guild.

The guild takes a number of roles in the world of Frayed Knights:

1. It educates adventurers as to “best practices” to survive the threats of a world full of magical and monstrous danger.

2. It informs members of the latest adventuring hot spots, rumors, jobs, etc. (Think Soldier of Fortune magazine).

3. It  can act as banking services for adventurers who don’t want to cart all their cash around with them.

4. It offers something of a primitive form of insurance – as a self-funded bounty for an adventurer’s rescue (or the recovery of their body) should they not return on schedule from an expedition.

5. While not really modeled in the game for the sake of convenience to the player, the guild also takes care of buying, selling, and trading magical gear.

6. The guild offers courier services to members

7. Major guildhalls offer temporary lodging for guild members, with the utmost in security that will not be found in your average inn.

8. Looking for group? The guild helps members keep track of each other – very important in a profession with a high mortality rate – and helping members track groups with openings and members seeking openings in new groups.

In the world of Frayed Knights, the Adventurer’s Guild has become somewhat more exclusive.  I figured this would be a natural development if the adventurers were as quick to “game the system” as gamers are in our world. For example – if a bounty is offered for recovering the bodies of dead adventurers, a group of assassins might specialize in arranging for the deaths of adventurers just to collect the bounty. “Wannabe” groups might underbid on the best jobs, winning contracts, and then failing utterly – taking the reputation of the guild with it. A few embarrassments like this, and the guild would no doubt start making additional requirements for membership, including recommendations by established members in good standing, and proof of competency.

And so we find Arianna, Benjamin, Chloe, and Dirk in the Temple of Pokmor Xang, on an “official” quest from a senior guild member to prove themselves, in order to gain admittance to the guild.





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Computer RPGs and the Game Controller

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 29, 2014

GamingKeyboardI love my keyboard and mouse for gaming.

Before mice were common, I loved the keyboard.

I remember playing Ultima III and IV, where there was a command for almost every key. It seems a silly idea today, but back then, it at least made the game feel like it was incredibly interactive. Look at all the verbs! Okay, so it was kind of kind of redundant at times, and some commands were used so infrequently they didn’t really deserve their own key. But it felt like a rich command set!

I’ve been a PC Gamer ever since. Sure, professionally, I made games for consoles for a living. I was young and needed the money! Okay, seriously, there were times when I was convinced it was the most awesome job of all time. And I learned to love the consoles, especially the original Playstation. But there was a richness in PC gaming that I felt lacking in many console titles. The console gamers might jeer and call them boring, but those of us playing the original X-Com, Daggerfall, Falcon 3.0 (and later 4.0), and Civilization games knew better. Console ports of games like Diablo paled in comparison. Ditto for the console versions of most PC RPGs.

Once upon a time, back when there really was a larger distance between console and computer games, I remember a journalist explaining that the difference was often depth vs. breadth. Console games – like fighting games – tended to go for greater depth of play within a limited breadth of interactions. PC games tended to go for more breadth of interactions. Over time, that has converged a bit, though I do still love having that breadth of interactions.

Nowadays, from a technology standpoint – there’s not such a difference between consoles and computers. As far as what’s going on under the hood, it doesn’t really matter. As Microsoft’s Surface and will-conceived Windows 8 attest, mobile devices are closing the gap as well.  We have HD TVs now that display text almost as well as computer monitors. And the controllers? Well, console controllers from the last couple of generations of systems have been pretty dang interesting. I’ll bet you could eliminate some redundancies, put a few rare controls on a menu, and map the old Ultima controls onto an XBox controller pretty well. While mobile games have diverged a bit in the style of gameplay (mostly owing to small screens and touch interfaces), PC games and console games have converged much more. It’s not always a good thing – I do feel like there’s been a bit of “dumbing down” as a result – but there are good things to be borrowed from both sides.

There’s still something about the keyboard and mouse for me. Especially the mouse. It’s convenient. It’s precise, unlike thumbsticks and touch screens. Even though the world is changing and people are using a dedicated desktop (or laptop) less and less, I’m still a fan. I’m still a PC gamer. I think in those terms.  Sometimes to my own detriment.

