Frayed Knights Dev Diary: Stupid Is As Stupid Fights
The heart of any RPG is the combat system.
Right now, Frayed Knights is feeling kinda heartless. And who taught that skeleton to hold an axe like that, anyway? Yeesh!
This week I spent some time working on combat. Putting together menus, re-thinking the interface, and then re-thinking it again once I prototyped it and saw where it was going.
One challenge I've faced is sort of a low-grade "analysis paralysis" with respect to individual systems. I found myself sitting down at the computer and not really being too sure how to approach the problem. Where do I begin? Do I use Torque's built-in UI stuff for the interface, or try to take greater advantage of the TGB-added sprites for menus? If I can't nicely pick out which enemy I'm attacking by clicking on them (overlapping collision areas makes it tricky), how do I handle it?
The trick I should have learned by now (but it still slowed me a bit) is - after preliminary analysis and consideration is done - to just pick one way and do it. Modularize it as best as you can so it CAN be changed later without too much impact if you decide you took the wrong path. But like the quote says (many attribute it to General George S. Patton, but I heard he borrowed it from a civil war general):
"A good plan, violently executed today, is far and away better than a perfect plan next week."
Stupid Torque Tricks
Torque has UI controls called "GUI Bitmap Buttons" that are supposed to be pure bitmaps. You are supposed to have one for each state of the button (normal, disabled, hovered-over, and pressed). Now, in the event no such bitmap exists, the fallback behavior of the button is simply to display text.
I needed text you could click on in menus, and so the fallback behavior seemed to be about perfect for me. There was a problem, however. For some reason, GuiBitmapButtonCtrl doesn't respect its given profile, and keeps reverting back to GuiDefaultProfile.
That screws up my pretty little font and stuff, which irritates me. Now, a good and responsible programmer, with the source code to the engine, would hunt down this bug, kill it, and check in the changes back into HEAD and contribute to the community and stuff. Me? I just cheesed out and whipped up a work-around. When the menu first comes up, I call setProfile() to force it to my nicer display font & stuff. Now, this still doesn't solve the problem, as there is another bug I've run into a few times where the string doesn't respect case... I guess the engine is trying to re-use strings and isn't paying attention to differences in case. So instead of "Attack" (capital A) I get "attack". The same problem cropped up in last week's post where the NPC was labeled "ELF LADY" (all caps) - which isn't the string I passed in (only the E and the L are supposed to be capitalized). There is probably something boneheaded that I'm doing here, so if anybody knows how to fix this issue, please let me know.
Behind the Curtain
Though a lot of what I've been doing has been creating only semi-functional interfaces and stubs, I did spend some time this week getting the framework of combat handled. Combat works in a phased system, rather than pure turn-based. Every action takes a certain amount of time to complete. An "average" action takes 10 phases. Now, rather than having you delay that many phases to complete the action, I play with time a little bit and reverse the order of things: The action and its effects take place immediately, and the delay occurs afterwards as you recover or recoil from the action.
So, for example, if you rest (take a breather) to recover endurance, you will immediately gain back the endurance, but you will have to then wait 10 phases to take your next action. The time it takes for the 'recoil' may be dependent upon your character... one character may take 10 phases to swing a sword, but another may be able to do it in 8. So after 80 phases, the faster character will have had 10 attacks, and the slower character will have only had 8.
Combat just proceeds in this way, phase-by-phase. I have the basic pipeline in and more-or-less functional, but there's really nothing HAPPENING at this point. Combat ends after 40 phases (or when you hit the "C" button, which is also how you initiate combat right now). No attacks or damage take place (yet). But I have some of the core logic in tracking everyone involved in the fight and handling combat order in place.
Which means I think it will work, but I still have no idea whether or not it will be fun.
While I GUESS I could have had combat occur completely abstractly for testing purposes, without any monster visuals, I am a sucker for the shiny. I wanted to see monsters appear when I forced combat (for testing purposes) by pressing the "C" key. So I used the DrewFX Skeleton Pack along with the Tridinaut Medieval Weapons Pack, and created a little funtion to spawn an attacking monster for the combat code to use. As you can see from the screenshots, the two different packs aren't 100% compatible out-of-the-box. The skeleton can hold the weapons by its thumb - which could show great talent, but I'm not too thrilled with the idea. So I'm going to have to go in and fix them myself.
Unfortunately, very few content developers seem to support Blender formats in their content packs. Which confuses me. I mean, Blender is FREE guys... how much effort would it take? Well, okay, I know the answer to that one. Blender's import utilities are not exactly stellar, and do I expect any of these premium modeling packages to support export to a top open-source competitor? So I'm going to have to go through the painful process of importing them into Blender myself, and then fixing their mountpoints / origins and hope they export without losing crucial data.
The other thing this process brought up was just how I'm going to be handling creature spawning and the "abstract" method of handling positioning. How and where do the players encounter the monsters? I am trying to avoid dealing with complex pathfinding and collision issues with this game - we're talking quick-and-dirty here. What this is coming down to is a secondary set of data structures defining abstract pathing.
I also played around a little more with Torque Constructor (version 1.01) this weekend. Since it has been nearly 2 months since I last played with it, I had to re-learn everything. I had it crash on me once, and lock up on me once more. Still not quite ready for prime time. However, I note that version 1.02 is now up, so hopefully that'll be fixed up.
My assessment hasn't changed a whole lot from the last time I messed around with it. But this time I was actually trying to create something vaguely useful for the game. There's still a bit of a learning curve to figure out, but I am very, very fond of the ability to slice up brushes so easily. Maybe because that's how I'm used to working with Blender.
What's Up This Week
There's still some more functionality I want to get in place with combat.
Aside from that, this week will be spent working on the Traps & Locks minigame dialogs. Yes, after all my ranting about making more rogue-friendly RPGs, I figured I'd BETTER have an interesting rogue-oriented elements in the game.
If I have time, I'm going to throw in the save / load menus (non-functional). At that point, I'll have a crappy prototype of full game functionality.
(Vaguely) related thinking aloud... well, not aloud, I mean... bah, you get the idea...
* Making a Rogue-Friendly RPG part I: Rogues Get No Respect
* Frayed Knights Dev Diary: Getting Around In the World
* Frayed Knights Dev Diary: Background and High Concept
* Frayed Knights Website
Yo! Conference Happening In the Forum
Why Bother With Single-Player RPGs?
Over at ComputerAndVideoGames.com, Obsidian Entertainment CEO Feargus Urquhart talks about the danger to single-player RPGs posed by MMORPGs.
And I agree with him completely. I'll paraphrase his contention in my own terms: MMORPGs already have the "Wander aimlessly around a lifeless non-interactive world playing whack-a-mole with monster-shaped targets" genre pretty well sewn up, and made entertaining by the sheer power of multiplayer. So why would anybody want to do that in a single-player RPG when they can do it online with friends and get some kind of bragging rights in a whack-a-mole competition?
So he's pushing for more interactive single-player worlds. Worlds that respond to the player as a hero, instead of treating him as Generic Player # 29,371 that must not affect the status quo for the sake of the other thousands (or millions if you are talking WoW). Let the player kick over some anthills! Permanently change things! Mess around with the campaign world! Whatever.
To be honest, most recent western RPGs are pretty good in this respect (though they could always do better). I haven't played any of the Diablo-clones, and they like Diablo 2 might be pretty static. The "jRPGs" seem to be the worst in this respect, as much as I love 'em.
(Vaguely) related ravings:
* Are Graphics Really Killing Gameplay?
* The Rules of Roleplaying Games
* Making a Rogue-Friendly RPG (part I)
* RPG Design: Why Can't I Get Past the Stupid Door?
Read or Post Comments on the Forums
Hey! You Got Your QA In My Programming!
Scruffy-Looking Cat Herder has an article entitled, "Skill Set Development" that discusses not only the need for separate QA and Development departments within a company with an IT division, but also the different skill sets.
For the most part, I'm in agreement. QA is a very different mindset from development, and it IS very hard to test your own code anything close to exhaustively. Whether or not it is useful for you to submit your software to a separate QA department (either internal or outsourced) really depends upon the cost of failure. If you are pushing out a small, internal application where failure might mean a loss of a few minutes and an irritated Customer Service rep, then you could certainly argue that it's not worth the effort. If failure means your company finds itself short a hundred thousand dollars in taxes at the end of the year, a pass or two by a dedicated QA team is probably warranted. If failure means your entire customer database can be compromised and personal information hijacked by a malicious external party, then the cost of failure could very well be your entire business.
He also goes on to claim that "developers are better off cultivating a perspective of getting their software out the door and testers are better off cultivating a perspective of preventing software from getting out the door until they cannot break it."
There's where I'll take some exception. My stint as a QA guy was actually as a weird hybrid position. I was an "Automated Testing Engineer" or something like that at Symantec. Basically, I wrote software to test software. The experience was incredibly valuable to me, as not only did I discover Python there, but I also learned to get into the QA mindset a little bit. That really helped open my eyes a bit more about "defensive coding" and learning to predict where failures are likely to occur in my own code. I think programmers who have a little QA angel (or devil) sitting on their shoulder warning them to protect their code against likely vectors of failure are going to write better code.
And based on some comments I got from some QA people testing my code at a later job, I think it worked. Though that could be chalked up just to the fact that I was a more grizzled veteran than some of the other coders.
As far as testing time is concerned, one solution is concurrently testing alongside development. This is a huge pain in the butt for developers, and I wouldn't want to get dogmatic about it, but having testing begin at the earliest possible state can not only save time, but can also help the developers get a better grasp of code quality and problem areas.
(Vaguely) related public display of ignorance:
* My Favorite Job Interviews
* No Excuse for IT Ignorance
* Programming Tip: Comment First
* My Worst Bug Ever
Read or Post Comments on the Forums! (All the cool kids are doing it...)
How To Earn $8000 / Month By Making a Free Flash Game.
Wow. It is possible to earn six figures in annual income on a single game programmed in approximately one month. The trick is - you have to make a really popular Flash game. Which is about like catching lightning in a bottle. But GigaOM has an interview with Paul Preese, author of Desktop Tower Defense, which shows just what is possible by a solo programmer.
I was pointed in the direction of this game by community members here after I evangelized Flash Element Tower Defense a few months ago. Like most Tower Defense games, it's wonderfully addictive and fun. And it's free. Yet this free game is clearing $8000 / month for the developer, with 20 million pageviews per month.
Why am I wasting my time writing games in Torque, I wonder?
Oh, wait, right... the trick is writing the RIGHT game. There are zillions of Flash games out there right now (some that are even pretty good) that aren't earning diddley. Like all successful games , it is just a combination of a great game, the appropriate marketing, and good luck. But in the interview, Paul outlines several things he did to increase his odds and help make the game the success it has become:
#1 - Take a Well-Known Genre and Make It Better
Ouch. Once again, pure innovation doesn't seem to cut it. Paul borrowed from the popular Warcraft III mod, and even from Flash Element TD, and built on that solid foundation. But he didn't just create a "me, too" product - he added some new ideas of his own. So yes - there's definitely some innovation in there. Sometimes it doesn't take much.
#2 - Promote Through Web Aggregation Sites
I'd say promote through any means possible. But it is interesting to see that as word-of-mouth (and word-of-social-bookmarking) grew, its slow start began to snowball.
#3 - Profit Through Ad Revenue
Once you get up to 20 million pageviews per month, I guess Adsense begins to make some real money. Though he's also getting some direct advertising deals as well. He's probably making much more than he'd have made if he tried to sell his game for $5 or $15 a pop.
#4 - Keep the Budget Low
Paul thinks he can create a game the scale of Desktop TD every month. It costs him $130 a month in server fees. If the game had cost a quarter-million to make, it might never have become profitable.
So there you go. This is not a formula for success by any stretch --- but indies should take note and learn from each success. Congratulations to Paul Preese for not only a successful game, but a truly fun and entertaining game. And a tip o' the sombrero to Coding Horror for the link!
(Vaguely) related envy...
* Design: Picking Apart Flash Element TD
* Quick Strategy Games
* RPG In a Week
* Should I Become An Indie Game Developer?
* The Ten Commandments of Indie Game Developers
* 20 Ways to Make Money Making Indie Games
* How to Avoid Making Money Making Indie Games
Read or Post Comments on the Forum. Or Not!
Indie RPG News, May 28, 2007
Those Indie RPG developers are at it again...
First off, RPGVault has a 3-page interview with Jeff Vogel about the new Nethergate remake, Nethergate: Resurrection. One small tidbit from the interview describes Vogel's company:
Jonric: For those who aren't familiar with Spiderweb Software, where is it located and how large is the team?
Jeff Vogel: We're based in Seattle, and we started out in 1994. We have three full-time employees. We had a tarantula mascot, but she passed last year.
Depths of Peril
Soldak has added new villains to their villains page; added imps, orcs, and zombies to their monster page, and added a new short story entitled, "Fire Scrape."
The Broken Hourglass
The Planewalker Team has put together a somewhat technical description of their "on-the-fly creature customization" system, which allows them to create anything from random encounters to highly tweaked single encounters. Anybody planning on modding The Broken Hourglass should take note, but it is also a nice bit of insight into the types of things that are being taken into consideration with this game.
Hey, how'd this get in here? Well, we've got sort of a monthly-summary up on GarageGames. This week I'm tackling the heart (and most complicated part) of the game, combat. To be followed up by the traps & locks mini-game. the save / load game menus, and the character sheet sub-panes (like the level-up dialog, personal inventory page, etc). Once that's done, we'll have Cycle #2 completed (I think). Cycle #1 was mainly the design document.
And that's it for this week. If you have any more news on indie RPGs that are in late-development (or from veteran indie teams), please let me know. I'm getting press-release type stuff from the Planewalked and Soldak guys regularly, which makes this really easy (hint, hint, indie devs....)
(Vaguely) related indie RPG lunacy!
* Beyond the Gate: Jason Compton on the Making of The Broken Hourglass
* News Bits on Upcoming Indie RPGs
* Frayed Knights: Background and High Concept
* Indie RPG Roundtable
Discussion on the Forums
RPG Design: What Am I Going To Do With All This Money?
There's a question I wish I had to ask in real life more often. Like, ever. Alas, I'm talking about fantasy worlds. RPGs, particularly. Both computer and table-top.
Heroes and their Treasures
While it may not be the final dramatic objective, the overarching mechanical goal in RPGs is to improve your characters' power. There are two means of doing this. The first is by increasing their inherent abilities, or internal improvement. The second, and even more significant in some games (particularly fantasy MMO's), is external improvement through better tools. A +4 Butter Knife of Annihilation, Armor of Imperviousness to Nuclear Blasts, Boots of Buttkicking, a Big Blue Dress of squeezing out one extra spell before you run out of mana, whatever.
Exceptional tools for use by heroes is a staple of heroic fiction upon which these games were originally based. Glamdring, Excaliber, Sting, the Millenium Falcon, Silver the horse, the Batmobile, and more. I was reading up on "Jack" tales a couple years back - research for a possible RPG that has been backburnered for something a little less aggressive for now. Jack is best known for his exploits with the magic beanstalk, but there are tons of stories about him. And besides magic beans and a magic harp, he was constantly being gifted with powerful magic items, usually by either old crones or beautiful young maidens.
The thing is, those Jack tales were all stand-alone stories. If they all dealt with the same Jack, then Jack was a polygamist with multiple personalities and a massive stash of magical items that he forgot about before every adventure. In more modern stories (and RPGs), our heroes have a bit more persistence between adventures. This is fine. But what do we do with the treasure hoard?
In stories, our heroes just don't have to deal with such things. If an "upgrade" occurs, it's usually because the previous tool was lost / destroyed / used up, or he / she just sort of ignores who inherits their former possession. Who cares what happened to the Klingon Bird of Prey Captain Kirk and his crew used in Star Trek IV, anyway? These are stories, not games, and so the author is very deliberate about the dramatic purpose of these external extensions of the characters.
The other thing about these stories is that these items are always earned by the heroes. Maybe it's just an artifact of the modern, western fiction, but these tools are almost always legitimized by the hero having to earn them in some way. In some cases, it may be inherited, though even in those cases it is often re-earned. Or, in Luke Skywalker's case, his father's lightsaber was lost in a battle with his dead ol' dad, and he had to create his own for the final confrontation.
In many stories, the fellow who simply buys his way into the rank of heroes by purchasing a bunch of neat toys is simply a pretender. His fraud is exposed later - sometimes fatally - when he demonstrates he doesn't deserve the honor he bought into.
RPG Heroes and their Disposable Gear
Now we have the roleplaying game. As it is a game, simple use of "dramatic need" goes out the window. Loot is part of the positive feedback cycle of the games, which is rarely used for anything other than upgrading the characters with more powerful tools. This brings up some problems. What do they do with their loot?
