Tales of the Rampant Coyote
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Wednesday, September 30, 2009
 
For Some Reason It Feels Like Friday...
I don't know why. It just... feels like Friday to me. And it spite of it being chilly and wet, I keep thinking of... sunshine. And wet...

(Photo via Google Earth and Martin Zustak.)

Mmmmm ---- just a few hours to go....
 
Telepath Psy Arena 2 Now Available At Rampant Games
I got to spend a lot of time this weekend playing some new indie games that have just been released. Yeah, it's a dirty job, but somebody's gotta do it.

The third of the trio of games that acted like vampires with a thirst for my spare time was Telepath Psy Arena 2. This is a turn-based tactics game dipped in some heavy RPG-style elements. Still, I'm calling it a strategy game rather than an RPG for the purpose of categorization. But if you are a turn-based RPG fan, you should give this one a look.

Telepath Psy Arena 1 is a free flash game available at the Sinister Design website. The sequel is a premium title, and really expands on the basic gameplay of the original. In particular, it's added a persistent team and campaign and some RPG elements to the core tactical-arena game.

You now manage a team that can level up between battles. You can trade them out or replace fallen members at the "meat market." The early battles are almost trivial (if you have a full team), but ramp up in difficulty such that you will need a team of complimentary, leveled-up veterans and some skilled play to win. There are eighty hand-created battles to participate in, so it will keep you busy for a wile.

There is no randomness in the mechanics or hidden surprises in this game (so far as I've seen) - like a game of Chess or Go (or Slay, for that matter). Combatants always hit their targets, always doing the same amount of damage. It's a game of pure tactical choices, not risk management.

Craig Stern, the guy who is Sinister Design, was also the author of the bizzarro side-scrolling RPG-in-a-weekend project "Ham Sandwich RPG."

Since Telepath Psy Arena 2 may appeal to strategy-RPG fans, I've made it available at Rampant Games. You can check it out here. The free demo includes a very liberal helping of levels for your enjoyment:

Try Telepath Psy Arena 2

Whew.

You guys gave fun!

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Torque 3D 1.0 Released
As many of you game-developer types (you know who you are) may have heard already, the new flagship of GarageGames, Torque 3D, has now been released.

Here's the announcement.

From what I have seen, this new engine is pretty dang sharp. There's no faultin' it there. I haven't played with the tools or anything yet, but some of the videos showing them off have been nice.

Price-wise, they have aimed a bit higher than the company has done in the past, going after the "prosumer" market. It's not outside of the realm of indies, but the current licenses available are more for serious small-studio commercial developers (indie or not) rather than the hobbyist. They've expressed consideration for another licensing option which does not include source code for the lower-end market, currently entitled the "artist" license, but they have not yet committed to it.

UPDATE: GarageGames (and Dynamix) founder Jeff Tunnell looks back on the announcement that the older engines, TGE and TGEA, will be retired and no longer for sale in one month.

Make It Big In Games: Torque Game Engine Enters Retirement… Bittersweet For Me

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009
 
Ultima and Knee Trauma
A few weeks ago I asked people about their favorite "old school" computer or console RPG, and why. The point about calling it "old school" was to try and weed out differences in technology, and focus in on the game itself. I've really enjoyed the thoughts shared there, and I hope you have, too.

So here's my own story.

My own favorite RPG has been - with only a little bit of contention for the spot, Ultima VII: The Black Gate. Yeah, something like seventeen years running. That's scary. But while I think the game was a solid, wonderful game, I think the reason it has maintained such a fond place in my mind has less to do with the game's quality itself, and more upon my life circumstances. After reading through the stories of some folk's favorites, I find I'm not alone.

I think games stories are like a lot of other things: You get out of 'em what you put into 'em. It's about how much of yourself you invest into it.

I was a poor, starving, newly-married college student, and had to borrow the game from a friend at the time (I later picked up the complete Ultima VII set of games and expansions on CD-ROM). I was hooked almost immediately. The opening sequence, the murder mystery - all extremely cool stuff. I played it for about three weeks off and on, and I had a great time with it. It was definitely a favorite of mine at the time. But it wasn't the game itself, exactly --- but it was particular moments or subquests. But the whole overarching plot with the Guardian and the mysterious religious cult, the Fellowship, had me intrigued.

But as often happens with RPGs, there came a time when I got lost, bored, and mired in some aspect of the game. I'd play for an hour and feel like I'd made no progress and only wandered about in circles talking to the same people with no new information. And so playing became intermittent. Several weeks went by. It looked like it would be another game that would never be finished. And today I'd be talking about how Baldur's Gate II or something else was the Best RPG Evar.

But one week I got to puttering around in it after about a three week hiatus, and made a little bit of progress. Not enough to get me fully re-invested. But that night I had a little medievalist practice with the group we'd cobbled together called (at the time) Battleguard, using the Dagorhir rules. The group met (and still meets) in the park right across the street from our dinky one-bedroom apartment in Provo, Utah. That's right - when I wasn't playing a swordsman in the computerized virtual world, I was running around playing a swordsman in the real world, too.

The night started as it usually did, with twenty or so of us squaring off into two teams and having at it with padded sticks that resembled medieval weaponry. I was kicking butt as usual. :) Then I found myself running towards one of the better players, arriving too late to save a teammate he'd just dispatched. Then I caught another of his teammates - also a skilled player, coming at me from behind. The two of them charged at me.

I realized I couldn't take on both of them at the same time. But if I acted quickly, I might be able to kill one of my opponents quickly before the other could come to his aid. So I stopped and spun in place, trying to get a cheap shot in on the guy behind me (who might not be expecting it). I wasn't so lucky. He parried, and it was clear I was going to be in for a long fight with him. So I made another quick attack and prepared to run.

His partner came up from behind just before I took off running and hit my extended left leg with his sword. I felt my kneecap pop out of position and roll on over to the side. And then the pain hit.

Let me tell you - I have never felt greater pain in my life. I may have been in pain for much longer, but that brief second or three before my kneecap snapped back into position was about the most intense agony I've ever experienced before or since. Fortunately, one of the Battleguard players was an EMT. He rushed over to check me out, figured out what had happened, made sure I was in no immediate need of medical help, and told me what I needed to know. By that time I was only feeling the aftershocks of the pain, plus the endorphin rush that usually accompanies a major stretch or workout.

The two guys involved in the accident supported me and helped me hobble across the street and up the stairs into my apartment. In spite of it not being their fault at all, they were feeling horribly guilty about it. And they were good friends (they were instrumental in helping us move a few months later, too...)

The next day, Friday, my leg was still pretty much useless. I skipped all my classes. Getting from the bedroom to the living room - where we had the computer - was about the best I could do. So except for a trip to the doctor (who confirmed exactly what the EMT had said, after being astonished when I told him it had happened by getting hit with a sword), I was stuck at home with nothing to do all day...

Except play Ultima VII.

Interestingly enough, I only had about eight or ten hours left to finish the game. I have never really spent that much time in one sitting playing a computer game. Britannia was my escape from the real world, where - with some help from some ibuprofen - I could forget about the pain for a while.

And it was awesome. Hunting down Elizabeth and Abraham ("EA" - get it?), unraveling the mystery of the Fellowship and discovering Batlin's hidden agenda, and the final cut-scene where the Guardian's gateway portal is shattered just before he enters the world - his threat to the planet Earth at the end... It was all awesome.

I'm really not hoping for some new trauma to force me to discover a new favorite RPG, though I'm certain I've got several candidates that could fill the bill. I'm happy leaving Ultima VII as the reigning champion for life if that's what it would take to replace it.

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Monday, September 28, 2009
 
Dawn's Light Now Available at Rampant Games
This was a busy weekend. I could blame it on vacation preparation, but that really wasn't it. There was just a lot to do. Among them was adding two new games to the Rampant Games store.

