Frayed Knights Now Available!
A thrill-junky rogue who considers defying death the best alternative to boredom.
A cute but scatterbrained sorceress with destructive tendencies.
A tree-hugging nature-priest who wonders why everyone can't just get along.
Together, they are going to save a kingdom from destruction...
...if they don't kill each other first.
I'm not sure what else to say. You folks who have been following the development of this game - well, half of you have been helping me test, and the other half probably know more about the game than you would if you'd already played it once. But the pilot episode of the indie RPG Frayed Knights is now available for download. This is a short "demo" adventure - a single quest which should probably take anywhere from a half hour to two hours to explore.
Let me know what you think. And I'm going to see if I can't sleep for a week... (I wish...)
And I apologize - as announced before, the pilot is Windows-only. A Mac version (and probably Linux) is planned for the full version, already in development.
Frayed Knights Website
UPDATE: Ed Maurina, author of The Game Programmer's Guide to Torque, has kindly made a mirror available if you are having trouble downloading it from the primary website:
Frayed Knights Pilot Mirror
Drama vs. Fun?
It's kinda funny - when my job makes me work all through the night until nearly sunrise, I get very annoyed. But when I do it to myself - meh, it's just what has to be done. But after this weekend, I hope you can understand if I'm a little on the snarky side. I think I'm averaging four hours of sleep a night, which is pretty low even for ME.
Gareth Fouche, creator of the indie RPG Scars of War, posted recently about trying something similar to Frayed Knights' "drama star" system. The reaction was almost universally negative. Even when the system is presented entirely as a "bonus" on top of the regular saved-game system, it's seen as a detriment.
How dare you even consider NOT saving my entire game state! Well, except the bad stuff. I don't care about you forgetting about that.
And it goes back to the whole story versus gameplay thing. Again. A perfectly well-played game makes for a horribly boring story. Who would like hearing about the hero who always wins, always makes the best decisions, never falls for a trick, has no flaws, and rarely even suffers a setback (and then it's always because of things beyond his control)? A guy who is a lantern-jawed, cool hero who - when the chips are down - becomes a lantern-jawed, cool hero. The home basketball team that suffers win after win, until a caring coach figures out how to bring out their best and teach them about teamwork, so they can start... winning some more.
That makes for lousy stories. Yet when we play a game, we're out to win. That desire to win makes us unwilling to accept the intermediate defeats and the ups-and-downs that make a good story. So designers force them down our throats with non-interactive cut-scenes, making it clear to us that no, this twist of events that makes things more interesting is NOT in our control, so it's "safe" to accept it and move on....
Now, in practice --- at least so far, and for the imminent-release of the pilot for Frayed Knights, I can't say that my attempt to recruit the player to the storyteller side of things with the Drama Star system has been an unqualified success. I think it has a subtle effect on the game in that direction, which is good enough for me. It's been a pretty divisive topic in theory, yet in practice I don't know if the testers (hey guys, feel free to speak up to confirm or contradict this...) actually found it to be that big of a deal in either direction. I know the system still needs some tweaking, and it will undoubtedly play a much bigger deal in the full release than in the pilot (in practice, currently, you are likely to face the "boss" encounter with only barely three bronze stars - enough to rescue ONE character from incapacitation, but they will have only one hit point left and be likely to drop in the very next round unless the battle is nearly over...)
Maybe I am wimping out and I need to make the drama stars an even greater influence on the game. But as a gamer who tends to devote only "casual" time levels to playing games these days, I really don't want to use golden handcuffs on players to lock them to the game, or to give players with only 20 or 30 minutes to devote to a game per session a crippling limitation.
I remember - as Gareth points out - how frustrating it got in Diablo II trying to find that stupid portal before I quit for the day. It wasn't like you really lost any significant progress by quitting without finding the thing... all the experience points and treasure you gained was yours to keep, even if you ended up repeating a level or two. In fact, from a purely mechanical perspective, it was really a non-issue. But it exerted a powerful force on players... maddeningly frustrating on one level, but also introducing a level of tension that probably improved the game overall on another level.
But here's the big question: It's really about fun, not drama. Dramatic tension can definitely increase the fun... But there is also a point (well, a fuzzy-gray area) where story interferes with the fun. Where playing-the-game - to win - is far more enjoyable then putting up with all those dramatic peaks and valleys. Where do you draw the line?
Design A Minimalist RPG!
Jamie Fristrom has an article about an old (but AWESOME) strategy game Slay. If you haven't played it, you should. In "Notes on Slay," he comments about the use of minimalism, depth vs. breadth, and how the simplicity and solid AI make Slay such an excellent game.
Slay is a 'conquer the world' strategy game with no randomness (except for the AI choices), and a handful of very simple but compelling rules, and really nice balance. I was introduced to it by Steve Taylor, a good friend (and former boss) from NinjaBee (hey, now you KNOW where he got his inspiration for the not-quite-so-minimalist Band of Bugs).
But being such an RPG geek, Jamie's article made me think of the computer role-playing game angle. What would a minimalist RPG be like? It's hard to answer, because the definition of RPG is really fuzzy.
One might be tempted to say NetHack or other roguelikes, but the only thing minimalist about NetHack is the graphics. From an underlying gameplay standpoint, Oblivion is minimalist by comparison. Diablo comes even closer to the that description, but it's also pretty far from the mark.
My own candidate might be the freeware Really Really Random RPG - which I personally think of as the "Really Really Abstract RPG." If so, it may underscore a problem with the concept of minimalism in RPG design. The minimalism of Slay is part of its appeal - it strips through all the trappings and accessories to reveal a really solid core of fun game mechanics. But RRRRPG's minimalism reveals pretty uninspiring mechanics. It'd be easy to shift the blame on RRRRPG's designer, but the game mechanics have been abstracted from countless commercially successful RPGs.
Maybe Slay just did a better job at the abstraction. Maybe the designer just pulled out the right mechanics and balanced and polished them to a fine sheen. I definitely feel that's part of the answer. And I also feel that - when you strip away things down to their bare minimum - RPGs themselves are strategy games at their mechanical heart. After all - they began life as wargames.
But I think a big part of the problem is simply that RPGs are very context-sensitive. While I don't believe an RPG really needs much of a "story" to be an RPG (after all, I consider NetHack and most roguelikes to be RPGs), I think it is that story - or at least "context" - that provides much of the entertainment value.
Still, it's an intriguing thought. I took something of a stab at it with Hackenslash once upon a time. So lets say we wanted to design a good (as in, fun) minimalist RPG. What key game mechanics would we have? What simple but powerful story could we weave into it? So what kind of things would you put in a minimalist RPG? You don't have to provide a complete design or anything - just what sorts of things would make a simple-yet-compelling RPG in your mind. And feel free to cite examples.
For convenience and posterity's sake, I've even made it a thread on the forums. Because I just love to give. :)
(Vaguely) related navel-gazing.
* Are Hybrid RPGs Just the Poor Man's RPGs?
* What Makes a Great RPG - The Story
* The Evolution of Computer RPGs
* But Is It An RPG?
Frayed Knights Pilot: 48 Hours To Go
It's almost 9 AM as I write this. I haven't slept yet. I've been working on the Frayed Knights pilot all night long.
I'm watching the upload bar slowly climb on beta 2... 75%... 76%.... 77%...
Someone's already posted a major bug in Beta 1 this morning that hasn't been fixed... so I guess Beta 2 isn't quite ready for a "release" yet. And some minor issues. I need to get some sleep. Go to church. Hopefully not at the same time. And then get cracking on it some more. I've got approximately 48 hours as of right now. Or less. A magazine in Germany needs it before close of business on Tuesday... what time zone are they in?
Yeesh. My brain is fried.
My private little victory is that I got the compass in. Was it worth the two hours I spent last night working on it? I hope so. It looks cool. I need more help text. Oh, and real documentation - or something resembling real documentation at this point. And I need to get the web survey up.
All in 48 or so hours.
Okay - the uploading is complete, and I'm notifying testers. And then... a short nap. If it's too short, it might be worse for me... less than 3 hours of sleep makes me groggier than I am without sleep at all.
Catch ya on the flip side!
Labels: Frayed Knights
Frayed Knights - Pilot Release Hours Away...
More Tales from the development of Frayed Knights, the indie RPG of humor and high fantasy.
There really ain't much to tell. Not that this has ever stopped me before.
My drop-dead date is Tuesday. I need to get the file to a magazine on that date. I'm trying to get another beta out tomorrow-esque for the testers to hammer on. There's so much I wanted to get in for this release, but won't make it. But I think the game is fun, and will do a good job of what it's intended to do - solicit feedback, and gauge the reaction of players.
The automap is back in, and better than before. This was the biggest, most critical task I've been facing, one that I wanted to get in before Beta, but failed to pull off. Aside from that, and implementing a few very minor suggestions, I'm focused entirely on bug-fixes. Doors that don't work right. Scrolling on the party inventory that isn't functioning properly. Etc.
The biggest frustration at this stage of the game is that things are progressing excruciatingly slowly. I'll be very glad when this pilot release is done and we can go crazy again with content. I expect the game WILL metamorphize somewhat in its core code based on player feedback. However, my hope is - now that we have a semi-stable game, it'll be content city. Scripts, dialogs, maps, monsters, treasures, and character progression, baby!
