We had our first game of Pathfinder on Friday - the "spiritual successor" to Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition. Well, it was the first for most of us - a couple of people in our group have already been playing it for a little while.
I'm playing a gnomish illusionist (wizard w/ illusion school speciality), rather than my usual rogue preference. So it'd be new to me either way. I mean, an illusionist is like the rogue of wizards, isn't it?
At first blush - after playing 3.x for several years (both pen & paper and in Neverwinter Nights) - I felt that the game feels like a continuation of 3.5. The differences were small but definitely "gotchas" if you weren't paying attention. A few changes that stood out in a 1st level game:
#1 - Everybody seemed to have a lot more non-combat skills to do stuff with. I think this was principally due to the consolidation of skills (for example, "Spot", "Search," and "Listen" are all "Perception" now). And the elimination of certain "skill point taxes" like Concentration (Concentration checks are level-based, now, effectively giving it to you for free).
#2 - As a specialist wizard (especially given a gnome's special abilities), I never seemed to run out of spells. Besides once-per-day gnomish abilities for Prestidigitation, Dancing Lights, and Ghost Sound, I also had three cantrips, one first-level spell due to my level, one additional first-level spell due to my intelligence score, and an additional Illusion-only 1st level spell slot due to my specialization. Then - because of my specialization - I had six uses per day of a Blinding Ray. Oh, and there's an option (which I chose) to have a bound object rather than a familiar, which results in one more daily spell of any (available) level that doesn't even need to be prepared in advance. This is a far cry from the old 1st edition days when a first-level magic-user had Magic Missile and Light.
#3 - A cleric's Channel Energy + Selective Channeling... WOW! At lower levels, at least, this really makes a huge difference in the game. I'd say this is game-imbalancing, but frankly D&D has always been a meatgrinder at low levels, and this may bring the low-level game more in-line with the mid-level games in terms of survivability and party stamina. More significantly, clerics are allowed to cast something other than Cure Light Wounds at the very low levels. I think this also places a greater burden on clerics, as charisma is a very, very important secondary stat (as it was already becoming for clerics in 3.x)
#4 - Making characters was no less complex than it was in 3.5. Except skill selection. Skill selection was definitely easier as there was no need to divvy up 4x points at level one anymore. But otherwise, it's still a pretty detailed (and, unfortunately, error-prone) process.
Overall, it was a very positive experience. The system retains 3.5's level of complexity and detail, though it makes some effort to streamline things a bit more so things like grappling and tumbling and disarms aren't all completely custom rules. For the most part, we felt at home with the system, but the differences kept us on our toes.
My question is: Will we see official Pathfinder CRPGs? Shamus may argue that we might not really want to. But I think I have a higher opinion of the other D20-based games (and earlier D&D versions) that made their way to the computer.
Labels: Roleplaying Games
Stonekeep & KOTR For Sale...
Okay, don't let this stop ya from buying some great indie games this weekend, but...
GOG.COM has a few old Interplay titles for sale this weekend, including Stonekeep.
As I recall, this game was at one point nicknamed "Fargo's Folly" internally, and for a while it sounded like it was destined to become permanent vaporware. Like Duke Nukem Forever. Or Prey. Oh, wait, they eventually made Prey. Not that it had much in common with the original project, which was concurrent with the development of the original Unreal.
But after some major overhauls and a massive budget (for the time), it ended up seeing the light of day - and by most accounts turned into a pretty good game, with some significant adventure-game-style puzzle elements. I can't say for sure, because I never played it... though I just picked it up myself. You know, with all my spare time...
Also - this just in - Steam has the original Knights of the Old Republic for sale for 75% off. That's like... uh, $2.50. For those who might not know (there are some casual gamers who do hit this blog, after all...) Knights of the Old Republic = Star Wars Done Bioware Style. This sale will only last for about 20 more hours - though other games will be available tomorrow. So grab it today while you can.
A Thanksgiving Story
Happy Thanksgiving 2009, Rampant Games readers in the U.S. For the half or more of you that read from other countries: Happy Thursday!
Thanksgiving is a four-day weekend for many (non-retail) businesses here. Including mine. And it generally means a LOT of fun at the ol' Coyote Den. It wasn't always this way. As a kid, Thanksgiving often meant a feast involving a lot of relatives you really don't like, playing nice, and getting bored stiff. The food was good. The rest was sorta like one of those mandatory team meetings at work where the H.R. department is going over new policy. It needs to be done, but it's not particularly enjoyable. And then we had Thanksgiving leftovers we were eating all the way until Christmas. Hey, not that I am ungrateful for having an abundance of food - but it did get pretty old eating turkey sandwiches, turkey casserole, and ... more turkey... for three weeks straight.
My first Thanksgiving away from home was at college. I was going to school in Utah, lived on the East Coast, and couldn't really afford to fly home and back for a short weekend (especially when I'd be flying back for Christmas only three or four weeks later). So my first Thanksgiving, I spent with some relatives of my roommate.
Worst. Thanksgiving. Ever.
His uncle's family made me believe my own family was actually normal. I was immediately accused (multiple times) upon arrival of trying to smuggle alcohol or drugs into the house. Nevermind that I didn't drink, either. It all went downhill from there. I was pretty uncomortable the whole time. We had Thanksgiving lasagna which was more like soup. I hid most of the day Friday by watching the entire Star Wars trilogy down in their basement on a wide-screen TV... when I wasn't studying. At least I could retreat. While I appreciated them taking me in like they did, it was not much fun.
After that, I decided that staying on campus by myself for Thanksgiving wouldn't be nearly as bad. As it turns out, the following year we had a few other friends in similar situations. Most from our RPG gaming group. We called it the "orphans' Thanksgiving." Anybody we knew who had no place to go could join us. So we all brought food, chipped in together for a turkey, and got together for several straight days of Dungeons & Dragons, boardgames, videos, and eating Thanksgiving leftovers. On Saturday, the leftovers were mostly gone and we were sick of turkey sandwiches anyway, so we all ordered pizza.
It was the Best Thanksgiving Ever. With friends. Hanging out and having a party. And gaming. A lot.
