Tales of the Rampant Coyote
Adventures in Indie Gaming!

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Is Rock Band an RPG?
Okay, if you put a gun to my head and forced me to name my absolute favorite game of the last year (or so), it'd have to be Rock Band. Yes, I'm the dude who pontificates on the virtues and nuances of RPGs, who evangelizes small indie games, and spends hours and hours playing long, drawn-out strategy games and flight simulators.

But Rock Band? It was definitely my purest joy of the last year. Principally because of the multiplayer. I could get together with my family and friends, and we could air-jam to some great tunes. My daughters became acquainted with some rock & roll favorites that were even older than their dad. Single-player, the game was merely great. But with others sharing in the fantasy of being a rock star, it was absolutely brilliant. And the sequel has polished that experience to a shine.

Stephen Totilo makes the contention that Rock Band should be considered an RPG.

Ditto for Guitar Hero, Little Big Planet, and Spore.

I made the same mistake at one point, and referred to Falcon 4.0 as the best Computer Role-Playing Game I'd ever played. After all, no game immersed me in a role so deeply as that game. Playing Falcon 4.0, I was a fighter pilot. The realism, the dynamic battlefield - it was amazing. But it wasn't a role-playing game.

Nearly every game, except the really abstract ones that have you matching colored objects together, gives you some kind of role to play and provides you with a fictional setting in which to play. Not long ago, I played Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile, a casual "hidden object" game where the player got to play the role of Hercule Poirot. Through finding lots of hidden objects in parts of the ship, questioning suspects, and solving simple puzzles, you won the game. Should this, too, be a role-playing game?

If so, there ain't many other kinds of games out there. Totilo is just being silly. Particularly when he recommends using an even more generic term, "Story Games" to describe what has traditionally been known as an RPG. With this punchline, I realize he isn't being serious. His complaint was about the label.

The term "role-playing game" isn't a perfect name - nearly everyone acknowledges this (except those who are diehard about trying to use the name to force a particular kind of gameplay on the genre). Historically, we started out with just "Dungeons & Dragons." As other games appeared, calling them "Games Like D&D" just didn't work, particularly as competitors entered the mix. They tried "Fantasy Wargaming." But then we had other fictional genres, so the "fantasy" didn't quite fit, and the rules had evolved quite a ways from old-school wargaming. They tried "Adventure Gaming," which almost fit, but it was too generic and seemed to apply to other types of games as well. Someone dreamed up the term, "role-playing game," and in absence of anything better, the title stuck.

While it's not perfect, it works.

But if we really want to take up Totilo's torch, we should consider other labels we can eradicate or re-apply any other misnomers in the English language. So let's get started, shall we?

"Movies" shall now apply to any medium where the objects seem to... you know, move. "Film" is also a misnomer now that we're getting digital releases and we're watching so many of them on DVD. We shall now call what was formerly known as movies or films as "Recorded Cinematic Productions." Much better, right?

"Video Game" is a dumb name, since it could apply to any game with a video component, like Scene It.

Cell phones? Okay, they still use cell sites, but they should be called, "Cell Communication, Information, and Entertainment Devices" now. CCIEDs.

While we're at it, why don't we fix that problem with us driving on a parkway and parking on a driveway, and swap those words around.

For what it's worth, here was my stab at defining what makes an RPG an RPG.


Monday, September 29, 2008
What to do when you are overtasked
Once upon a time, I wanted to learn how to juggle. I had a book on juggling, and got to the point where I could juggle the usual three bean-bags in the air pretty well without any fancy stuff. I was working on four, but kinda got bored at that point, and quit.

But one part of the book on juggling stood out to me. They talked about entertaining people, and mentioned that people didn't really want to know how many objects you can juggle, but how many you can't. They want to see your point of failure. Their advice was not to give in to the pressure. And that it was better to let a single object drop than to let everything get out of control.

Sometimes, life is like that. And it's usually my own dang fault for letting myself get overloaded with things in life I have to juggle. The cool thing is that I've been there before, and it takes a bit more to overload me now than it used to. I'm getting better with practice.

What has worked for me in the past - and which I need to implement now - include some of these tools:

* Keep a written 'to do' list handy, to make sure things don't drop through the cracks.

* Remember that it is better to let a lower-priority task just drop from time to time rather than letting everything fall to pieces.

* Assign tasks to specific times. I usually hate doing this, but at times it is psychologically helpful to be able to say, "This is my two-hour block I'm spending on Frayed Knights. I can ignore everything else."

* Learn to say, "No." I still suck at this. And when it's my wife doing the asking, saying "no" is really not an option.

One of the biggest tricks for being a part-time indie game developer is trying to manage an overload of tasks that inevitably arise when you are effectively working two jobs. For those who have no clue where to find the time to actually get your game done, I hope this has proven at least slightly valuable.


Friday, September 26, 2008
Jack Thompson: Unemployed!
Joining the ranks of the unemployed next month may very well be our favorite game-hatah, "Wackie" Jack Thompson. He has been officially disbarred in the state of Florida, effective in 30 days, though he does have a chance to appeal. And he has already filed for a stay of the order. So nothing is for sure.

According to GamePolitics, Judge Tunis reported, "Over a very extended period of time involving a number of totally unrelated cases and individuals, [r]espondent has demonstrated a pattern of conduct to strike out harshly, extensively, repeatedly and willfully to simply try to bring as much difficulty, distraction and anguish to those he considers in opposition to his causes. He does not proceed within the guidelines of appropriate professional behavior, but rather uses other means available to intimidate, harass, or bring public disrepute to those whom he perceives oppose him."

Sometimes there is justice in the world. It may be slow, but it is there.

I don't know if that will affect his standing with Fox News in the slightest. I'm not really sure they check credentials for their "experts" anyway. And I'm sure he's going to remain an activist. He just no longer stands to make a mint off of legal fees by being a jerk and chasing ambulances anymore. He'll have to find a partner who is both as crazy as he is and in good standing as a legal professional to do that.


My Bank: Seized By the Feds, and Sold!
Wild times we're living in, huh?

Apparently my bank, one of the "four horsemen of the financial apocalypse," was seized by the government last night and sold off to JP Morgan Chase.

My wife and I had been reading up on what happens if this occurs last week, so we weren't too worried. Since I've been paying attention to the stock market lately, I noticed that Washington Mutual's share price started dropping like a rock at about 11:00 our time. I figured some people in the know were running for the door.

I figured they'd take it over on Friday evening - as they typically do - but I guess they wanted to hasten the timetable. I had to check the site to see if there were any changes at this early stage - and there was this welcome screen.

Oh, yeah, and all my money was still there, too. Well, what little I'd had in there earlier in the day. Not that I was worried or anything. :)

Trying to look on the bright side of the disasters going on in Washington and on Wall Street, I can say this: Unlike two years ago, the campaigning politicians this year have far, far bigger fish to fry than attacking video games!


Thursday, September 25, 2008
Game Design: Gotta Get Back In Time!
Man, all I needed was some Huey Lewis.

Due to an article I'm writing for another website, I already had the wayback machine set on my brain for around 1985. In fact, I managed to dig up an essay I'd written back in high school about the topic of said article. It was very convenient for my younger self to provide me with so many forgotten details.

In the middle of writing about events from over twenty years ago, I took a break to play the newly-downloaded Rush album, Moving Pictures, for Rock Band 2. That actually turned into something of a Rush-fest, as I played every non-cover Rush song in the game, plus a little bit of Boston, Blue Oyster Cult, and even a Duran Duran song for flavor. Somewhere in the middle of the set, as I was pulling off a perfect solo (which probably means it is time to up my difficulty to expert on those songs), the hypnotic effect of the moving buttons on the guitar track did something to my brain. I found myself back in 1983 or 1984. I'm not sure which. It was like the whole bizarre premise of Somewhere In Time was playing out.

And that got me thinking about games and time travel. See, this is the very weird and bizarre way my brain works. Kids, don't try this at home.

Time travel is a moderately popular topic in speculative fiction. One of my all-time favorite movies was Groundhog Day. There's been the aforementioned Somewhere In Time, Star Trek IV (claimed by many critics to be the best ST movie of them all - but I'm partial to The Wrath of Khan myself), Star Trek: First Contact, the Back to the Future series, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, The Philadelphia Experiment, The Terminator films, 13 Going on 30, Time Bandits (important to me only because of its influence on the Ultima games), and probably a bunch of others I am forgetting (purposefully, in the case of a couple of them I remember suffering through).

On TV, we've had Doctor Who, Quantum Leap, Terminator: he Sarah Conner Chronicles, and a bunch of "one-off" episodes of various sci-fi & fantasy shows. A couple of the main characters in Heroes jump through time as a matter of course. In fact, if it's a science fiction series that has lasted more than a couple of seasons, you are almost guaranteed to have an obligatory time-travelling episode (and the amnesia episode, and the ...) Sometimes they can even pull it off without jumping the shark.

