Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Utah Indie Night - Fall 2007
The Utah Indie Game Developer Night was at ITT Technical Institute tonight instead of Wahoo / NinjaBee. That was different. What was cool about it was that we actually had an overhead projector on which to demo our games in a more formal presentation. What sucked about it was that we actually had an overhead projector on which to demo our games in a more formal presentation. We had over 45 people attending tonight, which was very cool (and a little crowded). We had MASSIVE supplies of pizza that were actually almost all gone by the end of the night.
Indies are to free food like Pac-Man is to dots, I guess.
We had three games demoed, plus Greg (our fearless leader and orchestrator of the indie night from the beginning) showed off his 2D shooter a little afterwards. The three games formally presented included Cartel Games' Mythic Blades - a new and improved version, actually. It was pretty sweet, played well, and looked so good it had one ITT student in the audience ask, "Who does your modeling, God?"
Next was Frayed Knights, presented by yours truly. People asked a lot of questions, and to my surprise not all of them were, "Why don't you leave the podium and let the next presenter speak?" So that was a plus. One of the guys asking questions probably has a future in QA, because the convoluted array of elements he asked me to demonstrate result in a pretty major bug where the interactive object dialog popped up and just wouldn't go away. I think I ended up explaining that the game was "only five months into development" about a hundred times. I should really learn to come up with more creative excuses. I also got some very good recommendations and feedback on the game!
Oh, and the inevitable questions came up concerning Apocalypse Cow. Short answer: It is still in development, because I've spent far too much time and money on it already. But I'm looking at changing technology behind it, and it has become a secondary priority.
Mike Rubin presented Vespers 3D. The game looks sweeter every time I look at it, and it really was the highlight of the evening for me. Unfortunately, his big challenge is the same as that of too many indies - CONTENT. Well, affordable content. I think he said he's on his fourth animator at this point. These guys start off great, but lose interest over time - or get hired by a game company that offers a steady, decent paycheck. I mean, how do you argue against that?
There's still no ETA on when Vespers 3D will be completed. It really depends upon how soon the last elements can get completed. It sure looks like he's got most of a game there, with just a few objects and NPCs missing (or depressingly static). The voice-overs sound good, the graphics are awesome, the "feel" of the game is nicely grave and ominous... it's just incredible.
Some other folks that were there included Q-90 (who are working on... an adventure game? They left early so I didn't get to talk to them), a representative of Caravel Games (makers of the Deadly Rooms of Death series), Eric Peterson (of Cartel games), Herb Flower (of LinkRealms), Steve AKA "Dreamer" of Dream RPG Online, Lane Kiriyama of Wahoo / NinjaBee, and Troy Leavitt of Disney.
I mention Troy because I used to work with him at SingleTrac and Acclaim, and consider him to be a very sharp game designer. I WISH I knew as much about game design as he does. He thinks about game design on levels I didn't even know existed until I met him.
And there were many others I'm forgetting. It was a full house.
Anyway, it would probably have been a better evening if that guy from Rampant Games had shut up more, but otherwise it seemed to be a major success - if far too short.
At least nobody went home hungry.
UPDATE: Check out Greg Squire's commentary on the evening as well!
(Vaguely) related stuff-o-la:
* Utah Indie Night - Summer 2007
* Utah Indie Night - Spring 2007
* Mike Rubin on In-Game Cinematics, Indie-Style
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
What Are Your Spookiest Gaming Moments?
Halloween is nearly upon us (for those of us who celebrate it... those who don't, don't know what you are missing...), and so I thought I'd throw out a few of my scariest gaming moments. Games aren't really good yet at evoking emotion, but fear is one that can occasionally be engaged in the right game if you are in the right mood.
So here are some of the moments that have scared the snot out of me. Or at least creeped me out. I've mentioned a few of these before. But hey, it's Halloween! Let's repeat 'em.
Alone In The Dark - The Dance of the Dead. Okay, this wasn't exactly a scary segment. But pretty much anything with Saint-Saens "Danse Macabre" involved is nice and spooky all by itself. Using the phonograph of this song, you get the ghosts to dance around the room, allowing you passage.
Doom - The Specter. Okay. I dunno about you guys, but the first time I half-saw that little graphics-glitch thing approaching and roaring, I felt the ol' fight-or-flight instinct kick in. I think I just started firing the gun and didn't stop until it was dead and I was out of ammo. Yeah. Now we know how good I'd be in a REAL gunfight. I'd go through my "mad minute" in about five seconds and then throw my gun behind me as I flee through the door.
Aliens Vs. Predator 2 - The first level or two as a marine. Man, these guys NAILED the feel of the movie, "Aliens." Pretty much the entire Marine campaign. That game put you under such intense pressure because you NEVER knew where those aliens were going to come from, and it built on the anticipation. It was almost a relief when the inevitable attacks DID come. This was what Doom aspired to be, in my mind. (And to Doom's credit... the "Aliens Total Conversion" for Doom way back in the when managed to pull off a very similar feel).
Unreal - The Lights Go Out. One by friggin' one. That game gave you a few seconds to contemplate just how screwed you were about to be as it trapped you in a "U" shaped hall and then started shutting out the lights, one by one. The battle itself wasn't much to write home about --- but it was that anticipation building the first time you played, the pants-wetting fear of the unknown, of wondering just WHAT was going to happen when that last light snapped off.
Ultima Underworld - The Pounding On The Door. I'd not yet encountered an imp. I didn't know they were actually little itty bitty monsters that could only pound high on the door because they were flying. No, what I saw and heard was something pounding WAY up on the door as if they were ten feet tall, and making some awful screeching noises behind it. My mind conjured up all kinds of imaginary horrors that were trying to bash in the door to get me. Late at night, that freaked me out, and I ran out of the virtual room like a scared little girl. Then when I finally got up the courage to fight the thing, I was really, really embarrassed at what it turned out to be.
F.E.A.R. - Alma appears at the ladder. Okay, pretty much anywhere Alma appeared was creepy, spooky, or downright risky to one's unsoiled undergarments. Monolith took what they learned with Aliens vs. Predator 2 and improved on it. A lot. They were very smart about keeping the appearance of the supernatural elements rare and unexpected. You caught glimpses of Alma when you least expected her. Or, in at least one moment, I thought I saw her when she actually wasn't there - it was simply a potted plant. But when a game gets you jumpy like that, you know it's doing something right.
Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines - the haunted hotel. Oh, man. With the flitting figures around the place that aren't really there, to the whispered voice in your ear as you approach the elevator shaft --- this was perhaps the best "haunted house" sequences I've ever enjoyed in a game. Definitely spooky!
For a quick run-through of the game, if you've never seen it (and if you can handle an out-of-control first-person perspective), you can check out the abbreviated visit to the haunted hotel on YouTube:
VtM Bloodlines Haunted Hotel
Okay - so there are some of my creepiest / spookiest / scariest gaming moments. What about yours? I left the survival-horror genre pretty much untouched except for Alone In the Dark, which was the original.
What are your scariest / creepiest / spookiest moments in video games?
(Vaguely) related spookifying myself:
* Giving Me The Creeps! I want More!
* Game Moment #9 - Ultima Underworld
* Game Moment #13 - Doom
* Game Moment #14 - Wolfenstein 3D
Oh, and Here's a Forum Thread On the Subject, Too!
Labels: Game Moments
Monday, October 29, 2007
Gaming Game Scores - How To Fix Game Reviews
Should video game reviews include some kind of overall score? Are they getting abused? Are they useless? Are people not bothering to read the actual review because the final score pretends to provide an adequate evaluation of the game all by itself?
The Point Problem
This topic has been brought up a lot lately with the deluge of game review sites tripping over themselves in an effort to hand out perfect 10's as quickly as possible to the most hyped releases over the last couple of months (Bioshock and Halo 3, I'm talking about you...)
They perhaps understand the dirty little secret of game reviews: Players too often do not use reviews to educate themselves as consumers, but rather to confirm their own (often pre-existing) opinion of a game. In the case of the most heavily-hyped games, most players' opinion of the games are set long before they ever play the game. Chalk it up to successful marketing - so long as the game is of decent quality and has the shiny, it doesn't even have to live up to the hype. By the time the realization sets in that the game really isn't on the level of the Second Coming, the game has already gone through several iterations of its sales half-life, and players are already following the Pied Piper Hype of the Next Big Thing. The reviews that have delayed in order to tell the true and complete story are pretty much worthless by then.
That could be a problem with or without scores, admittedly. But the little "10's" that get doled out like foil-wrapped chocolates on release day for the most heavily hyped games are just the shiny little lures to bring in eyeballs onto advertisement-laden websites. Eyeballs that belong to poor schmucks like me who are stuck at work on release day for a hotly anticipated title. We sit at our desks, counting the minutes to quitting time to go home and enjoy the hours of gaming bliss that has been promised to us for the last 90 days in a multi-million dollar marketing blitz. So we hit the websites to find affirmation that our patience will not be in vain, and we immediately screen out anything below a 90%.
Should We Lose Scores Altogether?
GameSetWatch has a feature by Nayan Ramachandran of HDRL on game scores in reviews ... and why they are misleading, uninformative, and arbitrary. And why it is - for all practical purposes - impossible to assign a numerical value to a game's quality with anything relating to objectivity.
A quote on the challenge of meeting expectations in RPGs and general perception of value: "Role playing games, on the other hand, are notorious for lengthy play time, often ranging between 40 and 70 hours worth of gameplay for the same price as a copy of a 8 to 12 hour action game. Should the game's value be judged on how many hours it lasts, or on how much it costs relative to the total play time? Should a game without multiplayer be judged poorly because of its lack of the function, or should every game be judged purely on its own merits?"
What Scores Would Be Meaningful?
Could we live without scores? Without some measurable bottom-line of comparison? I don't know... it seems unnatural to fight against them. We crave those bottom-line evaluations. But maybe it really is the granularity and the pretense at objectivity that is really the problem, not the scoring itself.
Reviewing a game is always going to be a subjective experience. Trying to feign objectivity really comes down to lying to the reader. I know that some sites and magazines have attempted to add together weighted values in all categories for a final score. This is fundamentally wrong-headed, as we have all experienced games that were much more (or much less) than the sum of the parts. And many categories don't get represented. And the "cap" enforced by the system prevents one or two really phenomenally stand-out features from properly ... well, standing out.
Quality, Not Quantity
The industry has painted itself into a corner by rating quantity of features as highly as quality. If two games are comparable in every category, but one game features both multiplayer and single-player game, but the other only offers single-player, it's natural that a reviewer would feel compelled to give the game with "more" a higher score.
It's great if a game offers both. The fact that a game may offer both experiences may be meaningful to me, as a consumer. There have been games I passed on because they did not offer multiplayer. I prefer playing RTS games single-player, but I will be unlikely to buy the game if I can't take it online and "prove my skills" against other players, or play it with friends.
But that's not a qualitative difference. That's like making the decision between a sports simulation and a fantasy RPG in my mind. I like fantasy RPGs. I play very few sports titles, regardless of their quality. A game should receive a score based upon how well it executes against its stated or implied purpose.
Now, I would expect a reviewer to perhaps grant some leniency towards a title which attempts a far greater scope. For example, a massively multiplayer RPG having a few problems with polygons passing through each other during battles shouldn't be dinged as hard as a straightforward FPS with the same issues. They should be weighted based upon their impact on the game as a whole.
Lower the Granularity, and Lose The Grading Curve
And the whole concept of trying to compare apples to oranges on some kind of "grading curve" with games is also ludicrous. Just because one game earns top marks should not in any way preclude any other game from reaching such lofty levels if it is inferior or less ambitious in any way. Lower levels of granularity (like the well-understood, well-used four-star or five-star rating system used across multiple industries) removes this temptation.
On the flip side, a higher encourages direct comparison. After all, how do you decide whether a game should get an 87% or an 88%? Too often, this means comparing a game to every other 87 or 88 scoring game --- and the reviewer may not even agree with the score given to the preceding games.
Naturally, the standard of excellence will rise (and possibly even fall) with the change in technology and the gaming culture. Ultima IV and Doom 1 were clearly pinnacles of excellence when they were first released, but if released today they'd not quite cut the mustard for a five-out-of-five. That's okay and to be expected.
Maybe it's because I'm not a professional reviewer, but I have a very difficult time ranking my own favorite games in any kind of order. While it can be an amusing exercise, it's not something I could claim to be definitive in my own mind, let alone for anyone I'm recommending (or dis-recommending) the game to. I personally feel that the difference between an "8" and a "9" is hard to grasp as a consumer or reviewer, let alone the difference between an "8.3" and an "8.6".
Now, I admit that you can get to the point where it might feel too limited, like the Roger Ebert's "thumbs up / thumbs down" approach (and I admitted to chaffing a little under GameTunnel's 3-score system, but that was as much the labels as being limited to three levels of recommendation). But I think once you get beyond four or five levels of recommendation (or not), its just more confusing than useful.
He Shoots, He Scores...?
In the end, I think people like to see the concrete bottom line. While I personally wouldn't mind seeing review scores go away, score-less reviews will only appeal to a minority. But I think we're best served by sites that give a much less granular score, that score each game based upon their own merits rather than feature comparisons with other titles, and leave the details in the text. Let people read to find out if that three-star game is for them or not.
(Vaguely) related drivel:
* Fallout Over the Fallout 3 Trailer
* Indie RPG News Roundup, October 25th
* Game Reviews - What Are They Good For?
Discussion in the Forum, If You Feel Bold...
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Top-Down Dungeon Competition
You have until December 8th to make a top-down perspective (more or less) RPG. Details over at Retro Remakes.
Prizes are pretty much bragging rights, but I'm excited to see what comes of this. I'd participate, if I didn't have my back to the wall with that other competition and Frayed Knights.
Spotted on the RPGDX forums.
Guest Post: Survey of Top Indie Graphic Adventure Games
Note By The Rampant Coyote: Today's post about indie "graphic adventure" games comes from community-member Random Gamer. He mentioned on the forums that he's recently been exploring what's happening in the AGS community, and was kind enough to share some of the highlights of what indies are doing there. Random Gamer, take it away!
I mentioned in passing on the forum that I have just gone on an "old-school" adventure gaming binge. No sooner did the words leave my keyboard then Coyote pressed me into service for some highlights of the games. Sure thing. I'm always happy to ramble at a captive audience - and it was him that inspired me to find the games, with his mention of "Emily Enough" here on this blog.
First, what do I mean by "old-school" adventure games? I'm talking games that bring back the feel of King's Quest, Police Quest, Maniac Mansion, Space Quest and - my favorite of all - Day of the Tentacle. Adventure Games. You could, if you were feeling uncharitable, summarize graphic adventure games as walking from room to room, looking at each pixel, grabbing everything that can be picked up and solving improbable puzzles using even more improbable items. You could. And there's an element of truth to those criticisms. But adventure games offer style and plot.
They tend to be wordy - and I mean that in a good way, there's lots of text to read and reading it is fun - and literate. There's often humor and in-jokes - adventure games rarely take themselves too seriously. They bring you into a world and keep you there with just a background screen and a pixelated character. Most of all, they are fun.
Fortunately for those of you, like me, who remember those old school games and itch to play them again, there's a fabulous website out there. BIG BLUE CUP is the home of Adventure Game Studio, a free adventure game engine written by Chris Jones. And on that site you can find hundreds of adventure games written in that engine. Many are short - bite sized, even - and that's a good thing.
Since I started this kick with Emily Enough a week or so ago, I've downloaded nine of the things - and finished seven. One is in progress and another is waiting for me to get back to (and, unlike the Gothic 3 game I have sitting on my hard drive, both of those games are likely to get finished). The games I picked mostly based on their descriptions and were all 'Picks of the Month' on the bigbluecup.com website - and they all were a lot of fun.
