Tales of the Rampant Coyote
Adventures in Indie Gaming!

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Monday, December 31, 2007
Happy New Year!
It is now the final hours of 2007. Guests should be arriving at the Casa del Coyote here soon.

But before the festivities get really out of hand (well, as out-of-hand as a Mormon party - with no alcohol - ever gets) , I figured I'd wish you all a great 2008. Be safe, and have fun!
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Shrapnel Games & Scorpia On FRPG Economies
Scott Krol and Scorpia have both weighed in on the fantasy-RPG-economy topic this week. I just wanted to share, if you haven't seen these articles yourself yet:

Scott talks about his extremely sophisticated and detailed economic system he developed during the 1E days. The result? "It didn’t take long for me to grow extremely sick of my own system... From that experience I decided that you know what, sometimes simple—while not entirely realistic—is best... There’s a little more to the current system, but you get the basic idea of what I’m doing. Instead of totally reworking the suggested economic system, I’m just enhancing it. The campaign gets flavor but it never becomes a burden."

To which I heartily agree. I did much the same thing in the mid-80's. I still have tons of notes from my old campaign world, including currency systems from every major country in the world, and

Scorpia adds to the magic-item debate, but brings her own old-school sensibilities into a more general topic of the approach to character advancement in Wizard of the Coast's current incarnation of the mother-of-all RPGs, Dungeons & Dragons. While computer RPGs were originally attempts to mimic "Pen and Paper" (PnP) D&D games, the modern generation of rules appears more of a reversal of that trend, attempting to mimic the play-style of its computer (and MMO) cousins. She states, "It was obvious that WOTC was aiming to broaden the audience, and make the game appealing to those whose only experience with RPG was the computer versions. One factor of CRPGs was the fast leveling. No surprise, as these games were meant to be played and finished in a much shorter period than the typical pencil & paper scenario. So there was much time compression there."

She explains further, "D&D is no longer aimed at the patient player, willing to put in the time to advance. I felt, after my first look at the 3rd ed. rules, that it was designed for munchkins. For people who wanted power and wanted it fast."

By my understanding, the compression thing was actually approached very deliberately. They did a poll of players, and found out the average length of a campaign, the average number of players, and the average session length, and the average number of sessions per month. Then they decided to fit those averages into a 20-level-range band. That's how they arrived at an average of 13.333 encounters to level.

I think the goal was that the "average" gaming group would play through an entire campaign in one year, and would hit level 20 at the end of the campaign. That kinda-sorta works, except that the legacy game was designed to pretty much cap out between level 9-12. The higher-level spells (6th - 9th level) were really intended (originally) to be NPC spells only.

Anyway - check out the articles:

On PnP FRPG Economies, at Shrapnel Games' Blog

Magic, Magic, Everywhere at Scorpia's Gaming Lair

(Vaguely) related straw NPCs:
* RPG Design: Magic Items and Economy
* RPG Design: Magic Entitlements and Pricetags
* The Evolution of Computer Roleplaying Games
* When Magic Becomes Mundane in RPGs

Wanna Talk About It? Here's the Forum Thread

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Saturday, December 29, 2007
XBox 360 Ate My Rock Band
I'm so very disappointed. Apparently, there's a risk if you have your XBox 360 positioned vertically (how we have the dev boxes set up at work), there's a chance that even a minor jostle will cause it to scratch a nasty little ring on your disc and ruin it.

Which is apparently what happened to Rock Band. And I got to play it so briefly...

I imagine EA will get around to fulfulling my warranty sometime within the next 6-8 months... Too bad I bought the thing from Amazon.com. Wal*Mart would have been simpler to do an exchange... except the ones here don't have any copies in stock (last time I checked).

Major bummer.

At least I got to beat Guitar Hero III (on Medium). The boss battles suck worse than I expected, but not as badly as I feared. But of course, that's on "medium" where I regularly 5-star everything just to unlock the songs. For a difficulty level that actually challenges me in the first place, I may be screaming obscenities at Neversoft.

Oh, and that "Through Fire and Flames" song... uh, yeah. That one's a challenge on medium. Holy cow!


Friday, December 28, 2007
Frayed Knights - Poor Spelling
Of all updates on the comedic fantasy RPG Frayed Knights, as of today this one is by far the latest.

And I can't talk now, must code...

But I'll talk anyway, because talking to the computer is giving me grief.

It's the holidays. Which means time off. Which means I'm spending time coding when I'm not playing games or visiting / helping relatives. The latter took up WAY WAY WAY WAY too much of my time this week, but I gotta be nice to them. Because they are relatives. And they'll be expected to support me when Frayed Knights fails miserably and I find myself bankrupt. Gotta have that backup plan.

Combat remains imbalanced. I'm working on spells. Among other things. Because melee combat seems to be working okay. Negligable Healing is - unfortunately - a little too negligable. 4 points of healing doesn't do much when the cultists are critting for 13 points of damage. And the Hotfoot spell... what a joke. I think Chloe could do better damage - and use up less endurance - with her fist. If she could actually hit monsters with her fist from the back rank.

(Note to self: Make sure she can't hit monsters with her fist from the back rank.)

And then there's balancing these with duration-based spells... the debilitating or buffing variety of spells which screws up my carefully balanced and - as I mentioned - currently functional melee combat system.

I've been trying to fix sequencing of chained events. The UI is still garbage... but I'm trying to make it functional before making it pretty. I've added a "status" page to see what kinds of spell effects are currently in effect, and what that effect really is. I'm exercising code that hasn't been looked at in four months, and so I'm finding a few logical gaps. Joy.

And I'm supposed to be done WHEN?

Anybody know where I can find an animated, robed wizard / priest looking low-polygon 3D model? Ideally clocking in under 1500 polygons, and able to be warped and modified by yours truly to become the loathsome cultists they need to be. I'm using Cubix's male NPC character right now as a stand-in model (still trying to remain Kork-the-Torque-Orc free), and while they definitely have the scary "Hi, we're the clone brothers" creepiness about them, they are definitely NOT what I had in mind, nor close enough for easy modification, and my modeler has a lot on his plate right now. I attempted this one on my own - more as practice than anything else - and the result was rather humbling. I guess I need to stick with torches and treasure chests.

And as you can probably guess from my discussion on magic items this week, I'm dealing with equipment. Which again, screws up my somewhat-balanced-and-working melee system.

So except for broken code, bad framerates due to lighting, unfinished content, crazy-poor game balance and combats that are clobbering me mercilessly, no music yet, stand-in art, a dungeon that's still not fully textured, and missing features, how am I doing for having the first dungeon 'complete' on Tuesday?

Umm... great? Yeah. Fine. Nothing to see here.


Thursday, December 27, 2007
RPG Design - Items And Economy
My post from Monday generated quite a few comments and discussion, including some out-of-band discussion. One question is simply --- what does it matter in a non-massively-multiplayer environment? How much does the simple rule in 3rd edition D&D really matter about the availability of items being limited only by their value?

I had noticed, when developing magic items for Neverwinter Nights, that the price for said items did not go down when their usage was restricted. A +4 Sword that could only be used by chaotic-evil fighters and reduced the wielders intelligence by 2 points had exactly the same price as a standard +4 Sword without restrictions or the accompanying penalties.

Under the dice-and-paper rules, those swords cost 32,315 gold pieces, and could be purchased and sold in any large city (population 12,001+) freely.

That doesn't make sense. If players could sell at full price, this would mean that they could simply "trade in" the crippled sword for an unrestricted version. In the dice & paper rules, there is a very short section on the possible roleplaying ramifications for selling cursed items, but there's still the abstraction of the rules to contend with.

But - on the flip side - if an item restricted by class and / or race does drop the value of the item, worse things happen. Since there is no scarcity, this would mean that players would simply purchase all magic items restricted to their own class and race. If I am a Lawful Good Fighter, I may as well purchase all lawful good / fighter equipment at the local Magic R Us for half the cost of general equipment. It's not - according to the rules - any more difficult to sell, and it would have the added benefit of being more difficult for a foe to take it and use it against me.

In fact, if a very skilled character could sell items at near 100% of their value, she could trade in that one +4 Sword for two +4 Swords with restrictions at that rate.

So one system is broken, but the other is broken even worse.

In a single player / single-character game with no crafting or modification of magic items, and a very simple item purchase / sales system, this probably isn't too big of a deal. At least not one that isn't resolved in a couple of levels.

One solution is to do as Eschalon: Book 1 does, and maintain a system of scarcity. Nothing is in infinite supply (that I have seen) in shops. However, this can be an irritation to some players, as it means you cannot simply stock up on enough healing potions to muscle through all but the most instantly lethal encounters.

Another solution, adopted by almost all RPGs, is to put a hard gap between the player's best sale price and best purchase price. If this is the only limiting factor, stores will also have to either always offer consistent prices, or to be within consistent ranges. There are a few tales of CRPGs out there that were subject to an "infinite supply of gold" exploit where the player could purchase an infinite number of items in store 1, and sell them for a profit in store 2.

Fans of Elite-style games may note that this "exploit" is a key gameplay element if there is a scarcity of supply and / or demand, and if there is some risk in travelling between the two stores.

No single-player RPG that I'm aware of has attempted a sophisticated and dynamic modeling of the economy, and I am not sure how sophisticated this has become on the MMO side, either. But it would make sense if a town began "ramping up" arrow production if demand for arrows increased because of the player's appetite for shooting things. Although that could also mean an increase in price, as well...

... And that's really not something I'd really appreciate or even notice as a player. Cool, maybe, but probably not worth the effort. But the bottom line is that without scarcity, you don't have an economy. Buying and selling is a pretty key element in most RPGs. The greater the complexity of the trade system (crafting, variable sales / purchase prices, etc), the more accurate the simulation of the economy needs to be, or the more hard-coded limitations need to be imposed to keep things reasonable.

And in this respect, I'm gonna have to say that the standard "book rules" for D&D 3.x fail that test.