Watch this space for the announcement of the public release.
Narrative of the Moment
Corvus Elrod begins his "Narrative of the Moment" series on a new game today. This time, it's another of my all-time favorites, "X-Com: UFO Defense" (AKA UFO: Enemy Unknown in Europe). His contention is that the game compelled him not because of the strategy, but because of the narrative:
"What about this game provided such a compelling video game experience? So compelling that people playing it for the first time today still heap praise upon it? So compelling that it has been ranked as the #1 game of all time, beating out such such notable titles as Starcraft, Civilization IV and Fallout? So compelling that I, fifteen years after playing it for the first time, still have difficulty maintaining my objectivity when discussing its successes and failings?You can check out the first part of the series here:
"I believe, unsurprisingly I’m sure, that the answer is Story. While not typically approached as a storytelling game, I believe X-COM is exemplary in its creation of story and will spend several posts examining how assembles all of its narrative components into a super satisfactory whole."
Narrative of the Moment Introduction: X-Com at Man Bytes Blog
And if you haven't read it all, be sure and read his previous Narrative of the Moment series on Ultima Underworld.
(Vaguely) related belaboring of blunted points:
* Game Moment #3: X-Com
* Guest Article - UFO: Extraterrestrials Do Over
* Quick Strategy Games
No Indie Night For Me
Blame it on the testers.
With the time until the public release measurable now in HOURS, I'm trying like crazy to whip Frayed Knights into shape, and the testing team has left me a mountain of jobs to do.
For which I really am grateful. I need all the help I can get.
But with the events of this week, I'm finding myself short on time. The Utah Indie Night is tonight, but I'm having to give it a miss - for the first time ever.
Time to hit the ol' dungeon again. Utah indies, have fun and enjoy the pizza!
Labels: Frayed Knights
A Real-Life Spy's Tale
Last night I attended a talk by Mike Ramsdell, author of "A Train to Potevka," and former U.S. intelligence operative stationed in Russia during the height of the cold war. My wife has been reading his book and telling me about it. His talk last night focused less on his experiences as an intelligence agent and more on the experiences leading up to it, and his experiences following the publication of the book. And, considering the venue, it was also a discussion of faith.
He admitted that he decided to get into the intel business after seeing the James Bond movie, "From Russia With Love." He thought it sounded awfully exciting, especially for a small-town farm boy from Bear River, Utah. But he notes in the book, "In reality, intelligence work is extremely serious, tedious, and unglamorous; done by balding, pudgy, middle-aged men - and there are seldom any buxom women."
A couple of thoughts I had that might be applicable here:
First of all, his book was a big success, now in its eighth printing, and is now in the process of being made into a movie. As far as he's concerned, he's living the dream. But he quit working on the book for four months after being convinced by his brothers that nobody would be interested in reading his story. They convinced him it was a waste of time, and that he'd only embarrass himself. Fortunately, his wife forced him to get cracking on it some more, and get it done. His first printing was from a fly-by-night printer in Tennessee who was willing to print 100 copies for $1000. He figured they had 50 relatives and 50 friends they could send the book to as Christmas and birthday presents, so they finished it and got it done.
And the change it brought about in his life is nothing less than phenomenal. So maybe this is a lesson for frustrated indie game developers out there. No, the movie isn't being made by a major motion picture studio, and no, I don't think he's gotten rich off his book. But that wasn't the point. The guy was just thrilled at how his life turned out. He said if you'd shown him a crystal ball in his youth - as a Utah farm-boy - which showed how his life would turn out: from being a secret agent in Russia to a book author to scouting out locations in Eastern Europe with movie producers for film based on his life - he'd have bet anything against it.
Another point I considered, as the RPG fan: Why don't we have any "secret agent" computer RPGs? Not realistic ones, though there are some fun elements to be drawn from that, too. But we've got plenty of ripe territory for drama, action, and excitement in the post-cold-war era. For example, Alias is a hit show, in spite of its volatile quality, and even mixes some fantasy and science fiction elements with modern-era action and intrigue. The Bourne movie series have been big hits, and the most recent James Bond movie (Casino Royale) cleverly rebooted the entire series and ditched the lamer elements of the formula - to great success.
And in these shows, there is plenty of action and ... yes... combat! Apparently fighting terrorist cells and evil overlords-to-be allows agents the luxury to rack up a body count unthinkable in any other "modern era" genre outside of a straight-up war story. Which would allow less imaginative game designers plenty of combat to make players happy. And it's been addressed in pen & paper RPGs, from the elderly "Top Secret" RPG from TSR back in the glory days to the more recent Spycraft RPG.
Could this hit a nerve and be successful?
(UPDATE: Apparently, I missed Alpha Protocol's announcement last month. Last month was a blur of 80+ hour work-weeks anyway, I wasn't even sure what DAY it was half the time. But it sounds like I get my wish fulfilled this year. Sign me up! And for the PC version, thankyouverymuch, unless it's got that awful psychotic DRM issues...)
Vaguely related thinking too hard:
* Innovation in RPGs?
* RPG Design Seed Challenge
* The 16 Essential RPGs
Bruce Everiss On Piracy
I rant about software piracy (and it's equally evil opposite, DRM) a bit. But Bruce Everiss is even more passionate about the subject, having seen a company go from highly successful to failure all attributed to the rise of piracy.
Bruce On Piracy
According to him, the fading of non-MMO PC games in favor of consoles can be directly attributed to the ease of piracy in recent years. And his conclusion is even more grim, from my perspective: In the future, all PC games will be MMOs. Although he also note EA's foray into purely ad-based revenue.
Me? I personally hate these alternatives. I mean, yeah, I like some MMOs, and I play some Flash games that are subsidized by advertising. But if that's all there's going to be, in the future, I'm gonna hang up my mouse. Which is going to really suck, because a lot of my favorite genres are ones that only work well on the PC. And I still greatly prefer FPS titles on the PC over their console counterparts.
Now, I'm the kind of guy who doesn't watch a TV series until it's been out a year so I can watch it on DVD sans commercial interruptions. It saves me 20 minutes per hour-long episode (which is really only 40 minutes), and I'm happy to pay for that privilege of NOT dealing with commercials. I'm also the kind of guy who likes watching old movies and shows (including old black & white films), and enjoys playing older games. I don't want to be stuck playing nothing but the current dreck because the great games of yesteryear are no longer supported by their respective companies and don't have an MMO-style server up and running.
There has got to be a better solution than this!
(Vaguely) related dreck of my own manufacture:
* A Pirate Story
* The Real Cost of Piracy
* PC Game Publishers: Please Hurt Me Some More!
D&D 4th Edition "Open" - But Only If You Close 3.5E
Apparently, Wizards of the Coast has come to a conclusion regarding whether or not there will be anything resembling the much-celebrated "Open Gaming License" for 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons.
The response is still a little hazy, as nobody commenting on it has seen the actual contracts, but the key aspect that has a lot of nerd rage going on at the ENWorld forums is a requirement for anyone to use the new license that they forever forswear creating any content for the previous system (or any other "open gaming" system). In other words, you marry yourself to 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons, or you aren't invited to the party at all.
I guess that's one way of putting the genie back in the bottle. As reported by Clark Peterson of Necromancer Games (one of the attendees of the conference call), "I was told that specifically by Wizards of the Coast. In direct response to that direct question. The answer was, 'we dont want fence sitters. Companies have to choose.'" So unless there's a change at the last minute, there will be no dual-statted modules for both Pathfinder and Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. As restrictive as it sounds, for a few weeks third parties were worried that Wizards was going to revoke any sort of "open" third-party support, returning to the ol' 2nd edition days where third parties were cut off completely (AFAIK).
It's a pretty bold move, one that could only be made by Wizards throwing its considerable weight and best-known brand around within the admittedly small "industry." Wizards of the Coast is committed to doing away with the legacy game system (and competitive products that piggybacked on the OGL, like Castles & Crusades and Pathfinder). But I also see signs that they are not just trying to put a bullet in the head of an older system - they are actually trying to reinvent the entire industry.
Face it - the pen & paper roleplaying game industry is almost identical to its 1974 roots. Books are durable goods, and players only need so many books to play the game. Seriously - I have much-beloved copies of the 1st edition Monster Manual, Player's Handbook, and Dungeon Master's Guide, and I could very easily continue to play the game for years with nothing more than that. There are, in fact, a bunch of holdouts who are doing exactly that right now. Every book makes the players more and more independent of the company.
So as bookshelves get filled, purchases drop off. Players have more game books than they know what to do with, and aren't really interested in more. Wizards of the Coast has already solved - to a point - this problem for their collectible games, like Magic: The Gathering and D&D Miniatures. It sounds like they are applying a similar approach to D&D, making it a constantly-evolving game... and a game players must keep paying for, as new "core" books become an annual expense. And that's not even including their online initiative, which I expect to be a key element of their marketing and sales strategy.
Will it work? Does Wizards have the clout to hit the reset button this time? Does this strategy provide enough benefit to customers that they'll put up with greater dependence on the company under the new plan (assuming there is a new plan and I'm not just tilting at windmills)? And will third parties hitch their wagons to 4E, or will they throw their collective weight behind competing products, fracturing the small industry even further?
(Vaguely) related musings
* Pathfinder: The New Dungeons & Dragons 3.5?
* Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Announced
* Disappointment In the Demonweb Pits
* Original Dungeons & Dragons Trivia
* Spring and... D&D?
RIP Bob Bledsaw
We lost Gary Gygax only a few weeks ago, and now another pioneer of roleplaying games has passed. Bob Bledsaw, founder of Judge's Guild, passed away this weekend.
Judge's Guild was the first "official" third-party RPG publisher. They received official sanction from TSR - for a while - to create a campaign world and numerous modules for D&D. Because, as Gygax and the others at TSR assumed, there was no money to be made in it. And - yeah, well, define "money." But still, it was a major part of the formative years of the hobby.
Labels: Roleplaying Games
Frayed Knights: A Beta Odyssey
Sitting on the sidewalk, watching water pour out from under the sidewalk and the lobby of one's place of business is (hopefully) one of those weird, once-in-a-lifetime experiences that really makes you wonder.
Like wondering, "Crap, am I gonna have a job to come back to?"
The answer is apparently yes, as it's back to business as usual this week (with perhaps a weekend or two of extra work thrown in for good measure). However, it almost gave me an extra day and a half to work on Frayed Knights. It would have, if I hadn't lost yet another video card one night. A few hours of the following day were devoted to discovering the problem, acquiring a new card, and installing it.
Total gain in dev time: About the same amount of time I lost the previous weekend due to the mandatory overtime.
Well, either way, I managed to get the beta out. We've got about a week to get cracking on it. There are a ton of additional features and improvements I want to make in the pilot already. And maybe I will. But our first concern is making sure it is fully playable and stable, and accomplishes the goals of a pilot episode - which is to solicit feedback.
Some changes that have gone in over the last week or so:
* Bug: Zone exit to Ardin only works once (or doesn't work after load?)
* Fireball - Incindiary Crackleball added
* Fixed bug: Silas ignored party after Benjamin's confession
* Fixed Interactive Object dialog title width
* Fixed missing portrait for Benjamin when targeted after incapacitation
* Fireball wand for Chloe
* Fixed getting stuck inside door bug.
* Fixed autonomous dialogs
* Fixed load game at game-over
* Added Angry Flower spell
* Changed Silas and Hoss skins & portraits
* Added Fireball Wand Dialogs
* Added potion of recapacitation + recapacitation effects
* Added Frayed Knights website jump at end of game
* Enter Key and ESC key in all dialogs
* Prevented player from hopping the railing to talk to Silas and avoid talking to Florentine (although I'm really conflicted on that one... I may put it back in once I come up with some alternative dialogs with Florentine and Silas).
Times they are excitin'.
Expect a public release in 1 week.
The Lost Sequel to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Revealed!
I know there's a few of us who fondly remember Infocom's text adventure, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, co-written by Douglas Adams himself. Andy Baio found himself with access to a treasure trove of information in the form of a a copy of Infocom's backup shared network drive from the time they were bought out.
Some of the information contained included a great deal about a sequel (originally, two sequels) to the classic and best-selling Hitchhiker's. Andy's blog also includes a (barely) playable copy of the prototype - which obviously never got very far. Unfortunately, more than information about the game, the documentation reveals a bit about the state of what was once the darling of the game business that had now gone past its prime, and was now struggling.
What's more interesting is that several of the people involved have now posted comments on the article, helping to clarify or give perspective to it. Some other influential folks (like Emily Short) from the current IF scene have also popped in. Controversy rages, particularly concerning the ethics of posting decades-old emails to the public.
But if you are curious, head on over and take a look:
Milliways: Infocom's Unreleased Sequel to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Hat tip to good ol' Rock, Paper, Shotgun for the link!
Frayed Knights - Pus Golem for D20
And now for this week's update on Frayed Knights, the humorous independent RPG from Rampant Games. Here's one for the dice & paper gamers! Actually, at some point I'd like to turn the entire Temple of Pokmor Xang into a paper module, but for now, here's the Pus Golem!
Pus Golem Small Construct
Hit Dice: 2D10 +10 (21 hp)
Speed: 20 ft (4 squares)
Armor Class: 12 (+1 Dex, +1 Size)
Base Attack / Grapple: +3 / +1
Attack: Slam +3 melee (1d3+2 plus Festering Wound) or club +3 melee (1d6+2)
Full Attack: Slam +3 melee (1d3+2 plus Festering Wound) or club +3 melee (1d6+2)
Space / Reach: 5 ft. / 5 ft.
Special Attacks: Festering Wound
Special Qualities: Construct Traits
Saves: Fort +0, Ref +2, Will + 0
Abilities: Str 14, Dex 12, Con -, Int -, Wis 11, Cha 1
Organization: Solitairy or Gang (2-6)
Challenge Rating: 2
Alignment: Always Neutral
Advancement: 3-4 HD (Small), 5-8 HD (Medium)
Level Adjustment: ---
This disgusting, vaguely humanoid mass stands about four feet tall, possesses the color and oder of a festering, oozing wound, and has skin the consistency of congealed blood and pus. Its jaw hangs loosely from it's distorted skull-shaped head, and vein-like streaks of blood flow slowly in a sparse webwork around its quivering, misshapen body.
While the creation of a golem is more usually in the province of powerful arcane spellcasters, often constructed of hard, inorganic materials – clay, stone, and metals. However, certain sorcerers and priests have learned that shortcuts can be taken. Golems made of weaker, more flexible materials are easier to create, but correspondingly weaker and less useful. Golems made of materials formerly part of – or manufactured by – living bodies require even less magical effort to animate, as the remaining life energy within them can help power the spell. However, few but the most demented or vile spellcasters of society would stoop to such levels. Examples include flesh golems, constructed of several fresh corpses sewn together, and bone golems, constructed of the skeletal remnants of animals or even humans.
Then there are some less common but equally vile varieties of organic-matter golems, such as pus golems, snot golems, and the dreaded dung golem (of which only one has ever been reported in an apocryphal adventure account, but that one occurrence has haunted the nightmares of adventurers for decades).
The pus golems are particularly favored among priests of Pokmor Xang for a number of reasons. For one, few of such priests ever reach levels of divine power where they'd be capable of creating anything else. As servants of the god of boils, blisters, and pimples, they tend to have an ample supply of pus required for the creation of these monstrosities. And third, they are used to the smell.
Pus golems are more frequently employed as servants rather than combatants, but in combat they are fearful opponents, primarily due to the level of revulsion they cause in their opponents. Veterans of battle against these creatures claim the smell takes days to go away, though this has no in-game effect.
Festering Wound (Ex)
Wounds caused by the pus golem's slam attack become infected with a low-grade cocktail of whetever infections and diseases were the source of its raw material. As a result, all damage caused by the creature's slam attacks take twice as long to heal, or require 2 hit points of healing to cure 1 point of damage. Remove Disease eliminates all Festering Wound effects, though the damage remains and can be healed normally. A Heal spell instantly removes all Festering Wound effects and heals damage normally.
Oh, and while I think I'm violating the D20 license by not including the full license here as part of this post, Pokmor Xang and Frayed Knights are designated Product Identity and property of Rampant Games. Licenses and copyright notices for the D20 License and OGL license can be found here.
Frayed Knights Development Update:
Well, things have gotten really weird. The day job mandated some pretty hard-core hours last week, which cut into dev time a little bit - but then a water line broke yesterday and flooded the building, so I find myself with a couple days off to spend finishing the beta for Frayed Knights. I intend to get the beta out tomorrow (instead of today), and the public release will probably be out next weekend at some point. The game is getting a lot cleaner, but the testers are identifying a bunch of issues - many of them design and interface issues - which have taken up a lot of time to correct.
A lot of time this week was also spent cleaning up Ardin village and making it look nicer. This involved fixing a lot of models that were, for some reason, not reacting well to the fog. But here's how the village looks now:
In addition, some of the NPCs have gotten a facelift - particularly Ol' Hoss (who actually looks older now), and Silas. I'm throwing in new sound effects today, so the chests don't sound like opening doors. Wands are working, and I think I can get some scrolls working before the end of the day. Because I want to treat the beta as if it is a release candidate, I'm going to try and add nothing new to the beta between its release and the public release.
And once again - the final version of Frayed Knights may differ quite a bit from the pilot. This is my chance to get some major feedback on the game.
Black House in D20
I have been reading "Black House" by Stephen King and Peter Straub. Well, listening to it on tape while driving. I recently finished chapter 19. Beezer and the Thunder Five against the hell hound.
With all of the RPG development and writing I have been doing, I guess it was inevitable. With the voice of the narrator going through each action of each member of the motorcycle game in sequence, I couldn't help myself. I immediately realized that he could have been going (almost) round-by-round combat in a D&D game. Well, a D20 modern game. It was step by step... you could almost hear the "players" of the five bikers rolling their will saves (only Sonny made his save... it sounded like Mouse and Kaiser Bill totally failed, and Doc and Beezer were only partially affected).
I figure the bikers probably hit the hellhound with at least 2 shots from a .357 and another from ... I can't remember now... the .38? So that's 3 hits for 2d6 damage each... or about 21 points of damage on the average. The average hellhound in D20 has 22 hit points of damage, so I can see why it ran off. Of course, this was no simple D20 Hell Hound, so it was probably a bit beefier with a very nasty disease / madness combo area affect attack (I don't know for sure, since I'm not done with the book). So it probably took over half damage before it fled. And maybe had damage resistance...