We've been doing pretty much the same thing ever since. Due to all of us having real families now, we actually leave the Thursday of Thanksgiving alone for families (and friends who have no other place to go), though there's still some serious video-game playing that goes on. (Tetris Plus, for the original Playstation, is something of a tradition now). We keep things pretty "open house"-y, relaxed, and casual. Plenty of food, and hey - if things get dull, it's time for some Rock Band!
Friday and Saturday are serious, serious gaming days. All day. It's rough with so many children who need attention, so we take frequent breaks, but we have managed to keep pulling it off. We pool our Thanksgiving leftovers together for munching on throughout both days. And - as is our tradition - we're usually low on food by Saturday evening (and the remaining leftovers are looking a little scary), so we all pitch in for pizza. And we don't find ourselves eating Thanksgiving leftovers all the way to Christmas.
So, for Thanksgiving, I am thankful for a lot of things. I'm lucky to have a good job in these conditions. I have health, a wonderful family, and I live in an awesome era of history in a great country. But for me, this holiday has come to mean three things that I really value in life: Family, friends, and fun. It's a time to be happy.
I hope you are, too.
Labels: Geek Life
The Gamers - Dorkness Rising
We got the DVD "The Gamers - Dorkness Rising" from Netflix yesterday, and watched it last night.
I will be buying the DVD shortly. It was... excellent.
Okay, a qualified excellent. It could have been cut by about 15 minutes (especially the ninja / pirate pizza delivery sequence), and it's very obviously a low-budget production by film-school grad types. Still, it is better (and longer, with less foul language) than it's also-awesome predecessor, The Gamers.
The Gamers: Dorkness Rising is a parody of pen-and-paper roleplaying gaming. But it's a loving parody - in a similar vein to the most-excellent-comic Knights of the Dinner Table. It alternates perspective between the in-game characters and story, and the story of the players themselves in the real-world. It is particularly fun to see the effects of rules, retcons, and silly things players try to pull off in a game play out in the game world. But where that was pretty much all there was to the first movie, this one goes a bit further. Buried within the good-natured ribbing of things like male players playing female characters, asian-style monks in European fantasy settings, the bard class, and critical failure rolls, there is an underlying story of the players themselves and why we love these games.
And if you are a pen-and-paper Role-Playing Gamer, you simply Must See This Film. That's all there is to it. Even computer / MMO RPG players who have never rolled a 20-sided die in their life may still find a lot to enjoy here. If you have seen the previous movie, you may enjoy a few of the "inside" jokes thrown around referring to it, but otherwise this movie stands on its own.
And here's a trailer so you know what I'm talking about:
Reconnoitering Cute Knight Kingdom
I bought Cute Knight Kingdom the other night. Good thing I'm all secure in my masculinity and stuff like that. Because - like the original Cute Knight - I gotta admit it's good.
I don't know if I'll ever get to the point where I can run through an entire game in 90 minutes or so like I did in the original. Maybe it's just my inexperience, but games in Cute Knight Kingdom seem to be a bit ... meatier. Still not super-long, mind you - maybe 2x the time to cover three years? Again, I played through Cute Knight / Cute Knight Deluxe many, many times and felt I had much of it "down." I'm still learning the ropes of CKK.
Yeah, there are butterfly silhouettes in the inventory screen. Hey, Hanako, maybe you can add a "beard" option or something for us guys, with an alternate inventory screen with sword imagery or something? Still, while the game is targeted more for players of the feminine persuasion (er, excuse me, Georgina maintains that it's really targeted for an audience of HERSELF, and leaves that open to interpretation beyond as to who might enjoy it beyond that), there's a lot to like here for any player.
Okay - for those new to the whole Cute Knight thing... this is a game that borrows ideas from life-sim type games (especially Princess Maker) and old-school RPGs. You play a girl who has three years to seek out her destiny. Now, nevermind the fact that nobody has their destiny fully figured out at 21 (or 51) - this is fantasy we're talking about here. So your goals are to:
- Survive and become self-sufficient (at least in Kingdom you can always go back home to your adopted parent's home to crash for free)
- Don't give up on your dreams and hope (represented by the "dream" statistic, which increases with success, but decreases with failure and fatigue --- I think)
- Work and educate yourself to improve your ability to succeed in endeavors
- Seek out life experiences (story arcs) that may guide you towards a particular destiny
The Cute Knight series (can you call two games plus an enhanced version a "series?") also includes the "Sin" statistic. This is a big deal for those of us who like to choose a life of monster-bashing and dungeon-exploring. Killing living creatures - especially sentient ones - or engaging in unscrupulous activities in the game increases your Sin rating. There are ways of bringing it down as well. So far, I haven't seen how Sin limits your options in Cute Knight Kingdom yet - but in the first game, it was a pretty significant factor if it got too high (and the "best" ending - along with certain other story opportunities and career options - was only available if you took a walk on the dark side).
Cute Knight Kingdom really expands on Cute Knight's gameplay. It offers significantly more breadth of opportunities, with several towns and locations to explore, multiple dungeons, more job options, and what appears to be a metric buttload of crafting and cooking options. And I've stumbled into a few more general "side-quests" as well. There seems to be a bit more depth as well, particularly as success in training and jobs is now a more interactive experience, as you can choose to sacrifice health or spell points to exert yourself or apply extra concentration to tasks. This can be tricky, as in at least one location (a frontier town), the only beds available were less-than-ideal at the local military barracks, which actually cost you stamina points (and corresponding maximum health) in addition to the 10 gp per night to stay there. While very capitalist of the military to offer them, that sure doesn't convince me that choosing military service is an option I want to pursue with my happy-go-lucky farmhand-turned-dungeon-explorer, Katrina.
I still have a lot of exploring to do. The game's got a lot to it, and though a lot of the activities are repetitive, there seems to be a lot to do and find in this game. And it's definitely not for everybody. It is very "life-sim" heavy, so if you are more of a kick-the-door-in type of RPG fan, it might not be as appealing. It's also very open-ended and relies upon a bunch of smaller story threads rather than a single epic story arc. And - well - it's cute. Just in case the name didn't give that away.
Since playing the first Cute Knight, I have discovered the Persona titles, which also perform a mash-up of Life Sim and RPG. Cute Knight Kingdom is heavier on the life sim, lighter on the RPG, and much more open-ended than the Persona games. I'm not sure which mix I prefer more. But I am finding this RPG "sub-genre" to be really, really addictive and fun. I want more, please.