Of course, that meant playing them, too. Yeah, my job sucks, doesn't it? :) I already blogged about Eternal Twilight.

But now I want to talk about Dawn's Light.

Obviously, it's a game in the 16-bit console jRPG tradition, using RPG Maker. You can tell that from the screenshot. And I have to say it - it has a boring, generic title. "Dawn's Light." I haven't played far enough into it to know how the light of dawn factors into anything. Maybe it's perfectly appropriate, but the title sure doesn't grab me or anything. Maybe because I'm a night owl, and so "Dawn's Light" to me means, "I should be in bed asleep."

And then the plot sounded pretty generic. Some guy named Harvey has lost everything and is out for revenge. How many B-grade action movies have I seen with that plot? Okay, some of 'em were pretty good. Well, okay, one of them that I can think of off the top of my head - Mad Max. But the concept didn't send thrills down my spine as inspired or anything. To elaborate a bit on the plot set-up: A bad guy - Mordecai - is hunting the good guy - Harvey - since he was a kid. Mordecai already nabbed his brother for some power in their blood when they were both children, and has systematically killed a bunch of the people Harvey cares about. So Harvey's out to avenge his loved ones. Sounds all angsty and trite, right?

Next: The game and storyline turned out to be hella fun with a substantial amount of tongue-in-cheek humor. Really fun and enjoyable.

I'll bet you didn't see that coming, did ya?

Me neither.

The level of enthusiasm Harvey displays when trying to fill his brand new quest journal with accomplishments, to his frustration trying to rescue sheep who are perfectly content to stay where they are, to the general snark and amusing comments characters make explaining the rationale for certain game behaviors, are all humorously presented. The game has an emphasis on fun, and isn't above a bit of goofiness to maintain it.

This has some drawbacks. What might have been intended as a serious death scene early in the game lacks much emotional punch. Of course, the fact that you have only barely met the guy you were supposed to have known for seven years has something to do with it.

Some indie RPGs (even ones I grew to enjoy) really have a tough time getting started with the "fun." You may not even get to the one-hour demo limit before quitting and not feeling compelled to come back to them. Dawn's Light isn't one of them. I found myself immediately enjoying the game, having fun, and being surprised at how much time had passed as I played.

Dang it. I was supposed to get other things done, too....

While I can't say I'm attached to the main character or anything yet, or even invested in the storyline, the charm and attitude of the game has sold me on it. Hopefully it won't turn into a crushing disappointment later on. The game has plenty of other selling points, including an emphasis on puzzle-solving and other non-combat activities to avoid the tendency too many RPG Maker games have of padding out the plot and dialog with endless streams of combat.

Dawn's Light was a pleasant surprise.

Check it out for yourself:

Download Dawn's Light from Rampant Games

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Sunday, September 27, 2009
 
Eternal Twilight Now Available at Rampant Games
Eternal Twilight is an RPGMaker-created title from newcomer Oliveair Games (and, specifically, game maker James Fox). Boasting approximately twenty hours of gameplay, eight playable characters (plus two "bonus" playable characters hidden in the game), and a storyline about the redemption of a formerly-heartless mercenary - and of course, an evil power threatening the entire world - it is now available at the Rampant Games Store.

If offers a free hour of play, so you can check it out and see if it is to your liking.

I haven't played too far into this one yet, myself (opinions, anyone?) But one thing that was pretty different from the get-go was playing a pretty evil character. Your first mission is to eliminate a disgraced army general - the punishment for his failure. Your target doesn't seem to be the picture of innocence himself, and you do give him a fair fight to defend himself. Even so, you are a guy who kills for cash. It is not (for me) a comfortable role to play.

Fortunately, the game lets you off the hook early on. Something snaps in your second mission. Something weird has happened, and Torch has an attack of conscience and feelings that he'd never experienced before. And he's finding himself defending a girl who, only moments ago, he was about to kidnap. And squaring off against a world-spanning evil organization that will now hunt him relentlessly for his betrayal.

Sucks to suddenly grow a soul like that, doesn't it? Hopefully the rest of the story will not disappoint after setting up a little mystery with a bad-guy-turned-good-guy arc.

Anyway - you can download it here and check it out for yourself here:

Download Eternal Twilight

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Friday, September 25, 2009
 
Cleavage: An Evolution of Game Mechanics
I'm gonna start today's post with a link to some Great Cleavage:

Some Great Cleavage (and yes, it's probably safe for work...)

Back in the day, with the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons, there was a somewhat obscure rule that I don't remember ever using until the advent of the first "Gold Box" D&D game from SSI - Pool of Radiance. It's so obscure that I spent fifteen minutes trying to look it up in two books for this article, and still could not find it. The rule stated that fighters were able to attack a number of adjacent low-level monsters (with less than 1 hit die - so goblins, kobolds, giant rats, and a few others) equal to their level - as long as there were as many adjacent enemies standing around.

This made fighters pretty useful in clearing out rooms full of insignificant monsters. Of course, in earlier editions, higher-level fighters were still likely to encounter lower-level monsters. And back then, magic-users had so few spells that they didn't want to waste a fireball on a room full of goblins if they could help it.

To preserve this capability, the creators of third edition Dungeons & Dragons turned this ability into a pair of feats: Cleave, and Great Cleave. The benefit of cleave is as follows (taken from the SRD):
"If you deal a creature enough damage to make it drop (typically by dropping it to below 0 hit points or killing it), you get an immediate, extra melee attack against another creature within reach. You cannot take a 5-foot step before making this extra attack. The extra attack is with the same weapon and at the same bonus as the attack that dropped the previous creature. You can use this ability once per round. "
Great Cleave did much the same, except it allowed the character to keep going after multiple opponents. If you could kill them all in one blow, you could take out several of them in a single round.

In practice, it wasn't a tremendously popular feat because it was very situational. Third edition and 3.5 D&D tended to do away with the swarms of lesser monsters thing (but brought them back in 4e), in favor of fewer monsters closer to the player characters' level.

And so this rule morphed a bit now under the new Pathfinder rules:
"As a standard action, you can make a single attack at your full base attack bonus against a foe within reach. If you hit, you deal damage normally and can make an additional attack (using your full base attack bonus) against a foe that is adjacent to the first and also within reach. You can only make one additional attack per round with this feat. When you use this feat, you take a –2 penalty to your Armor Class until your next turn."
So the new rule no longer requires you to drop your opponents - simply hit them (pretty easy for a higher-level character). And you are somewhat easier to hit while you are doing so. Great Cleave extends the ability so that you can attack additional opponents beyond the second. It's no longer something only usable against weak opponents, though in some ways I think it better preserves the essence of the 1st edition rules - I don't recall that you had to kill the low-level monsters to make those attacks, either. But I do not believe that this third iteration had any basis in the first edition rule - it was created simply to make Cleave and Great Cleave more viable abilities.

I may be the only person around who is interested in noting this kind of evolution of a game mechanic - how it has shifted and changed under different design teams and years of playtesting - and I'm not going to argue that the newer rules are necessarily superior to the older ones. It's just interesting to me to see what was done to preserve the feel of a game through major and minor overhauls.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009
 
GOG.COM - Realms of Arkania Now Available
I'm sure a lot of you got the same email announcement I did from GOG.COM, but for those who didn't...

Realms of Arkania is now available at GOG.COM. They've got Realms of Arcania 1 & 2 available now, and Realms of Arcania 3 will be released soon.

Cheap. Old-school hard-core RPG goodness.

Argh. When these games were new, I had plenty of time to play, but no money. Now they are cheap enough for anybody to afford 'em, but I have no time!