Some players, for roleplaying benefit, use their gains to donate to the poor, pay their father's medical bill, or whatnot. Most, however, simply spend it on upgrading their character. Getting super-powered gear at the local Magical Mini-Mart, or in-game equivalent.
While this is neither heroic or particularly dramatic, it causes an extra issue: The toys the players get via purchasing and trade-ins may be much better than the great, awesome, dramatic loot the game designer (or gamemaster) had them earn through desperate and exciting adventures? What do you do when Frodo figures he's better off selling Sting, the Mithril Shirt, and what the heck... let's pawn the One Ring, too... for a +5 Shortbow of Belly Bursting and an Ever-Full Beer Tankard?
But if you don't give them that opportunity --- what kind of "money sink" do you put in the game that is of value to the players. 1st edition AD&D had rules requiring that the player characters spend a hefty amount of money in order to gain a level, but this wasn't so much a money sink as a source of endless player complaints.
And so wonderful and wonderous items of heroic fantasy, theoretically rich in dramatic benefits beyond mere game mechanics, get commoditized in the economy of a game to the near-meaninglessness of pellets dropping at the press of a feeder bar. It's bad enough in single-player CRPGs and Dice & Paper games, but its absolutely insane in Massively Mutiplayer Online RPGs.
What To Do About It?
Now, I could argue that's not a bad thing. Especially as a player. Because we're ultimately talking about a game, here, not a novel, and that changes everything. As a gamer in an RPG, I'm worried about my character's survival, man. All the cool dramatic fuzzy-wuzzies don't mean a thing to me if I'm destined to be a secondary character who dies in the middle of the book in a pool of his own blood, mourned for maybe a chapter or two and then forgotten. While I subconsciously yearn for drama and story, my immediate concern is far removed from that. I'm here to kick butt, take names, and win, dang it. And I'll use store-bought magic items, endless restoring of saved-games, finding loopholes in the game system, and anything else I can do to accomplish that objective. And THAT is the fun of the game, dang it!
Maybe not as fun as some alternatives, but there's a fine line between that kind of fun and pure frustration.
But assuming you'd like to get the best of both worlds, there are a couple of solutions I've seen, and one more I've tried (without much success).
The Store Sells Only Mundane Magic...
One option, especially in games with lots of randomized loot, is to make sure that the "earned" loot is always superior or less generic to what can be found for sale in the game world. The "store-bought" gear is only useful to replenish consumable (limited use) items, or to fill in gaps in the character's equipment list. The problem with this is that very soon the player's wealth vastly exceeds anything they could conceivably purchase, and so any 'rewards' that aren't immediate and direct upgrades become useless to the player.
Upgrades "R" Us
Another option is to allow the player to upgrade a single item, rather than replacing it. This does an admirable job of helping simulate the heroic fantasy that fathered the entire genre. The problem with this is that once the player finds their prized weapon, the game master / designer can no longer reward them with a better weapon. Gandalf throws all other swords into the "for sale" bin, so he can upgrade Glamdring to shoot lighting bolts out of its crossguard and stuff. And once again, upgrading is kind of a mechanical, drama-less activity.
Upgrade II: The Quest For Loot
One thing I've experimented with Dice & Paper games is maintaining a "quest component" in the creation of magic items. Maybe the new armor - in addition to requiring a hefty upgrade cost - also requires a rare cockatrice feather or dragon scale (or both...) This - in theory - allows me the opportunity to make the new item a memorable event and make it feel "earned," even though it remains an upgrade (and a money sink). Unfortunately, that's harder to implement in a CRPG. Not unless half the game was designed around generating semi-random quests based on the player's options.
What Do You Think?
Is it a problem when the gamemaster can't have treasure that is truly treasured by players? If so, what's the best way to deal with the problem, in "dice & paper" games or in CRPGs?
(Vaguely) related pondering of the trivial:
* RPG Design: Quest Abuse
* RPG Design: The Brute Force Problem
* RPG Design: Why Can't I Get Through The Stupid Door?
Read or Post Comments on the Forum
Games As Editorial Content
Yesterday, Persuasive Games announced (via the Water Cooler Games blog) that their games will begin being featured in the New York Times online edition as editorial content. Effectively filling a similar niche as political cartoons. Their first title, Food Import Folly (subscription required to play the game, but that link has a description and screenshots), concerns the extremely limited FDA inspection of food imports. The website notes that the number of food import shipments increased from 2 million to 9 million over the last decade, but the FDA resources and personnel has remained roughly constant.
You may recall my evangelizing of one of Persuasive Games' previous titles, "Airport Security." I think this is an important step for games --- a new area where game-makers can and should explore. It is another potential market, albeit a small one. I don't know if the online games will help the TimesSelect subscription rates, but I'm pleased to see them embracing more of the potential of being an online news service. But more importantly, this is another small step for computer games in demonstrating their power - and importance - as a medium of communication.
And for rapid development buffs - Food Import Folly was created in Flash in only one week.
Congratulations to Persuasive Games!
(Vaguely) Related Attempts At Being Political...
* Airport Security Parody Game
* Games As Art: Media's Double Standard
* Do Games Matter?
Read or Post Comments on the Forum
Frayed Knights Dev Diary: Mocking (Up) Conversations
Greetings, true believers... to another chapter in the saga of making an indie RPG for the PC, Frayed Knights. This week is about more quick & dirty development of prototype #1 - trying to get semi-functional stubs of all the game elements thrown together in this "evolutionary prototype" and begin iterating on it.
This week I continued work on the control system, and came to realize that what I posted last week is just not going to work. In particular, the problem arises when one is turning towards an interactive object or character... like the image to the right (which was also posted in the forums earlier this week). In this state, with the elf on the edge of the screen (though we could really afford to slim her collision volume down a bit), we have a very tough time turning left. If the elf was very tall, it would be impossible to turn left.
Back to the drawing board. Maybe...
What it comes down to is that either completely separate mouse buttons will have to be used for movement versus clicking on interactive elements, or interactive buttons will have to be added to the screen to control movement (outside of optional key controls). Or both. Or neither, and I scrap the whole system for a new one. One of the central design elements I'm trying to maintain is that the game must be completely playable using ONLY the mouse. Keyboard controls should be strictly optional. And I want to do it without cluttering up the UI too much.
We All Need... Someone... We Can Click On...
To create interactive objects in 3D space, there are a couple of different approaches you can take (that I'm familiar with, at least). The first is to project the mouse cursor into some 3D location in the scene, and then run a collision ray through the scene to the 3D cursor and see what it collides with. If it's with an interactive object, then you signal the client in some way to let it know that there's something "clickable" beneath the cursor. The advantage of this method is that it allows occluding objects to block access to interactive objects very naturally - a closed door will block you from clicking on the character behind it. The downside is that the projection of the mouse cursor into 3D space isn't very exact - as it only has 2D coordinates. So you can end up with some strangeness unless the cursor is ALWAYS centered due to perspective, where the player thinks he should be able to click on something, but the game thinks otherwise.
Another way to try this, if you don't have too many interactive objects within range, is to collect them in a list and to "unproject" them and their collision boundaries into 2D space, gathering their real screen-space positions. This has the advantage of more exact results (as exact as the collision volume boundaries get, at least) for clicking on the objects, but you lose collision information for intervening, non-interactive objects.
A hybrid approach would be to perform the second check, and then project the cursor out at the distance of the candidate object, and then perform the 3D collision check to make sure it still connects as a "sanity check".
There is probably a better technique than the above, but those are the ones I'm familiar with.
I'm currently using method #2, with plans to integrate the hybrid "sanity check" approach later on. What this gives us now is a good foundation for our evolutionary prototype. Hopefully I've designed it so the behavior can be easily expanded upon (or completely overhauled) later with few problems.
Oh! It's a Text-Based RPG!
One of my projects this week was to get the basic interface for conversations working. I'm doing some weird stuff with conversations that might not work.
What typical RPGs (think Bioware's RPGs, here) do with a "conversation tree" system is actually similar to how I'm handling interactions with objects... sort of a text-based sub-game. Anybody who has created a Neverwinter Nights module and used a conversation to simulate actions not normally allowed in the game (like swimming across a river, or climbing a rope) knows exactly how and why to treat things this way. While it isn't as immersive as actually seeing the actions play out graphically on the screen, it allows a lot more freedom in designing interesting situations.
Talk To Me...
For actual conversations, I'm doing something a little different. I'm not going to go into much detail right now, because I want to be able to talk about it when I'm actually implementing the nuts and bolts of it about a month or so from now.
From a pure interface perspective, it isn't too far removed from a traditional conversation tree system. You have several choices. The NPC responds to your choices with some canned statement (though it may be modified on-the-fly, which will really limit my ability to localize this game). You get new choices. This continues until you or the NPC end the conversation. The big difference is how the choices are made available, and how the NPC responds. The difference is that these are not statically related... NPC response A doesn't automatically lead to player choices B,C, and D. It all depends upon what events have occured in the game, the NPC's relationship with the Frayed Knights, and the collected social skills and feats of the party members.
So instead of delivering a static script, an NPC may be of value to speak with at any time in the game. Spending time and effort to befriend an NPC isn't going to be effort wasted beyond the one quest the NPC is assigned to - they will continue to be of value throughout the game.
At least, that's how it all plays out in my head. So when I click on the responses generically labeled "Response1" and "Response2" in the conversation menu, I'm actually envisioning this really cool, complex dialog. My imagination is so much easier to program than a computer game... Actually getting it to work involves many factors including inheritance and knowledge tables and heirarchies and risk / reward factors and stuff.
(Vaguely) related posts where I pretend I know what I'm talking about
* RPG Conversation System Redesign
* Non-Combat RPG: A Fool's Errand?
* Frayed Knights Dev Diary: Getting Around In the World
* The RPG Commandments
* Prototyping Means Sucking Less Sooner
Read or Post Comments on the Forum
More Guitar Hero 80's Edition News
According to GameSpot and 1Up, the new title of this summer's Guitar Hero game is Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80's.
The updated track list known so far:
- "Lonely Is the Night" (Billy Squier)
- "Synchronicity II" (Police)
- "18 and Life" (Skid Row)
- "Bathroom Wall" (Faster Pussycat)
- "Nothing But a Good Time" (Poison)
- "Shakin'" (Eddie Money)
- "Play With Me" (Extreme)
- "Metal Health" (Quiet Riot)
- "Heat of the Moment" (Asia)
- "I Wanna Rock" (Twisted Sister)
- "Holy Diver" (Dio)
- "I Ran" (Flock of Seagulls)
- "Round and Round" (Ratt)
- "I Want Candy" (Bow Wow Wow)
Man... I could imagine a "Guitar Hero Encore: Woodstock Edition" with music from the Vietnam War era that would be killer. Okay, sure, I wasn't born when some of those songs came out, but still.... Would be nice to get some more Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, CCR action...
Very cool potential here. Can't wait for the game to be released. It looks like it might be a mid-July thing.
Read and Post Comments In the Forums...
Labels: Guitar Hero
How about a blog where someone goes through the entire Ultima series, start-to-finish, and blogs his progress?
Ophidian Dragon (CageBlogger) is doing just that, over at Blogging Ultima.
Starting back in February, with Akalabeth: World of Doom, he's playing them in the order that they were released, including the spinoffs like Ultima Underworld, Savage Empire, and Martian Dreams. The articles are largely play-throughs, though he includes a bit of commentary and historical notes (and lots of screen shots... be warned, we're talking graphics from before Pac-Man's birth in a couple of cases...)
This should be enjoyable stuff for retro-gamers, RPG designers looking to see what's gone before, or just the idly curious. I have only read a few entries so far, but it's been a great trip down memory lane, even looking over the ones I never played.
A tip o' the +2 Helm goes to GBGames for letting me know about this gem.
(Vaguely) related trips down the Deadly Corridor of Memories
* Game Moments #9: Ultima Underworld
* Game Moments #6: Ultima VII
* Can CRPGs Age Gracefully?
* Bungling Burglars Break Into Lord British's Building...
* Behind-the-Scenes Look at the History of Ultima Underworld
* The Origin of Fun
* Who Are the Best Game Villains
Read or Post Comments In The Forums
What Is the Best Language To Use To Start Writing Games?
This question came from Roberto, who gave me permission to share it. He asked me what language he should use to start learning to program games. You had to start with a tough one, didn't you, Roberto?
The short answer is, "Write a game in whatever language will let you get the job done."
The longer answer just nitpicks at the short one.
How I Started
I started writing games in BASIC. Not some fancy version of BASIC, either, but really ugly, minimalist implementation that wasn't ANSII compliant. I learned, at least partly, by typing in code from magazines and books like Creative Computing's BASIC COMPUTER GAMES. While its not really practiced today (why type it in when you can download it or cut & paste?), that process was an invaluable learning tool for me. Not only did I learn the language this way, but I also got a feel for how other programmers used the language to approach and solve problems. How they used the data to represent the world and player actions.
I actually continued this practice when I went to college. I took a data structures course, and we had weekly assignments that included implementing these basic data types covered in the class (stacks, queues, etc.) For implementing a stack (in PASCAL), I actually wrote the Towers of Hanoi puzzle, with the ring sizes For a binary search three, I wrote the game of "Animal," where the computer had to guess what animal you were thinking of (and, when it failed to guess properly, it would ask you to fill in the blanks with the new animal, and a qustion that would distinguish it from the others.
Times and technology have changed a lot since then. My BASIC and PASCAL skills are languishing (I've used VisualBasic professionally, but its resemblance to the BASIC I used back in the early 80's is vague at best). But the core skills and way of thinking about solving problems that I learned back then are still being used every single day. So my choice of language back in the day was largely irrelevant. The most important thing was that I did it.
How does this apply to you? You'll need to determine your requirements based on the following criteria:
#1 - AUDIENCE NEEDS
What language / engine / system will be most accessible to your intended audience and platform? If you are only writing a game for yourself, it doesn't matter... but if you are writing games for others to enjoy, you will need to make it as easy and as convenient as possible for them.
Making your audience download additional virtual machine or framework in order to run your game can be a problem. This includes using the latest & greatest version of DirectX, OpenGL, the .NET framework, JVM, and so forth. You'll want to go with whatever users are likely to already have. Flash is a great option because even though it does require a (small) additional download, most users already have it installed on their machines.
Download size is also an issue, of course, though this is not directly related to your choice of language. Smaller is usually better, but it tends to break down into thresholds that are hotly debated amongst game developers. It used to be that anything over 7 megs was the kiss of death, but times have changed.
So - best case... make it something your users are unlikely to have to (manually) download and install at ALL (in theory), like a web-based game. Next best case: An entirely self-contained executable. Next best case: An executable (or web-based game) that requires a very common external dependency - like an older version of DirectX or OpenGL (which is unfortunately not as common as I wish it would be...)
#2 - YOUR NEEDS
What language are you most familiar with? What is your own easiest / cheapest solution?
If you know how to program in VisualBasic because of your day job, why not write a game in VisualBasic (unless you feel it's trumped by your answer to question #1 above)? If you have no money to even buy a compiler or engine, you'd better start with a free / open source option, like Java, Python, or Microsoft's freebie version of VS 2005.
Go with what you know. If you don't know anything yet, then you'll need to do more research and find out what strikes your fancy. Look at what games are being made using the various languages and see if they match what you have in mind for your own game. The list of 2D and 3D game development tools is constantly evolving (there's one on DevMaster here for 3D engines, if you are interested), which might also dictate your language of choice.
What language (or engine) has the best community support if you get stuck? There are many, many books (and websites, and forum posts, and magazine articles...) about game programming in C++. If you choose a more obscure language, it might be harder finding help or answers to questions.
Then there's also your own plans / desires. Are you really wanting to create a game engine, or a game? (My advice, starting out, is a GAME). Are you pushing for a career in web development and web-based games? If you are looking at hardcore game development, that world still runs in C++ (and probably will for the forseeable future). Java - as much as I want to cheer it on - has started losing what headway it once had. And while C# is an attractive option, what with Microsoft's XNA initiative and everything, it's got the whole "Microsoft Exclusive!" thing it is riding on.
#3 - THE GAME'S NEEDS
What are the needs of your game? If you are planning a SNES-style JRPG, then why not start with something that's already got part of the work done for you, like RPG Maker? (which uses RUBY to extend its functionality)? Are you planning a 3D game project for your first game (if so, may whatever gods you worship have mercy on your soul...)?
Look at what is available and what best matches the needs of the game.
And If You Still Don't Know...
So if you still have no idea where to begin, here are some ideas. I'd recommend starting with a 2D game, and using some kind of mid- or high-level engine or graphics library to get you started. Pick a language that works best for the three criteria I mentioned above, and just get cracking.
