Tales of the Rampant Coyote
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Saturday, August 30, 2008
 
Ultima VII: Off The Beaten Path
Corvus Elrod has a post about my favorite CRPG of all time, Ultima VII: The Black Gate. More specifically, he's talking about what he refers to as "Sub-Optimal Paths." Part of what made Ultima VII such a great game was that there was a LOT to the game that was off the "optimal" path to the conclusion. Not to mention that this makes any story more interesting - a hero who never makes a mistake and takes a direct path to the end of the story is pretty boring.

Ultima VII: The Land of Sub-Optimal Paths

An excerpt:
"Britannia, the realm in which the Ultima games are set, contains more than ten cities and a great many tiny islands. Every city has a story taking place within its borders. The Avatar herself is a reflection of the virtues upon which the Britannian cities were founded and the struggles of the citizens reflect the decay of those virtues. By diverging from the central plotline, which takes you to all of the cities at one point or another, the player learns about the culture of the world and her character’s own role in the creation of that culture. Additionally, the little simulated lives you touch bring greater purpose to your grand goals. No longer are you merely saving the world simply because you’re a hero, but because you want to save all of the individuals you’ve met along the way."
Origin had a motto: "We create worlds." The extended version of it, I think, was "Others make games. We create worlds." I think this was never more true than with the "middle trilogy" of the Ultima series. Granted, it was far from perfect, and the illusion would get frayed a bit at times. But there was a lot packed into the game - even in the places where players were unlikely to see.

You don't see that so much anymore. Many games are pretty rigidly linear, making certain that every ounce of expensive development effort is enjoyed by the maximum number of players. Even in sandbox-style games, so much is randomly or procedurally generated that you don't really feel like there is anything truly interesting to be found off the beaten path.

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Friday, August 29, 2008
 
Guest Post: Wizardry 8 Designer Explains Arnika Road
Charles Miles, a member of the Wizardry 8 development team, takes responsibility for the much-maligned Arnika Road section of the game (which Scorpia likes to call, "The Terrible Road."). His self-appointed title was "Monster & Item Wrangler," and besides designing Arnika Road, he set up a lot of the data for the game. And - as luck would have it - after years of working on Zoo Tycoon games, he's finally back in the RPG business, working with Turbine.

Scott MacMillan introduced us via email this week. Charles had some comments about Arnika Road, and about Wizardry 8 in general, which he has graciously allowed me to post here:


People have screamed bloody murder about the Arnika road since Wizardry 8 was originally released. This is what the Arnika road was *supposed* to teach you:
None of this came across very clearly in the final game. There were hints buried in the manual, but Wizardry 8 came out just after people had gotten out of the habit of reading game manuals. Also people had become accustomed to brain-dead monsters from games like Everquest that detected you using only a basic aggro radius that worked through doors, walls, etc. That meant most players never even thought of trying an "unusual" tactic like hiding from the monsters! (We had just come off of Jagged Alliance 2 so naturally we put in line-of-sight and hearing systems for the monsters.)

Last but far from least, Wizardry 8 was one of the last North American RPGs to be unapologetically hard--we wanted surviving each level to feel like an achievement. In fact one of our concerns about Wizardry 8 was that it might be too *easy, *as crazy as that sounds today. We made Wiz 8 much easier than any of the earlier installments in the series (if you don't believe me then try, say, Wizardry 4) and we were worried the long-time fans might object.

Anyway, I've always regretted that people had so much trouble with the Arnika road. If I were doing it today I'd do things differently--I might make it a bit easier and I would definitely put in a tutorial system that gave you guidance on how to survive.

It's great to see people still playing the game, by the way. It's making feel all nostalgic

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Thursday, August 28, 2008
 
Wizardry 8 Part VI: Old-School Goes Old-School!
Continuing my play-through of 2001's Wizardry 8, a classic "old-school" RPG, I broke down and checked out a walkthrough for Wizardry 8 to find out what to do with the graveyard. As it turns out, the runes on the tombstones had absolutely nothing to do with the hanged-spirit looking thing in the mausoleum. The latter could be gotten rid of by a simple weapon traditionally employed against vampires and the undead.

My missing ingredient was a dagger. A simple dagger, not one of the fancy ones I currently possessed. What's even more astounding is - it is now impossible for me to buy a simple dagger. I even went back to the monastery, to the merchant who is on the cliff above the crash site where I began my adventure, and even he didn't have a simple dagger to sell. Poniards or a main gauche or throwing knives? No problem. But a simple dagger possessed by a 1st-level rogue? No dice.

Fortunately, some Higardi highwaymen came to my rescue. Well, not literally. They actually tried to kill me and take my stuff. I did unto others instead, and one of the bandits in the five packs that attacked me dropped a simple dagger on the ground as he died. Ka-ching!

I made my way back to the cemetery (this is no small feat - travel along the roads is always time consuming due to the frequent encounters), and went to the pillar in the corner. I jammed the dagger into the seam between blocks. It sorta-kinda pointed the way to a spot southeast of the cemetery. I went outside the cemetery walls, in the corner of the vale, and there was a little mushroom ring. Taking a deep breath and saving my game, I stepped inside.

And found myself transported into a very old-school dungeon. Mind you, this is old-school as perceived by an old-school game, which is very old-school. We're talking about a 21 x 21 grid of walls forming a dungeon level here. The walls are textured, but also bear a white outline (reminiscent of the first 4 Wizardries) so you can see the grid.

One thing that came immediately to my attention was that there was no exit. I deliberately skipped reading anything in the walk-through about the dungeon beyond what I was supposed to do to get there. I stumbled along blindly, ran into some nasty spike traps, found a whole bunch of doors that were locked with some SERIOUS lock levels, and found out that the auto-map was virtually useless.

At this point I began to wonder if I shouldn't reload that saved game from before I entered the dungeon.

I decided to stick with it. And thus committed myself to about a four-hour ordeal that involved a LOT of reloading saved games from combats gone bad, and about six points of increase in my rogue-turned-bard's lockpicking ability.

The first couple of hours involved me wandering about pretty aimlessly, trying to make sense of what was appearing on the automap, unlocking doors, and getting into fights. I'd find mushroom rings which would teleport me to other locations on the map. I kept finding myself revisiting old territory in the maze, and not finding anything resembling a way out. However, old-school training eventually kicked in. I knew what had to be done.

I pulled out the graph paper.

With the graph paper and pencil in hand, I started re-exploring the map, using those friendly grid-lines on the wall texture for their natural purpose. I found a couple of unexplored doors, some interesting magical items, and the final encounter with the Big Bad Boss (Baron Englund, an undead dude) and his hench-specters. He guarded the mushroom ring that was the exit back to the graveyard.

While I can't say the Easter Egg Dungeon was any kind of wonderful game-making experience, or even a high-caliber joke. But it was really cool that somebody took the time to throw this little nod to even older-school gameplay into the world (and, I hear, there are more). And it was actually worthwhile - besides running up my lock picking ability, there were a couple of unique items to be found there (although one, I later discovered, was a cursed item you REALLY don't want to use...), and I did level up most of my characters in my wanderings. I had fun.

After my exploration into the dungeon, I went back to Trynton, and began following Marten's trail some more. This involved slogging through some swampland, and eventually coming to a castle called Marten's Bluff. It looked deserted, but after going through the entry hall, I found myself blocked off by glass walls and a big machine that looked like it was supposed to make the walls come together, squishing anything left standing in the entry chamber.

"This isn't going to end well, " I thought. But nothing happened. There was a glowing panel on the floor. I stepped on it, expecting the walls to squish me like a bug. Instead, the panel turned out to be the floor of an elevator, which took me down to the underground section of the castle.

Apparently, this underground warren had become home to the T'Rang. I was never very fond of them back in the Wizardry 7 days. However, they were treating me as some kind of hero, telling me that they are looking over me. And, by the way, they want me to join up with them as an ally. I haven't committed yet, because I really don't like them. I just want to find the stolen artifact, which as far as I know is hidden down here. Past a locked door that needs a T'Rang handprint to pass through.

This could get pretty interesting.

Taking Notes on Wizardry's Design
Rewarding player exploration is important in any kind of game, but even more so with roleplaying games, which are generally games ABOUT exploration. As a player, you know on a conscious level that the game world is limited to about what you can see. But it's delightful to step off the beaten path a little ways and discover that - instead of the world ending - there's a surprise waiting there for you. Or poking around and finding out that the designers actually thought about you doing something really weird. It's just great fun to discover that there is more to the game - and the game's world - than meets the eye.

Easter eggs are the extreme version of this. Even the hint that there is more to see that you aren't seeing helps make the game world come alive.

Fighting some pretty major threats in the dungeon was challenging. I ended up repeating several fights multiple times. Black slime, some fire-breathing monsters (I forget their names), and the Baron were all pretty nasty fights. The trick I used to win these fights were to pull a "Rainbow Six." Named for the tactic in the game series of that name, I'd stand to the side of the door - out of line-of-sight - and toss in a grenade.

In this case, a fireball or similar area-effect spell. Standard pen & paper tactics. One monster might pop out to engage us, but then they'd block the door so their compatriots couldn't come out to engage us. So we'd fight one monster at a time, except for periodic showering of area-effect spells behind them. Occasionally, the enemies wouldn't come out the door at all - confused as to why they were taking so much damage. The combat would sometimes end, because the enemies didn't think of themselves as "in combat" I guess. So I'd have to press the combat button to get things started again for a couple of rounds. Sometimes, after defeating half the enemies, I'd just close the door, sit, and rest.

Yeah. I'm cheap that way, aren't I?

As a gamer who has played tactical computer wargames, pen & paper games, miniatures games, and even been known to dress up in chain mail armor with padded sticks and duke it out with a hundred other members of a local medievalist group, I appreciate the tactical possibilities presented by doorways. They are choke points that can make battles get really interesting. A tiny force can hold off an army that way. Been there, done that. It's hard enough for human players to to resolve that tactical dilemma sometimes.

As a designer, this makes for some rich opportunities for interesting combats. As a computer programmer, I know what a pain in the butt it can be for the AI to recognize and respond correctly to these kinds of situations. Obviously, the Wizardry 8 AI wasn't quite able to pull it off. For which I am grateful. Otherwise, I'd probably still be down in that dungeon tonight.


More Wizardry 8 Play-Through Entries:
Part I: So a Samuari, a Valkyrie, and a Bishop Walk Into a Bar...
Part II: Running the Gauntlet
Part III: Vi Domina Tricks
Part IV: Arnika Bank - No Safer Than Under the Mattress
Part V: In Fear of Little Naked Winged Women
Part VI: Old-School Goes Old-School
Part VII: Ratts!
Part VIII: Dances With Rhinos
Part IX: My Duplicity Has a Price
Part X: Missing Men and Mutant Frogs
Part XI: Swimming With the Psi-Sharks
Part XII: Desperately Seeking Marten
Part XIII: Lucky Thirteen, Unlucky Rapax
Part XIV: Storming the Castle

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Rush Album for Rock Band Delayed For "Weeks"
Well, dang.

Rush's 1981 album, "Moving Pictures," is literally my favorite album of all time. When I heard that the entire album would be available for Rock Band, I was thrilled.

Since this coincided with my week off, I thought I'd get some extra time to pretend to be Neil Peart or Alex Lifeson. No, I do not yet have the courage to try and imitate Geddy Lee's vocals. The last time I went to a Rush concert, Geddy Lee himself had a problem belting it out like he could in the 80's. Throughout the day on Tuesday, I'd pop onto the XBox and see if the album was available for it. They had a teaser ad in the marketplace for it, but the "new content" was only the Devo and Duran Duran songs from last week (which were plenty of fun, too).

But now... Harmonix has announced that the album's release is delayed because of "technical difficulties." Probably for a couple of weeks, not days. They've had a lot of practice releasing song packs by now, so I wonder if the technical difficulties are more of a hang-up on the legal / licensing side. Or if they are just trying to figure out how to get YYZ to work, since it is an instrumental piece with no vocals. Maybe the vocalist has to beat Morse Code on the microphone?

In the grand scheme of things, this isn't exactly a world-ending disappointment. I've got plenty of jobs and pleasures vying for my time this week. But ... it is still a bummer.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008
 
RPG Design: Making the Tough Decisions
When I lived in the Washington DC area, I loved to go to the National Air & Space museum - it's literally my favorite place in the city. I once spent one Saturday a month for an entire summer exploring that place, and I'm still not convinced I had seen everything. Many years ago, I got to go to DC with my wife on vacation. She wanted to hit the museums - particularly the natural history museum - but I convinced her to come to the Air & Space Museum with me for a few hours.

As luck would have it, that season they had a wing devoted to a Star Trek exhibit. My wife wasn't nearly as excited about rockets and jets, but she loves Star Trek. Since the original TV show was older than either of us, we never really understood a big part of what made the show awesome. We didn't realize its history.