But the best of linear media can't hold a candle to the capabilities of exploring the subject in video games. Surprisingly, there's not been a whole lot of games dealing with the subject. Chrono Trigger is perhaps the first one to come to mind. One of my first games for the Commodore 64 was a pretty terrible one called Dino Eggs that was interesting only because a giant dinosaur foot would come down to stomp you. Daikatana and Anachronox had time travel as part of their storyline, if I recall. City of Heroes had an expansion all about time travel. Recent Prince of Persia games used time reversal as a game element. Recently, that concept was taken to a more extreme degree with the indie game Braid, which uses time flow is as much a part of the mechanics as the standard platforming action.

Assuming Braid is not the final word on the use of time flow or time travel in games, what else is there, and how could we play with the concept of time in games?

In the back of my mind, I've got an idea for a deterministic real-time strategy game. A short one - not a Total Annihilation / Supreme Commander style multi-hour slugfest. The whole game is played out to conclusion before you arrive. You can fast forward or reverse to play through the battle at any point. You have a limited number of actions you are allowed to take, which might include sending units from "the future" back to the past if they could be more influential in the battle.

At that level, it would turn into something of a puzzle game, attempting to use the "butterfly effect" to win. But what if your opponent had the same power? But you'd take your actions simultaneously? Suddenly it becomes a battle for time control, anticipating your opponent's moves in reverse.

I could see this working in a sim-heavy RPG (like Dwarf Fortress) as well - though the data required to to store (or recalculate) states throughout time could get a little out of hand.

What other possibilities are there for playing with time in games?

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Class Action Lawsuit Over Invasive DRM in Spore
Gamepolitics has the scoop.

I have no clue whether or not this is a legitimate problem with Spore's DRM. But the ramifications of the lawsuit could be huge. It's a big ol' can of worms, with lots of unintended consequences that could result from it (not the least of which could be EA swearing off PC games forever).

This comes after the loosening of installation restrictions by EA. Game publishers embracing DRM claim that this is only an extension of existing practices in the digital space. I beg to differ.

I am currently playing (and enjoying) a seven-year-old PC game that I bought off E-Bay published by a company that no longer exists or supports the game. If this game had been saddled with the type of DRM schemes embraced by companies like EA, I would not be doing so.

According to EA, I'm in the obscure 1% of customers that they'd rather ignore. I'm used to that. I'm a PC gamer. I like games where I get to use my brain. I'm more impressed by well-designed gameplay and storylines than extravagant special effects. I like games that have new ideas instead of retreads of creaky old hits. Apparently, those things put me completely outside of the target audience most mainstream game publishers are targeting.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Publishers Overcome by FUD over DRM-Free
Okay - say you are a publisher. You've got a twelve-year-old game out there that was originally written for DOS and Windows 95. The copy protection was broken on it three days after its original release, stores haven't carried it for almost a decade, and the only reason it is hard to pirate is because nobody actually has a feed of it anymore. It hasn't made you a penny in years, and even the original developers have all gone off to greener pastures. It is just sitting on your back-list, with maybe a few forgotten copies sitting in a corner of the supply room that you don't know what to do with.

Someone comes to you with an offer to sell this game to a new generation of gamers, at a very cheap price. Perhaps thousands of new copies will be sold, generating not much income but perhaps at least enough to pay for the open bar at next years' office Christmas party. It'll be distributed digitally, so there's no need to worry about duplication, inventory, or distribution. Your break-even cost for your time is at something like ten copies. Sound good?

Oh - and they'll be released without any kind of DRM.

Would this last detail be a deal-killer to you?

Apparently, it is for many game publishers. They are so steeped in the copy-protection & digital rights management "FUD" (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) that they are afraid to release games that are not even generating any more revenue for sale out of fear of piracy.

News Flash: Your game that was in the bargain bin already when the Playstation 2 was released? Already been pirated, folks.

If 5 bajillion copies of that game get pirated, how much will that hurt your current profit of$0? Okay, actually, that's a real problem, because it could go negative due to customer support calls for a no-longer supported game. So I'll give 'em one point there. And maybe publishers are already planning their own DRM-encumbered distribution of their back-catalog of games.

But frankly, using this as a reason to turn down Good Old Games (GOG.COM), if it really is the true rationale and not just a polite excuse, strikes me as being unbelievably silly and foolish. All I can figure is that the marketing campaigns for DRM & copy protection providers have gone too well, and they've managed to brainwash a bunch of corporate executives into believing that their measures work FOREVER and that the world will end without them, no exceptions.

Hat tip to GamePolitics.com for this tidbit of games industry gossip.


Monday, September 22, 2008
Infocom Text Adventure Sales Numbers
So how much money DID Infocom really make on all those text adventures in the 1980s?

GameSetWatch has the numbers!

Not actual dollar amounts, but unit sales over several years in the 1980s. And that in itself is fascinating. Some notes:

Total Zork I sales: Nearly 380,000.

Total Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy sales: Over 250,000.

Zork I sold more copies its fourth year than the previous three years combined (152,100 compared to 144,000). What a far cry from today's games where a game only has a shelf-life of about 90 days!

The "Average" adventure game sold around 80,000 copies from 1981 to 1986. However, that ranges everywhere from a mere 8,000 copies (of Fooblitsky), all the way up to Zork I at 380,000. If you remove Hitchhiker's and the Zork games and the trilogy packs from the mix, you are talking an average of under 52,000 units sold. So those licenses really skewed the mix. So... "average" is a pretty meaningless value. Remember this when you ask how much an "average" indie game sells!

Zork I went on to sell over 50,000 more copies from 1987 - 1989, seven YEARS after its initial release.

The other big "sleeper hit" was Deadline, which sold over 140,000 copies. But that success might not have been due to the game, so much as it benefitting from being one of the first games "from the makers of Zork."


Wizardry 8 Part X: Missing Men and Mutant Frogs
This is a continuation of my series on my adventures in 2001's Wizardry 8. I missed the game the first time around, but that hasn't stopped me from enjoying it plenty now.

After having stolen the Chaos Moliri from the Mook, I didn't go back to the Umpani right away. Instead, I wanted to explore a bit more of the swamp. Almost immediately we were accosted by orbs and troopers of the Dark Savant, claiming they knew we'd obtained one of the artifacts and that they were going to take them from us. Seems like everybody BUT the Mook knew we'd stolen their artifact. How? I don't know.

Just Like the Temple of Doom!
I found an entrance to the "Mine Tunnels," a place where, once again, Sparkle didn't want to go. I let her go her own way, and went to explore this new area.

Most of the encounters in this area were relatively easy. I found a couple more RPGs willing to join my party, including a malfunctioning Savant Trooper that we were able to repair and, I guess, reprogram. There as also a T'Rang swordsman (samurai?) who was ready to sign up if it meant killing Umpani. Considering our ... uh... duplicity, I figured that might not be the best idea. I kept the robot, ignored the T'Rang.

The most exciting part of this area was a mine-tunnel puzzle. You control the switches at the entrance to the mine shaft, and then get on a mine car and go through a roller-coaster ride to see where you end up. Usually you end up in the same place you went last time, until you tweak the switches just right and find another place to go.

On our last ride, we found ourselves all the way at Marten's Bluff again - in a secret area I hadn't found before. While there was plenty to find and plenty to fight, there were a couple of notable encounters:

First of all, there was a statuette sitting on a table. It was kind of a Tiki-head thing, not unlike what the Trynnies use. I picked it up --- because it wasn't nailed down. That's what I do. Instantly, we were all knocked unconscious from some kind of poisonous gas or something. When we came to, our bard was missing.

WOOPS! There was some writing on the bottom of the statue that indicated Crock might be responsible.

Shortly thereafter, we spotted a sword sitting in an alcove at the end of a hallway, ready for taking. I fell sucker to one of the oldest tricks in the book. We approached the sword, almost close enough to take it, and the floor fell out from under us, dropping us into an underground canal. We fought through a bunch of alligator-esque monsters to emerge out in the exterior moat around Marten's Bluff. Since we had to go out to meet with Crock anyway, we just continued on our way.

When we confronted Crock, he immediately accused us of being in league with the T'Rang (and we are, as far as anybody but the Umpani and He'li are concerned). He disavowed any responsibility for the kidnapping of our party members. But he did claim that he might be able to help us FIND our missing member, but first we had to take care of a problem for him.

He said that Brekek had returned to the swamp, and he'd seen that thing kill tens of men beneath his webbed feet before. If we could kill Brekek and return with proof of his death, he'd do what he could to get us our friend back.

Attack of the Giant Mutant Frog
We explored for some time, killing lots of Flesh-Eating Slimes and various mosquito-creatures. Eventually, we wandered back into that lake we'd explored previously - now occupied by a giant mutant frog. On the first round, the frog hopped over to us and gobbled up our main fighter.

Great. Now we had TWO missing party members.

The battle was difficult, but we managed to kill the frog, and cut our warrior free. She immediately bragged that though it had been disgusting (and painful), at least SHE could take it!

We took a giant frog-leg back to Crock, who suddenly "found" our missing bard, and invited us to a frog-leg barbecue. We declined on the dinner invitation, and the bard said something about how terrible that experience had been, and then asked, "Can we do that again?"

With the whole party back, it was time to move the main plot along a bit.

