Tales of the Rampant Coyote
Adventures in Indie Gaming!

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Friday, July 31, 2009
Utah Indie Game Night - Summer 2009
We had another of our quarterly Indie Game Nights tonight. Held at ITT Tech this time, the event was PACKED. We pretty much ran out of seats, but I'm not sure how many people that were there were simply ITT students who decided to be participants in the event just long enough to scarf down some of the pizza ITT provided. Hopefully they picked up some useful ideas and info in the process!

The night began with Chris Evans giving a presentation on making games for the iPhone. He provided a pretty good overview of the process, the numbers, and how much money iFart made early in the lifecycle of the iPhone. Unfortunately, the acoustics in the room we were in sucked, so those of us in the back couldn't hear him very well. Maybe we should all chip in for a cheap sound system (maybe a kid's karaoke machine) or something for next time.

I was sitting next to Herb and Dan Flower of Mythyn Interactive / LinkRealms, and Steve Taylor of NinjaBee. NinjaBee has just completed two games for the iPhone, including a version of Outpost Kaloki. Since I don't have an iPhone, he brought up the game on his and let me try it out. I was pretty impressed with how the game looked. One issue Steve brought up was that at Casual Connect a few days ago, they'd mentioned how something like 120 iPhone games PER DAY were being released now, and that's double what it was only three months ago. Any game appearing on the iPhone just disappears from the top of the app store very quickly. Even just shotgunning crappy titles won't work... everything gets buried under a deluge of competition in no time.

It seemed like quality was irrelevant in sales, and only games with very novel or controversial titles were actually making any money at all on the iPhone. Herb suggested something outrageous like "a game about crushing puppies." Steve responded that they'd brainstormed tons of similarly outrageous game ideas, and found that every one of their original, extreme ideas had already appeared on the iPhone - sometimes six times over. To prove his point, he immediately went to the App Store, did a search, and found a game about - wait for it - slaughtering puppies. Not exactly puppy-crushing, but a close enough match.

Crazy Stuff.

After the presentation, I got a chance to talk to a bunch of folks about their games. Some highlights:

Darkened Dreams 2 - by Curtis Mirci & Peter Anderson. The game is still looking a lot like it did last time, but the toolset keeps looking impressive. A lot of the work is "under the hood" right now in this one.

Tank General - I didn't get to play this one, as there was always someone else playing it. Best I could tell was that it was something of a Flash-based action / tactics wargame involving modern-ish ground warfare.

Cubix.Collect - This was a very simple but compelling game from Paul Milham. You control a 3D, line-drawn colored cube amidst a ton of other 3D, line-drawn colored cubes travelling across the screen. When your cube touches a cube of a similar color, it absorbs it and grows (and sometimes changes color). If it touches one of a different color, the other cube also dissappears but your cube also shrinks. If it shrinks too far, the game ends. As the game progresses, the other cubes change speed, direction (sometimes coming in multiple directions), and possibly other factors. The brilliant balance is that as you start losing, the game gets easier (since your cube shrinks and becomes easier to dodge non-color-matched cubes), and as you succeed it gets a little harder.

Radioactive Joe - By Carson Barlow, this was a game about a hick who becomes a hero. Or something like that. Unfortunately, it was running on a pretty slow computer. But it is kind of an action / adventure that he created as a capstone project for the game design program at ITT.

Kiten - by Josh Jones. This is a game about machine learning - the enemies respond and adapt to your style of play. In Flash, even. While it's far from polished or complete, it was interesting to play and see how the enemies change over time. You can check it out yourself at this link.

LinkRealms - While Dan and Herb weren't showing their game this time, I had a good chance to talk with them for a bit about how things have been progressing. They've been in a closed beta for a while, and it exposed a bunch of flaws in the game. In particularly, they are having trouble with retention. While they've got an incredibly cool, detailed, multiplayer world, they realized they needed some more long- and short-term gameplay to keep players engaged. This is the value of a real beta period, folks. So they are implementing some very intriguing stuff. They are definitely trying to do some things that are well outside the bounds dictated by the 800 pound gorilla, World of Warcraft. Breeding AI - with genetically exchanged systems of linked behavior "circuits" is one aspect they are exploring. As well as player-created - but not fully player-controlled - religions / cults. Sorta like a guild with some AI-controlled divine intervention and quest creation.

There was also a game being played on Wii controllers about dancing in a girl's talent show or something. I don't know what it was, but it was pretty popular - a bunch of gaming geek guys getting into making girls do fan kicks. And there was a game that involved (among other things) knocking over an evil (giant?) garden gnome. My brother Brian was there, showing some artwork for a new remake of an older 2D RPG they had developed a couple of years ago. There were some other folks who closed up shop before I was able to check out what they were working on, unfortunately. It was a busy (but awesome) night!

I also met a really incredible freelance 2D artist, Gabrielle Long, who has been looking for some indie gaming contracts and possibly a full-time position with a game company here in Utah. If you are an indie developer looking for someone to do indie-priced contract work of very high quality - especially (but not necessarily) if you are doing games with an anime / manga "look" to them - you should check out her portfolio and get into contact with her.

The discussions going on during the event seemed to me to be where much of the action was at (as usual), and I'm sure I missed out on some great ones. We really need to set up a Utah Indie mailing list so we can continue to swap thoughts during the three months between each meeting!

The Utah Indie Night continues to be well attended, and a great chance to network and share games, knowledge, experiences, ideas, and pizza. I had a blast.

UPDATE: Vazor (Josh Jones) has a report on the event here. Greg will hopefully have one up very soon as well for this month - watch for it at his blog. (And here it is: Utah Indie Night Summer 2009 Writeup)


Thursday, July 30, 2009
How Indie Games Took On the World (and Won)
I am not sure if the article answers its proposed question, but it's an amusing read over at Games Radar:
"Guys like Dylan, like 2D Boy, Edmund McMillen and Vic Davis are changing gaming as we know it – evolving it into something new and endlessly diverse, made from love and wonder rather than commerce. And yet, at the same time we’re going backwards – this is a bigger, bolder return to the way games development once was, when tiny teams free of publisher interference were releasing some new slice of crazy wonder every week."
How Indie Games Took On the World (and Won) at Games Radar

I think the big take-away from this article is understanding just how impossible it is to categorize or characterize the indies, or define the One True Path to indie success. You have some claiming its a tight-knit community, obviously excluding all the other indies like Vic Davis who are completely separate from that "scene."

Indie is as indie does. Really, when we talk indie, we're talking about all the outliers from the traditional, mainstream, "one true way" of publishing and distributing games that has existed since the early / mid 80's - borrowed heavily from the music and print publishing industries. Trying to generalize a group that is defined as not being in a particular subset is gonna get tricky.