And we had no clue how insidiously revolutionary Star Trek really was.

Sure, we'd heard that the first interracial kiss on television was on Star Trek. But we didn't think about the fact that George Takei became a key cast member during the height of the Vietnam conflict, when all Asians were being stereotyped as something far different from Sulu's friendliness and professionalism. We didn't realize that in the late 60's, you just couldn't deal with topics such as racism, or the Mutual Assured Destruction policy in the cold war era, or any of these charged topics directly on television --- but Star Trek's science fiction metaphor allowed it to explore these topics indirectly.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun had an article yesterday ripping into a particular moral choice in Bioware's sci-fi RPG Mass Effect, called Morality Tales - Bioware Versus the Issues. John Walker gives props for the issue being an interesting one with real-world moral or ethical implications. he indicates that it is a step in the right direction. But he also expresses his disappointment that the issue takes place inside a vacuum - and he's not meaning outer space. Without the full means to explore the issue or any significance on the game itself, the decision does not become meaningful.

I've not yet played Mass Effect (I was waiting for the PC version, but the DRM made me hesitate...), so I can't discuss this matter specifically. But as a general statement of things, I'd have to agree with Walker.

Video games have the same power as television, movies, and books to explore important issues - and to allow players the chance to actually explore the "tough decisions" in a the safer analog of the game. This is especially true in such story-driven genres as RPGs. But we can't just toss these kinds of issues around off-handedly or in a trivial manner, and expect critical acclaim.

For all of its faults and poor design, at least Super Columbine Massacre RPG! did try to tackle these kinds of issues head-on, with no masking metaphor at all except for the shocking transposition of a real-life tragedy into the made-up gameplay of a 16-bit style RPG. But there are other, better examples. RPS also explored a little bit of darkness in a relationship and difficult decisions (with real meaning and consequences) in the article Heather And Me, about the critically acclaimed but woefully overlooked RPG Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines.

I guess it would be silly to suggest that the successful RPG-making powerhouse Bioware seek to emulate the dead-and-buried Troika Games. But I don't know that tough, meaningful decisions would either contribute or detract from commercial success. But the metaphors of video gaming - like Star Trek in the late 60's - can provide designers and audiences with a safer, less stressful context in which to explore real-world issues.

I'm not really suggesting that Star Trek was the high point for television as a cultural medium. But for being such a "silly" science fiction show that people tended not to take seriously, I think it probably had a greater cultural effect than we give it credit for (and I'm just not talking about the geek culture, either). I strongly believe video games could do the same thing. We just need to learn to do it in such a way that it is neither trivialized nor heavy-handed.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008
 
Wizardry 8: In Fear of Little Naked Winged Women
So now we come to part five of my play-through of the 'classic' mainstream CRPG, Wizardry 8 - which proved to be the final chapter of one of the oldest computer RPG series. I missed the game when it was first released seven years ago, and I'm having a blast playing it today. The graphics may have aged, but the gameplay is still solid. As a designer, I'm taking notes.

Most of my party is now around 10th level. And I'm living in mortal terror of little naked winged women. Leaf Pixies, to be exact. But not all - they apparently spawn with different spell load-outs. The ones that were stalking me for hours may have finally de-popped after I spent an entire night hiding from them, huddled in a fetal position, praying they wouldn't discover me. I'd battled them about a dozen times, trying different techniques, and nothing worked. These things are FAST - once they spot you, they WILL run you down like the dog you are. And then they'll open up a can of fairie whup-ass on you.

In this case, it was a group of five pixies. They'd always go first each round. On the first round, most of them would cast Eye For An Eye on themselves, which would reflect any spells you cast on them back against yourself. Maybe one or two would sit out this round of buffing and instead web the entire party, so only about two or three party members would remain free to actually act.

Round two - the last pixies without Eye for an Eye would cast it on themselves (in case you had any funny ideas about targeting individuals with spells), while the rest would pelt the entire - usually bound - party with Armormelt, Whipping Rocks, and the occasional Crush or repeat of the Web spell.

Usually, everyone would survive round two, though occasionally I'd lose my bishop or mage if they were targeted by Crush spells. Round three was the endgame. Sometimes - if enough of my party was free of the webs by then - I could finally take out a pixie. Once, I'd even taken out two! But by the end of round three, the Whipping Rocks and Crush spells would have wiped out both of my principle spellcasters, knocked one of my valkyries unconscious, and probably taken out the bard or the gadgeteer. With maybe one character left alive, conscious, and unbound, I'd close the chapter on this sorry situation and reload.

And get clobbered again.

This was all happening in Trynton. Lo and behold, I made it to Trynton. It was nothing like I expected. I thought it would be another city, and it is. But it is not just another city.

I was in a conference once with Tracy Hickman - the co-author of the Dragonlance series (amongst many others) and creator of the legendary (and notorious) Dungeons & Dragons module, "Ravenloft." He commented on how, if you were to take the castles from most of the classic modules of the era and model them in 3D, they'd come out really "dumpy." He found that the best way to really confuse players was to make them work with the vertical. It threw off mapping, and human brains have a tougher time dealing with 3D space (even though we live in it).

The designers of Wizardry 8 may have listened to that same lecture. Trynton is a city of tree-houses. It is highly vertical. Though the 3D graphics make it easier to deal with than text-descriptions of pen & paper D&D, it can still get a bit confusing. But even with the primitive, EverQuest-era graphics of the time, it just looks cool. While it's also kinda cool fighting on a rope bridge allied with a half-dozen or more Trynnies, it makes moving into melee with some enemies almost impossible.

Really, the only things I don't like about Trynton are the marauding bands of Leaf Pixies, and the lack of shops. Although Fuzzfass's potion shop is nicely stocked. I've not completed all the quests here (and I'm not sure I can, yet), but I have managed to make it to the illusionary "seventh bough" and meet the legendary shaman who told me my destiny.

My destiny, apparently, is to die - repeatedly and awfully - at the hands of tiny naked women with wings.

Actually, no, that's not what he told me. His answer was the biggest non-surprise so far: My destiny was intertwined with that of Marten, and the Destinae Dominus. I have to follow Marten's trail. For this, I battled spiders, pixies, vampire bats, rapaxes, and blinding wasps all the way up along a giant tree? Still, redundancy is better than getting lost and confused. I accepted the quest and left a tip in the jar. Not that there was any jar, but I tell 'em that to get their hopes up.

So I am now to continue doing... well, what I was doing. Except now I think I have to head into the swamp. But FIRST, I have to head back to Arnika and sell some stuff. And I have to figure out what's up with that graveyard near Trynton. I found runes on some of the headstones, and I could press them and ... uh, turn them off or whatever. But after finding about six of them, they still didn't make the spirit running the graveyard go away. I tried asking around in Trynton to see if anybody knew about it, but they all gave me the "huh?" response. I'll see if I have any more success in Arnika.

Taking Notes
I have always been a proponent of having adventure-game style puzzles in RPGs. Maybe that's just because I'm old-school where the two genres were both far more vibrant and far more interconnected. Wizardry 8, like many of its predecessors, has this in spades.

There's got to be a balance, though. In graphic adventure games, there is usually not many obstacles to moving between areas to fiddle with objects or hunt for missed clues. In a 3D game, the "hunt the pixel" problem is increased by an order of magnitude due to the third dimension, and getting between areas can be pretty tedious. And treacherous. Particularly when the game scales up the difficulty of the encounters to match your average party level, as Wizardry 8 does.

This makes backtracking pretty time-consuming. Most RPGs, including this one, compensate for this by keeping the puzzles either pretty simple or optional. Or maybe they hoped to generate additional revenue from the strategy guide back in the 90's.

I personally prefer staying in-game for finding out how to solve puzzles, and it'd be cool if the game could offer redundant hints as to solutions or the next move. As Wizardry 8 did, back in Arnika, when both the priest and the aging HLL officer suggested your next course of action. This is hardly universal - after all, nobody in Trynton will even suggest how I should start mending the broken rope bridge. I worry it'll involve inventory items I don't have and don't have a clue where to look for them.

The difficult / dangerous / time-consuming slog from area to area is a reason why I don't enjoy the concept of specialty shops in RPGs - even though they sound cool on paper. My team is accumulating a lot of useless junk I'd like to sell, but the potion shop in town won't buy my crap to help finance a potion to restore a drained comrade. More realistic? Sure. But when the guy is about the only shop in Trynton, and the Rapax back in Arnika is possibly a half-hour or so of unproductive running around and fighting, the convenience factor outweighs the realism.

As I also mentioned, I highly approve of the use of vertical space in the game. The treehouse city is just cool and quirky and alien. And awesome. It gives the game - and the Trynnies - some real character, and brings them to life.

Anti-magic zones are a staple of "old school" RPGs (I remember hating the anti-magic LEVEL in Ultima Underworld). The battle in an anti-magic zone in Trynton seems designed specifically to encourage the player to seize an unfair advantage against an otherwise nearly impossible combat. It doesn't take much, but you can position yourself just outside the anti-magic zone, but force the hordes of monsters to fight just inside the zone, incapable of bringing their spells to bear.

Fighting with allied but uncontrolled NPCs in can make for some pretty epic battles. A little slow, but a lot cool. I also like the illusion that I'm not the only guy in the world capable of and willing to battle evil.

Oh, yeah - and having the nastiest, most fearsome opponents in an area be itsy-bitsy little faeries: Definitely worth some bonus points, there. Horrible, toothy, slobbering monsters are always great, but itsy-bitsy naked winged women are just all the more terrifying.

More Wizardry 8 Play-Through Entries:
Part I: So a Samuari, a Valkyrie, and a Bishop Walk Into a Bar...
Part II: Running the Gauntlet
Part III: Vi Domina Tricks
Part IV: Arnika Bank - No Safer Than Under the Mattress
Part V: In Fear of Little Naked Winged Women
Part VI: Old-School Goes Old-School
Part VII: Ratts!
Part VIII: Dances With Rhinos
Part IX: My Duplicity Has a Price
Part X: Missing Men and Mutant Frogs
Part XI: Swimming With the Psi-Sharks
Part XII: Desperately Seeking Marten
Part XIII: Lucky Thirteen, Unlucky Rapax
Part XIV: Storming the Castle

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Eight Myths About Videogames Debunked
It looks like PBS has decided to play "Mythbuster" with eight assumptions people make about video games. They address misconceptions in two categories - the "video games are just for nerdy little boys" area, and the "video games turn kids into raving psychotic monsters"

* The availability of video games has led to an epidemic of youth violence.
Flying in the face of the dramatic decrease in violent crime since the release of Doom.

* Scientific evidence links violent game play with youth aggression.
Also linked: the alignment of the stars and planets with your likelihood of getting a traffic ticket today.

* Children are the primary market for video games.
Because the industry doesn't want all that filthy disposable income from the twenty-somethings.

* Almost no girls play computer games.
That's right - Bejeweled, The Sims, and Peggle are exclusively played by testosterone-laden boys in-between sessions of clubbing each other with tree branches in the back yard. Oh, and no girl could possibly have the mental capacity and skills necessary to pwn your newbie ass in Counterstrike.

* Because games are used to train soldiers to kill, they have the same impact on the kids who play them.
AKA the "David Grossman has convinced enough people to repeat him that it must be true" fallacy"

* Video games are not a meaningful form of expression.
But toilet seat art is.

* Video game play is socially isolating.
Because we gamers hate playing with each other, and we would never talk to each other about what games we play.

* Video game play is desensitizing.
This one may be true. It's desensitized me to television.

Anyway, the article is much better-written than my commentary. Check it out here:

Reality Bytes: Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked

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Monday, August 25, 2008
 
Quest for Glory II Remake
The Quest for Glory II: Trial By Fire remake is now available. The original is now almost old enough to vote. So I guess a remake is reasonable.

AGD is also famous for having done the remakes of King's Quest 1 and 2. According to some reports, the remake is superior to the original not only in graphics quality, but in gameplay as well. Several of the original game's rougher edges have been smoothed out, and combat is reportedly much cleaner.

Note: They do have a commercial game available, as well, entitled Al Emmo and the Lost Duchman's Mine. Now, creating a full-on remake and giving it away for free is a stupidly hard way to market one's own game (as is most of game development), but it's clear the Quest for Glory remake was more of a labor of love than a marketing strategy.

Anyway, the QFG2 remake clocks in at about 85 megs.

For interested developers out there, the remake was created using AGS - Adventure Game Studio. It's free, for those who would like to try their hand at developing old-school point & click adventure games.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008
 
Once Again, A Former Mainstream Video Game Developer
So ... I quit.

Remember how I promised last weekend (just before heading out to work over ten hours straight on a Saturday) that the severe crunch-mode thing I've been using as an excuse for months would be over soon? That's what I was talking about.