Woah. What am I saying?
It's funny that I haven't thought about a book in game terms since I was a kid. But I couldn't help but wonder if Peter Straub (or Stephen King) had been playing a little bit of D&D or something when they wrote that scene. It just fit too perfectly. Or at least, in my warped brain it did. Should I sign up for therapy or something, or has anything like this happened to you?
Oh, and incidentally, I really like the book so far...
Indie RPG News Roundup, March 16th
News and rumors from the indie side of computer role-playing games:
Depths of Peril
My favorite RPG of 2007, Depths of Peril won the Best Overall Game 2008 Award from Bytten. Bytten writes:
"This is one of those rare gaming experiences that only come up once in a blue moon for me. Although the appeal of Depths may not have been as universal as some of the other games I have reviewed this year, I must say that it's just about everything that I need in an action/RPG.Besides this, Soldak has another short story up entitled, "Frozen Crystal."
"The jewel in the crown is the persistent and dynamic game world where every action has a consequence. But intelligent randomisation, huge boss fights, massive amounts of loot and collectibles, ease of modding, customisation of just about everything in the game, awesome in-game fiction - the list just goes on and on. Pure geek mana from heaven."
Scars of War
The Blog of War is now going in full force, and includes some concept art for an Imarathi Mask and General Rheygar. But of particular interest to me is a discussion of the magic system in Scars of War. Gareth writes:
"So I looked at what I’d done with magic and felt shame. I’d done exactly the same thing as those lazy designers. I’d simply gone ahead and made a slightly more polished version of the what has come before. You distribute skill points into schools of magic which lets you buy spells from that school which you can then use to accomplish quests. Bog standard."His solution goes pretty far out there, involving - among other things - visiting mystical realms. If this is pulled off, I'm going to personally be very excited.
"Some people might be thinking `But that is mage gameplay, isn’t it?'. No. In the same way that being able to backstab enemies in combat is not the heart of what the thief experience is/should be about, neither is simply blowing crap up what playing a mage should be about. "
Age of Decadence
RPGWatch continues the "Let's Play" series, continuing a visual walkthrough of the upcoming RPG Age of Decadence. If you want to get a good feel for how this game will play out, read this article and its predecessor.
Dream Diary (Yume Nikki)
I'm gonna have to refer you to the TIGSource and the Indie Games the Weblog post about this bizarre-but-cool-sounding freeware RPGMaker game. You play a young girl living in a small apartment with little to do but to sleep and explore the dream world.
There's a new version of Avernum V now available for both Mac and Windows. There is also a great interview up at RPG Vault discussing the game's development process and goals - a good read for aspiring indie RPG developers!
And that's all I have for now, folks! As always, please help keep me up-to-date with what's going on in the world of indie RPGs. I'm still hoping for a crazy-busy year like last year!
Labels: Indie RPG News
Moral Decisions and RPGs
Last week, Rock Paper Shotgun had an outstanding piece on Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines entitled "Educating Heather." It's a very neat slice of the game - specifically, dealing with the optional subplot involving the ghoul, Heather. And even more specifically - the psychology and emotional reaction to this aspect of the game.
This was something I really, really liked about Bloodlines. They captured the setting, the "feel" of the license, perfectly. The setting and situation was just so immersive that you couldn't just "play yourself." You were thrust into a world of shades of dark gray, and you were made a blood-sucking creature of the night. Almost every character in the game "has it coming" in one way or another. And there were far nastier things out there that went bump in the night than you. It yanked you out of your comfort zone. And they filled it with disturbing and non-trivial moral decisions.
And they also filled it with lame first-person-shooter filler material, which sucked. But at least it let you beat a man to death with a severed arm. That's always a plus in a game.
You have the option of getting rid of Heather during the game. If you don't - she comes to a bad end. This was, in its way, more emotionally charged than the death of Alagnar in Ultima VII, or Aeris's death in Final FantasyVII, because you realize (too late) that it was preventable. Either way, she's out of the picture at a certain point in the game - so from a mechanics perspective it is a non-issue.
But the context is compelling. There's way more story there than "kill ten rats and bring me their tails for 1 gold piece."
Ultimately, it works because the game is about people. Very scary, often undead people, but still people. The puzzles and challenges aren't just about manipulating the environment, but manipulating people. And they did a good enough job on the characters and voice-acting that many players came to really care about them. Theresa and Jeanette, encountered early in the game as both play you against each other, stand out as two of the most interesting NPCs I've ever seen in a computer RPG. The ending of that particular plotline was not a big surprise to me, but it was still unforgettable.
We get used to thinking of RPGs in the oldest-old-school sense - the straightforward dungeon-crawling and nameless monster bashing. When you hear modern designers talking about evolution in RPGs, they usually talk about more realistic graphics and streamlining the interface and getting rid of all those "boring" numbers.
Bloodlines is perhaps not the best example to use as a counterpoint to convince the industry to change. After all, it was seriously flawed, and didn't sell well enough to save its creators from going under. But it seems to me that there is a ton of mileage you can get out of a single, compelling NPC - even if they don't speak of word of dialog. I mean, look at the Companion Cube!
(Vaguely) related jumbled thoughts:
* What Makes a Great RPG? The World
* What Makes a Great RPG? The Story
* Who Are the Best Game Villains?
Game Moments: Dogfighting With Death
As long-time readers (all four of 'em) know, aside from adventure games and RPGs, one of my favorite genres is combat flight sims. Once upon a time I even pursued a career in the Air Force (hey, it helped pay for college!) with hopes of being a fighter pilot. That wasn't to be - but I've been a fan of virtual combat flying ever since.
One of the first 'realistic' air combat sims for personal computers was "Jet," by SubLogic (the guys that did the original Flight Simulator that eventually became Microsoft Flight Simulator). There were a couple others I enjoyed - including a World War I mode in the aforementioned Flight Simulator, and games like F-15 Strike Eagle by Microprose. Jet's air combat mode kept score - and allowed me to compare my score against those of my friends at school. And so competitive air combat began.
Later, I managed to hook up two computers to play Falcon 3.0 with a friend. The game took several minutes to synchronize information between two machines even over a null-modem connection, so we borrowed rules of engagement I'd heard about on USENET (this was still before the World Wide Web had hit mainstream) - the planes pass each other first, wings level, before the fight was on. This was to help insure a fair fight, and to prolong the fights (to help make that ten-minute-long synchronization phase worthwhile).
While I played some combat sims from other eras, but for modern air combat my drug of choice went to the Jane's series (specifically ATF Gold), and then to Falcon 4.0. By the time ATF Gold came out, competing over the Internet had come of age. There were online squadrons. And online tournament ladders. Now was the time to really show what I was made of!
My discovery was that it might have been a good thing I'd never become a fighter pilot in the real world.
Now, I wasn't bad - years of reading, playing sims, and competing against AI opponents definitely helped land me in the middle of the pack. But if the bullets and missiles had been real, I'd have been dead. But when I was competing regularly, I often found myself in the top 20, and I think I cracked the top 10 once or twice. And every once in a while, I got to compete against the guys in the top three positions.
There were about four or five virtual pilots who took turns in these slots, depending on the week. Flying against them taught me that I still had much to learn. I could score the occasional victory against them, but never the requisite two-out-of-three match points to move my own position. It was clear they belonged in a different league from me.
But there was one pilot who never rotated out of the top three positions, and was almost never bumped even to second place, week after week. His callsign was "Death." On the forums, he was soft-spoken, unassuming, supportive, and terse. In the virtual skies, he became his callsign. I never beat him even once. I am not sure I even managed to hit his aircraft with a desperate snapshot ever. He was in a class by himself, as far as I was concerned.
Now, hardcore simmers are a different breed of gamer, probably closer to the hardcore "roleplayers" than either group would like to admit. They derive satisfaction by immersing themselves in the world and in the role of a pilot from whatever era they are simulating. They don't want the details abstracted away - they want to deal with all the factors a real pilot would have had to go through. Even the tedium. They usually want as much realism as can be crammed through the restriction of a 17" monitor, the more merit their recreation holds. It's not about the gaming - it's about the experience, and the mastering of real-world skills - no matter how useless or obsolete said real-world skills might be. And they thrive on details - because the better you get, the more important those details become.
And if, for some bizarre reason, those arcane real-world skills became a matter of survival, Death would have been the last man standing. And I only assume he was a man - I never flew with him with voice chat enabled, but he never contradicted the assumption of his masculinity. So I continue to use that gender when referencing him. He was simply flawless in every move he made. He had the details down. At least, he had them down far better than me.
The old rules adopted by the Internet simmers for Falcon 3.0 still applied, as they led to more exciting dogfights. While BVR (Beyond Visual Range) missile shots may rule the day in real-world combats, virtual combat pilots like their competition to be tests of flying prowess, not the luck of the draw for spoofing missiles at long range. Mind you - the top pilots are also very, very good at dodging missiles, too. But beyond a certain point, too much of the missile fight comes down to luck. For these kinds of competitions, it was all about the knife fight.