(Vaguely) related tales of vitual moolah:
* RPG Design: Magic Entitlements and Pricetags
* When Magic Becomes Mundane in RPGs
* Why I Gave Up On Dungeons & Dragons Online
* RPG Design: What Am I Going To Do With All This Money?

Talkin' Trash and Treasure On the Forum.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Indie RPG of the Year Chosen
GameTunnel.com announced the winners of the 2007 Indie RPG of the year tonight. As with most such awards, arguments will ensue.

GameTunnel's 2007 Indie RPG of the Year

I have to say that this year, I may not agree with the order (or placement) of the runners-up, but the winner matches my own pick: Depths of Peril, by Soldak Entertainment.

Also placing were Mr. Robot by MoonPod, Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest by Amaranth Games, Nethergate: Resurrection by Spiderweb Software, and Loonyland II: Winter Woods by Hamumu Games. I can vouch for three of the four - they are all very worthy games. I still haven't played Mr. Robot --- shame on me.

Notable by its absence is Eschalon: Book 1 by Basilisk Games. While I'd hate to bump any of the above games off the list of finalists, I have a tough time choosing between it and Aveyond 2 for my "second favorite" choice of the year. You may recall that Eschalon: Book 1 won by a landslide in RPGWatch's reader's poll last week, but that is a somewhat different audience. Depths of Peril squeaked in a distant second over the two Spiderweb offerings in that poll.

But hey - last year, I assumed the original Aveyond would be the indie RPG GOTY, and that award went to dark-horse Fastcrawl. 2005's winner was, of course, Cute Knight, in a year where there were so few RPGs that they stuck it in the "special awards" category.

The thing that took Depths of Peril over the top for me was that it didn't play it safe. Aveyond 2 and Eschalon: Book 1 are also extremely well-done, but they stick a little closer to convention That's not a bad thing - I don't believe an RPG should need to reinvent the wheel every time. But Depths of Peril's innovation and dynamic world really sucked me in. The NPCs pushing their own agenda along during the game just worked for me. While I wouldn't do it often, I got a kick out of adventuring with a member of another covenant that I'd worked hard to get an alliance with. Incidentally, they were MY henchman, not the other way around. :)

I'm just pleased the competition was so fierce. This was a great year to be an indie RPG fan. And I'll be doing my best to contribute to an ever more fierce competition in 2008 :)

If you like RPGs, but haven't yet tried what the indies have to offer, do yourself a favor and pick any of the above-mentioned titles - or any of Spiderweb's recent offerings. Or - dang, anything you find HERE that sounds interesting. I can't promise that any of them will be to your liking --- but that's the joy of indie gaming. You can almost always try them out for free

(Vaguely) related yakking about all the great RPGs this year
* What Were the Best RPGs of 2007?
* Let's Talk About Depths of Peril
* Aveyond 2 First Look
* Initial Scouting Report: Eschalon Book 1

Wanna Rant About Who Shoulda Won? Here's a Forum Thread For Ya!


Indie RPG News Roundup, December 26th
Looking for some indie computer RPG goodness in the post-Christmas, pre-New Years week? No? Well, I've got some for you anyway!

Depths of Peril
At Soldak's site, they have two new short stories of the myths about the origins of the different races:
Myths of Origins: Barbarians
Myths of Origins: Lumen

Eschalon: Book 1
The Linux version of this much-talked-about, much-liked turn-based RPG is now available. Linux gamers, rejoice!
Eschalon: Book 1 Linux Version

Age of Decadence
There's a second (pretty hefty) combat video for Age of Decadence. Here's the YouTube version:

There's a higher-quality version on the Iron Tower Studio site. The text descriptions of the combat are visible in this version, which requires an updated MP-4 codec to view. But the text is half the fun - nicely grisly. Click on the Age of Decadence logo in the linked message to download it. It clocks in at about 45 megs.
Age of Decadence Combat Video #2



Monday, December 24, 2007
Merry Christmas Ya'll!
Okay, I'm not sure if I'm gonna be posting at all on Christmas day (and I really don't know how many people will be reading at all this week), but I wanted to wish you guys a very merry and safe Christmas. And if you don't celebrate Christmas, well, have an awesome and December 25th anyway.

If I don't respond to emails or forum posts too quickly, it's probably because I'm either (A) entertaining relatives, (B) rocking out hardcore with something that I'm expecting to find under the tree tomorrow, (C) watching I Am Legend for the second time, or (D) working on Frayed Knights like crazy.

Happy gaming! And, as always, have fun!
RPG Design: Magic Entitlements and Pricetags
I recently picked up "Magic Item Compendium" for Dungeons & Dragons. It's actually a pretty good book, even if much of the material is reprinted from other sources. Since my gaming group isn't on board with the switch to the upcoming 4th edition (which feels, to me, too much like WotC / Hasbro treating customers as credit cards with legs), I figure it'd be a very handy tool for my D&D campaigns for years to come.

However, it really pushes a side of the latest version of this game which attempts to mirror the attitude found too often on Massively Multiplayer Online RPGs, and it's something that bugs me. It was present but more subtle in the initial release of D&D 3.0 seven years ago, but it's been gaining steam throughout the supplements and optional material. It's the idea that magical gear - which was once considered (or so I thought) more of a reward - is now an entitlement and considered part of their class balance.

MMO Farming Blues
I first encountered this attitude (much to my consternation) in EverQuest, circa 1999. The design team used the existence of some heavily camped, painful-to-obtain item as a feature that made some class (Rogue? Shadowknight?) balanced with the other classes. Yes, your class COULD be as good as those other classes if you spent 6 hours a day, seven days a week going after some particular non-class-specific weapon for a month or two. Ah, the days of non-instanced dungeons. Take a number, please, to kill rare-spawn monster X who has a 20% chance of having item Y which you are expected to have if you are of class Z. We'll call it a rite of passage or something.

Encounters in MMORPGs were designed - as explained by the designers repeatedly - around the expectation that you were equipped with equipment "appropriate to your level." Now, I never actually saw anyone clearly define what that meant. It seemed to be a sliding scale. At the beginning of the game, it seemed to be geared towards designer expectations. Then it seemed to be built around what the most hardcore players - those get-a-lifers who played for 40+ hours a week - owned. But as less hardcore players leveled up and found the content to be impenetrably hard, the designers scattered easier-to-obtain substitutes for the uber-gear around the world.

But at least they put a bazaar at the end of 2001 where players could trade, which meant you could get all the hand-me-down ubergear without having to quest for it. Now, at last, you only had to spend money in order to get the gear you were expected to own as part of your class.

The MMO Attitude Without the MMO
In 3rd edition D&D, there were hints of this attitude at first. The rules for availability of magic items for purchase, and gold-piece limits for items to sell, for example. There was obviously an expectation that players would be able to buy and sell their magic items with few restrictions. And there was a table of expected gear value for characters at various levels.

More recently, there have been some unofficial nerfing of the dreaded Rust Monster. The justification was the game balance issue: "Simply put, it makes the next encounter prohibitively more difficult. " If you lose your armor and primary weapon to the rust monster, then the ogre in the next room is going to be way harder than he should be. Granted, losing one's equipment to a rust monster has always been more irritating than fun. But it's interesting to see that the rust monster's difficulty level is here being considered not on its own relative merit as a creature, but rather the potential resource expenditure that may result from fighting it, and its impact on future encounters.

But the Magic Item Compendium takes the attitude a step further. First of all, it has an illustration of two fighters trying on different kinds of magical boots in what can only be assumed to be a medieval fantasy equivalent of a Payless Shoes (or maybe the shoe section of a fantasy Wal*Mart). It has new treasure tables that all but guarantee a magical item in every single treasure horde - and also ensures that the equivalent GP value of all "loot" is subject to less random fluctuations.

In explaining why magic items should almost always be available for purchase, the book states: "Most monsters and encounters assume that characters have a certain amount of gear to make the challenge appropriate. Furthermore, at many levels magic items represent a character's only option for customization; picking up a magic ring or bag of potions is significantly more fun than allocating skill points." It repeatedly comments on what the expected equipment should be for characters of various levels.

Unlike EverQuest, at least, it spells out in great detail exactly what that should be.

Putting the Fun Back In
Now, I'll admit - none of this is fundamentally un-fun. I have had characters who identified strongly with a particular magic item (an intelligent sword, for example). I hate losing equipment to rust monsters or other disasters. And as a DM or game designer, I do take all of the characters' anticipated resources into consideration when I plan out an encounter. Even back in 1st edition days, you'd expect a 6th level fighter to have at least a magical +1 sword, if not three (because of rust monsters and stuff, you knew to bring along a backup weapon...)

But I don't feel too comfortable with the attitude in my fantasy RPGs, for a few reasons
Okay, sure, so we're talking about worlds where players routinely cast fireballs and healing spells in battles against creatures that breathe fire, teleport or move through walls. Maybe I'm just showing too much of a childhood steeped in fantasy literature more along the lines of Tolkien (how many spells did the great wizard Gandalf actually cast?) and Howard (where 90% of sorcerers were corrupt, and magic was always rare and scary-powerful but killable with a barbarian's sword). So maybe my own attitude is a little too retro.

I tried to tackle that issue once. But maybe there are some other ways of finding a compromise.

One thing I've tried is to have common items available for sale, but to have a few very specific "rare" items also available. So while the players might be able to find a +2 or even +3 short sword with no difficulty, they get just as excited hearing about +1 Ghost-Touch Shortsword of Frost for sale in the city as if they'd found it in a dragon's hoard.

Another option - which players HATE - is to increase the threat to their equipment. When they encounter creatures that can disarm them, or dissolve their gear, it encourages them to not put all their cash in one or two items. But the player who put almost everything into a shiny new battle axe is gonna be really frustrated when they encounter an earth elemental that specializes in sundering weapons. Most players would rather their characters lose a level than lose a weapon like that, but its an option.

In Computer Worlds
In single-player computer RPGs, there are similar problems that designers should consider.