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Indie RPG News Roundup, September 24 2009
Indie role-playing games, just like grandmother used to make! Here's a little bit of homemade, homespun goodness for you to sink you teeth into, and enjoy every mouth-watering bite:

Avernum 6
If you follow Jeff Vogel's indie RPG series, he's posted some news on Avernum 6. Yes, there is a food requirement. No, it's not what you think.

Telepath Psy Arena 2
It's almost done, according to developer Sinister Design

UPDATE: It was REALLY almost done. And now it is released! (Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux!)

Download Telepath Psy Arena 2!

(Update: Fixed spelling of Psy)

Eschalon: Book 2
Linux Gaming News has posted an interview with Thomas Riegsecker of Basilisk Games about Eschalon: Book 2. In it, he talks sales numbers, the vision of the series, what constitutes an "old school" RPG, efforts being made to balance the character classes, and much more.

Dawn's Light
This is a recently-released jRPG-style indie game from newcomer John Wizard Games. The game revolves around Harvey, a man who has lost everything and sets out on a quest of revenge - but may find his hatred may destroy himself. The game features a hundred quests - including plenty of side-quests and a load of puzzles. (Available for Windows)

Download Dawn's Light

And check out the trailer:



Din's Curse
Soldak's new "dungeon crawler" has been officially dubbed Din's Curse. Check out the details at the link! The game sounds to be a little closer to Depths of Peril in style and gameplay, which suits me just fine. It sounds like there are some roguelike elements in it (as there were in Depths of Peril), and that it is more "Hardcore" than Kivi's Underworld. The advertised features include:
Co-op? Dynamic, evolving world with emergent gameplay? Massive replayability. I can't wait! I think I'm getting more excited about this game than Diablo III.

Aveyond
Work on the third book of the "Orbs of Magic" series (which started with Aveyond: Lord of Twilight) has begun. Once again, it features Mel as a principle character. Subtitled, "The Lost Orb," it is scheduled for release in December.

Knights of the Chalice
This pretty impressive D20-based old-school RPG is now at version 1.19. If you tried the initial demo but were turned off by bugs or the font, you should check out the latest & greatest. The core gameplay is the same, so that won't have changed. But at least now you can play it in a larger window!

Eternal Twilight
Another jRPG-style RPG made with RPG Maker, Eternal Twilight is a new entry from Oliveair Games which emphasizes a return to the old SNES days with side-view combat with lots of special effects animations. The game features eight playable characters (plus two additional "secret" playable characters). (Available for Windows)

Download Eternal Twilight

UPDATE:
Battle of the Millenium
A new title from extremely prolific Aldorlea Games, this first episode of a promised series includes over 35 quests and battles against 8 "Animal Kings." I haven't tried it - let me know what you think! (Available for Windows)

Download Battle of the Millenium


And that's it for now! Mmm-mmm good!

As always, if you are looking for some fun and adventure, check out these links, and also be sure and check out the Rampant Games Store.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009
 
There's a Reason It's Called "Back"-Story
There's a running gag in dice-and-paper circles about gaming store owners and employees not wanting to hear about customers' characters.

It's amusing because it's traditionally all-too-true. I've never been employed by a gaming store, but on my infrequent visits I, too, have found myself enduring an annoying customer who takes my passing interest in all things RPG as license to launch into a four hour diatribe about their "awesome" character, their back story, and detailed enumerations of everything they have done on every adventure they've had since first level. Unfortunately, offering a polite, "That sounds cool," and hastily walking away from them often only serves to encourage them to follow and continue their exposition.

Game Masters can be just as bad. They can expound upon their world / campaign as lovingly and at such length as if it were their own child. Only a historian or accountant could have such a love for timelines, details, and numbers. They are Cliff Clavins of their own worlds.

Not that these worlds and characters are in any way boring. They often have the seeds of what could be some really fascinating stories. But they just get expounded upon without a hint of storytelling skill. They think they are recounting an exciting story, but they are really reciting the phone book verbatim.

Computer RPGs are not immune to this problem, either. Too many RPGs (and indie RPGs, this means you) feel the need to unveil their lovingly-crafted campaign world before you get to jump in and start having fun. Granted, having a little bit of up-front exposition is preferable to being dropped in the middle of nowhere wondering where in hell you are and what you are supposed to do. But I have played too many RPGs that probably thought they were providing an awesome analog of the Star Wars opening crawl, but instead delivered the first ten chapters of the Book of Chronicles.

And, unfortunately, I see too many descriptions of indie RPGs that provide too little information, or too much backstory, or - surprise! - both. I'm not gonna name names here, to protect the guilty. They don't need the voice of (dearly missed) Don LaFontaine here, but paying a little attention to the trite-but-still-works movie trailer formula he was famous for might help here. The setting, plot, and character were often combined into a single sentence:

"In a world where bat-winged donkeys rule with an iron hoof, one hero will rise to kick some serious ass."

I know writing advertising copy ain't easy. But an entire paragraph on how two kingdoms came to be at war, or how the evil was unleashed on the world because the mages accidentally destroyed heaven (in a pretty uninspiring Dragon Age: Origins trailer - though to their credit, it was only one of many trailers, most of which were much more exciting). All this backstory is very good and very important - but what you need to tell me in the first few seconds is why I should care.

Sell me on a story I want to hear, people! I have slogged through hours of studying for high-school exams in Persona 3 and 4 just for the sake of an intriguing Twilight Zone-esque story, so I know what a sucker I am for the promise of an interesting story with some characters I came to become invested in.

Fortunately for those of us who love indie RPGs, the experienced developers out there have been learning, and this is becoming less of a problem. I think Aveyond 1: Rhen's Quest and Aveyond: Lord of Twilight have very good prologues which are interesting in their own right, provide enough exposition to set up the story, yet stop well short of disgorging voluminous unneeded details.

Eternal Eden tried to do the same, as well as combining it with a tutorial. Unfortunately, I felt that one was a little too cryptic, leaving me wondering "WTF?!?!?" at the end. Sorta like how I felt about Final Fantasy XII's gargantuan intro (great CGI, but... who were all these people again? And who am I playing? Oh, no, not that guy I just played, apparently...)

Yeah, I know. There is a call for better story in games approximately once an hour. An hour from now it'll be someone else's turn. But this is just one little suggestion that I think will make a major difference. Quit trying to move the back-story to the front. Give us just what we need for action and flavor, and let us discover the rest as we go, once we've had a chance to get invested in the storyline.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009
 
How Many XP Did She Get For That?
And did she cry, "I waste it with my crossbow!" as she fired the shot?

Florida Woman Bags 11-Foot Alligator With Crossbow.
 
The Star Trek Game That Wasn't
Man, I remember looking forward to this game.

Watching the videos now, it still looks awesome. I guess it makes for a good cautionary tale for developers. Risk assessment is better done BEFORE you've spent a couple million on development...

At least Star Trek has given us some good games over the years. Starfleet Command and Star Trek 25th Anniversary (a graphic adventure game) rawked. There may have been others, but I've not played them all.

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Monday, September 21, 2009
 
Win Fame and Adoration as a Guest Poster!
Fame! Fortune! Success! Status Amongst Your Peers! Unfortunately, this post is about none of that.

After three years of scrimping and saving, my family is taking our long-awaited Hawaiian vacation in about a week and a half. We're thrilled.

But what happens to the blog when I'm gone? Well, nothing really. I try and keep some blog posts in reserve so it's easier for me to post every weekday (and even sometimes on weekends). And our hotel does have an Internet connection, so I may be popping in the check things out. BRIEFLY.

But I figured this might be a really good time to solicit members of this community to write some guest posts for the site to help fill in. I think long-time members of this community are well aware of the fact that they are smarter and better-spoken than I am. Probably better-looking too. And here's your chance to prove it. Don't worry about shattering my fragile pride.