But it's cool to read about how many different approaches there are that have so far managed to work. The one troubling bit is the amount of dependence that seems to be growing on aggregators like Steam and Direct2Drive. Not that this is nearly as bad (so far) to developers as the physical media publication business, but it does give those channels a good deal of power to dictate terms.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009
A Really Short Horror Film
Could also explain why it's hard to sustain suspense / horror in video games:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Payin' the Indies
Reverend Anthony offers his Rev Rant about donating to indies for small games:

An excerpt:
"We're willing to pay $60 on the chance that a game will be good, so long as it's a big budget, mainstream title. I mean, we may have paid a demo of a game like Assassin's Creed, or whatever, but when we pay that 60 bucks, we're still gambling. We don't know that it will be good. But we'll pay it anyway, because 60 (dollars) is the norm... But we won't pay a dime - not a f***ng dime - for a game that we just finished playing, even if it was fantastic. "
There are actually three different points here, and while I agree with two of them, I think the third one stumbles into human nature problems that just won't be fixed no matter how vociferously one makes his appeal.

And I haven't played Assassin's Creed, so I can't speak on that one with any authority.

The first point is that we can and should be creative with how we compensate people for making us games. I agree. The one-size-fits-all shrink-wrapped boxed-display-packaged physical goods model is a relic of an era that isn't quite dead yet, but it's probably in its twilight years as far as software (and other media) is concerned. Maybe we should be more creative. Certainly bypassing the middlemen and the physical package is part of it - but maybe we can do better.

But that is currently running into problems with his second point, which is the actual pricing of these little indie games (particularly when compared to mainstream titles). It's weird and counter-intuitive, but oftentimes people will agonize and debate more over paying $10 or $20 for a small indi game than they will paying $50 or $60 for a mainstream game. Or maybe it has something to do with the formality of the games business. Do people feel weird giving their money to some dude out in Nebraska over the Internet, but feel better handing their credit card to some overweight clerk at Game Stop to process because it's more conventional and seems more like a "real" business?

Maybe it's an expectation thing. Here in the U.S., we're accustomed to paying as much or more for a 24 ounce cup of carbonated beverage (which is mostly ice) at a restaurant as we'd pay for a big ol' 2-liter bottle in the grocery store. (And yes, we mix metric and English measurements like that all the time, too.) Because it's at a restaurant, our pricing expectations get reset.

Maybe the problem is we're now all programmed to expect games to be $50 - $60. If a game doesn't cost that much, then we automatically assume it's an inferior game, and an inferior game just isn't worth our money. Or, on the flip side, maybe people still think that just because it's on the Internet, it should be free. Case closed. A lame, emotional, knee-jerk reaction with very little logic to back it up, but that's the way it goes. Maybe. Or maybe that's just me (and I've been happily buying games for a while, so I'd assume I'm a little more "deprogrammed" than your average gamer).

This, I think, can be addressed over time. It's just expectations that need to be reset. Rants like this one help.

The third point he brings up is paying for the game after you have played it.

Some things in our world work that way. In labor / service businesses, you are often billed for a project after it is done. Larger projects might involve milestone payments along the way. But sometimes collecting on those charges can be so difficult that it's spawned its own industry. Psychologically, people are hard-wired to trade for those things that they want, not things that they already have.

I don't know if any amount of ranting is going to change human nature here. Shareware authors back in the late 80's and 90's tried - and failed - repeatedly to get conversions to go up without resorting to crippling features. But apparently, appealing to basic goodness and responsibility of human nature only works on about 5% of your potential customer base.

The rest need to be bribed.

I think while it's good to make the appeal to people to donate (even after the fact) and pay for these tiny but fun indie games - if for no other reason than to remind people that these may be labors of love, but they are most definitely LABORS that deserve compensation as much as fixing someone's roof or car or performing magic tricks at a birthday party. But ultimately, I think the failure is on the developer side. A game developer has to have to have a plan in place in order to profit from those psycho hours that they work when they could have been relaxing and spending time with their family like normal human beings.

Which brings us back to the first point - creatively compensating developers. There are some really weird, interesting ideas out there that could be explored that haven't been. A street performer accepting donations might also accept requests from those who donate. Gabe Newell's idea of gamers being investors might have some merit, too. What about custom endings? Some of these ideas don't scale too well to selling thousands of copies (let alone millions that the mainstream shoots for), but they might scale just enough that they work for indies.

But the biggest thing we have to get over, I think, is the expectation that a game has to exhibit all the graphical glitziness and slickness of an expensive mainstream production to be worth our time and money. I'm not sure how that illusion got into place, and I know I've gotten way more value out of a $20 or $25 indie game than from a LOT of mainstream titles costing more than twice as much (will I ever finish Mass Effect?). Yet I still experience some irrational hesitation at times when it comes to indie games, though I prefer to chalk it up to the fact that I don't have enough time to finish all the games I have already bought...

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Monday, July 27, 2009
The Quest for Gaming's Citizen Kane(s)
Over the last several years, a lot of people have asked about when video games will have our "Citizen Kane" - the artistic masterpiece that legitimizes gaming as an art form the way that movie legitimized cinema.

Over at GamesRadar, Mikel Reparaz argues that Citizen Kane's importance was not recognized when it was first released, nor did it really legitimize film. It's importance was in its influence over cinema, and the groundwork it laid for years to come for other films to take better advantage of its medium.

Taken from that perspective, Mikel argues that have already had several games that could qualify as Citizen Kane's analog in gaming:

The Citizen Kanes of Videogames

He submits his picks for the 25 potential "Citizen Kanes" of the videogame world. He includes Ultima III, Half-Life 1 and 2, The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Brothers, EverQuest, Donkey Kong, Sim City, Call of Duty 4, Metal Gear Solid, Doom, King's Quest, Starcraft, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and many others in his list that sounds like it came from the "Who's Who" of videogames.

Though I was more than a little surprised that Sid Meier's Civilization didn't make the cut. Or The Sims. Devil May Cry was more pioneering and influential than those? I don't think so.

Still, I don't know if many (or even any) of the above games would qualify as being in the same league as Citizen Kane. But I do tend to agree with the author concerning the search for gaming's Citizen Kane. I don't think that the day after Citizen Kane was released, the world changed and people started taking movies seriously. Even today, cinema is generally considered a "lower" form of art than live theater (and television is considered even lower than that - though it wouldn't be hard to argue that there's been more quality content produced for the small screen in recent years than the big screen).

I think that we will instead need to look to time and the cumulative effect of games that manage to break new ground and provoke thought as well as provide entertainment, rather than a single shining example that changes all the rules Maybe we'll get one game at some point (or maybe we already have, and haven't recognized it yet) that manages to do a little bit of everything right which we can set up as a figurehead, but I think that we're looking for a single Citizen Kane of videogames in vain.