Let's Do The Time Warp Again...
Like many of the games that inspired them, they are mostly 320x200 x 256 colours. Yes, I know most of you young'uns are staring at that paltry resolution in disbelief, but you can make a wonderful adventure game without 3D graphics and lens flares. I remember the first game I ever played that had that resolution - it blew me away with the quality of the graphics, which is probably because the first bunch I played were all CGA with only 8 colours! You quickly forgive the old-school graphics and get swept away in the story.
If you get stuck, there is a great "hints and tips" forum on the bigbluecup.com website that covers all of these games - but do try things before you bail onto those forums. I had to remind myself of some of the conventions of Adventure Games - most particularly that things change when other things happen, even if they seem to have no relationship to each other. So, if you get stuck after accomplishing something, go back and talk to people, look for new things in the rooms - time only tends to pass once things happen that need to. The other thing I needed to be reminded of is the dreadful 'scrubbing' or pixel hunt. The downside of 320x200 is that it is sometimes hard to see what things are - buttons, especially, get lost. Sometimes that means you end up waving your mouse over the screen, looking for the indication that something special is below. This is not my favorite part of adventure games (and I think some of the best avoid it), but it is par for the course.
Nine Free Adventure Games
I won't go in much detail on Emily Enough, since it was detailed on Tales of the Rampant Coyote so recently, but this a great starting point to getting back in the swing of things.
After beating Emily, I downloaded Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy! by Alasdair Beckett. A lovely pirates themed game, with tastes of Monkey Island (another adventure game classic), it is wonderfully irreverent and has just a great, distinctive, hand-drawn style in 640x480. The puzzles are pretty clear and clever (the interactions with the Distinguished Ladies Club come particularly to mind) and the game is enjoyable from start to finish. Really, it was this second foray into AGS - two good games in a row - that really convinced me that some seriously good gaming fun could come from this.
Automation, by "Mr Colossal", was a winner of a "One Week, One Room" game contest. It is a short (very short), puzzle-filled, plot-light game that none-the-less manages to have a lot of charm and interest. You play an engineer/scientist who has just managed to drop his experimental robot down onto the maintenance level of a lab. You have to manipulate the environment on your floor to retrieve the robot so that you can continue your experiments. This game is fun and finishes quickly. There are a couple of pixel hunts, so if you are stuck, remember to "scrub" with your mouse to find those hots-pots.
Just Another Point And Click Adventure, by "CMonkey", is the game that I have paused - I haven't finished it yet. It is the story of Andrew and Alistair as they, in the words of the author, "go on a quest... to get a life." Somewhat juvenile in tone, with plenty of bathroom humour, it manages to still bring a real "adventure" flair to rather ordinary tasks - like just getting downstairs for breakfast. I'll be back to finish this one.
A game that has more of a serious subject matter is Sydney Finds Employment, by Ivan Dixon. It is the story of a homeless man, Sydney, and his fight to prevent the "corporations, churches and politians" from sweeping the homeless from the street. However, it definitely takes a comic approach to the subject matter and there are some very memorable moments. It is reasonably short and punchy, and the puzzles are pretty straightforward. A couple of hot-spots stumped me for awhile (one required me to revert to the hints page), but for the most part they make at least some twisted sense.
Trevor Daison in Outer Space - Chapter One, by "Knoodn", really stands out as a highlight for me. It had NO hot-spot puzzles, which is great, and I felt as if everything made sense. There was some head-scratching, but things went together quite smoothly. The tone is humorous and reminds me a great deal of Roger Wilco in Space Quest - the game starts with you waking up after a deep sleep and discovering that the space station you are on will be burning up in the atmosphere within the hour. Oh, and the rest of the crew has already left, taking the only shuttle. I truly hope there's a Chapter Two out there for me to find.
"IceMan" wrote Da New Guys, an adventure game based on, of all things, wrestling. This one is the only one so far to have multiple playable characters - you can switch back and forth. This featured a lot in classics like Maniac Mansion and Day of the Tentacle, where characters would have to set things up for each other. This ups the puzzle difficulty, in my experience, but despite being a generally impatient player, I really liked this one - even though I have no interest at all in wrestling.
Winning the most bizarre contest would be Grr! Bearly Sane by "Duzz", a twisted story of a down-on-his-luck guy named Daniel who works at a cruddy carnival under a sadistic boss. Forced to wear a smelly bear suit, piddled on by a dog and abused by children, Daniel snaps and plots revenge on his boss. The game is short and the puzzles are fairly easy, but they are made more interesting by the "anger bar" - you'll only do some things if you are angry enough. This is definitely a violent game, not for children.
Last on my list is the one I'm currently playing - "The Perils of Poom" by Michael Evans. This is a space adventure which again reminds me of Space Quest, though I suppose in fairness that any light hearted space adventure will remind me of Space Quest. You play a rather inept loser, sent off to find "Pure Poom", a very valuable drug, in exchange for lots of money. You explore strange planets, meet strange people and solve strange puzzles. I'm looking forward to seeing how this one turns out. So far, so good, though I'm currently puzzling out how not to get killed by a giant worm. I'll get there.
More Adventure Games, Please!
It is fabulous to see that the adventure game genre is alive and well. I've ranted in the past that I wanted games like "Day of the Tentacle" again and I sighed that I'd have to write my own. I'm glad other people felt the same way, so that I didn't have to. I'm really enjoying playing these - and you can't beat the price. Each is a free download. And if you want to try writing one for me to play, Adventure Game Studio itself is free. If you write it, I'll play it!
--- Random Gamer
Friday, October 26, 2007
Frayed Knights: Interview With Chloe
More silliness from the world of Frayed Knights, the upcoming comedy indie RPG!
Since some people said they liked last week's interview with Dirk, and nobody screamed what a waste of bandwidth they were (can anybody REALLY say that in a world of YouTube videos?), I have decided to continue the interview series with members of the Frayed Knights. You have been warned. There's actually a little bit of boring crunchiness after the interview, if anybody wants to know about the minutia...
Interview With Chloe, of the Frayed Knights
Q: First off, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
A: Okay. What do you want to know?
Q: Your name, how you decided to become a sorceress, and anything else about your background.
A: I’m Chloe. What’s your name?
Q: No, Hans. And what I really...
A: Oh. I thought you were telling me about your hands. Which seemed a little weird, as I’d just asked you your name. I was about to scold you for talking about hands instead of names! After all, you started it!
Q: Er, started what?
A: Talking about names, silly! Unless you’d rather talk about hands. I mean, I like mine. They may look pretty delicate --- well, okay, not right now, they don’t. That’s because of all these scratches.
Q: Since we seem to be on that topic, why don’t you tell me where you got the scratches.
Q: I mean, I’m afraid to ask… how did you get the scratches on your hands from sex?
A: Have you ever seen any horn-backed devil boars mating?
Q: I can’t say I have.
A: Good for you. And you’d better not accidentally disturb them when they are, or they both get really, really grumpy. And devil-boars are really grumpy and mean when they are in a good mood. But when mating – they’ve got those horned backs and everything, which probably makes everything really tricky in the first place. And then if interrupted, they might lose their concentration, and then… ouch!
Q: By all the gods, that’s a disturbing mental image. So that’s what happened? You stumbled across two devil-boars… ah, in the act… and they scratched you?
A: You are a silly man! Of course not! If they’d gotten to me, they would have ripped me into hundreds of pieces! They gore, bite, and stomp, and impale. They don’t scratch!
Q: So how did you get the scratches?
A: I had to run away, naturally. It’s bad enough dealing with one devil-boar, let alone two!
Q: So you got scratched while running?
A: Not exactly. They could run faster than me, so I climbed up a tree and waited for them to get bored and leave.
Q: And you got scratched climbing the tree?
A: Not much. I’ve been climbing trees since I was a little girl! I’m very good at it! No, what happened then was that the branch I was hanging onto broke, and I fell – with the branch – onto the back of one of the devil-boars.
Q: Good heavens! Then what happened? I’d guess more than just scratches!
A: Well, the tree branch hooked onto the horns on the devil-boar, which I think was more angry than hurt. So it began to run, but the branch wouldn’t come loose. The other one was angry, too, and began charging at me. So I held on to the tree branch and rode it, pulled by one of the boars, chased by the other.
Q: Naturally, you were scratched up by the ride.
A: A little, but mostly on my legs. It totally ripped up my good gown! Anybody who was watching could tell you the color of my underwear!
Q: I’d love to ask, but I’d rather have you continue your story. So how did you escape?
A: The boars ran – one pulling me, the other chasing me – into a bandit camp. This distracted the devil-boars, but really annoyed the bandits. The bandits killed the boars in a big fight! And I even helped them! Got them started on a little bit of roasted boar with some fire spells! I’m pretty good at that.
Q: Oh. I see. Well, that ended well, then. But that doesn’t explain the scratches.
A: Ended well? Are you kidding me? A half-naked girl in a camp full of angry bandits? And they blamed me for six of them being gored to death by devil boars! I ran for my life!
Q: I’m going to guess that your hands were not scratched at this point.
A: Right! That came later. See, I ran right past a nest full of dragon-wasps.
A: Those are wasps the size of cats, and look a little like dragonflies. Kinda cute, in a creepy way. You don’t want to get stung by one, let me tell you! You will swell up like an angry pokerfish, itch like you took a bath in poison ivy juice, and barf your guts out. Unless you die. Or maybe you’ll do all that even if you die, I don’t know. You just don’t want to get stung by one. Or especially not by a swarm!
Q: I take it you weren’t stung?
A: Oh, no. Leave them alone, and they leave you alone. Usually. But I saw some of them were hovering near a blackberry bush. So I pulled off what was left of my gown to pick some blackberries.
Q: Wait – you picked blackberries? While being chased by bandits and in the middle of some dangerous dragon-wasps?
A: Naturally. Of course, I was hiding by the blackberry bushes so they wouldn’t see me – I’m not stupid!
Q: Can you please explain to this non-adventurer why you’d do that?
A: Hide? Duh! They’d see me and kill me! Or worse!
Q: I mean pick blackberries. While being in mortal danger!
A: Oh! Dragon-wasps love blackberries. It’s like fine wine to them, and they are all alcoholics. So I picked a bunch of blackberries as I could while hiding. Then I ripped my dress into strips and put some berries into each one, as carefully as I could.
Q: The point being…?
A: I turned them into thrown projectiles! When the bandits discovered me, I threw these berry-bundles at them! They made nice, juicy explosions when they hit! And then I ran.
Q: Oh! And that attracted the dragon-wasps!
A: In great big roaring swarms! Well, after I torched the nest with a fire-spell. That got them stirred up. I didn’t even use up all the blackberries, before the bandits all fled, so I got to munch on them on the way home.
Q: So… wait a minute! You still didn’t explain how you got those scratches!
A: Blackberry bushes are thorny, and I was in a hurry. I got all scratched up.
Q: You could have answered my question fifteen minutes ago by saying, “I got scratched picking blackberries.”
A: Of course! But that would have made a boring conversation, wouldn’t it?
Q: That’s it! I’m done.
A: Goodbye, Mr. Hands! It was nice talking to you!
And Progress On Frayed Knights.
Boy. I want to talk about all kinds of sexy stuff that's been going into Frayed Knights this week, but I'm definitely entering in the "hard slog" stage. Lotsa work, lotsa bug-fixing, very little noticeable progress.
One disturbing little realization came when I discovered that I'd hard-coded monsters. Which means ONLY pus-golems could appear in combat. That code has been fixed now, so I've got encounters with all two of the monster types currently supported in the game... Brittlebone Skeletons and Pus Golems. Go us! And yeah, the pus-golems look mysteriously like zombies. That's stand-in content for you.
The automap is now as functional as it's probably going to get for the time being.
Among other odds and ends I've had to tackle:
* Initialize Drama Star Graphics properly at zero points
* New Title Screen
* Main Menu Music (stand-in, but closer to what I'm looking for) & Dragon Roar
* Fixed Combat: Characters with weapons were doing far too little damage on a hit
* New sound effect for closing door / chest
* Sound Effect for gaining a drama point.
* Fixed call to get the class-based magic defense modifier
* Non-combat "Rest" button & option
I've spent a lot of time this week working on tweaking combat. It's still nowhere close to "right," but at least the characters are defeating the monsters before keeling over in exhaustion. I'm still working on wandering-monster appearances, spell duration expiration, and so forth.
I'm also assembling an (unfortunately HUGE) "hit list" of things that need to be done. This includes bugs and missing features. Things like monsters giving XP, leveling up, Drama Star Powers, Secret Doors, Freelook, Phase / Turn progress while walking, Zone transfer, subzone / area transfer, loot from combat, attack special effects & feedback, quitting the game in mid-combat, and many other little items of annoyance have made the list so far. There is plenty more on the list, and it's nowhere near exhaustive.
The big "deliverable" is the demo next Tuesday at the Utah Indie Game Developer's Meet at ITT Tech in Murray, Utah. I don't know if it will be playable enough for anyone to just jump in and try it out, but it should at least be demo-able.
(Vaguely) related backmasking from a Black Sabbath album:
* Frayed Knights: Cartographic Incompetence and Dirk's Interview
* Frayed Knights: Learning the Lingo
* What Makes a Great RPG: Story
Mock Me On The Forum, Why Don't Ya?
RPG Clichés That Need To Die
Okay, so we're getting to the point now where ripping on RPG cliché is in itself cliché. What does that become? RPG Cliché deconstructionism or something? Everybody's done it (including me), but hey... that won't stop us from doing it ONE MORE TIME, right?
IGN goes once more into the RPG Cliché breach, dear friends:
RPG Clichés That Need To Die
Basically, it comes down to the good ol' fashioned formula plot, plus standard RPG conventions that have defied logic for so very long it doesn't really matter anymore.
Link spotted at RPGWatch.
(Vaguely) related bits disguised as information:
* Lessons Learned Playing Computer RPGs
* Help! I Need Some Good RPG Clichés!
* Rules of Combat According to FPS Games
Labels: Roleplaying Games
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Indie RPG News Roundup, October 25th
Indie Roleplaying Games: Why should mainstream studios have all the fun? Here's what's going on with the usual suspects (and if you know of other RPGs in late development, please let me know here, or by email, or on the forums).
Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest
Beta testing for Aveyond 2 begins October 31st for internal testers. This was slightly delayed due to problems with the long-awaited mouse support for the series (which is not supported natively by RPG Maker, which has its roots firmly in the console area).
Scars of War
Gareth Fouche has an update discussing the history of the world of Scars of War, in particular the "War in the West." This was the recent war of which the player character is a veteran. He's also got a map posted of the area, shown in brutally reduced size here. Check out the history of the War In the West.
Depths of Peril
Soldak has four new very short stories (or histories) up describing events in the world of Depths of Peril. These include "The Crusade of Light," "The Reign of Terror," "Time Renewed," and "The Dark War." In addition, Steven was kind enough to pop onto our forums this week and address some of the concerns people have had with the initial release of Depths of Peril. Many of the problems people were having HAVE been addressed in the latest patch, making an excellent game even better.
Oh, and if you haven't done so yet, try Depths of Peril...
The Broken Hourglass
Planewalker Games has an article up discussing one of the simplest ways to mod The Broken Hourglass to customize it and make it your own - adding custom character portraits and sounds. Read up more in Rules and Mechanics: Portraits and Soundsets. And get ready to import your favorite images and sounds from Baldur's Gate II, Planescape: Torment and Neverwinter Nights... :) (Hey, you KNOW you thought about it...)
