Knights of the Chalice - Now Up To Version 1.15
Dang, that boy has been busy!
IMPROVEMENTS IN RECENT UPGRADES
* Expanded tool tip lets the player know at a glance whether an attack will be affected by flanking, cover, concealment and other major effects.
* The game displays the chance to hit when targeting a ranged-touch or touch spell, just as it does for normal melee and ranged attacks.
* When the player wants to pick up an item, the party automatically moves towards the item before picking it up.
* At the request of players, the main text font has been replaced with a sharp, high-resolution text font.
Labels: Indie RPG News
What interests me the most about the hullabaloo surrounding Orson Scott Card's involvement in the popular XBLA title, "Shadow Complex" is that most of the journalistic opinions have seemed pretty fair and even-handed. Like this one:
The Turn of an Unfriendly Card
I share Card's religion, though not always his political beliefs. While I personally believe the aggression towards him and the game over-the-top and misdirected, I do support those who choose to vote with their wallets - and exercise their free speech to convince others to do the same.
I've refused to buy certain games not because of the political views of the developers, but the content (Postal comes to mind). Or their adherence to technologies and policies that were harmful to consumers (the PC version of Bioshock). But I'm sure I'd extend the same snubbing to a game where I felt my money would go to an organization or individual that might use my cash for purposes I find distasteful.
So how's that for a boring response?
The Pathfinder RPG - Now Official
I got my (monstrously huge at nearly 600-page) copy of the Pathfinder RPG Friday.
Now I can quit being all jealous of those 4th edition players and their shiny new game system and active support from the publisher and third parties. As if I did not have enough previously-published support material to last me a lifetime with Dungeons & Dragons 3.x...
I'd already checked out the official "Pathfinder Reference Document," so I have already caught up on some of the now-final rules changes. While I'm still not fully studied up on the new rules, I thought I'd share some initial thoughts:
#1 - It's Pretty Open.
Kudos to Paizo for really opening up the game system. If you can't afford the full monstrous hardcover rulebook (or can't find it - it has already sold out of the first printing), there's a PDF version for only $10 - which is way cheap in an industry that often charges nearly as much for the PDF as the physical copy. And then there's the free reference document, with the stripped-down bare-bones rules - intended more for license adherence purposes than for actual use in-play (but it will serve if you are severely cash-strapped or just interested in checking it out first). They have a very generous, player-friendly Community Use License for non-commercial products appearing online, and what seems to be a very reasonable Compatibility License for more commercially-minded endeavors.
#2 - It Still Seems An Evolution of D&D 3.x
The game has been jokingly referred to as Dungeons & Dragons 3.75, which Paizo itself is not allowed to joke about but the rest of us can. And it's really no joke. It's about as different from Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 as 3.5 was from Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition. Which is to say significant, but still compatible. All the old 3.5 stuff (much of it still available in PDF form via Paizo, RPGNow, and DriveThruRPG) can still be used as-is with minimal conversion (and you could probably get away without any conversion, and the players are likely not to notice that their foe was shy a couple of skill points. ). And, to a lesser degree, even the old 3.0 stuff will still work almost as-is. Old-school 2nd edition and 1st edition Dungeons & Dragons materials will require a significantly greater amount of conversion, as usual (but less than you'd need to convert 'em to 4th edition, IMO).
Besides getting years of playtesting experience among third edition players, they also had what was perhaps the most extensive open playtesting phase for this new rules system that has ever been done in the dice-and-paper RPG industry. And interestingly enough, it seems like they've reigned in some of the differences from the alpha / beta rules testing period, and brought them closer to the 3.5 original.
#3 - Core Classes Have Been Enhanced / Rebalanced
The biggest changes seem to have been in the classes. Once again, the core classes have been beefed up. Significantly. The basic idea was to have made them back into balance with the slightly power-inflated prestige classes and alternative core classes that appeared later in 3.5's publishing cycle. To make the core classes "more fun to play all the way to level 20," the classes get a lot of higher-level love. Druids get the more powerful shapechanging options earlier. Bards get more songs and more kinds of performances (including a level 20 song that literally causes enemies to die of joy or sorrow). Barbarians get a bunch of additional options to use when they rage. Sorcerers have cool new bloodline options. Fighters get a ton of new abilities beyond their bonus feats. And so forth. There were a handful of minor "nerfs" here and there too - such as clerics losing Heavy Armor as a class ability (you now have to spend a feat to wear plate mail).
Some of the original prestige classes from the 3.5 Dungeon Master's Guide have received some attention and boosts in power and flexibility, too. I personally don't think a class like the Mystic Theurge really needed a boost - but since core casters have received some nice enhancements, I guess it lost a bit of relative power in the balance.
But are wizards and bards and barbarians and rogues and rangers finally more balanced with each other? MMmmm-maybe. They seem better, at least.
#4 - General Character Inflation / Options
Besides the benefits the core classes, it seems that there was a general shift in power to the upside, which concerns me a little. For example, the lower-end hit dice has been elevated: Magic users now use a D6 instead of the D4 for calculating hit points, and rogues have gone up to a d8. Many of the weaker feats (such as the ones that give bonuses to skill rolls) have been enhanced (Toughness, in particular, now scales with hit dice). Skill points go a bit further. Feats come more quickly (every other level instead of every three levels). And every race gets a net total of +2 to their attributes. Some of these should affect monsters as well. The net effect (I expect, having not played it yet) is that the game should be slightly more survivable at lower levels, and the game should feel a little more skill-based influence overall.
#5 - Some General Rules Streamlining.
XP loss (with raise dead or other effects, or manufacturing magic items) seems to be out. Polymorph spells have been (again) cleaned up. Some of the uglier rules - like tumbling and grappling - have been fixed to be either more believable or slightly simpler to use. The XP gained per encounter is once again fixed by the difficulty of the monster, no longer factoring in the party's level - a throwback to pre-3E versions of the game.
#6 - A Tiny Handful of New, Interesting Twists
Staves (they are calling them "staves" again, like the old days...) have been completely overhauled as a new kind of magic item - and I like what they've done with them. The Pathfinder Chronicler is a new Prestige Class that is interesting from a plot standpoint, though I doubt many players will ever take it. There are also a number of new feats that have been injected into the core rules which will be fun to see how they work out.
Turning undead has been a long-time trouble spot in D&D rules. The all-or-nothing nature of turning undead meant that there was a very thin, sometimes random line between a TPK ("total party kill") and a trivial encounter. A major change in tradition appears here, with the ability converted to a "channel energy" effect which acts as an area-effect damage spell against undead - or an area-effect heal on living creatures (for good clerics, at least). This is a pretty fundamental change, and it'll be interesting to see how it plays out (though I think evil clerics got the shaft on it...)
#7 - Pretty Pictures!
Okay - it must be said. The book is really, really pretty. The artwork is outstanding.
I'm still going through the rules and can't render a full opinion on the game system yet. And reading them doesn't hold a candle to trying them out in actual play, and we're not starting a new campaign with the Pathfinder rules for a couple of months. It's definitely remains a more "hardcore" game system for players who aren't afraid of rules and customization options... which would be, uh, ME.
I'm one of those people who really LOVED what they did with the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons. I guess I'm something of a game mechanics nerd, and the 3.5 rules were (and remain) something of a wild playground of possibility I never felt I'd come close to fully exploring. I was unwilling to sacrifice that to jump over to 4th edition D&D.
I guess the big kicker for me will be to see what kind of support it gets from third parties now that the game is official. But that's not critical. Tentatively, at this point, I'm gonna have to call myself a fan. It really comes down to whether or not I stick with 3.5 or migrate to "3.75". So far, the changes seem mostly positive, interesting - and most importantly, fun.
Labels: Roleplaying Games
Cute Knight Kingdom - Combat & Cooking!
I'm amused that the opponent in this video is a "smoker." In Cute Knight Kingdom, cigarettes not only kill, they turn you into undead monsters! ;)
Pretty close call on the fighting! But when you are done fighting, you can be baking:
The game is looking like a pretty solid sequel to the original hit sim / RPG, Cute Knight. It's also looking like it might not be too far from release. The first one was a surprise for me - I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did. Hopefully I won't have high expectations disappointed by the long-awaited sequel.
Game Design: Capturing That Old-School RPG Flavor
"Old School" computer RPGs means different things to different people. For some people, it means going back 10+ years to games like Baldur's Gate and Fallout. For others, they think of the 16-bit Japanese console classics that didn't always make it to western shores. Still others might invoke names like Ultima, Wizardry, and even Apshai.