(Hat tip to RPGWatch for the link)

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Saturday, July 25, 2009
More 2D Game Development Libraries / Engines
Just a short note that more 2D game engines / libraries / languages have been added to the list in the forums:

2D Game Engines / SDKs


Friday, July 24, 2009
Best CRPG of the Last Five Years?
So we old-school gamers like to grouse about how they don't make 'em like they used to, and how today's games are pretty-but-dumb, etc. etc. But as much as I enjoy wearing the curmudgeon hat from time to time, I've still enjoyed some of the newer games. Maybe they haven't replaced my old favorites completely, but they still ranked up there pretty highly.

So what about you? What do you think about games released since, oh, let's say 2004. Let's make 2004 the cutoff. Five years. So:

What was the best PC RPG to be released in the last five years?

How about the best console RPG, if you have an opinion?

What's been the best *indie* RPG released in the last five years?

Why was it the best?

These questions will be on your final exam....


Thursday, July 23, 2009
Indie is to Mainstream as Band is to Orchestra?
A few days ago Tadhg Kelly wrote a post at Gamasutra likening the difference between indies game makers and mainstream developers today to the relationship between small bands and orchestras.

As he explains:
"The games industry used to be a place for bands. In real terms a lot of the old indie studios like id, Bullfrog, Sensible Software and a thousand others were really just hothouse rooms with a few guys and girls working on their albums games and having a go.

"Nowadays the games industry is all about orchestras. A studio of 80 staff with production managers and milestones is not a band in which weird things happen, it's a symphony in which everyone has their music sheet and most are expected to play in time. It's a very thought-driven discipline sort of environment, with books on how to design, system architectures and serious tools. Which, if you're making big games, is probably necessary."
While the analogy breaks down in a lot of areas, it's a pretty good one.

The perception of small popular music bands being chaotic and wild is more a public image thing - most professional musicians (at least the successful ones) have a pretty serious discipline when it comes to their craft. Likewise, any serious commercial indie game that makes it to release isn't going to get there without a reasonable amount of professionalism and discipline on the part of the game makers. As a friend and former professional game developer used to say of his job, "It's not all fun and games. Sometimes its just games."

There's one other point I'd take issue with. Kelly writes, "So. Young game developers. Listen Up, for I have only one lesson teach: Form bands. Don't get swept up in orchestras. Bands are the only way to make your dreams happen. "

While I think there's less merit in it today than perhaps ten years ago, I still consider the education I received as a professional game developer invaluable. Today I might be more cautious, as the mainstream game development experience might also suck out a young game developer's love of games (and will to live) within the first year. And teach bad habits. But overall, I think having a couple of shipped projects under one's belt and up-close-and-personal exposure to how the professionals get it done is worth more than a thousand books and an equivalent number of classroom hours spent studying the subject.

In addition, there's a lot more to the mainstream games biz than the AAA XBox 360, PS3, and Wii games market. There's a lot of game development going on under the traditional model than that, and much of it consists of smaller teams working on lower-budget titles. Yeah, working on the next Barbie game might not be what you aspire to as a game developer, but it probably has more akin to the indie experience than working on the next Halo or Gears of War.

But yeah - with a few exceptions, the only reasonably sure way to make your own dream game happen is to go indie.

And while indies don't have the lock on innovation, it is amusing to see the changing of the times: the big game publishers are now starting to make their own clones of successful indie games... So which side is driving the industry now?


Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Day Job Fun That Has (So Far) Not Gotten Me Fired
Well, it has not quite been a year since I left the mainstream games business (again) for greener pastures in the simulator industry. I'm enjoying it a LOT more than at my last games job (though I still miss workin' at NinjaBee sometimes... though I do not miss the commute).

Apparently, I'm something of a generalist at work, as they've had me working on little bits of everything software-related so far - overhauling the audio software, installing the development environment and all libraries on new systems, converting older software to use the new IO system, overhauling the motion-base code, and a bit more stuff that would probably only make sense if you know the software.

My recent tasks have included the motion-base software, which was a little intimidating, as we've got cabs with a whole bunch of big plasma displays that each cost more than I take home in a month - not to mention lots of other expensive equipment. And a person, sometimes. Normally, if you have a bug that causes a crash in your software, it's no big deal. When working with the motion system, a crash is semi-literal.

Intimidating, but interesting to play with. Here's kinda what they look / move like:

So far, I've only had about three "incidences," and I haven't been fired over any of them yet.

The first was minor. Apparently somebody had set a power supply (like you have for a laptop computer) on one of the rails of the cab and forgotten about it, as it had been idle for a couple of weeks while we were working on other things. My first tests didn't cause enough motion to move it much. But as I was testing the yaw upper bounds, the force managed to hurl the power supply about four feet. I think it still works, though.

A couple of days later, as I was testing a sound bug as well as some motion issues, I inadvertently discovered a short in our safety interlocks. The motion system is not supposed to activate while the stairs are down, but in this case there was a short in the wiring that was telling the interlocks that the stairs were always in the "up" position. I was paying attention to the racket caused by the sound bug (it was starting a new collision sound every frame), and so I didn't notice the bad noise the stairs made when the motion platform raised up with the stairs still hooked onto it. Fortunately, the damage was minimal and easily repaired, and the hardware guys not only found the short but actually improved the interlock system so nothing like that will even come close to happening again. But that happened late on a Friday afternoon, so I had all weekend to stew over whether or not I'd have to clean out my desk come Monday.

And then I discovered what an uninitialized vector can do. An uninitialized variable is a horrible source of bugs in software, as it has never had an actual value assigned to it yet - so it uses whatever value happened to have been in that memory location at the time. Often, that value just happens to be a zero or something, which might behave very well. But then you get some value like -32768 or something like that, which might only happen when you are, say, running a release build (without debugging information) outside of the IDE. And with your project manager inside the cab at the time. When that particular value (994.00, in this case) ends up being assigned to the speed at which the motion base is supposed to "bump" to the left.

In feet per second.

On the very first frame.

Of course, the motion base has limiters to how far it can move, so it only yanked over at its maximum speed to its maximum deflection. Otherwise, we might need a new project manager. And I might need a new job. But it definitely gave us both some unexpected excitement the moment I hit the "run" button.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Frayed Knights: Doors at 2 AM
This isn't much of an update so much as a development diary sorta thing talking to myself about developing Frayed Knights. Any value in this post whatsoever to anybody is purely conicidental.

I know how bad my posts get when I write them very late at night (like 2 AM or later). So I should probably be terrified of what my code 'n stuff is looking like when I am working on the game that late. Especially when I catch myself nodding off in the middle of development.

That's a pretty clear sign that I'm wasting time and effort. But I had some goals set for myself that I really wanted to achieve - even if, in the end, I only hit the abbreviated version of the list.