Pilots would fly at each other almost head-on, at the same altitude. The rules dictated that you had to have your wings perfectly level until they crossed the "9-3" position (9 o'clock / 3 o'clock). Many of the less skilled pilots would fudge this part of the game. They'd begin their roll just a little bit early, or come in just a little bit more altitude. A tiny bit of this was unavoidable - at a combined closure rate of something like 800 knots, small inconsistencies are unavoidable. Too egregious of a violation, and the competitor might call the fight off, demanding a second pass. For those combatants who tried to get an edge in the combat by cutting their fuel levels (and thus their aircraft weight) down to the bone, this was a dangerous call.
Death (and the other top-scoring pilots) tended to forgive all but the most blatant violations of the fight-entry protocol, and they always made perfect, by-the-book passes themselves. Nobody would be able to taint their claims of victory with suspicion of wrongdoing. And if their competitors felt they had to fudge the rules a little - well, that probably meant the offending pilot's skill was actually below that of their current ranking, because they'd relied heavily on fudging the opening game to win. And those little tricks wouldn't help them one bit.
My few dogfights against Death were eye-openers. There were no tricks to his flying. At least none that I could detect. But high-level play in games like Falcon were rarely about tricks or surprise moves. These guys knew 'em, and they would pull them off if the opportunity presented itself. And they knew to anticipate them in their opponents. No, at this level of play it was all about perfection in flying. Making the perfect turn in the viper in Falcon 4.0 was both art and science. It's about finding the perfect balance between turn radius, turn speed, maintaining altitude, and maintaining airspeed for whatever tactical situation you find yourself in. Its about like patting your head, rubbing your tummy, reciting poetry, and walking a tightrope at the same time.
Beginning pilots who just try to yank-and-bank to turn as hard as they can soon find themselves believing that their opponent is flying a totally different aircraft from heir own - one that isn't bucking, refusing to turn, and trying hard to fall out of the sky. But for the top competitors, it was all about who made the fewest mistakes in their flying. Turn too aggressively, turn too little, apply too much or too little throttle, fail to bring your nose up or down just enough to make the exact trade of altitude for airspeed, and your mistakes would compound. It was a race to see who'd build up the most tiny mistakes the fastest, with the winner earning himself a "silk landing" (meaning a landing with a silk parachute) or worse.
Death didn't make mistakes. Or rather, I'm sure he did - but his mistakes were so tiny as to be imperceptable to me. My measure of success became how long I could keep him away from making a shot. But each pass, each turn, brought him a little closer to my six (6:00 position - right behind me). I'd pull every trick I knew. I once even tried to dive down into the weeds, forcing a different fight from one he was used to - one where loss of altitude was not an option.
It didn't help. Every turn I made, he'd make a fraction better. Although combats really felt like one long, changing, evolving turn. Either way - he did it better. He made fewer mistakes. When I was flying what seemed to me to be perfectly, I'd note it only by seeing him not gain as much on my six.
But inevitably, inexorably, he'd get closer and closer to that six-o'clock position, and I'd eventually hear the metallic ping-clank of bullets ripping through the airframe, accompanied by flashing lights and the warning siren. If the damage wasn't enough to stop me from flying, it didn't matter. Another burst would follow up shortly. Ejecting was optional.
Death would type "GG, thanks" at my second defeat."Good Game, thanks." Whether this was literally an acknowledgment that I'd given him something resembling a run for his money, or simply the politeness that combat simmers give each other as a matter of course ( a far cry from the trash-talking of many online games), I'll never know. I'd return the acknowledgment, which usually doubled as a goodbye. We'd log out, he'd no doubt forget the fight he was just in, and I'd spend the rest of the evening trying to figure out what I'd done wrong, and go back into the sim to practice what I'd learned. I never got to the point where I could defeat Death, but I noticed my own scores improving both online and against the AI.
Good Game, indeed!
Labels: Game Moments
If you are familiar with LOLCats pictures, and the old Infocom adventure games (okay, yeah, I imagine that's probably a pretty slender intersection, but the Internet is all about niche!), you will get a kick out of this one:
("TIP HAT AT WHINER FOR LINK")
Labels: Adventure Games
Frayed Knights: The Oncoming Dragon
More development diary stuff for Frayed Knights, the comedy-based indie RPG.
"The light at the end of the tunnel may be an oncoming dragon."
I saw that on a button once, as a kid. As a sci-fi / fantasy / RPG geek, I nearly bought it. It was a pretty lame word substitution for a more common pessimist joke, and I was broke, so in the end I opted not to buy this little bit of geek flair.
But it feels appropriate now. I just made the last "alpha" available to the testers (hey, testers, it's up, check the testing forum!). I call it an "alpha" because I'm still adding some new stuff to it, though with the help of the testers the bugs are getting pounded into some level of submission resembling a mid-beta (I think). But the testers are getting weary of testing the same game week after week. I expected this, Which is why I staggered out the testing groups.
The saved games from the last alpha were by far the largest source of bugs so far. I expected as much, but it has still been a pain hammering them out. As of this morning, I think I have all the save-game related issues resolved, but there could easily be more.
The next release - next week - will be our beta. Hopefully the one and only, but if any major bugs are found, I'll do a quick revision within 48 hours. Otherwise, my expectation is that the release of the pilot will be on or around the 25th. The short beta will hopefully be offset by the long alpha.
And then the oncoming dragon hits me.
There is a lot that isn't there that I hoped would be. There are a few things that I'm afraid will draw most of the attention from players, instead of other areas I'd like people to provide me with feedback. There are features I wanted to get in, and suggestions from testers I really want to implement, but I'm just out of time. That's how it always goes, though. Games are never truly finished, only released. I could keep working on this for a decade, and it would still not be "quite ready yet."
The effort I get to put in now is as much to support the release as to actually work on the game. stuff like updating the Frayed Knights website. Adding a feedback form. Getting the installer working. Finishing up the documentation. I really want to be moving on, implementing more of the requested features so far and adding the new content for the full release... but this milestone is my master right now.
For those who might be curious, here's most of the stuff that went into alpha 4, not including some minor tweaks and bug-fixes that I failed to record:
* Player now moves a little bit faster
* Fixed Bug: Front-End Music was... Whacked
* Switching between full-screen and windowed fixed res changes
* Resolution forced to 1024 x 768
* Forces full-screen if desktop size is 1024x768
* Fixed some Dialog typos
* Fixed non-container loot awards
* AI can now cast spells
* New Monster: The Pokmor Xang Priest (priest-class enemy)
* Fixed Crash on reloading saved game multiple times.
* Implemented "Curses!" spell
* Fizzles now end a character's turn
* Monster names should reflect targeting name.
* Reset drama point level on reload
* Monsters no longer attack in the middle of trap / lock dialog
* Cleaned up component connections between trap screens
* Added some minor loot to the front entry area to reward exploration
* Cancelled Drama Effect no longer consumes drama stars
* Cancel button on character selection menu no longer cut off.
* No longer force combat completion after phase 200 (old test code)
* Added Hotkeys!
* Traps: Game now chooses best default disarming character.
* Empty Bag in front hall was removed.
* Fixed disappearing item bug
* Improved drama point award for more difficult combats
* Certain events (like reaching the statue) now have an XP award
* Added Liquid Nap potions
* Fixed Pokmor Statue bug not appearing on saved games
* Escape and Enter Keys now have default actions across in-game dialogs
* Major clean-ups to world reset on load
* Fixed crash when changing zones after a load
There is a lot of work that needs to be done for the beta. I still have a list of bugs to get squashed, and there are a few features that I'd like to get into the game but which I'm not sure will make it. Things like buying and selling equipment; the leveling-up screen; improved UI art for submenus; a compass; the automap overhaul; new items (including Chloe's fireball wand); a couple of new spells; some additional hotkey commands to speed gameplay; lots of TLC for Ardin Village; additional interactives in the temple of Pokmor Xang; better combat balancing; sound volume corruption in the Torque engine; lighting optimization in the Torque engine; dropped loot for certain bad guys (that's half-implemented); and a lot more. As you can see, with only two weeks left to release, not all of that's gonna be in there.
But even so, I'm not unhappy with where it is right now. And I have to admit - as exhausting as this is, as crazy as it makes me... I really am having a good time making it.
Hopefully you'll like it.
Strongbad's Cool Game For Attractive People
Coming soon from Telltale Games (Bone, Sam & Max) for the PC and Wii:
Strongbad's Cool Game For Attractive People
It sounds vaguely... uh... adventure-game-ish, doesn't it?
I don't know about you guys, but from my perspective, Telltale and Hothead are two up-and-coming game studios to keep an eye on. I'm sure SOMEBODY told them that graphic adventure games are dead, and you can't make money on RPGs if your name doesn't begin with Bioware, Bethesda, or Square. But these guys keep ignoring the "facts" of the industry and seem to be kicking butt. Telltale got into a partnership with GameTap, and Hothead is in a sweet arrangement with Penny Arcade.
And they are pulling it off by espousing the indie attitude, and they seem to be largely bypassing the mainstream publishing and distribution system.
Cool. Also: "Gimme!"
Strongbad's Cool Game For Attractive People Information at Gamasutra
Forget Web 2.0 - How About Internet 2.0?