But then there are others who think of the early days of dice-and-paper gaming - when Dungeons & Dragons was new and gaining steam, and of the very early (often non-commercial) computer games that attempted to capture the excitement, enthusiasm, and off-the-wall creativity of the hobby when it was new. While some may lift their noses in derision of such primitive sport, saying that RPGs have evolved to a higher form of gaming since then, some of us feel that the efforts to streamline, mainstream, and - yes, improve - on the computer / console role-playing experience have made collateral damage of some really cool and entertaining ideas.
But it's never too late to bring 'em back.
I thought I'd share some extra-nifty links related to "old-school" fantasy RPG design (appropriate for both dice & paper and computer RPGs). This doesn't necessarily mean these are good ideas - but they are definitely ideas worth considering when trying to capture the spirit and flavor of classic dungeon-delving experiences around the table and at the monitor. Some of 'em favor the more elderly definitions of "old-school," from the days where being able to hit an orc with a sword via a random die roll was still considered a novelty. But there are some cool ideas that could both capture the old-school flavor AND could use a modern make-over here.
Old-School Adventure Design
First up - Old School Dungeon Design Guidelines at Grognardia. Based on some forum discussions at Knights & Knaves and ENWorld, this list felt a little bit like reading a classic D&D module. Or - even better - playing in one of those old games. They got away with a lot of crap back then that wouldn't fly today, but it worked because it was a new, exciting, thrilling hobby without any boundaries.
The 50/50 gambling idea with permanent changes (item #5) never did thrill me. And in a computer game, with access to save files (so any non-online game), it's pretty unusable. I guess back in the era, if you got lucky, your character became all that much more powerful and more likely to survive. If not, you just hastened the character's inevitable demise and your chance to roll up a new one.
One of the cooler aspects of the recent indie game Knights of the Chalice was the incorporation of elements from the second feature mentioned in this article - difficulties enhanced by circumstances, not just beefed up monsters. Of course, as a game based on the 3.5 OGL rules, there was beefed-up, templated monsters as well. But having monsters take advantage of terrain, cover, and area effect possibilities (even if pre-scripted) is very cool.
Stepping outside the dungeon, some of the additional elements I wrote down while studying some old modules for research for Frayed Knights included:
* Really strange fantasy names (still a popular option)
* An old hermit who could be useful, dangerous, or both.
* Riddles were popular by adventure creators (though I guess that falls into the same category as #4 - Puzzles, tricks, and obstacles). Not so popular with players, though.
* An evil high priest ("EHP") or wizard running the show for the bad guys. These days, its more likely to be a drow, dragon, or mind flayer.
Next up: Brian "Psychochild" Green posted the results of a brainstorm of puzzles for use in an old-school "maze-style" computer RPGs. Most of these have appeared in some form or another in older games. This one is a great resource for computer RPG designers or a Dungeon Master coming up with ideas for next Saturday's game:
Brainstorming Puzzles In Dungeons
It's a pretty impressive list. Man. Teleport / tile-flip movement traps - I remember those. Ick.
Design Lessons From Gary Gygax's Dungeons & Dragons
Finally, this one is less old-schooly but still useful. Lewis Pulsipher has an article about the design and gameplay lessons learned not from modern video games, but from old dice & paper forays into the world of D&D:
All I Really Needed to Know About Games I Learned from Dungeons & Dragons
I don't know if I agree 100% with all of his points, but it's a useful checklist of core concepts about what made Dungeons & Dragons (and gaming in general) fun.
Game Announcement: Laxius Force II - The Queen of Adretana
The sequel to the popular indie RPG, Laxius Force, is out. Laxius Force II - The Queen of Adretana is out and now available at Rampant Games.
Laxius Force II - The Queen of Adretana
I'm still not entirely sure how French indie game developer Indinera of Aldorlea Games manages to produce these massive games so quickly. I mean, sure - there's a lot of re-used content between them, as it's all the same world, time frame, and have a fairly common set of core characters. But yeesh. These games are pretty massive in scale, and they all mesh together like somebody's ginormous D&D campaign for multiple parties of players. At least the games are a lot cheaper than your share of the pizza bill would be if this was the case...
Because this game is a true sequel to Laxius Force, the developer kindly added a utility to import the saved game file from the previous game - so you can keep all of your character progression and items that you have collected in your previous 40-80 hours. However, you don't need to have completed the earlier game to enjoy this one - you can start a new game easily enough, and even dial down the difficulty to compensate. The plot threads are pretty simple to pick up and run with.
And like the latest games in the Aveyond series, Laxius Force II has mouse support. I've gotten pretty used to driving these games with only the keyboard, but I know this drives some gamers crazy. There's a mouse if you want it, and you can disable it if you grow weary of it.
The story starts with the half-goddess Luciana receiving a letter from her former adventuring companion Sarah (veterans of other games in this series will find this all familiar). As seems to be typical in the Laxius Force world, "retirement" for adventurers is more of an "extended vacation" which inevitably results in them leaving their peaceful existence and donning the mantle of world-saving hero yet again. And this is what happens.
It seems the nefarious Order is active once again in the city of Adretana, half a world away from Luciana's remote island paradise, but there's badness afoot and it's gonna turn into a lot of war and bloodshed and earth-shakingly ugly stuff if the Order and their boss - the stranglely-named Grand Commandanter - aren't taken care of. The king of Adretana needs help.
By the time all is said and done, you may find over twenty playable characters, and "countless" quests and encounters. Like I said - massive. A full-on exploration of the twisty subquests and everything promises up to 80 hours of gameplay. And no, I haven't gotten that far, so I can't verify that claim.
While sharing the RPG Maker engine used by many indie RPGs over the last three years, Aldorlea's games have a very distinctive style that sets them apart from its peers by other studios like Amaranth Games and Blossomsoft. For one thing, they tend to be larger, sprawling, and more open-ended. They also don't shy from the use of somewhat more adult language and situations, so they may not be appropriate for young children (in spite of having the cute characters) without supervision. Personally, I don't find the games quite as polished as, say, the Aveyond series --- but it makes up for it in sheer breadth.
Anyway - as usual, you can download the game for free and try it on for size through the first hour at no cost or risk. Enjoy!
Download Laxius Force II - The Queen of Adretana
And don't forget to check out the rest of the Adventure & Roleplaying section of Rampant Games for other games you may want to explore. Yes, I know, it's getting a bit unwieldy and in need of an overhaul soon. And with it's current lineup, it should be called the "Roleplaying and Fatal Hearts" section. Ah, well, I've got more work to do, but I'm still callin' that a good thing.
Actually appropriate for yesterday as opposed to today, but this came in my wife's email this morning from a friend:
Wow. That sounds like a long time. It doesn't feel like it's been that long. We met when we were sixteen, and were married six years later. And yes, you can do the math there and it makes me sound way, way, WAY older than I feel.
And we still play Dungeons & Dragons. And Rock Band. Together. How cool is that?
Labels: Geek Life
How Long Should an RPG Be?
I ran into this tech article on classic RPGs on tablet PCs last week which got me to thinkin' a little bit (I don't do it often, so it's worthy of note). The article is geared more towards discussing hardware, but in the context of playing older games such as Baldur's Gate. The author comments on the length of games of an earlier era versus today:
"The minute that I figured out that there's more than enough fan-made material out to give these classics a new lease on life, I started picking up used copies of them and making plans to play them, some of them for the first time. But then I ran into a problem: these games are long. For today's games, 30 hours of play time is epic; but old-school RPGs, could run well over 100 hours. In fact, I spent one summer working 15 hours a week as a computer lab monitor, and pretty much all I did was play once through the Mac ports of Fallout 1 and 2 for the whole summer."But I don't think he's wrong. I do remember how the old games of yesteryear really weren't the kinds of games you beat in a week or four so you could move on to the next game. They required some measure of devotion. Though Oblivion and the latest Persona games aren't really all that old-school, and they sure took some serious time out of my life.
When I was at Infogrammes (now Atari) , the company head Bruno Bonnell told us that a study had shown what many of us suspected - the majority of players never "finish" their games. They would eventually give up and move on to the next game. Bonnell's contention was that we were wasting half our development efforts if the players were only playing half the game. I don't think the math necessarily applies - you reuse a LOT of code and content in later levels that is needed throughout the game.
While he wasn't speaking specifically of RPGs at the time, but I've little doubt that most copies of RPGs in the 1990s never accessed the "ending sequence" file on the hard drive. Players tend to play until they grow bored or frustrated, and then quit. Those aren't reactions any developer wants to his or her game. But even the most sadistic game designer really wants and expects players to actually see the endgame.
(As a side note, speaking of sadistic game designers: If anybody actually played through the final boss fight of Outwars to see the ending, I want to personally apologize. I was young, inexperienced, and I needed the money. And we'd lost half our team and most publisher support by then...)