But reality intrudes. I have to show my next game, Frayed Knights 2: The Khan of Wrath, at Salt Lake Comic Con in about a month, and … well, people really respond better to controllers, especially when faced with a new game. The left stick and right buttons are the first to be experimented with. And – as the adventure games of the 90s illustrated, context-sensitive verbs are a pretty good thing. I really want to hand them a controller, not point them to a keyboard and mouse.

SONY DSCSo now I’m frantically re-thinking my UI in terms of game control input. And it really changes everything. It’s actually a good thing, to a point – because it really forces me to think in terms of simplifying controls for the player. Players of Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon and its rather ungainly UI will no doubt appreciate the effort. This doesn’t mean that players of my beloved keyboard and mouse are going to be stuck with something like an emulated console controller… no way, no how.  Keyboard and mouse are still going to be, in my mind, the primary way to play the game. But it does force me to think about economy of movement, careful nesting of what menus are necessary, and – well, simplifying the control of things, even if the stuff going on underneath the hood is still pretty hardcore.

I know it’s the right thing to do. I know it’s the necessary thing to do. I know the game will be better as a result of me streamlining things. I know that I will still be able to play with keyboard and mouse in the way that the gods of PC gaming intended. But there’s still a little part of me that feels guilty about it.

Filed Under: Design, Frayed Knights - Comments: 15 Comments to Read

Frayed Knights Steam Launch Sale Ends Thursday

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 28, 2014

Just a heads-up to anybody planning on picking up the Steam release of Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon, the launch sale ends Thursday. Just sayin’.


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Frayed Knights: Humor and the Knights

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 25, 2014

fkwebtitle640x333Humor is a pretty subjective thing. It’s also something of a cultural thing. I heard recently that part of the decline in film comedies is that so much of Hollywood’s revenue these days is from international markets (more than half), and comedy does not translate well. The kind that does tends to be the overly broad, silly comedy of the type that I personally don’t enjoy.

So I make a comedy RPG, thereby limiting my potential market yet again. I am so brilliant.

Oh, yeah, and the game –  Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon - is now available on Steam. Have I mentioned that already? :)

As I said, overly broad comedy – if it comes on too strong – leaves me cold. I’ve played a couple of humorous RPGs that I really couldn’t take more than a few minutes of. There’s a certain point where things just get too ridiculous for me to care. For me, it still comes down to the characters – if I don’t care about the characters, especially if I cannot care about them because things are just too over-the-top – then nothing else works, and the humor falls flat.

That’s why the characters in the Frayed Knights series are pre-generated. In my mind, if the characters don’t work, the humor and story doesn’t work. Sure, pus golems and “Power Word: Defenestrate” are amusing, but you can’t build a solid, 20+ hour-long game on that. It’ll get old fast.

That’s another issue. Like tragedy, humor is best served by contrast. You can’t just have goofy after goofy forever. You have to ground things in the serious once in a while for whatever is supposed to be funny to really shine. That’s why one of my favorite story points in the game is actually the least funny part of it of all. Those who have played the game and know what’s under the windmill, you know. Now, I know that my skills as a writer are still evolving. (Shameless plug – check out my short story “Dots, Dashes, and Deceit” in Terra Mechanica: A Steampunk Anthology! ) I don’t know if players ever came to care about a certain characters the way I did in my mind. That, and the game plays out for everyone a little bit differently. That’s the interactive medium for you.

fknoframeAnd then I still have my weird setting, D&D-campaign-world-as-envisioned-by-an-inexperienced-but-earnest-14-year-old.  It’s full of things like pus golems, pimple gods, obsessive puzzle-building wizards, paper mache dragons, jaded adventurers, spells with names like “hotfoot,” “Boot to the Head,” and “Power Word: Defenestrate”, and sorceresses with names like “S’makh-Daon.” One thing I tried to do (and I think I’m getting better at it as I go) is to make this world – if not believable – at least somewhat consistent. Part of the joke there is for old-school gamers who recognize all the tropes that get abused in computer and console RPGs as well as dice-and-paper gaming – I wanted to explain, lampshade, or subvert all these classic fantasy bits in the context of the world.

Sometimes it’s a little over the top. Sometimes its subtle. Sometimes… well, there are spots now where I can now tell I was really trying too hard. It happens.

If I were to do it all over again (which, fortunately, I’m kinda doing right now as I’m working on the next game), I’d do more to ground the characters and the world, and give the player access to their back-story. Again, this would be to make the more humorous parts stand out by contrast. And also because it’s just a fun, bizarre little world that these guys inhabit, and there are forces at work in the world with cool plots and plans in mind that – in my mind at least – amusing, but only if the players feel like they care about the world and what’s going on in it.