There's a review of Cute Knight Deluxe by yours truly on Game Tunnel. I've already been taken to task by one reader for failing to make explicit the Princess Maker connection / inspiration. Woops! This was a tricky one to write, because it was a review of the "Deluxe" version - which means part of it is a comparison to the original. Are the changes enough to warrant the upgrade (or buying the game again)? And I'm not too keen on the rating system in Game Tunnel --- I mean, isn't every indie game supposed to be a "try?" Could I give it a "Try+" or a "Buy -"? But no full review had been done on Game Tunnel of either it or the original, and it deserved one.
UPDATED: Added mention of the Cute Knight Deluxe review and two new story links for Depths of Peril.
(Vaguely) related sounds of a digital tree falling in an unpopulated Internet forest...
* Let's Talk About Depths of Peril
* Beyond the Gate: Jason Compton on the Making of The Broken Hourglass
* Interview with Amanda Fitch, Creator of Aveyond
* Indie RPG News Roundup, October 10th
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
History of the Commodore 64
It wasn't my first computer, but it was the one I fell in love with:
The History of the Commodore 64 on Gamasutra
Ah, the memories...
Tim Schafer's "Brutal Legend" Unveiled.
Brutal Legend - Will This Game Rock?
5 points for being by Tim "Grim Fandango" Schafer.
Another 3 points for concept, particularly a game about HEAVY METAL.
One point for Jack Black (Mr. "School of Rock" himself) as the voice of roadie Eddie Riggs.
+1 Bonus point for the 4-man cleave and general wanton violence of the trailer.
And another bonus point for using "The Mob Rules" theme for the background, which was also featured in the 1981 cult-classic animated film, "Heavy Metal."
It looks like we've gone up to eleven, here. SERIOUS needle-burying on the rock-o-meter.
For some extra goodness, here's an excerpt from the announcement by Tim himself:
' “I… am… IRON… MAN,” it growled. And then one of the most famous riffs in all of rock grabbed me by the collar, dragged me up a steep stairway, twirled me over its head, and tossed me down the stairs. And I loved it.
That was the first time I heard Heavy Metal. It was big, loud, powerful, threatening, and weird. Everything I secretly hoped to be as a teenager. Growing up in a small town, looking at the same old things every day--the kids you know in school, the teachers, the streets, your room—you start to wonder, “Is this really all there is?” And Heavy Metal, just like fantasy, science fiction, and video games, says, “No. There are worlds out there that you can’t even imagine.” And one of those worlds is exactly what we’re building for this game.
“Of course,” you exclaim, slapping your forehead. “A Heavy Metal game. Why didn’t I think of that? In fact, why aren’t ALL games exactly like this?” And it’s a good question. Why aren’t all games Brütal Legend? They should be. But they’re not, and I think part of the reason is that publishers fear the Legend. You’d be surprised how many of them asked us to change the music to something more innocuous. One of them asked, “Does the main character have to be a roadie?” '
There's no denying, of course, the fact that the proof will be in the final gameplay, and this could be nothing more than a God of War wannabe. But... I somehow doubt it. I can't wait for more details.
UPDATE: Random Gamer added a forum post about this, because I was too lazy to do it myself.
Labels: Mainstream Games
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Single-Player Games: Alive and Kicking (Your Butt...)
Single-player games are hardly talked about any more. It's all about multiplayer (or massively multiplayer). Single-player is just so... passé.
But this little goody suggests that while single-player games may not be the hot topic for developers or gaming press, it's still as popular as ever amongst customers.
Solo Games Live On In a Multiplayer World
From a personal standpoint - well, I LOVE multiplayer games. I feel the fun-factor goes up for almost any game that you can play with other people. Playing with friends instead of strangers is about 10x better. But multiplayer games can be much more stressful and frustrating as well. Getting people scheduled together, dealing with punks, interruptions for one affecting everybody, dropped connections at critical moments, getting bumped off your team three minutes before the win, dealing with widely varying skill levels, friends getting lost on the way to the dungeon... that's a lot of additional pain which is usually worth it, but too often it's not what I'm looking for.
A good, focused single-player game where I get to be the hero, where I get to play exactly when and for how long I want, is often EXACTLY what I want and need. I would never want either single-player games or multiplayer games to go away, and I don't think every game should have both components.
(Vaguely) related senselessness:
* SPORPGs: You Heard It Here First!
* Why Bother With Single-Player RPGs
* Game Design: Tough Choices
Monday, October 22, 2007
Let's Talk About Depths of Peril
Okay, you guys have heard me heap the praise on the new indie computer role-playing game, "Depths of Peril." I'm now happy to announce that Depths of Peril is now available from Rampant Games as well. You can check it out here:
Depths of Peril at Rampant Games!
If I'd done my job well enough, however, you'll already have grabbed it by now, which is cool. But in case you missed my little rave a few weeks ago, here's more. I've played the game ... a little too much more... since then, and have more to say on it. This is gonna be a weird post, because it's not exactly a review, and it's not exactly a plug. It's me talking about an RPG that I really like. And maybe it's me trying to extract some productivity out the SEVERAL hours I have lost to this game. Durn it, Steven, you just HAD to go and release this game when I was swamped with stuff to get done, didn't you?
So if you'll indulge me a little bit... let me tell you about why I'm hooked on this game right now. And then you can decide for yourself if you want to click on that link and try it out for yourself. Because I'm gonna come right out and say that it's not going to be for everyone. But I feel a little like it was custom-designed for an old-school RPG fan like myself who craves something innovative and a little deeper than the average shallow-as-a-mud-puddle experience.
The Family Resemblance
First of all, if you resent and hate Diablo-style RPGs, you probably aren't gonna like it. Depths of Peril is firmly in that camp. The combat action is intense with lots of real-time clicking. However, unlike Diablo, your character will keep fighting the targeted enemy if you don't issue different commands, so you don't have to wear out your mouse button quite so badly in melee.
And if that was all there was to Depths of Peril, I'd call it a competent if uninspired Diablo clone, give it a short rah-rah go-indie speech, and call it good. But what makes Depths of Peril so fascinating is that it goes well outside the comfort zone of traditional RPGs, and incorporates elements that might sound like a mash-up on paper, but really work extremely well as a unified whole. The "strategy elements" aspect of Depths of Peril isn't some tacked-on gameplay or mini-game, but actually a well-executed logical extension of the roleplaying experience. It complements the core gameplay extremely well.
What's The Story?
Here's the deal. You are the leader of a faction (a "covenant") in a barbarian settlement right on the border of the evil monster-filled wilderness. Actually, when you first start the game, you are a covenant of one - your job is to build up a little group of loyal retainers and become the most significant force in the city. Except there are several other factions in town that have set their sites on the same goal. But all of them - including you - are also concerned for the well-being of the city, as that not only makes it easier to get around and do things, but aiding the city also increases your faction's influence.
The "strategy" elements are actually pretty much straightforward extensions of this situation given a somewhat dynamic game world. The monsters in the wilderness are not all static or re-spawning beasts that wander around stupidly until you (or your rival covenants) come to mow them down. Over time, boss monsters will appear, and if left unchecked, will gather followers and may attack the city. The city's water supply may get poisoned, or it may get besieged, or bad guys may sneak into the city and start slaughtering crucial NPCs. (Like you, they can be resurrected over time - in fact, they make comments about this phenomenon all the time - but it's a pain when your quest NPC or armor-seller is temporarily unavailable because they've been turned to stone or slaughtered).
While some of the city emergencies come pretty much out-of-the-blue (as far as I can tell), there are also some chains of cause-and-effect that takes things from bad to worse if you ignore certain quests or warnings for too long.
Add to that the actions of the other covenants. They may complete quests ahead of you. They may start wars with each other, and try to suck you into the conflict. Long, drawn-out conflicts are pretty much bad news to the city, because with two factions duking it out like that, they are going to be too preoccupied to help keep the city safe. And the game is generous enough with the dynamic quests that it can be hard to keep up with them unaided, particularly at higher levels.
It Doesn't Taste Like Chicken!
What all this means is that your decisions are far more complicated and dynamic than you'd find in most RPGs. There are real consequences to actions, and you can't simply accept every quest that falls in your lap and then complete it "when you get around to it." The game won't wait for you. So you have to decide --- do you push forward in a quest to recruit a high-level mage for your covenant? Or do you let it drop (and risk an aggressive rival covenant recruiting him) while you try and lift a siege which has explosive catapult shot going off all over the city injuring everyone (including your own faction members)? Or do you ignore it all in favor of pursuing greater loot and experience points for your own covenant members? Or do you take advantage of the aggressive rival covenant's current weakness and attack them BEFORE they have a chance to recruit that rival wizard, thus keeping them occupied so they won't have a chance to complete the recruitment quest themselves? Or better yet, do you encourage a conflict between them and a different covenant, weakening them both?
And can you pull off two of the above in time?
These "interesting decisions" changes the whole flavor of the game. When I started playing and going through the tutorial missions, I was convinced that I'd been there, played that, at least a dozen times before. By the time I had defeated the other factions (and "won" the game, though I still had plenty to do in the next "world" with new opponents facing my now-battle-hardened covenant), I was pretty excited with how differently it had played out. This was something new!
Why Is It Important?
It all might sound a little complicated - and truth be told, when I first started out it really was - but it becomes manageable and reasonably straightforward after a while. The game challenges you to learn the fine art of juggling. Steven's stated goal during development of the game was that decisions and actions would have consequences. This isn't just once-or-twice pre-scripted events that let you determine some branch for the game - it's a constant give-and-take where you have to balance multiple goals. I'd say he succeeded.
Depths of Peril is not an easy game. This isn't an "introductory-level" RPG like Diablo. This is a game with some real depth to it; a game which adds some hard-core "meat" to the bones of a simple Diablo-esque RPG. In my opinion, it's also a very important game. I am afraid that the very people who would most enjoy this game - the core RPG fans who keep begging for greater innovation and something beyond the "me, too" pablum that makes up too much of the mainstream PC RPG releases - are going to shy away from it because of its less-than-cutting-edge graphics or the fear of an ugly "strategy game mash-up" mess.
In my opinion, every good RPG is part strategy game (or at least a tactics game), and Depths of Peril simply extends that idea outside the box and into some really fun, less-explored territory. And I would like to see this game do very, very well - just to give developers and publishers a glimpse of how much further RPGs can really go, and that there's an audience out there for it.
Sound intriguing? Give it a try here.
But be warned. For me, at least, it had that very addictive "just one more quest!" quality. Be careful if you need to get a full night's sleep tonight...
(Vaguely) related excess verbosity
* Depths of Peril: Demo and Quick Take
* Indie RPG Roundtable
* Indie RPGs: Just Not Worth It?
* Where is Indie Innovation?
How About a Forum Discussion All About Depths of Peril?
Sunday, October 21, 2007
The Importance of Indie Game Development
Brian "Psychochild" Green has an article up that makes a plea for indie game development - specifically on the PC. In "More on the Importance of Indie Game Development," he makes a plea that the PC is an ideal platform for indie game developers, and that the consoles - while now viable for the "indies" - is far from fertile ground for the indies to prosper. And that the fate of the indies is the fate of the entire industry. His contention (which I strongly agree with) is that the industry needs players with what I consider the freedom to fail.
There needs to be a segment of the industry that is free to experiment with crazy ideas in spite of not being backed up by a history of market evidence of success potential. Sure, some of the large publishers make a big deal out of allowing certain of their subsidiary studios some leeway to be creative this way. However, it's not enough, for two reasons:
#1 - While the publisher might not overtly dissuade experimentation in innovation, the development studio is painfully aware that the price of failure can be severe. They've got too much to loose not to self-censor themselves.
#2 - Big-Business, Big-Budget sponsorship of experimentation cannot occur on a scale large enough to generate the kind of innovation the industry needs to thrive. Due to the limitations of Sturgeon's Law, you are going to need to generate a lot of failures to generate a single success. I don't think the mainstream industry is willing to sponsor experimentation on the scale necessary to duplicate what the indies are coming up with right now.
Brian maintains, "In the end, there needs to be more robust indie game development. And, I don't believe that consoles will ever be as open and easy to develop for as PCs are. Unfortunately, if the current PC game developers keep scaring off PC game players, the indies will have no audience. And, that hurts the industry as a whole."
Preach on, brother!
Labels: Indie Evangelism
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Rampant Games Gets An Overhaul!
You won't notice it from this blog, but RampantGames.com has just received a major overhaul. Besides the new, improved logo and layout, there are a few extra features:
First of all, the games should now be arranged in an easier-to-navigate fashion. I've broken things down into three categories (for now): Adventure and Role-Playing Games, Strategy and Puzzle Games, and Action Games. Games may actually fit in multiple categories (for example, an action-RPG might be both an action game and an RPG). There are also random game screenshots and spotlights on certain games and the newest games on certain pages.
The index pages also include a sidebar with "Hot Forum Topics," which links to the three most recently-updated threads in the forum. This might get really colorful when spammers sneak through... It might have to get taken down if it gets abused, or I may have to approve new users manually. We'll see what happens, shall we?
From my perspective, there's a bunch of stuff under the hood that makes it MUCH easier to maintain pages, add new games, and so forth. Which is important, as I've got about five new games that I'm going to be adding in the next few days. Sure, I WISH they were by me, but I'm having trouble getting ONE new game out.. :) But I think you'll be pleased with what's getting added. Expect to see the "Adventure and Role-Playing" section to nearly double in size very soon.
Anyway, if you have suggestions or requests for changes, there's a forum thread to talk about it, and my email ("feedback" here at rampantgames dot com) is always available.
Thanks! Let me know what you think!
Friday, October 19, 2007
Frayed Knights: Cartographic Incompetence & Dirk's Interview
Frayed Knights, the indie RPG that refuses to take itself too seriously, continues development.
This week, amidst massive changes to the website (to be unveiled this weekend, I hope), I sacrificed sleep and sanity to work on the automap.
The automap was pretty much just as big a pain in the butt as I predicted. It's still buggy and missing some functionality right now, but it works.
I'm handling it by pre-processing maps of all areas the player will visit, align it properly along the X and Y axis, sett the scale and origin properly, and functionally remove the "fog of war" tiles that obscure it as the player explores. Oh, and save that information out with the save and load game functions - we don't want the player to have to re-explore the territory. It may be automatic for the player, but there's nothing automatic about my process!
The above picture is more of a proof-of-concept than anything resembling the final version. For this stage of development, I am using a screen capture grabbed directly out of Torque Constructor and touched up in Gimp to give it more of an antique look. Eventually, I want to go for more of a hand-drawn look for the maps.
Shawn Boyles is working on the title screen art for Frayed Knights. It's coming along really, really well. I laughed when I saw the pencil sketch today. I may be biased, but I think it'll be the best title screen ever. It should be done within about a week or so --- we're trying to have it done by the 30th (the demo at the Utah Indie Game Developer's meeting).
An Interview with Dirk
When I was starting design work on Frayed Knights and trying to work out some of the dialog, I performed an exercise I'd heard about for combating writer's block. That suggestion was to conduct an imaginary interview with your characters. This is not supposed to be anything that really happened in the game... none of this is to be considered canon or final, or even necessarily fully "in-character". It was never intended for publication. But it helped me get some insight into my characters' attitudes, and their (often incorrect) perceptions of each other. And Dirk's exaggerated perception of how the team perceives him.
I thought one or two of you might enjoy it. If you do, let me know, and I'll post the interviews with the other three characters.
Q: First of all, tell us about yourself!
A: My name is Dirk C. Kuldare. I am a rogue extraordinaire. Master of pulling off the impossible!
Q: What does the “C” stand for?
Q: Your middle name is “Chance?”
A: Yes. My parents took one. And then there was me.
Q: So why did your parents name you after a bladed weapon?