In a world where magic plate mail routinely drops from a swarm of bugs (*cough*Diablo*cough*), anything short of a certain level of enchantment is going to be disdained by players - or at least kept only for its trade-in value.

A quest for an awesome new sword had better complete with the player in possession of a weapon that is significantly better than the one he used to complete the quest!

Expendable items are routinely undervalued by players and overvalued by designers. The designers tend to value the items based upon their best-use potential... a couple dozen +5 arrows of shocking can really make short work of a particular boss, and at a safe distance! And that potion of invisibility could completely trivialize a key challenge. So he (or she!) will price them appropriately to how much they can influence major encounters, to keep them out of the hands of lower-level characters.

But the player sees the cost of those arrows compared to the price of an "infinite use" bow or sword, and find them very unfavorable. They also know that the non-expended weapon will have some resale value when they are done with it, and the expended items will not.

And do you realize how much a Potion of Cure Disease could go for in the REAL WORLD?

It's a thorny issue. What's your inclination?

(Vaguely) related tales of stinginess:
* When Magic Becomes Mundane in RPGs
* Why I Gave Up On Dungeons & Dragons Online
* RPG Design: What Am I Going To Do With All This Money?

Conversation Extended Onto the Forum.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007
Scorpia: Indie Games More Fun Than Mainstream?
Scorpia on the RPGs she played this year:
'As it was, I got more pleasure out of the three indies (indie games): Fate, Geneforge 4 and Eschalon: Book I. Pondering this, it seems that each year, I’m drifting farther away from the more `mainstream' games...

"This doesn’t make for a promising outlook on the future. At least not so far as `A Titles' are concerned. That’s so depressing. Wow, do I miss the good old days of looking forward to the next Ultima, Might & Magic or Wizardry."
You know, I'm tempted to invite her to complete her journey to the dark side. But the gal's been playing and reviewing these games since there was practically nothing BUT what we'd call "indie" developers out there.

My feeling on "drifting" from the mainstream is this: Bull-honkey. The RPG fans of yesteryear were NEVER mainstream. It's just that the graphics and interfaces were so bad back then that only niche fans would suffer through them. And so the game biz addressed that niche.

Times change, and I don't know that the niche has disappeared. But the games biz is not longer interested in satisfying their wants. Besides, most of them are happy enough playing World of Warcraft and Oblivion, maybe.

But for those that aren't --- I believe that's the niche where indie RPGs can thrive.

Scorpia on "Looking Back On 2007"

(Vaguely) related ranting and rolling:
* Interview With Scorpia
* What Were the Best Indie RPGs of 2007
* Initial Scouting Report - Eschalon: Book 1


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Friday, December 21, 2007
Frayed Knights - Frantic Dungeoneering
And here's my weekly status report on Frayed Knights - the comedic fantasy role-playing game in development!

External Pressures
Crunch mode at Ye Olde Day Job ended more than a week later than expected. Not fun. However, I think I can say that the other game, The Game That Shall Not (Yet) Be Named, is coming along pretty well. Three weeks ago I was pretty worried. But in the last week or so, it's been looking pretty sharp.

But onto Frayed Knights, the game that will one day sell a million copies and spawn a host of imitators! Well, okay, I can dream, can't I? So what if it's hard enough to get people to download and play games for free...

Stocking the Dungeon
Ten days remaining to finish the dungeon.

A zillion things on my plate, most of them not particularly exciting.

I'm in trouble.

The entry hall is very large and, without any combat encounters, kinda boring. I'm working on trying to remedy this. My philosophy - where the necessities of budget and time allow - for Frayed Knights is that the player should never have to walk in a straight line for a long time without encountering something interesting. And that doesn't mean just lots of meaningless combat encounters.

I've spent some time scouring old Dungeons & Dragons modules, and walkthroughs of adventure games for additional ideas. Even if the combat system is brilliant, tactical joy for players, I don't want to rely upon that as a crutch. I want things for the player to explore and to do. Due to budget constraints, I can't do a gigantic world. I've talked about scope before. So instead of giving players a larger area to explore, I have to provide - insofar as is possible - more detail. More things to click on. And more activities for the player to do.

Some nifty things I've implemented this week is the ability to run custom scripts as part of an event (leveraging Torque's "eval" command), and some fixes in static dialog priority. And I worked on the lesser priest barracks area, so it's more-or-less complete. I'm going to have to get about a room per day completed at this rate, besides other coding.

Continued Development
Unfortunately, this is pretty much the "mid-development doldrums." A lot of the stuff I'm working on now is not strictly new code, but improvements, enhancements, and bug-fixes. We've been iterating on dungeon stuff --- it's getting some cool trim and a texturing overhaul, but except for two early guard rooms, not anything new. In other words, this is the (long) period in game development where an awful lot of work goes in without a ton to show for it.

My (non-spoiler-esque) tasks for the week include:
A Note On Developing Dungeons In Torque
Note to self: For future dungeons, do all lighting LAST. Adding a few lights to "check things out" early on resulted in a lengthy lighting pass every time I run the game after modifying the level in any way. This is very frustrating.

On Arianna's Cultural Heritage

And a snippet of dialog that might not make it into the demo:

Arianna: I'm only half-elf.
Chloe: On which side?
Arianna: My mother's. My father was a man from Willowshire.
Dirk: A Willowshire guy got to it on with an elf? That sounds kind of kinky.
Arianna: Dirk, if you ever use the word "kinky" in reference to my parents again, I'll be forced to gut you like a fish.


(Vaguely) related fun key ness:
* Frayed Knights: The Scoping Saw
* Big World, Small Dungeon: Does Size Matter In RPGs?
* Wandering Monsters and Random Encounters

Read Comments, Make Comments, Insult My Heritage On the Forum Thread!

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Thursday, December 20, 2007
Impressing My Wife With My Gaming Expertise...
I'm a gaming geek. And as much as I like to show how inaccurate the stereotype is, I'm unfortunately not too far off. Oh, I'm a social gaming geek. I think I crossed from marginally introverted to marginally extroverted a couple of years after puberty. I don't live in my parents' basement, I'm not 18 anymore (dang it!), and I don't own all the current-gen consoles.

Okay. So maybe I am not quite a stereotypical gaming geek. But --- there are times when my lack of traditional manly expertise bugs my wife. Particularly when it comes to things like household repairs or natural handyman tendencies with machinery. I often get calls asking my opinion on things like "Why is the air conditioner not working?" or "Can you see why the sink is backed up?" or "Do you know why the garage door opener is on fire?"

Now, she's an intelligent and talented lady, so at one point I tried to answer such questions with a response to the effect of, "Well, you can look it up and find out as easily as I can!" I mean, it's the honest truth - she's as smart as I am, and I'm as clueless as she is when it comes to some of these things.

You know how in video games, sometimes a boss enemy will telegraph that they are about to unload a whole mess of pain on you, filling the screen with flames and rockets and death-rays, so you know you have about one second to dive for cover before you are insta-gibbed? Well, I learned that this was the response my wife gives when I tried to answer her this way. I've learned to avoid this boss attack. So I try to avoid answering in this manner.

See? Video game skillz really can help you in real life!

So I have to pretend to be the handyman that she wants me to be, and I look up how to do things, do a terrible job of it, and then end up shelling out the big bucks to some professional to fix what I screwed up. But occasionally I get the job done right, and my wife gets to feel that yes, once in a while her gaming-geek man can actually repair a toilet.

Every once in a while she throws a soft pitch at me, like, "The Internet connection is down." Ah-hah! Yes, that one I can usually handle, or at least step her through the process if I'm at work.

But the best one of all came yesterday around lunchtime. She messaged me with a single statement - "I need to find a new game to play." She'd apparently gotten bored with all fifteen BAZILLION or so variations of solitaire that come with the mother of all solitaire programs, the (indie!) game "Pretty Good Solitaire." I picked that one up for her for Christmas a couple of years back, and she plays it a lot. One game for two years --- yeah, I'd get bored with it too, I guess. She's got others, but she was looking for something new to try.

Would I possibly know a game that might appeal to her? Maybe some small, downloadable or web-based game out there that she might enjoy.

Yes. Yes, as a matter of fact, I might... :)

Those years of being being involved in the indie games scene (and it's cousin, the casual games scene) finally paid off in one glorious instant!

Now I just gotta hope the garage door opener doesn't catch fire for the next couple of weeks...

For the curious, my picks for her included:

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007
LinkRealms Gets Some Love From Raph
If you've read any of the reports from the regular Utah Indie Game Developers Meetings, you probably remember me mentioning LinkRealms a few times. In fact, I even mentioned it in the interview on WorldIV this morning. It's a very interesting, build-your-own-environment massively multiplayer game with some real honest-to-goodness GAMEPLAY mechanics. Sort of a Ultima Online philosophy with a little bit of Second Life thrown in. One of the devs is an old acquaintance of mine from the old BBS days (well, during kinda the last-gasp of the BBS days) in college whom I had lost contact with in the last few years.

As serendipity would have it, it also got mention today on Raph Koster's blog. He points out, in particular, the Ultima Online parallels (and, obviously, inspirations). And he points out how, often, the user-created tools and so forth exceeded the quality of their own in-house creations.

The coolest thing about LinkRealms (potentially) is the fact that every new player contributes new content, rather than strictly being a consumer of said content. At least, that was where things were when I first saw it two years ago. "Every player a DM?" Well, not exactly... and it's not entirely a new concept in the post-UO / post-Second Life world. But I'm hoping this experiment pays off in spades for the Mythyn Interactive guys.


The Rampant Coyote - Interviewed
WorldIV interviewed me in a series of game-blog interviews that they are running. Of all of the interviews they've done so far, they've told me that mine was definitely the latest. Specifically, they wanted me to talk about indie games. The interview went up this morning.

If you are a long-time reader of Tales of the Rampant Coyote, or if you've been an indie game player for a while, nothing there is going to be news to you. What's kind of interesting to me is that this is my first interview since actually getting some kind of clue about what I'm doing as an indie (the others were all prior to releasing Void War).