Taking Design Notes
The quest with the missing party member was another of those really memorable quests that make an RPG. Face it - in most RPGs (including this one), the endless combats get capital-B Boring. Yeah, they shouldn't, but they do. Lots of wandering around, lots of killing - and it all blurs together over time.

But the quests like this one really stand out, because unique and different things happen. The shake-up of party composition with the missing PC was a surprise. It was a great twist. Finding Brekek who was just "somewhere" in the swamp was not nearly as much fun. A few old-school gamers complained about Oblivion where you were always directed exactly to where your next quest would take you. Does that take the fun out of exploration? Well, yes, sometimes. But so does stumbling around the world hoping to stumble over your next quest objective, because you were (or were not) only given general instructions that you've already forgotten.

There's gotta be a happy medium in there somewhere.

The mine-car puzzle gets kudos from me on several levels. While there is a lot of trial-and-error involved, the map on the wall does provide a few clues to its operation, though it is unclear where it starts and where it ends and exactly which way the switches are supposed to be changing things.

Having monsters that swallow party members can be pretty dang annoying if it happened a lot. But as a one-time event (so far), it was actually pretty amusing - particularly since my fighter really did have enough hit points to survive a few rounds of being digested. It was a surprise in combat - and as combats become grind-tastic after a while, a few surprises like this sprinkled in helps keep things interesting.

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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Sunday, September 21, 2008
$700 Billion
We interrupt our regularly scheduled talk about games 'n stuff to just to say this:

Seven Hundred BILLION Dollars.

This is for debt packages of subprime and related crap that were so horrible they couldn't find legitimate buyers for it anymore. So now they want to force U.S. citizens to buy it. That's about $2700 of additional debt for every man, woman, and child in America.

Granted - it might not all be worthless. Hey, at some point, some managers snowed their bosses into believing it would actually be profitable. But this whole situation sounds like it has more in common with an Ayn Rand novel than Bioshock. (There - I had an obligatory gaming reference!)

Sometimes real life just makes you pause and say, "Woah!" At this point, I'd only be half-surprised if both of the major presidential candidates held press conferences next week and said, "You know what, on second thought... screw this! There's no way I'm taking this job."


Friday, September 19, 2008
Frayed Knights: Back From the Dead
So here's the latest update on Frayed Knights, the comedic indie RPG in development from Rampant Games (an older work-in-progress "pilot" available here).

Frayed Knights has been dead for a couple of weeks.

Not dead as a project, but for me, Frayed Knights has been non-functional for a couple of weeks. Merging my heavily modified 1.5 codebase for TGE and the 1.52 codebase for TGE plus the AFX special effects code, plus TGB 1.3 (the last version that was pretty compatible with TGE) overlayed on top of that felt a little like making a time machine out of a DeLorean. But since even a used DeLorean costs over $25,000, this option was more economical. Plus, I didn't run the risk of splitting up my parents before I was conceived and thus unmaking myself in a time-travelling paradox.

With the stress and long hours of the previous day job behind me (and let me tell you - the loss of that stress literally felt like the relief of a physical burden - I can't tell you how much BETTER I've been feeling the last three weeks), I've felt the strength and desire to proceed to the next phase of Frayed Knights' development. This allowed me to tackle the merge which I had been putting off. But the resulting problems frustrated me and reduced me back to "tinker" mode - I'd work on a map a little bit, make some design notes, add to my "wish list," and then go back to surfing the web and playing Wizardry 8. Yes, I can procrastinate with the best of 'em.

The saddest part? Fixing things, once I committed to doing it, only took a couple of hours. I am once again reminded that I work best on a milestone schedule, with a list of tasks I am (loosely) committed to completing by a certain date.

So what does this merge give me? Well, besides a bunch of bug-fixes and optimizations for a planned Mac build, it gives me access to some new and improved interior changes used by Torque Constructor. Since I've had some waking nightmares with the "legacy exporter" in Constructor, this will hopefully improve my content development pipeline. There are some improvements to lighting, particularly with static meshes.

And then there's the AFX code. In a nutshell, it includes a whole slew of changes to the decal and particle system - primarily, though there's more to it than that - that allow some pretty awesome spell effects. There's a screenshot to the right of AFX in action in the Torque demo.

With that done, I'm back to working on some core technology. I am considering some massive changes to how AI works, how combat plays, and how inventory management is handled. I also need to finish the journal system and the transition map system now that we'll have more than two areas to go between.

Since I work best committed to a deadline (it stops me from "tinkering"), for next week I'm going to finish the design work and the rough-out of the Tower of Almost Certain Death and the first wilderness area, get trading completed with NPCs, and get started on the revised journal system. That ought to keep me busy.

And I'm gonna get back to trying to post an update weekly (or at least semi-weekly), as I was before I went into soul-sapping crunch-mode hell. Public reporting of progress keeps me from falling back into "tinker" mode.

For those who haven't tried out the demo yet, community member Demiath has uploaded a YouTube video of the first five minutes of the Frayed Knights Pilot. Which I think is extraordinarily cool. Feel free to go there and comment on how cool Demiath is, or your predictions on how Frayed Knights is going to outsell Diablo 3 when it is done (hey, if you are gonna dream, dream big...). It also helps to watch someone else play the game to remind me what things I need to fix / improve. Here it is in all its embedded glory (you will want to switch to high-quality mode on YouTube to be able to read the text):

Thanks, Demiath!

And that's it for now. TTFN!

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Thursday, September 18, 2008
Game Design: Do Not Want!
Back when I was in college, I established a medievalist group in Provo, Utah. We were in the park every Tuesday and Thursday night, wielding padded swords and using a rule system based on that of Dagorhir - a group I'd been involved in as a teenager.

It was a lot of fun, and great exercise.

At first, it was only a few friends getting together on those evenings to smack each other with padded swords and daggers (which only resembled their real-world counterparts if you squinted really hard - in the dark). We used those weapons because - well - it was all we had made. We were starving college students, after all - spending $10 or $20 on materials to make a new weapon was pricey. I was making some chain mail by hand - usually while watching TV, but that took months to put together.

Slowly, other players began to join us. They heard about the activity in the park, and wanted to participate. We helped them make their own padded weapons, as well as making a few extra to pass around to first-timers who showed up. Soon we had groups of 20, 30, or even 40 people playing in the park twice a week. We got the cops called on us monthly - but soon they knew who we were, knew that those were the two nights they did NOT have to worry about gangs or drug dealers in the park. They'd respond to the call, note that it was us, and would sometimes hang out for ten or twenty minutes to watch us.

One week, several of us decided to make shields. Shields - like the weapons - were heavy padded things, for safety. But - they could be used to block weapons. When we brought them, a big cry came up from the group about how unfair they were. In fact, the first night, we faced something of a mutiny. Most players wanted shields OUTLAWED, forever, right then and there. They were unfair, they claimed.

Having played Dagorhir in my youth, where roughly half the fighters used shields - I knew better. I knew that they were not as easy to use as they seemed. I knew all kinds of ways to defeat people with shields. I couldn't believe that these kids were screaming at me to outlaw what I considered an integral part of the game. I refused. A bunch of people threatened to quit over it, but I don't remember if anybody did.

A few weeks later, there were lots of shields. Nobody complained about them anymore. It was part of the game.

Shortly after the shield incident, I'd finished my chain mail. Well, "finished" is a loose term - it was still evolving. I don't know that I ever finished it - it just went from being a chain mail vest to a chain mail short-sleeved shirt to a slightly longer short-sleeved shirt. And once again, the cries went up. Unfair, ruining the game, all armor should be outlawed, etc. etc. etc. Once again, I had considered armor to be an integral part of the game, having played similar rules systems back east. I ignored their cries, and also patiently explained to people that they couldn't just wrap aluminum foil over some cardboard and call it armor. It had to be the real thing. They hated that.

The armor took longer for others to adopt, but within a few months there were lots of folks running around in various types of armor, and it was an accepted part of the game - in spite of the previous cries that it should be made illegal.

By far the biggest cry of outrage came when we introduced bows and arrows to the game. The bows were restricted to no more than a 35 pound pull, and the arrows had very specific rules for construction lifted directly from Dagorhir. They had big padded heads on them which basically made them "Nerf Arrows." They were not the first missile weapons in the game, but they had better range and speed than the javelins, and they made the battlefield far more interesting. They made the shields even more important. They made mobility more important. They made the lives of archers very, very short. I knew from past experience that archers often spent more of their time fleeing than fighting. But they made the game more fun.

But no - the players demanded - multiple times - that archery be made illegal in the game. It was horrible and no fun and ruined the game. My ideas were a failure. Even though I told them they weren't my ideas, and I'd played with archers in the game for years, they refused to accept that. Either archery was going to go, or they were going to go. Period.

A few weeks later, not only had these players not left, but some of them were using bows on the battlefield. We had a lot of great times playing. And though I haven't played in years, I have heard that this little group has grown and is still thriving down there in Provo. They at one point joined an offshoot group of Dagorhir, and even have had battles with players from other states. And they are still playing in that same park, over a decade later. They don't know why they are playing in that park (it's because my old apartment was right across the street), and I doubt any of them have a clue who I am, or why I made the decisions I did.