A: Because of my Grandfather.
Q: Your grandfather’s name was Dirk?
A: No, he held one to my father’s back during the wedding ceremony after my mother became pregnant.
Q: So what is it you do right now?
A: Currently I’m affiliated with a highly successful and motivated group of treasure-hunters.
Q: The “Frayed Knights?”
A: Don’t call us that when Arianna is around. She’ll feed you your own esophagus.
Q: Okay, I’ll be careful. So what makes the Frayed… I mean, your team so successful.
A: I don’t mean to brag, but I see myself as sort of the backbone of the team. I have an eye for treasure. And I’m not as nervous as most rogues. I mean, your average treasure-hunting rogue is like a scared old lady. If they wanted a life of safety, they should have become scribes or farmers.
Q: Treasure-hunting is something of a life of danger, isn’t it?
A: Absolutely! That’s me. A good rogue accepts a life of danger. The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward, right?
Q: Do your fellow teammates subscribe to that philosophy?
A: Of course! Usually. I mean, they have no problem going toe-to-toe against some nasty threats that would send groups twice our size packing. Arianna’s not afraid of anything. Chloe – she loves nothing more than a good tussle and a chance to work her magic. And Benjamin – man! I think that guy has icewater running through his veins! Nothing phases him.
Q: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your teammates. Let’s start with Arianna.
A: She’s a babe!
Q: Would you care to elaborate on that?
A: I’d better not.
Q: Why is that?
A: It’s a touchy subject. See, she’s a warrior. But she’s a woman. And she’s part elven, so that makes her kind of… well, small, for a warrior. And since she’s part elven, she ages slower. So she’s actually like sixty years old or something. So she’s really a little old lady who looks like a babe. Man, that's weird. Wait a minute... can I just change all that to "no comment?"
Q: We'll see. But she fights well?
A: Oh, she’s awesome in a scrap! That’s the thing. But people don’t believe that by looking at her. And if they don’t take her seriously, they learn their lesson too late. She has a really, really mean temper.
Q: Okay. How about Chloe?
A: Chloe is… mysterious.
Q: How so?
A: It’s like she’s on this whole ‘nother plane of existence or something. All the time. Like her spirit and her body are always separate. She sees things really differently. I just can’t quite understand her. Sometimes I’m not sure she’s entirely human. Oh, and she’s a babe, also. I don’t think she’ll get mad at me saying that.
Q: She’s a sorceress, isn’t she?
A: Oh, yeah. She loves big explosions. It’s really kind of scary. You give her the chance to blow something up, and she just goes crazy. I mean, I’ve actually heard her GIGGLE as she casts fireballs.
Q: Like she enjoys the violence?
A: But she doesn’t, that’s the thing! That’s what creeps me out. Outside of combat she’s all about flowers and cute, fluffy bunnies. You wouldn’t think she had a destructive bone in her body.
Q: Okay, how about Benjamin?
A: He’s a nature priest.
Q: So how did he get involved in the team?
A: I don’t know, man. He’s got motivations all of his own. He’s even more mysterious than Chloe, sometimes. Sometimes I wonder if he’s not just subtly manipulating our entire group, so we’re all doing his bidding without realizing it.
Q: Doesn’t that concern you that he might be using you?
A: Not really. I mean, I’m having fun, and I’m making money. And he’s a great cook. And fun to talk to. So if he's up to something, well, I just hope he lets me in on it!
Q: So which of your exploits are you most proud of?
A: Any one we get away with.
But this last one was a lot of fun. We encountered a nasty little situation with a combination of a Nesting Lancer – a class “C” ambush predator – hiding on the ceiling above your standard ten-foot pit trap with rusty spikes on the bottom hidden by a weight-triggered trap door. The Lancer would grab its victims before the trap door had slammed shut again. The end result was that the lid of the trap was covered with the remains of past victims – which tipped everyone off at once. The thing is, people would notice the pit, think they’d discovered the only threat, and then get themselves skewered by the lancer as they made their way along the side. Then if there was more than one party member, they’d panic, and possibly fall into the pit as they tried to escape the lancer. I’m the one who spotted the lancer, because the bones on the top and side of the pit didn’t make any sense to me.
I probably saved the entire team.
Q: Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your team?
A: We’re the best. No job is too difficult, no monster is too fearsome, and no treasure is too large!
(Vaguely) related failures to communicate:
* Frayed Knights: Learning the Lingo
* Frayed Knights: Overheard at the Gaming Table
* What Makes a Great RPG - The Story
* Stop the Long-Winded Intros!
Want To Discuss It On The Forum? No? I Can't Blame You. But Here It Is Anyway!
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Torque 2 Game Engine Enters "Transparent" Development
Stephen Zepp of GarageGames posted today about "Torque 2" entering "heavy development." In addition, they are attempting "Transparent Development" - which is to say they will be making the development process visible to the community, and inviting the community's feedback during development.
Sorta like what I'm doing with Frayed Knights. Only hopefully much better.
What's this mean to indies using various flavors of Torque? Well, possibly a lot, but not immediately, except for the chance to have more active participation and visibility in the evolution of the new engine.
For one thing - their "hit list" addresses key issues that have been major pains to developers. Mainly, it's breaking down the monolithic structure of the game engine into modularized components. Since I've learned that too often making "one little change" in Torque involves eight different changes across four different files (pretty much "by Braille," since there's very little documentation on that code), this sounds like a good idea to me.
The new engine will incorporate both 2D and 3D technologies similar to what is currently in TGB and TGE-A, but will not be backwardly compatible with the previous engines. It will use "Poly Soup" collision handling by default, which means the old CSG-style / BSP-based interiors may finally go away. It is intended to be easier to "plug in" major systems (like Python or LUA instead of TorqueScript for scripting, Zepp suggests) with the new modular architecture.
But aside from this, a lot is up in the air. The "transparent" process means there'll be a lot of things discussed in the "transparent development" community, considered, and maybe even attempted that don't make it into the ultimate 1.0 release of the engine.
TGE, TGB, and TGE-A are going to be "sunset" at some point after Torque 2's release (once it has been given enough time to mature), and details are fuzzy (and likely not determined yet). But the post strongly indicates that any project currently in development - or entering development in the next 6-9 months - should use existing technology. Torque-X is going to remain an independent product and will not be affected by Torque-2's development.
GarageGames, not-so-newly purchased by IAC, now has the funding and manpower now to make this happen - here's hoping for some good stuff.
The Rules Lawyer
Those of you who have played dice-and-paper RPGs may be familiar with the concept of the "rules lawyer." This is someone who uses the printed rules of the RPG to disrupt the game and contradict the game master ("Dungeon Master" or "DM" in Dungeons and Dragons parlance) for their own benefit. It's one thing to know the rules really well, but it's something else to be a "rules lawyer." They are basically a special brand of whiner.
I was in college during the final days of the "First Edition" Dungeons & Dragons era. I'd been playing the game since I was twelve years old, and knew most of the common rules pretty well. And I liked to run games and create fun experiences for my friends. Some things don't change. As I've chronicled before, I was recruited to be the "Dungeon Master" for the college group.
During my second semester as a freshman, we had someone join the group who was a rules lawyer. This guy would argue with me on many rulings, as he thought he knew the rules inside and out. I happened to know them better than him, but I still usually appealed to "DM authority". This means I'd refuse to take the time out of the game to argue rules (man, I should follow that guideline more today), and simply ask that people assume I'm correct because I was the one running the game.
One particular evening this rules lawyer got pretty vehement about the rules, and started arguing with me on some fine point that would give his character some temporary benefit that really wouldn't make a difference in the long run. And I knew he was wrong. But it got even better than that.
I had a favorite illustration in the Dungeon Master's Guide (the rule book full of supplemental material for Dungeon Masters). It was a drawing by Darlene Pekul, which I happened to know was on page 59 of the book. I also remembered that the particular rule that contradicted him was about three pages past this illustration. I could kinda-sorta visualize where on the page this rule was.
So I took a guess. I did my best stern-gaze and told him he was wrong, and that page X, column 1, third paragraph clearly contradicted his assertion. Then I proceeded on with the game as if the exchange had never happened.
Fuming, he opened his copy of the Dungeon Master's Guide, sure that I was bluffing.
I kinda was... I was guessing, at least. Fortunately, I guessed right. He looked it up, read the rule, got a very astonished look on his face, closed the book, and shut up. I don't remember him ever questioning me on a rule again after that experience. In fact, I don't remember ANYONE in that game questioning me on a rule again after that. I guess people assumed I'd committed the whole book to memory or something.
(Vaguely) related faux alpha-geekness
* Birthday Cake for Geeks
* Original Dungeons & Dragons Trivia
* Disappointment in the Demonweb Pits
* Teenagers and D&D
* Adult Dungeons & Dragons
* Can CRPGs Age Gracefully?
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
The Power of Text in Gaming
Rock, Paper, Shotgun has an awesome article by Kieron Gillen on the role of written text in games - both in the early days, and more specifically the continued use of text today. An excerpt:
"Words remain one of the more enigmatic yet efficient tools available to a professional game designer, and certainly one of the most overlooked. And its efficiency cannot really be overestimated – both in terms of player and development time. 'Language (and prose in particular) remains an important tool for game designers because it’s malleable,' notes Sheldon Pacotti, writer on Deus Ex and now at Spector’s Junction Point, 'One sentence can go from the Bronze Age to 21st-century Shanghai to the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Imagine the development budget to represent that last sentence visually. Especially in adventure games, language is critical for conveying history, prophecy, and the multiplicity of a gameworld/society.'"One thing Gillen doesn't point out is that the decrease in the use of text for communication of ideas within games has also coincided with the drop in the number of mainstream PC-exclusive titles. The television isn't so great at being a medium for the printed word, even when plugged into a console that has computing power unimaginable when color TVs were new.
And, curiously, where is printed text thriving? Hmmm... I have played a couple of MMO's lately that have been very dependent upon text for storytelling and communication. These huge worlds have to have content requirements to satisfy players for hundreds or even thousands of hours, and text is powerful enough to broaden that content very efficiently.
Interactive Fiction (IF), the modern-day name for the Text Adventure, naturally gets a significant mention in the article. In fact, the entire article lingers extensively around RPGs and Adventure games, two genres that can derive some of the greatest benefit from text.
Check out the article here:
Word Play at Rock, Paper, Shotgun
(Vaguely) related text gibberish:
* Are Graphics Really Killing Gameplay?
* Warhawk Movie and Endings
* Does Textfyre Have a Chance of Reviving the Commercial Text Adventure?
* Adventure Gaming Alive and Well?
Waiter! Why Is My Dungeon Stale?
I played Oblivion for the first time in many months last night. I was really playing it to get a good look at it's auto-map (go figure). But it was kinda fun to jump back into the game that blew me away for weeks after I first booted it up.
I'd forgotten how to do simple things like drop equipment, so I had to spend some time figuring out how to play the game again. Once I achieved a minimum level of proficiency, I decided to comb the landscape looking for new dungeons. In spite of putting over a hundred hours into the game, I'd never fully explored the geography of the game world. It's far smaller than that of previous games in the series, and therefore its possible to actually explore everything, but it's still a bit of geography to cover.
The problem with random exploring in this game is that there isn't much point. Yeah, I know - after well over a hundred hours of the game, saving the world from destruction and all that, I should have expected the game to be pretty well played out. But there were still places to go and things to see. At least in theory.
But what I found was that while I'd forgotten how to do some basic things like jumping (oh, yeah, the "E" key...), I had also forgotten why I'd quit playing the game even though there was obviously content left to explore. After discovering the ruins of a fort, a cave, and an abandoned house, I remembered.
The dungeons were stale. And pretty boring.
Aside from their name and the modular layout of their tiles, the dungeons were exactly the same as every other dungeon of their type. They were populated by a random assortment of bad guys (some coven of mages in the fort, bandits in the cave and house). The treasure chests - all of hard or very hard difficulty - contained around 69 gold coins and a couple of other precious items. Just like every other treasure chest in the game.
There was no indication whatsoever of what the location had once been, or who its current residents were (aside from "bandits" or "mages"). In fact, I noted in the back of my mind that I was more bugged by this latter deficiency because the antagonists were human-like. If the dungeons had been populated by inhuman monsters, I might not have cared who they were or why they were there. But I found myself wondering these things, and a little irritated because I knew there was no answer. They didn't really belong.
Sure, wandering randomly into a lair of not-so-nice people is likely to result in something like this, but it would be nice to have some clue. And yes, that's a tall order with the random scaled-difficulty populations, I guess.
But what about the locations? What about having something unique or specific to each location would have been nice. Maybe a special treasure buried in each dungeon. Or some kind of plaque or book or something explaining some brief history of this very particular ruin or whatnot. At least the first time you visit the dungeon. Unlike this games' 90's ancestors, Oblivion's dungeons are not algorithmically generated out of billions of possibilities. Why couldn't the designers have put a little extra flavor, meaning, history, and / or distinguishing features into them?
Maybe I'm just getting persnickety in my old age. And I found the world incredibly immersive the first few hours I played - it took many hours before these smaller things broke it for me. Few games could hold up to that much scrutiny unscathed. And the Elder Scrolls games are famous for being wide open and filled with algorithmically generated content. And the game sold a bajillion copies, so its highly questionable whether than extra effort would have been at all worthwhile.
But hey - nothing is above some suggestions for improvement. So now it is YOUR TURN! What sort of things really help make any computer RPG more immersive, believable, intriguing, and fun to explore? What makes you WANT to explore rather than just make a beeline for the Big Bad Foozle? What makes a game world come alive for you in a computer or console game? What makes you willingly suspend disbelief? On the flip side, what kills it for you, and brings you crashing down to the reality that it's just a game, just numbers and pixels?
Post your responses here in the comments, or in the forum for a more long-term discussion... (One of these days I'm gonna have to really play around with things and see how I can merge these two together in a pseudo-transparent manner...)
PLEASE INSERT YOUR $0.02 IN THE FORUM....
(Vaguely) Related Persnicketiness...
* A Counter-Manifesto?
* Oblivion: The Flower-Picking Simulator
* What Makes a Great RPG - The World
* The 16 Essential RPGs
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Free Expansion For Oblivion Now Available
For only one week, the Oblivion expansion, "Fighter's Stronghold," is available for free.
I dunno about you, but free is a pretty good deal in my book. I'm downloading it now.
If you are a fan of action RPG The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, you may as well download it now. It's not that large. It includes the following new features:
- A fully detailed castle for you to explore
- Knights of the True Horn patrol the castle and do your bidding
- Secret treasure vault
- Upgrade the furnishings in every area of the castle
- Hire a vintner to create special wines to enhance your fighting abilities
- Hire a combat trainer to spar with
- Hire a taxidermist to craft lifelike trophies for your great hall
- Purchase an ancient Dwemer Forge that buffs your Armorer skill
Download The Fighter's Stronghold Expansion for Oblivion
Monday, October 15, 2007
I'm a Game Grazer
A Destructoid article recently appeared entitled, "The Endgame Syndrome: Why Do We Abandon Games." It speaks specifically to RPGs that players seem to never complete. This has sparked some commentary at Rock, Paper, Shotgun and Scorpia's Gaming Lair.
Curiously enough, I was pondering this very matter last week, coming face-to-face with a fact of my gaming habits I'd forgotten about since the arcade days.
I am a game grazer.
I tend to play a little bit of a lot of games. In the arcades, you'd find the people who were really good at "their" machine. Maybe it was lack of patience or lack of quarters, or maybe I was just attracted by the pretty of the new cabinets and flashing pixels. But I tended to play the field. There were a few I'd linger longer over than others... Star Wars, Battle Zone, Tempest, Galaga, Ms. Pac Man, Space Duel, and others. But I never really played until the point of "Mastery."