Anyway, if you are idly curious or just a masochist, you can read it here:

The Rampant Coyote Interviewed at WorldIV.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Help Test Christmas I.F. Game
RandomGamer has a request up for people to help him test his 4-room entry into the TIGSource Winter Interactive Fiction contest.

Check It Out Here. Comment in the forum if you find bugs or have suggestions.


Indie RPG of the Year Poll at RPGWatch
RPGWatch is running a poll for the "Indie RPG of the Year." The four contenders are Eschalon: Book 1, Depths of Peril, Nethergate: Resurrection, and Geneforge 4.

Alas, they missed a few I'd put on the list as the top contenders. Though as a Western RPG site, they probably wouldn't get too many votes for Aveyond 2 or The Last Scenario.

Right now, Eschalon: Book 1 is leading the pack by a significant amount, but it's still very early in the poll. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see it win - it is an awesome game. Of course, I admitted earlier that my favorite is Depths of Peril - but I also explained why it might be an underdog.

A point of interest from the forum posts thus far - a strike against Depths of Peril thus far is the fact that it is the only RPG on the list that doesn't have a Mac version. The rabid Mac indie game fans are having their say, and they ain't voting for what they ain't playing.

I'm personally very pleased that RPG Watch is giving indie games so much attention. This is good news for all RPG fans.

RPG Watch Indie RPG of the Year Poll

(Vaguely) related stuff. 'N stuff.
* What Were The Best Indie RPGs of 2007?
* Indie RPG News Roundup, December 13th
* Indie RPG News Roundup, December 5th

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Is Depths of Peril Too Perilous?
Sir Lancelot: You were in terrible peril.
Sir Galahad: Look, let me go back in there and face the peril.
Sir Lancelot: No, it's too perilous.
Sir Galahad: Look, it's my duty as a knight to sample as much peril as I can.
Sir Lancelot: No, we've got to find the Holy Grail. Come on.
Sir Galahad: Oh, let me have just a little bit of peril?
--- Monty Python and the Holy Grail

While we got a ton of awesome computer RPGs this year, my favorite has been Depths of Peril. I'm not just talking indie RPGs, either. And we're talking some pretty stiff competition this year just from indie games alone. But talking to people, I've found some resistance to even trying to demo (which lets you get up to level 7, which IS high enough level to actually beat the other factions and "win" in one world). The game either intimidates them, or simply doesn't sound like their thing.

To Sample As Much Peril As I Can...
It didn't sound like my kinda game, either. Steven Peeler, the game designer and head of Soldak Entertainment, pretty much beat me over the head with press releases since this blog has had a focus on indie RPGs and adventure games, so I felt obligated to try it out. One Saturday morning shortly before the game's full release I installed the demo, and figured I'd give it at least a half-hour. But I wasn't a huge fan of Diablo-style RPGs, nor was I convinced it would be a good mix with a heavy strategy component. It sounded strange.

I started out with the tutorial, got lost halfway through the tutorial (I didn't realize I could bring up the quest journal to see that it was actually a two-part mission, and I'd forgotten part two), and proceeded to run out into the nearby wilderness with my rogue and play Diablo-style, winning quests (almost by accident, sometimes), gaining levels, and grabbing a couple of partner NPCs for my little "covenant" that I used as henchmen.

I began to figure things out - slowly - and then a strange thing happened.

I realized that the entire morning had passed by, I had missed lunch, I'd maxed out my character (for the demo), and I'd been having a ball. And I still didn't entirely understand the game. But it didn't matter.

Since then, I've played it quite a bit further, beaten the game a few times with different characters, and gotten to understand it a bit better. I have found that with enough discipline I can jump in for a "quick game," though I keep finding myself driven to do "just one more mission" to get it to a good stopping place.

It's a great RPG. One with pretty long legs, I expect. With replayability in spades.

No, It's Too Perilous
But it's also one that's probably going to be facing an uphill climb. Like all games that feature a high level of innovation or that crosses genre boundaries, it doesn't fit neatly into any category, and it's going to have trouble selling itself to would-be fans (like me).

It's got the Diablo-style action-RPG going for it. Which isn't a bad thing, by itself. I really enjoyed Diablo and Diablo II. I was able to jump into Depths of Peril and figure the basics out easily because of that. However, Diablo's success was partly because of its accessibility and simplicity. Depths of Peril builds upon that foundation, but really takes it to a place that's far more "hard core" than that. In a way, it's like a real-time strategy game that tests your RPG skills rather than strategy skills to obtain a victory over rivals and the enemy forces.

And therein lay the peril to Depths of Peril - it plays a lot better than it sounds. Fans of more simple action-RPG fare may think the pace and more hardcore sensibilities of the game to be too daunting for their tastes. Or they may be scared off by hearing about the "strategy" involved with it. And then the people who might really appreciate the depth of the game - the intensity of the decision-making and juggling of goals, the building of a covenant, alliances and wars between covenants - may dismiss it because it looks like a "Diablo clone." Or that it simply sounds strange (as I thought) trying to marry the higher-order strategic gameplay with the action-RPG foundation.

Oh, Let Me Have Just a Little Bit of Peril?
Depths of Peril has an image problem, I guess. It intimidates one group, and by it's description doesn't inspire the other. The problem is solved by simply playing the demo, but the trick is convincing people to actually download it and give it a shot. Taking the time to download, install, and try a game is as much an investment and commitment for most people as paying for a full release, so its not a trivial thing to ask. And that's a problem with all indie games.

It's one of those games that really has to be tried. So I guess I could have made this whole long story short and simply suggested:

Try Depths of Peril.

(Vaguely) related peril:
* Depths of Peril Demo and Quick Take
* Let's Talk About Depths of Peril
* What Were the Best Indie CRPGs of 2007?
* Depths of Peril Preview

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Monday, December 17, 2007
My Warhawk on PSP? Cheats and Easter Egg Time!
According to SiliconEra.com, there's a Warhawk title getting an ESRB rating for the Sony PSP. Speculation abounds, but guesses are that this is actually going to be the original (and, in my extremely biased opinion, the best) Warhawk for the Playstation One.

MY Warhawk.

Not that I was the only guy who worked on it - I was just part of the team (though the teams were smaller back then...). And not that I have played the PS3 version yet, but I suspect there'd only be pain, no matter how good it is. But I was on both the Twisted Metal and Warhawk teams, making shared code for both games.

So if you have a PSP, be sure and get this game. And here's an easter egg for you... when you clear the boss-tower near all the boats (I think it's the one pictured here... the second boss?) with rockets and have no rockets left (but have rockets armed, I think)... and I think there might be some other criteria like having a full load of swarm missiles remaining or something like that... it'll display a message greeting me by name ("Jay", not "Rampant Coyote"). And it will double your load of swarmers and lock-ons. Because I was the only person crazy enough to play that way. Everyone else would just blast through their swarm and lock-on missiles. I'd run through with the unguided rockets and the machine-gun the whole time. On the hardest difficulty. I'd save the homing missiles for only particular fights.

Oh, here's another easter egg. One of the cannisters of red mercury in every level is "special" (it was index 0 in the code). If you pick it up while you have the plasma cannon armed (because NOBODY uses the plasma cannon) AND your machinegun is currently overheated, I put in an easter egg that will upgrade your swarm missiles and lock-on missiles to the "super" variety.

I'm pretty sure those were documented in some magazine back in 1995 / 1996, so those aren't exactly news or anything.

But the game rawks. It remains my favorite to have worked on, even over Twisted Metal (but just by a smidgeon).

And some people are saying some nice things about it on Kotaku.

(Vaguely) related nostalgia:
* Warhawk Movie and Endings
* Easter Eggs
* Jet Moto Memories
* Warhawk Flies Again

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Friday, December 14, 2007
Frayed Knights - What's the Big Idea?
Okay. This week has been a little slow on the development front for Frayed Knights because it's been a little psycho on the development front of Some Mainstream Game That I Can't Talk About Yet at the job that actually pays the bills around here. Crunch mode got extended a week, which means much weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth, and 12+ hour days without even taking a break for lunch (or even to think). Evenings have consisted of playing snatches of games (particularly Eschalon: Book 1, Aveyond 2, and the very dangerous Galactic Civilizations II), and trying to fit in some development here and there.

A lot of time was spent hunting down stock content that could be modified to fit some of the miscellaneous content needs of the game. The sad answer is, very little will. But I'm happily spending my dwindling supply of cash on those stock model / interior / texture packs that show promise of being usable with some modification for Frayed Knights. But weighing price, formats, and really annoying EULA restrictions that protect the content so much I feel frustrated trying to use 'em, not to mention style differences, it can be pretty hard to locate appropriate stuff. So far, I'm happiest with 3drt.com for their low poly counts, high quality, similar style to what I'm needing, very non-restrictive EULA, attractive price, number of formats (though still no native Blender format, dang it!), and variety of textures and animations. Unfortunately, they don't have LOD on the models I purchased, which would ordinarily be a pain. But for Frayed Knights' purposes, I can work with it.

Fortunately, we've got some talented guys handling content-created on the Frayed Knights team who are handling the (still extensive) custom content requirements. Here are some early WIP examples of the Pus Golem.

When is Frayed Knights going to be released?
So I thought I'd take this chance to answer some questions about how Frayed Knights is going to be released to you, the discerning, good-looking, intelligent, and too-clever-to-be-flattered RPG enthusiast.

There is going to be a limited beta "demo release" in April for Windows. That's part of the contest that we're participating in, and it's going to be a way for me to get feedback on the direction of the game. The demo is going to consist of the Temple of Pokmor Xang, the western wilderness, and the village of Ardin. This is going to be as complete and polished as we can make it. A full-on commercial-grade RPG, code-complete (except for some bugs we need your help to discover), content-complete, but a smaller scope: dealing with a single chapter in the Frayed Knights saga.

This is pretty much what the final demo version will be, but in beta (with beta bugs) and subject to change based on feedback. Instead of upselling you on the full version, it'll instead direct you to some online feedback forms that will try and get you to tell us everything you can about how Frayed Knights changed your life, made you more attractive to the opposite sex, and increased your earning potential by 50%. Oh, and how we can make it better.