I have added Cute Knight Kingdom to the Rampant Games store*, and I invite you to give the demo a try. Many of us in the U.S. are enjoying an extended weekend as of tomorrow, so it's a perfect opportunity. The demo only lets you go for six months into your career - pretty much up to the point where things are finally starting to get hopping and you can "get ahead" in life and choosing jobs and training based on where you want to take the Knight, instead of what you need to do to afford anything. It's a good taste of the game overall, though unfortunately it's also (IMO) the most difficult and least exciting phase of the game. But it's still fun, and gives you a good taste of what's in store.
You can check it out here:
Download Cute Knight Kingdom at Rampant Games!
As always, have fun! And let me know what you think.
(*And I was exhausted and half-asleep when I did it, so please contact me if there's anything awry).
Muppets Do Bohemian Rhapsody
Too awesome not to share.
Man, I remember the days when the Muppets were a force of nature. This video harkens back to those days. Big time.
Interesting how they avoided singing about killing a man (that WOULD have been disturbing, wouldn't it?), and mentioning Beelzebub.
Labels: Geek Life
On Difficulty Levels
Player-selectable difficulty levels in games, in general, suck.
I do not have a fundamental problem with the idea. My time is at such a premium that I'm really not one who wants a full-on ultra-hardcore emit-blood-sweat-and-tears-for-every-checkpoint-achieved type of player. I played Bioshock on easy (I think) because it was a rental and I just wanted to get through it to the end. Conceptually, difficulty levels are a Good Thing.
But in practice, they suck.
When designers are trying to balance the overall challenge of a game, there are a lot of really clean, easy-to-change, easy-to-program, almost invisible parameters that can be modified to make things work. Like how much damage the player can take before dying. Or how much damage the player does, on the average - which means the enemies fall faster. Some are a little more complicated, like the placement of health or ammo pick-ups.
The problem arises when "difficulty level" uses these same parameters. After all, it's the same one the designers use! But really, all I'm choosing as a player is my level of handicap. Gee, do I want trivial and boring, or do I want punishing and headache-inducing? Neither? Okay, let's choose "Normal" difficulty.
There are two things that bug me about this.
First, but least importantly, is the gamer mindset. As a gamer, I'm always calculating risk (or cost) vs. reward ratios when I'm playing a game, and that includes the difficulty options screen. I'm immediately thinking, "So what do I get if I choose the punishingly hard road?" In general, nuthin'. There's no benefit at all for choosing the hardest difficulty level unless I am such an expert player that anything less challenging makes me fall asleep.
Give me something different. Bonus content. An extra level. Even more enemies ( or earlier appearances of tougher enemies) beats "nothing. " Maybe I'm hung up on replayability, but I'd like to have a slightly different experience playing through on hard than on medium rather than just dying more frequently.
And I don't want what feels like an artificial or arbitrary increase in my challenge. Simply making it easier to die is... lame. Again, more enemies is something. Less frequent pick-ups can work, though that also gets frustrating in a hurry.
Better AI is awesome. In an RTS, if changing difficulty only allows the AI to cheat or gives them bonus resources, I'm not a fan. But give me a smarter opponent that will surprise me and give me a more interesting challenge? I'm all over that. This isn't hard to implement in an RPG, either, where enemies might "forget" to use their most effective abilities as often as they should, or pick their targets unwisely ("Let's cast silence on the fighter!").
The problem is that this takes more work. A lot more work. I've never seen a game budget where any consideration at all was placed on difficulty levels, and as a result they were always implemented as an afterthought to fulfill some nebulous bullet-point in the design doc. And so difficulty levels will continue to be implemented in as lame a manner as possible for 99% of games.
And so difficulty levels will continue to suck.
Labels: Game Design
RPG Design: Experimenting With Initiative
This weekend I concluded long-running D&D campaign. We've been playing it for about three-and-a-half years. 3.5 edition of D&D, naturally. We normally alternate games so we only end up playing a little over twice a month, and then only for about three hours per session. It's tough having longer games when the majority of our group have children to take care of. So while not quite as impressive as it sounds, it was still a Big Game.
And we have a very big gaming group - ten players if everybody showed up, and that was only because we had to turn down a couple of friends who wanted to join the game later (which feels really, really sucky to do, I should add). Handling initiative for a large number of players is horrible. Third edition tried to streamline matters by removing the die roll every round. Taking the time to roll dice wasn't the killer - it was everything else associated with tracking who goes when.
With such a big group, players would end up chatting and spacing what was going on while waiting for their turn, and then find out that by the time their turn came around, the combat situation had changed and they'd have to re-figure everything out. Which made their turns take even longer. Which encouraged other players to chat and mentally check out while taking their turns. After all - with ten players, if each player takes only three minutes per turn, that's a half-hour waiting to get to do something. And that is not including the wait for the DM to resolve his side of things.
Jockeying for who would go next, with changing initiatives, also took place. You generally wanted the casters with the big area affect spells to go first, along with those casting "buffs," followed by the melee characters rushing in to mix it up. Even without the dice-rolling, initiative order would change in mid-combat, complicating things and sometimes confusing people. Including me!
Then there were all the times we'd lose track of who's turn it was. And as a DM - not being the most organized person in the world - I'd get distracted and forget to keep things moving along swiftly. It was a mess. Combats took forever.
I made an effort to streamline the initiative system, which was met with very reserved tolerance at first. I don't roll for each monster's initiative separately --- to save my own sanity, I have monsters with the same (or very similar) initiative modifier all go as a group. At most, the monsters end up broken up into three initiative groups.
What I gradually came to realize is that what order you went within your party was largely cooperative and unimportant. What was important was whether or not you got to go before your enemies.
So I decided to put players into initiative "groups" as well. Against one unified group of monsters, the party would be divided into "group one" and "group two." Then, within the players' initiative groups, I let them decide among themselves who is going first. At first, we worried that this would slow things down, as deciding order could turn into a lengthy debate.
In practice, this was not the case at all. I estimate that this sped up combat by about 20% or so. While not a complete revolution, it's a substantial improvement. The increased speed seemed consistent across all character levels. I wouldn't have believed that the transition of turns was actually taking that long - but in our group, it was.