Now, I do love my epic, sprawling RPGs that I can just lose myself in for a long time. In spite of its flaws, I had a blast playing Oblivion - if for no other reason than I was constantly finding something interesting to do, or a new quest line to follow up on. It's all well and good to say, "It got pretty old after a while," but when "while" is measured with three digits I think it is pretty forgivable.
But - let's get real here. A lot of these old RPGs which could consume multiple full 24-hour days of time to complete did not do so by providing second-upon-second of extremely high-quality, engaging content. And yes, Oblivion's fill-in-the-blank dungeon populations is included here. And Persona's random dungeons, too.
I think most players would really rather play a 20-hour game full of extremely awesome, high-quality, engaging content than a 100-hour game made up primarily of "meh." But I do wonder if there isn't a target value of an optimum average number of hours in an RPG before players start growing weary of even the most well-crafted storyline. I think the law of diminishing returns does apply somewhere where even the most devoted players may waver in their attention.
I remember a note in a game design lecture at GDC one year that the Japanese RPGs (which were just gaining some strong mainstream popularity at the time) were designed to have a boss battle about every two hours. The games were designed to hit a nice climax and stopping point every couple of hours - which was the average amount of time per day that their customers could play their games. I thought this was a brilliant concept.
It's hard to force the issue in a non-linear game, and less of an issue where games offer the option to save anywhere. But it's not a big deal to make sure that any significant segment of the game has reasonable stopping points with fairly satisfying conclusions and a promise of new developments to come at frequent, regular intervals.
Can this be extended on a larger level? Can it be extended to plots as well as gameplay? Should we a significant plot reversal / twist approximately every eight hours, so that players don't grow too tired of making baby-steps towards the goal? Is 25 - 40 hours an "optimum length" for any major RPG, beyond which tedium is likely to set in?
Is there such a thing as an RPG being "too short?" As short stories coexist with novels, is there a place in the market for a "small" RPGs of 4-8 hours' length alongside their big brothers of 24+ hours length? Is that long enough to have a satisfying RPG experience and sink your teeth into the characters and world? Or would they only work as part of a larger series? Or not at all?
Let us pretend that bang-for-the-buck price differences weren't an issue - you'd be paying about $1.50 per hour regardless of the size of any single game. You could play one huge 100-hour game, or five short 20-hour games for the same price. Let us make another huge assumption, too, that quality would be the same - the 100-hour RPG wouldn't be padded with tons of "filler." Under these ideal conditions, everything else being equal, would you prefer to reach a conclusion relatively quickly and move on to the next game, or play a single "epic-length" RPG which can pull you in for weeks and weeks?
So fess up: How much does size really matter to you?
Indie RPG News Updates, Aug 21 2009
Here are some indie RPG news updates, all quick-and-dirty like:
Knights of the Chalice
This has been patched up to version 1.10 - the developer has been VERY busy the last two weeks. The newest version has a more eye-friendly font as well. Check it out at HeroicFantasyGames.com.
Got a question for ya about an alternative to having encounters seemingly spawn from nowhere. Something in between this system (circa Wizardry 7 / Final Fantasy X) and something else which would occupy all my programming time for the next six months. Poll here: Visible Encounters?
Cute Knight Kingdom
Some artwork didn't work out for the next Cute Knight game, and has since become freebie wallpaper. Lo'oris took on the challenge of creating a wide-screen variant, which you can grab here.
A first-person episodic RPG set in - of all places - Revolutionary War era Kentucky! I'm giving them a bunch of extra credit for doing something completely different with the setting. So long as we don't end up with Kentucky Orcs and Tennessee Elves, I'm happy. It began life as a contest submission earlier this year... See how useful these little competitions are? It is currently scheduled for release this fall sometime. Check it out: Pioneering RPG.
And while it's not an RPG, I picked up my copy of the second episode of Tales of Monkey Island last night. Didn't have time to play much of it up, but the opening sequence was seriously kick-butt!
Labels: Indie RPG News
Plan 9 From Outer Space - Live (Kinda)
I've felt a little sympathy over the years for the legendarily bad Hollywood director Ed Wood, ever since seeing the Tim Burton movie starring Johnny Depp and Martin Landau. Maybe it's because I sometimes fear that I may be the "Ed Wood" of videogames. Er, I mean the zealous-but-cluelessly-incompetent part, not the cross-dressing part.
However, I'd never seen his "magnum opus," Plan 9 From Outer Space, in its entirety. I've seen a number of clips from it which added up to about ten minutes of the film. What I didn't realize was that ten minutes was pretty much the entire film - the rest of it being pointlessly meandering and often contradictory dialog, stock footage, repeated footage, and a lot of scenes of people walking or running back and forth along the same 40-foot section of graveyard or driving a police car up the same dirt road.
Thursday night, we rectified this apparently glaring omission in my "bad cinema" experience. Like the total geeks we are, we attended the Live Rifftrax event at a local theater. This was a nationwide broadcast of the three principle riffers of Rifftrax (and, not coincidentally, alumni of Mystery Science Theater 3000) riffing live from Nashville on Plan 9 From Outer Space, as well as a very amusing short training film from the 1950s called Flying Stewardess. Jonathan Coulton was also a special guest, who sang The Future Soon and - appropriate for a movie featuring zombies - Re: Your Brains. With audience participation. He also joined in a song with Michael Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy called "Plan 9", which outlined plans 1 through 8 from outer space, and why they failed.
Lowtax of SomethingAwful.com was also there, and provided a couple of fairly entertaining mock-commercials. And the evening was MCed by Veronica Belmont, who did a competent if not particularly noteworthy job.
Of course, the main event was Plan 9 From Outer Space. With riffing. My wife told me her sides hurt at the end of the movie from laughing so hard. I don't know if it was the funniest Rifftrax ever, or even the absolute worst movie ever, but it's definitely in same elite league. We did have a great time, the movie was truly, truly horrible, and the jokes were fast, furious and funny.
But this was definitely one of those off-beat geeky fun events, and I'm glad we went.
Cute Knight Kingdom Wallpaper
Wherein I just pass along a link to the source. 'Cuz I'm not embarrassed to be a fan of Cute Knight!
I Whine About Games: Cute Knight Kingdom Wallpaper
Frayed Knights - Ding!
This week, in discussing Frayed Knights, I decided I'd find one of the most boring parts of the game and make a YouTube video of it. Since I'm really a YouTube n00b and didn't know what I was doing anyway, I thought I might not embarrass myself too much. Well, more than I usually do.
I attended the standing-room only session at GDC one year when Michael Abrash spoke about the development of Quake. While some of the technical details of what they had to do don't have too much relevance with today's technology, the talk had a number of anecdotes that still hold up. He said that he and John Carmack tried a number of different rendering methodologies over the course of a year before arriving at one which - surprisingly - brought them full-circle back to the BSP trees Carmack had used for Doom. After going through about eight different flawed rendering engines before getting it right, Carmack remarked to Abrash that if they'd known exactly what they were making before they started, the engine would have taken less than two months to write.
That's how I'm feeling with some aspects of Frayed Knights. Like character progression.
Character progression is a critical feature of an RPG, so it's important to get it right. Maybe not all-important - we've put up with horrible old-school D&D style leveling up for years, but it still works. And I have enjoyed games with worse. Far worse. It's much more challenging in a massively multiplayer environment, with players competing with each other, but you still want to get it right.
My own system has undergone a significant overhaul since I first started committing parts of the design document to code. The sad truth of it is that my quick-and-dirty hacks are probably superior to the painstakingly devised original system. And what I have now could probably use some more simplification. But the end result is that my whole leveling up system - which was incomplete and disabled for the pilot episode - has had to be completely re-designed and re-written. Sometimes on-the-fly.
What we've got now is surprisingly simple, and should probably be made simpler still (check back in three months when I talk about how I've changed it all AGAIN). Now, characters "level up" immediately when they receive enough experience points, receiving the bonuses to their health, endurance, and pretty much an automatic +1 to everything they do (since everything is level-based now).
But they also get a character point which they can spend at their leisure. (I may end up making this more than one, but I keep waffling on this one - which probably means it is not a good idea).
A character point can be used to increase a single attribute (Might, Brains, Reflexes, etc.) by one point - which generally means an extra bonus to any check that uses that attribute.
It can also be used to buy a feat. Feats are either significantly better enhancements to existing abilities across a narrower range of checks (for example, a bigger bonus to attacks and damage with a specific class of weaponry, reduced endurance cost for spellcasting, or reduced time cost to repeat the same spell multiple times in a "spell volley"), or give you new actions or re-actions in combat. Or - let the character cast spells, though they aren't of the caster class.