So yes, I’m saying I’d try to increase the humor level by … increasing the less humorous aspects. That’s exactly what I’m saying. Not to fear, there will be ridiculous trope-subverting plots and a return of the Rats of Nom and everything else players love about the first game. I’m pretty pleased with how Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon turned out.  I’ve heard a lot of great things back from players suggesting that I had more hits than I had misses. But I learned a lot from that game, and hope I can put it to good use in the next one.


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Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon Finally Live on Steam

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 24, 2014

I was not sure this day will ever happen.

I guess after all this time, nothing short of a miracle will make it anything but anticlimactic. But hey, it’s an Event, and it’s Important, and the stress finally started hitting me a few hours ago.

Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon is finally on Steam.


I’m celebrating on this fine state holiday here in Utah by… working extra hours, ‘cuz deadlines. Being a part-time indie can be even more anticlimactic.

But please – share, spread the news! This is a new version of Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon, steam-enhanced with achievements and some smaller fixes / tweaks / improvements. Thanks to everyone who helped make this happen.

I’ll have the non-steam update for people soon. If you bought the game *BEFORE TODAY* from me directly or through Desura and really want the steam version, email me (jayb) with your purchase information, and we’ll work something out. If you got the game through a bundle, check your bundle page. If you don’t have a code already, it should be up in a few hours.

So — now I get to jump to work with the non-Steam updat, and I’m behind schedule on a milestone for the sequel for a week from today. GAH. Okay. Back to work.

Please spread the word.

And thanks. Really. It’s meant a lot to me.

Oh, and one more thing, I just wanted to say… 0L4L6.  (UPDATE – This was part of a Steam code contest on Twitter… won now! Grats to @Korovoma on that one!)


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The Origin of Frayed Knights: Classic CRPGs Edition

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 23, 2014

Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon releases TOMORROW on Steam. Assuming all goes well and there’s no surprises. At least no major ones. There are always surprises. Wish me luck. And tell your friends!

I did a series a long time ago called “How CRPGs Warped My Brain.” I could just about revisit that entire series and demonstrate how they influenced Frayed Knights‘ design. But I figured I’d just go into some specifics… maybe five of the most influential games, the ones with a particular vibe I was trying to channel.

Wiz7_dI’d say the biggest influence on the design is a game I never finished – or even got THAT far in playing: Wizardry 7: Crusaders of the Dark Savant. This is a game that is permanently in my “I want to finish some day” list. It’s awesome. It’s deep. It’s huge. It took some risks. It was beautiful – even today. And of course, it was a first-person perspective game with a party of characters, with the additional old-school vibe of having a pedigree going back to one of the earliest commercial computer RPGs.

A lot of the very interesting things it did – like having a faction system with competing parties, diplomacy, and a text parser for conversations – I didn’t really run with in Frayed Knights. But it was a part of why I was in awe of the game when it was released. But it all contributed to making the world feel much more alive, which is something that is important in any CRPG. But perhaps more important was the variety of actions, puzzles, and approaches to problems you could take to move forward in the game, down to which factions you ally with. And of course, there was the classic Wizardry “phase-based” combat system which required some prediction and risk assessment. It wasn’t great, but it was good and challenging.

For me, Wizardry 7 was kind of the standard. Possibly because I hadn’t played much of the  Might & Magic series at the time I started work on Frayed Knights… but that’s another story.

uw1Next – there’s Ultima Underworld. Both games, but particularly the original. This was the first of the “true 3D” first-person RPGs, the predecessor for the Elder Scrolls series. I even went so far, at one point, in creating a control scheme similar to Ultima Underworld‘s for Frayed Knights during the early prototype stage. Then I recognized how terrible it was, and instantly repented.

While Underworld’s gameplay is nothing like Frayed Knights‘, I really liked the more intimate, detailed dungeons, and – like Wizardry 7, it had a world that really came alive a number of ways. It was detailed. The world, the levels, the NPCs all had a solid backstory. There was a plethora of things to do besides just kill monsters. There was again something of a simulationist, open-ended design to some tasks. For example, you could either find the key to a door, or beat the door down. You could negotiate, or take.