I'm primarily looking for articles about computer RPGs, adventure games, indie games, and reflections on gaming in general. I am not really looking for reviews of games - this is not a review site - nor news (since I can't guarantee when / if your article will be posted). But thoughts / feelings on playing a particular game - going deep rather than providing a broad review - would be perfect. I'm looking for short* articles discussing the history, culture, loves, hopes, fond memories, and even rants about this hobby we love.

Think about your favorite gaming moments and experiences, your "dream game," things you'd like to see, things that drive you up the wall, favorite game characters, or nitpicks about specific topics. Note: I'm not really looking for articles on game development - but obviously that's a topic 'round these parts as well, so I won't rule it out. Give it a little flare and humor, and make sure you include your name and a link to your homepage as you want it to appear, and send it my way via the feedback email address at rampantgames.com.

While this is principally to cover my fundamental laziness prior to taking my vacation, but i'm pretty lazy all the time. Please consider this an open invitation for writing for Tales of the Rampant Coyote at any time.


* 5-ish paragraphs would be great, but there are no hard and fast rules.

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A Passel Of Adventure Game Design Articles
With Friday's discussion about adventure game elements in RPGs, I have gone back to look over some articles on adventure game design. As far as adventure game design is concerned, I'm strictly a novice (I've just been at it for a pretty long time). So I frequently dig up some articles by much more experienced folk on the art and science of adventure game design to broaden my education.

I think I've shared some of these links before, but here they are again (and a few more) for your edification if you feel inclined to pursue that particular brand of insanity:

Ron Gilbert: Why Adventure Games Suck (and What We Can Do About It)
An old article just as relevant (or more relevant) today as when it was written.

21 Adventure Game Design Tips at AdventureDevelopers
Lotta the same thoughts as Ron Gilbert, plus a few more.

Use Key On Door by Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Yahtzee (of Zero Punctuation fame) addresses one Depressingly Common Adventure Game Design Flaw, and considers possible solutions.

The Craft of Adventure (PDF document)
A series of articles on the art and craft of creating IF / Adventure games.

ThenGamer: The Making of Loom
Reflections on the making of a lesser-known LucasArts graphic adventure game classic.

Old Man Murray: Who Killed Adventure Games?
A harsh but not untrue look at one of the real reasons graphic adventure games lost mainstream popularity.

Adventure Game Puzzles: Unlocking the Secrets of Puzzle Design
Boiling down (most) adventure game puzzles into distinct patterns / categories.

Making Better Puzzles
Yet more advice on making adventure-game style puzzles more fair and more fun.

GamaSutra's Interview with Emily Short
She's one of the biggest movers and shakers in modern Interactive Fiction, with a large number of titles (all freeware) to her credit.

Puzzle Design of Myst
Exploring the good and bad of Myst's puzzle design.

Conversation, by Emily Short
A rather lengthy article discussing possibilities for designing conversation in Interactive Fiction (also useful for RPG design, although she does assume a text-based parser).

Interview With Al Lowe at Rock Paper Shotgun
WARNING - NSFW! The creator of the classic Leisure Suit Larry games talks about designing the series and the modern game audience.

Implementing an IF Interface in 3D, by Mike Rubin
Mike talks about the challenges of taking a text-based adventure into the 3D Graphics world (incidentally - Al Lowe did something similar, as the first Leisure Suit Larry was a conversion of a text adventure into a graphic adventure game).

I'm sure this is only the tip of the iceberg. Do you have some better articles or suggestions for someone who might be aspiring to writing adventure games or Interactive Fiction?'

To maintain the longevity of the resource, I'm maintaining a thread over on the forums devoted to this subject.

Forum Thread: A Passel of Adventure Game Design Articles

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Friday, September 18, 2009
 
Frayed Knights: Skull-Drudgery
Some weeks, it feels like my progress on Frayed Knights is inexcusably slow. This was one of those weeks. Much of this last week has been devoted to a skull.

One. Frickin'. Skull.

And poetry.

Kinda.

See, I've been working on a little bit of "black triangle" stuff again. While I'd hoped to just start populating dungeons with all kinds of stuff, I've found myself having to go back and support a lot of new functionality. This is because I'm not satisfied just throwing a bunch of combat encounters in my dungeons and calling it done. I figure if that's all somebody wanted to do, they'll be playing Diablo III or something like that.

I want my dungeons in Frayed Knights to have a lot of things going on in them besides combat. Not that combat will (usually) take a second seat. But I want to have things to tinker with - little "micro-quests" going on - things to discover, things to talk to, things to experiment with. I want to be able to populate an area with lots of interesting stuff to do and tinker with and talk to and quest for instead of just fighting all the time.

I'd like each area to be a little mini-adventure game in its own right - but with some options rather than a single solution to every puzzle. Though at the same time, I worry if the environment is beginning to sound a little too "adventury." Did I just make up a new term? But if somebody wants to play an adventure game - well, thanks to the indies, there are a lot of new indie adventure games out there now, too.

Frayed Knights is written for - well, ultimately, for ME. While I loved adventure games back in the day, I haven't completed many of them. I'm kind of the dumb jock of the adventure game world. I enjoy a good smattering of puzzles. But I'm mainly there for the scenery, and when things get too difficult, I get frustrated and just want to KICK OPEN THE DAMN DOOR ALREADY. So I try to be careful to allow alternative, more "brute force" options where possible, and not to stray too far on the adventure game puzzle side of things.

And so the skull (there are a few skulls in the Tower of Almost Certain Death) was one of those things. It's got a playful and silly mini-quest associated with it, which didn't seem like it needed as much coding support as it did. I'm not really sure where the hours all went, except it seemed like I was constantly re-starting the game, testing, and finding out that something else wasn't working right, stopping, going back, hunting down the bug, and then doing it all over again. For HOURS.

My hope is that once I get some more functionality in place (and fully debugged), it'll be as easy to throw these kinds of quests together as it was when I was doing Neverwinter Nights scripting. That's not likely, but that's my ideal.

But as I've been doing this, I've found holes in my code that needed fillin'. I've had to write new code to support some of these activities. Some of 'em are pretty basic - like determining if anybody in the party has a particular item (and then supporting the expenditure of said item as part of a quest). But the real pain (and drudgery) comes from dealing with the expansion of all the combinations of the things the player may be doing, and making sure that not only the code and interface support it all, but that there is an appropriate conversation dialog for all of these situations (if talking is involved).

So there was a bunch of additional groundwork I had to lay recently that I hadn't counted on. Ah, well. Thus the apparently slower progress. But it's not been from lack of effort. As I said before - we're "white boxing" as much as possible to get things to a fully playable state more quickly, so screenshots aren't the prettiest. They won't be for a while, yet. But I do feel like we're making progress.

Brian has been working on the lizard man tunnels - which are also for this first chapter. While not fully textured (and looking a little too modern right now because of this), I like 'em enough that lizard men may have to have more appearances in this game (with similar dungeons).

So at this point, where are we in terms of content?

We have six indoor / "dungeon" environments that are functionally complete (but not all are detailed or populated yet). And we have two more indoor playing environments currently under construction. We have one town more-or-less complete (but not fully populated with all quest NPCs and so forth) - the expanded version of Ardin from the pilot. We have four outdoor environments currently playable (but incomplete), a whole bunch of small buildings, over a dozen functioning monster types.

I'm not gonna guess as to the hours of gameplay yet. But if you figure the Temple of Pokmor Xang was about average for the size of these dungeon crawls, that might give you some idea. And that's only about half of what's needed for the first act of the game.

So we're getting there. Just not as fast as I'd like.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009
 
What Is Your Favorite "Classic" cRPG?
What is your favorite classic / old-school RPGs on console or computer?

Why? What makes it live on in your memory?

I'm soliciting ideas over at the forums. Please feel free to add your 2 copper pieces:

Favorite Old-School RPG - Why?

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Stormtrooper "Truthers"
The Death Star being taken out by a couple of X-Wings?