It can be astonishing to me just how much time gets consumed - even when I'm wide awake - doing something simple like placing doors in doorways. The allure of a tile-based engine becomes pretty clear as I'm tweaking the size, the angle, and the position of the collision volume (which, in this engine and the way I'm handling things, has to be a completely separate entity from the door). I find myself spending something like 8 minutes per door.

On a freakin' DOOR. Yeah, something that in a tile-based system would amount to, "which of the eight door styles do I choose." A 30-second job. And this is just for doors that aren't locked or trapped or blocked off...

How many of these doors am I gonna need in my game? Ye gods.... There are some things I can do to improve things, like making sure doorways are a more standard size. Uh, and always making doorways axis-aligned (nope, that ain't gonna happen). If I was reusing a lot of geometry, I could make some kind of a "hinge" entity on the interior objects that could be pulled out and used for door positioning information (or even automatically spawn the doors). But without significant reuse of interior sections, I don't see that saving much time.

But barring any breakthrough, putting in 20 generic, unadorned, pre-created doors into a location is gonna take me something like 3 hours. Much more as I add traps 'n locks 'n stuff.

Horrible? No. But the part of me that used to create modules for Neverwinter Nights and Forgotten Realms Unlimited Adventures back in the day is gritting his teeth.

Unfortunately, this sorta thing is about 90% of game development.

It ain't sexy; it ain't all that fun; it's a lot of butt-in-chair work that just needs to get done.


Monday, July 20, 2009
Game Remakes, Re-Releases, and Re-Imaginings
Jeff Vogel of Spiderweb Software has posted an article over the weekend about one of the major benefits of a developer having the rights to their own intellectual property (IP) - something of a rarity outside of indie gaming: The Joy of Re-Releasing Old Games

This topic can be a little bit divisive, and Jeff does a good job of addressing some of these concerns.

It's amusing to me that our little hobby has become so big and has enough history that the idea of delving back into it has finally had its time come. And I think it is a good thing for game players as well as the game developers. Well, I guess I mean the "IP holders." Because in general - in mainstream - the developers don't own the IP they create and so they get jack squat for benefits.

But there are three different approaches that we could talk about here: Re-releases, remakes, and re-imaginings.

I've shelled out quite a few greenbacks over the last year on older games that have been ported or re-jiggered for modern hardware. XBLA, GOG.com, WiiWare, and GameTap all have some great old classics that have been returned from the past via emulation and maybe just a touch of enhancement (such as with XBLA's achievements being added). I remember in 1996 or so picking up "The Kilrathi Trilogy" --- the older Wing Commander games retrofitted to work under Windows 95 - with some enhancements to sound and music on top.

That's a classic re-release to me: A re-launch of an old game for new audiences and new technology, but with very few - principally cosmetic - changes.

Then you've actually got remakes. To me, this is a massive overhaul of the original codebase. A lot of fan-created projects (alas, many of which get a Cease-And-Desist just as they approach completion) are attempts to "remake" old games with new and improved graphics, sound, interfaces, and bug-fixes. It kinda sounds to me that this is the direction Jeff Vogel is going with Avernum (I never played the original Nethergate, so I can't tell if his recent re-release was really more of a "remake," but I assume so).

While I use the term for the lack of a better word, I don't think it necessarily implies a complete re-creation of an old game from scratch. I mean, if nothing else, you are basing the new game on old gameplay and concepts; often existing art and sound; and possibly existing code as well. For me, a "remake" is simply a massive overhaul of the original code. The recent release of The Secret of Monkey Island - Special Edition for XBLA and PC falls squarely in this category. I think a few "platinum edition" releases of games fall into this category as well.

And this is probably the category that generates the most complaints - as well as plenty of fan requests. How many people would love nothing more than a visual and UI overhaul of a game like X-Com or older Ultima games? Yet many gamers - convinced that "newer is always better" like the marketers keep telling us - consider this a rip-off. Apparently major overhauls of old games should be given away for free or something.

This is a fairly recent concept in games. Game makers are sometimes going back to classic series, hitting the "reset" switch, and making a game that could qualify as a sequel, except that it has cut all sense of continuity with the previous game(s) and starts fresh. The PS3 game Warhawk and the upcoming reboot of the Mechwarrior franchise might both be considered re-imaginings of classic games (or game series). Perhaps Spiderweb's own Avernum could be considered a re-imagining of the Exile series.

This is a fairly risky move with intellectual property. The reason you are using the old property is that there is an existing fan base and the developers do not want to violate or jeopardize that goodwill. Yet the whole point of the re-imagining is to reboot the series and jettison all the old baggage and start fresh with new ideas and a new vision that will grab new audiences. If you go too far, you might as start over fresh with a new IP. Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes is a soon-to-be-released game for the DS which just leaves me scratching my head as to why they bothered to slap the "Might & Magic" label... it sounds like some marketing idiot's lame idea that they slapped in at the end of development.

Where I Stand
As a fan, I think I'm not too far from the norm. When I find a game (or novel, or movie, or TV show) that I love, I find myself wanting, "More of the same, but different." I'm also a bit of a retro-gamer, and I usually don't find it terribly difficult to see past antique graphics and interfaces to enjoy an older game. Usually.

So I'm actually a bit of a fan of all three approaches. I do not believe that newer is necessarily better - and I am happy modern gamers now have a chance to the games that are the ancestors of (and in some limited aspects, superior to) the modern blockbusters they now enjoy.

I've been thrilled with the chance to finally delve into some older games that I'd had at best a passing acquaintance with in the past through some of the downloadable re-releases. I've forgotten much of The Secret of Monkey Island, so I'm enjoying the "Special Edition" almost as much as a brand new game. And I am really excited about the Mechwarrior franchise reboot, and would love to see the same thing happen to some other classic series (Wing Commander re-imagined, anybody? Just nothing at all like that horrible movie, please).

So - speaking as a player - I say, "bring 'em on."


Saturday, July 18, 2009
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I can't believe that Dumbledore was really Luke's father!

In all seriousness - I thought the movie was extremely well-made. Which is important, considering it was the weakest book in the series since the first. Pretty awesome ending, though, and I thought they nailed it in the movie. So while it's not the best of the movies so far, I won't blame that on the filmmakers.

Two more movies to go - one for each half of the final book. Makes sense. The first part of Deathly Hallows was great, and the ending was too - but the middle dragged horribly. So maybe they'll skip that part.


Friday, July 17, 2009
Three Survival Horror Games ... Cheap. And For Linux!
Well, here I go, pimping the competition again. Well, that's me I guess.

Andy Blower just let me know about a weekend deal on the Penumbra Collection... This weekend only, the entire trilogy can be had for $5 - total - on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

The Penumbra Collection is a trilogy of three physics-heavy "Horror Adventure" games. Swedish developer Frictional Games is a small, professional indie shop with a grand total of four developers who created this series (and have a new game in development). They are a tiny development house really focused on horror-based games, and I like to support that.