I had a cousin who was a wiz at Ms. Pac Man, and she urged me to "settle down" with one game and play it to mastery. I responded by devoting somewhat more attention (and quarters) to Gorf. Unsurprisingly, Gorf was sort of a five-games-in-one arcade game.
The first time I did, it was Sega's Shinobi. This game had an ending, but I got to the point where I could beat the entire game on one life, one quarter, and about twenty minutes. It was The Exception. I never did get too good at the bonus rounds, however.
The tendency to sample many games sticks with me. I have a ton of games I never really completed. The thing is, I *LIKE* completing them. My favorite RPG, Ultima 7, was almost never completed. If it hadn't been for a kneecap that decided to pop out of its rightful location one night, I might never have been stuck immobile in front of a computer an entire day to finish the last glorious third of the game and fully enjoy one of the most delightful cRPGs of all time.
I have quite a few games to which I've probably not devoted more than five hours. I try them out, get a good taste of them, and put them on the shelf. And play a LOT of games. It's too bad I'm such a PC game fan... if I was more of a console gamer, I'd have saved a bundle just by renting.
But the exceptions are notable. Those games that I've played to completion - or just played a LOT - stand out. It sounds, based on these articles (well, not Scorpia's ... she's hardcore about completing games), that I'm not alone.
It makes me wonder how much I'm missing out on, though. How many more experiences like Ultima 7's are there that I may have missed because I figured I'd had enough five or eight hours in?
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Utah Game Development Reviving
That's the title of an article in the newspaper today. Part of me thinks it should read, "revival" instead of "reviving," which would call to mind big tent sermons with preachers doing the whole fire-and-brimstone thing, which sure would be awfully exciting. I can just see me jumping up and yelling, "Praise the Lord British!" or "I don't wanna burn in Halo!" or "The Devil May Cry!" or something like that. Maybe it's the whole indie game evangelizing thing.
But I digress.
Anyway, the best part of the article is that - in the print version, at least - it includes the "box-art" for Void War. Anyway, I've got a couple of quotes, got to evangelizing indie / downloadable games a bit ... tag-teaming with Steve Taylor of NinjaBee, apparently, as well as some other local devs / educators. Unfortunately, I'm quoted as saying, "I predict that this (downloadable games) will become very big for the independent developers in the coming years." Taken all by itself sounds a little like me saying, "I predict this Internet thing might become a big deal one day..." I guess it made sense to me when I said it in the context of a the rest of the conversation, as we were discussing the traditional retail model versus downloadable games. But by itself, it's pretty much a pronouncement from the heights of Mount Obvious.
Ah, well. It's a good article. And pretty spot-on. Things were looking grim a few years back for the videogame industry in Utah, and things seem to be going pretty well right now. Will it change? Will the ol' wheel turn again at some point in the future? Quite likely. The industry is pretty cyclic that way.
Anyway, if you want to read the article (sans picture), you can check it out here:
Utah Game Development Reviving
Interview With Logan Worsley, Creator of Emily Enough
I mentioned the disturbing, black-humored, free graphic adventure game "Emily Enough" several weeks ago. PlanetFreeplay.com has an interview with its author, Logan Worsley. An excerpt:
"I designed the game to be offensive or at least push the limits. Just about every game in the genre places you in the position of hero. I wanted to do something different--namely to try and make the player uncomfortable during the entire experience. The goal was to have the player know what they needed to do to win, but not want to do the things necessary to win. There's really only one instance in the game where it's that bad, but of course, that one is a little severe.Read the interview with Logan Worsley.
So, was I worried that anyone would be offended? I kinda wanted people to be offended.. not in a hurtful, mean way but just in a disturbing, creepy way."
Tip o' the derby to Independent Gaming for the tip.
(Vaguely) related ghoulishness:
* Free Adventure Game: Emily Enough
* Adventure Gaming Alive and Well?
Friday, October 12, 2007
More Posts on Great RPGs...
Not content with short posts or comments on the huge topic of "What Makes a Great RPG?", many bloggers have picked up the torch and written quite thoughtful posts on the subject.
At Code Ugly, Greg Tedder (AKA DrSlinky) has posted a bit of a retrospective on great RPGs - or rather, what made various computer and console RPGs great for him. He cites the storyline, certain character-improvement mechanics (particularly multiclassing), the "lore" of the world, exploration, and a variety of equipment.
At Mindlence, Exile has posted his take on "What Makes a Great RPG?" He contrasts two opposite ends of the spectrum... the Final Fantasy series and the Elder Scrolls series.
Jeff Freeman also took up the challenge, and brings up the subject of "cooperative game play" and more importantly, "entertainment game play." In other words, playing a non-zero-sum game where nobody is really supposed to lose, and the true point is to have a fun time doing what your doing. The stated objective really is secondary.
Mr. Halbert brings up three features he considers critical - Variety, Advancement, and Payoff. He also emphasizes the things that can ruin an otherwise good RPG.
I've really enjoyed these discussions!
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Bioware To Go The Way of Origin?
Time for a borging? This sort of thing rarely goes well...
EA To Buy Bioware / Pandemic
Frayed Knights: A More Refined Slaughter
More adventures in creating the comedy indie RPG, Frayed Knights.
"I love deadlines. I especially like the whooshing sound they make as they go flying by." - Douglas Adams
So the deal was, I was going to try and complete all the core systems by the end of the month. However, I'm demoing this thing the night before Halloween. Not that anybody is expecting (I think) anything resembling a finished game on the 30th. But instead of just having a slew of independent systems, I thought it might be cooler to actually try an integration / polishing pass at this point and make sure the game hangs together and - well - vaguely resemble an actual game.
Basically doing all I can to complete the "first level" - the Temple of Pokmor Xang. It worked pretty well getting the "first five minutes" working, so I'm going to extend that a little bit. I'm still pretty much making up the methodology as I go, but this sounded like a good plan.
Part of what inspired this was that I've got a lot of little pieces of game dangling like the pustules of a pus-golem, and it has been starting to bug me. That, and I actually played through combat again ( I normally skip it with a cheat key) and saw that it had developed some new bugs since my inventory re-vamp last month. That, and that it takes too long. I mean, it might be okay for a boss battles to take five minutes, but little random encounters with Brittlebone Skeletons should be over much faster than that. So I'm working through the mechanics to maintain a livelier pace.
For all practical purposes, it really only means deferring four systems (leveling up, saving / loading the game, trading with merchants, and zone management) until November. Which is about two weeks at my current pace. It probably won't make up for all the bugs, tweaks, and new content I'm having to address.
Incidentally, I'm also making big changes (well, big for ME) to the website, which has ALSO been consuming way too much of my time this week.
I spent a couple hundred dollars this week on off-the-shelf content, and I'm trying to bid on some custom title-screen art. And Kevin has been hard at work turning the Temple of Pokmor Xang into something most awesome.
I have been a big proponent for indies using off-the-shelf content (sound effects, 3D models, etc.) wherever possible. I still like that idea, but there's a key problem.
There's simply not NEARLY enough of it that is of the appropriate quality, artistic style (or easily modifiable to match the style you are looking for), and a license agreement that isn't so overly protective of the assets or artistic control that it scares off a developer who has a budget that comes with pocket lint. I understand how marketing content to cheapskate developers may not exactly be a lucrative niche, so I should be grateful there's anything out there at all.
Incidentally, the skeletons up above were picked up from http://www.3drt.com/. Both the license and the models seemed reasonable (though some minor re-work might be necessary to 'toon them up a little bit more).
Besides All That, What's Up For Next Week?
Automap. A functional prototype thereof. I'm really not looking forward to this one. But even *I* wouldn't want to play this game without one.
(Vaguely) related shooting of ye olde breezes:
* What Makes a Great RPG: Mechanics
* Frayed Knights: Odds and Ends
* The First "Playable" Level
* Frayed Knights: First Five Minutes Walkthrough
Got Comments? You Can Post On the Forum for Posterity, Too!
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Indie RPG News Roundup, October 10
Wow. If you are a computer RPG fan, and are looking for something a little off the beaten path, there's plenty of great news and interesting tidbits this week.
Depths of Peril
There's a new version of the Depths of Peril demo now available. There's also an interview with Steven Peeler, and six new screenshots at the Soldak website. Finally (!), there's a beta version of the mod SDK for Depths of Peril available as well, for players who want to try their hand at expanding and tweaking this stellar RPG. And by "Stellar" I mean "dangerously addictive." I need to get back and play this one some more, but it consumed FAR too many of my productive hours a couple of weeks back. I'd complete one world / campaign, and didn't even pause before starting a new one. It's got that, "Just one more mission" compulsion for me.
But that's a good thing. :)
Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest
I guess we're getting into the home stretch. Aveyond 2 reportedly began alpha testing two days ago, with a closed group of community members. How close is it to release? Will it make the projected November ship date? Will lightning strike twice and Amaranth Games have another hit "casual" RPG on its hands? I can only hope that the answer is "yes" to both of those questions. Aveyond and its prequel were not, to my understanding, designed specifically for the "casual audience." It just happened to capture enough of the designer's personality and sensibilities to appeal to that group, even though it sounds as though it was designed with more hardcore RPG fans in mind. Hopefully the sequel will be much the same, only richer for Amanda's increased skill and experience.
Eschalon: Book 1
Basilisk Games recently put out a call for beta testers, of which they received several hundred applications. There are a lot of people interested in this game, including yours truly. It sounds like it is approaching the home stretch as well.
I'm torn on this one. On the one hand, I want it done NOW so I can enjoy some awesome, turn-based, old-school RPG glory done up in a groovy modern new-techn indie style. On the other hand - like Depths of Peril, I suspect this game may also do really awful things to my productivity when I do get my hands on it.
The Broken Hourglass
Just in from Planewalker Games: "Although The Broken Hourglass takes place entirely within the city walls of Mal Nassrin, from time to time we like to offer you a glimpse into the rest of the Tolmiran Empire. This month features a side trip to Mashiz, the former smuggler's paradise strategically located between the trade routes of Mal Nassrin and the mountain wastes beyond the Imperial borders. Why is Mashiz unique among Imperial provinces, and why is it widely considered to be the most likely home to the next anti-Imperial uprising?"
Find out at Planewalker Games! I don't know if the information contained here is actually going to be of any use in the game itself, but it's nice to have some more background on the world.
Heart Forth, Alicia
This upcoming "platform RPG" is focused on creative puzzles. According to the author, "You're a small wizard kid that grows to hate everyone in the village and ultimately takes revenge upon them--in a nutshell. There's interesting puzzles, an involving story, an experience point system, variable damage, lots of melee power ups and magical spells, eerie music, nice graphics, a realtime day/night cycle system with (kind of) lighting effects."
The website, with a video of gameplay in its alpha state, is available here: Heart Forth, Alicia Website
Age of Decadence
There's a "Scenic Tour" of Age of Decadence available at RPGWatch. Which means lots of screenshots and a very amusing commentary. As Vince D. Weller states, "When we started designing our locations, we decided to avoid over-the-top fantasy elements and look elsewhere for inspiration. Architectural wonders like the Pyramids, the Hanging Gardens and the Abu Simbel monuments can easily dwarf anything that a fantasy artist can come up with." While "Architectural Variety" doesn't top my most-wanted list for fantasy RPGs, its certainly welcome. My only concern, going through this article, is that the game looks really... really... brown. Someone should give these guys some paint.
This game was announced in May, but I missed it. This is a 3D RPG is participating in the 2008 Indie Games Festival, and has a playable demo at its website. It's currently intended to be an indoor-only game (shades of Ultima Underworld, anybody?), and while there are not any NPCs in the current demo, they should be there eventually but probably without selectable conversation options, according to the forums. We seem to be talking a pretty straightforward hack-and-slash experience here. Which, I gotta admit, is just what the doctor ordered sometimes.
IGF Main Competition Entries Announced
I guess everyone and their cousin involved in the indie gaming scene has posted this, but allow me to do the same:
The Main Entries for the Independent Games Festival, 2008
Some points of note to me:
There are Indie RPGs here! Quite a few, actually, though some are unclear as to whether or not they are true RPGs, or just vaguely resemble a roleplaying game. Ancient Galaxy looks like it might be an RPG (it's unclear). Birth of Shadows appears to be another one. Dangerous High School Girls In Trouble! bills itself as an RPG, though it looks a little like a hybrid. Depths of Peril is just serious awesomeness. Esenthel is a new one I just heard about last week, and looks to have a sharp 3D engine. Kingdom Elemental Tactics looks like a hybrid game that borrows a little from RPGs. Regnum Online is an indie Massively Multiplayer Online RPG (MMORPG). And then there's "To the World Tree," described as a "single-player, party-based, computer role-playing game." Not exactly thrilling marketing-talk, but it may be sharp. And then there's Wanderlust: Rebirth, an online action-RPG.
On the adventure game front, it looks like we've got some intriguing possibilities as well. Hanako Games, the studio responsible for the award-winning RPG Cute Knight, has an entry called Fatal Hearts... rumored to be an adventure-game involving vampires. McLaren Adventures calls itself a "3D First-Person Adventure Game." Something Amiss is a graphic adventure where you play a girl who awakes from an MRI exam to find the world around her changed. The MRI machine created a portal to a new world, maybe?
And just for weird, experimental stuff... we've got that too. There's "Ramjets," a 3D multiplayer flight simulator in under a megabyte which involves... ramming aircraft together to dismount your opponent. Rigs of Rods is another simulator of sorts. SocioTown is "a MMO Social Game with a mix of Nintendo’s Animal Crossing and The Sims." Whatever the heck that means. The Night Journey looks to be a wild experimental title, as does The Path.
There are some other unsurprising entries. Like Desktop Tower Defense, and the most excellent Virtual Villagers 2.
Georgina of Hanako Games offers her own commentary on some of the front-runners on I Whine About Games.
(UPDATE: Thanks to Whiner for reminding me about Wanderlust. I missed that one.)
Labels: Indie Evangelism
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Neurotic AI The Best? Don't Count On It.
There's a little bit of a stir caused from an article that appeared last Friday in the New Scientist claiming that Austrian Researches found that a "Neurotic" Artificial Intelligence player performed best in a series of test against the built-in AI in the game "Age of Mythology." Coming in second was an "Aggressive" AI personality.
According to the article, "The neurotic bot was more likely than the others to distort hard facts about resources - like the amount of timber around - and flip between extremes of behaviour. And it was better than the rest."
But the test was only made against the default AI in the game. I predict that against humans, it's not going to be nearly as interesting. This was the classic "Star Trek" attack against computers - be entirely illogical and make the computers short-circuit.
The thing is, it works. For all one of you who has been reading the blog that long, you might remember how I held off the strongest AI setting in Rise of Nations for nearly four days using the "Do Nothing Because I Forgot To Pause The Game When I Went For Dinner And Then Forgot About It" defense. Undoubtedly, if I had never resumed that game, the AI would still be dealing with my impenetrable defense strategy today, nearly two years later. Dang, I'm good.
For some kinds of games - particularly those in which the AI must rely upon heuristics rather than brute-force problem-tree searches -the AI performs at its best only if the player is behaving rationally and employing similar, tried-and-true strategies. Most artificial intelligence "bots" in commercial games are completely incapable of learning or adapting. The same tricks work against the AI over and over again, so it is extremely poor at adapting if the opponent isn't playing along in the expected manner. Behaving irrationally is usually not a winning strategy; however, may trip up the AI.
So this finding isn't particularly surprising to me. It is amusing, and I'd be interested in hearing how it fares against humans. But at this point, I'd not read too much into it.