Nah. It had to be an inside job.

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Can I Be Cool Now?
My kids really don't understand how cool their parents are.

I mean, okay - I guess I've never really been cool in my entire life. That's never really bothered me - except for maybe a few weeks in the third grade or something when I really wanted to be like The Fonz. That didn't pan out.

I grew up in an era where playing videogames were not cool. They weren't strictly uncool, as pretty much everybody had plunked in a quarter in a Pac-Man machine at some point, or had played Combat on somebody's Atari with a friend. But anybody who really played videogames - who made a hobby of it - was an uncool kid from the nerd set. Just like those kids who regularly played Dungeons & Dragons. And a kid who did both? Geek for life.

While D&D never succeeded in pushing outside of the geek niche, videogames are now mainstream. And so I can't conceal some amount of pride when my daughters are into gaming. And responsibility.

Jeff Vogel's newest blog post, "Properly Molding the Gamer Child," strikes a chord with me.

But here's a variation on the refrain parents have been whining since our race first developed speech: Our kids do not appreciate the efforts we go through to support their gamerhood.

It doesn't matter that our house has three game-capable computers, SEVEN consoles (if you include the two joysticks that plug directly into the TV that have something like a dozen old Atari games on them), and that each of our kids have a Nintendo handheld (and we have an old GameBoy Color which I still play). Noooooo. What matters is that we do not have a Wii, and that's what their friends are playing.

It doesn't matter that when it's time to stop playing a game, we usually give them five minutes to get to a save point - because the stupid ^#$@ console games (the XBox 360 games typically being a notable, wonderful exceptions) like to make players have to work for the privilege of saving. No. What matters is that we didn't give them FIFTEEN minutes to get to the next save point after this one.

It doesn't matter that we're supportive of our youngest playing Wizard 101, her MMO timesink of choice. Nope. It's that we don't play it too.

It doesn't matter that we have all these cool console jRPGs for our oldest - age 14 - to play. What matters is that in spite of the fact that she watched me play some parts of Persona 4 and she's familiar with most of the cut-scenes of the game on YouTube, we categorically won't let her play any M-rated games just yet.

Oh, there are moments. When they get a new DS game or two for their birthday. And I think they don't mind it much when we round 'em all up for a family game of Rock Band. Or something. Or they join us for some Dance Dance Revolution. But those are fleeting.

Although I think secretly, though her emo-teen code of conduct may not allow her to say, I think our oldest little gamer may grudgingly admit that yeah - maybe we're not too horribly uncool.

Considering my extreme uncool status as a kid, I'm gonna call that progress.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009
 
SHHH! The GM Is Listening!
Maybe I shouldn't have been so candid with my sharing of ideas on tricky combat encounters.

John is an old friend of mine (and a coworker), and a regular member of our Saturday Night gaming group. And he's a regular reader of this blog. He's scheduled to take over as DM (Pathfinder Rules) once our current campaign comes to an end, which will probably be around Thanksgiving. He DMed for us a lot back in the Neverwinter Nights days.

He's been very busy creating tools (in C#) for himself for allocation of loot and experience points and balancing encounters. He's been plotting out the first several adventures already. Yeah, he's excited to take the reigns of a pen-and-paper campaign.

And he thanked me Tuesday for all the WONDERFUL ideas I provided in the previous day's blog post. As if he hadn't already picked up a bunch of my evil "screw over the players" ideas over the years. Except he's organized enough to really take advantage of 'em.

We're doomed before the campaign starts. One day, I'll learn to keep my big mouth shut.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009
 
Pathfinder RPG: What's To Like?
I'm gonna talk a little bit more about dice & paper RPGing, just 'cuz I can.

The Pathfinder RPG rules have been out a couple of weeks now. While I still haven't had a chance to play the system yet, and still haven't even read through the entire nearly-600-page tome of rules, I've found a lot to like so far.

First of all, the best thing about it is that it is a continuation of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition gaming - particularly since Wizards of the Coast has dropped all support and 3.5 and has even yanked all digital sales of back-product off the market. My bookshelves are overloaded with source material that I still want to use, and from what I can tell it's all still very usable with very little conversion. Way Cool.

But it still has quite a few differences from D&D 3.5, and while I'm not 100% on-board with all changes, most of them seem pretty nice. And while there was definitely some "power creep" that has taken place, it's not too bad.

Some of the overall improvements that I think I'm going to really enjoy include:

Of course, the big question (for me) is, "Will there be a Pathfinder CRPG?" Considering that the game system came out only because of the challenging legal opportunity provided by the Open Gaming License (which is even more challenging for makers of electronic games), it's not an easy question to answer. But Knights of the Chalice made it work - in theory - and I haven't heard of any lawyers yet sending C&Ds their way yet. So it's a possibility.

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Monday, September 14, 2009
 
RPG Design: Seventeen Combat Encounters That Go Beyond Hack & Slash
Old-school pen-and-paper RPGing has kind of a reputation for being a hack-and-slash game... meaning pretty mindless dice-rolling and fighting. But the truth of the matter is that it the "classic" modules - at least the good ones - were a lot more like the late-era 3.5 and now 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons seemed to be trying to get back to: A lot of very interesting encounters / situations / tactical challenges that demanded players think their way through.

I spent a bit of time this weekend looking over some old (and not-so-old) modules for then pen-and-paper version of Dungeons & Dragons. Yeah, delving for ideas, I can admit it. Now granted, a lot of the homebrewed adventures out there really did fall into the stereotypical "kick open the door, kill the monster, take the treasure" hack-and-slash pattern that is all-too-familiar for computer RPG players.

But there really was a lot of effort to keep things fresh - ideas that were - and still are - too often forgotten by the computer RPG analogs. These might not be the pinnacles of role-playing, but they definitely turned combat into something far more interesting than straightforward hack-and-slash encounters. Players needed to use their brains, manage their resources carefully, think on their feet, and even (*gasp*) play their character roles.

Here's my list of the different kinds of combat encounters in old-school pen-and-paper modules.

1) Straightforward combat encounters - Nothing much to write about here. But often these involved a new monster type or a spellcaster or "boss-level" enemy which the players won't be familiar with. Or the tactics the enemies used might be a little unusual to mix things up.

2) Ambush attacks - monsters attacking from hiding to get an initial advantage (but quickly devolves into being a straightforward combat). Certain monsters were simply made for this kind of attack - like trappers and lurkers above.

3) Exposition Encounters - These might be encounters that resemble types 1 or 2, but actually provide clues as to the bigger picture. For example, orcs that are visibly nervous about guarding the entrance to the graveyard, and will not flee there under any circumstances.

4) Tactical Challenges - these battles involve a significant tactical wrinkle - like fighting on a bridge over a lake of fire, or something as simple as the enemy taking advantage of cover or the high ground. Anti-magic fields are also popular here. Tucker's Kobolds drove players insane with these kinds of battles.

5) Avoidable combats - battles which smart players can avoid completely by using their brains instead of their swords. There were often varieties of monsters coming and going in those old dungeons, which necessitated some loose agreements between them. The players could often exploit this situation. Using the correct password, or simply bribing the bored ogres might be enough.

6) Mixed battles with creatures of complimentary abilities. The classic example is to pair a powerful but easily killed magical enemy with a very tough "tank" to protect it.

7) Deceptive Battles - Like the ambush encounter, but there's something going on that makes the entire combat confusing and unclear. A canonical example is an illusion that disguises the true nature of the enemies, or adds additional illusionary attackers to the mix. Why is that cow breathing fire, again? Or a field of darkness within which the enemy can see, but the party cannot. Or maybe the party doesn't realize that the beautiful slumbering maiden they've just "rescued" is actually a vampire who is currently attacking with her charm power prior to unleashing her more direct and obvious attacks.