After about two-and-a-half years back in the video game business, the volatility and lifestyle and quality-of-life issues (and did I mention volatility?) got to be a bit much for my family and myself. I'd actually put this off for a couple of months so we could finish up the project (and so I could find a decent place to land). Recent events propelled me to pull the trigger a little earlier than expected, but the time had come for me to make my exit. And the position I'd accepted had already expressed the willingness to be flexible about my start date.

Anyway, I have a few days off to decompress - which are sorely needed. After all, I think I clocked in 40 hours for the week sometime Wednesday evening, not including the weekend hours. And it sounds like management is working to make things right by the rest of my team, so I am pleased with that. They are a great bunch, I wish them all the best, and I'll miss working with them.

But I'm also really excited about my new position. Besides promising more humane hours and steadier paychecks, I'll get the chance to work on some really cool simulator technology.

But in the meantime, I get a chance for some R&R, to play some Wizardry 8, pay attention to my family who needed to be re-introduced to me, and actually devote a little bit of time to Frayed Knights, which has been sadly neglected the last three months.

I started this blog as a "former" mainstream video game developer. After jumping back into the fray for a the last few years, and admittedly having some pretty good times there, I can say I'm pretty happy about returning to my "former" status. Probably for good this time (but I've learned to never say never).

Viva La Indie!

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Saturday, August 23, 2008
 
Wizardry 8: Arnika Bank - No Safer Than Under the Matress
I am continuing my play-through of 2001's Wizardry 8, one of the last of the mainstream "old-school" style RPGs. Here's Part 4.

Since my last report, I have acquired a couple of tools to help me out. The first is... a manual! The used copy of the game I bought from E-Bay came with nothing but the discs (those with the full packaging are often selling for as high as three digits). I have found that I was able to figure out most of the game without the documentation just fine. I wouldn't call Wizardry 8 intuitive in its gameplay, necessarily, but for fans of the series and the genre, things aren't too hard to figure out. It would have been handier when creating race / class combinations, but familiarity with Wizardry 7 helped in that. You can find a PDF version of the Wizardry 8 manual at replacementdocs.com.

The second nifty tool is a utility called WizFast which was recommended by several people. I was able to download it from wolfie.wiz8.de. It speeds up monster movement beyond the 5x maximum for the in-game option. I'm actually pretty happy with it at around 5x, but for those really big wilderness encounters that turn into chase scenes, this could really be a time-saver.

Scorpia also contacted me, and offered me some semi-cryptic hints and tips. She always tried hard to do this without giving too much away when she was writing for Computer Gaming World (man, I miss those days). But she did warn me point-blank about the tower, saying, "The Arnika bomb is for real. The DS is not someone who bluffs."

Ah. Good point. Important safety tip.

Anyway, I'm still in Arnika and the nearby areas. There have been plenty of things to do in the city, although most of those things involve that noble goal of adventurers everywhere: To loot anything not nailed to the floor, and to break into any place that is sealed against you. And the locals often don't seem to mind. Hey, these are desperate times, right?

I recovered a diamond for the Arnika bank - stolen, somehow, under their tight security measures. I wasn't pleased enough with the reward. So I made some withdrawals of my own. I was able to... uh, "find" several security cards that gave me access to the vaults in the basement. And the emotionless bank teller apparently didn't seem to notice that I didn't look much like Antone the Rapax. And she complains that these things (like the diamond theft) always seem to occur on her watch!

I found the nearby jail to be abandoned by its guards, who I guess were busy patrolling the streets to aid me in frequent battles against the minions of the Dark Savant. I found their security less than adequate. I ended up releasing some bandits, who I imagine must have been half-starved, as they attacked me immediately rather than expressing their gratitude. I unfortunately had to put them out of their misery. At the bottom of one cell, however, I found a secret entrance to a tunnel that went under the street and into one of the bank vaults. With more loot.

I had one other offer to interact with the bank. Some Ratkin named Rattus Rattus asked me to cash a check for him. And he gave me a zip gun in payment. I agreed, and even made it all the way back to the bank. Before handing Rattus's note to the teller, I decided to read it first. Good thing I did. It bas a hold-up note. That prankster! I quietly folded the note and put it away and left the bank. I later found a gullible merchant who was willing to buy the note for 1 gold piece. I have no idea why.

I hope the Arnika Community Bank is insured. Because I don't think they are going to be in business very long.

In true Gygaxian style, the same exploration that can reward you so handsomely can also bring you a great deal of trouble. While locked doors may be there to protect valuables inside from people like me, that can also be used to keep bad things locked IN. I discovered this exploring one too many locked doors inside the temple of Phoonzang. Who knew there were all those deadly ghosts inside? However, I prevailed, and I'll consider it a service rendered to the temple. With the ghosts gone, maybe they can renovate the chambers and turn them into dining areas or guest rooms or something.

One of the treasures in the bank - the sword Bloodlust - turned out to have a curse attached to it. I wasn't paying attention when I gave it to my samurai-turned-gadgeteer. I figured it'd make a good close-quarters weapon when we got flanked. Then I discovered he was incapable of switching back to his gun - or any other weapon. Fortunately, selling the sword back to its original owner, Antone the Rapax (who assumed it had been made by his brother - I'm not making this up!), almost made up for the cost of the "remove curse" scroll we had to use to free our gadgeteer-swordsman from its powerful compulsion.

Greed has its drawbacks.

I am now on the trail of the big artifact that the Dark Savant is after - the Destinae Dominus. The introductory movie made it sound like someone had just absconded with the thing moments before the Dark Savant arrived. But, according to certain townspeople, the theft took place a hundred years ago. I guess when you are dealing with ancient prophecies, a mere century is still a current event. Anyway, the thief was a former cop (well, HLL guardsman) named Marten. While he's being painted as a villain by some, I wonder if he didn't have a heads-up that the Big Bad would be coming one day and decided to keep it safe. Or maybe he was an adventurer like me, and had that problem with looting everything that wasn't nailed down.

He apparently fled to the nearby town of Trynton, and the "Trynnies" hid him and the Destinae Dominus for some time. When the HLL came after him, he managed to give them the slip.

Since I think I've exhausted most of the currently-available quest opportunities in Arnika (I think), it looks like my trail now leads to Trynton. I wonder if there is anybody alive there who knows about Marten, or where he might have taken the Destinae Dominus...

And besides, it might be best to get out of town before people start discovering that their private vaults are empty and start putting two and two together. Maybe after I've saved the entire universe, they'll cut me some slack.


More Wizardry 8 Play-Through Entries:
Part I: So a Samuari, a Valkyrie, and a Bishop Walk Into a Bar...
Part II: Running the Gauntlet
Part III: Vi Domina Tricks
Part IV: Arnika Bank - No Safer Than Under the Mattress
Part V: In Fear of Little Naked Winged Women
Part VI: Old-School Goes Old-School
Part VII: Ratts!
Part VIII: Dances With Rhinos
Part IX: My Duplicity Has a Price
Part X: Missing Men and Mutant Frogs
Part XI: Swimming With the Psi-Sharks
Part XII: Desperately Seeking Marten
Part XIII: Lucky Thirteen, Unlucky Rapax
Part XIV: Storming the Castle

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Friday, August 22, 2008
 
Interview with Nick Tipping of Moonpod
Here's the last of the semi-formal interviews I had with mainstream game developers who had "gone rogue" to become full-time indie game developers. This time, it's with Nick Tipping of Moonpod. Nick is another indie who is both a driven game developer and a great supporter of the indie game development community. If you have played Moonpod's games, in particular their latest RPG-esque Mr. Robot, you already know that they quality sets the bar pretty high for indie games. Darn them.

Rampant Coyote: So where did you work and what did you work on prior to going indie?

Nick Tipping: Mark and I were both at Gremlin Interactive, Infogrammes and Rage Games Ltd. We worked on a number of PC and Playstation projects: N2O and the Actua sports series mainly. The last mainstream game we worked on was Gun Metal for the Xbox.

Rampant Coyote: What propelled you out of the door of that cushy mainstream game development job to join the ranks of the self-employed?

Nick Tipping: We'd toyed with the idea for some months but when almost every major studio in Sheffield closed at the same time we decided it was time to give it a go. Severance pay and racking up huge debt on multiple credit cards saw us to the end of out first project at Moonpod. :)


Rampant Coyote: Were there any aspects of indie game development took you by surprise when you worked on your first game(s)? Any lessons you had to learn quickly?

Nick Tipping: Only really having to learn open source libraries because we couldn't afford any of the middleware we'd been using in mainstream development. With our first game we made a lot of design mistakes because we'd been developing console-centric titles for so long. Starscape didn't even have mouse support for the menus when we first released it although we added that in an update.


Rampant Coyote: What have been your your biggest struggles / challenges / disappointments as an indie?

Nick Tipping:
Marketing and running our company was something we had to jump in at the deep end with. We're still learning things now, after 5 years of being in business. Things we thought would be invaluable turned out to be useless; Mr. Robot and Starscape got incredible reviews in magazines, but even the smallest website review has a much bigger impact than a magazine.


Rampant Coyote: Do you still prefer being an indie over your mainstream game job?If so, why? If not, why haven't you returned to mainstream, big-budget, big-studio development? At the end of the day, why are you an indie?

Nick Tipping: At Moonpod it was more about artistic expression than money but sadly there's always a base level of income you need to maintain to support that ideal. We essentially love making games so if we had to return to mainstream development we'd be fine with that. Ideally we'll keep Moonpod going though and maybe even get to the point where we can hire some staff. We'd love to respond to some of the ideas our customers have sent our way. Essentially we want to keep doing what we've been doing but always reaching to create a better, more fulfilling experience for those who play our games.


Rampant Coyote: What other differences between mainstream and indie game development have you noticed?

Nick Tipping: There's a surprising amount of freedom available to you as an indie developer but time is still your greatest asset and with indie dev there's little time available and more tasks biting into it. Like maintaining a website and running a business. Not to mention customer support.

Rampant Coyote: Okay, that's about all I had. Is there anything else you want to add?

Nick Tipping: Only to add that indies live and die by word of mouth so if you find an indie game you like then tell everyone you know!!!

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Thursday, August 21, 2008
 
McCain Supports 4th Edition D&D: Polls Drop
Man, first Goldfarb makes a crack about D&D players living in their parents' basement and supporting Obama, and now this:



Dude, come on! 4th edition? Sheesh. Yer just diggin' yourself a deeper hole, here!

(Picture taken from here. Warning - highly political website!)

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Bejeweled Franchise Sells 25 Million Copies
In a press release Tuesday, PopCap announced that their flagship casual games Bejeweled and and Bejeweled 2 have now collectively sold over 25 million units across all platforms, generating over $300 million in consumer sales, and generating tens of millions of dollars of ad-based income.

Jason Kapalka mentions that they originally tried to sell the game outright to game publishers when they started around eight years ago. Even after lowering the price to a mere $60,000, they had no takers.

There are so many interesting points here it's hard to know where to begin. First of all, the $300 million in consumer spending doesn't equate to take-home profits by PopCap, as there were a lot of retail copies sold, portals taking their share, and bundle deals. Still, even if you assume only an average of $6 per copy, that's pretty impressive.

This is also across an immense number of platforms - including PDAs, cell phones, consoles, and computers. I don't know if any game besides Tetris has been ported as extensively as Bejeweled. Or cloned as extensively.

And though they have been really kicking butt lately with Peggle (after spending a ton on marketing), the success of Bejeweled has proven very difficult to match. For a while, Bejeweled's popularity was seen as a signal that casual gaming was a license to print money, but the market is now getting pretty saturated and challenging - even for PopCap themselves.

Still - the best take-away I see from this story, as an indie game developer, is how important it is not to underestimate the value of owning the rights to your game. They tried to sell that, lock, stock, and barrel, for probably far less than 1/1000th of its true value. They had to work their butts off porting, promoting, and building sequels to squeeze that value out of it, and this is a truly exceptional case. But the truth is that developers (not just indies - or I should say, especially non-indies) do not generally know how to exploit the value of their properties, and therefore greatly undervalue the IP rights to their games. And publishers are often just too happy to take ownership of those rights for the pittance the developers think it is worth.

(On the flip side - aspiring developers seem to greatly over-value their ideas for games. But that's a whole 'nother problem. Rule of thumb: If it's something you could sell almost immediately with very little effort, it's worth several orders of magnitude more than something you couldn't.)

Ultimately, with all the stories of failed game studios and the woes involved in the videogame business, it's always nice to hear success stories like this one. Congrats to PopCap on a job well done.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008
 
Wizardry 8 Part III: Vi Domina Tricks
eAfter running the gauntlet along Arnika Road (and finding another bolted-door building along the easier Arnika-Trynton Road that may or may not be capable of being entered at some point), I am now in civilized territory: The formerly thriving town of Arnika.