I'm partial to Python + PyGame, mainly because I am a Python convert. It's a pretty easy language to pick up and use, it's free, and its multiplatform. The biggest problem is that compiling to a native executable (and not requiring your audience to download and install Python) is sort of problematic, and I'm not sure what options are available outside of Windows.
Torque Game Builder is another option I'd heartily recommend. It's got its quirks and issues, but the tutorials that come with it are almost worth the price of admission on their own. And many games are being made right now in it.
I haven't messed with Blitz3D or BlitzMax, but both have been used to make commercial games in the past, and they have solid community support with people who swear by them.
Good ol' C++ and SDL is a great "workhorse" option. Not the easiest to learn, but so much of the world (outside of web development) still runs in C / C++, so learning the language won't do you any harm. There are also TONS of game engines and libraries (some free, some cheap, some not-so-cheap) that are C++ based besides SDL. SDL is nice because it's free and used in a lot of 2D games.
Some great, top-selling games have been made with GameMaker and RPGMaker (Cute Knight and Aveyond, to name my favorites), so don't ignore these options. I know some game development schools / courses have students start out with GameMaker, so it is useful both as a general learning tool and an engine to create commercial-quality products.
In the end, it still boils down to just picking a likely tool and then running with it and finishing a game. Even a simple Space Invaders clone that won't be played by anyone outside of your immediate circle of friends will be an invaluable learning experience. Like the ads say, "Just Do It."
(Vaguely) related stupidity:
* Programming Tip: Comment First
* My Worst Bug Ever!
* Torque 2D Game Builder Quick Review
* A Day in the Life of a Game Programmer
Read or Post Comments on the Forums
Making a Game Out of Work.
I got this link from ~J (and GameSetWatch has now posted it) - a New York Times article which is rather progressive for mainstream media:
Why Work Is Looking More Like a Video Game
The article doesn't have many specifics, but the general idea is a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool that borrows some principles from gaming to make it a tool that employees want to use, and will actually encourage them to excel. In particular, they are pushing some very vaguely MMORPG-like principles to make the CRM tool more fun to use.
Having worked on CRM-style software in the past, I can say, "Good, they need SOMETHING!"
The article itself wasn't all that informative. But it did make me think about the concept a little bit. Yes, we're all familiar with management techniques designed to encourage "friendly" competition and raise morale. Unfortunately, competition (especially if bonuses are involved) can quickly become anything but friendly - and often destructive to the business. And too often the morale-building or "team-building" exercises backfire. Badly. Especially with highly educated, professional, experienced, and jaded team members. As anybody who follows Dilbert is keenly aware (it's so funny because it is true).
But it can and does work if done properly. The problems usually occur when the goals of management and labor are at odds. When people see the CEO get a bonus after doing a 10% headcount reduction, there just ain't much you can do there to stem the tide of cynicism and a rift 'twixt the two sides. But if things haven't gotten to that level, the suggestion here is an intriguing one.
One of the challenges management often faces getting employees to use productivity software is that it is NOT fun. It is of benefit to management, but not of benefit to the employees. NOBODY operates at 100% efficiency, all the time, and so the introduction of more tools that track their performance might be perceived as increasing their vulnerability to management. Then there's the problem of poor metrics - a problem in any company. Professionals are often concerned that they are going to be judged by criteria that are not an accurate representation of their true productivity and worth to the company - such as, for programmers, being judged by "lines of code."
But what about creating productivity tools that are not only truly useful to employees, but include "game" elements to help with motivation? Borrowing from MMO elements to show incremental progress, provide bragging rights, and some friendly (informal) competition? Tools that are "fun to use" and thus more likely to be used? Particularly tools that make tracking of progress more of an interactive, employee-based effort than a management watchdog trick?
For example - project tracking. I've had some practices that worked with project tracking. Seeing things ticked off the list --- that incremental progress feedback --- is something of a motivator. But how about tying it all in into something more game-like in a non-zero sum multiplayer game? What if the project tracking software showed tasks as mobs, with a difficulty rating assigned to them? Your score increases not only for slaying your task on time, but you get bonus points for beating it early, and additional bonus points for assisting a coworker on THEIR "mob." (Bonus points which do NOT detract from said coworkers score?)
How about - in the programming world - unit testing? Most programmers and software development managers love the concept of automated unit tests, but most are also reluctant to accept the short-term productivity hit. But what about turning the development, maintenance, and the successful passing-off of unit tests part of a game? More of a peer-based effort with minimal management oversight? Again, using unit tests as a sole measure of performance is an absolutely terrible idea, and you wouldn't want to go overboard on it. There's the need to actually - you know - get the software WRITTEN that you are writing unit tests for. But turning it into a game where having a certain number of unit tests working (and of sufficient quality) are worth some extra XP for the week in a fun little internal competition could lead to improved performance.
If combined with reasonable rewards from management (like a bonus to everyone on the team based on completing a project on time and with high quality... or even an extra bonus for exceeding total project goals), and if the metrics aren't taken too far or too seriously, it might help make the the workplace more fun AND more productive. Give the entire team an on-the-clock hour of Unreal Tournament or Starcraft 2 (when it comes out) if they manage to score a combined total of 200,000 XP for the week on the project. Whatever!
Now if you could actually convince management to buy off on something like that... convince them that tools that are fun to use have the advantage of BEING used.... Sorta like those old "Aim Toothpaste" commercials (if it tastes good, they might be brushing longer).
I wonder if this is an area where indie (and former-) game developers could really exploit in the future...?
(Vaguely) related buzzword-compliant paradigm shifts in the vertical space.
* Productivity Tip: The List!
* Playing the Game of Real Life
* Productivity Under Pressure
Comments in the Forums
The Broken Hourglass: Weapon & Equipment Properties
There's an update today on equipment properties in the upcoming indie RPG "The Broken Hourglass," which you might find interesting:
Rules and Mechanics: Special Equipment Properties
One thing I was especially interested in seeing was that certain weapons have a "flexible" property, which makes them more difficult to deflect or parry. Now I am wondering if any of those Planewalker guys are actually as geeky as me, and misspent some of their youth as I did dressing up in armor and hitting each other with padded sticks in their local medievalist organizations. I did, and I frequently used a shield, and I hated fighting people who knew what they were doing with a flail. They'd change the trajectory of the ball-and-chain in mid-swing, so that you'd not catch it with the shield as you'd intended, and the ball would whip around and nail you in the shield-arm -- or worse, the shoulder or back. Which, in the rule system we used, meant insta-kill if you weren't armored... Hmmm, I hope TBH doesn't use THAT rule. That would suck. It'd be almost like going back and playing the original Bard's Tale again, with newbie characters that were slaughters after taking three steps out of the safety of the starting tavern into the city. But I digress...
There's an awful lot of attention to detail in the game mechanics in The Broken Hourglass - at least from what I can see - which will hopefully translate into stellar gameplay. More detail than you often see in mainstream RPGs these days... which I, for one, appreciate. At least we know that the choice of weapons will be an interesting one.
(Vaguely) related prancing about English K-Nig-Hts.
* Beyond the Gate: Jason Compton on the Making of The Broken Hourglass
* RPG Combat Design
* Indie RPG Roundtable
Comments in the Forums
Talk Like A Fighter Pilot!
I don't know why I have this fascination with the sub-cultures that evolve around specific games or genres, but that sort of thing really does intrigue me. I did a little post several months ago about the jargon that has evolved in City of Heroes (and MMOs in particular). I stumbled across a post a couple of days ago about the latest version of Falcon 4.0, and I was very amused that I actually understood almost all of it.
While City of Heroes jargon was partly derived from other MMOs and partly original, much of the jargon in Falcon 4.0 discussions is based on real-world terminology. Flight simmers are an interesting bunch - part of the fun for many of them is to preserve the illusion of reality, and to immerse themselves into the role. You'll find arguments over "realism" settings, not because of the challenge factor, but because one setting or another is closer to matching what pilots really go / went through. I wouldn't be surprised to find that most of these instructions are entirely applicable to real-world combat pilots.
This thread, started by Ghostrider117, is a discussion of how to best defeat the R-77 Medium-Range Missile (AKA AA-12 Adder).
1: ECM on to deny bandit an early lockI tried playing the new version of Falcon 4.0 a couple of weeks ago. I was amazed at how much I'd forgotten. I was actually pretty good at the earlier version at one point. If you really want to take a crack at deciphering the the above instructions, here are a few hints:
2: Get high and fast, 30,000 feet plus to extend AIM-120 Rmax 500+ Kts
3: If bandit is jamming (no radar brick) you have to burn through the jammer, use RWS with reduced barscans to 2 bars. If he's not jamming use TWS mode instead.
4: Achieve radar lock and fire just inside of Rmax
5: Crank right or left and put bandit at the edge of your radar gimbles
6: Reduce speed (Very important as this delays his launch Rmax)
7: Watch target aspect and your RWR spike and your WEZ circle
8: If bandit has turned away to defeat the AIM-120 long shot, turn back into him and push the fight. You know if he has turned away as the RWR will not show a spike, and your missile WEZ will shrink.
9: If bandit has fired you have two choices, but turn ECM off to deny HOJ
[a] (Aggressive) Keep him on the edge of radar gimbles untill your AIM-120 goes
pitbull, then slice back and run, full AB, put the RWR spike on your six. Go downhill full AB, but if the RWR continues to show the M symbol, prepare to climb and then
beam the R-77 as it runs out of energy.
[b] (Defensive) Slice back and run before pitbull, he might leave his ECM on and your slammer will go HOJ while you will outrun the R-77
I've had the AI do aggressive BVR tactics and defensive as well. Perhaps the most
challenging is the fight were the bandit turns away to defeat an AIM-120 long shot, and as you push the fight, and get a medium range AIM-120 shot, he turns into you and fires an R-77 at you. I found that a split S right at slammer pitbull with full AB dive can shake the R-77 as the Mig is often destroyed.
Pitbull (A-Pole): The point at which your missile is no longer slaved to your plane's radar system, but instead uses its own radar system. Before your missile goes pitbull, if you make evasive maneuvers, your missile will "go ballistic" (unguided).
BVR: Beyond Visual Range. Where medium- and long-ranged missile combat takes place. If I were to make anything truly resembling "realistic" combat in a Void War sequel (and no, I won't), it'd be all BVR combat. You'd fire your missile, take evasive action... and then wait a few days to see if you hit and if you are going to be hit. (Of course, if you are hit, you won't know about if your opponent was ever hit due to the whole speed-of-light transport delay thing...)
ECM: Electronic Counter Measures. Jamming the enemy radar.
RWR: Radar Warning Receiver. A fun little device that shows you where and how strong you are being tracked by radar. It'll also show what kind of radar is tracking you (which you can also determine audibly, as the system will convert the radio signal to an audio waveform - just like a radio). A "spike" on the RWR is a visual indicator of something "painting" you. The trick with the RWR is that it can show strength, type, and direction, but it is incapable of determining the radar system's distance from you.
Split S: A maneuver where you dive, and then come out of your dive in a different direction than when you began the maneuver. The usefulness of this against missiles at closer range is that the missile will have exhausted its fuel, and is now gliding towards you. Aggressive maneuvering causes the missile to waste energy which it is incapable of getting back.
Okay - your turn. What favorite games do you have that have their own jargon? What sort of terms and expressions have emerged?
(Vaguely) related use of confusing terminology:
* City of Heroes Jargon
* Game Moments #2: Falcon 4.0
* Wanna Learn To be A Fighter Pilot?
* Game Moments #11: Falcon 4.0 (again)
* Guest Game Moments: Falcon 4.0
* How I Single-Handedly Lost the Pacific War
Comments On The Forums
Watson Fails Spot Check; Spared 1d3 Sanity Loss
Yeah. That really does look an awful lot like Cthulhu, doesn't it? Not the corpse --- or the shadow-eyed assistant to Sherlock Holmes in the foreground. That squid-faced winged statue in the back. Good ol' Dr. Watson is oblivious. Which suits me, Sherlock Holmes, just fine. When Cthulhu awakens, I'd rather have some clueless edible folks between me and the Great Old One while I head for the hills.
I can't say Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is a stellar game, or one immediately worthy of anybody's gaming dollar. It's got its share of flaws and weirdness - some common to all adventure games, some unique to this series. It's got a lot of empty space you navigate around with nothing happening while you cast about for clues. But dang it, I'm having a lot of fun playing it - and that's ultimately what its all about, isn't it?
(Vaguely) related sleuthing:
* Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened First Impressions
* Sherlock Homes Investigates Cthulhu
* Coming Soon: More Graphic Adventure Game Goodness?
Comments in the Forums
Labels: Adventure Games
Indie RPG News, May 18th
Some tidbits of what's going on (from what I have heard - feel free to fill me in on more scuttlebutt) from around the world of indie computer RPGS:
Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest
The cover art for Aveyond 2 has been revealed on Amaranth's blog, and it's very very impressive --- as you can see to the right. Thus sayeth Amanda on the sequel: "Unlike Aveyond I, the story for Aveyond II is deeper and more serious. I've still jam-packed the game with weird humor, but you will see some notable differences in the next sequel."
You can check out more details of the game-in-progress on her blog. I can't wait! The full version of this portrait is available on the artist's site.
Depths of Peril
Soldak keeps sending me nifty stuff, so I'll keep posting them here. They've posted some art and descriptions of the monsters of Aleria - this installment includes the giant scorpion, the scorpid, and the death knight. They have also posted a new short story entitled "Draaien and the Ring." Check it out at your own... peril?
The Broken Hourglass
Chapter 3 of the short story, "Moonshine" has been posted over at Planewalker Games. This story helps reveal a little bit more of the setting and a glimpse of the seedier side of Mal Nassrin.
Also, Gaming Trend has posted a podcast interview with Jason Compton, who I interviewed here just a few weeks ago. Tune in for more information The Broken Hourglass, which certainly sounds like it may be a killer indie RPG!
Blades of Exile
Game programmers! Wanna get a look at some RPG code? Now's your chance. Jeff Vogel has open-sourced 1997's "Blades of Exile," including source code, graphics, sound, and support files. It's released under the Common Public License. For new RPG developers wanting to know where to start, this might be something useful just to use for research.
You Play Like a Girl
GBGames has an article up entitled, "You Play Like a Girl," based on his experiences playing the indie RPG Morning's Wrath. In Mornings Wrath, you play the princess. Instead of rescuing the handsome prince, you are actually betrayed by him in the first few minutes of the actual game.
Gianfranco comments that this is the first game that he's played in which he plays a female character. He enjoyed it, but it was a different experience for him, and it sounds like he considered it a little bit weird. He wonders aloud whether or not the overwhelming population of male player-characters in games might be a reason they are not more popular among women.
Me? I dunno. I often play female characters in games, even if given the choice. I enjoy seeing the little blonde girl beating the crap out of the hulking muscle-bound brutes in fighting games (and in the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer). I had no problem playing Laura Croft as she beat Indiana Jones at his own game. I had no problem playing Rhen in Aveyond, and I got used to playing the pink-haired Cute Knight.
But what if all or almost all videogame characters were female? Would I have become such a game nut in the first place? Or would I have considered gaming to be a "girl's activity" and ignored it? It's kind of interesting to see what happens when the shoe is on the other foot.
Georgina Bensley (author of Cute Knight) had some interesting comments about this a few months ago, if you recall from her interview here. She mentioned some subtle aspects that might make games less comfortable or attractive to female gamers: "Default high-score lists filled with male names. Selection between male-only character options. Claiming to have equal options for male and female characters, but actually having twice as much content available for male PCs as female ones. Always showing female characters within the story as weak and helpless. Things like that. I don't think anyone, male or female, should feel ashamed to play a game that's girl-*friendly*."
Interesting stuff to consider, as gamers and game designers.
Comments on the Forums
Labels: Game Design
Coming Soon: More Graphic Adventure Goodness?
After pretty much dissapearing 8 years ago, the "Graphic Adventure" genre seems to be staging a cautious comeback.
First off, there's American McGee's Grimm. Loose Lips Sink Ships - or slip ship-dates. Or something. Apparently American McGee goofed and announced something he wasn't supposed to announce, and quickly retracted it. But the upshot is - it sounds like another episodic graphic adventure game! Specifically, a 24-episode (well, maybe) graphic adventure with American's own twisted version of Grimm's fairy tales. As if they weren't already twisted enough. Released through GameTap, which apparently has enjoyed enough success with the episodic adventures of Sam & Max - Season 1 to go for yet more punishment (besides a much-anticipated, much-desired Sam & Max - Season 2).
So, we have Sam & Max, Penny Arcade Adventures, and American McGee's "Grimm" on the episodic graphic adventure game side, plus some lesser-known graphic adventures still chugging along (like Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened, which I've talked about before).