But one of the things I most liked about the game was that it felt… fresh and maybe a little bit raw. The designers created it without the type of limitations that frequently infected the other RPGs of the era. It felt a little more like the kind of game they’d make for their table-top gaming group, full of weird ideas that more experienced designers would have nixed in the planning stages because they were too complicated to implement. Not that Paul Neurath was a total newb at this point, but it does feel like they were a little more wild and free with their design. I totally wanted that in Frayed Knights.

eob2_bIn the old classics arena, the Eye of the Beholder series – particularly #2 (the only one I played to completion), was also an influence. Sure, it was derived heavily from Dungeon Master (which I also played, on a friend’s Amiga). I liked how they took the real-time, exploratory, interactive world of Dungeon Master, mixed it with the D&D rules, and gave it some story. And yes, like the other two games, part of my delight was in the interactivity of the world, the variety (to a point) of environmental puzzles and the look of the world.

(And as a side note – when are we going to get that series on GOG.COM? Just askin’….)

Wiz8_bI’d never played Wizardry 8 until I was knee-deep in development of Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon. I fell in love with it almost immediately. I grew to hate the length of combats, however (I timed them at one point, in the late-game stages, and found myself spending almost an hour in a single fight, even using a hack to speed up the combat animations and spell effects). But it represented almost everything I loved about Wizardry 7. Plus, a true 3D environment. It was too late for it to have a serious influence over my design, but since both drew upon its predecessors for inspiration, I guess it’s unsurprising that there’d be some similarities.

But as so much time had passed since I had played much of Wizardry 7, playing its immediate (if a decade removed) sequel was a great refresher course in what I loved about the series.

MM7Likewise, Might & Magic VII – in fact, the whole Might & Magic series – was a late discovery that I only came to appreciate after Frayed Knights was in development. I’d played a little bit of Might & Magic III way back in the day, but hadn’t gotten into it as much as some of its contemporaries. And I’d read so much about the Xeen games that I knew what to expect, more or less. But really getting into the games for the first time, many years after their creation? What a fun experience. And I couldn’t help but draw upon these as an influence in Frayed Knights.  In particular, the ability to increase your characteristics with objects you find in the game world was something I borrowed -mainly because it was a really fun, rewarding mechanic.

I’d be hard-pressed to find a favorite CRPG that didn’t wasn’t something of an inspiration or influence (if only as an example of what not to do). These are the five games I drew from the most as I was trying to distill all the things I remembered from classic CRPGs that made them so fun.

Perhaps the biggest influence is that, in spite of years of experience, I still thought that somehow with modern technology I could make a stupidly huge RPG with all kinds of cool features with a tiny team and a shoestring budget. While I will be the first to admit that I landed somewhat short of the mark I’d envisioned in my mind’s eye when I started, I’m pretty dang proud of what was accomplished. We learned a lot, we grew a lot, we created something unique and original that still hearkened back to the classics of an earlier era, and which is – most importantly – fun.

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Frayed Knights – Steam Store Page Up, Community Support Needed

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 22, 2014

Okay, folks. I can use some help here.

I know many of you have already played through all or most of Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon. If you have, I could use some support :

Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon on Steam

I could use some reviews, community discussion, support, screen shots, etc. there.

If you previously obtained the game from Rampant Games directly and are willing / interested in writing a review on Steam this week, please let me know via email or twitter PM. The jayb addy works best. I’m trying to get a lot of things done quickly, and I may even push out the release date a few days if I have to, but I can use every bit of support you guys are willing to offer. I’d love the site to have content from people other than me on launch day (or shortly before / after, where possible).

Thank you all for your help – big and small. Even little words of encouragement and optimism (when I felt little, myself) helped a great deal.


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Frayed Knights: Changes to version 1.07

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 21, 2014

fktitle636x358Over the course of the week, I made some changes to Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon that go beyond adding Steam achievements.  This will be version 1.07, and will be made available for non-Steam versions soon.

The changes are small, but (IMO) significant:

* Change to the Search skill. When there is a hidden treasure within range of the skill, you will get a message to that effect even on a failed check – just no indication of range. There is no change to searching for traps.

* Weapons with spell effects on impact (for example, the Spear of Concussion and the Axe of Fiery Microdoom) now may cost additional stamina when the spell effect lands. These are generally pretty low-level spells so the endurance cost isn’t major, but it does help balance out the otherwise quite impressive effects of these weapons.