8) Programmed encounters - these are combat encounters that are directed or triggered by some sort of trap or puzzle. "Lady or the Tiger" situations or room-sized chessboard puzzles with golems as the enemy pieces might be examples of this kind of combat encounter.

9) Hostile Battlefields - This is a lot like Tactical Challenge battles (4), but there's an active environmental threat that makes time of the essence, or requires an active hand to avoid the threat as well as battle the enemies. An example might be a room with the walls closing in, or filling with water, or a battle taking place around an artifact that is hurling fireballs at random locations.

10) Booby Trap Battles - These encounters are semi-passive, happening only if the party digs around looking for treasure. Oozes, slimes, rot grubs, mimics, giant centipedes, and poisonous snakes worked well here.

11) Exceptional Enemies - These encounters involved an enemy more powerful than the players expect, due to nature, spells, or equipment. The Hobgoblin chieftain might fight as a bugbear, the zombies might be outfitted with chain mail and pole arms, the ogre might be wearing a ring of protection and drink a potion of haste before the battle, or the goblin might actually be a vampire. Third edition D&D really took this to the extreme, with plenty of options for advancing or otherwise beefing up "standard" enemies.

12) Waves of Opponents - Reinforcements are arriving. To avoid facing increasing odds, the party might have to expend a few more resources to eliminate the earlier waves quickly to avoid fighting an overwhelming force.

13) Weakened Enemies - The party may face a creature typically more powerful than they'd usually be able to take on, but has some advantage which - if they exploit - can grant them victory. A Hydra might be bound on a chain to an area, the ogre camp may be sleeping off a night of drunken revelry, or the dragon may be injured from another battle.

14) Non-Lethal Attacks - The enemy launches a quick raid set the party back (and gain treasure) rather than to kill them. It may be a quick robbery to deprive the party of equipment (or the functional equivalent via a Disenchanter or Rust Monster), or an attempt to lure / force the party into a trap, or simply to get them to waste spells, potions, and charges on magical items for an all-out battle that doesn't happen until later. Another example is an entirely illusionary encounter, which again may cost the party resources.

15) The Rule Changers - The wildly bizarre, constrained encounter that the Game Master might have a tough time rationalizing, but really turn combat on the ear. The most common of these would be combats where the party is stripped of all their gear, and must fight unarmed or with improvised weaponry. More extreme rules might be a conflict that must follow the rules of Rugby or something like that. While weird, they can be enormously amusing.

16) The No-Win Scenarios - Like #5, but this is a battle which - if pursued to the ultimate conclusion - is for all practical purposes unwinnable. The only way to win is - not to play. Or rather, to find the alternative means of defeating the enemy. Players (and Captain James T. Kirk) hate these, but usually only because they don't realize its danger until too late. Presented carefully, I believe it is still a valid and enjoyable encounter.

17) Combos - Two or more of the above mixed together

The reason I'm presenting these here is that I'd like to see more of these kinds of encounters in computer RPGs. There's no reason combat encounters need to be plain ol' hack-and-slash grinds. And these ideas are hardly outside of the processing capability of modern systems - and some games are doing this already on a limited scale.

So - game-makers - how about it?

And gamers: What kinds of interesting variations on combat encounters did I miss in this list?

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Sunday, September 13, 2009
 
Uninstalling Like It's 1999...
Wow. Today I checked out my hard drive, and discovered that all but 18 gigs of my 300 were used up. I actually had to spend some time uninstalling software and data to clear up space. I can't remember the last time I did that - but back in the early-to-mid 90s it was a frequent event.

Besides some videos, some of the ol' games to get nuked were:

* City of Heroes / City of Villains. Sigh. Loved the game, didn't have time to play. Might get into Champions later. But the whole MMO thing doesn't thrill me so much anymore.

* F.E.A.R. - Loved it. Not gonna go back and play it though.

* Age of Empires III - While I still enjoyed it, it was my least favorite of the AoE games.

* Half-Life 2 - See F.E.A.R.

* Battlefield 2 - In spite of it sucking, I've had it on the hard drive for a long time - and even try playing it again from time to time. But I am annoyed by its multiplayer (well, what I remember of it, anyway...), and A.R.M.A. provides a better single-player experience.

* Flight Simulator X - I think they crippled it for non-DX10 machines. I could never get it to run well. I found some hints online to fix that issue, but I still have the previous version installed and enjoy it plenty. Maybe I'll re-install it in a couple of years when I finally get an all-new machine again.

* Neverwinter Nights 1 (and a zillion modules, mods, etc) - it's been several years since I last ran this one. I'm not gonna finish the third expansion. I need to let it go...

Oblivion and Fallout 3 are on my short list of removal candidates, though I haven't pulled the trigger yet. I really don't know if I'll ever go back and play Oblivion again - I really put it through its paces for over a hundred hours before. And Fallout 3 - even after fixing my hardware, it still refuses to run with any level of stability.

I guess it shouldn't be a big deal to pull the plug on old games that are no longer doing anything but taking up hard drive space. But like moving out of an old apartment, there's a little bit of nostalgia associated with some of 'em. Some good times were had there.

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Friday, September 11, 2009
 
Vogel Defends DRM
Don't see this much, but he's not really wrong here:

The Bottom Feeder - Some Kind Words About DRM. For Once.

Of course, popular downloadable games haven't been through a cycle yet where a major distribution point has shut down downloads, denying people access to the games they've paid for. I don't forsee that happening in the near future (thankfully), but as a gamer who really does like to dust off and play old classics, I see this as a significant concern. I'm glad to see we're moving towards a "kinder, gentler" DRM solution nowadays.

And he makes an important point: Pirates rip off everybody. Not just The Man. And not just the developers. (And they seem to rip off struggling indies just as readily as they rip off the multimillion-dollar EA ubergames).

Although I will note that I've recently had to deal with copy protection woes on an older game - those old copy protection schemes were just as horrible as the ugly crap EA and Starforce and others cooked up.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009
 
The Wow Factor
Eventually, Castle Wolfenstein made its way to the Commodore 64. I'm talking the original 2D game. The one that had standing around and waiting as a gameplay element. I'm serious! You'd point your gun at a lock and hit the spacebar (I think) and literally wait a certain number of seconds until the lock was picked (giving the guards more time to find you). It was a terrible idea, but somebody had to try it...

Several friends in school told me about it (mostly for their Apple IIs), and I awaited the day it would be ported to the C-64. I didn't have to wait too long. I borrowed a copy from a friend (I had no money to buy games back then), and that first night I got to see what people had been talking about for two years.

As a game, it wasn't bad. But the kicker was the voices. The game had really rough voice playback of German words and phrases. I'm talking super-rough here, as the entire game had to fit inside of memory constraints that wouldn't hold a 5-second MP3 today. While I was expecting it, the sound of actual voices coming out of my computer was an immediate thrill. I had to tell my parents about it.

They weren't too impressed. My mother said, "You'd better be at least that excited when your first child starts speaking!"

Okay, I was. But at the time, hearing speech come out of my own computer was kinda mind-boggling. It had a high "wow" factor. It wasn't so much the fact that speech was there - we'd heard it before in some arcade games ("Bite the dust space cadet," "Run, Coward!," "Intruder alert, intruder alert!," and "Red five standing by!" all come to mind). But it was coming out of my little home computer. Wow! Cool!

The early days of computer and video games were full of "wow" moments as the new medium grew from infancy and regularly surprised people with new and exciting possibilities.

Not quite a decade after my first "Wolfenstein" experience, I found myself playing Wolfenstein 3D - id Software's take on the license. Anybody who was playing computer games back then remembers the "Guten Tag!" moment - yet another victory for speech in games. But it wasn't just the speech, it was the whole 3D environment that blew people away, too. And the solid gameplay (at the time). History was repeated with Doom a couple of years later. Ultima Underworld also blew me away around the same time as Wolf3D. Unreal gave me (and most other players) a few "wow" moments with its graphic excesses.