So here's my first YouTube video of the whole thrilling process. I've got Dirk leveling up with 4 character points here, though there's a bug (now fixed) since I made the video that still shows him at level 3. As you can see in the video, there are tool-tips, and all point-spending is reversible until you hit the commit button. That may be an overkill if you are generally only spending one point at a time, but hopefully it's worth the inconvenience of a confirmation button-press.
One of the issues I've been dealing with is that a single feat that allows spellcasting is pretty dang powerful as compared to one that gives you extra success with a spear. So I may have to break that one up a bit into... uh, "basic," "intermediate," "advanced," and "epic" spellcasting abilities for each field of magic (each higher-level one dependent upon the lower-level one as a prerequisite, naturally).
Speaking of spellcasting, I'm getting rid of "fizzles" entirely. This will no doubt please --- um, EVERY playtester. There are just too many other ways a spell can fail (like, not hitting the target, getting countered, etc). Instead, a botched casting roll will cost more endurance - you have to push that much harder to activate the spell.
I'm resigning myself to the realization that I'm not gonna have the entire first act playable by the end of the month. I'll call it a victory if the Western Wilderness is fully playable and the Caverns of Anarchy are at least accessible.
Another Musical Interlude...
How the heck did we ever discover new music when I was a kid? Oh, yeah, we had to wait for the radio stations to get paid to share them with us. That still works, I guess.
I usually listen to music while coding. I've actually got a playlist in iTunes called "development music" which puts me in the mood for some serious Frayed Knights work.
While in the midst of coding and listening to music, I got a little curious to look up some information on Evanescence, and ended up following links-to-more-links, and found myself listening to a couple more bands on YouTube. One of the ways music SHOULD be discovered...
And out of a few "mehs" I discovered a Finnish band named Nightwish. Their music is sorta over-the-top symphonic power metal with operatic / gothic undertones. Except not the kind that sucks. The sorta thing I'd have been nuts over as a teenager. A couple of songs in, I found myself getting into it. It was pretty awesome music to code by. My wife started digging it too, especially the folkier pieces like The Islander and The Last of the Wilds. And their live version of The Phantom of the Opera was fun. We decided we were fans. Of both vocalists.
But one of the songs sounded vaguely familiar. And then another one sounded extremely familiar. We recognized it as some of that darned music our teenaged daughter likes to play far too loud!
Now that's just... weird.
So, if she finds out that we like it, we she suddenly start hating it?
(Actually, knowing her, she'd probably be thrilled. She's still young enough to believe that her parents have some slight coolness left in them. Little does she realize that we were always geeks and never, ever cool.)
Oh - and bringing it back to games / RPGs - apparently their music is featured in the trailer for the upcoming RPG from Piranha Bytes, Risen. Nifty! But I don't know if the music is actually going to be in the game itself or not.
Do You Wanna Date My Avatar?
Wow. This is hysterically funny in a staggeringly uber-geeky way:
This video was directed by Joss Whedon's younger brother, Jed. Music by Jed Whedon, Lyrics by Felicia Day. Starring the cast of The Guild.
48 Hour RPG Contest Post-Mortemy Thing
My goal this weekend was to participate in the 48 hour RPG competition. Build a simple RPG in 48 hours. It wasn't a "good" weekend for most participants - allocating much time to devote to just cranking away at a game can be challenging. But the results were pretty amazing for such a limited amount of time - you can check them out here and here.
To end the suspense here, I was unable to finish my game on time. With meetings, company, church, and so forth, I think I got a solid twelve hours I was able to put into the game. About half of that time was devoted to creating really horrible programmer art, though my brother Brian did help up with some graphics he whipped out on short notice (alas, much of it is not visible in the current tech demo).
That doesn't mean I'm done with it. While it now has to take a back seat to Frayed Knights, I think it's worthy of continued tinkering. But right now it's more of a stair-climbing tech demo.
If you are really, really bored, the download is here:
The Manor v. 0.1
Left and right buttons control movement. You can use the up and down buttons to climb and descend stairs - but you have to be right above (or below) the stairs - being next to them doesn't currently work. Don't say I didn't warn you - there's really no point to it right now. I'm just including it for the sake of example here.
The concept is the old haunted house story. In the spirit of some Steven King novels I've enjoyed in recent years, the house itself is bad. Your uncle has died, leaving the estate to whomever of his relatives can recover an artifact of his hidden in the house. There's more to it than just a silly contest. He knew how evil the house was, and it was only his own strength of will that kept the evil at bay. The new owner must be strong enough to take possession of the house, lest it take possession of the person.
So there's bad things happening in the house. Over the course of a weekend (or so), you must fight past the disturbing obstacles the house puts in your way - from fairly simple but terror-inspiring manifestations of its evil will, to more powerful semi-corporial apparitions and fiends and animated corpses, to finally taking on "the heart of the house" once you have unlocked the way and have the house weakened enough to take it on. Over the course of the game, the house becomes weaker as you defeat its minions, and stronger as you rest or are defeated. (Oops, sounds like one of those "positive feedback loops," but it's not, really. The game doesn't get more or less difficult as the house gains or loses power - it's just a distance to goal).
Well, that's the theory, at least. In practice, none of the cool stuff got in, so I'm left with a little maze-like Winchester Mystery House wannabe. I figure at least another twelve hours would be needed to get all the dialogs, NPC behavior, combat, and inventory system in place.
So here's a hit-list of what went right, wrong, and how I could do better in the future:
#1 - Should have had a clearer view of the design (and content requirements) up-front: Apparently, some design and asset / engine "preparation" was allowed prior to the contest's start, but I didn't have time. I had a somewhat vague idea of what I wanted it to be and look like on Friday, but I didn't go into the contest having a clear idea of exactly how I intended things to look and play. Not that any design survives contact with actual development and playtesting anyway, but it might have made for speedier development if I had been flying a little less by the seat of my pants.
#2 - Needed more familiarity with the engine: Admittedly, a big part of my goal with this exercise was to experiment some more with Torque Game Builder. But I spent a lot of time looking stuff up and trying to figure out how to do things I had never done before with the engine, and trying experiments with certain features that turned out to be a dead-end. Which brings me to the next point:
#3 - Inadequate Technical Support from Engine Vendor: *Sigh*. Okay, I could totally rant about GarageGames' dropping of the ball on support of everything that isn't new, shiny, and in initial development. But those who would actually care (Torque users of legacy products) are already well aware of the problem in general, so I'd just be preaching to the choir. But the Torque Development Network - which was somewhat of a "community self-support" site in the first place - has been on the blink for weeks now, and this weekend it finally became completely impossible for me to access anything. Apparently I am not the only one. This made it very difficult to look up information on how to use my engine. Sure, the offline reference docs are actually pretty decent, but they don't capture the wealth of information, experience, sample code, and bug work-arounds that you get online.
#4 - I Underestimated art creation time. Again: I do this a lot. You'd think my terrible programmer art could be bashed together in seconds. And really - I think it could be if I allowed myself to get very sloppy, and the differences between that and what I did would probably be undetectable to the human eye.
#5 - Enlisting my brother to help with art: Way too much of my time was spent making art assets, which is kind of embarassing because they aren't very good. My brother jumped in and offered to help. Even if some of his stuff didn't get into the game by the deadline, having that off-loaded helped free me up to work on actual coding. He also pointed me in the direction of a character maker for RPG Maker games which I used to make the main character. While he looks nothing like what I'd want in an actual release, it was very helpful for development.
#6 - Still Too Big of Scope: Um, yeah. I know something of my limits. Yet I continually try to violate them. I should have tried for something smaller. But - Meh. I'm still intrigued by this project.
Some bits of trickiness I discovered while working on the game and with TGB:
#1 - Mounting the camera to the player works, but is very limited in what it can do. I'd need to dig a lot deeper (possibly into the source code) to come up with a way to actually control the camera better.
#2 - Once I did that, I could find no way to set some images to be camera-relative as opposed to world-relative. So any UI-type elements or unmoving background images also had to be mounted to the player, which seemed really weird and convoluted. I hope there's an easier way that I just haven't discovered yet.
#3 - Trying to use physics and collisions for the player was an exercise in frustration. While I still use collisions to limit horizontal movement, it was far easier AND more robust to just to calculate where the floor "should" be algorithmically under the player based on where he was in the level. That solution doesn't scale well to a lot of varied levels, but it worked nicely for this project.
#4 - I could spend days playing with the particle editor. It's not as fully featured as I'd like, but it's definitely reasonable. Too bad there's only one place in the whole demo where I'm actually using them.