* The Endurance cost modifier for the Demotivate spell has been increased from 3 to 4.

* Fixed a bug when attempting to cast directly from a scroll onto a friendly party member – the casting dialog would sometimes have scrambled information.

* Some minor dialog changes, mainly for typos.

I suspect that the change to search will be the most well-received, with the average response being something to the effect of, “It’s about time!”


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Ultima IV and Rational Worlds

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 18, 2014

Ultima_IV_boxI’m gonna take a break for the weekend on the Frayed Knights posts (more next week!), and just refer you to a couple of posts by The Digital Antiquarian about a game that’s very near & dear to my heart, Ultima IV.

First, the origin story – and some conjectures about the real history behind it that go beyond the short & sweet “official” story:

Article: The Road to IV

Article: Ultima IV

Now, as much as I like to wax prosaic about Ultima IV, because it really was a pretty landmark game and IMO still a great game to play, it is still a (relatively) simple game with simple mechanics. Although the interesting thing is that while modern games with complex faction systems may be far more sophisticated, the simple rules and ability to check with Hawkwind to monitor your progress may have actually strengthened the focus of the game and increased the verisimilitude than far more murky but “realistic” systems. Go figure.

But maybe a more significant factor – and reason that the game series is so beloved today – is suggested in the second article. Though violated as often as reinforced, a logic and consistency permeated the Ultima games. This was a part of game design as well as the fictional world-building. At least through the middle of the series, the games were far more simulationist than narrativist. The game ran on consistent rules with very little special-case code. The player acquired and learned to use tools to make progress in the game – from finding an artifact to fly over mountains to using a cannon to shoot a door off its hinges.

The magic system tried to follow that same consistency – it seemed to be created of a combination of elements, which included reagents some games, and runes in Ultima Underworld. Likewise, the virtue system was a combination of a handful of base elements. In Ultima VI and VII, crafting and simple economy were introduced much the same way, with a number of basic procedures allowing the creation of items in the game.

Maybe it was the transparency of these systems – and how they permeated the same game – that made players feel like Origin was living up to its motto, “We create worlds.” And maybe there’s a lesson to be learned by game designers (especially RPG designers) about  the art of world-building.

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The Origin of Frayed Knights: Dice and Paper Edition

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 17, 2014

Long-time readers may be plenty familiar with some of this already. But with the first Frayed Knights game coming out on Steam (hopefully a week from today) and the sequel making progress towards its first fully playable demo, I figured I’d go back over a little bit of the history of the series.

The Frayed Knights series was inspired by a number of sources. I’ll talk about the computer RPG origins in another post,  but the Bard’s Tale, Wizardry, and Ultima series (and some lesser-known games) were of course old-school classics that informed my design and I wanted to emulate some of the feel of playing those games.

But a lot of it was inspired by the source of inspiration for all of those games – dice-and-paper gaming, particularly the first edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons era. The characters making snarky comments as if they were players sitting around the table was a direct effort on my part to capture some of that feeling, mixed with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor, of  course.

1E_DMGDice-and-paper gaming is different now. Honestly, I play Pathfinder now rather than 1st edition AD&D because I prefer the new system, and I really caught the vision of the “World of Darkness” series with its emphasis on storytelling. So don’t get me wrong – I’m not going to tell you that 1E was the be-all, end-all of gaming. But it was a different experience back then – one that was partly lost a few years later, and is only now being somewhat re-discovered by computer RPGs. The recent opinion piece at Polygon, “The dice can kill you: Why First Edition AD&D is king,” manages to describe some of that “feel.”

That’s part of the feel I was going for.

In fact, that’s kind of the strength AND the weakness of the system. In the old 1979-era Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game, the setting and mood built into the rules. From the race and class restrictions, racial attitude modifiers, to even things like the insanity tables. You could ignore all that, sure… but if you even moderately adhered to the rules, the setting and flavor of those old D&D games would be spontaneously generated by dice roles. Kinda like a roguelike.