I'm still not exactly sure how it is pronounced. The residents all pronounce it a little differently. Most seem to pronounce it ar-NEE-ka, but I've also heard AR-nee-ka and AR-ne-ka. While it's a small thing, it's noticeable. We've got a town west of Salt Lake City called "Tooele." Everyone in the region pronounces it correctly - at least after being corrected once after trying to call it "Tool" or "TOOL-ee". It's pronounced, by the way, "Too-ILL-a." Don't ask. We also have a town called "Hurricane" which is pronounced "HURR-i-cun." Actors might screw this up, but residents never would.

Arnika is a lot more fun than my last session. There are people to talk to. There are abandoned houses to clear out. There's a rogue named Myles whom I found myself grouped with. Since I already had a rogue, it enabled me to turn my rogue into a bard. I'm not positive how long Myles will stay with our group, but for now, he's with us.

The big quest Myles had for us (though he's talked about robbing the bank) was to rescue some girl by a crashed space ship. We had to fight off a group of Savant Guards - robots with blades on their hands. Definitely challenging, and they don't scare easily. There were also some bandits - Higardi raiders - monkeying around outside the ship that we had to fight our way through. Fortunately, they do scare fairly easily. We had to use every bit of tactics I could come up with to defeat them without losing anyone in our group (I actually took them on before bringing Myles on board).

One bummer about fights in Wizardry 8 is that the enemy can flank and surround you, but you can't really do the same to them. You can, however, dictate a lot of the terms of the fight - maneuvering with your back to a wall (or better, a corner) to limit their frontage, force them to come to you while you pelt them with ranged attacks (especially magical area-effect attacks), and use temporarily disabling spells like fear spells or sleep spells to disrupt them from attacking.

You can also make sure you have your fights within earshot of the friendly guards or monks in the area. They are quick to rush into a fight, draw off a little heat off of your beleagered party members if you need it, and add their own firepower to assist you. If there is an XP hit to receiving their aid, it's not been that noticable.

At the crash site, we rescued the girl from a bunch of savant guard robots, though she was kicking butt pretty well. Once we rescued her, she turned out to be Vi Domina, formerly appearing in Wizardry 7. She joined the party - and turned out to be merely my own average party level (6 at the point she joined us). Somehow I thought she was a much bigger bad-ass than that. I guess skills atrophy over time.

She joined the party, gave us gold, scads of experience points (taking some party members to level 7), and asked us to escort her to visit friends. Free XP for a milk run, plus a chance to get introduced to characters who can use less-than-generic dialog with other NPCs. This was a cute design trick, actually. It gives the NPCs a bit more personality, and helped turn them into "characters" rather than "information and quest dispensing machines."

Except they keep treating us as "junior adventurers." Smirking a little about how we "rescued" Vi. Like we're the kid brothers playing pretend adventurers, and couldn't really handle any real danger on our own. Okay, granted, they probably have a point. We are wusses compared to just about everything else around us (except rats and green slime). I wonder if that will change later? It seems like our quest involves ascending to godhood. I'll bet people won't smirk and be all condescending THEN!

We had to pay off Myles's bartab, which wasn't so fun, but it was a lot cheaper than pair of leather boots purchased from the rapax arms-dealer in town. And we also went to visit the tower of the Dark Savant. It was naturally guarded by his robot troopers. They repeated a warning Vi Domina gave us earlier about there being a bomb in the tower that would blow up the entire world if we tried to enter it.

I think they're bluffing. But... after dispatching the guards, I couldn't find an obvious way in, so I didn't try to call them on it.

Now, given the era that this game was released - just shortly after Baldur's Gate II - I can see how some players might be dissatisfied with the simplicity of the quests thus far, and the necessity of hunting them down a bit.

There is a large menu of options to interact with every NPC, from topics of conversation to trading and even recruiting them to join your party. Morrowind players would have felt right at home. Granted, the majority of NPCs you can talk to in this town are nameless, disposable guards and priests. But I do like the depth of interaction of named NPCs. As the game progresses, the number of things you can talk about increases. They may have nothing but bored "blow you off" responses to the new topics of conversation, but the impression it gives is that these NPCs might grow more interesting as the game advances - rather than the opposite, as is usually the case in RPGs once you've "used up" the NPC's conversation tree.

An artifact of the technology is that the city is pretty sparse. Buildings are spaced far apart, and it is difficult to make out more than four of them at a time through the fog. To be honest, this wasn't very different from Wizardry 7, with the rectangular walls of the city forming odd-shaped buildings that were only visible to a range of about five squares.

All-in-all, Arnika has been pretty fun so far. I'll have to take Myles up on his bank-robbing idea and see what other trouble I can scare up. There's plenty of surrounding countryside and stuff to explore, yet, so I have not yet run out of things to do. At this point, I am having a little bit of trouble figuring out the next direction to take, so I'm gonna have to play adventurer and beat some bushes a little to find something.


More Wizardry 8 Play-Through Entries:
Part I: So a Samuari, a Valkyrie, and a Bishop Walk Into a Bar...
Part II: Running the Gauntlet
Part III: Vi Domina Tricks
Part IV: Arnika Bank - No Safer Than Under the Mattress
Part V: In Fear of Little Naked Winged Women
Part VI: Old-School Goes Old-School
Part VII: Ratts!
Part VIII: Dances With Rhinos
Part IX: My Duplicity Has a Price
Part X: Missing Men and Mutant Frogs
Part XI: Swimming With the Psi-Sharks
Part XII: Desperately Seeking Marten
Part XIII: Lucky Thirteen, Unlucky Rapax
Part XIV: Storming the Castle

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008
 
Wizardry 8 Part II: Running the Gauntlet
Since I got started on this discussion over the weekend on my recent acquisition of Wizardry 8, I figured I'd continue this "retrospective." Though it's really more of a first-time play-through for me, as I never played it when it was initially released in 2001. But frankly, this game was a last hurrah (from mainstream developers, at least) of a very fine tradition and style of computer role-playing games that I feel met a premature demise.

Now, if you've been following this blog for a while, you may remember how I complain about how games these days hold your hand and expect you to "brute force" your way through every encounter, never requiring you (or even allowing you) to considering alternatives that don't require killing everything in sight?

This ain't one of 'em.


Yeah, that's 27 enemies, each roughly equal to any of my characters. Nine-to-two odds. The gods of butt-kicking can be capricious and cruel. Or maybe that's the game designers?

Scorpia refers to Arnika Road in Wizardry 8 as the "Terrible Road," and I now understand what she was talking about.

The previous location, the monastery. had a lot going for it. It was full of interesting features (including computers and an elevator), clues as to the "big picture" of what was going on and as to the history - ancient and recent - of the order that dwelt there and the world itself. While it had its share of empty tunnels (I guess the contractors thought they could ad lib a bit and get paid extra for making long corridors that didn't really go anywhere), it was worthy of exploration. And while it had a couple of challenging encounters, it had nothing truly punishing. It was a solid, exciting intro dungeon with lots of promise for the rest of the game.

Arnika Road was something of a let-down after that. And not just because I had my kiester stomped on the second encounter. And the third. And the fourth. That pretty much defined my experience on Arnika Road, and that part isn't all bad. It's just unfortunate that it was pretty much the most interesting part of the journey. But more on that in a minute. Let's talk kiester-stompage.

I tried to be far more tactical and clever after that first defeat, and started using tactical maneuvering on the third. What eventually worked was me "pulling" enemies (just as in an MMO) to a location where I could limit their ability to flank me, and then take them out well away from other enemies who could join them. I did that a couple of times, and then made a run for Arnika. Literally. I stayed to the edges of the canyon to avoid detection as long as possible, and then when combat was joined, I ran like the coward I am. It took me a couple of tries to even do that successfully.

But it worked, eventually. Which, all-in-all, represented a little under two hours of somewhat tedious play. The tedium was particularly pronounced when it came to waiting for massive groups of monsters to move, one-by-one, into position. I found myself thumbing through a book. When I talk about how cool turn-based RPGs are, this sort of thing undermines my arguments. I didn't mind it so much when I was fighting three or even four monsters at a time. But eight... twelve... twenty-seven... that took things to an annoying extreme.

Now, it could be that Arnika Road was designed to teach players the importance of fleeing from bad odds. And it may be that they had some flaw in their encounter-scaling logic that overdid it at level 5. And it could be that the designers deliberately made Arnika Road a speed-bump in the game.

While I couldn't see much of it in my flight to the nearly abandoned city, I really only noticed one "interesting" feature of this area (besides some items sprinkled across the landscape): a building with an impenetrable barred door. I can totally understand the reason why the door was barred, considering the threat level of the creatures roaming the road. And now I'm very curious as to what is inside. That's exploration for you. You get teased by seeing something you can't quite reach, and wonder what lay beyond.

Aside from that, Arnika Road strikes me as "filler." There's another path I can take when I'm no longer required to run for my life. Maybe there's a lot more that way. I look forward to checking it out. But from what I've seen - it's just filler. Not that I mind a little filler in my games. I can get kinda zen-like about wandering off into these kinds of areas and just doing some XP-harvesting. But the difficulty level seemed to get frustratingly difficult at this point, a feature which might not earn maximum gratitude from players in a game's design. Unless, of course, the point was to learn to run like hell, in which case a suggestion that this might be the way to go at the beginning of the gauntlet might be an appropriate way to help train players for future fleeing-like-a-little-girl later in the game.

Upon reaching Arnika, I've found that most of the citizens have fled from the city, fearing attacks by minions of the Dark Savant. As a total meta-meta-gaming aside, I have to admit - it's cool and strange hearing about the Dark Savant in a game. The last time I *really* played Wizardry 7: Crusaders of the Dark Savant was back in '92 or so. It's almost like running into an old friend from high school. Only then, you remember that this acquaintance wasn't actually a friend, but was a total jerk whom you always wanted to punch in the mouth. But while the desire for mouth-punching remains, it temporarily takes a backseat to savoring the reunion out of nostalgia.

So now that I'm off the road (for now), there are once again places to explore, people to talk to, and of course more butts to kick. I'm excited and ready to go!


More Wizardry 8 Play-Through Entries:
Part I: So a Samuari, a Valkyrie, and a Bishop Walk Into a Bar...
Part II: Running the Gauntlet
Part III: Vi Domina Tricks
Part IV: Arnika Bank - No Safer Than Under the Mattress
Part V: In Fear of Little Naked Winged Women
Part VI: Old-School Goes Old-School
Part VII: Ratts!
Part VIII: Dances With Rhinos
Part IX: My Duplicity Has a Price
Part X: Missing Men and Mutant Frogs
Part XI: Swimming With the Psi-Sharks
Part XII: Desperately Seeking Marten
Part XIII: Lucky Thirteen, Unlucky Rapax
Part XIV: Storming the Castle

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Monday, August 18, 2008
 
Wizardry 8: So a Samurai, a Valkyrie, and a Bishop Walk Into a Bar...
That's either the start of a really lame joke, or a regular play session of one of the definitely non-lame Wizardry games. Although I don't remember if Valkyries were an available class in the earlier Wiz games.

Ye Olde Day (and Night) Job gave me Sunday off, so I managed to pour about three hours into playing my new acquisition, Wizardry 8. Yes, all this talk of new RPGs hitting the store shelves, and I'm thrilled about getting my hands on a seven-year-old game. Well, let me tell you - I haven't been as delighted about an RPG since... oh, Depths of Peril, which was only last year.

But still, just three hours into it, I'm mighty pleased. Why?

#1 - The world and storyline are intriguing. I was never a huge fan of the mega-epic plot-line of the power to create and destroy the entire universe and all that, but I'm not minding it so much here. The game starts you out with a trite imperative (you are the sole survivors of a crashed space ship, and have to survive and save the universe), but the monastery section felt a little like unfolding a mystery, full of hints and clues to a bigger picture. I love that.

#2 - TACTICS! Holy cow, this game is reminding me of how fun turn-based, party-based RPGs can be. Granted, Wizardry 8 probably takes it a little overboard, with party movement and positioning, party formations, and everything. But still, I'm having a great time with it. I got clobbered in a combat on the road to Arnika last night, and found myself considering all the things I could have done differently to have won. Too often, in RPGs these days, it really comes down to having been too unlucky, too slow on the healing-potion button, or not having saved during the middle of the battle often enough. Here, it was a case of me encountering a new monster type and underestimating their capabilities.

#3 - The monastery - the first "dungeon" - was not a run-of-the-mill miniature bunny-slope dungeon. I spent three hours of playtime in there, and dealt with multiple "boss monsters" and lots of exploration. Maybe I'll get sick of similar dungeons with the same graphics set in the future, and I did play through some of this in the demo, but for now, I enjoyed it. I'm really a dungeon-crawler at heart, I guess.