Why the Beta Demo?
While I am an RPG fan, I have never actually made a full-fledged RPG before (Hackenslash SO does not count!), so this will give me the chance to make my mistakes before I've committed them all to a big commercial release. So this is a tried-and-true practice of making you guys my guinea pigs. And if the demo doesn't suck, you guys get to try it out 6+ months before the full release of the game. And get to brag to all the non-cognizati about how much influence you had over the development of this masterpiece. Well, assuming you want to admit to playing it.

Based upon that feedback (besides the "Release the Mac / Linux Version, You Cretin!" comments), we're going to make some modifications to the game. Take it back to the dungeon workshop, hammer out the kinks, and fix what you felt was broken. The rest of the content (which I currently estimate to be about 5x larger than the demo) should still be early enough that significant changes to the game system shouldn't be a humongous impact.

The Full Version
Now, I cannot promise your characters and saved game from the beta demo will carry over to the final release. In fact, I can almost promise the opposite. Sorry 'bout that, but that's beta for you. While I foolishly hope that the first chapter of the game will be so perfect it won't need to be revisited at all, I honestly do expect it to change a bit. Abilities will need to be tweaked and rebalanced, monsters and treasures may need to be changed, some more story development may need to be done, etc.

The full version of the game will lead out with a PC / Windows version. I plan to follow it up with a Mac version. I mean, after all, I chose the game engine specifically because of Mac compatibility, so you'd better believe I plan to take advantage of it. But I haven't done any Mac development in 15 years, so it's gonna be a learning experience for me. A Linux version is still up in the air, dependent upon the reception of the game, as is future expansions and sequels. We've been getting TONS of ideas for future development of the Frayed Knights universe, and I'm trying not to get too excited about follow-ups while I'm still in the middle of development for the original game. Which, as far as I know, might flop.

But hey, that's why I'm taking this approach. Hopefully you guys will help make sure I'm not going in the "flop" direction, right? How does this plan sound to you? Whadayathink?

Discussion on the Frayed Knights Forum! Be There, or Be Somewhere Else!

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Activision and Harmonix / MTV Coming To Blows?
So... Harmonix and RedOctane - now owned by MTV and Activision Respectively. Once happy partners in one of the best franchises of the decade. Now... well, you know how "Ex-es" can be.

According the GamaSutra, they are now squabbling over a patch that would allow the Guitar Hero III controller to work properly with Rock Band on the PS3. Is this a bit of viciousness from Activision to try and stop the original Guitar Hero developer from eroding their sales during the critical Christmas sales? Activision claims that it is Harmonix that "declined Activision’s offer to reach an agreement that would allow the use of Guitar Hero guitar controllers with Rock Band." So Harmonix's statement could have been smokescreen to try and encourage customers to buy Rock Band in spite of the incompatibility, in expectation of a patch that is already working but (implied: temporarily) blocked.

What's the real story? It very well could be both. Synthesizing the two statements - Harmonix has a patch. Activision will agree to the patch only under certain conditions (concessions?) from Harmonix. Harmonix didn't agree to the terms (which could have been reasonable or entirely unreasonable, as far as we know). So Activision put pressure on Sony to block the patch.

So like squabbling divorced parents trying to win their kids' favor, they are painting each other as a bad guy. Am I getting warm here?

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Thursday, December 13, 2007
Galactic Civilzations II Warps the Time-Space Continuum
I just figured I'd put that out there. It's true. Because Galactic Civilizations II, with the Dark Avatar expansion (and I haven't tried the newest expansion yet), it somehow manages to do that. It has the power to warp you through through time so that, in only 10 minutes of "subjective time", you look at your watch and realize an hour and a half has somehow gone by.

Or maybe I'm just too tired from all the 12+ hour days.

Well, either way... it is the heir to Master of Orion's throne in every sense. And since MoO and MoO 2 are amongst my favorite games of all time, that's saying a lot.

The ability to customize your ships and the twisted tech trees from hell and the dozens of ways to skin a cat took it over the top. When an enemy race is almost impossible to dislodge with an invasion, I have learned to encompass them with cultural influence, lock down their morale improvements with spies, and just wait for them to rebel and join me.

Or I go all Londo Mollari on them and mass driver them into the stone age if I don't really care about keeping the planet.

(Vaguely) related words of questionable value
* Game Moments 1: Master of Orion
* I'm Not a Real Game Developer, I'm a Gamer Who Learned How To Program
* The Five A.M. Hall of Fame


Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Indie RPG News Roundup - December 12th
Things have actually quieted down on the indie computer RPG front - perhaps due to the holiday season being upon us. Still, there's a bit to look out for. Here's what's been happening this week:

Eschalon Book 1
Eschalon Book 1 has been out about three weeks, and it's got a lot of people talking. And playing. And buying. The buzz on several forums has been excited about this "old-school" western-style RPG. And a lot of people are excited for a second game --- which hopefully won't take as long as the first. It's personally gotten me excited because I feel a lot of mainstream RPGs have been stuck in something of a rut... and while Eschalon doesn't go into necessarily trek into uncharted territory, it goes back into a field that has laid fallow for a few seasons.

The beta 1.04 Patch is now available for Eschalon: Book 1. It's a beta, so use at your own risk. The patch information (including the download link) can be found here:
Eschalon: Book 1 Patch 1.04 Information

Also, the Mac version is out!
Download the Mac version of Eschalon: Book 1.

Finally, Scorpia has weighed in with her evaluation of the game. She does not use rating numbers, but her review is informative, largely positive, and full of detail. Why is it that Internet-based reviews, where space is no issue, tend to run shorter than print reviews? Oh, right, Internet users don't read. In which case, you aren't seeing this. Well, Scorpia bucks the trend. Leave it to an old-school reviewer to handle an old-school RPG properly. Here ya go:
Scorpia's Review of Eschalon: Book 1

Depths of Peril
The "official" patch 1.004 has been released for Depths of Peril, the action / strategy dynamic-world RPG. Among various bug-fixes, rogues got a little bit of class-balance love in this patch, and the higher-difficulty world has gotten a little bit harder. You can check out the complete changelist here.

Depths of Peril Patch 1.004

And there are more monsters posted on Soldak's site: The Plaguebringer, the Plaguebringer Larva, and the Skeleton (hey, every fantasy RPG has to have a skeleton in it? It's like the law or something... I think it's called the Harryhausen Law...)

New Depths of Peril Monsters

Shady O'Grady's Rising Star
I just heard about this one last week, but it's been out since February. Better late than never, I guess.

From the website, "In Shady O'Grady's™ Rising Star, you start out as a rookie musician, and work your way up to stardom. However, success doesn't come without hard work. You must join other musicians with compatible personalities, write songs, and practice practice practice! Go out on the town, to get familiar with the local club scene, until the day comes for your first gig. Eventually, you will deal with larger venues, managers, producers, record contracts, product endorsements, and more."

Why do I talk about it here? Well, it features "RPG-style experience/leveling system, with six assignable skills: Songwriting, Playing, Stage Presence, Production, Repair, and Business. Make band decisions based on your musicians' Inspiration, Health, Happiness, and Ego levels."

So it sounds like a Sim / RPG hybrid, but I confess I haven't had a chance to check it out yet. Maybe this weekend. I mean, an RPG that is NOT about battling orcs and goblins? Wow, sign me up! This sounds nice and off-beat. But hey - you can beat me to the punch and check it out yourself and tell ME about it:

Shady O'Grady's Rising Star

Indie Game of the Year Voting
GameTunnel.com has the annual "player's choice" poll up for tons of indie games that were released this year. Be sure and vote for your favorites. There are lots of RPGs up this year, unlike past years, though many have expressed disappointment that Eschalon: Book 1 wasn't one of the choices.

Game Tunnel's Player's Choice Award Voting

And there we go for this week! Have fun!

(Vaguely) related indie rpg-ness.
* What Are the Best Indie CRPGs of 2007?
Indie RPG News for December 5th, 2007
* Indie RPG News for November 28th, 2007
* Indie RPG News for November 22nd, 2007

Post Your Indie RPG Thoughts Here! Or Not! See If I Care! *Sniff*


Tuesday, December 11, 2007
New IF Competition
TIGSource is running an interactive fiction (previously known as "text adventure") competition called, "Text the Halls." It started at midnight last night, and ends on Christmas Eve. The theme is Winter / The Holidays / Christmas. Get cooking!

Text The Halls IF Competition.


Game Programmers Versus Game Designers
One of the major differences I've noticed between working in the mainstream games biz now versus when I started *cough*thirteen*cough* years ago is the amount of work that goes into making the entire game very data-driven.

Maybe it's just the companies I worked for then, versus the ones I work for now. But it seems that the trick companies are using to help scale projects is put more burden on designers for creating the data, scripting solutions, and so forth. Not that this is new. We put a ton of effort into scripting in Outwars back in '97, after all, and even Twisted Metal and Warhawk had tons of parameters for the designers to play with. It just seems like a greater amount of emphasis.

What this means, from a programmer's perspective, is that you can write the most pristine, perfect, bug-free, wonderful code in the world - and its still gonna be turned into utter buggy crap by some designer's script or data when they don't know what parameter X is supposed to do. And the programmer is gonna get the blame by default. It's just our lot in life.

Of course, that assumes pristine and perfect code. You can ask the designers that work with me, and they'll let you know in no uncertain terms that my programming isn't in the same zip code as "pristine and perfect." We'll go back and forth, of course, about how I implemented the code in only twenty minutes because said designers suddenly decided they absolutely needed a feature only three hours before the milestone was due.

That's life in the games biz. Hey, on my indie project, I do 95% of the work at the design-level, through the built-in scripting language and all that, so I'm in the same boat. I can empathize. But I still turn into crotchety old programmer guy at work. It's just how things are expected to roll. Who am I to fight tradition?