Next up - there's a wonderful interview at Gamasutra with Jane Jenson, co-designer of the sixth King's Quest adventure game, and designer of the Gabriel Knight series (and, apparently, co-founder of Oberon Media). Apparently she's kept in games as well, and has been designing some casual games (such as Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile). She's also working on an adventure game, entitled, "Gray Matter".
Quoth Jenson in the interview: “I really would like to see adventure games in the casual gaming space. We should be able to sell a million units of a good adventure game - not just mine but any good adventure. That’s what I’d like to see.”
Amen Could we see something by way of return to the glory days of LucasArts and Sierra adventures, new and updated and re-envisioned and downloadable and released on a monthly basis to whet our adventuring appetites? Are we to the point yet where LucasArts is kicking themselves over cancelling Sam & Max?
The answer to all of the above is still probably "no," but it does look like something is catching on, here. But it looks like the genre may be enjoying some growth again after a long period in hibernation.
(Vaguely) related wanderings through mazes of twisty little passages:
* Ron Gilbert Back Into Making Adventure Games
* Adventure Game Revival on the Nintendo Wii?
* The Top Ten Graphic Adventure Games of All Time
* Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened First Impressions
Labels: Adventure Games
Frayed Knights Dev Diary: Getting Around In The World
Time for this week's installment of building a game in public. Please remember this is very much a work in progress, and absolutely nothing shown or described in these pages may have anything to do with the final game.
One of the first things I wanted to do with Frayed Knights was make it so you could actually - well, move around. I think that's important in most games, particularly RPGs. Although one of the many ideas I considered and dismissed was "Couch Potato - The RPG," which would not have had this requirement. I was actually pretty far along into the design document for this particular concept when I found myself losing entire weeks and gaining about fifteen pounds doing the research for the concept, and so I decided to put the kibosh on it.
But I digress.
Starting From An Old Classic
I started out trying to emulate Ultima Underworld's movement system. I remembered thinking it was really cool back in... when was it, 1992? It was a mouse-and-one-button movement system, where the position of the mouse dictated where and how fast you'd move and turn. I implemented it in Frayed Knights, tried it out --- and found out that it sucked. Not only did it suck, but it really interfered with the UI. The UI (or "HUD" - stolen from aircraft parlance for "Heads Up Display") in Frayed Knights is overlayed over the top of the 3D view, whereas in Ultima Underworld the 3D view was tucked away in its own private area.
You just can't steal something from one game and expect it to work perfectly in another game without understanding all the reasons WHY.
They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To - Thank Goodness!
Well, that, and I went back to play some Ultima Underworld again in DOSBox to make sure I'd gotten it right, and discovered, much to my surprise, that my memories belonged in a bygone era where not every computer HAD a mouse, and it was this cool new pointing device that games didn't really know what to do with. Re-playing Ultima Underworld, I discovered that yes, indeed, the control system sucked back then too... we just were too ignorant to know this at the time.
So time to re-figure things out. Of course, the old cursor control / WASD standby was a possibility (and still is, possibly as a toggle - the game is still partly working in this mode). But as I'm trying to make Frayed Knights slightly more accessible to novice gamers who did not come out of the womb fragging their elders in FPS games. I still liked using the mouse directly to move about. So this is what I came up with.
When your mouse isn't hovering over something interactive, it's in one of four modes: Left turn, right turn, forward, and backwards. Near the left or right edges of the screen, the cursor goes into turn mode. You begin turning in this direction. The closer you are to the edge, the faster you turn.
Otherwise, the cursor is in "forward" mode - or, if near the bottom of the screen - in "backwards" mode. If you hit the left mouse button, you will move either forward or backwards.
If your mouse cursor moves over an interactive element (either a UI element, or an interactive in-game object like an NPC), it changes to an "action" cursor. When it is an action cursor, you will not turn, and clicking the left mouse button activates whatever's under the cursor.
Okay. So far so good. Except for one big ol' stinky problem.
Some of these buttons (including the character portraits / nameplates, which you click on to bring up the character window) are near the left or right edges of the screen. Which means you begin to turn when you click on them. And if you really want to turn, they can get in your way.
I haven't resolved this issue yet. One possibility that I'm likely to try is that you don't turn unless you click the mouse button. That feels like excessive clicking, but it is probably the best way to go. For those power-gamers (like me), I've left in keyboard commands to move forward, move backwards, and to move left and right (without turning) - the good ol' "strafe" keys.
Here's a side-by-side screenshot of clicking on the "journal" button to bring up the quest journal in-game (and yes, all of the main screen buttons are functional after my efforts this week - though the menus they bring up are not necessarily so):
Goals and Reporting
So... last week my goal was to get the skeletal system of the game up-and-running (with plenty of stubs). I mainly did this, though the conversation system and the combat system are conspicuously absent. You can wander about in the game, click on the characters (though their character screens are largely blank), click on the drama stars for a blank menu, bring up a map (again, stand-in), bring up a mid-game options menu (much of it fully functional, actually), and bring up the party inventory. Hotkeys also work from within the main game screen. Sounds cool, but there's really not much there, still.
So... this week? Combat systems and the dynamic conversation system. Prototyped, stubbed, whatever - which also means introducing some embryonic AI into the game.
I'll let you know how it went next week!
(Vaguely) related naval-gazing:
* Frayed Knights Dev Diary: The Scoping Saw
* Frayed Knights Dev Diary: Design Doc Fun!
* Frayed Knights Dev Diary: Background and High Concept
* Big World, Small Dungeon: Does Size Matter in RPGs?
Read or Post Comments In The Forum. But Don't Tell Anyone I Said So...
Behind-The-Scenes Look at the History of Ultima Underworld
In researching information for yesterday's post, I came across an older article about the making of Ultima Underworld that was a lot of fun. I thought I'd pass it on to anyone who might be interested (It'd definitely be on my list of games I found personally the "most influential").
Games that Changed The World: Ultima Underworld
"I think the most important thing UU did," says Doug (Church), "was the way in which it attempted to show the power and value of a style and type of gameplay." In other words, it had an open-endedness - a freedom - that shaped the way immersive action games would be made in the future. Though as Doug points out, not many games went in that direction until much later.The article was just fun for me to read as I really enjoyed the first game. The second game, unfortunately, didn't do it so much for me. I still have it laying around, with this foolish belief that one day (using DOSBox), I'll finish it. It had a bit of the "designed by committee" feel to it and lacked the punch (and focus) of the first game. It did have some more interesting and varied scenarios, at least, though it's biggest claim to fame (improved / faster graphics) didn't age well at all.
The interesting thing here I note was about the sales data. Ultima Underworld didn't sell very well at the outset - it was a "slow burn" game. Eventually, both games combined ended up clocking in at a half-million sold, which I think qualifies as a pretty decent success for PC games even in this era (big publishers may claim otherwise, but considering the ROI on the much smaller game budgets of 1990-1992, I don't think they could complain). They had legs and word-of-mouth popularity.
In fact, one of the ideas I bounced around before settling on the Frayed Knights concept was about how to pull off an Ultima Underworld-style game in the modern, downloadable-game space. A mere remake / tribute type game wouldn't cut it, though. We've gone past that, especially now that we have Morrowind and Oblivion fulfulling much of that need. John Olsen and I kicked around a couple of ideas that I think might work... maybe one day.
For another interesting tidbit, many moons ago Jamie Fristrom posted a little story about how he might have been personally responsible for blowing any chances of an Ultima Underworld 3 happening... (geesh, Jamie, thanks a lot! I blame you!!! *grin*).
War Stories: The Screwed-Up Pitch Meeting, 1998
(Vaguely) related fanboi-ishness:
* Game Moments #9: Ultima Underworld
* Big World, Small Dungeon: Does Size Matter in RPGs?
* Can CRPGs Age Gracefully?
Read or Discuss Comments in the Forum
Do Game Genres Die?
Daniel Cook (AKA DanC of Lost Garden, one of my favorite blogs) has an article at GamaSutra entitled "The Circle of Life: The Game Product Lifecycle." It is an interesting approach that takes the classical product / business lifecycle model, and applies it not just to a single product, but to entire genres of games. He cites examples such as the text adventure, the graphic adventure, and the "traditional" RPG as examples of game genres that have gone through all of the cycles... Introduction, Growth, Maturity, Decline, and finally niche, where they are all but dead except for indie developers and retro fans.
Does it model some patterns we have seen? Undoubtably.
But I still call foul on it. I find it very dubious that you could apply the product lifecycle to an entire genre, though he does site some examples where, at first glance, that would seem to apply. And I could think of some others, like the combat flight sim (which, in the early to mid '90's, seemed to be a license to print money).
But I think Cook is reading far more into the wrong set of statistics than he should be. He uses numbers and explanations of how the mainstream publishers tend to react to the market, but then assumes that it is a mirror for the market itself. Ideally and on a large enough scale, this should be the case, but I believe he's mistaking the trunk for the elephant here.
For example, it doesn't matter if a genre had 200 games released in 1990, but only 10 games released this year. If all 200 games in 1990 only sold a combined total of 10 million units, but the 10 games released this year sold 15 million units, would you really say the genre is on decline? Niche? Even seeing the sales numbers would only tell part of the story, but it would be far closer to a measurement of the actual market.
The Death and Rebirth of RPGs
He explains the resurgance of the RPG genre after it seemed to be well and truly at the tail end of the "Decline" stage and entering the "Niche" stage as the supplanting of the "traditional" core RPG by 2D and 3D "action RPGs." However, in citing Diablo as the introduction of a "new" genre, he fails to note only a few months later, Final Fantasy VII - a 3D but otherwise very traditional cRPG that was another evolutionary branch from Ultima III - was going on to beat it in sales by something like a factor of 3:1. Baldur's Gate would later go on to also make a pretty big dent in things, not resembling Diablo nearly as much, in this RPG fan's opinion, as 1992's Ultima VII. And let us not forget Fallout, which didn't achieve Diablo's numbers (or Baldur's Gate's), but still achieved market success that - based on anecdotal evidence - seems to have been right up there with the numbers from the heyday of the RPG - it's "maturity" stage.
In my mind, the genre didn't decline so much as fragment - a product of its own success. The 2D action RPG was an old concept on its own (Ultima VII had some action elements, and there was Gateway to Apshai on 8-bit machines, and...), and the 3D action RPG has been around longer than the first of the Elder Scrolls series (1994), or even before Ultima Underworld (1992). I remember playing one with line-graphics (and the "fake 3D" of early Wizardry / Bard's Tale fame) on my friend's TRS-80 back in the early / mid 80's. I just remember it had a heartbeat that you had to keep at a reasonable level so your hero (who'd obviously not been watching his cholesterol levels) wouldn't die of a heart attack. Those "sub-grenres" finally grew in popularity to be recognized (by some) as their own category. But back in 1995, it wasn't "action RPGs" or "core RPGs" that were "dead" - it was all RPGs, with games like Daggerfall and Ultima Underworld not being recognized as a separate category to make models fit.
Is It the Market, or the Marketers?
Cook seems to be right on the money when it comes to graphic adventure games. The failure of the incredible Grim Fandango to hit a solid market penetration is somewhat inexplicable - though I guess you might start by comparing the marketing effort put into it versus, say, Half-Life (which was released at about the same time). Part of it might have been because the game left very little room for a sequel --- and it seems that it's always the second and third game in a franchise where all the marketing efforts on the original finally begin to pay off.
But I do have high hopes for some upcoming and current graphic adventure games - yes, now being handled by the indies because the big publishers won't touch them. But what are the sales numbers for the new Sam & Max series, I wonder, particularly once the whole bundle becomes available?
Cook bases his model not on units sold (a very difficult number to come by), but on number of titles released by major publishers. While in theory this should follow total sales, the truth of the matter is that the big publishers chase last year's biggest hits - period. And not necessarily the true "biggest hits," either, but the most visible (and heavily marketed) ones. It's a highly incestuous (and cannibalistic) industry that really only plays "follow the leader" 80% of the time. You need only look at the change in attitude of the mainstream console game developers after the sales numbers of Geometry Wars for the XBox 360 Live Arcade became known (and THERE'S a "niche" genre if ever there was one... didn't that one die out in the 80's?)
Let's look at other media for a moment. Do genres die out there, too?
Arguably, yes. Kind of. For example, the short story format really faded after the decline of the "pulp magazine" as a distribution format in the 1950s, didn't it? Is the short story now niche? Some might argue so. But the genres remain the same - only the format and the preferred means of distribution have changed. Fantasy adventure stories seemed largely a product of the pulp era, and all but disappeared by the time the Lord of the Rings novels were published. Its only in the last 20 years that the "fantasy" genre really began to take off and getting its own shelves in book stores. I'll invite more literature-inclined folks to comment on the short story in general. I think they might take offense at it being called "niche," however.
How about the movie western? Those have declined sharply since their "maturity" stage in the 1950's and 1960's. Are they now a niche genre? Some could argue so. However, while the quantity of westerns has sharply declined - the audience is no longer willing to pay for anything with horses and stagecoaches appearing in the theaters - I don't think it has hurt the sales potential. There have been several westerns that have done quite well long after the genre could be declared "dead" - think Tombstone, Young Guns, Shanghai Noon, Back to the Future III (a sci-fi Western... hey, we mix genres all the time!), Unforgiven, Dances With Wolves, Maverick, and Zorro.
Niche - Or Maturity?
Ultimately, I think this comes down to mislabeling the categories. Any time a new genre is introduced and experiences rapid growth, it gains a surge in popularity that feeds on itself and gains some level of "critical mass." We can see that happening right now with casual games. We saw it before with pen-and-paper RPGs (which has always been kind of niche - but it also experienced growth and decline - several times, as a matter of fact, most noticeably with White Wolf's World of Darkness games and the release of Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition).
After this period of excitement and enthusiasm, which can last months, years, or even decades, the popularity inevitably declines as the market fragments, new options become available, or technology changes the rules of distribution.
In my mind, it is AFTER the initial "fad" rush where the market could and should reach its period of stability and maturity. But mainstream publishers in the games business share a lot in common with the most fickle of fans. They are constantly seeking out "the next big thing," hoping to cash in on the rising wave of a genre heading towards its peak. As a result, any genre showing signs of decline finds itself shunned by publishers, and games in that "product category" find themselves cut, under-funded, and under-marketed... which of course accelerates the decline and turns the genre's death (or niche-dom) into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Of course, games in any genre do have to continually evolve and re-invent themselves. Audiences will only tolerate "more of the same" when the genre is new and exciting (at least to them). Again, this contributes to the apparent decline in "the market" as publishers discover that, after publishing nearly 200 "action platformer" games a year from 1988 to 1991, the audience is no longer interested in snatching up every crappy little low-quality "me-too" platformer that happens to make it out onto the store shelves. The market does change - it becomes more mature and demanding.
But rather than meet that demand, the industry in the past has just abandoned its audience instead in search of fresher, less demanding markets. Which also might explain why the videogame industry has been very slow in "keeping up" with the average age of the gaming demographic. They have only this last decade decided to market more to college-student age players rather than younger teens, even though the average gamer now is in their late 20's. The younger they are, the less jaded and demanding.
Of course, my model of gaming audiences doesn't explain what happened with Grim Fandango, either. But it does explain the First Person Shooter genre, which in terms of number of games produced is also well into it's "decline" (I think) from its hayday of the mid-to-late 90's, yet still manages to push out astonishing sales figures for games like Halo 2 and Half-Life 2.
I believe that as the game market and industry continues to mature, we'll find that the decline and "niche" phases of product categories (genres) will not decline so steeply, but will rather decline and then level out - and even experience more moderate growth - over the long haul.
Of course, as an indie game developer and seller, I really have a vested interest in NOT dispelling what I believe to be a myth. After all, what the big guys choose to ignore is fertile ground for the the little guys to come in and make a killing.
(Vaguely) related ranting of some guy who needs to quit caffeine again:
* Why the PC Game Industry Sales Numbers Are Baloney
* Digital Distribution: Who Gets My Money?
* The Trick to Making 9.9 Times More Money Selling Indie Games
* The House the Mouse Built
(Oh, and I would like to direct your attention to Scorpia's Gaming Lair, where she discusses this topic as well...)
Read or Post Comments on the Forums! All the Cool Kids Are Doing It!
Sigil Gets RIF'ed, Bought By Sony
The big news from last night was that Sigil - Brad McQuaid's (the original producer / designer of EverQuest) company to bring back The Vision of the original EverQuest - had massive layoffs after a really poor launch of their MMORPG, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, earlier this year.