Here I was thinking my DSL connection was slow... The Grid may soon render the entire Internet backbone obsolete:
Coming Soon: Superfast Internet
I've sometimes joked that physical media sales won't go anyway anytime soon because a trunk full of DVDs at 60 miles per hour is far better bandwidth than a T1. But this kinda thing might change the equation.
Granted, this isn't anything that will be available at the consumer level for a while yet (I know way too many people still stuck on dial-up!). And there's no knowing how robust it will be. But - this is promising. And I could see major ISPs linking in pretty quickly, delivering some speed / bandwidth benefit to consumers within just a few years.
But time moves on. Two decades ago 2400 baud was pretty close to state-of-the-art for consumer-level telecommunications, and there was no such thing as the World Wide Web. Two decades from now - all bets are off.
Labels: Geek Life
RIP CGW Part Deux: RIP GFW
I have already said my goodbyes to Computer Gaming World when they switched over to Games For Windows magazine. And now GFW is shutting down their print magazine, to go purely to online content.
That didn't last long, did it?
Games For Windows, Signifying Nothing
I guess it was too much to expect that somehow Microsoft would really support their "official" magazine. I guess it's pretty clear by now that Gabe Newell was right - the "Games For Windows" initiative was nothing more than a marketing campaign to try and convince gamers to downgrade to Vista.
Microsoft wants to sell more XBoxes - that's where they are getting their gaming money. So far, they haven't figured out a way to force game publishers to pay them $7 - $10 per copy sold on Windows, like they can on XBox (I don't know the actual number, I'm guessing), so I guess their priorities are at least understandable.
And quite frankly, what I used to be able to read in Computer Gaming World back in its early 90's heyday I can now find (and better!) at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Scorpia's Gaming Lair, Sexy Videogameland (even if she does favor those console games), Play This Thing!, The Escapist Magazine, and... yes, even 1Up. And other review sites.
Doom and Gloom?
So is this a harbinger of the doom of PC gaming, the doom of print gaming mags, both, or neither?
Honestly, I think it's "a little of both," if you append the phrases with the words, "as we knew it."
PC gaming has changed. This struck home to me as I was looking at the March issue of Games For Windows, and saw their "Ultimate Gaming Rig" feature. For PCs that cost more than I paid for my car. And it occurred to me that it didn't matter that you could set up a PC that is four times as powerful as the XBox 360 anymore. The kind of player who used to care about those things is... uh... off playing games on his XBox 360. Seriously. Sure, there are some hardcore gamers still doing the LAN deathmatch thing on their hotrod computers, but that's becoming a niche as surely as those of us who love flight simulators and adventure games and RPGs with lovely stats.
But the difference between a "bleeding edge" PC and a plain ol' vanilla PC with a decent video card is nothing like the difference we had 15 years ago. I suspect that part of the push to go to High Definition on the newer consoles was simply because it is too hard to tell the difference in graphics quality on older TV systems. We've started running into the law of diminishing returns on graphics and the need for raw processing power for the kinds of games we're doing. Not that we wouldn't love more of both... but each successive year is not giving us nearly the bang for the buck it used to, when a 2-year-old game looked embarrassingly obsolete.
But PC gaming is still the place to be. I mean, yeah, I love my XBox 360, and my PS2, and I even love my aging Dreamcast. And my day job depends upon console sales, so yeah - I want them to do well. :) But I'm a PC gamer at heart, and there's some great stuff happening here, and the consoles are still playing catch-up.
And as far as print magazines - I gotta admit I have paid less and less attention to the magazines now that so much is available online. When I'm reading for pleasure, I prefer pages. When I'm reading for information, I find online (with nifty links 'n stuff!) to be at least equal, if not preferable. And I have to admit, the magazines have a tough time competing with online when their focus is on news and reviews. I believe print magazines need to rely upon more time-independent information, but in the rapidly changing world of videogames that's a tall order.
Anyway, here's Jeff Green's breaking of the news to the public:
Jeff Green Talks about shutting down Games For Windows Magazine (Formerly Computer Gaming World)
(The news has been everywhere, but Scorpia tipped me off... Hmm... CGW's slide into suck-dom and subsequent rise to mediocrity began right about the time they gave her the boot. Coincidence...?)
RPG Design: The Fifteen Minute Adventuring Day?
One of the complaints which I've heard leveled at Dungeons & Dragons third edition (and 3.5) is the "fifteen minute adventuring day" (among other names I've heard). I hadn't heard of that before third edition, though I suppose it could have been an issue in previous versions. Part of me suspects it came about after MMORPGs became popular. The third edition's emphasis on encounter balance and challenge rating probably exacerbated things, however.
In a nutshell, the problem is this: Many of the players' resources (like magic spells and special powers) are limited to a certain number of uses per day. So they get into a combat or two, blow all their resources, and retreat to rest up, replenish the resources, and fight the next battle or two tomorrow.
This was present in computer RPGs as well. Old-school gamers may recall 1st edition D&D magic-users as one-shot cannons in both pen & paper and computer RPG incarnations, or recall how forays into the Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord or into the wine cellar allowed you to only get to the first door before running back to the nearest inn for rest. More recently, Neverwinter Nights addressed this issue by making it trivially easy to rest up at any time - which in practice meant, "after every combat."
Players and designers bring up this problem as something to be addressed by the upcoming 4th edition D&D game, and Paizo's own upgrade to the system, Pathfinder RPG. Except there are some crazies out there who maintain that this isn't a problem at all. And - with some caveats, I'm among the crazies.
We used to play Fantasy Hero, the fantasy RPG constructed out of the Champions system (soon to be a major MMORPG!) Excepted for powers with "limited use" limitations, player characters would usually fully recover just about everything within about 24 seconds following any combat. The end result was that any encounter that didn't require everything the players could throw at it in order to challenge them was trivial and ... well, boring.
What I found myself missing was the "resource management" aspect of games like D&D. If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest or Eschalon: Book 1 (Aveyond 2 is for Windows only - Eschalon runs under Windows, Mac, or Linux). In these games, travel or a dungeon-delve is, in part, an endurance run. You can't just obliterate the incidental foes constant volleys of your most powerful spell, or you'll find yourself at the end of the road fighting some impressively nasty monster or boss or group, and you'll have nothing left. Sure, there are options to back off and rest and try it again tomorrow - but that's often not an easy task. You may have to fight your way back out again... or, in Eschalon's case, risk being attacked in your sleep.
Suddenly those minor encounters that don't give you a real run for your money are much more interesting. They may be "speed bumps," but they are speed bumps that provide you with a long-term risk if you aren't careful to conserve your forces. In theory, in the old-school pen & paper games the players weren't expected to brute-force their way through every encounter. Bribing and negotiating with monsters, hiding from enemy patrols, and bypassing more dangerous foes were common tactics as well.
Maybe that aspect of gaming is lost on players. Maybe the current generation of gamers want nothing else but having everything cranked up to 11 at all times. These sorts of subtleties and variety mean nothing to them. And maybe third edition Dungeons & Dragons encouraged that, by downgrading the reward value of anything of an inferior challenge level to the players. In fact, I seem to recall reading design notes that suggested the game was developed with the expectation that players would fight only around four encounters in a row before being allowed to rest and recover resources.
A simpler way to address the "fifteen minute adventuring day" problem is to simply promote the use of lower-level, less difficult encounters as actual long-term attrition factors rather than being "useless" encounters. Sure, a band of goblin archers may not be a true threat to your party and the combats may be resolved in one tenth of the time of a significant battle. But three or four encounters with them may mean the party fights the goblin king with fewer hit points, spells, and potions.
Ideally, there should be consequences for the party retreating and coming back when fully rested. This is tough to pull off in pen & paper games, admittedly... and about ten times harder to pull off in a computer game. Having the game dynamically respond to the player's actions like that requires a high level of interactivity. Too bad we've only focused on making them prettier over all these years.
(Oh, and what's Frayed Knights doing about this problem? Not as much as I'd like. There's a fatigue factor that gradually wears down the maximum endurance levels of the party as they adventure, until they get a good night's rest at an inn or similar safe location. They can take a short rest within a dungeon to bring up their endurance to (reduced) maximums, at the risk of encountering monsters while resting. And the more interactive bad guys? Umm... next game, maybe. Mea culpa. Though I do have some semi-clever scripted logic based upon how enemies approach the boss in the first dungeon...)
So what do you think? Do you prefer every battle to be a knock-down drag-out with your party at full strength? Do you prefer to husband your resources across multiple battles? Is the "fifteen minute adventuring day" really a problem with some game systems? What would you like to see in CRPGs to make the enemies more responsive to player actions not only in combat, but before the combat even takes place?
(Vaguely) related posts of dubious ancestry:
* RPG Design: Items and Economy
* RPG Design: Quest Abuse
* RPG Design: The Brute Force Problem
Want to talk about it or see what other people are saying? You can discuss it on the CRPG Forum!
Why Game Developers Are Screwed
Hey, I've got a really awesome deal I'd like to offer to anybody who'll take it: If you will give me $20, I will happily pay you $12 in return.
Sound like a great deal? No? It occurred to me this weekend that it's the kind of deal most independent video game developers keep making with publishers, again and again.
Part of this was brought about by a post Scorpia made this weekend about a number of studios closing up shop. I've begun taking a little bit more of an interest in investing lately, and I realized that based on very fundamental criteria, I'd never invest in a traditional independent game development studio. Because - the way royalties and advances are being handled nowadays, from the development studio's perspective at least - they are spending more to make a game than it has a reasonable chance of breaking even on. So they may spend $8 million on a game that will likely only make them $5 million.