#4 - I'm also a sucker for first-person perspective RPGs. Chalk it over to being more "immersive" or whatever - I've always preferred it. Not that I don't love other perspectives, too (Ultima VII remains, to this day, my favorite RPG), but I love seeing the world through the eyes of my character(s).

#5 - STATS! Lots of juicy, geeky numbers. This might be a detriment for many players, but I really like the customization opportunities and being able to numerically compare my characters and my improvements as I level. Seriously, I get bugged by RPGs that seem to say, "Don't worry your pretty little head about these big, scary statistics... just look at the eye-candy and you can see your character get cooler special effects!" Give me crunchy numbers, please. As much as I get into story and roleplaying and all that jazz, I've got repressed power-gamer tendencies that need to be exercised.

I wish we would see more games like this. But alas, the game was, from what I have heard, something of a failure. Sir-Tech, from what I understand, was in dire straits even before the game was completed. The game was reportedly rushed near the end (update: a rumor disputed by someone who should know), and I don't remember the marketing being all that hot for it. It was kinda sandwiched between some much higher-profile releases.

I mean, I didn't even get a copy when it was new. But I think it was because of a review that claimed the game was buggy. (Though I possibly got that confused with a review of Wizards & Warriors or Dungeon Lords. Those were designed by David W. Bradley, who worked on at least two previous Wizardry titles but - to my knowledge, had nothing to do with Wiz 8).

So I guess I was Part of the Problem. It's all my fault! *SOB*.

And maybe it's just the case that my tastes are now horribly divergent from that of the common gamer. I'm just a weirdo. Maybe there's no market for the potential Wizardry 8s of the world anymore. If so, that's truly a shame.

But maybe there's enough of a market left for indies to keep stepping up and filling the void. I can only hope.


More Wizardry 8 Play-Through Entries:
Part I: So a Samuari, a Valkyrie, and a Bishop Walk Into a Bar...
Part II: Running the Gauntlet
Part III: Vi Domina Tricks
Part IV: Arnika Bank - No Safer Than Under the Mattress
Part V: In Fear of Little Naked Winged Women
Part VI: Old-School Goes Old-School
Part VII: Ratts!
Part VIII: Dances With Rhinos
Part IX: My Duplicity Has a Price
Part X: Missing Men and Mutant Frogs
Part XI: Swimming With the Psi-Sharks
Part XII: Desperately Seeking Marten
Part XIII: Lucky Thirteen, Unlucky Rapax
Part XIV: Storming the Castle

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Saturday, August 16, 2008
 
Scored Wizardry 8!
I got it!

I finally managed to score a "legit" copy of Wizardry 8 for a reasonable price from E-Bay. I'm so used to games getting cheap as they get old, but I guess that doesn't apply for rare games. Or even uncommon ones like Wiz 8.

Now, ordinarily, I'd be wasting most of this day playing my new acquisition. But once again, I'm working for the weekend (insert strains of the 80's tune by Loverboy here, if you want to share my pain). The extendo-crunch days are coming to an end soon, however, so I may actually have time to... you know... work on my indie game project again. What a concept!

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Friday, August 15, 2008
 
The Indie Way to Win Customers and Defeat Piracy
Cliff Harris recently tried to open up a real dialog with pirates (I guess we are still calling them douche-bags here on this blog), and just published his results from this experience. His question to the pirates was, "Why do you pirate video games?" He received a flood of emails, many of which were pretty candid.

He explains the top reasons, and notes that the top responses involved quality issues, DRM, and game pricing. A lot mentioned that it is just easier to steal games (I'm sure most didn't use that word) than it is to buy them. Several complain that the demos were too short and didn't provide an adequate picture of the game. A very few actually cited weird political beliefs that they are somehow entitled to the hard work of others, or that they rip off games just because they can.

You can read his full report here:

Cliff Harris: Talking to Pirates


My take:

A lot of this smacks of justification, in my mind. I think the simple answer for 95% of piracy is simply because it is too freaking easy. With something like BitTorrent, it is ridiculously easy... and tempting... to simply type in the name of a game you've discovered that looks remotely interesting, and... if it is popular enough to have some feeds... viola. You are set within a few hours, or even just a few minutes for a smaller game. It doesn't take much for those small feelings of guilt to be suppressed.

I think Cliff's response is going to make his games better and hopefully sell better in the end, even if not a single pirate digs out a wallet and actually forks over a credit card number for his next game. The latest DRM shenanigans by mainstream companies lead a terrible taste in my mouth. And the issues of quality were particularly interesting - he said relatively few complained of graphics or "triple-A" production values, but most complained that the games were overly derivative, had gameplay issues, or simply grew boring too quickly beyond what was showcased in the demo. Those are quality issues that are within the grasp of any and all indies.

But I don't know that this is going to address the core problem with people ripping off software. I keep coming back around to Stardock's model, of producing constant updates that are more convenient to obtain legitimately than to pirate. I keep coming back to a point about business I have heard multiple times --- that business is about relationships. Pirates, almost by definition, have either no relationship with you as a game-seller, or a hostile one. Good games, and a good customer focus, can do a lot to build relationships between a company and a customer. Just look at how people respond to, say, Blizzard - or Stardock - as opposed to EA.

I think this is potentially something indies can do even better. After all, one of the advantages indies have is a direct relationship with their customers. And I think by opening up this dialog - and by being genuine about it, and trying to implement changes based on this feedback - has done a great deal to help build those relationships and goodwill. This is exactly how an indie should approach things, IMO.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008
 
Pocketwatch Games' Andy Schatz Talks Indie Game Development
Continuing with the series of original interviews / questionnaires I gave to former mainstream game developers who have since "gone indie," today brings us Andy Schatz of Pocketwatch Games. Andy goes through his history of going from mainstream to indie on his Pocketwatch Games History page, so I'll just refer you there. In a nutshell, he used to work for mainstream video game companies Presto Studios and TKO. While at the latter studio, he was working on Goldeneye: Rogue Agent for EA during the height of the era documented by the industry-shaking EA_Spouse article. And he was miserable. After completing the game, he quit, and TKO floundered thereafter. Not that there was necessarily a causal relationship there. He was fortunate to receive some solid success with his first indie game, Wildlife Tycoon: Venture Africa. And now he's made indie games his full-time career.

So here's what Andy had to say about his transition and experiences going from mainstream video game developer to a full-time indie.


Rampant Coyote: In your case, you were fed up with your job and decided to quit. What made you decide to become self-employed as an indie game developer rather than seek out another position elsewhere in the industry?

Andy Schatz: I had the same thought a ton of other developers have had: I can do it faster, I can do it better, I can get real credit for my work. That's probably a fantasy for most developers, but the only way to find out if it's true for you is to put yourself to the test. Who hasn't thought to themselves that they've got the next Sims or GTA or Zelda in them?

It's also worth noting that no one ever got rich off a salary.


Rampant Coyote: Were there any aspects of indie game development took you by surprise?

Andy Schatz: Perhaps it's naïve to say, but three years ago I thought that with the rise of digital distribution, developers were going to grab some of the power back from publishers. But we've seen pretty clearly in both the casual game market and digital distribution on consoles that the publishing/distribution racket wasn't going to let us get away with that. The future does not look as bright for developers as it did three years ago, and the blame lies squarely with BigFish, Microsoft, and other major digital distributors. These giants have found ways to corral the audience, squeeze developers, and rip off our most creative pioneers.


Rampant Coyote: So what lessons did you have to learn once you became a career indie?

Andy Schatz: Interacting with the community is an essential piece of being an indie developer. As an indie, you require the help of business contacts, advisors, contractors, and press. I had to learn to interact constructively with everyone. The lesson I learned is to always put things in context of "what can I do for you?" rather than "what can you do for me?"


Rampant Coyote: Being an indie obviously isn't all fame, glory, and money. What have been your your biggest challenges or disappointments as an indie?

Andy Schatz: My second title, Venture Arctic, was a huge leap from its predecessor, Venture Africa. It was more beautiful, more interesting, and more expansive. But despite receiving critical acclaim, it hasn't connected with as large an audience. It's very disappointing to have a title that you really care about underperform with customers.


Rampant Coyote: What are the biggest differences between indie game development and mainstream game development?

Andy Schatz: The obvious one is that as a professional indie, you've got to all the business side of things yourself. You can't just bring home the bacon, you've got to raise the pig and kill it yourself.

The less obvious one is that it's much harder to stay organized and motivated at times. Sometimes it's incredibly easy, but at others, you can slip into the doldrums and let a week go by without much to show for it.


Rampant Coyote: At the end of the day, why do you stick with being an indie?

Andy Schatz: I support myself and I'm perpetually only one game away from being a millionaire gaming rock star. Why would I quit now?


I'd like to thank Andy for providing such an entertaining and insightful look into the world of full-time indie game development.

(Vaguely) related interesting words from other people:
* "Going Rogue" at the Escapist
* NinjaBee's Steve Taylor on Indie Game Development
* Interview: Cliff "Kudos" Harris on Being an Indie Game Developer
* Depths of Peril Creator Steven Peeler Speaks Up on Going Indie
.

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Dogfights: Season 1
If combat flight simulators are your thing, or you just like stories or movies about aerial combat, and you are a Netflix subscriber, and you have broadband and can watch "instant" streaming movies, may I recommend:

Dogfights: Season 1

Assuming that link works. If not, watch for it on the History Channel. I have seen three episodes so far, and they have all been a lot of fun. My only big beef with them so far is that the otherwise excellent CGI recreation of dogfights had a flaw that drove me nuts: The F-4 Phantoms didn't trail smoke from their engines. That's kind of an F-4 trademark. How'd they let that get through?

Another comment: Am I just turning into an old fart, finding shows on TLC, Discovery, and the History Channel to be far more interesting than 95% of the "entertainment" provided by network television?

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008
 
Fantastic Contraption
During one of our (many) late-night sessions here at the office last week, some of the guys were passing the time between builds by playing this game. It is evil.

Fantastic Contraption

If you are familiar with other puzzle games where you construct devices or systems to solve the puzzle (Crayon Physics, The Incredible Machine series, Lemmings, etc.), then you will know what to expect from this game. Fantastic Contraption is a physics-based puzzle game where you construct a machine to meet the goal condition out of wheels (some self-propelled), connecting rods, and a lot of help from gravity and momentum.

It looks simple, but it's not. There are many (infinite?) solutions to each puzzle, but inventing a viable machine can be far trickier than it looks. As I said, it is evil. It begins deceptively simple, but gradually moves to serious head-scratching levels. The demo version is available for free on the web, and a full version is also available with undoubtedly far more fiendish puzzles.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008
 
Episodic Adventure Game Site Launches Soon
Touting itself as a "channel of episodic stories," the new website Identifiction opens on October 15th. They are committed to producing weekly, browser-based episodic gaming with heavy story-based episodes that are as immersive and innovative as any television series.

The first game available on the channel is a science-fiction / adventure entitled "Aosphere." It involves the crew of starship called the Icarus (I can't hear about a space ship by that name without thinking of the Babylon 5 storyline, but that's just me...), one of several ships sent out with a mission to find and settle habitable worlds in deep space. The crew is supposed to be in cryogenic suspension during their 22-year voyage. I would expect, in the first episode, that something goes wrong... :)

Two more series are planned in short order, and will be available in multiple languages. Each episode is geared for adult (meaning "grown up") audiences, inexpensive to play, and will be relatively short in length - something you could play through on a lunch break.

If you are interested, there's a beta sign-up available now. You have until September 5th to apply.

I have to admit, I'm intrigued. Intrigued enough that I would like to try it out, but probably not for the beta. I think this a really good chance of being one of many, many gaming start-ups that shrivel up and die within the first two years. It sounds like they have plenty of big dreams and high aspirations, but the question is whether or not they have the professionalism, skill, and marketing expertise to pull it off. However, it also possible that this could turn out to be pretty cool.

Check out Identifiction.

Hat-tip to CasualGameChick for the heads-up.

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Monday, August 11, 2008
 
ARMA Gold - With Old-School Flavah!
I actually had a weekend this weekend. Well, except for Friday night - that was trashed due to deadlines at the day job. I found myself playing some Armed Assault Gold (ARMA Gold) - sort of the spiritual successor to Operation: Flashpoint. It's a "realistic" first-person shooter released around a year and a half ago, which models all kinds of real-world weaponry and drivable vehicles. It's more "sim-like," which is sort of the kiss of death in the modern videogame market.

I found myself flying multiple helicopters, armored vehicles, trucks, and wielding everything from a pistol to a sniper rifle to a captured enemy rocket launcher in several different missions, and sometimes doing some pretty weird things.