GameBiz is reporting that phase 2 happened this afternoon, and Sigil was brought back into the mothership, purchased by Sony. The good news: They are retaining about 50 members of the Sigil Team to continue development of Vanguard. Brad McQuaid will be retained as "creative advisor" - I don't know if that's a good thing or not. The bad news is, of course, that a lot of game developers, after working their butts off to get Vanguard out the door BEFORE Sigil ran out of money, are now out looking for work. Hopefully most of them will get picked up by Sony if that's what they want.
Ah, well. That's the games biz for you. I have had zero interest in Vaguard, myself... I've pretty much had it with "hardcore" MMORPGs (our group has been strongly discussing the option of abandoning Dungeons & Dragons Online for that very reason). So while I heard they did some pretty cool things with the game, it's not something that has called to me.
(Vaguely) related grousings:
* How to FUBAR an MMO Launch
* Why the PC Game Industry Figures are Baloney
* When Magic Becomes Mundane in RPGs
Virtual Villagers 2 is #1
Virtual Villagers 2: The Lost Children, the sequel to last year's very awesome casual strategy game of building up a tribe of island castaways, seems to be the number one downloadable game across multiple game portals right now, according to Logler's top ten list.
I can't say I'm surprised. I really like what the Last Day of Work folks have done with the series so far. I'm not a huge casual game fan, but Virtual Villagers was a lot of fun for me for a few weeks last year. One of the problems with the first game was that I frequently felt like I was just inputting my "turn" for the day and then I was done. While that's still an issue in VV2 (though it's also a virtue... it's nice to have a game that is so undemanding of time), they added a few more things to do.
For example, in the first game helping the children gather mushrooms was very helpful in the early game, when food supply was critical. However, once you developed your farming technology, keeping the food supply capable of feeding the whole village wasn't nearly as difficult --- and the amount of food you needed if you DID go into critical levels was more than what a few kids grabbing mushrooms could really help with. With Virtual Villagers 2, there are now collectables which can be beneficial throughout the game.
I enjoy seeing what sort of issues get addressed in sequels, and how designers approach trying to top an already proven mix of gameplay. Sometimes it doesn't pan out too well - I think most of us could name sequels that screwed things up (although usually its not until the third or fourth game of the series that things start going downhill). I'm even more fascinated at seeing how "casual games" evolve through sequels and spin-offs... Will they become more hardcore, building on casual gaming skills built across previous games? Will they gain more depth? Or will they simply branch out and explore ever increasing varieties of game mechanics and subject matters, like the Virtual Villager series, or "casual" RPGs like Aveyond and Cute Knight, or the "Where's Waldo" style mystery / adventure games like Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst (another top-selling casual game)?
It'll be fun to see. I'm kinda hoping for the latter, though. Match-three games are fun and all, but I really, really prefer to see the greater variety.
And if you haven't checked these out (and no, they aren't for everybody):
Virtual Villagers 2: The Lost Children
Virtual Villagers: A New Home
(Vaguely) related stuff I found lying around the site:
* Tamagotchi Villagers
* Dead Villagers
* Virtual Villagers 2 Developer's Diary
Read or Post Comments In the Forum, if you feel so bold...
Labels: casual games
The Secret Of Success? It's All In Your Mind(set)!
Charles Darwin and Leo Tolstoy were considered pretty average children. Ben Hogan was uncoordinated and graceless as a child, and his early golf career wasn't very impressive. Contrary to the movie, while Amadus Mozart was trained very young in music performance and composition, his early works weren't genius - they were often patched-together bits taken from other composers. Muhammed Ali was clearly NOT cut out to be a championship boxer. And Michael Jordan was cut from his varsity basketball team, because he just wasn't as good as the other players.
Good thing they all quit before embarassing themselves, huh?
It's All About Mindset
I read a book last week entitled "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success" by Carol S. Dweck, which was a pretty eye-opening experience. Not because anything in there was really mind-blowingly new, but rather that it summed up a great deal of my own experience and belief. Dweck is a professor of psychology at Stanford, and an expert in the field of human motivation and intelligence. Her book pretty handily demolishes a lot of popular (and deeply-held) myths about success, successful people, failure, human learning, and progression.
Dweck breaks everything down by mindset: The "fixed" mindset, and the "growth" mindset.
The fixed mindset is of the belief that this is how a person is, that their qualities and talents (like intelligence, athletic ability, etc) are relatively fixed, and while they might develop some new skills, its limited by their aptitude and fixed characteristics. The fixed-mindset perception is that success is "easy" for those who are good at that kind of thing. That "naturals" will quickly rise to the top of the heap. This includes both their perception of themselves and others.
People exhibiting the fixed mindset tend to overestimate their skills, and they focus a great deal of energy to protecting their own self-esteem and hiding any deficiencies and "proving themselves" to others. They tend to shy away from challenges and instead focus on repeating what they already do well. And when things go wrong, they tend to search for places to put the blame.
The growth mindset believes that talents and abilities can be improved through passion and effort. Always. People with the growth mindset are less concerned about image in the short term, and more readily accept difficult problems that challenge themselves in hope of learning and growing.
The growth-mindset tends to look at deficiencies more openly and honestly, and then seek ways to overcome them rather than hiding them. It's committed to learning, to seeking out challenges in spite of the risk of failure.
Which Way Yields Success?
If you define success as never failing at what you do, then being a growth-mindset individual will lead to heartache. Because with it comes lots of failure. The fixed mindset tends to view success as something that "comes easy" to people who are good in their field. The growth mindset assumes that once something does "come easy," it's time to move on to bigger challenges.
Backed by plenty of research and anecdotal evidence, Dweck submits that the fixed mindset greatly inhibits success, and the growth mindset promotes it. In fact, her studies show that this mindset is an extremely strong indicator of future success in any endeavor.
Where Did We Go Wrong?
And it makes sense. We're all born with the growth mindset. Nobody comes out of the womb as an expert electrical engineer, brilliant guitarist, or a star basketball player. But society's views tend to favor the fixed mindset, and tends to comment on ability and performance rather than effort. We praise people by saying things like, "you must be really smart," or "you are amazingly talented," or "you are really good at this." In fact, when we do praise effort, its usually used as a way to hide criticism for a poor performance. After all, if someone was evaluating your work, and the first thing that came out of their mouth was, "Well, I can see that you really put a lot of work into this," what would you think?
Dweck has a great commentary about some of the popular children's parables in Western culture:
The story of the tortoise and the hare, in trying to put forward the power of effort, gave effort a bad name. It reinforced the image that effort is for the plodders and suggested that in rare instances, when talented people dropped the ball, the plodder could sneak through.It makes sense. According to Dweck, Michael Jordan might very appropriately have been dubbed the hardest-working basketball player in the NBA during his career. Even as age had its effect on some of his earlier trademark moves, he continued to learn and grow, eventually becoming one of the best-rounded players in the game. It didn't come easily to him. Yet can anyone say he wasn't a true genius of the game?
The little engine that could, the saggy, baggy elephant, and the scruffy tugboat - they were cute, they were often overmatched, and we were happy for them when they succeeded. In fact, to this day I remember how fond I was of those little creatures (or machines), but in no way did I identify with them. The message was: If you're unfortunate enough to be the runt of the litter - if you lack the endowment - you don't have to be an utter failure. You can be a sweet, adorable little slogger, and maybe (if you really work at it and withstand all the scornful onlookers) even a success.
Thank you very much, I'll take the endowment.
The problem was that these stories made it into an either-or. Either you have the ability or you expend effort. And this is part of the fixed mindset. Effort is for those who don't have the ability. People with the fixed mindset tell us, "If you have to work at something, you must not be good at it." They add, "Things come easily to people who are true geniuses."
Dweck includes plenty of great info in the book on analyzing one's own mindset, and ways to escape the fixed mindset. She shows how it can be used in anything - in business and career, in artistic pursuits, in education - even in such things as dieting and overcoming bad habits (short version: Forget willpower or vows to oneself. That's fixed-mindset thinking and does not work. Instead think making and executing on alternatives to whatever those habits are).
One thing that kind of shocked me was where I found myself falling victim to the fixed mindset myself. I think I generally have a good view of my own potential for growth - though I may have been limiting myself even with my comments on how I aspire to "suck less" at something. But I have been putting some time in on "learning the ropes" in areas I previously knew very little about. Marketing, business, art, 3D modeling, blogging, running a website - these are all skills I have been enjoying learning, in spite of the fact that they can be exhausting to learn.
But one area where I was surprised to find I had a pretty fixed mindset on is my skill as a programmer. Particularly now that I am a "senior programmer" in my career, and I feel like I'm supposed to be this super-powered John Carmack-esque programming god. I'm not. And I have come to realize that I've been pretty fixed-mindset about it, not jumping into challenges and learning new stuff related to programming with the zeal I used to. Which could really be hampering my overall potential (okay, making it clear: According to Dweck's research, that attitude is killing me in a field I view as my specialty). I remember how much I enjoyed learning to program in Python when required by the job (and, since I was hired with the full knowledge that I didn't know the language, there was no expectation that I be an expert at it on day one). Obviously, the mindset needs to be changed. I've still got plenty to learn, and no excuse for sitting on my laurels.
Mindset is a pretty simple, straightforward idea. It's funny how something so simple could be so strongly linked to success or failure. I highly recommend checking out the book (I snagged it from the library after reading a review about it). Again - nothing in it was earth-shatteringly new - it made perfect sense to me, but it did help me look on my life and career with a new perspective.
(Vaguely) related proof I need all the help I can get:
* How Much Difference Does Preparation Make?
* The Power of Vision
* How to Sleep Less and Get More Done
* Playing To Crush With Life
Read or Post Comments on the Forum
Blender 2.44 Is Released!
Wow - doesn't seem that long ago that Blender 2.43 was released... but now the new latest & greatest is version 2.44, just released today.
I haven't tried it out yet, but of interest to us indie game developers (emphasizing low-poly, exportable models):
* Bug fixes to make it 64-bit compatible (again)
* Bug fixes for meshes
* New "Torus" mesh
* Hide & Unhide are now available in Object Mode
* Various other UI changes
Nothing too earth-shattering, here. It's a minor release, but it's nice to see it continuing to evolve.
Labels: game art
The Indie Games Job Board
I was recently contacted by Bret Truchan about the new Indie Game Jobs Board. This website offers a free service that caters to all flavors of indie games developer, including artists, level designers, programmers, etc. The site allows people to post and browse resumes, as well as samples of work. It also allows other users to provide feedback and ratings on the people that they've worked with.
The features include the following:
* Completely Free
* Easy to use Web 2.0 interface
* Intuitive rating system
* Profile section that supports images and links
* Messages Area
* Resumes Section
If it takes off, this could be a good resource for indie game developers to find the help they need or to get some contracts and get their name out there. It's definitely not the only resource of its kind out there, but the key will be whether or not it actually gets used for its intended purpose.
PvP in PnP D&D
In other words, player versus player in "pen & paper" Dungeons & Dragons.
The scene was a "pick-up" game of D&D, and the DM was running it in a classroom at a local elementary school some time around 1981 or 1982. I had called to reserve a slot in the game, and my dad dropped me off at the game, to pick me up about 3 hours later. Yeah, there was actually stuff like that happening back then. D&D was experiencing a nice surge in popularity --- undoubtably enhanced by all the negative publicity that it was somehow turning children into psychopathic and suicidal devil-worshipping monsters. (Now where have I heard that before?)
The module was one that I was already a little familiar with. Module A1: The Slave Pits of the Undercity. One of the cool things about D&D back then in the early 80's was that there was this commonality of experience with players and modules. There were only a handful of modules available, and most people had played or run through a substantial subset of them. So players would swap stories of what happened to THEIR party in the Ghost Tower of Inverness, or in the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief. It led to a feeling of community that you don't get anymore. The closest you get to that now is sharing MMORPG stories of common quests / raids. It's not quite the same - in MMO's, the experiences tend to be far too similar and limited. And it's hard to be interested in hearing about something almost identical to the same thing you've done a dozen times the last month. Unless the story has a Leeroy Jenkins in it.
But I digress....
I warned the DM of my basic familiarity with the module, but he assured me it'd be okay. He'd made some "custom tweaks" of his own. To save time, he gave us pregenerated characters to choose from. I think they might have been the "tournament characters" included with the module. Going through the list, I settled for the magic-user. Not my strongest class, but I noted in his equipment list that he had a wand of fireballs. It had only 7 charges, but I wasn't sure if I'd be playing the game beyond that night, so it represented some serious potential short-term power.
All told, there were five players. Barely into the first room of the dungeon, two of the group (not the same two from the Demonweb Pits) decided to break off from the rest of the party and start a fight with the rest of us. We fought them off, but they fled deeper into the dungeon and settled into an ambush. We tried to appeal to their better nature to call it off, but apparently they had none. They told us that this was how the game was "supposed to be played," and it made things much more exciting.
We got into a standoff at opposite ends of a hall, hiding around each corner, taking occasional pot-shots at each other with missile weapons, but basically unable to touch each other due to cover. The other two guys in my group were getting bored, and were thinking of making a desperate (and dangerous) attack on the two traitors just to end the boredom of the stalemate.
Then I had an idea.
"Guys, you two form a shield wall in front of me. Just hold up your shields and get ready to drop when I say so," I told them. They had no idea what they were doing, but followed along, lacking any better ideas. They pulled out from behind the wall, immediately taking ranged fire and a spell from our two attackers. Then it was my turn. "Drop!" I told them.
Sure, it was mere coloring for the rules, but you never knew when and how the DM might give you situational bonuses.
As they dropped, I reminded everyone - including the DM - about my Wand of Fireballs. Which I held pointed at the far end of the corridor. Cover didn't matter - a hit against the wall right behind them, and the fireball filled enveloped them (and very nearly expanded to our position - good ol' 1st edition rules). They both failed their saves, and were killed instantly in the explosion. The battle was over, and our two attackers were now out of the game, and I still had six charges left on the wand.
The look on our attackers' faces was priceless as I told my companions, "Okay, let's loot their bodies and get on with this adventure."
The DM was trying, and failing, to hide his smirk.
(Vaguely) related geek stories:
* Disappointment in the Demonweb Pits
* Original Dungeons & Dragons Trivia
* The Evolution of Computer RPGs
* Spring and ... D&D?
Read or post comments (or both!) in the forums!
Guitar Hero Rocks the 80's
Man.... I can feel my hair getting bigger just thinking about this...
The Guitar Hero: Rocks the 80's expansion is coming, exclusively for the Playstation 2.... The track-list so far....
- "Metal Health" (Quiet Riot)
- "Heat of the Moment" (Asia)
- "I Wanna Rock" (Twisted Sister)
- "Holy Diver" (Dio)
- "I Ran" (Flock of Seagulls)
- "Round and Round" (Ratt)
- "I Want Candy" (Bow Wow Wow)
Oh, wait, I guess that would also include Rick Springfield and Loverboy. Or something. Just please no Culture Club, by all that's holy. Hopefully - like too much of 80's music (dang, no Berlin) it's pretty keyboard-heavy and wouldn't make a good candidate. Though I don't really think of the guitar part on Asia's included song either.
Some of that music is kinda of embarassing. I mean, it's not exactly like anybody over the age of 13 actually admitted to liking Twisted Sister back in the day, either, but it'd make for a really fun song to air-guitar in Guitar Hero.
Color me there. Big time. Do I still have that Members Only jacket anywhere?
Laugh At My 80's Wardrobe in the Forums!
Labels: Guitar Hero
Square's New Action-Oriented Turn-Based RPG?
Turn-based AND Action-Oriented combat in Square Enix's upcoming RPG, "The Last Remnant"?
I guess it's possible. I mean, in the older Final Fantasy games you often had little action sequences to perform when making your attack to get a super-powered-up attack.
And I hated it. It's not exactly a chocolate-and-peanut-butter combination.
Anyway, even more interesting is that they are using an off-the-shelf game engine (Unreal 3), which is of course going to be modded up into an RPG engine that will no doubt look absolutely jaw-droppingly spectacular. What's more interesting, too, is the effort they are putting into it up-front to make it more Westernized for US and European audiences.
Well, color me interested either way...
Update: A first look is available at Games Radar. A quote from the preview: "Rather than turn-based menu fighting during the battle scenes, it seems that once your decisions are set the tide of the battle is based on button combinations you press in time - and when you get it right, a message like "perfect" will appear on the screen." Doesn't sound like chocolate and peanut butter here.
(Vaguely) related musings of a wannabe spikey-haired hero:
* Why Was Final Fantasy 7 So Successful?
* Action vs. Turn-Based RPGs: Evolution, Trend, Or Catering To The Lowest Common Denominator?
* Interview with Amanda Fitch, Indie RPG Developer
* Ultimate Utopia XXIII
Read or Post comments on the forum!