But perhaps more importantly, there was a geeky subculture around those early years which spread by contact with other gaming groups, conventions, and in the pages of the manuals and Dragon Magazine. It was wild stuff back then, to play a game so insanely free-form that there wasn’t even a conventional notion of a winner.  Creativity ran rampant, from the mundane to the bizarre.

slavepitsModules and supplements back then had the really awesome pulp-fantasy names like “Queen of the Demonweb Pits,” “Assault on the Aerie of the Slavelords,” “The Caverns of Thracia,” “Tomb of Horrors,” “The Ghost Tower of Inverness,” “City State of the Invincible Overlord,” “Against the Cult of the Reptile God,” “Expedition to the Barrier Peaks,” etc. Man, I loved those titles. And the modules – while not always expertly delivering on the promise of those magnificent titles – were great foundations on which a gaming group could build an experience.

That was really the key. While everyone who had played The Keep on the Borderlands had somewhat similar experiences based on the module, it was a little (or a lot) different for everyone. When I envision an “ultimate computer RPG” – which I hope to play (or even build) one day, that’ll be a major part of it. A luxuriously hand-crafted world and plot, and the player has a ton of freedom to do things how he wants, and have the game react appropriately. It was a (distant) goal in Frayed Knights, which resulted in lots of duplicate dialogs with slightly different variations.

The banter at the table was of course a major part of trying to recapture that experience as well. My mental model for the world was a campaign setting invented by a gifted, earnest, but not entirely clueful 14-year-old with delusions of grandeur (sound familiar?), totally missing the lack of logical consistency inherent in both the world and the rules. Hey, that means I did all that deliberately, doesn’t it?  The party members are characters played by somewhat more experienced players who are playing along and just having fun role-playing their characters, papering over the inconsistencies in the world with brilliant explanations for why things work the way they do.

emirikolSome of the aspects of old-school D&D and similar games I just imitated (I won’t say I parodied or paid homage to, but maybe there was a little of both) was the ungodly number of spells (and items) in the core game. It’s both brilliant and terrible. For me, trying to balance all these items and spells was a little bit on the terrible side. But the point of AD&D was to make sure there was so many cool things for players to use (or have used against them) that the game would stay interesting through dozens of campaigns. It worked!

For the most part, I only tried to reference / parody the feel of those old game sessions of that era. There were a few specifics that I remember making fun of. The Caverns of Anarchy are, of course, a reference to the Caves of Chaos in The Keep on the Borderlands. Honestly, I don’t think of it as a great module – I think Gygax was kinda phoning it in on that one to throw in an obligatory introductory adventure for their new, streamlined, simpler version of D&D. (As an aside, I think the 1981 Basic / Expert D&D set was one of their best-designed products, ever).  But it was the first D&D experience for many players of the era, and it was a pretty early one for me, too. The “mad hermit” kinda makes an appearance, although he explains that he’s not mad, just mildly pissed-off and cantankerous.  I deliberately avoided much more by way of specific references to that module, but instead took the idea in a few directions, keeping only the concept of a bunch of monster lairs in close proximity (a “monster apartment complex” as I once heard it described).

The level of randomness of the dice & paper games is something else I emulated, although I actually backed off a good deal from my original efforts. When three or four battles in 1st edition Advanced D&D would take up a great deal of a four-hour gaming session, the randomness of the occasional die-roll feels more acceptable. But in a computer game, when combats are resolved in a couple of minutes, there are LOTS of rolls, lots of chances to die, and players (including me) get frustrated with too much inconsistency.

Some of the other stuff – well, I’ll just say I spent a lot of time going over old Dragon Magazine articles and classic modules, rulebooks, and supplements for both ideas and a proper “old-school dice & paper feel” for the game. Whether I succeeded or not is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. But I have certainly enjoyed the experience.

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Frayed Knights: A Slightly New and Improved Trailer

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 16, 2014

I came to the stark realization the other day that the original trailer for Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon still had the words “Coming Soon” at the end. I figured I’d jump in and just change that particular title and make a quick revision. This was mainly for Steam, but I figured I’d put that everywhere.

I guess that shows how much I know. I don’t upload much to YouTube, so while I was vaguely suspicious that you couldn’t replace an old video with a new one, I wasn’t sure about that. But that’s another story.

But one problem was that I’d had a hard drive crash and an upgrade of Windows from Windows XP to Windows 7 in the interim. Yes, I skipped Vista, and I am skipping Windows 8, just like I skipped Windows ME. So far, that strategy has worked fabulously for me.