So there you go. Well, after not touching Frayed Knights all weekend, I'm ready to jump back into that one, but The Manor may see some future development!
Reminder: Indie RPG Development Competition This Weekend
For indie game devs who might be interested:
Remember that this weekend is the RPGDX Side-Scrolling RPG competition thingie. I am certainly not putting 48 hours into it - I'll probably be lucky to get eight. But hey, let's see what can get done in a limited amount of time, shall we?
I personally think these kinds of things are a GREAT exercise for indie game developers. There's nothing like a really tight deadline to help you focus on priorities and getting the job done. I probably need the refresher course, myself, as I at one time harbored an idea that Frayed Knights might be done by this fall. And these little prototypes whipped out can provide seeds for future products. A "Game In A Day" exercise performed at one point by NinjaBee created a game that would eventually become their hit title, "A Kingdom for Keflings."
So ya never know.
Good luck, and have fun!
Game Design: Positive and Negative Feedback
I'm gonna talk about positive and negative feedback in game design. I'm not talking about feedback players give you about how much your game sucks - but feedback that the game provides the player that either reinforces or counters their actions and skill. Normally, I'm programmed to think of "negative feedback" as being a bad thing, but it's not. And a "positive feedback loop" might not be a good thing in many games, either.
In psychology, folks talk about feedback being things that reinforce a person's behavior, but in a game, feedback can permeate everything in the player's environment, and can affect the player's on-screen persona / avatar directly.
Positive feedback reinforces the player's current performance, whether good or bad. It acts as a positive multiplier. Whereas negative feedback tends to push the player towards the middle ground, becoming more challenging for better players and giving a boost to the players who are struggling. It is, in effect, a negative multiplier on the player's efforts and success.
When you have a loop, the positive or negative feedback multiplies itself even further. Poorly performing players might find themselves in a "death spiral" in a positive feedback loop situation, and successful players may find the same game "too easy." On the flip side, negative feedback loops can cause a sense of frustration that their exceptional efforts OR their failures have no effect on the game.
Both can be powerful tools in game design. And powerful weapons to ruin a game if used incorrectly.
So with a positive feedback loop, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The dude who is losing in the RTS has an increasingly more difficult time making a comeback. The guy with the mad skills in a scrolling shooter gets all the power-ups necessary to make the rest of the level even easier for him, while the player who is struggling faces a tougher time of it without the advantages of getting the right power-ups.
Is this desired behavior? Maybe.
This was a good thing back in the days of the coin-operated arcade machines. Designers wanted players to fail quickly once they hit the limit of their abilities, and the positive feedback loop made better players seem all the more glorious. The poor Defender player found himself in empty space surrounded by ultra-fast mutants while the better player on the same level was still cruising around rescuing astronauts and racking up points under normal difficulty conditions (which, for Defender, was still still pretty insane).
However, if you ever watched a competitive game of Daytona USA, you might have noticed that the losing player overtaking the lead, in spite of his speedometer reading a slower speed. The game was applying somewhat subtle negative feedback (through cheating) to encourage a closer competition - which would encourage more players to feed quarters into linked machines in competitive mode.
In most RPGs the player is allowed to progress at his or her own pace. Here, a positive feedback loop isn't such a bad thing. Optional quests (if they truly are optional) generally reward you by making the rest of the game a little easier due to the cool magic sword or extra progress towards leveling that you made - which allows players to manage their own difficulty level, in some ways. Even a little extra grinding on the side rewards the players effort by making the game just a little bit easier than it had been before. The extra gold finances extra healing potions for use against that boss that was kicking your butt before.
The "treadmill" feeling is negative feedback in action. Done correctly, this is a fairly addictive game mechanic. Done incorrectly (like the very obvious scaling done in Oblivion), and it's just plain frustrating, destroying all feelings of progress.
But a positive feedback loop can be a problem in role-playing games, too. Kat Bailey is grumbling right now over at 1Up about having , missed an event in Persona 4, expressing frustration at feeling that she is now permanently behind the power curve and unable to catch up (she's not, from my experience playing the game). I pulled the plug on D&D Online for similar reasons - it felt that the game had a positive feedback loop that caused people who started falling behind to KEEP falling further behind.
The trick for a designer is not only to recognize and use positive and negative feedback tools to optimize the fun for players, but also to manage player expectations. As in Ms. Bailey's case above, players who believe they are in a positive feedback loop situation find it difficult to tolerate a single failure even if it's not an obvious game-ending scenario.
And most hardcore gamers always expect the positive feedback loop. The designers of the original Wing Commander game discovered this the hard way. They built a broad campaign with built-in negative feedback. Those who failed on the "winning track" would find themselves in a set of missions on the "failure track" which seemed (to me) to be a bit easier and would lead them back onto the winning track again. Up until the final mission sequence, failure was fully recoverable. And this losing path represented somewhere around a third of their mission design efforts.
But only a small fraction of players ever explored the failure track. The majority would simply re-load and re-fly the missions until they achieved success. The development team recognized this, and that their efforts to provide a non-linear series of missions was largely wasted effort, so future installments of the series were extremely linear. No more negative feedback with easier alternative missions. Instead, they'd just take the same amount of effort to make a longer campaign for everybody. That seemed to meet with player expectations, as very few people complained about the loss.
'Cept me, but I'm weird that way.
As a player, if you are interested in "mastering" the game, you may need to meta-game a bit and discover where positive and negative feedback is being applied so you can best take advantage of it - either to optimize your gameplay, or to optimize your own enjoyment, or just get through a rough roadblock in the game. In a simple case, if your RPG has scaling encounters, you may be wasting your time doing any grinding for level. But a cool, uber-powerful magical sword (if it's not somehow level-limited) might not figure into those calculations, so that may be the edge you need to circumvents the negative feedback loop.
Just stuff to think about. But most importantly, as always, have fun!
Labels: Game Design
Don't You Know That You Are a Shooting Star...
Tuesday night (well, Wednesday morning, to be technical, but I count days from times-of-going-to-sleep to times-of-waking, so it's the previous night in my brain), my family and I watched the Perseids meteor shower.
My eldest (who is still on summer vacation) wanted to see it, and wanted me to wake her up before I went to bed. Since I normally don't go to bed until two in the morning, I thought it'd be fun to try and see anything. My youngest (who goes to year-round school and IS back in school) didn't want to be left out. As it was, they woke up without my help, and their whispering and grabbing blankets awakened up my wife - who had explicitly asked NOT to be awakened to watch the shower.
So we all went outside to watch the meteor shower - something we'd never done before. We camped out on the lawn. My wife acted all grumpy and kept repeating things like, "You all suck!" as we watched. But it was mainly for show. Since she was already up, she was intrigued.
Since we're fairly close to the city and had a streetlight next to us, we only saw the brightest of the rocks. Still, after seeing the first one streak through the sky, we were wide awake. The two brightest ones were pretty astonishing, though one was partly obscured through the leaves of a nearby tree. But we're talking fireworks-quality displays here... all natural events of the incredible universe around us.
My daughters were fascinated. I was more thrilled than I really expected to be. And yes, my wife was far, far less grumpy when we called it quits at 3 AM. She was downright tickled, if you ask me. :) I only saw about six of them in the half-hour, but that almost doubles the number of "shooting stars" I've witnessed in my lifetime.
This was just one of those neat little family experiences that I think we'll all remember fondly for years to come.
Labels: Geek Life
Rampant Coyote on Knights of the Chalice
I have now played through the demo of Knights of the Chalice. Articles and interviews are cropping up all over the place on this one.
For good reason, in my opinion.
Graphically, it resembles some old 1990-era titles like Ultima VI and the Magic Candle III. The low-res graphics were no accident - the demo clocks in at under 7 megs in spite of a reasonable amount of content, simply because those small sprites don't take much room.
Most complaints registered about the game have concerned cosmetics and the interface. They aren't wrong. (Similar complaints have been levied against Frayed Knights, so I feel some kinship with the developer there...)
Complaints aside, I think it's a winner. I've not yet bought the full game - I'm on as much of a budget as anybody else here ;) - but it's on my "must buy" list. This one surprised me as much as Depths of Peril did a couple of years ago. Like Depths, I wasn't expecting too much of this one when I heard about it. And - well, color me impressed.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, the game uses a modified versions of the Open Gaming License for the 3.5 D20 rule system - which I am pretty dang familiar with. And it uses it in such a way that translates very well to tactical combat. The tactical combat is - in a word - awesome. Sure, I have my complaints. The enemy AI is sometimes a little too clever - such as when even a "stupid" monster knows to go after the mage first if possible. Maybe our little wizard shouldn't wear the robe decorated with a target in the future? But when I'm complaining about the AI being "too" clever (well, sometimes), you know I'm getting a little nitpicky.