Labels: Roleplaying Games
Frayed Knights Dev Diary: The Scoping Saw
This week ended up with me working too much of the weekend on the Day Job. For the record: I think I like developing for the Nintendo Wii. But CodeWarrior hasn't improved much since I was using it to develop on the Sega Dreamcast (another machine which was pretty sweet to develop on had it not been for CodeWarrior). As a result, weekend development on Frayed Knights and Apocalypse Cow did not happen much.
Nevertheless, after much perseverance, a couple of late nights (even by my standards), and possibly a sacrificed rubber chicken or two (I will neither confirm nor deny those rumors), I managed to get the Frayed Knights design document into something resembling a 1.0 state. I'm having some friends (and possible accomplices) take a look at it. I've already had to fix a couple of holes, and there are a few TBD details I'd like to work out this week.
Which brings me to a discussion on how I scoped this puppy. Which is probably only valuable to anybody as a sleep-aid.
This Week's Diatribe
New game ideas are all wild and free, and so full of potential. It's also completely unworkable without a team size of about 50 people, several millions of dollars, and a good 3 years of development. Surgery will be required, painfully cutting it down to a quivering bloody lump of What Will Be, a mere shadow of its former gleaming potential. Here's what I did with my hack job on Frayed Knights.
As with most game ideas, it starts with a cool idea and some brainstorming. When an idea hits with appropriate force, more and more ideas build upon the core piece, and upon each other, and you can't write them all down. Some of the ideas suck, some are cool but are at odds with other cool ideas.
Frayed Knights didn't get too out-of-control at this stage, because I'd always envisioned it as more of an ease-of-development exercise. But at times it ventured into real-time "action-RPG" territory. Then there were all the rants that I have had here on this blog about where games could innovate. Almost every single one of them found their way into my heap of Frayed Knights ideas. All of them sound interesting on paper, and I think most of them could be worked into very interesting game mechanics. Just not all at the same time.
Cut 1: What's Possible
The next "cut" was still pretty easy. Pull out all the best and most cohesive ideas into a whole.
What I ended up with was a game that would span seven baronies, covering seven cities in a search for (ugh!) seven parts of a seal to stop an Ancient Evil from rising. Of course, this being Frayed Knights, the whole seven parts / ancient evil things were going to be completely parodied for the cliches that they are. Part of the game would take place in the underworld (where best to find an Ancient Evil?)
To keep things do-able there's going to be a lot of texture swapping of objects with the same geometry. Lots of similar-looking buildings from city to city. Monsters will take advantage of any procedural modifications I can use to make a goblin not "just" a goblin. I'm going to use a lot of off-the-shelf content where I can.
Cut #2: What's Probable
Unfortunately, that still sucked. Way too big. Not only was the scope too large (by what I envisioned) to complete in a reasonable time with a reasonable budget as an indie, I was having trouble getting my head around all the details needed to flesh the whole thing out on paper. And one thing I didn't want to do was create this big, gigantic world full of boring filler content and empty space.
So I pulled out the "scoping saw" and cut it down further. Instead of seven cities, I began to think about having the entire game center around two or three small villages, out in some back-road nowheresville. I started thinking small and detailed, instead of big and epic. That's where the "Big World, Small Dungeon" post came from.
A funny thing then happened. While ostensibly the cut was to make it a project I could actually - you know, FINISH - as I thought smaller, the faster ideas began to flow. The more excited I became. Things became clearer in my head. For some reason, it's easier for me to think of cool things that happen on a road through a particular forest between a small, quiet village and an old, evil temple to a nasty god than to imagine something that could happen anywhere in the world somewhere.
The smaller scale also opened up new avenues for possible innovation. For example (not that I'm gonna necessarily be doing this, it's just a ferinstance I'd like to play with, time permitting): Relationships between NPCS, important for a more organic conversation system - could be tracked much more easily when you are talking about dozens of NPCs instead of hundreds of them.
Cut #3: What's Fer Sher Gonna Happen In A Few Months
STILL NOT GOOD ENOUGH!!!!
Cut #2 seemed cool. But I realize that - especially with how long Apocalype Cow has gone over schedule - that I really need to shoot for an even closer target at first, and re-evaluate things once I get there. Call me overly cautious, or even a scared old woman.
So I cut things down to just the first chapter of my envisioned game. This includes almost all the actual programming required for the full game, so I get to play to my strength. About the only things that I could skimp on would be the full quest system, and some of the more event-driven logic.
Content-wise, we're talking one dungeon, one village, and one wilderness area. A handful of monsters. Some villagers. About two "levels" worth of character progress. Effectively, I'm making the free demo version of the full game, fully polished and ready to release. With a time horizon of one year at the outmost.
I went full-bore on the design document, spelling out everything in pretty reasonable detail at this point. When focusing on just one piece of a big game, it's much easier to plan out the details. Assuming I pull all this off, I can approach all the remaining chapters in exactly the same way. But with the benefit of hindsight and a mostly-completed engine.
And What Now?
Some people think the design phase is the happiest, coolest part of game design. I don't.
My favorite part is the early part of development. Every day sees the game improve in extremely measureable, visible ways. Progress happens in leaps and bounds. The vision on the "paper prototype" and in the brain starts becoming reality.
That begins now. Well, okay, some if it began weeks ago, but it begins in earnest now.
Now that I have gotten everything designed on paper, I'm feeling inspired to transfer all of it to code as quickly as possible. I'm going to try a top-down approach, basically creating a playable prototype of the complete game as quickly as possible, with stand-in-screens and stubbed-out systems to be replaced gradually with functional elements as I go.
Full-bore evolutionary prototype development methodology.
My goal for next week is that, if you squint REALLY HARD, it may look like I have a finished game. With really butt-ugly programmer art.
(Vaguely) related mad-scientist cackling:
* Frayed Knights Dev Diary: Design Doc Fun
* Frayed Knights Dev Diary: Prolog & Background
* Big World, Small Dungeon: Does Size Matter?
* RPG Twists I'd Like To See
* Ways To Be A Better Game Designer
Tell Me What An Idiot I Am On The Forums
Ron Gilbert Back Into Making Graphic Adventure Games
You know, I really didn't have much reason to be interested in the upcoming Penny Arcade game, except for the fact that it's being developed in Torque (my game engine of choice). But now I learn that they've managed to get Ron "Monkey Island" Gilbert involved! And it'll be episodic!
"Gabe" (Mike Krahulic) said today:
We had our first meeting with Ron pretty early in the design process. Tycho and I were getting the story fleshed out and we had some ideas about the design and over all pace of the game. We laid it all out for Ron and then he picked up a whiteboard marker and started teaching class. I’m not sure how many people can say they got a game design 101 course taught by Ron Gilbert, but that’s exactly what Tycho and I got that day. His insights into the way you move the player through an interactive story so that they get to explore the world but don’t loose the narrative were incredible. He was drawing diagrams and helping us really visualize the game in a way that had never even occurred to us. We’re ridiculously lucky to have him on board and helping us with On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode One.I like Penny Arcade, though the humor gets a little crude for my tastes at times. But with Ron associated with it, I'm gonna have to at least give it a try. Graphic Adventure Gaming may be coming back home at last....
Hothead hasn't announced a publisher. They are a self-owned company in British Columbia focusing on (according to their website) "unique, addictive titles specifically targeted to underserved markets." Does this sound indie to you? It kinda does to me, too. Correct me if I'm wrong.
Either way, coolness.
Forums. Because They Are There.
Gamasutra Reports on Indie MMOs
You know, I thought about doing an indie MMO once. Well, beyond a MUD, which I *DID* do at one point (very small, few visitors, wrote and discarded tons of custom code...). It kinda began as a gripe session with a fellow game programmer about everything EverQuest did wrong, and how we could do SO much better (given *ahem* time and budget).
Eventually I did Void War instead, and decided to focus more on single player games (for now) with Rampant Games. That, and as the later generations of MMORPGs started to appear, I realized that those gripes were already being taken care of by bigger, better-funded companies. Though I had some ideas, I really couldn't think of something I really wanted to do in that space to make a difference.
But other indies have taken up the banner, and done a stellar job of it so far. And it's only getting better. In particular, I'm blown away by Josh Ritter and Minions of Mirth, which was very much an indie answer to EverQuest. Not that this carries so much weight in a post-World of Warcraft world, but it's still amazing what can be done with a limited budget and team. But really deep fantasy RPGs aren't everything. The indies have had some great success stories, from Kingdom of Loathing to Runescape, Adventure Quest, A Tale in the Desert, Yo Ho Ho Puzzle Pirates, and more.
And they are getting organized, going after the niches that are not attractive to the big publishers.
This year several enterprising folks set up the "2007 Indie MMO Developer's Conference." Gamasutra.com has the report here:
MMOs Go Indie: The Indie MMO Game Developers Conference 2007 Report
I really liked this bit from Josh Williams' address:
He ended the session with advice to the game makers in attendance. Scope, he suggested was a vital consideration. “Think small,” he implored. “Be willing to scrap ideas.”
Williams suggested tackling a job suited to a team of two or three people working for six months. “If you think you can do it in six months, then you have a good chance of getting it done in a year.”
“Dream tight. Dream small. And dream niche too,” he told the audience. He closed his pep talk with the call to action, “Let's get some sh** done!”
(Vaguely) related MMO stuff...
* How to Develop an MMORPG With No Team and Limited Budget
* How to FUBAR an MMO Launch
* More Indie Opportunities
Read or Post Comments on the Forum!
The Undergarment-Mounted Game Controller...
Wow. Somehow someone's idea for a joke turned into someone else's idea for a college thesis. I dunno, man... considering my tendency to destroy my joystick controllers back in the Atari / C-64 era, this sort of thing might really NOT be a good idea...
Press Start for... OWWW!
Warning: Only marginally Safe For Work.
Tip o' the hat to ~J, of all folks, for this one.
RPG Design: Justifying Your Design To Make a More Believable World
Kevin Carter, formerly of EverQuest fame (and a module-writer for the soon-to-be-defunct Dungeon Magazine), has written an article for GamaSutra entitled, "Living Worlds: The Ecology of Game Design", about the fine art of making more immersive, believable worlds in games. While it is appropriate for several different genres (and mentions action games as much as RPGs), it ought to be of particular interest to RPG developers. His rules are mainly focused on creatures (thus the "Ecology" element), and they boil down to the following:
1. Creatures are part of their environments: Begin the level design process with your Non Player Characters (NPCs) in mind
2. Creatures are territorial: Congregate Creatures in Groups Around Resources
3. Creatures organize themselves into innate hierarchies: Arrange like creatures in a hierarchical manner
4. Tying it all together: Create consistent ecological patterns for players to learn
Which further boils down, in my mind, to one big suggestion: Provide clear contextual rationale for your design decisions.
I think this applies not only to creatures, but also to any other objects and level-design decisions. In fact, it's something a pet peeve of mine. After all, you'd never expect to find, say, a table, chairs, and a fine dining set just sitting there out in the middle of a desert. Yet many games (particularly Japanese-style RPGs) will plop treasure chests out in the middle of nowhere like that.
Now --- one thing I will never say is that there should never be chests stuck out in the middle of nowhere in a game. In fact, one of the complaints about the initial release of Aveyond (sure, I'm goin' all indie here... that's my thing!) was that there were these paths leading nowhere in the game. Exploration was not rewarded. Amaranth responded by updating the game and adding a number of treasure chests and other elements to be discovered by taking the paths less trodden. This improved the game immensely! So from a gameplay perspective, this was a good call.
I also won't say that the player shouldn't find a full dining room set in the middle of nowhere. In fact, it sounds like such an awesome idea I may try and figure out how to work that one into Frayed Knights. But if I discovered such a thing, as a player I should be asking myself "why?" Just as he should be asking himself this question when encountering treasure chests just stitting there down a side-road that goes nowhere. Not only the "why" of the treasure chest, but also the "why" of the side-road. Who made that path? Why is it there? There are some major (and fairly recent) RPGs that I have played only answered the question with an implied "Because the designers thought it should be there."
Inexcusable? Hardly. But it still breaks the immersion. Sure, I'll take good gameplay over believability or immersion any day. Or that dreaded word, "realism." Aveyond, with both a "before" and "after" version, makes a very sound case. But can't we have it all?
IMO, it comes down to justifying your design decisions. Answering the "why" and "how" questions to yourself, as the designer, first, and then providing at least hints to the player as to the rationale.
Motivated By Childhood Embarassment
I remember being asked this during the first D&D game I ever ran as a Dungeon Master. I had an orc, a hobgoblin, and a zombie all in the same room guarding a stairway. Hey, I was twelve years old, and I didn't realize it sounded like a joke! Anyway, a player asked (rhetorically) how come the three different creatures were there in the same room working together instead of killing each other. Were they enchanted in some way?
Huh - well, uh, yeah! Of course! Enchanted! That was it! I muttered something to that effect to cover my little gaffe, and continued playing. I even had the monsters act enchanted and zombie-like during the combat (easy enough, for the zombie). Fortunately the game didn't last too long, so I didn't have to come up with a better explanation of who had enchanted them and why. Which actually would have been pretty cool, as those questions could have led to more questions, which could have led to a far more interesting story with a ton of really cool details and mysteries for the players to sort out.
Maybe that little panic-attack as a kid is why I get so annoyed at games that overdose the player on plotonium-powered events, with minimal if any justification other than the vague explanation of "it's magic." Yeah. And I intended those three monsters to be enchanted to work together in my crappy first dungeon. In other words, the game becomes about guessing what the designers had in mind rather than about what's supposed to be happening in the world and story.
Games aren't the only culprits. Witness many of the criticisms against Spider-Man 3. I felt is was an enjoyable movie. Yet I couldn't help wondering where the other half-hour of movie went that actually explained why characters were changing their minds and reversing their decisions. I mean, sure, I'm a fairly smart and creative guy, and I found myself filling in the blanks with very plausible explanations. But that's not as satisfying.
In a game, you can even leave much of the exposition off to the side where the player can ignore it if they don't want to wade through it. This is one advantage games have over linear media. Maybe a young school-girl likes to sing a silly song in town square about the forest-gnomes and their elaborate tea-parties held in the middle of the wilderness, and how they sometimes get interrupted by the big bad mecha-wolverines, and forced to abandon their dinnerware and furniture to escape.
Bang! Not only is there some minimal justification to satisfy curious players, but it could lead to a whole side-quest. Or the focus of an entire game. A rather bizarre game, but at least your game world wouldn't be generic.
(Vaguely) related tirades:
* When Magic Becomes Mundane in RPGs
* Are Graphics Really Killing Gameplay?
* Why Can't I Get Past This Stupid Door?
* Fair Game Or Drama?
Read or Post Comments In the Forum! Or Do Not! There Is No Try!
Indie RPG Updates
Some little tidbits on some indie RPGs currently in development:
* Planewalker Games has an article on Death and Beyond in Tolmira, the world of The Broken Hourglass. It covers the beliefs concerning death in the world, funeral rites, and the state of undeath.
* Soldak Entertainment has posted an article on the various races of Aleria, the land of Depths of Peril. Much of it is background information, as only the barbarians will be in the game itself (at least the first of what may be a series, if Depths of Peril proves successful). They have also posted a new short story entitled, "The Forgotten Cave." Finally, Steven Peeler has also posted a second "sneak peek" over at RPGVault, discussing the role of strategy in the game.
* DrSlinky, community member here, has announced the development of a 2D RPG entitled, "Aegis Road," with some old-school sensibilities (he notes the influence of the Wizardry and Realms of Arkania series) and anime / manga - influenced art style. Details are sketchy as of yet, but hopefully more will be forthcoming soon.
* UPDATE: The indie MMORPG Minions of Mirth has just been updated to version 1.24. The list of changes, fixes, and updates is pretty humongous - check it out here. Most significantly, there's a new PvP / PvE system in place, Pet and Enchanting system updates, and a new Blacksmithing trade skill.
(Vaguely) related past indie RPG updates:
* Indie RPG News, April 23rd
* News Bits on Upcoming Indie RPGs, April 17th
* Interview with Jason Compton on the Making of The Broken Hourglass
Read Or Discuss on the Forum! Or Not!
Star Trek: En Route To Camelot
Okay, I know mashups are to art as puns are to humor. But all the Star Trek original series cast dancing around cracked me up:
Star Trek Meets Monty Python
Tip o' the hat to Mike's America for the link.
I Would Have Made Deathmatch Maps Of My School, Too
Last week, 17-year-old Paul Hwang was investigated by the police and kicked out of school for the crime of being a creative and talented gamer. He's a victim of the paranoia surrounding the recent Virginia Tech tragedy. He had created a Counterstike map of his own school for he and his buddies to play in, and some concerned parents - undoubtably swayed by FUD campaigns by alarmists profiteering from tragedy, alerted the authorities.