And none of them, I think, know that most of what they play would have been outlawed if their predecessors had had their way.

I guess the moral of the story is twofold. First off, gamers often think they want things that they won't really enjoy. For example, I always think I want nothing more than to win all the time when I play games, yet that makes the games easy and boring. Then there one game we were working on where the players kept complaining that there wasn't enough ACTION. We cranked up the action of the level, only to have players complain that it was now way too hard - yet they still thought it was too slow without enough action. Then we moved things back to their previous level, and changed the music to something more energetic. Suddenly, the testers loved it, thought it was exactly right, and said things, "I don't know what it is you changed, but you nailed it! The action is much more frantic now, but not so difficult."

Sometimes it's trying to dig through what the players are saying to find out what they really want. Or - sometimes - it's just a reaction to fear and uncertainty, particularly when you are modifying a "live" game with participants who care about it. The MMO designers should know all about this particular issue.

Secondly - it doesn't take very much effort at all to draw the parallel to politics. As we entering the final inning of the presidential election year madness here in the U.S.A. With people suffering from an economy going into its irregularly-scheduled downward cycle with some pretty major repercussions in long-standing bastions of the financial institutions, to a lingering conflict in the middle east, to silly and trivial things like videogame violence, we have politicians outdoing themselves to outlaw this, regulate that, and to socialize this other thing. Because there's always that slim chance that this time, government intervention might not make a bad thing far worse.

Try not to be influenced by knee-jerk reactions, and try to dig past the surface to discover the real issues.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Wizardry 8 Part IX: My Duplicity Has a Price
This is a continuation of my blogging of my adventures in 2001's Wizardry 8 - what proved to be the final chapter in one of the longest-running computer RPG series. I missed it when it was new, and so I'm catching it with the more jaded eyes of a 2008 gamer. Truth be told - while the graphics may not be up to modern snuff, there's a lot of great stuff in there!

My next assignment from the Umpani was to form an alliance with the Mook. Ah-hah! That one has been on my "to do" list since I first ran into their holographic greeter in Arnika some time ago. With paper in hand, I raced back to Arnika. And on past it. "Racing" meaning "fighting long fight after fight in terrain where there's no place to hide." If there's one massive complaint I have about this game, it is these "travelling" zones with constrained geography that force you into battle after battle.

As I said, I skipped Arnika. Instead, I went to Marten's Bluff, and met with the T'Rang. They extended an offer that I should ally with them. I agreed. My first mission was to go scout out a base or something. Without engaging the Umpani. Easy enough, as I'm currently allied with the Umpani too. Now I might say that I'm being all idealistic and trying to maintain the balance of power between the two forces. I'm not. Quite simply, I'm greedy for mission-based XP.

So instead, I reached into my party inventory and produced a flag I picked up at the Umpani base's gift shop. Well, it was a commissary, but they sold flags to tourists like me before I'd signed up. Hey, they offered, and I bought it. I figured it might come in handy, and it did.

The T'Rang boss, Z'Ant, was pleased with my speedy results, apparently (why, he hadn't even noticed I'd gone), and gave me more XP than I normally get in two or three long, slow, annoying combats. Then he gave me a job to take care of a Rapax assassin who had been stalking the fortress somewhere. They had a trap set up for him, which I checked out. That entry way with the pit and the plexiglass walls that looked like they were supposed to come together and kill anybody in the entryway? That was actually for him. Not for me. A button dropped a decoy.

The decoy was a really horrible-looking target dummy with horns attached. Supposed to be a female, I guess. And yet somehow, that didn't fool the Rapax assassin. Go figger.

I tried everything to improve the bait, but I couldn't come up with something that would work. I was stymied. Only my second mission in! D'oh!

I looked at my journal, and found I still had some to-do items down in the local swamp - primarily, finding someone or something named "Croc" who knows what happened to Marten after the police raid - according to the Rattkin "gawdfather" I'd met in the Trynton.

In exploring the swamp, I discovered a group of "Rayjin" near the northern border that made those terrible leaf fairies seem like pathetic newbie-fodder giant rats by comparison. They slaughtered me - twice. Or rather, they drove my entire party insane in the first round, and made me slaughter myself. It was NOT pretty. Even with magic screens up, they just pwned me. I realized that there was this spell that I'd ignored the last couple of times I'd leveled up called "Soul Screen." "What use is that?" I'd thought. "I want to make MORE BIG BOOMS!"

Now I understand. D'oh. Next time. Or maybe I'll find a book for the spell and learn it before I level. Regardless - I can't fight these guys without it.

I chose the better part of valor, and - upon reloading AGAIN - avoided them completely. I found an empty lake area with a lot of interesting items submerged in the water with no guardian monster. Strange....

Eventually, I found Crock, and discovered he was actually pretty close to the entrance to Marten's Bluff. Well, a lot closer than where I'd been looking. He was actually human - and ran a shop in the middle of the monster-infested swamp that was apparently suffering hard times with no customers. Crock blamed the T'Rang. I have three words for Crock: "Location, Location, Location."

Anyway, he told me something about Marten having gone to Bayjin - a place infested with Rayjin. Yeah, those guys that handed me my posterior so easily. Needless to say, I felt I wasn't quite prepared to follow up on THAT lead.

So I checked out Crock's shop. He had a lot of really nifty stuff! I mean, really potent magical weapons, and books of spells, and stuff like that. So much for saving up to buy the real Astral Dominae from the Rattkin Don!

He also had something called, "Eu de Rapax Perfume."


I bought the perfume, went back to Marten's Bluff, experimented some more with the trap, and put perfume on the horned target dummy. Unbelievably, a cry of animal desire emerged from the dark recesses of the fortress, and out came the assassin. I had to do some manipulating to get him into the trap, but then I closed him in and started the diabolical trap, crushing him. Somehow, it didn't crush his head, and I was able to return it to Z'Ant for a sizable reward.

My next mission was - surprise - an alliance offer for the Mook.

With two offers in hand, I returned to Arnika. The Dark Savant is now sending these floating orbs with ranged attacks at me from the tower, rather than just those dumb android robots (which were, at least, easy to kill). I went to the Mook, and decided to give them the Umpani letter.

They let me into the base, and offered to show me the artifact in their possession - one of the "three" - the Chaos Mollari. For visual inspection only. Unfortunately for them, it wasn't in a locked case. When I picked it up, though, a doorway with guards opened up just out of sight. Putting it back prevented them from attacking me and my faction with the Mook plummeting.

I tried a whole bunch of solutions, including just sucking up a faction hit - but I wanted to keep them friendly in case I wanted to give them the T'Rang alliance paperwork too.

What finally worked was replacing the Chaos Mollari with the fake Astral Domina I'd gotten from the pissed-off Dark Savant. They were both globe-like objects, right? Apparently, it was good enough. The Mook's visual accuity is apparently not much better than that of a Rapax.

By this time, I had a teleport spell, so I set an anchor point in Arnika. I keep coming back here, after all. Before heading down the road to the Umpani base, I wanted to rest up. On a whim, I stayed at the Inn. I don't really go into a room, I just rack out next to the barkeep, He'Li. I always talk to her first, see what she has to say. This time, she had extortion on her mind.

She mentioned how the Umpani in her bar had talked about having me for an ally. And she said the T'Rang in her bar had said the same thing - that I'd been allied with THEM. The Umpani and T'Rang, being enemies, don't talk much with each other, but if *I* wanted to make sure that little bit of information didn't leak out, I had to pay her around 4,000 gold pieces!

YEESH! I thought she and Vi were BFFs or something like that. Apparently not. Or she's cutting Vi in on the take. Dang RPCs. My duplicity comes at a price, apparently.

But I wasn't done yet with being extorted. No! On leaving Arnika shortly therafter (I'd made a quick side-trip), I ran into a whole pack of Rattkin. I was immediately on my guard, even though they were highlighted green, as I figured they were still sore at me for um... you know... killing a whole bunch of them. Apparently, though, they were in a mood for talking... in their best New York Thug accent. They told me they knew what I'd done with the Mook and had stolen the Chaos Mollari, and if I didn't want the Mook to find out about it, I had to pay them some hush money.

I agreed. Dang, how am I ever gonna be able to afford to buy the real Astral Dominae from the Don?

Taking Design Notes
First off, it spite of my compaining - having NPCs note that I'm playing both sides or pulling fast ones in my quests is way cool. Any time NPCs can show recognition of the player's actions - particularly their more free-form, optional actions (not that these were - I'm convinced I'm taking the "preferred" approach) - it really helps the world come alive. This simple thing is probably a bigger deal than tons of advanced AI programming with neural networking or whatnot.

The Rapax assassin quest was kind of silly - and finding the perfume was annoying - but I think it was one of those big, memorable events in an RPG that stick with you for years. This is about a million times more interesting than a "kill six rats and bring me their tails" type of quest that is becoming all too common in some RPGs these days. A quest should be a self-contained story.

(To their credit, I felt Baldur's Gate II, Oblivion, and Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines all had plenty of very memorable, fun, and dramatic quests like this one).