The combats are challenging. You won't be hacking and slashing your way through 'em - at least not in the demo. Not only do you have to be pretty tactical with your positioning and spell use, but you also need to husband your resources a bit so that you not only survive this combat, but the next one you don't know anything about. In classic D&D style, you only recover spell points while resting (at a campfire, in this game), and so the whole resource-management between multiple combats thing is strongly in effect here.
Oh, and you'll have to deal with stuff like 5-foot moves (a free position adjustment you can take every round), attacks of opportunity, and so forth. The AI has to deal with it too. A nasty spider-like Aranachak has a number of spell-like abilities, and is constantly backing up a square each round to fireball, web, acid spray, and to heal itself. They know the tricks. It's not hard to imagine a devilish Dungeon Master on the other side of the screen, plotting out the moves to best screw over the players with otherwise "fair" fights.
There are daylight and weather cycles, and a plethora of monsters. Character special abilities seem to be a little lacking (or I've just not figgered 'em out yet), but the spell list seems pretty extensive and reasonably true to the source material. The non-combat decisions seem few but consequential - there are times when you are offered the choice of fighting or avoiding combat, and avoiding a fight just might be the best answer, particularly if the monster in question seems a little out of your league. (I'm happy to report that bargaining with a monster rather than fighting it entitled me to a sizeable experience point award as well - probably comparable to what I'd have received if I duked it out).
The full version of the game supposedly includes a campaign that can take your characters from 1st to 20th level - which is quite believable, considering the accelerated rate at which the characters receive experience points in the D20 system. I can easily envision multiple campaigns using this same underlying system (with an upgraded engine) being made in the future. Hey, I'm still happily playing 3.5 D&D in a 4.0 world in my pen-and-paper games, so I would probably keep buyin' 'em.
Cosmetically, yeah, there are some reasonable gripes, as I said before. The graphics resolution could be better, but that doesn't bug me too much. The interface seems kinda inconsistent and takes some getting used to. Besides being inconsistent and confusing, it doesn't ask for confirmation before letting you commit to actions. And, as people have been complaining about, the all-caps font is the worst of the Commodore 64 era experimental faux-script nonsense that looks lifted directly out of the original Temple of Apshai (but with drop-shadow pixels). There is another font used for the very impressive help menus, fortunately, making it a little easier to understand the massively detailed instructions and detailed information about the extensive implementation of the Open Gaming License rules.
While the game does have the retro look and resolution, it also has some nice, more modern effects, such as particle effects and transparencies (and better than a 255-color palette) to offer some counterpoint to the 20-year-old appearance. And there's the little fact that the short demo version (less than a 7 meg download) is beefier than most floppy-based distributions of two decades ago.
Once I get the time, I'll be picking up the full version of this one and I'll inevitably post some more thoughts. But from what I've seen thus far, I'm impressed. While far from perfect, it seems like another one to set on the stage and show to people as an example of what indies can do.
Why Indie Games Are Important.
Why do we keep arguing about the definition of "indie games?"
A lot of us groan every time someone (including ourselves) tries to tackle the whole "what is an indie game" question. I've tackled it myself here, here, and ... here, with pictures! Today GB Games tries to define indie, responding to Wolfire's Definition. It's trickier than it looks, and no matter how much we discuss it, we never come to a clear definition.
What most of us involved do know is that the media usually gets it wrong. And the publishers get it even more wrong. This last is perhaps deliberate --- if "indie" ever truly becomes cool, then I'd bet some big publishers will embrace the oxymoron and create their own in-house "indie" titles.
But no matter how often we discuss it, the poor gamers (and many game developers) are still left scratching their heads in confusion.
So I really try not to be too bugged by the topic as we continue to debate the definition of indie games. I think it's a worthy topic. I think the discussion helps all of us - especially those new to the party - understand it better.
And maybe I'm a minority of one on this, but I think understanding it really does matter. I think indie gaming is important. Important enough to keep trying to understand it better.
Let's go beyond games for a second. Let's talk about the advent of widespread digital distribution of media. Art, music, books, and - yes, and games. On the surface, it's no big deal. I mean, the whole thing about online distribution is simply that artists and creators now have the technology and means to create and distribute their works to a worldwide audience directly, bypassing the big middleman industries that capitalized on old-school technological limitations. So what?
I mean, all Johannes Gutenberg did was bypass those legions of monks, too, right?
Now, even considering that the descendants of his little invention have been used to produce uncountable metric tons of crap - far more than anything most of us would consider worthy material - few people would argue that this wasn't one of the most important inventions since the wheel, sliced bread, and whatever invention was the neatest thing before there was sliced bread to compare cool new inventions to. And I really do feel that the era of internet distribution of digital media is comparable in its importance.
Power to the people, and all that. Booyah!
What about games? Are games important? That question warrants a whole 'nother post, and better minds than mine have taken their crack at answering this question. In recent years in particular, and especially among indie games, it's been demonstrated how video games have the ability to educate, provoke thought, satirize, bring people together, spark discussion, and even relieve pain. They've even become important marketing vehicles (to some gamers' chagrin). Personally, I feel it has been made clear in my mind that games are no less important than any other "entertainment" medium.
So... yeah. I think that, as goofy as it sounds and as tedious as the arguments get for those of us who have been having 'em for years, I think indie games are important enough to warrant continued discussion and debate. Even continued attempts at definition. There's something very interesting and potentially pretty important happening here. So keep 'em comin'!
And remember to have fun!
Labels: Indie Evangelism
Indie RPG News Roundup, August 09
Wow. The last couple of weeks have been kinda exciting in the indie RPG realm. Here's a round-up of the kinda stuff happenin' right now:
Knights of the Chalice
This is an old-schooler's old-school RPG. Sporting a low-resolution (but surprisingly attractive) look, steeped in the flavor of original Dungeons & Dragons, based on the "3.5" Open Gaming License, built with hand-crafted dungeons, and tossing no bones to the action-RPG crowd, this game looks like it came right out of 1989 or so.
Hardcore. But worthy of taking a look at it. Especially if you like fun, feature-rich, tactical combat. Early reports are pretty positive, but you can find out for yourself by checking out the free demo at their website:
Knights of the Chalice at HeroicFantasyGames.com
Aveyond: Gates of Night
The next chapter in the very popular Aveyond series is out now. A direct sequel to Aveyond: Lord of Twilight, this installment picks the story up in the Orbs of Magic arc. Before his untimely death two hundred years ago, the evil sorcerer, Mordred Darkthrop, created two opposing magical orbs - the Orb of Darkness, and the Orb of Light.
Unwittingly stolen by Mel, a young thief, and placed into the hands of Gyendal, a vampire who calls himself the Lord of Twilight, the Orb of Darkness is about to be used to plunge mankind into eternal night and slavery. Mel, a descendant of Darkthrop, is the only one who can activate the orb.
Now a trainee spy, Mel and her unusual band of companions are racing to find the Orb of Light to counter Gyendal's plans before it is too late.
Download Aveyond: Gates of Knight
The Three Musketeers
Dingo Games is a husband-and-wife team who have put their love of fencing and swordplay into a swashbuckling epic based on the classic novel by Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers. It is scheduled to be released later this month.
The video looks awesome. I wonder how much opportunity you have to fire cannons like that at enemies?
Blade Thrust Tactics
Inspired by games like Jagged Alliance and Fallout Tactics, Blade Thrust Tactics is an isometric tactical RPG in development by new indie developer developer Edy Kaijang of Malaysia.
It is now in beta, and is interesting to me in that it is going after a hardcore niche. Unlike the games that were its inspiration, Blade Thrust Tactics has chosen to use real-time combat rather than turn-based.
A novel based in the game-world is also being written, and two additional games in the series are currently planned.
Blade Thrust Tactics Website
Now that the series is complete, the entire Geneforge Saga from Spiderweb Software is now available on one CD for the discount price of $75.
The Geneforge Saga
Recently announced as a new game in development under the Iron Tower Studios collective, the details of this apocalyptic "survival RPG" can be found on the Iron Tower Forums. I normally don't post anything about games so early in development (there's too high of a failure rate), but new developer Doublebear Productions consists of two industry veterans with RPG credits that include Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines and Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir - Brian Mitsoda and Annie Carlson.
And that's what I have for now. Have fun!
Labels: Indie RPG News
Indie Blowout Sale on Steam This Weekend
So - big sale this weekend on Steam. A ten-pack of popular indie games for $29.95, or a five-pack for $19.95. I don't have many of these, myself.