(Vaguely) related pontification:
* Jet Moto Memories
* Elements That Make Believable AI
* Game Moments #5: Rise of Nations
* Playing Lately: Go
* Computers Playing Go
Monday, October 08, 2007
Why Realistic 3D Graphics May Be Bad For You...
Staying with the whole game art / 2d vs 3d theme from yesterday... Some may say realistic graphics are better, but now... now I know better. And my nightmares will remind me. And every time I watch anime, I will shudder. Just a little, as the memory crawls briefly to the surface like some Lovecraftian haunting.
Sometimes, the abstraction of cartoon-like art is just a much safer, better place.
We Don't Want To See It Made Real.
I'm retreating back to my happy place, now.
Labels: game art
Looks like we are the target of a couple of DoS attacks since last night from... mostly China. So if things are a little slow... that's the problem. My fearless admin is currently working to block it - but if you are trying to email me from Brazil, Russia, or China, you might have a tough time in the short term.
Sorry 'bout that. We just can't have nice things, can we?
Sunday, October 07, 2007
2D or Not 2D - That Is The Question
There's a discussion on indiegamer about whether or not 3D is worthwhile for indie games. It seems these days 99% of indie games do not use 3D graphics, but stay in the more retro realm of 2D, sprite-based graphics. Why don't we see more 3D games coming out of the indies? Papillon, AKA Georgina, the author of Cute Knight, has some very strong opinions against 3D graphics. As a 3D game junkie from the days when it was all vector-graphics and novelty, and a veteran of the mainstream game biz, I'm used to the assumption that the extra "D" is just automatically superior.
Among hardcore gamers, maybe. But in the indie realm, everything is much more subject to negotiation. So why isn't 3D more popular amongst indie games? Possible reasons cited:
#1 - 3D Graphics Are Hard
Not that 2D graphics are easy. But with 2D graphics, there are limits to what you can do with the graphics before it really doesn't make much difference to the player. A couple of talented artists can do just as well as a team of 100 artists, aside from sheer quantity. But with 3D, you've may have an entire team of specialists required just to make each character. You need a geometry modeler, a texture artists, someone to do the rigging, and someone to do the animation. There's a lot more work (potentially) to do a 3D game, and players seem to be far less tolerant of weakness in 3D graphics than in 2D.
#2 - Casual Players Have Trouble With 3D
This is more of an issue for the casual than the indie "space", but casual gamers often have hardware that's not up to scratch to handle anything resembling modern 3D graphics, and they also have trouble dealing with 3D environments. I remember showing some non-gamer friends some 3D, first-person games in the early nineties, and having them ask me, "So... which one is me?" or "Where am I?"
#3 - The Players Who Appreciate 3D Graphics Won't Appreciate Budget 3D
The only people who really enjoy 3D graphics are busy playing Halo 3, Bioshock, Gears of War, and other big-budget 3D games right now. They don't have time for a 3D game that doesn't look current-gen (and if you are making a game on a budget, you aren't going to be looking current gen). So nobody who really gets into 3D graphics is going to enjoy a 3D indie game, anyway. They expect more of 3D graphics. The closer you approach realism, the more players will demand realism.
#4 - The Sales Don't Make a Difference.
As one developer comments in that thread, he created a game with significant 3D graphics that took him 2.5 years to develop, and it didn't sell any better than a 2D game (which presumably he developed in much less time). So why not stick with easier-to-develop 2D?
Counter-Arguments and Counter-Examples
So are we stuck in flat worlds amongst the indies from here on out?
It doesn't look like it. There are several 3D indie games that have done pretty well (particularly on the XBox 360... but that's a whole 'nother story). And while it may be impossible to compete with highly realistic graphics or the sheer quantity of content, it IS possible to have "nice" 3D graphics that is within the grasp of a small indie team (see Outpost Kaloki).
Is the lack of tolerance for abstraction in 3D a legacy of the polygon wars of the last dozen years or so? Can players learn to appreciate 3D graphics that don't push state-of-the-art? There are some very clear advantages to 3D over 2D, particularly when it comes to camera angles and animation.
As a player, can you ever be satisfied with "budget" 3D? If so, would you prefer 2D over 3D graphics?
(Vaguely) related mutterings:
* Are Graphics Really Killing Gameplay?
* Give 2D a Chance
* Do Game Genres Die?
* Simplicity and Subject Matter
Hey, we can even talk about it on the forum!
Labels: Indie Evangelism
Friday, October 05, 2007
Frayed Knights: Learning the Lingo!
Frayed Knights - the comedy-based indie RPG - continues development. Which euphemistically means, "haunts my nightmares, tortures me during my waking hours, and teases me with stark unrealized potential." Game development is fun, dontcha know...
Loot works. Taking a page from many jRPGs, loot just... happens. Since you have an infinite party inventory, there's no reason NOT to take everything that's not bolted down. So you do. It ain't fancy, but it works. (That same sentence may be useful to describe my coffin at the end of this project.)
There were little "odds and ends" details - black triangle work - that had to go in here, like keeping track of whether or not the trap on the chest had already gone off or been disabled, and the loot-state stuff.
I conceded defeat on conversations. For now. When you click on an NPC, a static dialog comes up. It can change based on your relationship with the NPC, the number of times you clicked on them already, or if you have a flower in your inventory, or anything else. So that much is cool. But some of the more fancy-pants conversation options I intended to put in there have been back-burnered for now. If I end up with more time at the end of this month... well, yeah. Right. Like that's ever gonna happen.
Instead, I'm focusing on creating higher quality static dialog scripts. Well, okay - quantities of static dialog scripts. Hopefully with humor. I changed how conversations are represented, based on some feedback I've received on a previous post. The NPC's are no longer bolted on to the bottom of the party. This system will hopefully portray the conversation more clearly. There's still a little work that needs to be done --- the portrait needs to be positioned a little better, and for some reason it's not scrolling correctly with the rest of the dialog. But those shouldn't be difficult fixes.
For other tech-heads like me - I had to implement a binary-search tree for handling persistent game data for the conversation and quest system information (though it can also be used by the trap & loot system, merchants, and interactive objects). The big win here was simultaneously creating a bunch of "unit tests" - all in TorqueScript - to exercise the addition, retrieval, and modification functions. The code did NOT work the first time I tried it out, but the tests made it easy to hunt down and fix the bugs.
The Frayed Knights Adventurer Culture and Lingo
In the world of Frayed Knights, the community of "adventurers" is large enough that they could probably have conferences and trade journals and stuff. ("Dungeon Delver's Quarterly?"). The veterans know each other, at least by reputation. The fraternity of adventurers is a key element to both the flavor and plot of the game.
Part of the "vision" for this was the idea that there was a world of adventure out there, and all the adventurers are kinda-sorta like Player Characters (for different players) in an RPG. As a community, they get a little bit jaded. They deal with mind-boggling spells, horrendous monsters, and death on an almost daily basis. It's old hat. And when they get together, they talk shop.
It stands to reason that they'd have their own jargon - expressions, terminology, and euphemisms - for their profession. And, like professional soldiers, a healthy dose of gallows humor. They'd talk about their profession and lifestyle a lot like players talk about their gaming experience, but all "in-character." So I can have no references to dice, rules, gamemasters, or game designers - but somewhat anachronistic-sounding terms fits perfectly.
I've had a great time working out dialogs for these guys. As they start to get into my head, they develop their own voice. And I take notes as to what they say. I've been building up something of a dictionary of adventurer terms. Some sample terms include:
'Keet, (or Parakeet): A party member who is so useless that they are only good for sticking out in front of the rest of the party as an early-warning device for traps and ambushes.Got some good ideas? Let me know so I can put words in their mouths. They tend to use too many mundane, modern terms right now (particularly the four-letter variety), so I have to help them with their vocabulary. As you can see below, however, they don't dwell in a world of pseudo-medieval "thees" and "thous."
Stomper: A newbie adventurer. So called because they "stomp around" a dungeon with their lack of finesse or experience.
Hand-Me-Down: Euphemism for equipment taken from the dead, particularly the remains of dead adventurers. Not applied to loot gained from enemies.
Chewspit: An adventurer (or thing) so vile that the monsters don't have the stomach to eat him - they can only chew him up and spit him back out again.
Class A Dungeon: An underground complex with intelligent hostile forces capable of mounting an organized defense. The most dangerous kind of dungeons.
And yes, there will be explanations for some of those terms for players who can't figure them out from context. Benjamin, in particular, is kind of a "stomper" himself - a newbie to the adventuring community. He asks a lot of questions. He doesn't in this example below because... well... he may not be available at this point. I will say no more on this subject.
Here's an excerpt from an NPC conversation with another adventurer that occurs in the Inn at Ardin. I have only done one editing pass on it so far, so it's kinda rough.
Arianna: So what happened to your own group?Not every conversation is stuffed to the gills with jokes. As you might guess from the above, there are actually some clues and character development stuck in there from time to time.
Shiela: We were tipped off to a class C dungeon outside of Kerrikan. We brought on some stomper as muscle, since Targuin found himself a woman back in Erimor City. Turns out the tip was way off - it was a class A run by some diamondback nagas. They were using festerbones as diversions against us.
Dirk: Diamondbacks? Wow! I've always wanted to see one of those.
Shiela: No you don't, Dork.
Dirk: It's DIRK!
Shiela: Whatever. We were clearing the last of the festerbones when the diamondbacks jumped us. Renee and the stomper were morted in the fireball barrage. And they turned poor Kerric, our spell-monkey, into this ferret while the two of us were making an escape.
Chloe: THAT little thing is Kerric?
Shiela: I'm afraid so.
Chloe: But he's SO CUTE! Who ever knew Kerric would make such a cute ferret? Who's duh fuzzy wittle wizard now?
Shiela: Just be glad he doesn't understand you right now. I'm trying to work my way back to Erimor City to find someone who can change him back, but I know it's going to cost a pretty coin. I'm hoping to earn what I can, and maybe sweet-talk Targuin into loaning me the rest. Assuming he hasn't gone broke keeping that woman of his.
Chloe: Oh! Oh! I have a question!
Chloe: Can a diamondback naga actually DO that? Make Kerric so cute and fuzzy?
Shiela: Obviously, they can.
Chloe: Oh. Okay. It's just that that is some serious, epic magic. I didn't think the nagas had it in them.
(Vaguely) related wastes of electrons:
* Frayed Knights: Mocking (Up) Conversations
* Frayed Knights: Talk Ain't Cheap
* RPG Conversation Redesign
* What Makes a Great RPG - The World
Come Talk Shop on the Forum, And Help Fill Me In On Other Adventurer Lingo!
Thursday, October 04, 2007
What Makes a Great RPG - Everything Else
And now, the exciting conclusion of the series on what makes a great computer role-playing game! I've been borrowing heavily from comments by dozens and dozens of posters, cribbing from notes from interviews by developers and journalists, and occasionally interjecting a semi-original thought or two of my own.
I've suggested that a "great RPG" (referring to a single-player computer / console RPG) is one that manages to push us emotionally and mentally in the direction of an ideal experience - sort of a conglomeration of the kinds of experiences players seem to want. Achieving the ideal is a practical impossibility, but we keep trying to push the experience in little ways in that direction. The challenge is that the sort of things that pushes the buttons and encourages suspension of disbelief varies from player to player.
We talked about four different areas that a great RPG should address - the world, the "role-playing" experience, the story, and the mechanics. As I was writing these articles, it occurred to me that there were some guidelines that wouldn't fit in the other categories. And I realized that putting them in an extra article would give me one more day where I didn't have to come up with a new article topic. BONUS!
A great RPG is memorable, or has memorable moments
It's not just about doing everything perfectly. A great RPG must stand out in some way and be memorable. It's about having moments that strike home emotionally, surprise us, shake us up, or whatever. This is true of all game genres, not just RPGs. People talked for YEARS about that moment in the original Unreal game where the lights turned off one by one before the Skaarj attack.
A great RPG may not get everything right, but it has to have nothing horribly wrong.
Many players expressed an opinion that they really don't demand that an RPG - even a great one - achieve excellence in every category. You may disappoint those players who really favor the area you slight, but many players noted that some of their favorite RPGs didn't have many of the "key features" they look for. But the trick is that the game mustn't screw anything up really badly. A bad interface, poor saved-game handling, irritating dialog, confusing or boring quests, or frustrating bugs will bring the player's enjoyment screeching to a halt in no time.
The RPG should be digestible in small chunks.
In GDC one year, one of the speakers noted that jRPG sub-quests were designed to be playable within 2 hours. That is reportedly because they found that this was the average play-time of a single game session in Japan. While the actual timings may be very flexible, the important point is to make sure that the player can make real progress and not lose the thread of the story when playing in the short sessions demanded by players with real lives who don't work in the publisher's testing department.
The RPG should have a theme.
Call it a moral, principle, or even an open-ended question - a theme is important in story, and it should be important to RPGs (or any other story-based game). It doesn't need to be overt, and it doesn't necessarily require the player to agree with it --- but it should get him or her thinking. A game doesn't even need to go far beyond "Kill the Foozle" to come up with a theme --- just going into the reason why he needs to be killed --- what he did so wrong (besides being evil and trying to take over the world). Theme should ideally go beyond just story and permeate every aspect of the game, if only subtly - from the game world to the very mechanics. Unfortunately, the rush to have "multiple endings" in modern games might jeopardize any attempt at having a theme.
A Great RPG Should Have Plenty of Optional, Hidden Content
Hey, it worked for Super Mario Brothers, right? Seriously, though - nothing enhances the feeling of exploration like knowing that there may be much more beneath the surface and off the mandatory path.
The RPG should offer multiple solutions to most challenges
I think Lord British once said that his job as a designer was to design one solution to a challenge in his game, but then not to close off any alternate solutions the player might devise. Few things in an RPG are as satisfying and as immersive to a player as feeling that you out-witted the game or somehow did it your own way. That freedom can be far more empowering and delightful than any number of multiple endings.
The RPG should offer a variety of activities
This shouldn't necessarily require vastly different gameplay or player skills - in fact, preferably, they should not. But the game should keep exposing new activities and ways of interacting with itself. A simple puzzle here, a riddle there (preferably one that can by bypassed or have the answer discovered by other means if the player isn't feeling particularly brilliant), some other non-combat activities ranging from flipping switches and having conversations to... well, box-stacking is a terrible example, but it's at least a well-known (and overused, in the 90's) one.
The RPG should not have onerous copy protection
I just had to throw that one in there, not only because of some of the recent fiascos involving anti-piracy measures, but some of the annoyances of the old games, like documentation look-up every time you play the game.
Ultima IV was probably the first RPG that had a real "theme" to it, where it suggested universal virtues common to all people and cultures. Ultima V suggested that it is wrong to attempt to legally enforce these virtues upon people (funny than two decade later, we're orbiting this very idea with the rash of anti-videogame legislation). Ultima VI had as its theme the premise that enemies may only be enemies because of misunderstandings and lack of communication. Final Fantasy VII had an eco-friendly theme that mankind must learn to live in harmony with the world and responsibly use its resources, or we may destroy it.
As I mentioned in a previous article, Wizardry 7 has an early challenge which was really intended to be solved one way, but it appeared technically possible (as far as I could tell, not having tried it) to brute-force it. Even that small choice greatly enhanced the game for me. On the negative side, Wizardry 7 also has a very annoying copy-protection of a kind that was fortunately dying out around the time this game was released - it required a manual look-up every time you played.
Daggerfall had a TON of artifacts hidden around the otherwise procedurally-generated world, hinted at by various books throughout the game. Morrowind also had some pretty neat secrets. Even Oblivion had a few. All of the games had plenty of the world you might never explore - a huge feature of the games - though they all had something of a procedurally-generated flavor that could leave a bad aftertaste after a while.