In the past, the "Wow!" factor of a game was almost entirely dependent upon technology - principally graphics and, to a lesser degree, sound. Game makers and publishers have been going down that road for a long time, now, and are slowly realizing it only gets longer and harder as you go. The wow factor comes from being novel and surprising, and that's hard to do with technology with today's hardcore gamer. It still happens - Oblivion and Far Cry are somewhat more recent examples, but those are still just incremental micro-wows, lacking the surprise awesomeness of their forebears.

But there are other ways of pulling it off that are not tied quite so tightly to technology.

Falcon 3.0 and Falcon 4.0 did it for me with their devotion to realism and incredible dynamic campaigns. Falcon 4.0 continues to reign supreme in its more recent incarnation (Allied Force). Baldur's Gate II impressed me with its massive scope. Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines had a twist ending (with the Anarch ending) that really surprised and amused me - a great "wow" factor coming from story rather than technology.

Indies can do it too. For example, Depths of Peril really impressed me with the dynamic, evolving quest system. And extremely recently, AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! - A Reckless Disregard for Gravity! thrilled me with its sheer audacity and innovation coupled with solid, fun gameplay. In fact, I think I said the word, "Wow!" quite audibly a couple of times while playing the first few levels.

I don't think a game necessarily needs to have an amazing "wow!" factor to be great, but it sure helps it stand out and rise to the heap more quickly. But the important point here is that it doesn't need to be based on novel use of graphics or sound. There are so many different ways it can be achieved - if only more developers and publishers would wake up and try 'em out, instead of constantly trying to up the polygon detail and light bloom.

UPDATE: Oh, hey, a forum thread about this! We still have these!

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009
 
Happy Birthday, Dreamcast
I don't play it as often, but I still play it. It was way better than many gave it credit for.

I developed (well, ported) one game for it. The game was horrible, but the machine was pretty awesome.

Happy Birthday, Sega Dreamcast. Released ten years ago today (in North America), 9/9/99.

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Dave ("Tales of Monkey Island") Grossman Interview
I just wanted to point to an interview now up at Adventure Classic Gaming with long-time Monkey Island writer and now the guy in charge of the Tales of Monkey Island revival, Dave Grossman

Interview with Dave Grossman of Telltale Games

An excerpt on the "revival" of adventure gaming:
"For a while there, publishers were unwilling to invest in adventure games because it was much easier to make money building other things. But competition in other genres has escalated, the market in general is a lot bigger, older, and more casual, and downloadable distribution is making it easier to reach an audience without fighting blockbuster titles for shelf space. I think all of these factors probably have something to do with the recent resurgence. I'm sure the designers want to make them simply because they find them compelling, but they have opportunities to do so because it makes more business sense than it did a few years ago."
He also comments on how they had to "mainstream" the adventure game genre more, what it was like to go back to the 20-year-old franchise, the use of 3D instead of 2D graphics for Tales, and more.

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The Return of 2D Gaming?
2D gameplay was an unfortunate casualty of the polygon war. In the race to show off awe-inspiring visuals, anything that didn't lend itself to showing off the 3D graphics potential of the box got chucked to the wayside. And as I said three years ago, I maintain that we were premature in discarding 2D.

Sure, we were all kinda sick of soulless 2D side-scrollers at the time. But that didn't mean the whole genre was dead. Just phenomenally saturated with crap. But 2D gameplay still had - and has - a lot of potential.

And now some of that potential is finally being realized. Games like Geometry Wars, Braid, Castle Crashers, and the newly-released Shadow Complex are proving to be minor hits in their own right, in spite of 2D gameplay (sometimes enhanced with 3D graphics).

In case you haven't seen it yet - Shamus Young has a commentary on 2D Gaming's potential renaissance at The Escapist: Experienced Points: Long Live 2D

To which I utter another "amen!"

So far, we're seeing the return of 2D primarily in the growing indie scene and some of the "budget" titles (like XBLA) from lower-tier mainstream developers. Will we return to an era where so-called "AAA" games are allowed to play in two dimensions?

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009
 
Game Announcement: Aveyond - Gates of Night
The newest installment in the hit "casual" RPG series, Aveyond: Gates of Night, is now out and available at the Rampant Games store.

Unlike other games in the series, this one is a "true" sequel in this sub-series entitled "The Orbs of Magic." The story is a direct continuation of the storyline begun in Aveyond: Lord of Twilight. You don't need to have played Lord of Twilight to enjoy this game - Amaranth has done an admirable job of getting the player up to speed in a hurry, with the events of the previous game becoming backstory for this one.

However, all things being equal, I'd recommend starting with Lord of Twilight.

And I just have to add that as lush and beautiful the title screen was for Aveyond: Ean's Quest, I think this one is my favorite. First of all, I'm partial to stories about rogues / thieves, and this one has Mel front-and-center. Well, front-and-to-the-right, but that's beside the point. But the whole standoff-in-hiding between her and the mysterious cloaked figure (most likely a vampire...) is just cool.

Anyway, check it out - give the free demo a try. Or Lord of Twilight. Or something. :)

Download Aveyond: Gates of Night

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Monday, September 07, 2009
 
Game Publishers - What Are They Good For?
Bruce on Games asks, "What Do Game Publishers Do, and Is There Any Need For Them?"

It's easy to see how game publishers followed the model they saw in the recording industry, book industry, and - to a lesser degree - Hollywood.

Of course, that model was based on technological limitations that were centuries old. And which, coincidentally, started going obsolete about the same time the game publishers jumped on the bandwagon.

The thing is, publishers can still play a vital - but smaller - role. We still need financing. Sure, we can try and take out a small business loan or something, but realistically - specialized investors who focus on game development (and can amortize costs and absorb risks across multiple games) remain valuable. We still need marketing. We still need distribution (albeit in a very different form). Someone needs to help the developers make their games, and connect the gamers to the games.

But unlike Bruce, I don't think it's all going to continue to consolidate down into a handful of players who completely dominate the market anymore. They are losing their lock on the economy of scale of mass production. And the distribution channels - while still powerful - are no longer the only road into town. Which means publishers are no longer the only game in town.

Now we just need to figure out more business models that work in an era where the supply-side is practically infinite.

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Sunday, September 06, 2009
 
A Taste of Storytelling
Two days (and three evenings) of the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival can be exhausting. But it was also a lot of fun. Just in case anybody at all is interested, here's a taste of what it was like - some clips of some of the tellers performing at other venues.

Two of Bil Lepp's Tall Tales
Bil Lepp on Marriage & Gift Giving - part 1 --- On Marriage & Gift-Giving, part 2

David Holt - who performed both music and some stories

Carmen Deedy - And no, she didn't use the "F" word even once in her performance in "Happy Valley" Utah this weekend...

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Saturday, September 05, 2009
 
Knights of the Chalice Interview
RPG Watch corners Pierre Begue of Heroic Fantasy Games to interview him about the very well received Knights of the Chalice indie RPG:

Knights of the Chalice interview

An excerpt:

screeg: KotC offers little (nothing) in the way of hand-holding, and immediately plunges the player head-first into the icy and turbulent waters of challenging, turn-based tactical combat. In my opinion, this is your single greatest departure from recent role-playing games. What led you to take this route?

Pierre: Combat is an essential part of KotC. The game doesn't beat around the bush; if you like a good dose of tactical combat within your RPGs then you will like the game. By hand-holding I suppose you mean battles that you cannot lose. If you can't lose, where's the fun? As a player, I enjoy a game more when I can see that my actions are influencing the outcome. Some of my favourite games are difficult from the very beginning. In Interplay's Bard's Tale, your level-1 party can be wiped out by a group of barbarians only a few steps away from the adventurer's guild. In Dark Sun Shattered Lands, you start the game facing monsters in a gladiatorial arena. Should you try to escape, a large group of enemy guards awaits you.