Secondly - and perhaps most importantly - it helped keep the entire group engaged in what was happening in the game. Since it's possible to go at any time during your group's initiative, players stay more involved and attentive to what's going on in the combat. Actions get taken as players are ready to go. They discuss their battle plans as they go with each other a lot more. They get to work tactically much better together. Without increasing the difficulty at all, it increased the number of interesting decisions players could make.
Effectively, this system made combats much more fun. And that is always a big win. I don't know if it would work as well for significantly smaller groups. But for a large group, it was a game saver.
So would this work in computer RPGs? Well, the group-based, single-player RPG is something of a vanishing breed, though the indies and some companies like Atlus have really been bringing it back lately. Traditionally, these games still tend to go by the old "roll dice to determine your order" system. Would something like this be advantageous?
Probably not in the same way. After all, we're talking about only one player, and the computer can automate the turn transition extremely well (better than us poor humans). But - borrowing once again from wargames - would having initiative be more at a "group" level rather than individual level make combat more interesting?
Maybe the party pools together its initiative bonus (plus random dice rolls) to allow the player to select who in what order - when you absolutely, positively need to get protection from vampires up as fast as possible. In the D&D Miniatures game, the player winning initiative could move two characters - any two - first, with each player alternating movement. Deciding who moves when was not a complicated decision, but it was an interesting one. The order in which units are able to move is often just as important as what they do. It often dictates what they can do.
In the real world, in time-critical situations, the coordination and timing of individual actions is often critical to success. But due to the limitations of the user interface, you don't see much of that in single-player action-RPGs (or RTS games). While the reaction speed of the player, not the character, is usually the issue in these games, could something be done here as well?
Stuff to think about.
Top Ten Texturing Tips
An experienced vet passes on his accumulated knowledge on good 3D texturing:
Top Ten Texturing Tips
Had tip to Edward Maurina (author of the Game Programmer's Guide to Torque) for the link!
Labels: game art
Games Should Be Easy?
Jeff Vogel has come to the realization that old-school difficulty is not necessarily a good thing:
Make Your Game Easy. Then Make It Easier.
I have a rant brewing about difficulty levels. It's a simple one. Suffice to say that I don't think throwing multiple difficulty levels into the game is, by itself, a miracle cure to appeal to all players. Not even close.
But in general, I agree with his new philosophy which replaced his old, 100% wrong one:
"People will happily forgive a game for being too easy, because it makes them feel badass. If a game is too hard, they will get angry, ragequit, hold a grudge, and never buy your games again."
Sounds about right. Although I think ragequit isn't necessarily the case. People will just give up and not come back, anticipation the frustration they last felt when playing the game. It won't be a vindictive thing. It's just that an occasional butt-kicking might be good for the soul, but only a handful of people will actively seek out the constant experience of a whuppin'. I hear there are special clubs for people like that, but they play different kinds of role-playing games.
Speaking personally - I like to be challenged. But if I'm feeling fully challenged every single minute, I'm gonna get tired of a game quickly. It becomes a source of stress.
But I also get bored if a game is too easy. If I don't find myself forced to actually puzzle my way through some situation at some low level of frequency, I may not come back to the game for a next session. The challenge doesn't have to be excessive and force me to reload. But it should make me exercise some brain cells (even in an action game).
Labels: Game Design
Czech Adventure / RPG "Legie" Now In the Coyote's Den
You know, just a few weeks ago I was thinking to myself, "Self, you know what we need? We need more indie Adventure/RPGs where you have to clean up vomit!*"
And then, appearing as if by summons, comes Legie. Legie, meaning "Legion," is a Czech adventure / RPG that starts out with you as an innkeeper's assistant, serving beer and - yes - cleaning up vomit. Most RPGs start you out at the bottom, but Legie has to stoop a little lower, as everybody in this game is already in pretty sad shape. Plague is ravaging the land, the economy is dying, and people are giving up hope. Instead, they seek solace in their alcohol and the local pub - which means you.
And then you run out of beer.
Ah! Quest time! A quest that will take you deep into the neighboring mines, battling enemies, and consuming alcohol. What's not to like?
Legie eschews the trappings of traditional fantasy to tell a story set in the medieval Czech town of Jilemnice. There are no elves, dragons, wizards, or so forth. Or save-the-world quests.
The movement system takes a little getting used to - you move in ten-foot steps in spite of the environment being "true" 3D. The demo, in particular, is all adventure-game style, though it has some RPG elements later on. It is probably not a game that will appeal to brute-force hack-and-slashers. But I have a soft spot for the strange, quirky, and different, and all three seem to apply pretty well to Legie. Plus, it's a 3D, first-person perspective game (and not cute-anime style, WCG!), which also makes it stand out amongst most other indie RPGs these days.
So I've added Legie to the (rapidly expanding!) collection of RPGs for sale at Rampant Games.
As always, give the free demo a try and see what you think:
Download Legie here
* Okay, no, I didn't, but I should have!
After holding out for months because its one of the most stupid things ever that I couldn't conceive of actually using, I'm on Twitter.
And it's actually, um, a little cooler than I thought.
So if you are interested in following me, well - here I am on Twitter. Woot.
Beware - like the forums, it can get a little bit more personal and informal there than I usually am on the blog. Anticipate weirdness. In 140 characters or less.
Labels: Geek Life
A Videogame Symphony..
If there's a better way to pack seats of the symphony with twenty-somethings than having a symphony of video game music, I don't know of one. I think a recent symphony featuring the music of Star Wars might have done a similar trick - but lets face it, Star Wars ain't nearly the property it used to be, courtesy of Whineakin Skywalker and Jar-Jar.
But video games are more popular than ever, and the music has gone from being highly synthetic single-note beeps to full-on orchestral scores worthy of a major motion picture. And being able to listen to an orchestra celebrating the music of the video games kicks all kinds of butt. We know it, they know it, and so these concerts of video game music have been gaining steam over the last few years.
I don't think traditional audiences at the Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City whoop and holler when the conductor announces that the next number will be Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor. I can't say - I don't go that often.
But tonight, when the conductor of "Play! A Video Game Symphony Live!" announced Castlevania as the next piece - or better yet, Kingdom Hearts - the audience went wild as if they were at a rock concert. And I really doubt the Utah Symphony or the chorus knew what to expect when conductor Eric Roth (substituting for Arnie Roth) announced that the encore presentation would be the notorious "One Winged Angel" - Sephiroth's theme from Final Fantasy VII.