While the battles against the Rayjins were frustrating, I really do like having some "impossibly hard" encounters mixed in with some moderately difficult and some easy ones. Sometimes it is better to flee. It is irritating that Wizardry 8 really does stack up the difficulty to try and make every encounter a challenge, but it is not as bad as Oblivion in that respect. And Wizardry will let you get in over your head.

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, September 16, 2008
Rampant Coyote on Rock Band 2
I wasn't waiting until Christmas this year. I snagged a copy of Rock Band 2 last night. You know, the game that Harmonix said around this time last year that they weren't even thinking about making for quite a while.

We played as a family last night for about an hour or so, and I got some solo time in. I came to the conclusion that it could be called, "Rock Band 1.1: A Whole Bunch of New Songs." They managed to get rid of some of the annoyances of the first game (like having the band tied to one character, and having that character tied to a particular instrument only). And they have some new features, including some competitive scoring "battles of the bands" modes which we will probably never use, because they require everyone to play on expert difficulty. Oh, and a drum training mode. The residual Guitar Hero style single-player mode (which I didn't play much) seemed to be gone from what I could see. Single-player is now the same as multiplayer, but with only one band member. This deletion is probably an addition... it's nice to have it all seamless now.

I'm sure there is more, and I'm sure I'll even explore them at some point. I might even find a new favorite. But for the most part - it's a minor upgrade to Rock Band plus - if you include bonus songs and some free downloadable songs coming soon - over 100 songs.

And you know what? That's not bad. At least they didn't include boss battles where you break the other guy's instruments while playing (at least, so far as I can tell). Really, aside from what they've now addressed, I can't really think of many ways to really improve on Rock Band. This is like Guitar Hero 2 to Guitar Hero - they sorta took it as far as it can go, and any further changes might only wreck things. Did I mention GH3's really lame and irritating boss battles yet?

The best thing - an incredible thing, when you think about it - is that not only is all of the downloadable content for Rock Band 1 compatible and automatically works in Rock Band 2 with zero effort, but the original's songs - all but about three, at least - can be exported into the new game. And you can go back and delete the ones you hate ("Sabotage" by the Beastie Boys is the prime candidate amongst our friends). It's sad about the missing songs - probably because of $ome kind of licen$ing i$$ue. But the end result is that unless you really, really want to play Run to the Hills, Enter Sandman, or Paranoid (and granted... I might), there's no reason to have to put your RB1 disc in the drive ever again.

So I guess I could argue that Rock Band 2 comes straight out of the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" school of game design. They fixed what they needed to, added some optional new features, and otherwise just delivered the same Rock Band-y goodness I've been enjoying for the last year with friends playing the ultimate (game console) party game. So now we have more of the same, without having to worry about swapping characters and bands in the middle of a set when we're switching off.

So I'm pretty thrilled about it.

Also - "The Trees," "Carry On Wayward Son," "Hungry Like the Wolf," "One Way Or Another," "White Wedding," "American Woman," "Pinball Wizard," "Any Way You Want It," "Livin' On a Prayer," "Aqualung," "Go Your Own Way," "Ace of Spades," "Round and Round," "The Middle," and even some fun cheesiness of "We Got the Beat" and "The Eye of the Tiger." Man, those would just about be worth the price of admission all by themselves.

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Monday, September 15, 2008
Wow - An Outpost Kaloki Review
Just when you thought it was safe to go back to review sites again - Jay Is Games has reviewed Outpost Kaloki.

Jay Is Games: Outpost Kaloki review

An excerpt: "Outpost Kaloki may be four years old, but it is by no means ready to be put out to pasture yet. The gameplay is solid, and the difficulty curve feels about right. The game never really seems to change much from one level to the next, but the setup, graphics, and goals are different enough to make each level as enjoyable as the previous one."

Curious? That's my mercenary ulterior motive. You can check out Outpost Kaloki here. Or you can try out NinjaBee's newer tactics strategy game, Band of Bugs, here. The demos are free, and the games are cheap. And hey, I'm in the credits - I think. In the "Special Thanks" category, if I recall. Yeah, that was me. I think I paid for half the pizza during the beta test party. Hard, back-breaking work, but someone had to do it.

While I worked at NinaBee, part of my bonus was based on the royalties on Outpost Kaloki X, for the XBox 360. Which I never worked on. So I guess they even paid me back for the pizza...

What's interesting to me is that reviewer FunnyMan refers to it as a casual game. You know, while I think it's a friendlier game than most "tycoon" games, I don't think of Outpost Kaloki as being casual at all. It has sold much better on the 360 than on the PC, which could lend evidence to the opinion that it's more "core" than "casual." But - there are a lot of factors involved there.

And frankly, as time goes on, the definition of "casual game" is getting more and more loose. What I thought I could use to describe a casual game three years ago doesn't feel like it applies anymore. Some of the best-selling casual games right now aren't too far removed from the hard-core arcade games of the early 80's. The gaming landscape continues to change.

But it's nice to see Kaloki is still getting some attention.

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Friday, September 12, 2008
RPGs Available at GOG.com
The GOG.com (Good Old Games) beta ("early access") started a little bit ago. The store officially opens to the public very soon, but you can still get in on the beta from what they say.

Looking over the list of RPGs available (or coming soon), I am fairly impressed. They only have 28 games (as of this moment), plus six more on the way "soon", but six of them are in their RPG category, including:

Fallout 2
Fallout Tactics
Invictus: In the Shadow of Olympus
Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader
Stonekeep (coming soon)

Okay, I am not sure I'd call all of these RPGs, but still... it looks like a good showing for retro-RPG goodness.

Some other interesting titles (to me) available or coming soon include Operation: Flashpoint GOTY edition (one of my all-time favorite games), Descent: Freespace and Freespace 2 (perhaps the best of all the Wing Commander / X-Wing clones), F/A-18A Super Hornet, Jagged Alliance 2: Unfinished Business (which I never heard but heard RAVE reviews about), and the Descent series.

I hope this turns out really well for them. On a personal level, I'm thrilled to see some of these great games being added to the "long tail" of games industry. It's difficult to find legitimate copies of these kinds of games without going through a subscription service like GameTap - so this could be a great opportunity for gamers.

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Rush Fails
And I'm not talking about a Zerg Rush.

This is actually pretty old news (2 months ago - ancient), but the Colbert Report had a hysterical segment where the epic mega-rockers Rush failed their own song in Rock Band. I'd heard about it, but a friend of mine sent me this link last week, and so I thought I'd share for anyone else who had missed it:

Kotaku: Watch Rush Fail At Rock Band

They were pretty good sports about it. So, okay, I guess Rock Band really isn't like the real thing after all. :)

And the sequel is coming out in just a few days. Woot!


Thursday, September 11, 2008
JRPGs versus Western RPGs: Stuck In a Creative Rut?
Leigh Alexander has an article today on her blog about the problems facing Japanese videogames (specifically their RPGs) as compared to their western counterparts. Specifically, JRPGs seem to be locked in a creative rut, whereas Western games seem willing to redefine the genre every other week.

Sexy Videogameland: The Japanese Renaissance

She claims, "You can't really overhaul a JRPG. Change too much about the formula, and it wanders away from its genre. There are a limited number of ways its signature elements can be matched and remixed to create a new product... Now, think of the questions you need to ask yourself when you play a Western RPG. Lately, the first question I ask is, "how are they defining 'RPG' this time?" It's so much more difficult to define genre in Western games in general, these days."

But, as you can guess from the title, she doesn't expect this trend to continue forever, and explains reasons why. Admittedly, at least in gameplay, I thought Final Fantasy XII seemed to break from the mold. Not that I preferred it over the old systems, but I'm an old fuddy-duddy who likes a good turn-based RPG. Okay, I like a good action RPG, too, but the former can be really hard to find these days.

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Is DRM Killing PC Gaming?
The hoopla about Spore is, on the face of it, looking like big deal - there's a massive backlash against the DRM restrictions, particularly in the negative user reviews (many of whom have not even played the game) on Amazon.com. Well, that, and a lot of hardcore gamers are finding that after all the hype and expectation around it for the last three years, it's not really knocking their socks off.

But the arguments are raging around the DRM. Now, as far as I know, except for what basically amounts to online picketing at Amazon.com, the real effect is nothing. Sales may be going just fine. A thousand angry protesters (myself included - I've refused to buy a few PC games now because of DRM issues) may not amount to a hill of beans with hundreds of thousands - if not a million - others buy the game. Or if just a thousand and one would-be-pirates find themselves actually going legit because of the DRM. As far as I know, 99.99% of the gamer public doesn't give a crap about installing a DRMed game - unless it doesn't work.

There has been some impassioned defenses of DRM from people I respect - including articles at Bruce On Games and at GameDevBlog. And of course, there has been some vehement opposition - including contentions that DRM leads to piracy.

I tend to lean in the latter direction, myself. I think it's only a matter of time. If consumers (I say that instead of "customers" - implying that they are and remain potential customers) can get both a superior product and a superior price elsewhere, with the only real downside being an aching conscience... well, it's only a matter of time before we as a society learn to supress that last bit.