So, we're talking dirt-cheap entertainment here. And games with native support for Mac and Linux, which is unfortunately pretty rare.

Check Out the Penumbra Collection - On Sale This Weekend!

Penumbra Collection For Linux!

And For Mac!

And even a Windows edition!


Thursday, July 16, 2009
Frayed Knights: Edgar the Enchanter and the Endless Interlocutions
It's once again time for me to check in with the latest in development musings about Frayed Knights, the upcoming comedic indie RPG being made here at Rampant Games.

Meet Edgar

Here's the concept art for Edgar. Edgar is a magic user in the Heroes of Bastionne, rivals of the Frayed Knights. In keeping with the theme, Edgar is in many ways Chloe's equal and opposite. He's clear-headed, tactical, subtle, conservative, restrained, fabulously well-educated in the art and lore of magic but pretty badly lacking in terms of street smarts and field knowledge. He has an inflated opinion of his own skills, and how cool he looks in that blue robe. If Edgar was a player character in a dice-and-paper RPG, he'd be the guy run by a somewhat uncreative rules lawyer / power gamer.

Edgar is fun. He's just asking to be abused. I wish he had a bigger role in the game than he does, but it's still a secondary role primarily in the second act ("act" works better than "chapter" for my brain for some reason). But he's got some amusing dialogs.

Dying on Dialogs

Speaking of dialogs - Argh!!!!

Anybody who has ever made a significant module in Neverwinter Nights understands some of the challenge of creating a dialog. Let's take a simple case - an NPC whose sole purpose in life is to give the player a quest. I don't feel like making a flowchart, so here's kind of a bad pseudocodeish example of how their dialogs might fire:

IF (Is this the first time the NPC has met the PCs?)

Dialog 1: "Hi. I'm NPC X. Good to meet you. Oh, I've got this quest. Interested?"

* IF (The player accepts)

* * Dialog 2: "Awesome. Here are the quest details. See me when you are done."


* * Dialog 3: "Fine. I'll wait for some REAL adventurers to offer them this quest."

ELSE IF (the player refused the quest?)

* Re-offer the quest. Repeat dialog 2 or 3 based on player response.

ELSE IF (The player accepted the quest but hasn't made progress yet?)

* Dialog 4: "Good luck on your quest. And here's a reminder of how to get started, since you probably forgot"

ELSE IF (The player start the quest but hasn't finished yet?)

* Dialog 5: "Wow. I'm glad to hear you are progressing. Here's a hint to help you finish."

ELSE IF (The player finish the quest and hasn't talked to the NPC since doing so?)

* Dialog 6: "Ah, cool! You finished the quest. Here's your reward."


* Dialog 7: "Hello again. I've got nothing more to say to you. Toodles!"


So - seven dialogs to accomplish relatively little. Now, since this is Frayed Knights, I don't just leave it at a single sentence or two that the NPC speaks - I (usually) expand it into a two-way dialog between the NPC and the various party members. And I try to inject some lame humor where I can. This comes out to a surprisingly significant amount of writing.

BUT ... it gets worse. Far worse. Oh, so much worse.

Are You Talkin' To Me?

The above only handles a very simple case for an NPC that has only one purpose in the game. And that's currently how NPCs are behaving in-game. But that's inadequate. I'd like characters in the game to project at least a slightly deeper illusion of life than simply being a person-shaped quest dispenser.

But what happens if an NPC is part of another quest, and has some key dialog to say if the player happens to be on THAT quest. Oh, our IF / THEN / ELSE logic gets a lot more confusing doesn't it? What if the NPC has a minor role in two other quests, AND has a follow-up quest to offer after the first one? What if the player has somehow angered their NPC (perhaps by "failing" a quest), and we need multiple dialogs to deal with a honked-off and non-honked-off character?

And what if they are also a merchant?

Whatever the case, the relatively simple logic of the example falls apart pretty quickly when you end up with more complex states. That means (to me) setting up a queueing and prioritization system for NPC dialog - queueing up all the dialogs that apply to the current player / game / NPC state, and then dropping all low-priority dialogs unless they are the only dialog in the queue. (And if this made any sense to you at all, you are probably a more l33t programmer than I am, and you are also able to translate from Coyote-ese, which makes you a very dangerous person).

It also means tons more writing, much of which the player will never see on a single play-through. Considering the quality of my writing, you can probably count that as a blessing.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Tales of Monkey Island - Party Like It's 1991!
I have finished the first episode of Tales of Monkey Island - The Launch of the Screaming Narwhal. This marks the return of a series I really loved back in the classic era of graphic adventure games. And it's been developed by indie development shop Telltale Games, licensed from LucasArts.

So how was it?

I enjoyed it immensely. Uh, well, most of the time. There were some head-scratchers that became frustrating to me after a while. But that's part-and-parcel with the traditional adventure game experience. I encountered nothing quite as bad as the ridiculous, illogical monkey-wrench puzzle of Monkey Island 2 that stalled me out for months.

The movement interface took a little getting used to, and I still don't think I like it, but it's forgivable. I haven't played many other Telltale games, so I don't know if it is new to Tales of Monkey Island or something they've been doing for a while.

But I had high expectations, and I wasn't disappointed. It felt like a good ol' graphic adventure from the 1990s. But prettier.

The big question, of course, is this: Is it really Monkey Island?

It's been years since I played a Monkey Island game, and I think that "Monkey Island-ness" may be fairly subjective. For me, it's Guybrush Threepwood, the humorous dialog, and the over-the-top Piratey-ness that looked like it was lifted wholesale from the original Pirates of the Carribean ride at Disneyland (even taken a little literally at the end of Monkey Island 2). For the most part, it's there. I laughed quite a bit at the dialog. My daughter, who has never played any MI games, nearly fell out of her chair laughing when I clicked on the shrunken heads hanging from the ceiling and Guybrush commented, "Worst. Air Freshener. Ever."

And they even have Ron Gilbert's name in the credits. Twice, if I remember correctly (once for it being based on his characters, and once for his consulting on the project). The development team includes some of the original developer / talent types from the previous games. The voice acting is excellent.

So yeah. It seems to be a legitimate heir to the Monkey Island legacy to me. The franchise seems to be in good hands at Telltale. So long as they can maintain the same level of quality in later episodes, I'll be pleased.

Monkey Island is back, baby!


Tuesday, July 14, 2009
RPG Design: Encounters as Boundaries
In spite of having a week's vacation, I've still not yet beaten Aveyond: Lord of Twilight. I'm running around the world with a team that includes sunscreen-coated vampires and a main character with a bit of an attitude. And surprisingly, I frequently find my butt getting handed over to me. More than any other Aveyond game to date, this one is letting me get in a little over my head. (At least this one provides an escape mechanicsm from non-boss battles that are clearly going badly).