Other music performed during the evening included music from the Super Mario Bros. series, the Battlefield series, the Sonic the Hedgehog series, Halo, Shenmue, Lost Odyssey, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Chono Trigger / Chono Cross, World of Warcraft, and the Legend of Zelda series.
My wife and I attended the Video Games Live concert a couple of years back, and really enjoyed it. This time we took the kids. They loved it. The event was simply a huge success.
Compared to the Video Games Live concert, I felt that this one had better musical arrangements overall, but Video Games Live was a little more fun. This one lacked the lasers, a couple of little on-stage games, and Tommy Tallarico hamming it up trying to fulfill his fantasies of being a rock star. This concert was much more sedate and traditional... relatively speaking.
But still full of awesome. My only complaints are for the music they didn't include.
Cute Knight Kingdom. 'N Stuff
Yeah. I'm a Cute Knight fan. Yeah, that sounds kinda awkward admission, doesn't it? But there it is. The game really does rock. It's a melding of an old-school dungeon-crawler with a life "sim" done in a cute anime style. With a zillion or so endings and huge replayability. While it's specifically designed to appeal to girls, I have to admit that I really enjoyed it, too. It was a fun, quirky melding of ideas into a very fun whole.
The sequel - Cute Knight Kingdom - is now available. And I expect it to be just as fun. Even though the inventory screen to the right here is a little over-the-top. I have not played it yet, as Hanako managed to release it when I am TOTALLY SWAMPED. She did that to taunt me, I am sure. I've only been bugging her about the sequel for like three years.
What are you doing still reading this? Cute. Knight. Kingdom. Don't make her get all medieval on you. She can out-cook, out-clean, AND out-fight you, you know!
Unfortunately, the current version is only available for Windows. But I expect, like the original, we should see Mac and Linux versions soon.
Speaking of the original (well, the Deluxe version of the original), Hanako has decided to reduce the price to a mere $9.95 for it. And making me change the price on my website first thing in the friggin' morning (durn British indies!). If that's what you have been waiting for, you can pick up Cute Knight Deluxe here.
Well - I've been waiting for this one for a while.
Cute Knight Kingdom Demo (Windows Only)
A Kingdom for Keflings Coming to PC
NinjaBee announces: A Kingdom for Keflings Coming to PC
Beta testers needed! Score the game for free for your labors!
My total work on this title consisted of maybe a week working on the dynamic music system which may not actually still be in the code. But the really cool thing as an indie - besides it being an awesome indie title by some friends of mine - is that it originated (kinda) as a "Game in a Day" experiment called "Rome" back in 2005 or so. I wrote up a bit about Steve Taylor's talk on successful Game-In-A-Day-ing in my report on the Fall 2009 Utah Indie Night.
See? Those Game-In-A-Day "experiments" can really bear fruit!
I hope it does well on the PC. If you want to check out some other NinjaBee PC titles, take a look at Outpost Kaloki and Band of Bugs. Neither of which I really had much to do with, either. Except for kibitzing.
Labels: Game Announcements
Well, it came as a shock to probably nobody that Joss Whedon's and Eliza Dushku's science fiction series Dollhouse was officially canceled last week. I guess what is more surprising is that they decided to renew it in the first place for a second season, and then only to cancel it four episodes in.
A friend of mine in the sixth grade told me her gauge of whether or not a movie or TV show was "great" was whether or not she was still thinking about it the next day, and it's actually served me as a pretty good rule of thumb ever since. Yeah, there's a few horrible shows that left me still pissed off and picking them apart the next day, but I guess great can be either good or bad.
I mention it because the most recent episode of Dollhouse really left me thinking. "Belonging" - directed by "Commander Riker" Jonathan Frakes - was probably the most violent and disturbing and brain-twisting episode of the series so far. And possibly the best.
And it made me realize: Dollhouse is great science fiction, but it is not so great television. It does what science fiction is supposed to do - ask questions about humanity and our relationship with the world and universe in a hypothetical context. In the case of Dollhouse, it very pointedly asks - and in a way, has answered (for itself) the question of what makes us who we are. Are humans merely computers with brains that can be reprogrammed? A set of behaviors generated by chemicals working through a neural network of learned responses? Is there a soul that is more than pure chemistry and physics at work?
The implied answer is "yes." So I guess Dollhouse did its job there. Human beings are programmed like computers - given brand-new personalities and skills for whatever their assignments may be. A new, custom person is created inside an old body. But - repeatedly - aspects of their "true" nature - their deep-seated desires, quirks, loves, and hatreds - keep coming through.
But it is never clear if this is something truly metaphysical, or simply some glitch or unmapped bit of brain that the Dollhouse / Rossum Corporation hasn't figured out yet. But it's been a very interesting bit of exploration - not just for the dolls themselves, but an exploration of how people treat or react to these reprogrammable people. And all the other questions it raises about morality, free will, and so forth. It's a very smart show, and it's good SF.
But good television? The "dolls" don't really have any character, because their personalities are constantly changing (which really shows off the actor's abilities). And the staff and ancillary characters? They are all, to some degree, morally corrupt. It's hard to get away from the knowledge that they are basically operating an extremely expensive prostitution / slavery ring. Sure, some of the 'dolls' may have originally signed up of their own free will, but after that nothing is consensual. They have surrendered control of their bodies completely to the corporation, which will make them do anything - even kill - without their knowledge.
So it's kinda hard to like these guys. They aren't the good guys. That's the point. It's deliberately morally ambiguous (at best). But it makes it very hard to relate or care about any of the characters. And that's why it kinda fails as a television show.
I'm gonna miss it. I do like the show. But unlike, say, Firefly ... I do understand why it's getting the axe.
Frayed Knights: Some More WIP Screens
For those who don't frequent the forums:
Screenshots from the Hobgoblin Bunker
These are still very much work-in-progress, and pretty raw, but I warned you that would be the case, didn't I? I'm still a beginner level-designer, so these won't be set-piece levels or anything. But there are some pretty basic levels where I figured even my n00b skills wouldn't do too much damage.
What I did notice is that this was far easier to create than the Tower - partly because it's a much simpler design, but also because I think I'm sucking a little less. Go, me!