Oh, right, I'm an indie. I buck tradition all the time. Okay. So I don't think I'm all that crotchety. And I'm not old! Except maybe in the eyes of some of the kids in the QA department who think Playstation 2 games are "retro." But I digress...

Things get more interesting. Not only is there a weird joint-custody relationship over stuff that makes the game run, but the designers are... well... creative. By their very nature, designers get very creative in the use of whatever tools you give them. We joke about bugs being "undocumented features," but sometimes a designer will find and take advantage of a bug. Truly use it as a feature. Sometimes they'll have no clue they are using some unwanted side-effect to make their mission work. And then they'll get mad when the bug finally gets fixed, because they'll have two levels that depended upon that broken functionality. They'll have written sixteen scripts that force this weird bug to happen because its just a cool effect, and then as a programmer you have to purposefully re-implement the bug in a more controlled, parameterized fashion to make 'em happy.

Not that game designers are ever happy. For more than a few minutes at a time, anyway, after they get a shiny new toy. It's like a genetic impossibility or something. Or something they learn in game designer school (they've got those now, these young punks... oh, wait, there's the crotchety old programmer guy thing emerging again...)

The solution, naturally, is keeping good communication going between the designers and programmers. Which can cause nightmares for some managers, because unbridled communication leads to feature creep and priorities getting knocked out of whack. Because programmers love giving designers shiny new toys to play with. If not out of the goodness of our hearts, it's out of the pains in our necks. Which means the solution to one nightmare leads to another set of nightmares.

Have I mentioned that game development is kinda hard?

(Vaguely) related old game programmer crotchetiness...
* On Game Engines and Swarm Missiles
* My Worst Bug Ever
* Jet Moto Memories
* Losing Your Limits Without Losing Your Mind
* Why Software Design Isn't Like Architecture

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Monday, December 10, 2007
Final Fantasy Turns 20
1Up has a multi-part article series up about the Final Fantasy game series, which has now passed the two-decade mark.

An interesting note which I'd heard before, but was unsure of its veracity: The name of the game came about because the company was expected to fail, and this game was going to be its swan song. Twenty years later, plus a couple of movies and an anime cartoon series, there's not much "Final" about it.

Final Fantasy's 20th Anniversary Retrospective, Part 1

Final Fantasy's 20th Anniversary Retrospective, Part 2

Final Fantasy's 20th Anniversary Retrospective, Part 3

Final Fantasy's 20th Anniversary Retrospective, Part 4

There are several statements in the first article that really fascinate me:
"Final Fantasy was an easy sell to Japanese gamers already in love with Dragon Quest, but American gamers initially weren't enthusiastic about the meditative process of level grinding..."

Final Fantasy II had no trouble capturing the hearts of fans, the series remained relegated to just that niche audience: fans. Overall, American gamers still weren't interested in the RPG genre, so Final Fantasy belonged exclusively to the "nerd" demographic, which was pretty content with its own secret, unspoiled slice of gaming heaven..."

"Most (American fans) had no idea that any
Final Fantasy titles existed beyond the few in America. With Internet use on the rise, American fans would soon discover that they'd missed out on Final Fantasy V, which had been slated for localization as Final Fantasy Extreme. It was ultimately passed over due to the perception that it was too challenging and complex for American players."
So... Americans... what was our problem? Part of me wonders if it was the popularity of PC games here in the U.S. Back in the early 90's, the PC was the platform of choice for the more slower-paced strategic / "thinking" games, and consoles were still very much for arcade-style action. This wasn't an exclusive division, particularly after Doom happened on the PC. But we PC gamers were quietly enjoying our Ultimas and Might & Magics and Wizardries and "Gold Box" Advanced Dungeons & Dragons games and Magic Candles around this time frame, which were taking a completely different evolutionary course.

Admittedly, I was part of the problem. I am a PC gamer, and my first console was a Playstation. My introduction to the series came with Final Fantasy VII (discussed in Part 2). While very different in flavor and style from the RPGs I was used to, and following the plot was difficult at best (I was never sure if it was translation problems or just a really weird, complicated plot), I enjoyed it thoroughly. Not that it made me enjoy my hard-core western RPGs any less.

(Vaguely) related
* Why Was Final Fantasy VII So Successful?
* The 16 Essential RPGs
* The Evolution of Computer RPGs
* Ultimate Utopia XXIII

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Sunday, December 09, 2007
How Quickly Does a Game Have to "Hook" You?
How much time does a game have nowadays, in the world of downloadable demos, to "hook" you as a player and convince you that it is worth spending your hard-earned cash on?

About 30 seconds, according to indie game developer Ste Pickford.

And it's worse than that (from the perspective of a game maker): The player is only going to try the games he's already interested in, and would have - in the past - purchased outright. But in today's world of downloadable demos, the thirty seconds might be what it takes to convince him not to open the wallet.

It's great for the consumers, of course. You are far less likely to buy a bad game this way. Ste suggests that the brave new world of downloadable demos more resembles the days of the arcades:

"Coin-ops had the most brutal real-world evaluation system ever devised: coin drop figures. New coin-op machines would be wheeled into test arcades, and the number of coins collected would be counted at the end of the week. If they weren't high enough the developers would have to change the game and try again with a new version. This would continue until the coin drop figures were high enough for a full release (in other words the devs somehow made the game accessible and appealing to enough for players to keep putting money in), or the game was canned. There's no arguing with a system like that."

I'd suggest that the investment of time put into downloading the demo (and installing it on the PC) might justify a little more time than thirty seconds. But not a lot more. For a web-based game, I'd guess that you might not have more than about sixty seconds to make that awesome first impression.

At least, that's how I am.

How about you? How much time does a game have to pull you in before you exit and delete it (or leave the website, never to return)?

(Vaguely) related thinky-stuff:
* The "Red Line" In Game Demos
* "Red Line" Analysis of Mainstream Games
* How To Get Me To Buy Your Indie RPG
* The Rules of Game Design


Friday, December 07, 2007
Frayed Knights: Save Me, You Jerks!
Problem: You and your adventuring party find a hottie chained up in the awful evil dungeon filled with nasty monsters, probably awaiting some horrible fate. What do you do?

Solution: If your answer was to rescue her, you may have fallen pray to one of the oldest tricks in the book. If you are an old-school pen & paper RPGer, that is.

And if you happen to be one of the Frayed Knights, you get into an argument over whether or not to rescue her. Because everyone except the new guy in the party (Benjamin) realizes there's a better-than-even chance that she's going to stab you in the back on the way back out of the dungeon. With a snipe or two from the ladies about how this kind of trap is designed for typical parties of all-male adventurers, who think with something other than their brains in these situations. Now, this sort of communication and discussion of conflicting opinions isn't necessarily a bad thing - except when the subject of your argument happens to be standing RIGHT THERE behind a cell door (something she keeps pointedly reminding her potential rescuers...)

So what will you do? And what will SHE do if you rescue her? Well, only you can answer the first question (both options are acceptable), and I ain't gonna tell ya the second. You are gonna have to figure that one out by yourself. I just brought it up as an example of some of the clichés that I am trying to not avoid, but rather highlight, in the games' design. If it is a cliché, the Frayed Knights will often recognize it as such. And I'm trying to build the world so that those clichés (or conventions if you will) are explained.

And it's just too funny to see the Frayed Knights argue about whether or not to rescue a girl. Kinda tosses heroic fantasy on its ear. Okay, yeah, so they kinda did it in Raiders of the Lost Ark... but not quite like this. Oh, and you'll see that the Torque Elf is happily filling in for the Potentially Evil Traitor Girl Who Claims To Be In Need of Rescue in the picture. That's the beauty of stand-in art. At least she resembles a girl. Somehow Kork the Torque Orc just wouldn't have been the same...

On Long Hours
Well, I spent a lot of time at the day job this week, which has turned into a day-and-night job. Ugh. But it pays the bills. I'd love for that to change, and who knows? Maybe Frayed Knights might go on to sell tens of thousands of copies in just a few short months! And those monkeys might start flying out of my butt any moment now...

And then there was the matter of playing Aveyond 2 and Eschalon: Book 1 (and a li'l bit of Galactic Civilizations II + Dark Avatar). Which helped me keep my sanity amidst 12-hour workdays. All three are great games, BTW... go indie! Maybe they were so good because I was hallucinating half the time - and man, that Cyclops was, like, RIGHT THERE, man!

But work I did, and sleep I did not... well, not very much, anyway, even for me. It's hard for the brain to do heavy lifting late at night when you didn't get enough sleep the night before, so I largely kept things simple. Stuff like just getting the lighting right in levels can be surprisingly time consuming, by the way.

Pokmor Xang Revisited
James got the "real" statue of Pokmor Xang done (well, the first version at least) this week. After getting him placed and lit correctly, I think he looks more twisted than I had hoped. We added some corrosion to the brass (you didn't think those cheapskate cultists would actually have made him out of GOLD, do you?), which really helped make him look ... ickier. James also decided to spend polygons on making the jeweled pimples & blisters actual 3D objects rather than textures. Seeing those things... er... pop out at you... really makes a difference!

So here is happy Pokmor Xang, ominously lit from below and in front... Now, would YOU accept a donut from this guy?

What's funny (again, possibly caused by too little sleep) is that I feel like I have been LIVING in this dungeon lately. I hope the other ones will go much faster than this (since I'm learning as I go, and developing code as I need it). It's like back when I was playing too much EverQuest, and got to know Cazic Thule and Howling Stones like the back of my hand.

Technical Stuff
And it was a voyage of discovery for me. Some fun things I learned about Torque this week:

#1: Torque translates a negative translation about an axis into a positive translation around a negative axis. Something to bear in mind when you have to move collision volumes around because Torque Doesn't Animate Collision Volumes! Grrr! Okay, I understand there are good (well, not good, but reasonable) technical reasons for that, but it's still annoying.

#2: Torque translates a rotation of zero (or even "close to zero") around any axis to a rotation about the X axis (pitch). So if your object suddenly changes axis when you are monkeying with it algorithmically (for the reason above) - well, now you know. Surprise!