Granted, Aveyond: World of Twilight is still not a landmark of free-form exploration, but it seems to have at least reduced the size of the training wheels. Since the game is the third of the Aveyond series (or fourth, if you include Ahriman's Prophecy), perhaps it was assumed that the average player is a bit more experienced than in earlier installments.

Now, I don't exactly relish stepping into a cave and having my virtual lungs fed to me by guys who can do over half my total hitpoints in a love-tap. But it is a bit of a change of pace compared to many other games of the jRPG style, including earlier installments in this series. Even some of the more modern western RPGs have made a significant effort to keep the player from encountering anything clearly out of his or her league.

Granted, most RPGs (even the older western RPGs, which seemed to take great glee in beating you to death with your own legs) make some effort to at least geographically separate content beyond your lackluster pay-grade. If nothing else, you had to survive part of level 2 before you could make your way down to the more dangerous level 3. But, typically, they weren't over-zealous in preventing you from going to level 3 until you'd proven yourself on level 2 first. They didn't prevent you from shooting yourself in the foot and making a race for the bottom of the dungeon if you felt so inclined.

In a lecture at the Life, The Universe, and Everything symposium many years ago, author and game designer Tracy Hickman talked about approaching (pen-and-paper) adventure design with "soft limits" and "hard limits" to player actions. The "soft limits" were basic carrot-and-stick incentives to keep the players somewhere in the vicinity of the main storyline and the geography the designer had actually developed. Then, outside of those boundaries, you put harder limits - the impassible cliffs or whatnot (or, in CRPGs, what Shamus Young termed the "Plot-Driven Door") as a last resort.

His philosophy - which I adhere to - is that it is far better for the players to choose to follow the prepared course of the game than to be forced to do so.

More powerful enemies in CRPGs are one example of a (sometimes frustrating) "soft boundary." The player isn't prevented from making a run into the deep end of the pool while still in the early stages of the game, but the difficulty of the encounters may convince her that it's more profitable to go back to an earlier area to pick up some quest threads. But the possibility of heading into more dangerous territory remains open ... maybe to make a mad dash to another town that sells more powerful equipment. Why not? In the past, these kinds of self-initiated quests have proven to be among the highlights of several games I've played.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to the audience. A novice player will probably find himself frustrated if the game allows him to get in over his head, while a more veteran RPG player will probably recognize what is happening and adapt.

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Monday, July 13, 2009
Mechwarrior Reborn
Um. Is "Mechgasm" a word? 'Cuz if it is, I think I just had one...

This Video

This interview

Mechwarrior is BACK, baby. I particularly love the tips of the barrels of the Warhammer's PPCs glowing with heat after being fired.

I was a fan of the original Mechwarrior game (in it's EGA glory), and the Mechwarrior 2 series (MW2, Ghost Bear's Legacy, and MW2 Mercenaries) was almost an obsession. (And yes, I have the tabletop game too, plus several of the technical manuals). MW3 was enjoyable, but somehow lacked the punch of the earlier titles, and MW4 was - for me - unplayable.

So am thrilled by the idea of a "reboot." With Jordan Weisman on board, it sounds like they could have a winner on their hands. But all they have now is a proof of concept and some great ideas... so it's not something we'll be finding on store shelves or on Steam anytime soon. They don't even have a publisher yet.

The suggestion of emphasis on four-player cooperative multiplayer has me thrilled. I'm psyched, and I hope this pans out.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009
Surviving the Vacation
We just got back from vacation at Bear Lake, more-or-less in one piece. Which might be saying something.

First of all, our cabin had dual infestations of both bees and mice, which wasn't so much fun. My daughters seemed to bear the brunt of these problems. On the second night, my youngest daughter- on the top bunk - heard a noise in the air vent on the ceiling only a few inches from her face. She woke up her older sister (who was very grumpy about it), and had her turn on the light. When the light came on, the youngest found she was nearly nose-to-nose with a mouse sniffing down at her from the air vent.

She wasn't so keen on being on the top bunk anymore.

However, it was fortunate that she didn't decide to trade bunks with her sister. The next night, the eldest daughter wakes up to find a mouse (the same one) foraging for food IN HER HAIR. So it was her turn to freak. Her younger sister flees the room to come tell us what happened, but the older one - too humiliated by having gotten on her sister's case the night before - stoically remains in bed until we called for her. The mouse, wisely, fled the room early on.

At dinner the next evening, the older daughter sits down at the table in her bare feet, and then casually mentions to anyone who might be listening, "I was stung by a bee on my foot."

"Really? When did this happen?!?" we ask.

"Just now. It's still on my foot," she says, sitting rock-steady. Apparently it had been on the floor (drunk from the poison and sunshine on the window), and she had just stepped on it in her bare feet. We apparently have to work with her on her verb tenses. She could have said, "I was JUST stung by a bee on my foot," or even, "I am NOW being stung by a bee on my foot." But no, she calmly mentions it like it had happened yesterday, and she was just filling a lull in the conversation.

A quick removal of both the squashed bee-goo on her foot and the stinger remedied the immediate issue, though by this time she did have tears coming down her face. This wasn't the first time she'd been stung, so we weren't worried about allergies. But she had a tender foot until the next day.

Then there was the car.

My wife drove into town (such as it is) with many of the girls in our clan on the second day. As they got out of the car, they smelled something burning and saw smoke coming out of the left-rear tire of our car. She tried to call me first, but I didn't have my cell phone with me, so she called her father - who was also at the cabin. He immediately went down to check things out without informing me what had happened or where he was going. A half an hour later, my wife calls me on my brother-in-law's cell phone.

She hastily explained the problem - the first I heard of it - and asked if we should get a tow to take it to the nearest mechanic (who was in another town about twelve miles away). Obviously, if the car's having those kinds of problems, I was completely in favor of not driving it a dozen more, so I approved - after checking in with my father-in-law to make sure he concurred.

An hour later she called me up again, just minutes after the truck had left with out car in tow. She asks, sheepishly, "Umm... honey, did you put the emergency brake on in the car?"

"Of course," I said. "We were parked on a slope, and it's a LONG way down the mountainside to the lake."

"Oh," she said. "I think I did something really stupid."

"You drove down with the emergency brake on," I said.

"Would that cause the problem?"

"Yep, that would do it."

"I feel so stupid. I'm sorry."

"Well, better that than having to get our brakes fixed," I sighed. I guessed the towing bill would be about $100. I was close.... $102.50. Plus $40 for the garage to take a look at it, drive it around, and make sure there was no permanent damage done. Still, I'd been anticipating a lot worse than that in repairs, so while it was an unnecessary expense, it could have been worse.