People faced a lot more risk and downside acquiring alcohol during Prohibition in the U.S., and we all know how well that worked out. Once our society has adopted filesharing services as part of the information culture as much as email and YouTube, DRM and traditional copy protection as we know it will fail as anything more than a speedbump to piracy.

Therefore, PC gaming, as we know it, is doomed. The pirates will win that battle. However, I feel the future is bright for PC gaming - and I'm not talking about it becoming a ghetto of MMOs, either.

I started getting serious about investing at the beginning of the year. One of the things that has stood out to me about successful investors and entrepreneurs I've talked to and read is that they do not try to impose their will upon the market. That's a losing battle. Instead, they let the markets move them. The successful ones I've met know how to make money when their market is going up, going down, or going sideways. Anticipating the change ahead of time can be rough, but there's a mantra that "the trend is your friend." Fighting it is a loser's game.

And I think we have a clear trend appearing here. Trying to fight it - which is exactly what DRM does - is doomed to failure, and is just a black hole of investment for a business and a pain in the butt for consumers. At best, it has been a mediocre stopgap to deal with the change in times. But we need to look past that.

The key to overcoming the madness is that the version of games available on the torrents and pirate sites are - as I said - a "superior product." I remember, many years ago, when I found myself forced to download a crack for Wing Commander when I couldn't find my documentation one day. I had to go to a shady BBS site (yes, we were using BBS and FTP sites back then - the World Wide Web was still in its infancy. Hard to believe, huh?) and download a crack. And then... gaming bliss! I'd never realized what a pain in the butt the documentation look-up was until I didn't have to do it anymore.

Fortunately, even DRM (when it WORKS) isn't as onerous as document lookup or those awful code-wheels we had to put up with back in the day. But it was at that moment that I realized that the pirates were enjoying a superior product to the one I had purchased in the store - one that allowed them to jump right in and enjoy their game, every time.

It was an ugly revelation. And it remains true today.

I believe that the answer is providing a superior product. And I think it can be done with some of the same technology used to fuel modern DRM schemes. It's not the technology - it's the philosophy.

I think we need a lot less stick and a lot more carrot.

Sure - whatever updates you make to your game, and whatever freebies you provide to your customers that does NOT require them to be logged onto some online server in order to use them WILL be pirated. But - can you, as a game developer, make it far more convenient and easier to get a superior product through legitimate means than through hunting through dangerous warez downloads? Can you make it worth the player's while to actually go through what amounts to a seamless DRM validation check to get an improved experience, without holding a gun to their head and treating them like a criminal? Could you give your customers back the right to resell their game at a later date? Can you let them play their game without getting your permission each time?

Can you treat them as customers, and treat them like you really care about them being your customer?

Stardock is taking that approach, and it has worked out famously for them, with over 500,000 copies of Sins of a Solar Empire sold... what SHOULD have been a a "niche game" that "won't sell" on a "dead platform" that would never have been green-lit by a modern publisher. Oh, and it was DRM-free. But they make it worth your time to be a customer.

Now, I don't know if other publishers can repeat Stardock's exact approach with the same success. Their approach is actually part of their marketing. The "We're different!" rallying cry doesn't work so well when it is merely, "We're different, too, just like those other guys!" But I think Stardock's bold approach - and subsequent success - helps disprove the contention that "hard" DRM is necessary for PC gaming to survive.

In fact, I feel that it is partly to blame for stagnating its growth.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008
RPG Design: Got Theme?
This post was inspired by DGM's recent rant on the Ultima games, which he'd mentioned in the forums. In his rant, he maintains that the overall series countered its own theme so completely that, by the end of Ultima IX, the overall moral of the story seems to be "Don't bother trying, because you'll only make things worse."

The sad thing is that the second "trilogy" went so well, in spite of the counter-themes that undermined your previous successes. The theme of Ultima IV was about how certain virtues were universal - greater than laws or religions - and that the attaining of these virtues and sharing that with others was the greatest of quests. Ultima V took things down from the ideal to the real a little bit, with the theme that governments and laws cannot enforce virtue - they can only pervert it. And Ultima VI took things in another direction entirely and had a message about how understanding and communication can end the most bitter of conflicts.

These were probably not the only themes that could be pulled from the games, but these are the ones that stick out in my mind. There are other RPGs (and non-RPGs) that have themes that stick out in my mind - though the true theme seems to be based upon which of the multiple endings you stumble across. My favorite ending of Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines underscored the theme, "Pride goeth before the fall." To me, the theme of Baldur's Gate II seemed to be, "Will is greater than destiny." The "good" ending of Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption was surprisingly not about redemption at all (I felt), but rather that "love conquers all." Final Fantasy 7 had a very obvious eco-friendly theme of, "If humanity doesn't take care of the world, it will quit taking care of humanity." Even the much-maligned original campaign of Neverwinter Nights had some kind of theme ("Sorrow and rage can consume and destroy even the most virtuous of people"), which I felt elevated the otherwise ho-hum storyline to at least above average.

In grade school, I was taught the parts of a story - including plot, characters, setting, tone, and theme. Theme was one of the biggies. I'm not an expert in pulling out the theme of a story - I have read several that I have enjoyed where I really can't see a solid theme other than your basic, "It is best to do the right thing in spite of the difficulties and sacrifice." Or, "Don't trust appearances." Mysteries are especially difficult to pull a theme from. It doesn't mean there isn't one. I'm just not an expert on this topic, and maybe I miss these things when they aren't obvious.

And maybe that's why I have a problem figuring out the theme for a lot of story-friendly computer games. Including RPGs and adventure games, which are generally pretty story-driven. I mean, sure, you can pick bits and pieces out of the gameplay itself ("keep practicing, and what seems an insurmountable challenge right now will become a pushover!"), but most games - historically - don't have much of a theme behind the collection of events that masquerade as a story. This has changed a little in recent years, thanks in part to the hiring of real writers, or the application of actual literary knowledge on the part of professional game designers. And thanks in part to the technology that allows us to actually tell a real story.

But there's a bunch of otherwise story-driven games that don't have a really strong theme. You can blame the non-linearity of the medium, but that didn't stop the middle Ultimas from having a strong set of unifying themes running through them (even if they did contradict themselves later in the series). If that is used as an excuse, the blame might land on the very same expertise in traditional literature and storytelling that I praised in the previous paragraph, if they confine themselves to the box of linear storytelling that they are trained in. Did Oblivion have a strong over-arching theme? I know some of the sub-quests had some good stories and themes within them, but if it had a major theme it was so muddled or I was so ga-ga over the graphics and open-ended (if small) world I missed it. The Dungeon Siege games? Diablo 2? I never actually finished Neverwinter Nights 2, so I couldn't tell you about that one. I haven't played Titan Quest or Two Worlds... can anybody fill me in on the scoop with those games and themes? I haven't really found one in Wizardry 8 yet, but I'm only halfway through that one. And of course, the older RPGs from the 80's and early 90's rarely had much by way of story to begin with beyond, "Kill the evil Foozle. 'Cause he's like, evil, and stuff."

Is theme really important in computer RPGs? Do RPGs benefit from having a strong, underlying theme? I feel so, due to most (but not all) of my favorite RPGs all being ones with easily identifiable, strong themes to them. Is it a "secret ingredient" to a great RPG? Or merely a trapping of linear storytelling, where players should be free to find their own themes in the virtual worlds of video games? Should a game even focus on a single theme, or instead offer several for the player to discover and decide whether or not to "make it stick" in their own play?

And what are themes that I've missed in the games I've listed, or that you've found in other computer and console RPGs?

Got deep thoughts? You can also share them on the forum.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008
AOIA Rampant Coyote Interview, Part II
Looks like part 2 of the Alley of Infinite Angles interview with me is up. With a commentary! We really got more into biz aspects on this side. It sounds like I left Sun-ha a little bit wanting... perhaps because I didn't feel strongly that there were any real answers to his questions. In fact, I'm really interested in what other answers you guys come up with.

Anyway, here's Part II of my interview at the Alley of Infinite Angles.

And here's Sun-ha Hong's commentary.

I felt I was pretty upbeat about things. That's conscious. But I'm the first to admit that I don't see a "golden age of indie" anywhere on the horizon. The indies aren't going to be rising up and overthrowing the yoke of the big business overlords anytime soon. Feel free to sing "Won't Get Fooled Again" at this point.

You could say that indies are everything that the entrenched "institution" isn't, defining indie game developers by the mainstream. Except that isn't true, either. There are indies that treat approach the business side of making their own games exactly like the mainstream - with the exception of finding their own financing for their game. Indies are pretty much just about doing it their own way, and the mainstream dominance is simply just one more obstacle.

As to the question of why there isn't some kind of centralized "hub" of indie games - there really have been several that have been attempted, from portals to review sites to webrings to The Great Games Experiment. Every few months, someone proposes another one. Indies being who we are, we tend not to agree on details, and many of these projects die in infancy or just never quite hit the level of penetration they need. Trying to do anything like this requires some standardization and prioritization that is not beneficial to all indies, and will never seem fair to everybody.

What it really comes down to is that indies - the real indies - have that whole "independent spirit" thing going for them and don't want to be ever have their success chained down by something they have no control over. They may cooperate with these projects, but they won't make concessions to them. Why should they? They have their own businesses to run, and their own games to make.