It might have been bad timing on Hwang's part, as he probably finished the map before the VT incident took place. But as he seemed to match the media-image profile of the Virginia Tech killer (who was of asian heritage, but not - as too many believe - a gamer). The police launched an investigation, reportedly grasped at a few straws to justify themselves by labeling him a "terrorist threat", but finding nothing worthy of a criminal case, they recommended disciplinary action on the part of others. You know, something that doesn't require the burden of proof of an actual criminal case.
The school board took up the flag, acting in their best Minority Report fashion, and proactive punished the imagined "pre-crime" by kicking Hwang out of school, transferring him to an "alternative education facility" (part of the Fort Bend County Juvenile Justice Program), and prohibited from attending his own graduation. While some board-members later expressed misgivings that they'd overreacted, others patted themselves on the back for a job well done, and covered their butts by saying that they were only doing their job in this dangerous day and age.
Now I get to don my old geezer hat and say, "You know, when I was a high school student, I never made Counterstrike maps of MY school." The main reason was because we had dinky little 8-bit machines that didn't have enough horsepower or colors to even display a decent-resolution JPEG image of the school, let alone anything resembling a first-person shooter like Counterstrike.
Instead, back in my teenaged era, what was going to ruin society and turn out an entire generation of bloodthirsty, psychotic, devil-worshippers was called "Dungeons and Dragons." And you'd better believe there were battles in D&D taking place between adventurers and monsters bearing the names of principals and least-favorite teachers through imaginary facsimiles of our schools!
The key difference between then and now was that what we were doing wasn't so photorealistically OBVIOUS to low-imagination, paranoid authority figures. Well, that, and the game hadn't hit the mainstream consciousness hard enough to become the default scapegoat for all of society's ills. Many enlightened individuals vociferously predicted the horrors that would befall western civilization should this game, like rock music, continue unchecked. But there were still some people who naively ignoring the D&D connection with certain tragedies, and instead focusing on such embarassingly old-fashioned influences like drug addiction and long histories of mental illness.
Frankly, if we'd had games like Counterstrike back then, you'd better believe I'd have been making maps of my school, my house, and the local mall. And sharing them with my friends. Instead, the closest I came was making a "Space Invaders" game where - with my limited art skills - the invaders all resembled a particularly strict instructor (who I eventually came to like, incidentally). But I had a slight thrill exploding bald-headed aliens for about fifteen minutes after I finished the game. Oh, hey, and I also had a bunch of mostly ornamental weapons in my room too - out in plain sight, after a little parental rebellion streak one evening. Perhaps not unlike Paul Hwang's collection of ornamental knives found by the police in their investigation.
Was I actually an emotional powderkeg ready to blow at any minute? I really don't think so. In spite of my geek tendencies, I think I was a relatively happy, well-adjusted kid. I had good friends, good parents, and even grades that didn't suck. And let's get real here... who DIDN'T fantasize about blowing up their school at some point?
When you are a teenager, you are in this transition stage where kids are craving empowerment, but aren't quite responsible enough (or emotionally grounded enough) to handle it. I know that I would have little bits of rebellion to seize some level of empowerment - some measure of control over my destiny in a world where I felt largely subject to the whims of adults. The draw to videogames (and D&D) was a feeling of that empowerment in a make-believe world. In a D&D game, I could play a calm, cool, always-in-control hero to help counter feelings of being very much the opposite in the real world. I was allowed to pretend to be an idealized version of myself.
Of all the settings a teenager would want to portray himself as the competent superhero (or supervillain, as the case may be) , it is only natural that his high school would be at the top of the list. Where else would they feel in more need of empowerment - even if only in an imaginary alternate reality? High school, as much as I enjoyed it at times, was one of the most threatening, self-esteem-crushing experiences I can recall. It was a nasty social Lord of the Flies experiment, complete with violence (though never the lethal kind - at least in my school - though there were always rumors). For the average middle-class American youth not coming from an abusive or dangerous home life, the halls of their high school is probably where most of their personal demons live.
And in Paul Hwang's case, he was able to apply his talents not only in a way to help him cope with this (and make a pretty decent-looking level, I should add), but also apply in a way that would be enjoyed, appreciated, and respected by his peers.
But now we're on the verge of criminalizing that sort of thing in our hysteria.
Maybe I'm projecting too much. I don't know Paul Hwang from Adam. I haven't heard anything yet to suggest that he's anything other than a decent, pretty normal kid who got caught in a witch-hunt. I wish him well, and I hope this incident doesn't discourage him or other young aspiring game designers and mod-makers from exercising their talents.
I'm just glad I didn't have to grow up in their world.
(Vaguely) related yammerings of an obviously corrupted and yet naive adult...
* Teenager and Dungeons & Dragons
* Games As Art: Media's Double Standard
* Why Are There So Many Violent Videogames?
* Rules of Combat According to FPS Games
Read Or Post Comments On the Forum
Apparently, as part of their latest upgrade, the new Blogger is no longer updating labels with a space in them on remote sites.
So if you are checking any of the labels, be aware that they are potentially a week or two out of date. This may have come about because of a template change I recently made... joy. I'm not sure if they are actively working on the problem or not, but be advised that label names may have to change in the near future.
Spider-Man 3: Worthy, But...
I wish superhero movie-makers would finally figure out that by trying to escalate the stakes in the third (or fourth, or fifth) movie of a series by simply throwing in tons of villains does not work. Instead of all of them being big, scary "boss villains," they all become meaningless grunts, with so little time allocated to their character that they become completely disposable to the audience.
More bad guys (or even just more characters) just makes for a more confusing, less emotionally investing, more cluttered movie.
Unfortunately, movie-makers probably won't learn their lesson from Spider-Man 3. Because even though it suffered from these exact problems, Sam Raimi managed to pull off the juggling act without dropping anything too badly. He introduces Venom - and the Sandman - and Harry's now super-powered aspect - and Gwen Stacey and her father. Thank goodness he didn't decide pull the villainous aspect of Peter's professor and mentor, Doctor Conners - who becomes the Lizard in the comics.
Considering the ending, I'd be hard pressed to cut any of those characters, except the character of Gwen Stacey. I love Bryce Dallas Howard, and I guess maybe they felt some guilt about leaving out the character of Gwen Stacey - who's death in the comics signalled the end of the "silver age" of comics in the U.S. (Not that I'm a true comic book geek or anything... I'd aspire to be one, but it takes too much time). But that plot role was already fulfilled by Mary Jane in the first movie (who didn't die). So Gwen in the movie is largely a throw-away character, a replaceable plot device who bears little semblance to her inspiration other than her name and the fact that her father is the chief of police.
And it was cluttered, trying to squeeze two movies' worth of material into a single two-and-a-half hour movie. I think it coulda been two really awesome movies. But everyone's contracts were up with the third one, so they got smashed into one movie that seemed "really good" instead of great.
It's too bad that the third movie is the weakest of the three, but really it's just a relative judgement. I enjoyed it a lot. The way they handle the story arc culminating with the Sandman, Harry Osborne, Spider-Man, Mary Jane, and Venom all at the end is - with the exception of some bizarre motivational railroading, particularly on the part of the Sandman - pretty dang awesome. It was particularly satisfying to see the culmination of the war between Harry and Peter which has been escalating over the course of all three movies.
So there. A hopefully relatively spoiler-free (and, unfortunately, detail-free) review. I liked it a lot. A heck of a lot better than what we got stuck with last year (Superman Returns and X-Men 3... ugh). Flaws aside, I'm going to be happy to own this one on DVD and watch it again.
Downloadable, Casual Games Gain Momentum
RealNetworks has reported that their downloadable game sales have increased 28% over the same quarter last year, clocking in at... get this... just shy of $24 million during Q1 2007.
Multiply that by 4 quarters in a year (an inaccurate assessment, of course, but fine for noodling purposes), and you can get the idea that this one company is single-handedly busting the whole "PC Games Are Dead" myth. Okay, so they aren't selling the traditional hard-core games that we all know and love from PC gaming's golden age. But that's a number to make anybody sit up and take notice!
Also, Big Fish Games, probably Real's closest competitor on the casual-game-portal front, just announced that it is receiving the Red Herring 100 award, an award honoring the top 100 private technology companies in North America. So they're getting noticed in their own way in the business community.
Now, I really do enjoy a few casual games... like Virtual Villagers: A New Home and Virtual Villagers 2: The Lost Children, and Aveyond and Cute Knight have both found a home with the casual audience. But I don't consider myself a casual gamer. The games I spend the most time with tend to be more hardcore RPGs, RTSs, Sims, what have you. So what does this mean to me?
#1 - The gaming landscape is divesifying. This is a Good Thing.
#2 - From a mindset perspective, we're overdue for scooting over and making room for the casual gamers. Some hardcore gamers don't consider casual games to be "real" games. Get over yourselves. They are here to stay, and we may as well get used to it and enjoy the fact that Mom is finally beginning to "get" videogames.
#3 - Digital distribution, as opposed to physical media, is rapidly gaining acceptance. I gotta admit, I will miss the boxes. I still have a collection of some of my favorites - with the cool bonuses like the cloth maps (I mourn your passing, Ultima) and the exceptionally cool manuals. But hey, it's a new era.
#4 - Watch out for the casual gaming portals making more moves to solidify their power and become the next EA. While some of it irks me, biz is biz, and it's just the way of things. The ol' wheel keeps on turning.
#5 - The PC continues to claw back some mindshare (particularly among adults) as a GAMING SYSTEM.
(Vaguely) related casual conversation...
* Why the PC Game Industry Figures Are Baloney
* The Casual Game Industry Sucks Too
* The Casual Games Industry Sucks, Two!
* The Return of the Villagers: Virtual Villagers 2 The Lost Children
* I'm a Gamer?
Read Or Post Comments On The Forum
Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened First Impressions
I discovered the roleplaying game "Call of Cthulhu" back in the early 80's, when it was one of the first major horror-themed dice-and-paper roleplaying games (if not the first). It was principally written by Sandy Peterson, who later went on to do computer games like Doom, Quake, and Age of Empires. I'd always hoped he'd do a Cthulhu-based computer game, but so far... no dice, though there have been a couple of games since then that have been inspired by Lovecraft's stories. Because of the game, I discovered Lovecraft's horror stories, which generally involved a very smart (or at least competent) protagonist discovering to their horror the truth about the dark things that go bump in the night, and end up somewhat insane at the end of the story.
I'm a more recent convert to the stories of Sherlock Holmes, having recently read The Hound of the Baskervilles and finding it to be way, way better than I'd imagined (and better than I'd remembered some of the Sherlock Holmes short stories I'd read many years ago).
And now, there's a game that combines the two. Tuesday night, I bought Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened, a 3D adventure game that pits Sherlock Holmes against Cthulhu. Literally, though probably not directly. I am not kidding, and it is actually pretty cool so far. And if the game DOES end up in a one-on-one cage match between Holmes and Cthulhu, I'm sorry Sherlock, but my money is on the Great Old One.
Now, first things first. Some Bad. The game is something like 2 gigs in size, which is a monstrous download. And I didn't see an option to order a CD-ROM / DVD-ROM version here in the U.S., though I'm not sure its unavailable. But that was an all-night download. Not a big deal, but if you don't have broadband, you better hook up with a friend with broadband and a CD-ROM Burner or you aren't going to be the least bit happy.
Speaking of CD-ROM Burners... I hope you can get them to work. Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened uses a protection scheme by StarForce. Yeah, those crazy Russians who think crippling your machine is their right by virtue of you paying money to one of their clients. Oh, and who also think that they have the right to support pirates of your game if you choose NOT to lock down your game with their software.
I have no idea why Starforce drivers have to be installed when the game doesn't even ship on DVD-ROM (Though, at least they do provide a URL where you can go to download the uninstaller. Gee, how thoughtful... Too bad they weren't thoughtful enough to INCLUDE IT WITH THE INSTALLATION. ) Anyway - if I'd known StarForce "protection" (which somehow in my mind equates to paying the mafia for "protection") was on the game, I'd probably have reconsidered my purchase decision. But now I can warn you.
Maybe this was actually a clever plan by Frogames, the developer, to get you into the mood to play a game about horror and psychotic cultists. Installing those drivers certainly made me feel horrified and vulnerable. But if that doesn't bug you enough to scare you away (and there are plenty of people out there for whom that would be enough), then here's a quick dump of the first half-hour or so of playing the game.
The game opens with Watson in his bed (without covers - no wonder he's got a sleep disorder) having nightmares about cults and monstrous horrors. Obviously, the dude has been through some rough stuff and has lost a few sanity points dealing with Cthulhu Mythos. Those of us who have played the Call of Cthulhu RPG know what's going on here. Anyway, he wakes up, and then you hear his mental dialog about how this all began.
Flashback to two years earlier. The camera runs along the cobblestoned streets of London as opening credits fade in and out. The sign "Baker Street" is clearly visible, and the camera moves to a door with the famous address, "221b". The camera moves up and zooms on the world-famous detective, gazing out the window.
A cutscene follows, with Sherlock expressing a peevishness at not having any cases to be found that challenge him. Watson assures him one will turn up, and suggests he takes an evening stroll to the local bookstore. And then the game begins (or is it, "The game is afoot?")
The game is played in the first-person perspective, with you as Sherlock Holmes. At least so far. Maybe you get to play as Watson (or --- wouldn't this be cool --- CTHULHU! Now there's an idea I'd happily pay $30 for...) later in the game. But thus far, it's kind of an FPS game (First Person Sleuthing). Interesting things start to happen very shortly, as a man's dissapearance reveals some strange and disturbing hints that something a little more disturbing than a phantom hound is may be involved in this disappearance and several other related missing persons cases.
I'm hardly a scholar on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's work, but so far the dialog in in the game seems to be pretty close to what I'd expect in a Sherlock Holmes story. The voice acting can be somewhat painful at times, but at least the voice of Sherlock Holmes is pretty competent.
The 3D graphics aren't close to cutting edge, but they are nice, relatively sharp, and very *useable* in a game where much of the gameplay revolves around you being able to spot anomalies as clues. The 3D representation of London is very attractive, I should add, if sparsely populated (a good thing, if unrealistic - I can't imagine trying to sort through a bustle of people trying to find the people I am supposed to talk to).
Gameplay-wise, there is some funkiness with getting stuck on collision volumes. And like many other adventure games I remember from back when they were popular, you do get into certain situations where you are trying to guess what else you need to do so the game will let you progress. When I quit my first session last night, it was after I had obtained several clues, including two that needed to be inspected under a microscope. But the game wouldn't let me return to 221b Baker Street because I hadn't gathered enough evidence yet. Nor would it let me follow some footprints through a gate because I had "no reason to go there." Apparently Sherlock is a bit more methodical than myself, and can't jump to any conclusion like, "Hmmm... footprints.... through a gate. I wonder if I should follow them through that gate?"
Ah, well. Maybe Sherlock knows something I don't know.
It's not a high-budget, "AAA" game by any stretch. Fortunately, I'm not a AAA snob. Assuming I can figure out what Sherlock's hang-up is, I'm liking the game so far. There's detail where it's important, particularly in the clues, reports, and documents that Holmes acquires during the course of the game.
And - though it's only been hinted at so far - it's about FREAKING CTHULHU!!!!! Cthulhu by gaslight, baby! Lovecraftian horror! Even if there's not a single supernatural event that takes place during the entire mystery - it's all death-cultists and superstition and bizarre rites without any evidence of the existance of the tentacle-faced god who's gonna devour the Earth for breakfast once he's finished sleeping in - it's just too cool of a concept not to enjoy.
Anyway, I'll report back on it once I've had more time to sink my teeth into it. I confess, part of the thrill I'm getting from the game (warts and all) comes just from playing an adventure game again. Those have been in short supply of late (well, except by some indies, who apparently have been cranking out text adventures at a rate that Infocom and Scott Adams in their hayday couldn't imagine).
(Vaguely) related half-heard, half-imagined memories of insane mutterings of a disturbing nature overheard in the darkness that seemed to throb with the pulse of evil:
* The Top Ten Graphic Adventures of All Time
* Sherlock Holmes Investigates Cthulhu
* Indie Interview With Mike Rubin
* A Twisty Little Maze of Passages, All Different
Read Or Post Comments on the Forums
Labels: Adventure Games
We Just Can't Have Nice Things, Can We?
Man, maybe I should do a game-in-a-day thing about doing battle against spammers. It'd probably end up being one of those bullet-curtain shooters, probably. It'd undoubtably be more fun than what I've been dealing with in the new Rampant Games Forums.
Not that I don't experience some glee wielding the ol' ban-stick. But DANG! They even have to go through the ol' "Are You Human?" test to sign up for an account in the first place.