#3: Torque Constructor's export to legacy dif format was obviously not carefully tested with the last release. Since I'm still running on the 1.4x code base (it's seriously Frankencoded, so upgrading to 1.5x may not be a reasonable option), I have to do this, and Constructor pretty much chews it up and spits out an ugly mess that resembles a transporter accident aboard the starship Enterprise. Fortunately, the command-line tool map2dif_plus.exe is my friend. I just skip using the internal exporter (that sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it?) and run it in another window.

I also spent some time this week working on level initialization and re-entry. Not that you can leave the dungeon and come back yet (or even save the game and re-load it yet). If a door has been unlocked, a trap set off, a treasure chest looted, and a boss slain, you don't want those to reset every time you come back to the dungeon. Well, okay, maybe for some games you do, but not for this one. This part is still not "done," but the framework is there.

What's Next?
I don't know yet what next week will look like. Our goal is to have the Temple of Pokmor Xang wrapped up and "alpha ready" by the end of the month. That's still a lot of work to do in just over three weeks (particularly with the holidays and ... well, crunch-mode).

(Vaguely) related half-conscious musings:
* RPG Design: Quest Abuse
* Frayed Knights: Prologue - Background and High Concept
* Wandering Monsters and Random Encounters
* To Sleep, Perchance To Dream...

Got Something To Recommend? Here's a Forum Thread On This Article!

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Thursday, December 06, 2007
How Guitar Hero Was Designed...
There's a partial interview up on GamaSutra with Rob Kay of Harmonix, the studio responsible for Guitar Hero I and II, and now Rock Band. It basically covers the genesis of the original Guitar Hero - what went into the design, how their processes evolved, and so forth.

Interestingly enough, it was not expected to be a "big" game at all - which explains why it was impossible to find a copy of the game the first couple of months. Publisher RedOctane was simply wanting to make more peripherals like the Dance Dance Revolution pad, had wanted to create a guitar controller, but had learned that the one guitar game out there - Guitar Freaks - had not yet been released in the U.S.

So they came to Harmonix and asked them to create a guitar game - basically it was a game just to sell a peripheral. An excerpt:
"I don't think RedOctane had any particularly grand ambitions other than needing a game. Relatively speaking, it was a pretty low-budget game -- about a million dollars, which is pretty tiny as a game budget.

"We had a team that had just been freed up, as we'd just finished AntiGrav. This seemed like an awesome project. Everyone here was really psyched to work on a rock guitar game; it really fitted in with people's interests here. No one had any notions about it being a massive success; we all just thought it would be fun to do."

I'd say that worked out pretty well...

Interview: Rob Kay on Designing Guitar Hero

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Indie RPG News Roundup, December 5th
All the indie RPG news that is fit to sacrifice bits to! At least this week. The indie computer role-playing scene is not only alive and well, but exploding. Indie games are supposed to be somewhat immune to the "pre-Christmas rush," but this time we're getting several late-year releases.

As I stated earlier this week, 2007 has been a great year for indie CRPGs. At least in my opinion. Nobody's bothering to correct me, which probably has less to do with my correctness than just the fact that nobody really cares what I say, but that allows me to preserve my illusions of being authoritative or something. So I'll say it again - it's been a great year for indie CRPGs. Here's what's happening just this week - new releases, updates, and rumors of upcoming developments!

Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest
The long-awaited sequel to the 2006 "casual RPG" hit, Aveyond, is now available from Amaranth Games. I posted a "First Impressions" article about it Monday. Some of the key features of the new game include mouse support, the chance to shape-shifting Ean and change Iya's clothes, join a guild, buy Grimm's Farm and raise pets, a karma system, an attraction system, and lots of secret caves with goodies.

Download Aveyond 2

Note: The website is getting HAMMERED right now. Three guesses as to why... But you may want to wait until later tonight to download the demo.

Eschalon: Book 1
An updated and improved demo version of Eschalon: Book 1 is now available. So if you haven't tried it out yet, now is a good time.

Also, according to RPGWatch, the Mac version of Eschalon: Book 1 should be available next week (December 11th). Thomas R. and company are working their butts off, and it shows. Anyway - Mac players, rejoice, you won't have to wait too long for this one.

On a personal note, it turned out to be the perfect game for me last night when I was unwinding after a near 13-hour straight workday. I upgraded my equipment, managed to take on some thugs, got some good treasure... I feel pretty good about that. It's a dang good game.

Avernum V
Spiderweb has announced that they hope to have the Windows version of Avernum V available in early March, 2008. So you Mac players can mock and jeer at us Windows RPG fans for three months or so.

Scars of War
Gareth Fouche has posted some screenshots from his upcoming 3D RPG, "Scars of War." You can see them here:

Scars of War Environment Update

I asked Gareth about the release date for Scars of War, and he said, "I would like it to be out 2008, but it would be late 2008." We'll cross our fingers. I know I'm looking forward to this one.

Geneforge 5
The fifth and final chapter of the Geneforge saga has begun development at Spiderweb Software. According to Spiderweb's recently-released newsletter, "We have begun piecing its storyline together, and we can promise Geneforge fans a truly unique journey."

To the World Tree
To the World Tree, by Prankster Games, is a free RPG that was a contestant in this year's IGF competition. In To the World Tree you control first a lone adventurer, and later a party of adventurers, as they journey through a mystical world of magic, battle, and mystery, in a quest for the legendary World Tree. To the World Tree is a single-player, party-based, computer role-playing game for Windows (sorry Mac players...)

It's entered Beta 4 as of December 4th, and is free for download. The author is strongly encouraging feedback.

Download To the World Tree

Depths of Peril
There are three more monsters added to the monsters page for Depths of Peril: The Lurker, the Ghost, and the Tower.

Depths of Peril Monsters

Well, that's this week's batch of news... Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Forum Thread for talkin' about Indie RPG News....

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Outpost Kaloki Drops Price
Outpost Kaloki has just received a price reduction down to $14.95.

What Is Outpost Kaloki?
If you haven't tried out Outpost Kaloki, it's a very cute, funny, cartoon-y 3D "tycoon" game from the awesome folks at NinjaBee. It's the PC original of the hit Live Arcade game for the XBox 360. You manage a series of very unusual space stations with bizarre alien patrons and even more unusual problems throughout the galaxy in a twisty little storyline involving a kidnapped princess (hey, there's gotta be the chance to rescue the princess).

Weird? You betcha. Fun? Very. You have to manage cash, power, commerce, your visitors' expectations, and whatever crisis is currently happening in space. And you get to build things like space lemonade stands. There's a story-based campaign of 14 scenarios, plus some stand-alone missions, plus a "sandbox mode" just to see what kinda mega-super-space-metropolis you can build over time.

Kaloki & Me
My relationship with Outpost Kaloki stretches back a bit. When I was finishing up on Void War, I was introduced to Steve Taylor and the founders of Wahoo (AKA NinjaBee) by a mutual friend. Since I had become familiar with the "indie game development community" (such as it is) and stuff, they had a bunch of questions for me.

They'd been developing this game (codenamed "Worm," then "Outpost Alpha," if I recall) on their own and shopping it around to publishers to try and get it greenlit and funded as a console game. None of them were biting. The NinjaBee guys kept sinking time and money into this "prototype" until it was really close to being a finished game. Finally, they'd decided to try and release it themselves for the PC. But they didn't know how to do that.

So that's why they wanted to ask me questions. How did you do it? That much I could answer. As far as making it a smash success, I still don't know. I loved the game from the beginning, gave them a lot of advice (some of which was actually good), and they launched the game. They were overjoyed when it got picked up by the casual portals, but then they found that the game didn't quite appeal to the casual audience. It is still a gamer's game, with a lot of depth and challenge to it.

Which made it a perfect release for the XBox 360 a few months later, where it stood out in a sea of shooters, and became a hit. It had that awesome combination of good luck, good timing, and a great game. The key is that it's a great game - both the PC and 360 versions.

You can try it out yourself for free (as always) here:

Download Outpost Kaloki

(Vaguely) related stuff. With words 'n pictures 'n stuff.
* Console Indie: Interview with Steve Taylor of NinjaBee
* Quick Strategy Games


Tuesday, December 04, 2007
What Were the Best Indie CRPGs of 2007?
It's about that time of year again, when most of the magazines and websites begin tallying up what they think were the most-hyped best-marketed best games of the preceding twelve months. It's a little topic guaranteed to stir up about as many heated arguments as talking about politics or religion. Sounds like fun, doesn't it?

I wanna play, too!

Now, I'm a game developer who only tinkers with doing reviews or "First Impressions" or whatnot. This isn't a gaming review site, so I tend to avoid doing full reviews of games here. In fact, I actually haven't PLAYED all the indie games that came out this year labeled "RPGs." In fact, I'm pretty certain that I don't even know about all of them. But I'm trying, striving to keep abreast of all of them as best as I can because I do enjoy them, and I like to stay informed.

And that has been quite a challenge this year. It's not like indie games deliberately hide themselves from detection, so much as getting lost in all the noise.

2007 has been - in my mind, at least - a great year for indie RPGs. We had a slew of outstanding releases, as compared to previous years where we had little besides the perennial Jeff Vogel release and a couple of abandoned-half-finished RPG Maker projects to talk about.

But this year, we've had a ton. And several of them would make good candidates for "Indie RPG of the Year." To start with, we received:

Geneforge 4, the fourth of a turn-based science-fantasy series by Spiderweb Software.

Depths of Peril, a merging of Diablo-style gameplay with a dynamic world, decisions that "really matter," and a strategic component against both gathering enemy forces (which really do gather) and rival factions.

Eschalon: Book 1, a return to "old school" RPG values from the early 90's, done up with more modern graphics and interface.

Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest, the sequel to last year's hit "casual RPG."

Nethergate: Resurrection, the modern remake of Spiderweb's sleeper RPG based (very loosely) on the historical conflict between the Celts and the Romans (with plenty of fantasy and myth, lest you think it is the RPG equivalent of a documentary).