That being said - there are also a lot of indies who are constantly looking for better ways to cooperate. I've noticed that many of the more successful indies out there seem happy to help out others... within reason. I'm on a few forums where the old vets are constantly batting ideas back and forth about how we can better pool our resources to improve things for everyone.

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Monday, September 08, 2008
Wizardry 8 Part VIII: Dances With Rhinos
I am continuing my first-time play-through blogging of Wizardry 8, the classic ending to one of the longest-running CRPGs of all time. This time I report on my adventure amongst the Umpani.

I neglected to mention in my last post about a wonderful thing that happened while leaving Trynton. I was attacked by a bunch of those horrible leaf pixies. And, with a little bit of help from a Trynnie patrol, and the use of the newly-acquired spell "Spell Screen," I kicked their little winged butts! It felt very good...

Unfortunately, while the trip along the Arnika Road has gotten a little easier, it has become no shorter. If I don't feel like running, I'm being engaged of groups of nearly 20 monsters at a time sometimes. Duking it out can take ten minutes. Running doesn't take much less time. Frankly, it's a long and annoying trip.

But I could tell I got to Umpani territory when I saw a very industrial-looking bridge with electric lights. Sounded about right. Past this, I found a fort at the base of Mount Gigas, with units of sometimes a dozen Umpani marching around it. The Umpani have changed a little since Wizardry 7, but they still resemble a humanoid rhinoceros. With military uniforms, swords, and black powder pistols. And computers and space ships, of course. Kinda steampunk.

Once inside, I found the Umpani didn't really want to talk to anybody who wasn't part of their military. Not too unlike the T'Rang.

Ah, well. Who wants to live forever? I signed up. I also found myself facing a cute little female Trynnie named Sparkle, who was enlisted with the Umpani as a ranger. I asked her to join up, and she agreed. She was much lower level than the rest of the party, but I figured she'd level up quickly (and she did - she quickly moved from being a liability to an asset, and gaining four levels by the time we left Mt. Gigas).

The niftiest thing about the Umpani Base - and the caves nearby - is that there are a ton of locked and trapped lockers and chests to practice my larcenous skills upon. I think I gained another four or five points of locks & traps skill just from robbing my comrades-in-arms blind.

My first task was to go through training. Great. Here we've been battling untold monsters and the robot-soldiers of the Dark Savant, and now we need basic training. It involved an obstacle course - with some death traps! The Umpani don't play around! It culminated with a battle against training dummies. Who fought back in lethal (but not very difficult) combat. Again, the Umpani don't play around. Surviving training evidently promoted us to second class rank.

Our new task? Kill a T'Rang, and bring back a body part as evidence. Oh, hey, didn't I have an arm left over from a previous adventure? I pulled it out of my back pocket, and impressed the sergeant enough that he promoted us again, and sent us into the Mount Gigas Caves for more training.

Okay. The Mount Gigas Caves - there are some optional (I think) tunnels in those caves that I decided to explore. This was off in a section that warned that it was unexplored territory - and it was not lit by electric lights or patrolled by squads of Umpani. It was a maze of twisty passages all alike, in the lower caves. I spent about five hours exploring these caves. It wasn't the size of these caves, so much as the frequency of combat. It was like the Arnika Road all over again. Fortunately, in the confines of the caves, it was harder for the larger monsters to surround us, which caused them to bunch up in front of us where cone-shaped spells could do all kinds of damage against them. This was good. But with the scaling difficulty level, we now encounter a lot of monsters in every combat. Monsters that take their time to attack, sometimes. However, there are so many nifty items to be found (including some much-needed spell books), it really was worthwhile.

One nice thing we discovered while searching through the caves was a teleporter which took us back out to one of those houses along the Arnika Road that I couldn't get into when I first began the game. Finally! While that alone was kinda cool, what was cooler was the weaponry I found there. We found a really powerful bard instrument that I cannot yet play, and a musket. The musket was much more powerful than the old zip gun that the Rattkin gave us, so my fighter is now pretty potent in long-range combat.

My real goal was in the upper caves. There were some monsters in the patrolled section of the upper caves as well, which led to some nice, long combats with Umpani contributing to the fight. It is a peculiarity of turn-based combat that the more allies one has in a battle, the longer the battle actually takes in real-time ... quite the opposite of how it "should" be. At least the magical energies of flame and frost can tell the difference between friend and foe, and magically ignore any friendly units in the explosive radius. It feels pretty weird to drop explosions at one's own feat to clear out a surrounding enemy, but it works.

To get to the actual training, we had to fix a malfunctioning computer. Fortunately, it just had wires in the back that had to be plugged in to their proper location. I like the Umpani computers. On my computer, when things break, it normally means spending hundreds of dollars on a replacement card, or even worse - experiencing that horrible feeling in the pit of the stomach that says, "My last hard drive backup was made about NEVER ago... I'm so screwed!" Here, they just have wires fall out.

I guess that's why it's called a fantasy RPG.

I had two training tasks. The first was to beat the crap out of five monsters and to pick up the flags they were guarding.

This task was pretty straightforward and easy, until we met the Djinn at the end. This guy was like six levels above us, and did half our hit points in damage (and took a quarter of our stamina) with every hit. And made us insane. I figured we were dead meat... until my gadgeteer - the most useless member of our party - got a lucky shot with his omnigun that actually knocked the Djinn unconscious in the second round. He never woke back up - though even unconscious, it took us three more rounds to kill him. He was just that tough. My gadgeteer's middle name must be "David," I guess. Oh, and we got a Djinn eye from him, which is a component that the Rapax weaponsmith needed. So, cool.

But that particular training session baffled me. Can you imagine the job interview for those monsters? "Okay, this is a one week contract. You are to guard a flag in a dead-end cave. You just kill any recruits that come your way. Oh, and don't mind all the dead bodies of your predecessors."

The second part of the training was to use a rocket launcher they issued us. Once again, we had training dummies - down a firing range this time. Unfortunately, the rocket launcher - when it hit - did so little damage to the target dummies that they actually had to be hit by something like 100 rockets before they were actually destroyed. I'm serious - we're talking like level 1 fireball damage here. Weak!

What it really turned into was a chance for everybody to practice their ranged attacks. The combat took forever. After the nearly useless rocket launcher had run out of its current ammunition supply, I switched it out for the cool musket we found in the house on Arnika Road. I put the combat into "continuous combat" mode, and took a snack break. I came back, fixed up a couple of characters who had run out of ammo, and then let them keep on going while I read a book. Eventually - after just under a short chapter of the book I was reading - the dummies were all shattered under the arrows, stones, bolts, and bullets of the party. At least we got our ranged skill levels up.

After all that was over, we had to report back to Lt. Balbrak for more orders. Our ordeal in the Mt. Gigas caves was - at least for now - coming to an end

Taking Design Notes

There was a classic (or is it "trite") puzzle in the caves that involved a pressure plate. When the pressure plate was stepped on, it opened a secret door - which closed immediately after you stepped off (to try and go through the secret door, for example.) The solution is old, but still fun - just drop something else on the plate to hold it open. I used a leather hat. Apparently it doesn't take MUCH weight. It's an old puzzle, but it's still fun.

There's a "leap of faith" section in the Umpani caves that I enjoyed - a cave in that reveals a long drop below with no known way to return to the current level. It led to an underground lake, a couple of combats, and plenty of loot. The exit opened a secret "trap door" back up to the caves. This is another staple of heroic fantasy RPGs.

One of the problems with the less-linear gameplay (and scaled difficulty) is that the treasure and challenges don't match up. The rocket launcher would have been extremely handy back when we were level 5 or so. By the time we got it (around level 12), the thing was almost useless.

The maze of the Umpani caves is basically filler. Now, I can't complain too much, because it seems to be strictly optional. But the high combat density (and combats that would take several minutes to complete) and random encounters made me feel like I was playing a Final Fantasy game.

And as I've stated before in this blog - once upon a time I used to hate mixing fantasy and sci-fi. But I find now that I don't mind it as much. In fact, I'm really enjoying it.

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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Sunday, September 07, 2008
Another Interview With The Rampant Coyote - Part I
The Alley of Infinite Angles has part I of an interview with me about... uh... indie stuff. It's actually in two parts - part 2 will be arriving shortly. We talk a lot about the indie side of the gaming industry and how it relates to mainstream 'n stuff.

I don't know why you'd want to hear more about me and my shouting from the ol' soapbox, but in case you are that kind of masochist, feel free to check it out:

Interview With Yours Truly at Alley of Infinite Angles, Part 1

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Saturday, September 06, 2008
Proud Geek Papa
My daughter found the sheet music to the song Still Alive, from Portal. She's upstairs practicing it right now.

It just doesn't get much better (or geekier) than this.


Friday, September 05, 2008
Business Rule for Indies
I've been reading (well, listening to) the autobiography of Jack Welch, who was the phenomenally successful CEO and chairman of GE from 1981 to 2001. When talking about taking his company into the "dot-com" era, he makes the following statement:

"... I almost forgot a cardinal rule of business: Never let anyone come between you and your customers or your suppliers. Those relationships take too long to develop and are too valuable to lose."