In one mission, I was a sniper commanding a saboteur in a raid in the middle of the night. I messed up on my orders, and the saboteur didn't place his satchel charges near the trucks after we had cleared the base with sniper shots using night-vision. I accidentally ordered him to drive the truck. Which he did. I jumped into the other truck and decided we'd take the trucks back to our extraction point, whereupon we blew them up with small arms fire prior to getting inside the helicopter. The mission was confused, but seemed to give me credit for success. So long as you complete the mission objectives, the game doesn't complain too much about how you did it. Which is as it should be, in my opinion.



The game can be frustratingly difficult at times. Death comes quickly and often by surprise. I'm sometimes left looking at my own body in the post-death camera-panning view wondering what shot me. I never saw it coming. One good hit is all it takes. One moment you are feeling nigh-invincible near the end of a twenty-minute-long mission in your armored personnel carrier, and the next moment some guy hiding in the weeds with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher has robbed you of victory. Save early, save often. There are no health pick-ups, though friendly medics may patch up minor wounds so that your aim accuracy and movement rate are less horrible.

You are frequently in command of a squadron. Navigating the command menu hierarchy can be almost as challenging as navigating an enemy-held village. It's easy to give bad commands (as I did in the raid / sabotage mission), but you have a surprising level of indirect control over your squad. It's almost like an RTS game at that level. An RTS game where where the commander can get his own head blown off while giving orders.

The game has something of a cult following. I do not believe it was a huge seller. But as I played it, I couldn't help but think that this game - had it been possible to build in an earlier era (say, the 80's and early 90's), it might have been a monster hit. I'm thinking back to the era where games like X-Com and Falcon 3.0 could be best-sellers. But now it not only faces some stiff competition from less-hardcore but prettier titles, but the gaming landscape has changed. The gamers for whom this would have been "lightweight" fare no longer resemble anything like a dominant market.

I miss those days. But there's an ARMA 2 coming soon. So I guess there's still just enough of us left.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008
 
NinjaBee's Steve Taylor On Indie Game Development
I have interviewed Steve Taylor before, but in this case I wanted to ask him directly about the joys and frustrations of indie game development as opposed to traditional mainstream game development. This interview was originally done to gather information for the article, "Going Rogue," for The Escapist.

Steve's company, Wahoo Studios (AKA NinjaBee), is a little unusual in that it combines self-funded "indie" titles with contract work from publishers. Their independently produced titles include the space tycoon game Outpost Kaloki, the XBox 360 version Outpost Kaloki X, the tactics game Band of Bugs, Cloning Clyde, and the upcoming A Kingdom for Keflings. Steve was also my boss for a little over a year, but the restraining order he placed on me has expired since then, so I was able to ask him these questions:


Rampant Coyote: Okay, keeping it simple. What rocks about indie game development? Why would anyone choose to do this?

Steve Taylor: Fundamentally, creative control! The ability to do something off the beaten path, and do it your own way. The ability to succeed and fail on your own merit and nobody else's.


Rampant Coyote: Cool. So... what sucks about indie game development?

Steve Taylor: What sucks is that everything I said in my first answer is not exactly true. If you want to reach a large audience with your game, the concept of complete creative freedom with Indie games is a myth. Portals and other distributions services impose their own rules and limitations. Supposedly-indie-friendly distribution options like Steam and Instant Action still have subjective gatekeepers, and they're the ones who decide if your game is good enough and if it's even the kind of game they're looking for. And if you want your game to make money, you have to consider what will sell, and this means adapting your pure creative vision to match the real world. Besides all of that, do you really have the resources to achieve your ultimate creative vision? There's just no such thing as complete creative control for the developer, in practical terms.


Rampant Coyote: As you crossed over to the dark side - indie game development - what surprises did you encounter?

Steve Taylor: Initially, since we had no idea what we were doing, we expected that making a good game would naturally lead to instant riches and glory. The surprise was that getting involved with portals and getting the word out there about your game is not as simple as it looks.


Rampant Coyote: Since you continue to work on contract titles, have your indie efforts colored interaction or relationship with publishers?

Steve Taylor: Our indie experiences have affected our work with publishers in two really interesting ways that I've been thinking a lot about lately:

Having successfully funded and released some games on our own, we've gotten some attention that we wouldn't have gotten otherwise. Some potential clients have recognized our ability to do high quality work in the downloadable game space, and this has led to a lot of discussion about work-for-hire projects and in a few cases has meant actual contracts. With our company partly dependent on contract jobs, we live under the constant stress of trying to line up that next gig, and having people come to us because of what we've done on our own is a pretty big win.

We assumed this would mean our potential partners would trust us to make something great on our own terms. After all, that's why they hired us, right? Unfortunately, contract work seems to be business as usual. When somebody else pays for the game, they expect to design it and control its creation, regardless of the circumstances that brought you together. This sometimes makes contract work a bit more painful than it has been in the past.


Rampant Coyote: What other differences have you noticed between indie and traditional mainstream contract work?

Steve Taylor: The thing is, I still believe traditional work for hire is valid and rewarding and has some major upsides. Sure, the taste we got of doing things our own way makes contract work feel a little more like slave labor. But with a contract project for a big publisher, there are resources we'd never have otherwise, marketing effort we'd never be able to muster up, and contributions from a ton of talented individuals outside our dev team. In the end there's the potential for a much better product than we could do on our own. And the experience educates us, improves our skills and tech, and builds our reputation. If only we could somehow have all of that *and* get to pick what color hair our characters have, life would be sweet.

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Friday, August 08, 2008
 
Can I Get An AMEN?
Preach on, Tycho!

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Interview: Cliff "Kudos" Harris on Being an Indie Game Developer
Cliff Harris, of Positech Games, is the author of Democracy, Kudos, Kudos Rock Legend, and several other titles. Cliff is known for being an outspoken indie game developer, commonly found railing against "common wisdom," including the usual belief that success depends upon going through major game portals, and that downloadable games must address a specific audience to do well. Cliff has charted his own course, but he's also managed to make it work. He's been half-jokingly referred to as a "poster child" for indie success.

But aside from this, he devotes a great deal of time offering advice and sharing his own knowledge with other members of the indie game development community, even to the point of sharing the most secret of data, actual sales numbers. All too often, his advice is sadly ignored because of its contrarian nature, but its hard to find another indie who has been more active in helping others in the community.
This is an email interview I had with him while working on the article "Going Rogue" for The Escapist. Many of the juiciest parts of this interview were included in the article, but Cliff had a lot to say which I didn't have room to include. I hope you'll find as entertaining and useful as I did. Here's Cliff Harris on "going indie":

Rampant Coyote: Can you tell me about your mainstream game development experience and career?

Cliff Harris: I tried writing games in 1981, aged 11, eventually I started making and selling them online in 1997 as a hobby, but I never made enough money to live off it, so I ended up in mainstream dev, working at Elixir Studios and then at Lionhead while the indie games sales built up. I was the AI guy and general games coder for 'the Movies' at Lionhead (for the PC). The X-box game I worked on for years at Elixir got canned...


Rampant Coyote: What propelled you out of the door of that cushy mainstream game development job to join the ranks of the self-employed?

Cliff Harris: One reason was money, my games made (part-time) as much as my salary did, so it made sense, and also I was fed up with the way games companies are run. The long hours culture, the complete chaos, and the fact that obviously I was a frustrated designer working purely as a coder. I had been self-employed before, as an IT contractor and a boatbuilder, and I think I just have the DNA that makes me a better lone gunmen than someone elses employee. I'm very outspoken and probably a bit of a volatile employee. Plus I had a juicy contract with Maxis to tide me over the first difficult few months, so I knew I wasn't about to starve.


Rampant Coyote: I assume you left the mainstream gig feeling like you had a handle on What it would take to make games on your own. Were there any aspects of indie game development took you by surprise? Were there any lessons you had to learn quickly?

Cliff Harris: I'd done it before but badly, so I had already learned from those mistakes. One thing I had to learn was decent PR and publicity. When you work for some big name company, journalists get on planes and get bought to your desk to see cool stuff. That doesn't happen any more :( I had to learn how to get my name out there and promote my games, rather than just making what I thought was cool and hoping people would discover them. I was luckier than most in that money was already coming in, so I could relax a bit and just develop games.


Rampant Coyote: What have been your your biggest struggles / challenges / disappointments as an indie?

Cliff Harris: My biggest struggle is working alone from home. Especially when sales are good, because there is little incentive to do any work. Nobody cares if I'm at my desk or in the pub, and nobody cares if I'm working or playing games, or surfing the web. Staying motivated on your own is really hard, and it's tough having nobody to talk to all day, every day. That's the hardest thing about being an indie.

All the other problems, money, contracts, programming, are pretty trivial in comparison. I'm sure some of the hardcore semi-autistic programmer geeks love it, but I'm a bit more chatty than most.


Rampant Coyote: Do you still prefer being an indie over your mainstream game job? What keeps you going as an indie?

Cliff Harris: I'm definitely happier as an indie because I like succeeding or failing on my terms. Working with other people is a nightmare. I can't ever see me taking a normal salary ever again. once you get used to being your own boss, the idea of someone telling you what to do all day seems juvenile, like being a schoolboy again. I can't imagine working for three years on one game again either, or being detached from the business side of things. Sitting at a desk working for someone else, on someone else's idea, with no idea how much money it makes, just seems ridiculous. If I needed a full-time job again, I'd try and get into marketing or some other area of programming, rather than go back to 'triple a' gaming.


Rampant Coyote: Steven Peeler mentioned that one of his frustrations as an indie involved piracy. You've expressed similar views in the past. Do you have any perspective on this as an indie that you'd like to share?

Cliff Harris: The thing that really bugs me about pirates is that some of them cloak it all with this thin veneer of 'sticking it to the man' and being 'anti-DRM and anti-big corporations', and then despite me giving a free demo, no DRM, innovative games, at reasonable prices with great tech support from a one-man company, the bastards still rip me off and take my stuff anyway.

I can understand people who have no money, or even just people who are morally corrupt who think stealing is okay, but the ones that drive me mad are the idiots that lecture me about my 'outdated business model', like they are some sort of kindergarten Bill Gates, or the ones who tell me I'm some corporate shill because my games aren't free. Almost as bad are the ones who insist I should be happy that people are playing my games, and doing it for the love of it. Such people are normally living in mom's basement with no rent to pay.


Rampant Coyote: What else could you tell me about the difference between mainstream and indie video game development?

Cliff Harris: Indie devs can take risks. No way would Lionhead or Elixir have made Democracy or Kudos, they both seem a bit too 'off-message' in terms of what people think gamers want. Democracy would have had a pointless 3D engine shoe-horned into it, and Kudos would never have got away with being turn-based. But I think it's those limitations that force people to make interesting games. World of Goo will be cool *because* of it's 2Dness, not despite it. Because we don't have the option of doing a HDR-lighting bump-mapped high-poly shader-driven 3D world, it means indie games actually look different to the stuff everyone else is making. Plus, because our dev budgets are smaller, we can support niches like turn based strategy, serious games or kids games.

One of the best benefits of indie gaming is the direct connection between developer and gamer. I literally take 90% of the sale price of my games sold direct. That's way better than handing lots of cash to some middle-man who doesn't even play games.

It also means I can talk direct to my customers, implement their suggestions, help them out and support them without lawyers in the way. If someone asks how part of the game works, I can post a direct reply as the designer, or even share some source code to illustrate it. That's very rare in big retail gaming.


Rampant Coyote: Thank you, Cliff!

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Thursday, August 07, 2008
 
Pac-Man Clone Takes On Packaging Waste
The non-profit environmental group The Dogwood Alliance has released a new flash-based game designed to help make people aware of the wastes and cost of packaging in fast-food, video game, and other industries. They are campaigning for individuals to petition corporations to use more post-consumer recycled paper, use less paper packaging, and stop using paper for packaging from endangered forests.

You can check out the game here:

PackagingMan

Now, whether or not I agree with the message, I am interested in seeing how video games are being used as a medium for the communication of serious messages. It's been done very well. Even by beginners. It's also been done very poorly.

This game is a three-level Pac-Man clone written in Flash with ripped sound-effects and modified graphics - mixed with some pages explaining the message. The power pills are recycling icons. The ghosts wear jackets and ties as apparently corporate monsters. Instead of fruit bonuses, you get to save bunnies, squirrels, and turtles. The word "Saved" appears to make it clear you didn't eat the little woodland animals, which is probably important. As a game, well, it's a three-level Pac-Man clone in flash. Does it succeed at its goal of effectively marketing a message and a call to action?

Maybe. You can try it out and answer that question yourself. But I do have a few suggestions:

First of all, the lengthy exposition before getting to play the game detracted from the lure of the game. The game itself should provide the exposition. You want people to come for the game, but stay for the thinking.

Pac-Man might not have been the best choice. Sure, there's a little bit of word-play between Pac and Pack / Packaging, but the gameplay doesn't offer the strongest of metaphors for their message. I mean, eating a recycling icon lets you devour the corporate ghosts? What does that mean? It's a little muddled.