Labels: Frayed Knights
A PSA for Indie Developers:
Getting control of your own destiny is important.
Getting revenue and profitability is important.
But your soul and the well-being of your customers is far more important.
So don't take lessons from this schmoe, who brought the (alas, insanely popular) Mafia Wars and other games to Facebook, who admits to scamming customers in the name of bootstrapping his company.
Just ... Don't.
Give Innovation a Chance!
So Jeff Vogel sez: "People say they want innovation. But actually give them something different that they have to adjust to and they get all angry and full of nerdrage."
I haven't played Brütal Legend yet (maybe it will arrive under the Christmas Tree for me a few weeks). So I can't speak to the review. But I can definitely speak to the frustration.
There's a quote I love by Howard Aiken: “Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats.” I like to tell this one to indies who get all caught up in secrecy and NDAs around their "game idea."
And truth be told, most innovative / original ideas really ain't all that awesome. The path of innovation is the path of failure. That's the whole point. When you abandon the tried-and-true, you are exploring the space of the untried-and-possibly-untrue. You are entering the realm of the experimental. And if every experiment succeeded, it wouldn't be very experimental now, would it?
But as much as we rip on designers for staying in the safety of their comfort zone, the average player is even worse. Heaven help the poor designer that messes with the "standard" interface for games of a particular type, even with a damned good reason! For people who really enjoy such cutting edge entertainment, we can be real sticks-in-the-mud when it comes to innovation.
I'm no different. I find myself complaining sometimes too, asking, "Why did they do this? Why didn't they just let me do what I've always done in previous games? Why'd they try to 'fix' what wasn't broken?" I guess my knee jerks as quickly as anybody else's. But I believe that I'm at least slightly more generous than the average gamer these days. After all, my love of the hobby was born in the extreme Darwinian Deathmatch days of the arcades, when there were no rules to be broken and every week offered something new, original, and sometimes downright stupid. We played them all.
All I'm saying is that if we gamers claim we want innovation to break us from some of the ruts we find gaming in, we need to put our money where our mouths are. Be willing to try out something different that changes the status quo. And accept the fact that not every innovation is going to come bathed in angelic light - sometimes they'll really stink. But we need to give them the chance.
Mothers, Don't Let Your Children Grow Up To Be Game Developers
Bruce On Games has a very good list of reasons why you don't want to work in the (mainstream) games business:
Bruce On Games: You Don't Want to Work in the Video Games Industry
For the most part, I think his list is pretty accurate insofar as my experience goes. Though I think in American companies, there are quite a few more game designers than he seems to indicate. The role of "designer" isn't what most wannabes think it is, though. It's not designing games whole cloth - more like being a level designer on the design committee. There's a lot of scripting involved. And filling out spreadsheets. And whining to programmers that you need such-and-such a feature.
I used to recommend the experience for people who might want to become indies down the road. It's still good on-the-job training, but the larger studios are so compartmentalized now that it doesn't provide the breadth of experience that used to be worthwhile. So I'm now hesitant on that recommendation - unless you get a job with a small studio.
The Secret of Monkey Island - The Lost Scenes!
So while creating the Special Edition of The Secret of Monkey Island, Adam Bormann came across a lot of commented out / unused scripts in the original SCUMM code. And some fascinating comments inside the code.
Fortunately, they did not try to re-integrate these "lost scenes" and alternative plots into the remake. From Bormann's perspective, Gilbert & Co. probably had very good reasons for leaving them out. But he's copied the "lost scenes" in a blog post for fans who may enjoy this glimpse into development of the classic game.
The Secret of Monkey Island - The Deleted and Extended Scenes
When Guybrush gets out of the water after being thrown in by Shinetop, he runs into Governor Marley, and then this alternate exchange starts.
“You came down here to rescue me?”
“You were going to dive into that icy water and drag me out?”
“…Something like that.”
“You were going to brave the sharks and the eels to save my life?”
“Sharks? What sharks?”
“And then you were going to give me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation?”
“Don’t push it.”
Hat tip to Greg Squire of MonkeyTime for sending me the link!
The Horror of Big Bird
When I was a kid, I always assumed Sesame Street was as old as dirt. I thought it had been around forever. As it turns out, it was a few months younger than me. It first aired on this day in 1969. And I was among its most ardent fans a couple of years later.
I loved Big Bird. I think I even referred to the show as "Big Bird" when I was three or something. I wanted to watch Big Bird. All the other characters - Kermit, the Cookie Monster, Mr. Snuffleupagus, Ernie and Bert - they rocked, too. But for me, the show was all about Big Bird.
But periodically, my parents would ban me from watching the show. Because, while I consciously loved big bird, subconsciously he apparently scared the hell out of me. At night, when the lights were out, Big Bird would haunt my nightmares, with his smiling, dopey expression. And I'd wake up screaming and crying about Big Bird.
Not that I remember much of this. I take this on faith from my mother's telling of it. By the next day, I'd have forgotten the entire experience. I would want to watch more Sesame Street and provide my subconscious brain with yet more ammunition to assault me with the following night. Oh, yes. Ours was an abusive, dysfunctional relationship.
There is only one time I really remember Big Bird's reign of terror. I was for some reason pushing an empty cardboard box to my room. Big cardboard boxes are the ultimate toy for a four-year-old. Anyway, the box was so large that I could barely peek over the top of it. For some reason, the hallway was dark, and it was at night, shortly before bedtime.
You know how your eyes play tricks with you in the darkness, and you can't see very well when moving from a well-lit living room down a darkened hall? Yeah. Well, the after-image of the light (and television?) got jumbled up, and as I peeked into the darkness over the top of the box, I saw - faintly - the disembodied head of the Evil One himself, Big Bird. His head filled the hallway, and his smiling beak beneath his dopey eyes was wide open, ready to accept his next meal with cardboard and all. Fortunately for me, I'd had the foresight to look where I was going before stumbling right into that felt-covered gaping maw.
So I screamed and ran, howling over tears to my parents that Big Bird's head was in the hallway! The fact that it was trying to eat me was left unspoken, because that was just plain obvious. Why else would he have been lurking in the darkness in front of the door to my room?