Still, overall, I guess it beat workin'...
Friday, July 10, 2009
Scars of War Interview
Hi folks. Posting from Bear Lake on a borrowed (yes, I asked permission) Internet connection. You probably saw this already, but Scars of War creator Gareth Fouche has been interviewed by GameBanshee - you can check out the interview here:

Scars of War Interview at GameBanshee

Scars of War is another "hardcore" indie RPG in development, which looks awesome. If only Gareth would quit swapping game engines... :)

In the interview, he explains his very realistic expectations of indie game engines, why he chose a more "gritty, mature" fantasy world, a lot of detail on the game mechanics, his partnership with Iron Tower Studios, and much more.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009
Daggerfall For Free
Sweet Baby Cthulhu in a wedding dress!

GameBanshee reports that the classic RPG Daggerfall is now available as a free download.

Booyah! If you can stand the bugs, interface, and 1995-era graphics... it's an awesome game. One of the few that managed to consume triple-digit-hours of my life with no regrets.

(Posted from Bear Lake on a borrowed Internet connection, so I may not be able to reply until later tomorrow).

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The FIfteen-Year-Old Fantasy
Back when I was (nominally) in charge of a little medievalist organization (now part of Belegarth, or so they tell me), we tried to encourage a minimal amount of role-playing by having costume requirements and character requirements for all of the major events. One of the things that gave us no end of amusement was reading the character descriptions for the newer, younger male members.

If the participant was new to the game, male, and between the ages of 15 and about 20, I could tell you all about their character with 90% accuracy. The character was about two years older than the players' real age, and was a real tough badass who, as a child, witnessed their family's horrendous murder, leaving them the sole survivor. Then they were raised by the street / ninjas / wolves / dark elves, and now they are a tough-as-nails, hyper-competent lone wanderer and butt-kicker with allegiance to no man, and no principals beyond a desire for revenge and a willingness to do kill for coin.

Sound familiar?

It was so incredibly common that it really became something of a running gag for us. We tried to treat them seriously in front of the players, of course - because these sixteen-year-old kids thought they were being terribly original and cool. The point of the exercise was just to get them to try. But the adolescent male fantasy of being the dark, brooding, tortured-past lone-wolf hero (or antihero) seemed pretty universal.

I mean, hey, I had characters like that back when I was that age two. Not so much the lone-wolf type (I appreciated the fact that I was supposed to justify my character's decision to be in a group / army / adventuring party), but they definitely had the angsty-tragic-past-turned-them-into-a-badass thing going for them.

That might explain why this stereotypical type of character is popular in games catering to that audience. Sure, you can blame the designers, or blame the marketers - but if that's the kind of story people want to experience, is there anything wrong with it?

It's not the game I want to play now - but it's been a while since I was fifteen.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009
Flash Gaming Love Letter
DanC has posted the first of a multi-part series of articles on making (and making money from) Flash games (and web-based gaming in general). It's all about the business side of things - monetization, finding customers, generating value for customers, etc.

The first installment is about the different approaches to trying to put food on the table with Flash games. Unsurprisingly, ad-based revenue is pretty much at the bottom of the barrel (by a couple of orders of magnitude) in terms of revenue.

So if you wear an indie developer's hat, it's worthy reading:

Lost Garden: Flash Love Letter 2009 - Part I


Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Monkey Island Interview
The newest chapter in the Monkey Island series comes out today on the Wii and PC. Arrr, matey! Yes, I'll be showing my colors and getting the PC version when I get home. The new series, Tales of Monkey Island, is by Telltale games, indie game makers of the episodic adventure games Sam & Max Save the World, Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, Sam & Max Beyond Time & Space, and more.

Gamasutra has an interview with Dave Grossman, the design director for the new Monkey Island series - who was also one of the writers for the first two Monkey Island games.

Gamasutra: Back in the Water - The Monkey Island Interview

An excerpt:
"Something that I always thought was true about the Monkey series was that, while moment-by-moment it's quite silly and there's lots of slapstick, verbal humor, and ironic pointing out of social dysfunctions, the broad strokes of the story there are actually quite serious.

"The first one is about this young man who's come to this island to realize his life's dream, and in the quest of doing that, he falls in love and he finds out, "This is more important to me than my life's dream."

It's actually quite a serious story, despite being a pretty silly experience overall. I've been pushing the team to try and capture that aspect, and when they try and do things in the series that seem baldfacedly hugely ridiculous, I call that into question -- whereas, when the smaller points are ridiculous, that's what I love. "


Monday, July 06, 2009
Your Skill In Fishing Has Improved!
Well, I'm heading off to spend some quality time this week in a cabin at Bear Lake. I'm not expecting much by way of Internet access. I have a few blog articles queued up which may or may not be published on schedule. But I will probably not be too responsive to comments.

Since the comments are often of much higher quality than my actual blog posts, this is a bummer for me.

Insane geek that I am, I plan on spending some of my R&R time playing Aveyond: Lord of Twilight and Deadly Sin. Since I don't plan to spend every waking hour on the laptop, I don't harbor any illusions about being able to finish them both. Hopefully Aveyond will fall to my mad RPG skillz. I understand it ends in something of a cliffhanger, and the follow-up - Aveyond: Gates of Night - is due out in mere weeks. I would like to have Lord of Twilight complete before then.

I'm also gonna be devouring Jim Butcher's latest Harry Dresden book, Turn Coat, so I'll be all caught up with my friends, who are tired of trying to avoid letting spoilers drop in my presence when they are talking about the series. I hope to give Frayed Knights some TLC as well - in those late night hours when my geek clock is still keeping me awake when everyone else is asleep (which is when I usually work on the game, anyway).

But the daylight hours will be dominated by some quality fishing, hiking, and possibly even caving activities. Weather permitting. It's been a weird summer out here.

Talk atcha soon!


Saturday, July 04, 2009
More Video of Cliff Harris's Gratuitous Space Battles
Okay, Gratuitous Space Battles had BETTER freakin' rawk. Knowing Cliff, it will... But I love a game that promises "to bring the over-the-top explodiness back into space games." And it vows to be a strategy game through-and-through: "These gratuitous space battles are not won by plucky heroes with perfect teeth, but by the geeky starship builders who know exactly what ratio of plasma-cannons to engines each ship in the fleet will need."

The gameplay sounds like it's all gonna happen in the preparation - you set up your fleets, build your ships, give them orders, and let them run.

No release date as yet. It looks like its getting close, though...


Friday, July 03, 2009
Game Design Essentials: 20 CRPGs
Gamasutra has a whoppin' 22-page article discussing 20 "essential" CRPGs - plus the grandfather of all RPGs, Dungeons & Dragons.