But that's all to recoup the publisher's advance - which the publisher treats as "funding" the game with a zillion strings attached all the way up until the point where the game begins to sell. At that point it reverts to its legal status as an "advance towards royalties" at the developers pathetic royalty rate.
Meanwhile, that $5 million really becomes $0, because it's an advance on royalties and - as it turns out - was the developer's money the whole time. And the publisher - who is raking in much more money on the game, is making a modest profit. Except in the rare instances where the game far outperforms expectations, in which case the publisher makes enough money to cover a ton of losses (which they also take, admittedly - particularly when they cancel contracts), and the developer actually sees back-end royalties for a change.
Is that good business? I admit, I've not an experienced business-person or anything, but that sounds to me like a stupid proposition. Maybe that's just the nature of hit-driven businesses. But aside from practically winning the lottery with a game that greatly outperforms the publisher's expectations, the best a studio can hope for is to pad their advance (since that's really their only source of revenue) long enough to make a small, self-funded ("indie") game, or to stick around long enough to get bought out by a publisher. Or to make tiny games in such quantities that a developer literally has dozens of "clients" (publishers) pipelining money in.
Being a true "indie" may be a really tough row to hoe. But the alternative sure doesn't seem to be a winning proposition in the long run. Though I do wonder how long it'll take before making games for portals (who are slowly evolving into the new "publishers" of the online age) falls into the same trap.
(Vaguely) related weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth:
* Dependent, Independent, and Indie
* Explaining Indie Games, Illustrated!
* The Casual Game Industry Sucks, Too
* I'm A Gamer?
Update: Discussion rages on the forum!
Mice Are Nocturnal
You know, being a "dungeon master" and game designer, I should know such trivialities - such as the period of activity of certain animals. Not that this ever stops game designers from having nasty giant rats from attacking at all hours. I guess giant rats aren't as nocturnal as their normal-sized cousins.
But I digress. I was speaking of the common mouse. Which is, in fact, nocturnal. And I was perfectly aware of this particular bit of trivia. But there's knowing, and then there's understanding the ramifications of such information.
You see, when you allow your daughter to be gifted with a pet mouse from a girl in the neighborhood (who had, in turn, inherited it from her college roommate), the whole "mice are nocturnal" thing just kinda resides in the brain as a piece of trivia. Along with other bits of academic knowledge, like knowing that Death Valley averages only two inches of rainfall per year, or that Christopher Columbus sailed from Europe in 1492, or that James Monroe was the fifth president of the United States.
But when said mouse has a very noisy little mouse-wheel, the ramifications of it's non-diurnal activity cycle become fully understood. First of all, it manages to wake up the entire family with the question, "what is that noise?" firmly in their sleep-addled brains. But more interestingly, said noise and the presence of another active creature in the household in turn freaks out the dog. Man's best friend now feels the need to alert the masters of the house constantly that there is something going on in the eldest daughter's bedroom.
Now I have a much better understanding the meaning of "nocturnal." It's educational. Life should be filled with learning opportunities. And I have learned a little bit more.
Now I only hope that we all can learn to deal with (and ignore) our new resident who is well and truly nocturnal.
Void War Soundtrack For Audiosurf
Today (well, yesterday, now) was "Void War Friday" for Audiosurf. Fans of both Void War and Audiosurf will find some familiar tunes to race to all this week.
Remember how I mentioned that the Void War music (composed and performed by my brother, Matt) made GREAT tracks for Audiosurf racing? Apparently the Audiosurf folks noticed, and asked if they could feature selected pieces from the Void War soundtrack for Audiosurf Radio for a week.
I agreed (duh!).
Playing Dogchild with Ninja Mono is just plain insane. I mean, I played it a couple of weeks ago when I mentioned it, and there were maybe four other people in the entire world who had raced to that music before. Now? Well, not only can I not place on the high score lists, but I can't even figure out how to get halfway there. And its only been one day!
Incidentally, the whole "Bach" connection from Void War came about when I was discussing the music I wanted for the game with my brother. He disregarded most of my suggestions completely, but when I mentioned the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Bach which was used in the classic arcade game Gyruss, I guess I hit a nerve. I think about half the musical pieces in the soundtrack are influenced by or contain elements of Bach's classics.
As another piece of trivia - I was surprised to learn that Audiosurf was based on a little prototype game I'd played way back in... gosh, was it 2005? Dylan posted four of his "prototypes in 7 days" and I think I tried out this prototype and another one called "Free Parking."
Anyway, if you haven't tried out Audiosurf yet, now's the chance to start! It's a wild game that turns your favorite music into
Oh, and try out Void War, too. I'm pretty proud of it. It was never a big hit or anything, but I've played some KILLER 8-player deathmatches with it. 3D space combat with Newtonian(esque) physics and Twisted Metal style special abilities might not have been the game concept that the entire world was waiting for, but I sure loved making it.
Labels: Indie Evangelism
Greenhouse: Penny Arcade's New Indie Portal
There's another non-casual indie game portal in town, this one from the Penny Arcade crew. Considering how these guys managed to turn PAX into a major event that threatens to rival E3 in its salad days, I'd say they've got the potential to pull it off, where Manifesto (whom I still root for!) has had trouble gaining traction.
According to Mike "Gabe" Krahulik: "We developed Greenhouse along with Hothead originally because we needed a way to deliver our game to you guys. what we needed was a platform agnostic digital distibution portal. Once it was done we realised that it could actually be super useful to other independent developers. At first Greenhouse will be the place to get our game but eventually we'd like to use it as a way of promoting great independent games that might otherwise slide under the radar. Like PAX and Child's Play and all the other stuff we do we're starting out simple. We've got big ideas though and I'm excited about building Greenhouse into something really special."
We'll see how things turn out. They won't be selling any other games besides their own at launch, but they are already talking about the kinds of titles they'd like to put up... things like Kloonigames' Crayon Physics Deluxe. They've got a million readers, so I'd have to say this sort of thing has potential out the wazoo.
Here's an interview at Wired:
Here's an excerpt from the interview that really steams me up a bit, and demonstrates just how screwed up the entrenched brick-and-mortar biz really is:
We had a meeting with GameStop to talk about selling a boxed version of the game. Once we had a bunch of episodes together, we would collect them and put them in a box, you know? And GameStop said, oh, that's fantastic. We'd love to do it, we'd love to carry the game... but it's not going to be available anywhere else, is it?I guess if you are new to the indie games scene, or to the games business in general, you might find this shocking. Me? I really can't claim to be surprised. The guys along the distribution channel really do think this way. It pisses me off, but it doesn't surprise me anymore.
And Robert said, well, we're going to digitally distribute it first.
They got really upset. And they said, no, you can't do that. We can't have it in our store if it's coming out digitally first. And he said, well, I'm sorry, that's the way it works. We're publishing our game and we can say where it goes. And so the deal that they tried to strike with Robert was okay, well, listen: If you cut us in on the profits from online distribution, and XBLA, and everything it comes out on, then we'll think about carrying it in the store. Just, what assholes.
For your amusement (since it's not live yet), here's the beta Greenhouse site:
Frayed Knights - Artificial Stupidity
More tales from the development of Frayed Knights, the humorous indie RPG!
After a nasty little delay due to circumstances beyond my control, we delivered Alpha 3 of the pilot this week. And all was well. Unless you ask the Frayed Knights testing crew. THEY can give you an earful of what's not-so-well.
Since it's still an alpha and not quit beta (2 weeks?), I'm still adding a few new features. Well, "new" meaning, "was kinda there but not fully functional." This week's additions included some more "dungeon dressing" - in this case, some storyline elements that point towards the larger plot of the full game. Some tiny hints as to what is really going on.
Also, I made encounters more flexible, so they can more easily include mixed groups of creatures. This was already being used in a special case - the battle against the "boss," the "Evil High Priest" (EHP) Kraltic Barg. Now there's a mixture of spell-casting priests in addition to the more warrior-based monks inhabiting the temple. This was accomplished by the tried-and-true advanced technique of swapping their colors around - or, actually, their textures. See, they are wearing BLUE and YELLOW robes! How very different, huh?
And then there's having the enemies actually cast spells, which they are doing now. They are a bit too random with their spellcasting right now (as they are with their attacks), but every enemy who has spells now has a selection of spells they will draw upon in combat. Yeah - that's artificial intelligence! Or, rather, artificial stupidity.
Speaking of randomness, another report from the testers is that the game is too easy one session, too hard the next. In other words, randomness is playing too large of a role. To combat that, I'm going to put a curve in on the damage and healing done so that they will trend more to the average.
And then there are the bug-fixes. Hoo, boy. The bugs. Some are small - like the enemy health bars overlapping the information window in the picture displayed here. Some are quite a bit larger - like the game crashing on saves, and some elements not resetting properly. I'm knocking them out as quickly as I can, but the testing crew is doing their job admirably. They've also offered a lot of great suggestions which I am trying to implement where I can. But time is running out.