(As an interesting side note: Rumor has it Pac-Man was originally going to be entitled Puck-Man. In a rare show of marketing genius, they changed the name after considering how kids would vandalize the machine by making a small modification to the letter 'P'.)

A better approach that has worked for my brain, at least, is to shine a spotlight on the issue itself. In Airport Security game, the ridiculousness of the ever-changing regulations in the name of counter-terrorism is lampooned. Harpooned is a very bloody arcade game which mocks the pretense of scientific study that is exploited under Japanese law. "Propaganda" is kind of an ugly word, but that's pretty much what we're talking about, and it doesn't mean they are wrong. They do it fairly well, keep it simple, and the metaphor and message is obvious and delivered by the game without much need for additional exposition.

And finally, while having a game as a tool for communicating information and a message is great, I'd want a little more detail before taking action. At the end of the game, it only offers options to play again or to take action. A "More Information" button that takes the player to the fact page would be better. I'd also prefer to know more about the alternative practices mentioned to on the website, and what their impact would be. Hey, if recycled paper would not increase the cost of my tacos at all (or better yet, make 'em cheaper), I'm in favor of it!

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008
 
Depths of Peril Creator Steven Peeler Speaks Out On Going Indie
Now that my article on mainstream developers going indie for The Escapist is out, I thought I'd share more of the interview responses I got while preparing it. These guys had a lot of great things to say, and a ton of interesting quotes and valuable information were left on the cutting room floor.

Today, I share insights I received from Steven Peeler, creator of my favorite RPG of last year, Depths of Peril.

Rampant Coyote: Before going indie, how long were you in the mainstream industry, and what industry companies / titles / platforms did you work on?

Steven Peeler: Before starting up Soldak, I worked at Ritual Entertainment for a little over six years and primarily created games for the PC. Most of my time at Ritual was spent working on Elite Force 2, Heavy Metal: FAKK2, Blair Witch 3, and some unannounced/unreleased games. I also made minor contributions to Sin, Condition Zero, Counter Strike XBox, and Black Hawk Down: Team Sabre.

Rampant Coyote: What propelled you out of the door of that cushy mainstream game development job to join the ranks of the self-employed?

Steven Peeler: I actually get asked this a lot. I left for a lot of reasons, so my answer each time is different depending on who is asking and my mood. Here’s just a few of the reasons: I really wanted to work on an RPG and Ritual only made shooters, there were some annoying politics going on that was really frustrating, I disagreed with the direction the company was taking, I was really tired of pushy publishers, and I just wanted to do my own thing.

Rampant Coyote: I assume you left the mainstream gig feeling like you had a handle on What it would take to make games on your own. Were there any aspects of indie game development took you by surprise? Were there any lessons you had to learn quickly?

Steven Peeler: Yeah, I would say I felt I had a good handle on creating a game on my own.

This didn’t exactly surprise me, but there are a lot of non-game things you must do as an indie like setting up your business, taxes, creating a website, marketing, taxes, interacting with your customers, and more taxes. Did I mention taxes?

One thing that did surprise me is how hard it is too find good artists and level designers that actually have free time. I guess in retrospect this really shouldn’t have surprised me. Most of the people I find either aren’t very good, are already crunching (working more than full time) at a game company, or can’t/won’t work for royalties.

Another thing I have learned the hard way, RPGs are complex beasts especially when you go and add things like a dynamic world and opposing factions.

Rampant Coyote: What have been your biggest struggles / challenges / disappointments as an indie?

Steven Peeler: The biggest struggle has simply been to get enough attention so that we can make enough sales to continue. We’ve already created an innovative, fun game, but getting the world to notice that is harder, possibly even harder than making the game in the first place.

Personally my biggest disappointment is how much piracy that goes on in the PC market. Since we are a small developer, that has a hard time getting attention, you would think we would have very little piracy. Unfortunately, that’s not the case at all. It’s depressing how many sites are pirating Depths of Peril. What’s even worse is that after working on the game for almost 3 years, some #$%^ posts a crack on some pirate site, and the forum users thank him. I even saw one pirate site that was getting donations. Sigh, ok, enough on piracy, it’s depressing even typing this.

Rampant Coyote: Do you still prefer being an indie over your mainstream game job? If so, why? If not, why haven't you returned to mainstream, big-budget, big-studio development? At the end of the day, why are you an indie?

Steven Peeler: Overall, I enjoy being an indie more. The mainstream game job paid way better however. Hopefully that will change in the long run though.

It’s great to be able to do whatever I want to do. I never would have been able to create Depths of Peril in the mainstream. Nor would I have been allowed to bring Depths of Peril to the Mac market. I don’t have a boss. My commute is now about 10 seconds to get across the room. I no longer have to go to meetings. I no longer have to deal with publishers trying to withhold payments to get their way. I no longer have producers with an art background telling me, as the lead programmer, how to fix a technical problem. And this list could go on for a long time.

This isn’t to say I would never get back into the mainstream industry. If it ever happens, I would just be pickier about who I would go work for.

Rampant Coyote: Any other comments you want to make about the difference between mainstream & indie development?

In the mainstream industry, no one would have let me create Depths of Peril or bring it to the Mac. This is the big difference between being an indie and working in the mainstream. As an indie, I have the freedom to try new things and I don’t have to have proof that it will be a financial success.

One of the other big differences is, as an indie, I work directly for the gamers. I sell directly to gamers through our website and I talk directly to gamers through our forums.

At a mainstream developer, you directly make games for publishers. Obviously, ultimately you want to please the gamers. However, you pitch your game idea or prototype to publishers. The publisher is the one that decides whether or not your game gets made. The publisher pays you. Most developers never make any money except what the publisher gives them. So like I said, at a mainstream developer, most of the time, you are making games for publishers, not the gamers.

Rampant Coyote: And is there anything else you want to add?

Steven Peeler: I think I’ve gotten in my fill. :)

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008
 
Mainstream Game Devs Goin' Indie!
Since I didn't get home from work until after 2 AM this morning (something that will probably be repeated today), I'm just gonna direct you to a new article at The Escapist by someone you know about some people you might have heard of:

Going Rogue at The Escapist

Enjoy!

Due to space requirements, I was only able to include some bits and pieces of interviews in the article. I'll have to throw some "cutting room floor" stuff onto the blog this week if you are interested in more that these guys had to say about going from being mainstream, "big studio" game developers and going off on their own to become indies.

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Monday, August 04, 2008
 
10 Quick-and-Dirty Indie Game Marketing Tips, Part 2
Here is the rest of my presentation on quick and dirty indie game marketing tips to help you sell your game. If you use these and are incredibly successful, it is still all your fault. Again, I'm not trying to be comprehensive here - just a quick brain-dump of ideas and reasons.

Tip #5: Be a part of the community
All things being equal, would you be more inclined to do business with a friend, or a stranger? Who are you more inclined to listen to? Who is more likely to get banned in a community if they ask community members to take a look at a game they just wrote?

Business is about relationships.

The point is that you should be active in whatever communities your audience might be before you start pushing your game. You need to provide real value and service - not just lip-service and demos. It's not just about getting people to buy your game. It's about becoming a part of the group that you intend to serve, finding out their wants and needs, and being able to serve them better.

Tip #6: Do SEO - Search Engine Optimization
There can be (and have been) books written on this subject. You want to be #1 on Google and other search engines for your chosen keywords. You want to be the first site on the list. Barring that, you want to be in the top three. Barring that, you want to be on first page at the very least.

How do you get there? Strategies and "tricks" change constantly - every time Google or the other Search Engine companies change their rules. But there are a few things that should get you consistently ranked more highly.

First of all, you want high-quality content, and lots of it. Someone with five hundred pages of unique, user-focused information about the subject at hand is going to get weighted more heavily than a site with only five pages on the subject, and three of those pages are copies of each other. You also want good keyword placement. Keywords at the start of the page get ranked more highly than keywords occuring later in the page.

High-quality, incoming links also rank pretty highly. The best links are from high-traffic sites with similar subject matter to your own, particularly with your keywords as part of the text of the link. The best way to get those links? There are all kinds of things you can do, but once again, having lots of high-quality content on your site that people will refer their readers to organically is a great bet.

Also, websites that have been around longer generally get a positive bias. Also, pages that are updated regularly tend to be weighted more than one that has been unchanged since 1998.

Tip #7: Have a Killer Demo
The Demo is your sales team. It should be a showcase for your game, not just the first five levels. Your goal is to get the player hooked and ready to whip out their credit card in the first five minutes of play. That's a tall order, but your demo is your point of contact with the customer. Make it rock, give them a great time, and promise much more with the full version.

Even if you are using a non-traditional way of getting revenue from your game, it needs to be set up to encourage purchases, donations, additional replays, or whatever it is that pays your computer's electric bill. This is not something you can save for an afterthought!

One last tip: Focus on the benefits of the premium version OVER the demo version. You may think you are selling the full version of your game, but what your customers are buying, in their minds, is the difference between the demo version and the full version. For example, if your demo only offers sixty minutes of gameplay, then your customer is buying the ability to play the game for more than sixty minutes. If they have had their fill after sixty minutes, then there's nothing more they want to buy.

Tip #8: Get Good Media Coverage
Getting coverage by online and other media can be pretty tricky. You will want to cultivate a contact list of everyone in the media that you make contact with. After a couple of years, people may move around. Someone at Joe's Blog today could be regular contributor to Kotaku or 1Up tomorrow.

Submit your news everywhere you can. News sites, magazines, and grandma. Even beyond your normal press releases. Here's a trick - journalists are a pretty overworked and underpaid lot. They don't have the time to hunt down well-hidden stories. If you can drop something interesting in their laps, something they can use that already does half their job for them, you may make their day and they'll be happy to post it. Also, remember that they are expecting you to be showing off. Don't be afraid to show off what's cool and toot your own horn a bit.

Also, let your personality show through when you get the chance to be interviewed or on a panel or something. Marketing drones are boring. People want to read (and interview) real, outspoken people with quirky personalities and sometimes controversial views.

Tip #9: Cooperate With Other Indies
What would you rather have, 50% of something, or 100% of nothing? The biggest problem indies have is exposure, not competition. So, as small indies, it's often more important to work together to grow the size of the pie than to squabble over the size of the pieces.

Talk with other indies. See what can be done to share resources. Work with affiliate programs, if they make sense. Exchange links. Comment on each other's blogs. Share info. Make allies.

Tip #10: Take Advantage of the Indie Game Lifecycle
You aren’t a big publisher. Don’t act like one. Take advantage of the fact that you are a tiny, nimble company. Don't try to sell your game like the big companies do. You don't HAVE to have your game sell out in the first 60 days or suffer returns from retailers. There are some indie games out there that have been selling consistently well for YEARS.

Updates and upgrades to your game are as much an opportunity as a duty to your customers. An upgrade gives you something newsworthy to send to the sites and remind people that your game exists. They build goodwill amongst existing customers. They let you repeat your message to potential buyers who, like me, usually need to hear about something three or four times before they consider it.


Plenty More Where That Came From
Well, there you go. Each of these tips could be further broken down into tons of detail and suggestions, and there are easily a hundred more tips that could work extremely well. Feel free to share, suggest, argue, contend, add, or expand upon anything I have here. A lot of these ideas were expanded on and discussed in slightly more detail at the Indie Dev Night,

In fact, here's a forum thread for just that:

Indie Game Marketing Forum Thread

Want to know more? I also recommend The Indie Developer's Guide to Selling Games, by Joseph Lieberman.

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Casual Game Boom Now Over?
Maybe my powers of prediction aren't quite so off as I thought.

Last September, I talked about a potential "bust" in the casual games market. It was met with a storm of controversy. Well, okay, not really. I think it was met with a collective "Like, Duh, what rock have you been living under?" The next thing you know, I'll be predicting that Microsoft is going to be releasing a successor to the XBox 360 sometime in the next few years.

But last Friday, Forbes released an article called, "Casual Gold Bust," where it reports that the market for casual games is becoming glutted and that the "gold rush" is over. This is probably not news to anybody within the industry, but I guess it is now becoming common knowledge. In particular, they talk about Peggle - which yielded poor earnings until a very expensive marketing blitz by Popcap turned it into a hit.
"Casual game developers are finding that you need money to make money. PopCap was lucky because it could throw significant marketing dollars at 'Peggle,' but smaller developers don't have the budget to promote their games. As a result, large gaming companies like Electronic Arts can move more aggressively into the space. "
Okay - while I agree with the sentiment - this always happens when a market matures. But seriously, guys... EA?