Anyway – while much of the raw data was still there, I had to install new versions of the software which were incompatible. An older version, which I eventually had to reinstall, is buggy and prone to crashing / hanging. *Sigh*. I haven’t touched the software in a while, so I had to re-learn how to use it, and it took me a while – and several reboots of the software and re-doing previous work – to get into the habit of saving after every change. Because, of course, I couldn’t let well enough alone, and I decided to make some other tweaks. Changing the font, tweaking a couple of of the clips, changing the wording of a couple of titles that had bugged me for a while…

… And then I realized that I’d actually started with the wrong version of the project file. It was close, but it wasn’t exactly what I’d used to make the original trailer. Ah, well. I didn’t feel like going back and changing things AGAIN, so I just rolled with it. At this point, anything that seemed different felt like an improvement.

The first version I made – even published to YouTube – had a typo, so I revised it yet again. Unless I find something else embarrassingly wrong with it, this will be the trailer that will run for the Steam release (and it’ll probably replace the one I have on the Frayed Knights page, and on the Desura store page as well).

And yes, when we talk about how much stuff goes into being an indie that doesn’t involve making the game, this is one of the many, many, many things we’re talking about. You either take time you don’t have to do it yourself, or you pay with money you don’t have to have someone else do it.

Anyway, if it looks good, feel free to give it a thumbs-up or comment or something.

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Frayed Knights: Am I just a cruel game designer?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 15, 2014

Am I just a cruel game designer? Are there any other games out there that have one of the longest dialogues in the game take place after the entire party has been wiped out? Is this me trying to be funny and take the edge off a frustrating situation, or was it me just rubbing it in?

I like to think the former, but sometimes I’m not sure.


Now, technically, I was trying to get a TPK (Total Party Kill) here, but the rats in Farmer Brown’s cellar are particularly nasty and make it pretty easy. But not as nasty as the critters at the Tower of Almost Certain Death. One of the challenges of going more “open” in design is that the player won’t necessarily take the smoothest path. If the player bypasses some of the little missions in town (including Farmer Brown’s cellar) and the mines in the Eastern Wilderness to go straight for the Tower of Almost Certain Death, and pushes straight for the top of the tower, it’s going to hard to avoid either getting a lot of TPKs and / or a lot of visits back at the inn.

I guess, in retrospect, I should have had Benjamin’s “tip” take the player to an easier dungeon, like the mines. Now, in my mind, there’s a gameplay / philosophical rationale here. But it may just be that subconsciously I’m just a really cruel game designer.

Anyway – if you are a new player to the game and are looking for hints, this is one: Unlike many RPGs, you aren’t expected to make a beeline between your quest areas.  In fact, there may be forces at work (NOT ME!) that are intentionally trying to push your party to failure. Take some time to smell the roses, go off the beaten path, and explore some of that terrain. You may find buried treasure. You may find a fierce enemy. You may find a whole dungeon that no “quest” pushes you to visit. And yes, you could find yourself completely in over your head in a few places, which may lead to that that dialog in the screenshot becoming completely un-funny. You may find your entry barred by something you cannot solve just yet. But it’s all okay.

I tried my best to make sure you can’t break the game this way. Much of the better loot can be found in “optional” dungeons. And the dungeons and countrysides are literally littered with little events, secrets, and dumb jokes.

Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon is coming soon to Steam, but it currently available at our website, if you do not want to wait.



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Frayed Knights Update: Achievements

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 14, 2014

fktitle636x358Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon will be up on Steam in a matter of days. It could have been done a lot sooner, but in my stupidity / eagerness, I decided to add achievements to the game.

I don’t know if it’ll make a bit of difference in sales. But I thought it would be fun. I’m stupid that way, I guess. I have a hard deadline of a demo for Frayed Knights 2 that demands my attention, so the timing is bad. I’m futzing about with the old game, getting someone to do the icons, programming the changes in code that I haven’t looked at in over a year, and then… testing. Lots and lots of testing. Even with debug controls, we’re talking double-digit testing to make sure the game runs correctly with the code changes.

Ah, well.  Why do I do this? Because it’s fun. I don’t know if achievements will help sell a single extra copy of the game, but I do this because it’ll make things a little cooler. Hopefully. I can’t depend on awesome high-end graphics and visuals, so I’ve gotta do something, right?