One thing I'd like to add this weekend is to implement wands. I'd like to give Chloe a wand of fireballs with only a couple of shots left - but good for inflicting incendiary pain on a group. Something that's bugged me for a while (and one thing a tester pointed out) is that she's got a reputation for blowing things up, but the spells at her level are too nicely balanced to let her do that. So having an almost-used-up wand of fireballs with just a little usage left will do a nice job of explaining some of that, AND give the player a nice "panic button" type weapon to deal with larger groups of enemies in the temple.
On the content front, Kevin has put together a new and improved dungeon that appears to run a bit faster. Digging into the details of how Torque renders interiors, he discovered that many of his assumptions concerning visibility and optimization, based upon how Quake-style engines handle these things, were entirely incorrect. Since those were my assumptions too, this was kind of depressing. But unless I feel like re-writing that part of the engine, we're stuck with these limitations.
James has been working on the icons for the trap / lock interface, new skins for NPCs found in the tavern in Ardin, and sound effects. These have made a phenomenal difference in the game already.
Mike has a new version of the Frayed Knights main theme done. His other projects are also demanding much of his time, but he's managed to devote some effort into it so we have some great custom music instead of just licensed stuff.
There are a couple more changes I want to experiment with for the pilot before I go beta with it, but for the most part, as of right now I'm looking at bug-fixes (they'll never end!) and work on the full version. The testers are asking for an example of leveling up a character, so I'm going to try to sneak in the opportunity to take Benjamin "up to" the same level as the rest of the Frayed Knights. There's not THAT much to it, so it should be easy. Right? Right?
Discuss This On a Recycled Forum Thread! Save Electrons!
(Vaguely) related silliness:
* Frayed Knights Release Update
* Frayed Knights: Beating Up Is Hard To Do
* Frayed Knights: Poor Spelling
Labels: Frayed Knights
Piracy & DRM: Grab a Shovel
As a guy who's livelihood depends upon IP rights, I naturally have a beef with piracy. I realize that, as with any crime, it's never going to go away, though I want to be supportive of measures that reduce it. But the latest round of "anti-piracy" news has left me feeling pretty ... I dunno... defeated? Embarrassed? Frustrated?
Pretty much all of the above.
Sony BMG Gets Caught Pirating
Sony BMG - the guys who thought rootkitting your $1600 computer was okay in the name of protecting their $16 CD - got caught pirating.
Now, okay, this wasn't a formal company policy, I'm sure, and Sony BMG as an organization had no clue that this was going on. Hey, I've been there. We once had a manager pocket the funds to purchase a site license for a software and install a pirated copy instead. We only found out after he had been let go and we contacted the software vendor for product support. Woops! And yeah, the last time I heard about said former manager, he WAS wearing an orange jumpsuit.
But I believe this little "black eye" underscores the fact that piracy is everywhere, and demonstrates that draconian measures sometimes supported by certain media groups and the politicians they fund are completely unwarranted.
Support Piracy, Support Terrorism!
Stiffer laws might be in order, but in a recent speech U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey linked piracy with terrorism. Now this doesn't get me quite so up-in-arms as it does some bloggers, as this was simply part of a side-point in a speech and wasn't trying to present some iron-clad case. But I'm personally getting a little tired of using the "fight against terrorism!" excuse for everything, from illegal demands to turn over customer records to treating baby formula as a weapon by airport security. I don't think I'm the only one. Claiming that software piracy helps terrorism just weakens the whole argument, in my opinion. Does it happen? I'd not be surprised. Guess what? Terrorists can and will make money any which way they can, legal or illegal.
Protection of IP rights is vital to the U.S. economy and interests enough all by itself without saddling it with lame anti-terrorism propaganda, 'k?
Don't Sell This Game, Or Pirates Might Play It For Free!
Apparently, DRM development is delaying Atari's new RPG expansion. Mysteries of Westgate, the new module for Neverwinter Nights 2, is being held back for apparently no other reason than the development of a custom DRM solution. There's been sufficient commentary on this issue by both Shamus Young and Scorpia (among many others, I'm sure) that I don't know if I have much to add.
I wonder if Atari isn't actually working on some kind of competitor for Steam (or at least an attempt to make Atari independent from Steam), and using MoG as bait. We'll have to see.
Dealing With Piracy
Now, actual profiting from trading of pirated software should be treated more harshly, I agree. Jail time and lawsuits to cover damages to the IP holders? Sure. And I personally believe that the laws protecting IP rights need to be revised, and enforcement does need to be stepped up.
But in general I feel that copyright infringement - as a legal violation - has less in common with grand theft and more in common with speeding on the freeway. Nearly everybody does it or acknowledges that It Is Done, and that it is a Bad Thing if it gets excessive. But the threat of fines, points against licenses, and raised insurance premiums - combined with (usually) sufficient spot-checked enforcement - keeps things reasonable.
The goal isn't to stop piracy or punish pirates. The goal is - or should be - to allow creators of intellectual property to profit appropriately from creating these things, so that they might continue to do so, for the benefit of all.
Frayed Knights Release Update
For those who were signed up for testing Frayed Knights, the third alpha release came out Sunday night. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, development was all but halted for two weeks during alpha so that I could devote all my waking hours to the folks that provide me with the means to pay my mortgage. This was about 10 days longer than the crunch mode was planned, so the impact to Frayed Knights' development was... uh, about two weeks.
Sure enough, on Monday, I got slammed with a tall stack of bugs and suggestions from the Frayed Knights alpha test crew, for which I am grateful. But I'm also very busy. I expect at least one more alpha to come out in about a week to ten days, and with *luck*, I'll be able to come out with a public beta release of the pilot shortly thereafter.
Also during this time, I need to get some more outlining of stuff needed for the post-pilot development stuff to the dev team. I've got a dizzying array of notes, outlines, and dialogs that all need to be pulled together into something cohesive. And I'm getting a lot of feedback even now that suggests things I should change for the full version which may not be able to make it into the pilot.
Once again, I gotta hand it to the testing team. They've been awesome, and have been very supportive while also not holding back on the bug reports and criticisms. That's exactly what I've needed, and you guys have my thanks.
Labels: Frayed Knights
Videogames Made Me a Criminal!
A national British newspaper is bribing criminals to attribute blame for their actions on video games. Offering "hundreds of pounds to the right person," they are soliciting people to "Write a few lines about how computer games turned you to crime and if it’s something we like, we’ll call you straight back."
Unfortunately, the ad was taken out last week, so it is not an April Fool's joke. Bruce On Games had the scoop.
In the spirit of April Fool's Day, I thought I'd offer my own story. Hopefully they'll get a bajillion of these:
VIDEO GAME MADE ME THE "TRAMPOLINE BANDIT"
I found the arcade game "Mappy" in a pizza restaurant in Maryland. The game appeared innocent and cute - as a mouse police officer, you'd chase criminal cats around a house filled with trampolines, stopping them from stealing tons of expensive electronics equipment and artwork as you and they bounced from floor to floor.
But the thing was - you were a mouse chasing cats. What's wrong with this picture? Inevitably, the cats would catch you, and your career as mouse-cop would come to an end. The cats always won in the end. After hours of playing the game, it all became clear to me. The cops were mice, chumps that always lost. The bad guys were the predators, and always won in the end.
After spending hours and hours trying to beat the second level of the game, something snapped. I couldn't distinguish reality from the lurid fantasy of the game, so great were its graphics and compellingly realistic my actions. The game trained me, over the hours, to look for things worth stealing, teaching me lessons from the cats' actions.
The next thing I know, I found myself at a sporting goods store, buying one of those exercise trampolines. I told myself hat it was just for exercise, but even then I knew subconsciously that there was no reason anybody to have an exercise trampoline except to commit trampoline-crimes. I'll tell you straight up, these devices, like videogames, should be banned outright. Don't fall for the "trampolines don't steal stereos, people steal stereos" crap the trampoline-industry-funded lobby groups try to use as smokescreen for the real issues.
It wasn't a week later that I found myself inside an apartment in my own neighborhood when the owners were gone, jumping on the trampoline and stealing all of their paintings, TVs, and stereos. I admit, it was a little harder to do than I had been taught by the videogame, but the seeds had been planted. After I got away with the apartment, I found myself breaking in and jumping and robbing two other houses, and finally a department store.
It was the department store that ended my life of crime. I thought it was a terrible mistake, but in the end I call myself fortunate I was stopped when I did. It was too hard to jump to the second floor in a single jump, but since they had several of the exercise trampolines in stock, I assembled them on-site and arranged them carefully on the non-running escalator steps using stacks of catalogs to level them out. I tried to jump back down the line of trampolines while carrying a Sony Betamax player (this was the early 80's, after all), when one of the stacks of catalogs collapsed, sending me flying off the tramp over the side of the escalator, landing on a cosmetics cabinet. Neither the cabinet not the betamax survived the ordeal, and I broke my leg and lost consciousness due to the overwhelming oder caused by spilled contents of six broken perfume bottles.
When I came to, I was surrounded by paramedics and police officers. I realized then that the police officers didn't resemble mice at all, and I'd been living a lie. During the next two years in juvenile detention, I wasn't allowed to play videogames. The habit was broken, and the smell of perfume finally faded. I have no doubt in my mind that the creators of this videogame purposely built it to warp young minds to cause crime and mayhem.
I have now served my time and my community to make up for my misdeeds. I only wish these video game creators could be forced to do the same...