It notes the first published use of the term "Role-Playing Game," the influence of D&D on later RPGs, and breaks up the field into 10 western RPGs and 10 jRPGs. Each game is summarized in what could easily stand as an article on its own. It cheats a little by including entire series as a single entry (such as the Wizardry, Pokémon, Final Fantasy, Might & Magic, and Ultima series, as well as a couple of "catch-all" categories.) It also mentions in passing a number of classic key games that didn't make the cut, such as Eye of the Beholder, X-Com, Planescape: Torment, Skies of Arcadia, and several others.

While I've played many of the games on the list (especially the western RPGs), there are many I haven't. Some I probably never will. So I'm glad for the summaries.

Anyway - plan on taking some time on this one - but it's well worth it:

Gamasutra - Game Design Essentials: 20 CRPGs

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Bruce Redeems Himself - Partly - With "My Name is Bruce"
Even after the abuse I felt after watching The Man With the Screaming Brain, I dared to watch Bruce Campbell's movie, My Name Is Bruce. It was also directed by Bruce Campbell, starring Bruce Campbell playing.... uh, Bruce Campbell. Kinda. A fictionalized version of himself. I hope.

It was campy, cheesy, low-budget, stupid, full of crappy special effects and buckets of fake blood.

And I actually enjoyed it. Maybe it was the self-referential humor. I could have dealt with a little less Ted Raimi, but ... meh.

The story is cribbed from Galaxy Quest: Bruce Campbell - as himself - is kidnapped by a fan to save a town that is being terrorized by a vengeful monster - amusingly enough, a Chinese patron god of Bean Curd. The fan has convinced the town that Bruce's on-screen heroism can somehow translate to real life. For his part, Bruce Campbell believes it is all an elaborate birthday prank by his agent, and plays along - until he discovers that it is all real.

Anyway, I doubt it would appeal to people who aren't Bruce Campbell fans on some level. And maybe not even then. Maybe my standards were just lowered to the ocean's floor by The Man With the Screaming Brain, and My Name is Bruce seemed like Citizen Kane by comparison. But I got a kick out of it, and so I thought I'd share.


Thursday, July 02, 2009
Deadly Sin
Deadly Sin is an indie RPG from the aptly-named newcomer indie Deadly Sin Studios. It's a jRPG-style indie game with a fantastic soundtrack (which isn't afraid to mix a little rock-and-roll with the traditional epic orchestral stuff). Deadly Sin is billed as being inspired by or reminiscent of the "golden age" of console RPGs, but it doesn't stop there. It really does some interesting things with it's basic framework, the RPG Maker engine.

In Deadly Sin, you play Lorelai, a young woman who has been living far from the escalating tension and violence growing in the nearly all-powerful Dondoran Republic, where the ruthless Empress Ardelia using an iron first to smash down the growing tide of rebellion. However, Lorelai quickly gets pulled into events, as she discovers that she is none other than the princess and heir to the empire living in exile.

And of course, this being the kind of game it is, her voyage of discovery and growth involves a good deal of getting together with friends, engaging in cute and melodramatic dialog, searching through ancient ruins, and kicking a lot of monster butt.

Naturally, this is just the way I like it.

I haven't gotten too far into the story yet, but I have played enough to be intrigued by some of the more interesting mechanics. First of all is the character progression system. In addition to gaining general measures of awesomeness when you level up (you know, hit points, magic points, chance to hit or whatever), you gain a number of "skill points" with every encounter. These skill points can be spent at any time (well, outside of combat) to buy additional abilities to improve your characters . This allows some customization and progress in-between major levels. Wanna focus on Lorelai's healing power at the expense of her combat abilities? Go for it. How about making Glade more of a damage-dealer than a sneak-thief? You can do that too.

And it makes much more sense than some of the systems offered by recent major Final Fantasy releases.

Another thing Deadly Sin does that changes the gameplay a bit is what they call the threat system. MMORPG veterans will recognize the concept immediately as a variation on aggro management. The AI targets party members based on their "threat level" - a factor visible from the combat screen. Players can use party actions to manipulate the threat level and thus protect weaker characters from attack.

In lieu of actual tactical formations and real combat positioning, this is one more way to add some tactical tools to the player's arsenal. So far it hasn't made a huge difference in my game, and I worry I could end up with the major spell-slinger getting turned into everybody's punching bag after unleashing a big ol' fireball in round one. Which is pretty much how these things usually work out, anyway.

So far I've been enjoying the game a lot. Which is dangerous to my productivity. Dang it. I'll report back when I've played some more. Or you can. You can check out the game yourself (free hour-long demo, cheap full version for 30 hours of enjoyment, etc... you know how it works) here:

Play Deadly Sin

Deadly Sin is only available for Windows platforms.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009
Swamped With RPGs
While it can probably be blamed on lack of free time, I'm declaring myself officially swamped with RPGs right now. And that's not just me going back and playing old retro RPGs either (for "research purposes", I swear!) - I think with just indie RPGs alone released in the last year or so, plus a couple of mainstream titles I may or may not EVER complete, I am just not keeping up.

Not that I'm really complaining about this. This is a good thing. It's just a statement of fact. Indie RPG makers are rockin'.

I'm heading out on vacation next week, and I'm bringing my laptop, so hopefully I'll be able to finish at least one of 'em. When I'm not fishing or working on Frayed Knights (yes, I'm gonna work on my vacation... I'm a sick man). I'll probably be taking Aveyond: Lord of Twilight with me, as I've not finished it yet but I've been enjoying it immensely. The next "book" in the series is due out in a month or two, so I want it make sure I've completed this one first. Amaranth Games seems to have really nailed the storytelling on this one, and I'm at the point where the game has opened up and gotten a lot less linear. I just started Deadly Sins Monday night (I'll have more on that one tomorrow), and it has started out with a bang, too. The production quality is outstanding, and I love the skill-based leveling system (unusual among RPGMaker titles), but I need to see more of the story and characters.

I guess in a way, the Aveyond series is to blame. A lot of these commercial indie (no, that's not an oxymoron) RPGs coming out now run on the RPG Maker engine, once Aveyond and Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest proved to be a break-out hits. I think some people are discovering that producing a high-quality, commercial-grade game with the engine isn't quite as easy as they might have envisioned. It's not exactly a paint-by-numbers experience. But it has eased enough of the burden of development by now that we're seeing some great commercial (and free) releases now.

But while I remain impressed and pleased with the quality AND variety of the top RPG Maker titles (and I don't even pretend to keep up on all of them - see above re: swamped), I'd like to see more indie RPGs using other engines. Many of these RPGMaker titles do push the boundaries of the 16-bit-era conventions and style encouraged by the engine, but I would like to see more games that don't even step near those conventions in the first place.

Sorta like how I love all the varieties of pizza (at least at the good pizza places), but sometimes even a geek like me is in the mood for for something that's - you know - not pizza.

Of course, that assumes I'd have the time to PLAY them in the first place. Did I mention "swamped?"

I can't win. But at least I can enjoy playing.


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