The Final Fantasy games typically have tons of "secret" content to get the best weapons, fight the "real" bosses, side-quests, etc. Just in case the 60+ hours you spend playing the game weren't enough for you.
When it comes to poorly-handled "activity variety," the temple puzzles in Final Fantasy X really bugged me. They were extremely divergent from the main gameplay and the later ones got very long and tedious. On the other hand, there were some simple pressure-plate puzzles in games like Eye of the Beholder II that I recall being pretty cool once you figured them out (principally figuring out that you could drop items on the pressure plates to hold them down).
What Players Say
"FFX - Sure, you could beat the game in ~40 hours. However, if you wanted to complete everything, to beat the most secretest, hiddenest, uberest boss evar, you had to sink countless hours into that game. 100? Not nearly enough." - Vegedus, at Twenty Sided
"A while ago when I discussed about games with a friend, I was asked why I value a certain game so highly. I was baffled for a moment, thinking about if I should point at the great story, the amazing graphics, the ease of control. I decided that all of those need too many words to explain and said `Because it made me laugh and cry' ... and I think this was the most truthful answer. A game makes the step to great if it catches me, makes me feel involved." - Hajo, Rampant Games forums
"Let the player farm XP if they want to. Let them fight low level foes without penalty if they want to. This is not cheating. This is simply another way to play the game. Maybe the player is new to RPGs and needs the help. Maybe they would rather move more slowly and steamroll over foes instead of moving more quickly and occasionally dying or running away. It’s their character. Let them play it on their own terms." - Shamus Young, Twenty Sided
"Roguelike developers often point out that games should offer players ways to escape difficult situations. Most roguelikes do not allow to safe and reload, and death is final there. But most of them give the player a lot of escape routes if one knows how to use them. I think that is the better design. Make players think, but not about when to safe, but how to solve a situation they face. And give them the chances to do it. " - Hajo, Rampant Games Forums
* What Makes a Great RPG?
* What Makes a Great RPG - The Answer?
* What Makes a Great RPG - The World
* What Makes a Great RPG - Playing a Role
* What Makes a Great RPG - The Story
* What Makes a Great RPG - Mechanics
* What Makes a Great RPG (Twenty-Sided)
* What Makes a Great RPG, Part II (Twenty-Sided)
* What Makes a Great RPG, Part III (Twenty-Sided)
Discussion on the Forum! Woot!
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
What Makes a Great RPG - Mechanics
We've talked about setting, story, characters, interactivity, immersion, putting the player into a role as aspects of a great computer RPG. But we're missing a key ingredient... the actual mechanics. Or "gameplay." What that means is that, when you boil it all down and you strip away all that groovy context and story and all those other cool things that make a great RPG, is it still interesting and fun to play?
If not, you've got mechanics that might cripple an otherwise stellar RPG. Arguably, more than any other element, the gameplay mechanics must stand on their own. However, I've got at least one counter-example in the "Examples" section that might indicate that mechanics might not be as important as I think.
So what makes good RPG mechanics? Much of that is a matter of taste. As much as the holders of the D20 license would like it to be otherwise, there's no "one, true" RPG system. In general, the desirable features include:
The system should provide "interesting decisions:" The system should be hard to min / max down to a single "winning strategy." The player's choice of actions shouldn't be obvious.
The system should provide a "reasonable" simulation of the genre: A gritty Cyberpunk adventure shouldn't have rules that allow the player to take on a dozen lesser opponents at a time through his martial skill, nor should a bronze-era Superheroic adventure deal with gory details of maiming and instant-death shots.
The system should provide rewards to the player at appropriate intervals: The definition of "appropriate" varies by flavor and genre, but in the game system should provide some sort of regular schedule of player improvements that are neither too long and frustrating nor too short and meaningless.
The system should be easy to learn, hard to master: This mantra is the holy grail of all gaming systems. But it remains true - the best game systems are ones that anybody can figure out and feel like they are playing competently within a few short minutes, but have the depth that allows hardcore players to still improve their performance even after investing dozens of hours into it.
The UI should be clear, easy to use, and provide useful feedback: The goal of all UI's.
The system should be balanced in risk versus reward: Measuring that balance is, of course, the real trick. This is a major factor leading to "interesting decisions," but is worthy of note by itself.
Some more contoversial elements of mechanics seem to be more of a matter of player or designer taste and appropriateness to the story:
- Random versus fixed loot / reward distribution
- Skill-based versus class-based systems
- Skill growth by deliberate advancement versus "natural" improvement by activity
- Turn-Based versus Real-Time
- Player Skill versus Character Skill balance of importance
- NPC parties versus Solo characters
Unfortunately, the nuts and bolts behind the mechanics of many RPGs are rarely very transparent. This isn't actually bad thing in general, but it makes talking about the details more difficult.
Early RPGs were frequently based on the original Dungeons & Dragons game. The core rules were very simple. Unfortunately, they also lacked depth. A later version of the rules, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, was used in many officially licensed titles, particularly the so-called "Gold Box" games by SSI. While the rules themselves were a little deeper (and harder to understand by new players), the most interesting challenge came from the tactical combat game. Positioning of characters, hit locations of area-effect spells, and use of terrain features all came into play during combat. It was a hardcore RPG fan's dream. The otherwise straightforward (and, dare I say it, uninteresting) combat of the Dungeons & Dragons game came alive when returned to its natural element - a virtual "miniatures table."
Final Fantasy X used the series' traditional abstract positioning of characters in turn-based combat. There were no terrain features or movement (other than swapping members in and out) to worry about, but the game did offer some interesting rock-scissors-paper challenges for the player. The challenge came in identifying the strengths, weaknesses, and patterns of new monsters, and then adapting your strategy to fit. Sure, several monsters could be brute-forced to death without much in the way of tactics, but it would lead to a slower game with lots more time spent running back to a save node to heal up. Unfortunately, the twentieth time or so you encounter an identical grouping of monsters, the battle had become pretty mechanical and tedious. But as in all Final Fantasy games (that I have played, at least), there was a tremendous variety of monsters throughout the game to keep things interesting from chapter to chapter.
At some point, Richard "Lord British" Garriott opted to vastly simplify the rules system of the Ultima games. While computers could crunch numbers much better than a human player or DM, he opted for simplicity. In fact, it is rumored that the "Dexterity" attribute in Ultima VII didn't actually do anything - it remained in the game for legacy purposes. However, in spite of the lobotomized game mechanics in terms of actual character attributes, there was still an interesting interplay between spells and melee, and control of the party members (even in real-time combat). But while I consider it to have weaker mechanics than many of its predecessors, it remains my favorite. Does this mean I overrate the importance of solid gameplay mechanics? Maybe.
However, in direct counterpoint, the Virtue system of Ultima IV pretty much made that game. While the virtue system had no impact on combat, it had a huge impact on the non-combat parts of the game.
Most people don't mention the game mechanics much when describing their favorite RPG, but Fallout is an exception. Many players bring up the SPECIAL system. As a system, it never struck me as anything - pardon the pun - that special. But it was one of the more transparent systems for the players, spelling out in numerical format exactly the chances and percentages were. And you had that one trait that allowed you to always see the goriest death, which seemed very popular...
Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines inherited (and highly modified) then pen-and-paper system from its license. The "Humanity" and "Masquerade" attributes are very interesting additions to the game. Both offered soft restrictions to player behavior, much as the Virtue system of Ultima. As a blood-sucking monster in a game where it is always night-time, your potential actions are pretty unrestricted. However, if you decide to choose the path of monster, you'll find your humanity rating dropping very quickly. As humanity drops, so does your control over your character (the beast takes charge). Going into such a frenzied state is bad news where caution and careful tactical approaches is best. And it can also cause you to lose control in public, where you can be seen. This impacts your Masquerade score.
Vampires survive by making their presence secret, and pretending to be humans. Your efforts to maintain this pretense is represented by the Masquerade score. As it drops, Bad Things happen to you, particularly in the form of Vampire hunters - and will eventually result in losing the game. The game would be VERY different without Humanity and Masquerade, as simple and subtle as they they are.
What Players Say
"I’m a mechanics guy... I find bad mechanics interrupt my immersion the most. Examples of bad mechanics include instagibs, universal strategies and poorly scaling abilities." - Alexis, at Twenty-Sided
"I remember the first time I found the Cruisader's Ax in Wizardry 7, what a reward for exploration. In my opinion, constant exploration rewards water down the effect, while a handfull of well placed "killer finds" is much more preferable. NWN really burnt me out quick with the whole one or two treasure chests or desks per room. I wound up wasting all my time picking locks based on a stat roll. After I killed my second dragon in that game I called it quits, I was tired of the camera, and tired of locks and traps (overkill)." - drslinky1500, Rampant Games Forums
"Since most RPGs are characterized by character growth/advancement, you have to feel like your development is meaningful and worthwhile. If your character doesn’t acquire awesome powers, significant stat changes, or fantastic equipment, then there’s no reason to bother with such matters. Alternatively, if the only way to achieve such uber-pwnage is to level grind for 200 hours, then the sense of accomplishment is also somewhat diminished. Goals should be palpable but not require a commitment that forgoes real-life." - Hal, at Twenty-Sided
"Great games don't have repetitive elements and introduce lots of new ideas. Combat/Gameplay systems need to constantly introduce new elements throughout the game. Great games always are always dangling the next reward in front of you. This also means letting the player know where to go or how to get them (a steady supply of quests are good for this). Great games allow multiple approaches to a problem. Great games are the appropriate difficulty for the person playing them so that rewards aren't trivial but are still possible to obtain." - Ezin, Rampant Games Forums
"To make a game more real, I would much prefer a system that allows my character to learn anything no matter his trade or profession. This seems more real to me than an enforced set of skills with the inability to even dabble in anything else. In any adventure setting the ability to defend ones self to physical attack is common sense in my mind and I think anyone should be able to learn basic self defense, and how to use the more common weapons. The classic 1st lvl wizard out of D$D would lose a fight against a house cat 3 out of 4 times if they couldn’t use their magic. That doesn’t make sense to me." - Leopardeternal, at Twenty-Sided
"In all reality a player should not have to worry with saving the game constantly, they should be able to trust that the developers are not out to get them, and that a loss might loose them some ground in much the same way as Ultima 7, you are not going to loose your shirt. What I am getting at is that the game should help out the player so more focus is on the game, not on deciding whether or not to save." - drslinky1500, Rampant Games forums
"With the class/skill discussion, I think that is tied to solo/party. If your solo, you need to be a generalist, so a skill system allows you to survive. If your in a party, then each member can specialize to become more than the sum of the parts. Random loot is good, but needs to be sensible. Personally, I would randomize everything (plot included) and have the loot fall out of that, but thats just me." - Primogenitor, at Twenty-Sided
"Randomized worlds are very good. If you can’t have random scenery, then at least the loot should be randomized. Having the exact same items in the exact same locations every time though the game just kills the replay value... Skill-based leveling system. This Rampant Coyote post talks about skill-based vs. class-based systems. I’m a big fan of classless systems for sure. For me the ideal system was the one used in Fallout." - Shamus Young, Twenty-Sided
"With (Diablo 2) Blizzard created a almost perfect balance of giving players rewards and then make them want and struggle for more. It's one of the most addictive games if one likes to get and improve equipment." - Hajo, Rampant Games Forums
* What Makes a Great RPG?
* What Makes a Great RPG - The Answer?
* What Makes a Great RPG - The World
* What Makes a Great RPG - Playing a Role
* What Makes a Great RPG - The Story
* What Makes a Great RPG - Everything Else
* What Makes a Great RPG (Twenty-Sided)
* What Makes a Great RPG, Part II (Twenty-Sided)
* What Makes a Great RPG, Part III (Twenty-Sided)
Discussion on the Forum! Woot!
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
What Makes a Great RPG - The Story
When most people talk about computer role-playing games (CRPGs), one of the first points brought up is the story. Many of the most successful CRPGs have game mechanics that aren't really all that complicated. If divorced from the context and story, you end up with... well, something like RRRRPG. Or ProgressQuest, which lampooned massively multiplayer games by eliminating almost all interactivity to make it purely a "grinding simulator."
But it's the context and story that really matter to players. After all, the desire that spawned the old pen-and-paper RPGs was to become a participant in beloved stories, and not just a passive audience. And there's a huge body of work out there explaining in great detail how to tell better stories in other media.
Is Interactivity the Enemy of Story?
But a funny thing happens when you start mucking around inside a story. The story changes. And not always for the better. One way of looking at it is that participation in the story destroys the story. As players, our ideal is to have the story re-written on-the-fly around our actions. So we manage to kill Darth Vader with a lucky shot during the trench run on the Death Star in A New Hope... or, uh, kill Gollum before the end of the Fellowship of the Ring. Can't the game just roll with it?
That's tough for a human game-master to pull off well. And for a computer? Yeah, well, computers are known for their creativity, aren't they? Shamus Young authored a great webcomic series, "DM of the Rings," dealing (in part) with the conflict between linear story and player choice in pen-and-paper RPGs (not to mention making lots of fun of the movies and RPG players), and posted an article just yesterday entitled "Freedom vs. Story," dealing with the same issue in computer RPGs.
So is story the natural enemy of interactivity? I don't think so. In fact, I think it's provably false.
In my mind, interactivity is a major complication on an already difficult art of good storytelling. In theory, at least, interactivity is an exponential increase to the difficulty of telling a story. In a finite computer, a player is going to have a finite number of interactions. There are only so many input values a computer can accept and recognize. So it is possible to write a wonderful story for every single combination of inputs the player may provide. There's just a small problem... you'll be creating alternate stories until the heat death of the universe just to cover the first twenty minutes of game-play.
It's what we computer science geeks call an "order C to the power of n" problem in "big O" notation. However, we at least know that its possible. Once we know that, then we can worry about optimizing that until it we get it under control. And we've been arguing about how to do that for decades, now.
The usual approach adopted by commercial sector (meaning they must actually, you know, SHIP a game...) is to limit the impact of interactivity on the story. You can do all this stuff, but the story will proceed linearly no matter what you do --- or at most, provide a handful of variations. They might provide an illusion of story interactivity which provides some variation in the story. Or they might make it "non-linear," which means that certain segments of the story are designed to take place in different order. Or maybe the story might be broken down into much smaller story segments which take better advantage of interaction on the small scale, but most of those variations are ignored by the larger story, which may only track (for example) whether you succeeded or failed.
Regardless, story is something that usually happens in short, expositional segments that you have to earn through gameplay. It's hardly the most satisfying of possibilities. But you know what? It works. They provide enough context to get the player emotionally invested in the characters, the world, and what's going on. Its enough that a good ending can be a strong emotional payoff. Storytelling and interactivity may be a match brewed in the lowest level of Hell, but even a very limited combination of the two - done well - can be extremely powerful.
And as Mike Rubin pointed out in a thread yesterday, "What Does Narrative Gain from Interactivity?", there may be other approaches as well. Developers continue to experiment with different ways to make a story respond and change itself according to player actions. All we know for sure is that the "brute force" approach seems doomed to failure.
What Players Want
- Interesting characters outside of the player-character. As with all stories, it is the characters within the story that make the audience care, not the plot or "history" or intriguing setting (though those all help).
- Surprises and twists. Even though we players often go to great lengths to avoid them.
- Unique and fresh stories. Unless we're brand-new to RPGs, we've killed Foozle and recovered the Orb of Mumbo-Jumbo so many times before that these really don't constitute
- A story that responds to player choices. Not just multiple endings.
- To be the main protagonist in the plot, but not to feel like the world (or story) revolves around them.
- Epic plots. And non-epic plots.