And it's all been in the last 12 hours or so. What happened? The "Scumsuckers Weekly" newsletter go out last night or something with a notice?
Frayed Knights Dev Diary: Design Doc Fun!
I used to think I was pretty good at game design. I had a good head for games and what made games fun. I had lots of great ideas. I even got paid real money to do game design work and to be "consulted" on gameplay. Cool, huh? Professional game designer - that was me. I attended several game design lectures at GDC. I read some books on the subject. I had long discussions with other real, professional game designers.
And I gradually came to realize how much I sucked at it.
Perhaps traumatized by my experience as designer / advisor / student at GDC, I decided that I really don't like design documents very much, and I've taken a very "light" approach towards documentation for my other indie game projects.
But for a game the scope of an RPG, a "real" design document was needed. Kinda. There's a staggering amount of dialog, clues, items, quests, mechanics, and other elements that need to be kept track of and communicated to others. So I'm going to be talking today on what kind of things I'm doing with my design, not because I know what I'm talking about, but mainly because these are things I'm trying to do to "suck less." This is one man's evolving approach to game design. I've erred on the side of too much and too little and just too poorly done in the past.
As I've mentioned before, I consider a design document a "paper prototype" of the game. A foundation, not a blueprint. Nearly everything in the design doc can change in development, and plenty of it should. But its also important to have a clear idea of what your goal is before you set out on any journey, and with something as complex as an RPG that's hard to keep all in your head.
One thing I've frequently felt - as a programmer - is that what I really needed out of a design document wasn't prose, but bullet-lists and tables and formulas. Not only are they more concise and easier to create a task-list out of, but they are easier to maintain as changes to the game design inevitably happen. Interestingly enough, that sounds a little like how the first (and best) Ultima design documents were formatted.
One of my favorite books in my gaming library is Shay Addam's "The Book of Ultima." I picked it up in college, and was always fascinated by the behind-the-scenes look at the development of the Ultima series (up through the sixth installment).
One thing that fascinated me was Richard Garriott's approach to a design document. It was a notebook, often stained from Chinese food, packed with everything he and contributing designers could come up with about the next game world - all the interactions, characters, clues, and so forth. It was their bible. It was developed to be used, not to be distributed to management.
I'd really love to see some photocopies of some pages from a couple of those notebooks. Somehow I expect that they are closer to the "ideal" design document than some of the big, bloated monstrosities I've seen in my career (including a couple that I have even been partially responsible for).
The Frayed Knights Document
For Frayed Knights, I used a notebook, plus lots of text files. I'd jot down things as they occured to me. I'd occasionally try to create a cohesive explanation of a game system. My notebook had a bunch of scrawled mathematical functions, often scratched out and replaced with new ones. They were hardly cohesive notes. They were filled with discrepancies and contradictions, and holes a mile wide. And they weren't exactly well-organized or easy to edit.
So as much as I admire Garriott's approach, after several months of making these notes, it came time to compile them into a semi-formal (though still hopefully lightweight) design document. I don't have the gift of Richard Garriott's experience and eye for design completeness, so I'm falling back a little on more formal tools to help me through this process.
Using a Template
In case you really have no clue about a design document, Christ Taylor (of Gas-Powered Games) has a template available on the web for use by anyone. There's another one here. I think in both cases they are a little bit of an overkill and shouldn't be used without major editing. But the real value in the templates is helping you account for everything, and helping you avoid too many gaping holes in your design. Keep what is useful, chuck what you don't need, and expand on the idea.
By going through this process I'm forcing myself to answer some hard or not-to-exciting questions. The most difficult and annoying questions are often the ones that really need to be addressed the most. Questions like:
* What does the save game menu look like?
* When the player encounters a narrative, does it refer to the avatars (the Frayed Knights) in the third person, or in the second person (as if the player was part of the group). Does it ask the player, on one menu option, "What do you do?" or "What do they do?"
* How are the tutorial messages going to be presented?
* What sort of interactions does the player have with objects in the inventory
The answers to all of these questions can (and should) change during development, but I think it is a good practice to take a preliminary stab at them early when you can still see the forest for the trees.
One lecture on game design I once attended at GDC recommended making lots and lots of pictures (simple hand-drawn line drawings would do) of what the screen would look like at various stages of the game. A little square to show the screen, and then whatever characters and UI elements are needed. It works really well - after all, a picture is worth a thousand words. And as far as I'm concerned, sparing a thousand boring words for one clear picture is a complete win.
Having a picture on the page - and asking yourself questions about it - is a much better tool for identifying problems than text. I can ask myself the same questions the player might ask themselves by looking at the main in-game UI and saying, "Now how do I know which way I should go? How do I use that door? What happens if I click here?" It's amazing how often something that seemed completely clear in my brain turns out to have some real problems once it is on the screen (or on the page). It's better to come to grips with the problem after a twenty-minute design session than after two days spent coding it and budget already spent on art resources.
In addition, the pictures placed all together, tell the story of the player's perspective on the game. This can help identify missing elements. As I lay them all out, I try and make sure there's a clear transition, that everything needed to go from screen A (say, an inventory screen) to screen B (a combat encounter) is present and accounted for.
The Story of The First Five Minutes
I've harped on how critical the first five minutes of the game is to a potential customer. One trick I picked up at some point was to actually document the first five minutes of the player's experience. Alternately, a sample of five minutes of gameplay from anywhere in the game will do nicely, especially if it includes most gameplay elements.
Like laying out the pictures, this story is really useful for exposing flaws in the design, or holes in the sort of mechanics you are supposed to be designing.
This helped me this week as I finally took some nebulous concepts concerning a combat encounter and had to break them down into both presentation to the player, and the specific details of what was going on at the game mechanics level. Fretting over these details for the purpose of creating a "First Five Minutes of Gameplay" description really helped crystalize some formerly fuzzy ideas.
Lists and Charts
A lot of what I'm working on can best be described as "reference sections," which don't differ a lot from my notes from my notebook. These are just lists and brief descriptions of characters, places, and things to interact with in the game - where they are found, and what their purpose is. Charts, tables, and lists.
I don't expect the design document to be detailed instructions to a perfect stranger on how to make Frayed Knights. Its purpose is to keep the details straight and help communicate them to anyone else that may be involved in the project.
For designing locations, I am not creating maps, except in a very abstract fashion. For things like the first dungeon, I am instead just creating a list of important locations. I describe them briefly, and explain what cool things should happen there, and what sort of challenges they'll provide to the party. This is a lot like how I plan out adventures in my pen & paper games... I figure out the highlights as cool imagined vignettes, and let the transitions take care of themselves.
Instructions To The Player
One trick where using prosaic, detailed instructions CAN be useful is mocking up the final instructions to the player. You can create a section of the design document that can be lifted out, dropped into another file, edited and cleaned up a bit, and then packaged with the rest of the game as player documentation.
I'm not doing that. Yet. But it sounds like a cool idea.
What's Not Going In
Some parts of the "design doc" are not getting compiled into main document. For example, I have several pages (not nearly enough yet, IMO) of dialog that I keep in a separate document. I also keep task lists in a separate file, as that one changes on a daily basis.
Is It Useful?
The design document - which is still evolving - has already come in pretty handy:
* First of all, it's helped me move my design concepts from the vague, fuzzy mental concept stage where everything just magically works to a more concrete level where I can spot and fix flaws, see missing elements, and start coming up with some high-level task lists.
* Where I have been doing some actual programming (prototyping, mainly), it's been really nice to just lift some text content (like dialog) directly out of an existing file and drop it into the game.
* When it came time to have an artist do some quick concept sketches of the four primary characters, he needed to know what the game was about, and some background information on the characters. Cut & paste! Plus some reference art I'd already gathered. We still had to get together and chat about the characters in person, but I was able to provide him with pieces of the design doc to give us a common foundation to discuss ideas.
What Am I Working On This Week?
This week, I intend to finish the design document (well, version 1.0). It's a tall order, especially with so much work still pending on Apocalypse Cow. But I'm excited to get moving on with actual development.
So next week, I should probably go into more details of the game's design. If anybody's actually reading this, is there anything in particular you'd like to know about the game?
(Vaguely) related serial stupidity:
* You Can't Design Fun On Paper
* Frayed Knights Dev Diary: Prolog
* Frayed Knights Website
Read Or Post Comments On The Forum
Why Games Will Save The World
I was tapped by Juuso over at GameProducer.net for the "Blog Apocalypse" meme. It was started by UrbanMonk, who is donating to charity based upon the participation. Now there's a reason to do participate in the meme!
Anyway, it goes like this: We're gonna pretend the entire Blogosphere is coming to an end! (Undoubtably because of attacking cows). You have the opportunity to make one last post. A chance to summarize your blog, leave people with one last gem, whatever. What do you say?
For me, it's a question of why bother discussing computer games (particularly indie games). Why have I been talking about something that is considered by many to be just a huge waste of time?
I think it's because games may save the world.
Not in pixelized Space Invaders style, singlehandedly defending the world against immediate destruction or anything like that. But I think they have the potential to be a force for positive change - directly, or indirectly.
Games have been with us for as far back as we can speculate. Sometimes they might have been silly. Sometimes they were deadly serious. The footraces or spear-throwing games of ancient tribesmen could very well mean life or death not only for them, but for their entire tribe. Games have brought people together, taught them to work together. Even today, psychologists and educators use very specific kinds of roleplaying games to train and help people explore possibilities.
Coupled now with the most powerful communications medium since the invention of the printing press, for use in a tool that marries several traditional media together into a massive whole, and you have something far more powerful, insidious, and revolutionary than anything J. D. Salinger could ever devise. And with the indie game revolution, the power to create these experiences is once again shifting from the oversized design committees down to the home offices of individuals and small teams, with their own agendas, personalities and desires to express themselves.
Do games have a transformative power? A power for good? A power to change the world? Here are some experiences (mostly my own) where I think they already have shown this, albeit in very small ways:
I Guess We Shouldn't Have Called It the Star Wars Program
It wasn't a computer game, but in college I got pulled into a boardgame called Supremacy. It was a very slow game of international superpowers, a relic of the cold-war era that was in its last days when we played it. I was the country that broke the treaty against nuclear weapons, and I found that most of the players were only too happy to violate the agreement as well once I'd run the initial risk. They helped make my country - the Confederacy of South America - very rich as they bought my weapons as quickly as I could manufacture them (until they gained the ability to manufacture nukes themselves). I found myself - with no desire to enter a conflict whatsoever - sucked into a costly build-up of of forces along the border against the United States of America - a situation that could not be remedied without a very carefully staged agreement with the U.S. player. And I remember feeling the dread and certain knowledge that the end-game was nigh when one player started developing an incredibly unstabling technology - a purely defensive weapon, anti-missile satellites. How quickly we all ganged up on this player!
I learned more about international politics that one afternoon than I think an entire semester's course would have taught me.
Beware the Brit In The Sun...
I remember - in the early 90's - reading about combat flight sim fans in the U.K. and Germany who had used a program to fake their systems into believing the Internet was their own private LAN. As few games were Internet-playable back then, but a handful supported LAN play. In this case, these players were fans of a World War II era flight simulator. This international community decided to take advantage of these tools to host a major online reenactment of the Battle of Britain. But there was a trick to it. This time, the German players were defending the British Isles, and the UK players were coming in with bombers and Bf-109's to prepare for Operation Sealion.
Thou Hast Lost An Eighth!
I didn't finish Ultima IV until long after its initial release. I was in college at this point (I'd just barely finished Ultima VII, and wanted MORE ULTIMA, and went back to this classic). At one point, I found myself confronted with two options - to be honest, or to be humble. Either choice would help one virtue but ding another. While I was of course thinking about which one I needed the most points in when I answered the question - pure power-gaming - I remember wondering to myself just for a moment. Which IS more important? Humility or honesty? What are my personal values? And am I living them as well as I could?
This Is What It Sounds Like When Zombies Cry
After a particularly bad day at school one afternoon, I came home and booted up The Game everyone was talking about at the time: Doom. I picked a favorite level, entered in the command for invulnerable "god mode," and outfitted myself with the chainsaw. I went to work on the zombies. By the time the level was cleared, I was feeling immensely better, and while the cares of school weren't forgotten, the emotional edge had been purged in a comicly grisley manner.
Everybody Gets To Be A Hero
Meeting with some good folks at the Drolvarg camp outside Firiona Vie in EverQuest, I learned a lesson in teamwork I didn't expect possible in the primitive rule system of the game. Astonishingly, a party filled with self-sacrificing folks who looked out for the good of the team above their own gain actually gained more - as individuals - than those who were looking out for number one. Time after time we beat the odds, and watched the experience points and platinum roll in at a rate I'd never before seen.
I Didn't Recognize You Without Your Epic Weapon
Many months after that experience in the Drolvarg camp - after joining this group's then-fledgling guild, we decided to celebrate. Considering the fact that so many of us were from Utah we figured we'd hold a guild barbecue one afternoon to meet each other. Several people from out-of-town didn't want to be left out, and also came to participate. Since we didn't want to turn our out-of-town guests away after only three or four hours, we ended up turning the afternoon barbecue into a full weekend event.
For our part, the guildmistress and her husband asked if they could stay at our house during the weekend. We agreed. It was only the night before they were to arrive that we felt misgivings. Who are these people? We'd only known them from their in-game avatars. The next day, two strangers appeared on our doorstep, introducing themselves by their character names. We nervously let them inside our home, and showed them around. After about 20 minutes of conversation, we suddenly realized that these strangers were truly friends that we'd met within the virtual world of the game.
The weekend went off fabulously, the barbecue couldn't be beat, and a good time was had by all these strangers who soon found out they had been friends all along.
Identified By Use Of Lame Jokes...
I had only been at a new job for a couple of weeks when a coworker, unbeknownst to me, bought my newly-released game Void War and started playing it. A couple of days later he came to my desk and asked me for tips. A couple of other coworkers (and my boss) wandered by to listen. He commented to everyone how the game had my personality and sense of humor written all over it. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing.
But having played several indie games and having some (mostly email-exchanged) conversations with the creators, I believe that's often the case. From what I can tell from communicating with their creators, Kid Mystic, Aveyond, and Cute Knight all stand out as being imprinted with the personality and beliefs of their creators. While most games may not have deep messages, agendas, or heavy themes, they are still a little bit of an expression of a piece of the creator's soul... maybe a fun, whimsical, public-facing piece, but a piece nonetheless.
With small or "lone wolf" development teams, this personality doesn't get buried under a legion of contributors.
I feel like I know these people a little bit better because I've played their game.
It's All About Geek Bragging Rights
We used to joke at the Singletrac days about how we spent more time talking about our lunchtime games than we actually spent playing them. After a mission or three of Falcon, ATF Gold, Rainbow Six, or Quake, several of us would stand around talking about the game we'd just played. We'd hear about it from other people's perspective. Even single-player games played individually at home provided ripe fodder for conversation around the water-cooler the next day.
The games brought us together, gave us stories to tell each other, and provided a multifaceted shared experience that made us enjoy each other's company more.
Hit "X" To Feed The World?
No, maybe making or playing games isn't as critical as researching cures for cancer, or teaching young children to read and write. But cancer researchers and schoolteachers have to knock it off and get some rest & relaxation in there at some point, too. The ER workers may need to get their World of Warcraft fix in eventually...
But my point is that there's something going on here - something that's been going on for a while. The medium is capable of doing good. Of educating, asking questions, communicating ideas, and bringing people together. Maybe it comes from a "serious" game, like Darfur Is Dying, or Peacemaker, Or maybe its a game that just happens to educate as it entertains, like Dave Gilbert's "The Shivah," or Sid Meier's Civil War games. Maybe it invites you to think about parallels in the real world, like Ultima IV or Cliff Harris's Democracy. Maybe it's just gamers coming together to contribute to charity, like Penny Arcade's Child's Play. Or maybe it is a purely entertaining "fluff" game that just makes people laugh, gives them something in common to talk about, or gets them together for a LAN game after hours at the office. Connecting people together to play, or to talk.
I think it's all important, in a small way, and can be for the good.
As always, have fun!
Okay, at this point I'm supposed to tag some people to pass this meme along. Just remember that most people are doing short responses with only a paragraph or two. So I am just not a good enough writer to limit myself to only 100 or so famous last words. Well, that, and I wrote this too far past 1:00 in the morning... as I do with too many of my blog posts! I'm surprised they make what little sense they do!
So --- entirely optional, but let's tag some folks and see if they would like to participate. Some of my favorites:
* Brian Green of Psychochild's Blog
* Ron Gilbert of the Grumpy Gamer
* JenaRey of Eeps, Meeps, and Ipes
* Shamus Young of Twenty Sided Tale
* Raph Koster of Raph's Website
Read or Post Comment on the Forums