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Sunday, August 03, 2008
 
10 Quick-and-Dirty Indie Game Marketing Tips, Part I
At the last Utah Indie Game Developer's meeting, I offered a short (but probably not short enough) presentation on marketing for indie game developers. It had a super-long (and silly) title: "Indie Game Marketing for Indie Game Developers Who Don’t Know Squat About Marketing: 10 Quick and Dirty Tips To Help You Make Money With Your Game!"

Since I am a lazy slob, I thought I'd re-use the presentation as blog-fodder. I'm breaking it up into two parts, for the sake of my own sanity, because I'm a little hurting for time (it's crunch mode time again, working the day job all weekend...)

Introduction
When I first started out as an indie game developer, I had no clue about marketing. I still don't know much about it - I don't have a degree in marketing or a ton of experience and success to impart. But I've picked up a bit from what I've studied, from successful indie game developers, from hard experience, and from a marketing consultant, Joseph Lieberman, who worked with me in the past. He also wrote a great book I'd recommend called "The Indie Guide to Selling Games," which I cribbed from for a couple of these tips. My tip #0 for this list would be to go to that link and buy at least the PDF of this book. You'll be hard pressed to find a better place to put that $30 of your marketing budget!

What little I know on this subject, I thought I'd share with you, to help you get a leg up on it if you've never done it before. May you learn from my mistakes. I completely misunderstood what it would take when I started out. I heard successful indies saying things like how they spent a quarter to half of their time working on business and marketing issues, and I thought, "NAAAAH!" How could that possibly be as big a job as writing a fully-functional, complex game?

I was surprised. And now I agree with them.

What Is Marketing?
When you think about "marketing," what do you think of?

I think most people think "advertising." I know that's what I used to think. However, that's only one small part of marketing. And it's an optional part - many successful businesses do little or no advertising in the traditional sense.

I believe it was Cliff Harris of Positech Games who once described marketing as a state of mind - sort of a sum total of all his efforts to sell his games. That stuck with me. There's no checklist of what you can do to "get your marketing done." It's more of a quest.

Marketing textbooks might talk about the "4 Ps" – Product, Pricing, Place, and Promotion. The product is what you are selling - your game, and what it offers to the audience. Pricing is how it is priced in the market (often around $19.95 - or "free" - for indie games). Place is where it is being sold - often on websites, portals, or perhaps even on the shelf at Wal*Mart. Promotion is what is done to get the word out about your game. I'm mainly gonna talk about promotion, and a little on product.

Another misconception about marketing is that its something you do around the release of your game. Not at all! In fact, you should be doing some marketing work before you write your first line of code. It should be something mixed into the development process. Unless you are making the game for nobody but yourself, you will need to make a game that other people will want to play. Finding out what other people like and need and letting that act as a guide can help you make a better game.

All that said, I'm going to cover ten tips (four here, six in the next article) for marketing your game, and improving your chances of having it get noticed ... and selling.

Tip #1 - Take Responsibility
First of all, you need to understand that nobody cares about your game but you. Portals - as a business - only care AFTER it makes them money, even if their tech guys love playing it in the back room. Your poor game is unloved, un-promoted, and is going to languish in obscurity unless YOU, personally, do something about it. It is not the field of dreams.

This can be hard. You probably became an indie because you love making games, to the exclusion of all that business-y stuff. But, if you want your company to succeed even as a part-time business, you are going to have to dive in and work the full system. The game might be the heart of what you do, but the heart cannot survive without the other organs.

Now, you may end up with a publisher who is handling your marketing. In fact, they may have language in their contract preventing you from promoting the game yourself. If so - keep an eye on what they are doing. And spend the time instead promoting your own company. Because you want to be something more than a one-hit wonder.

Be in it for the long haul. Just because the retail sales model has evolved to have shelf-lives measurable in double-digit days doesn't mean this is how you should operate. Indie games tend to have longer legs and slower burn.

Finally - in all that you do - MEASURE, TRACK, and KEEP RECORDS. How will you know whether an advertising campaign is working or not if you aren't tracking daily sales, website hits, and downloads. (As an aside - check out Google Analytics for helping monitor online traffic).

Tip #2: Define Your Target Market
Who is your target market? If you answered, “Everybody,” You LOSE!

You need to have your target market defined as specifically as you can manage even before development starts. In particular, you need to answer three questions:
In other words, who is going to be interested in your game, and where does this kind of person hang out. You'll need to know this in order to find out where you need to go to get them to know about your game. And finally - what is this sort of person looking for in a game? What can you do to make them happy?

You want love, not tolerance. In my opinion, it is far better (and more profitable) to make a game that a narrow niche of people will really love and be super-enthusiastic about than one which a much broader group of people are merely "okay" with.

Finally, don’t confuse market for genre. Just because you are making a game that appeals to RTS fans does not mean you need to adhere slavishly to conventions of the RTS genre. That is how uninspired corporate drone marketers think, and it leads to a world of easily packaged clones. You, on the other hand, need to be smarter and instead appeal to the common needs and wants of your target market. You could be writing an RPG-puzzle-hybrid for fans of RTS games, after all.

Tip #3: Have a USP (“Gimmick”)
USP stands for "Unique Selling Proposition." What this means is that your game must stand out from the competition. Whatever you do, do not be generic! You need to distinguish your game from the current AND past competition --- because you may be competing against older mainstream titles that are now in the bargain bin.

After all, who really needs another "fantasy adventure where you can play a bold warrior or clever wizard battling monsters in a magical world?" Sheesh, that described a million games!

Besides being important in its own right, you want to spell this out to the press so that they have something they can latch onto. Believe me - they are looking for something - anything - that stands out about your game. Give them something good and positive that they can use for this.

Tip #4: Create a Media Packet
Create a packet that contains screenshots, game logos, title screens, banner ad - style banners, lists of features, and lists of reviews / press comments / quotes. This can be in a zip file or something, easily accessible from your website.

This can be used by people reviewing / previewing your game, as well as affiliate sites, fan sites, or what have you. Making their job easier earns you some good will, makes it more likely that they are actually going to do it in the first place, and helps increase the quality and focus. After all, would you rather an affiliate site use some quick screen-grabs they made themselves from the first ten minutes of your game, or one of your top ten best-ever screenshots you've ever been able to make?

Click Here to go to "10 Quick-and-Dirty Indie Game Marketing Tips, Part II!"

In addition here is a forum thread for further discussion.

Please feel free to contribute even if you have no experience trying to market an indie game. As a player, how would you LIKE to find out about new indie games you might like?

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Friday, August 01, 2008
 
Eschalon: Book 1 and Depths of Peril Now Even Cheaper!
Two great indie RPGs are now available for a reduced price. You know, with inflation hitting new highs and the value of the dollar sinking to new lows, you'd think everything would be getting more expensive. But apparently, the price of some good, entertaining fantasy worlds just keeps getting cheaper.

Both Eschalon: Book 1 and Depths of Peril - two absolutely awesome indie RPGs that I have not hesitated to recommend highly - have dropped in price to under $20. Well, a penny or five under, but who's counting? These days, that's something like... what... two euros? Okay, maybe a little more than that... (under 14 at last count)... :)

Both games are available for both PC and Mac, and Eschalon: Book 1 is also available on Linux. Sorry, Commodore 64 owners, you are pretty much S.O.L.

Eschalon: Book 1 is, in my opinion, a brilliant return to "old school" Computer RPG gaming, mixed with more modern graphics and design sensibilities. Waking up in a desolate ghost-town in a land in the midst of war, you find yourself lacking any memories of your own identity or knowledge of the current turmoil. Relying upon notes from an unknown benefactor, you discover that your amnesia and circumstances may not only be no accident, but that you yourself may have been responsible. But for what purpose? Your quest for answers will take you across the land, down into the deepest dungeons, and against fierce foes in this classic-style fantasy RPG.

Depths of Peril borrows from the action-RPG gameplay of Diablo, Dungeon Siege, and Fate, but mixes it with a strategy and dynamic world system that makes it what I consider to be the most innovative RPG - indie or mainstream - that I have seen in years. In the barbarian city of Jorvik, you are the leader of one of several covenants. While venturing forth into the monster- and dungeon-filled wilderness beyond in search of adventure, battle, and loot is a focus of the game, the game doesn't revolve around you. Other covenants are doing the same thing, and may come into arm conflict with you, or may become your fiercest allies. In fact, you may even team up with those allied covenants and adventure together. Neglect the home front for too long, however, and you may find yourself facing a war at home as well as a war in the field. In addition, the events and quests of the game progress in real-time. Ignore a quest, and you may find the stakes escalating --- or that your rivals have become the beloved heroes of the city while you were away.

If you haven't even tried out the free demos of either of these games yet and you are a fan of RPGs, you are missing out. But if you were holding out on buying the full versions, now is the time!

(Note: Depths of Peril dropped in price a few weeks ago, but the price drop caught me snoozing. So they didn't drop in price the same day by some spectacular coincidence - in case you were wondering... Nope, no big indie RPG developer conspiracy going on here. As Far As You Know... )

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Utah Indie Night, Summer 2008
Tonight we held the quarterly Utah Indie Game Developer's Meet (that's not an official title or anything...) at the offices of Wahoo / NinjaBee. Lane ordered extra pizza this time for the meeting, because - apparently - last time they ran out. The time I missed. This time, there were fewer people there than usual ("only" a little over 20 people), and I was offering a presentation. Should this be telling me something?

Tonight was a little different in that we had a formal presentation. Well, as formal as we ever get, at least. We were supposed to have two presentations - I had one on marketing for indies, and someone else who had to cancel was going to present a little discussion on developing with the Unity engine. It was just me, and I went overtime. I think I'll re-do the presentation as a blog post or two so I can bore even more people with it. I think it was entitled, "Marketing for Indies Who Know Squat About Marketing," with a subtitle of "10 Quick and Dirty Tips To Help Sell Your Game." I was trying to take 90 seconds per tip, but it was closer to 3 minutes each. Maybe I should have had only 5 tips.

Live and learn. Some people told me they really enjoyed it, and some folks even took notes. So I guess I didn't put everyone to sleep.

After that, we had the game demos and the informal discussions. ALWAYS a good time! Dan & Herb Flower and Paul Witte were there showing of LinkRealms, which I understand is about to undergo a name change. Except they haven't quite figured out the new name yet. They've also done some massive overhaul of how the player-created "realms" are organized.

Daniel Orcutt, representing Gabob.com, was demoing their newest game, "Now Boarding." It's sort of a comedic airline tycoon game, and is available as a PC download (Mac version coming soon). It looks really, really cool. I was impressed. It's definitely not a hardcore tycoon game, and should appeal to more casual audiences. It's currently at a special price for launch of only $14.99.

Josh Jones had three flash games he was showing off. The first game, "Mudsling," was.... weird. It was a physics-based game that using what I'd consider hyperactive mud balls. The balls would stick, vibrate, and move each other around. It's a two-player game where the goal is to create (or delete) mud balls to get as many balls as possible on your side of a playfield by the end of the game. Careful application of mud can cause an entire stack of sticky, vibrating mud to creep from one side of the playfield to the other. His second game, which I think was called "Tarijump" or something like that (I'll correct it later if I got it wrong), which was a short puzzle / adventure game where you could collect items, and then jump near them to change them.

The third of Josh's games was called "Fate" (Not the same as the the WildTangent RPG) and consisted of four mini-games. The first was a side-shooter. The second was sort of an RPG-esque thing where you were in a ship fighting sea monsters (and... uh, mermaids). The third was an incomplete text / story creation game a la Madlibs. And the fourth was a puzzle game. What was interesting is that the game would measure and monitor how you played these games - what you did, how long you played, where you clicked, where you focused your attention, etc. At the end, it would then tell you what kind of a gamer you are based upon your responses to the games.

And then we had the discussions. I spoke at length with Joseph Gonzalez of The Media Mogul blog, Josh, Greg, Herb, and others about all kinds of topics from marketing, going indie, frustrations with mainstream game development, I.P. management, hiring and managing contractors, developing in Torque and other game development tools, running an indie game website, and just how much the industry is changing right now. In some ways, the discussions and networking always feels like the "meat" of the indie nights for me, though it's the part usually only shared by different groups of 3-5 people at a time. Which means everybody has a little different "Indie Night" from me.

And ... speaking of which... I found that Joseph has blogged about the Utah Indie Night too, and so I recommend visiting that site for more insight as to what goes on at these secret, smoke-filled indie meetings. And as usual, Greg Squire has offered his recap of indie night.

Most of all, my take-away from these meetings was a feeling of inspiration and excitement for the indie side of the video game industry.

Previous Utah Indie Night Posts:
* Utah Indie Night, Winter 2008
* Utah Indie Night, Fall 2007
* Utah Indie Night, Summer 2007
* Utah Indie Night, Spring 2007
* Utah Indie Game Dev Night, Fall 2006
* Utah Indie Night, Summer 2006
*
Utah Indie Game Developer Night, Spring 2006

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