Among the games for sale are Blueberry Garden, The Path, Crayon Physics Deluxe, Braid, Everyday Shooter, World of Goo, Mr. Robot, Gish, Audiosurf, and Darwinia.
Now, I know Steam makes up for in volume what it squeezes to hell on profit margins, so ... this is probably not a horrible deal for the developers. But still, it's a great deal for the indie game player, so ... enjoy. $3 / pop on the 10-pack deal is really pretty unbelievable.
Big Steam Weekend Indie Game Sale
So Ya Wanna Be An Indie Developer?
Shamus Young's "Stolen Pixels" takes a poke at both the indie game scene, and game journalism's dubious relationship with indie gaming:
Stolen Pixels: So You Want to be an Indie Developer?
Labels: Indie Evangelism
Frayed Knights: Serena, Switches, and the Little Green Book
In today's installment of the development updates on Frayed Knights, the obnoxiously tongue-in-cheek indie RPG in development here at Rampant Games (which basically means: "my basement"), I want to talk about Serena, switches, a little about world building, and the "Adventurer's Journal." Wow. Bored already are you? This game development stuff isn't as exciting as it sounds, sometimes.
First off, meet Serena. She is the final member of the Heroes of Bastionne. She is the party rogue. She is everything a rogue is supposed to be - silent, deadly, sneaky, and discreet. Everything that Dirk is not. Nobody - even her own adventuring group - knows much about her. She doesn't talk about her past. Serena doesn't talk much at all.
She seems to have an active animosity towards per Dirk. Maybe it's the whole pirate / ninja warfare thing. She's definitely on the ninja side of the fence, and Dirk is clearly on the flamboyant pirate side. But Dirk claims ignorance in knowing why she seems to harbor such a grudge against him.
Serena is a highly competent. While she is something of a mystery to her own fellow party members, they've learned to rely on her. She's quietly saved their bacon many times in the past.
And now you've been introduced to the rivals of the Frayed Knights. And now you know who stole the eyes in the pilot...
Switch-based puzzles are among the most uninventive, unimaginative, and potentially boring elements a designer can throw into an RPG.
Now I've got 'em in Frayed Knights.
I'm going to hell.
My excuse is that they are just too friggin' convenient and reusable. I mean, they are big and obvious (technically, I had a hidden text-only switch that opened a gate in the Temple of Pokmor Xang, but I won't count it here). What adventurer can resist pulling a big lever like that? You do it, and something happens.
Maybe they aren't inherently evil (he says, travelling the well-paved path of good intentions). They are just tools that have been poorly used. But then, I'm using them to open a freakin' magically-powered gate, which is - again - pretty uninspired. At least it doesn't make you guess the right combination or anything truly obnoxious like that.
I'll try and do better in the future. I promise...
The Adventurer's Journal
After chatting with folks in the forums a bit, I decided to go with 'simple', with the ability to add your own topics and notes to the journal. It's not exactly a "quest journal," as not everything in it is related specifically to a quest - just a topic. All notes in the journal under a topic are listed in the order in which they were received - including ones you add yourself.
Basic development is done, but there are a few loose ends (and a lot of stand-in buttons that look like crap). And I don't yet have the ability to save or load data, or to filter "resolved" topics from the list. But it's functional.
The first page is a table of contents, with a list of topics. You can select and jump to a particular topic, or you can simply flip through the topics page by page. Topics and the notes will be filled out automatically as you play, discover things, and talk with people. But you can add your own notes under any topic, and even create your own topics for keeping your own notes.
The eastern wilderness and the caverns of anarchy are coming along. My goal is to pack the world with interesting stuff to do or see (and have snarky conversations about) every few steps. It's not a small world, so that's a tall order. Even so, I'm finding there are times I really need to shrink down the explorable area. Even if I manage to cram something into every single 100' square block of terrain, eventually the player is going to resolve it all and will be left with walking along territory that has already been "cleaned out."
So I'm finding myself creating more tightly-packed environments than I originally intended - which in turn, in 3D, drives the frame rate up, because so much is on-screen at once. The next solution is to increase the player walking speed so they can cross the entire visible distance in seconds (which plays horribly), shrink the visible distance via denser fogging (which looks horrible), or to break up the environments into smaller, more bite-sized "chunks" (which involves more time spent "zoning" between environments, which is horribly tedious). Or a horrible combination of all of the above.
How to Sell Your Indie Game
Amanda Fitch of Amaranth Games (Aveyond, Aveyond 2, Aveyond: Lord of Twilight, etc.) has put together a quick-and-dirty guide for newbie game developers on how to sell their indie games. We're talking traditional download-and-sell type things here, not online games.
It is far from exhaustive, but it's also a nice step-by-step set of instructions for people who are just getting started. The guide suggests how to do the following:
- Beta Testing your game
- Obtaining a Business License
- Setting up a website
- Setting up an installer for your game
- Setting up DRM for your game (we're not talking about the draconian psychotic crap the big publishers do, just wrappers to make it easy for you and for your users to unlock the game with a registration key)
- Setting up an order processor for selling your game
- And --- selling.
How to Sell Your Game, from Amaranth Games
Anyway - while the options suggested in the PDF may not be the best for you or for your game if you are a game developer or living outside the U.S., they are a good start.
One thing she left out was the marketing side of things - to which I can only suggest shelling out a few bucks for Joseph Lieberman's excellent Indie Developer's Guide to Selling Games.
Evolving RPG Gameplay? Or Turning It Into Something Else?
There's pretty much a constant din at certain levels of the design-o-sphere for roleplaying games to drop their nerdy foundations and evolve into something else. For some mainstream designers, it seems like the "something else" usually equals, "something more mainstream and marketable and easier to develop," which in turn usually means an action / fighty game that they can slap an "RPG" label on without scaring away the non-geek gamers.
I generally ignore those guys.
However, Jeff Tidball makes a "modest" proposal that it may be time to ditch "strength and levels" in RPGs, and evolve in a new direction. You can read it at The Escapist Magazine:
The Escapist: Roleplaying Evolved
He uses as an example Fallout 3, which still has firm roots in old D&D territory. And, of course, in the earlier Fallout games.
Now I haven't played the dice-and-paper RPG Dogs in the Vineyard, though I've been a little intrigued by what I've heard about it in the past. And maybe I'm completely misunderstanding his point. But it seems to me that if you pulled the stats & levels out of Fallout 3, you'd have.... a first-person shooter. A well-done FPS with an open-ended world that puts Bioshock to shame, but still, it'd be a first-person shooter. Not an RPG.
The greatest "evolutions" in the dice-and-paper arena have been more of what I'd consider expansion into areas such as narrative storytelling. D&D 4E arguably goes back in the direction of the roots of the genre in wargaming - is that "devolution?" Well, some of us who prefer the older systems might call it that - though I won't.
But the big strides seen in some of the indie dice-and-paper RPGs (and just "games" that probably get lumped with RPGs but don't really count - like the indie game InSpectres which I had a lot of fun playing last year) are very socially oriented and depend upon having a thinking, creative human who is supposed to improvising the narrative as much as adjudicate the rules. That's a wonderful idea, but it is very difficult to translate that to a computer RPG. Probably doomed to either failure or radical rules modifications (as we saw in the two computer game incarnations of Vampire: The Masquerade).
Not that it isn't a noble goal to try.
And Another Indie Game Development Contest!
Starting today, and running through October 19th, The Escapist is accepting submissions for the "Stonking Great Game Contest." The game must be an original Flash-based title about the popular Zero Punctuation series.
To help us poor programmers who have few art skills, they are also providing a library of assets related to Zero Punctuation to help us on our way.
Once again, the prize is basically braggin' rights (and some swag), though I imagine the attention from such a popular series would not hurt an indie gamer's career. Unfortunately, all game submissions become the property of The Escapist's parent company, but since you'll be using their assets anyway you really couldn't do anything with it without 'em anyway. You'll have to re-write and re-brand your game for that. :)
Anyway - it sounds like another interesting opportunity for Flash developers. Gentlemen (and ladies) - start your editors!
RPGDX is having another RPG-making competition. As usual, there are no prizes involved, but there's some definite value and bragging rights in cranking out a game for this kind of thing. The date is tentatively planned for the 15th and 16th of August - the weekend after next.
The theme for this summer's contest is "Side Scrollers." Yes, a side-scrolling RPG. I have visions of the original Golden Axe and Rastan arcade games going through my head suddenly, though perhaps the most appropriate recent entry in this category would be The Spirit Engine 2.
The trick, obviously, is that you have only 48 hours to make your game. You CAN use an existing game engine and even some pregenerated resources, but the game design and creation must all occur within the same 48 hour period (naturally, you should probably have some IDEAS before you start).