Now, okay, I completely understood that it wasn't the REAL Big Bird in the hallway. And that this giant head was far too large to belong to the real Big Bird. And that the phantom-y transparent image I'd seen was probably not something of true physical form. But was I going to take that risk? HELL NO!
And as far as I know, I might not be here today if I'd kept going. Nor do I know if I was the only succulent little pre-schooler Big Bird had intended as his victim. How many other children fell victim to his appetites?
My parents renewed the ban on Sesame Street that night, much to my chagrin. It was no fair! Why wouldn't they let me watch Sesame Street? I wanted to watch Big Bird some more!
So happy birthday, Sesame Street. You taught me a lot about numbers, letters, and how human beings should treat each other --- and muppets. But most of all, you taught me the meaning of the word, "terror." I'd no be who I am today without you.
Labels: Geek Life
Frayed Knights; Wait, Wait, Let Me Explain...
The world of Frayed Knights, the indie computer RPG under development at Rampant Games, could perhaps be described as an apologist's rendition of an old-school fantasy RPG campaign.
In the early days of the hobby, very few game masters (or game designers) thought too hard about the rhyme, reason, or ecology of their adventures and worlds. Why are the monsters segregated by difficulty level in this dungeon? What's with the weird, bizarre artifacts in the dungeon that nobody but the players actually try to use? How come these traps aren't set of by the gazillions of giant rats that seem to infest the dungeon? How do the lower levels of the dungeon stay ventilated? What do these monsters eat (besides adventurers and giant rats)? Why are there all these devices that serve no practical purpose to anybody but to vex the occasional treasure-hunting adventurer?
The creativity caught up with itself as players smartened up, and game masters were forced to evolve. After all, if you have an illusory dragon in one room - the hint to the deception being that the exits are all too small to accommodate the dragon's bulk - then you can't get away with sticking a real dragon in a similar room without some really good explanation. If you start using logic and some vague appeals to reason against the players, you need to be pretty consistent with its usage yourself.
So which is it going to be - no dragon, or jumping through hoops to justify its existence?
In many cases, Frayed Knights takes the latter approach. I think the wild contortions of logic and rationalization are part of the fun of the world. It's not necessarily that the world itself is over the top bizarre and comedic, but that the off-beat answers to the questions of "why" have a cumulative effect that keeps getting weirder and weirder. And then we have a group of explorers in this world for whom this is all pretty run-of-the-mill stuff.
And so what you end up with is a group that can get into an argument over whether or not it is wise to rescue an apparent damsel-in-distress... because it is one of the oldest tricks in the book to sucker-punch adventurers in this world. And bizarre relationships between groups of monsters to justify their not killing each other.
But as amusing as the "Why" answers get, it's the "why not?" that tends to drive the silliness. If you postulate a world where there's weirdness X and Y, why not ... weirdness Z?
That's where I got temples dedicated to a god of pimples. And an automaton constructed out of pus.
And, as it turns out, getting the answer to the "why" questions is what drives the entire plot. It's one thing to know that an Ancient Evil™ is on the rise. The natural response for your typical red-blooded adventurer upon discovering this news is to put a stop to the Ancient Evil™ once and for all (at least until the sequel).
But our heroes, the Frayed Knights, are anything but typical. And - quite by accident - they end up asking "Why?" Why is the Ancient Evil™ rising? What does he really want? Is there something more going on here?
And, as usual, the answers get more convoluted as they go.
Labels: Frayed Knights
Game Design: Quest For the SideQuest
Hmmm - so does Frayed Knights get a free pass or not?
In general, I think the question game designers should ask themselves is: Is the thing you're asking the player character to do the most obvious, straightforward, or fastest way to solve the given problem? Asking the player to go downstairs and get a key for a shoddy wooden door is not unreasonable. I certainly wouldn't smash a door if the key was just downstairs. Asking the player to climb to the top of Mt. Evil and fight the Soul-Devouring Dragon-Wraith of Pestilence to get the same key is completely ridiculous, because at that point it's less trouble to just kick the door down or call a locksmith or something. (Exception: All comedy games get a free pass for plot doors because the stupidity of the side-quest is part of the joke.)Shamus Young addresses the issue of ridiculous side-quests and "find the key" type puzzles / plot progressions in games. A great rant:
The Escapist Magazine: Quest for the Side Quest!
Okay, I worry about my own guilt with some of these things - but at least on a theoretical level, Shamus is my kind of gamer. I often feel myself wanting to shout "Amen!" with his rants. This is no exception.
Labels: Game Design
The Golden Age of Indie
So we've got the Unity 3D engine free for indies --- the Unreal 3 engine now in the price range for indies --- a new version of Torque that looks pretty impressive (and still priced within the "professional" indie level of affordability), an upcoming less-restrictive license for Ogre 3D (still free), and a host of existing engine choices from the usual suspects.
While those who have trained with the more expensive commercial counterparts complain endlessly about their difficulty getting used to them, Blender 3D and The Gimp are outstanding content development tools that are absolutely free. Blender 3D is readying for its big 2.5 release very soon now.
We've got indie games on consoles. Downloadable games are becoming the norm. Indie MMOs are competing head-to-head for dollars with the big boys (at least all the ones not named World of Warcraft).
The latest copy of Game Developer magazine lists the fifty most influential people in the industry over the last year or so - and indie developers (and evangelists) made up a reasonable chunk of the list.
Indie games are being talked about by mainstream press. Not just the token mention in a list in half-page columns near the back of the magazine like they used to get, but real honest-to-goodness attention. Two or three years ago, an average gamer had no idea what an "indie game" was. Now, they might not have played one, but they've at least heard of them. This is significant.
It sounds to me like the Age of Indie has fully arrived! (Jussincase we hadn't figured that out in the last two or three years.)
So what is the Age of Indie? Heck if I know. It's up to the indies themselves to define it. But what's cool is that those guys defining it are the folks with gumption, skill, and the willingness to put in a lot of hard work. NOT just the folks with the big bucks or publisher contracts.
ANYBODY can make a game now. That's been true for a long time, but technology is becoming even less of a factor. And anybody can sell it. Yeah, marketing and selling a game is even harder than making it, in many ways. But it is happening. And web-based gaming --- I have no idea how far that rabbit hole will go!
I doubt indies will ever be in the same league as "the big boys" again, as they were when indie "shareware" shops hit their peak in the early-to-mid 90s. But I think the dividing line is going to get even blurrier. It's becoming more and more of a spectrum.