He was talking about how they almost went with an aggregator (what we'd call a "portal") to handle their online plastics business for them.

Now, this probably isn't totally applicable when talking about companies that have no customers to begin with. But I wonder if this is a "rule" that many indie game developers are completely ignorant of. It is one thing to know a rule or guideline, and break it with good reason. Indies (and good writers) do that all the time. But it's another matter entirely to be ignorant of the rule and to not know when you might be making a mistake.


Thursday, September 04, 2008
Time To Welcome Our Cylon Masters
No matter which way November goes, we're gonna have a Cylon in the Oval Office.

Pretty much explains everything, doesn't it?


Soldak Announces Kivi's Underworld
Soldak Entertainment, the developer of the award-winning action/strategy indie RPG Depths of Peril, has announced its next big thing: "Kivi's Underworld."

Steven Peeler (owner of Soldak) describes the game as a "casual hack & slash game." You can play as one of twenty different playable characters as you explore the underworld, battling dark elves, recruiting more allies to your cause, and rebuilding the lost city of Defiance. You can switch characters between any of the thirty adventures, so you aren't stuck playing a single character through an entire campaign. In addition, the website promises the ability to create your own character classes and new adventures, or share those made by other players.

Kivi's Underworld is designed to be played in short, fifteen-to-thirty minute increments, and promises to be very easy to learn. Beyond that, it will offer four different difficulty levels. The game takes place in the same world as Depths of Peril, sharing the same general backstory but new geography.

Kivi's Underworld is scheduled to be released this winter - however, Steven notes that it'll be released "when it's done," so that's only an estimate.


Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Wizardry 8 Part VII: Ratts!
This is a continuation of my blogging a first-time play-through of Wizardry 8. The game may be seven years old - ancient in computer-game years - but I'm finding it to be incredibly fun and involving... a gem that I am kicking myself for overlooking in 2001.

So I'm at a place called Marten's Bluff. As I got there, Vi commented about how she used to play there as a girl - before the T'Rang moved in. I guess she was a real butt-kicker as a little girl, to get past all those monsters along the road and in the swamp to get there. Apparently, the castle was there before the insect-like T'Rang got there, but they went ahead and moved in - mostly in the underground warrens.

My initial meeting didn't go well. The castle entryway is blocked off by some transparent walls, and there's an elevator that takes me down to a room with some T'Rang that insist I'm going to work for them. I just have to agree to do that. The room's only exit is some kind of biometric lock that requires a T'Rang's hand-print to open. They drive a hard bargain.

I searched around the castle, and found a catapult just outside the walls. At first, I got a crazy idea of using it to launch me into the castle. Dumb idea, I know. It didn't work. However, when I got it to fire, the arm broke through the crossbeam and crashed into the top of the castle wall, forming a convenient ramp. Once inside, I found a dead T'Rang who had fallen victim to a booby-trap. His arm (with attached hand) was just LYING there, waiting to be picked up. How could I resist? There was little else in the upper castle area except a couple of encounters and forgotten items, so after unbarring the side gate (dodging the booby-trap to do so), I went back down the T'Rang elevator, and used the arm to get into the back rooms.

I met a scientist there who would talk to me once - but only if I bribed him - without me having signed up to join the T'Rang in their missions. I also found a portrait which concealed a secret door. Behind the secret door was a heck of a lot of undead, which I apparently unleashed upon the entire T'Rang base. They didn't seem to mind much. There some storage rooms full of neat stuff, and Marten's hideout - where I found the last page of his diary.

There was one more section where I couldn't visit. It was guarded by a number of T'Rang who told me to leave or face the consequences. Three times I tried to violate their orders, and three times I got my butt soundly handed to me.

So I decided to knock it off - for now - and see what the Umpani had to offer. I'd heard they were past the northern wilderness - where I'd acquired the diamond - so I set off that way.

While en route, much happened.

First of all, I was paid a visit by the Dark Savant. He was torqued off about the Astral Dominae (the artifact from the LAST game) being a fake. At least he said he was the Dark Savant. It was dark and raining, so I couldn't tell too well. At first he seemed ready to wipe me out (many things in the swamp were quite capable of that, thankyouverymuch) - but then realized he had the wrong folks. Such a nice guy, the Dark Savant, admitting to a mistake like that. He basically said, "Oh, sorry, didn't mean to do that" and teleported away, leaving the fake artifact on the ground. Cool. No clue what I'll do with it yet.

Then - I found myself hanging out with the Trynnies again. They are an okay bunch. So okay, in fact, that I decided to go ahead and try and solve their rat problem. They have a problem with giant rats in the trees. No big deal. Isn't that like a standard 1st level quest for all fantasy RPGs?

I found some vines in the sanctuary that I was able to join together to form a big vine, and used it to repair the broken bridge to the rat infestation. My task was to take out their "breeders." No big deal.

Much to my surprise - they were talking about Rattkin, not giant rats. Since I have something of a roguely disposition myself, I opted not to fight the breeders. Though I had to think - the Trynnies were good friends, but the Rattkin had never done anything for me. Except try to get me in trouble. Still, that wasn't a reason to get into a war with them.

I found the "gawdfather" of the Rattkin, the "Don." He said he could get me the real Astral Dominae. I told him to knock himself out. Apparently, he already had it, because when I came by again only a short time later, he had it. For about four times more money than I'd ever possessed. Woops.

On my way out, I found a key. Well, "found" in probably the same way the Don "found" the Astral Dominae. And - unsurprisingly - I'd found a locked door that couldn't be unlocked by my mad lock-picking skills. So I tried the key! It worked! And I was immediately attacked by two breeder rattkin and their archer companions.

Lemme tell you, the breeders were a lot tougher than I expected. Their spears did phenominal damage. It felt weird and uncomfortable, because they looked like they were about seven months pregnant. But hey, they were the ones who attacked me, without even asking me my name.

After than fight, however, the Rattkin in the village began attacking me on site. Except for the Don and his assistant, Milano. They were still okay with me paying them money. But fighting a bunch of rats across a bunch of rope bridges was - entertaining. Especially when the sniper-rats can insta-kill you with a single lucky shot.

I survived multiple rat attacks, and made it back to the Trynnie side of the tree. Not only were the Trynnies glad to see I'd succeeded on my "mission" (for which I still feel guilty), and rewarding me with experince points - and (for a small bribery fee) - the name of someone named Crock out in the swamp who knows how to get the OTHER artifact I'm looking for - the Destinae Dominus. Maybe he knows where Marten stashed it when he made his escape from Marten's Bluff when the HLL caught up with him.

There's a lot going on, and I feel like I'm only about halfway through things (based on the map in the manual and the places I've not been to yet).

After a tearful goodbye, I made my way along the deadly road to the Northern Wilderness to pay a visit to the Umpani, and see if they'll make me a better deal than the T'Rang.

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, September 02, 2008
Vacation's Over
Well, I probably wouldn't have minded another week of time off, but I'm starting the new job today. And while I wouldn't have minded the week off, my bank account will no doubt appreciate me getting back in the saddle. The indie thing doesn't pay the bills for me yet.

I didn't get nearly as much done as I'd... well, I won't even say that I hoped to do, because I knew the target was unrealistic when I set it. But I did get some serious gaming in. I have another post pending for Wizardry 8, as I got a lot of time in playing that one. The combats are admittedly pretty time-consuming, and so I find myself with hours having passed enjoyably by, but without much to tell about it. I also made a HUGE mistake (and I knew it was a mistake when I made it), and bought the Twilight of the Arnor expansion for Galactic Civilizations II, and I also started reading another Harry Dresden novel. They were mistakes because I knew how much time they'd suck out of my life. Yet I still miraculously found time to work on Frayed Knights, go to the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival (well, one evening of it), and party with friends on Labor Day (yesterday) - which included watching the first Harry Potter with the RiffTrax commentary (one of their better ones, IMO - very funny!), and playing Rock Band.

So - yeah. Gaming Happened. What did you expect?


Monday, September 01, 2008
Torque Makes Me Feel Stupid
I've been a professional programmer for nearly 15 years. I've worked with several game engines, programmed in lots of different languages, and done everything from GUI development to AI to assembly-language pipeline optimization for the dual Hitachi SH-4 CPUs in the Sega Dreamcast.

Yet the Torque Game Engine still makes me feel stupid. I've been working with the thing - on and off - for years, and I still don't fully understand its architecture. I'm not sure anybody does, anymore. Maybe Melv May.

Not that it's a bad code base. Anything but. I've worked with a lot of game and graphics engines, and they all have their warts. Every single one.

But I just did a merge of the existing "FrankenEngine" for Frayed Knights, and tried to merge it with the new, updated code and the "AFX" advanced lighting / particle effects code. It seemed to merge pretty easily.

One might say... too easily.

Now I'm trying to play Sherlock with code that ALMOST works, but is completely unplayable. Catching something like a crash bug is easy. Catching where something somewhere is silently failing and just not working is a lot trickier. So I'm feeling awfully stupid right now, because if you aren't totally sure of why stuff works, it's a lot harder to figure out why it is not working.


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