I'm tempted. Not that I have the time to do it or anything. But I'm tempted anyway - perhaps as a way to recharge the ol' batteries.
Got the guts, want the glory? Here's the official announcement and rules, all subject to change:
RPGDX Summer Indie RPG Competition
Looking (Again) at Persona 4
Kat Bailey begins to delve into the world of Persona 4 at 1UP.com:
The Monthly Grind: Welcome to Silent Hill East
Here, she focuses on an element that I agree really made the game: the very boringly normal (well, a little exotic for Western fans, but still pretty mundane) setting. Which makes the mystery, creepiness, and out-and-out weird elements really stand out.
Indie Game Makers: Don't Quit Your Day Job. Seriously.
Jeff Ward has done the research and run the numbers.
This probably won't put to rest the eternal question of, "How much money can I expect to make with this indie game I intend to make?" But it's a good reference point for when you answer, "not nearly enough."
Good thing I'm not in it for the money.
Master of Orion's Love Child
In the last few weeks, a few people have expressed to me their lament over the death of the Master of Orion series, and mused over whether anybody else would ever pick up that torch, or if the franchise would be revived. Now, I have zero information to answer the second question. But jussincase you hadn't heard my opinion on this ( offered absolutely free, and guaranteed to be worth every penny), I have a very definitive answer to the first one: It's already been done, and it rawks. And it's been done by a (bigger budget) indie. It's not new, but the last expansion came out just last year.
Just so ya know I am as happy to pimp other people's games that I don't see a dime from as the ones I sell on my website, here's my gushing about Galactic Civilizations 2 (plus the expansions). It also means that I get to turn the hours I lost playing recently into a blog post, to make up for my lack of productivity.
I have made the mistake of trying to play a couple of "quick" games of Galactic Civilizations 2 again recently. You know, to relax. I play it exclusively now with both expansions - Dark Avatar and Twilight of the Arnor. They add so much to the game I don't know if I could go back (in fact, I have only played the "raw" Gal Civ 2 once, as I originally purchased it with the Dark Avatar expansion). Just so ya know, when I'm talking about Galactic Civilizations 2 here, I'm referring to the "complete" game with both of the expansions.
Playing these kinds of games is pretty much falling off the wagon for me. I tell myself a quick game can't hurt, and that I can only play for an hour, but I'll just play a few short sessions over the course of several days. Sure. I can stop whenever I want...
Okay, I did manage to stop and get things done, but my "quick" sessions went about three times longer than I intended. Gal Civ 2 is one of the worst of these drugs for me. The game distorts the time-space continuum around itself, where an hour passes in the blink of an eye. It's an evil game. And it is, in my opinion, the true heir to the legacy left by Master of Orion and Master of Orion 2: Battle at Antares. (MOO 3, lest anybody forget, was a horrible travesty committed on the franchise.)
The biggest difference in Gal Civ 2 from the first two MOO games is the lack of tactical combat. Once combat is joined in Galactic Civilizations 2, your only interaction is to change how you view the battle (change the speed, skip it entirely, and change camera angles). The space battles in the Master of Orion games ranged from "abstract but playable" to "somewhat realistic and tedious as hell."
Another thing that is missing is multiplayer. But considering that we were never able to play a single game of Master of Orion 2 on a LAN to completion, I don't consider this a big loss. There is an online scoreboard that offers a token multiplayer competitive aspect, but that doesn't really count.
The two expansions pack the game really, REALLY full of amazing details and possibilities. Besides adding new stand-alone campaigns (with surprisingly interesting storylines for a strategy game) and new races, plus some editing tools for modders that I haven't even touched, they really pushed the gameplay to new levels of depth that none of the Master of Orion games even touched. I'm still discovering tricks and nuances after several long games.
Espionage is way over the top. While you may not be able to win a campaign directly through espionage alone, you can both learn all of the enemy's secrets and cripple their planets through sabotage very directly. Diplomacy is handled extremely well in this game. It, too, is a rich mini-game that has layers of subtlety and opportunities to bend the galaxy to your will. At higher difficulty levels, its absolutely critical to survival.
The ship editor obviously took a lot of effort. You can build the appearance of your vessels through sort of a Lego-style connection of modules, and add the actual functional modules (like weapons, defenses, sensors, and other devices) the same way.
Unfortunately, military technology isn't as open-ended as it was in the MOO games, mostly because of the lack of tactical combat. Combat is more about playing the numbers in Gal Civ 2 than tactical application of a nasty new tech that spoils your opponent's advantage. However, with the Twilight of the Arnor expansion, they've made up for it by giving each race a unique tech tree with tons of race-specific technologies (which can be traded / stolen by other races, but not researched on their own). And there are now bonus modules which can be outfitted to ships which enhance the ability of their entire fleet.
Another fascinating aspect to the game is the sheer number of ways to *win* it. Besides conquering the galaxy by force, you can win a complete cultural victory through your powerful influence (which may also get planets to defect to your side in the middle of the game). Then there's the technological victory, where you are able to evolve beyond the the physical universe. If nobody is left standing except your allies, you can win an allied victory. Finally, there's the new "ascension" victory, explored in the Twilight of the Arnor, which is theoretically another "peaceful" victory condition - sort of an accumulated victory point condition which leads to immortality. I say it's theoretically "peaceful" as any race getting close to Ascending is very likely to become a target - and the weak, underpowered starbases around ascension crystals are going to be the first casualties.
Added to this are the politics (and technologies) of ethical outlooks, undefended and quick-to-defect asteroid mining, extremely useful starbase placement, exploration of galactic anomalies, random events, custom race creation, "minor" races that are an influence on the game without being a competitor, really solid AI, new "Terror Stars" that can just plain wipe out planets that you don't feel like invading (hmm, where'd they get THAT idea?), deep tech trees, and the potential to play in absolutely ginormous galaxies.
So I guess I can finally get rid of that Master of Orion 2 disc now...
Labels: strategy games
Role-Playing By Any Other Name
Brian "Psychochild" Green has his take on the meaning of "Role-Playing Game:"
What the "RP" in "RPG" Stand For
The contention here (and with the article he links to on the meaning of CRPG) is that the nature of the genre / category has come to mean "character advancement," particularly in the eyes of marketers. Limiting the definition to the trappings of making your on-screen avatar more powerful as an entitlement for longevity is inadequate at best. But it is what people typically think of when they talk about CRPGs.
I've got my own fuzzy characteristics that I use to define an RPG, and they have served me pretty well. But I'm also happy to admit that it is more of a set of guidelines than hard-and-fast rules. And I suppose that is as it should be. I really prefer a world where games overflow the boundaries of category definitions. But I also cringe a little bit when I see marketers throwing around the term "RPG elements" or even defining something as a role-playing game just because it has elves in it.
Does having predefined, pre-named characters preclude a game from being an RPG? I sure hope not, or I have no idea what to call Frayed Knights. Or all the jRPG games I like (including several that I help sell). I played D&D back in the old days when "tournaments" were common and pregenerated characters came with modules and at the Gen Con / Origins tables. Assuming the role of Sir Ffloric of Ruthgart in a one-shot sure didn't seem any less of roleplaying than rolling up a level 1 fighter tentatively named "Bill" until he proved he could survive to third level and proven worthy of a real character backstory.
I agree that there has to be more to it than character advancement. Simply having your on-screen persona get more powerful over time doesn't quite cut it. And as Brian suggests, sometimes the mechanics get in the way.
But I feel the emphasis on "role-playing" (a name which was loosely applied to the games years after their appearance) hampers the definition of the single-player experience. Role-playing has its origins as a social activity. Brian suggests how some aspect of role-playing might make it's way into a single player game, and I guess you could really practice some kind of Method Acting approach to playing a single-player game. But for me, role-playing is really something done with other people.
In a single-player RPG, the closest I get to the experience of role-playing is something more akin to role exploration, driven by the mechanics and quest design of the game. I had pretty tight constraints on who my character in Persona 4 could be. I was restricted to being an male teenager at a particular school who is generally a nice, likeable guy with enough sense of responsibility to shoulder the burden of solving a deadly mystery. I could choose which relationships to pursue, but my behaviors to see them to their completion were limited to only a few relatively meaningless variations. In Oblivion, the mechanics of the game encouraged me to play my assassin as the sort of stealthy predator who spent his time running and skipping through meadows picking flowers.
I guess you could say the roles played me.
It only smells like "role-playing" by a very loose interpretation which would cast a pretty wide net across the entire spectrum of game genres. This is why, ironically, I don't feel RPGs are best defined by their name. And why they mean so many different things to different people. But the name sticks, and it's about as good as any other.
Labels: Roleplaying Games