Loonyland 2: Winter Woods (was that a 2007 release?), a silly and cute action-RPG in a world of killer teddy bears and toy soldiers,

Avernum V, only a Mac release for now, but count it - that's THREE releases from Spiderweb!

Cute Knight Deluxe, a new and improved version of 2005's award-winner and another great "casual RPG" sim-hybrid.

And those are just the "bigger," more publicized indie RPG releases.

We've also had some lesser-known titles arrive like The Last Scenario (a very high-quality free RPG Maker title), Parhedros: The Tunnels of Sethir (warning: NSFW), Final Vision, Knight Man 3: The Demon Within, and probably a half-dozen others that have actual made a 1.0 release that I don't know about or can't remember. And at least one more (Birth of Shadows) that might squeak in before January.

UPDATE: Mr. Robot, by Moonpod Games, was released on January 10th of this year, and is described as in the press release as an "action-puzzle-adventure-rpg." There's RPG in there somewhere. I haven't played it.

UPDATE #2: Shady O'Grady's Rising Star was released in February. I'd never heard of it. It's a ... rock band RPG, from the sounds of it. With roguelike elements. This is one I'll have to try! Thanks to Atlas on the Iron Tower forums for pointing this one out to me.

If you were counting, that was thirteen fourteen fifteen titles. Well, actually, that's in case you weren't counting, because if you were counting you already knew that. Does fourteen fifteen constitute a ton? It's more than one a month, at least. And having played several, I know that many of 'em didn't suck.

In fact, some were pretty dang awesome. But which were the best? I have my own feelings on that. But I'd rather hear yours. So what is your top pick (or picks) for the indie RPG of the year?

Did any of then outshine the others? WHY? What made them stand out?

And what other releases have I missed?

What are your thoughts on the state of indie CRPGs in 2007?

Let me know in the forum thread! Or here in the comments, if you prefer to remain anonymous and unregistered while you are plugging your own game and tearing down your competitors or something... :)

(Vaguely) related tales of rampant somethingoranotherings:
* Aveyond 2 First Look
* Initial Scouting Report: Eschalon, Book 1
* Let's Talk About Depths of Peril
* Indie RPG News Roundup, December 5th
* Indie RPG News Roundup, November 28th
* Indie RPG News Roundup, November 15th

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How To Bootstrap Your Indie Art Needs
DanC has another outstanding article for game developers on The Lost Garden:

How To Boostrap Your Indie Art Needs

It's a quick how-to for programmers who have no clue how to get art for their games - with lots of suggestions. And an admonition to get over yourself, you aren't Blizzard and aren't gonna make a game that looks like Blizzard's.

He does restrict the discussion of ways that work to using free graphics, and hiring an artist to do custom work for you. There is (kind of) a third option, which is to license non-free content packs. This is sort of in the same boat as the free graphics content, but it's ... uh... not free. However, in many cases (at least, so they TELL me), the content pack creator may be willing to do some customization for you at a reasonable fee. So you may be able to get a little bit of the best of both worlds... a lot of content for cheap, and some customization for your game.

A fourth option is to learn the mad arts skillz yourself. This is a long-term plan. My own skills still suck, but I've definitely found that they suck less over time. Now, this probably won't make you capable of doing it all yourself without need of artists, but even so it can help you in several ways:

#1 - Allows you to better customize existing art without ruining it.

#2 - Enables easier communication with artists

#3 - Allows you to build stand-in content without having to wait for artists

#4 - You may be able to create some non-critical content all by yourself where needed (though it may not be the best use of your time if you are a l337 programmer).

I wish I had a magic formula for getting all the art I need instantly at no cost and of the quality I need. But while I'm wishing, I may as well wish for a million dollars, too. Getting art for my games has been a huge challenge from the beginning, and I don't expect that problem to go away.


Monday, December 03, 2007
2008 IGF Main Competition Finalists Announced
The student finalists are still pending, but the finalists for the 10th Annual Independent Games Festival have been announced (with details on the IGF Site).

But here they go:

Seumas McNally Grand Prize

Best Web Browser Game

Design Innovation Award

Excellence in Visual Art

Excellence in Audio

Technical Excellence

Unfortunately, I'm not familiar with the finalists this time around except Globulos (which is pretty dang cool). None of my favorites were nominated. Bummer. Well, hey, congrats to the finalists!


Aveyond 2 First Look
Aveyond 2 now available!

Amanda of Amaranth Games graciously provided me with a preview copy of the upcoming indie RPG, Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest (a late beta / release candidate, so it may not exactly match the final version). I had no time to play this weekend, but I played it anyway. I'm about two-and-a-half hours into the game, and I think I finally finished the "introduction."

Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest is, naturally, the sequel to the best-selling indie RPG, "Aveyond" (AKA Aveyond 1: Rhen's Quest) I've talked about Aveyond quite a bit in the past, and you already know most of what I've had to say about it has been pretty complimentary. Aveyond 2 is a different story in the same world, using the same core engine, and so far feels like it has improved over the previous game in nearly every area.

Like the newly-released indie RPG Eschalon: Book 1, Aveyond 2 begins with an amnesia story. Only this time, it's an interesting twist: Overnight, your best friend, Iya, disappears. Strangely, nobody in the village but you can remember her - even her own parents. It's up to you, a young elven lad, to rescue a girl with only a ribbon as proof that she ever existed.

One thing I do like is that the game doesn't string you along too much to achieving your initial goal - I've already found Iya in this time, but the situation has become more complicated, and the stakes have escalated. The plot continues to twist. That's what I like in an RPG, and I think I've now been sucked in. Things are progressing at a good pace. One of Aveyond's strengths was its story, and Aveyond 2 seems to be continuing that tradition.

Naturally, the game also has some of the weird quirks common not only to its prequel, but to the RPG Maker game engine and the typical RPG traditions (particularly "jRPGs" - Japanese [eastern] RPGs) Weirdness like cute wildlife capable of slaughtering you (including the deadly "wild chickens" that plague Rhen in the early stages of Aveyond 1). And the same cute little wildlife mysteriously drop things like baked goods, berries, and gold coins on their demise. And then there are things like inn prices that seem to rise linearly the further you get from your home village. The quest journal is minimalist, the new mouse interface is a little bit on the twitchy side, you can't flee combat once it is joined (that I can tell), and the resolution is still limited to 640 x 480.

But these are mainly minor quibbles. I love smacking passing little fuzzy animals for gold, after all, even though I have no clue where they carry their change-purse. Insert Monty Python quotes about swallows carrying coconuts here. Really, it's all good fun, and is as much of a tradition in many RPGs that I often chalk up to some kind of abstraction on bounty or something.

Overall, the game carries even more polish than the first, but will be immediately playable to anyone who played through even the demo version of Aveyond. For those with no experience with these kinds of games, Aveyond 2 includes a tutorial to get you through the basics - you'll talk to people, activate objects, get a quest, form a party, battle monsters, get treasure, solve the quest, and even level up all within the tutorial. You can also choose not to go through the tutorial, though I haven't tried that option.

Graphically, Aveyond 2 seems superior to the previous game. The music, as in the first game (if you got the free music pack upgrade for Aveyond 1), is excellent. The mouse interface is new, and addresses what was probably the biggest complaint in the original game. I personally found myself going back to the keyboard interface that I was used to, and I felt it was a little "twitchy" clicking on destinations in a moving, scrolling area (particularly since your party will do no pathfinding, ignoring clicks to destinations they can't see, as in Eschalon). But that was probably a result of familiarity with the controls from Aveyond 1 and The Last Scenario.

A good RPG should have a few adventure-game style challenges (IMO). So far, Aveyond 2 does not disappoint. The game mixes up standard combat (of which there is plenty) with some less violent challenges. Early on, I faced a timed "puzzle" challenge to trap a monster that I (in theory) could not hope to beat in combat - after all, I was still vulnerable to being two-shotted by a Wild Chicken at that point. The puzzle and timing were not at all difficult, as I pulled it off on the first try. Even though it wasn't difficult, these kinds of puzzles are always very satisfying... probably because they make me feel far more clever than I really am.

From a challenge standpoint, the game starts out pretty easy, and allows you to set your own pace as it ramps up. Go far too quickly, and you may find yourself in combat over your head. Each town (so far) has offered improvements in equipment over the previous one, and it has proven absolutely critical that I buy those upgrades before attempting to move on with the game. While leveling up makes a big difference, too, upgrading from a hunting knife to leather claws, or from no armor to leather armor, made the single biggest difference in my survivability. Otherwise, I found myself running through healing items and trips to the local inn almost too fast to afford anything else.

While the party's size, level, and equipment were primary issues in determining success or disaster in combat, there is still some tactical decision-making and resource management factors that must be considered and may mean the difference between success and reloading a saved game. Nothing that will bake the noodle of a hardcore wargaming grognard, but enough to make combat interesting once you get some powers, items, and extra party members.

While it's still too early to know for sure, so far I'm really pleased with Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest. It has all the magic of the original, but with a number of improvements and better production values - and of course, a whole new story. Most importantly, it has proven fun and compelling. I really had to force myself to call it quits as I saw the time push past midnight, as I found myself pushing to complete just one more quest, or just to just get to the next village.

Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest will be available on Wednesday, December 5th from Amaranth Games, December 11th from Big Fish Games, and January 11th from seedy Plimus affiliates like me. (UPDATE: Yep. Here's the latest version of Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest )

(Vaguely) related pseudo-literary meanderings:
* Aveyond!
* Interview with Amanda Fitch, Indie RPG and Casual Game Designer
* What Makes a Good "Casual" RPG?

Forum Discussion: Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest!

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Sunday, December 02, 2007
Blizzard + Activision = ?
Wow. Who woulda thought Pitfall Harry and The Lost Vikings would one day evolve into this?

Activision and Blizzard have announced an intention to merge.

Can't say I saw that one coming.

What will it look like in the end? I have no idea. But I do think that if I were EA, I'd be nervously looking over my shoulder right about now.


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