But the excuses are gone. Tools, training, support, opportunities, even console releases are now available within an indie's grasp. Gaming is now back in the hands of the gamers.
Take us to cool places, please.
Labels: Indie Evangelism
Din's Curse - Screenshots Now Up
For those following Soldak's new indie role-playing game:
Din's Curse - First Screenshots
Yeah, it does look a bit like Depths of Peril and Kivi's Underworld. Are you at all surprised?
I'm excited about this one, personally. It sounds like its got more Depths of Peril-ish-ness to it.
Unreal 3 Engine - FREE! Er, kinda...
Well, if you weren't planning on selling your game, you can now use the Unreal 3 engine for free. Have at it!
Unreal Development Kit
They have also released a more "indie friendly" commercial license. It's a royalty-based license - 25% (YIPE!) of your revenue after the first $5000. That could eat into an indie's profit margin by a pretty significant amount... or not. Your business decision, folks!
Dragon Age: Origins - Hype Overload?
Okay, I do intend to get Dragon Age: Origins. For the PC, of course. That's been in the cards for a long time. I remain a Bioware fan, even if you can see traces of their Borg implants.
But holy crap, guys... the hype / marketing for this game is off the scale. We're talking near Halo-levels, here. It's been on TV, all over the web - for months. We've been inundated with previews, interviews, press releases, and now reviews.
So is it worth all the hype? I'm interested in hearing what real RPG fans think who have had a chance to play it. While I have some faith in Bioware and I'm sure the game has a great story and is fun to play, it so far has come off sounding pretty generic to me. Yeah, it's pretty tough to make traditional sword-and-sorcery / high fantasy sound fresh and new, but it still happens. Just not here.
So - what's the scoop? What are your first impressions, those of you with more money and time than me? Is it truly heir to the legacy that was Baldur's Gate? And, I ask again - is it worth the hype?
Labels: Mainstream Games
Game Design: Overwhelmed By Choice?
As a player, I'm a guy who loves open-endedness in my games. In role-playing games, I may as much of a goal-oriented player (the "Dungeon Upwardly Mobile Professional," as author / designer Tracy Hickman once called it) as any hardcore gamer, but I love to approach a goal my own way.
In dice-and-paper RPGs, I can be every game master's worst nightmare as I deviate from the script and start asking questions and manipulating parts of the GM's world that were never fleshed out beyond being the flat cardboard background setting. Consequently, my efforts frequently come to naught, as the players who take the conventional, predictable, and prepared-in-advance approach get rewarded.
I really loved the magic system in White Wolf's Mage: The Ascension. Apparently, we're a weird, strange animal. The magic system in that game was apparently incomprehensible and subjective for many players. While there were "rotes" - predefined spells - for the most part magic was something you created on-the-fly within broad guidelines. It was a very goal-oriented, open-ended kind of thing. Instead of looking over a menu of options and picking the one that might be most effective in this situation, you really had to think outside of the box, come up with a plan of action based upon some very broad powers, and then custom-build a spell that would both meet your objective and (preferably) appear to be nothing but a coincidence to any observer. It was very fun for those who got into it. Practically impossible for anybody else. It has little to to do with intelligence, and a lot to do with preference for style.
Not everybody likes to play that way. And frankly, a "sky is the limit" approach can be frustrating to players regardless of style. Especially without being provided concrete sub-goals, as I learned to my detriment running a recent pen & paper campaign. An infinite number of choices often results in no choice, and players will simply drift, feeling rudderless, overwhelmed, confused, and frustrated.
I wouldn't exactly call that "fun."
In general, I've always been of the opinion that more choices means more fun. But even for me, I do have my limits. The Elder Scrolls series is perhaps the best known for being open-ended games. While I am apparently one of the few players to ever actually complete the storyline in the second game, Daggerfall, I admit I got lost in the open-ended world of the follow-up, Morrowind. The open world led me further and further from anything resembling the games' goal (and I never really understood what that was), and so I just played until I got bored.
How could I possibly get bored? There was so much game left for me - so many more choices and opportunities! But I did. I, too, found myself rudderless and confused, and not entirely certain what my end-goal was for the entire game. At least Oblivion solved this last problem, making the end-goal almost TOO obvious throughout the game.
I'm a fan of open-endedness and having plenty of choices, but it seems there's a limit. In my pen-and-paper games, it seems that - as a group - more than two or three major options to select from causes the group to get bogged down with indecision. I think with individuals, the number might go up a bit more, depending on style. But there seems to be a "magic number" after which the number of options becomes a detriment, not a benefit. Or players adapt by ignoring many options.
Hmmm - maybe that's why I keep ordering the same thing when I go out to favorite restaurants.
There is a tendency - especially by less experienced game sesigners, to try to include everything (even the kitchen sink) - in their game. While the increased breadth sounds cool and fun and all, it's important to note that besides the obvious difficulties of increased development and balancing work, the end result may actually be less than the sum of the parts for many players.
Labels: Game Design
I Want To Get Rich So I Can Take This Vacation
While I loved going to Hawaii again last month, here's where I'd really love to vacation at some point in my life:
Space Hotel To Open in 2012
So, uh, do hotel guests get any training on what to do in an emergency? Pressure leak, anything like that?
And most importantly - does it offer free cable TV and wireless?
Labels: Geek Life
Stonesense - for Dwarf Fortress
This looks... way cool.
Cool enough to make more people Dwarf Fortress fans? I dunno. The game is pretty hardcore regardless of graphics. And unfortunately, it "kills the framerate." But I do love seeing stuff like this.
Stonesense (At TIGSource)
Free Indie Game Today Only
Tale of Tales is offering the full version of their indie game and last year's IGF finalist, The Graveyard, for free - today only.
Tale of Tales: Visit The Graveyard Today - For Free!
As per its description on the website:
The Graveyard is a very short computer game designed by Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn. You play an old lady who visits a graveyard. You walk around, sit on a bench and listen to a song. It's more like an explorable painting than an actual game. An experiment with realtime poetry, with storytelling without words.I haven't even played the demo version yet, so I can't offer any opinion. But hey, the price is right, so if you feel so inclined, today is the day to check it out.
Labels: Indie Evangelism