I personally felt that the whole Bard's Tale clobber-you-at-level-1 thing was actually not good design, but the challenge was evidently endearing to some.

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Friday, September 04, 2009
 
Frayed Knights - Dungeons &... Ferrets?
One of my favorite aspects of roleplaying games is the feeling of exploration. Discovering what's around the next corner, behind that door, below the stairs --- with the hope that it is something cool --- that's the kind of thing that thrills me. It's that promise of discovering the green dragon on the Persian rug or something, I guess.

Making an RPG - being the guy in the sausage factory - doesn't usually carry that thrill. Though I do get to indulge my own imagination a bit. But it is nice working with a couple other level designers. While they may start with a 2D graphed-out map and some descriptions from me, they invariably inject their own ideas (something I encourage!) and creativity into these levels.

And then they send me roughed-out maps. Which I then get to explore. I try to start with a walk-through of the dungeon via the game engine, experiencing as closely as I can as a player first. Besides inspecting it for issues (of which there are invariably several), I also try to explore and let my imagination run wild. While I may have my original notes for what sort of encounters go where, I don't consult these notes when I'm doing the walk-through. I'm just poking around, trying to get a feel for the environment, and seeing what direction my imagination takes me. One day I'll get better at actually recording those notes.

Brian decided to go a little nuts on the sense of scale with the goblin dungeon he decided to call "Vertigo."

I'm not really complaining. Though I don't have a clue how I'm gonna make the 2D, top-down map work on this one...

But this is really one of those times when making a game is more fun than playing it. Later, when I'm knee-deep in scripting and bug-fixing and have played through the same corridor a hundred times, I'll be good and sick of it.

But for now, it's exciting and fun, and I'm trying to capture the "cool" and sense of discovery and expectation in my mind for reference when one day... a few days from now... I'm feeling all weary and jaded.

One issue Kevin ran into with the castle was that - being modeled somewhat after a couple of real-world castles - it was actually pretty dang cramped and hard to navigate. This was a design feature in the real world - castles were defensive structures, and you wanted an invading force to be stuck in bottlenecks. And while a human being can duck, contort, and whatever to navigate these confines, this doesn't work so well in a computer game. Simple is king where navigating and collision detection is concerned.

We've opened things up a bit, but Kevin found that "realistic" staircases just couldn't fit very well.

We needed ladders.

So now we have ladders. I had fun getting the code to work. I tested it out on Shiela's ferret. Training a ferret to climb a ladder turned out to be exactly like training player characters to do the same. This also means, technically, that I could have non-player characters climbing up and down ladders. I don't know if I really want to try and take advantage of that.

Speaking of non-player characters (and monsters) - I've now added some "stand-in" versions of monsters that are visible prior to combat. They don't necessarily represent the exact types or quantities of enemies that you'll encounter. It's more of an abstract representation. Abstract works well in 2D, but people have a tough time with it in 3D. I'm worried that players will have problems with seeing a single goblin prior to combat, and then fight a half-dozen of them a few second later. I think it is preferable to having encounters appear out of nowhere (which will still happen, in the case of surprise encounters or ambushes).

Personally - the transition wasn't as bad as I feared it would be, and I think that while it may be a little jarring initially, it's easy to get used to.

But we shall see.

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Thursday, September 03, 2009
 
Might & Magic Six-Pack at gog.com
Not the drinking kind of six-pack... but...

Might & Magic Limited Edition (Six Pack) - $9.99 at GOG.COM

Ummm.... wow. So considering the SIZES of the Might & Magic games: If you bought this today and played 10-12 hours a week, you might finish this whole thing... oh, sometime next spring or summer, maybe.

I don't know how many people would be keen to tackle the first three games all the way to completion - even as a retro-gamer I'm not sure I'd have quite that level of ambition and stamina. But it a really is good deal and a lot of old-school CRPG goodness.

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Timpanogos Storytelling Festival
It's the 20th anniversary of the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival this weekend. My wife and I have been attending at least one of the events every year since year three or so. Since it's hit a big round number for the number of years it's been going on , they're making a big deal of it and have brought in more of the top headliners. Most are people you probably haven't heard of if you are not into storytelling, though Bill Harley has won two Grammies.

I have an RPG concept I had to put on the backburner simply because I recognized I wasn't quite up to the task (though I did do some early development on it - all of which will probably be tossed when I get back to it). It was partly inspired by an evening at the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival - the "Ghost Tales" night (I guess it's now called, "Shivers in the Night). So I always feel like I'm doing more research on the game when I go. Tonight's event might also provide some valuable tidbits and inspiration for the game.

(And yes - I'm bound & determined to get that game done. After Frayed Knights has taught me what it needs to teach me...)

What's extra-awesome is that my daughter (the younger one) managed to win a family pass to the event for the weekend in a storytelling competition a few months ago. It doesn't cover all evening events, but as a cheapskate, I'm extra-thrilled!

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009
 
IGDA and Indies
Wherein I stammer and say "uh..." a lot:

Podcast at Zakalro: IGDA and the Indie Dev

For those not in the know, the IGDA is the International Game Developer's Association, a professional organization of - you guessed it - game developers. This podcast is very much a group of with-it members / leaders of the IGDA and... uh, one ignorant semi-outsider... trying to figure out how the IGDA can better serve the indie game development community.

Even when I was a member, I wasn't exactly active. I'd been a professional game developer for years without IGDA membership. And until recently, an indie game makers and a so-called "AAA" (or wannabe AAA) mainstream game producer / developers didn't even sound like they spoke the same language.

But times change. The local chapter organizer here in Utah is very active in the indie community. So who knows?

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RPG Design: Quest and Consequences
In his article entitled, "The Big Quest(ion) " at RPS, John Walker takes RPG quests - and choices - to task. He suggests, "It’s all about embracing the more trivial parts of the game and giving them consequence. It’s not about being unrealistic and demanding each choice I make creating another divergent path until the game looks like a fractal, coded by ten million people over a thousand years. It’s about not only creating the illusion that my path through the pre-determined narrative is unique, but flavouring that narrative with the consequences of my actions."

Maybe I'm reading too much of my own preferences into the article, but it doesn't take too much generalization to see my own frequently-whined-about complaint here: NPCs (Non-Player Characters... an old term from pen-and-paper gaming) frequently act too much like Quest Dispensers. And once they've finished dispensing their quest(s), they are useless, simply parroting back their thanks for completing their quest. They are talking Coca-Cola machines. Input quest completion item, dispense reward and gratitude, and then forget about 'em.

But the thing is - that is not only easier to program, it's easier to play. It's a heck of a lot easier to figure my way around through the world when the NPCs have a clearly defined role, and I don't have to second-guess subtle consequences later. And - more importantly - there's no worrying about whether or not you've somehow pooched much further down the line. Is this a bad thing?

It really depends. Walker's request is a little simpler than my generalization - multiple subtle, long-range consequences for actions rather than than the big immediate rewards. But even that can frustrate players for operating (and being forced to save their game) blindly, not knowing exactly where the end of their road might be.

Other players (like me!) might love it, so long as we feel reasonably assured that the consequences are not dire and game-wrecking. And it's good to have the line of causality spelled out a little bit more at the end, especially when I've been playing the game as a short-attention-span excursion across many weeks or months.

I don't think our games err on the latter side very often. While I'm all for easy, I think we can use a bit more depth to not only RPG quests themselves, but also their resolutions and consequences. I think even a little bit could go a long way.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009
 
Monkey Island Practical Joke in Argentina...
Take it away, Ron Gilbert:

Grog XD

He's right. No commentary can do it justice. This is epic.

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