- And everything that audiences want in linear books, movies, and other storytelling media
I don't know if I could really point at any RPG and say, "That had a great story!" Many had stong beginnings and / or endings, with some key and emotionally involving middle segments. But if you consider the story to include all the random battles, wandering around trying to find what to do next, getting NPCs to restate the same dialog over and over, and spending time in shops and inventory screens trying to beef up my characters, all of the stories kinda dragged in the middle...
But in spite of this, some manage to "click" with players. They sucked us in, got us emotionally invested in the game, and caused us to keep clicking away through fights to find out what happens next.
In Ultima VII: The Black Gate, the game's title sequence brought you face-to-face with your nemesis, the Guardian. The conflict was set up from the get-go. Then you get dropped into a murder mystery. It was one of the strongest openings that I recall in a western RPG. And the mystery continued to develop as you discovered a new religion sweeping across the land that seemed beneficial on the outside, but corrupt from within. It put a new face on the old "kill the Foozle" plot, and it felt fresh and interesting.
In Baldur's Gate I and Baldur's Gate II, the overall story arc put you in the unusual position of being the offspring - and potential new incarnation of - a god. And not a nice, sweet god of hugs and puppies, either. To make matters more interesting, you aren't the only one of the "potentials." Its a battle royale between you, the other god-spawn, and those that would use you for their own ends. While the story itself got a little meandering and lost in its own subplots, it was at least an interesting premise.
Final Fantasy VII - Wow. Well, you play an angsty spikey-haired guy with a sword of Freudian proportions. You begin the game as total tough-guy mercenary ex-special forces guy, and get involved in a love triangle while trying to stop a company from employing its eco-unfriendly practices. All this changes when it becomes apparent that a giant meteor is hurtling towards the planet and will wipe out everything long before the company bleeds it dry for energy. The only person who can save the planet is one member of the love-triangle, a pretty flower-seller who is actually descended from a line of ancient, powerful aliens. But then she gets skewered by a pretty-boy villain halfway through the game. That was shocking enough that the whole rest of the story - about saving the planet, ecological responsibility, strange translations of philosophical mumbo-jumbo, and the fact that the angry young protagonist is actually a total failure with mental problems - becomes mostly forgotten. It all becomes about wiping the smile off the pretty-boy villain's face once and for all.
And hey, that worked really well.
Chrono Trigger's storyline dared to tackle time travel, paradox, and heroes turned into frogs. It was also willing to vaporize the main character halfway through the game, though unlike Aeris in FF7, he gets better.
I've stated more than once that Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines had perhaps the best ending of any game I've ever played, though it was only one of several (many of which do not end well for the player character at all). The main storyline revolves around the Vampire Prince's bid to consolidate his weakening power in the wake of the arrival of a mysterious ancient casket that may house an unspeakable ancient evil - and tremendous power - within. It's a smart story, and the "Anarch" ending has a particularly amusing and satisfying twist.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun recently did a retrospective on the storyline of Planescape: Torment, sometimes called, "The Best RPG You'll Ever Read." As Kieron Gillen summarizes, "While we’re a long way from the videogame equivalent of a Tolstoy or a Dostoevsky, for what it’s worth, Planescape is as close as we’ve come, and worthy of real literary consideration... It’s a philosophical buddy-hatey road movie based around the search for the self and the endlessly reiterated question 'What can change the nature of a man?'. And you find yourself lingering on that. Not just what can change the nature of your character – but what made you and what manner of man are you anyway."
What The Players Say
"I think the core of an RPG is its story and its backstory, being able to understand where the world has been and where its going as well as your character’s story within the entire story. I agree that freedom is extremely important, being able to make your own decisions rather than being pushed by the programming to go in one direction, freedom can also be your class/race options as well, the ability to do almost whatever you want." - Rebby, at Twenty-Sided
"There needs to be a moment that will make you just HAVE to tell someone about it. Preferably more then one, but you really need the 'I can't believe that just happened. That is so cool/disturbing/amazing/unbelievable/surprising/awful" - I don't think it matters what adjective it spawns, as long as the player remembers it and tells others about it, even if it screwed his character. (It can't screw the player - it can't put the player in a place that continuing on from isn't fun. The CHARACTER can be hosed, the PLAYER needs fun)" - Random Gamer, Rampant Games Forums
"There are three basic human desires/needs that games can fulfill: Beating/winning something, Developing/constructing something, and unfolding a story. Various games have different balances of each of these things, but I think one reason RPG’s do so well, are such a powerful genre, is that they do all three." - Chilango2, at Twenty-Sided
"The things that make RPGs great is exactly what does not allow them to work on the computer. While I enjoy games that are called “RPG” on a computer, I don’t consider them RPGs. RPGs, at least for me, are great because of the almost infinite possibilities for storytelling and character development that can only occur because of the interplay between players and a GM." - Strangeite, at Twenty-Sided.
"A while ago when I discussed about games with a friend, I was asked why I value a certain game so highly. I was baffled for a moment, thinking about if I should point at the great story, the amazing graphics, the ease of control. I decided that all of those need too many words to explain and said "Because it made me laugh and cry" ... and I think this was the most truthful answer. A game makes the step to great if it catches me, makes me feel involved." - Hajo, Rampant Games Forums
"Good storylines come from good characters.If characters aren’t good, and you don’t buy their motivations for the presented actions, then the story falls apart." - Phlux, at Twenty-Sided.
"THE important aspect of RPGs - a well written story. This seperates RPGs from other games, and while a good story won’t do much good if the game is otherwise crappy, even the best RPG will always be mediocre without a captivating plot, while a mediocre RPG can be greatly improved by a thrilling story. Even more important to me, however, are the characters that the story revolves about: This is what make a game truly memorable in my opinion, fighting for and alongside a group of original, well written people you grow attached to, care for and identify with. This is what makes BioWare games so great for me. " - Froody, at Twenty-Sided
"Everybody keeps bringing up the story or the character development. This isn’t entirely necessary either. The Paper Mario series was great fun, but I wouldn’t call the storylines revolutionary by any stretch of the definition. Same with the freedom vs. rails aspect. Final Fantasy games are fun (rails), but Oblivion was pretty fun, too (freedom)." - Hal, at Twenty-Sided
"To be important to the story arc, but not always the center of it. It feels more immersive to me. I want to feel immersed. Like my decisions matter, not only in the tactical sense (this dungeon, this fight), but also at the operational sense (this quest) and the strategic sense (this character in this world). " - Clouviere, Rampant Games Forums
"The story is ridiculously important. It CAN’T be contrived, full of itself or a messy cliche of an excuse for the action. It needs to be well thought out, and if dramatic, with a dose of comedy, violent, with a dose of humanity and so forth. The NPCs should kind of be like the ones in a Shakespear play. Sure, in Hamlet, everyone is depressed and talking about death, but they still have lovers, bystanders, and comedians." - Craig, at Twenty-Sided
"When I’m in the mood for a good story I tend to look for a good Adventure Game. When I play an RPG I’m looking for and focused more on a good backstory and setting. But more importantly, I want the freedom to attack the quest however I see fit and NPCs that are at least mildly engaging." - Lost Chauncy, at Twenty-Sided
"People don’t just want choices, they want choices that have a real and lasting effect." - Joshua, at Twenty-Sided
"Computer RPGs have just never worked out for me. I get completely frustrated because I want nothing to do with the game’s “official” plot, and I want to go off in my own direction." - Richard Crawford, at Twenty-Sided
* What Makes a Great RPG?
* What Makes a Great RPG - The Answer?
* What Makes a Great RPG - The World
* What Makes a Great RPG - Playing a Role
* What Makes a Great RPG - Mechanics
* What Makes a Great RPG - Everything Else
* What Makes a Great RPG (Twenty-Sided)
* What Makes a Great RPG, Part II (Twenty-Sided)
* What Makes a Great RPG, Part III (Twenty-Sided)
And The Discussion Keeps Going On the Forum!
Monday, October 01, 2007
What Makes A Great RPG - Playing A Role
The idea of "role-playing" in a single-player computer RPG always struck me as silly. For me, role-playing has always been a social activity. Lacking the social, what's really the point? It's not like I'm going to be playing Oblivion and saying things like "Forsooth, methinks I shall not attempt this quest because I am a mage of culture, not some uncultured barbarian!" I pretty much let myself get led around by the nose in a CRPG and do whatever the game allows me to do which makes sense. I might choose a character type a little different from my usual preferences just to try things out, but for the most part my "character" is just an avatar of me.
The discussion over the last several days has changed my mind a little bit on this subject. Not that I'm going to try to "role-play" in a computer RPG like I might in a pen-and-paper RPG. But I've got a different perspective now, and I no longer dismiss opinions about how a good RPG must include role-playing opportunities. It's a different kind of role-playing.
The goal of RPGs is to immerse ourselves in the fiction of being another person in another world. The "other person" isn't necessarily some kind of method-acting live improvisational performance. It may be someone very much like ourselves - but perhaps someone stronger, faster, better with a sword, able to cast spells, and maybe even smarter than our real-world identity. Its someone who belongs in this world. And, as I discussed in "What Makes a Great RPG - The Answer?", it is someone else who's actions (or lack of actions) have no real-life repercussions upon ourselves.
We can be cavalier about the death of other characters in the game, because they "aren't real" and are "only NPCs" (non-player characters). We can face dragons without fear, and take wildly inappropriate actions just for the fun of it. The artificial persona gives us the freedom to try choices that we ourselves would not choose even if dropped magically into a similar situation.
So from this vantage point, a great RPG is one that provides us with a wealth of opportunities to explore these types of choices. While the interactivity of the environment is something I cited in "What Makes a Great RPG - The World," part of is not so much about making the world come alive, but helping us identify with and have our character perform the actions we feel they should be perform.
Sometimes limitations on what your character can do are just as interesting as what is not permitted. Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines offered some very different paths through the game depending upon what clan you choose at the beginning of the game, and what sort of skills you choose along the way. If you play as a Malkavian, you are crazy. Conversations become very tricky, because your dialog options are always... weird. As a Nosferatu, you are so hideously deformed that even being seen in public can constitute a "Masquerade Violation" (vampires have to keep their nature a secret, you know). There is one chapter where the greatest XP bonuses come only to those characters with the highest social skills, because many of the "sub-quests" are only solvable by being a smooth-talking silver-tongued devil. Unfortunately, you'd best put all those extra experience points into the combat skills you neglected, because several sequences (especially boss encounters) were straight-up combat encounters with little or no opportunity to use stealth or social skills to affect the outcome. Still, I played the entire game through twice, and enjoyed some substantial differences in the game each time. While far from perfect, the game did offer a nice breadth of character opportunities - and restrictions.
Obviously, character choice isn't absolutely required for a great RPG. Few could argue with the success of the Final Fantasy series, or its impression on the minds and hearts of its fans. While later games provided more options for character customization, the games let you depart the plot-railroad only long enough to smell the flowers, beat up some monsters, play some mini-games, and voyage on some optional sub-quests. All very good stuff, of course. And the lack of many character options allowed the developers to focus on a ridiculously convoluted but detailed plot with a handful of memorable characters, and that made all the difference.
Baldur's Gate II offered scripted story options for your character to almost a ludicrous level (I had one friend even complain about being unable to keep up with the deluge of optional quests and choices in this game). Its cousin Planescape: Torment, according to many, took this a few steps further. The highly scripted nature of these interactions made them pretty costly to develop, I'm sure --- but also very satisfying to players, who enjoyed the human-developed plot resolutions based upon their (limited) choices, rather than generic calculated responses of a more organic system.
Speaking of which - there's the Elder Scrolls series. I once ran a third-party program on my saved game in Daggerfall to see what my faction standings were at a very late stage in the game. I was floored to see the hundreds of entries, many of which I had never heard of. The game was extremely open-ended, offering a plethora of player options. Unfortunately, the generic, unscripted, computer-resolved nature of these choices wasn't very satisfying much of the time. Still, it occasionally led to some great drama. Later games in the series tightened this up quite a bit, but complaints about the meaninglessness of many game decisions remain.
And then there's Ultima IV. You started the game by making moral / ethical choices for your character in a series of questions given by a gypsy with a tarot-like deck of cards. I wish more designers would go back and play these games. Too many games today offer "moral" choices that come down to choosing between the good-guy response, the apathetic response, and the complete jackass response. That's a choice? Ultima IV (and the other two games in the U4- U6 "trilogy") offers classic decisions for which there is no right or wrong (or good or evil) answers. Instead, the player must choose between responses of different value only in the mind of the player (or how he wants to play his character). Do you keep your promise to your boss, or do you show compassion to a beggar? Rescue a friend, or sacrifice yourself to save the lives of dozens of strangers?
Your choices in the pre-game dictated your class, where in the world your game began, and what party members you could take with you. And you had to keep making these kinds of decisions throughout the game. Constantly. Granted, your choices were usually made to optimize your progress in the eight virtues, and there was no dramatic change in the game depending upon whether you favored one virtue over the other. Eventually, you had to master them all to proceed to the end-game. But still, that simple, abstract system on primitive technology was superior in most ways to far more "advanced" games out today that advertise such moral choices.
Advice From Players
"One of the few things that I really demand in an RPG is that I get to create my character. Or at least have some say in who my character is and what she can do... I also want replayability based on the character and the role I choose to play. What happens if I play as evil? If I play as male? If I choose a different class? If I choose a different race? NPCs should react differently to a male Dwarven barbarian than to a female Elven ranger." - Kristin, at Twenty-Sided.
"Roguelike developers often point out that games should offer players ways to escape difficult situations. Most roguelikes do not allow to safe and reload, and death is final there. But most of them give the player a lot of escape routes if one knows how to use them. I think that is the better design. Make players think, but not about when to safe, but how to solve a situation they face. And give them the chances to do it. " - Hajo, Rampant Games forums.
"If I’m expected to kill everything, by bashing it over the head, with no option to sneak or trick nor choice of tactics and weapons, it’s a minus for an RPG. If I’m not presented with a variety of obstacles (what’s with this campaign, why are we always fighting orcs?!), that’s a problem. If I don’t have access to sneakers, negotiators, toe to toe fighters and people who use exotic secrets to cause exotic damage, it spells trouble." - Zakhadka, at Twenty-Sided.
"Control over your character’s evolution. Morally and/or mechanically, I prefer these separately cause it sucks when Evil get all the useful toys." - Alexis, at Twenty-Sided.
I want to feel immersed. Like my decisions matter, not only in the tactical sense (this dungeon, this fight), but also at the operational sense (this quest) and the strategic sense (this character in this world). " - Clouviere, Rampant Games forums.
"(What makes a great RPG?) Being like Fallout. The more like Fallout you are, the better an RPG you become. Oblivion fails because the dialogue, character interaction and character growth is nothing like Fallout. Planescape: Torment pretty much succeeds. VtM: Bloodlines is close - closer to Torment than Oblivion." - Krellan, at Twenty Sided.
"There should be many choices, and they should be interesting. And by 'interesting' I don’t mean you earn 'good' or 'evil' points... 'Character customization' does not mean deciding what hat I want to wear. I want to start by choosing age & gender, and end with deciding how I want to shape the bridge of my avatar’s nose." - Shamus Young at Twenty-Sided.
* What Makes a Great RPG?
* What Makes a Great RPG - The Answer?
* What Makes a Great RPG - The World
* What Makes a Great RPG - The Story
* What Makes a Great RPG - Mechanics
* What Makes a Great RPG - Everything Else
* What Makes a Great RPG (Twenty-Sided)
* What Makes a Great RPG, Part II (Twenty-Sided)
* What Makes a Great RPG, Part III (Twenty-Sided)
Got More To Say On This? Speak Out On the Forum!