It’s a little weird digging through the old code. After living with this stuff for so long, it’s like going back to the old neighborhood but not quite remembering everything. I don’t have all the tools installed that I used when I worked on it originally, so it’s a little bit harder to find where everything is, although it’s familiar enough that I haven’t had to dig around too much.

I decided against creating achievements that required psychotic multiple play-throughs… I already inflicted that on playtesters back in the day. You will definitely need to explore optional content and uncover a few secrets to get all the achievements, and some of the achievements may require you to make certain choices you might not have made on your original play-through (although if you have a prior saved game, it’s not hard to go back and try alternatives). I guess I just don’t feel it should require ridiculous levels of tedium and effort to get 100%.

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Game Dev Quote of the Week: Bits of Awesomeness Edition

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 11, 2014

This Game Dev Quote of the week comes from a team effort by the wild, weird, awesome guys at Dejobaan Games, circa 2010, in a post-mortem about one of my favorite indie games, AaaaAAaaaaaah! A Reckless Disregard for Gravity.

An excellent video game isn’t just about presenting interesting rules — it’s about delighting the player with bits of awesomeness all over the place. The best arcades did this well during the ’80s.

In their heyday they were like miniature Las Vegases for kids, filled with interesting details. At the core were the games — but they weren’t just all dumped into a dusty warehouse. Step inside one now — the decor (tacky, yet awesome) starts with a pitch black room with wavy neon lights and disco balls. The cabinets are densely-packed, with illustrations sprawling over them. Peek around to the front of each one, and you get a glimpse of a ridiculous matrix of lights playing out. Off in one corner of the room is an illuminated glass cube filled with plush toys and a gleaming claw.

While you’re picturing the ambient glow, listen to the sounds of a dozen games beckoning with their distinctive sounds. The best arcades were spaces to explore. And like that, our favorite games delight us all over the place — it’s a little like stumbling across little Christmas presents wherever we go.

We tried to do this with Aaaaa!, starting with a solid core of gameplay. If we could then make people grin at something as silly as the options menu — and then apply that to all the details — people would want to keep playing the game just to see what’d happen.

So! BASE jumpers must lose a lot of teeth — why not make teeth the game’s currency? Elevator music in the level selection menu? Sure! And we included a guided anti-meditation, in case you lived a life of too much relaxation, and wanted to feel as though bugs were crawling around your body. Each little piece made the game stand out a little more.

Another example of excellence in this respect is the game Rock of Ages – which I think might be kind of a boring game if it weren’t for all the delightful details.

You can read more in the Aaaaaaa! Post-mortem. Full of little bits of awesome!


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Grim Fan-Frickin’-Dango!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 10, 2014

Grim_Fandango_boxartConfirmed: The “remastered” edition of Grim Fandango announced for the Sony PS4 and Vita platforms is also coming to PC, Mac, and Linux.

I still have my original copy. And the box. Getting it to actually *run* in a modern Windows environment without crashing is a major feat requiring hunting the internet and possibly running dubious files. But I do have it. It is a well-loved copy.

Just by way of reference – I received it as a Christmas present, alongside the original Half-Life.

Have I mentioned lately that I consider Grim Fandango to be the best adventure game of all time? Well, I do. My apologies to all my adventure-game developer friends and acquaintances out there. I love what you are doing guys. Maybe you’ve got a game out there that I haven’t played that equals or exceeds the majesty of Grim Fandango, and one day I will discover it and revise my proclamation. But of the adventure games I have played, Grim Fandango remains my high-water mark.

And honestly, I cannot tell you why. It wasn’t the puzzles. I only barely remember some of the puzzles. (“Run, you pigeons! It’s Robert Frost!”). Mainly, it was the characters – particularly the protagonist, Manuel “Manny” Calavera. And Glottis. Glottis was great. And the oddball setting. And the film noir style. And the awesome story broken up into chapters each set a year apart. And the excellent soundtrack.

Mainly, I remember how I felt playing it. This was 1998, and getting a more subtle emotional reaction (meaning – something besides fear or anger) from a game was a rare thing. But I did with Grim Fandango. I cared about the characters, and the ending left me feeling satisfied. It was a well-told story and a well-crafted game.

Technologically, I’m not sure how well the “remastered” edition will stack up to modern offerings. But it’s definitely a classic that deserves to be made available on modern platforms. I’m really excited by this news.

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